Hollywood Shorts: Exit Alley

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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“Hey, fellas,” he urged, “here comes Dizzy! the rib is on! Give it to him plenty.” He nudged the extra girl by his side, explaining: “Watch for the fun! This guy’s a crazy lug. He looks like the monkey Darwin wrote about.”
“What’s it all about?” the girl in Fatima costume inquired.
“That’s right. You’ve been away on location too long to know. Well, there’s somethin’ amongst us. Get a load of the wizened bit of humanity that’s makin’ an entrance.”
It was a hot sultry day in July. The restaurant was the coolest spot which actors, managers, grips, electricians, gaffers, and cameramen could find. Whether finished with food or not, they selfishly lingered at the tables under the breeze of the electric fans.
Mr. Banks entered the cafe, remained by the cashier’s desk a moment while casting his eyes newfoundlandly about, imploring courtesy from any finished diner. His little stature of five foot two sagged in the middle, and his starched collar wilted with the moments as he moved his straw hat mechanicallyl before his face.
“There’ll be loads of laughs in a minute,” Ben Whispered to the Fatima girl. “It’s a riot to watch him every day at lunch time. He’s terribly nearsighted. When he spots a chair and goes for it, one of the gang sneaks over and sits in it.”
“What does he do?”
“Oh, he apologizes all over the place for his mistake, wipes his glasses, and tries again. Then we repeat on him. Sometimes he makes an exit to cover up his embarrassment.”

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Hollywood Shorts: A Jump into Prominence

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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A Jump into Prominence
She lay dead in a deep gully in the Hollywood Hills. A tourist party had sighted her body from the road and notified the police.
Before the police arrived, newspaper and magazine photographers were taking snaps of her deformed body from every angle.
The official investigation revealed proof that the despondent girl had had a six-months motion-picture contract, but had never appeared in a single production. Yet black flaring newspaper headlines read: ACTRESS JUMPS TO DEATH.
A year before, there had been a beauty contest in a small town in Iowa. Nellie Bryan had won. She had boarded a train amid cheers, jests, and good-luck banalities from the hometowners.
The bridge-club boys and girls had tied a streamer on each side of the train coach. Large lettering circused her tour to the coast, proclaiming: CALIFORNIA, HERE COMES NELLIE BRYAN.
Many photographs were taken of the lovely girl, standing on the rear platform of the train with the mayor, the minister, and civic denizens. The photographs were spread artfully across the early edition of the Evening Eagle, which included a lengthy article, explaining the six-months contract that Nellie Bryan had won. Seventy-five dollars a week, with options ranging up to three hundred fifty.
On that eventful day, the train pulled out, with the town clowns running after it, whooping it up in
grand shape for Nellie. Sparing no expense, they had sent to the city for confetti. They used corn and rice to fill in with, and the moving train left a station platform resembling a winter snow.
Long after the rest had departed, Nellie’s mother stood alone, with eyes toward the west. An inspiration forced her into the station where she wrote a short letter so that it would be picked up by the very next train to the Coast. In the excitement, she had forgotten to tell her daughter one or two things which were very important.

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Hollywood Shorts: Tarzan Clutches

