That's a teenaged Carole Lombard, photographed by the famed Edwin Bower Hesser while Lombard was working in Mack Sennett comedies in the late twenties. It was a time when the film industry, at the apex of its silent-era artistry, was about to undergo a revolution, one that would alter Hollywood forever.
The movies' challenge in making the transition from silents to sound has been fodder for all sorts of stories and films (think of the beloved musical "Singin' In The Rain"). It's going to be the backdrop for an upcoming novel, one I'm looking forward to:
"The Garden On Sunset," written by Martin Turnbull, a Melbourne native who now lives in Los Angeles.
The book's home base is the fabled Garden of Allah hotel and bungalows (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/344664.html), the place that welcomed notable actors, writers and many of the other colorful folk who populated Hollywood during its golden era.
Its three main (fictional) characters are Marcus Adler, an exile from his Pennsylvania family; Kathryn Massey, who's run from her stage mother to become a journalist; and Gwendolyn Brick, a budding actress from Florida. They band together in 1927 and interact with all sorts of famous characters. Turnbull calls them "three naïve hopefuls madly dog-paddling against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-world Zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in black face, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos."
Sounds like lots of fun -- and the reference to the Long Beach earthquake indicates this tale will go through at least 1933. But that's not all, not by a longshot...for this is part of a trilogy in what is called "The Garden Of Allah" series. Parts 2 and 3, which will come later, are:
* “The Trouble With Scarlett”: It’s 1936 – "Gone with the Wind" is released by first-time author Margaret Mitchell and becomes an international sensation. Everyone in Hollywood knows that Civil War pictures don’t make a dime but renegade movie producer David O. Selznick snaps up the movie rights and suddenly the whole country is obsessed with answering just one question: Who will win the role of Scarlett O’Hara?
* “Citizen Hollywood”: It’s 1939 – the enfant terrible of New York is coming to Hollywood to make his first movie. Tinsel City is agog! Can he even direct a movie? What will it be about? Will he scandalize the West Coast the way he’s shocked the East Coast? And, more importantly, who will he bed first and does he kiss-and-tell?
One would think Carole Lombard would pop up somewhere in the trilogy (after all, she was a candidate for Scarlett O'Hara, if not a prime contender), and it should be fun to see how she and other classic Hollywood people are portrayed.
This has plenty of promise; as publicity for the book notes, "If you love Armistead Maupin’s 'Tales of the City' books, you’re going to want to get lost in 'The Garden on Sunset.'"
Turnbull has a website, http://www.martinturnbull.com, and looking through it makes it apparent the guy is doing his homework. There's a complete, thorough listing of Hollywood (and Los Angeles) places relevant to the books, a timeline and a bibliography of more than 100 books, in addition to detailed profiles of the Garden of Allah and its creator, actress Alla Nazimova.
"The Garden on Sunset" is slated to come out this fall, and could conceivably make a nice holiday gift for the classic Hollywood buff in your life.
We'll close on a slightly different angle, following one of the most memorable nights in baseball history (though if you're in Atlanta or Boston, chances are it's a night you wish to forget). Today marks the start of the postseason, and I have some rare photos from what might be the Garden of Allah of ballparks, New York's long-vanished Polo Grounds. What makes these special is that they are in color, genuinely capturing the atmosphere of this quirky venue in upper Manhattan.
First, here's Giants pitcher Jim Hearn warming up before a start in 1950. Obtained on waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals that July, he went 11-3 with New York and was a key part of their staff for several years.
Flash forward a dozen years to 1962, when the Polo Grounds' new occupants were not the Giants -- they'd left for San Francisco after the '57 season -- but the expansion New York Mets. The Los Angeles (nee Brooklyn) Dodgers are in town. Note the Mets have placed advertising on the walls, and see the bullpen located in fair territory, part of the Polo Grounds' overall weirdness. (The foul poles to left and right were 279 and 257 feet, but straightaway center was 483 feet.)
Back to the Giants for this final photo, taken during that memorable season of 1951 (the glove patch symbolizes the National League's 75th anniversary) when New York stormed from 13 1/2 games back in mid-August to force a three-game playoff, then win the pennant on Bobby Thomson's three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. Here's their manager, Leo Durocher, standing with his wife -- who's none other than film star Laraine Day: