My interview with Louella Rehfield, the niece of gossip columnist, Louella Parsons.

Even though I’ve been researching and writing about the golden years of Hollywood with my “Garden of Allah” novels for ten years, every now and then something happens that makes me feel I’m still just a teenager growing up a million years ago (aka the 1970s) and a million miles away in (aka Melbourne, Australia). One such time was when I learned of the discovery of traveling trunks that once belonged to Alla Nazimova.

And it happened again this week.

I posted a photo of an outdoor ice-skating rink in Westwood called the Tropical Ice Gardens on my website’s photo blog.

Tropical Ice Gardens at Westwood Village in 1938

Tropical Ice Gardens at Westwood Village in 1938

I later heard from a Louella Rehfield who told me that she started skating there when she was seven, and said that it was a great rink. Then she mentioned she’d been to the Garden of Allah Hotel. And then she added a P.S.

“Louella Parsons was my aunt. Do you remember her?”

I sat there staring at my screen, slowly taking in what had just happened. Louella Parsons’ niece had just written to me! I had no idea Louella Parsons still had any family left – her daughter never married – so this happenstance took me by surprise . . . to say the least.

After a few emails back and forth, I asked her if she’d be open to letting me interview her. She readily agreed. She was so lovely and gracious, and we had a wonderful chat. It touched on all sorts of aspects of life in LA and Hollywood, from Louella Parsons to LB Mayer and Charlie Chaplin, to the Garden of Allah, Ciro’s, and the Brown Derby. I figured people who are as into the golden years of Hollywood as I am would find it fascinating.

So here now is our conversation:

Martin Turnbull: Are you LA born and bred?

Louella Rehfield: No. I was born in Chicago. In fact, my aunt was from Illinois.

And how were you related to Louella Parsons?

My father and Louella were brother and sister.

Did she make the move out to LA first?

Yes, in 1925. She started working for Essanay Studios in Chicago as a scriptwriter in 1915, then later for WR Hearst, which was when she started to write a gossip column. She invented it—for better or worse! But then she came down with tuberculosis, so she moved west to Palm Springs in 1925. She recovered, and moved to Los Angeles, and she married Doc Martin in 1930. She bought the house on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills and stayed in that house until she had to be hospitalized when she developed an early form of Alzheimer’s.

She lived on Maple Drive the whole time?


So then at some point did your father move your family because Louella was there?

Because Louella was there, and also because this was the top of the Depression. He’d been a glove salesman, and people couldn’t even eat, let alone buy gloves. So he packed the family up in our 1937 Studebaker and drove to California. I will never forget my first feeling of Los Angeles was going through San Bernardino and the aroma of orange blossoms was so great.

So it really did smell of orange blossoms?

Oh yes, because San Berdoo at that point was mostly orange groves.

All oranges and no smog, huh? How old would you have been at this point?

I was six.

And then what happened?

We found a wonderful house to rent in Westwood.

Did your father find work in California?

My aunt got him a job working for the Westmore Brothers.

The make up guys?

Yes. She got him a job as a traveling salesman.

So the Westmores were making their own cosmetics and he sold them?

Louella Parsons on CBS Radio

Louella Parsons on CBS Radio

He would go traveling up and down the coast selling them to beauty shops and drug stores. Unfortunately, he was not very good at it and after about three or four years, Perc Westmore had to fire him. By that time, my aunt had a radio show, which was sponsored by Jergens Lotion, and she got him a job. His function was to get a movie star and have her endorse the product, and he worked there for a long time.

So if you were from Illinois, were you raised ice-skating?

No. What happened was, when I was six, Sonia Henie had just won her first Olympic title, and turned professional. She was doing a touring show, which my parents took me to see. The minute I saw her, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Soon after, we moved to LA in 1937 and ended up living around the corner from the Tropical Ice Gardens in Westwood—the one that you posted about. I hit the ice, and I never looked back.

That photo of the Tropical Ice Gardens made it look like a pretty big rink. Was ice-skating big anyway, or was it big because of Sonia Henie?

It was because of Sonia. She revolutionized ice-skating for so many of us.

So you skated competitively?

Young Louella Rehfield ice-skating

Young Louella Rehfield ice-skating

Yes I did, and in fact the first three times I competed, I won! At 9, 10, and 11!

Later, I started working for my aunt. She had this radio show. Fifteen minutes, every Sunday evening. Walter Winchell was on from 6 to 6:15, and she was on from 6:15 to 6:30. That was when I had my first job. I started working weekends for her when I was about 16. We were all having dinner one night at La Rue, which was a fabulous restaurant. It was with the sponsors of her radio show, and the sponsor announced that they were going to go into television. Well, my aunt rushed me off to the Ladies Room, where she could try and deal with this. She knew she couldn’t do television and so this was the end of her radio show. It was also the end of my father’s job at Jergens. But I continued working for her on the weekends. I got paid $25 a week, which was good money then. She was a very generous lady.

What were you doing for her on the weekends?

One of my main jobs was to listen to Walter Winchell and make sure none of the stories he was using were ones that she was using. So I’d listen to Winchell and take notes, and if he had a story she was using, I had to rush in and tell her.

So that would be the end of her story then, and she had to find something else?

Yes. And she’d do interviews with stars, which she had taped previously. One Sunday, the engineer came out of his booth just before the show went on live radio and announced that he had inadvertently erased tonight’s interview. I learned the greatest lesson from that: When you’ve done something wrong, just admit it. Don’t try and make up excuses. Just tell them what you’ve done.

How did your aunt cope with that? What did she do?

She was fine because of the way he handled it. He was straightforward and told her what happened. They got another tape from another show and used that, so it worked out fine.

All of us on the outside, not part of the family, have this view of Louella Parsons as being quite a ruthless woman who wielded great power, and wielded it absolutely. What I’m really curious to learn is how you saw Louella Parsons from your perspective, almost on the inside looking out. What was your experience of Louella like?

It varied. Sometime she was so wonderful, and sometime she was so mean to me. Something would happen and she’d say, “What do YOU know??” Ten minutes later she’d be so nice and so sweet, and generous and kind. She was the most generous woman I’ve ever known. And she LOVED Hollywood. If anyone did anything that was against Hollywood, she would never forgive them.

So Louella’s loyalty was ultimately to the Hollywood film industry?

Exactly. Well put.

Louella Parsons at the Moulin RougeAt the Moulin Rouge (which used to be Earl Carroll’s) on Sunset Blvd. From left to right: Barbara Ettinger, Mecca Graham, Louella Rehfield, her husband Jerry, Louella Parsons, and Ed Ettinger. (circa 1952 or 53.)

Let’s say you were at La Rue with your aunt, did people approach the table to schmooze with her?


There was no sucking up to Louella going on in public?

No, at least not at the restaurants we went to.

Which ones were your regulars?

The Brown Derbys, La Rue, and of course Chasen’s because that was the one closest to her house. Dave Chasen was as sweet a man as you could imagine. He gave me a bunch of his restaurant silverware as a wedding present.

What was the atmosphere at Chasen’s like?

The thing I remember most is that when you walked into the lobby, facing you was a full-sized painting of WC Fields dressed up as Queen Victoria. It was great! I don’t know what happened to that picture.

Did you have a favorite restaurant around town?

I loved all of them. I loved Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood.

Don the Beachcomber, North McCadden Place, Hollywood

Don the Beachcomber, North McCadden Place, Hollywood

When you read my books, you’ll find several scenes set at Don the Beachcomber. What was it about Don’s that you liked so much?

The food was marvelous!

You hear about their strong rum-based drinks, but not the food. So it was good, too?

Oh yes. For the food, I guess Don’s was my favorite, but I loved La Rue, and Chasen’s, and of course I adored the Brown Derbys, because I spent so much time at the Hollywood Brown Derby. I also worked for the advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, which was half a block from the (Vine Street) Derby. My aunt had a staff meeting once a week to which I was invited. It was in the private room, so I have some great memories of that place.

What was the food like at the Brown Derby?

Great American food. You’re familiar with the Cobb Salad? Bob Cobb was a marvelous man.

The Vine Street Brown Derby, Hollywood, 1944

The Vine Street Brown Derby, Hollywood, 1944

I’ve always pictured that at the Brown Derby, there was a lot of table-hopping and a lot of hi-how-are-you-ing. Would that be an accurate description?

I don’t ever remember table-hopping.

Was that more of a nightclub thing, like at Ciro’s or the Mocambo?

Yes! I spent lots of time at those places.

Louella Parsons at the Cocoanut Grove.From left to right: Maggie Ettinger (big time Hollywood publicist and cousin of Louella Parsons,) Orry-Kelly (Warner Bros costumer and subject of new documentary,) Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons, and friend Mecca Graham at the Cocoanut Grove.

Did you have a favorite nightclub?

I loved Ciro’s.

And what was it about Ciro’s that you liked so much?

Herman Hover, who owned it, was doing things that nobody else was doing. They always had great entertainment.

I envy you that you had the chance to experience places like Ciro’s at the height of that era. If I got into a time machine, I’d run straight to Ciro’s.

And you would be dead-on right to do that. The thing that impressed me was that he hired African-American performers like Pearl Bailey, who I met. Oh, and I saw Lena Horne at the Cocoanut Grove, and she was so marvelous. I also saw Sammy Davis Jr. with his family before he became a soloist. He knocked the socks off everyone with his enormous talent.

