A Hollywood round up while we’re waiting for Irving Thalberg

Hello everyone,

Well, here we are, Day #786,004 of the Covid lockdown. I really don’t know how many days we’ve been sheltering in place but it sure feels like 2,153.6 years, doesn’t it? On the plus side, things are starting to open up, so let’s hope that glimmer of light we’re seeing is, indeed, the end of the tunnel.

But until it is, we have little choice but to carry on living as best we can. Over in my neck o’ the woods, the manuscript for my next novel is currently in the hands of my editor.

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

THE HEART OF THE LION
a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

And that means the book is still on track to be released mid-to-late-June-ish 2020, so not long now!

~O~

"Lights, Camera, Author" podcast with Jim Junot

Meanwhile, I was recently interviewed by Jim Junot, who hosts the “Lights, Camera, Author!” podcast. He contacted me a few weeks ago and asked if I’d come onto the show to talk about my upcoming Irving Thalberg book. You can listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or go here:

https://beta.prx.org/stories/322327

~O~

Hollywood Party podcast by Lauren Semar

The ever-fabulous Lauren Semar launched her podcast this week. In each episode of “Hollywood Party,” she tells us the life of a different personality from Hollywood’s golden era. In the show’s debut, Lauren talks about Desi Arnaz – and she had me laughing from the get go. You can get “Hollywood Party” through all the usual podcast channels or go here:

https://www.laurensemar.com/hollywoodpartypodcast

~O~

Meanwhile, to help you all dream of a gentler, kinder time when we didn’t have to worry about passing on a virus while hugging someone, let me share with you some interesting vintage photos of Los Angeles and Hollywood that I’ve come across recently:

Looking west along Wilshire Blvd from Virgil Ave toward Bullocks Wilshire, 1934

Looking west along Wilshire Blvd from Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, 1934

In this photo taken atop whatever building stood on the northeast corner of Virgil Ave and Wilshire Blvd in 1934, we’re looking west toward the Bullocks Wilshire department store. We can see a few of the large homes that used to line Wilshire in the early part of the 20th century.

~~~

Getty Mansion aka Norma Desmond’s home in “Sunset Boulevard” midway through demolition, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 1957

Getty Mansion aka Norma Desmond’s home in “Sunset Boulevard” midway through demolition, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 1957

An estate once owned by John Paul Getty played the role of “Norma Desmond’s mansion” in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. This photo was taken in 1957 as it was being demolished. In the foreground we can see the swimming pool, where it all ended rather badly for Mr. Joe Gillis.

~~~

The new Hollywoodland sign in the Hollywood hills, circa 1925

The Hollywoodland sign in the Hollywood Hills, 1925

The Hollywoodland sign up the top of the Hollywood Hills looks freshly made and freshly painted, which it still would have been in 1925, just two years after it went up. The Hollywoodland development wasn’t a booming success initially, so walking around the neighborhood would have felt like you were roaming open countryside, which, in a way, you would have been.

~~~

Mom Lehr's Hollywood Guild & Canteen, 1284 N. Crescent Heights Blvd Los Angeles, circa 1942 (1)

“Mom” Lehr’s Hollywood Guild & Canteen, 1284 N. Crescent Heights Blvd,
Los Angeles, circa 1942

This modest sign belies a much-needed service provided to enlisted men passing through Los Angeles en route to the Pacific during WWII. Anne Lehr, the wife of the vice president of United Artists, saw that they didn’t have anywhere to sleep while on leave, so she leased a mansion near the Garden of Allah Hotel and on May 15, 1942, opened the Hollywood Guild & Canteen, in which she provided up to 1200 servicemen with a meal and a place to sleep. When Bette Davis and John Garfield saw what a huge need there was, it inspired them to create the Hollywood Canteen, which opened in October.

~~~

View of the Hollywood Bowl during a night performance

View of the Hollywood Bowl during a night performance, circa 1940s

The photographer who took this shot of the Hollywood Bowl was standing past the last row to give us the view of a nighttime performance that would look much the same now as it did back then. The shell form was constructed in 1929 and the decorative pool was installed in 1953. The Hollywood Freeway in the background opened in 1940, so this photo was taken sometime between 1940 and 1953.

~~~

Schwab's Pharmacy menu, 8024 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, circa 1940s

Schwab’s Pharmacy menu, 8024 Sunset Boulevard,
Los Angeles, circa 1940s

After the Schwab brothers opened their Sunset Blvd location in 1932, it fed the dreams and stomachs of Hollywood hopefuls. Recently I came across a menu from the 1940s. (I have a larger version on my website – scroll down you see click HERE.) I think I’ll start with a Mexican Tamale with chili, then move onto the Club Style Sandwich No. 3, and end with coffee and a Black Beauty for dessert. And what’ll you have?

~~~

You’ll most likely be hearing from me again around this time next month when I’ll be letting you know that The Heart of the Lion is available. Until then, I do hope you’re being safe and keeping your sanity intact.

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

 

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

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Chapter 1 preview of “The Heart of the Lion – a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood” by Martin Turnbull

Hello fans of golden-era Hollywood, Turner Classic Movies, and/or lovers of historical fiction!

