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)

~oOo~

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

~oOo~

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

~oOo~

See also: Alla Nazimova Society

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

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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

~oOo~

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.

~oOo~

You can read the Chasing Salomé description and first chapter HERE

~oOo~

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

~oOo~

"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

~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~

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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FADE IN: When your book becomes the pilot script for a television show

Imagine, for a moment, that you have an idea for a novel set at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard during Hollywood’s golden era.

Now imagine that you realize very quickly that the story will stretch over 32 years and your idea is far too big to fit into a single volume, so you turn it into a series of nine novels: a trilogy of trilogies covering the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s.

And now imagine spending ten years writing your story-that’s-now-a-saga, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, book by book. You spend every single day of those ten years with your three main characters who, by some alchemical magic, came to you fully formed. You know their flaws, their strengths, their fears, their ambitions, their quirks, and their strengths. You know how they cope when the tide is turning against them and who they turn to when fortune favors them. You know these people better than you know anybody—quite possibly including how well you know yourself.

Okay, so now I want you to imagine what it was like for me last month to receive an email from the Hollywood producer who took out a screen option on my novels a few years ago. He wrote to tell me that he was off to London for some meetings. Oh, and by the way, here’s the work-in-progress pilot script for the TV series.

Okay. Wait. Stop. What just happened?

For more than four years I’ve been getting updates on the progress of my books being adapted for TV. Some of it was as I expected, some of it wasn’t, some was interesting, some was okay-then-good-to-know, and not much of it shareable.

But this was different.

A script? There’s a script? And he’s sent it to me? To read? With my very own eyeballs?

I scrolled down to the bottom of the email and there it was, that little icon labeled “Garden of Allah pilot work in progress.pdf”

My finger hovered over the mouse for a moment or two while I took a deep breath.

I write long-form fiction for people to read on paper or Kindles or their cell phones, whereas they write screenplays. It may be the same story but it’s a whole different medium with a different structure, different demands, different expectations. How much did they feel they needed to change? Would I—deep gulp—even recognize it anymore?

There was only one way to find out.

Double click.

This was the first thing I read:

So far, so good.

And then I kept reading.

The pilot episode of the TV series draws from the opening scenes of Book One: The Garden on Sunset. What you need to keep in mind is that the book was released during the first week of January 2012, which means I haven’t actually read what I wrote in nearly eight years so even I was fuzzy on exactly what happened and in what order.

"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull

But when I read the script—it covers approximately the first five or six chapters—it all sounded so familiar. Oh look, there’s Marcus asleep on the streetcar. Now he’s unwittingly walking into the hotel’s opening night party. Oh, and there’s Kathryn knocking him into the pool. Watch out, Gwendolyn! She’s being harassed by a trio of shifty ne’re-do-wells in the lobby. It was all there – my characters, my setting, my relationships, my plot. But it wasn’t until I read one of the lines of dialogue that Brophy, the hotel manager, says to Marcus that I realized, They’re even using my dialogue.

In case you’re not familiar with how the book-to-screen process works, this is all quite unusual. When producers buy the screen rights to your story, they’re fully and legally entitled to do anything they want with it. And that includes the right to change absolutely everything. And so as an author, you have to be okay with that eventuality. If you’re not, then don’t option your work to anybody, ever. But I knew that when I signed, so I expected them to change significant swaths of the story, characters, and relationships. But what I wasn’t expecting was for them to be so faithful to the source material.

Did they change any of it? Yes, some bits were different. But only because the story was being adapted visually, so that was okay. There was a montage sequence that I wouldn’t have even thought about for the book, but for a TV show worked spectacularly well. I hope it stays in because I’d love to see how they do that.

Will it change in the future? Most likely. As other people come on board with creative input into the show, they’ll have their own ideas about what will work. Screenwriters, actors, showrunners, producers, network executives—it truly takes a village to bring a show to the screen, so inevitably things will change. But if this is the pilot that the producers are including as part of their pitch, I am very happy with what they’ve done.

As you can imagine, I am looking forward to seeing where this project will go next. If you’ve read any of my books, you will know how well they lend themselves to a television adaptation. And so with a pilot script now completed, that possibility has taken a giant step forward.