You mentioned to me that you went to the Garden of Allah.

Louella Rehfield portrait by noted photographer John Engstead

Louella Rehfield portrait by noted photographer John Engstead

It was when I was working for Young & Rubicam. My job was to do publicity on the television shows they were sponsoring. Our Miss Brooks was one. Eve Arden was a doll.

I’m so glad to hear that, because she’s one of my favorites.

You couldn’t pick a nicer lady. She was the best. She’d just had a baby when I was working with her on Our Miss Brooks. She had a very nice husband. I remember one day she came into work and she said she’d been up all night with the baby, but you would never have known it. She gave her usual great performance. She was a professional, and a lovely, lovely lady.

What was your job? What did you do?

I would write stories about the shows I was assigned to, and send them back to New York, and they would try to plant them anywhere that would get them publicity.

And that led you to the Garden of Allah? So we’re now talking about the 1950s?

Yes, 1951, just when the transition from radio to television was happening. I can’t remember whom I was interviewing at the time, but I remember the Garden of Allah. I was so impressed with that place. My god! It was wonderful! But it was also a little spooky.

Spooky? How?

Good spooky. Atmospheric. Knowing that people on the order of Bob Benchley, whom I adored, stayed there. And so many of the New York people if they came to town to work on a film, they would stay at the Garden of Allah. So it had that New York-y kind of atmosphere.

Louella Parsons, the First Lady of Hollywood biography.jpgDid you read the biography that came out about your aunt: “The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons” by Samantha Barbas?

Yes, I did.

Did you think it was an accurate portrayal of her?

I thought it was very well done. I liked it very much.

I’ve always had this impression that although Louella’s public profile was a bit cut-throat and ruthless, there must have been another side of her. I never saw it, until I read that biography. I thought, “That’s what I always imagined. If she liked you, you saw a different side of her.”

Well, as far as human beings are concerned, she was so far ahead of Hedda Hopper, who was really a nasty woman. It wasn’t just that she and Louella were rivals, but Hedda was a very mean-spirited lady. Most everyone who was in Hollywood knew it. But my aunt wasn’t mean-spirited. She hated it when people did something that reflected badly on the industry. That’s what got her down on Orson Welles. She loved WR (Hearst).

Did she ever talk about Hearst? Did she talk about him in glowing terms?

She absolutely flat-out loved him.

So she was a very loyal person, then? Very loyal to her boss?

Yes, she was.

Did he treat her well, do you think?

Yes. They had a great relationship. She spent time up at San Simeon, many weekends. I wish I’d had the opportunity to do that, but I was too young. However, I do remember an evening at Marion Davies’ home in Beverly Hills. Marion was such a sweet lady who became such a terrible drunk. It all centered around the fact that Phoebe Hearst would not divorce him because she was Catholic, so Marion had to be his mistress for however many years that was. Marion took to drink and WR hated that. Marion liked me and I liked Marion. One night we were at my aunt’s house and I was sitting at Marion’s feet, talking with her. She was wearing a diamond ring. I don’t even know—40 carats, maybe? She took it off and gave it to me! I said, ‘Marion, I cannot accept that.” I finally got her to put it back on her finger where it belonged.

She wanted to give it to you, not just let you try it on?

She wanted to give it to me. Of course, if I’d taken it, the chauffeur would have been around the next day. She was drunk, the poor thing.

Do you think that was partly because she was frustrated with the Phoebe situation? If Phoebe hadn’t have been so Catholic and would have agreed to a divorce, Marion would have married Hearst?

Oh, absolutely. They even had a child together, Patricia Lake.

What else did you do for your aunt?

My mother and I used to be in charge of delivering Christmas presents for my aunt. Because, if she received a Christmas present, she had to give them something back. That was part of her culture. So we would be racing over to Bing Crosby’s house on Christmas Eve.

Do you think they were giving her a gift because of who she was, or did they genuinely like her? Or was it a mixture?

Louis B. Mayer and his wife Lorena.

Louis B. Mayer and his wife Lorena.

I think it was a mixture, depending on who they were. She was very close friends with LB Mayer and Joe Schenck. In fact, LB married one of my family’s best friends, Lorena Danker. Her husband, Danny, had a heart attack at around the age of thirty-seven and Lorena was beside herself. They had one child who was a dear friend of mine all through those days, so Lorena was around all the time at Louella’s house. She was welcome any time of the day. So anyway, Lorena first set her hat for Joe Schenck, but Joe being the smart man he was, he wouldn’t fall for her at all. So then she set her hat for LB – and succeeded, and became Mrs. LB Mayer.

