Chapter 1 preview of “Thank Your Lucky Stars” – 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 and cover for my upcoming novel, Thank Your Lucky Stars, which is book 2 in my Hollywood Home Front trilogy.

That novel is due to be released in June 2022, but meanwhile, I’m now ready to share the official book description, which will give you a feel for where this trilogy is heading after the events of book 1, All the Gin Joints. And if you keep reading, you’ll find the first chapter which, I hope, will leave you wanting more.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

After waving her sweetheart, Luke, off to war, Nell Davenport encounters an unexpected entanglement that will change Hollywood forever.

With combat raging across Europe and the Pacific, jobs of all kinds are now open to women on the home front. Nell sets her sights on the publicity department of the Warner Bros. movie studios as she develops a surprising bond with star Humphrey Bogart. But when a captivating 19-year-old is cast opposite Bogie in To Have and Have Not, the newcomer’s arrival threatens to alter the course of Nell’s blossoming friendship.

When momentous news arrives, Nell must track down Luke—a seemingly impossible feat in wartime. Hope appears on the horizon, but did it have to come from Hedda Hopper, a nasty gossip queen intent on ruining Bogie’s reputation? Maybe Nell’s best way of finding Luke is to unveil a secret she has kept ever since she landed in California. It’s caused only trouble in the past, but finding Luke is her top priority and the clock of war is ticking.

From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels comes book two in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy—a story set against one of Tinseltown’s greatest true-life love stories.

~oOo~

CHAPTER ONE

Nell Davenport peeked over the balustrade of the Warner Bros. pirate ship. She watched the white beam from the security guard’s flashlight whisk across Stage Sixteen and didn’t draw another breath until the murky shadows had swallowed him whole.

Finally, she was alone.

Wartime audiences searching for escape and romance ensured that studios were raking it in, which meant Warners was releasing film after film after film. And there had been no tranquility at Nell’s boardinghouse after the Office of War Information had asked landlords to jam two lodgers into each room. Or three, if space permitted. Thankfully, Nell had to contend with only one extra girl hanging damp stockings over her coral-pink lampshade. But now there was twice the competition for the morning bathroom.

The cacophony never stopped. The crowding never stopped. The everything never stopped. Sometimes a girl needed a restful nook to recover her wits—like a cozy bunk on a fake pirate ship after everybody else had bolted for the next streetcar or nearest bar.

Something soft and furry ran along Nell’s arm.

She shrank from her unexpected intruder. The tiny photo in her right hand slipped through her fingers and fluttered over the wooden railing and onto the asphalt.

“Damnit, Bucky!” She menaced the studio’s ginger tabby cat with her sternest frown. “Of all the pirate ships in all the world, did you have to sneak onto mine?”

Bucky gazed at her. If the Arabella is anybody’s, he seemed to say, it’s Luke Valenti’s.

He had a point. If Luke hadn’t been hiding out here last month, Nell wouldn’t have thought of his bunk as the ideal place to sink into a soft mattress and wonder when she might get a letter from him. She could relive his lips on hers, his fingertips stroking her skin, his breath warming the base of her throat. God, how she loved that. And oh, how she missed it.

“I’ve got one photo of him,” she upbraided Bucky. “If it disappears, I’ll be on the warpath.”

Bucky remained unperturbed. He had seen it all: royal courts, New York slums, Maine cottages, clever sleuths and empty-headed chorines, voodoo doctors and murderous nurses. What could one little script girl do?

Nell clambered down the gangplank and pounced on the snapshot, then tilted it toward the three-quarter moon rising over the Burbank hills.

The day before Luke had left Los Angeles, the two of them had piled into a photo booth because only nitwits kiss their boyfriends goodbye without a snapshot.

She stared at his face in the moonlight’s milky glow. Did the Navy give him toothpaste? Was the food bearable? Was he warm enough at night? Until she received the letter he promised, all she had were questions.

She would be happy with a hastily scribbled postcard. Everything’s fine! Thinking of you! Or maybe she should be patient. He had only been gone a couple of weeks. He was still probably getting settled into the rigors and routines of Navy life while packing his head chock-full of training and information and procedures. But still. He had to know she was missing him something awful.

Fidgety, that’s what she was. Maybe a stroll around the studio would help pacify the ants in her pants.

She headed up Viennese Street to Brownstone Street. They didn’t have brownstones back in her hometown of South Bend, Indiana, but had they reminded Luke of Brooklyn? Maybe one day he’d take her there and point out his favorite haunts. The last block of Argyle Road, where he’d lift his feet off his bicycle pedals and coast along under oaks and elms. The Bay Ridge Candy Shop, where he’d take her for an egg cream.Then on to Bobo’s Bakery at 13th and 54th for the best babka and pumpernickel east of The Battery.

