That’s a daunting task. What hasn’t been said about World War II? Anyone over the age of forty has lived with its ramifications from memoirs, relatives, books, movies, and personal accounts. While my 1920s manuscript is in the process of publication for a November release, I’m researching World War II for the third installment of my historical fiction series about the twentieth century. My goal is to create two characters who are experiencing it. I will focus on a few aspects of the war to follow that encapsulates the universal themes. Again, I scratch my head and ponder the possibilities. Acutely aware that armchair scholars and scholars alike have heard it all before. Well, I’m always up for a challenge.
I’m reading about an epic account I have never heard about before. Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. It chronicles “121 hand-selected U.S. troops who slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March thirty rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March.”
I’m thinking one of my fictitious characters will be on that mission.
The other character is female and experiencing the war on the homefront. Somehow, she will be connected to the baseball/pilot hero Ted Williams. Somehow, I’d like to include Navajo Code-Talkers, the Hiroshima Maidens, and the 422nd., the all-Nisei Regiment in the plot. Here’s an article about them from the History Channel:
My novel is in the process of publication and will be on the shelves in November. I realized I needed an afterword. I thought I’d share my efforts with the history surrounding Inside the Gold Plated Pistol. New followers and old friends might find it interesting.
Chapter One: Sally
The Roaring 20s was a special time for women to break boundaries and demand their independence. Innovation, music, movies, art, extravagance, and exuberance commanded the decade. Researching the historical climate circa 1927 led me down one road and then another; it was a fun way to get lost. Trying to conceive original characters depended upon a historical vision and then allowing the characters the flexibility to form themselves out of the mental mud I spun. Thank you, Barbara Stanwyck and Flo Ziegfeld girls, for providing me clues about a lifestyle for the fictional character Sally. Vaudeville acts, traveling dance troupes, nightclub dancers, and the high-class Ziegfeld Follies were a part of the Jazz Age across America. Though the Wild West was technically dead by 1927, no one told the 15,000 residents of Jerome, Arizona. The family of a copper baron, miners, cowboys, Native Americans, dance-hall girls, and prostitutes fused with the best technology of the age and imitated the urban environment out in the middle of nowhere with impressive results. Several silent-era actors and actresses transitioned from the chorus line on Broadway by Ziegfeld from 1907-1931. Many westerns were filmed in the area including nearby Sedona like Zane Grey’s Call of the Canyon in 1923. This is where Barbara Stanwyck comes in.
Stanwyck was orphaned at four and a frequent run-away from foster homes. She became a Ziegfeld dancer at fourteen. That led her to the movie industry and subsequent sixty-year career with 80-plus films to her credit. Imagining Barbara Stanwyck as the driven girl who possessed grit, sex-appeal, and survival instincts were the inspiration for the fictional Sally Vandenberg.
Barbara Stanwyck photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston
Chapter Two: George
German Expressionism. What is it? Simply put, it was a movement in art, film, and architecture during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). At its height during the 1920s, it was a German reaction to the horrors of World War I. Mutilated soldiers returned with haunted eyes, hopeless, and depressed. Society as a whole suffered from nightmares more than dreams. Scholarship suggests there was a correlation between the Weimar years of emasculated men who committed depraved sex acts and murders against women particularly in the 1920s. This reaction to the war might be a link explaining the mindset of a society that allowed Nazi intolerance toward Jews. https://harvardmagazine.com/1997/03/right.lust.html
I turned to the 1927 silent film, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, an impressive composition about urban life during the Weimar Republic. Before the catastrophe of Nazism, Berlin was a mechanized, modern center of Europe. With subways, canals, taxis, factories, and elevators, Walther Ruttmann began his film with the sunrise, and clocks chronicled the day of Berliners. I am reminded of ordinary occurrences that are extinct today. Toddlers and children played outside with very little supervision. Milk was delivered to your home in bottles. On the corner of intersections, newsies sold newspapers for five cents, and policemen directed traffic. Horses still competed with cars and trolleys for the use of the street. Men pushed brooms while women beat the dust out of their rugs. Water was pitched on front steps for daily scrubbing. Reports were typed and letters were written. People shared rotary phones and were restricted to booths and cords. These details seem meaningless, but they are vital when recreating the time period. In a paralyzed German society after WWI, it is easier to understand how horror came to be expressed on the film screen. Abstract production designs mimicked Surrealism in art. Architecture with exaggerated lines and points replicated the skyscraper. Shadows, nightmares, long staircases, dream sequences, ghoulish villains and pretty, naïve women fed the psychologically damaged. The Man Who Laughs is an example inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula. Actor Max Schrek plays the vampire Count Orlok the nocturnal stalker in F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922).
