Read Celluloid Memories Online

Authors: Sandra Kitt

Celluloid Memories

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SANDRA Kitt
Celluloid Memories

To all my L.A. crew, who believe in and encourage

The Impossible Dreams.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Katherine Richards for her wonderful friendship,
and for giving me a place to stay; to CB for the studio tour
then,
and your friendship and wisdom
now;
to Dennis Considine,
who was a true believer; Laurie Hutzler who shared the dreams;
Donna Brown Guillaume for always saying hello; Donald Welsh
for inspiration; and all the others who laid the foundation
and a path for me to follow.

A special thanks to Steve Heimberg for making the
Hawaiian adventure possible and providing a fitting end
to my story. Mahalo.

Prologue

T
hrough the open front door of the house, Savannah Shelton watched the first car of house hunters arrive. The real estate agent, a statuesque sistah in torturous high heels, bodacious attire, oversized sunglasses and an even bigger California smile, gave her a thumbs-up as she turned to greet the approaching buppie couple.

Savannah took a deep breath, feeling a combination of surprise and annoyance. It seemed to her that the couple had wasted no time in responding to the advertised open house. Real estate in any part of Los Angeles's vast counties was coveted, but the speed at which they'd arrived to view the property was unseemly, she thought. She equated their presence to lawyers who were ambulance chasers.

Her father's agent, Simon Raskin, who'd known and had worked closely with him for more than thirty years, had not weighed in one way or another. He'd only expressed the opinion that Hollywood needed more men like Will Shelton, and he hoped that one day he'd get the recognition he deserved.

Savannah was a little surprised by how disagreeable she was feeling about the open house that she herself had requested. It had seemed a good idea at the time. She glanced around the small foyer, which opened onto a spacious but low-ceilinged living room, and couldn't find a thing out of place. It was neat and clean. The agent had suggested putting away anything personal, including all photographs that could be used to identify the house owner, Will Shelton. The rooms were comfortably furnished, but not expensive or extravagant. For the open house, the agent had added a few plants at the last minute that would make the property seem homey and less like a showroom or historic site.

She watched as the agent greeted the arriving couple, throwing open the entranceway even farther. Savannah decided to make herself scarce. She walked back through the hallway into the kitchen, then out the back door to the yard, where her father had managed to squeeze in a decent-sized inground pool. Savannah opened another door to the high wrought-iron fence, and found herself at the side of the house, about forty or fifty feet from the front door. The couple had already disappeared inside with the agent.

Savannah put on her sunglasses, until now worn across the top of her head of short and naturally coifed hair, and crossed the quiet street to the other side. She turned at the corner onto a main thoroughfare. It was Sunday but there was little traffic. She stopped outside a café where there were a half-dozen bistro tables, some occupied by local residents who were reading the papers while drinking their low-fat, double-decaf lattes. Savannah sat herself at a table that allowed her a reasonable view of her father's small Mediterranean-style house a block and a half away. Two more cars had arrived.

“What can I get you?”

She quickly glanced up at the interruption. “Lemonade will be fine, if you have it.”

“We sure do. Anything else?”

Antacid tablets,
Savannah considered. She grimaced at the disturbing roiling of her stomach. “A toasted English muffin. Thanks.”

When the young black waiter left, she turned her attention once more to the view down the street to her father's house. She'd always been surprised that in this upscale black neighborhood where the average house seemed big enough to accommodate two or more families, her father's home was so modest. It was clearly an older structure, probably built in the 1950s, but beautifully detailed, which actually made it stand out from its more contemporary neighbors. There was definitely a sense of place and history about it. It looked very Californian. All the rooms were on one level, although there was a dormer, and the detached garage had a second story. It had been space enough for one man living alone. It had easily accommodated her when she'd moved in with her father, eighteen months before.

Savannah adjusted her sunglasses, dismissing old history and recent memories and more recent losses. She didn't feel so much sad as numbed by the passing of her father. Given the infrequency that he'd seen her or her brother over the years, it was a wonder she felt anything at all. Moving in to care for him, however, when he had become seriously ill had been the right thing to do. She knew that. Yet his passing had left her in a time warp, with the imprint of a once handsome and charismatic man brought low by disease and age, shrunk by hard times, ever-changing trends, and loneliness. He'd been for too long in her memory, less her father than Will Shelton the actor.

“Here you are,” the waiter said, placing a small round tray in front of her with her order.

“Thanks,” Savannah smiled vaguely. But, once alone again, she wasn't inclined to eat anything. She was suddenly afraid that if she did she'd throw up.

She became aware that a couple two tables away was casually discussing the open house, as they shared sections of the paper and talked about the party they'd been to the night before.

“What do you think it'll go for?” the woman asked, smoothing her hair, enhanced with extensions, behind her ear.

It suddenly struck Savannah that the well-cared-for woman was like a brown version of Joan Collins.

“Probably more than it's really worth,” the man said. His heels popped out of his Kenneth Cole sandals as he pressed on the balls of his feet. He sipped his coffee and suddenly chuckled silently to himself.

“What?” she smiled in curiosity, already anticipating a good story.

“Hank said it would make a good starter home for his daughter.”

“Allison? She's still in school, isn't she?”

“She'll graduate Stanford in April. Hank was thinking graduation gift. She has to live somewhere.”

“Let her move back home,” the woman suggested. “It's not like Hank and Carla don't have the room.”

“I know, but I think they like having an empty nest. Having one of the kids return home might cramp their new social life.”