Last month, I revealed the title, cover, and book description of my upcoming book

THE HEART OF THE LION
a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

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

And today, I am both ready and a teensy bit nervous to share with you the first chapter of The Heart of the Lion. Why, after ten novels, am I nervous? Because this is my most ambitious project. The story spans more than 10 years of an extraordinary life and was, I’ll admit, quite a lot to take on. But, like any novel, you write it one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one scene at a time, and one chapter at a time until you’re done.

The Heart of the Lion will be released in June, 2020. Meanwhile, here is the first chapter to whet your appetite:

 

CHAPTER 1

Los Angeles,
California
October 1925

Irving Thalberg gripped the wooden railing in front of him and tried to tune out his director’s latest tantrum. It’s the weather, he wanted to shout back at this jabbering peacock. There’s not a whole lot we can do.

“We’re going to have to wait it out,” he said at last, keeping his voice even.

“How about getting some wind machines to blow the fog away?”

Irving felt Fred Niblo’s breath puff against his cheek. “Wind machines?”

“We could wheel them onto the field and get them to blow the fog—”

Irving swept his hand across the majestic set in front of them. “That would be like using paper fans to douse the lighthouse of Alexandria.”

Irving would never have tried to film a sprawling six-act play set in Ancient Rome. He preferred to make pictures dealing with relationships rather than crowd-filled pageants. But Ben-Hur had thudded into his lap when Metro Pictures had merged with Sam Goldwyn’s studio six months before. So here they were on the gargantuan Circus Maximus that Metro-Goldwyn had built at the corner of Venice and La Cienega Boulevards. They had eight chariots, fifty-six horses, forty-two cameras, hundreds of extras, and only one day to film the race that Irving hoped would make his customers gasp.

Fred thumped the railing with his fist. “We’ve gotta do something.”

The thick bank of fog obscured the tops of the crouching giants at each end of the Circus. “We’re going to say hello to our V.I.P.s. When the fog lifts—”

“If it lifts.”

When it lifts, we’ll be too busy to fawn and flatter them. But we’re lucky they’re here, because that means the columnists will mention us.”

“What if all they talk about is how this damn fog hid their view?”

Irving started down the narrow stadium steps that led onto the field. It would be faster to cut across the Circus’s wide dirt track to the emperor’s box, where he’d instructed Fred’s assistant to seat the petite queen of Hollywood, Mary Pickford, and her dashingly roguish husband, Douglas Fairbanks. “If you’re going to be Mister Down-in-the-mouth, perhaps you’d better not come along.” Fred grunted his acquiescence from two steps behind; Irving didn’t wait for him to catch up.

The October sea breeze blowing in from Santa Monica held the first chill that reminded Angelenos summer was over. It tingled Irving’s face, reinvigorating his senses; he’d been standing around since dawn waiting, waiting, waiting.

Months before, when he and his boss, Louis B. Mayer, had made the difficult decision to bring Ben-Hur back from its disastrous Italian shoot, Irving had told his art department to construct a set to outdo D.W. Griffith’s Babylon in Intolerance.

“It’ll cost you,” they’d warned.

“Do you remember how the industry scoffed when Metro merged with Goldwyn?” he had shot back. “They said, ‘How do Mayer and Thalberg think they can make a success out of two failed small-timers?’ Let’s prove them wrong, shall we, gentlemen?”

Ben-Hur was Irving’s chance to prove to Mayer, to Hollywood, and to the New York money men that a twenty-four-year-old kid like him could handle a colossal project like this. He loved the challenge of taking a troubled movie and turning it into a triumph. Even if it seemed hopeless. Especially if it seemed hopeless. But with Metro-Goldwyn two million dollars down, he couldn’t imagine a more unpromising scenario.

The Circus Maximus set stretched nearly half a mile. Judiciously chosen camera angles meant they’d only needed to build half of it, but what a spectacle they’d pulled off. Standing seventy feet tall, with seating for hundreds of extras, it resembled a grand football stadium. Down at the far end, a pair of hundred-foot columns soared on each side of the emperor’s box. A fifteen-foot ball rested atop each column, and on each ball stood an eagle with a twenty-five-foot wingspan.

The unprecedented size meant that every Angeleno in a ten-mile radius could see what they were doing. If they were seeing it, they were talking about it. And if they were talking about it, they were likely to hand over their dimes and quarters at their local Loew’s movie palace.

Irving was a little winded as he came within waving distance of Doug and Mary, but he didn’t dare slow his pace. As he cupped his hands to call out hello, he took in the celebrated faces around them. Holy Toledo. If he’d known who they’d brought along, he’d have come calling long before now. He raced up the steps faster than he should have and stepped onto the platform, smiling broadly. “I can see we’re going to have to find more chairs.”

“Irving, my dear.” Mary presented him with a cheek to kiss. “We wouldn’t have missed this for the world. It’s—it’s—”

“Staggering, is what it is.” Doug pumped Irving’s hand in his typical over-enthusiastic way. “You know the Barrymore boys, John and Lionel, don’t you?”