Berlin was a stimulating, indecorous urban center. Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig created buildings with a creepy touch. Director Fritz Lang was a key pioneer of German Expressionism in the film industry. Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, had a grip on my imagination while I created the climate of Weimar Germany. The fictional WWI veteran, George Hero, arrived in Berlin, and stumbled into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script was directed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. What happened to George’s psyche mirrored the country’s neuroses displayed visually in Lang’s film and substantiated by Otto Friedrich’s account of Berlin during the Weimar Republic in his fascinating book, Before the Deluge. How wild were those Berlin cabarets? For descriptions of the venues, the clientele, and street addresses, Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic was an eye-popper.
Chapter Three: Kay
The Hopi People by Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Carolyn O’Bagy Davis and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office was instrumental in learning about the culture of the Hopi. Another imperative work was James W. Cornett’s Indian Uses of Desert Plants. To be Hopi is the life-long pursuit to be whole with the universe through traditional ceremonies practiced by a lunar cycle. They revere all things in nature. Their creator is Maasaw and their matrilineal clan is peaceful. They are migratory farmers and in Clarkdale, their footprint is left by their ancestors, the Anasazi, whose “condominiums” from a thousand years ago are displayed for us in the Verde Valley to admire such as Toozigut or Montezuma Castle. Many Hopi lives in Northeast Arizona in the four-corner region of the United States. I was fascinated by their expansive knowledge of desert plants and holistic healing. They are expert artisans of silver making, weaving, and pottery design. Their wooden Kachina dolls are a beautiful insight into their spiritual world.
Zane Grey (1872-1939) was known as the father of the Western novel. With 64 books, magazine articles, and 130 films to his credit, to understand his influence, I recommend Thomas H. Pauly’s biography, Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the Southwest that evoked a desire to visit and a need to protect the vanishing frontier. His heroes were flawed and troubled. He honored the Native American instead of portraying him as a savage. His women were virtuous, strong, and spellbinding. The violence and action of the gunfight were secondary to the enchanted topography Grey conveyed with love. His popular novels contributed to the collective consciousness of the myth of the West well into the 20th century.
Silent films capitalized on Grey’s novels. Of the 130 films adapted from Grey’s books, a third of the filming locations occurred in Arizona. Reading his most popular novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, revealed how descriptive Grey’s talents were. There is no doubt for me that Zane Grey’s real adventures made his fiction stories authentic. The adage, “write what you know” is exemplified by Zane Grey. His descriptions are from someone who rode through the Southwest by horse. I respect the man’s adventurous life and his writing style is nothing short of inspirational. The Western genre in film originates with Zane Grey. His influence spilled into radio shows and television. His film adaptations provided the impetus for many careers including Shirley Temple, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd.
Zane Grey’s influence abounded in far-reaching ways. While associated with the arid, desert landscape, his passion was for deep-sea fishing. He owned patents on fishing lures and held eleven world records in deep-sea fishing. His letters to friend Ernest Hemingway linked Grey’s attempt to conquer the Marlin. Their discussions became the inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea. Today, Zane Grey has schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him. However, by the end of the 1920s, Zane Grey’s popularity dipped as a deluge of westerns circulated the movie industry. Many careers of Hollywood’s best actors participated in the genre of the western. Connected to the Sycamore Wilderness Canyon is Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona. Sedona was a popular spot for filming and starred several Hollywood heavyweights: Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Sterling Hayden, Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley, Donna Reed, Richard Widmark, and John Wayne.
