'War on Three Fronts'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 34, and Kelly Humber, 32, are lovers, actors, and part-owners of Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. They are attacked in the Press, by an unfriendly actress, and by her agent.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 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.
"What's the problem, Buddie?" Stephanie walking into Redoubtable Films Producer's office as if she owned the shoddy little room—which, in a sense she did. "We run out'ta film stock an' have t'beg Warner's for some, again? If so, I ain't gon'na be the patsy, lad, jes' so's ya know right off."
"Me neither," Kelly backing her partner's play flat-out, as she too took one of the rickety wooden chairs. "Any beggin', y'do it yourself, sunshine."
Buddie Brannigan was 29, had been in films for eight years, and had risen to his present exalted altitude through common-sense, business acumen, a nose for a winner, and sheer luck—the first three being so lacking anywhere else in the film industry his possession of such almost guaranteed his rise from the very beginning.
"Nah,—God, we have t'borrow a single reel some six month ago, an' ya both haven't forgotten it, yet!" Buddie shook his head sadly from his sedentary position behind his desk; where he looked like a University ball-player out of his depth. "Not but what we ain't in a pretty similar kettle o'fish, here."
"So, spill it, boyo." Kelly showing all her capacity to take the light outlook on life, come what may. "What's wrong now?"
"You've both been away in NY for the last week," Buddie leaned over his desk, pushing a pile of glossy magazines towards the two ladies. "Meanwhile, the local Hollywood Press's been a little lively. Look at them mags; y'll see from the contents an' picter's we're—Redoubtable—covered by articles in all'a them. Take a gander, no hurry, read 'em all, whiles I carries on try'n t'make sense of 'Time-out's accounts. Something ain't straight somewhere there in that flick, I jes' knows it."
Letting the young producer wade into the masses of loose pages of accounts, Kelly and Stephanie each took separate magazines, turned to the relevant pages, and began to read the articles contained therein—
'Hollywood Scene', February, 1934. MacDonald Harland interviews Kirstie Klonnam, the famous actress; Stephanie's magazine—.
'Key Grip, Life around Hollywood', February, 1934. Syrene Silver interviews Kirstie Klonnam, powerful rival to Greta Garbo; Kelly's magazine—.
"Kirstie Klonnam, famous?" Stephanie could recognise the illogical standpoint straight-off there. "Why, she ain't but been in three movies o'any worth I knows of. You know any different, Buddie?"
"Nah, nah; leave me in peace, cain't ye, I'm workin' here."
"Har-Har-Har—Oh, that's dam' rich."
Intrigued, Stephanie again ceased her own reading to study her partner, bowed over her magazine and sniggering like a drunken hyena.
"What's rich, dear? Y'certain sure seem t'think it funny, whatever it may be."
"Kirstie Klonnam—rival t'Greta! Har-Har-Har."
"Who's rivalling Greta?" Stephanie not firing on all relevant cylinders.
"Kirstie—or so she wants her public t'think, anyway." Kelly shaking her head mournfully over the folly of Hollywood actresses. "A B Movie actress born an' bred—Kirstie, I mean; an' that's all she'll ever be."
"Meb'be so, but gim'me peace ter read my own mag, will ya?" Stephanie laying down the rules of the game, a trifle late. "I got facts t'soak up here, too."
'Hollywood Scene', from the pen of MacDonald Harland—
'Readers of our magazine will know our theme is always the Best, the Brightest, the most Beautiful, and the Biggest. Central in this position is, of course, the rising star Kirstie Klonnam, fresh from yet another first-rate movie 'Champions of the Pecos', from Eastside Studios and expertly helmed by that fine Director Heinz Grassmann. I was lucky enough, a week ago, to be invited to Miss Klonnam's residence in the Valley where she permitted an in-depth interview. My first question concerned her view of Hollywood as a whole.
'Miss Klonnam, what do you think of Hollywood as a presence and power in the country?'
"Hi'ya, Mac, how's ye doin'? Gettin' 'em, these days, eh?"
"—er, gettin' what, Miss Klonnam?"
"Why, all yer just desserts, o'course—what else'd I be meanin', yer young cock rooster, ye?"
"—er, Hollywood, Miss Klonnam?"
"Yeah, what about it?
"How is it rising to your expectations, if I may so put it?"
"What'n h-ll're ye talkin' about, laddie? How's about comin' it some heavy with the straight talk, buster."
"Do you think Hollywood has supplied you with all the back-up and production values necessary to a valid and rising career in movies, Miss Klonnam?"
