Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s “A City Without a Pawnshop” from that 1926 collection.
THE CITY WITHOUT A PAWNSHOP
Once it had glittered.
Now it was deserted—unfriendly.
The rain tapped an incessant tattoo upon the street, the buildings and the window panes. It was a Ben Hecht rain—it was different.
Larry sat huddled in the doorway of an exclusive men’s furnishings store. The noise of water rushing down the metal drain-pipe kept him awake.
His shoes were oozing with water. His thin face was covered with a two days’ growth of beard. His colorless lips were tobacco stained.
What a creature!
A massive enclosed car swished by. Larry shivered and moved closer to the door.
The rain slackened. The sky was slowly growing gray. A heavy mist began to fall. The awning shook water on Larry’s haggard face.
He heard the scuffle of footsteps down the street. The street lamps seemed to be fighting for justice against the thick mist.
Larry was damp. He ached.
Old Joe, a studio watchman, stopped and looked at Larry. His blue eyes seemed to gleam in the obscurity.
“‘Lo Joe,” said Larry weakly.
“What’s the matter, son—no bed?”
“Hell, no, the damn car I slept in the last couple o’ nights at the auto park was sold yesterday and the rest of ’em have leaky tops.”
Larry grunted disgustedly.
“Well, come on, son, let’s have a cup of Java at John’s down the street.”
Larry shook himself as they entered the deserted cafe. Old Joe climbed upon one of the high stools at the counter.
A sleepy waiter set glasses of water before them.
“What’ll it be?” he asked.
“Cup o’ coffee for me,” muttered Larry.
“Naw, wait a minute,” interposed Old Joe, “make it two orders of ham an’ eggs. Do you want yours over, Larry?”
“Yes, thanks, Joe.”
The waiter slouched his way back to the kitchen. Soon he rattled a skillet.
“Say, listen, Larry, tell me, how come you to be so down and out now? You used to be pretty high-powered in this town.”
Larry lifted his tired eyes and tried a smile.
Old Joe shook his head sadly.
“Too bad, kid, too bad. They’ll get the best of men—them creatures.”
“You said it, Joe! You sure did.”
While their orders were frying, the waiter brought silverware and coffee.
Larry blew on the hot liquid to cool it and then sipped noisily.
“Tell me about yourself, Larry,” asked Old Joe, wiping his damp and wrinkled face with a soiled handkerchief.
Larry straightened up and fastened his gaze upon a catsup bottle which sat on a shelf directly in front of him.
“Three years ago, I hit this town with a cafe orchestra in which I was pounding the piano. We got a job doin’ jazz at The Village. It was then a high class lunch and dinner joint, with afternoon teas every day except Sunday and Monday.
“Well, it was those teas which caused my downfall. Between dance numbers, I used to drum out a Sonata by Willie Rehberg, Mozart, Leschetitsky or Von Henselt. I noticed that the women would stop their chattering and listen when I softly played these masters.
“I thrilled them with my touch. They begged for more. I played them Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Schuman, Mendelssohn and Brahms. They marveled. My head was whirling. I was a success. Here were people who appreciated me. I loved them. I wanted to play always for them.”
The waiter brought the ham and eggs.
Larry hastily choked down a few bites.
Old Joe appeared to be very interested.
Larry continued between mouthfuls.
“The manager thought it was great. The place was packed every afternoon. I was lionized by beautiful society matrons. I was featured in ads that ran in the daily papers. Critics came to chat with me. The whole city was a-buzz about me—me, an unknown, who before had just wished for the opportunity.
“The orchestra became angry, when I refused to play jazz with them. My salary was tripled and I worked only afternoons. Finally I left The Village and played at homes, making twice as much money. I was feted everywhere. I bought cars, spent my money as fast as I made it. Drank constantly and kept late hours. And capped the climax by falling in love with Julia.
“Days and sometimes weeks went by without touching a piano. I was drunk half the time. It was Julia’s fault. She kept me in her apartment. I felt myself going. I was losing ground faster than I had gained it. Then I tried another concert. I gave them Xavier, Scharwenka, Domenico Scarlatti, Saint-Saens, Rubinstein and Ferdinand Ries. Then came the crash. The picture business went on the blink. Money was hard to get. Everyone was looking for work. And I had lost my material touch. They were tired of me. I was through. Julia told me to get out. I owed everyone I met. I had no money and no assets. I filed bankruptcy. That ruined me for good. I lost everything I had.
“You know, Joe,” he said hoarsely, gulping down the last mouthful, “I walked the boulevard for days and nights trying to get a job. No one paid any attention to me. I was often hungry. There were no pawn shops on Hollywood Boulevard then. Look now. Plenty of them. Oh, for those days of the past! Joe, you know, people think of pawning their things then—in those days!
“Now, God Damn it, they pawn their souls! Joe, you know”—his voice was almost a whisper now and tears stood in his eyes—“I’d never go back to that jazz business if I never earned another mouthful of food! This used to be a city without a pawnshop. Now look at it! There is no place now for a genius.”
Old Joe nodded.
Yes, Hollywood had once been a city without a pawnshop. Now there were at least a dozen or so.
Why was that?
Old Joe didn’t know, but he paid for Larry’s breakfast with a smile.
He had liked Larry’s story.