16 May, 1922
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 😎
Well, I’ve been in Los Angeles for one full week now, so I guess it’s time I issued an update.
Despite all my positive thinking and visualisation, I have thus far failed to move any further forward in my dreams of writing for pictures — I am beginning to think Mr Haanel is just a blow hard. Never fear, I haven’t given up on my ambitions — nothing worth it in life is easy to achieve.
I am still staying at the YWCA on Spring Street. The roommates I had last week have secured an apartment in Edendale. They said they would have taken me in if I’d arrived earlier, but they had already made arrangements to live as a two. I didn’t like to say, but I wouldn’t want to live in Edendale anyhow. All the studios are now based over in Culver City (it’s only Mack Sennett still situated out by Echo Park and he doesn’t even employ writers). Though the streetcar is only 5¢ back into the city, it does add up after a time. Besides, I like living right here in the center of the action!
I now have two new roommates, both actresses. One hails from Oklahoma, she is a blonde, cherub-looking thing who I imagine would do quite well (she has a look of Lillian Gish about her) — if only she could get over her terror of everyone and everything! The town she grew up in only consists of 500 people, all of whom she knows personally, so Los Angeles is quite overwhelming to her.
And of course all the stories of the movie colony being the new Sodom and Gomorra are getting to her. She says she put it all out of mind to get on the train bound West, but now she is here she is quite certain she will be ruined if she takes a single step outdoors. It doesn’t help that there was a rumour that some detectives were seen nearby asking questions about the slain director William Desmond Taylor. Even if true, I think it proves nothing more than their desperation to turn up a single clue with regards to the mystery. I can’t imagine that such a celebrated director had dealings with the hoi polloi downtown.
Anyhow, she hasn’t left our room in three days, and our other roommate (from Chicago — like me a city, world-weary sort) and I have been trying to convince her to at least step out onto the front porch for some fresh air. As you know, before I departed New York I had been reading a book on how to live really well. Consequently, I am aware of the importance of sunshine to protect against all sorts of ailments.
Yesterday I brought her a drink made from crushed spinach and lemons (the man who sold it to me says that Miss Gloria Swanson has one every single morning for her breakfast — nothing else!), in the hopes of getting her some vitamins. She refused it, saying that it might be laced with giggle-water or some other illicit substance, and then I lost patience and gave up on her. If one is so determined to be miserable, what can one do?
As for me, if there are parties of scandal and ill-repute happening all around these parts, well nobody has invited me. As you know, I like to be forward-thinking and take an adventurous view of life, so I think I would go to one if the opportunity arose. Don’t worry — not to partake, just to be a student of life as you know I like to be.
I have managed to secure employment, as a typist for a legal firm. The lady in charge of hiring (she was quite stern and dressed in a most old fashioned long gown) warned me that the position was only temporary. The engagement is to be three months, as the regular girl whose job it is has gone to the hills for a rest (I don’t know what’s wrong with her — I didn’t like to enquire). I explained that suited me perfectly as I intend be working at a studio before the three months is out. The lady laughed and said she would try to find me another position afterwards if my accuracy is as good as I promised.
The work is quite dull and the office horribly hot (we are not permitted to open a window as one of the partners suffers terribly from hay fever) but it is well within my capabilities, so I am free to let my mind wander as I type. I am getting $25 a week which covers my board at the Y with plenty left for food. The walk takes around 30 minutes each way, but I don’t bother with a streetcar as the weather is so fine and there is plenty to see along the way.
Yesterday, I happened across a movie crew filming right on the street. My heart leapt as it made me feel as though I had really and truly arrived in picture-land — even if I was only walking by to spend the day typing up property contracts! The actors looked so strange in all their makeup and finery (no stars — it must have been what’s known as a “B” production, made inexpensively to add to a programme featuring an important picture). The director was a very small man who wore a rather startling outfit of mustard-and-black checked riding pants, knee-high leather boots that gleamed in the sun and a scarf tied at his neck in place of a tie.
One of my roommates (not the current lot, the more experienced girls who left for Edendale) explained that all directors dress like that since the style was established by Mr Cecil B DeMille a couple of years ago. She says she has even seen one carry a riding crop. We laughed as she described him striding officiously around the studio, crop in hand, as though searching for some actors to beat.
Speaking of Mr DeMille, guess who I am to meet tomorrow — none other than Mrs Beatrice DeMille, the great man’s mother! It seems that she spends most every day at the Hollywood Studio Club, which is an organisation run by the Y for young women entering the industry. I’m told that the club is like a sorority, with a delightful atmosphere that provides a sense of home life and protection for we women striking out on our own. Mrs DeMille worked as a teacher back in England before entering pictures (yes, she was a scenario writer before either of her sons, Cecil credits her for teaching him all he knows — I didn’t know that, did you?) and sees it part of her life’s work to mentor the fairer sex.
My chum has made an introduction and I am to present myself there tomorrow morning to be inducted. Mary Pickford regularly gives teas and talks advising girls on how to really get on, and even taking some special cases under her wing. So perhaps I have made some progress in my dreams after all — I guess I shall find out tomorrow!
I must sign off now, as my Chicago roommate and I are going over to Cole’s for one of their famous “French Dip sandwiches.” I believe I am in for quite a treat!
With love to everyone back home — please remember me to your mother and the boys. Did you go to watch them building the new “Yankee Stadium” as you said you might? Write and tell me all about it — it does my heart glad to hear of important things happening in the old neighborhood.