‘I’ve got a story,’ Callie said
‘Then you can make an appointment with my secretary for tomorrow,’ her boss, Buddy Armstrong thundered.
‘Williams and Cassidy are fighting again. I thought I just heard shots.’
Successfully distracted, Buddy Armstrong leapt from his desk chair to peer out the window. He was tall and thin, with a mournful face that made him seem much older than his middle forties. Callie and Max von Brauer, a German refugee and rising star of the RLP writing staff, used to giggle that Buddy just might be Honest Abe reincarnated. He even wore a black three piece suit every day, with a monocle tucked into the vest pocket which Callie had never seen him use. The only thing he was missing was the top hat.
‘Callie, if I could help you —’
‘No, no, no — I don’t need any help. This is about me helping you. It’s a million dollar idea, I’m telling you. It would be a perfect vehicle for Gloria Swanson. Don’t tell me Mr Macmillian isn’t negotiating to bring her company over to RLP?’
‘You don’t know anything about that.’
Callie chose to ignore the warning note in Buddy’s voice.
‘Okay, well I’m just saying, if we were looking for something for Gloria Swanson, this would be it.’
‘So let’s hear it.’
‘Really?’ Callie blinked. She hadn’t expected him to capitulate so fast. He must really need material for Miss Swanson.
Buddy straightened up, put his hands in his pockets. In his shadowy office, he looked even more like the ghost of Lincoln than usual, and Callie gulped.
‘You’d better talk fast Callie. That fight won’t keep Gabor occupied all day, and who knows what he’ll do if he catches you —’
‘There’s a cowboy — he’d be played by Wally Reid or Fred Thompson — his parents were murdered by an outlaw.’
‘Wait — he kills the outlaw, then the outlaw’s daughter — that’s Gloria Swanson — dresses as a man so she can —’
‘Callie Carmichael you want to dress the most fashionable actress in pictures as a man?’
‘That’s what would make it so interesting, see — audiences would —’
‘Audiences would get right up and walk out. Do you think they come to see Gloria Swanson pictures for her looks? Or even her great acting talent?’ Buddy scoffed, shook his head. ‘They come to see what she is wearing. They come to see her get the better of hapless men. Sex comedies. That’s what I’m looking for.’
Callie bit her lip. She knew in her bones that Armstrong was wrong, that audiences would flock to this story, but the problem was, there was no way to prove it until they did — or didn’t.
Thousands and even millions of dollars were poured every year into nothing but a good feeling about this one. It was the reason that men like Buddy Armstrong and studio head Wallace H Macmillan kept a tab of antacid tablets in their desks, and that the entire city was preparing for the Volstead Act with the fervour that bordered on hysterical. To further complicated matters, despite the fact that the most successful scenario writer working in Hollywood was Miss Frances Marion, and that Jeanie MacPherson, June Mathis and Anita Loos all turned out hit after hit, Callie couldn’t help but notice that Buddy Armstrong was more likely to get a good feeling about an original story pitched to him by a man. Max von Brauer had talked his way directly into a staff writer’s contact — for twice Cassie’s weekly salary — without ever having worked as a reader or story editor.
‘Gloria Swanson has already done half a dozen sex comedies with deMille, don’t you think she might want to do something different?’ she said, hoping her voice didn’t sound as desperate as it did in her head. ‘Or that audiences might want to be surprised?’
‘Gloria Swanson dressed as a man is a gimmick. It’s not a story. Bring me a story about a wife turning out to be cleverer than her husband, and I might see about reinstating you. You’re not qualified to write Westerns.’
‘I know more about horses than I do about marriage,’ Callie said.
‘Well perhaps you’d better see about getting yourself a husband.’
‘I broke in my first horse at eight years old. You don’t think I know better how to write a Western than Max von Brauer from Berlin? I grew up on ranches all over Oklahoma.’
‘You didn’t grow up as a boy, Callie.’
‘Doesn’t it take a little more than knowing how to ride a horse to make a person a boy?’ Callie shot back.
Buddy shrugged, sat back down at his desk and Callie knew with a sinking heart that the interview was over. ‘You know, these days with all the things you gals are doing I really don’t think I know any more. Ever since you started agitating for the vote — is there anything a man does that you don’t want to do?’
‘There is, as a matter of fact,’ Callie snapped. ‘I have no desire to pee standing up.’
Callie slammed the office door behind her, fighting down the little flutter of panic that danced in her chest. She had enough saved for two more months’ rent. That was plenty of time to sell a story. More than enough.
‘You just need to pitch him a story he can’t say no to,’ Max said sympathetically as Callie strode by his desk. ‘Come up with an idea that excites him so much he buys it on the spot, then you just figure out the details once you’ve got the assignment.’ He shrugged. ‘That’s what I do.’
Callie didn’t bother to respond.