Category Archives: Starlets

Golden land 1 - William Faulkner1 FINAL

Golden Land
Part One

by William Faulkner

Nobel Prize-winning author and screenwriter William Faulkner wrote one short story about Hollywood: a 1930s real estate tycoon is driven to drink after his daughter becomes a scandalous starlet. First of two parts. 3,555 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


If he had been thirty, he would not have needed the two aspirin tablets and the half glass of raw gin before 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3he could bear the shower’s needling on his body and steady his hands to shave. But then when he had been thirty neither could he have afforded to drink as much each evening as he now drank; certainly he would not have done it in the company of the men and the women in which, at forty-eight, he did each evening, even though knowing during the very final hours filled with the breaking of glass and the shrill cries of drunken women above the drums and saxophones the hours during which he carried a little better than his weight both in the amount of liquor consumed and in the number and sum of checks paid that six or eight hours later he would rouse from what had not been sleep at all but instead that dreamless stupefaction of alcohol out of which last night’s turgid and licensed uproar would die, as though without any interval for rest or recuperation, into the familiar shape of his bedroom, the bed’s foot silhouetted by the morning light which entered the bougainvillaea-bound windows beyond which his painful and almost unbearable eyes could see the view which might be called the monument to almost twenty-five years of industry and desire, of shrewdness and luck and even fortitude: the opposite canyon-flank dotted with the white villas half hidden in imported olive groves or friezed by the sombre spaced columns of cypress like the facades of eastern temples, whose owners’ names and faces and even voices were glib and familiar in back corners of the United States and of America and of the world where those of Einstein and Rousseau and Esculapius had never sounded.

He didn’t waken sick. He never wakened ill nor became ill from drinking, not only because he had drunk too long and too steadily for that, but because he was too tough even after the thirty soft years; he came from too tough stock, on that day thirty-four years ago when at fourteen he had fled, on the brake-beam of a west-bound freight, the little lost Nebraska town named for, permeated with, his father’s history and existence, a town to be sure, but only in the sense that any shadow is larger than the object which casts it. It was still frontier even as he remembered it at five and six: the projected and increased shadow of a small outpost of sod-roofed dugouts on the immense desolation of the plains where his father, Ira Ewing too, had been first to essay to wring wheat during the six days between those when, outdoors in spring and summer and in the fetid half dark of a snowbound dugout in the winter and fall, he preached. The second Ira Ewing had come a long way since then, from that barren and treeless village which he had fled by a night freight to where he now lay in a hundred-thousand-dollar house, waiting until he knew that he could rise and go to the bath and put the two aspirin tablets into his mouth.

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Manhunt
Part Five

by Dale Kutzera

Cop turned screenwriter Nick Chapel finds another body and puts his own in danger. 3,036 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I’m riding shotgun in the LAPD department issue Ford Taurus going south on the 405 and trying not to imagine the sources of the stains, tears and burned holes in the fabric around me. The seats are wide and the suspension spongy. My slacks and blazer will have to be laundered and even that may not erase the smell of fried food and cigarettes. I crack the window, but it’s not big enough to air out this kind of stink.

For the longest time Ayers says nothing, focusing on the intricate sequence of lane changes required when traveling through West L.A. and Culver City. He’s a meticulous driver, head on a swivel, checking his mirrors. Perhaps he was in the military, or played ball in college. I sense team sports in his background, but the lanky frame that impressed high school recruiters has gone soft.

“So you and Brandt were a team,” the police detective finally says. “I hear you didn’t suck. A real hard charger.”

“I liked putting the cuffs on bad guys.”

“Hard chargers burn out. That what happen to you?”

I smile at the jab, then explain, “I got a job on a TV show and it stuck. Now I’m a screenwriter.”

“I need you to just remember one thing: you’re not a cop anymore. So who is this mook we’re trying to find?”

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Manhunt
Part Four

by Dale Kutzera

Former LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel follows a lead in the serial murder case. 2,096 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


There is a reason I specialize in rewriting crime stories. It’s not just the compelling nature of murder, and the ease of breaking a second act that is propelled by the search for a criminal. It’s the simple motivation that drives the hero to his or her goal. No boring exposition is needed to explain why a police officer or private investigator endures trials and hardships to solve the crime and catch the villain. It’s simply what they do, and who they are. It defines them.

