Announcing the release of “ALL THE GIN JOINTS: a novel of World War II Hollywood”

Unless we’re a part of the Psychic Friends Network (does that service even still exist???) we never really know what life has in store for us, do we? And maybe that’s a good thing. Take me, for instance. If anyone had told me 30 years ago that I’d be moving to Los Angeles, where I would end up making a name for myself as the author of novels set during Hollywood’s golden era, I would have laughed in their face. “HA!” I would have said. “You’re drunk. Go home.” And yet here I am, doing exactly that—and nobody is more surprised than me.

Or take the hero of my new novel, All the Gin Joints. Luke Valenti from Brooklyn, New York has a whole bunch of reasons to say no when his favorite aunt asks him to return a stolen prop from Warner Bros.’ The Maltese Falcon. It’s the last thing he wants to do, but when he says yes, it propels him into a future he never saw coming.

I am very excited to let you know that

ALL THE GIN JOINTS: a novel of World War II Hollywood

Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy

is now available.

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Martin Turnbull with ALL THE GIN JOINTS

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Luke Valenti has never fit into his swaggering family of overbearing loudmouths. Even worse, the world is at war again and Uncle Sam has stamped his draft notice “4-F” — the ultimate rejection — because of a rare eye condition that has left Luke unable to see colors. So instead, he dreams of escaping Brooklyn for the beaches of Montauk.

That is, until a stolen prop from The Maltese Falcon pitches him down a reluctant path to Hollywood. Luke is tasked with returning it to Warner Brothers, where Humphrey Bogart is about to embark on the movie that will launch his career into the stratosphere: Casablanca.

But the production is chaotic. Bogie is desperately unhappy in his marriage. Ingrid Bergman feels lost and alone. The script is constantly rewritten, and the overbearing director hates that damned song. Nobody thinks this movie will amount to anything—except the guy who sees in black and white. Finally, Luke has found his way in.

But studio stuntman Gus O’Farrell wants him out again: Luke has replaced him as the star’s stand-in, and Gus is having none of it. Bogie warns Luke to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. It’s great advice, but when a chance to reverse his 4-F status presents itself, Luke needs to learn that distinguishing friends from enemies can be a tricky business in a land where artifice blurs reality like murky shadows in a back alley.

From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels comes a story set against the making of one of the most beloved films of all time—and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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ALL THE GIN JOINTS is now available through these retailers:

Amazon US Kindle

Amazon US Paperback

Amazon Canada Kindle

Amazon Canada Paperback

Amazon UK Kindle

Amazon UK Paperback

Amazon Australia Kindle

Amazon Australia paperback

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Apple ebook

Kobo ebook (US)

Kobo ebook (Canada)

Kobo ebook (Australia)

Scribd

Goodreads

BookBub

Book Depository (free shipping worldwide on all paperbacks) – COMING SOON

Audiobook – COMING SOON

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All the Gin Joints on MartinTurnbull.com

You can read Chapter 1 on my website.

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Also by Martin Turnbull:

The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

Chasing Salomé: a novel of 1920s Hollywood

The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

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Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

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Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

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A 1935 theater program from a production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts” starring Alla Nazimova, and sheet music for “The Red Lantern.”

My thanks to Maya DeBus who generously gave me a theater program she found among her grandmothers effects. It was for a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts that the great Russian actress, Alla Nazimova, toured in 1935. A star of the dramatic stage in the 1910s, then a silent movie star in the early 1920s, Nazimova transformed her on Sunset Boulevard mansion in the mid-1920s into the famously infamous Garden of Allah Hotel. Not many physical objects remain from her career, so this program is quite rare and very precious.

Here are some scans:

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This is a very rare opportunity to see what the set of a Nazimova-led touring production of Ibsen looked like in the 1930s.

Maya also gave me some sheet music to a song called “The Red Lantern” for Nazimova’s 1919 silent picture, The Red Lantern.

And as an added bonus on the pack page, you also got an extra song called “I Found the End of the Rainbow” written by the author of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” (Evidently this particular writer was going through a rainbow phase.)

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Here are some links for further information and interest:

Alla Nazimova Society

My novel about Alla Nazimova: Chasing Salomé – a novel of 1920s Hollywood

On MartinTurnbull.com – About Alla Nazimova

On MartinTurnbull.com – Alla Nazimova timeline

On MartinTurnbull.com – About the Garden of Allah Hotel

On WestHollywoodHistory.org – A Place Called the Garden of Allah

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ALSO BY MARTIN TURNBULL:


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

Chasing Salomé: a novel of 1920s Hollywood

The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood (out July 2021)

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Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

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Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

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Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“Whatever Happened to Hollywood?” – In conversation with Richard Niles, step-son of Jesse Lasky Jr

If the name Jesse Lasky sounds familiar, it probably means that you’re a fan of golden-era Hollywood. He was the “Lasky” in the early motion picture company, Famous Players-Lasky who, along with Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille, produced The Squaw Man (1914), which was the first feature-length film shot in California, partly in what became Hollywood.

And so when Richard Niles approached me to say that that he was updating and republishing the memoirs of his step-dad, Jesse Lasky Junior – the original edition of Whatever Happened to Hollywood? came out in 1973 – and would I like to read an advance copy, I said “Yes, please!”

I enjoyed it so much that we decided to jump onto Zoom, which Richard recorded.

You can listen to it on my website

or you can watch the video on YouTube

or you can read the transcript below:

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Martin Turnbull: Hi everybody. My name is Martin Turnbull, and today I’m talking to Richard Niles about the rerelease of his stepfather’s memoir, Whatever Happened to Hollywood? Hi, Richard.

Richard Niles: How are you doing? Great to be here.

Martin: Before we start, perhaps we should both introduce ourselves. I am the author of a series of novels set at the real-life Garden of Allah Hotel that operated from 1927 to 1959; and those are the golden years of Hollywood, at least in my view. It opened just before the release of The Jazz Singer, which introduced the talkies into Hollywood, and it closed in 1959, which was the dawning of the fading years of Hollywood’s studio era. So I’ve written a series of nine books set in and around the Garden of Allah Hotel, telling the evolution of the golden years of Hollywood. I have written and researched a lot about this era, and so I was very pleased to get an advance copy of this memoir that’ll be coming out soon. So, Richard, tell us a bit about you, and this book.

Richard: I’ve been a composer, arranger, and record producer, pretty much all of my life. I’m very lucky to have had two fathers to influence me greatly. My actual father was Tony Romano, who was a great musician, singer, guitar player, who spent the war years playing with Bob Hope in the very first USA troupe that toured during World War II. But before that, he had been a child star on Broadway, as well as an arranger for people like Cole Porter, so I had a great musical influence from him. And then somewhere around 1962, my mother got remarried, to Jesse Lasky Jr, who was an incredible playwright, poet, and screenwriter who wrote about 40 films, eight of them for Cecil B. DeMille.

His father, Jesse Lasky Sr, produced the very first full-length motion picture in Hollywood; and his director was a first-time director who he had chosen because he really liked the guy, who was DeMille. Jesse Lasky Sr’s other partner was Sam Goldfish, who would later change his name to Goldwyn and become one of the great moguls himself. And so I was brought up with this fantastic background. From Jesse Jr I got an incredible education in writing, in literature, in film, so I was very lucky to have both of those influences; and of course, that influenced affected my song writing. I’m also an author. I’ve written eight books on music, and I couldn’t be happier with the good fortune that gave me those people. That brings us to this book, which I’m so glad that you’ve had a chance to read.

Martin: A wonderful read it is, too.

Richard: The way that it came about was that myself and my mother, and all of his friends were entranced by hearing him tell these amazing stories, growing up at the very beginning of Hollywood, all the way through its golden age, and its decline in the late ’50s. We kept saying to him, “These stories are so great, you should write them down.” And, of course, finally, we nagged him enough that he sat down and started doing it.

