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Salka Viertel’s Transnational Hollywood Network
The Palgrave Handbook of the So Susan P Castillo edit Henry IV. If fame and money are the engines that drive Hollywood, then talent nearly always seemed secondary, and writers often note that the making of commercial films was a numbers game where ideas and art were either absent or rendered so banal as to be mean- ingless. In , J. Priestley notes that Hol- lywood summons people of talent from the ends of the earth, flatters and feasts them and gives them millions of dollars to play with, but somehow the originality and gusto and fertility of most of these men [sic] soon desert them in the Hollywood studios.
The money, the organization, all the techni- cal resources. Producers of films should be inspired by the great spectacle of life, moved by its compassion, laughter and wonder, and a producer in London, Paris, or Moscow, has this great spectacle roaring around him day and night, can dive at any hour into a vast invigorating sea of life. But in Hollywood, which is a mountain of celluloid, there is only a thin overworked seam of real life.
It is too rich; it has been flattered by too many fools; and it is too remote and self-centered. And that, I concluded, is why it has done so well, and why it has never done any better. Art with a capital A is something Isher- wood is rather suspicious of in his personal writing, but in Prater Violet, he seems to have no doubt the film business is something that can destroy art, as well as personal identity if one is not alert. It seduces with fame and glamour and awes with technological innovation and the endless energy spent on re-presenting reality down to the smallest detail.
The Isherwood character in that novel is deeply suspicious of the way the studio executive manipulates the German-Jewish Bergmann into finishing the film in a way that is audience friendly, and even the artist director Bergmann can find no solace in the art of movie making. It is a crime. It covers up the dirty syphilitic sore with rose leaves. It lies and declares that the Danube is blue, when the water is red with blood. You will believe yourself present at one of the great achievements of human ingenuity and devotion. At first this is impressive, but then one realizes it comes from a complete dissociation from the characters and the story as a living organism.
Isherwood had just finished a project for Lana Turner in which she would play Diane de Poitiers. In their personal writing, the British often express an arc of experience in Hollywood that begins with fascination, turns into perplexity, which becomes cynicism and bitterness, and then retreats into a cranky English persona. After getting over their initial charm and fascination, most novelists saw quickly that Hollywood really was too remote from real life—which is gener- ally the stuff of the literary arts—and it seduced with its seclu- sion from the hardships of the real world and with its big salaries.
Βιογραφία συγγραφέα: Colletta Lisa
We are all on a raft together in the middle of the cinema sea and nothing is real but the salaries. In every studio in Hollywood there are rows and rows of hutches, each containing an author on a long contract at a weekly salary. You see their anxious little faces peering through the bars. You hear them whining piteously to be taken for a walk.
After all, authors are people. They are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It cannot be right to keep them on a chain. They tell me there are authors who have been on salary for years without ever having a line of their work used. There are other authors on some lots whom nobody has seen for years. They just sit in some hutch away in some corner somewhere and grow grey beards and languish. From time to time somebody renews their contract, and they are forgotten again.
Powell suggests that script writing might have improved aspects of his fiction, honing his dialogue and making his description crisper, but he is in a minority. Though written before he went to Hollywood, Afternoon Men has many cinematic elements, including one in which characters dissolve into each other in front of the eyes of the hung over protagonist William Atwater. In fact, words—their meaning, their connection to one another, their connotations— seem a very troubling fact for films and for studio executives, which was one of the reasons the British novelists nearly always grew dissatisfied with the work there, and indeed with the life- style of Southern California itself.
The movies are, at their base, a visual medium, and appearing is more important than being or meaning, both in film and in Hollywood itself. This shift gave rise to a celebrity culture that is built around the mesmerizing power of the gaze. As writers first and foremost, the British novelists in Hollywood were very quick to see the implications for culture as the power of words attenuated.
The unlettered Mr. Every time I said anything, it seemed to me he did something funny with his mouth. Drew it up in a twisted way that looked kind of. Sar- dinic. Every time I spoke he looked sardinic. Levitsky was out of his depth. In his fiction, Isherwood subtly connects the power of the studios with that of authoritarian governments, and J. It is not that, as often suggested, they serve sinister interests aiming to preserve or destroy according to choice capitalist society and bourgeois morality, to advance American imperialism, Jewish internationalism, Catholicism, agnosticism, or what you will.