It’s the detective who doesn’t pursue the killer that requires explanation. He knows the criminal is out there somewhere. The same sun beats down on him. He wears sunglasses to cut the glare, just like I am, and maybe even a hat to protect his sensitive scalp. The same hot wind blowing in from the desert burns his lungs. I drive east, sketching out the backstory of a man I’ve never met.

He works in show business, or used to, but the reality never matched his dreams. That made him angry, enough to kill, but he’s no wild man ranting on Hollywood Boulevard about what might have been. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Intelligent. He has a plan and a place to do his work that must be private, where no one would notice his comings and goings, or the bodies he carries.

Driving through Beverly Hills, I wonder if he is shopping at this very moment. Maybe he is sipping a cappuccino at one of the coffee shops on Robertson, or eating lunch at the Beverly Center. But then he is probably more accustomed to brown-bagged lunches and black coffee from a thermos than hipster meetings at The Ivy. I settle into his shoes, and feel the weight of the implements he uses to cut his victims apart. I should be angry with my ex-partner, LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt for introducing me to this character, but only feel an odd gratitude. Finding Sid Shulman is the least I can do.

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Manhunt
Part Three

by Dale Kutzera

Screenwriter Nick Chapel is back on the LAPD beat looking for a serial killer. 1,894 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt spreads the files on the table. “Fair warning: these are pretty disturbing.”

“Worse than eyeballs?”

“Worse than eyeballs. The Starlet Stalker takes different body parts every time. We’re keeping the specifics out of the press. They know disfigurement is part of the MO, but not the details of what he’s taking. The first victim, Mandy Monroe, played the oldest daughter on the sitcom Daddy’s Home. She was found five weeks ago in a dumpster in back of a Pizza Hut on Pico Boulevard with her breasts cut off.”

Brandt slides the file across the desk to me. I brace myself, then open it, revealing photos of Monroe’s savaged torso. She lies naked in a tangle of garbage, her face frozen in a beatific gaze, a purse and its contents scattered around her crudely slashed torso. Where her breasts should be, eye-shaped holes reveal red musculature and white ribs. For a moment, it’s difficult to process the discrepancy between her external beauty and internal meat. I close the file.

“I flagged the case, but pegged it as a one-off,” Brandt says. “Figured some angry boyfriend or crazy fan, but I was wrong. The second victim, Victoria Foster, was in the teen comedy Senior Year. She got a lot of press from her nude scene. Her body was found in a half-pipe in a Venice skateboard park. Again the breasts.”

“Your guy likes the publicity,” I begin. “This town is full of hot young women, but he goes after the ‘it’ girls, the ones with heat on their careers. He makes no effort to hide the bodies. He wants you to find them. Leaves their purses to help you identify them. And he keeps killing even after you put him on national television. Talk about your ego strokes. This gives him something he’s missing in life, a feeling of importance, that his existence has meaning. I’m sure your profiler has told you he’s probably single, a loner, maybe the victim of abuse.”

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Manhunt
Part Two

by Dale Kutzera

LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel is consulted on a serial murder case. 2,272 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The elevator doors open at the lobby revealing Russell, the day man on the front desk.

“Mr. Chapel, are you okay?” he asks. “I caught the whole thing on the security cameras. Should I call the cops?”

“I’m fine, Russell. No need for the police, but don’t open the garage for them. Maybe they’ll miss their deadline.”

Finally, I let out a long sigh. I am home and safe behind metal gates, doors with biometric key card locks, and Russell with his security monitors and taser. With each passing floor, I feel cleaner and safer, high above the dirt, poverty, illegal-immigrant desperation, multi-cultural conflict, gangbanging violence, and star-struck disillusionment of the city below.

The doors slide open, and we are greeted by a reproduction Louis XIV side table topped with a vibrant bouquet of bird-of-paradise. There are only two condos on this level and Lee Chang stands outside the open door to my unit, no doubt having watched the entire affair on the security system inside. He’s not much older than my college roommate’s daughter, Megan Davies, but already a veteran of the industry. Three months as my assistant will do that to a person. Gone is the boy band haircut and saggy skateboard jeans he wore to his interview, replaced by dressy-casual attire from the vintage stores on Melrose. Right now he is bringing me up to speed with his usual efficiency.