Martin: Thank goodness, you did too, because they are quite some stories. You’re republishing it. Can you give us an idea of what circumstances led to that?

Richard: For many years, I’ve been very unhappy that such a great book had gone out of print, and also the publishers who had published the original edition, Funk and Wagnall, went out of business. So I thought, “Let’s republish because it really deserves it.” And then I decided that one of the great things that would bring it to life would be this amazing archive of photos that we have, both the personal, private family photos, and also a good friend of the family, Marc Wanamaker, of the Bison Archives. I don’t know if you know him, but you ought to.

Martin: I don’t think we’ve actually met, but I certainly know of him because he’s quite the guy.

Richard: You guys would get on like a house on fire. Especially since you have such brilliant, wonderful photos on your website. That’s the thing that introduced me to you. I came across your site and I thought, “Wow, this is fantastic! What fun for a film buff to see these photos.” And it’s not just about films, but it’s about L.A., and Hollywood, and the physical layout of the city, and how people lived and worked there. What I think is also fascinating is how you put the people we know of as the stars, and the directors, and the actors into the context of where they lived, and how they got around, the streetcars they took, and the buses, and the taxis. And for me it was just a joy, and so that’s why I originally got in touch with you.

Martin: For people who are listening to this and who might not know, I post a vintage photograph of L.A. every day. I do a bit of research and some digging and try to explain as efficiently as I can the context of the photograph. I think it helps to have context about, for instance, what traffic was like along Hollywood Boulevard at that time, how the Egyptian Theatre looked, and what was it like to catch a streetcar out of downtown. It brings to life these legendary stories so that we can better understand what life was really like, versus the life that was depicted on-screen during this era, because it was a very stylized, idealized version. And that’s interesting in its own respect, but meanwhile there’s also reality.

Richard: Yes, and a lot of people have said to me throughout the years, “Why analyse anything? Why not just enjoy it?” And to me, that’s just silly, because you enjoy it a lot more knowing the background of it. If you know where a certain scene in a film was actually filmed and how they technically put it together, and the fact that all of these famous Hollywood people happened to be extras in Ben-Hur, it brings that whole scene to life more than just watching the film as a sort of a dumb viewer and then going out and having a pizza.

Martin: I want to start with Cecil B. DeMille. They came out to film The Squaw Man, which was really the start of Hollywood filmmaking. This is Jesse Lasky Sr, who established Famous Players-Lasky, which evolved into Paramount. The Lasky family were really there right from the very start. What struck me when reading this book is that Jesse Lasky Sr’s professional life seemed to reflect that old adage that you’re only as good as your last picture. He had to prove himself over and over again, and didn’t get any credit for being a forefather.

Cecil B. DeMille at a lunch table with his writers at the Paramount Studios commissary.
Jesse Lasky Jr. is next to DeMille.

Richard: Jesse Lasky Sr had started as a very successful vaudeville and Broadway producer. He had shows going all over the country. Unlike any of the other moguls, he was born in California, in San Francisco. His mother and his father had come over in the covered wagon, so he was a second-generation Californian, which means Jesse Jr was third generation Californian. You didn’t find very many of them in those days. He got together with his brothers-in-law, and Sam Goldfish told him about the flickers. He said, “You got to see this. You’re going to love this form of entertainment.” Jesse saw it and thought, “Yes, yes, this could be something, but it’s no good just having these little short snippets of film. We’ve got to make a real story, a real play.” And that’s why he called his company the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company because for him, the play, the writing, the story was everything. He believed you hooked an audience with an incredibly compelling story.

Later on, the other companies realized, “Well, actually the audience loves stars.” So he decided to make his first film and they bought a very successful Broadway play, The Squaw Man. Originally, Lasky had wanted to hire William DeMille, who was a very successful Broadway director and writer. But William wasn’t available because he was so busy, and also he didn’t want to waste his time on this new-fangled nonsense, the flickers. But his mother was his agent and she said to Lasky, “He’s not available, but I’ve got another son, Cecil. He’s so talented! He’s a genius! Please meet with him.” So Jesse met with Cecil, who had never directed anything, but Lasky liked him. He saw in him that same enthusiasm and magical feeling about creation and putting on a show because Lasky had been a showman since the very beginning.

And so he said, “Okay, I’m going to give this kid a chance,” and sent him out to Hollywood with a very experienced cameraman, Oscar Apfel, so that he wouldn’t go too far wrong. And he hired Dustin Farnham, who was a star of the stage to be in it. The Squaw Man was a successful play already, so he thought, “I’m on to a good thing.” DeMille, Apfel, and Farnham took the train west. They were originally booked to film the entire thing in Flagstaff, Arizona, but when the train arrived there, they said, “Sorry, you can’t get off. Everybody is shooting everybody. There’s a cattle war going on here. You’ll have to stay on the train.” So DeMille said, “What’s the next stop?” They said, “It stops near Los Angeles, in a place called Hollywood.” So they got off at Hollywood and they rented a barn. And so he sent the famous telegram back to Lasky saying, “Flagstaff no good for our purposes, want authorization to hire a barn here in Hollywood.” And Lasky sent back the famous telegram saying, “Authorization approved, but make no long term commitments.” And that’s how Hollywood was born.

Throughout Lasky Sr’s life, he was a dreamer, he was a mystic, he was an enthusiastic promoter of everything. He believed in the show, in the story, in entrancing the audience with these exciting stories. And, of course, that quality endeared him to all the people who wanted to get things done, because he was so inspiring. But at the same time, he was not a good businessman at all. He trusted everyone. There’s something in the book where I believe it was Adolf Zucker, who said, “Jesse is a very, very nice man, but he’s just too nice.” And that’s really where his downfall was. And finally, when the stock market crashed, he had put all his money into Paramount stock. Now the other film moguls did not, they diversified their portfolio. They had money in various different sure-fire kinds of things, and they didn’t lose too much. But Lasky, who believed in his company and believed in filmmaking, lost everything. He had been one of the richest men in the world and was brought down to literally being thrown out of his house.

Martin: It seemed that after that he kind of scrambled to regain any sort of stature and never really quite got there.

Richard: Correct. Everyone turned their back: DeMille, Goldwyn, all of them. These were people whose careers Lasky had started. He brought Goldwyn into the business, Goldwyn was a glove salesman. Lasky’s brilliance created the industry as it became. DeMille would not have had a chance in hell, he would have been scrambling for the rest of his life if Lasky had not given him the opportunity to direct The Squaw Man.

That film was successful and they started right away, making more and more films. Of course, no one is saying that DeMille wasn’t talented. He was phenomenally talented, but when it came down to it, when Lasky needed help, the only person who gave it to him, and the only person who believed in him was Jack Warner. And so yes, he struggled for the rest of his life. But how many film producers can say that they produced 1,000 films, because that’s what Jesse Lasky Sr produced.

Martin: Your stepfather, who was Jesse Lasky Jr, witnessed and absorbed all of those lessons. So it’s kind of ironic that he should end up working for DeMille, who I’ve researched DeMille a little bit because he’s a character in my novel about Irving Thalberg, The Heart of the Lion.

"The Heart of the Lion: a novel by of Irving Thalberg's Hollywood" by Martin Turnbull

The insight that I got from this book of yours is that, at least when it came to DeMille’s writers—and I assume everybody else who worked for him, but we’re seeing it from the respect of a writer because Jesse Lasky Jr. was a one—DeMille was ruthless. He ruled by fear and intimidation, and almost scaring the story out of his writers. And it seemed that DeMille’s rationalization was ‘the end justifies the means.’ This is how it gets to the best, fullest, most cinematic story. So he put his writers through absolute hell, and I was wondering what Jesse Jr. spoke about that to you. Was that an overall positive experience, or was it because he was working with the A-list director of Hollywood that he put up with behavior that wouldn’t be put up with these days?