What was Lorena like?

She wasn’t the greatest beauty in the whole wide world, but she was the most charming. And she stayed with him until the end of his life.

MGM was close to where we lived, as was Twentieth, so they were the studios we spent most of our time at. I do have a story about MGM. It was my 12th birthday, and my aunt asked me what I wanted. I told her I would love to see Gone with the Wind again. This was, of course, well before any re-releases and home videos or anything like that. So Louella set it up. I went to the Thalberg building at MGM and to one of the projection rooms. I sat there all by myself and got to see Gone with the Wind. Oh! It was just great!

So if the MGM and Fox lots were the two studios you spent the most time at, would you go there in the company of your aunt? Would she take you onto the studio lots if she was doing an interview?

She didn’t drive so she had somebody drive her. The butler, Collins (who was a whole story himself) took on the chauffeur duties, except on Mondays and Tuesdays when either my mother or I would drive her wherever she was going. She’d put tomorrow’s column to bed at one o’clock – her office was in her house – and then she’d get dressed and go out for the afternoon. So one of us had to drive her.

Would you sit in on the interview, or go to the commissary, or what would you be doing?

I’d try to be as unobtrusive as possible! The one I remember the most was at Warner Bros. when they were filming A Streetcar Named Desire. I got to sit in Vivien’s dressing room while my aunt interviewed her. And of course I adored her.

But I’ll tell you the one person in Hollywood who paid attention to me as a human being: Paulette Goddard.

I’m so pleased to hear that, because she’s one of my favorites, too.

What happened was, my aunt had a ranch up in Northridge. She used to spend the weekend there whenever she wasn’t working. Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin were there one weekend, and I got to meet them. I adored Chaplin. I think the world of him, and I hate what our government did to him. That horrible man who was head of the FBI all but kicked him out of the country. But I think things worked out okay for him with Oona and their home in Switzerland.

So now that you’ve retired and moved away from Los Angeles, do you miss it at all?


I’d guess the LA you grew up in is probably a long way from the LA of now.

There’s just no resemblance at all.

I think you’re one of the lucky people who got to experience LA and Hollywood at its peak. There are a lot of people who are likely to be reading this interview who are very jealous of you, Louella! Can I assume that you were named after your aunt?

Yes, I was. When my daughter was born, my aunt said, “Of course you’re going to name her Louella.” And I said, “Of course I’m not!” But I did compromise. Diana’s middle name is Louella.

Well, Louella, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. It’s been wonderful. For someone like me who’s been reading and writing about this era for so long, it’s such a thrill to get to speak with somebody who experienced it first hand.

Louella Rehfield today

Louella Rehfield today

I’m so glad we had this opportunity. And I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. I can hardly wait for my first book of yours to arrive.

Well, see, now I’m getting a bit nervous because I’ve only written about it, but you actually experienced it. Louella pops up a lot in the first few books, so when you’ve read them, I’d love to hear if you think I’ve portrayed life back then accurately. You were there! You lived it!

I will let you know. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you, too!


 Martin Turnbull is the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels, set in and around the Garden of Allah Hotel during Hollywood’s golden era.


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“Salomé” (1923) essay for the National Film Preservation Board

I was recently approached by Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board to write an essay on Alla Nazimova’s movie of “Salome” (1923). The Board was established in 1988 to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage. I was very happy (and flattered) to contribute the following essay.


Salomé (1923)

Essay for the National Film Preservation Board.

Martin Turnbull

June, 2015


Nazimova in Oscar Wild's "Salome"~~oOo~~

 Although little remembered today, Russian-born actress Alla Nazimova was a major star of Broadway in the early 1910s. Inevitably, her enormous success on the dramatic stage led to attracting the attention of the nascent film industry. It was Metro Pictures (later of MGM fame) who signed Nazimova in 1918 at an unprecedented salary of $13,000 a week (at a time when the queen of silent cinema, Mary Pickford, was earning $10,000) and brought her west to Hollywood. Setting herself up in a mansion that sat on a 2.5-acre block at Sunset Boulevard (which, ten years later, would be transformed into the Garden of Allah Hotel), Alla set about conquering Hollywood in the same way she’d set the Great White Way aflame.

At first, she did extraordinarily well, playing a gypsy in Toys of Fate (1918), a sheik’s daughter in Eye for an Eye (1918), and unwed mother in Out of the Fog (1919), and Chinese half-sisters in The Red Lantern (1919). Other hits like The Brat (1919) and Madame Peacock followed (1920.)

