Hollywood Shorts: The Studio Cat

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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.
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The Studio Cat
The studio gates swung open wide to admit a stately car. Disdaining the action, the studio cat jumped into the gateman’s cushioned chair and sat like a king upon his throne. For a moment he wrestled with hate, then venom won. He lifted his percussant tail high into the air, and with a follow-through stroke to shame any golfer, gave it a quick nuts-to-you snap at the limousine housing the unpopular star.
Blackie felt better. This antipathy had continued ever since he had been borrowed from the gatekeeper to appear in the kitchen scenes of a motion picture. Later, a few fan letters arrived, addressed to Blackie, the Studio Cat. Some of the stars on the lot had laughed at the idea of a cat getting fan mail, which made existence unbearable to Blackie. He would not go on the stages any more, but he would go under them. He would never act again, but he would snap his tail at the egotistical offenders.
He was a wise cat; he had seen plenty of changes on the lot in a few short years. No one had roamed the lot as long as he. They came and they went, made their mistakes as silly humans do, and were seen no more.
Even now, he could but lift an eye to the top of the administration building and see the manifestation of human stupidity.
Someone in charge had forgotten to turn the switch that extinguished the huge electric sign. It was past 9 a.m. Stockholders’ money was being wasted as the sign blinked and flickered in the sunlight, spelling out Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with intermittent flaring initials: M-G-M.
With the utmost contempt, Blackie turned his attention to his morning titivation. First, he lifted his jet-black fur, with an eye for fleas, and then pasted it down with liquid artistry most amazing.
“Meow,” called a restaurant cat from the Greasy Spoon Hash House across the street, and included the password.
She pushed her fat hulk through the iron bars of the gate and slunk along the casting-office wall, slowly giving herself a salt rub on the rough stucco surface. Then too there was another reason for tarrying. She really could not enter the sanctum of the regal studio cat without proper welcome. The studio cat wasn’t exactly high hat, but his hauteur was occasionally cataphractic. And so the restaurant cat poised herself at a safe diplomatic distance from the gateman’s chair, repeated the password, and sat on her haunches waiting patiently, blinking both eyes for needed occupation.
Presently, after giving himself a thorough caticure, Blackie pronounced a good-morning caterwaul in pleasant enough tones as to make the coveted invitation valid.
Approaching perfunctorily, the restaurant cat moved in front of the gateman’s chair, salaamed like a courtier respecting the throne, and whispered for court information.
“How’s tricks? Any new scandal?” she gossiped.
“Nothin’ to chew on,” Blackie replied as if bored. “There hasn’t been a scandal in a hell of a while. Will Hays is very active again, you know, politics and all that. By the way, I’m going to a little cleaning up of the studio on my own, tonight. I’m giving a banquet under stage four at midnight.”
“Really? How nice.”
“Yes, if you care to join, please say so at once. It will be a sit-down supper; so naturally I don’t want an odd number. I’m not at all superstitious, but my guests, you know—I don’t want thirteen.”
“You said a mouthful!” The restaurant cat licked her chops. “Then I’ll see you after twelve?” she punned and was sorry.
The studio cat rolled his eyes immorally, forcing the restaurant cat to leave his presence.
At nine the next morning, after a night of righteous debauchery, the cats sat in the same positions by the entrance gate, discussing the night’s orgy in low-toned confidence.
The studio cat cast his good eye upward, and again noted the stupidity of human beings. The incandescent bulbs in the huge sign over the administration building were blinking uselessly in the broad daylight, spelling out Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after each flash of the initials: M-G-M.
“Well, ol’ thing,” Blackie wisecracked to the restaurant cat, “M-G-M may mean Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to humans, but to me it means Mighty-Good-Mice.”

A tiny icon of a 1920s flapper

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Hollywood Shorts: The Stand-in

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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talent. But that indulgence had its monotonous reaction, for she was only the stand-in, just a girl with a makeup on, never to be photographed.
During the long day she could look at a movie magazine and absorb the happy glamorous life the stars were supposed to live. Yet she remained as distant from it and Hollywood as any ambitious youth who might be reading the same publication in some obscure eastern village, for she was only the stand-in, just a girl with a makeup on, never to be photographed.
Between scenes, if some noisy conference got under way, she could have a romp with the star’s pet pooch, provided she did not cause it to bark. Or she could indulge in a whispered conversation with the double, or work out a cross-word puzzle, or sit and dream and dream—any number of things in fact, if like a chastised child she was seen and not heard.
But there was more freedom when the director called lunch. She could hurry to the counter, and by picking the proper stool, sit and watch the famous personages through the half-drawn curtains of the private dining room.
The rest of the hour she could saunter about the lot, four blocks square—a city in itself—and gaze at the strange make-believe scenery the carpenters and painters were creating to enhance new scenarios. As she trudged over the cobblestones of a foreign-looking square, there was the thrill of dreaming about the characters that would soon inhabit and then desert it.

