'Trouble at The Triple Triangle'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 32, and Kelly Humber, 30, are lovers and actors contracted to Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. They act in quickly made Westerns and modern day action thrillers, the mainstay of the cheapskate studio, often appearing in 10 films in any one year.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author. All characters, film companies, and film titles, in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real companies, or real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.
"Sure the title's strong enough, Buddie?" Stevie Garroch scratched her nose as only she could, looking from the film producer to her inamorata in the chair beside her, and back. "Will it drag the customers in, d'ye think?"
"—'course it will." Buddie Brannigan was having no loose thinking on his watch. "Haven't I produced one thousand an' forty-three films, yet? I know what's what in the title market, don't worry—it'll have the crowd swarmin' t'get in'ta every cinema in the mid-west, don't worry."
"Y'keep sayin' don't worry, Bud, but that only makes us worry all the more." Kelly Humber, young, full of enthusiasm, and looking still to be the next Pola Negri, stirred her bottom lip into a weak sneer—this being the substance of almost every pre-recording session they had with the windy but wily producer. "How much're ya goin' t'spend on it, this time? As much as Warner's are reputedly spendin' on Cagney's latest thriller?"
"Ha. What d'ya think? Ya think I print money, or what?" Buddie sneered in his turn, this again being part of the long established confrontation scenario they always went through at the start of every film project. "It'll be the usual price, $200,000 an' not a dam' red cent more—any more, an' it comes out'ta the directors', or your, purses, like always."
The fact this was a long recognised empty threat, never before put into operation, weakened it's impact to almost nil; but Buddie liked sayin' it.
"So, it's gon'na be in colour, so I've heard. That'll be nice." Stevie liked poking the producer where she knew it would spark the best reaction.
"Colour? Are ya mad?" Buddie sat back in his leather easy chair behind his desk with an outrush of air from his lungs. "Colour? Ya know dam' well that'd bloody bankrupt the studio, even before filming started. Colour—horse feathers t'that. Y'll have good ol' black an' white, an' dam' well like it, like always."
"Who's the director?" Kelly thinking it time to steer the consultation back on track. "Not g-dd-m Fred Jaenckes, I hope. Stevie punched his jaw on the last production we encountered him on, two months ago; an' as ya know it was only because her guns were loaded with blanks that stopped the moron from becoming the not-sadly missed late Fred Jaenckes."
"Hum." Buddie knew when a conversation had gotten onto dangerous ground. "Old history; he's working fer Reliable now, I believe—"
"—an' good riddance." Kelly liking to keep a grudge warm.
"—so, the director'll be Henry Barnes." Buddie sighed quietly as he returned to the safety of hard facts. "Good director, knows how to keep a film on budget, an' bring it in on time—good director."
"Barnes?" Stevie was cool, her lower lip quivering into action in her turn. "Ain't he revered throughout Hollywood as One-Take Barnes. Never willingly known t'Take-Two, if'n he choked fer it? I ain't standin' fer sech nonsense, Buddie; make yer mind up t'that. If he comes the One-Take charade on my watch I'll have his guts fer new gaiters, see if I don't."
Buddie had, however, seen this argument coming from afar off. He hadn't been associated with these two female actors so long he didn't know their preferences in how they performed, or how others performed around them. The fact that each woman had a substantial percentage in the studios holdings and shares also didn't slip past unnoticed. But they were all old pals from silent film days, and liked to shoot the hay in this manner just for old times sake.
"Yeah, yeah, don't tire my ears." Buddie shrugged, his usual counter to any argument he already knew he'd lost. "I had a chat with him, told him Redoubtable wasn't so strapped fer cash he couldn't use a few reels o'film t'get things runnin' smoothly. He took my hint—said it was my money, so no skin off his back, dam'med ingrate."
"Ha." Kelly laughed gently, glancing at her lover as she did so. "I like the cut of his jib; think we might get along jest fine. When's it due t'start?"
"Let's see." Buddie consulted a sheaf of papers on his desk. "Right, here it is; first shootin' day, Rancho Calabria, on the tenth, that's four days from t'day."
"OK, sounds fine." Stevie began to rise from her hard wooden chair.
"There's one thing y'might want to consider, though."
Stevie looked at the now clearly shifty producer, trying unsuccessfully to use his thick grey eyebrows to hide behind.
"Oh-Oh, don't like the sound o'this. What, Buddie, what?"
Buddie Brannigan was an old experienced film producer from way back, having been a second unit director and behind the scenes deputy producer on Griffiths' Intolerance. He had seen, and met professionally, many of the big and not so big names associated with the old silent days; and was still someone to be reckoned with in major film circles, Redoubtable's output generally overtopping in quality it's Poverty Row rivals by some distance. This meant he had come into contact with all and every variety of human type, class, or category imaginable, some nicer than others.
Kelly raided an eyebrow, coming into the discussion with a wary eye.
"What about Mr Barnes? Something we should know?"
Buddie raised his head to examine his two friends, sighing deeply the while.
"You two gettin' along fine, these days?" He spoke in a calm, quiet, unassuming manner. "Still two inseparable love-birds, an' all that sort'a thing?"
"You had dinner with us jest a week ago, Buddie." Stevie, from her standing position looked down on her friend with a cautious frown. "You know the score. So, what's up?"
"Barnes belongs to a religious sect, callin' itself the Puritanical Church." Here Buddie curled his lips in scorn. "Been goin' fer some time, it seems. He broke loose on the topic first time we met t'discuss this comin' film. Seems he jest can't keep off the subject; one of his pet themes, apparently."
"So what." Kelly wasn't interested. "One Church or another, Stevie an' I don't care what people revere as their particular method o'worshipping whatever Gods they like."
"Ah, well, it's the tenets of this Church that take some understandin'." Buddie finally came clean. "Barnes was, er, very expansive on his thoughts an' beliefs. One of the strongest of which he made no bones about."
Stevie glanced at her lover; while Kelly returned the look dubiously; they both realising where the topic was heading.
"So what?" Stevie facing the danger like a hero.
"He doesn't like, er, people who advocate love between the same sex—homosexuality, in fact." Buddie had the decency to look disgusted. "Took some listenin' to, I can tell ya, without my uppin' an' sockin' him on the jaw; but it was a public restaurant, an' ya got''ta keep up a Public face, y'know."
"Anyway—?" Stevie keeping her old friend on track.
"Anyway, he dislikes, er, homosexuals an', er, ladies who follow the Sapphic persuasion, beggin' yer own presence's pardon, like rattlesnakes." Buddie gripped the wooden armrests of his chair, knowing he had come to the gist of his exchange. "Said they both, homos' an' lesbians' t'gether, had a place awaitin' them all in Dante's Seventh Ring o'Hell; an' the more that went there, the louder he'd laugh, so he told me, droolin' somewhat at the mouth, the while. I think he's, well, unhinged on the topic—jest t'warn ya in advance, ladies."
There was a pause, no sound apparent in the long room where Buddie kept his office on the Redoubtable Studio lot in Hollywood; only the buzzing of a fly in the far offing—then Kelly took a deep breath, speaking coldly.
"Stevie, ya better follow my lead, when we goes t'make this here film." She took a step closer to her lover and reached out to grip the taller woman's hand tightly. "I'm loading my pistols fer bear, the while, an' I strongly requests you do likewise. This gopher Barnes comes the salivatin' censor on our lovin' union, in any way, an' I plugs him straight-off, no question."
"A fine plan, lover, the which I adopts unreservedly." Stevie nodded coldly, glancing back at the still seated producer as they left the room together. "Buddie, Kelly an' I'll make the dam' film, but Barnes comes any o'his censor nonsense an' you'll dam' quick be lookin' fer another director. If'n possible, Kel, aim low fer his legs; that way y'can pretend it was an accident—no-one'll be able t'tell any different. Maybe ya should pencil in an understudy right now, jest in case, Buddie. G'bye."
"Jeez." Buddie sat in his empty office, head in hands, wondering why he'd got into this lark all those years ago in the first place. "I could'a been a accountant, like Daddy wanted, instead o' bein' embroiled in this dam' quagmire. Jeez."
Rancho Calabria lay in the hills some fifteen miles east of Hollywood; it being here most of the location work for the studio was carried out. There were rolling fields, clumps of thickly growing trees, tinkling wide streams, and rugged granite hills, all allowing for a wide range of film settings. Here Redoubtable made their action, thriller, detective films, and most profitable of all, Westerns.
The place was wholly owned by the studio, a hold-over from the early days when they had bought up a series of orange groves in the region and turned them into the film location they now were; literally hundreds of films having been made in this area. Redoubtable also did a nice sideline in renting-out space on the ranch for other studios' use. So as many as three or four separate films could be in production on the spreading acres at any one time.
On Monday, 10th June 1935, only one other film was under way, on the far side of the ranch acres as Stevie and Kelly drove up in Stevie's Chrysler sedan to the well-known gates at 10am precisely. The original buildings had all long since disappeared, to be replaced by a spreading group of one or two-storey buildings used as offices and personal flats by the actors. Stevie parked outside the low one-storey apartment which had long been their own, Kelly already with keys in hand.
"God, here we are again." Kelly opening the door and stepping back to wave her partner in ahead of her.
"Yeah, don't get excited, just another bloody Western, is all."
"Ha." Kelly threw the keys on a table in the main room and walked over to collapse on a long sofa, spreading her arms wide for comfort. "We got time for a cuppa coffee?"
"Nah, got'ta be on set, up in the hill-ranch, in just under an hour." Stevie knocked this attempt at leading the Sybaritic life on the head with a grunt. "Jenny'll be here shortly with our outfits. Y'got your make-up box with ya?"
"—'course I have." Kelly growled disdainfully at this aspersion. "Haven't I been in the movies fer the last fifteen years, sis?"
"That long, eh?" Stevie enjoyed this back and forth repartee of a morning. "Say, in that case ya must'a known Al St John before he was Fuzzy? Can I have yer autograph, then; more importantly, can ya get me his?"
A cushion, aimed with precision, put an end to this haughty bunkum just as a brisk no-nonsense knock came at the front door; which immediately burst open to reveal their assistant-in-chief Jenny Coultry. She was all of twenty-two, had been with the Studio six years and the two women actors for the last two years. Liking each other they got on splendidly, even though Jenny was a ball of fire and energy, always pushing them unceremoniously to get more activity into their day than they thought either necessary or comfortable.