By the start of the 1920s, however, Nazimova grew restless with playing the puppet and wanted more control over the films she appeared in. On the set of Billions (1920) Nazimova met an equally ambitious and talented costumer / set designer / art director, Natacha Rambova who created the art direction and costume designs for Nazimova’s next vehicle, Camille (1921). With its ultra-modern design, the film was deemed ahead of its time and received varied critical reaction, and enjoyed only moderate success.

After its release, Nazimova and Metro went their separate ways, and Alla turned to producing her own films through her production company, Nazimova Productions. Although the history of early cinema is punctuated with the contributions of many women (screenwriters Frances Marion, June Mathis, Lenore Coffee and Anita Loos; directors Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner), Nazimova took charge of every aspect of her career, much in the same way as Fairbanks, Pickford, Chaplin, and Griffith did in 1919 when they formed United Artists.

Her first independent feature was a film of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1922), released through United Artists. Although it was a critical hit, it was far from a commercial success. However, Nazimova had tasted independence and wanted more of it, and set her sights on making what she wanted to be her greatest achievement: a film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1923.)

Inspired by the artwork of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, Nazimova and Rambova set about making a version of Salomé such as 1920s filmgoers had never seen. Even by today’s standards, the film’s art direction reached for the outer limits of avant-garde.

Nothing on screen is designed to suggest first century Roman Empire. Instead, Nazimova sought to recast Wilde’s one-act play in a world where the ruling aesthetic is Art Nouveau meets searing minimalism meets Hollywood decadence. This is a world where wigs come fitted with glowing baubles, actors wear stockings patterned in palm-sized fish scales, and king’s yes-men don headdresses that resemble giant, glittering conches.

Although it had its supporters—in its review, Photoplay Magazine said, “A hothouse orchid of decadent passion . . . You have your warning: this is bizarre stuff”—it’s not hard to see why moviegoers barely knew what to make of this astonishing spectacle. After all, this was 1923, and people wanted The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Lon Chaney; Zaza, with Gloria Swanson; and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

In Salomé what they got was a 42-year-old lead actress playing a teenager sporting cinema’s first micro-mini skirt as she performed a dance of the seven veils accompanied by chorus girls decked out in two-foot shoulder pads.

The world wasn’t ready for Nazimova’s inspired vision for Salomé and the film flopped badly. Consequently, Nazimova lost the ton of money she sunk into the film. She made a couple more movies, but was unable to recover financially, and left the movie industry in 1925, returning to the theater until the 1940s when she experienced a minor career second wind before her premature death in 1945.

However, when seen through 21st century eyes, Salomé is a phantasmagoria of striking images, unbridled sensuality, and fearless storytelling. It also leaves the viewer with the lingering sense that if Alla Nazimova had the good fortune to come along a hundred years later than she did, she’d have found a world with its arms thrust wide open to embrace the groundbreaking artist that she was.

Martin Turnbull is the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels, set in and around the Garden of Allah Hotel during Hollywood’s golden era.



National Film Preservation Board’s website

The NFPB’s Index of Film Essays

Salomé essay on NFPB’s website

Alla Nazimova Society website


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Announcing the release of the audiobook version of “Searchlights and Shadows”

"Searchlights and Shadows" Audiobook CoverI am very pleased and proud to announce the release of the audiobook version of book 5 in the “Hollywood’s Garden of Allah” series: Searchlights and Shadows.

I now have a new narrator of my audiobooks: Lance Roger Axt and I think he’s done a wonderful job breathing life into not just Marcus, Kathryn and Gwendolyn, but also the dark days of WWII.

The Searchlights and Shadows audiobook is available through:



(Book 4 in the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series)

by Martin Turnbull

At the dawn of 1942, the dark days of Pearl Harbor still loom over Los Angeles. America is now at war, and posters warn home-front Hollywoodites that loose lips sink ships.

Wartime propaganda is the name of the game, and the studios are expected to conjure stories that galvanize the public for the war effort. Marcus Adler is an MGM screenwriter whose latest movie was stolen out from under his whiskey glass, and he’s determined it won’t happen again. He comes up with a sure-fire hit, but his chance to triumph is threatened by a vicious rumor: “Marcus Adler is a goddamned Commie.”

Gwendolyn Brick is the handiest gal with a needle this side of Edith Head. After losing her job at the Cocoanut Grove, she dreams of opening her own dress store. But banks don’t make loans to single girls. However, wartime in L.A. opens the door to an opportunity that will rake in the bucks. But will it be worth the trouble if it drags her back into the orbit of Bugsy Siegel?

At the outbreak of war, the Hollywood Reporter’s circulation starts to shrink like a food rations coupon book. Its lead columnist, Kathryn Massey, realizes she can no longer ignore the obvious: her boss, Billy Wilkerson, is gambling away his fortune—and her future. Could their very survival depend on a place nobody’s heard of called Las Vegas?