"Well, as t'that, I could'a gotten t'where I am now a whole d-m lot sooner if it weren't fer some creeping creatures holdin' me back, some. Take, fer instance, that bunch o'deadbeats over at Redoubtable Films—what a backyard outfit that is. Churnin' out oaters, 'tec flicks, an' cops an' robbers o'the worst possible quality—an' when my agent puts my name forward, just out'ta a kind heart an' wishin' ter allow them the opportunity t'work with a professional, me, fer a change; what d'they go an' do? Jes' decline the offer outright, is all—d-m ingrates."
'Perhaps a suitable vehicle was lacking, at the time?'
"A movie—they didn't have a suitable movie; one that'd fit your, er, capabilities.'
Here the famous screen actress paused before answering my helpful hint; obviously turning the matter over in her mind.
'You jazzin' me, buster, or what?'
'They-Redoubtable-couldn't employ you if there was no movie on the stocks worthy of your, ah-hum, great talent."
'Huh, nah, they was jes' bums bummin' me about, is all.' Miss Klonnam, clearly having made her mind up on the matter, not willing to change at short notice. 'That bit-, ah, one o'the producers—though how she got ter be such is beyond me—where was I?'
"Don't know, Miss Klonnam.'
'Oh, yeah—Stevie Garroch, she's never taken t'me, don' know why, me bein' the outgoin' sunny kind'a gal I've al'lus been. But, h-ll, that's dam' Poverty Row movies fer ya. You got any good questions comin' out'ta this here interview, or what? 'cause y'haven't yet reached Base camp in the idle chat stakes, buster?"
Part two of this rewarding and interesting interview with the famous film star will appear in next week's issue—MacDonald Harland.'
'Key Grip, Life around Hollywood', February, 1934. Syrene Silver interviews Kirstie Klonnam—
'In my unending search after the greatest truths and the largest stars of movieland I, some days since, went to the Front Office of that magnificent film group Rottingdean Studios, in search of the latest star to light up the firmament of stage and screen—Miss Kirstie Klonnam. The interview which the busy actress granted me is one of the most interesting and, perhaps, powerful to ever come out of the land of the silver screen. Miss Klonnam being in top form—
'Miss Klonnam, where were you born?'
'Why'd ya wan'na know that? You'll be askin' after my age next, an' short change y'all'll get with that chancer, too.'
'—er, I believe you come from Idaho, is that right?'
'Idaho, Illinois, Dakota, Kentucky; y'tryin' ter pin me t'a board like to a butterfly, or what?'
'Y'ain't from the dam' IRS, are ya; masqueradin' here?'
'No, no; it's just our dear readers—our loyal and educated readers, like to know the antecedents of their stars, you see; before they achieved public fame, and all that goes with such.'
'Dam' pryin' bunch, by the sound o'it.'
Here I thought changing the subject to news of her latest ventures would be of interest to the great star.
'I hear you were in negotiation, in recent weeks, to star in 'The Depths of Despair', from Redoubtable? Can you confirm you will be starring in this mooted detective thriller, Miss Klonnam?'
'I can confirm the exact dam' opposite. Martie Harrison, my agent, had some fightin' talk with Buddie Brannigan, Redoubtable's head honcho in the production stakes—but it all fell through. A gal's got'ta make hay while the sun shines, y'know.'
'Martie made Redoubtable an offer you'd a'thought they wouldn't wan'na refuse in a month o'Sundays—a dam' fair offer, too. But Mr High an' Mighty Brannigan turned it down without breakin' sweat, an' there the matter ended. Looks like Redoubtable only employs actors they can brush-off with bottom o'the barrel salaries. Why, what Brannigan offered wouldn't a'covered my breakfast at the Green Bowler, is what.'
'Dam' Redoubtable—a penny-pinchin' dime n'nickel outfit, from head t'toe; an' ya can quote me on that fact, Miss Silver.'
The second part of my delightful interview with Miss Klonnam will come out in next week's issue, don't miss it—Syrene Silver.'
The atmosphere in Buddie's rather small office had gradually, as the two ladies read their separate magazines, gone from sunny Summer to a rather chill Winter; Stephanie being first to break into words.
"I cannot believe it. Is this garbage true? Did the b-tch really say this, out loud in Public?"
Kelly then spoke up, just as heated bodily, while chilled mentally by what she had read in her magazine.
"Obviously cracked. No, steeped in jealousy; an' as for her actin' ability—ha-ha, that's a joke. She's only good for B movies, an' that's the fact. Where'n hell she gets off with this high-falutin' stance I can't imagine."
"That's what I told Martie, when he came t'negotiate." Buddie running a hand through his thick hair. "We make B movies, I told him to his face, we use B movie actors; Kirstie, bye an' large, all things considered, taking the subject from every possible standpoint, an' reviewing the circumstances of her previous record, was a B movie actress, is a B movie actress, an', fer all time t'come, will remain a B movie actress—simple mathematics, when y'consider the matter logically: an', thereby an' therein, can only expect t'draw a salary commensurate with such a position—am I wrong, ladies, or am I right?"
