George and the Opium Den

The month of February was a blur of moving and working. And writing. I’ve been concentrating on writing creatively rather than creating blog posts about films. Also, I haven’t gone anywhere to share any photo shots. For now, I just want to keep working on “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero is in Berlin,1922, working as an extra for Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. Here is what he does in his spare time: 

Sunken clouds spit a late April rain on the back of George’s neck. He entered a cracked lane overtaken by weeds toward an abandoned water tower of chocolate bricks and curved windows that looked like drowsy eyes. The architecture was nothing like the white, water tower in Chicago where as a boy he had watched his father work as a foreman. This one was a rectangle box eight stories tall, a fortress from a medieval dream. As George approached the back door, the bumpy clouds obscured the morning light and gave the building a sinister appearance. The dampness absorbed into the stump at his wrist, and it ached as he poked at his neck trying to stifle the itch under his skin. It had been three days since his last visit to Mr. Li’s opium den.  

        Within walking distance of the UFA studio complex, hidden from the main road behind vines that coiled around the Hemlock trees, he knocked on a door and waited for a Chinaman to open the center window and admit him. The small window-door snapped open and a man with puffy eyes squinted at him. He recognized George and let him in. George hunched down and followed him, watching his braid roll on the back of his tunic as he led him through the basement. Room dividers partitioned a corner, and as George whiffed the aroma of opium, he salivated. A pot-bellied stove heated pots of water and warmed the area while a young worker prepared opium tea. Kerosene lamps sat on tables and a davenport. George walked over to the old man who organized the den and gave him Deutschmarks.

        Guten Tag, Joe,” he greeted George with a thick accent. “Here.” He patted one of eight Army cots each covered with a military blanket, all positioned in a circle with a center island for the young worker on a stool. His work table contained candles, matches, bowls, opium pods, a pester and grinder, tubes, bamboo pipes, and a hookah.  He had a long, curved pinky nail which was filed and used as a spoon. When filled, the nail held exactly half a gram. George thought that was clever.

        “Hello, Mr. Li.”

        He kicked off his soggy loafers and placed them next to the stove to dry. He set his overcoat on a wooden chair by his cot and lay down feeling like a bug on an ashen petal connected to a dead daisy.  As he waited for the opium to foam and to inhale the vapor, he ignored the other bug two cots away and stared at the room divider. There was a red dragon coiled and twisted on a silk panel. He inhaled and closed his eyes. Soon the flush dulled his senses. That dullness turned into a stupor like a blanket that covered him with nothingness, and he floated to a place where Private Cox could not penetrate. In this dreamy blackness, his one impression was that he was in his mother’s womb, and his relief became an audible groan.

     He lay there for several hours before he had to report for filming.


The following is an old post about Fritz Lang and German Expressionism and Hans Poelzig, an inspirational architect for this story.

Hans Poelzig’s Sulphuric Acid Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)Hans Poelzig’s Chemical Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)

Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig, and Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, have a grip on my imagination while I create the climate of Weimar Germany in the manuscript, “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero, my American World War I veteran, arrives in Berlin, and stumbles into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script is filmed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler.


Who knows why she held her German Nationalist views while Fritz Lang emigrated to the United States or how she was implicated in a murder, but my fiction will dabble with the possibilities and recreate the evening involving George.

Fritz Lang & Thea von Harbou, married, 1922-1933
Hans Poelzig Architecture 

light columns at the Grand Theater’s entrance hall

The Großes Schauspielhaus, Berlin, Germany circa 1920
What a pity Hans Poelzig’s grand theater exists only in pictures now. The honeycomb pillars resembled stalactites and the circular design without balcony seats, according to Ross Wolfe’s article “Scary Architecture: The Early Works of Hans Poelzig” found HERE, was an exquisite example of German expressionist architecture. Imagine the ceiling full of lights to imitate the stars. Before its demolition in the 1980s, the theater’s history included Nazi control in 1933 when its grandness was hidden behind dropped ceilings and eventually turned into a warehouse. I wish someone would recreate it for new audiences to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. 


The Swastika

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a
Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a ceramic bowl


It is a great irony in World History. That a symbol of peace and well-wishes should signify hate and encapsulate the pain of WWII. The Swastika has an ancient history as a symbol of peace used around the world. To my students, this is new news. They’ve only known the slanted, perverted Swastika. They did not know its Sanskrit origins dated 5,000 years before Christ, was founded in Hinduism, and sprouted from India and Iran. Indo-Aryans migrated taking their chariots with them (1800 BCE) and spread language, artifacts, and the symbol of peace, the Swastika. Read more about it at the Holocaust Museum.

I’ve never felt its presence more than last summer when in Crete, I visited the Heraklion Museum and found the Swastika on the side of Minoan pottery (picture above). It coincided with research I’d been doing on Hopi and Navajo Indians, specifically how they crafted their beautiful rugs. I stumbled upon Gary David’s article “The Four Arms of Destiny: Swastikas in the Hopi World” and enjoyed how he explained the ubiquitous presence of the Swastika. It is fascinating and found here:  swastikas_hopi_gary_david.

Navajo blanket

The Hopi and the Navajo American Indians are celebrated for their craftsmanship of making rugs and blankets. Throughout Arizona there are trading posts and gallery showrooms where their art is auctioned. Want to learn more about the weaving history or the Hopi and Navajo? I enjoyed this 2012 article by Ojibwa from Native American Netroots. When I explore antique shops, it is not surprising to find Hopi and Navajo rugs for sale, ranging from $100-2,000 dollars. I have seen rugs with the swastika woven in them. While theorists and historians speculate the global presence of the swastika, I am saving up to purchase a Hopi rug that has the peace symbol woven in it. I’d like to reclaim the swastika, set it up straight, and share well wishes to those who enter my door.



Zane Grey

Social Icons
Social Icons

Zane Grey (1872-1939). Known as the father of the Western novel, his prolific career included 64 books and several magazine articles. 130 films are credited from his books.


Wild Arizona, Devil’s Bridge, Sedona

Check out the Zane Grey’s West Society for fascinating articles and facts about him. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the South West 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 gun fight 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.

Mexican Hat, Utah 

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, John Wayne, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd. Probably the most famous novel by Zane Grey is Riders of the Purple Sage. Do you have a favorite? 

I have been scanning silent films trying to find the perfect late 1920s film to thread the theme of the cinema in “Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol”. I’ve decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd. 

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper

Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton,  it’s Gary Cooper’s first appearance 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.

Zane Grey’s influence abounds in far-reaching ways. While synonymous with the arid, desert landscape, his passion is 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 links Grey’s attempts to conquer the Marlin to Hemingway’s inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.  Zane Grey is alive today when citizens attend schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him.

I watched an old episode of M*A*S*H the other afternoon and Colonel Potter was eagerly trying to finish his latest Zane Grey novel about a noble cowboy and his relationships with nature, Indians, and a saucy female protagonist.  Zane Grey loved the Mogollon Rim by Payson, Arizona. I’ve camped there and I understand its appeal. I’m looking forward to a weekend getaway to the Eastern section of the Rim in a couple weeks. I can’t think of a better site to work on the novel.

Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)
Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)


Meet Sally, the Copper Cutie

abf61647dac27cfdb3d95a16c25f8c1bSally, 1927

She counted twenty-five faceless heads in the dimmed house. At the Liberty Theatre in Jerome, Arizona, the seats rose steeply. Each row held a dozen, and the house held a hundred people comfortably. Upstage, two Kliegl lamps lit the back screen blue. In the wing, she locked arms with her dance troupe, the Copper Cuties, while Leo tapped the piano keys to the song, “Ain’t She Sweet,” his long thighs bouncing. Sally nudged her four dance partners on the third beat of the reprise. The yellow tutus rustled and their black-hosed legs crossed and kicked. This was the first performance of the new routine she choreographed inspired from a recent article in McCall’s magazine. She seared the picture of the kicking squad of precision dancers, a line of long-legged symmetry, chins up, poised, into her memory. They were called the Rockettes and were growing so popular, the article claimed, they were taking their show to New York City. The ache to be in the front row to see them kick, to hear their tap shoes click-clack on the stage, and to listen to an orchestra, Oh! her heart ached. She thought she might break down and ask her mother to pay for a ticket to see them. She refrained. Her mother would interpret the request as a sign of reconciliation and would want to travel with her.  The two hour show would be heaven but not worth journeying across the country on a train with Connie Vandenberg. She’d be trapped in a private car and forced to suffer the kaleidoscope expressions of her mother’s face. First the tears, then the wail of the tantrum, followed by the threats, and finally, the sullen dismissal that told her to “Go to hell.”  Yes, Sally decided, better to imagine the show and skip the train ride.