When I wrote the book, I decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd, for the fictional setting of the film.
A most beautiful man: Gary Cooper
Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton, the 1925 version was Gary Cooper’s first uncredited role in film. The Thundering Herd is about a trader who uncovers a scheme to blame the Indians for a Buffalo massacre. Director William Howard remakes the film again in 1933 and stars Randolph Scott. Sally was besotted by Gary Cooper. Can you blame her?
Chapter 4: George
I give my deepest thanks to the board and members of the Clarkdale Historical Society in Clarkdale when I volunteered heavily for a year learning about the William A. Clark family and the United Verde Copper Company. An intricate mining system located in the Black Hills of Jerome sent the raw deposits to the smelting plant below in Clarkdale. Jerome by Midge Steuber and the Jerome Historical Society Archives was instrumental in learning about the mining history of Jerome and Clarkdale. The galleries of photos, newspaper articles, books, and older residents shared their personal histories and gave me a valuable history lesson. A true company town, William A. Clark was a rags-to-riches story of the famous copper baron who turned senator. He died in 1925 at the age of 86 leaving an estimated $200 million ($2.5 billion today) and his company town. He established a rail line and a depot in the middle of the desert called Las Vegas. He had nine children from two marriages. His son, William A. Clark Jr., went to Los Angeles and became a rare books collector and the driving force of the Philharmonic Orchestra. William A. Clark’s reclusive daughter, Huguette, has become popular to do the excellent biography by Bill Dedman, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, entitled Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. The grandson was an aviator who tragically died in the hills outside of Clarkdale when his plane failed to come out of a spin in 1932. Earlier that year, he helped establish the Cottonwood AirField (later known as the Clemenceau Airport) in the neighboring town of Cottonwood. A special guest attended the two-day dedication celebration–Amelia Earhart.
Chapter 5: Sally
Many times my family and I ride up the dirt road to what we fondly refer to as “The Plateau”. The stunning vista views of the Sycamore Canyon and the Red Rocks of Sedona always impress. It is a place for a campfire and stargazing. It is also the starting point of the story’s camping expedition.
Photo by Cindy Bruchman
Fictional Kay is 19 and experienced a loss of self. In the 1920s, Native Americans generally had three choices for adopting an identity. First, return to the Hopi tribe and “be” Hopi. Two, reject the Hopi tradition and assimilate into the white culture. Three, become a hybrid of sorts, holding on to and existing in the white culture while honoring parts of Hopi traditions discreetly. As Kay figures herself out, she is befriended by an old Apache grandmother who tries to teach her Apache ways. From the 1880s to the 1950s, Yavapai, Apache, Hopi, and Navajo tribes shared traditions because of the forced removal and tribal integration on the reservations. Over the years, tribes blended versions of dances and art forms. While there is a fierce pride in keeping with tribal traditions that are distinct as Hopi or Navajo, Native Americans instinctively bonded with other tribes first before they would bond with whites. This is a generalization and exceptions are always found. What fascinates me as a social historian is how an individual chooses their cultural identity. Native Americans see themselves as unique. They are a minority group trying to be autonomous while surviving in a larger culture. I find their grace and artistry and traditions fascinating. I’m a big fan of Native American photographer and ethnographer, Edward “Shadow Catcher” Curtis. From the 1880s to 1930s Curtis recorded thousands of wax cylinder recordings of music, language, and mythologies of Indian tribes in the Southwest. His expansive photography captures the grace and beauty of Southwest Indians. His photographs are now famous although he had little fame or fortune during his working years. I recommend reading Edward S. Curtis: Coming To Light by Anne Makepeace. One aspect of the Indian tradition that they all shared was their way of harvesting and use of wild desert vegetation. I recommend James W. Cornett’s informative book Indian Uses of Desert Plants by Nature Trails Press.