It is simply that they are empty-headed and quite without any pur- pose at all. Thus anyone interested in ideas is inevitably shocked by Hollywood according to his prejudices. As Huxley suggests in After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, opportunistic capitalist collectors and traders in culture are destroyers of it, just as Jo Stoyte does with his monstrous Hollywood mansion in which he has collected art and artifacts from every corner of the globe.
It contains everything and noth- ing, because all is on display, nothing is related to anything else, and everything is divorced from its historical context. Like the movies themselves, the Stoyte mansion is a museum of emptied out history, a mere collection of cultural artifacts that no longer have real currency, meaning, or connection to the lives of those within it.
Dodie Smith recounts the details of one of her story conferences at MGM, where three writers and a studio executive are trying to iron out the plot of a script called Waterloo Bridge, about a Canadian soldier in who falls in love with a prostitute, thinking she was a respect- able chorus girl.
Nothing was unusual enough. We must start again.
Schnellenhamer testily. The author said they were a good selling line. Schnellenhamer brusquely. We want some- thing romantic. And all the Nodders nodded. Some are greater successes than others, but we reckon to get our money back on everything we produce. What goes on there? Instead, Hollywood came to be seen as a place that colonized art and culture, and compromised artistic and even moral decisions. Selling your soul, I suppose? All writers have such a bloody roman- tic attitude.
Let me tell you something.
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Perhaps all this is getting near the heart of Englishness. For the most part, the British in Hollywood were early to notice that the values and characteristics that defined Hollywood would be the very characteristics that would define Western cultural life and values, and that these would also hasten its decline. It has the sea and the mountains and the never-failing sunshine, and yet so little charm. Men I had known in England, had come out here to work, had turned up at studios, as bronzed and fit and smiling as royal personages, and then had died suddenly.
Every- body here is bronzed and fit, and nobody seems quite healthy. The climate suggests that it is the best place in the world to work in, yet somehow one can do twice as much work anywhere else. These endless boulevards are swarming with artists of every kind, yet there is hardly a glimmer of real art. Its trade, which is in dreams at so many dollars a thousand feet, is managed by businessmen pre- tending to be artists and by artists pretending to be businessmen.
In this queer atmosphere, nobody stays as he was; the artist begins to lose his art, and the businessman becomes temperamental and unbalanced. Nearly every service is badly performed—the chauffeurs are careless, the cooks are casual, the chambermaids cannot dust, the waiters cannot wait—because so many of these people are aspirants who are not allowed to act or write scenarios. He begins to wonder whether mother had the right idea.
After a month or two of this kind of thing, could you trust an author to count his golf shots correctly or give his right circula- tion figures? Answer me that? Though many actually engage the elite traditions of country- house culture in their post-Hollywood work, they usually do it ironically. Their work in Hollywood, with its fetishization and commodification of literary Englishness, only heightened their awareness of the absurdity of a culture longing for repetitions of nineteenth-century identity. America—Hollywood in particular—was the new colonizing power, and as such, it became something against which to define ideas of what it means to be English and not British, but what that meant was increasingly hard to discern.
DeMille got off a train during a stopover and was so enamored with the climate that he never left. Though that version of Hollywood history is probably apocryphal, it is true that in Francis Boggs, a film director for Selig Polyscope Studios in Chicago, was prevented by the inhospitable weather of a hard Chicago winter from filming the final scenes of his production of The Count of Monte Cristo. Boggs had been to Hollywood the year before, and remembering the sunshine and warmth, he packed up his cast and crew and headed west, thus becoming the first director to shoot a film in Southern California.
