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 Fiend in Follywood” from that 1926 collection.
A FIEND IN FOLLYWOOD
“But why on earth should I tell you of my troubles; past, present or future?”
Renee Southerland, casting director of the Royal-Arts Studio in Hollywood, laid down her gold fountain pen and glared contemptuously. Under a steady gaze from eyes that appeared alive with red hot coals, I began sending apprehensive glances toward the doorway. I had a great desire to dash through it into the open air to relieve the stinging bite of a prickly heat which began at the soles of my feet and rushed upward. I knew that I presented a countenance now as vivid red as the ruffled garter Renee wore on a well-rounded calf when she crossed her legs after the prevailing fashion among young women.
“Well, I—er—you see, Mrs. Southerland,” I managed to stammer, “I understand that Hollywood recognizes no conventions, and my experience knows it doesn’t. But the movie people of the inner circles—that’s what I’m driving at. I want to learn about the conventions within those circles.”
I certainly must have presented an extremely ludicrous appearance, standing there in the office of Royal-Art among a troop of promising young movie aspirants—whose sole hopes were in nothing but promises. I was embarrassment personified.
“Oh, I see,” Renee cooled down a bit, and my morale correspondingly ascended. “You want a ‘true confession,’ don’t you? You’re always prying into other people’s pasts—if not their business!” She smiled tauntingly and revealed something amazingly like a dimple in either cheek—a dimple which gave promising hint of a petulant loveliness that at one time must have been exhibited for male approval. For Renee Southerland was well past her youth—and married!
“But Mrs. Southerland,” I said, “I must have a good story, and if you know of a good one, please tell it to me. Mr. Ray over at Pennant Pictures suggested that I pick out a woman casting director.”
Her eyes softened. I regained my composure. One of the movie aspirants snickered, as though he had just fathomed out my predicament. Renee’s eyes again feigned that demoralizing stare.
“There’s no work for you extras today!” she said, haughtily. “Get out of here—come back tomorrow.”
She herded the disappointed and crest-fallen crowd through the door and with an emphatic thrust she slammed it tight.
“I think we can have a little privacy now,” she said, seating herself spryly in a swivel chair. “And I’ll tell you the story of the most crushing incident in my life, and which also crushed someone else just a little bit more than it did me.”
Her manner immediately imbued me with the impression that she had a latent desire to “get a load off her mind!” and so she began her story at first, with a touch of regret. You’ll find it set down exactly as she recited it. She begged me not to carry a wrong impression of her character, and admitted that to tell someone her story would be a God-send.
“Shakespeare once said, you know,” Renee Southerland began, “‘There’s a tide in the affairs of men when taken at its full leads on to fortune.’ Shakespeare violated conventions when he wrote that. I do not attribute this to the absence of conventions in Hollywood, however,” she grinned.
“I began my career as an extra. My husband and I had separated just a short time before I entered the movies, so you see, I found it necessary to consider personal maintenance. There is more than one way for a homeless girl to earn money, but I chose the honorable course and earned enough to make ends meet. I had ambitions and aspirations, you know, and I knew that if I discontinued my daily round of the studios in search of extra work, I would soon be forgotten.
“Nearly all my life I had studied psychoanalogy, human nature and human intelligence, and when I was offered a chance to become assistant director of casting, I grasped the opportunity, much elated at the sudden turn of affairs, which finally led to my success—and the story I am going to tell you.
The following days were like a wonderful dream. Nothing stood in the way of the proverbial happy ending, at least I thought that. I proved unusually skillful in selecting the casts for several big pictures, and was congratulated by my employers, who predicted a great future for me.
“One day a young man appeared at the studio and inquired for picture work. He was handsome, perhaps as handsome as men can be without breaking the conventions of masculine appearance. Since my husband and I parted, I had given men little thought, for he had been what you might call worthless. It will appear rather incredible to you when I say that I fell in love with this young fellow. Imagine me—a woman nearly old enough to be his mother, falling in love with him! But it was so, and he must have noticed it on his next visit.
“He accepted my invitation and took a seat in the office to wait for any possible work that might arise during the course of the afternoon. I’ll call him Hallet Hall. But his real name is credited among those of eminent celebrities. I made him,—and I broke him!
“But when I broke him, it was not for revenge. His very own devilry boomeranged him. His meanness and thoughtlessness and his cold-heartedness made him drop to the very depths of the abyss of lost causes. Oh, how I learned to hate him, the pagan.”
Renee Southerland’s shining eyes took on that peculiar light which seemed dart forth tiny jets of blue flame. The very memory of her experience made her furious. I could feel myself getting interested; and for some reason or other I had a vague idea that Renee’s respect for the masculine sex had long since waned. Her tiny, well-formed hands were clenched as if to emphasize her recital.