        Sally designed a routine based around the melody of “Ain’t She Sweet.” Her heart leaped anytime she heard it on the radio. She gave Leo the money to buy the sheet music to Ben Bernie’s new song and then forced him to play it until she had memorized the lyrics. The ensemble from Jerome agreed to her idea that they would imitate the Rockettes. Sally bartered yellow netting and cheap silk fabric from Mr. Sang’s store in exchange for a pair of opal earrings, gifts from her mother two years ago. The Chinese tailor and his son would turn the material into five costumes, which, Sally realized when the Copper Cuties put them on, they looked like bumble-bees. Shit.

        Opals! What did she care about opals? She wanted rubies and emeralds and diamonds. How many years would she have to wait before her mother died to inherit her grand collection?  Sally’s tap shoes smacked the wooden floorboards harder.  All of these thoughts spun in her mind in rapid succession during the first turn on the stage.

        She imagined the Rockettes. Her grin grew wider. The house was dark, and the fog of cigarette smoke reflected off the two spotlights aimed at them.  One of her dancers was too short and waddled more than pranced.  A couple of the girls were fair, but Sally was disappointed they couldn’t kick high with their toes out in front of their chins.  She looked to her left, and she looked to her right with the footlights hot at her feet. The song ended and some of the men clapped. One stood up and whistled.  “Let’s see ya shimmy!” Sally recognized Luke Foster. He came every Wednesday to see them dance, zozzled after drinking for hours beforehand.

      Leo began a long introduction meant to showcase Sally’s tap dancing abilities. She was the only one who had formal training, five years of dance lessons in Chicago. The girls heel-stepped and circled Sally, hiding her behind their tutus while she stripped down to a black corset and black silk shorts. Folded like a fan, she pulled out from her shorts Indian feathers of various colors glued to a head band and slipped it on. The Copper Cuties opened the circle, passed Sally’s tutu behind their backs to the wing, and Sally click-clacked the triple buffalo downstage.  She stood there with a leg stretched to the side, her arms high, her wrists flexed, and grinned with enthusiasm. She was particularly proud of this onstage dress change. She saw it two years ago in New York City when her mother took her to see the Ziegfeld Follies. That’s when she gave Sally the opals as an apology. The whole week getaway was designed for Sally to forgive her mother. How ridiculous to think keeping her father from her most of her life could be whitewashed by a pair of milky earrings? She wanted to spit at Connie Vandenberg. Watching the Ziegfeld Follies was a ruined experience and one more reason for Sally to run away from Chicago to her wild Aunt’s boarding house and saloon in Arizona.

 * * * * * * *

Here are some posts you might have missed about the historical climate of 1927 in Jerome, AZ.


Fritz Lang and Weimar Berlin


A large part of time spent writing about the past is researching with hopes of authenticating the historical climate. I get lost in the learning and have to nudge myself to get on with the writing.  “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol” begins with George Hero who finds himself in Berlin, 1922, succumbing to the corruptible effects of opium and the cabaret nightlife. There are three strands from the Weimar era I’m stressing in the first third of the manuscript. First, Berlin was a mechanized, stimulating, indecorous urban center. Second, director Fritz Lang was a key pioneer of German Expressionism in the film industry. Be my guest and read last summer’s post about German Expressionism HERE.  Finally, some veterans epitomized by Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” resorted to the corrupting effects of opium, reckless behavior, and Lustmord  as a reaction to the horrors of World War I.


Last summer I visited Berlin, and that helps me today, but several neighborhoods and sections of 1922 Berlin were obliterated during the bombing of WWII. For accurately creating the historical climate, 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. How did they labor? How did they play? What did they eat, and what did they wear? While watching a day in the life of 1927, 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 a 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.

If you get a chance to watch the silent film below, notice how the score by Edmund Meisel aligns with the hustle and downtime of the city. The effect–Berlin was a living, breathing entity. If you missed my post about last summer’s trip to Germany, you can read about Munich and BERLIN HERE.

 Fritz Lang 

My character George will stumble into Fritz Lang’s world and become involved with the making of Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922). What’s happening to George’s psyche mirrors the country’s neuroses displayed visually in Lang’s film and substantiated by Otto Friedrich’s account of Berlin during the Weimar Republic, Before the Deluge. So, how wild were those cabarets? For descriptions of the venue, the clientele, and street addresses, Mel Gordon’s Voluptuous Panic was an eye-popper.