In the city of searchlights, suspicions can lurk behind every shadow.


Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~~~oOo~~~


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HOLA! from the Garden of Allah

As of this writing, I currently have 4,700+ followers on my Facebook page. It took me a while to realize that it’s a snapshot of the people who read my novels set during Hollywood’s golden era. For a long while, it seemed like the lion’s share of the people who followed me were fellow Angelenos. I gauged that from the comments they’d leave on the vintage LA & Hollywood photos I post on Facebook: “I live around the corner from here!” and “This is still my favorite theater in LA!”

Then, as the number of my followers grew, I noticed the comments began to change. More frequently I started to hear from people who grew up in LA but had moved away: “Your photos make me miss LA.” or “My grandma used to take me to lunch there!”

Then, as time went on, I noticed people leaving comments like: “When I get to LA, I want this to be the first place I visit.” and “We have nothing like that here in Munich.” That’s when I noticed that I was blipping the radar of people who lived not only outside LA…or California…or the United States, but Norway and Romania and Singapore and Buenos Aires and Madrid and Istanbul. I tended to think that an interest in old Hollywood movies and the culture they emerged from was mostly (not exclusively, of course, but largely) confined to English-speaking countries. But my growing Facebook audience showed me that’s hardly the case. At all.

That got me thinking about how wonderful it would be if I could find a way to make my books available to non-English speaking people. I know enough French to buy a croissant in Paris, and enough Spanish to find the nearest men’s room in Madrid, but that’s hardly enough to translate a whole novel (let alone four, and counting…) What I needed was a professional translator.

And just like that, when I needed it, along came a website which did just that. pairs authors with translators in the same way that Audiobook Creation Exchange pairs authors with narrators. On Babelcube, you post your book, along with a sample chapter and information about yourself, and then wait to see if any of the translators are interested in taking on your project.

I knew enough about translations to know that – like producing audiobooks – they’re a heck of a lot of work. But I figured that if my Facebook numbers were anything to go by, there might be some interest. And it turned out there was. Within a couple weeks I heard from Carlos Ucar, a Spanish guy now living in London, who wanted to translate my first book, The Garden on Sunset. Right after I heard from him, I was contacted by Gabriela Garcia Calderon, a lawyer in Lima, Peru, who wanted to translate the second one, The Trouble with Scarlett.

I also knew enough about translations to know that, as handy as Google Translate is, they’re as much an art as writing the original material. So I asked Carlos and Gabriela to translate the first chapter of each book, which they did, and I gave it to two friends who speak fluent Spanish AND who are into the old Hollywood era to see if these translations were good. Both Carlos and Gabriela got big thumbs up from my test readers so I gave Carlos and Gabriela the go ahead.

I heard from each of them when they were about halfway through, and then before I knew it, they were finished and hey presto:

"The Garden on Sunset" and "The Trouble with Scarlett" by Martin Turnbullbecame:

"El Jardin en Sunset" & "El Problema con Scarlett" by Martin Turnbull~~oOo~~

So I am now very excited to announce that the Spanish version of my ebooks are available through all the usual channels:

El Jardin en Sunset:

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (Spain)


Barnes & Noble Nook


Scribd (Germany)


El Problema con Scarlett:

Amazon (US)

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (Spain)


Barnes & Noble Nook


Scribd (Germany)


Hollywood’s Garden of Allah Novels on Facebook

Martin Turnbull’s official Amazon author page

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”

Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~~oOo~~


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“SUBWAY PEOPLE” : A short story behind the short story

"Subway people" - a 1930s short story by Martin TurnbullI’m no different from anyone jumping around the internet these days like a honey bee in summer, landing on websites and pages and blogs whose varying degrees of wow-that’s-interesting catch my attention. Every now and then, I’ll find myself on one of these places and I’m so impressed that I want to keep up with their latest news and events. But of course that entails sharing my email address with someone I don’t know, and my fingers hover over the keyboard while I’m thinking, Well, they seem cool, but if I hand over my email address, will it end up on some mega-super-masterlist used by people trying to sell me a bride from Belarus, 20 quarts of testosterone, or wanting to tell me how a single mom now earns $84,988 per year online without selling anything?

It wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me that I’m one of those people too. I may not be hawking Belorussian brides or buckets of testosterone, but I am hopeful that people might be interested in hearing any news I may have to share concerning my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels. So on my website and each of my blog posts, I give people a chance to sign up to my mailing list. All I offered in exchange was the promise that I wouldn’t share it with bride pimps or drug traffickers.

