Some girls would die to be in pictures.
|“Gates’s impressive first novel…skillfully evokes a Hollywood era when the studio chiefs wielded enormous power over the lives of everyone in their orbits and would go any lengths to protect their stars and big-budget movies. Glamour takes a back seat to lust, lies, and greed in this well-wrought mystery.” – Publishers Weekly|
The Glamorous Dead will be available on October 31, 2017. Halloween! The date is important, as the story revolves around what happens on Halloween, 1940.
In Hollywood during the fall of 1940, an extra on a Paramount set discovers the body of her best friend, and then realizes that she is the most likely suspect in the murder. With the help, and hindrance, of actress Barbara Stanwyck, Penny Harp investigates the world of extras in Hollywood in order to find out the truth about her best friend, to clear her own name, and to finally confront a secret that threatens to destroy her.
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Below are some of the historical figures or events I have included in The Glamorous Dead.
If you like the Golden Age of Hollywood, mysteries, and Preston Sturges comedies, The Glamorous Dead is your kind of story. If you appreciate actress Barbara Stanwyck, this is definitely your kind of story. Here is Barbara Stanwyck in 1943, at a function with her husband Robert Taylor and actress Mary Pickford. This photo appeared in the Herald-Examiner. I have no idea why he’s sticking his hand in his suit. Maybe an itch?
Robert Taylor also appears in The Glamorous Dead, but in a much smaller role than his wife. Other actors portrayed in the novel include Henry Fonda and the great character actor William Demarest.
The Lady Eve
Preston Sturges’s comedy The Lady Eve is the setting–or rather, the set–for much of The Glamorous Dead. Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck starred in this classic comedy of a con artist (Stanwyck) who falls in love with, and then seeks revenge on, a naive brewery heir (Fonda).
In The Glamorous Dead, an extra on the set of The Lady Eve investigates her best friend’s death. Barbara Stanwyck befriends her and helps her solve the mystery, but why a huge movie star would help a lowly extra is another mystery to be solved.
Preston Sturges himself also appears in the novel, although he was much too busy directing The Lady Eve to take a large role in the novel’s mystery.
Below is the official trailer for the movie. Enjoy, but also notice toward the beginning of the video the voice-over racism that makes clear the movie’s intended audience.
In 1940, Paramount Pictures was a studio filled with many Golden Age greats: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and many more. Barbara Stanwyck, one of the few stars not contracted to a particular studio, filmed The Lady Eve at Paramount during the late fall of 1940.
Paramount is still a working studio, and you can take tours through the backlot and see where The Godfather was filmed, where Lucille Ball bricked off the entrance to Desi Arnaz’s office because
she caught him in an affair, where the commissary still is, and where, long ago in that same commissary, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers practiced dancing in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Paramount is one of the few places I’ve been in the United States where social history and contemporary events both feel alive and electric as I’m walking through.
The picture at left shows the Bronson Gate, the original main gate at the studio. The top filigree work (almost invisible in the photo) is said to have been added in Rudolph Valentino’s day, as so many female fans were climbing the gate trying to get to him. I haven’t been able to verify whether that’s true, or whether (more likely) the story was a publicity ploy. Since Valentino’s death, he’s been close by Paramount and available to be visited by anyone. His ashes are kept at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, located right behind Paramount Pictures on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Much of The Glamorous Dead takes place at Paramount Pictures during the filming of The Lady Eve. I have visited the studio several times, and on one visit heard the story of how the studio executives managed to cross the street–without being seen–to visit their mistresses in a nearby apartment building. I won’t tell you how that worked, but it’s definitely revealed in The Glamorous Dead.
The Florentine Gardens
In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Florentine Gardens was a popular nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard that offered dinner, dancing, and a floor show. In The Glamorous Dead, Paramount extra Penny Harp works evenings in the Girl Revue at Florentine Gardens. She lives with other revue girls in a house directly in back of the nightclub.
Florentine Gardens has several claims to fame. First, it is where actress Yvonne DeCarlo was discovered while dancing in the revue. You might know DeCarlo from her most famous role as TV’s Lily Munster on The Munsters, although she also had a long film career. Also discovered at Florentine Gardens: burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr.
The video celebrating Florentine Gardens below was uploaded to YouTube by Larry Harnisch, LA Times writer:
Another period of interest is in 1946, when Elizabeth Short stayed in the house located behind the nightclub. The house was owned by Florentine Gardens part-owner Mark Hansen, who later became a suspect in Elizabeth Short’s 1947 death. If her name does not sound familiar to you, her moniker might: The Black Dahlia. Beth Short stayed with Hansen and his girlfriend, Ann Toth, for several weeks. After her death, police found Mark Hansen’s address book in Beth Short’s purse.
Finally, Florentine Gardens was where Marilyn Monroe and her first husband, James Dougherty, held their wedding reception.
The Florentine Gardens now is a historical landmark, although its facade has changed significantly. It still functions as a club with live music, though the clientele is now 18 and over.
Nils Thor “Granny” Granlund
Although Granny was well-known in the entertainment industry during the 1930s and 40s, his name has faded. In 1940 he was the master of ceremonies at Florentine Gardens and made the club famous for its “girl revue”–primarily by taking away most of their clothes so they showed more skin than sequins. He had previously been a talent agent and radio announcer, and assisted with the careers of Joan Crawford, Yvonne De Carlo, and Barbara Stanwyck, among many others.
In The Glamorous Dead, Granny is a somewhat harried master of ceremonies, as he is in charge of the club’s entertainment and of the women he hires for the revue. He is the fixer at the Gardens, smoothing over trouble and maintaining relationships with major motion picture studios. The real Granny was known for a rotating social life with women he introduced as his “nieces,” and in The Glamorous Dead he continues that practice.
If you would like to read more about the real Granny and Florentine Gardens, here is a short but information-packed article from the L.A. Times.