Hello fans of golden-era Hollywood, Turner Classic Movies – specifically Warner Bros., and lovers of WWII historical fiction! Last month, I revealed the title and cover for my upcoming novel, Thank Your Lucky Stars, which is book 2 in my Hollywood Home Front trilogy.
That novel is due to be released in June 2022, but meanwhile, I’m now ready to share the official book description, which will give you a feel for where this trilogy is heading after the events of book 1, All the Gin Joints. And if you keep reading, you’ll find the first chapter which, I hope, will leave you wanting more.
After waving her sweetheart, Luke, off to war, Nell Davenport encounters an unexpected entanglement that will change Hollywood forever.
With combat raging across Europe and the Pacific, jobs of all kinds are now open to women on the home front. Nell sets her sights on the publicity department of the Warner Bros. movie studios as she develops a surprising bond with star Humphrey Bogart. But when a captivating 19-year-old is cast opposite Bogie in To Have and Have Not, the newcomer’s arrival threatens to alter the course of Nell’s blossoming friendship.
When momentous news arrives, Nell must track down Luke—a seemingly impossible feat in wartime. Hope appears on the horizon, but did it have to come from Hedda Hopper, a nasty gossip queen intent on ruining Bogie’s reputation? Maybe Nell’s best way of finding Luke is to unveil a secret she has kept ever since she landed in California. It’s caused only trouble in the past, but finding Luke is her top priority and the clock of war is ticking.
From the author of the Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels comes book two in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy—a story set against one of Tinseltown’s greatest true-life love stories.
Nell Davenport peeked over the balustrade of the Warner Bros. pirate ship. She watched the white beam from the security guard’s flashlight whisk across Stage Sixteen and didn’t draw another breath until the murky shadows had swallowed him whole.
Finally, she was alone.
Wartime audiences searching for escape and romance ensured that studios were raking it in, which meant Warners was releasing film after film after film. And there had been no tranquility at Nell’s boardinghouse after the Office of War Information had asked landlords to jam two lodgers into each room. Or three, if space permitted. Thankfully, Nell had to contend with only one extra girl hanging damp stockings over her coral-pink lampshade. But now there was twice the competition for the morning bathroom.
The cacophony never stopped. The crowding never stopped. The everything never stopped. Sometimes a girl needed a restful nook to recover her wits—like a cozy bunk on a fake pirate ship after everybody else had bolted for the next streetcar or nearest bar.
Something soft and furry ran along Nell’s arm.
She shrank from her unexpected intruder. The tiny photo in her right hand slipped through her fingers and fluttered over the wooden railing and onto the asphalt.
“Damnit, Bucky!” She menaced the studio’s ginger tabby cat with her sternest frown. “Of all the pirate ships in all the world, did you have to sneak onto mine?”
Bucky gazed at her. If the Arabella is anybody’s, he seemed to say, it’s Luke Valenti’s.
He had a point. If Luke hadn’t been hiding out here last month, Nell wouldn’t have thought of his bunk as the ideal place to sink into a soft mattress and wonder when she might get a letter from him. She could relive his lips on hers, his fingertips stroking her skin, his breath warming the base of her throat. God, how she loved that. And oh, how she missed it.
“I’ve got one photo of him,” she upbraided Bucky. “If it disappears, I’ll be on the warpath.”
Bucky remained unperturbed. He had seen it all: royal courts, New York slums, Maine cottages, clever sleuths and empty-headed chorines, voodoo doctors and murderous nurses. What could one little script girl do?
Nell clambered down the gangplank and pounced on the snapshot, then tilted it toward the three-quarter moon rising over the Burbank hills.
The day before Luke had left Los Angeles, the two of them had piled into a photo booth because only nitwits kiss their boyfriends goodbye without a snapshot.
She stared at his face in the moonlight’s milky glow. Did the Navy give him toothpaste? Was the food bearable? Was he warm enough at night? Until she received the letter he promised, all she had were questions.
She would be happy with a hastily scribbled postcard. Everything’s fine! Thinking of you! Or maybe she should be patient. He had only been gone a couple of weeks. He was still probably getting settled into the rigors and routines of Navy life while packing his head chock-full of training and information and procedures. But still. He had to know she was missing him something awful.
Fidgety, that’s what she was. Maybe a stroll around the studio would help pacify the ants in her pants.
She headed up Viennese Street to Brownstone Street. They didn’t have brownstones back in her hometown of South Bend, Indiana, but had they reminded Luke of Brooklyn? Maybe one day he’d take her there and point out his favorite haunts. The last block of Argyle Road, where he’d lift his feet off his bicycle pedals and coast along under oaks and elms. The Bay Ridge Candy Shop, where he’d take her for an egg cream.Then on to Bobo’s Bakery at 13th and 54th for the best babka and pumpernickel east of The Battery.
