20 June, 1922
A disappointment and an opportunity...
I’m Claire and this is Letters from Callie, a fictional screenwriter in 1922. If you thought Hollywood was always a boys’ club… you need to read this newsletter 😎
I do hope you have been enjoying the recent weather in New York — it looks as though it has been fine for weeks and weeks; you must almost feel like Californians! It reached 90º yesterday here in Los Angeles, but as the desert climate is dry instead of humid, it doesn’t bother me so much. Ruth and I have been sleeping with the window wide open for the past few nights, and the breeze is so pleasant.
I have been quite the stick-in-the-mud for the past week or so. Somehow or other I’ve just been feeling like spending each evening quietly at home. As you may have heard, we have our very own radio station now here in Los Angeles, so I have been very spoiled listening to concerts from the comfort of my own room.
I did go along to see a showing of the new version of A Fool There Was after work on Friday. I felt I could hardly miss it, having been so enthralled by the original — can you believe it was released in 1915, when we were just babies in high school?
I attended so many showings of A Fool There Was with Theda Bara at The Strand that the actor hired to recite the Rudyard Kipling poem (upon which the film is based) began to recognise me and greet me with a wave. I remember being thrilled by how bold it was. How much fun the “woman vampire” had — terrorizing the hapless man under her spell. Even the tragic ending captured my romantic little heart.
Well, I’m not sure I believe a second production was advisable. So much has happened in the intervening years — not least the 19th Amendment, that the story seemed rather tired and unnecessary. The vamp of the mid-teens gave way to the baby vamp and now the flapper, leaving the original vamp relatively thin as a character. Where she was once daring and bold, she now just seems needlessly cruel. Why seduce a man for the sole purpose of ruining him?
Perhaps it is no wonder I heard Theda Bara has now retired from pictures — her day is over. I would much rather watch any picture of Mabel’s, in which she actually does have fun and adventures, than watch all that destruction and pain. By the way, it is unlikely I shall ever meet Mabel in the flesh again, as Hildy hasn’t called me up in over a week — it seems we are on the outs.
Also, I just read that Valentino, who so impressed me the other week, is currently in court answering to bigamy charges! After he was so charming and pleasant. Really, sometimes I feel like being done with the whole picture business and everyone in it.
I left the theater that evening feeling even more blue, and wishing I had stayed home to read. However, Ruth had asked if she could entertain some friends in our room for the evening to play cards, and I felt I couldn’t say no, so I wouldn’t have had peace anyhow. She invited me to join them, but I don’t seem to want any company at all at present. Sometimes I dream of a little house, outside the city someplace, all of my very own.
The night was still young and the streets filled with people, heading home after a long day’s work, or heading on the town for a long night’s dancing. One thing I do love about Los Angeles is the pep that fizzes in the air; that sense of being part of a city just starting out. The founders of New York are all in their graves, but there is still a chance to make one’s name synonymous with Los Angeles.
I felt a little cheered by that thought, so I decided to stop by a diner. They were serving goulash, mashed potatoes, stewed celery and coleslaw, followed by coconut pie, for the evening’s dinner and I just knew that a hearty meal would lift my spirits. Only two or three tables were occupied, but the woman serving insisted I sit at the counter and I didn’t have the energy to argue.
There was a man and a woman at the table by the window, the woman beautifully dressed in peacock green with a feathered hat in the style Gloria Swanson made so popular last year. Her expression was sullen as the man gesticulated wildly, telling what appeared to be an attempt at an amusing anecdote. I brought out the little notebook I always carry with me, and made a note in pencil so as to remember the scene.
Have you seen any of Gloria Swanson and Cecil B deMille’s films about relations between men and women? They are all written by his favored collaborator Jeannie MacPherson, and I think they are wonderful — clever, daring, and entertaining. They are just the sort of movies I dream of writing someday.
I could imagine how the scene before me would feature in such a picture. The title cards would ask the audience to consider whether the woman was at fault for failing to give the chap a chance, or was he in the wrong for not allowing her a single word in edgeways? Was his anecdote as dull as it looked, or was it simply the fifth he had told in a row? Had she already decided against marriage, but reluctantly agreed to meet the man under duress from her mother?
These are the sorts of questions that modern, sophisticated pictures must address.
At the table nearest the counter sat a woman wearing what looked like a riding frock. Her smart blouse and tie was tucked into a jacket that nipped at the waist. She was absentmindedly sipping soup with one hand, while her attention was engrossed in whatever she was reading. On the table in front of her sat a towering pile of papers, and my heart started to beat faster as I leaned forward in the guise of fastening my shoe, and spied the logo of Metro Pictures.
Metro Pictures! Home of June Mathis, Lillian Gish, Buster Keaton — and Louis Mayer and the Goldwyn Company, if the rumors of the impending merger are to be believed. I immediately felt as though my luck was turning.
I did write away to the new story editor at Universal I was told about the other week, but I haven’t received any reply. Mrs Atherton promised to try to arrange a meeting with the head of the story department at Players Incorporated, but I’ve heard no further from her yet either. It seems as though opportunities in the picture business are like mirages in the desert: they seem so real and promising, yet as one approaches, they simply fade into the ether.
But here was one unfolding before my very eyes, not three feet away. The woman was actually reading a pile of continuities — she must be directly connected to the scenario department. Perhaps her job was to analyze story suggestions and recommend new writers to the studio.
“Excuse me, madam?”
Ida, I don’t mind telling you I nearly fell off my stool. While I was so focussed on the woman from Metro, a gentleman took the seat next to mine. He was quite fastidiously dressed, in a dark gray three-piece suit that looked rather heavy for California in June, and he wore a red rose in his lapel. He had a thin mustache darker than his own hair. I realized after a moment that it had been penciled on, which startled me. Did you know that men did such things?
“I couldn’t help but notice you making notes,” he continued. “Would I be right in concluding that you are a scenario writer?”
“I am,” I said, raising my voice just a little, hoping the Metro woman might look around. I was extremely cheered to have been so readily identified.
“Then I believe fate led me to this diner this evening,” he said with a wide smile.
And then he told me just about the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I am too excited to write more — I shall continue anon.
Yours as always,