“Housekeeping has the guest room all set up for Megan. Mel called about a deal at Paramount. Mrs. Henderson from next door is threatening to take you before the tenants’ board because of all the paparazzi outside. And you’re all over the news. The landline’s been ringing off the hook. Channel 4, Channel 7, the L.A. Times, Entertainment Tonight. I’m letting the machine pick up. What the hell happened?”

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McLaren’s Luck

by John D. Ferguson

A movie studio executive refereeing a ruckus wonders how he got in the middle of it. 1,841 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1953

The Paramount Pictures executive suite was decorated in muted blue and green tones with aqua adorning the walls of the sumptuous offices where the top men nested on large sofas and chairs that reflected the paint scheme. An interior designer, probably a set decorator from the studio, suggested the colors because they had a soothing effect on the inhabitants and their visitors.

But this soothing atmosphere was having little to no effect on the meeting taking place inside James McLaren’s office. Jimmy to his friends, Paramount’s Chief of Studio Production was in the process of mediating between one of the most heralded directors and the current hot blonde commodity that the studio had produced.

“Sie ist faul und kann nicht handeln!” Hart Winslow, nee Reinhardt Wisner, shouted, slipping into his native German whenever he began to get angry. Winslow was one of many of the great artists that Hitler managed to chase out of Germany in the thirties. The director belonged to the legendary Berlin school of filmmakers that also produced Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder. His escape was aided by the exiled Europeans now living in Hollywood; Bertolt Brecht had been his traveling companion.

McLaren didn’t speak a word of German but knew that Winslow was upset. “Hart, please, calm down.”

Winslow tried to stay in his chair. “Jimmy — excuse me, Mr. McLaren — she is… unprofessional!” He was using both hands as if praying or pleading.

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La Dolce Vita Virtuale

by Matthew Licht

He was a student of Italian film legends like Fellini and Mastroianni. Then he met their muse. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Quite a few people here in Hollywood on the Tiber hear “writer,” and understand “translator.” This means you exist to help them get their ideas, novels and screenplays produced in the real Hollywood on the Pacific. Bugged me at first, but they’re fast-cash transactions, and the “translate” button on the digital typer works better and better.

Everyone knows the old Cinecittà lot is being gradually turned into a theme park. They still shoot some TV ads and -series there. Hopeful extras line up at the gate. Eager beaver aspiring directors bring their reels, which are usually on their cellphones. No more paparazzi. No limousines, certainly no helicopters. No men in long black coats and Borsalino cowboy hats atop slicked-back hair who hide their authoritarian gaze behind Persol sunglasses, the lenses a shade or two darker than are commercially available.

One guy I met at a boring party heard “writer,” and understood “tour guide.” Not exactly refreshing, but different. “Tell me,” I said, “what’s the job?”

“All you gotta do is act like you’re the actor who played Porcello in Fellini’s Casanova. Tell the customers you and Donny Sutherland grew up together in Canada, played hockey, ate maple syrup, shit like that. You lead groups through the new fake sets, which are gonna look all dusty and sacred. Make ‘em feel like they’re getting the real deal, that they’re seeing something secret for insiders only, so they’ll go away thinking some of that magic might’ve rubbed off on them.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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Heiress Alert!
Part Two

by Anne Goursaud

When the paparazzi princess disobeys the law, her neighbors suffer. 2,170 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Once news of Venice Hyatt’s arrest hit social media, the paparazzi and TV news vans invaded the streets and crowded the driveways throughout Maureen and Paul’s neighborhood. The gold-diggers had arrived; but instead of picks, rakes, and shovels, they had all sorts of cameras and microphones. Because a picture or a word from the scandalous heiress was worth a fortune on the gossip world market.

A neighbor, Craig, contacted Maureen by phone. He lived up the street from Venice and worked as a nurse at the UCLA hospital. He related how coming home one early morning he had to chase a newsman urinating on his doorstep.

“Now that she has been arrested, the circus will only intensify,” Craig griped. “We need to do something.”

Then came another news break: VENICE HYATT RELEASED FROM JAIL.

What happened was the L.A. County Sheriff ignored the judge’s sentence of 23 days and let the celebutante go free after a mere 72 hours. For an “undisclosed medical condition.” She was to be sent home to serve her sentence while wearing an ankle monitor.

The media as well as trolls on Twitter and Facebook questioned what kind of medical condition it could be since, a few hours before being jailed, Venice was photographed at the MTV Movie Awards. Apparently in perfect health.

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Heiress Alert!
Part One

by Anne Goursaud

When a paparazzi princess moves in, there goes the neighborhood. 2,075 words. Part Two. illustration by Thomas Warming.


Maureen and Paul lived a peaceful productive life on a small winding street five minutes above Sunset Boulevard.

Early mornings at their house were particularly glorious: the chirping birds, the chittering squirrels, the basking sun all contributed to the tranquil bucolic mood, as did the magnificent view. But it was especially the quiet street that made Maureen and Paul’s living environment the envy of all their friends. “You can work here! You can create here! You can sleep peacefully here!” they exclaimed again and again.

Maureen and Paul felt privileged. They earned a good living writing for television but were not rich. Paul was toiling on a second-grade broadcast series. After Maureen’s series was canceled, she was finally trying to write that novel she has been talking about since her glory days in the creative writing program at at Columbia University. They’d acquired their house quite a few years back when prices were still affordable. Today only rich people could build or purchase a home there. The location was so desirable that Maureen and Paul’s neighbors were cashing out by selling their homes to the voracious developers, contractors and flippers eager to buy up any and every property.

One day Maureen heard from her friend Rob, a long-time resident like herself, that the house right below her on Trasher Avenue had sold. Rob walked his dog everyday; dog owners love to chat and keep their ears to the ground. So Maureen got all her neighborhood gossip from Rob.

A week later, he delivered a gold nugget.

“Venice Hyatt bought that house below you.”

The Venice Hyatt?”

“Yes, her.”

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Shimmy 3

Shimmy Into The Picture
Part Two

by Maya Sloan

The Burlesque starlet must seduce this new sophisticated film-savvy audience. 1,845 words. Part One. Illustrations by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1937

One hour till open. I stretch out my arms, brace myself on the wall and find my center of gravity. Then I wiggle a little and take a deep breath, sucking in the tummy. I give the signal. A few tugs, and I re-adjust by wiggling again. Breathe, suck, signal. Another round. Another.

“Harder,” I tell my new maid. On the signal, she gives a sad little tug. Nothing can be sad today. Nothing can be little. This is Hollywood and, after a month of focus, late night rehearsals and a sleepless tech run, costume fittings and interviews, the audience will rush for their seats and I’ll be in front of them. But, for now, there’s still work to be done.

“Better, dearie,” I say, biting my tongue. I can’t have her bawling; that would throw off the whole schedule. “But this time, put more oomph into it. They’re not apron strings, if you catch my drift.”

A slight lift of my chin, giving the signal. I brace myself, and… nothing. I glance over my shoulder, and she’s just standing there like a dumb hick, mouth gaping open, limp laces hanging from each hand.

“What’s the problem?” I ask, trying not to blow my lid.

“I don’t want to hurt you!” she squeaks. “Isn’t it painful?”

“Don’t worry about that,” I soothe. “You gotta wear your pain like high heels, understand? That’s how it is in this biz. Besides, no one was ever corseted to death.”

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Shimmy 1

Shimmy Into The Picture
Part One

by Maya Sloan

A Burlesque starlet finds herself at the center of a Hollywood seduction. 2,678 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


New York City – 1937

I’d never met Millsap myself, or believed anyone who claimed they had.

Marvin Millsap – Boy Wonder, Burly Q Impresario, The Titan Of West Coast Tease – was as elusive as his success. While the Minsky brothers were never afraid to talk up their game, working the scene from Friar’s to Mulberry Street, Millsap was as elusive around Tinseltown as a ghost. Not that I cared for the Minskys so much, despite the hype. In fact, I avoided them like a plague, keeping to the occasional one-nighter gig in their Burlesque theatres if the price and terms were right for a limited engagement. They weren’t a fan of yours truly, either, or so went the talk. “Hot on the stage,” Billy Minsky was rumored to say, “but ice cold bitch in everyday life.”

To be fair, he was right. We all have our charms.