There came a knock at the door and Renee answered it. It was Dolly Daison. She wanted her make-up bag which she had left him in the office. After all was quiet—if ever the hum and babble of studio life can be called quiet, she resumed her narrative.
“I gave Hallet Hall a small part in a picture. He did it exceptionally well, and I was glad. Later, I asked him dine with me at the Montmartre where all the movie people lunch. Oh, Hall was smart, all right. And he was built like an Adonis. You’ve seen him play the he-man part in Pennant’s picturization of ‘The — Brute.’ Handsome, strong, fascinating beyond words! And tempting to women.
“All this time I was busy spreading propaganda about his wonderful ability to go through a picture without the slightest flaw. I paid for his publicity myself—and even bought him a small roadster. Never once did he so much as mention thanks. But I didn’t seem to care about that then. All I wanted was to have him near me.
“It was during the course of a week-end party which I gave in his honor that he introduced me to the ‘needle and morphine.’ I hadn’t been feeling very well, and noting the brightness of his eyes and his never failing ‘pep,’ I submitted to the ‘shot.’
“After the first one—and Hollywood is full of dope peddlers and hop-heads—I couldn’t get along without it. I’m making good money as casting director now and I guess I can afford it, but I’m gradually breaking myself of the habit. What astounded me was that Hallet Hall’s strong constitution had withstood the ravages of the drug, although he finally gave it up.
“Now what do you think he quit it for? It had captured and held me, and to be frank I’m still addicted, but I’m getting away from it. Can’t you guess why he accepted his success with renewed vigor?”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t venture an answer, Mrs. Southerland,” I said, not wishing to pass a personal opinion on the affair.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” she began again, leaning close. “He did it to blackmail me—me his benefactor! It was then that I became frightened. To lose my position—the scandal of the thing, the revealing of the affairs in which I participated with Hallet would have driven me to distraction. I was practically his slave—at his mercy—and he was the very devil himself!
“Do you think it rather irregular for me to sit here and tell you—a man—of my affairs? Well, Hollywood knows no conventions, and neither do I! I had given my all to Hallet Hall on promise of marriage. But he always postponed it. And I was fighting off what appeared the inevitable outcome.
“One day Hallet Hall drove up to my apartments on Hollywood Boulevard. He demanded to know why I hadn’t assigned him the leading role in a particular South Sea Island picture. I smelled the stale odor of half-spent liquor on his breath. He was still intoxicated.
“I could not bear the thought of making a ‘scene,’ so I humored him a little, and asked him in. He came, well enough, and his savage temper with him. No sooner had he entered the apartment when he struck me a terrible blow in the face, that knocked me unconscious.
“There was another time when my supply of morphine had become exhausted. Hall, I knew, had a goodly store of it in his small, gold container which he carried with him at all times. I was nervous, wracked by the craving for the evil drug, and begged for a vacation—and got it. But Hall refused me even a grain of dope.
“Hall had treated me so criminally that he was afraid I would bring charges against him—so when I picked up my bags and boarded a train for Yosemite, he was there with me. He threatened to ‘make it hot for me’ if I so much as hinted at the affair. I don’t remember what I said. I got angry, I know, and I must have said something about killing him. I even believe I meant it.
“‘Yeh?’ he sneered. ‘Killing’s all right if you can get away with it, but Renee, dear, it isn’t being done. By the way, I’m going to Yosemite with you, so you can just another ticket. My funds are low and I need a rest and some money to spend. How about a thousand for personal experiences on this trip?”
“We were standing on a corner at the Central station in Los Angeles waiting for the train. There were very few people there at the time, and the few who were in the terminal were at the other end of the hall.
“‘No, you sneak,’ I hissed in his ear. ‘If you’re going to Yosemite, you’ll pay your own expenses, and you’ll go as your own guest; not mine!’
“The grin changed on his face, and his handsome features became contorted with a determined rage. He shot a furtive glance toward the others in the terminal. They were too far away to hear.
“‘You’ll do as I say,’ he snapped, ‘or by Heaven I’ll tip the papers off about your little habit.’
“He had reached down and grasped my wrist in a grip that would have crushed the bones had I not consented immediately to his bidding. So I bought his ticket. And after an uneventful ride we reached Yosemite National Park.
“It was during a hike one day through a lumber camp in the vicinity of the park that Hallet Hall met his match. It was there that I met Jeffrey again after three years’ separation. Jeffrey had gained in both weight and stature, and his strength must have been terrific, for when he saw me with Hall he became wrathful. I suppose he had believe that he’d find me again some day and prove himself a real man. He proved it then and there. It was a terrible fight.