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Hollywood Shorts: Chickens

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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Bill Noel was a great animal trainer. He admitted it himself. Circus people lifted their eyebrows and mumbled, “Poor Bill!” when they heard he was enamored with chickens.
“And what an act I’ve got! The greatest in vaudeville. Wait until you catch it.”
Bill was trying his persuasive powers upon an indifferent booking agent, and talking rapidly to keep from hearing any disheartening reply.
“Maybe so,” the agent grumbled.
“But listen, I’ve trained these chickens for months,” Bill hurried on. “Of course, I clown about on the
stage to get additional laughs. The act wouldn’t be nothin’ without the by-play I give it, but the chickens make it all novel. See? Nothin’ ever been like it!”
Wearily his agent grunted, “I’ll see what I can do for you, Bill,” and made a note on his desk pad.
“And the billing!” the hopeful one insisted. “You know, Noel and Chickens would make the audience think of dames. Imagine the laugh on the opening, when poultry struts on to music, an’ I clown on after ’em. Swell? It makes the act start with a wow. Oak?”
A conversational pause made Bill laugh to help things along. Boredly the agent blew smoke tendrils toward the ceiling.
“Okay, Bill,” he agreed after an impressive pause. “I’ll arrange a try-out somewhere upstate, and we’ll see what bookings we can grab.’
“Get bookings toward Hollywood,” Bill urged, “’cause I’m tellin’ you one thing: those chickens of mine will make any picture they appear in.”
The try-out date was set and the act reviewed. Bill got the coveted bookings, and not toward Hollywood. Weeks later, from Owosso, Michigan, he telegraphed a hopeful message to his agent:


Receiving no answer, Bill swallowed his pride and played every vaudeville date in the northern time, began on the southern time, then cleaned up the central time. But he got no nearer the film city than the huge buses marked Los Angeles which he continually saw from the train windows.

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Hollywood Shorts: Adieu Hollywood

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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I have taken poison, he wrote courageously.
This is repeal night in Hollywood. Liquor is back, or will be, as soon as the zero hour arrives. It is announced in broad headlines across the newspaper I stole in order to read the Help Wanted ads; and from my hotel window, I can see gay throngs of people moving about in the streets. Huge trucks are unloading the night supply at various cafes; jolly revelers are eagerly waiting for the legal alcoholic moment.
People will soon enter those restaurants, where the law demands that a sandwich be served with every order of wine or bear. Most of the sandwiches will be ignored, served, and re-served as dummies. Yet I sit here starving—but not for long.
The reason for this, my last note, is to attempt to leave evidence which will prove my sanity. So I will write my thoughts rapidly until I fall from my position at the desk, and if—
Shouting caused me to look into the street again. Groups are forming in front of the already crowded cafes. Police are forcing people into long lines down the sidewalks.
I feel a strange sensation now in the nerve centers of my body. The poison has begun its sinuous effect.
Have just heard the opening blare of band trumpets. It is a salute from a band down Hollywood Boulevard. Quite a number of musicians are seated on a large truck which is decorated with colored bunting. Boys and girls are holding long streamers attached to the truck, as to a Maypole. It seems to represent some sort of float. Yes, a parade is forming.
My respiration is a little faster now, and there is numbness in my toes.
The truck has moved out in front of the paraders, and I recognize the music. Everyone is shouting the lyrics to that old song: “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
I cannot see as clearly now. A fine mist has covered my eyes.
The band has stopped playing. No, they have merely changed tunes—to a dirge. Men are walking slowly behind the truck, carrying their hats across the left breast. Torches are being ignited all along the line of march.
My feet feel as if they have gone to sleep. The numbness is creeping slowly up my legs. The sensation is not painful, just a sleepy feeling.
The parade is much closer now. I see four men carrying an effigy on long poles, like an old-fashioned sedan. Torches have been applied to the dummy. Its feet are circled in a blaze. The crowd in the street immediately below my window are watching the approach. Laughter and jeering echo against the building, but it is all goodnatured fun.
There is a jumping sensation in the calves of my legs and about my knees. I feel somewhat nauseated.
There is a long banner being unfolded before the effigy, stretching across the width of the street. I will try to make out the lettering on it. It reads: “Burn the Blue-nose.” More than a hundred gay people have joined hands, dancing madly about the blazing dummy.
My stomach is burning very intensely now. My eyes are more misty. My nerves are giving little jumps with each heart beat.
The flames from the effigy are shooting into the air, touching the trolley wire. Confetti is flying everywhere. Office and hotel windows have been raised. Newspapers have been torn to bits and tossed down on the paraders. It looks like a snowstorm. The gayety is exceptional.