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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Ven yuh make it sexy, make it sexy, an’ I don’ mean riddles! Dis is de age of hot mamas an’ varm-up papas. It’s de boxhoffice vot writes de ticket of de nation. Since de world var, everythin’ is boom-boom, hotsy-totsy, an’ knee-action.”
“But we have to be a little careful, Max,” his staff chief explained ruefully at every special meeting.
“Careful!” Max raved. “Careful from vot yuh tell me? Yuh vant ve should make it failure from hunger? Make vit guts a situation, I tell yuh! Make de pichers ring true from heart appeal. No afternoon dresses. Make it situations vot show a man makin’ hot love to a voman in negligee. An’ no pajama business. Give ’em a quick look at something nifty. Now give me a look,” he always concluded when ready for an exit, and winked a huge financial eye.
“I tell you what we better do, boys,” the scenario chief began, with censorship in his mind. “We better try and be more artful—you know—imply more.”
“Dot’s it!” Max screamed elatedly. “Apply more.”
The chief grimaced. “You don’t quite understand me, Mr. Steinbalm.”
With hand on the door knob, Max advised, “Sure I do! Dot’s good fellas. Make it hot from pepper,” and closed the door quickly in order to have the last word.
Weeks passed.
Another picture was released, brandishing its sensationalism before the moralists. And as a red flag incenses a bull, they rushed to the attack.
A letter from the Hays organization demanded some attention. Max was still adamant, however, and did plenty of storming before a vacillating staff.
“De Hays! De Hays!” he shouted. “Always you are talkin’ about de Hays office vanting us to be more so. Piff! I tink you have gone softing. I ask yuh how can I sell a picher vitout he-men and she-goils? Does de Hays organization pay mine losses. No. But de dictates from de office makes it look I should make a man a pansy, an’ de goils shouldn’t be a cling to de vine any more. Oye, am I seek. Some states make it a censorship for an oncoming mama to knit up little yarn shoes. Udder states von’t let ‘er glence at an oncoming calendar. Oye, am I seek! Vot is dis? Absitively I’m blotto!”
“But, Mr. Steinbalm—“
“Don’t intrepret me! I’m de von who is hot! Jus’ enswering all my questions vit a positive or a yes, quick! Very vel den.”
“But, Max,” the chief pleaded, “this letter only suggests that they’re against these hot Tarzan clutches between men and women.”
“Ha! Ve should fake it our pichers vit dummies? Enswering me dot again vit some quick no’s. Do ve vant synth—“
Failing with the word synthetic, Max used fake again, and strutted up and down the room to exemplify his financial wound. When he said “Piff!” the chief knew it was time for thim to say something.
“Then you think—“
“I tink it’s hokay by me to take the bull by de teeth. It’s such as dot should make de picher business no more a racket. Ooo, am I seek! Censors have no financial appreciation.” He moaned as if he had invented the moan and said, “I rest my case!” like a great lawyer. He sat for a brief moment, then rushed to the door for a dramatic exit, got balanced, and concluded: “Huh! No more Tarzan clutches, hey! Vel, ve ain’t in such a jem vit out picher full of boxhoffice. I say write me stories it should wrack vit life. Vot yuh tink, I should fade out on Cupid necking Jackie Cooper? Look, ve get hotter and hotter! Ve use clutches like dot snake in Vild Cargo.”
He slammed the door, then opened it again, and winked coyly to show respect for his staff.
But Max was forced to listen to outside demands. His hot situation brought hot reactions of a different sort. After many hot letters from hot mothers (not mamas) and hot fathers (not papas), he listened to hot commands from his superiors in the business. Somewhat subdued, he ordered a special scenario to conference in his office.
An anxious staff assembled itself, ready to listen to what promised to be nothing short of a Gettysburg address. With the spirit of Will Hays within him, Max Steinbalm rose to express his desires.
“Boys,” he began solemnly, “I have jus’ had a nice chat vit Mr. Vil Hays. He talked tuh me like a pel, a bosom pel. An’ believe me he’s a good feller. Jus’ like us. Boys, he’s right! Vot dis country needs is uplift, vit a capital UP. Ideas tuh tink about vot’s on de upward ten—” Failing with the word tendency, he carried on with road. “The upper road. Ven a picher gets tuh de end, it should be strong from uplift—downright reform. From now on dose are de clean ethics vot is de acme from us.”
The chief started a little applause. The rest of the staff thought it better to join in quickly.
But Max lifted his hand like a statesman, to neutralize the plaudits. The spirit of Will Hays pervaded him. After smacking his lips, he posed for conclusion concerning his new moral policy.
“Now in dis new story you are composin’,” he began sincerely, “I’ll stand for de goil in de picher shootin’ de man an’ stealin’ all his money, but she must still remain, at de end, a nice goil.”