Irving had met none of the famed Barrymore acting clan, but Garbo’s upcoming picture had a role Lionel would be perfect for, so this meeting was gloriously fortuitous. “What a pleasure,” he said, “and welcome to Ancient Rome.”

A brash young woman, barely twenty years old, stepped forward. “You remember me, don’t you, Mr. Thalberg?”

It was a superfluous question. Irving had cast her in his upcoming Sally, Irene, and Mary.

“Of course I do, Miss Crawford.” She leaned in for a hug, but Irving shook her hand instead. Brazen self-assurance had won her the role, but Irving had seen her type a thousand times. Chutzpah and confidence were qualities he admired; it took nerve to get noticed in Hollywood. But when they tipped over into dogged pushiness, oversized personalities became hard to manage. If this girl’s performance as Irene caught the public’s attention, Irving knew he’d have some choppy waters to navigate.

“Don’t tell me your date today is John Gilbert,” he added in a stage whisper. “The man is an incorrigible philanderer.”

An entrenched member of Doug and Mary’s Pickfair crowd, Gilbert was a popular Metro-Goldwyn leading man. More importantly, though, he was one of Irving’s few personal friends. Irving had spent much of his childhood enfeebled by poor health, which meant no running around the playground, scraping knees, playing tag, or climbing fences for him—not if his mother had anything to say about it. Which she did. Loudly and often. By the time Irving was twenty-one, Carl Laemmle had put him in charge of Universal Studios, and when you’re the boss, nobody invites you to a weekend barbeque—not without an ulterior motive.

But then along had come blithe, suave, carefree John Gilbert—Jack to his friends—who didn’t give a hoot what Irving did for a living, or how it might further his career. His offer of genuine friendship had felt like a refreshing spring day.

Irving spotted Sam Goldwyn over Jack’s shoulder. The Metro-Goldwyn merger had required buying Sam out of his own company. But despite that, Sam had never shown him a moment’s spite. In fact, he behaved more like a kindly, if somewhat eccentric uncle, and was always pleased to see Irving. Today, Sam had brought along Harold Lloyd, whose date was Norma Shearer.

“Hello, Mr. Thalberg,” she said, smiling shyly. “Quite a setup you’ve got here. I do believe you’ve outdone yourself.”

Whereas Joan Crawford was all jazz baby and frenzied flapper, Norma Shearer was quiet culture with just enough pluck to make a run at stardom without the risk of awakening a monstrous ego. It was why Irving had rewarded her with the lead in Metro-Goldwyn’s first full production, He Who Gets Slapped.

“Miss Shearer,” he said. “A delight, as always.”

It wasn’t until then that he noticed Marion Davies standing next to Arthur Brisbane. Marion was William Randolph Hearst’s mistress—not that anybody dared say that word out loud—and Brisbane was Hearst’s most prominent columnist. If filming went well today, Brisbane was sure to write about it tomorrow, which meant twenty million people would read of Irving Thalberg’s ambitious Ben-Hur.

What a breathtaking view of his set they would have if only this fog lifted.

Irving tapped his foot impatiently on the wooden floorboards and looked around at the sparse crowd of extras. His staff had put out the word that Metro needed as many people as would show up and sit on a movie set all day. A decent number had answered the call, but not enough. So Irving had sent out a team of runners to recruit passersby, including Skid Row bums, who’d do anything for a meal. They’d come back with dozens and dozens of people, but Ancient Rome was still too thinly populated.

He beckoned to the lead assistant. Henry Hathaway was a keen go-getter whom Irving was grooming as a potential future director. Henry was by Irving’s side in a trice, worry creasing his round, genial face.

“I know what you’re going to say, Mr. Thalberg, but I’ve been thinking. There’s a lot of foot traffic along Venice Boulevard. I could take a team down there and start hiring.”

Irving prodded the guy toward the rear of the Circus, where the location manager had set up a tented office. Inside, Irving knew, was a lockbox filled with five-dollar bills, hidden beneath a wicker basket labeled ‘Centurion Sandals.’

As he turned back to face his cluster of the beautiful and the celebrated, an odd vibration crawled across his scalp, prickling the skin beneath his hair. Irving mustered a smile. “We’re a little light on extras. I told the art department to think big, but I woefully underestimated the number of seats we’d need to fill.”

Marion pointed out the nearest throng, half of whom were facing forward as though they saw Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Marion Davies every day of their lives. “Are those mannequins?”

The group moved closer to the balustrade. Joan said, “I wondered why some of them were ignoring us.”

The vibration in Irving’s skull grew heavy and tight, like a vice was slowly closing in on his scalp. His pulse pounded his ears. “Yes.” The word came out a little breathless. He discreetly placed a hand against the wall for support. Did anyone notice? “About twenty percent of this crowd is mannequins rigged up with wires and handcuffs. When the extras attached to them move, they will too.” Irving longed to massage his head or press fingertips to temples. Anything to curtail this throbbing.

“How ingenious, Mr. Thalberg!” Norma said.

Irving nodded his appreciation as a flicker of concern dimmed her deep blue eyes. She was the only one who wasn’t studying the dime-store dummies scattered throughout the stadium.