"Hi gals, got the truck at the door all ready." She spoke with a pure Los Angeles accent, rather faster than most. "Y'got yer scripts? Gerry Graham's the writer on this one."
"Oh f-ck." Kelly groaned in despair. "He rewrites every bloody scene on set; y'never know where the hell y'are in the storyline with him."
"Maybe Barnes'll be able t'hold him in check." Stevie was taking off her shirt and unbuckling the waistbelt of her trousers as she spoke. "Jeans an' a chequered shirt, I see."
"What else, Stevie." Jenny snorted in derision. "You're playin' Katie Chilvers, ain't ya? What's this—the seventh in the series?"
"Eighth." Kelly was always au fait with this kind of detail.
"Even worse." Stevie shook her head disgustedly. "Come on, Kel, get a bloody move on—time's a'wastin'."
"OK, OK, I'm comin', don't mind me; I'll get there ahead o'ya all the same, like always."
The set for the opening scenes in the latest effort of Redoubtable Studios was a small log-built one-storey ranch-house,—the actual Rancho Calabria which regularly appeared on film—set on a patch of flat ground in front of a tall stand of trees behind which was a rolling backdrop of bare rocky hills. It was three-dimensional and fully constructed in and out; a good saving on studio work and expence: though, because of lighting and sound difficulties, interior shots were never made there. A wide dirt track led up to and past the ranch, also allowing for approach shots of groups of horse-riders, as well as affording easy access to the film crew's vehicles.
Being a substantial permanent edifice in its own right, built purposely as such, it appeared in many Redoubtable films and series, shot from varying angles; in fact the young audiences now waited with bated breath for the first appearance of the log-house in whatever film they were watching, yelling with delight when it showed up. So much so, Buddie had mooted the idea of demolishing it and putting something less enduring or obvious, for divergence's sake, in its place.
It was also hardly realised by the paying cinema audiences that, just out of shot in every scene, exterior or interior, in the films they watched in the dark was a multiplicity of equipment, vehicles of all sorts and sizes, lights and power-plants to operate same, and a veritable army of technicians and workers; all vital to the smooth running of the film's construction.
The pick-up truck driven by Jenny roared up to the front of the ranch, halting in a cloud of dust as was her usual wont. Stevie and Kelly hauled themselves out and stood on the sandy ground thankful they had survived once more.
"So, what's the plot again?"
"God, didn't ya read the script at all?" Stevie groaned in well-simulated despair. "Are ya jest goin' 'ta make it up as ya goes along, like always? Don't know's as Barnes'll take t'that much."
"Barnes can take a runnin' jump, any time he chooses." Kelly twisted her lips in something far from a smile. "He may think he's the director, but he ain't a God, that's fer sure—an' I'm the one'll let him know sech, if'n required."
At this point Jenny put the pick-up in gear; roaring away in another cloud of dust to hide this anachronistic vehicle from the cameras, just as a tall man strolled up to join the women.
"Hi gals, how's things?"
"Hi Todd, glad t'see ya."
"Hi'ya Todd, you're on second-director duties, eh?" Kelly grinned widely, liking her long-established friend. "Glad t'know you're here. How's this Barnes character, then? Can we get along with him, d'ya think?"
Todd Forbes, long-time second unit director for Redoubtable, paused to take a glance round, shrugging his wide shoulders as he did so.
Stevie took up the burden of replying to this question.
"Yeah, we know Barnes' is a little, um, touchy on some scores." She ran a hand through her dark hair with a sigh. "What can he do, though? I mean, he ain't gon'na create a disturbance here on location, is he? He ain't that far gone, I hopes."
Todd, a young man still in his late twenties and built like a football player, shrugged once more.
"He's certainly got a religious bee in his stetson, that's fer sure." Todd grinned at the women. "Though I don't intends that ter spoil my day. Talkin' of which, he's here, y'know."
Stevie and Kelly regarded each other with open eyes.
"Not the usual thing fer the director t'dirty his hands with second-unit work." Kelly pursed her lips. "One o'these tyrant, overbearin' types is he? His nose in every dam' aspect o'production, come what may, eh?"
"That's about it, ladies." Todd nodded somewhat dis-spiritedly. "He lets me helm the camera, but puts in his ten-cent's worth, all the same, an' curls his lip when he thinks I've messed up. Dam' b-st-rd."
By this time a further couple of trucks had arrived, a group of workers off-loading the contents with experienced swiftness. Soon, two large cameras stood on their tripods, facing the ranch-house some fifty feet distant. As this was completed another car drove up to park on the edge of the dirt track, out of sight of the camera lenses. From this emerged a short stocky man dressed in khaki shirt, heavy-duty blue jeans and a bright red shirt. His face was square with a solid jaw, and he had thin black hair. His eyes were perhaps a trifle too close together, on either side of a long thin nose, giving him the unfortunate appearance of a hungry rat. His expression, if it was his usual, only suggesting the likelihood of this description being true to character. Then he opened his mouth on approaching the group of actors and second director.
