By Hannah Shilling
“Ramón Novarro is a pouting business who has the sole talent of appearing in the movies, and now that I too am in the movies I am thrown into professional — I could call it — contact with Señor Novarro, every day, on your sets, which are a babble of workmen and other boors, so why, my question is to you, Mr Watling, why did you decide on this purgatory for me?”
Mr Watling shifts in his chair, wondering whether to make a start… but there’s more.
“And did you notice, Mr Watling, that at all times I have used the Americanism movie, so that all is now dreamy between us, but why should I have to put up with this Mexican who makes everybody’s life a misery? Why, Mr Watling?”
Later, Watling to his typist: “He’d been drinking again, usually he holds it in. If there’s any more trouble, it’s not going to be Novarro getting fired, is it?”
“No, Mr Watling.”
“And no, I have not been drinking. I am annoyed, firstly that none of the treatments seem have come up to your scrutiny. Personally, if I may say so, I think these are exactly what this studio requires. Has he actually looked at them?”
“Who? Mr. Levene? Yes sir, he has looked at them all.”
“It is just that… having dispatched to you my ideas on Raffles I have heard nothing at all, good, bad, nothing, I might be forgiven for imagining nobody had even troubled to do that. And another thing… am I ever to get to meet Mr Levene in person? Is that possible? Do you know how many any months have I been here now and never clapped eyes on Mr Levene?”
“At the moment, Mr Levene is holidaying.”
“He is combining it with business. He is a New Yorker, he likes to go back, every now and again.”
Mr Levene doesn’t have to give you a reason, I felt like saying to him.
“Usually when he’s been drinking he works himself up into a real lather and then it goes away again just like that. Darndest thing, Dolores, these writer types, usually they just get into trouble at parties, I guess we’ve never had a writer who actually wanted to write before—usually we have drag work out of them.”
“Yes, Mr Watling.”
“But this guy, he won’t listen to advice, what sort of market… The studio has to make money, else we can all go home, he keeps coming up with stuff we can’t use.”
Melmoth has his second wind.
“Furthermore, it was not suggested at any time until I arrived in this country that I would have to spend such an eternity actually watching the movies being made. A consultant? For what purpose? Correcting the speech of an ancient Egyptian is difficult if they are talking in pure American, do you not think?” Melmoth tugs at his waistcoat and produces his grand slam. “You have engaged me under a false contract. Should this situation continue, I shall hardly feel bound to honour it.”
“We got him aboard to do his Dorian Gray. I know he’s annoyed we haven’t got very far with that, I can see that.”
Where’s the sequel in it? How to get a series? Do you know how many classics of literature fail that test? We’ve done our classics, but we have to make films to a sensible budget—if we build the sets, we need to make use of them.
“Raffles the Jewel Thief, he wanted to do. The goddamn hero’s a nancy boy. A script with a nancy boy hero, he tried to sneak that past us. I knew straight away what that was about. They use the story to mean something else, Dolores, if you’ll pardon me for saying it, this thief breaking into men’s bedrooms… I don’t know…”
(Well, is Mr Melmoth that way inclined, wonders Dolores to ask.)
“Simon Dale, a historical novel featuring the courtesan Nell Gwyn… too English, I am told. I have suggested The Way of All Flesh, a magnificent work, provocative, and also too Limey, I suppose. The Jungle Book, by Mr Kipling… the Tarzan stories… the works of HG Wells, these are ripe for the picking, if I may say. I did a treatment and some gracious edict flutters down from Mr Levene that it is not possible. Why not possible? The Time Machine is an excellent parable.”
“Wells is still alive.”
“He is indeed, but are you still not aware I am a personal friend of Mr Wells. I am quite sure I could smooth the way, when it comes to the legal situation you people are so fond of.”
Mr Watling is employed for his diplomatic skills and can invent an holding excuse.
“If you could just let me… I am told that there are plans to start casting tests for the Princess Osra stories, they’d be a series of matinee films. And we would need your writing talent for these, for sure.”
Which is more Anthony Hope flummery, but it would secure his position. Melmoth begins to calm down.
“I am pleased to hear that. You must excuse my disagreements with Novarro, he can be extremely difficult, he preens and puckers that bit too much….and that cologne…atrocious, reek he spreads it all around.”
“He is a young man who has not yet found his feet, Mr. Melmoth.”
“If I could possibly attack Señor Novarro with one of those Egyptian flails I would, I assure you.”
They both chuckle.
“Well now… I can confidentially tell you…” And Watling looks at the florid description opposite.
“My discretion can be relied upon.
“Mr Novarro is being loaned out to another studio. Coming up in a month or two. He won’t be around this place so much—if at all, I’d guess. Please say nothing of this, particularly that I told you, but, as I say, you should be all right from here… yes?”
And so they were happy. The interview done, Mr Watling could have a chat with Dolores and unwind.
Melmoth leaves the office, subsiding, regathering; and although he is reminded again of the infernal babble—how this was vast expenditure and little art—as he, in his rotundity, perambulates past the sound stages, he also realises with it being now a quarter to twelve he could soon reasonably take on a Diamond Fizz or two. And the further he goes along, the more he revives, because the Californian sun is warm and life is warm.