365 Nights in Hollywood: Humor Risque, Pt. 2

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 Part 2 of “Humor Risque,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection. (Here’s Part 1, if you missed it.)

HUMOR RISQUE

 
 
“Well, finally Harry gulped out the story. I couldn’t believe him for some minutes. The very thought stunned me. I couldn’t find any reason for it, although I racked my brain. Just one day before I arrived Flo had taken Carol and sailed for England. Her boat must have passed us on my last night out. I had been hopefully coming to her, when she was deliberately speeding away from me. And I’ve never seen them, nor heard from them since.”
Monty looked up at Gus. Good old Gus, he thought. He looked up at him again, and thought he saw tears in his eyes.
“You don’t know where they are?” asked Gus thoughtfully. “Didn’t you ever write?”
“Oh, I keep track of them through the theatrical papers. Flo had a very good engagement from in London right after she left New York.” He was speaking with assumed gayety now. “And I hear she’s done very well all over Europe. Carol is in the act now. No, I’ve never tried to write. I might some day—soon, perhaps.”
Gus sighed deeply and straightened up in his chair.
“But, Monty,” he said suddenly, “you haven’t told me when your hair turned grey. I can understand why, but—“
“Oh,—that!” exclaimed Monty, recovering from a short reverie. “The night after I left Harry, I sat up—and thought—of them. In the morning my hair was just as it is now. My friends didn’t know me. Most of them imagined the war did it, so I’ve always let them think so. You’re the only one beside Harry who really knows, Gus.

“After I was discharged, I was wandering along Broadway one day, wishing I had stayed over there—by request of the Germans or something of that sort—when I met Jack Lynn. Remember him, Gus? I thought you would. A cute kid in short pants when we was hittin’ the high spots. Well, we got to talking of old times. He said something about you being out here. I didn’t pay much attention then, but after Harry booked me out again, doing a single, I decided I’d look you up when I got out here.
“I was doing forty-week stuff then, and the first year was pretty tight hittin’. Due, of course, to my long lay-off. I was a bit stiff, and didn’t go over as big as I had hoped. When I got out here, my act was almost due for a flop, but I saved it by grabbin’ a good-lookin’ dame and writing some original songs.
“We got around all right then. Arrived in the big burg O. K. Harry took the girl, and I had to find another one. The one I took on the last trip is now Clarissa Clinton of the Follies. Gus, I was better than ever on the last round. I went over like a million. I had the old legs limbered up and was puttin’ on a great dance. The girl was great too. Got a big hand. Then, you know, my voice never was so bad. And I’m willing to bet I can play jazz better than any ivory duster in town now.
“I wouldn’t doubt that,” put in Gus.
“So,” Monty continued, “when we arrived here, Harry wired for the girl. And I’ve been here ever since.”
“Why?” asked Gus.
“Never found the girl I wanted, and I don’t feel like leavin’ here to hunt for one.”
“Get Harry to send you one from New York.”
“Don’t want one bad enough for that.”
“But,” insisted Gus firmly, “you’ll get old and stiff sitting around warming up casting office benches. You belong back of the footlights.”
“I know that,” returned Monty, laying down the letter opener and picking up a cigarette.
“Why don’t you go back to the life?”
“I’ve often thought of it, Gus,” he replied, striking a match on the sole of his oxford. “Maybe I will—some time.”
Miss Martin entered the room.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Demming,” she said, “but it took some time to find Mr. Jackson.” She laid the contract on his desk and also the duplicate.
“Oh, that’s all right. Fine. Were there any ‘phone calls?” asked Gus, as he glanced over the contracts.
Monty was puffing at his cigarette, and looking about the room, comparing it with Benny’s.
“Yes. Here they are,” she said, and laid a slip of paper before him, then quietly left the room.
Gus stood up, abruptly. “Say, what’s the time?”
Monty looked startled. “Why, I hadn’t thought—“
“By George! It’s almost three o’clock,” Gus exclaimed, looking at his jeweled timepiece.
“Oh,” murmured Monty apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’ve kept you from your lunch. My story was too long.”
“Where do you get that stuff? Here, sign these contracts and we’ll both dash down to Henry’s for a salad or something.” He pushed the papers toward Monty.
Monty glanced at them just long enough to see that the salary was correct, then, picking up the pen from the desk, he dipped it in the ink and carefully wrote his name on the dotted lines. The duplicate he folded and stuck in his pocket, while the other he placed before Gus.
This done, they went down the hall together, and into the street. There Monty recognized the only loud and gaudy thing that Gus owned—his massive motor car. It was the kind with big disc wheels, light blue in color, and far too many nickel-plated accessories, sticking from every angle.
Monty climbed in beside Gus, who had already started the motor. They slid smoothly out from the curb and onto the boulevard.
While they traveled down the wide thoroughfare, their conversations was constantly interrupted as Gus waved to friends, for he was one of the best known men of the industry.
“I’ll dash down to Madam Sophie’s to have my hair done right after lunch,” said Monty.
“Have her make it a dark brown?”
“Sure. Anything you say, Gus. You’re the boss, y’know,” Monty answered.
After lunch was over, Monty thanked Gus and departed for Madam Sophie’s, a few blocks up the boulevard.
As he walked he was conscious of a much lighter feeling around his heart. Had it done him good to tell his story, or was it securing the part, at his own figure, instead of Benny’s? He wondered.
Perhaps it was both facts that made him feel so light and happy again. And after he had his hair dyed, why say, he’d be a young man again. Maybe he would go back behind those alluring footlights. It was a good suggestion Gus had made, anyway. Well, he’d think about it after he finished this part.
“Ill be great in that,” he said, half aloud.
He was walking briskly now, and he entered Madam Sophie’s with all the pep and ginger of a person not more than twenty-odd.
Madam Sophie was one of those very blonde women, so often seen in a road show chorus. In fact, Monty dimly remembered that she had been an actress of sort at one time.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Monty,” she greeted him, smiling and showing a gold tooth on the upper left side.
“Yes,” he replied, “but not for long.”
“Sophie, I want my permanent wig dyed.”
“Oh! You’ll look just perfectly marvelous,” she exploded, displaying the age wrinkles about her faded blue eyes.
“Well, I hope so,” he replied dryly, looking about the white enameled room, with its glass cases of cosmetics and beautifiers.
“You know, Monty,” rambled on the woman, as she went about her preparations, “I begged you to dye your hair when you first hit this village. But you thought it would be cute to run around in your present condition. And now you’ve got yourself a great name, haven’t you? The Grey-Haired Youngster.” She gave vent to what she thought was a jolly laugh.
“Never mind the past, Sophie. Those days were kinda bum for both of us. This dyeing gag has got to be done right now, ready for tomorrow’s work.”
“Oh, all right,” she pouted, and pushed him into a small compartment all in white, with a tiny table and two short-legged stools.
Exactly one hour and thirty-five minutes later Monty strode proudly from Madam Sophie’s Beauty Parlor. If anyone had seen him go in, and had been there when he came out, they would never have recognized him. It was truly a remarkable change.
His hair was now a fluffy dark brown. And his face had been massaged. He was a little over forty, but the clever Madam Sophie had calmly taken at least fifteen years from his appearance.
He walked lightly down Hollywood Boulevard to his hotel in the heart of the business section. There, after proving he was really Monty Edwards, he caused Bill, the clerk, to open his fish-like eyes a bit wider, and stare in amazement. Monty danced lightly to the elevator, giving Bill a sly wink.
“What gets me, is where he gets this stuff,” muttered Bill, trying to appear busy.
Archie Mayo, dressed in over-sized golf knickers, who claimed he was the one and only real gagmen in Hollywood, tried his usual wise-crack on himself before speaking.
“It must have been hair tonic that he drank.”
Bill sighed and two ham actors arose from their seats and departed for the street, looking back disgustedly at Archie, who was still wondering why the expected laughter was not forthcoming.
The following morning at eight-thirty, Monty was in his private dressing room, gingerly applying a heavy coat of grease paint. A typewritten note on the illuminated mirror read:
 