The glamour of the movie business suffused with the glow of sunshine and the scent of trop- ical flowers has been attracting people ever since. The climate is often referred to as Mediterranean: the win- ters are short, mild, and rainy, and the summers are long, hot, and dry. To the arriving British, Southern California was a land of extremes: heat and cold, rich and poor, great natural beauty and unsightly suburban architecture. Of course, it is meaningless to refer to anyplace as a land of contrasts—all places are full of contrasts—but of interest here is the effect these contrasts had on the expatriate British and the way they tried to make sense of them in their writing.
From the diversity of the climate and the vast expanses of the city itself to the palpable unreality of the movies, the contrasts that characterize Southern California were fascinating and threatening, familiar and alienating, newer and more challenging than the landscape of the real Mediterra- nean. Most of the British novelists came to see the contrasts of Southern California as indicative of what was good and bad in America itself.
They found vast beauty, creative energy, openness, and personal freedom; however, these attributes took shape in the crucible of Hollywood, a place built on illusion, commercialism, and excess. In the end it seemed that there was no there there. The Mediterranean, which had lured British writers and trav- elers for centuries, was the natural comparison, though. Italy, Greece, the South of France, all were part of Euro- pean history and consciousness, and the culture of those coun- tries was connected to the landscape, which was human in scale and marked by the experience of people who had been there for thousands of years.
California offered sunshine, wealth, and the chance to reinvent oneself in a land that was far away from family and history and populated by exiles and newcomers. Part of the allure was precisely this lack of history. Being outside of the frame of European history yet American, Los Angeles was both foreign and familiar, but those character- istics, coupled with the other-worldliness of the movie business, combined in a strangely disconcerting way.
Despite the allure of the new, many exiles and travelers arrived expecting to find an ambiance like that of the South of France or Tuscany and were surprised to find a lack of serious cultural life—a lack which, after a few months, the seductive climate only seemed to accentu- ate. Both fascinated and repelled, most found everything about Southern California at once larger than life and strangely impov- erished, and almost every account of arrival expresses a dislike of the place.
All the beauty seemed manufactured, pleasant but without authenticity or tragedy. Priestley comments that nothing there was quite authentic: The orchids and gardens had been cunningly devised by an art director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The mountains beyond were by United Artists.
The villages had come from Universal City. The boulevards were running through Paramount sets. Even the sunlight, which was pleasant but not quite the real thing, had probably been turned on by Warner Brothers. The picturesque Spanish bits had an operatic look about them, and I felt that somewhere round the cor- ner was a. About the little towns near Los Angeles was a fancy fair and bazaar air, and it was impossible to believe they did solid business and that human beings were born or died in them. Round Hollywood itself the eucalyptus flourished among bare outcrops of rock. Without wine the place would have been a wilderness indeed.
Evelyn Waugh arrived in Los Angeles amid the glaring sun and the brilliant tropical flowers of a Southern Californian win- ter. When his train pulled into the station at Pasadena, he was engulfed by a crowd of people all dressed in trousers and open shirts. Aghast at the vulgar display of informality, he stormed through them wearing a stiff white collar, bowler hat, and car- rying a rolled umbrella.
It was more like Egypt—the suburbs of Cairo or Alexandria—than anything in Europe. For the British who wrote of Los Angeles, it is almost impos- sible to separate the natural beauty of the area from the visual offensiveness of the city or from dispiriting work in Hollywood , and this results in reactions that are often deeply ambivalent and uncertain about how to read the city. This is the mad, rich, woman, America; with all the courage of her convictions, her rich madness.
What amazes all these writers is the abundance and Brobdingnagian size of just about everything. As early as , P. Wodehouse wrote in the Meet Mr. With its azure sea, its noble hills, its eternal sunshine, and its fragrant flowers, California stands alone. Peopled by stalwart men and womanly women. The giant billboards appear. The little towns seem entirely built of advertisements. Take these away, you feel, and there would be scarcely anything left: only drugstores, filling-stations and unpainted shacks. And fruit; Himalayas of fruit.