Savannah let the conversation drift away and began picking at the English muffin and sipping on the lemonade, when her mouth became dry. An odd thickness in the back of her throat felt as if the passageway to her breathing was closing.

More cars had arrived. Two young men pulled up on a motorcycle. No one seemed to be leaving the house, but soon those already there were coming out front to look back at the property, to take in the whole view and the way the house sat back a little from the sidewalk. There was no formal driveway, except for the one leading into the garage. The front door of the house was partially protected by trees and shrubbery, giving it a secluded, private feel. Savannah had liked that about the house. The landscaping didn't allow people to notice it right away.

Her cell phone rang and she dug it out from her purse.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Vann. How's it going?”

“Hi, Harris. I don't know. I had to leave.”

“Leave? Where to?”

“Just a block or so away. There was nothing for me to do after people started arriving. I didn't want to stand around watching strangers go through the house. It made me uncomfortable. I'm at a nearby café.”

“Aren't you at least curious about who's interested in the property?”

“I can pretty much see the front of the house. There are a lot of people stopping to go inside. There must be a dozen folks roaming about right now.”

“That's a good sign. I told you there was no need to worry. You'll probably get more than one offer and the house will sell quickly.”

“Harris? Are you sure you're okay with this? You haven't had any time to come out and look through Daddy's things.”

“Not interested,” her brother said firmly. “It's nothing against our father, but L.A.'s too messed up. It's not a real world. I'm not interested in living there. And I already have a house.”

“The weather's nice,” Savannah coaxed with a half smile. Harris laughed. “Whatever it goes for, you know you get half.”

“Don't worry about me. You're the one that gave up everything to go out there and take care of the old man. I wasn't angry with him, Vann, but I don't think I would have done that. Whatever the house goes for, maybe it will help you move back to New York if that's what you want.”

“You say that now, but if it sells for a million or more…”

“If it sells for that much, you'll be hearing from me.”

Savannah allowed herself a quiet laugh.

“I know this must be really hard for you,” her brother said in a more sober tone. “First Trey, a few years ago, and now Dad.”

She swallowed hard and cleared her throat. “Trey was different. His death was an accident.”

“Sorry I wasn't there to help you out with Dad.”

“I'm okay with it. You have your career and family to think about. I didn't think the state department was going to give you a leave of absence for almost two years just because your father was ill. At least you were able to make the service.”

“I should thank you for being there through it all.”

“It's not like I really had a choice,” Savannah said.

“You could have ignored Dad's phone call. You could have hung up on him, contacted a nursing home or hospice for him.”

“Think I've earned my place in heaven?” Savannah asked dryly.

“Have you forgiven him, Vann?”

She shifted in her chair. Her lemonade was watered down with the melting ice. The English muffin was also not as appetizing now that it was cold.

“I don't know.”

Harris wished her luck with the selling of their father's house, but he certainly didn't sound sentimentally attached, or sad about the inevitable outcome. They'd both learned, growing up with mostly their mother to raise them, how to move on. Harris had learned in the military that sometimes things are what they are. Not a lot of explanation, so no point in getting torn up about what couldn't be changed. Savannah hung up from the call knowing that, for her, it was a different story.

She left some bills to pay for her food and reluctantly started back toward the house. The front looked as though a party was going on. There were people everywhere. Someone had brought their dog, and not the lap kind that fit neatly in a carrier. People were comparing notes, taking pictures of the property from different angles. She watched as a middle-aged woman covertly broke a small branch of blossoms from a bougainvillea and stuffed it deep into her tote bag. Another woman had the nerve to arrange herself on the small side lawn to have her photograph taken with the house in the background.

Savannah made her way through the group and up the walkway to the door. The agent was standing just inside.

“There you are,” she said in whispered relief, grabbing Savannah's arm and pulling her to the side. “Can you believe this?” She waved an arm to take in the crowd. “The response has been over the top. We've already had two offers.”

“Wow,” Savannah said, for want of a better response.

“There's a bunch of other folks duking it out in the kitchen. If they all want the house bad enough the bidding could top the asking price. That's fabulous!” the agent nearly squealed, visions of dollar signs dancing in her head.

Savannah tried to speak, and couldn't. Something was still lodged in her throat. Something else sat heavily across her chest. “Could you excuse me for a minute?” She didn't wait for an answer. She rushed toward the back of the house.

The door to what had been her father's room was open, but no one was inside. She stopped in the doorway and looked in. It was a nice bedroom with good solid, California furnishings, decidedly masculine and spare. Savannah only saw it as the room where her father had spent much of his time toward the end. Across the hall was the room she'd used since coming to L.A. to take care of him. That's how she referred to it, the room she used. Not
my
room.

The afghan she used to spread over his knees when he complained of being cold was now carefully draped over the arm of the easy chair in the corner of the room. Although there was no sign of his bathrobe and slippers, his books or albums or daily regimen of industry trades, and none of the many prescription bottles, Savannah could still see it all, and him, filling the space with his life and memories.

“It's a trip, right? I can't believe I'm actually inside Will Shelton's house,” someone said at her elbow, startling her.

Savannah turned to find a young man dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, sandals, a baseball cap with the Dodgers logo on the front. Everything about him said graduate student, production assistant or film school.

“Who's Will Shelton?” she couldn't resist asking.

“Black actor from the seventies. He was kind of a cult star among some folks, especially black film buffs.”

“How do you know this is his house?”

He looked at her as if she was an idiot. “'Cause if you're in the business you always check out the city records on who owned what, when,” he said. “You always know especially where
we
live. This is a famous house.”

“He wasn't famous,” Savannah helpfully supplied.

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