“I would have ordered more, but there were none left in the entire city.” His voice seemed to be coming from somewhere outside himself. Without warning, the vibration stopped. The vice released its grip. Irving sighed with relief and took his hand away from the wall. “I don’t suppose any of you are looking for work?”

“What?” Joan spat out the word.

“We’re in desperate need of warm bodies, and—”

Lionel let out a roar of a laugh. “I’ll do it!”

“Hold on a minute!” Mary jammed her fists onto her hips. “If this is to be a business transaction, I need to know how much you’re paying.”

“Five dollars plus a boxed lunch. Corned beef sandwich, apple and a Hershey bar.”

It had been a very long time since Mary Pickford had been an extra—had she ever?—but Irving now had a strategy: give Arthur Brisbane an angle for tomorrow’s column. “The Day Mary Pickford and I Played Film Extras.”

“Sounds like a good deal to me.” Mary clapped her hands together. “What a nice change from being front and center. No pressure to look marvelous. We can just sit there and gobble down our Hershey bars. Where would you like us?”

Irving was walking toward the front of the platform to pick out a spot when he caught a glimpse of the crouching giant statue at the far end. The fog! It was lifting! He pointed out a block of empty seats and told his extra-special extras that he would make sure they’d be served their boxed lunches first. Fred was nowhere in sight, but he spotted Joe Cohn, the studio manager, who stood in a huddle with the picture’s stunt coordinator, Breezy Eason, chatting with the camera crew. Irving rushed through his goodbyes and dashed onto the field, pointing skyward.

“Joe! Joe! It’s clearing up!” He arrived at the men, breathless and sweaty. “Where’s Fred?”

“Last I saw him, he and Easterbrook were huddled with one of the construction guys. There’s a problem with the plastering on the—”

“Go find him,” Irving told Joe. “And hurry! We’ve wasted enough time with this blasted fog.”

He pointed to the line of chariots, each one with its team of four horses hitched up and ready to race. “You,” he told Breezy, “come with me.”

They raced across the field to where the stuntmen stood waiting; the stink of manure hung suspended in the dusty air.

“Ramon? Francis?” Irving called. “Where are you?” Ramon Novarro was playing Ben-Hur, and Francis X. Bushman was his nemesis, Messala. The two men stepped to the front, decked out in their Roman tunics, leather harnesses strapped across their chests.

Irving was still breathless from sprinting; his heart beat wildly, erratically. Had they not wasted so much of this morning waiting for the fog to lift, he would have found some other excuse to put off talking, but they were racing against the clock.

“You have to pull out all the stops.”

“What do you need?”

Irving swiped at the flies buzzing around him. “An honest-to-god, no-holds-barred, give-it-all-you’ve-got contest. And what’s a competition without prizes, right?” Each stuntman stood north of six feet tall and weighed at least 200 pounds. At five feet six and 125, Irving normally would have felt intimidated, but only one person was in charge of this circus, and it was him. “The man who wins the race today gets a hundred and fifty dollars. The second man gets a hundred. Third place wins fifty.”

The biggest stuntman of the lot—a grizzly bear of a man, with a scarred face and hairy knuckles—thrust his fist into the air. “You’ve got yourself a real battle, mister!”

As the men dispersed to their assigned chariots, Irving noticed Ramon linger behind. “Anything wrong?”

The guy was one of Metro’s rising stars. He was Mexican, but possessed a wide range of exotic looks that Irving intended to take full advantage of. “We are wasting time. It’s nothing.”

“What’s on your mind, Ramon?”

He set his mouth into a grim line. “Doesn’t Ben-Hur win the race?”

“Of course he does. It’s the whole point of this sequence.”

“One hundred and fifty dollars buys much determination.”

“I need them to give us terrific footage, and that’s the best way to do it.”

Ramon’s hands trembled. “Mr. Thalberg, have you ever stood on a chariot? Behind a team of powerful horses? Holding onto a thin strap of leather, knowing it’s all that stands between you and being trampled to death?” He gave Irving’s stuntmen the once-over. “You offered them an incentive to be reckless.”

“They’re professionals whose allegiance is to safety first, especially the safety of the star of a picture that’s over budget and behind schedule. They know what’s at stake, and they know how to give the cameras a heck of a show.”

Around them, jittery stallions headed for the starting line, leaving behind Ramon’s team of white horses and matching chariot.

“All I need is for you to stay in the mix,” Irving said. “No need to pull ahead or take chances. We’re filming the wide shots today, and then tomorrow, we’ll capture close-ups and reaction shots. Okay?”

Ramon was about to speak his mind, but hesitated instead. Irving groaned inwardly. He figured it was getting close to noon now, and they hadn’t even shot one take yet. Checking his wristwatch was the most undiplomatic thing he could do, so he took a step closer and lowered his voice.

“Look, Ramon, I know I’m not the one who’ll be out there, behind a team of horses who may or may not do what they’re told, surrounded by chariots clocking thirty miles an hour or more. I want you to know that I admire your willingness to do it. Truly, I do. But this whole picture rests on our being able to pull off a spectacular chariot race.” That last sentence wasn’t wholly true, but it was close enough: shots of the race would probably feature on the poster. “I can send for your stand-in, but audiences need to see that Ramon Novarro himself is in the race, and that’s going to make all the difference.”

 

Irving took his position on a platform at the finishing line. Fred and Henry stood next to him.

“You don’t think the fairy’ll faint on us, do you?” Fred asked.

Irving kept his binoculars trained on the line of eight chariots. “Are you referring to the valuable star of our picture who is brave enough to get on a chariot with a team of unpredictable horses pulling him at high speed, any of which could trample him to death without breaking stride?” He let a moment tick by to give Fred’s discomfort a chance to ferment before he signaled the director.

A whistle blasted across the Circus Maximus. Chariots charged forward. Extras crowding the bleachers roared to life, screaming, clapping, waving their arms, and stamping their feet.

A pair of burly stagehands pushed the camera mount along a pair of tracks paralleling the edge of the stadium. Four brown geldings pulling a silver chariot shot to the front, mouths already straining at their bits. Bushman, half a length behind, whipped his reins.

Irving felt the pounding of hooves shake the wooden boards beneath his shoes.

The sun slipped out from behind a cloud as Ramon spotted an opening in the cluster and directed his horses to fill it. The sun picked up his white chariot as though it were a spotlight.

The platform quaked as forty-eight horses hammered past, the extras screaming themselves into a manic fever. The chariots rounded the corner and disappeared behind the wall that ran down the center of the field.

“FANTASTIC!” Fred yelled over the din. “INCREDIBLE!”

Irving nodded. “Tell them to keep going. They can’t lose momentum.”

Fred made a circular motion with his right hand. Cohn ordered the camera to dash back to its original starting point so it could catch them a second time. They had barely reached their position before the pack stampeded around the corner again.

Irving searched for Ramon’s white horses, but clouds of dust obscured his vision. It would add an aura of menace to the final shot, but Irving would feel better if he could see his star actor.

They had approached the halfway mark when one of the chariots jumped a foot into the air. Its wheels locked as it skidded across the dirt. The four horses writhed in a jumble of legs, tails, reins. Unable to slow down, the chariot behind rammed into the wreck. It flipped sideways, hurling the driver through the air in a high arc that landed him in the tangle of wheels and writhing horseflesh.

Chariots swerved left and right to avoid the churning pile. Bushman missed it, but the rim of Ramon’s right wheel clipped the edge of a fallen vehicle. Irving held his breath as Ramon’s chariot tipped onto one wheel, then wobbled and lurched as his panicked horses charged forward. Desperate to regain control, Ramon yanked on his reins until, at last, the chariot righted itself.

Stagehands ran onto the field, their arms outstretched, waving wildly to get the stuntmen to stop.

Irving asked, “Did we hire a medic?”

Henry shook his head. “There’s a bank of public phones on La Cienega.” He dashed away.

Fred leaped from the platform and sprinted toward the smash-up. Irving stepped forward to follow him, but the binoculars slipped from his hand as a sudden pain crushed his chest. His knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor, grazing the palms of his hands on the rough wood.

Breathe, he told himself. Breathe! A jagged pain ripped through him. He fumbled for the field glasses. In case anybody was watching, he had to make out like he was doing nothing more than picking them up and dusting them off.

That collision was disastrous for the drivers, he thought, but it’ll make memorable footage for the movie, and everybody here today will go home talking about how they were there when the chariots piled up on Metro-Goldwyn’s Ben-Hur.

Mercifully, the chest pain dissipated as suddenly as it had arrived. A whirl of lightheadedness overcame him, but it, too, receded. He scrambled to his feet and stared incredulously at the scene before him; he was weak and a little disoriented, but not so much that he couldn’t fake it for the rest of the day. The crash site was a chaotic farrago of dust and horses, wreckage and personnel. He needed to be there, helping however he could. He took the steps two by two and jumped to the ground. As he did, a sickening thought struck him.

Did I just have a heart attack?

~oOo~

~oOo~

The Heart of the Lion will be released in June 2020.

~oOo~

You can see the 3-minute chariot race sequence from 1925’s Ben-Hur on YouTube.

And I have some photos of the set on my website.

~oOo~

I’d love to know what you thought – positive, negative, indifferent? I welcome all comments. Leave them below or feel free to contact me.

~oOo~

Also by Martin Turnbull:

Chasing Salomé – a novel of 1920s Hollywood

The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels

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

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

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

Twitter

~oOo~

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The fragile heart of MGM: revealing the novel of Hollywood’s Boy Wonder

As an author, you never know where or how inspiration is going to hit, but in my experience, you do know when. Back in July 2017, a friend and fellow golden-era-Hollywood fan, Debra Fryd, said to me in an email, “Someone should write a novel about Irving Thalberg. From what I understand he was a complex man and I’d love to read a book that digs into who he was and what he was about.” A little bell inside me went ting! and I thought, Debra’s right. Irving would make a great subject.

3 views of Irving Thalberg

Irving Thalberg, head of production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios

If you’re not sure who he was but his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, which is an honorary Oscar given to “creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” (See here for a list of recipients.)