Then, recently, I read a blog post by a fellow indie author who talked about his theory that these days our email addresses are a precious commodity, and it isn’t enough for us authors (and bride pimps) to ask someone to give up theirs in exchange for a mere promise, no matter how sincere. He suggests that we offer up something more tangible than I really really really really do promise to not give your address to anyone. That author wrote a longish short story parallel to–but separate from–his main fiction, and made it available exclusively to people who signed up for his mailing list. He said that what happened next supported his theory: people started signing up to hear his latest news at a much greater rate than before.

So that got me thinking. Perhaps I could do something similar with the world I write about – life in Hollywood during the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

I was still musing what that story might be when I heard from a Canadian fan, Charlie Kaus. He contacted me to say that he was re-reading my first book and it occurred to him that “Subway People” would be something he’d love to read if ever I got around to writing it.

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull

“The Garden on Sunset” by Martin Turnbull – book 1 of the Garden of Allah novels – available free in all ebook formats.

In my first book, The Garden on Sunset, one of the main characters, Marcus Adler, experiences his first success in 1935 when he sells a story called “Subway People” to the Saturday Evening Post. MGM director, George Cukor, sees the story and takes the time to contact Marcus. Subsequently, the two men become friends.

When Charlie suggested that I write “Subway People” I all but slapped myself across the face. Of course that’s what I should write! His suggestion was all it took for my creative wheels to start turning, and the story was done a week later. I am now offering it up to anyone who would like to join my mailing list.

If you haven’t yet signed up, click on the Subscribe me! image below. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be directed to a page where you can download the short story in the format of your choice.

And if you’ve already signed up and would like to read the story, EMAIL ME from the address you signed up with, and I’ll be happy to send you the link.


Subscribe to the Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels mailing list.~~oOo~~

By the way, The Garden on Sunset is available free in ebook format.
Click HERE to take you to the book’s page on my website which lists all the links to all the formats available by the various retailers.


Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~~oOo~~

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Announcing an exciting discovery of costumes and trunks once owned by Alla Nazimova

Once upon a time…there was a great dramatic actress by the name of Alla Nazimova. She took Broadway by storm in the 1910s, earning a well-deserved reputation as being one of the great interpreters of Ibsen. Inevitably, Hollywood called, waving a huge contract at her–reputedly worth $13,000 a week–luring her westward. Madame Nazimova heeded the call, and at first she was very successful. But in time she saw the real money was to be made in producing movies, so she set up her own production company. However she found that producing a financially successful movie was harder than it looked. She made two high profile movies — Camille (1921) and Salome (1923) — but they both flopped so badly, Nazimova was all washed up in the movies and she returned to the stage.

Once upon another, much later time…I came across Alla Nazimova when I started doing research for my novels set around the Garden of Allah Hotel built around what was once Nazimova’s movie star mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Hardly any of her films are now available, and ironically, the only two viewable online are the two that sunk her financially, Camille and Salome.

It was Salome that particularly caught my eye. It’s years ahead of its time, especially in terms of production design, sets and costumes. It’s far-out stuff today, let alone to the audiences of the early 1920s, and it’s no great mystery why the expensive film flopped.

And what particularly caught my eye in Salome was the striking headdress she wore: a wig of short dreadlocks topped with beads made out of some sort of luminous material designed to reflect the light. Or perhaps glow in the dark.

salome nazimova 3 salome nazimova 2 salome nazimova 1But Salome was made in 1923 and by the time I discovered her (around 2005) Alla Nazimova’s name and career had all but completely faded from public consciousness. But I continued to research her and admire her for her accomplishments.

I started publishing my Garden of Allah novels, and created my Facebook page, and this blog. Eventually my path led me to Jon Ponder and his website, Playground to the Stars, which covers the history of the Sunset Strip. We discovered in each other a mutual admiration for “Madame” (as she liked to be called) which led to our establishing the Alla Nazimova Society dedicated to preserving and promoting the memory of an unjustly forgotten woman.

We launched the Society in 2013, a full 90 years after the release of Salome, and as much as we wished and hoped and prayed we’d somehow somewhere find artifacts associated with her, we knew the chances were slim-next-to-nothing-okay-we’ll-admit-it-virtually zero-just-ain’t-never-gonna-happen.

Yeah. Well. So much for ‘never’…

I should have learned my lesson back in October 2013 when Jon and I tracked down something I never thought I had a hope in Hades of seeing: the scale model of the Garden of Allah Hotel built after the hotel’s demolition in 1959 and displayed in the mini-mall bank that replaced it (see my blog post here).

In the Fall of 2014, the Alla Nazimova Society was contacted by a Jack Raines, from Columbus, Georgia. He wrote to say that his family was cleaning out his grandmother’s house and came across five steamer traveling trunks, each with the name “NAZIMOVA” stenciled across them.

“What’s in them?” we asked.

