365 Nights in Hollywood: Humor Risque, Pt. 3

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 3—the finale—of “Humor Risque,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection. (If you missed them, you can read the first two installments here: Part 1 | Part 2)

HUMOR RISQUE

 
 
Monty sat on a lamp box at the side of the set, calmly watching. He was glad when Jackson shouted at the top of his lungs: “Lights—Action—Camera!” He loved the hum of the clicking camera and the sudden quietness that followed. There was a certain tenseness felt by every actor at this moment when the first scene of a new screen masterpiece was shot.
At the end of it Jackson heaved a sigh. The first had been perfect, he thought, but he took it twice again to be sure.
Then came the staccatic “Pull ’em!” from the head electrician, and a man seated at the large portable switchboard snapped down the big three-way switch, and the white lights died down, leaving only the deathly blue of the Cooper-Hewitts.
The assistant director, a small man, who imagined he should be the director and was fond of making that impression, handed Jackson the script. After studying it for a few moments, he called Norma from her dressing room. Monty was then sent for.
Jackson explained:
“Edwards, you make your entrance into the dive. Saunter over to a table and flop down in the chair by the piano. This’ll give us a chance to work in a laugh with the ivory tickler. Now, one of the dames comes over and tries to make you. You tell her to beat it. Then the wop who runs this dive sees you do this. He gets sore and forces Norma to go over and make the grade with you. She is supposed to be his latest protege. She’s innocent and tries the hard stuff with you, but it isn’t convincing. You laugh at her. Then you see she’s hurt. You figure out the gag the wop is pulling with her. You get confidential. She tells you the old story of how she ran away. You fall for this and give her one of your cards, stating that you’ll see her get a real try-out—if she’ll come up tomorrow. She is very grateful and promises to do so. Then you fade out of the dive.”
Jackson had gone through the action of this scene while explaining it to Norman and Monty. The cameraman was busy setting his camera and directing the electricians in placing the lights. The extras sat around languidly on boxes, chairs and, in fact, anything there was to sit upon. They told each other of the great parts they had played in their last pictures!
“And don’t forget the scene with the melody-maker,” sweetly lisped Norma, admiring herself in the small hand mirror which she carried for that purpose.
Jackson nodded.
“Now, you’ve got the idea, Edwards?” he asked.
Monty answered in the affirmative.
The action was too slow the first time, and Jackson called for the N. G. sign after the camera had turned forty feet. They tried again and it was better, much better, claimed the director. Even the assistant director thought so.
The siren sounded for lunch and as soon as the scene was finished, Jackson ordered them off, setting the return call on the set within an hour. The lights were switched off and the entire company drifted out into the street and to their different eating habitats. The afternoon passed quickly and at four o’clock Jackson came over to Monty and told him that he could leave, but to be made up and ready at nine in the morning. “The scene is back-stage. Same make-up,” Jackson said, as he hurried back to the camera.
Monty returned to his dressing room and removed his make-up. Again in his street clothes, he stopped into the office to see Gus.
“Monty, you gotta come down to The Devil Blue Inn tonight.”

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Just give it time

In browsing the web the other day, we came across a piece of video we thought might be of interest.

It featured a cute 25-year-old woman offering her thoughts and opinions on a particular topic.

The identity of the young woman and the topic she was discussing aren’t really salient here, but suffice it to say that, aside from being cute, she didn’t really bring much to the table. Her insights on the topic she was discussing weren’t, in our view, terribly compelling and she came off as not a little callow.

Not that we intend to sound harsh. She was just an average person sounding off on a topic that interested her, and certainly no harm was done and not terribly much time was wasted on our part—we stopped the video and moved on about ninety seconds in. But there was little to recommend the video, in our opinion, even though it was a topic that was of interest to us and might, in fact, have been of interest to some visitors to this very site.

There are, of course, literally millions of such videos spread across the web—hundreds of thousands of them, surely, on YouTube alone—and few have much to really recommend them, but what the heck, they’re not hurting anyone. They’re out there for the viewing—you watch ’em, or you don’t, simple as that.

But it occurred to us that, as little value as that video held for us, give it sixty or seventy years, and someone much like us (we’re not kidding ourselves it’ll actually be us; we’re not likely to still be around then) will come across that video, or another one much like it, and be thrilled to be given a glimpse into what a twenty-something gal was like in the 2010s.