A tiny icon of a pinecone

< Read "Sour Puss" | Read “A Jump into Prominence” >

Hollywood Shorts: Sour Puss

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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Sour Puss
He was a freckled-faced little shaver with a large nose which gave him a complex long before he knew the meaning of the word.
“Aw, why do they have to call me Sour Puss, Mom?” he confided one day to his mother. “I can’t stand it any more. Someday I’m goin’ to run away from this town.”
“Now don’t talk such nonsense,” his mother consoled.
“I am! You’ll see. Why, it’s always Sour Puss this, and Sour Puss that. They make me sick! It ain’t no name fer anybody.”
An etching of a boy sitting in a tree looking through a window at a birthday party
“Don’t you fret. Let them call you what they want.”
“But I am ugly, and I know it.”
“Why, you’re not! You just have rough-hewn features.”
“Well, why don’t they call me Micky, or Pal, or Slim, or any ol’ thing? But Sour Puss—that’s terrible, Mom!”
“It’s just a nickname. One of these fine days you’ll wake up and find that they don’t call you that any more. It just won’t fit. Now run along to the party and have a good time. Won’t you do that for mother?”
Noncommitally he bounded out of the house.
He went to the party, but he didn’t venture inside. For a while, he watched the gay activities from a knot hole in the barn. When the afternoon waned and the shadows fell, the party moved indoors. Then he circled the grounds like a spy, and from a great oak tree on the front lawn, watched the candles flare through the windows.
A boy sits on a rock, images from his imagination surrounding him
Neither the gayety, the dancing, the banquet that followed, nor the strawberry ice cream with chocolate cake five layers high could tempt him into an entrance. Instead, he climbed to the top of the oak and peered down through the thin foliage. With a broken jackknife, he carved a heart in a limb and cut his initials deep, together with those of the girl whom he would have liked to be sitting beside at the party.

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Hollywood Shorts: Vanity

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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.
*    *    *
“How does Elbert do it?” was often asked by the skeptical. “He only does small bits and doesn’t work much. Where does he get the money to hang on in pictures?”
“He’s swell,” was invariably the answer. “He’s probably got a dinky income, and has a crazy yen for acting.”
Though Elbert hated himself for it, he carried a profound secret. It was a case of life or death to him; so he didn’t know what to do about it.
Wherever he went, he always arrived with a present of some sort for his hostess. But sometime during the evening, as opportunity afforded, he would purloin some object of value from her house, converting it to cash by mail in another city.
At last a night of nights came to lift Elbert’s weary soul out of the mediocrity of time. A picture was to be previewed in which he had an excellent part. Betty Harlow was giving a large party in his honor.
All during the filming of the picture, everyone had indulged in thrusting goodnatured jests in his direction. But each inwardly felt that the jinx had been lifted, that in the future something might be expected from Elbert in the nature of fine screen portrayals.
At Betty Harlow’s there was the buz-buz of sincere conversation, the good feeling which accompanies true regard. Quite the center of things, Elbert was happy. His hostess was happy too, for he had showered her with flowers by messenger, and arrived with his opera hat housing a corsage of orchids which he extracted as a magician does his rabbits.
“Wear them for me, Betty,” he pleaded charmingly. “This is my coming out. So you must be my motion-picture godmother and launch your filleul properly.”
Laughter rang against the walls, over cocktails, over a gorgeous dinner table, over coffee in the drawing room; then suddenly faded entirely out.
Elbert’s presents were forgotten. Betty’s mind became filled with vexation over a mislaid vanity case, a wonderful example of the jeweler’s craft. Its platinum surface was broken with square-cut diamonds which reflected the blood of a gorgeous ruby.
“It’s got to be found—or else!” Betty demanded of her maid in tones for the whole house to hear.
A jolly atmosphere was clouded with tragedy. Guests stood waiting to depart, embarrassed, fumbling with hats and capes in an effort to keep occupied. Eyes met eyes with wondering expressions.
“The dirty thief!” mumbled by Betty, had dampened congenial conversation.
As Betty paired her guests, sending them to their retrospective cars, everyone spoke in whispers. Then gay-colored motors sped to the preview with funereal-looking passengers.
Arc lights, maneuvered by electricians, splashed the theater building with colorful and criss-cross patterns of brilliance. Long ropes formed a lane from the curb to the entrance, through which celebrities passed a gaping populace on a soft runner of carpet. As a jolly master of ceremonies announced each name from a loud speaker, hearty applause proclaimed the popularity of a king or queen of the House of the Silver Screen.
A Hollywood world premiere was in progress.

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