"So we're actually gon'na be makin' a movie after all?" His voice held all the gravelly roughness of the Bowery, from where he had indeed emerged—to more interesting, if not greater, things. "Well, Forbes, what's the hold-up? We ain't got all day. You two the actors? Two women, huh? Some crazy kind'a serial this is, an' no mistake. Well, let's start the way I intends t'go on with this here garbage. Listen up, you two, this's a small-time movie, you're both small-time actors; we got a tight schedule t'keep to, an' I mean t'keep it—so you'll jump when I say jump, an' dance when I say dance, right. Got that, ladies? An' don't even think o' gettin' sassy with me; if ya do I'll have ya both out on yer butts before ya can squeal, an' better actors—men if I can corral that idiot Brannigan in'ta same, in yer places. Got that? Right, let's get this dam' show on the road, Forbes—an' you two two-bit actresses mind yer business, or I'll dam' well know the reason why, see."
Stevie and Kelly had listened to this diatribe with perfect composure, neither being in the slightest put-out. After Barnes had finished, and stopped to observe the effect his words had made he suddenly realised that the entire film crew all round had paused whatever they were doing and were now, one and all, silently regarding the small group in front of the two cameras with intense interest. Stevie's voice brought him back to the present situation with a jump.
"That was a real nice welcoming speech, Barnes." Stevie's voice had taken on the hard quality of a granite boulder newly released from the quarry. "Y'managed t'show everyone here several things about yerself, all in one go. Firstly, that y're a deep-dyed idiot o' the first water; second, that y'have no idea whatever of how t'handle a film crew who between them have forgotten more about films than you'll ever know; thirdly, y're labourin' under a misunderstandin' about us two women, here. Kel, set the man straight, will ya?"
Kelly moved a step to the side of her companion, the better to have a clear view of her astonished victim.
"So, you're Henry Barnes?" She had been saving this lecture up since early dawn, and was now enjoying every second. "Infamous across seven Poverty Row Studios fer bein' a crappy director, a crappy relator to everyone around ya, an' useless at personal relationships. D'ya know who we, Stevie here an' I, are, ya dolt?"
Barnes, never in his professional career having ever been spoken to in this unrestrained manner by what he clearly perceived as the trashy bottom of the film barrel, ie, actors, was trying to decide whether to close his mouth first then start raging, or wait to see what else was coming his way. Either way, he was more astonished than he'd ever been in his life.
"You were partially correct, Barnes, in what ya said." Kelly warmed to her task with an inner joy. "We both, Stevie an' I, are actors—that's the truth. We've been in so many shorts an' two-reelers between us we've lost count. Stevie's been in the film business for over fifteen years, while I've been in front of cameras for eight or so. Between us we've made a good livin' out'ta it. Sech a good one, in fact, I believes I'll let my compadre here tell ya jest how well we've both done. Stevie?"
Stevie, as she proceeded, could see Barnes was now suffering the first effects of shock, his mouth hanging open like a basking shark's.
"We both put our profits back in'ta the film business over the years, Barnes." Stevie spoke now with a cold decisiveness, holding the man's eyes with a piercing glare of her own. "An' where's sech gotten us now, ye'll be askin' yerself, Barnes? Let me put you out'ta yer misery—between us Kel an' I own twenty-one per cent of Redoubtable Studios. Y'know what that means? It means we got an over-ridin' say in all matters dealin' with the activities o' the company. Ya know what that means, Barnes? It means if ya get under our skin—like ye've been attemptin' to do this last ten minutes—we jest tells ya t'piss off—an' piss off is jest what ya then proceeds t'do, get me?"
Barnes stood stock still, gazing silently at his interlocutors like a rabbit hypnotised by a car's headlights at night; Kelly finally coming to his rescue.
"How's about we get's this show on the road, we're losin' the light as it is. Let's go, everyone."
The picture in question both Stevie and Kelly were now engaged on was a Western, nominally set somewhere in the Mid-West around 1880, titled 'Trouble at The Triple Triangle'; this fictional ranch itself being, of course, the Redoubtable Calabria ranch, standing in for the umpteenth time, with a bit of window-dressing, as something other than its natural self. The script was tight, the upfront budget at $200,000 mighty constrained, while the shooting schedule was, at two weeks and two days, even tighter. Stevie and Kelly had their usual $2,000 salaries, with 1½% of the gross profit between them. Henry Barnes, supposing he lasted the course, would receive £5,000, while most of the secondary characters would go home with between £500 to $800; several regular old hands, who appeared in many Redoubtable pictures throughout the year suitably disguised, being on a monthly set salary of around $750. So all in all, for a Poverty Row studio, the actors and crew didn't do so badly.
Of this technical crew the most important generally was always the Director, if only because he, and it was almost always he, had most influence and impact on the picture's atmosphere and style. After him came the Camera-man, usually one of the most knowledgeable and experienced of any film-crew. Then there were the sound-crew, always the central and at the same time the most annoying unit on set. Back at the Studio, after filming had been accomplished the negatives were given into the charge of the Editor who, alongside the Director, had the major say on how the film would turn out and be presented for Public consumption. Not that even Redoubtable were above taking a new film off the circuit to be re-edited if thought necessary—almost always against the Director's expressed wishes; but as, per their contracts, they having no say in this matter that went for nothing, of course.
As was common across all the Poverty Row studios, as well as the more important Studios, first and second-unit crews worked parallel with each other. So scenes in studio-settings—indoor sets mainly—were filmed at the same time as the second-unit were out in the wild landscape, generally filming either groups of cowboys riding after and shooting at each other along dusty trails, or gangsters driving in heavy vehicles along the same dusty trails in pursuit of the hero and his dame's car. Thus, the universal thinking being, cutting the filming-time in half.