My next novel, Chasing Salomé, took another step forward last week, too, when I sent the manuscript off to my editor. After having worked on it for the best part of a year (including research) it is, I must admit, a bit of a relief to have it off my desk and out of my head.

Meanwhile, I’ve created a Pinterest board called

“Chasing Salome” – inspirational board for my novel about Alla Nazimova

and I’ve filled it with images of people, films, and places that you will encounter in the course of the novel. Think of it as a ‘Coming Attractions’ preview until the book comes out late August 2019.

You can read more about Chasing Salomé HERE.

~oOo~

Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

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

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

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Building a bridge out of Hollywood’s Garden of Allah Hotel

A month ago, I announced details of my upcoming novel about silent screen actress, Alla Nazimova, called Chasing Salomé (due out in August 2019. You can see the details here: http://bit.ly/salomereveal) and then passed the manuscript onto my advance readers.

As a writer, you can only read your work so many times before your eyes start to cross and you find yourself questioning every choice you’ve made. After that, it’s a short path to day-drinking. So before I submit it to my editor, I want/need to put it in front of fresh eyeballs to ensure that everything makes as much sense as I think it does; that character motivations are as clear as I believe them to be; and that the story arc is as coherent as I hope it is. I give my advance reader team a month to read the book and then sit back and cross my fingers (which makes pouring a stiff gin-and-tonic challenging but not altogether impossible.)

I explained to them that this new book was not another Garden of Allah novel. Yes, it is set in Hollywood. Yes, some of the scenes unfold at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Yes, it’s a behind-the-scenes story of Hollywood film-making. And yes, there are celebrity cameos. But this is not a fast-paced, giddy roller coaster ride with twists and turns and cliff-hangers.

Nobody’s going to fall off a human billboard, like Gwendolyn did in The Garden on Sunset. Nobody’s going to climb the back wall of Paramount to see a rough cut of Citizen Kane, like Kathryn did in Citizen Hollywood. And nobody’s going to talk their way onto the set of Quo Vadis, the way Marcus did in Twisted Boulevard. This new book is a deeper dive, real-life story of how Alla Nazimova felt as she stuck to her vision in a field of creative endeavor that was growing into a more mature—read: increasingly male-dominated—industry.

I felt that Alla Nazimova’s attempts to produce her own movies was a story worth telling. Her struggle was the struggle of nearly every artist, and certainly nearly every filmmaker: juggling the flaming torches of “art” and “commerce.” In Alla’s case, it was finding the delicate balance between “show” and “business” because you can’t have one without the other.

So I sent my manuscript out to my advance readers secure in the knowledge that they knew where I was coming from. A couple of weeks later, the first two readers came back with a disconcerting opinion that could be summed up with one word: meh. I swallowed heavily, trying not to sweat, and asked, “Could you expand on that?”

They worded their answers differently but the gist was the same: It’s fine, I guess, but it’s not a Garden of Allah novel. Which I took to mean: I’d prefer you keep writing Garden of Allah novels, or novels like them.

But the thing is, I’ve already written a fast-paced, giddy roller coaster type of novel. In fact, I’ve written a whole series of them.

As much as I loved writing them, I felt that once I’d told a 9-novel, 32-year, nearly-one-million-word series, it was time to shift gears. Some writers can and do tell much the same story over and over. Agatha Christie, James Patterson, Barbara Cartland, and Jackie Collins come to mind—and they’ve done awfully well, haven’t they?

It’s not like I’m looking to jump genres into Werewolf Romance or Sci-Fi Space Opera Based On Nordic Mythology. Telling stories about life in Hollywood during its golden years is all I want to do, so I was hoping that Chasing Salomé was a way I could bridge fans of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah books away from what I had been doing and toward new but related directions.

And then I got meh. Twice.

I tried not to panic. Or worry. Or be disappointed. Or throw my hands up in despair. But it’s hard not to when you’ve spent the best part of a year researching, plotting, writing, and rewriting a 100,000-word novel that tells a story that you’ve been wanting to write for years. And when you finally do, you’re greeted with an indifferent shoulder shrug.

Fortunately, Advance Reader #3 revived my spirits when she reported that it was “a lovely story that left me wanting more.” Then #4 chimed in with, “I enjoyed it very much! What a pleasure to go back to that time and learn more about the Great Nazimova.” And then #5 texted me to say that he was still reading it but he was “loving Salomé.”