"What about all these other rags, infestin' yer desk, Buddie?" Stephanie indicating the magazines with a cold eye. "I ain't gon'na waste any more o'my time readin' 'em—jes' gim'me the gist, eh?"
Buddie, sitting behind his rather shoddy desk, looked miserable; Stephanie continued to gaze at the multitude of garish magazines as if they contained the Plague; while Kelly ostentatiously curled her magazine into a tight roll before casting it to the floor with a contemptuous flourish.
"Well, here's the rub, ladies." Buddie buckling up to give the bad news with as good a grace as was possible. "Rather than cottonin' on t'the outrageous libels Kirstie's bin throwin' around wholesale, an' mashin' her reputation t'a pulp, they've instead gone fer Redoubtable's jugular."
"How so?" Kelly, always a mean tigress when the reputation of her adored studio was rubbed in the dirt, raised her head to pin Buddie with her best No.1 scowl—reputed to have once stopped that well-known Lothario actor Harry Craven in his gloating tracks and made him think twice about his immediate safety. "What've we done, that's so newsworthy, then?"
"Oh, accordin' t'these here rags, just about every possible bad thing a movie studio could either do or be accused of doin', about covers the situation."
"Sh-t." From Stephanie, lost for any more intellectual answer.
"G-dd-m." From Kelly, taking the Low Road as by duty bound.
"By way of clearing some o'this here antagonistic carping up I've organised some phone calls this mornin', ladies."
Neither Kelly nor Stephanie saw any great end result coming from such a situation.
"Oh yeah, Buddie?" Stephanie coming out plain and simple. "What good'll that do? Miss dam' her impertinence Klonnam won't change her spots overnight; she bein' the died-in-the-wool coyote she is."
"Harsh words, Stevie."
"Describin' a harsh woman, Buddie." Stephanie not to be diverted from her character assassination at any cost. "She can hardly act, she ain't got any friends, an' her view of her capabilities'd make a hyena laugh itself t'death, Y'takin' this down for future reference?"
"No, an' you should be glad there ain't anybody else here t'hear such libelous chit-chat." Buddie wiping a now perspiring brow. "You've said enough, there, t'bankrupt the Studio entire. Why don't ya go out on the parking-lot an' shout it t'the four winds; really get it off your chest?"
"Buddie?" Kelly chiming in apropos of the elephant in the room. "Phone-calls?"
"Oh-Ah, thanks fer bringing the conversation back on track." The Producer nodding knowingly behind his cluttered desk. "Wha' time's it? Ten forty-five? Right, we got five minutes. Wan'na get yourselves a cup o'coffee from the percolator, over there; it's gon'na be a long mornin'. I got calls scheduled with Martie Harrison, MacDonald Harland, and Syrene Silver. Not altogether; one after the other, more or less."
"Jeez, talk about jumpin' in'ta the lion's mouth." Kelly, impressed by her Producer's sang-froid under duress.
"Might help t'clear the air, meb'be." Stephanie more reluctant to see a blue sky where there were, in reality, only heavy clouds.
A pause, as of historical epochs passing by, filled the room with inertia, silence, and a defined reluctance to answer the telephone sitting on Buddie's desk.
"Ya gon'na answer? Or jes' let it make background music fer the rest o'the mornin'? Only askin'." Stephanie exuding sarcasm not quite so subtly as Chanel's latest perfume.
"You gals pick up those receivers on those phones in front o'you; they're all connected t'gether fer this conference. Yeah, who's'zis?" Buddie, caught off-guard, being slightly less formal than needed in the circumstances as he picked up his own receiver from its cradle. "Yeah, 'course I can wait two minutes—I've been waitin' all mornin' as it is, two more minutes won't matter. God, some under-secretary or dogsbody, or someone. Bet this's jest the dolt playin' the mastery game—oh, you're there, Martie, mighty fine t'talk t'you. No, no, jest talkin' t'one o'my Associate Producers, is all. Introduce you? Well, alright; there's two, as it turns out—no, no, I don't intend bringing half Hollywood in'ta the conversation, get a grip, man. What? What? Oh, right; there's Miss Stephanie Garroch—oh, ye've heard o'her, mighty fine, mighty fine. And also Miss Kelly Humber—ye've heard o'her, too? Well, you do have your ear t'the grindstone, don't ya? What? Introductions? Oh, right; Miss Garroch—"
Stephanie had formulated a plan, and now she fired the first shot over the well-known agent's bows.