These quickly-made B-picture plot-lines being repetitive, as was only to be expected, a certain amount of excitement had to be injected into each individual film, which is where the stunt-women and men came in. For Westerns this mainly meant spectacular falls from horses running at full gallop, or overturning wagons. Redoubtable, however, eschewed this format; both Stevie and Kelly having had experience, in their earlier films, of the terrible injuries sustained by horses brought down by trip-ropes as they galloped along. They had, after building up their percentage in the Studio, made it the company's policy never to use this kind of equipment on horses.
For modern day adventure and gangster movies Redoubtable employed several stunt-women and men to drive cars into walls, over cliffs, into each other, or simply roll over spectacularly off the road; this being a much more manageable procedure, hardly ever resulting in anything severer than mild to heavy bruising for those involved.
The present picture, however, didn't involve many of these scenes of an overtly thrilling nature; the script positing two neighbouring ranches vying over control of the encircling range and water rights, being more of an actual true talkie, within the meaning of the act, than usual. And so, late in the morning, the cameras started rolling on the exterior second-unit's efforts; with Stevie and Kelly in their parts, and Barnes and Todd Forbes behind the cameras, huge brilliant Klieg lights, and extended sound microphone booms arcing over the actors' heads, hopefully always out of the camera-lens' range.
First scene, first take, thirty-five seconds in. Barnes' booming bass sounding like the Trumpet of Doom.
"That's a good start." Kelly, standing on the front porch of the ranch-house, eyed Stevie beside her. "Was it me, or you?"
"Neither, Barnes is jest tryin' t'rile Todd." Stevie frowned darkly, gazing over to where the camera, and the behind-the-scenes equipment, stood out on the dry dusty earth. "Let's see what ol' Todd does."
The women watched as the Director and Second-Unit Director stood face-to-face; engaging in a heated argument which didn't quite carry across to the ladies' ears, except as a series of dull rolling growls like two grizzly bears having a spat. Barnes finally waved his arms dramatically in the air, pointed a finger in Todd's face, said something short but loaded with ire, then turned to cross the intervening space to the waiting actresses.
"So, that's it ladies, an' y'can't accuse me o' comin' the bully, so don't try." Barnes was red in the face, sweating, and snarling slightly, as of someone who's true nature was swiftly surfacing. "That b-st-rd over there took t'contradicting my orders, so I've fired him; we'll shut down fer the day an' go back t'the Studio till I can get the Front Office t'sort things out."
"Barnes, don't go away, hold hard."
"What? My time's precious; what'd'ya want? Y'heard me, I've fired the b-st-rd, an' that's it."
"Barnes, shut the f-ck up, an' listen t'me." Stevie, beginning to lose it.
Barnes, amazed, turned to regard the women as if they were a new species; which, to him, they probably were.
"Barnes, y'just don't seem t'have been listening to me, earlier, when we had our nice friendly conversation." Stevie stepped out from the shadow of the porch to stand by the side of the stocky man. "Y'still seem t'be labourin' under the misapprehension that you have any sort'a power over the actors here. Well, y'don't. I know every paragraph of your contract by heart, laddie; an' there's one which clearly states that you cannot fire personnel for any reason. That's in the hands of those who are duly delegated to do such; and paragraph 37c of your contract clearly states the only persons with that power are either Kelly here, or me—not you, under any circumstances. See what I'm gettin' at, buster?"
"What?" Spoken with a savagery that would have done a charging tiger proud. "Who the f-ckin' hell d'ya think you two are, anyway? F-ckin' givin' orders as if ya own the joint."
"We do, we got the percentage say on what goes on in Redoubtable, remember." Kelly stepped up beside her paramour. "Barnes, you're fired—hit the trail. Yeah, we can do that, too, it's in our contracts."
Barnes' face went from light crimson to dark, eventually bordering for a life-threatening moment on purple before he speechlessly turned on his heel and went off at a tangent, heading for his car parked under a group of trees some distance away. A minute passed, there was a grating sound as of clashing gears, then his vehicle sped away down the trail, leaving a swirling dust-cloud in it's wake.
"Nicely done, Kel." Stevie laid a hand on her partner's shoulder. "Couldn't have said it better myself."
"Never did like the ape, anyway." Kelly pouted her gorgeous pink lips. "Even if I only knew him fer about forty minutes."
"Hah, forty minutes too many."
"Ya got it, lover." Kelly looked over at the camera and the crew quietly waiting in the distance. "So, what now? Todd?"
"Yep, Todd it is; let's go an' give him the good news."
The interior of the Calabria ranch-house, never being used for inside filming, was as a result fixed up as a studio office, complete with telephone connection to the outside world. The morning's shooting being over, and the crew and actors now sitting at trestle tables under the trees for their lunch, Stevie had taken the opportunity to contact civilisation back in Hollywood, to wit Buddie Brannigan, film producer.