To the European immigrant this rude abundance is nearly as depressing as the desolation of the wilderness. The imagination turns sulky. The eye refuses to look and the ear to listen. Huxley, who also traveled across the desert to get there, loved as well the huge sky, the high chaparral, and the blue Pacific. He, too, was amused by the completely artificial environment of Hollywood, though he had a more troubled relationship with it than Isherwood did. But for those writers who were not as comfortable with severing their ties to Europe and its historical ideas of selfhood, meaning, and value, the Californian sun quickly lost its charm, and the fantasy- laden atmosphere seemed indicative of everything that was going wrong with the century.
Indeed, it went further; it replaced the authentic with the overtly fake, and no one seemed to care as long as the threat was hidden by sunshine, wealth, and tropical flowers. With its sybaritic lifestyle, Southern California felt almost inhuman in its comforts, and she felt it drained writers of their talent by distract- ing them from real life.
Priestley, Hugh Walpole, and P. Hollywood has not the rich soil necessary for a fine healthy crop of art. Once hav- ing reached Los Angeles, nobody is safe. There is no glamour, like that of the South of France or the Italian Riviera, because the sunshine in Los Angeles only works to expose the emptiness of the place, and the work is dull and innervating. Outside, the sun beats down on the concrete, and occasionally you will see a man in shirt sleeves driving a truck to a distant set, while ever and anon the stillness is broken by the shrill cry of some wheeling supervisor.
But for the most part a forlorn silence prevails. The conditions, in short, are almost precisely those of. In Hollywood nothing, is what it affects to be.
What looks like a tree is really a slab of wood backed with barrels. What appears on the screen as the tower- ing palace of Haroun-al-Rashid is actually a cardboard model occupying four feet by three of space. If California is the land of dreams, and one has always dreamed of living in a French Chateau, then here is the place to do it.
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Dodie Smith notes that though the houses in Beverly Hills are well kept, no two of them are alike. But it was a skillful fake and very pretty, built on a little hill and looking down on a gar- den with a kidney shaped swimming pool. Hollywood was a city where the architecture was designed to feel like a movie set, and quotations from history were merely a matter of decoration and display. Perhaps the influence of the movies is responsible for them. Few of the buildings look permanent or entirely real.
It is rather as if a gang of carpenters might be expected to arrive with a truck and dismantle them next morning. Novotny, the three children and the Cocker Spaniel.
Generally, though, the anxiety of impermanence, as well as the power of the fake to obliterate the authentic, forms the pivot of most of the literature that comes out of the Hollywood experiences of British writers. The surroundings changed. The road was flanked by the gardens of a rich residential quarter. In the early s it was already beginning to look like one vast residential suburb.
Mile after mile they went, and the suburban houses, the gas stations, the vacant lots, the churches, the shops went along with them, interminably. To right and left, between palms, or pepper trees, or acacias, the streets of enormous residential quarters receded to the vanishing point. One could write about the landscape, but the landscape was not what made Hollywood what it was; inter- action with it and the architecture was not the defining aspect of the spirit of the place as it would have been for Rome, Cairo, or Istanbul.
In short, the rugged, challenging, and exotic aspects of the landscape had little or nothing to do with the culture of Hol- lywood. The sprawling suburban layout of the city, a city with no center and therefore hundreds of centers, was its reality. How does one write about a hundred centers, especially when those seem temporary, torn down, and reinvented when they are no longer interesting?follow site
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Many of the buildings along Main Street are comparatively old, but they have not aged gracefully. They are shabby and senile, like nasty old men. The stifling sidewalks are crowded with sailors and Mexicans; but there is none of the glamour of a port and none of the charm of a Mexican city. In twenty-five years, this section of the city will probably have been torn down and rebuilt; for Los Angeles is determined to become at all costs a metropolis, spreading wide and white over the sloping plain between the moun- tains and the Pacific Ocean.
Every year the seasonal rains wash cartloads of it down into the valley. And Priest- ley feared that the cult of the new would come define the future for America, burying all that was good about American democ- racy and innovation. They are audacious embodiments of technology and physical labor that build a future for the scientists, engineers, carpenters, and bricklayers who build them.
In that work, Priestley saw Amer- ica as setting a progressive example for England and for the rest of Europe, but he feared that it would be the glamorous, empty labor and output of Hollywood that would define both American culture and that of the rest of the world. In both the natural and urban landscape of Hollywood, Priestley saw little that suggested a future; all seemed to sparkle only for the present: I feel there is something disturbing about this corner of America, a sinister suggestion of transience.
There is a quality hostile to men in the very earth and air here. As if we were not meant to make our homes in the oddly enervating sunshine. I see the fine highways, the innumerable well-built townships, the nightly blue blaze of elec- tricity along the coast, but I cannot believe that mankind has made a permanent settlement. It is all a de luxe camping. Or the most expensive film set possible to be devised. At any moment, I feel, the earth may give a shudder or two, and the towns will collapse like card castles, the coast will be rolled up like a carpet, and Southern California will be a desert again.
It is all as impermanent and brittle as a reel of film. I was vain. I was silly. They flattered me. I failed. You will fail, too. Go away. Now, at once. Its short history is a fever-chart of migration—the land rush, the gold rush, the oil rush, the movie rush, the Okie fruit picking rush, the wartime rush to the aircraft factories—followed, in each instance, by counter migrations of the disappointed and unsuccessful, moving sorrowfully homeward.
Isherwood revels in the knowledge that the buildings look as if they had been thrown together the day before and might be torn down tomorrow and that Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, and Dickens had not trod the very streets he was walking. It is bracingly realistic. American motels are unreal! There is only one: The Room.
A building code which demands certain measurements, certain utilities and the use of apt certain materials; no more and no less. But just try telling that to the Europeans! It scares them to death. The truth is, our way of life is too austere for them. A life among surfaces has no depth, no matter how one tries to theorize it. Isherwood, because he was remarkable as an egoless egoist, could negotiate fraudulence and superficiality and build a meaningful life for himself, but this hardly would seem to work for the larger culture.
Hollywood was a place that peddled easy sentiment over hard truth, feeling rather than thought, and con- formity rather than the unique, and because they were attrac- tively packed, most writers feared the rest of the world would line up to buy them. They live for and by the outer world of which they know nothing about and whose needs they judge by gross quantitative standards. Like Isherwood, he wanted to break with his past, the legacy of an esteemed family, and the inherited values of the Victorian world. Dunaway explains that for Huxley the ahistorical landscape suggested the possibil- ity for at least a personal future, positing that Huxley might have been influenced by his work editing D.
In short, I want, immediately or at length to transfer all my life to America. Because there I know, the skies are not so old, the air is newer, the earth is not tired. The New World! We called it new because it was not thick with history, not a museum and a guide-book place. Man had been here such a little time that his arrival had not yet been acknowledged. There is no history here because history is too recent. That landscape repre- sented for Huxley the freedom that Southern California offered to experiment with new ideas and philosophies that he thought would suit himself and the modern world better.
He, like the others, found the work depressing and unfulfilling, but he found the landscape sustaining. Though his Los Angeles novels, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan and Ape and Essence, are two of the most savage attacks on Holly- wood and the future it represents, he was able to stay in Southern California because he loved the light and the landscape and he made an adequate living from his studio work.
He was looking for a place to reinvent himself, and he did this by turning away from the witty, cynical literary figure he was in s London and pursuing a very Californian, experimental approach to art, philosophy, and religion. In Jesting Pilate, even Huxley satirized the continually sprouting, flashy religious sects so closely asso- ciated with Los Angeles.
With growing dissatisfaction, he reexamined his previous intellectual cynicism, political activity, and sexual experimentation and turned to mysticism, meditation, and psychedelic drugs. With his interest in Eastern philosophy and his increasing disgust with the horrors of the modern world, it is not at all surprising that his sanctuary would be a small house in the high desert, built on the site of a former utopian colony called Llano del Rio.
The landscape of Southern California fosters this approach to spiritual questing. Built out rather than up, it offers vast empty spaces where one can move farther and farther from annoying fellow humans. Huxley found comfort in the mountains and deserts outside of Los Angeles, where there were fewer traces of human activity and the burdens of history and of the self were somewhat alleviated.