Having spent the best part of ten years writing about three characters living during a roller coaster of an era, I realized that I was now on a roller coaster of my own. Will my readers enjoy Chasing Salomé? Would they prefer I stick to the sorts of books that they expect from me? Or should I write the books I want to write? When readers only know you for a certain type of book, do they want you to keep producing that same thing? Or have I just written the literary equivalent of New Coke?

This mental game of ping-pong quickly escalated to a bigger question: Why did I start writing in the first place?

Ironically, the answer I landed on was probably the same one that Alla landed on nearly a hundred years ago when she decided to go into film production herself. Whether it’s film, books, sculpture, music, or painting, you ultimately must create the art that you’re moved to create. Your job is to film the film, sing the song, paint the painting, tell the story. Then comes the time when you turn your efforts over to the world at large and hope/trust that it will speak to people who want to listen to the stories you want to tell.

~oOo~

As it happens, the most interesting books on Hollywood that I’ve read recently are by the same author:

“The Lion of Hollywood: The Life and
Legend of Louis B. Mayer” by Scott Eyman

I’ve read a number of books about the mogul an who ran MGM for decades but this one paints the most realistic picture of a very complex man.

“The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and
the Talkie Revolution” by Scott Eyman

The story of the talkies didn’t just just spontaneously start The Jazz Singer in 1927. This book lays out exactly what happened and when and who were the movers and shakers.

“Preston Sturges: The Last Years of Hollywood’s
First Writer-Director” by Tom Sturges
and Nick Smedley

Due out September 15th, 2019

With a foreword by Peter Bogdanovich, this look at the final years of the popular Hollywood director has been written by his son, Tom Sturges, who told me that the illustration on the cover is a self-portrait drawn by Preston Sturges while he was at The Players, his nightclub on the Sunset Strip. And speaking of The Players…

Here’s a few of my favorites of the vintage photographs of Los Angeles and Hollywood that I’ve posted recently on my photo blog.

Color shot of the Chateau Marmont and The Players on the Sunset Strip, 1955

Color shot of the Chateau Marmont and
The Players on the Sunset Strip, 1955

Vista looking west from the Hotel Hollywood,
Hollywood, 1906

Dairy Queen opening day, corner of Moorpark St
and Bakman Ave, Studio City, 1957

Looking south down Vine Street past the
Hollywood Blvd corner, at night, 1958

~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

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

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Revealing: CHASING SALOMÉ – a novel of 1920s Hollywood

During the ten years it took me to write my nine-book Hollywood’s Garden of Allah series, I kept thinking, Alla Nazimova needs a novel of her own.

Alla Nazimova in 1921

Alla Nazimova in 1921

At the peak of her film career – late 1910s to early 1920s – she was the highest-paid actress in America, and every bit as famous as her silent-cinema sisters: Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Mabel Normand, Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, et al. And yet, despite her towering stature in both the theater and cinema worlds, and despite having left behind her Garden of Allah Hotel legacy, “The Great Nazimova” (pronounced na-ZIM-ovuh) faded into obscurity. She was a rule-breaking, convention-defying, intellectual-salon-holding, proto-feminist filmmaker with her own production company and an aversion to accepting the status quo—in Hollywood or in life.

Someone like that deserves her own novel, doesn’t she?

Of course she does, and now she has one:

CHASING SALOMÉ

a novel of 1920s Hollywood

by Martin Turnbull

DUE FOR RELEASE IN AUGUST 2019

"Chasing Salome" a novel by Martin Turnbull

~oOo~

BOOK DESCRIPTION

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.

~oOo~

CHAPTER 1

Alla Nazimova opened the mahogany-and-glass doors of the Ship Café with a flourish that sent her scarlet satin opera cape swirling around her. She had long since mastered the art of making an entrance, so she knew that the light from the crystal chandelier directly above would catch the sparkle in her sapphire necklace and bring out the violet in her eyes.

The maître d’ was a rotund chap who looked like he enjoyed his brandies. “Oh, Madame!” He scurried out from behind his podium. “What an honor to have you dine with us tonight!”

“Thank you, Emile.” Alla watched him count the number in her party. “My husband is unable to join us this evening.” He didn’t need to know that Alla had no desire for Charles to be there. She had someone else in tow that night—and it wasn’t her husband.