"I'm,—I'm,—can I butt in, at all?" She was having a hard time, though, with her hard-pressed co-worker. "Yeah, I know it's a dam' bad start, but there weren't any alternative. No, there wasn't—why? 'cause I was there is why—I heard it all, I saw it all,—I, well, Kel really, fired the b-st-rd, straight off,—now Forbes is holding the reins. Yeah, fer the whole o'the rest o'the film. He'll also take over the studio scenes when we return—just have'ta get some other second-unit bozzo to step in, that's all. Buddie, don't say things like that, y'know I'm a lady an' sech offends my delicate ears. Oh, well, the same t'you too, sonny. Yeah, see ya tomorrow morning—yeah, cheers t'you too, laddie, bye. Jeesus, glad that's over."
"Buddie not happy? No pleasing some." Kelly continued calmly munching her salad sandwich, paper cup of coffee at her elbow. "Reckon Todd'll make a better fist o'things than that ape Barnes'd ever have managed, anyway."
"Too true, lover." Stevie heaved a sigh, staring morosely at her cardboard platter of something like a stew, if not actually such. "What in hell is this? Reckon firing Barnes wasn't the only firing we should'a been doin' t'day."
"Ease up, darling, it's jest stew, give it room t'breathe." Kelly waved airily with her fork. "There, pick up that spoon an' dig in. After a coupl'a mouthfuls y'won't know any difference from haute cuisine."
"Darling, ya reall—"
Trring, trring, trring.
Stevie laid her poised spoon back on the table and reached across to pick up the receiver again, raising her eyebrows at her lover as she did so.
"Wonder what ol' Brannigan wants, now. Yeah, hallo, who's there?" Prepared for the result of this enquiry she moved the handset away from her ear just in time, as a bellowing voice, tinny with distance, rang out along the line. "Was—wass—wassat, Buddie? I can't make out yer voice,—yer talking like a dolphin on the snow, is why, calm down. OK, OK, I kin hear ya fine now,—what? The Studio's got'ta pay Barnes his full whack, jest as if he'd completed the whole movie? Dam' that, he was only on the set fer less than half a f-ckin' hour. Makes no odds, the Front Office says? We pay him, or he can raise a lawsuit—goddam. What? Yeah, I said goddam—an' I bloody well meant it. What? Well, if the Front Office says so I suppose it must be accordin' t'Hoyle, dammit. What? We can make it up by keepin' Forbes on his monthly salary? No, we f-ckin' won't, ya tight-arsed pr-ck. Todd goes on the Director's Salary rung, or there'll be all Tartarus an' Hades to pay. Oh yeah? Try it, Buddie, jest try it, an' see what I does in response—y'won't need a Hospital bed, y'll need a whole bloody hospital, is all. Yeah, full Director's salary fer Forbes, or Kel an' I'll know the f-ckin' reason why. What? The Studio doesn't print it's own dollars, where's the money comin' from? Buddie, you're beginning t'bore me—am I gon'na have t'stop the shootin' fer the afternoon, an' come back there to face y'off, or what? That won't be necessary? Dam' right, laddie. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Right, bye. Jee-sus."
"Hard Times at the ol' dream factory, eh?"
"Y'never spoke a truer word, doll." Stevie took a mouthful of the anonymous stew, pulled a face, then replaced her spoon by the plate with a look of sad pity towards Kelly, sitting by her side. "That's a no-no. No more bloody stew fer me on this dam' shoot."
"There's Jenny's whistle, time's up, back t'the grind, sister." Kelly took a last gulp of her coffee and put out a hand to help her partner to her feet.
There were a number of scenes in the plot of the movie which were set around the ranch-house; though they would need to be, by necessity, shot out of chronological sequence, as was the norm in these things. The time-scale of the plot merely covered a couple of days, so this meant there was only need for a single costume change for the main characters, Stevie and Kelly. The ranch-house coming in useful here in its manifestation as a private changing-room, a feature of a somewhat exceptional nature whilst on location; the ladies often having had to undress in the middle of a crowd behind wobbly raised blankets, or even behind bushes in their time.
At the present moment, around three in the afternoon, they were both in the ranch changing for the last scene to be filmed that day. Stevie was almost naked, except for something wispy round her waist, while Kelly had nearly finished climbing into another pair of jeans and clean checked shirt. Then the telephone, in the other room, rang insistently once more.
"Hey, grab that, will ya, sister, I'm not presentable."
"God, it's only a bloody phone." Kelly curled an amused lip as she made for the door. "Not as if they'll see anythin' interesting, along at the other end o'the wire."
"Go, gal, go."
The door to the office was ajar, as was always the case, it tending to jam in the frame otherwise, the ranch not being used as often as the main Studio buildings back in Hollywood.
"Yeah, who is it?" Kelly had a well-rehearsed routine for these types of call; she never missing any heaven-sent opportunity for twisted humour. "Rancho Calabria, here. All groups catered for; single cowboys, or multiple shooters. Whichever pison o'choice y'like fully supplied—horse-rustling by the herd; cattle-rustling by the, er, what're a lot'ta cattle called? Gunfights planned an' carried out to order; rates given on request."
There was a faint angry buzz at the other end of the line.