But Millsap? He was a different story, the kind that changed depending on who did the telling. Bootlegger money, said some. Inherited green. Murder Inc. wiseguy, big in the shylock biz. I’d heard he was a Rockefeller. That was the thing about show business: you heard a lot. But most of it? Just an illusion. Cheap scenery and a trick of the lights.

One thing, for sure: when it came to a Millsap show, money flowed like the Niagara. He’d only been on the scene for a couple of years but had made quite an impression. New York might have been the soul of Burlesque, but since Millsap landed in Hollywood, he’d given 42nd Street a run for its money.

That’s why, when I first heard the rumors of a new show six months earlier, I knew where the train was running. A spectacle! An extravaganza that would put the Big Apple to shame! The girls were in a tizzy, talking everybody’s ears off. But the one thing they wouldn’t say? A slot on Millsap’s roster was just a tiny step from a face up there on the big screen. The secret showgirl fantasy was a starring role in picture shows. Of the few who’d been scouted by casting directors, flown out for screen tests, even shot the forgettable cameo from time to time, they’d inevitably came back tail between their legs.

As for me, I had no comment. Unlike my contemporaries who’d never shut up – Gypsy Rose, for instance, or should I say homely Rose Hovick of Seattle Washington? – I believed less was more. At least when it came to my words.

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Western Spaghetti

Western Spaghetti

by Matthew Licht

An American screenwriter becomes entangled with a zealous Italian film director. 2,780 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Rome, with the voice of all its sparkling fountains, said to me, You can’t leave. Los Angeles never spoke so imperiously. Or maybe she did, but since I was always in my car or in my office on the studio lot, I never heard the message.

In any case, I left.

Rome didn’t offer me a job, or a place to live, or a Vespa to get around. Language was a hurdle, but before too long I could order a plate of spaghetti alla carbonara alongside Pasolinian primitives without drawing a second glance.

The San Calisto bar in Trastevere was a decent substitute for Schwab’s as a place to sit and watch the world go by. The management put rickety tables outside on fair afternoons and evenings. Pretty often, they left them out when it was lightly raining so the drunks could watch the rainbow skies and the fountains carved from travertine marble which gurgled within earshot. Rome’s water is tasteless, or maybe taste-free. But I’d never drunk anything half as refreshing.

A well-dressed perfumed young man stared through face-making eyeglasses. When he came over, I expected tentative pick-up overtures. Instead, he explained his film theory.

“When you ordered white wine, I knew that you are American. From the world of spectacle. This is synchronicity at work. An Italian-American director has usurped an autochthonous genre, with great success” – he was talking about Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece – “at roughly the same time that an Italian director attempted an American-style road movie, which, at least in my view, is a dismal failure.” Maybe Sergio Leone’s Giù La released the year before? “My mission is to re-appropriate and re-subvert a classic theme to re-ëstablish purity of form.”

Ah, he wanted to make a Western.

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Tyrannis Rex
Part Three

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?

When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.

By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.

His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.

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The Billion Dollar Bikini
Part Three

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood private eye McNulty is probing a crime puzzler that’s more complex than a missing two-piece swimsuit. 2,782 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Guiding his El Dorado off the 101 Freeway in Hollywood and down Gower toward Sunset, McNulty put in a call to LAPD Lt. Tony Ventura. “That last location you gave me for Tabasco was old and cold. But I’ve got a pretty solid lead I’m following up now.”

For the past two hours, the Hollywood gumshoe had been canvasing Downtown L.A.’s pawn shops and pumping the brokers on the high-end for Tabasco’s whereabouts. McNulty was almost certain Ramon De Soto, the fence’s real name, was involved in the theft of long-ago actress Misty Marlowe’s billion dollar bikini from the Stardust Treasures auction house. The P.I. was well aware that many of the pawnbrokers were into hot merch themselves and might be inclined, for a price, to put a competitor like De Soto out of business. By the time McNulty got a good lead on the fence’s latest location, his wallet was $1,600 dollars lighter.

“So where is Tabasco?” Lt. Ventura demanded.

Laughing, McNulty responded, “He’s in the movie industry.”

According to McNulty’s snitch, Tabasco had set himself up in the property rental business and occupied office and storage space at the newly renovated Hollywood Global studios. “It’s not exactly the heart of Tinseltown,” McNulty joked, “but when you get to the spleen, turn right.”

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