Read Her Leading Man Online

Authors: Alice Duncan

Tags: #humor, #historical romance, #southern california, #early motion pictures, #indio

Her Leading Man

BOOK: Her Leading Man
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HER LEADING MAN

 

Alice Duncan

 

Book #4 in the “Dream Maker” series

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her Leading Man

Copyright © 2001 by Alice Duncan

All rights reserved.

 

Published 2001 by Kensington Books

A Ballad Book

 

Smashwords edition January 11, 2011

 

Write:
[email protected]

Visit: http://aliceduncan.net

 

 

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One

 

Indio,
California, 1913

 

Martin Tafft frowned as he opened the
Indio Gazette
and its great black
headline hove into view:
CINEMA ACTRESS HURLS SELF TO DEATH. The opening
sentence of the
accompanying
article
declared,

Los Angeles Police detectives believe the
young
woman’s
wild life may have been a factor in her
tragic suicide.”

Farther down on the same page Martin found another
article titled, in
smaller print, DRUG USE
ABOUNDS IN CINEMA INDUSTRY. The first sentence
in
the
article made Martin’s blood run cold: “ ‘Hollywoodland
is a Mecca for
Illicit Drug Activity,’ claims
famous motion picture director.”

Martin shook his head in consternation. “Bother.
Not more of this?
When will it all end?”

Since he was alone in his room, having dialed
room service in
order to avoid the confusion of the
crowded dining room below, no one answered
his
question.

Oh, but this was a blow. And it was one that
seemed to be falling
every day now
.
Day after day.
Drugs. Alcohol. Scandalous
sexual conduct. Unrestrained behavior. Suicides. Could murder be
far behind?
The very idea of such infamous conduct, not
to mention the
sure-to-follow publicity, made Martin
shudder.

These two latest scandals were going to renew calls
for
censorship
.
Martin could almost hear the ladies
from the Purity
League gearing up for an all-out assault
on the studios. The Daughters of the
American
Revolution would be writing letters by the billions.
His mind’s eye
envisioned an article decrying the immorality
of motion pictures in the
WCTU’s
White
Ribbon
. He shook his head, dismayed.

Still, it was small wonder folks had begun looking
upon the motion
picture industry and picture people
with disfavor. The motion pictures—a
brilliant creation
Martin had believed would be all but the salvation
of mankind—seemed to
have taken a wrong turn
somewhere between 1904, when he’d become
involved
in
them, and today. A single decade, and the
whole shebang looked as if it were
sliding straight
downhill.

It made Martin melancholy to acknowledge the bitter
truth. But it was
true
.
For every sweet young Lillian
Gish or Mary Pickford, who were,
while perhaps
not blameless,
a
t least bright, moral young
women,
there
were dozens, if not hundreds, of girls rushing
to
Southern
California. Most of them were so eager
to get into the pictures that
they’d sacrifice anything,
including their morals, and even their lives, to
accomplish their goals. Silly girls, and sometimes pitiful.
Martin wished he
could convince them all of
their folly, but such was beyond him.

Worse
, he felt vaguely responsible for
the
mess,
because he’d been there in the beginning. At
the vanguard. He’d been in at
the very infancy of
a
now-booming industry. But it hadn’t gone the way
he’d
predicted.

Now that everyone was mad for the “flickers,” the
industry seemed to
have sunk into a slough of immorality
and decadence. Martin’s heart hurt when
he
thought
about how so splendid and worthy a medium
was being abused by unscrupulous
people with no
manners or morals to speak of. Although he wasn’t
a particular fan
of
Thomas
Edison, the patent-grubbing
genius from New
Jersey, Martin had a feeling
Edison was probably appalled by it, too, if he
took
the
trouble to think about it at all. Edison wasn’t
known for his bleeding
heart.

It was all too depressing for Martin. Especially
given his present
task, which was making an Egyptian
spectacular—containing a nude scene—in
the
middle of
the desert. Not only was Martin uncomfortable
with his own participation in
producing a
sexually titillating picture, he was also so sick of
deserts
he
could happily have chucked his job and everything
that went with it,
except that he knew he
was merely undergoing a low period.