Richard: Jesse Jr. had grown up in two incredible mansions with five or six Rolls Royces, twelve servants, a beach house in Santa Monica, and another mansion at Salt Air. Then he went to the University of Dijon. Within about a year, he was called back because his father was completely bankrupt, and they couldn’t afford to keep him there. Suddenly he had to hit the streets, to try to get some kind of a job, as was his father.

A lot of people say, “I grew up in poverty, so I’m very careful about my money.” Jesse Jr grew up in incredible wealth and then lost it all; and the contrast was something that he did not want to suffer again. And so he began as a lowly reader for Sol Wurtzel, which was a very low paying job, but it was a job. And then eventually, he got together with a novelist who wrote potboiler novels. Just quickie things that sold and got him in advance and then he’d write another one.

And so when he finally got the chance to work for DeMille, suddenly he was being paid well. I mean, for a writer, of course. Writers didn’t get anywhere near the kind of money that everyone else on the film was making, but writers made good money. And not only that, he realized that DeMille’s judgment for DeMille’s films was absolutely gold. Also DeMille was tremendously sophisticated and erudite. There was nobody in the world you could ever have a conversation with who was more fascinating, who was more interesting, and constantly making you realize new things about life, and what had gone before, and look at today in a different way. And so, it wasn’t that he had the same tastes as DeMille, but he understood that a job is a job.

I’ve worked a lot of my life as a musical arranger. If somebody calls me up and says, “I want this song to sound like X,” well, that’s my job. I know how to make it sound like X, and I will do that, and so that’s what Jesse thought. He said, “The boss is the boss. Try to figure out what he wants, and then try to give that to him.” And many times, to get from that A to the Z of being able to satisfy DeMille was torture.

There’s one story that Jesse tells in the book about DeMille looking at a scene that he’d written for The Ten Commandments. And DeMille is so insulting, and so absolutely heartless and cruel, that he spits on the script, at which point, Jesse said, “Right. That’s it. I’m leaving.” And he went into his office and packed his things. He’s putting away all of his books and then DeMille walks in on him and says, “If you look at your Bible, Jesse, you will see that it says, ‘And God took the dust of the earth and mixed it with spittle and made man.’ And that convinces Jesse to continue to work on the script. And, of course, later on, he said, “Mr. DeMille, I can’t find in the Bible where it says that.” And DeMille replies, “If you keep looking, keep looking Jesse, look hard.” Of course, it wasn’t there, he made it up.

Martin: Right, right.

Richard: It’s a combination of the fact that he trusted DeMille to make a DeMille picture. He also loved having a steady job, on salary, not just working job to job, but you’re on salary for a long period of time.

Martin: There’s a lot to be said for that, and I wondered how I would react under the same circumstances, which is difficult, because I’m looking at it from a 21st-Century perspective, and this was the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, But at the very least, I would imagine that Jesse Jr. knew of DeMille’s track record and that he hit far more times than he missed. If this is DeMille’s process to get to a fantastic movie, then that’s part and parcel of the process. I doubt the cameraman, or the extras, or the actors had it any easier. It was just a case of “This is the way we make a great movie.” And he did make great movies, so there’s something to that.

Richard: That’s it, of course. I don’t think he ever missed in terms of hitting and missing, but I also think that Jesse had a respect for him. Even though he knew that he was a tyrant, even though that he knew he was a misogynist, even though that he knew that he was cruel and heartless to people, even though all of those things, he still had a reason for doing what he did, and that’s why he lasted so long. He was part of the studio system. That was the studio system.

Martin: When Jesse Jr. spoke to you about DeMille, was it with fondness or with, “Look at what I had to put up with!”

Richard: It was definitely a mix. There was some affection there, but there was also just incredible amazement that he had put up with all that. But remember also it was made easier by the fact that Jesse always wrote for DeMille as part of a team. In the book, Jesse says, “A lot of people have asked me through the years, ‘How can you write as part of a team?’ Well, you have to remember that these kinds of epics that DeMille made were without question, not personal stories from Jesse himself. Nor were they ever assumed to be. They were meant to be: “Here is the drama we are presenting. This is the way I want to present that drama. How can we best do it?” One man would be chosen purely for his historical acumen; for the accuracy of every single element of it had to be justified, especially when making a biblical film.

Martin: Especially that The Ten Commandments. That was a big movie.

Richard: A lot of them were big movies. Samson and Delilah was nothing to sniff at either. The other thing was that you’d have a guy who was purely construction. My mother was always very good at construction, this should go here, this should go here, here’s the way the story should go. Jesse was absolutely a genius with words, and if you get the chance to read any of his poetry, it’s absolutely mind-blowing, and his verse plays. He did a wonderful verse play called A Ghost Town. He wrote a wonderful long-form verse poem called, A Penny for the Guy. And you can see it even in the three books of poetry that he published when he was sixteen and seventeen. It’s just amazing. You could call it a genius for words. And so, Jesse was always chosen for his language and for coming up with lines that had had magic to them.

There are just so many examples of it, but the one line that he wrote for Gary Cooper, which was just so apt, where Gary Cooper says to the bad guy, “You know, a feller shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It’s likely to be a feller’s last jump.” Those kinds of things are great in a movie and that’s what Jesse was often called to come up with.

Martin: And what I think people don’t realize—but Jesse Jr would have because he grew up in that time and place—is that most movies were written by more than just the people who got the credit on the screen.

Richard: Absolutely, yes.

Martin: So he would have known that he was a cog in the writing wheel and that wheel was a cog in a larger machine, and he knew his place. From reading Whatever Happened to Hollywood?, it seemed to me that for all DeMille’s faults, and browbeating, and insulting, and belittling—there was a lot of belittling!—when Jesse Jr finally gets the scene right, DeMille recognizes it and says, ‘That’s the scene I was looking for.” Maybe DeMille didn’t quite know exactly what that scene would be like until he read it, but when he did, it’s like, “Bingo! We’ve nailed it.”

Richard: Yes. And I think modern scriptwriters, modern filmmakers, modern directors will be very shocked to see that in those days, all the films that you saw, from the ’30s, to ’40s, even into the ’50s, every single shot, every camera angle, every costume, every movement of the actors was scripted. There was nothing left to chance. Once in a while, someone would come up with something on the set; and once in a while, DeMille would say, “No, we need to change that. Let’s think of something else.” Which is why Jesse, more than the other writers, had to be on the set during a lot of the filming, just in case they needed a different line.

Today’s directors want to improvise scenes. They want to let the actors come up with ideas themselves. They want to just film in a much more what they call organic method. You couldn’t do that with the enormous semi-articulated lorry that was a motion picture company. A production like The Ten Commandments, every single shot had been storyboarded. It’s a completely different world and I’m glad that this book can introduce that world to the modern reader and the modern filmmaker. Perhaps they may find that there are some elements of that world that are worth saving.

Cecil B. DeMille and his writers looking at storyboards. Jesse Lasky Jr. is behind DeMille.

Martin: I think it shows in the finished product. The reason why I enjoy movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s is that they were more carefully crafted. The lighting—and that includes the shading, and the cinematography, the costumes, the direction, were all very carefully designed for a specific purpose and toward a specific goal. There is a scene I love in Now, Voyager in which Bette Davis, who’s been playing a frump is turned into a glamorpuss. She lifts that wide-brim hat and you see for the first time that she’s been made over. And just the lift of a hat was probably very carefully choreographed with the lighting, and the costuming with the hat, and the makeup, etc. All for just a gorgeously captured moment that we’re talking about 75 years later.

Richard: That’s right, yes.

