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Authors: Peter Davis

Girl of My Dreams

BOOK: Girl of My Dreams
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Praise for
Girl of My Dreams

“Nostalgia in a novel, especially in a first-person narration, has to be earned. From the opening suicide of a stuntman—“taker of all falls”—a screenwriter recounts “the damage I caused in bygone days.” This is a bildungsroman of Hollywood dreams and cover-ups, a novel of “failure and conspiracy” on a lavish scale. “Movies and fame: what a perfect marriage, each dependent on projection,” the young writer observes, after admitting: “I'm the sucker who tells the story because the rest are gone.” There's even a daughter named after a movie studio, and the Communist Party is, finally, just “another dream that had been imported to Southern California.” A fast-paced novel of ambition, deceit, and disillusionment,
Girl of My Dreams
is as thrilling as a hit movie; yet it's also an indictment of the way the movie business works. The language is impeccable; the architecture is so tightly constructed that the ending is both inevitable and not what we're expecting.” —John Irving, National Book Award–winning author


Girl of My Dreams
is irresistible. It has been a long time since I read anything so interesting in every way.” —Joan Didion, National Book Award–winning author

“Smart, snarky, richly detailed, gossipy, hilarious and, in the end, yes, serious, Peter Davis's
Girl of My Dreams
is a thorough delight.” —Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of
Empire Falls

“Thrumming with kinetic energy,
Girl of My Dreams
is a mad dash through Hollywood in the 1930s. With insight and humor, Peter Davis explores the magic of filmmaking, the vagaries of fame, and the lives of the many players and participants—from directors to actors to writers—who populate this outrageous and captivating world.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1
New York Times
–bestselling author of
Orphan Train

“If
Girl of My Dreams
were simply a novel about Hollywood in the Golden Age, it would qualify as superb. But it's really about America then and now—how we love, how we cheat, what we crave, what we dread. And that's what makes it sublime.” —Beau Willimon, creator of the Emmy Award–winning series
House of Cards
(US)

“Academy Award–winning filmmaker and acclaimed author Peter Davis is uniquely equipped to bring the glory days of Hollywood to blazing life. Young screenwriter Owen Jant gets more than he bargained for in this dark and brilliant coming-of-age novel. So does the reader. Robert Stone said a novel should be a grand slam, and Davis has knocked it out of the park. The movies have always told us who we are, giving us America writ large, and
Girl of My Dreams
is a big bonafide American classic.” —Lee Smith, author of
The Last Girls


Girl of My Dreams
is a vivid Hollywood romance, replete with sex, scandal, and studio intrigue, wrapped around a fierce political indictment of the violence at the heart of industrial capitalism. Peter Davis has deftly fashioned both an epic evocation of the golden age of American movies and a powerful history lesson.” —Stephen Greenblatt, author of
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern


Girl of My Dreams
is witty, sexy, and sharp. I loved it. Davis gives us the old, still exclusive Hollywood of the Thirties, when it had real glamour and real menace. A Hollywood that no longer exists except in this wonderful novel that is preeminently about the malleability of identity and the creation of self, both on and off the screen. Davis makes one long for the old days in all their innocent and debauched glory.” —Susanna Moore, author of
In the Cut

“Author-filmmaker Peter Davis has given us a contradiction in terms, a book about Hollywood in the Thirties that, ironically, has depth. Davis knows this turf and has populated it with richly invented characters, all striving and most failing in a place where you can't win for losing and politics divides them all. It is a wise and savvy book, with wit and pathos … coming soon to your screens!!” —Candice Bergen, Emmy Award–winning actress

“I'm feverishly soaking up Peter Davis's marvelous novel about Hollywood,
Girl of My Dreams
. Put it down? From these cold dead hands!” —Dick Cavett, host of
The Dick Cavett Show

“Peter Davis has crafted a cast of characters worthy of Hollywood film in the magically sexy and inviting glory days of the 1930s. They are seemingly untouched by the Great Depression or any other form of reality except the extraordinary fantasy world created for everyone else through the sheer power and vision of the few ruthless men who trafficked in stardom. Fascinating exploration of beauty and depravity.” —Christina Crawford, author of
Mommie Dearest

“Some people write cozy tales. Academy Award winner Peter Davis has written an era—Hollywood in the Thirties—punctuated with the stench of studio politics, illicit romance, labor strife, S&M, murder, vengeance, and despair. People get rich on the whim of celluloid—and get poor just to placate whimsy. Studio tycoons, gossip columnists, gangsters, and union leaders edit the lives of those around them with impunity. And yet people sing here, sometimes in preference to talk; after all, performance is what they know. It is the world of illusion, and its players rarely discern the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Written in vivid and distinct prose,
Girl of My Dreams
is a five-star novel.” —Bob Rafelson, director of
Five Easy Pieces


Girl of My Dreams
is truly wonderful. Set in Hollywood during the 1930s, it's the time of my mother and father, Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward, who were beginning their major careers. That time is rendered precisely and winningly in all its glamour and affliction and recklessness.” —Brooke Hayward, author of
Haywire

“A young blood on the make in Hollywood, then and now, is the stuff of a great story, and Peter Davis has written a page-turning novel of the legendary Thirties starring exactly the kind of people who made that the golden age of American fantasy. Every page has its delights, its horrors, its humor, sometimes all three at once.
Girl of My Dreams
is the mirror of America in the decade that led to everything we are today.” —Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM)


Girl of My Dreams
is the enchanting tale of what would have happened if
Downton Abbey
had been made in Hollywood in the 1930s. It's the time of my parents with all that decade's bright lights and deep shadows.” —Hoagy Bix Carmichael, producer of
Stardust Road the Musical

Girl of My Dreams

A Novel

Peter Davis

For Alicia

What happens on the screen isn't quite real; it leaves open a vague cloudy space for the poor, for dreams and the dead. Hurry hurry, cram yourself full of dreams to carry you through the life that's waiting for you outside, when you leave here, to help you last a few days more in that nightmare of things and people. Among the dreams choose the ones most likely to warm your soul.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline,
Journey to the End of the Night

1

Joey Ankles the Lot

Picture a time when left was right and right was wrong.