"Hi'ya, Martie; still wadin' b-lls-deep through the Slough o'Despond o'might have been's, eh?" Stephanie focusing on the varied sheets of paper littering his desk rather than the shocked expression on Buddie's face. "Come off it, laddie; stop soundin' like a stranglin' bullfrog; you're a B movie agent, always were, always will be—Warners nor RKO'll never bother yer day's work, an' ya know it. What's all this slime comin' from that dipsh-t Klonnam? Can't ya keep your gals in order, or what?"
All that could be heard over the telephone line, for an appreciable time, was electric static and the ghosts of old movie stars moaning in the electric wind—then Martie regained the art of conversation.
"Now, now, ladies present, Martie; no need for that sort of language." Buddie trying his best, but failing across the board. "Lem'me introduce my other Producer—Kelly?"
"Good mornin', Martie." Kelly taking a more refined stance. "So glad to speak with you; ain't the movie business hard work these days? Salaries goin' through the roof; starlets wanting more publicity than's good for them; taxes as high as all get-out. God, makes me wonder why I stay in the business some days, it really does. How're you gettin' by these days? All cosy an' lemonade an' roses, I hopes?"
A further diatribe, mostly made up of the more colourful expressions available to use, hindered the ghosts of the electric wires continuing their own immaterial conversations for a considerable time before Buddie could interject sanity back into the conference.
"Calm down, Martie; ya don't want a return visit t'the Hospital, like y'did last year when Gloria Berkeley got right up yer nose, do ya." Buddie's idea of soothing the outraged lion clearly not working as planned. "Look, time's precious, an' we're runnin' out'ta same here, like water out a busted hydrant. Me an' the gals here—I mean my Associate Producers—have a bone t'pick with you. Well, not you per se; but that dam'—I mean the young lady goin' by the moniker Kirstie Klonnam; you've probably heard o'her. Now, now, Martie, what did I say earlier? Calm down, fer God's sake; it's only a business call, is all; not like I'm the IRS claimin' fer all yer back taxes, like with Capone, he-he. No, no, you're quite right, Martie; that was under the belt; you ain't never dealt below the belt—not t'be found out in it, anyway. What? Stop libelin' ya? Curious you should bring the subject up, Martie—that being what me an' the ga—my Associates, wan'na talk t'ya about."
Having bid adieu to the last of her never large stock of patience while this cross-talk act progressed Kelly now came out fighting.
"Martie, put a gag in it, an' open yer lugs wide." Kelly, when in a tizzy, never feeling politeness was a necessary requirement. "Kirstie Klonnam's been draggin' Redoubtable's fair name through the mud all over town in recent weeks. Every bloody rag in Hollywood seems t'be printin' her acid-based comments; an' you're her agent. Y'know where that puts you, laddie? In the firing line, is what; by which I mean we'll come down on ya fer millions in libel damages. We'll set ourselves up next t'MGM with the proceeds, while you end up in rags on Skid Row, griftin' fer yer next bottle o'cheap moonshine. That the outcome ya want, Martie?"
At the other end of the line, in East Hollywood, Martie intimated that he would like to see her try it. Which, of course, only brought Stephanie into the fray, like a mother lion protecting her young—only with more savagery.
"Martie, ya wan'na go on makin' babies every time ya shake-down some flapper, ya better start mendin' yer ways some quick." Stephanie letting her natural Idaho accent come to the fore when she was really angry. "Or else I'll come over there, ter yer pad, an' make some changes in your make-up you ain't gon'na like, get me?"
Unusual noises, percolating along the electric wires, told the story of a movie agent at the end of his tether; never having been spoken to in this way since his last nanny told him off for throwing tomatoes at girls in the street outside his NY brownstone—he having been that sort of a kid.
"So this's the plan, Martie," Buddie taking over for the final few hurdles. "first, ya get a grip on Kirstie; tie her up in so many legal knots she won't be able t'ask her maid for breakfast without the input of at least three lawyers. Then you tell her, to her face, she can't make any more derogatory remarks in print, about Redoubtable or any other studio. Then you tell her Redoubtable's a busted flush as far as her acting career goes from now on in; persona non grata, if ya know what that means, Martie. Then, an' only then, if you're good an' do what's wanted of ya, then we can part friends; as opposed t'your gettin' your butt kicked all ways t'Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, via the courts, get me?"
A few more sound effects of someone deeply flustered and way outside his comfort range, followed by the sharp click as Martie ceased communications, signalled the end of the conversation. Buddie replaced his receiver on its stand, glancing over his desk at the ladies present.
"Well, that went well, I think; don't you?"
Stephanie and Kelly exchanged glances themselves before answering.
"If he takes time t'think about it, yeah sure." Stephanie nodding doubtfully. "He didn't seem all that acceptin', mind you, at the last, there."