Imagine, for example, there had been something like the internet in the 1920s, and we still had access to videos created by young women of that time—girls next door and flappers, career gals and floozies. Who in the Cladrite community wouldn’t eagerly follow a link to access a trove of such videos, even if the content there was no more compelling on its own merits than the video we watched the other day of that 21st-century gal (or guy—gender’s not the point here) sounding off?

Yes, we have the movies of that era to inform us, but, as much we love moving pictures—and as much as we’ve learned from them about life as it was lived then—they never seem to offer an entirely true depiction of any era (pick a decade from your own life, and then consider the movies that came out during those years—do they really offer a fully accurate account of what it was like to live then?)

If the 1920s videos we’re imagining existed, we’d all be fascinated just to hear the slang used by the average Joes and Jills of the day, to see their mannerisms, their clothes, their hair. It wouldn’t much matter what they were discussing; we’d watch with great interest.

It’s interesting to consider the burnishing that occurs, the value that the passing years add to cultural artifacts, items that, in their own time, may not been held in great regard by anyone.

This effect holds true with moving pictures. We’ll happily watch the silliest 1930s picture, if for no other reason than to enjoy a cinematic glimpse at a bygone era, even though we avoid a distressingly high percentage of what Hollywood is currently cranking out.

Seventy years down the road, though, the fluff coming out of Hollywood today will have a whole new appeal to those with an interest in life as it was lived today, just as, say, Joe E. Brown pictures do now for those of us intrigued by the 1930s.

Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 9

In Chapter Nine of Rudy Vallée’s 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy tells us about the voluminous amounts of fan he received and assures the reader that the rumor that the correspondence he receives comes mostly from flappers is decidedly untrue.

Chapter IX

My Fan Mail

EXAGGERATION is, I suppose, the life and spirit of publicity. But being a very conscientious New England Yankee, born to state facts as they are, I have chafed under the ballyhoo of many a write-up. One point in particular is a sore spot to me: any mention, however finished or crude, of my fan mail irritates me. There is nothing quite so sacred or quite so wonderful as the tribute of an admirer to the one who receives it and to publicly make mention of this seems to me as brazen and as unpolished as to open another person’s mail.
A periodical which carried my life story, “ghost written” by a girl writer, boasted that I received 20,000 letters a day. Nothing could be more absurd and untrue, and this would be very apparent to anyone who would stop to consider the improbability of such a thing.
This paper went on to state, in the little synopsis preceding the story itself each day, that many of these letters were proposals.
As I take stock of myself and try to imagine how others might consider me as being eligible as a husband, I personally fail to see why I should receive many, if any proposals at all. But there is no accounting for taste, and I suppose that I might seriously appeal to some as a husband.
This is not mock modesty for remember I am well aware of the fact that my appeal is a personality expressed in a voice, and in the average marriage the physical side is of much greater importance than either the mental aspect or personality. People rarely propose to something they have not seen.
Had I been able to censor this “ghost written” story, which somehow got beyond my control, I would never have permitted any mention of letters or their contents as I feel very much like a Father Confessor who forgets immediately (as far as other people are concerned) what is told him, and every letter I receive, even those that criticize, condemn or deride me, I hold as most sacred, and worthy of my attention and thought.
I am very glad that I do not receive 20,000 letters or even 500 letters a day, because quite obviously I would never be able to read all of them, as I do now. Although I read fast it sometimes consumes three hours of my day only to read my daily mail, let along the extra time it takes to answer it.
I am told by the motion picture studio people that my first picture, even if a failure, will bring me so much mail that I will not able to read it personally. And I suppose if all the Fleischmann letters were turned over to me, I would not be able to ready all of my radio fan mail. This is even more unfortunate, as the radio letters I receive help me immeasurably in building my radio program.
However, those I may engage to read the letters, should the number of them ever get away from me, will be individuals who know my likes and dislikes and will understand how to give me a consensus of opinion of the daily batch of letters, as I feel it is most essential and important that I keep a very close and sensitive finger upon the pulse of those who are interested in my efforts.
My very first fan letters, which came as a result of our first broadcasts in February, 1928, were a revelation and an inspiration to me. My association with the radio had been very meagre indeed and I did not know and had never considered that people took the pains to express their appreciation of a radio program by letter.
To most people letter-writing is a most disagreeable and unwelcome task; there seems to be something irksome and difficult about securing writing materials, and sitting down and expressing certain thoughts on paper. This is readily understandable when one considers the steps involved in writing a letter.
First, it is necessary to be in the mood to write. It is obviously quite impossible to write a letter when one is exhausted or irritated.

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