Picture this, a man who looks like a boy perched on a motorcycle at the top of a palisade above the ocean, his face empty as if he doesn't quite know what he is supposed to do next.

This is what happened when I was in my twenties in the Thirties, a story of wilting bloom. We came, we wished, we dined out on promise. Seeing that tumultuous dawn break over us like a great wave, who could know if we'd be borne on it toward a gleaming new world or drowned in its foaming fury? Compared to Joan Crawford or Marlene Dietrich, Palmyra Millevoix was a fresh breeze rippling through aspens. Compared to the Big Strike in San Francisco, Hollywood's guild wars were milkshakes. Compared to the Communist Party, Jubilee Pictures was anarchy itself. Compared to the Depression, our salaries were not merely astronomical but pornographic. Let's turn one of those around: compared to Palmyra Millevoix—Pammy, which she disdained but accepted—Greta Garbo was a fraud. Into the dungeon wild dropped our Pammy, sorceress of undisclosed fantasies, while I, slave to regard, was shackled to the keep's lowest rung.

Here comes Palmyra's brother-in-law, the stuntman Joey Jouet, only to be yanked off, a reminder of what could happen in that time and the cause of my being funneled into his sister-in-law's sphere. He serves, too, as a warning of Mossy's carelessness. Yes, I knew Amos Zangwill, knew him before the war. He was different then.

In those days Mossy kept a lackey he used as a hatchet wielder. Dunster Clapp was the reptile, a remittance man from the east eager to bulge his trust fund by enrolling as a toady at Jubilee. It was a fetish with him to take orders from the strong and pass them along to the weak and dependent. You could see it in his face: pampered, dishonest, cold but also scared. He was gleeful when carrying out orders.

Cutting costs, on Saturday afternoon Clapp had told Joey Jouet, a Jubilee employee and therefore supplicant in these hard times, that he was having too many accidents and had to get off the lot. Clapp fired half a dozen other studio workers that day. When Jouet was summoned he was at Victorville on location in a costume epic where he was mortally wounded in several sword duels and a fall from a castle parapet. He performed these stunts flawlessly. He had expected to be in Victorville another ten days. Stunned, he didn't feel he could go straight home with this news. He picked up his Ariel motorcycle at the studio and drove it to a motor court in Hollywood. What could he tell his wife, unable to design and decorate sets because she was home now taking care of their two small daughters? Could he go to Mossy Zangwill? What a joke!

Joey Jouet was the kind of Hollywood worker who loved every minute of his job. Loved perfecting a leap into thin air, a dueling technique, a plunge through a window so the star wouldn't be the one to get hurt. He was enthralled at the way a plot sprang to life as real actors and fake buildings were thrust into service to the story. Joey studied other jobs on the set besides his own—the grip, the gaffer, the decorator. It wasn't a matter of aspiration; remarkably for Hollywood, Joey had very little actual ambition. What this curly-haired eager young man had was love of how movies were made.

He had run off from his bad home in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, not to Hollywood but to Ringling Brothers. He joined the circus at fifteen and by paying attention to the performers when he wasn't cleaning lion and elephant cages, Joey was able to become an acrobat in three years. He was too careful to be a great acrobat, and he was also not particularly theatrical. He enjoyed the sensation of floating—just being free of his childhood home was a form of weightlessness—but he wasn't fond of repeating the same act again and again. He saw too much cruelty to the animals and too much among the people, the man who dove fifty feet into the shallow pool whipping the unicycle rider with a chain, the lion tamer running off with the wife of the fire-eater. In those days numberless kids were beaten by numberless fathers, and Joey had had his fill of brutality in Shawnee Mission. Nor was applause, which the clowns and other acrobats gulped, important to Joey. The winter he turned twenty, when the circus headed back to Sarasota, Joey went in the other direction. He found his true home and vocation in pictures.

By the time he was twenty-five, Joey was every assistant director's favorite stunt double. When I knew him he was thirty or so, regularly working with cameramen to design his own stunts. His curls were naturally blond, those of an innocent five-year-old, but he was often wigged depending on whom he had to absorb a sock in the jaw for. While Mossy Zangwill was pushing, dragging, ordaining Jubilee's rise from a Poverty Row studio to the status of what
Variety
called a Minor-Major, Joey Jouet was taking falls in some of Mossy's big action pictures. He'd done such a good job in
Fugitives from Folsom
they let Joey keep the Ariel motorcycle he'd ridden.

I saw him a few times keenly combing a set where I, a junior writer, had been dispatched to help with a few lines of dialogue. The rest comes from the police record. And Pammy.

Ever eager to please, with innocent boyish features to mock his thin mustache of a stock villain, Joey Jouet, taker of falls for everyone from Doug Fairbanks (Sr. and Jr.) to Trent Amberlyn to Jimmy Cagney, paused his Ariel on the hill at the top of Chautauqua Boulevard that bright Sunday in the spring of 1934. I suppose he readied himself. Surveyed the scene, panning in effect from the Santa Monica mountains around and down over the ocean and out to where Catalina Island lay, visible in those smogless days. I wait for him at the bottom of the hill, as if Jouet's destiny were in the future, still to be played out. As if Mossy Zangwill could change course, or Pammy Millevoix could.

BOOK: Girl of My Dreams
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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