Martin: You don’t find that in the movies of the ’60s and ’70s. That higher operating skill level was lost. Some of these people retired, and died out, but also the studio system had died out. What replaced them may have been a looser, freer way of doing it, but the end product for me is a much less masterfully crafted motion picture.

Richard: You’re absolutely right. And in fact, Bette Davis famously said—and I think this is a tremendously helpful quote to explain what we’re talking about—she said, “Actors, have to be larger than life, scripts have to be larger than life, movies must be larger than life.” Now it’s a difference of intent. If you want to make a movie, which they used to call kitchen sink movies, about a guy who’s sitting in the corner, picking his nose, in a dirty t-shirt, and walks over and grabs a beer and says, “Hey, Doris, get in here.” That’s fine if that’s the kind of movie you want, but DeMille and those filmmakers of those times did not find that entertaining. They wanted as many bums on seats as possible. They were providing uplifting, magical, larger-than-life moments. Not life, but larger-than-life.

Later, I think in the ’50s and ’60s, the film should reflect the spirit of the times, and that’s fair enough. There’s nothing wrong with that. But nevertheless, look at what’s happened. Look at the most successful films have today, and for the last 10 years or more, what are they, the blockbuster Star Wars, and the Marvel films, all the superhero stuff, it’s larger than life. And don’t tell me that those films are improvised on the set. No, they’re complicated, very sophisticated, very expensive productions. And once again, it doesn’t cost as much to make a film that is a slice of life. Breathless is a great movie, but it didn’t cost what Samson and Delilah cost, or indeed, what Spider Man cost. They don’t cost that much because there doesn’t have to be that much preparation. They don’t have to spend that much money on the cinematography, on the processes, all of the things. In my opinion, it’s gone right back to DeMille, in terms of all these blockbuster films that are so successful today.

Martin: My thought about is how slice-of-life movies are fine, but we can have a slice of life just living our life. The big spectacle movies are an aspect of life we’ll never experience and big movies belong on big screens, with all the mastery of the cinematic arts you can throw at it—and that’s fine by me.

Richard: Exactly, and of course, how wonderful to have the spectacle. We love spectacle. Why? Because it takes us away from thinking about paying our bills, about the fact that we’ve got to have dinner tonight, and we haven’t even thought about it, and we’re sitting alone in our room, and oh, I guess I can have beans on toast. You don’t want to see a movie about beans on toast. At least I don’t.

Martin: We’re living it. One of the things that I found most interesting is one movie star in particular gets a lot of space in the book: Jean Harlow. She was a very real person, very down to earth, who saw herself was one of the crew. But she was also very sexually free, and not particularly inclined to toe the line in terms of back then—we’re talking ’20s and ’30s. It struck me how lucky Jesse Jr. was to have an experience like that with somebody like that, especially when he was young, and she was older, as I recall.

Richard: She was probably about five or six years older. Jesse got the opportunity to meet her because he had gone on a holiday with his father, and of course, his father was still Jesse Lasky, the man had produced so many successful films. They were in Agua Caliente in Mexico and they were playing golf, and ran into the next people. Instead of pushing them out of the way, his father saw that it was Jean Harlow and said, “Hi, Jean. How are you doing? Meet my son.” Jean was a very fine golfer. There are some pictures in the book of her playing golf. And she said to Jesse Jr, “You’re a pretty good player. Why don’t you call me next Sunday and we’ll play?” And when Jesse got back to L.A. he was working as a lowly reader and thought, “She must have just been being nice to me because of dad. She didn’t really expect me to call.”

Jean Harlow playing golf the day she met Jesse Lasky Jr.

So he was sitting in the little office he shared with six other guys and his phone rings, and it’s Jean saying, “You’re gonna stand up an old lady, are you?” And he said, “I didn’t think you were serious.” “Well, I was serious so get down here.” After that, they started meeting quite often. At the time, she was between boyfriends, wanting to go out and have fun; that’s what she enjoyed doing. She loved going to clubs, and she loved going out to dinner, and dancing.

And remember, Jesse had been brought up for the high life. He knew it very well, and he was a great dancer. He loved music, he knew so much, he could talk about poetry, and writing, and film. He was a great companion for her, but in terms of maturity, he was very, very inexperienced, and inexperienced with girls, much less Jean Harlow, the sex goddess of the film world. Their relationship was never sexual because he never pushed it. The one night when she pushed it by inviting him to her bedroom, he didn’t take the hint. He just offered to read her poetry, so she says she has a headache and wants to go to bed. He doesn’t say, “Okay, I’ll get in with you.” He does the polite gentlemanly thing. That’s another thing that I have to say about Jesse is that he was a gentlemen. He was honestly really like that. He used to say to me, “Let the other person have their space, listen to them. Don’t just talk, listen. If you have an argument with somebody, don’t box them into a corner, because then they’ll lunge out at you like a lion or a tiger.”

Martin: Right!

Richard: He understood the whole thing of having absolutely beautiful manners. And so, as a result, eventually Jean Harlow herself wanted, as we say in England, a little rumpy-pumpy, whereas he was just not set up to do all that. And she sends him home, and then he never sees her again, because William Powell comes back into her life. It’s also a very interesting thing that people will see in the book that when his boss, Sol Wurtzel, finds out that he is dating Jean Harlow. Sol is insisting that Jesse Jr view stock footage with him during the evening. Jean says, “I don’t mind waiting for you. I’ll wait for you in your office because I’ve got to go over some scripts.” She was very serious about her craft. A lot of people don’t know that, but she really cared about doing the best job she could. She was line perfect on everything, she never didn’t know her lines. She knew everybody else’s lines and the other actors’. The crews loved her because she was so relaxed and professional. And she never kept anybody waiting the way some other stars have, like Marilyn Monroe.

And so she was studying her script up in Jesse’s cramped little office and it’s one or two in the morning. Wurtzel looks up at the window and he says, “Did you leave that light on in there? Didn’t I tell you about turning the lights off?” And Jesse says, “Actually, Mr. Wurtzel, I have a young lady waiting for me. I had a date, but she said it would be okay if she waited in my office.” Sol says, “Ah, Junior is getting a little tonight!” Meanwhile, it was an empty studio and Jean Harlow heard this, and so she came down the stairs very slowly, wearing the ultimate white satin gown cut to the navel and beyond. Wurtzel howled, “But Jesse! It looks like—it can’t be!” “Mr. Wurtzel, I’d like to introduce Miss Jean Harlow.” And that changed everything. Jesse was immediately taken from $25 a week salary to $250. In those days, that was an unbelievable amount of money. And as soon as it was known that Jesse had broken up with Jean Harlow, bang, back to $25 a week, back to his tiny little office.

Martin: That’s Hollywood for you.

Richard: It is really.

Martin: After Jesse Jr’s Hollywood scriptwriting career came to an end, he relocated to England.

Richard: They got a phone call from a German producer who said that he wanted to make two films in London and that he was raising finance for them. One film was on the life of the Buddha, and the other was the life of Lord Nelson. Of course, that was right down Jesse’s alley, and so they came to London with me, and worked on that in a flat in Mayfair. And when they had finished the first draft of the film, they called up the producer at the Mayfair Hotel and he told them that he wanted to talk about the next draft of the script. When they called back to find out when the next meeting would be, they were told, “Mr. So-and-So isn’t here. He’s moved out of the hotel.” “Did he say where he was going?” “No, he just left for the airport this morning.” Turns out he had raised $7 million and had taken that money in cash in a couple of suitcases and gone to South America. And he lived there for about eight years, past the statute of limitations. Interpol was trying to get him the whole time, but they couldn’t get an extradition. Years later, he showed up but now that money had been invested, and it was more like $100 million.

Martin: Oh, wow!