The Ship Café was neither a ship nor a café. It was a restaurant that had been fashioned to resemble a Spanish galleon and lashed to the Venice Beach pier. It was one of those novelty places that Los Angeles architects had lately been conjuring with unfettered abandon. But with its sloping walls and its low-slung ceiling striped with wooden beams, the overall ambiance was effectively nautical.

She had chosen it for tonight’s celebration precisely because, like most things in Hollywood, it was not what it appeared to be. Adorned in their modish Paris gowns and tuxedos with black silk lapels, most people in Hollywood were not what they appeared to be, either, but in Los Angeles that was hardly a crime.

Emile collected an armful of menus and led them toward the center of the room.

As Alla zigzagged through the maze of tables, heads turned, eyes stared, mouths gaped. Earlier that day she had completed her fifth film in the twelve months since arriving in Los Angeles to commence her contract for Metro Pictures. Every one of them had been a blazing success, so now she was recognized wherever she went. She smiled regally, her right hand fluttering like a captive dove until she reached the head of the table, where she took a seat and patted the right-hand-side silver setting for her new love, Jean.

Dagmar Godowsky, a dark, sleek, swan-like actress who had appeared in Alla’s latest picture, slid onto the seat to her left. “I’m so glad you chose this place. Ever since that wretched Volstead Act started worming through Congress, it’s been getting harder and harder to find a drink around this burg. The other night, we had to drive all the way to the Vernon Country Club, and you know how far that is. Don’t get me wrong—the whiskey was terrific and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra was playing, so we had a great time. But brother, what a trek!”

“UGH!” Viola Dana exclaimed from further down the table. She was a Metro star, too, and a salt-of-the-earth type, the way girls from Brooklyn could be. “Imagine if it actually passes. Why even leave the house?”

“Of course it’ll pass.” Maxwell Karger was the studio manager at Metro. An okay sort of chap, but a little too weak-of-chin for Alla’s tastes. “More than thirty of the forty-eight states are already dry. It’s just a matter of time.”

He was right, of course. Prohibition felt like a swarm of locusts massing on the distant horizon—close enough to hear the relentless thrumming that warned of a time when alcohol would become as scarce as fresh peaches in a Russian winter.

“In that case, let us carpe diem while we may.” Alla raised her hand to attract the waiter lingering at their periphery. “Your finest champagne, please. Preferably Moët et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot.”

He cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, we’re out of both labels.”

“Had a run on them lately?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“What’s left? Taittinger? Mumm?” Alla ignored the evil eye that Karger shot her. She knew what he was thinking. These labels are expensive. If you think Metro is going to underwrite your extravagant tastes . . . She stroked his quivering cheek. “Fret not, mon cher. Madame shall be footing the bill tonight.”

Alla had never figured out how the rumor had started that she wanted to be referred to as “Madame,” but she liked the way it played into her La Grande Dame image. Broadway critics had hailed her as “this generation’s foremost interpreter of Ibsen.” And Metro had billed her as “The World’s Greatest Actress in Her Greatest Play” for her second picture, Toys of Fate. Somewhere in between Broadway’s theaters and Hollywood’s filming stages, Alla had become “Madame.” And every time someone called her that, she would quietly chuckle to herself and wonder what her monstrous, bellowing Cossack of a father would make of it.

As far as she was concerned, when you start out life as a girl from a poor family in Crimea, you can reasonably expect to spend your life scratching out a living in a half-forgotten corner of the Black Sea. But if you end up the highest-paid actress in the world, you’re entitled to be called Madame.

Karger’s shoulders melted at the news that he would not have to part with any of his precious money. In all fairness, he was already handing over thirteen grand a week to have Alla emote in his photoplays. The least she could do was buy a few bottles of Laurent-Perrier, which was the best champagne left in the Ship Café cellar.

With the matter of refreshments settled, Alla then ordered enough salmon mousse on Melba toast to feed the extras on a D.W. Griffith extravaganza. That done, she sat back and looked around the dining room.

Most of the tables were full and the patrons were ordering booze like dehydrated fish gasping for their last drink. They were all good-looking ladies and gents whose fortunes had soared from the gobs of cash the studios were willing to throw at the flickers. Gay chatter filled the long room, and a few restive souls had ventured onto the elongated dance floor that split it in two.