He was also held in such esteem that when, in 1938, MGM opened a new executive administration building, they called it the Thalberg Building, which is still on the studio lot in Culver City.

The Thalberg Building on the MGM studio lot, 1942

The Thalberg Building on the MGM studio lot, 1942

As MGM’s head of production, Thalberg shepherded 90 movies to the screen, many of which are now considered to be among the finest that Hollywood has ever produced.

Check out his credits on IMDB and you’ll see what I mean.

My next thought was, But a novel about Thalberg has been done already. Back in 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald was working on a novel about Thalberg called The Last Tycoon, but he died before finishing it. It was published posthumously in 1941.

First edition cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Last Tycoon" 1941

First edition cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
The Last Tycoon, 1941

I figured if Fitzgerald had already written the definitive Thalberg novel, what was the point of my even trying? But I’d never read The Last Tycoon, so I got a copy at my local library.

Yes.

Well.

I lasted about 30 pages.

I had little idea what was going on. Or who these characters were. Or what the point was to any of the scenes. To be fair, Fitzgerald hadn’t finished the novel, but still. It wasn’t readable—at least not to my eyeballs. More importantly, it wasn’t anything like the novel I had in mind. So on I forged, determined to tell Irving Thalberg’s remarkable story my way.

And now I’m ready to reveal some details of my upcoming novel about MGM’s “Boy Wonder,” who was only 24 when he became head of production at an also-ran outfit that he and his boss, Louis B. Mayer, would transform into “the Tiffany of studios” where there were “more stars than there are in heaven.”

In a way, you could say that if L.B. Mayer was the face of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Irving Thalberg was its heart.

~oOo~

THE HEART OF THE LION

A novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood

by

Martin Turnbull

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

The idea behind this cover is that Thalberg preferred to remain in the background. Seeking the spotlight wasn’t his style so he never claimed screen credit because, to quote the man himself, “Credit you give yourself is not worth having.” That’s why the cover portrays him as a hazy silhouette. However, his influence was so great that during his lifetime, he cast a long shadow over Hollywood, which is why his shadow reaches from him into the soundstage, pointing to a movie camera with “MGM” stenciled on the side.

Thalberg is in silhouette because he kept largely to himself. Consequently, he was an enigma, even to the people he worked closely with. It’s one of the reasons I was inspired to write this novel: so that readers would feel they’ve become more familiar with a man whose influence on the Hollywood motion picture industry was unparalleled during his lifetime—and for years afterward.

(If you’re curious about the cover art process, you can see a “before” (aka my not-very-good pencil sketch) and “after” side-by-side comparison here.)

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Here is the book description:

Lose yourself in the Golden Age of Hollywood—and discover the story of the man who helped create it.

Hollywood in the 1920s: the motion picture industry is booming, and Irving Thalberg knows it takes more than guts and gumption to create screen magic that will live forever. He’s climbed all the way to head of production at newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and is determined to transform Leo the Lion into an icon of the most successful studio in town.

The harder he works, the higher he soars. But at what cost? The more he achieves, the closer he risks flying into oblivion. A frail and faulty heart shudders inside this chest that blazes with ambition. Thalberg knows that his charmed life at the top of the Hollywood heap is a dangerous tightrope walk: each day—each breath, even—could be his last. Shooting for success means risking his health, friendships, everything. Yet, against all odds, the man no one thought would survive into adulthood almost single-handedly ushers in a new era of filmmaking.

This is Hollywood at its most daring and opulent—the Sunset Strip, premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, stars like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford—and Irving is at the center of it all.

From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels comes a mesmerizing story of the man behind Golden Age mythmaking: Irving Thalberg, the prince of Tinseltown.

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The Heart of the Lion is due for release in June 2020.

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The first chapter is now available for you to read online.

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Thoughts? Impressions? Reactions? Dislikes? Questions? or quibbles? I’d love to hear from you, whatever they may be. So feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via 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

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

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Grab your free books now (limited time offer)~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull

Website

Facebook

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A little teaser of coming attractions (and a few things that once were)

Hello there, fellow golden-era Hollywood fans.

Can this year be over already?

Can 2020 already be upon us?

However you’ve spent your 2019, I hope you’re able to look back on a "Chasing Salome" a novel by Martin Turnbullfulfilling and productive year. Me? Well let’s see now . . . after launching Chasing Salomé back in August, I embarked on my next novel. A couple of days ago, I finished the first draft. That’s the most arduous part of the process: getting a big, complicated idea out of your head and onto the (virtual) page. But now it’s done and just in time for the holidays, so I can take a few days off.

I’m not quite ready yet to share too many details with you but I put together this graphic that will give you an idea of what it’s about:

That’s all I’ll say for now but watch this space for more details when the time is right.

Meanwhile, it’s been a little time since I shared some of my favorite vintage photos of Los Angeles and Hollywood with you so…

Carlin's Cinema Sports Center, Hollywood Blvd near Cherokee Ave, Hollywood, circa 1950Going by this eye-catching display from around 1950, it looks like the Carlin’s Cinema Sports Center on Hollywood Boulevard (near Cherokee Ave) offered something for everybody: cinema, bowling, pool, fountain café and juice bar, gift store (“Send a gift from Hollywood”), a public rumpus room (a games room with ping pong tables, dart boards, table top shuffle board, etc), and a barber shop. All that and free parking. Talk about your one-stop family entertainment destination.

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Filming “This Is the Army" in 1943 - WB's most popular movie that year, beating "Casablanca"This amazing shot was taken on soundstage 21 at the Warner Bros studios in Burbank. 843 people are on set to film a musical number called “This Time Is the Last Time” for This Is the Army, which was filmed during February through May 1943 and released in August. The number took three weeks of rehearsal and five days to film. It was worth the effort, though. This Is the Army was the highest grossing movie that year, and the highest-grossing musical until White Christmas surpassed it in 1954.

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Spanish Baroque facade of the Hollywood Playhouse entrance, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood, circa 1927This is the original façade of the Hollywood Playhouse entrance, 1735 Vine Street, Hollywood, that opened on January 24, 1927. Look at all the rich Spanish Baroque detailing. We don’t see much of that anymore. The theater has had a varied history of presenting live shows (including the Ken Murray’s Blackouts), and radio shows (Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks and Lucille Ball’s My Favorite Husband.) It’s still around, with the facade largely intact. Last time I drove by, it was a nightclub.

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Color photo of the Brown Derby restaurant, 3377 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 1969We’re not often treated to a color photo of the original Brown Derby restaurant at 3377 Wilshire Blvd, opposite the Ambassador Hotel. The sign out front reads: “Continental cuisine. Open 11am to 2am. Steaks, prime rib, seafood. Complete dinners. Open Sundays 4 – 12” Does anybody want to join me there for a complete continental dinner? Shall we say next Sunday at 7?

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A stop/go semaphore traffic signal at the corner of Sunset and Vine, Hollywood, 1942This semaphore traffic signal stood at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, right in the heart of Hollywood. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that someone – or something – has taken a huge chunk out of the left-hand side of the stop sign. I suspect an inattentive truck driver veered a little to close too the curb when taking a right onto Sunset. Makes me wonder what – or who – distracted him.

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George Schwab Shoes store, 1055 Westwood Blvd, Westwood, Los Angeles, 1938The front of George Schwab Shoes at 1055 Westwood Blvd in Westwood shows us that to make effective signage all you need is well-placed lighting and a slick font. Oh, and the layer of glass bricks adds a nice touch, too. (This photo is from 1938.)

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And because we’re in the midst of the holiday season:

Christmastime on Hollywood Blvd. near Vine Street facing west, circa 1950sOnce upon a time in Hollywood, the city used to decorate Hollywood Boulevard with large metallic trees high on top of poles. They would light up at night and transform the street into what was known as “Santa Claus Lane.” Those trees changed from time to time. This shot looking west from around Vine Street was taken in the 1950s, when the trees were painted white to look like they had snow on them because, as Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby taught us, we’re all dreaming of a white Christmas.

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By the way, I post a vintage photo every day on my various social media outlets. You can even have these delivered to your inbox if you subscribe to my photo blog. Or alternatively on:

Facebook

Pinterest

Twitter

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That’s it for now and for 2019. I’d like to thank you most sincerely for your ongoing interest in my work and various musings and discoveries about Hollywood during its studio-system hey day. I wish you all a fun and festive holiday season, and a bright and happy 2020.

Cheers,
Martin

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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~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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FREE GIVEAWAY CONTEST – Marem & “Chasing Salomé”

FREE GIVEAWAY CONTEST

(Runs November 4 through 11, 2019)

To some, she was “the star of a thousand moods.” To others, she was “The Great Nazimova.” But to most of her countless fans, she was simply “Nazimova.” Conquering both stage and screen, ALLA NAZIMOVA (pronounced na-ZIM-ovuh) was considered the foremost dramatic actress during the early part of the 20th century.

"Chasing Salome" by Martin Turnbull and Marem perfume by Caswell-Massey

Founded in 1752, America’s original apothecary and perfumery, Caswell-Massey, formulated a bespoke perfume for Nazimova when she was at the height of her theatrical success. Marem is now available to the public but this is your chance to win a bottle, along with an autographed copy of:

“CHASING SALOMÉ” by Martin Turnbull
In 1920, Alla Nazimova stands at the pinnacle of success, but she dreams of filming Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé.” When Metro Pictures turn her down, she strikes out on her own. It means risking everything: her reputation, her fortune, her beautiful home, and even her lavender marriage – but will it be enough?

Here’s what you can win:

1st prize – one winner – full bottle of Marem (50ml) + autographed copy of “Chasing Salomé”

2nd prize – two winners – travel size bottle of Marem (15ml) + autographed copy of “Chasing Salomé”

3rd prize – three winners – sample bottle of Marem + autographed copy of “Chasing Salomé”

To enter, you need to be following Martin Turnbull’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/gardenofallahnovels/

and Caswell-Massey’s:

https://www.facebook.com/CaswellMassey

and answer three questions in the comments field:

(1) In what country was Alla Nazimova born?