Richard: He became one of the most successful producers in New York, and his wife became an internationally famous novelist. I’m not mentioning the names just because it’s still possible that they might possibly want to sue us for that, but in any case, this is a true story. And it shows you the kind of fly-by-night thing because, as Jesse explains in the book, they need the writer in order to raise their finance. Without a script, they’ve got nothing. So now here’s the script, and it’s by Jesse Lasky Jr, who’s written The Ten Commandments, and Samson and Delilah.

Now my parents were stuck in London, so they said, “Well, okay, let’s see what’s going on here.” and got an agent. There was a lot of TV production going on. They wrote The Saint, The New Breed, The Avengers. They wrote for Gerry Anderson, including Space 1999. And they wrote The Protectors, The Persuaders, all these different shows. They were very, very active and cut out a career for themselves there.

Martin: He died in England, so I assume they lived there for the rest of their lives.

Richard: Oh, absolutely, yes, and they loved it. And remember that Jesse also had worked for a time in England for Alfred Hitchcock, and had also worked for a number of other British film companies during the ’30s. And he loved London and of course, it fits in with his whole upbringing and his handling of culture. And of course, he loved the museums, dinner, parties. He loved the clubs, he loved the elegance, so for him to move back to England was absolutely no pressure at all. He loved it.

Martin: It sounds like it suited him and he suited it. Remind people what the name of the book is.

Richard: Whatever Happened to Hollywood? It will be coming out July 19, 2021; and this is the cover by my son. And this photograph on the front was taken by Jesse’s good friend, Yul Brynner. And they were very close friends, and there are some nice stories about that in the book. This was a photo of Jesse later on in their flat on Green Street, in Mayfair.

Martin: It will be available in paperback and ebook. Will there be an audiobook version?

Richard: I’ve just finished recording the audiobook myself. And if you can put up with my funny accents, it’s a hoot. The only thing you don’t get with the audiobook is all the great photographs. But on the other hand, you can get both.

Martin: We were talking about the context of vintage photos. There are a lot of them in this book. And they give great context to what, and who, and where you’re reading about. I found that really helped to enhance the whole experience of the book.

Richard: That was always my intent. And I’ve colorized them so that I could bring them to life for the modern reader. And I did my best in my own way, and I hope everybody enjoys it. And I really look forward to hearing from people when they’ve had a chance to read it to hear their reactions.

Martin: Yep, that’d be great. So, thank you for your time. It’s been great chatting with you, and thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of the book.

Richard: Thanks, Martin. I’m only a quarter of the way through The Heart of the Lion, but I’m really enjoying it. Of course, it’s all stuff that I know about, and you’re bringing it to life beautifully. So I’m looking forward to reading that and your other stuff.

Martin: Thanks, Richard, I appreciate that.

Richard: Thank you, Martin. Good night!

~oOo~

Visit Richard’s website at JesseLaskyJr.com

~oOo~

ALSO BY MARTIN TURNBULL:


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

Chasing Salomé: a novel of 1920s Hollywood

The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

All the Gin Joints: a novel of WWII Hollywood (out July 2021)

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter 1 preview of “All the Gin Joints – a novel of World War II Hollywood” by Martin Turnbull

Hello fans of golden-era Hollywood, Turner Classic Movies – specifically Warner Bros., and lovers of WWII historical fiction! Last month, I revealed the title, cover, and description of my upcoming book:

ALL THE GIN JOINTS

A novel of World War II Hollywood

Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy

And now I am ready to share with you the first chapter. This opening is unlike any of my previous 11 books because, for the first time, one of my stories doesn’t start in Hollywood. Or Los Angeles. Or even in California. This is the tale of a guy who doesn’t go to Hollywood because he wants to, but instead travels there from Brooklyn because he’s compelled to against his better judgment.

I must admit, it felt strange at first to start one of my books clear across the other side of the U.S. But, as with all my novels, all roads lead to Hollywood eventually.

So here now is the first chapter to whet your appetite:

CHAPTER 1

Humphrey Bogart’s face loomed thirty feet high, filling the screen with his sardonic grin. The Brooklyn Fox Theatre’s sumptuous Spanish Baroque detailing fell away for the guy in the tenth row with the fistful of popcorn and bicycle clips around his ankles.

For Luke Valenti, all that mattered was the SPADE AND ARCHER sign on the window, the roll-your-own cigarette Bogart was filling from his muslin drawstring bag, and the blonde secretary announcing that a prospective client wanted to see him.

“Don’t let her in,” Luke murmured. “Her name isn’t Miss Wonderly. She’ll bring Joel Cairo to your door. And then you’ll have to deal with The Fat Man, who will stop at nothing to get his paws on a statue of a black falcon from Malta.”

He scooped up another handful of popcorn; the redhead at the concession stand always over-salted it. Luke didn’t care. His eyes were now on Mary Astor spinning her yarn about how she’d traveled from New York to find her sister, who’d come to San Francisco with a dubious gent named Floyd Thursby.

Look at how she’s telling Bogart they were never as close as sisters ought to be. Boy, she really knows how to sell that pack of lies she’s dealing out.

But Sam Spade was one hell of an astute reader of people. He probably knew he had a world-class liar on his hands. Luke squirmed deeper into his seat. Cairo was about to offer Spade five thousand bucks to find a black figure of a bird. Don’t do it. It’ll bring you more trouble than it’s worth.

The lobby stretched two stories high to a ceiling of sculpted marble, metallic accents, and six-foot chandeliers of frosted glass. A little overdone, perhaps, but there were worse ways a guy could spend a drizzling November afternoon.

The redhead stood at a circular counter assembling a display of paperbacks.

“These new?” Luke asked.

“The movie’s done so well they’re republishing it. Twenty-five cents apiece, if you’re interested.”

The cover featured a photograph of the black bird from the movie. “THE MALTESE FALCON” was scrawled along the top; Dashiell Hammett’s name was in block lettering along the bottom.

Luke fished out a quarter from his pocket and slid it across the counter.

“You’ve seen this picture a bunch of times. Humphrey Bogart fan, huh?”

Luke liked Bogie well enough, but no more than, say, Gable, Cagney, or Flynn. But there was something about this movie, this role, this Sam Spade. Until he’d figured out what it was, Luke wasn’t prepared to admit anything to anyone. It was the safer choice.

He smiled at her. A bland smile. Intentionally uncommitted. She was cute, in a Shirley-Temple-Grows-Up kind of way. But he could see that familiar spark of recognition flicker through her eyes, which meant the “Say, ain’t you . . .?” question wasn’t far off. He told her he’d better be going and headed for the glass-and-brass doors.

The cacophony of rattling streetcars and impatient car horns crowded Flatbush Avenue. Luke zippered up his windbreaker to keep out the bitter wind blowing from the Navy Yard. It hadn’t been this cold when he’d walked into the Fox, but oh boy, there was no way to ignore that Thanksgiving was coming. He turned right. The German deli next door must have been fixing sauerkraut; the sharp smack of vinegar saturated the narrow alleyway beside the theater.

He always figured that one of these days he’d get to the end and his bike would no longer be there. Some wise guy with bolt cutters would have seen him park in the shadows beneath the fire escape. Not that Luke cared. He hated the damned thing. But that was okay. Only eight more weeks and he wouldn’t have to slog around Brooklyn avoiding paint trucks and pushcart vendors, runaway mutts and old ladies with walking sticks.

He unlocked the chain from the back wheel and snaked it into the leather pouch attached to his bicycle seat. Fifty-six days. Yep, he could do that.

The pop of chewing gum caught him off guard.

Luke didn’t move.

Another pop. Louder this time.

He turned around.

There were four of them. Street punks with their arms crossed, weight on one foot, tapping the weather-worn cobblestones with the other. Raggedy dungarees. Home-knitted sweaters unraveling at the elbows. One kid wore a pork-pie hat that was too pristine to be his. Seventeen or eighteen years old, maybe nineteen at most. At twenty-two, Luke wasn’t much older than they were. But he was outnumbered, and by the looks of them, they knew how to land a punch better than Luke ever could—or would want to.