From all of this, George Hero emerges from my imagination, and here’s how the manuscript opens:

 “He reached for the hand that was not there with an ache to grab his thumb, trace the outline of his fingers, or scrape off a lengthy fingernail. In his mind he made a fist and punched the face of the skittish private who had misfired. Other times he gouged the brown eyes with long lashes staring vacant at him. Out of the shadows the sun poured into the cabin car and George squinted out the window as the train arrived at the Berlin station. The information board read: January 16, 1921. 13:00. The steam escaped from the train with a whoosh, and the iron wheels groaned to a halt. George stepped onto the platform. Dimly, he realized since his discharge, he had roamed without forethought. At first, he was reluctant to return to Chicago to his parents after the war, because he discovered many women in France were widows and attracted to him. With his pitiful command of French and their few words of English, it was easier to communicate with smiles and sympathetic fingers. Especially if she had children by her side. They looked up at the stump at his right wrist, and their eyes filled with curiosity and disgust. He wrapped the wound with clean bandages during the day and at night massaged the stretched, shiny skin.” 

Hier endet meine Update.  Okay, back to the writing.

Saloons and Theaters in Jerome, AZ

J is for Jerome, 1880s to 1950s, “the” copper mining town

A recent treat included an interview and personal tour of a site for my manuscript “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol.” It’s 1927, Prohibition is in effect, and part of the story is at the copper mining town, Jerome, Arizona. A prevalent feature of any mining town are the ethnic saloons which brought news and respite to miners rotating in three shifts. Paul and Jerry’s saloon still exists today. I asked Paul Vojnic’s son and grandson for their memories about the building built in 1899 and the partnership established in 1939.

Oldest family run bar in Arizona

Oldest family run bar in Arizona

This saloon was a speakeasy. It inspires my descriptions for creating a legitimate setting true to mining, Jerome, and American life in 1927.

Marble top soda fountain and bar
Marble top soda fountain and bar

During Prohibition, the upstairs area sold candy, soda-pop and cigars. Downstairs, miners gambled and drank alcohol or ate at the Chinese-run restaurant. The bell on the basement wall is intact; if the police arrived upstairs, the bell warned drinkers to hide or take flight. The skeletal remains of one staircase connected to the front exterior of the building made it easy to come and go without much harassment.

Once there was a staircase leading to the front exterior of the saloon.
Once there was a staircase leading to the front exterior of the saloon.

I’m interested in the immigrant culture of Jerome in 1927. Research suggests among the many ethnic groups living in Jerome, there were Chinese families who ran restaurants, provided services like tailoring and cleaning, worked in the mine, and ran opium dens. I’d like to fictionalize a Chinese family. The Jerome Historical society, local narratives, and scholarly work aids in the creation. For example, I am fond of Robert Wheeler’s The Social Fabric I & II which contains essays by historians about American life. Professors Judy Yang and Sarah Deutsch present the Chinese and Mexican perspective in a way that substantiates the creative parts of my story.

Paul Vojnic
Paul Vojnic

What a face!

Around the block from Paul and Jerry’s Saloon is the Liberty Theater. From 1918-1929, Hollywood films and Vaudeville acts entertained the public. In 1927, the population was over 2,000. Today it’s around 550. The theater has been redone. Visitors can climb the back staircase up three flights to see the film projectors and equipment, the dressing rooms, and then down into the house which held over 100 people. It was calming to be surrounded by red velvet drapes, rows of seats, the organ, piano, and medium sized stage down in the front.

Did you catch the post about Sally, “Knickel-Hoppers”? If you have time, here’s some fun information about them HERE

Entertainment was highly valued in Jerome and still is today. The Vojnics told me that 2,000,000 people visit Jerome each year; it’s the third most visited destination after the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I believe it, for it’s crowded on the weekends. Parking is sparse, but worth the trouble to take in the vista views and explore three layers of streets cut into the side of the mountain.

Next to investigate comes the process of copper mining and the billion dollar industry that made Mr. Clark an élite industrialist. Even more fascinating is his recluse daughter, Huguette Clark, who inherited the fortune and hid herself away from the limelight. Here is a SYNOPSIS of Empty Mansions. I’ve just stared reading it. Is she a female Howard Hughes?

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