365 Nights in Hollywood: Humor Risque, Pt. 1

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 1 of “Humor Risque,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection.

HUMOR RISQUE

 
 
“C’mon in the office,” muttered the blase office boy, vigorously chewing a large piece of gum.
Monty Edwards rose from the mourner’s bench in the casting office of the Superba Pictures Corporation.
As he walked down the long hall, passing many busy offices, to the massive one of the casting director, he wondered if he would be saved the not easy task of further hunting for a job.
They had sent for him. There must be something good in it—if he pulled the right strings, and he intended to do that. Anyway, he had made very good considering the short time he had termed himself a Hollywood citizen. Why should he have any trouble now, when he had always found plenty of work? No reason at all, he thought, dismissing the subject.
Monty straightened up as he neared the office. He was in his early forties, but his face was like that of a younger man, of about thirty-two or three. Only his hair betrayed his age. It was an even steel grey, and now beginning to streak with white.
Because of this, he was known to the film colony as The Grey Haired Youngster. He was of medium height with a splendid physique. And he had fine sensibilities in the matter of his dress. He had, moreover, an air, a self-confident poise, which is supposed to come only with comfortable security. Beside this he had a cheery manner of good comradeship that made for an ever-increasing popularity.
“Hello, Monty,” cried the casting director, shoving a number of photographs to one side. “How’s the old boy this morning, eh?”
“Just fine, Benny, just fine.” Monty stepped inside the door.
Benny was the eminent casting director for Superba Pictures, and he fairly gloated in the honor. He was a large, thick-necked, red-faced, somehow good looking man of thirty-five, clean shaven, carefully dress, and he wore a flower in his buttonhole.
“Sit down, Monty, I want to talk to you. Bring that chair over by the desk.”
Monty stepped lightly over to the corner of the room and returned with a heavy over-stuffed chair.
The office interior was a credit to the decorator who had planned it. The walls were tinted in dark brown and gold. Many handsome frames holding autographed portraits were cleverly arranged about the room. The thick carpet, which covered the floor, was a dead black. Benny’s desk had been an old oak thing, but an eccentric artist of the studio had enameled it a number of times in black and then added thin gold lines. The stenographer’s desk repeated the pattern. A wrought-iron lamp with a shade in sunset tones added a final note of ease and luxury. The great files of photographs, so necessary to a casting director, were kept in a small room adjoining this.
Monty settled himself in the chair.
“Have a cigarette?” asked Benny, shoving a bright silver case before his visitor.
“Yes, I will, thanks.”
They struck matches and puffed bluish smoke ceilingward.
“Well, here’s the gag,” Benny stated, leaning back in his chair. “You’ve got to dye your hair, and you’ve got to do it today. Tomorrow you work.”

Monty flinched at the words.
“What is it—a good bit?”
“No. It’s a real part this time, Monty. Three weeks, maybe four.”
“How much?”
“I’ll get you a hundred per.”
Monty was staring at a large photograph in front of him.
“Perhaps fifty more,” Benny continued.
Monty turned towards Benny with that.
“Who’s directin’?”
“Jackson, with Norma Lee starring.”
“Sounds pretty good,” said Monty, calmly.
“It is good, Monty. It’s your chance to make a name for yourself—a real name. And I want to see you do it. Honest I do.”
“Why?” Monty was toying with his cigarette in the ash tray on the desk.
“Because, with your hair dyed, you’ve got the worldly look of a Broadway cafe rounder. The past calls for an old timer at the game. You’d be a knockout with the part, Monty.” Benny was enthusiastic. He puffed quickly on his cigarette.
“Go on, tell me more about the part.” Monty was still quite calm.
“Well, you’re the dummy for Abe Asher, the great vaudeville booking agent. You’re the guy who travels around to the different low dives and picks out the talent. You see, you’re quite the dancer—jazz stuff, and you hit all these dumps every so often. When they see you come into the place, why they all do their stuff. You got a lot of laughs in the part, and it’s a big one. Anyway, one night you stroll into a swell tough joint and you see this swell young dame. It’s Norma, of course, and all at once you recognize this innocent girl as a new one. She’s got talent, and so you give her your card, and she dashes up to Abe the next day. He books her and she
“Sounds pretty good,” remarked Monty.
“You bet-cha life it’s good. Honest, Monty, I wouldn’t drag you into something you couldn’t do. You’d damn near steal the picture—if you’d work this gag right. I’m tellin’ you.” Benny was peering into Monty’s face.
Monty took another cigarette from the open case on the desk.
“Well, Benny,” he said, “don’t you think I ought to get more than one-fifty for that?”
“Aw, what’s the matter with you, Monty? I’ll see that you’re treated right. Will you take the part?” Benny appeared overly anxious.
“I will if you’ll make out a contract for two hundred per.”
“Say, listen—“
The telephone sang in its shrill ring.
Benny grasped it angrily.
“Hello!” he shouted into the mouthpiece.
Then suddenly he calmed and was all smiles. He even smoothed down what little hair he had on the back of his head.
“Yes, dearie,” he was saying. “Sure I’ll meet’cha there. Where? Oh, the Little Club. Fine. Twelve-thirty? Sure. Bye-bye.” He placed the instrument back on the desk.
“Now,” he resumed with a sort of fierceness, “Monty, don’t be so sudden in saying you want two hundred. I don’t know if I can get that for the part.”
“Well, you ought to,” remarked Monty dryly.
“Listen, Monty, I’ve known you ever since you hit Hollywood three years ago, and I don’t like that attitude you’ve taken—when I’m offering you a real part.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” replied Monty with sincerity.
Benny shifted his position in the chair.
“No, not at all, old man; but I want you to take the part even in you do think the salary is a trifle low. I tell you, it’ll make you. It would be worth while for you to just do this part a bit cheaper, because it’s bound to lead up to something bigger. But you got to dye your hair.”
Monty flinched again at those words.
“I’ll take the part and dye my hair this afternoon for two hundred per week,” he stated firmly.
“Hell!” muttered Benny disgustedly. “Well, if that’s the ticket, you’ll have to see—“
The telephone again put in its angry ring.
Benny again grasped it angrily.
“Hello! No, I’m all cast for today. Don’t know of a thing. No, nothing coming up, either. Sorry.”
He hung up the receiver and resumed attention to Monty. Then suddenly he took up the ‘phone again.
“Say, listen, dearie,” he spoke overly-sweet to the exchange operator, “if any more calls come in, just tell ‘im I’m out on the set, will yeh? Thanks.”
“Where was I now?” he asked.
Monty had not moved during the conversation.
“You were telling me to go see some one.”
“Oh, yes, Monty, if you still want two hundred you’ll have to see Gus Deming, the production manager, in room 205 down the hall. You know him, don’t you?”
Monty saw that Benny was disgusted because he could not sign him up at his own figure. But Monty knew the ropes in the movie game as he did in vaudeville. If he could have the part, which he thought had been written for him, he wanted to be paid accordingly.
Benny knew that Monty should have two hundred, at least. But it was his business to get them as low as possible. Monty understood this, and would have jumped at the chance even at one hundred, had he not known. But when Superba Pictures Corporation really wanted anyone, they were willing to pay top prices. Monty considered himself a wise egg.
So, as he went down to Gus Demings’s office, he decided he would demand two-fifty and a guarantee of four weeks’ work.
This office, Monty noted, was quite unlike that of Benny’s. Gus was not the exotic being that Benny aspired to. He ate at the studio cafeteria, while Benny usually dined at the Little Club with some very blonde creature, who liked to put it on and talk very loud. Benny craved that type of stuff. Gus was through; he had had his day of that sort of thing. Gus had known Monty when both were doing the two-a-day for forty weeks straight over Big Time.
Gus was always pleasant. One liked him immediately. He was average stature, not overly stout, and he was husky. He wore his clothes well, and had them cut according to the prevailing jazz style. He was not young, perhaps four or five years older than Monty. There were deep wrinkles about his mouth when he smiled, and he nearly always smiled.
“How’s tricks?” Gus greeted his old friend.
“Fine, Brother Footlight Artist,” smiled Monty.
Monty found a seat on a straight-backed chair. Gus picked up his burning cigar from the ash tray.
“Well, Monty, what is it this time?”
“Benny’s got me picked for the part of a rounder in Norma’s next—which starts tomorrow.”
“Well, that’s nice. I’m glad to hear it,” Gus commented nonchalantly.
“Benny wants to give me a hundred and maybe fifty. But I want two-fifty and a guarantee of four weeks’ work.”
“Whew!” Gus exclaimed. “Are you getting to be the temperamental thing! It must be your old age,” Gus mused to himself. He remained silent for a few moments, then he continued:
“Tell you what I’ll do with you, Monty,” he began with a twinkle in his eye, “if you’ll consent to tell me just what made your hair gray so suddenly, I’ll give you the two-fifty and four weeks or more. I’ve always wanted to know since it happened and no one has been able to tell me.”
Monty’s eyes grew suddenly wide. He moved uneasily in his chair. His gaze shifted from Gus to the floors, the files, and the hat rack.
“I’ve never told any one, Gus,” he finally stammered, weakly. “But you’ve been a good pal, and—well, I’ll tell you—if you want to know that bad.”
Gus pushed the imitation pearl button on the corner of his desk. His pretty stenographer entered immediately from a small office adjoining the larger one.
“Make out a contract for Monty Edwards for two-fifty a week and with a surety of four weeks’ pay. Then bring it to me, and we’ll sign it.”
She started to leave the office when he called her back.
“Oh, Miss Martin, take it up with Benny and have him O. K. it first and then find Jackson and have him do the same. I shall be busy. No callers or interruptions for some time, please. That’s all, thanks.”
With that she departed quickly.
“Pretty kid,” Monty said without much interest.
“Yes, she is. Great little worker too. She came out to Hollywood to get in pictures as an actress. Wise kid, found out that being an extra without a pull somewhere was all bunk for an ambitious person, so she took up a stenographic course. And now she’s planning to become a scenario writer.”
“It’s great to be young, isn’t it, Gus?” wistfully.
“I’ll tell the world,” vehemently. “I wish I were still as young in actions as you are. You’ve lasted a hell of a long time. How do you do it?”
Monty just smiled a wise little smile of his.
“Now, will you tell me, Monty, what I want to know?” Gus asked quietly.
“All right,” Monty said, almost sadly. “You remember, Gus, away back in 1904, Flo and I had just made the grade. We were doing big time then.”
Gus nodded.
“The year before we’d been amateurs over in Brooklyn pickin’ up five berries apiece on amateur nights. Then one night at the old Palace we just finished our little bit, when Harry Myron told us to come up and see him the next day at his office. He was booking ten and twenty-week stuff then, but it looked like heaven to both of us.”
“Flo and I both agreed not to say anything to our parents that night. We decided to wait until we had a real engagement first. Well, the next day found us at Harry’s office on lower Broadway, and very much excited. Harry was one of these fast guys. Talked in short sentences, something like a grouchy old judge in an up-state village.”
“All he said was: ‘Here are the contracts. Sign ’em. I’m givin’ you fifty apiece and your railroad tickets. It’s for twenty weeks. Telegraph me before you leave each town. And pay for the message! You open in Atlantic City Sunday. Have you signed ’em yet?’ We were so nervous we forgot to ask him what to put on, or anything. We signed the contracts and he showed us out into the hall.
“We found ourselves down on Broadway again, in a sort of daze. I was so happy then I hugged and kissed Flo right there on the street. We finally decided to ‘phone our parents and tell them the good news. We had quite neglected to ask them whether or not we could go on the stage professionally. We had both taken that for granted. Well, this thought worried us very little. We were too happy to think of very much at one time. It all seemed like a dream and I was afraid I would wake up in a minute or so. Especially when we ‘phoned our parents. While I was thinking of this, Flo decided we would stay in town that night and blow in the ten dollars we had earned the night before.
Gus extracted another cigar from a box in the desk drawer, lighted it, and then threw a fresh package of cigarettes at Monty.
“Flo finally persuaded me to ‘phone my parents first. Mother, of course, was shocked and didn’t believe me when I told her we had really a certain engagement, and had contracts and everything. She was asking all sorts of questions when I told her that Flo and I were going to be married.
“I hadn’t really thought of this idea until just that moment. Mother was more excited than I now, and she stuttered all sorts of questions over the wire. Flo was listening close by. I watched her eyes light up when I spoke about being married that night. Mother finally calmed down when I told her we were coming home as soon as we could get all of this attended to.
“Even before supper, Flo insisted that we visit the minister. She persuaded me to go over to that benevolent old fellow, Dr. Charles, on East Side. He married us, kissed Flo and wished us success. Flo then wanted to eat in some old place on Fifty-fourth Street, so we walked happily back there.
“After this was all over, I made her ‘phone her mother. But my mother had preceded us, and Flo’s mother had heard the news. I guess she was as happy as we were. Anyway, she sounded that way over the ‘phone. It had really turned out better than we had expected, or hoped for.”
Monty hesitated a moment. He reached for package of cigarettes and began to open it carefully. Then he resumed his story. Gus had been so interested he had permitted his cigar to go out. He took this opportunity to light it again.
“You remember, Gus, that all of this was in 1903. We opened in Atlantic City and went over great, considering that this was our first professional appearance. We had requested our fond parents to remain away for a few days until we were used to the place.