A pudgy ruffian with a crew cut stepped forward. “Nice bike.”

Luke knew better than to break eye contact. “It’s okay.”

“Better’n okay.” The ruffian stepped closer. His gang followed suit. “Which is why I’m gonna do you a favor.” His three acolytes snickered on cue like it was their job, which it probably was. He bunched his right hand into a fist and punched it into the fleshy palm of his left with a lazy rhythm.

Talk about a cliché move. What’s next? Calling me a dirty rat? “Wo-o-o-o-ow.” Luke stretched the word into five syllables. “We’ve only just met and already you want to do me a favor. I should introduce myself.” He pulled his bike forward until the sign attached to the rear rolled into a patch of sunlight.

Luke gave them a good, long chance to read it.

VALENTI FAMILY CONSTRUCTION
BUILDERS – ALL TRADES – HANDYMEN
No job too large or too small!
We’ll treat you like family!
Come see us at 18th Ave & 70th Street
Telephone JEfferson 3-4411

The rhythmic palm-punching stopped. “You work for the Valentis?”

Years ago, Luke had learned to leave a ponderous pause before replying, “I am a Valenti.” Emphasizing the ‘am’ did all the heavy lifting.

An acolyte with dirty fingernails took a step backward. He looked like the dimmest of the bunch, but he knew when to beat a hasty retreat.

Mr. Pudgy looked Luke up and down, not ready to admit defeat. “You? A Valenti?”

Dirty Fingernails said, “He’s the other one. The runt of the litter.”

Luke had often wondered if people called him the runt of the Valenti litter, but this was the first time somebody had said it to his face. It wasn’t an inaccurate description. Luke had five older brothers—much older. Sal, the bricklayer, had twenty-two years, eight-and-a-half inches, and fifty pounds on Luke.

So, yes, he was the runt. But still, to hear someone say it out loud stung worse than a hornet. Not that these low-rent punks needed to know that. The vinegary air prickled Luke’s eyes, but he dared not blink. “Be smart and walk away while you can.”

Luke didn’t draw another breath until he could see the backs of the Dead End Kids of Flatbush.

Walk away while you can. That was rich. Sometimes it was good to be a Valenti. Rarely, though. Hardly ever, in fact. But it came in handy when you were outnumbered four-to-one in a dark alley where nobody would hear your screams for help.

* * *

Luke was a block from home when he heard the roar blasting down 16th Avenue. He was tempted to keep pedaling and go—where? The Bay Ridge Candy Shop for an egg cream, maybe. But that would only put off the inevitable.

Closing the gate behind him, he leaned his bike against the brick wall and covered the Valenti Construction sign with a tattered blanket. Pop’s voice barreled through the open windows along the side of the house.

“WHAT HAVE I BEEN SAYING ALL THIS TIME?”

Gauging from the full-throated response he got, all five brothers were there, braying like a Greek chorus. And if the brothers were there, the wives were, too, and their thirteen children. Running, screaming, jumping, crying, laughing, whining, arguing. God forbid one of them should sit quietly in a corner.

Luke stepped into the house and stood in the doorway to the spacious dining room. The Valenti dining table was a six-hundred-pound mahogany behemoth. Pop sat at the head, a Brooklyn Eagle spread in front of him. “I’ve been saying it. Over and over. Something’s gonna happen.” He tapped the paper with his finger. “Sooner or later those damned Krauts were gonna take a shot. And now we’ve lost the Reuben James.”

Luke positioned himself at the periphery of the family crowding around the table. “What’s the Reuben James?”

“It takes balls to strike a U.S. destroyer.” Sal thumped the table. “Especially after they torpedoed the Kearny.”

“Roosevelt didn’t declare war when they sank the Kearny,” Pop thundered. “But two destroyers in two weeks? More’n a hundred deaths? Roosevelt’s gonna order the navy to attack any German vessel in the safety zone. After that, Congress will repeal the Neutrality Acts. And that means merchant vessels are gonna be armed.”

“You predicted it!” Tony leaped to his feet. Luke wasn’t sure why. Then again, he could rarely figure out why any members of his family behaved the way they did. “I remember!”

Enzo Valenti stroked his chin like he was the Oracle of Brooklyn. “We’ll be wearing army uniforms by Christmas—oh. Luke. You’re home.”

That’s when you notice me? When you bring up the sorest subject possible? And now I feel like a deer caught in the headlights of a Valenti Construction truck barreling along the Sunrise Highway.

Silence had fallen over the dining table. Luke smiled weakly. “War’s inevitable, huh?”

“You heard Pop,” Rico said.

It was a safe bet that Old Man Lombardi over on 63rd Street had heard Pop—and that guy was deaf.

“I hope you’re not hungry.” Luke’s mother, Sara, swiped a lock of her blonde bangs to one side. “Dinner’ll be late. Just meatloaf tonight.”

“But I like your meatloaf,” Luke told her.

She pulled a tight smile. No teeth. No warmth. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

In other words, none of this concerns you. You with your 4-F status and your “Exempt from War Service” card. What an embarrassment to the Valenti name. You’ll never be fitted for a U.S. Army uniform, so go do whatever it is you do when you’re not outside pedaling that infernal “We’ll treat you like family!” sign between here and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Luke retreated through the kitchen to the back door, where he stepped into the November chill. The Valenti yard stretched the width of three houses. It wasn’t so much a yard as a field.

When the Valentis had got off the boat from Italy in 1881, they had looked for cheap land to buy. Manhattan was out of the question, so they’d crossed the bridge to Brooklyn, where they found a block big enough for six houses, three facing 16th Street and three facing Ovington Court. Enzo Valenti had had a plan when he got married: five boys in ten years. Sara had held up her end of the bargain: one after the other, right on schedule. Sara Valenti was nothing if not efficient.

Enzo had set out to teach each rambunctious kid a different skill. The oldest, Sal, was allocated bricklaying, drywall, and wallpaper. Next came Tony, whose fate was to become a carpenter, roofer, and layer of outdoor paving. Rico was the electrician. Carlo, a.k.a. Cal, was the plumber. And Vic was taught carpeting, tiling, counters, and indoor fixtures.

The reward for learning a trade was a house. One per son, built from scratch, was the best advertising that Valenti Construction could get. Who wouldn’t go to the guy who’d built his sons’ homes?

It was a grand plan. And it had worked exactly as intended.

Until a surprise baby had come along twelve years later.

Let’s not give him an Italian name to help him fit in, though. Let’s not call him Lucca so that we can shorten it to Luke, like we did for his brothers. Let’s call him Luke, because growing up knowing there was no actual place for him wouldn’t make him feel enough of an outsider.

Luke parked his butt on the wooden bench below the kitchen window. The communal backyard was blissfully free of the usual semi-feral nieces and nephews running around like savages. He slid the paperback out of his pocket and traced the silhouetted falcon with a fingernail.

“Thank God for cool air!” Cal’s wife, Patty, stood at the open window above Luke. “I can only take so much brawn and bravado.”

“Our Valenti menfolk,” Mom replied. “Put ’em in a room together and they could warm Ebbet’s Field in February.”

“They’re sure looking forward to marching off to war.”

Mom sighed. “Boys and their guns. Whatcha gonna do?”

“I kinda feel sorry for Luke, though.”

“Why?”

Luke craned his neck to hear better.

“That hang-dog look; it was the same one he wore when he came home from the enlistment station. He could barely say 4-F out loud. It was like Father Bernard had told him to scream the worst curse word inside St. Athanasius.”

“You talking about my baby brother?” Tony was son number two in the pecking order and Luke’s least favorite. Mean when sober, nasty-mean when drunk. “Did you see what he had in his pocket? It was the book of that movie he goes to see all the time.”

“The one about the falcon statue?”

“Twice in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen him coming out of the Fox. I pass it on the way to that job up near the Navy Yard. Jesus Christ, what kind of dud goes to the movies by himself? Everyone knows you only go to neck with your favorite girl in the back row.”

Patty giggled. “Do you think he’s queer?” Neither Tony nor Luke’s mom replied, so Patty’s question hung in the air like soiled laundry. “He’s, what, twenty-two and never had a girlfriend. Okay, so he’s quiet and shy and 4-F, but he’s no hunchback from Notre Dame.”

“I really don’t wish to think about it.” A disdainful sniff had crept into Mom’s voice.

The oven door gave off a metallic clang, which meant that Luke’s mother had yanked it open with more force than it needed. Had she wondered if Luke was a homo? Had everybody else in the family? And everybody in Bensonhurst, too?

Luke jumped off the bench. If he reached the inside stairs unseen, he could sneak into his bedroom with nobody the wiser.

Luke’s bedroom had five uneven walls, a sloping ceiling, and a window that overlooked the driveway. He’d left it open that morning, so now the room was freezing cold. He hooked the latch with his pinky finger and closed it.

I could tell them about the crushes I’ve had. All of them girls. Yes, that’s right. Girls. But none of them returned the affection once they learned that I’m the runt.

He dropped The Maltese Falcon on his bedside table next to Why England Slept. Whoever this John F. Kennedy was, he knew a thing or two about the crumbling situation in Britain. Luke would have suggested those gun-happy Valenti fellas read it before they rushed off to war, but it would have been a waste of time. When was the last time any of them had voluntarily cracked opened a book?

The hullabaloo floated up from downstairs. Luke caught “Iceland” and “convoy” and “torpedoes,” but the rest was the same old bombastic tumult. He pulled a shoebox from under his bed. Digging past the pencils and charcoal strips, subway tokens, his Edward R. Murrow autograph, and a Lone Ranger mask, he reached beneath a battered program from the 1939 World’s Fair to his East New York Savings Bank passbook.

He cracked it open and looked at the total. Not that he needed to. He knew the exact amount: $179.36.

Eleven dollars from next month’s pay would take him to $190.36.

Another eleven dollars from the following month would push him past the magical two-hundred-dollar mark.

Two hundred dollars meant freedom.

Two hundred dollars meant escape.

He gazed up at one of the few pictures on his wall: an 1850s etching of Anacapa Island. Sheer, wild cliffs banked downward to the Pacific Ocean. It was the sort of illustration he loved to draw for the unalloyed pleasure of it, but had shown his efforts only to his Aunt Wilda.

He retrieved a cardboard tube from under the bed, popped open its lid, and coaxed out the sheet of paper coiled inside. Anchoring it on his desk with four large stones he’d found on Brighton Beach, he ran a flattened palm across it and examined his progress.

He had drawn Montauk at the far end of Long Island a bunch of times, always the same composition: Fisher Tower rising eight stories on the far left, the Montauk lighthouse on the right. And in the dead center, a huge bonfire lighting up the shore.

He selected a charcoal strip from the shoebox and shaded the flames licking the sky, brushing the paper in light, upward strokes, giving them depth and intensity. He worked at them until the aroma of meatloaf filtered into his room. He figured he had at least fifteen minutes before he had to return downstairs and face the hollering hordes. Once, just once, wouldn’t it be nice to sit down to a family dinner where nobody raised their voice? Pipe dream, Luke told himself. Nothing but a pipe dream.

He reinserted the drawing into its tube and returned it under the bed. Back at his desk, he opened the drawer and withdrew a secondhand map he’d discovered at a junk store. He unfolded it and ran a finger along the fancy lettering at the top:

DETAILED MAP OF LONG ISLAND,
NEW YORK STATE, 1937

“Nearly there, bucko. Eight more weeks.”

He picked up a pencil and drew a small lighthouse at Eaton’s Neck, Shinnecock, and Fire Island. He shifted the map until Montauk sat in front of him. Gripping the pencil more tightly, he sketched another lighthouse, much larger than the other three. It allowed him to include more detail, like the windows in the two-story house at the base and the thick band of dark paint striping the middle of the lighthouse itself.

Mom’s voice rang up the stairs. “Five minutes.”

He glanced at the book on his nightstand, then back at the map, and added an extra detail. To anyone else, it looked like a nondescript bird. But Luke knew it wasn’t just any old bird perched on top of the Montauk lighthouse. It was a falcon. More specifically, a Maltese falcon.

~oOo~

ALL THE GIN JOINTS is due for release JULY 2021

~oOo~

ALSO BY MARTIN TURNBULL:


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

Chasing Salomé: a novel on 1920s Hollywood

The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Revealing: ALL THE GIN JOINTS – a novel of World War II Hollywood

During the past couple of years since I finished writing my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series, I have written a couple of biographical novels: specifically Chasing Salomé about actress Alla Nazimova, and The Heart of the Lion about MGM producer, Irving Thalberg. I’m very happy with how they turned out and how well they’ve been received, but a part of me missed writing the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah sort of stories, which were a 50/50 mix of a fictional tale played out against factual events.

For a while, I didn’t really know how to jump back into that particular pool . . . until . . . a fact and an idea converged on me at almost exactly the same time.

I read an article about how Humphrey Bogart played chess-by-mail: you make a move, write it down on a postcard, which you mail to your opponent, who does the same thing. Back-and-forth you go until one of you gets to write “CHECKMATE.” One of Bogart’s chess partners was a guy in Brooklyn who was the brother of someone who worked at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, Los Angeles. My writerly mind started to ruminate over how that happened.

It had also occurred to me that so many Hollywood stories are about people who want to come to Hollywood, ambitious to make their mark, or reinvent themselves. Or both. What if, I pondered, I could write about a character who didn’t want to go to Hollywood, but was unwillingly compelled. And what if, I further pondered, that character came to find his true way forward in life?

One ‘what if’ led to another and now I’m happy to announce the details of my next release.

ALL THE GIN JOINTS

a novel of World War II Hollywood

by Martin Turnbull

Due for release July 2021

For those of you curious about the making of a book cover, I drew inspiration from one of the original posters for Casablanca, which featured the stars in sepia and the title in red.

~oOo~

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Luke Valenti has never fit into his swaggering family of overbearing loudmouths. Even worse, the world is at war again and Uncle Sam has stamped his draft notice “4-F” — the ultimate rejection — because of a rare eye condition that has left Luke unable to see colors. So instead, he dreams of escaping Brooklyn for the beaches of Montauk.

That is, until a stolen prop from The Maltese Falcon pitches him down a reluctant path to Hollywood. Luke is tasked with returning it to Warner Brothers, where Humphrey Bogart is about to embark on the movie that will launch his career into the stratosphere: Casablanca.

But the production is chaotic. Bogie is desperately unhappy in his marriage. Ingrid Bergman feels lost and alone. The script is constantly rewritten, and the overbearing director hates that damned song. Nobody thinks this movie will amount to anything—except the guy who sees in black and white. Finally, Luke has found his way in.

But studio stuntman Gus O’Farrell wants him out again: Luke has replaced him as the star’s stand-in, and Gus is having none of it. Bogie warns Luke to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. It’s great advice, but when a chance to reverse his 4-F status presents itself, Luke needs to learn that distinguishing friends from enemies can be a tricky business in a land where artifice blurs reality like murky shadows in a back alley.

From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels comes a story set against the making of one of the most beloved films of all time—and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

~oOo~

ALL THE GIN JOINTS is due for release JULY 2021

You can read Chapter 1 here.

~oOo~

And yes, you read that right. All the Gin Joints is Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy.