"Jest the heat o'the moment gettin' t'his high blood pressure, is all." Buddie dismissing this concern with cold asperity. "If he manages t'see the week out he'll come t'his senses. After all, tellin' off a minor actress t'mind her manners; or stand up in court over a libel case likely t'cost him millions? Well, what'd you do?"
"I'd do more'n tell her off." Kelly harbouring dark plans for her unseen opponent. "What is it gangsters are supposed t'do? Concrete boots, is it? Yeah, that'd work for me."
Having no answer to this image of a rosy future for Kelly's affairs Buddie embarrassedly shuffled the mass of loose papers on his desk, by way of something to cover his confusion.
"What's next?" Stephanie preparing for round two, like a seasoned fighter.
"Ah, yeah, next." Buddie ceased moving one sheet of paper over another and glanced at his telephone again. "Next, unhappily, is that Circe of the rag-sheets Syrene Silver. You wan'na make this call, Kel?"
"Like hell." Kelly knowing full well where safety lay. "You're on your own, lover-boy. You set the meeting up; you do your bit for King an' country, like a hero."
"Y'might get a medal afterwards, who knows?" Stephanie grinning evilly the while. "Come on, buck up, an' face the worst; after all, what can she do t'ya?"
"It's just that thought that worries me." Buddie sighing deeply at the mess he had dug himself into on his own cognisance. "I tell ya, ladies, this's the last time I let my better nature over-rule my common-sense. God, here goes—for America, President, Redoubtable, an' the rule o'Law. Hi, this the Key Grip offices? Right, put me through to Syrene Silver. What? What d'I want? Jeez, secretaries; OK, OK, I got some hot gossip she'll be itchin' t'hear, is that good enough? Right."
He put a hand over the receiver while eyeing Stephanie and Kelly.
"She's seein' if the great Siren's free. Pick up your receivers agin'. An' don't cut in till I give you the nod, OK? Was'sat, oh right? Hallo, Miss Silver—it is Miss Silver, is it? It is, great. This's Buddie Brannigan, from Redoubtable. No, not Redoubtable, Nebraska; Redoubtable Films, the movie studio. Right, yeah, us, in person. Wha'd'we want of ya? Well, Miss Silver, I fancy you know right well what we want o'you. If you just give me your own home address, the address of your mag's offices, an' the names and addresses of the Directors of the Key Grip committee, I can get right on to my lawyers, who're jes' gaspin' t'get the libel bit between their teeth; y'know, the libel case Redoubtable's about t'throw your magazine's way, accordin' t'the rotgut nonsense you saw fit to print from that wildcat, Kirstie Klonnam."
Stephanie and Kelly, putting their receivers to their ears, were just in time to hear the magnificent Miss Silver's rejoinder; she being one to get an attacker's jugular between her fangs and then take things from there.
"Who'd ya think you're tryin' ter pistol-whip, bozo?" She also being one to let her lower nature show in her language, when goaded to it. "Libel action? Libel action, my arse. Come agin'?"
Buddie raised his eyes to the ceiling, having had a premonition this would be the reaction his words would incur.
"What else can a reputable film studio do, when faced with outright libel in the pages of a widely read magazine like your's, Miss Silver?" He putting a tone of aggrieved sadness into his voice that would have had an innocent listener in tears, if there had been any such present. "Miss Klonnam called down on Redoubtable, she called down on me, she called down on Miss Stephanie Garroch, the redolent major star and Producer, and she called down on Miss Kelly Humber, likewise star and Producer. What am I supposed to do? Take it on the chin, an' mark it down t'experience, or what?"
Here, Miss Silver managed to get a word in—
"Yeah, sing fer yer damages, buster."
"Now, now, Miss Silver, this's only leadin' ter unhappiness an' a sordid jail cell, an' you know it." Buddie taking the hard line, now his dander was up. "Key Grip printed Klonnam's abuse, that's libel. That means damages on a level never before seen in an American court, an' very possibly jail time for those intimately involved. Were you intimately involved in the printing of this libel, Miss Silver? Why, stap my vittals, you interviewed the Klonnam, took down her words, an' had 'em printed. That makes you an accessory before, during, and after the fact, madam."
This time Miss Silver seemed to be emulating Martie, by the unnatural sounds echoing down the telephone line.
"What's that, Miss Silver? You'll see what you can do about it, an' get back t'us? So kind of you—only, make it dam' snappy, it's the Devil's job keepin' these dam' libel lawyers restrained, y'know. G'bye, g'bye."
Stephanie, even above and beyond her loved partner, was impressed.
"You got grit, Buddie; I give ya that, you got grit."
The Producer, however, took this compliment with downcast eyes and a flexing of his shoulders expressive of fear of the unknown yet to come.
"Only leaves Harland, over to the Hollywood Scene." Buddie pursing his lips non-commitally as he considered his next call. "Big magazine, the Hollywood Scene; lots o'readers, lot's o'influence, lot's o'push in the movie business—Jeez, this could be the hardest rock yet."