“A month or so passed and we were well acquainted with the ropes. I still think our great happiness was the cause of our success. We finished those twenty weeks without a break. Harry raised us to a hundred each before our contract was up. Then he booked us as head-liners. We changed the act a bit. We were both doing straight stuff. I finally persuaded Flo to bring in her violin and I would do some sob stuff on the old piano. I suggested this instead of the cheap music hall gag I had been doing. We tried it out once, and it went over great. We then agreed to do this high-brow stuff on our next contract.
“Well, we finished another twenty weeks all right. But Flo had to lay off. A little stranger was coming into our happy family. I told Harry, and he turned out to be a great sport. He put me on doin’ a single, but it kinda took the pep out of me when I didn’t find Flo to greet me behind the wings.”
“Our little one—a girl—was born in February, 1905. Harry took me off the road long enough to visit Flo. We both were so happy, and planned so many things for a new act. Gee, those were the days! I went back on the road until Flo was well enough to travel with me. Carol—that was our baby’s name—was an unusually good child. Stage life was born in her. She enjoyed watching the actors from the wings, and it was her delight to muss around in grease paint. I believe, honestly, that we were the happiest couple doin’ a turn then.
“Do you recall, Gus, when we met you in San Francisco during 1907?”
“Do I recall it? I’ll say I do. You were so happy, Monty, at being on the Coast finally, that you blew the gang to the eats that night at Joe’s on Post Street.”
Gus had turned back the years and he was thinking of those days, and smiling over them.
Monty lighted another cigarette and continued:
“It was while playing the Cort Theatre on O’Farrell Street, Gus, that we started on the act which really made us famous. Everyone at the time was playin’ up the rag stuff, so we changed, and Flo played ‘Humoresque’ on the fiddle. Why, Gus, I’ve seen her make hard men actually cry. And I’ve watched women, with tears streaming down their painted cheeks, applaud with all their might. God! She was wonderful!”
Monty was speaking more slowly now, and absently.
“She used to do the same piece for an encore, and she got me to do it with her. We used to forget we had any audience. We were considered the greatest act on the circuit then. And we were gettin’ big money. Flo insisted that we save all we could and put it away. She said: ‘Monty, old dear, we’re not always gonna have things coming our way like this. When we’re done, we’re done, that’s all there is to it.’
“We were down in Texas when the war started. I wired Harry collect and got by with it. I told him I was going to enlist. He wired he was sorry I was going, and that he wished me luck. He also wired for Flo to come back and start over on a new single.
“So she took Carol back to New York, while I went into a training camp. While I was there, I wrote a popular song and sent it to Flo. She thought it was great and took it to a song publisher. Before I could hardly turn around, everyone was raving about my song. It was bringing in wonderful royalties. Flo wrote that she was banking every cent. What a marvelous life partner she was!
“Then one night we were rushed off secretly to France on a big liner. I couldn’t write Flo, but the officials sent her the usual notice of my sudden departure.
Monty was toying with the letter opener now as he talked. And Gus was shifting his cigar, restlessly.
“Flo wrote me as often as could be expected under the circumstances, and sent me news of the gang. And I wrote too—when I had the chance. She was doing great all the time on the road. Once she wrote that Carol was ‘growing like a weed’ and I’d hardly know her when I returned. All this time, I was puttin’ on shows and sketches for the boys at the front; and there was a lot of talent over there. I know you don’t want to hear about the war, Gus, so I’ll leave it out—and it really doesn’t mean anything to this story anyway.
“At last I was returning home—one of the first. It seemed like I had been gone forever and ever, but it had been just a few years. Flo’s letters had sort of slowed down near the last, but I thought nothing of it; I was so happy at the thought of returning to my loved ones. There had been times over there which I thought would be my last. But God was good, and I came out of the awful mess with only minor injuries.”
Monty stopped, this time for longer than usual. Gus wondered what was coming. The silence was intense. Then Monty, in a quivering voice, went on:
“I’ll never forget that day, Gus, when we landed I fairly ran down the gangplank. I searched every face behind the straining ropes. There were shouts of joy for the others, but none for me. I had wired Flo when I would arrive, and I had thought,—in fact, Harry would let her off to meet me.
“Suddenly,”—he was talking fast and loudly now—“as I stood there looking wildly around like an imbecile. Harry—good ole Harry—grasped me sternly by the arm. ‘Welcome home! Welcome home! Glad to see you, ole trouper,’ he shouted. ‘Where’s Flo?’ I asked excitedly. ‘Where’s Flo and little Carol?’
“At my words his happy expression clouded; yet he looked as though he expected it—and I had not disappointed him. Then I knew something had happened. I clutched him excitedly, begging him to tell me. But he wouldn’t, in all that crowd, so hustled him through the happy throng, and into a waiting taxi, nearby.
“Our orders had been to remain with our captain and prepare to march up Broadway. But I cared little for orders just then. I had to know what was the matter with my two loved ones—and why they had failed me on my home-coming. I seemed to sense that something awful had happened, and I actually dreaded to hear Harry speak. As we stepped into the cab, I noticed for the first time, that Harry had aged considerably. And he looked even more dissipated than he had in his younger days.”
Gus was leaning towards Monty now…
 
End of Part 1
 

Read Pt. 2 >

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