He said that they hadn’t opened any of the trunks yet. They just saw the unusual name on the top, googled it and found us.

“Can you open one of the trunks and send us some photos of whatever you find inside?” we asked, now getting a teensy bit excited.

So he and his family did that, took some photographs of the contents, and sent them to us.

We opened the files and just about fainted. The very first one we looked at was this:

nazimova salome wigIn the Nazimova world, this is akin to finding another pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Charles Foster Kane’s sled, Rosebud. If anybody had ever asked me, “If you could have just one of any of Alla’s possessions, costumes, props, or memorabilia, what would it be?” I wouldn’t have even hesitated to reply: “The beaded headdress from her 1923 production of Salome.” But never–NEVER–did it occur to me that it could possibly–POSSIBLY–still exist. Let alone in a forgotten traveling trunk stored in a backyard shed in Georgia.

As it happened, four of the five trunks were empty, but one of them was filled with all sorts of costumes and clothes which once belonged to Alla Nazimova. They were packed away by Nazimova’s long-term partner, Glesca Marshall, and taken with her to Columbus, GA when Glesca moved in with her new partner, Emily Woodruff, a Columbus native and relative of Coca-Cola Company president, Robert W. Woodruff.

So the lesson here is: never–BUT NEVER–assume anything is lost forever. I never thought I’d find the Garden of Allah model, and I certainly never thought Nazimova’s most iconic costume would rise to the surface. Never give up hope, and never assume that the one thing you’d sell your soul to find again isn’t hidden away in a forgotten 100-year-old steamer trunk down in the back yard of a nice house once owned by the grandmother of an inquisitive college student from a town you’ve never heard of sitting on the western border of a state you’ve never been to.

The Alla Nazimova Society has put together a complete inventory of the contents of the Nazimova trunks the Raines family discovered. You can view (and download) the inventory: Click Here for PDF.


Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~oOo~


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Announcing the release of Book Four of Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels: SEARCHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS

Searchlights and Shadows (Book 4 - Garden of Allah novels) Cover

“Searchlights and Shadows”
by Martin Turnbull
Book 4 in the Garden of Allah novels

I am very happy to announce that my next novel “Searchlights and Shadows”
is now available.

The story picks up in January of 1942, a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor.


At the dawn of 1942, the dark days of Pearl Harbor still loom over Los Angeles. America is now at war, and posters warn home-front Hollywoodites that loose lips sink ships.

Wartime propaganda is the name of the game, and the studios are expected to conjure stories that galvanize the public for the war effort. Marcus Adler is an MGM screenwriter whose latest movie was stolen out from under his whiskey glass, and he’s determined it won’t happen again. He comes up with a sure-fire hit, but his chance to triumph is threatened by a vicious rumor: “Marcus Adler is a goddamned Commie.”

Gwendolyn Brick is the handiest gal with a needle this side of Edith Head. After losing her job at the Cocoanut Grove, she dreams of opening her own dress store. But banks don’t make loans to single girls. However, wartime in L.A. opens the door to an opportunity that will rake in the bucks. But will it be worth the trouble if it drags her back into the orbit of Bugsy Siegel?

At the outbreak of war, the Hollywood Reporter’s circulation starts to shrink like a food rations coupon book. Its lead columnist, Kathryn Massey, realizes she can no longer ignore the obvious: her boss, Billy Wilkerson, is gambling away his fortune—and her future. Could their very survival depend on a place nobody’s heard of called Las Vegas?

In the city of searchlights, suspicions can lurk behind every shadow.


The first chapter is available to read on my website: CHAPTER ONE

Martin Turnbull "Searchlights and Shadows"



Searchlights and Shadows is available in all formats:

Amazon (US) paperback

Amazon (US) Kindle ebook

Amazon (UK) paperback

Amazon (UK) Kindle ebook

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Apple iTunes ebook

Kobo ebook

Book Depository paperback (free worldwide shipping)

For more information see the  Searchlights and Shadows page of my website.


And when you have read it (and assuming, of course, that you enjoyed it), if you have the chance and inclination, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on whichever site you bought it.  Just give it the number of stars you think it deserves and perhaps mention a few of the things you liked about it. If you can, that’d be great, but if you’d prefer not to, that’s perfectly fine, too.


Have you read Book One yet?

It’s currently available for FREE in ebook format.

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull

The Garden on Sunset

is available in all formats

More information can be found on my website:


You can also follow me on

Facebook: gardenofallahnovels


And a personal note to everyone who have read The Garden on Sunset and The Trouble with Scarlett and Citizen Hollywood, and took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed it:
Your support has been wonderfully encouraging.
All the best,
Martin Turnbull



Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels, by Martin Turnbull~oOo~

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