Saturday, February 06, 2016

When The Pictures Got Small-With Gloria Swanson and William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard In Mind

*****When The Pictures Got Small-With Gloria Swanson and William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard In Mind



From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
Yeah, Joe, Joe Anybody if you really want to know, Joe just another guy who went through the traumas of World War II like a lot of other guys although don’t ask him about those traumas because you will get the pat “I did my duty, I did what had to be done and that is that,” yeah, a pat answer if that is what you want, if anybody in this cuckoo world is asking about yesterday’s news. Yesterday’s news is exactly the way Joe expressed it one time back in 1947 to a guy he worked with, a sports writer a couple of years older than Joe but who somehow ducked out of the war like a lot of guys for reasons they are not discussing, not discussing this side of a bottle, so a guy whose closest call to combat was the battle of the barroom stool he fought most nights after work dribbling down low-shelf whiskies in order to come up with yet another superlative to fawn over some Triple A baseball prospect, on the Daily Tribune, a newspaper, or rather the newspaper of record if you will in Lima, Ohio where Joe landed feet first after he got his discharge papers and headed home.
Yeah in this cuckoo world only supply sergeants, class clowns, and barroom stool heroes tried to trade off their war experiences for so much as a drink when things were back to normal, normal as they were going to be, tried to bring what they did or did not do up from the dregs now that everybody else, everybody including our own Joe Average, don’t worry we will give Joe a last name in a minute, once we get this issue of what we are never going to know about what Joe did in the war, beyond what he had to. Yeah, stick with the pat answer, brother, stick with the pat answer. See though back in 1941, and maybe I don’t need to say more than that but if I do let’s say after Pearl, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 for the forgetful, or those too young to have remembered what that was all about a lot of Joe Average guys, guys who were working out in some factory making whatever they were making, other guys were plowing fields for hungry mouths out in the plains, and guys like Joe, literary types, were going to places like Big Ten Ohio State where they expected to move up in the world, move past those parents who got their dreams decapitated, there is no other word for what happened and if Joe had written that word he would not have been far off in his own family history. 
But Pearl put the world on hold for Joe Average guys who flocked to the recruiting stations forming big long lines to get into uniform just like our Joe Average did when he got the word, when Roosevelt put the word out. Not that they, those Joes, expected to get a hell of a lot of whatever the war’s conclusion would bring but they were kind of funny about a bunch of night-takers in places like Tokyo and Berlin trying to crowd them, trying to make them cry “uncle” and holler. Yeah, they whatever else they ready to they were ready to lay down their heads in some mephitic swamp, on some salted atoll, storming some heavily defended beach, traipsing through the dusty roads of wherever they had to go to give the night-takers the short stick. That is the stuff that our Joe Average was made of, don’t mistake that by his cavalier attitude now that the war was yesterday’s news. If you don’t believe me a quick look at the fruit salad on that laid away uniform up in the closet of his parents’ house in Lima, Ohio will disabuse you of that notion.               
All that said now is time to take our Joe Average out of the shapeless clay of Joe Average-dom, give him a name, a name   fit for a guy on the move in the hustle-bustle. Joe Gillis is the name he went by, Joseph Francis Gillis is what it said on the birth certificate, later adding an Xavier when the Bishop came down from Cleveland to confirm him so he was brought up at least that far Catholic but don’t to run that Joseph Francis Xavier Gillis by him, not if you don’t want a ration of shit like that drunken sports writer did one night to bait Joe when he got a commendation from Charley Squire, the city editor, for a big story he did on returning veterans who had no place to live, had not housing except the damn county farm after all they went through in the Atlantic and Pacific wars. Don’t ask him either, except maybe if his mother was around, if he still had the religion, still was a believer in the message of the Roman Catholic Church because you will get another pat answer, one you may not like if you are sensitive about your religion, or anybody’s.