Alla’s gaze skipped from the glossy smiles to the glittering tiaras. Who could ask for anything more?

Almost instantly, she found herself answering: I could. I want more. The growl of her long-dead father’s voice erupted in her head. You greedy, ungrateful little worm. All this money and fame and success and you’re still not satisfied. PAH!

The waiter arrived with two bottles of Laurent-Perrier stashed in pewter wine buckets; a busboy followed him holding a tray of champagne coupes. Alla was grateful for the distraction as they buzzed around, uncorking bottles and filling glasses.

Her director, Herbert Blaché, raised his champagne coupe. He was a dapper Englishman with a French name, a painstakingly trimmed mustache, and sharp eyes. His wife, Alice Guy, had once been head of production at the Gaumont Film Company in France. Alla could scarcely imagine how a woman had become the head of a film studio—nor could the French. As soon as Herbert and Alice were married, she had been forced to resign her job. God forbid a smart, well-read woman should be in a position to tell men what to do. But France’s loss was Alla’s gain.

“A toast, if I may,” Herbert declared. “To Madame Nazimova. As ever, a joy to direct, even amid the bleakness of a cholera epidemic.”

He was referring to the outbreak that propelled the plot of Stronger Than Death, the picture they had completed filming that afternoon. Alla played a French girl with a weak heart forced to dance in order to help quash an uprising somewhere near Calcutta. She winced at his words. She had been celebrated for her Nora in A Doll’s House and for her Hedda Gabler and would happily have continued her career on the boards except that these picture people had gone and dangled a preposterously lucrative carrot in front of her. What was she supposed to do? Say no? So she hadn’t. And now she was prancing around, pretending to be a French dancer whose dicey ticker might be the end of her.

Surely we can do better than this nonsense?

Alla murmured her thanks and held her smile as though she hadn’t a care.

She cast around the room again to see if any new or interesting faces had joined the bustle and her gaze lighted on a raven-haired beauty somewhat in the Theda Bara mold. She turned to Dagmar, who knew everybody wherever she went. “Who is that?”

Dagmar only needed a swift peek. “She’s one of those Ziegfeld Follies girls who’ve come west to make it in pictures. She goes by Nita Naldi, but I doubt that’s her real name.”

“Ziegfeld?” Yet another girl who thought a pretty face was the only required asset. “So she’s not a real actress.”

“Au contraire. She’s filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Famous Players-Lasky with John Barrymore. I’ve heard whisperings that she’s put in a star-making turn. I don’t know why she’s bothered, though. My friend May Robson is working on that picture, and she told me that as soon as filming is done, Nita’s returning to New York to be in a musical play called Aphrodite. It’s based on that novel by Pierre Louÿs.”

The name clutched at Alla’s throat like Jack the Ripper. Pierre Louÿs was one of her favorite writers, not least because he wrote about people who lived on the fringes of society. It also helped that he was good friends with Oscar Wilde, whose work Alla adored beyond measure.

Aphrodite, you say?”

The novel was about courtesans in ancient Alexandria and was the sort of project Alla could sink her teeth into and relish every bite. But instead, she was supposed to be content with playing defective dancers frolicking around West Bengal while everybody in sight was dropping dead.

She let out a prolonged sigh. “How fortunate for Miss Naldi.”

Beneath the starched white tablecloth, Alla reached toward Jean’s leg. She wanted to feel the warmth of her thigh, to stroke it gently as a promise of delights to come later that evening.

Alla had met her on a recent trip to New York. At twenty-six, Jean had arrived a little late in the game to become an actress, but was attractive nonetheless. Alla had been in a tobacconist’s on 67th Street. Perfumed cigarettes had become all the rage, so she had instructed the tobacconist to imbue them with the bespoke fragrance that Caswell-Massey had concocted for her. As she waited to be served, in walked this girl, her carob-brown hair snipped into a head-turning Castle bob.

A tentative conversation over the Cuban cigar counter had grown into a more intense exchange over macarons and passionfruit tea at the French café around the corner, which soon led to passion of a different sort in Alla’s apartment at the Hotel Des Artistes. Before anybody could say “Uncle Vanya,” Miss Jean Acker had signed a $200-a-week contract with Metro Pictures and was sitting by Alla’s side in an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railcar back to Los Angeles.