“‘Jeffrey!’ I screamed, ‘he’ll kill you!”
“But my husband had learned to defend himself in the rough existence of life in the lumber camps of Washington and Oregon, and Hall received a crunching blow on the chest when sent him bowling over. Jeffrey didn’t stop at that; he leaped upon Hall with insane jealousy and proceeded to disfigure those handsome features.
“Somehow, I managed to pull Jeffrey away from Hall, and when his back was turned, Hall drew a small automatic and sent a bullet toward my husband. He missed and fired again, one of the slugs striking Jeffrey in the shoulder. Jeffrey fell with a groan of the foreman of the lumber camp came running up at the sound of the shots and hurled himself at Hall.
“He was taken into town and put behind the bars. Jeffrey’s wound was serious and very painful. For days he hovered between life and death until a doctor from Sacramento came up into the mountains and administered professional attendance. During that time, I began to forget about my craving for morphine, until one day I found the doctor’s medicine case lying open on the little stand at the head of my husband’s bed. The very thought of the drug brought a return of the old craving, and with shaking fingers I searched through the bag until I found a needle and a fair quantity of the dope.
“In the meantime, Hallet was in jail waiting for the arrival of the Sacramento officers to take him ‘down the road.’ When the papers learned of the affair, I knew that I was a doomed woman. Yet it seemed incredible that they should have missed my connection with the affair. My name did not appear in large print with the headlines, and Jeffrey was known up there under a fictitious name. I was elated. Hallet was getting his end of the publicity. The papers brought to light many true facts about him.
“They mentioned something to the effect that he had been wanted ‘back East’ for forgery and other offenses, and had foiled the officers after discarding his name and entering the movies incognito. Oh, they had him all right, and I was really glad.
“When Hall was placed in the witness chair, my heart sank to the very depths of despair. Hall merely nodded as much as to say, ‘Oh, you won’t get off so easy as that. Your turn is coming after I mention a few facts about you.’
“It was a horrible grilling he received, but I had previously told Jeffrey about the entire affair, and he had forgiven me. The dread of publicity and consequences smote me with the desire to dash from the courtroom and bury myself eternally in the forests we had recently left. I quietly asked Jeffrey to withdraw from the case, but I knew that the law would hold Hallet on a charge of attempt to kill.
“For some reason or other, Hall must have given the matter a thorough going over, for never once did he mention my name as connected with the affair other than I was the wife of Jeffrey Southerland. A spark of manhood perhaps had risen within his breast and was fanned to a flame by rapid thought.
“With the case over, Hallet was delivered to waiting detectives who came from New York to take him back to answer their charges. With a hounded look, he glanced at me as he passed on his way to a waiting car. I felt hate, sorrow and indebtedness all at once. I was safe now.”
She ended her story here. I was hypnotized with gratification at its evident reality, and the spontaneous outburst that had miraculously given it to me. All this flood of intimate personal history had bubbled from the frozen heart of the woman before me, and she had now turned as suddenly to the terse, snappy person that so confused me upon my entrance, back into her role of icy indifference and brusquerie. I was relieved when she gave a very pointed glance at her mannish wrist watch, and moved abruptly to answer the telephone. I gathered up my notes, evidenced sudden haste to keep an important engagement, and faded from the scene before the long telephone conversation ended. Her slight hand wave held a reflection of the relief I myself felt at getting away.
It was not until months later that I learned the sequel to the story: or, rather, was able to gather up the loose strands in her tale, and weave them into the fabric of the story to bring it to a conclusion.
Renee had hidden away in a secluded part of the mountains. Her baby came. She returned to Hollywood, branded by whispered rumors as A Fiend in Follywood. That may be her punishment. it doesn’t matter.
She peddled dope for a while, perhaps she still does, I have lost track. But I do know that she has kept the baby well cared for. It has been a terrific struggle for her; a splendid display of will power. Her husband disappeared as quietly as he had made his entrance.
Today Renee claims she does not know where he is or what he is doing—but she is lying. He will never come back. He will never know the real truth—unless he reads this.
The baby will never know who its mother or father was. Renee is ashamed . . . . crushed . . . . and beaten. . . .
The thoughts of her motherhood drive her almost insane . . . and the thoughts of never being able to claim that the baby is her child send her nervous hands to the medicine cabinet for that terrible needle of forgetfulness. . . .
Hollywoodites who know the story are watching, never forgetting the story, and waiting to see what will become of the tiny unsuspecting mite, splotches of Folly. . . .