So Joe Gillis, to bring everything and everybody up to speed,   is the name that the studio, or better studios since he was strictly a free-lancer, strictly on “spec” in those days put on the couple of screenplays he got some credit for anyway, although the story lines he had submitted had been totally flipped by the screen-writers from what he had originally written. Don’t ask him the wrong way what he thought of that maneuver, not if you want the same fate as that ill-advised sports writer back in Lima. See before the war, while Joe was at Ohio State he majored in English (mainly because in high school he could tell stories in English class that both the teachers and his fellow students were spell-bound by and he was nobody from nowhere in math, science and history but he certainly had literary ambitions). Of course the war had put a big detour on that vocation, except Joe would write like crazy when he had five minutes to collect his thoughts and the bullets were not whizzing over his head. So when the war ended he landed that job in Lima, a job that was practically promised him at the time of his enlistment. Joe though only thought of that assignment, that city desk assignment, as a stepping-stone to becoming a serious writer, a screen-writer at least. Like a lot of young men who served their country in the war, who had left their small towns, city neighborhoods, villages, who had lost their moorings once out in the big world, and who could no longer be contained in the Limas of the country Joe drifted West, drifted to see what a couple of guys in his unit were talking about when they said that California was the future, and by that Joe took what they said to mean for him the dazzle of Hollywood, to see if he was made of the right stuff. He sold some stuff, some “spec” stuff but as we pick him up on in Hollywood he is trying to figure if he can borrow another ten bucks from his old buddy Artie who had showed the ropes when he hit town and was clueless how the “system” worked except stay by the phone, stay healthy and stay ready to eat crow to get off the ground.
Here is the funny about Joe, maybe about a lot of guys like Joe, he wouldn’t give you the time of day about his war record, about his bouts of religious faith and faithlessness but given the slightest encouragement and maybe a nice shot of high-shelf liquor to tide him over, in short set him up the right way, he would give you chapter and verse about the ups and downs of his life in Tinsel-town. Some guys are funny like that, the literary types are built that way, no question. They say with Hemingway and Fitzgerald it didn’t even have to be high-shelf liquor if there was no quality around, with younger guys like Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac slip them a joint andthey would go on and on.           
So you would, will, get a full answer from Joe about that little tragedy, small size in the great movies scheme of things but meaning a lot to a guy like Joe who just knew he had the stuff to make it, after all his schoolmates and his city editor tapped him on the head, people who go to movies in any case if not interested in great literary squabbles, about the miserable fate of his scripts though, and a little harangue about Hollywood, its producers, directors, assistant directors, not a few stars, or starlets (although he, a good-looking guy, with that Gary Cooper “ah shucks” handsomeness one would expect from a corn-fed Midwestern boy that the jaded ladies of Hollywood were eager to try on so he had had had a few rather nice casual affairs on some very downy billows with a few on the way up,  his way up, theirs they were on their own about but mainly they would go back to Davenport, or whatever Lima they had to get the dust off their shoes from), hell, even the best boy and grip not knowing true literature, true art if it hit them in the face with a cannon (and wouldn’t he just like to). Apparently nobody told Joe, or he didn’t listen, probably the latter if he was invoking his heroes Hemingway and Fitzgerald as literary giants and not just their skills with the bottle, that “the cinema” was filled to the rafters with guys and dolls who had that right stuff, join the line brother, join the line.
Joe had a little system about how much he would tell you depending, no matter how good the scotch, on whether he was on an “up” or on a “down” meaning that he was either borrowing or not borrowing money from Artie, this according to Artie who had a pretty good idea what Joe was about since he had done everything from nurse-maid him when he, a raw kid out of the sticks Lima came to town with googly eyes to getting him laid from among the bevy of starlets he knew from the casting couches of the studios since Artie had with lots of hard work raised his own position in the Hollywood firmament meaning that he did all the real work on the birthing of a film.
