365 Nights in Hollywood: Stealing Cupid’s Stuff, 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 “Stealing Cupid’s Stuff,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection.

STEALING CUPID’S STUFF

 
 
Pop Ewing, sixty but full of pep, sat alone on the mourner’s bench in the casting office of Peerless Pictures, Inc. It was early—too early for struggling actors to arise and start their daily walks from studio to studio. It had not been like this three years ago; there was much work then.
Pop gazed at the heavily rouged young person behind the little barred window. There was the person who played the important role of Fate in the actor’s drama of life. She could say: “yeh, there’s a week’s work for you.” Or, “Nope—nothing doin’ this week.”
Pop sighed as he shifted his gaze ceilingward.
“What’s new, Pop?” she asked, poking her fluffy bobbed head through the window.
Pop straightened up a bit.
“Oh, the press agent’s wise crack, I guess.”
She laughed, displaying two rows of perfect, pearlyl-white teeth.
Pop was sore at Broadway. It had turned him down after he had made it laugh and forget its sorrows for twenty years. He had made a great name for himself in the old days; then came the flop, as he called it, and he was out for good. When managers ceased to greet him with a smile, and dinners at the club were no longer in his honor, he knew that Broadway’s curtain was down for him and his show was over; his act through—forever!
Pop declared he would not leave the old Street flat—like it had left him. And so he lingered along, hoping for something to turn up. But nothing did. He had been what is called a “Wise one” in his day, and his bank account was large. And then, too, he had made some splendid investments. Why should he care? But he did care; he was an actor, and “once an actor . . . “
“Anything gonna be comin’ up today, Flo?” he asked anxiously, walking up and down the long room.
“Not a thing so far, old dear.”
Flo was admiring the old actor. He had not been such a handsome young man, but he was very good looking for an old fellow, she thought. He was of medium height, slightly stout, had a pleasant, ruddy face, kind eyes that twinkled when he smiled (and he nearly always smiled). He wore his clothes—good clothes—to advantage.
“Were you ever married, Pop?”
“Nope; Cupid did a lot of shooting, but his aim was poor.”
Flo laughed again in a clear, refreshing voice.
“Say, how come a pretty girl like you to be doing this office work? Why aren’t you out on the stage grabbin’ a flock of close-ups in a mellerdrama?”
“Well, you have to be an actress or have a pull with the big boss. I’m not an actress, and this is as far as my pull would go.” Flo sighed sadly after this.
Pop sat down again.
“What a life!” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. She ceased to glance over the book she had been reading. “I like it in here. It’s a lot of fun, and I get time for some writing. You see, I’m going to be a writer one day.”
“Really?” Pop was taking interest.
“Yes, I’ve been going to night school for seven months now and I won a prize for a short story.”
“Say, that’s fine, Flo. I’m sure glad to hear that. How old are you?”
Now Pop was the kind of man who could ask a woman her age and get away with it. And they usually told him the truth, too.
“Twenty,” she answered him, without hesitating.
“Well, I’m here to tell the world you’re doing great.”
Flo giggled modestly.
“Pretty soon you’ll need a manager, eh?”
“No; not for a long time—if ever.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a young man.
“G’morning,” Pop greeted him hastily glancing his way, and then proceeded to read the morning paper he had just extracted from his coat pocket.
The young man looked around the room, at Flo, who was reading again, and then at Pop. He stood there awkwardly for a few moments. Finally he sat down beside the old actor.
“Er, that is—pardon me. Could you let me see the want ad section of the paper?” he asked, a bit confused.
Pop glanced up smilingly, then his jovial expression changed. He stared.
“You’re a new one in this village, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” replied the young man.
Pop handed him the second section of the paper, sorry that this young man was not of the talkative kind. Most of them were in Hollywood, where everyone is his own press agent,—and some of them are exceedingly good.
Pop pretended to be reading, but he was really thinking of the stranger. He noted the clothes that were immaculate, the expensive oxfords well polished, the socks neatly gartered, a shirt and scarf that had been carefully selected, and a cap that surely had come from England. Pop stole another look at his face. Well, it was the kind you find in collar ads, Pop decided, but seldom in real flesh and blood.
Pop tried to read, but his mind dwelt insistently on this handsome young chap, who carried an atmosphere of such distinct refinement. Finally Pop spoke.
“Are you looking for a job?”
“I am—very much so,” said the young man, in a well modulated voice. Even these few words carried added evidence of good breeding.
“That’s tough.”
“What is?” The young man stared at Pop.
“Out of a job—very much so!” quoted Pop.
The young man laughed. “Well, maybe,” he admitted.
“What do you want to do?” Pop kept on doggedly.
“Anything.”
“That’s a broad statement.”
“Well, I’m busted—flat.” This honestly, albeit cheerfully.
“Maybe I can help,” Pop said encouragingly.
The young man’s face beamed.
“Can you act?” asked Pop.
“Never have, but I think I can do as good as some of these so-called actors on the screen,” drily.
“I don’t doubt that, but no one else knows it.”
The young man nodded his head.
Four of Filmdom’s lesser artists of the silent drama entered the room. This was the beginning fo the daily stampede. By noon the room would be filled with minor-part players, cigarette smoke and loud talk of their past successes. It was always like this, every day, rain or shine, and in every casting office in Hollywood.
“What’s your name?” Pop asked.
“Tommy Sutton.”
“I’m Pop Ewing.” They shook hands.
“Now,” said Pop, “if you want me to help you, why you’d better tell me just what you’d like to do, and just how you stand with your landlady.”
“Really, I don’t want to bore you with my troubles,” Tommy protested.
“No bother at all.”
“Well,” he began, “I came down here from San Francisco and landed a job on a millionaire’s yacht to cruise around and over to the Islands this summer. But there was a girl—” he stumbled a bit, “that is, there was an argument and I—lost out—on the job.”
Pop nodded, his eyes twinkling. “What kind of work were you doing in Frisco?”
“I was on a daily up there. Cub stuff and a short subject of my own.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-three.”
“Wait a minute,” Pop said, rising and going over to the window.
Tommy’s eyes followed Pop and rested on the pretty round face of Flo, who smiled pleasantly at him.
Pop was soon pawing his way through the standing groups of job seekers and motioned Tommy to follow him out of the door.
“Had breakfast, son?” he asked, as they were on the walk in front of the massive studio.
“I’m not hungry,” Tommy answered.
“You’ll have a cup of coffee with your actor friend, won’t you?” Pop asked, but could have answered the question himself. He knew young men like Tommy Sutton. Broadway had a great many of them in his day and he guessed it still had.
“That’s mighty nice of—“
“Never mind that, son, I have a great plan for you, and I want to talk it over.”
Tommy smiled a trifle and Pop thought he saw him straighten his shoulders a bit.
Together they walked along under the drooping pepper trees. On their right was the wall of a giant enclosed stage. They could hear the electricians cry for lights and the shouts of an angry director. On their left was a wide, paved street, both curbs lined with automobiles of every description and price. On to Hollywood Boulevard, the Main Street of the film mecca; the street which has become as famous in ten years as Broadway in a lifetime.
They turned a corner and were in the business section. Pop pushed open the door of a white front cafe and lunch counter, and he and Tommy slipped into one of the double chairs at the counter.
“What will you have, Tommy?”
“Coffee’s all, I guess.”
“Better have some doughnuts?”
“All right.”
“Make it two cups and tires, Red,” Pop said to the waiter at the end of the counter. “Now,”—to Tommy—“you see, I’ve been looking for a—that is, I’ve been wondering where I could find a good newspaper writer.”
“I didn’t say I was good. Probably if I were I would have a job now,” Tommy returned ominously.
“That doesn’t matter much—in this case. And I’ll take it for granted.”
“I’ll try hard.” And Tommy meant every word of it.
“Here’s the idea:
You see, I’m an old actor, was on Broadeway for twenty years, and I’ve been here ten, so I know the gang and their moods pretty well. Now that the game has lapsed from a dizzy speed to a mere flicker or two, I have had to find other means of money making. One of them has been the agent route. I am a sort of an agent for some of the big legitimate actors who want to break into the flickers.”
Tommy was listening intently while munching on a fresh doughnut.
“Now, just two weeks ago I received word from Berlin that Sonya Merenaut, the great European writer, wanted to write some originals for the screen. It is unfortunate that her books have never been printed in America and very few of her efforts have been read here. I wouldn’t say that many of the great producers are familiar with her works. But she is good—very good, and would do wonders in pictures—I mean her stories. Since I have had the honor to be appointed her agent in this country, I felt that it is up to me to ‘put her over,’ as the press agents say.”
Pop stopped a moment to drink his coffee.
“Now,” he continued, “I want you to write some articles on her. I’ll tell you more about her later—and I’ll make you her personal press representative. How does that sound?”
“I’d sure like to try it; never have done any of that publicity stuff, but I guess I can.”
“Sure you can. Besides, if you write real news articles they’ll over better than all this hokum stuff which is shipped from here by express.”
“I think I can make the grade,” Tommy said, setting down his cup for the last time.
Pop took the checks, paid the cashier, and they stepped out uon the sidewalk.
“If you want to start at once, so much the better.” Pop said this absently. He was thinking of what next to do. He was a very busy man now, and he was enjoying it.
Tommy hesitated, so Pop, seeing his plight, helped him out of the difficulty.
“Son, I want you to be perfectly honest with me. I’ve got a dandy little bungalow up on Franklin Avenue and there’s room enough there for you—if you want to save rent.”
Tommy smiled his appreciation and Pop went on:
“I have an idea that you owe your landlady something, so I’ll advance you part of your first week’s salary. I’m starting you on twenty-five. How much do you owe?”
“Eight dollars.”
Tommy was a bit confused. Things had happened so suddenly in the past two weeks that he scarcely knew which way to turn. Finally he said:
“Mister Ewing, if it would help you any, I would like to stay at your house—if you’re sure I wouldn’t be in the way—and then you could take the room rent from my salary. Then, too, I could work under your personal supervision.”
“Fine! Fine, my boy! Just what I wanted you to do. Here’s a ten spot; have your trunk, or whatever you’ve got, sent down to the house. Here’s the address.” Pop handed him the ten dollar bill and one of his cards. “Now while you’re doing that, I’ll run up the street to get a typewriter and some press agent materials.”
Tommy was light-hearted again. The first time he had ever been without money had not been so bad after all, he decided, as he walked steadily toward Vine Street and his rooming house. “Pop Ewing is certainly a friend in need,” he mused, speeding up his pace.
Mrs. Stevens, the landlady, greeted him sourly. But Tommy at once softened her facial expression by displaying the greeback. She gave him the change, and remarked that she hoped he intended to stay. But Tommy declined, saying that he was departing at once, and she hastily withdrew, offended at his abrupt manner.
Hurriedly he threw what few clothes he had in a leather handbag, gave his tiny room a swift glance and ran down the creaky stairs. The postman was just leaving the morning mail, but Tommy darted out, unable to think of anyone who would write him, and hastened to the boulevard.
In the meantime, Pop had been investing in what he had termed “press agent materials.” A typewriter, reams of white paper, second sheets, carbon paper, thick lead pencils, photomailers, envelopes and a carton of cigarettes. He had the typewriter delivered, but the other things he carried with him.
Pop placed the newly arrived machine on a table in Tommy’s room, that was desinted also to be the business office. Shortly thereafter the bell rang and Pop admitted his new press representative.
Tommy noted with keen interest the furnishings of the house. Theyw ere very tasteful and it was quite evident money had been spent rather lavishly.
“Do you keep this house all by yourself?” he asked.
“I certainly do, and proud of it!”
“I would be, too. It’s a great dive. Why, you’ve got a lot of women beat at housekeeping,” Tommy declared.
Pop beamed as he took Tommy to his new sleeping quarters.
“Gee!” exclaimed the young man. “Mahogany bed—dresser—table—chairs—Chinese rugs—wrought iron floor lamps—and—and tinted walls for me?”
“How do you like it?”
“Honest, Pop—” this was the first time he had used the informal address—“I wish I could tell you in words just what I think of you.”
“never mind, son, if you’re satisfied. Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the dive, as you call it.”
Then came the tour of inspection, and Tommy was greatly impressed, although he could only voice his sentiments in oh’s and ah’s, and Pop fully appreciated it. Pop was greatly pleased with his new protege.
Finally they landed in Tommy’s room again and proceeded to outline a publicity campaign for the great Sonya Merenaut. Together they spent two hours originating fictitious stories about their client. Pop called a halt when they felt a sudden desire for a noon meal. Having finished lunch at a popular cafe in the vilage, where Pop pointed out nearly all the celebrities of the town, they departed for home again.
Tommy was no slacker for work. The afternoon was devoted to the manufacture of publicity stories for the newspapers of America, both large and small. He worked fervently and sincerely over them, gradually growing intensely interested in his brain children, and taking special care to put a note of sincerity into his stuff, which he knew, from his newspaper experience, was more than the average press agent did.
Tommy had his campaign almost complete before he visited the old actor’s room. There he found Pop stretched out on his bed, surrounded by a mountain of fan magazines and motion picture journals.
“Pop, I’ve got to have some photographs of this great Sonya. Have you any?”
Pop raised himself to a sitting position.
“Let’s see. No, I don’t think I have. Do you have to have them?”
“Don’t say that I do, but it would be a cinch to get them in, since our publicity stunt happens to be real news stuff.” … (Part 2 to come)
 
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