But Jean’s leg was out of reach, which did little to bolster Alla’s flagging spirits.

Nobody had said anything—not to her face, at any rate—but when viewing some of Stronger Than Death’s dailies, Alla had been galled to see that she had put on too much weight. On the way out of the screening room, she had told herself that she hadn’t been too fat to seduce that young script girl, Dorothy Arzner. She didn’t mind your fleshier carcass. But by the time she had arrived home to her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, Alla had come to her senses. The camera was unforgiving. She had to slim down before Heart of a Child started filming, because nobody was going to believe her as a hundred-and-thirty-nine-pound poverty-stricken waif.

Dagmar offered up a slice of toast she had slathered with salmon mousse. When Alla pushed it away, Dagmar harrumphed. “What’s up with you? You’ve been little Miss Down-in-the-Mouth all evening.”

Alla deflected her question with an airy shrug. “You know what I’m like at the end of filming. Drained and depleted.”

Dagmar shook her head. “That’s a load of hooey and we both know it.”

Alla lobbed back a wide-eyed look that said It most certainly isn’t, but Dagmar wasn’t buying it. “I’m pretty sure I know what it is.” She jutted her head toward Jean, who had been dragged into an earnest discussion with Herbert about how Cecil B. DeMille had used his camera on Gloria Swanson in Don’t Change Your Husband. That is to say, Herbert was lecturing and Jean was nodding.

“You do?” Alla asked.

“Viola told me all about it.”

At hearing her name, Viola extricated herself from the conversation at the other end of the table. “I told you about what?” She read their faces and dropped her voice to a whisper. “You mean Grace Darmond, huh?”

Alla could feel defensive walls rise around her. “Isn’t she with Vitagraph?”

“Was,” Viola said. “She’s now filming The Hope Diamond Mystery at some Poverty Row second-rater.”

“Oh my goodness!” Dagmar exclaimed. “I just saw someone I know.” She excused herself and scampered away.

Viola slid into Dagmar’s vacated seat. “My current paramour is filming The Great Air Robbery at Universal right now.” Ormer Locklear was an accomplished stunt pilot, who was also married. But so was Viola, and in Hollywood, marriage vows were as rubbery as a French letter. “The scenarist is poker buddies with John Clymer, who wrote The Hope Diamond Mystery, and he told George who told Ormer who told me that their leading lady is a lady lover with a lady lover of her own.” Viola drifted her movie-actress eyes past Alla and onto Jean.

Alla took great care to freeze her face. Nobody had—or could—label her a stringent moralist, especially when it came to marital fidelity. She had always seen herself as a free spirit, unconstrained by staid principles that equated “wives” with “goods and chattels.” Her intimate circle was aware that her own so-called marriage to her so-called husband was a sham. But sometimes it was expedient to play by the rules. Even if you didn’t agree with them.

So this news that Jean was sleeping with someone else shouldn’t have stung Alla like a corkscrew pressed to her flesh. If she could have been true to her moral code and waved away the news with a blasé flick of the wrist, she would have.

But she didn’t.

She couldn’t.

And that’s because you’re The Great Nazimova, so it never occurred to you that this girl fourteen years your junior would think of looking elsewhere. Let alone to an actress working on Poverty Row. You’re forty, and that’s the end of the road for leading ladies. Who do you think you are—Mary Pickford? You’re an egotistical nincompoop who deserves a slap across the face.

The ensuing silence might have grown unbearable had it not been for Dagmar’s well-meaning but ill-timed return with the man she had dragged through the restaurant with disconcerting zeal.

Alla guessed he was around Jean’s age, but those swarthy continentals with their olive complexions were hard to pin down. He was not without appeal, however, with those sleepy-lidded eyes that slanted slightly at the outside edge, giving them a distinct come-to-bed quality.

However, Alla didn’t need to be introduced to him, because she already knew who he was: an Italian taxi-dancer who’d kept himself out of the gutter by giving lessons in the Argentine tango to neglected society wives and bored divorcées. And only a fool would assume that dance lessons conducted in private homes were the only exercise going on before the hour was up.

