365 Nights in Hollywood: The Twenty-Foot Kiss, Part 2

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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 “The Twenty-Foot Kiss,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection. (Here’s Part 1, if you missed it.)

THE TWENTY-FOOT KISS

 
 
Paul, who was quite white with emotion, then told Kahn how he and Thomas Smythe had been going to dinner together each night and how he had always called for him after work. Then he related having seen the hurried departure of Jewel Joseham, and of coming immediately afterward to Smythe’s dressing room to find him already dead.
At the end of this recital Adolph Kahn nodded his head, thoughtfully. He, too, was considering the situation that had existed between the two well-known actors. Then they closed the door and went back to Kahn’s office.
There Kahn chewed savagely on a fat cigar, while he telephoned to the police and made arrangements for dealing quietly for the present with this extraordinary circumstance.
While they waited for the police ambulance, they remained silent—thinking. Adolph Kahn nervously paced the heavily carpeted floor. Neither of them spoke. They strain was almost tangible.
At last the detectives and a deputy coroner arrived. They made their official notes as to the position of the body, while Paul watched them closely; it seemed but a matter of duty with them, and they worked swiftly, efficiently, thoroughly over the red tape they considered necessary.
Finally the deputy coroner released the body and it was placed in the police ambulance to be taken to whatever morgue the coroner saw fit to assign.
The three officers questioned Kahn and Paul. Both gave what information they could. Paul did most of the talking. Adolph Kahn was so excited by now that his words were an unintelligible jumble.
The detectives stated on departing that the body would be examined at once and that Kahn and Paul had better call at the police station in the morning before going to work. To this, both agreed.
Paul rushed at once over to Vergie’s home and trusted her with the news.
“Oh, Paul, how terrible!” Vergie explained on hearing the details. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
Paul shook his head.
“I wonder if Jewel would really dare such a thing?”
“I don’t know, but it does look like it, in a way,” Paul answered, earnestly.
“What do you mean?” excitedly from the girl.
“Well, I couldn’t find any marks of violence on him. He wasn’t shot, or stabbed, I’m sure. There was no blood and nothing seemed to be disturbed, as if there had been a struggle. As I said before, it looks a lot like heart failure.”
“Yes, but you said—“
“Yeh, I know. I’ve never heard him complain of a sick day. He was an excellent swimmer, didn’t smoke much, and spent a lot of time in the open. No, I don’t think it was heart failure.”
Vergie shuddered.
“All right, we won’t talk about it any more. I’ll run up and get something to eat and then I’m going to try to figure this thing out, unless you want to go to a show or up to the Little Club.”
“I don’t know, Paul. Let’s walk up to the Boulevard. Where does Jewel eat?”
“Usually at the Blue Plate, but I don’t think you’ll find her up there tonight.”
“Let’s go see, anyway,” she urged. “It’s a nice warm evening and the walk will do us good.”
“Sure, anything you say.”


*  *  *  *  *

 
Early next morning Paul was at the Hollywood police station. Adolph Kahn entered the Chief of Detectives’ office but a few minutes behind Paul.
“we’ve got a great mystery,” the chief said to them. “It’s going to be hard to solve.”
“What do you mean?” asked Adolph Kahn.
“Just this,” continued the chief, “the coroner has ordered a post-mortem, due to the fact that there were no marks on Smythe’s body which might throw any light on the cause of his death. His jewelry and money were intact. His death will remain a mystery until the chemist has completed his analysis.”
“When will that be?” asked the president of the Peerless Studio.
“Well,” the chief answered slowly, “giving them plenty of time, not before tomorrow.”
“I suppose then,” Adolph Kahn said, rising, “that you will want us here in the morning?”
“Yes,” was the reply, and an attendant held the door open for them.
The day seemed to drag along.
The fat studio manager tried to dismiss the subject by a hectic game of golf. Paul had filled the day by taking Vergie to a theater and then to dinner.
The next morning the Chief of Detectives, Adolph Kahn and Paul sat silently awaiting the arrival of the coroner’s report. Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes of tedious waiting, the verdict was handed to the chief by special messenger.
They read:
 

“Body of Thomas Smythe, actor. Clothed in street attire. Valuables carried intact. Nothing to indicate robbery. No external injuries. The skin livid and the muscles a bit contracted.

“Results of post-mortem:
“The internal appearance was general venous congestion. Prussic acid also in stomach, which was exceedingly congested.

“Chemist report, or analysis:
“Body was lifeless within thirty minutes of the administration of poison.

“Cause of death:
“A large dose taken in mouth of Cyanide of Potassium or Hydrocyanic acid. Probably two grams of Hydrocyanic acid (the medical dose is but three tenths of a gram).”

 
Paul was looking over Kahn’s shoulder. Both had read the report through at least twice while the chief waited.
“I don’t see how some of that could be possible,” Paul declared.
“What?” asked the chief.
“Why, his death within half an hour.”
“Well,” said the chief, thoughtfully, “the chemists are usually right.”
“My dressing room is directly over Tommy’s and I’ll swear that no one entered or left his room from the time we left the stage until I found him.”
“How do you know?”
“Because his dressing room door is warped a bit and when it is opened or closed the least bit the scraping of it on the casing causes my floor to vibrate.”
Adolph Kahn looked at Paul strangely, then proudly.
“That is a great factor you’ve discovered. I’ll make a note of it.” The chief looked a bit hopeful and scrawled a few lines on a pad. “I’ll have two of the men go down again and look over the place.”
“That may help matters,” said Kahn.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Kahn, but I’ve got to give out the report of Thomas Smythe’s death.”
Adolph Kahn sighed heavily.
“But,” continued the chief, “I can say he died of heart failure early this morning. We’ve discovered he had no relatives.”
Paul and Adolph Kahn then departed for the studio. They made an exhaustive search for a bottle or vial that might have contained poison. But their search was unrewarded. How could Smythe have taken the poison? Even the wise Adolph Kahn could not answer the question.
De Masson entered the president’s office. Adolph Kahn motioned for Paul to remain silent.
“Mr. Kahn,” said George de Masson in his pleasantest manner, so seldom used, “I’ve got to have a retake on Jewel by the French windows on stage two.”
“Don’t need Thomas Smythe, do you?” asked Kahn drily.
“Nope; finished with him the other night.”
Kahn nodded his head, slowly.
“All right,” he said, “call her at once.”
George bowed his thanks and departed.
“Want to see the rushes, Paul?”
“Is it the stuff we shot the other night?” Paul questioned.
“Yeh.”
“Sure, I’d like to.”
“Come on, then; I’m going to run ’em now.”
With that, both plodded heavily to the projection room in the administration building next to Adolph Kahn’s office.
It was a tiny room with only two rows of theater seats anda a small white screen painted on one end. They seated themselves and Adolph Kahn gave the order for the rushes to be flashed.
Paul saw the first scenes they had taken on that fateful morning, and then came the final close-up of Jewel Joseham and the late Thomas Smythe, with Paul and Vergie in the background. It seemed impossible that Thomas Smythe was dead now.
“Run that last close-up again,” called Adolph Kahn to the operator.
They watched the final kiss of Jewel Joseham and Thomas Smythe for the second time. Suddenly Paul started in his seat. Could it be possible, he thought. Adolph Kahn was watching him closely. The picture faded from the screen. They left the projection room.
As Adolph Kahn turned into his office, Paul whispered that he might have some news for him in the morning. The old man looked thoughtful, but only nodded slowly, saying good-night.
Paul ran down the long hallway to the exit and into the studio grounds. He then rushed over to the bungalow dressing room of Jewel Joseham. There was no answer to his knock.
Glancing quickly about him, he tried the door. It was unlocked. He entered cautiously, closing the door behind him.
Minutes passed before the door opened again, and Paul hurried down the gang-way, carrying something wrapped carelessly in a large piece of newspaper.
He left the studio by the side exit and on reaching the walk, started on a fast trot toward the boulevard.
Reaching the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, he ran lightly up the cement steps of a new colonial bungalow and pushed the mother-of-pearl button on the door casing.
After a short delay, the door was opened by a slightly built young man, light of hair and touseled in appearance, near Paul’s own age, and who greeted him with genuine pleasure.
“well, Anthony Gibbs Clauson, did I get you out of bed at this hour of the day?” Paul greeted the blinking young man.
“Jove! If it isn’t my old pal, Polly. Well, come on in,” invited Anthony, stepping back to make room for Paul.
“Great place you’ve got here!” said Paul.
“What can I do for you?” Anthony asked in a quiet voice as they were seated in his small den, lined with books.
“Are you still fooling around with chemicals?” Paul asked hopefully.
“Don’t know about the fooling part, but I still have the most complete private laboratory in this state, besides being a near rival of the universities,” Anthony stated proudly.
“Gee, that’s great! I’ve got another problem for you to solve. ‘Member when you did most of my experiments in school? I always was dumb with that sort of stuff.”
Anthony’s interest quickened with the word “problem.” He lived on problems. “Always at your service, Paul,” he said.
“You’re a brick, Tony. I’ve got a little article here I must an analysis on. And you’re not to ask any questions now. I’ll tell you all later. Will you do it?”
Anthony Gibbs Clauson reached eagerly for the package Paul still hugged under his arm, and soon had departed for his laboratory, which was built at the rear of the little white bungalow. Paul paced the den nervously. He attempted to pass the time by glancing hurriedly through a number of books that lay on the heavy library table in the center of the room, but he found this unsatisfactory.
Presently he discovered a typewriter on a movable stand in the corner, and his face lighted with interest. He rushed over to the machine wand jerked off the cover. He searched hastily and found a few sheets of white paper in the table drawer, and then set the machine to clicking with feverish bursts, like one who had forgotten the touch system. He completed one page. This he read carefully and corrected with a silver pencil. After this, he inserted a fresh sheet and copied his first efforts; this time slowly and accurately.
Nearly an hour passed thus. Paul was pacing the floor again, reading and re-reading his typed sheets. He heard the distant slam of a door. Anthony must be returning.
“What’s the verdict?” he asked, his eyes lighting up with feverish hope.
“As near as I can determine in such a short time, there is an enormous amount of Hydrocyanic acid in the paste. But Paul, why all the mystery?”
Paul gave a cry of joy and ignoring Anthony’s query, he slapped him sharply on the back, crying hysterically: “Gee. That’s great! Thanks!”
Rushing into the hall, he grabbed his soft hat from the rack, calling back: “Keep that for me, Tony. I’ll call for it tonight and tell you a great story. Gotta go now. ‘Bye!”
He was out the door and down the steps before Anthony had time to call out in protest.
As Paul entered the studio again, he stopped to write, using the wall as support, and added a few lines at the bottom of his typed sheet. Then as he passed along on the walk to the administration building he heard the old familiar cry of the assistant directors for their extras. Other directors were busy this morning. The death of Thomas Smythe evidently was not known on the lot. Work went on just the same—with its bursts of speed and its many delays.
Paul was ushered into Kahn’s private office, where eh found Kahn submerged in work and Thomas Smythe for the present forgotten.
Adolph Kahn peered at Paul, squinting his small eyes painfully when the younger man laid the typed sheet before him on the mahogany desk.
“What is this?” he asked sharply, adjusting his glasses.
 

How Thomas Smythe was murdered.
  First: Thomas Smythe was murdered by his former wife and leading lady, Jewel Joseham. This was accomplished with aid of one bottle of liquid rouge, one tube of paste rouge and one bottle of lip shellac.

  Second: A strong poison was mixed with the paste rouge and applied to the lips of Jewel Joseham. The poison did not affect her, due to the fact that she first applied to the lips a heavy coating of liquid rouge, and then the lip shellac.

  Third: In the final close-up, which was shot at about six-thirty, Jewel Joseham pressed her poisoned lips to those of Thomas Smythe. At seven-fifteen Thomas Smythe was found dead in his dressing room. After the kissing episode was over (this is supposed) he licked his tongue the remaining particles of the rouge from his lips unknowingly.

  Fourth: A make-up cloth was found in Jewel Joseham’s dressing room, with the smeared remains of the rouge. This was taken to a chemist to be analyzed.

  Fifth: May it be noted that Jewel Joseham departed for her dressing room before the final close-up, with the excuse to rouge her lips. She returned within five minutes with her lips heavily rouged.

  Sixth: The chemist’s analysis was that the smeared rouge on the make-up cloth contained a large amount of Hydrocyanic acid.

  Seventh: The coroner’s report says that Thomas Smythe died of Hydrocyanic acid.

 
Adolph Kahn turned deathly pale while he read Paul’s report of the murder. His lips moved as if to speak, but no words came. His stubby digits shook violently.
“Oh, my God!” he gulped out finally. “Jewel came on the lot not more than half an hour ago. I saw her with my own eyes. And she was smiling. It can’t be possible! I don’t believe it!”
Paul started.
“Come to her dressing room, and I’ll show you the poisoned rouge,” Paul urged.
Adolph Kahn rose slowly from his chair and followed Paul blindly down the hallway and out into the lot.
The dressing room door was slightly ajar. Paul knocked. No answer. He pushed the door slightly.
Jewel Joseham, clad in a beautiful evening gown, lay twisted on the floor. Paul rushed over to her. Dead!
Adolph Kahn steadied himself by grasping the door, while Paul extracted a tube of paste rouge from her white fingers.
Jewel Joseham had killed herself in the same manner she had murdered!
Paul deduction was that, in a nervous state of mind, she had applied the poison rouge thoughtlessly, while preparing herself for a retake.
 

*  *  *

 
Late one afternoon a week later the Chief of Hollywood Detectives grasped Paul’s hand and said:
“My boy, if you ever want to give up acting, there’s always a place on my force for you.”
“After my new contract runs out with Peerless, I’ll come and see you,” Paul smiled boyishly.
“You have contract there?”
“Yes; a sort of reward,” Paul said modestly. “But,” he added, impishly, “if you have any more deep mysteries, just lemme know, will you?”
“We won’t forget you,” said the chief earnestly, as Paul closed the door.
 

*  *  *  *  *

 
Nor did he.
Paul now sits behind a desk, a position which he dropped into gladly after the year of the Big Break in the Business, and that is why you read of so few Movie Mysteries now. For Paul’s policy is to keep the gruesome details quiet, solve the problems which he loves to delve into, and give the world naught but the closed incident.
 

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