"Hey, that ain't nice; is that you again, Brannigan? It is, ain't it; I'd know that flowery language anywhere. So, a gal wants t'have a little laugh, what's wrong with that?" Kelly listened carefully for half a minute, grinning widely, then took back command. "Nuthin' o'the sort, buster. Get a grip, fer God's sake; t'hear ya ye'd think the South had won the bloody Civil War, or somethin'. Hey, Hey, let's not get catty, eh? Wassat? Stevie's otherwise engaged; y'can take me or leave me, ya old soak. What?, ye'll dam' well leave me in a flash, then? Dam' you, too. Wassat, speak up? The Hays Office rang t'say they didn't like the idea of two women bein' partners in a movie? What?, they're thinkin' o'vetoing the movie, as a result? F-ck that, Buddie, you jest get right back t'them an' tell 'em where they dam' well get off with that kind'a talk. No, well gim'me their number, I ain't afraid o'them. They can blacklist Redoubtable? My ass, buster; jest let 'em try."
At this moment Stevie, now dressed, hauled up alongside her hard-pressed partner, cocking an enquiring eyebrow.
"It's Buddie, he say's the Hays Office wants to no-no our film because we're two women as the main hero partners, an' they think that whiffs of sexual aberration."
"That's what I said, sister." Kelly nodded glumly, then returned to her distant enquirer. "Wassat, speak up. Nah, just Stevie, an' she ain't impressed, either. Tell ya what, Buddie; get back t'the Hays Office, an' get 'em t'send someone out t'the Studio tomorrow. We'll be doin' interior scenes there; he, or she, can watch, an' get an idea of how Stevie an' I operate together. Say, ain't anyone at the Hays Office ever seen any of our movies before? We've been churnin' 'em out fer years before they was ever setup, haven't we. Y'don't know? Well, ye're jest the producer, true enough, y'wouldn't know, would ya? Hey, Hey, that's really over the score—I ain't never heard the likes o' that before. Oh, there's plenty more where that came from, is there? Well, can it till tomorrow; maybe y'can use some o'it on the Hays Office bozzo's when they turn up, if ye're brave enough, Buddie. Oh, Oh, Oh, that's nasty; see ya tomorrow, darlin', bye. Whee, that was so much fun."
"One o'the joys of havin' a controllin' stake in the Studio, ducks." Stevie sniggered softly, taking this private opportunity to nuzzle her face into Kelly's neck and steal a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Mmm, that makes up fer the trials an' tribulations o'the day, lover. Ready? I think I can hear poor ol' Todd gibberin' with anxiety out there; the light's fadin', apparently."
"I'm fine, sis; let's get on back out there, then, an' save the movie, like always."
Klieg lights, though bright as Hell, certainly, tended to hiss like a pack of angry vipers, causing the sound dept. constant anxiety. But Redoubtable, being a Poverty Row Studio, had not yet gained enough courage to wholly switch to the nominally more expensive new incandescent, silent, lighting; so interior studio work continued to be something of a strain to all concerned; the lighting being a mixture, at present, of both types. The light these antiquated machines gave off was so bright, necessarily shining on the faces of the actors all the time, that they often ended up with a type of painful conjunctivitis commonly known in the industry as Klieg Eye.
The first scene of the morning was under way, and screens had been set-up round the set to plunge it into virtual darkness, though everything was still brightly lit at present.
"Right, is that the secondary lighting sorted, then, Dave?" Todd Forbes, on his first day as main Director, meant to get things going with a bang, though the Hays Office representative was at his actual elbow, frowning the while. "OK, kill the Kliegs. This's an evening scene, Mr Wilkins, in the heroine's nice'n intimate living-room, so these few incandescents'll light the set perfectly."
"I understand, I know how these things go." Mr Bernard Wilkins sniffed impassively.
"Well, keep quiet from now on, we got work t'do. OK, Stevie,—Kel? Ready, Camera?"
This first take was never meant to be a print, everyone having more sense than that. The usual method was to use the first few takes as a chance to get into character, feel the atmosphere, and allow each individual actor to bring their interpretation to the fore. The big Studios, and big-name Directors, sometimes used as many as thirty takes on one scene; but Redoubtable wasn't that free and easy with expensive film-stock; an average, on Stevie and Kelly's movies, being around five takes per scene—if they hadn't got it perfect by then just the best take they had was used and they moved on—Time being money, and film-stock not growing free on trees.
Another technique used was to keep the camera rolling between each individual take, if possible; this because it was such a complicated procedure stopping and starting the cameras, and especially the sound equipment which, once brought to a standstill, had to be carefully brought back up to speed again before they could proceed. A good camera-man capturing as many as six to eight takes on any one ten minute reel. Of course, changing reels took at least ten minutes, necessitating the whole unit shutting down while technicians took care of odd-jobs, or parts of the set were re-arranged—the actors meantime either grabbing a cup of coffee or reading their scripts in the interval. For the actors this meant that a good proportion of each working day was generally spent on a chair in an out-of-the-way corner twiddling their thumbs, while various technicians and others wandered the set, like ghosts in Tartarus, in pursuit of arcane and unusual purposes.
"Stop—right, from the start and, Stevie, sit closer to Kelly this time an' give your tone a deeper intonation. —Stop, not bad; Kel, when Stevie talks t'you look more definitely at her, in her face—OK, from the start, go. —That's better, maybe one more time, keep your arm movements soft and slow both o'ya; Kelly speak up a mite clearer,—aand, go. —OK, that's a print, that last was the bee's knee's. OK, thanks everyone, next set, please; everyone else, take ten."