If Joe was the chips he would give you every detail of his time in the town, “in the chips” meaning he had some gainful work and was not collecting that measly unemployment that barely got him by in that crummy two-bit rooming house and that junk heap of a car he was still paying money on, and was found at The River, a favorite watering hole for the Hollywood back lot crowd either on their way up or down because the booze was cheap and Hank, the bar-tender owner, was not stingy with his drinks, or with credit if you had some decent hard-luck story to throw his way, once or twice no more.  
One of Joe’s stories, his baby, From Hell and Back, that he had brought out to Hollywood with him, had written the piece while at that city desk during slack time to reflect what Tinsel town was buying and producing just then, had written the outline under fire in Europe when the 1st Division, the Big Red One, his division, was on the move east, ever east, male-centered war movies or Westerns which were really the same thing except taking play about one hundred years earlier but with that same male lonely introspective brooding to capitalize on the good feelings for the guys coming out of the war and the women who continued to fill the seats with their guys in tow were looking to see what it was all about since their guys were as silent as the grave, as silent as  Joe Gillis about what they had done for Uncle and home (one guy from Joe’s unit passing through Lima on his way to the West s had over drinks at Harry’s across the street from the Daily Tribune told Joe that it was almost like every guy signed a pact that they would keep their wounds, physical and mental, to themselves as one final act of “being buddies,”). Joe’s baby was a Western since it was easier to deal with that a war movie where his own emotions but bungle the plotline beyond repair was about a high plains drifter, a guy who came out from the East to see what the West was all about and got his fill of it, just wanted to stay in one town long enough to see his shadow, who came into some wild ass desert town, maybe a town like Tombstone the way Joe had it figured in his head, and tamed it like some old Wild West desperado character or some long-bearded biblical prophet who could call the judgement day, call the angels home (and bed the local whorehouse owner, Ella, a good-looking redhead, too but that was a shadow he was willing to cut if it did not make it by Hayes) turned into a romance about a minister (with Henry Fonda in the lead) and the virginal but fetching girl next door (Priscilla Ford, the classic “girl next door” even if she was turning the high side of thirty).
The other script, Two To Go, started out as romance, always worth a try if you are short of script ideas as Joe was then, from hunger in other ways too when he hatched that one, about two writers, one a she, the other a he, who worked together in the script rooms of Hollywood film mill of the 1940s, fell in love after the usual boy meets girl stormy arguments before they realized, happy-ending Hollywood realized that they were meant for each other and thereafter produced great story lines. That perfectly serviceable script, maybe with a little work on the background of the two writers, he had in mind a Waspish guy from the Midwest and a Jewish girl from Brooklyn maybe with the two worlds colliding, maybe work through some deeper issues about literature and life before they hit the sheets got turned into a murder mystery based on one of the stories Joe had them working on in the script about some failed fading actress from the 1920s, from the silent movie days when good looks and gestures carried the day but whose voice turned out to sound a train horn and she was unceremoniously dumped by MGM, who had a thing for younger men, had had a notorious stable of them to keep her young while “keeping” the guys since she had a ton of dough made and invested when that was easier to do to avoid taxes,   and who was insanely jealous when the younger women came around was just “keeping a soda jerk” she ran into at Liggett’s, the one over on Hollywood and Vine naturally since “from hunger” writers could make a milkshake or a cheese sandwich as well as anybody else and off-handedly shot him on the rumor that blew her way that he was seeing somebody in wardrobe, also a job that “from hunger” writers could do as well as anybody else.
Here’s how weird the revised plot got though they, the coppers when they came to the faded actresses house up in the secluded hills, since there were no witnesses, any that would come forward once the studios pulled the hammer down, never did find out who killed the soda jerk although every teenager in America, the audience the studio was going for with the gratuitous violence since the studio bosses felt that they were losing older women, those women who would have a few years before gone for the original script and brought their ex-servicemen with them, to motherhood and the newly emerging television, could see plain as day on the screen that it was that faded actress who did the deed. The old dame must have still had some great connections to pull the tent down on that one.