"MacDonald Harland?" Kelly trying to instill some steel into Buddie's flagging frame. "Always heard he was a pussycat; easiest writer in Hollywood t'touch for a hand-out. What's t'worry about?"
"Huh, it's always the deepest, smoothest rivers that're the most dangerous, y'know." Buddie obviously trying for the darkest depth of depression available at the present moment. "How does that old saw go—oh, yeah; You run shallow and I run deep, but for every one you drown, I drown two. That about covers it, I think."
There was a short pause while the ladies digested this ramble into literary quotation.
"Buddie, pull yourself together." Kelly reaching over the desk to clasp his arm. "He's only a bloody rag-writer, for God's sake, not the dam' Inquisition. He can't hurt you; you're the injured party, in fact. Remember that; now grab the phone, an' give the jerk hell."
Sighing deeply, a habit seemingly rapidly growing on the harassed Producer, Buddie grasped his telephone receiver yet again, dialed the number, and faced the approaching enemy.
"This the Hollywood Scene? What? It ain't? The Marathon Laundry, down on Prescott? Dam' me. No, not you, sorry, wrong number." Buddie changed the receiver to his left hand, searching through the mass of paper on his desk. "Where is it? Where the dam' is it? Ah! Two, Three, Five-Two, Nine, Eight, got it. This the Hollywood Scene? No, I ain't the plumber, about the bust pipe in the basement—I'm Buddie Brannigan, the famous film Producer. Wha'ya mean, ya ain't never heard o'me? Get off the dam' line, an' put bloody Harland on, right now, lady! Hallo? Hallo? G-dd-mit, she's hung up."
Stephanie, taking a deep breath, stepped into the conflict with grim mien.
"Lem'me try, Buddie; those earlier calls have sapped your strength, some. What's the number? Swizz it over the desk, then. Is that a nine? It is, right; ya need to look t'your handwriting, Buddie, ya know; a spider couldn't make head nor tail o'this gibberish. OK. OK, I'm dialing, can't ya see? Is that the Hollywood Scene? It is, how jolly; I'm the famous film Producer Stephanie Garroch, an' I need t'speak t'MacDonald Harland pronto—important business. Yeah, He knows me from way back. OK, I'll wait."
Kelly, receiver to her ear, sat watching her inamorata's sparkling green eyes, enjoying every moment. Buddie simply sat back on his chair, just glad to be out of the fray for a short time.
"Ah, Mr Harland?" Stephanie coming to attention once more. "Yeah, I know you ain't ever spoke to nor seen me before; but you're goin' to right now—Kirstie Klonnam! Ha, thought that'd stop you in your tracks. Ya saw fit t'print her latest ramblings about Redoubtable, an' those associated with said studio—meanin' me an' my friends. So now we, Redoubtable Films Inc, are gon'na sue the socks off the Hollywood Scene, t'such an extent your company'll do well t'be sellin' toilet paper t'the masses in future instead of a reputable literary magazine. Not that you'd reached those heights of achievement before, anyway, bozo."
Stephanie paused to grin at her partner and producer, things going well to start with.
"What's that? What do I want? An apology in print in your next number. An acknowledgement that you won't print any more gibberings from la Klonnam in future. And, just to rub salt in the wound, an article in your next number extolling the virtues of Redoubtable's influence in the film world over and above all its opponents, whatsoever. Got that? What'll we do if you don't? Well, Mac, what we'll d—What's that? Don't call ya Mac? Listen, ya tomato, I'll call ya any dam' thing I like; We've been libeled from head t'toe by Kirstie Klonnam, in the pages of your raggetty rag. That makes libel across the board—thereby I can call ya anything I likes, see. Right, Mac, the above as listed, or you'll be livin' out'ta a cardboard box down by the Sidings fer the rest o'your life—got that? Good. You'll see what can be done? Yippee! Give us a call, before the end o'the week, or the next call from us'll be from our lawyers, an' ya wouldn't like what they got t'say, buster. G'bye."
The atmosphere which permeated the confines of Buddie's office now reflected that of a fine summer day rather than the Winter of Discontent which had earlier ruled supreme.
"Well done, lover." Kelly appreciative of her lover's handling of the situation. "Couldn't a'done better myself."
"High praise, darlin'."
"Well, dam' glad that's all over." Buddie coming back to life himself. "Suppose I better get on'ta the lawyers an' call 'em off, for the time bein', anyway. Wha—"
Everyone froze, all three gazing at the combined phones on the Producer's desk as if they were a Heavenly choir come down to play the Last Trump. Buddie was first to react, looking over to Kelly and waving his hand weakly.