“Yes,” she told Luke’s photo, “I was listening.”

Nobody in his life had paid him the least bit of attention before he had landed in California with fifty-one bucks, three days’ worth of clothes, and no way to get home. But he would have caught her eye, even if he hadn’t been yelling at Humphrey Bogart. Oh, but that second time, when she’d spotted him at Schwab’s, his eyes round as fishbowls . . .

Was it any wonder I plopped myself onto the stool next to you, she thought dreamily, practically cracking the glass counter with my chocolate malted? That way you looked at me, as though you’d fallen overboard and I was the Coast Guard holding the last life preserver.

Overhead, a pair of ducks quacked, their wings silhouetted against the moon, as they headed for the manmade lake where buccaneers fought it out with the King’s Navy, ocean liners plowed the Atlantic, and brave sailors took on Nazi U-boats.

She turned left at the lake, then left again at Editing, and headed into the two-story office block near the water tower. Warner Bros.’ PR department was the length of a football field. It held three rows of identical desks: dark wood, each with its signature green banker’s lamp and battered typewriter, and each one strewn with pencils and wax crayons, chewing gum wrappers and overflowing ashtrays.

Nell loved how this place reeked of ink and crayon. Newsprint and burned matches. The sweat of meeting a last-minute deadline. She could almost hear someone shouting, “I’ve got it!” when he came up with the perfect slogan to sell the latest movie.

It’s still the guy with guts and a gun who wins the war: Gary Cooper in SERGEANT YORK

The five most shocking words ever hurled from the screen: CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY

From a girl aglow with the rapture of her first kiss to a woman fighting for love: Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER

Nell wondered if she was more of an oddball than she cared to admit. Untold thousands of outfits crowded the costume warehouse. Props had billiard tables and Maltese falcons she could play with. But where did her restless feet point her? To the publicity department, with its drafted posters and newspaper advertising mockups, its address books with the names and telephone numbers of every columnist, magazine editor, talent agent, private eye, and bookmaker in town. And probably a few hookers, too.

Being a script continuity girl had been an interesting job at first, but she had been doing it for three years. Frankly, she was bored. Did it really matter if Jimmy Cagney said, “These tommy guns” or “Those tommy guns”? Who cared if Ann Sheridan announced, “I’ll wait until you’re out of Sing Sing” or “I’ll wait till you get out of Sing Sing”? Filming on Bogie’s new picture, Action in the North Atlantic, was thundering along, but it was hardly holding her interest.

Casablanca. Now, there was a magnificent picture. It hadn’t been released yet, but it was plain to Nell that it had all the telltale signs of a hit: doomed romance, exotic location, mystery, suspense. Meanwhile, Action in the North Atlantic had a lot of guns and submarines and water, but that was about it. Yawn.

Nell wanted a new job and fresh challenges. With so many fellas away at war, right now was the best time for a gal with a pinch of gumption to get ahead.

She sat at the third desk on the left whose trash can was always filled to overflowing. There was no telling what interesting nugget she might find among the discards. She scooped up the topmost ball of paper and flattened a Western Union telegram.

NOT HAPPY STOP
LEGS LIKE DANCING SPIDER MIRROR STOP
TOMORROW DAWNS BUT NOT WITH KONG KING STOP
WHISKEY FRISKY RISKY STOP
GEORGE

The only way the cable made sense was if this George guy was drunk—and the Western Union clerk, too. No wonder it had ended up in the trash.

Was it George Raft? He’d been bitter since he’d turned down Sam Spade and Rick Blaine. What a stupid ass.

She picked up the telephone and pretended to dial a number. “It’s Davenport from Warners PR. I got another one of Raft’s nutty rants. Made about as much sense as that Salvador Dali kook. Yeah, that’s right. Drunk. Again.” She slung her feet on top of the desk. “Your client needs to stop sending these cockamamie telegrams when he’s stinko. Okay? Okay!”

Nell slammed down the telephone receiver onto its cradle like the people who crowded this room probably did. She’d bet ten bucks this place hummed all day with jangling telephones, typewriter keys pounding at a gallop, and voices calling out, “What’s another word for ‘tremendous’ that we haven’t used on Flynn since Dive Bomber?”

She left PR and headed past Duplication to the Recording building. Should she? Could she? Dare she?

No, she shouldn’t.

Nell retracted her hand from the door handle as though it were an electric iron. Look what happened the last time you opened your mouth to sing. The entire family had come home early from church and caught you belting a high C. Oh brother, the martyred looks and stern lectures.

She stepped away from the door. On the other side lay forbidden territory.

But still. But still.

Nobody was around. Nobody was watching. A peaceful silence blanketed the studio like a snowfall.

Screw it. This isn’t Indiana.

A long corridor lay past the small foyer with its stiff-backed chairs and potted ficus. Nell tried the first door and peeked inside.

Jackpot.

The recording studio was square, around fifty feet by fifty feet. Next to an upright piano, a thick pile of papers rested on a music stand.

Complete score for
SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Musical Director: Leo F. Forbstein
Orchestrator: Frank Perkins

Nell flipped to the first song.

“Shine On, Harvest Moon”
Sung by Dennis Morgan and Ann Sheridan
(singing voice to be dubbed by Lynn Martin)

She lifted the sheet music, walked past the empty wooden chairs of the horn section, and stepped inside the booth. The microphone was about the size of her fist, with horizontal bars across the front and vertical ones at each end. It smelled faintly of a floral perfume she couldn’t place. Whoever had last stood here sure had poured it on thick.

She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands. Why so jittery? There’s nobody here to disapprove.

“The chorus,” she murmured to herself. “Four lines, then take off before your nerve deserts you.”

She opened her mouth, filled her lungs and sang:

“Shine on, shine on, harvest moon up in the sky,
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July.
Snow time ain’t no time to stay outdoors and spoon,
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon, for me and my ga-a-a-a-a-al.”

How different she sounded. So clear! So strong! Not at all like the voice in the living room when everyone was at Sunday morning Mass, thinking she had succumbed to a fever.

Reluctantly, she gathered up the sheet music again. She’d pushed her luck far enough. Anyone might come through that door and demand to know what the heck was going on. She hurried down the corridor and through the foyer. As she stepped outside, a loud clatter echoed off the soundstage walls to her right. Nell froze, choking off the gasp that threatened to fly from her.

Why hadn’t she stayed safe and cozy in Luke’s bunk on the Arabella where security guards wouldn’t think of looking? She was a script girl who had no legitimate reason to be romping around the recording studio at midnight on a Wednesday. This was wartime. Spies and saboteurs could lurk in any dim corner.

A grinding sound followed, then a harsh CLANG!

Panic crushed her chest; all she heard was the pounding in her ears and her breath coming in short, strangled huffs. She listened through the crack, but heard no footsteps or tuneless whistling. No flashlight zig-zagged across Stage Ten’s ventilator shaft.

Meow. Meow.

The ginger tabby crouched in front of an upended trash can and sniffed at the contents spilled across the lane. “That’s the second time tonight you’ve scared the cranberries out of me.”

He strolled over and rubbed the length of his body against her shin.

She knelt down and stroked his soft fur. “Did you hear me sing? That long note at the end? Pretty hot stuff, huh? Mother and Father wouldn’t approve. Even ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon’ is the devil’s music to them. I couldn’t win, could I, Bucky-boy?”

The cat meowed loudly, which Nell took to mean, “Not in a million years. You did the right thing. Isn’t it time for bed now?”

She straightened and turned to the mess the cat had made. Lying among the newspapers, chicken legs, and drinking straws, was a handbill with two large words across the top: HOLLYWOOOD CANTEEN.

It was a reference to the pet project of Bette Davis and John Garfield, a canteen where servicemen on shore leave could stop by to get some refreshment, meet glamour girls, and maybe even dance with a movie star. It was opening in a week’s time and Davis was recruiting volunteers. Join us! it cajoled at the bottom. Won’t you do your bit for our boys and for the noble cause we’re all fighting for?

She folded it up and slid it into her pocket. “Come on, Bucky. It’s about time you and I got some shut-eye.”

~oOo~

The song lyrics quoted above are in public domain.

~oOo~

~oOo~

I certainly hope you enjoyed that peek into what’s coming down the pipeline. Watch this space for further developments. The manuscript is currently with my editor and is due for release late June 2022.

And thanks so much for your interest in my work. I do appreciate it so very much.

All the best,

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

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood
Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Pinterest

Facebook

~oOo~

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Revealing book 2 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy

I have a confession. When I started writing my previous novel – All the Gin Joints, set against the tumultuous making of Casablanca – I had no idea it would be anything but a stand-alone. I had long wanted to write a novel with the filming of the Warner Bros.’ classic as a backdrop, and now its time had come.

However, it wasn’t until I was halfway through the first draft that I experienced an epiphany. I wasn’t merely writing a story that happened to take place in Hollywood during WWII. I was, in fact, telling a much larger story of a fraught time in a place that was central to getting the pro-war, pro-Allies, pro-victory message out to everybody in the world pitching themselves against the Axis.