“Yes,” she told Luke’s photo, “I was listening.”
Nobody in his life had paid him the least bit of attention before he had landed in California with fifty-one bucks, three days’ worth of clothes, and no way to get home. But he would have caught her eye, even if he hadn’t been yelling at Humphrey Bogart. Oh, but that second time, when she’d spotted him at Schwab’s, his eyes round as fishbowls . . .
Was it any wonder I plopped myself onto the stool next to you, she thought dreamily, practically cracking the glass counter with my chocolate malted? That way you looked at me, as though you’d fallen overboard and I was the Coast Guard holding the last life preserver.
Overhead, a pair of ducks quacked, their wings silhouetted against the moon, as they headed for the manmade lake where buccaneers fought it out with the King’s Navy, ocean liners plowed the Atlantic, and brave sailors took on Nazi U-boats.
She turned left at the lake, then left again at Editing, and headed into the two-story office block near the water tower. Warner Bros.’ PR department was the length of a football field. It held three rows of identical desks: dark wood, each with its signature green banker’s lamp and battered typewriter, and each one strewn with pencils and wax crayons, chewing gum wrappers and overflowing ashtrays.
Nell loved how this place reeked of ink and crayon. Newsprint and burned matches. The sweat of meeting a last-minute deadline. She could almost hear someone shouting, “I’ve got it!” when he came up with the perfect slogan to sell the latest movie.
It’s still the guy with guts and a gun who wins the war: Gary Cooper in SERGEANT YORK
The five most shocking words ever hurled from the screen: CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY
From a girl aglow with the rapture of her first kiss to a woman fighting for love: Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER
Nell wondered if she was more of an oddball than she cared to admit. Untold thousands of outfits crowded the costume warehouse. Props had billiard tables and Maltese falcons she could play with. But where did her restless feet point her? To the publicity department, with its drafted posters and newspaper advertising mockups, its address books with the names and telephone numbers of every columnist, magazine editor, talent agent, private eye, and bookmaker in town. And probably a few hookers, too.
Being a script continuity girl had been an interesting job at first, but she had been doing it for three years. Frankly, she was bored. Did it really matter if Jimmy Cagney said, “These tommy guns” or “Those tommy guns”? Who cared if Ann Sheridan announced, “I’ll wait until you’re out of Sing Sing” or “I’ll wait till you get out of Sing Sing”? Filming on Bogie’s new picture, Action in the North Atlantic, was thundering along, but it was hardly holding her interest.
Casablanca. Now, there was a magnificent picture. It hadn’t been released yet, but it was plain to Nell that it had all the telltale signs of a hit: doomed romance, exotic location, mystery, suspense. Meanwhile, Action in the North Atlantic had a lot of guns and submarines and water, but that was about it. Yawn.
Nell wanted a new job and fresh challenges. With so many fellas away at war, right now was the best time for a gal with a pinch of gumption to get ahead.
She sat at the third desk on the left whose trash can was always filled to overflowing. There was no telling what interesting nugget she might find among the discards. She scooped up the topmost ball of paper and flattened a Western Union telegram.
NOT HAPPY STOP
LEGS LIKE DANCING SPIDER MIRROR STOP
TOMORROW DAWNS BUT NOT WITH KONG KING STOP
WHISKEY FRISKY RISKY STOP
The only way the cable made sense was if this George guy was drunk—and the Western Union clerk, too. No wonder it had ended up in the trash.
Was it George Raft? He’d been bitter since he’d turned down Sam Spade and Rick Blaine. What a stupid ass.
She picked up the telephone and pretended to dial a number. “It’s Davenport from Warners PR. I got another one of Raft’s nutty rants. Made about as much sense as that Salvador Dali kook. Yeah, that’s right. Drunk. Again.” She slung her feet on top of the desk. “Your client needs to stop sending these cockamamie telegrams when he’s stinko. Okay? Okay!”
Nell slammed down the telephone receiver onto its cradle like the people who crowded this room probably did. She’d bet ten bucks this place hummed all day with jangling telephones, typewriter keys pounding at a gallop, and voices calling out, “What’s another word for ‘tremendous’ that we haven’t used on Flynn since Dive Bomber?”
She left PR and headed past Duplication to the Recording building. Should she? Could she? Dare she?
No, she shouldn’t.
Nell retracted her hand from the door handle as though it were an electric iron. Look what happened the last time you opened your mouth to sing. The entire family had come home early from church and caught you belting a high C. Oh brother, the martyred looks and stern lectures.