~oOo~


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

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~oOo~

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Exhibitor’s Herald, December 25, 1926, announcing the plan for The Garden of Alla(h) Hotel on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles

You’d think that after a dozen years researching and writing about the Garden of Allah Hotel, that somewhere somehow I’d have come across this announcement in the Exhibitor’s Herald, December 25, 1926 that Alla Nazimova planned to turn her movie-star mansion into The Garden of Alla Hotel. (The “h” was added to “Alla” a couple of years later.) But apparently the internet is a bottomless well of surprises and information.

~oOo~


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Peters family photos of the Getty mansion used during the filming of “Sunset Blvd” at 641 S. Irving Blvd, Los Angeles, 1949

I was recently contacted by Teresa Peters who told me that her grandparents, Cletus and Della Peters were the caretakers of that mansion and would I like to see some family photos of their time there. Naturally, I told her that I’d love to see them. I was expecting 3 or 4 shots, but she sent me 25 photos, all of which appear to have been taken when Sunset Boulevard was being filmed, which dates these shots somewhere between April and June 1949. At the time, their son, Bernard – Teresa’s father – would have been 13 years old. What an amazing place to grow up!

It took a lot of people to film those scenes. Here’s the crew on a meal break:

Norma Desmond’s magnificent luxury car in the movie was a 1929 Isotta-Fraschini 8A . You can learn more about it here.

Sunset Blvd didn’t come out until August 1950, fifteen months after these photos were taken. Little did 13-year-old Bernard know what a soon-to-be-iconic car he was sitting in.

Paramount released Streets of Laredo, also starring William Holden in May 1949, so I’m guessing it was one of their big releases when Sunset Blvd was in production. Never one to miss a publicity opportunity, the studio put the poster on one of their crew trucks. I don’t know what’s on the back of the truck – I’m guessing maybe some sort of power generator? – but if anyone reading this can tell us, we’d love to know:`

The story I’d always heard was that when Paramount wanted to use the exterior of the mansion in their movie, the owner at the time was an ex-wife of John Paul Getty, the oil baron. Teresa told me that she’d heard that Getty used the house as a place to store his artwork. The place was so big that both could be true at the same time.

I also heard that Getty’s ex-wife agreed to let Paramount film there, but only if they built her a pool. Presumably the one that Joe Gillis (William Holden) falls into after Norma Desmond loses her marbles. Here is Della taking a relaxing float in one of filmdom’s most famous pools.

Teresa said her grandparents moved out of the mansion when they bought a house in 1954, and assumes they gave up the caretaking job then as well. In 1955, the house was used again for filming, this time for Warner Bros.’ Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. And in 1957 it was demolished.

I’d like to thank Teresa Peters for sharing these precious and rare family photos and letting me post them online for all of us to enjoy.

You can see other views of the Getty/Norma Desmond mansion on my website here and here.

~oOo~


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

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~oOo~

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An original neon sign from the Garden of Allah Hotel is now for sale

Quite a few years ago – ten or twelve, maybe – while researching the Garden of Allah Hotel for my series of novels, I happened upon a photo of one of the hotel’s original neon signs.

This sign that had spent 30+ years drenched in golden California sunshine ended up living out its days buried in the snowy wilds of Detroit. So many questions hung in the air: How did it get there? Who owned it? Why was it left outside? How long did it last before it disintegrated under the rigors of Michigan’s often hostile climate?

The photo was taken in 1960, so it was already more than 50 years old by the time it pinged my radar. Still, I figured, someone must know something, and must have written about it somewhere. Yes, well, Google can only get you so far. In this case, it got me no place, and all those questions went unanswered.

Fast forward to October 2020

A comment was added to a post I’d made in 2014 about a photo of a door handle that might possibly have been from the Garden of Allah. (Click HERE to see that post)

The comment was from Mark Santamaria who wrote to say “Martin, If you are wondering where the Garden of Allah neon sign is, I have it.” As you might imagine, I sat there and thought “Wait. What? Is he talking about the sign? The one that’s in Detroit? He has it? What on earth…?” So of course I responded and the next day he sent me this photo:

It was now sitting in his garage in Oakland, California having acquired it from the family in Michigan. He planned to restore it as he had done with other vintage neon signs that had once glowed from landmark buildings around Hollywood and Los Angeles. He even had the original neon tubing.

It no longer worked, but it would make restoration much easier, so that it would end up looking like it did in this 1951 photo, when it was still in situ.

What a stunning find! And from completely out of left field, too. Who’d have thought it still existed? Let alone in half-way decent shape! It just goes to show that you never know what’s out there, right?

Fast forward to February 2021

Although Mark had every intention of fully restoring the sign, his circumstances have recently changed and he is now looking at selling it. For someone with the right skills, finances, and location, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a unique slice of Los Angeles history.

If you would like to buy it – or know someone who would – please contact him directly.

His email address is: msm195812 at aol dot com

Thanks for your on-going interest and let’s hope we can find this treasure a new home!

~oOo~


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

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Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Teasing the stuff that dreams are made of because this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Yesterday, I wrote the two sweet words you get to type after you finish the first draft of a new novel you thought would take three months but ended up taking four.

I never like to give out hints of my next novel until I’ve finished the first draft. That’s because, despite starting with a detailed outline, I’m rarely 100% sure what a new story is about until I’ve written at least one full draft. And now that I’ve typed “THE END” I can share this teaser graphic with you:

I’ll reveal more as the year unfolds, but for now let me add that, unlike my two more recent books – Chasing Salomé (about Alla Nazimova) and The Heart of the Lion (about Irving Thalberg) – this new novel is more like my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series: 50% factual history + 50% fictional story. It’s not about the making of Casablanca, but is an original story that unfolds against the backdrop of filming one of the most-loved movies to come out of Hollywood’s golden age.

Oh, and one more thing: it’ll be the first book in a brand-new trilogy.

But that’s all you’ll get out of me. For now. Watch this space for further developments. Meanwhile, here’s looking at you kid.

Cheers,
Martin

~oOo~

Also by Martin Turnbull:


The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah series by Martin Turnbull - all 9 titles banner

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Recreating (pieces of) the Garden of Allah Hotel

I recently came across a photo of a letter dated February 6, 1939, written from the Garden of Allah Hotel, 8152 Sunset Boulevard at the gateway to the famed Sunset Strip.

Handwritten letter on Garden of Allah Hotel letterhead, dated February 6, 1939

As I studied the photo, I realized that I had among my files that same artwork featured at the top of the page. I never really knew its intended purpose, just that I liked it, and it was from the Garden of Allah Hotel, which is the setting for my nine-book Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series.

Ah! thought I. They used it for their letterhead.

Hmmm! thought I. Perhaps I can do something with it. And the similar artwork I also have.

And so I now am happy to announce that I have partnered with Zazzle and come up with a range of seven recreated Garden of Allah Hotel items:

Folded note cards
Three different versions
(with envelope)

Full color:

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel note card (full color)

Black outline with orange coloring:

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel note card (orange)

Red ink:

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel note card (red)

Notepaper
Available in five different types of paper
The paper shown here is “Felt.”
(no envelope)

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel note paper

Close up of the artwork on the letterhead:

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel letterhead

Postcard

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel postcard

Coffee mug

Shot glasses
Available in multiples of 2

Recreated Garden of Allah Hotel shot glass

~oOo~

To browse and shop, just visit my Zazzle store.

Zazzle promise 100% satisfaction. If you don’t love what you’ve bought, they’ll take it back. They also give you the option to follow me so that you are automatically alerted when/if I add more products. I’m also open to suggestions if there’s something you’d like me to add.

Thanks everyone!

Martin Turnbull

~oOo~

Also by Martin Turnbull:

The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits

Chasing Salomé: a novel of 1920s Hollywood

The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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