I realized that in Luke, Nell, Tristan, Beatrice, Gus, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and half the Warners studio, I had a group of people enduring an intense experience together during a turbulent era. Oh, there was lots more story to tell of wartime life in Hollywood.

I’m still tweaking the manuscript ahead of shipping it off to my editor, but I’m now ready to reveal the title and cover art:

THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS

a novel of World War II Hollywood

by
Martin Turnbull
Book 2 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy

I am currently shooting for a summer 2022 release, and will soon be ready to reveal the book description to give you a taste of what’s to come. But for now, I’m hoping you’ve taken note that the figure featured in this cover is a girl, which means that the spotlight shifts from All the Gin Joint’s Luke to someone else . . .

Watch this space for more details!

~oOo~

~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

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood
(Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy)

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Garden of Allah Hotel model scan superimposed over former site at the southwest corner of Sunset Blvd and Crescent Heights Blvd, West Hollywood, March 2022

Today’s post is a departure from my usual vintage photos of Los Angeles. But first, a bit of backstory. Recently, I did an on-camera interview for a documentary about some of Marilyn Monroe’s effects found in a public storage facility in the mini mall on the former site of the Garden of Allah Hotel. I mentioned that there was a scale model of the hotel, and gave the filmmakers the details of the guy who has it. A couple of days ago, the cinematographer emailed me to say that they scanned the model using a special camera and have superimposed the image they took using a drone they sent over what is currently a construction site. I can honestly say that in the 15 years I’ve been researching and writing about this place, it’s the first time it felt real to me. Pretty amazing, huh?!

~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

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood
(Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy)

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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The gala opening of the Max Factor building, 1666 N. Highland Ave, Hollywood, November 26, 1935

I always assumed that the opening of the new Max Factor building at 1666 N. Highland Ave in Hollywood on November 27, 1935 was probably a big deal, but until I came across this photo and started digging a little deeper, I didn’t know the opening was a gala attended by so many stars and celebrities. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, Max Factor was one of the go-to makeup guys in Hollywood with an A-list roster of clientele. But this photo taken on the big night makes it look more like a movie premiere.

This is an advertisement placed in the Los Angeles Times the following day announcing that the makeup studio is now open:

This advertisement appeared in the January 1935 issue of The Screen Guilds Magazine:

This article appeared in Variety on November 26, 1935:

Max Factor’s upcoming opening also made the L.A. Times on November 17, 1935:

Even more amazing is that a scroll of celebrity autographes was made for the evening, the MAX FACTOR’S SCROLL OF FAME:

In this photo, Max Factor is holding an ink pot for Barbara Stanwyck as she signs the scroll with a quill:

Here’s some of the people who were there that night:

  • Veronica Lake
  • Lucille Ball
  • Edgar Burgen
  • Spencer Tracy
  • Virginia Bruce
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Phyllis Haver
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Colleen Moore
  • Maureen O’Hara
  • Errol Flynn
  • Jack LaRue
  • Claudette Colbert
  • Judy Garland
  • Edward G Robinson
  • John Barrymore
  • Esther Ralston
  • Deborah Kerr
  • Robert Taylor
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Ann Rutherford
  • Bela Lugosi

And here’s a few more shots of the building:

From some time in the mid-to-late 1930s:

From 1938 (this one looks like it was taken from a motion picture)

And this one is from circa 1952:

The building is still around and in great condition. It now houses the Hollywood Museum and Mel’s Diner. This image is from November 2021:

~oOo~

My sincere thanks to Judithe Raimist Hilton Factor for most of the photos and information she generously shared with me for this post.

~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

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood
(Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front Trilogy)

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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For those of you who live in Los Angeles…

Those of you who live in L.A. might like to know that I’ve been asked to moderate what promises to be a wonderful evening at the Hollywood Heritage Museum opposite the Hollywood Bowl. Richard Niles, the stepson of Jesse Lasky Jr, whose father practically invented Hollywood, has republished his father’s autobiography. We will be talking about the book and the legacy of the Lasky family (and so much more!) on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 7:30pm. Tickets are strictly limited so dilly-dallying is not recommended.

You can book your tickets here:https://bit.ly/LaskyBookEvent

See also:

JesseLaskyJr.com

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

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Bogie in your ears

For those of you who prefer to listen to their books, I’m very happy to let you know that the audiobook version of my novel

ALL THE GIN JOINTS
a novel of World War II Hollywood

Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy

performed by James Romick is now available.