"You're nearest your phone; be a gal, an' see what's what, will ya?"
Kelly gazed at the pale face of the Producer, who now gave the appearance of a wet rag squeezed out to its last drop; then to her lover, who sat back on her chair with a lively look of interest but without making any move herself to relieve Kelly of the arduous task of confronting whoever was on the other end of the line. Only, indeed, making matters worse—
"Well, go on then, Kel; probably only the Front Office with last week's accounts. Go on, pick up. It can't bite; well, not much."
Pausing only long enough to give her lover the eye, Kelly did as requested, though with a bad grace.
"Hallo, wha'ya want? Who? Miss Starling? Ya don't say, an' who the he—who're you, when the sun's up in the blue sky? Oh, Miss Klonnam's secretary? I'll be dam—er, what's that? Is Buddie Brannigan available?"
Buddie, stirred to life by this imminent threat to his well-being, jerked in his chair like a caught salmon before waving frantically at Kelly; his intentions clear to all.
"Nah, he ain't here at the moment. Had'ta step out, to Redoubtable's lawyers, we havin' somethin' on the stocks, y'see." Kelly, after the first shock, settling down happily to a heavy-duty attack along the whole Front. "We got umpteen libel cases in the offing, what with one thing an' another. What's that? Miss Klonnam wants t'speak with me? Well, go ahead, put the dame on, see what I kin do fer her."
Here Kelly put a hand over her receiver, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
"She's gon'na put Klonnam on the line—God, this's gon'na be good."
Stephanie twisted her head, receiver to ear, to see Buddie slumped in his chair, in the same attitude—the war was about to get messy.
"What's that? Yeah, Buddie ain't here. Indisposed? Nah, speakin' with Redoubtable's lawyers." Kelly letting her deeply-felt joy sound in her voice. "We got as fine a set o'libel actions about t'fire off as you could wish for. Gon'na make us millions in damages, fer sure. What's that, who'm I? Only Kelly Humber, is all. Oh, y've heard o'me? Well, that makes matters easier, don't it. I got things t'say to you, Kirstie, dear."
What Kirstie now said, along the telephone wires, was hot-blooded, shrewish, indecent, and highly critical of certain film stars; so much so even the other-worldly whisperings of the ghosts of film actors past whistling barely audibly along the lines, like faint cold breezes in the Fall, paused in their spectral conversations to listen in to the ongoing feud.
"Kirstie, Kirstie, put a sock in it, will ya." Kelly entirely at home, with a copious mass of repartee only waiting its turn in front of the footlights. "You've libeled Redoubtable; you've libeled Stephanie Garroch; you've libeled Buddie Brannigan; Hell, woman, you've libeled me, by inference. The Hollywood Scene's libeled us all, by printing your ramblings, as has Key Grip; and as for all those other rags who seem to have stepped in on your heels, t'cast aspersions on Redoubtable an' its staff; well, there's food fer libel damages there, amounting t'untold levels of recompence never seen before in America's history, is all. What ya got t'say t'that, lady?"
All that could be heard for an appreciable time was the excited chit-chat of the ghosts on the line; their flickering hardly audible whistlings and whining asserting the fact they too found the whole conversation highly interesting, as well as entertaining.
"What's that, dear?" Kelly, in her element, affecting the tone of a Lady-in-Waiting who had just encountered a bad smell. "You're sure you didn't mean any disparagement? Perhaps your quotes were taken out'ta context, by the dam' magazine editors? You didn't mean t'assert any kind'a condemnation of anyone or any company, or Redoubtable in person? Well, ain't that just fine t'hear. Now, lady, the quicker you get that statement written out an' printed in both the Hollywood Scene an' Key Grip, the better it'll be for you, get me? You'll do that? Fine, fine; cheerio, Kirstie. An' mind, the deadline for printing's the end of this week, got that? Meb'be the deadline for your career, too, if all doesn't go t'plan; only sayin', dear. G'bye, g'bye."
Kelly replaced her receiver with a gentle touch, as of a fairy settling on a flower petal.
"Har-Har! God, I enjoyed that."
The 'Hollywood Scene', March 1934. Public Statement, and MacDonald Harland on the Modern cinema.
'We at the Hollywood Scene are always out for our readers' best interests, in movieland and Life in general. Recently some of our articles may have given the impression, the wholly wrong impression, that certain stars and certain studios were not all they might be, status wise. Such an interpretation was never that of the magazine editors; who have their readers' interests, and those of the actors they cover in the magazine's articles, wholly at heart. If certain conclusions may thereby have been mistakenly understood by any reader it is our great pleasure to elucidate the subjects under discussion, making plain that no such adverse exposé was meant. Thank you, the Editors.'