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Hollywood Shorts: Sans Tarte

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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Sans Tarte
“Abe, vot’s sans tarte.”
“Donno. Sounds it kinda dirty to me.”
“No, it don’t. It’s French.”
Abe and Ike Stein produced slapstick motion pictures back in the days when throwing pies was considered extremely funny. If a pie landed properly on an opponent, resembling a mud facial, it was considered a comical bull’s-eye.

One day Abe ran into the office out of breath, with not a little profesional jealousy grueling him.
“C’mon, Ike,” he gasped, “let’s have it a conference. I got it. Now I know vot it means sans tarte. It’s dis Frenchman saying it about us. Vot yuh tink? Like a pel, a bosom friend, I’m eskin’ yuh are yuh sore?”
“Aw, sit down. Somebody’s been kiddin’ yuh!”
“Don’t get med already. Ve got tuh do somethin’. It’s business. Listen, dot crack’s hokay. Vait till yuh hear vot means it. Yuh know dis Frenchman vot’s come over from Europe—from Gaumont—to make comedies from Ideal Films, Inc.? Vel, he’s been sayin’ it about us and’ de hokum ve make.”
“You’re nutty. Our stuff’s hittin’ hokay. Enswering me dis vit straightforward figurin’?”
“And I’m enswering like a pel, a bosom, business pel. Look, dis Frenchman says he ain’t goin’ tuh make comedies like ours. He’s goin’ tuh make ’em sans tarte!
“Abe, I’m gettin’ kinda dizzy hearin’ dot tart stuff. C’mon, let’s get goin’. let’s have a listen, vot means it? Look, am I busy, an’ yuh bring me riddles!”
“Ike, I am explainin’. Dot sans tarte means it without pies. He claims he’s goin’ tuh make comedies vithout pies. Ike, he can’t make comedies without pies!” After a few paces of the floor, he added: “Nobody ken!”
Weeks went by, and Abe entered the office with a dark countenance, quite financially disturbed. After pacing the floor in his usual panther manner, he lifted a bushy eyebrow in his partner’s direction.
“Ike, you know vot? Ve gotta get dis Frenchman. Grab ‘im vit a contract. If he makes pichers for us, he can add vot ve make to vot he makes, ad’ ve got de comedy field to ourselves, two vays from de middle, all sewed hop in de pocket!”
“Ve should vorry! Ve got it already. It’s in de basket vit clover. Ve are big frogs in de pond ve are frogs in.”
“Sure, but de pond could be bigger. Tings is makin’ progress mighty fast. Liddle by liddle tings go on improvin’, even in de picher business. Yuh know vot I mean?”
“Vel, suppose he does make better comedies den ve do. Vot about it? Vot difference does it make in a hundred years from ven he starts?”
“Sure, better comedies. Hah!”
“Who said he made better comedies den ve do?”
“Dot’s me too. Am I burnin’!”
“Vel, hokay den.”
“Now dot’s settled.”
“Can’t yuh effer come in de office vit sayin’ somethin’ vit construction? Listen, I’m busy an’ yuh gives me headaches. Ooo. am I busy, an’ dot’s always de time yuh bring riddles. Business is business! Don’t mix it hop vit slander.”
“I ain’t, Ike. It’s business tuh try an’ get de Frenchman hooked vit a contract.”
“Business, vel, vy didn’t yuh say dot in de foist place? I don’t mind stoppin’ my work if it’s for business, an’ not riddles or back-scratchin’.”
After much talk and many conferences, they got the Frenchman’s signature to a contract; but the clever foreigner wrote his own ticket. He was to have no interference whatsoever. No one allowed on his set while shooting, the document outlined. And no one was to see his picture until it was finally cut and edited.
Abe and Ike signed.

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