Men like him were a dime a dozen, especially in New York, where a while ago he had met a scandal-prone divorcée, Blanca de Saulles, who had shot her ex-husband at point-blank range. This hoofer-for-hire had got caught up in the drama by testifying that the deceased had been having an affair with his exhibition dance partner. Consequently, the rumor swirled that Mrs. de Saulles had killed out of desperate love for her flashy swain. The whole affair was the stuff of turgid melodramas, not unlike the histrionic pantomimes currently boring Alla to tears.

And now Dagmar was hauling this shameless would-be Latin lover toward her.

“Madame!” she exclaimed, prodding him forward. “I would like to introduce you to—”

“I know who he is!” Alla refused to look at him and instead focused her fury on Dagmar. Deep down—though not very far down—Alla knew that she wasn’t playing fair. She was angry that she’d let herself get so pudgy. She was indignant that Jean was sleeping with another woman. And she was jealous of that Ziegfeld Follies girl across the room who got to act in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while Metro had her playing Eurasian twins and destitute chorus girls.

Dagmar blinked. Alla’s withering tone had caught her off guard. “But Madame, he—his—this is Rodolfo di Valentini, and he’s been dying to—”

“How dare you bring that gigolo to my table?”

Dagmar and di Valentini exchanged scared-rabbit glances as every diner in a four-table radius looked up from their broiled squab and veal cutlets.

“I’m sorry, Madame.” Dagmar stammered. “It’s just that—”

If they want The Great Nazimova, I’ll give them The Great Nazimova. Alla thrust her hands toward the ceiling. “Why is he still here?” She stared past Viola to the six-man house band, which had launched into “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.” Alla counted to ten. “Have they left?”

Viola nodded. “They slunk away like wounded snakes.”

“Good.”

“Oh, come now,” Jean said. “Surely you don’t mean that.”

After what Alla had learned about that Poverty Row hambone, Jean was the ideal victim of her residual venom. “Do you even know who Rodolfo di Valentini is?”

“I read the newspapers just like everyone else.”

If Alla had ever learned how to drive an automobile, she would have risen to her feet and swept haughtily out of the place. But she had never bothered, so now she was stuck at a table of people sitting awkwardly and studying their ashtrays. You’re the official hostess, she told herself. This unease is wholly your fault and it’s up to you to repair it.

“I think that is more than enough commotion for one night,” she said blithely. Both bottles of Laurent-Perrier were empty. Alla wriggled her fingers; their waiter appeared. “Two more, if you please, mon bon garçon. By the time you get back, we shall be ready to order dinner.” She faced her woebegone party. “Has anybody seen Broken Blossoms? I hear Lillian Gish’s performance is a revelation.”

~oOo~

CHASING SALOMÉ is due for release in AUGUST 2019

~oOo~

Alla Nazimova Society

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See also: Ship Cafe, Venice Beach, California

~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

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

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Literary Luncheons, Drawing Room Afternoons, and bridge parties at the Garden of Alla Hotel, circa late 1920s

Alison Martino from the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page recently contacted me to say that she had been gifted with two pieces of memorabilia connected to the Garden of Allah Hotel and wondered if I had ever seen anything like this before.

No! I hadn’t! Nor had I even heard that such things took place there. Given the Garden of Allah Hotel’s rather louche (and earned) reputation for wild parties, bootleg liquor, and loose morals, the fact that “Literary Luncheons” and “Drawing Room Afternoons” and bridge parties were held there fairly boggles my mind.

Round Table Luncheons and Auction Bridge at the Garden of Alla copy Musical Luncheon at the Garden of Alla copy Drawing Room Afternoons at the Garden of Alla copy

Advertisement for "Sunrise" at the Carthay Circle Theatre copy Advertisement for Douglas Fairbanks in "The Gaucho" at Grauman's Chinese Theater copy Advertisement for Charlie Chaplin in "The Circus" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre copy

Fortunately, we can date these programs. They carry advertisements for the Carthay Circle and Grauman’s Chinese theaters. Sunrise opened in September 1927, The Gaucho in November 1927, and The Circus in January 1928, so I think we can assume this comes from very late 1927/early 1928, by which time the hotel was open (it opened on January 9th, 1927) but still operating as “The Garden of Alla” before the “h” at the end of “Allah” was added.

My guess is that it was a way to bring respectable ladies into the place, perhaps to continue Alla Nazimova‘s tradition of the salons she used to hold, a la Gertrude Stein. They would also have encouraged Angelenos to think of the hotel as being more than just somewhere to rest your weary head.