MacDonald Harland—'The cinema, in our time, is reaching to heights of professionalism never before surmised. We recall those great lines of Byron, 'stout Cortez with eagle eyes star'd at the Pacific with a wild surmise—Silent, upon a peak in Darien.' Great words; and for us, today, California is the new Darien, and Hollywood the New Pacific—a borderless expanse reaching to far horizons, imbued with possibilities beyond compare. And first in line in achieving these great deeds are the magnificent film studios which give our community so much in the way of jobs, enjoyment, and well-earned honour. Let us not, in our allowable delight, focus merely on those giants who give so much in the way of high achievements to the movie-going public; but, instead take a closer look at some other, perhaps smaller but no less influential, studios. First to mind for the discerning film buff is, of course, that fine company Redoubtable Films; an Organisation with us now for almost 15 years, and the source of some of the most successful movies of our times. Let me begin an overall view of their back-list by mentioning—"
"I feel a warm glow in my heart." Kelly settling back on her uncomfortable chair in Buddie's office, that Tuesday morning, replete with pleasure at the turn-around in tone of the majority of the movie magazines, and in particular the one she was now reading. "The Editors scrambling to lick boots, and Harland doing back-flips to curry favour with Redoubtable. Bloody marvelous!"
"A dam' switch-a-rooney from last month's content, I give ya that." Buddie himself now a purring kitten rather than the growling grizzly of last month. "Not sure but Harland ain't a bit off with that quotation, all the same. Byron? I don't think so. Lovely article, though, giving the reader a pleasurable frisson all over."
"So, it's nix with the libel suits, I take it?" Stephanie still locked on cold reality.
"What's Key Grip got to add to the general party?" Buddie glancing at that very magazine in Stephanie's hand. "Something grovelingly submissive from la Klonnam, I hope?"
"Lem'me see." Stephanie let her eyes race over the lines of type, speed-reading, before raising her head to address her audience. "Ya both ready for this, Buddie, Kel?"
"God, woman, stop expatiating t'the balcony an' just get on with it." Kelly itching to hear the latest in kowtowing subservience.
"OK, this's it,—Klonnam's rebuttal first." Stephanie glancing again at the page before her. "—'It would appear,' she says, 'I hear from my agents and advisors, that some perfectly innocuous remarks I may have made in relation to certain magazine interviews printed in last month's issues, may have been mis-interpreted by some readers. Far from the conclusions apparently taken from same I would like to take this opportunity to revoke all such contrary inferences. It was never in my mind to cast aspersions on either Redoubtable Films Inc, nor any of their actors, actresses, stars, or producers. If any such meaning was taken from my remarks as reported in last month's issue I can only refute such entirely. Redoubtable Films is a high-class studio, as are all those associated with it. It is my pleasure to make this quite clear in my remarks here today. Thank you, Kirstie Klonnam.' Well, there ye be."
"Har-har-har!" Kelly soaking up every last drop of despair as imbued in the lines of the articles. "I can almost hear Kirstie crying in her soup. God, it must'a cost her all her personal pride t'write that paragraph. Hee-hee-hee."
"Glad you're happy, lover." Stephanie trying for the moral high ground but, in her partner's eyes, failing miserably.
"Dam' straight, I'm happy." Kelly taking no prisoners. "An' will continue same for the rest of this week, for sure."
"Ha!" Buddie bracing himself against the back of his own straight wooden chair, after having slouched like a drunk over the mess on his desk for the last half hour. "Well, that's that. What next?"
"You ever get to grips with that thriller of our's, just finished filming—'Time-out'?" Stephanie focusing on one particular, yellow, file on the unruly desk. "Ya said something about the accounts bein' open t'misinterpretation, if read through without taking due note, didn't ya, buddie?"
"God, 'Time-out'!" Buddie grabbing the file as if it had physical plans on him. "Glad you reminded me; haven't had time, ha-ha, t'look over the accounts in detail, what with one thing an' another."
"Come on, Kel, our day's free from here on in." Stephanie standing, holding out a helping hand to her partner. "Let's leave Buddie to add his numbers up; we got a date with Madame Chevroliseur, on Sunset."
"We have?" Kelly following her lover to the door with a frown. "First I heard of such. How come?"
"Didn't you say, some wheedlingly, about a month ago, you needed a new dress come Hell or the other thing?"
Kelly considered the matter as they left Buddie's office and walked through the busy studio lot.
"I figure I do remember something of the same, yeah."
"Well, it's a sunshiny day; everything's goin' right with the world; an' I got lots o'loose cash in my handbag—so, lover, let's go shopping, like there's no tomorrow!"
It didn't take Kelly long to come to grips with this offer, out of the blue.
"Yippee, lead on, my gorgeous Siren of the Silver Screen, you!"
The next 'Redoubtable Films' story will be along shortly.