For Isherwood, too many people are tricked into thinking their life has meaning and value because their surroundings appear stable and solid, and he felt that understanding transience is the one of the keys to happiness. He wrote in Horizon: An afternoon drive from Los Angeles will take you up into the high mountains, where eagles circle above the forests and the cold blue lakes, or out over the Mojave Desert, with its weird vegetation and immense vistas.
Not very far away are Death Valley and Yosemite, and the Sequoia Forest with its giant trees which were growing long before the Parthenon was built; they are the oldest living things in the world. One should visit such places often, and be conscious, in the midst of the city, of their surrounding presence. For this is the real nature of California and the secret of its fascination; this untamed, undomesticated, aloof, prehistoric landscape which relent- lessly reminds the traveller of his human condition and the circum- stances of his tenure upon the earth. You can draw from all Europe in England.
Do you honestly feel you are drawing from California—except, at present, a nice fat pay cheque from Metro? And even if you wrote most superbly about California, I doubt if it would quite satisfy either England or America—or yourself. Philosophical, probably, and deeply religious! Very obscure. Full of visions and dreams. Suddenly, you are conscious of the flowers, the gardens, the dry rustle of the palms, the mild, healing vastness of the light and air washing softly upon all your senses, as the ocean washes the sand. However, most of the English faced the novelty and commer- cialism of Hollywood with a pose familiar to readers of travel literature, the Englishman-abroad, and they asserted their cranky Englishness with a certain amount of glee—even writers like Fowles, who is not especially known for his humor.
But this is a battle we the people can win
God curse this antiseptic, heartless, hateful, neon mirage of a city! May its swimming pools be dried up. May all its lights go out forever. I drew a deep dizzying breath in which the perfume of star jasmine was mixed with chlorine. Of course, this is famously true of Waugh, who disliked nearly everything about California and made no secret of it, even to those who were paying for his trip. His ethnography of the manners and values of Los Ange- lenos is reminiscent of his African travel writing, and he takes no pains to hide his haughty disdain.
The allurements of the modest luxury of Hollywood are strong. Will they be seduced there to their own distinction? MGM were consistently munificent and we left as we had come, in effortless luxury. Increasingly I believe most of the English in Hollywood are asking the question. The culture of Hollywood insists on the importance of appearance—whether these things are garish mansions or insipid films. Dodie Smith, though she earned thousands of dollars a week on contract, felt even the best Hollywood films were ruined by extravagance.
If this is a masterpiece I have little further interest in films, either as writer or audience. A dry landscape will extend from the ocean to the mountains. The gas stations rusted, and the mutants gather at their temple in Pershing Square, where every year for two weeks, enforced, orgiastic coupling took place because sex was outlawed the rest of the year. Overseen by His Eminence the Bishop of Hollywood and his aides, the Patriarch of Pasadena and the Three-Horned Inquisitor, the event was followed months later by a sacrificial slaughter of the deformed offspring.
The des- ert sands blow in from all directions. Those who envision the distant future of Southern California portray it as a desert, reflecting what they felt was a vast emp- tiness at the heart of Hollywood. Gone are the lush greenery and tropical flowers, the idea of Hollywood as a paradise. The city itself is vulnerable to the vagaries of the real world and nature itself.
And, because it is manufactured, nature will eventually win out. Waugh writes, For Los Angeles, when its brief history comes to an end, will fall swiftly and silently. Too far dispersed for effective bombardment, too unimportant strategically for the use of expensive atomic devices, it will be destroyed by drought. Its water comes miles from the Col- orado River. A handful of parachutists or partisans anywhere along that vital aqueduct can make the coastal strip uninhabitable.
Bones will whiten along the Santa Fe trail as the great recession struggles eastwards. Nature will reassert herself and the seasons gently obliter- ate the vast, deserted suburb. Its history will pass from memory to legend until, centuries later, as we have supposed, the archaeologists prick their ears at the cryptic references in the texts of the twentieth century to a cult which once flourished on this forgotten strand; of the idol Oscar—sexless image of infertility—of the great Star God- desses who were once noisily worshipped there in Holy Wood.