Chapter 6: Kay
Early Glendale by Juliet M. Arroyo was helpful in getting an idea of what the Los Angeles Area. Who knew Native Americans camped out in the parks or that there was a union formed by Native Americans objecting to the depiction of Indians in the movies? Another aspect of Los Angeles I was drawn to was the Glendale airport. One of the biggest advancements in the 1920s was in aviation for women. One singular organization validated the unconventional woman who dared to fly, the Ninety-Nines, which are still in existence today. The club was created for the purpose of chronicling the achievements of women aviation. I saw photos and posters featuring Native American women aviators and knew my fictional heroine had to make the decision to “aim higher”. Flying was the answer to her independent nature. The Ninety-Nines played an active role during the depression with their marking project across America. And there was a female pilot as talented as Amelia Earhart but gathered an ignoble reputation as a Nazi spy, Laura Ingalls, a distant cousin to the famed writer of life on the prairie. It was a good way to tease the reader’s interest in the third book of the series when it will be set during World War II.
In general, my goal was to write a compressed story of three believable characters in the 1920s. Creating a historical climate was the overarching goal. Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol is the second novel in a six-part series showcasing the twentieth century with new heroes who have been underrepresented in United States history.
It’s taken six years, but my second novel is off for publishing by a small press called DartFrog Books. It should be out on book store shelves and available on Amazon and Kindle by August. Yahoo!
Here’s a bit of recent research I thought I’d share.
I was delighted to learn about the Ninety-Nines. This female group of aviators established themselves in 1929. The first president was Emelia Earhart. Not a big surprise since she was the leading female aviator in the country. Soon, her solo Trans-Atlantic flight on May 20, 1932, would make her hugely famous. Emelia and other fellow pilots sought to recruit ninety-nine women to join the club. They wanted to document their flying achievements and show the world that women were strong and smart enough to endure the rigors of flying.
After establishing the group, shortly thereafter, in 1933, the Ninety-Nines was assigned by the government the job of marking the airports. Funded by the WPA, each state was divided into sections of 20 square miles. “Where possible, a marker with the name of the nearest town was painted on the roof of the most prominent building at each 15-mile interval. If the towns were far apart, white painted ground markers, such as rocks and bricks, were used.” You can read more about this endeavor in Air Marking Program on the ninety-nines.org site. I had never heard about this program. The painstaking goal of marking every state with this grid design sounds daunting and impressive to me. I also discovered one of the more unusual females in U.S. History. Her name was Laura Ingalls. No, not the writer of Little House on the Praire fame, but the aviator. Turns out she was a distant cousin to the writer. Laura Ingalls the aviator was friends with the writer’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Anyway, the aviator was a record-breaker and a pioneer in women’s aviation. What did she do?
Longest solo flight by a woman (17,000 miles)
First solo flight by a woman from North to South America
First solo flight around South America by man or woman
First complete flight by a land plane around South America by a man or woman
First American woman to fly the Andes solo
In the shadow of Emelia’s fame and popularity, not many have heard of aviator Laura Ingalls. A strange sidenote–her brother married the daughter of J.P. Morgan. Aside from wealthy relatives and aviation achievements, it was the other side of Laura’s personality which thwarted any fame she might have earned and raised my eyebrows with surprise.
Laura Ingalls was convicted as a Nazi spy in 1942 for two years in prison.
She had been paid for her efforts to promote the Nazi cause by Baron Ulrich von Gienanth who was head of the Gestapo in the U.S. and second secretary to the German Embassy. She was applauded as a fine orator propagating the Nazi agenda to the America First Committee. She was followed by the FBI and eventually sentenced to a woman’s prison in West Virginia.
She was paroled in 1944 and lived out her life in obscurity in California into her seventies. You can read more about her found HERE.
I tried to imagine a woman like Laura Ingalls who led a contradictory life. On one hand, she was an admirable pilot. On the other hand, she had reprehensible political affiliations. That contrast in one woman had me put her in my novel as a bit part to one of my principal characters. Truthfully, I’m surprised no one has thought to make a movie about her. What an unusual person.