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.
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.”
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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.”
The tenth chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker), relates how silent vamp Carmel Myers came to be thought “high-hat” by the rest of Hollywood and how Sylvia came to sign an exclusive service contract with Gloria Swanson.
THE TOLL OF A BELLE
TO GIVE an idea of the semiroyal atmosphere that surrounded Gloria Swanson when the boss went to work on her in the summer of 1929, an adventure that happened to Carmel Myers, an old patient of Sylvia’s, is a good illustration.
Carmel once had a rep around Hollywood of being high-hat. Now, being “superior” is the one unforgivable sin in Hollywood. You’ve got to qualify that, of course. You can high-hat some, and you can’t high-hat others. It’s very complicated, like irregular verbs in French. On the lot you can high-hat writers, dialogue directors, the man who takes orders for custom-made shirts, people who act in Westerns, and Spaniards. Just now you can also high-hat musicians; but that isn’t safe, because nobody knows when musical comedy will come back on us like the seven-year itch. Outside of these few, you can’t high-hat anybody. As for all the free territory that is not a studio lot—even the novice knows that there you can’t high-hat a soul. Because everybody outside the profession is Public, and King.
Well, Carmel must have forgotten to say please to a taxi chauffeur once, or something terrible like that, and it got said around that she thought high of herself. The rumor started small, you understand—just a few whispers among the insiders. And Carmel could have stopped it at once. But, as luck would have it, poor Carmel was laid up at the time.
In fact, she had to get out of bed a few days later to answer a summons to the Pathé lot to talk over a rôle with a director. She had the chauffeur drive her down to the old Culver City lot, with its colonial portico, lawn and carriage drive, and guarded gate in the fence. At the gate Carmel’s driver came to a stop, and it looked as if Carmel would have to walk the length of the private drive.
At this time Gloria Swanson was making her United Artists pictures on the Pathé lot, as what you might call a paying-guest artist. In other words, Joseph Kennedy, her production manager, paid the Pathé people for the privilege of using the Pathé stages. So Gloria was in the position of star boarder in the old colonial homestead—and never was star boarder treated better than was Gloria by everybody, from highest executive to humblest doorman, on the Pathé lot.
As has been mentioned, the entrance to the lot is a curved driveway leading up to the executive offices in a building of colonial design. There was a tacit understanding, which the old gateman administered like a commandment carved in stone, that Gloria was the only hired hand whose car had the privilege of passing the grilled gates and depositing its passenger in the pillared portico.
On the day and the minute of Carmel Myers’ arrival before the Pathé doors, Gloria’s car happened to shoot out of a side street and dash through the quickly opened gates. Carmel, who was about to get out of her car and start up the driveway on foot, saw the gates swing open and, breathing a sigh of relief, sank bank in her seat and ordered her chauffeur to follow the other car in.
The old gateman almost fainted when the strange car dashed past and up the drive. He gesticulated and howled. But by this time Carmel was out of her car and across the porch into the Pathé building. Poor Carmel never knew, until some time afterward, that she had been guilty of a crime of desecration. Who did she think she was—Will Hays or somebody? That was what the scandalized people on the Pathé said.
A few weeks later, Carmel was lying on the slab in our back room resting up from a treatment. It’s the moment for confidences in a massage parlor. Lying there with all the bones loosened up, the patient’s jaw gets likewise and begins to chew over the secret troubles.
“Sylvia,” says Carmel all of a sudden, “have you ever heard them say that I’m high-hat?”
For those who think outrage over lyrics and rhythms in popular music began with those decrying gangsta rap, with Tipper Gore‘s penchant for warning stickers, or even those fuddy-duddies who were outraged by the onstage antics of Elvis Presley and other rockers in the 1950s, what follows may come be an eye-opener For, while Snapshot in Prose usually profiles a popular Cladrite Radio performer at a particular point in his or her career, this week, we’re sharing a 1934 essay from Popular Songs magazine bemoaning the intrusion into the popular music and radio broadcasts of the day by would-be moral arbiters armed with newly sharpened censor’s scissors.
It’s interesting to note that the article mentions the “purification” of movies, too, given that 1934 was the year that Breen Production Code began to be strictly enforced by Will Hayes and his associates.
CENSORSHIP—that eugenic offspring (with full benefit of clergy) of ambitious political campaigners, zealous church organizations and dozens of clamoring societies for the prevention of this and that—is becoming quite a bouncing boy.
In fact, if some real restraint isn’t soon put upon his boisterous activities, he bids fair, like the well-known boomerang, to bounce back with such force one of these days as to bop his fond parents a swell sock on the noggin.
Authors of books and plays have long suffered the mailed fist of censorship, whenever their stories became a bit too spicy or made the fatal error of adhering too closely to the facts of life. But the real Roman Holiday of censorship didn’t really begin until the advent of, first, the movies and later, the radio.
The screen is rapidly becoming as pure as the driven snow (before it drifted!) and, for the most part, babies are permitted to arrive only after a full nine-months of legal marriage. Even then, either the stork or the family doctor’s little black bag must be given the full credit for this blessed event.
Censorship has always exercised strong control over the radio. Ten years ago, for instance, you could sing heigh-de-ho on six days of the week, but a singer had to own a hymn book to get any ether time on Sunday.
But the censors weren’t satisfied. Nay, nay, neighbor. They decided to clean up the songs on the other six days of the week as well. You couldn’t tell the world at large that “Nobody Knows What a Red-Headed Mamma Can Do,” even on a Saturday night.
Oh no! That would never do. Someone might begin to wonder just what she could do, and where would that lead us mentally? It simply wasn’t good for us to hear about a little lady who left her conscience and her mind behind when she stepped out.
And so it has gone, from year to year, with various songs justly or unjustly getting the axe from self-appointed censors.
Recently, just when radio censorship was quieting down—and movies were getting the brunt of it from the Decency Leagues—five of the most famous orchestra leaders banded together for the announced purpose of protecting the public’s delicate ears from offensive lyrics.
After all of the censoring boards finish, one after the other, with their cutting and rehashing of our songs, here is little wonder that present-day vocalists have to resort to such lyrics as poo-poo-pah-doo, heigh-di-hi, boo-ba-ba-boo and la-de-da-da-da.
While censorship itself is no joke, some of the results attained by it are amusing, if not amazing. A current popular song is entitled, “I Can’t Dance, I’ve Got Ants in My Pants.” Can’t you just imagine the censor’s look of horror when that one was played and sung for the first time? After wracking their brains for some way in which this wordage could be purified for public consumption, they decided it would be okay, believe it or not, for the song to be sung: “I Can’t Dance, I’m Afraid to Take a Chance.” Maybe that’s an improvement, we don’t know.