What at first appeared to be noisy pandemonium now broke out, crew-members with varying objectives invading the till then sacrosanct set, picking up furniture to move it away, taking down set walls, which were merely thin cardboard or lathe on backing-frames, or bringing step-ladders to attend to the overhead lights. The sound people meanwhile, crouching by their metal boxes glimmering with lights, switches and glowing dials, offering what to the uninitiated might well seem satanic rites to their Gods; and quite possibly actually were, for all anyone could really tell.
Stevie and Kelly, freed for a few minutes from the strain of acting, came to sit in a distant corner of the studio where a group of chairs awaited them, Todd and Mr Wilkins joining them a minute later.
"So, what d'ya think o'the set-up round here, then, Wilkins?" Kelly diving straight into the shark tank like the brave Amazon she was.
"Huumph," Mr Wilkins taking time to absorb this free-and-easy mode of address from someone he obviously looked on as his underling. "Well, Miss Humber, I will perhaps refrain from any, aah, direct decision until I have seen more of the full day's working. But the little so far seems to be sticking to, uum, proper moral standards and codes—"
"Who's codes, exactly, Mr Wilkins?" Stevie jumping in with a tart growl.
"Huu—, the general moral codes that most ordinary Americans live and judge others by, of course, Miss Garroch." Wilkins here sitting back and drawing a deep breath, not being used to such direct in-the-face opposition. "Remember, I am only a representative of the Hays Office; it will be their—the Board's—final decision on whether to pursue regulatory criticism and action against Redoubtable, based on my findings. I hope you all understand that; and my, er, pivotal position in the matter?"
"That sounds, t'untried ears, something mighty like the faint dying flicker of a ghost of a threat o'sorts, Mr Wilkins?" Kelly leaned forward in her chair, the better to fix her prey with a gimlet eye. "Y'ain't threatening any o'us, Mr Wilkins, are ya? That wouldn't be anywhere near nice o'ya, y'know."
Faced with what, to his astonished eyes, seemed a real life angry Valkyrie straight from Wagner's operatic output Wilkins sat with opened mouth for an appreciable time before his intellectual equipment snapped back to attention.
"Ha—hardly that, er, Miss Humber." He made a motion as if exploring a pocket for a much-needed handkerchief. "One, er, merely does one's duty, as required by the conditions of my—er, his—er, their contract; just following orders, as it were; the outcome being, as it were, wholly arbitrary and out of my—his,—their hands, is all."
"Seems t'me you're mighty keen t'deny any personal responsibility for the likely outcome of, oh, around two hundred people's jobs, Wilkins." Stevie frowned darkly at the stout pale-eyed man. "What does it feel like, t'be a Roman Emperor, not one o'the nicer ones, neither, handing out orders t'swell yer ego an' sense of superiority over others. Are ya really that kind'a man, Wilkins?"
"I ain't never been a madam, thanks very much, laddie," Stevie, sarcastic to the nth degree, sneering openly. "but it ain't but on the cards that, if'n your report says what we think it might, I wouldn't be pressed in'ta tryin' the occupation in the end, jest t'feel the size o'the thing, as it were. Got anythin' t'say, Wilkins?"
The representative of the mighty Hays Office sat on his rickety chair, staring at his interlocutors open-mouthed with the expression of a drowning goldfish; his somewhat puffy round features only adding to the miserable resemblance.
The ensuing week, rather surprisingly all things considered, had gone along with a breezy smooth efficiency; astonishing almost everyone on set as a result. Mr Wilkins, from the second day forward, having limited himself to standing in the shadows at the rear of the studio-stage; watching unfolding events, as it were, from a safe distance. He hadn't deigned to offer any further outright criticism, but nor yet had he seemed to be harbouring any particularly dark designs on the outcome of the continued filming; he, in fact, studiously keeping himself to himself. But finally on the Friday his term of residence, as previously signified by the Hays Office itself, came to an end and he departed in the direction of the address of the sublimely despised said Office, never again to be seen by any eye on the Redoubtable Studio lot.
"Judgin' by the direction his car took," Kelly had watched his departure through the Studio front gate with barely concealed glee. "He's headin' down Melrose; yeah, jest caught the corner o'Brea—must be headin fer Santa Monica Boulevard. Bit of a long way round to reach La Cienega Boulevard, where the Hays' joint lies."
"Probably headin' fer Lake Avernus." Stevie still harbouring little of the milk of human kindness towards him.
"Don't know it; where's that? An' wha—"
"One of the ancient entrances to the Greek Underworld." Stevie showing away with her general knowledge. "Tartarus, to be exact."
"Tartarus? Ain't tha—"
"Hell, baby, Hell."
'Wednesday, 19th June 1935. To Those Concerned; Having taken due and full consideration of the report submitted to the Board by our agent it is the resulting decision of the Hays Office that no further action need be taken on the subject of the moral tone apparent in the films presently being made by Redoubtable Studios. The Hays Office thanks the Producers, Directors, Front Office of said Studios, and others concerned, for their compliance in the matter; which is now closed. Yours, Brian Cloudesley, Managing Sub-Director, Dept. T, for the Hays Office.'
"So, that's all they think of actors, Stevie? What was it,—'and others concerned'? B-st-rds."
"F-ck 'em, is what I say, doll."
"Gal, I loves ya with all my heart; 'cos ya talks my kind'a language."
"Har, c'mere, you."
To be continued in the next story in the 'Redoubtable Studios' series.