365 Nights in Hollywood: Stealing Cupid’s Stuff, 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 “Stealing Cupid’s Stuff,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection. (Here’s Part 1, in case you missed it last week).


Pop was silent for a moment.
“Did Rodney send over the mailing list I ‘phoned for?”
“Yes; a kid brought it while you were watering the back yard right after lunch.”
“Sit down,” said Pop, pushing some of the magazines aside.
“Can you get some photos of Sonya?” Tommy repeated.
“Maybe,” slowly.
“I’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Well, if you can do that, we’ll have some copies made and we’ll send them out to our entire mailing list.” Tommy was bubbling over with enthusiasm.
It was a week later. Pop burst in suddenly on Tommy, who sat smoking a cigarette while he read over some of the latest press clippings.
“Say,” shouted Pop, “Sonya will be here in about a week! Just got a wire from New York. She’s just arrived and is coming directly out here.”
Pop landed beside Tommy, a bit out of breath and with a yellow telegram waving. Tommy read:
“Pop Ewing,
“4642 Franklin Avenue,
Hollywood, Calif.:
  “Just arrived on Morcca. Will be in
Hollywood in about a week. Date
follows.          Sonya Merenaut.”
“That means I’ll have to get busy on the local press stuff. I’ll get all the dramatic editors interested and have some photographers down at the station to meet her.”
“That’s the stuff!” cried Pop, stuffing the telegram back in his pocket.
“Here, look at these,” said Tommy, shoving a handful of newspaper clippings into Pop’s hands. “They just came in. That picture you found of her was great. I’ve been checking up and nearly every editor used it.”
“Say, these are good,” Pop commented, approvingly.
“I’ve counted them. We have, to date, just one thousand two hundred printed articles on Sonya Merenaut, and they are still using them. And just think, we’ve only been sending this stuff out for a week and a day. That’s certainly doing our stuff.”
“Honest, Tommy, you’ve got any press agent in Hollywood beat,” Pop was saying, as he glanced over the clippings.
“I wasn’t fishing for a compliment,” said Tommy, modestly.
“I know, I know, but it’s the truth just the same. I’m going to see if I can’t get you on with Sonya just as soon as she arrives. I imagine she will want someone like you to do her publicity—if she’s going to have a press agent.”
“I would certainly like to work for her. If she is anything like her photo, she is a beautiful person.” He picked up one of his publicity photos. “Look, Pop, at those soulful eyes; soft and—and like one who would understand. Her face is round. Probably has a temper, but she’s got a lot of ambition. Her mouth is nice—and determined. In fact, she’s a darn nice girl.”
“Of course she’s a nice girl. And she’s a great author, too.” Pop stated this with pride and a swelled chest.
“She looks awfully young to be such a great success,” Tommy mused.
“Why, say, she wrote the great drama entitled ‘Poisoned Souls,’ and then the comedy-drama, ‘A Duke’s Mixture,’ and—well, there were a lot of others.”
Tommy had been writing the titles down as Pop spoke. “Do you know any of the others?”
“Wait a minute, maybe I can think of them. Is it important?”
“I would like to give it to the local press when she arrives,” answered the young press agent.
“I’ll have the complete list for you by then. Can you get something over about her locally?”
“I’m going to spend the afternoon down at the newspaper offices. I’ll tell you tonight just want my success really is.”
Pop left the room and proceeded to express his thoughts by playing some very catchy melodies on the grand piano in the front room.
Tommy gathered some freshly typed sheets together and a number of pictures, and left the house, stating that he would return in time for dinner.
As he walked down to the boulevard to board the street car for Los Angeles he was suddenly stopped by a pulling on his coat sleeve. It was Mrs. Stevens, his former landlady.
“Oh, Mister Sutton!” she exclaimed, quite out of breath, “I’ve been searching Hollywood for you.”
“Yes?” he said quietly.
“Yes, I’ve got a letter for you,” she continued, as she dug into a large flat combination handbag and purse. “It came the day you left.”
Tommy looked startled. He held his hand anxiously for the letter. Finally she handed it to him. He thanked her absently, tipped his hat and walked on, leaving her slightly confused. Then he tore open the sealed flap and read:

  “I shall not bother you any more. I
married him yesterday, and I shall be
happy, very happy.
  “I realize now, Tommy, just what a
fool I was, and I want you to think the
best of me.
  “Please come and see me—if you’re
coming back.          Alice.”
Tommy Sutton read the short note again. He wanted to be sure he had read correctly the first time. Then he sighed. He was glad for Alice that she was married—and he was very glad that he was not the bridegroom.
Alice had been the cause of his break with the millionaire, and the loss of a wonderful trip. She had openly forced his attentions. She was fickle and Tommy certainly did not like her type. She had even proposed to him and he guessed he must have acted quite unmanly, for Alice said she had been insulted. He was sorry and very much confused, so he had avoided her. Now she was married—and he was safe.
As Tommy walked on, his step became lighter. He did hope that Alice would be happy. She had certainly made him very happy. He must thank her—if he ever went back to San Francisco.
He boarded an inbound car for Los Angeles. His thoughts were now on Sonya Merenaut. He wondered. . . .
When Tommy returned he found Pop anxiously waiting in the kitchen with a large piece of bread and jam. One thing certain, Pop was always exact with his meals. He must have them—all of them—on time. That was eight, twelve and six. It was six-thirty now. Thus the slice of bread and jam. He just couldn’t wait until Tommy returned to have dinner at seven in the cafe on the boulevard.
“Sorry I was late, Pop.”
“It’s all right, but come on, tell me all about it at the restaurant. I’m starving.”
With that he grabbed Tommy’s sleeve and hastened him toward the front door again. Tommy smiled and followed meekly.
As they were seated at a table, Pop hurriedly clutched the menu and proceeded to order his full quota of evening food.
After this was done, he could talk.
“Tell me now, just what luck did you have?”
“It was great. The afternoon papers will run a short notice of her arrival a couple of days before, and then on the day she comes I’ll write each of them an exclusive story. They promised to send their photographers down to the station and get some photos of her. These will be rushed back to the office and are scheduled to appear in the late afternoon and home editions.”
“That’s good work.”
“The morning papers will do their own story because they have plenty of time, and will probably run a short interview with some photos, of course.”
“Didn’t you have any trouble at all then?” Pop questioned.
“No, couldn’t call it that. I had to tell them something about her to get them to go down. After that they seemed quite interested.”
“I knew you’d get it over, my boy.”
Tommy lapsed into silence then. The appearance of his lamb chops reminded him that he was really hungry after his talk with the dramatic editors.
The next two days found Tommy without much to do. He straightened up his room, arranged the two thousand three hundred and forty-seven clippings in scrap books and made reference lists for the stories he had written on Sonya Merenaut.
He spent a day at the beach viewing some of filmdom’s greatest in their bathing suits and at play with the rest of the world. This was only mildly interesting. Tommy was actually counting the hours until he would see and speak to Sonya Merenaut. Why he had suddenly taken such a desire he did not know. Yet, he had caught himself admiring her likeness a number of times in the past few days. Probably Alice’s letter had caused that. Then, too, he had actually placed her portrait on his dresser—the sacred place for a girl’s picture.
Then came the day on which Sonya Merenaut entered the land of sunshine and fur-trimmed bathing beauties. Tommy tried to only slightly excited and very business-like. Pop did not hide his enthusiasm and noticed the nervousness of his young protege. He smiled to himself and hoped. . . .
The long train glided magnificently in, under the great white covering of the large station. Tommy and Pop stood on tiptoe, straining the chain which held expectant ones like themselves from rushing down and relieving the new arrivals of their luggage. Tommy thought he would write the railroad commissioner, asking that the chain be removed. It was a perfect shame that persons were not permitted to greet the newcomers from the train steps.
“There she is!” Pop cried excitedly, pointing to an exquisitely gowned young woman, picking her way through the crowd.
The photographers crowded around him, ready to snap their cameras and make a hasty retreat to their respective papers. The interviewers waited emotionless. It was part of their life—this sort of thing. They actually fretted Tommy with their calmness.
Finally he was looking into Sonya’s eyes. And immediately he discovered that she was more beautiful than he had dreamed. She held out her small white hand. He took it, nervously.
“Welcome to our city, Miss—Miss Merenaut,” Tommy murmured.
“Ah, this is the man who has written so many, many nice things about me, is it not?” Sonya questioned Pop in accented English.
Tommy had wondered what language she would use.
“It most assuredly is!” Pop answered her smilingly.
Tommy then mustered up courage enough to introduce her to the waiting interviewers, who crowded around and asked questions, one at a time, which she answered coolly and unhesitatingly.
At last the newspaper men had gone. Tommy was greatly relieved. Sonya handed him nine trunk checks.
“Would you mind having my trunks checked to—to, where is it now, Pop?”
“The Hollywood Hotel, Tommy.”
Tommy immediately ran down to the baggage room. When he came back he found Pop and Sonya already in the large hired car.
During the eight-mile ride to Hollywood, Sonya expressed, with the waving of her tiny hands, just what she thought of the palm-shaded drives, the sun-lighted streets, the bungalow courts, the wide expanse of blue sky, and the many, many automobiles. But Tommy sat dumb, entranced.
An hour later Tommy and Pop entered their home, three blocks from the hotel. Tommy silently gave thanks that it was only three blocks.
“I’ve arranged for a small dinner party in Sonya’s honor at the hotel tonight,” Pop declared, seating himself in a large divan near the open fireplace.
“I believe I’ll go back to town and wait for the first edition with our story in it,” Tommy said restlessly.
“Fine! And ‘phone me the results, will you? I’ll call up Sonya and tell her that you’ll bring out the papers.”
Tommy departed.
Pop took the receiver from the hook and called Sam Groman, president of the Peerless Pictures Corporation. Then he talked to two other individuals at the same number.
An hour and forty-five minutes passed. Pop had just started to shave when the telephone rang.
“Hello. Yes, this is Pop, Tommy.”
“Gosh, that’s great! Read me a bit of it.”
Pop listened anxiously while Tommy read bits from the paper.
“Are you sure it says Superba Pictures Corporation has rights to all her stories? Well, never mind. Are you coming right out? All right.”
The long table seated just eight persons. They were Sam Groman and wife; Soi Rolf, production manager for Peerless, and his wife; Iva Beresford, scenario editor for Peerless; Pop, Tommy and Sonya.
Sam had tried to explain to Sonya the present picture situation in Hollywood, and she had tried in turn to answer questions concerning the same subject in Europe; the result had been that in an effort to get acquainted, little of the business of the evening had been accomplished.
Finally, just as the dessert was being served, Pop announced that he had something of importance to say. His very manner demanded the strictest attention.
“I know all of you read in the late afternoon papers that Sonya Merenaut’s great stories had been purchased by Superba Pictures. This is absolutely untrue. I have the honor to announce that Sam Groman, ten minutes before this dinner, signed a contract for the entire literary output of this very brilliant and charming young woman.”
Pop waited, while he looked at the surprised expressions.
“Sonya Merenaut is now a member of the Peerless Pictures Corporation. She will work under the leadership of Miss Beresford and will write four stories a year under a five-year contract. Her salary will be in three figures for the first half of the contract. After that a mutual agreement is to be constructed as to the number of stories and the amount of salary.”
Again Pop glanced over his audience with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Now comes the real surprise. I told Sam after he signed the contract, and it was hard to make him promise not to expose me. Sonya Merenaut, every one of you present know, but not as Sonya Merenaut. She is”—he waited—“the girl who was formerly in the casting office of the Peerless Studio! Her real name is Florence Evans!”
It was a long time before any of them spoke. The silence was broken by the laughter of Sam. He admitted he had been just as dumbfounded as they, when Pop told him.
Pop went on to tell how he had suddenly thought of the idea after Flo had told him she was writing stories and he had found Tommy out of work. One thing led to another. He had decided to back Flo in her literary career. When Tommy asked for Sonya’s picture, Pop had been almost stumped, but then he rushed Flo to a photographer and had him do a lot of retouching on the negative and then turn out the finished print, which really did not look unlike her, but was not an exact photograph.
“I had to send myself telegrams and all sorts of letters,” he added, smilingly.
“Then he came to see me,” put in Sam, “and made me read a lot of stories, which were really better than the stuff we’d been doing. Pop told me about Sonya, and I said I’d sign her up when she arrived. It was Pop’s idea to say she had signed with Superba. He said it would get us a lot of publicity, and believe me it did.”
Sam looked admiringly at Flo, who would from now on be known to the film fans and Hollywood as Sonya Merenaut.
“I had to go into hiding for three days,” broke in Flo, “then this morning I motored down to a little jerk-water station and boarded the train there, with my nine trunks. I really considered it a great lark until I had to face those interviewers; then I was scared nearly silly. That and facing the photographers was the worst.”
Tommy looked sheepish as he pieced together bits of the story. They were all laughing now and demanding more details. Pop was the center of attraction.
The orchestra began to play.
“If you will pardon me,” Tommy said, “Son—Flo and I will have this dance.”
Six pairs of eyes followed the couple as they glided over the polished floor.
“Pop,” said Sam Gronan, “you and your press agent are hired. We need you two boys in our compnay. Come up tomorrow and we’ll discuss terms.”
Pop thanked him. His eyes wandered over to the couple who were dancing in rhythm with a soothing melody. Soon he saw them coming slowly toward the table. Tommy was holding Flo’s hand boyishly. Flo was shining with joy. Pop straightened proudly in his chair.
“Some part I played,” he murmured to himself.
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