It’s wartime … it’s Warner Bros … it’s Bogie … it’s The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca … what has Luke Valenti gotten himself into?

~oOo~

~oOo~

You can get the audiobook format at:

Amazon

Audible

~oOo~

Some reviews for All the Gin Joints:


In All the Gin Joints, Turnbull puts his hero smack in the middle of the filming of Casablanca, including vivid recreations of sitting at a table in the Warner Bros. commissary, shopping at a famous menswear shop, sailing as a guest on Bogey’s own sailboat, and an extended stay in the Bogarts’ guest bedroom. This story has romance, mystery, adventure, nostalgia, history, celebrity, suspense, and surprises….all woven into a delightful, fast-moving tale that immerses the reader in the fantasy world of making fantasy seem real and the real seem like fantasy.


If you’re one of those people who loves old Hollywood, can rattle off obscure (to the uninitiated) facts about the stars and studios and appreciates endearing characters in an exciting read, “All the Gin Joints” is the book for you. Now, I’m not a big fan of Bogey – but I think I’m changing my mind after spending some glorious time with him and all of his Warner Brothers buddies (so much more fun than the MGM crowd). As always, Martin’s research is flawless. And seriously, I can’t wait for the next installment.

All of the Gin Joints is Martin Turnbull’s newest release and although it is not a regurgitation of his marvelous Garden of Allah series, it feels like a sequel that every fan craves. The new characters evoke the memorable heroes (and villains) of his earlier books and returns the reader to the familiar macrocosm of the Hollywood Golden Age. This time around, the story focuses on New Yorker Luke Valenti and his subsequent exploits living and working in Hollywood, first with a group of like-minded outcasts and later with Humphrey Bogart himself.

~oOo~

Or if you prefer to read your fiction in either paperback or ebook formats, jump over to my website for links to all the retailers:

All the Gin Joints on MartinTurnbull.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

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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A preview visit to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

After too many delays to count, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is finally opening on September 30th, 2021. As a founding member of the museum, I recently had the opportunity to attend on of the preview days. I am happy to report that is very well done, with an interesting mix of old Hollywood and new, together with exhibits on more specialized niche subjects. For those of you who don’t live close, I thought I’d share some photos with you, so that you can glimpse what is there.

The Mt Rushmore backdrop used in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959):

On display were also some storyboards used in planning the movie:

Three “Rosebud” sleds were made for Citizen Kane (1941). Orson Welles didn’t like the way the first one burned when it hit the fire, but he was happy with 2nd one. This is the 3rd one. Apparently it’s on loan from Stephen Spielberg.

It was amazing to see so many Oscars lined up in one room:

Included in the display is Clark Gable’s Oscar for It Happened One Night (1934)

And the Best Story and Screenplay Oscar for Sunset Boulevard (1950), won by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and D. M. Marshman Jr.

You might recognize this outfit designed by Bob Mackie for Cher when she went to the Oscars in 1986:

The display that the Cher outfit stands on has a decade-by-decade recap of Oscar highlights:

This is the typewriter used by Joseph Stephano when he wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

There were a few highlights, but it’s hard to beat this pair of ruby slippers made for Judy Garland to wear in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). There are now four pairs still in existence. The Smithsonian has one of the other pairs. According to the sign, this was the pair used most often in close-ups.

The ruby slippers are in a whole room devoted to The Wizard of Oz. Nearby is the Cowardly Lion’s mane and the hat of the Wicked Witch of the West:

The sign next to the Tin Man’s oil can said that during filming, they used not oil but chocolate syrup!

This is a Technicolor motion picture camera, the type that would have been used to film The Wizard of Oz:

Shirley Temple’s dress from Little Miss Broadway (1938):

These costumes were worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the “Two Little Girls From Little Rock” number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953):

You might recall seeing this credit at the end of Warner Bros.’ “Merrie Melodies” cartoon shorts:

This was the animator’s desk used by Disney animator, Frank Thomas, who worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Bambi (1942), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). He collaborated with an architect to create the ideal animator’s desk, which has been used ever since.

This is called a maquette and is used as a reference for animators. This is for the first incarnation of Bugs Bunny for his debut short, A Wild Hare. (1940)

R2D2 from Star Wars is there too:

And of course next to him is C3PO:

And right next to him is E.T.

Nearby is Johnny Depp’s costume for Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990)

And finally Bruce the shark from Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws (1975)

~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

and don’t forget my latest novel, book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy:

All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

~oOo~

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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)

Overdrive

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)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

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“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!

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Visit Richard’s website at JesseLaskyJr.com

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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 WWII Hollywood (out July 2021)

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