I especially love the page advertising a “Round Table Discussion under the direction of Margaret Campbell – Conversationalist, Poet, Actress.” I’ve never come across anyone who listed “Conversationalist” as a profession, so I was a bit dubious about Ms. Campbell’s qualifications. However, I ought not have been so skeptical. She was, indeed, an actress with 25 film credits on her IMDB page.

To learn more about these high-brow gatherings, I contacted Jon Ponder from Playground to the Stars. He has researched the Garden of Allah Hotel as much as I have – possibly even more – so I figured he might be able to shed some light on this terrific find. He came back with three articles from the Los Angeles Times dated around the same time as these programs.

From the Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1927

Garden of Alla Group Instructed in Bridge

Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1927:

Bridge Trees Popular

"Your Baby and Mine" column by Myrtle Meyer Eldred, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1927 (2)

And also from the Los Angeles Times, November 18, 1927

Bridge Dinner at the Garden of Allah

When I read these articles, I am rather astounded by the depth of detail about exactly who turned up, where they were from, who hosted, what was served, and the general atmosphere enjoyed that afternoon.

It’s an interesting insight into the Garden of Allah Hotel that, even after 10 years of research, I had never suspected even existed. It makes me wonder what other secrets lay buried under the weight of history.

~oOo~

Starlets waiting under sign of the Garden of Allah Hotel, Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, 1932 (colorized)

This photo of three women waiting under the Garden of Allah Hotel sign facing Sunset Blvd was taken in 1932. (I’ve had it colorized to give a more immediate feel of what it was like to actually be there.) Somehow, I doubt these three girls were the Literary Luncheon/Bridge Club type. The gal on the left and the one in the middle have both kicked off their shoes! In public!

I have a feeling that professional conversationalist Margaret Campbell would not have approved . . . but am fairly sure Alla Nazimova would think it perfectly fine. She was, after all, never one to follow the rules.

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

Alla Nazimova as Mahlee in “The Red Lantern” (1919)

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Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
by Martin Turnbull

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

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

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Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

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Releasing the audiobook of “Closing Credits” (and a screenshot)

For those of you who prefer to consume their Hollywood historical fiction through their ears, you might be happy to hear about my latest release: the audiobook version of the 9th and final installment in my Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels:

BOOK 9: CLOSING CREDITS

My wonderful narrator, Price Waldman, who also narrated Book 8: City of Myths is back to give voice to Closing Credits, in which the 1950s, the Hollywood studio system, and the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard all come to an end.

Closing Credits Audiobook Cover copy 430kb

Sometimes the end is only the beginning.

Kathryn Massey thought a long-forgotten secret was dead and buried—just like the 1950s are about to be—but when a mysterious list circulating Screenland ignites salacious rumors about the gossip columnist, it’s her life that now falls under the magnifying glass.

Marcus Adler is a rare survivor of the Hollywood blacklist. Beset by writer’s block, he’s intrigued by an abandoned box in the basement of the Garden of Allah Hotel. Its contents could rejuvenate his career—but cost him his reputation.

Gwendolyn Brick stumbled into the blossoming television industry. No fan of the spotlight, she’s conflicted by the opportunities coming her way. Things are about to change, and when she teams up with Lucille Ball, she won’t let the network stop the rapid march to progress.

On busy backlots and in quiet basements, secrets and lies dance with fame and failure amid Hollywood’s dying golden era. Nobody knows how this movie’s going to end . . . but it’ll be one for the ages.

~oOo~

The Closing Credits audiobook is available through:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Links to the paperback and ebook versions are on the Closing Credits page on my website.

~oOo~

As I reported in my last post – Is there life after the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah hotel? – I am now working on a novel about the original Garden of Allah resident, Alla Nazimova. And in fact, last weekend I finished the first draft. Completing a first draft means the story no longer exists solely in your head but is now in a form that you can do something with. It’s an important milestone because you can’t polish into a sparkling diamond a manuscript that you haven’t written yet.

Nazimova novel by Martin Turnbull

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The front of the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Blvd (colorized)

 

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

~oOo~

Connect with Martin Turnbull:

Website

Facebook

Pinterest

~oOo~

Grab your free books now (limited time offer)

~oOo~

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