Joe swore to himself on more than one occasion that he should have done like Jack Donne and Joan Ditto, a couple of top shelf screen-writers on the lot had done (the models for his small idea movie) who he would have drinks with in their Malibu cottage and walked away from their own stories when they became unrecognizable in the “mill.”  But because he was three months behind on his rent, a fatal two on his car with the repo man breathing down his back, the cupboard was bare and because he no longer had stardust in his eyes he, what did he call it to a co-worker, Betty Smith, you might have seen some of her work on Some Came Running a while back, a fellow screen-writer working in the word “sweatshop” on the United Majestic (U/M) studio lot he let those “revisions” go by since he had to “make a living.”
Funny the original stories Joe had submitted and which had been reworked out of existence by the time he got his moment in the sun credit later, later after he was long gone and wouldn’t be around to fuss over copyrights and royalties won a few art house kind of awards and nominations (the coveted Globe among the literary set and the Lawrence from the high-brow cinema set). But by then the scripts were the property of U/M and some smart guy in accounting figured that the studio could cash in to on the notoriety around Joe’s name. Still when the deal went down Joe Anybody, no, Joe Gillis buckled under, got in the payroll line on pay day. This is how a guy who knew Joe, pieced the price that Joe would wound up paying for getting in line like a million other hard-bitten guys:
Yeah, Joe Gillis, Joe from Anywhere Ohio, Lima, to give the place a name, the guy with the stardust in his eyes coming out of World War II all alive and everything, a college boy after all was said and done on the big ass GI Bill finishing out at Ohio State that was the ticket out of the doldrums night city desk reporter for the Daily Tribune and later the Steubenville Sentinel had dreams just like every other guy (girls too if anybody was asking although not that many were then, not after that boomerang of guys coming off the troops ships needed jobs and space). See Joe saw what a lot of guys and gals saw, saw that there was nothing but gold waiting for them in the hills above Hollywood, gold sitting there just waiting for them to come west and pick it up.
Hell Joe had said to himself more than once, and told the guys on the night desk too when around two in the morning the bottom drawer whiskey bottles came out that he could out write whatever hacks wrote up the screenplays passing for good work in the studios in a day and still have time for cocktails and diner. Could write, for example, one he always liked to give, circles around whoever wrote that silly story about some smart-ass detective out in Frisco town back about 1930 whose partner got iced on a case out job getting taken in, getting blind-sided about six different ways by some bimbo wearing some jasmine scent that had him up in the clouds and who admittedly had some charms got him all worked up about some statute worth a mint and figured to use his services to get the damn thing. And then flee leaving him to take the fall, maybe take the big step off if it came to that. Kids’ stuff.        
And so our boy Joe borrowed fifty bucks from his mother (promising to have her paid back in a month, a long month as it turned out since Joe never got around to paying her back), another twenty-five from his brother Jim on the sly (ditto on the payback), and took another twenty five from his old sweetie, Lorraine (no need to pay that back she said after he had taken her down to the river front shoreline one Saturday night and gave her a little something to remember him by if you got his drift when he told the boys at the news desk about his conquest)  he was off and running to sunny California. Got himself a room, small but affordable filled with many, too many, people who had the same stardust in their eyes as Joe (and if any of them had bothered to look closely many, the rooming house not only had the latest immigrants but too many long in the tooth denizens who had missed the big show only they were not smart enough to know it. Or if smart enough decided the stardust was better to live with than what beckoned in Tulsa, Odessa, Kansas City. Moline.)
Got himself a typewriter too, rented, and re-wrote those two stories that U/M hired him to work the screenplays on. And so our Joe was on his way. Onward and upward. Then the roof caved in, not literally but it might as well have. See U/M and a lot of places made plenty of room for returning GIs and so Joe squeezed through the door on that basis (and the fact, which had not come out until later, until that too late mentioned before that his stories were excellent and that some reader, a reader being a smart Seven Sisters college girl who could sniff out a few gems among the million scripts left at the studios’ doors from hungry guys like Joe, had recommended to her boss that they go with those original stories as is but he too could see their possible later value and see that Joe was from hunger enough to stand the gaff for the big rewrites that would turn his work into dross).
But that door only remained open long enough for the studio to “fill their quota,” take the government heat off, and once those conditions were smoothed over they began laying off writers (and others too). And Joe found that he was just another payroll number to be blanked out, pushed out on to the mean streets of Hollywood, the streets of surly repo men, sullen landlords and sharp-eyed grocers. So Joe sat, sat like the thousand other guys looking for work, at Liggett’s Drugstore, the one near Hollywood and Vine, close to the studio lots just in case job calls came in while Mister Liggett was getting rich off of selling cups of coffee to the “from hunger” clientele hanging out.
And then she came in, came in like a rolling cloud of thunder, she who he would later find out, later when it was almost too late that those who had been around a while, had been long in the tooth on those stardust dreams maybe turned to cocaine sister dreams if you asked a certain night pharmacist nicely and were discrete enough to keep that information on the QT, called the Dragon Queen, came in with her teeth bared that night. Joe, a movie buff of long standing from the Lima Theater re-rerun Saturday afternoon black and white double features from the 1930s just after they started to talk on the screen days when he and his other from hunger friends would sneak in the back door and slip up into the balcony and while away a lazy afternoon (and later when he came of age taking that same Lorraine mentioned above for some heavy petting although they did not sneak in the back door then), though he recognized her, but for a moment could not place her name.
Then Artie, a fellow screen-writer whom he would pal around with when Artie was not out with his girlfriend, Sarah, also a writer although over on the Paramount lot, said in a low voice “Here comes the Dragon Lady she must be on the prowl.” Joe asked “Who is the Dragon Lady, I recognize her but I can’t place her name.” Artie answered that Joe must be losing it, whatever stuff was in his brain because the Dragon Lady was none other than the legendary actress Norma Desmond who won three, count them, three golden boy awards back in the day. Joe turned red not knowing her since while she had in her turn gotten long in the tooth there was some kind of commanding presence about her still, the way she carried herself, the way the room hushed a bit when she breezed in along with her “secretary” Maxine, a real terror in the old days protecting Miss Desmond, no question (rumored to be her lover, her Boston marriage partner, her Isle of Lesbos companion, her Sapphic muse, you know her “love that cannot speak its name friend, hell, her dyke pal, although that information would also come a bit too late).
Joe should have taken that hushed room lack of sound and the silent actions of lots of the guys drinking up their last gulps of coffee (or bit of sandwich because under the circumstances of being reduced to Liggett’s luncheonette fare one was not sure when or where the next meal would come from), of the sudden need to head to the telephone booth with a bag full of dimes to check with your merciless agent, your merciful mother, your have mercy baby, or heading toward  the magazine section with bended head looking at the latest from the scandal sheets more seriously, or making it look that way. Or he at least have checked with Artie who knew what she was there for. But no stardust boy had to step forward to “impress” Miss Desmond with his arcane knowledge of every film she ever starred in back in those re-run 1930s Strand days and asked her-“Aren’t you Miss Desmond.” And she returned his question with her brightest viper smile with a simple “yes.” Then to go in for the kill he asked “Haven’t seen you in a picture lately, too bad for you were a big star.” Of course vanity personified (and maybe necessary to get through the day when you have convinced yourself that film studios and the “day of the locust” common clay depend on seeing your every feature) Norma answered “she was still big, it was the pictures that had gotten smaller.” And with that Joe Anybody, yes, I know, Joe Gillis got caught up in the spider’s web. (What he didn’t see that night were the daggers in Maxine’s eyes once Norma began her peacock dance.)       
Nothing happened that night except upon request about his employment status Joe had answered Norma that he was a writer, currently unemployed (later she would tell him she already knew he was not working since why else would he be at Liggett’s at nine in the evening rather than slaving away trying to save some stinks-to-high-heaven script at one of the studio writers’ cubbyholes and why else would she go into Liggett’s on her own when she could buy and sell Mister Liggett ten times over), that he had a couple of scripts to his credit (he did not mention the butcher job done on them and she did not ask), and that “no” he was not looking for work as a reader for some seemingly corny sounding script about some gypsy woman with seven veils that Norma said she wanted help on in order to make her big comeback on the screen. Frankly as she got more animated about her project, got more flirtatious for an old dame (he at twenty-five, good-looking and despite his Hollywood stardust eyes with many sexual conquests under his belt was fairly repulsed by the thought of an old dame of at least fifty if he figured her career right, he was only off by a couple of years when the deal went down, coming on to him so graphically and sexually), and more urgent in the need to have him come out to her place on the high number end of Sunset Boulevard (the numbers where the mansions begin and the hills rise away from the heat of the city but he did not know either fact then) and at least read the script before he refused her offer he seriously balked. Told her he was not the boy for her.                    
And for a few weeks that resolve held out, until that inevitable wave of bill notices, rent due, repo man madness and food hunger got in the way and he  made his way to Sunset Boulevard. He hadn’t bothered calling because until Maxine answered the door with a vagrant smile he was not at all sure he was going to go through with the whole thing. Artie had filled him in on what he knew about the Dragon Lady which while correct as far as it went was far from being very knowledgeable although toward the end he did not blame Artie who was after all deeply in love with Sarah, hell, Joe was half in love with Sarah himself since she had said some very kind things about a few sketches of his Artie had shown her and although he was not usually attracted to the Sarah “ girl next door” type there was something very refreshing, not all jaded and facing the world just for kicks, about her even though she had been born in the devil’s kitchen, born on Vine Street a few blocks from Liggett’s. So when that Maxine door opened he was on his own.
Sure when the blats got a hold of the story later when it really didn’t matter, or would not have helped they drew a bee-line picture that Joe, a war veteran and not some skimpy-kneed kid like a few of the “soda jerks” (literally) that Norma had picked up over the years and threw over like some much trash when their number was up, knew the “score” all along and just got on the gravy train and rode, took the ticket, took the ride so no one should bleed for him, except maybe Artie who took it hard (and apparently Sarah too who Artie suspected was half in love with Joe too although he never mentioned that idea to her, and they did in the end get married so make of that what you will).
Forget about the blats, forget about what Hedda Hopper had to say about the whole mess, and that was plenty, none of it having Joe as anything as just another gone boy on the hustle from nowhere Ohio (hah, and her out on Podunk Indiana) here is  how it came down though. Joe went into that open door, into that opulent if run down mansion with his eyes open, once he figured out the score, figured it to his advantage. And for a while it worked, worked out kind of nice. That script of Norma’s, her ticket back to the top was a stinker, strictly nothing except a poor rehash of half the films she had ever been in back in the days when her every expression was plastered over every newspaper review and imitated by every young girl (and not a few boys) who had nothing but stardust in their eyes. But Joe figured that the “salary” she was giving him made it easy to believe that he was working “legit” that he was not just a “kept man,” Miss Desmond’s pet poodle. And for a while that illusion held up, although Artie began to suspect when he showed up at a New Year’s Eve party all decked out in fine top shelf Hollywood clothing that something more than earning a screen-writer’s salary was going on up in high number Sunset Boulevard.
And there was. Joe could see after a few weeks that Norma was going for him in a big romantic way, and he was playing into that a little, playing into her vanity that she still had something that a younger man would want. Although at first he was repelled by the idea that he would bed somebody his mother’s age he began to get a feel for the moral climate of Hollywood where the stage hands might titter over the age difference but would just nod it off as another gold-digger story like ten thousand others up in the hills, and on the lots. And so one night he took the plunge, went walking slowly to her sullen bedroom and to his fate.
Here is where the story got mixed up, got all balled up if you believed the blats who had their own reasons to play the story as a gigolo playing way over his head. After they “did the do” Joe no longer figured in the script-writing for Norma business but rather they made the rounds among her old time friends in the new Hudson she had custom-fitted for him so she could show off her new trophy. And for a while, a long while, that worked out just fine but Norma, maybe as a former actress used to getting whatever outlandish wishes of hers met, maybe just as a woman of a certain age who knew her limited appeal over the long haul or maybe that crazy streak that she had which drove more than one producer crazy in her wake Joe could not keep up, could not phantom the idea of forever being Norma’s fancy man, never to get out from under that decaying set she was parading him around to.
So Joe started taking long rides out to Malibu at night in his new Hudson to get the “stink blowed off” as his farmer grandfather used to say. That is where he met Cara, young sweet new star on the horizon Cara. And that was his fatal mistake, or part of it.  One night along the Pacific Coast Highway parked in a parking lot who came up to them in her own Hudson (or rather Norma’s) but Maxine. Maxine told the startled pair that she has been following them for weeks and that they had better break it off or she would tell Norma. Fair enough if the world ran in Norma time, Joe was no longer happy with being Norma’s pet poodle now that the wrinkle-free Cara (and gymnast in bed which he appreciated since Norma was like a corpse one minute and then “do this, do that” the next) but Joe was tired of Norma time.
That tiredness is what really did Joe in. When Joe would not break it off with Cara (and from her description in the papers and a quick glance off her going to court on the television why would he, why would any guy) then Maxine told Norma the tale. Norma was livid, was ready to kill the ingrate, ready to ship him back to Steubenville or wherever he hailed from in a body bag-minus the three piece suit she had just purchased for him- let him go back in that foolish Robert Hall’s sport jacket he showed up at her door in. But here is where things got dicey. Norma for all her Dragon Lady reputation, all the headaches she gave every even sympathetic director had portrayed every kind of villainous woman from axe murderer to midnight poisoner hated the sight of blood. The sight of blood sickened her and maimed bodies revolted her, even stage dummies. So she held her grief in, almost.
Here is where the rumors about her and Maxine and their illicit love nest got all kinds of play. Although the rumor about their love was false, at least on Norma’s side, Maxine really did love Norma in that straight Boston marriage way and once Norma seemed so prostrate that she could barely move, seemed like she would never get over the Joe betrayal (that is the way Norma constantly pitched her grief) Maxine went into action. She had a final confrontation with Joe, told him to break off with Cara or she would personally do something about it. Joe, now ready to leave, ready to face the scorn of society about being an older woman’s kept man, was now ready to laugh in Maxine’s pathetic face as he walked out the door to his room toward the swimming pool to take his daily exercise.
This last part is under any theory of the story that Norma and Maxine would later tell other than as an “act of god” which in high Babylon got no play is frankly filled with too many holes, has too many moving parts to make sense. Allegedly Maxine, in broad daylight, heard noises coming from the pool area, loud noises which frightened her and she grabbed the gun that Norma kept in the house to prevent burglaries (although how a pearl-handled .38 was going to stop serious breaking and enterings raised a few eyebrows. Out of her wits she saw what looked like a huge man in the shadows and just fired, fired five times in that direction. Then she called the cops who found one Joe Gillis in the pool face down with five, count them, five slugs in his body. That is the story she swore to and no one could shake her, or Norma’s story then or later at the inquest. So Joe Anybody, no, no definitely no, Joseph Gillis, Junior went to sleep as another killing, a domestic dispute after the papers got through with the war-circus that ensued like a million others nothing more.
Nothing more except to Artie, Artie Shaw to give him a name the only guy who every tried to stop Joe Gillis in his tracks, in his wrong tracks. One day a few weeks after they laid Joe to rest and went to put some flowers on his poor misbegotten grave out in the hills Artie said to Sarah that although he knew that there would never be an end to the stardust eyed kids coming to Hollywood to pursue whatever dreams they were dreaming for God’s sake Joe’s story should get out there in the hinterlands. And so it has. That and Artie’s reminder for all that stardust to keep the hell away from the high numbers on Sunset Boulevard.                            



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