In truth, his life was great. Spectacular, even. He
and Phineas Lovejoy,
his best friend, were now full
partners in the Peerless Studio. Peerless itself
was
the first
and foremost motion picture production
company in the nation, and possibly
the world. Martin
had more money than he could spend in this lifetime
and the next three
combined. He knew he should
he as happy as a clam.

He couldn’t shake the sensation that something was
missing
from his life,
however. It wasn’t only that
he was
discouraged about all the bad press picture
people
were getting,
either. For weeks, a nagging sensation
that he needed . . . something . . .
had
plagued
him. If he only knew what it was he lacked,
it would be a lot
easier to fill the void. But he had
no idea, and his faulty imagination in
this particular
circumstance troubled him

It also made no sense. Here he was, thirty-two
years old, a rich
man by anyone’s standards, and at
the top of his profession. What’s more,
he’d made
his
money doing something he loved. How many people
could say that? Not many, or
Martin would be
much surprised. He knew hordes of folks who slaved
away at their petty
jobs, all the while wishing they
were novelists or artists—or actors.
Actors, a species
of humanity that used to be fairly universally
despised,
seemed to have taken the public’s fancy by
storm, bad press and
all
.
Everywhere Martin went,
he met boys and girls who wanted to
be “stars.”

Some of them made it. Others, he thought with a
squeezing in his
chest, flung themselves from the
roofs of buildings. Peering at the
headline article,
Martin took note of the girl’s age. She’d been
twenty
-
one.
For only a second, he felt an unmanly
compulsion
to
cry.

Oh, but he hated to see his beloved moving pictures
come to such a
pass!

He glanced out the window and wondered how
much of his gloomy
mood had
sprung
from his being
forced to return to the desert.
Martin was sick to
death of deserts. Yet this was where all the cowboy
pictures had to be
filmed. And since Egypt looked
a lot like the desert of
Southern
California, this was
also where their Egyptian epic was going to
be
filmed
.
He sighed heavily.

Maybe if he had a wife and family, the bald patch
in his soul would be
on its way to being filled. He
gave a short, bitter laugh as he reached for his
white
linen
jacket. When did he have time to propagate a
social life? He was always
working. The only women
he ever met were actresses, and Martin would
be
hanged
from a high scaffold before he’d ever marry
an actress, no matter how much he
liked some of
them. Underneath, with precious few exceptions, they
were all egotistical
birdbrains. Martin didn’t need a
wife like that. With a sigh, he plopped a
sporty tweed
cap on his head and decided he’d be glad when the
pictures started to
talk.

Folks scoffed when he expressed this desire. The
cameras were too
noisy, they said. Nobody could hear
the words, they said. Which was true
now
.
But it
wouldn’t always be true. Martin had great faith
in
the brains
at work in his industry.

The main reason he wanted “talkies” to come into
their own was that
when actors and actresses had to
spend their evenings learning lines for
the next day’s
shoot, they wouldn’t have time free to get into so
darned much
trouble.

As it was now, film folks seemed to be involved
in one huge party
that went on day and night. Martin
had attended some very wild parties—and he
wasn’t
even
invited to the raunchiest ones. He’d not enjoyed
himself watching
young girls and men drink themselves
silly and behave in outrageous ways. He
seldom
went
to any parties at all anymore, because he
found them unpleasantly disturbing,
but he still heard
stories.

That wonderful comic actress, Mabel Normand,
was said to be able
to drink grown men under the
table. There were also rumors about her drug
use.
And she
was far from the only one. Roscoe Arbuckle,
the great comedian, drank like a fish
and reveled in
lewd behavior. There were rumors galore about other
actors and directors
and their exploits, some even
with members of their own sex. The whole
rumor
mill
disgusted Martin, the more so because he feared
a good many of the rumors
were
true
.
It was, in his considered opinion, too bad
more
young
people who wanted to enter into the pictures
didn’t have protective grannies,
as did Christina Mayhew,
the leading lady in
Egyptian Idyll
. He grinned,
recalling stories he’d heard about
the elderly Mrs.
Mayhew, then shook his head again, when he recalled
the poor young woman
who’d jumped to her death
yesterday.

It was all very distressing, and Martin’s mood was
gloomy. He paused
for a moment at the door to his
hotel room, then sucked in a big breath,
yanked the
door open, and prepared to face his day.

BOOK: Her Leading Man
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