    MAKE-UP NOTE FOR:
    Monty Edwards.
    Jackson: Director.
    Stage two.
   Type: N. Y. Rounder. Dissipated eyes. No powder on lids. Deep lines about mouth. Jazz Tux and trick cigarette holder (with black and white stripes if possible).
    Ready on set at nine!
 
Monty read this over a number of times as he smoothed the paint about his eyes and nose. “Gee, this is gonna be a great part,” he said to himself, as he patted his forehead with an extra large powder puff.
At five minutes to nine, the assistant camera-boy knocked on his door. Monty was just putting liquid whitening on his hands.
“Are you ready, Mr. Edwards?”
“Will be in a jiffy,” Monty replied.
With that he took one look at his immaculate Tuxedo in the long mirror, snapped out the light and carefully locked the door. He carried his black patent leather make-up case under his arm.
The glaring Cooper-Hewitt lights and the fierce Sun-Arcs greeted him as he entered the large enclosed stage. The Cooper-Hewitts, with their bluish, blinding rays, gave everyone and everything a ghastly, death-like appearance. The Sun-Arcs were the powerful bright lights and the dust from their carbons gave the close-up hounds what is generally known as Kleig eyes.
Monty glanced around before going over to Jackson, who stood in the center of the set, explaining the shots to his cameraman.
It was the reproduction of a famous dive on the East Side of New York. This atmosphere would be familiar stuff to Monty. A darned good reproduction too, he thought, as his survey took in the dirty scratched walls, the bare floor and tables. There was the usual battered piano, too, and the crudely painted nude pictures pasted on the walls.
Finally he went over to Jackson, who peered critically at him through a blue glass, which told color values and made Monty as he would on the screen. Jackson was pleased, Monty could tell by the appraising light in Jackson’s eyes. Monty swelled his chest a tiny bit.
“Edwards! Let’s have you out there,” cried the cameraman, who desired to make a test with the overhead lights and Monty’s makeup. Jackson gave Monty his O. K. and dismissed him for the test.
Prop men were busy with chairs and drapes. The electricians were “lining up” the set. Overhead lights with heavy cables were being swung into place. A number of carpenters were constructing Norma Lee’s portable dressing room. The extras began to stream in, talking loudly about last evening’s party at So and So’s house. This was the usual way of starting a movie day. It was always a sudden rush filled with last minute calls.
“Come on! Hurry up! This is terrible! Why is it that I always have to wait hours and hours to get started?” yelled the agitated director, throwing his megaphone to the floor.
No one answered him, but many speeded up their actions, even if they had not been doing anything in particular.
This went on for another half hour. Jackson was almost uncontrollable now. He was furious. Perspiration rolled down his face. His tie was off and his white sport shirt was loosened at his neckline.
“Damn it!” he shouted, “snap out of it! Come on now every one of you extras on the set. Some of you at the tables. Props, where the hell are the beer glasses and the bottles? Now all of you get the, ‘I’m a tuff guy’ look. Where’s the piano player?”
There were nearly a hundred extras there, in the usual East Side get-up. Gaudy plaid skirts and freakish hats on the girls. Loud shirts and trick salt-and-pepper suits for the men. Some with derbies and others with caps pulled down over their eyes. The piano-player was now in his place. He was the usual hollow-cheeked individual with a cigarette drooping from his thin lips.
 
End of Part 2
 

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