(2) In what year did Caswell-Massey formulate a bespoke fragrance for Alla Nazimova? (Hint: it’s on Marem’s label!)

(3) Alla Nazimova based her 1923 movie “Salomé” on the play by which scandalous British playwright?

You have until Monday, November 11, 2019 to enter.

GOOD LUCK!

For more information about Marem, see: http://bit.ly/c-m-marem

For more information about “Chasing Salomé”, see Martin Turnbull’s website: http://bit.ly/chasing-salome 

Visit Caswell-Massey’s new flagship store at 312 Bowery, New York or online at https://www.caswellmassey.com/

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Alla Nazimova in “The Red Lantern” (1919) is now on YouTube

For someone who was such an enormous star in the 1910s, it has long surprised me that so little of Alla Nazimova’s film work has been available for us to watch. Until yesterday, the only two films of hers that I’ve seen have been Camille (1921) and Salomé (1923) – and even then only because they had been uploaded to YouTube.

But one never knows what might float to the surface of the internet, and yesterday, it was brought to my attention that a third Nazimova film is now available to watch: The Red Lantern (1919)

"The Red Lantern" (1919) starring Alla NazimovaNazimova plays Mahlee, a Eurasian girl, who, amid the drama of the Boxer Rebellion (an anti-imperialist, anti-foreign, and anti-Christian uprising that took place in China between 1899 and 1901), is desperate to be accepted by her white father and sister, Blanche, also played by Nazimova.

The theme of the movie can be summed up by this screenshot:

But not before Nazimova has a chance to effect some striking poses:

Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919) Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919) Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919)Every time a new character arrives on the screen, regardless of how deep into the movie they appear for the first time, the action stops to introduce the character and the actor. But of course only Nazimova’s screen credits include her famous signature:

Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919)With Nazimova playing dual roles of both sisters, some nifty split screen special effects were called for:

Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919)
As with most silent films, high drama and fabulous costumes ensue:

Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919)Alla Nazimova in "The Red Lantern" (1919)

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If you’d like to watch the whole movie, here you go:

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And speaking of Nazimova, if you’d like to read more about her, my novel Chasing Salomé is now available. It covers the years following the making of The Red Lantern, when she sets out to produce her own movies. You can read more information with links to all retailers HERE.

"Chasing Salome" a novel by Martin Turnbull

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See also: Alla Nazimova Society

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Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

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It’s National Alla Nazimova Day because I said so. Also: “Chasing Salomé” is now available.

I don’t know who gets to declare those national days like National Whipped Cream Day (January 5) and National Take Your Cat to Work Day (June 17) but I am declaring today – August 28, 2019 – to be National Alla Nazimova Day.

National Alla Nazimova Day 2

And that’s because one of the first women in Hollywood to form her own production company, direct and star in her own movies has been largely ignored and forgotten. But not today. I am launching my novel about the woman who was, in the 1910s, considered the foremost interpreter of Ibsen and Chekov on the American dramatic stage.

In 1918, Alla Nazimova (pronounced na-ZIM-ovuh) arrived in California to embark on her movie career. Two years later, although successful, she was bored with the outlandish and trivial roles she was being handed. She longed to be the captain of her own destiny—not the easiest of tasks in 1920. Ah, but “The Great Nazimova” was never the shrinking-violet type. Well-behaved women, as they say, rarely make history.

"Chasing Salome" a novel by Martin Turnbull

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Hollywood, 1920

Alla Nazimova has reached the pinnacle of success. She is the highest-paid actress in town, with a luxurious estate, the respect of her peers, adoration of her fans, and a series of lovers that has included the first wife of her protégé, Rudolph Valentino.

But reaching the top is one thing. Staying there is an entirely different matter.

Nazimova dreams of producing a motion picture of Oscar Wilde’s infamous Salomé. It will be a new form of moviemaking: the world’s first art film.

But the same executives at Metro Pictures who hailed Nazimova as a genius when she was churning out hit after hit now turn their backs because her last few movies have flopped.

Taking matters into her own hands, Nazimova decides to shoot Salomé herself. But it means risking everything she has: her reputation, her fortune, her beautiful home, and even her lavender marriage. But will it be enough to turn her fortunes around? Or will Hollywood cut her out of the picture?

From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels and based on a true story, Chasing Salomé takes us inside Nazimova’s struggle to achieve a new level of stardom by raising the flickers to an art form.

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You can read the Chasing Salomé description and first chapter HERE

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Martin Turnbull with "Chasing Salome"Martin Turnbull with “Chasing Salomé”

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"Chasing Salomé - a novel of 1920s Hollywood" by Martin Turnbull is now available

Amazon US Kindle

Amazon US Paperback 

Amazon Canada Kindle

Amazon Canada Paperback 

Amazon UK Kindle

Amazon UK Paperback

Amazon Australia Kindle

Amazon Australia paperback

Apple ebook

Kobo ebook

Barnes & Noble Nook ebook

Scribd

Goodreads

Book Depository
(free shipping worldwide on all paperbacks)

Overdrive

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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~oOo~

See also: the Alla Nazimova Society

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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