She stepped away from the door. On the other side lay forbidden territory.
But still. But still.
Nobody was around. Nobody was watching. A peaceful silence blanketed the studio like a snowfall.
Screw it. This isn’t Indiana.
A long corridor lay past the small foyer with its stiff-backed chairs and potted ficus. Nell tried the first door and peeked inside.
The recording studio was square, around fifty feet by fifty feet. Next to an upright piano, a thick pile of papers rested on a music stand.
Complete score for
SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Musical Director: Leo F. Forbstein
Orchestrator: Frank Perkins
Nell flipped to the first song.
“Shine On, Harvest Moon”
Sung by Dennis Morgan and Ann Sheridan
(singing voice to be dubbed by Lynn Martin)
She lifted the sheet music, walked past the empty wooden chairs of the horn section, and stepped inside the booth. The microphone was about the size of her fist, with horizontal bars across the front and vertical ones at each end. It smelled faintly of a floral perfume she couldn’t place. Whoever had last stood here sure had poured it on thick.
She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands. Why so jittery? There’s nobody here to disapprove.
“The chorus,” she murmured to herself. “Four lines, then take off before your nerve deserts you.”
She opened her mouth, filled her lungs and sang:
“Shine on, shine on, harvest moon up in the sky,
I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July.
Snow time ain’t no time to stay outdoors and spoon,
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon, for me and my ga-a-a-a-a-al.”
How different she sounded. So clear! So strong! Not at all like the voice in the living room when everyone was at Sunday morning Mass, thinking she had succumbed to a fever.
Reluctantly, she gathered up the sheet music again. She’d pushed her luck far enough. Anyone might come through that door and demand to know what the heck was going on. She hurried down the corridor and through the foyer. As she stepped outside, a loud clatter echoed off the soundstage walls to her right. Nell froze, choking off the gasp that threatened to fly from her.
Why hadn’t she stayed safe and cozy in Luke’s bunk on the Arabella where security guards wouldn’t think of looking? She was a script girl who had no legitimate reason to be romping around the recording studio at midnight on a Wednesday. This was wartime. Spies and saboteurs could lurk in any dim corner.
A grinding sound followed, then a harsh CLANG!
Panic crushed her chest; all she heard was the pounding in her ears and her breath coming in short, strangled huffs. She listened through the crack, but heard no footsteps or tuneless whistling. No flashlight zig-zagged across Stage Ten’s ventilator shaft.
The ginger tabby crouched in front of an upended trash can and sniffed at the contents spilled across the lane. “That’s the second time tonight you’ve scared the cranberries out of me.”
He strolled over and rubbed the length of his body against her shin.
She knelt down and stroked his soft fur. “Did you hear me sing? That long note at the end? Pretty hot stuff, huh? Mother and Father wouldn’t approve. Even ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon’ is the devil’s music to them. I couldn’t win, could I, Bucky-boy?”
The cat meowed loudly, which Nell took to mean, “Not in a million years. You did the right thing. Isn’t it time for bed now?”
She straightened and turned to the mess the cat had made. Lying among the newspapers, chicken legs, and drinking straws, was a handbill with two large words across the top: HOLLYWOOOD CANTEEN.
It was a reference to the pet project of Bette Davis and John Garfield, a canteen where servicemen on shore leave could stop by to get some refreshment, meet glamour girls, and maybe even dance with a movie star. It was opening in a week’s time and Davis was recruiting volunteers. Join us! it cajoled at the bottom. Won’t you do your bit for our boys and for the noble cause we’re all fighting for?
She folded it up and slid it into her pocket. “Come on, Bucky. It’s about time you and I got some shut-eye.”
The song lyrics quoted above are in public domain.
I certainly hope you enjoyed that peek into what’s coming down the pipeline. Watch this space for further developments. The manuscript is currently with my editor and is due for release late June 2022.
And thanks so much for your interest in my work. I do appreciate it so very much.
All the best,
ALSO BY MARTIN TURNBULL:
The Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels
Book 1 – The Garden on Sunset
Book 2 – The Trouble with Scarlett
Book 3 – Citizen Hollywood
Book 4 – Searchlights and Shadows
Book 5 – Reds in the Beds
Book 6 – Twisted Boulevard
Book 7 – Tinseltown Confidential
Book 8 – City of Myths
Book 9 – Closing Credits
Chasing Salomé: a novel of 1920s Hollywood
The Heart of the Lion: a novel of Irving Thalberg’s Hollywood
All the Gin Joints: a novel of World War II Hollywood
Book 1 in the Hollywood Home Front trilogy
Connect with Martin Turnbull: