Hollywood Shorts: Writer’s Cramp

Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.

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Writer’s Cramp
Mr. Howard J. Morris was a dramatist. He had three successful plays to his credit on the Gay White Way. New York had acclaimed him properly by bowing to all three. Quite an enviable position.
Talkies had taken the country by storm. The end of the silent drama had come. Writers of even insignificant offerings were grabbed for contracts by the studios on the Coast, who vied with one another for signatures. Hollywood had gone “legit,” with a battle cry: “The play’s the thing.” It was a writer’s year.
Hollywood went after Mr. Harold J. Morris. Subtly Mr. Morris went after Hollywood. They sparred frantically like pugilists. At last a mutual contract was agreed upon which thrilled Mr. Morris. He left Broadway for his first trip to Los Angeles, with a California-here-I-come attitude, and on arrival, met a welcome which warmed his heart. A major corporation had bid for and won his services. He was as happy as a bride.
But not for long. loneliness crept into his world. After he was made exceptionally comfortable in a pretentious office, no one spoke to him. He didn’t even see anyone, except when he gazed out his window onto the expanse of the studio grounds, or when he went to lunch. Often he took a stool at a counter or rudely sat at a table marked “reserved,” in the hope of finding out what might be going on in the sea of activity about him.
Now and then, on the walks between the huge stages, through sheer desperation he said “nice day” to someone—anyone. But a nod in recognition was all he received. All who ever passed him seemed to be in a frantic hurry, like ants bent on some important mission, seriously concentrating on its accomplishment. Only he went and came with nothing to do. Exasperating.
Time began to hang heavily on his hands. No assignment having been given to him, he wondered if he might have offended someone—someone they always called “big shot” cautiously, and by his first two initial respectfully. How could he find out? But after pondering deeply upon the subject, he reasoned that he could not have offended anyone if he did not see anyone to offend. An excellent hypothesis, a true deduction. Preposterous. Yes—nuts!
He exhausted the current magazines and took up solitaire. Then he reread the book of rules on bridge, got melancholy, and longed for New York.
After three weeks of loneliness, an idea flashed into his mind as to how to gain attention. After weighing the matter mentally for an hour, he decided. He went out and got what is commonly called drunk.
Three days later, with head hanging sheepishly and brain crowded with remorse, he went to an executive’s office to apologize. Humiliating.
The executive was in solemn conference, had been for some time; but the secretary advised that she would try to arrange an appointment at the earliest possible moment. However, it might be a day or two, perhaps three. She would be nice and “squeeze him in.”
A week went by.
Torn with emotions, Mr. Howard J. Morris made a final decision which calmed him somewhat. His resentment toward the firm for not giving him an assignment was bad enough, but to be ignored utterly was the last straw. He would leave it all and go where he was appreciated. He’d laugh it off on the train back to New York. If they thought “to hell with him,” then he’d think “to hell with them.” Fifty-fifty. No malice, no hard feelings. Just nuts!
Old Broadway was a cheering sight to Mr. Morris, until he swung into a telephone booth to say “cheerio” to close pals. When he found that the first three he called had recently left for Los Angeles, he relented to a quick impulse to get away from everyone and hurriedly made arrangements for passage to Europe.

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Hollywood Shorts: The Double’s Cross

Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of stories from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of stories set in Tinseltown.

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The Double’s Cross
“You’ll pull through all right,” the doctor lied.
“Yes, I know I will,” a girl answered in the same forced tones that he had used.
The nurse patted her cheek. “Yes, the doctor’s convinced,” she parroted, smiled mechanically, and departed.
In a stunt which was just a little too much for the human frame, the double had replaced the star. Now she lay inert on a hospital bed with a white face and a broken bone somewhere; the doctor wouldn’t designate the location. From that she concluded that it was her back. There were severe, sharp pains to contend with if she so much as moved an inch or two.
The hospital room was filled with flowers. The tables were heavy with them, and huge vases lined the floor like a garden. Gorgeous red roses, pink ones, white ones, and some as yellow as the sun, shed dewdrops of sympathy. The studio had sent most of them.

The yellow ones came from the star for whom she had doubled in the stunt. Each afternoon for the last three days, the actress had come to visit her and remained at the bedside for hours. At times, she held the invalid’s hand; and when tears welled in her eyes, she feigned to look out of the window while wiping them away, and spoke of the sunshine outside.
But the star wasn’t to blame. No one was. Stunts were demanded by a waiting public. The age was speedy, the populace neurotic, and the show must go on.
The girl’s mind stopped arguing about the circumstances of her injury as the pain in her back increased.
The morning had been a long one. A dreaming feeling was enveloping her, and a ringing had started in her ears, like great Sunday-morning church bells. Against her will, objects about the room began to swing asunder.
Occasionally her blinking eyes reestablished the objects; but they sprang out again, as if on rubber strings, and commenced weird movements with new dance partners.
She discovered the trick of closing one eye to stop the kaleidoscopic show. Her reflection was plain in the polished surface of the water jug; and it relieved her to know that her face wasn’t distorted. Only her eyes seemed to be covered with a film, whenever she could focus them at all.
Shortly, a mist started covering everything in the room, like fog effects she had encountered in picture making. Then, oddly to her, she saw a man on a high platform shouting for more fog. Of course, it was the director, calling to his assistant, trying to improve the scene with more smoke pots which represented the fog.
Yes, she could see more clearly now. They were making a scene for a picture she had been working in—a retake. They were using the big studio gates as a background. But the gates weren’t really familiar. They were wider by far, and a great deal taller than any she had ever seen. They were painted to represent gold, a lot nicer than the ones at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.
Presently the administration building came into view. She saw someone hurrying in her direction, shouting that there was plenty of work for everyone, that they should go inside and register. Everything was strange; it had never been so before.
“They want you for a part,” the kind-faced attendant informed her.
“You must be mistaken,” she answered confidently. “Not a part. You must mean a part doubling, don’t you?”
“No,” the man assured, “you’re through with that work.”
As she moved past the doorman, she turned back to leave a message with him; but he surprised her by anticipating her thoughts.
“I’ll tell your mother and Mr. Wayne where you are,” he stated omnisciently.
The inside of the building was so large that she could not see the end of the halls. Their perspective reached to infinity. Immediately on her right and left were colossal doors. The most beautiful had a name on it which she could hardly distinguish—a Mr. Gold something-or-other.
Then she instantly felt stupid, remembering about the merger. Everything was under one head now. That wasn’t Mr. Gold something-or-other inscribed on the first door. It was Mr. God. He was the new producer.
The next instant the hospital room faded in over everything. The ocean waves of monotony started annoying her again. Her parched lips seemed to curl, swelling up with an intense heat.
“Water!” she cried fiercely, or thought she did.
Bestial forms ran into the room, forming themselves in lines pruriently against the walls. To block out the hideous images, she closed her eyes tightly; but a frightening ptosis compelled her to aid the levator muscles by holding her eyes open with her two fingers. An increasing stomatitis caused her to grind her teeth, until the vise-like security indicated paralysic of the jaw.
Suddenly the whirling in her head stopped. A gradual relaxation ensued. Composure enveloped her. She heard the assistant’s tread; then saw him stick his head into the room to give her a call.
“Hey, Double!” he yelled goodnaturedly. “The Chief sent me after you. You all set to go again? He’s ready for that big scene now. Feel okay about it? Let’s step on it. This new director’s sure speedy, an’ rarin’ to go. he claims that he’s got a new stunt that nobody in the whole world has seen. Stage two.”
Peacefully she watched jolly scene-shifters enter and move the walls of her room away.

A tiny icon of a potted shrub

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Hollywood Shorts: Once A Baby

Charles Ray was a popular juvenile film star for the Thomas Ince studio in the 1910s who eventually broke away to form his own production company so that he might break away from the rural youth roles in which he’d been typecast. His 1923 production, The Courtship of Myles Standish (1923, now considered a lost film), was an expensive bust, and Ray lost everything.

Ince helped Ray get back on his feet by offering him some roles, but Ince’s death in 1924 forced Ray to resort to working in low-budget “Poverty Row” productions, and he had trouble finding a niche after the advent of talking pictures. In the 1930s, he settled for minor, unmemorable roles to pay the bills, and launched various other endeavors, among them the Beverly Ray Cultural School (located at 5537 Hollywood Blvd. and named after Ray’s wife), where Ray promised prospective students he would “personally analyze your talent and chart a practical program for you.”

In 1936, Ray began publishing Charles Ray’s Hollywood Digest, a compendium of Tinseltown-related “stories or story excerpts, a full page of knock knock jokes, puns, odd, random facts or trivia, recipes, small film reviews, cartoons, etc.” (The Daily Mirror). The cost of the 96-page first issue was 40 cents (a 13-month subscription could be had for $5). And that issue featured an advertisement for Hollywood Shorts, Ray’s book of short stories (it could be had for a mere $2.50).

Sadly, there was to be just one more issue of Hollywood Digest. Thereafter, Ray continued to muddle through playing only occasional small roles in pictures until his death in 1943 of an infection caused by an impacted tooth. Ray was 52 years old and all but forgotten.

But we remember him. And we’re pleased to bring, on a weekly basis, the stories from Hollywood Shorts.

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Once a Baby

“A baby! A baby” the director demanded. “We’ve got to have a cute baby. It’ll make the picture!”
“Get a baby,” the assistant commanded of the casting office.
Mothers came and mothers went. Babies came and babies went. Tests were taken—laughing, crying, goo-gooing, and driveling. Then a choice was made.
The picture was to be spectacular—“colossal,” to use the producer’s enthusiastic expression, born of hope.
“Yes,” all employees agreed, and whispered, “The picture of the year,” to any listener.
Violent activity began. Romans hurried about the lot in togas, in armor, and in the near-nude painted a swarthy brown. Greeks carried huge spears. Fiery steeds hauled gilded chariots. Wise men stroked long, false beards, assimilating their characters after true information from the research department.
Enthusiasm reigned. The studio became an ant hill of activity.
Cameras finally began to grind. Battle scenes were shot and
crossed by sweeping hordes. Castle walls crumbled and drawbridges collapsed at the command of the forces plying the battering rams and catapults. The successful engines of war cleared the path for a new master. The city fell. Then a king rode a white horse through the conquered streets while the populace bowed mutely in obeisance. Former first citizens were made slaves. Replacing horses, they drew heavy chariots containing the conquerors, and silently bore their cross.
“Now the baby!” the director shouted. “That intimate touch will get them. That heart appeal!”
“Call the baby!” the assistant commanded.
“Call the baby,” the casting office relayed.
“Okay, the baby,” the mother responded.
Innumerable scenes were shot with the baby crying, laughing, gooing, and playing at the feet of the king.
The king was human; he melted. Life’s great miracle, in a cradle, had done it. The city was restored. The monarch rode away at the rear of his armies, signifying his sackcloth-and-ashes repentance.

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