Novel Update: The Afterword

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.

Photo by Cindy Bruchman

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. 

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 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).

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

Anticipated 2019 Indie Films

I was reading the December 2018 article by David Ehrlich, et al,  “The 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2019” on Indie Wire to stimulate my curiosity for films I might like to see this year.

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Ad Astra. James Gray leaves the jungle in The Lost City of Z and offers a science fiction drama in space. Starring Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland, it will be a challenge to create a realistic space epic about a son who travels through the solar system to find his father and why his mission to Neptune failed. I am hopeful. Release date: May 24. 

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The Irishman. Martin Scorsese explores the hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran’s possible involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. If you like mobster movies, I don’t know how one could not be interested, when considering the cast: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Scorsese signs up with Netflix for total creative control and resources. The CGI de-aging of DeNiro has caused rumblings. I’m hoping the chemistry and a well-written script keeps me captivated. It should be seen on the big screen, so I hope it makes it to the theaters. Release date: “Sometime in late Autumn.”

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Jojo Rabbit. New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, Two Cars One Night) whose mother was a Russian Jew, creates an unusual tale about a young German boy who searches for his identity in a fascist regime by creating his own version of Hitler as an imaginary friend. In reality, his mother is hiding a Jew in the basement. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Thomasin McKenzie, who was amazing in Leave No Trace, it sounds like a quirky, dark satire. I hope Waititi’s sensitive side adds compassion and irony to a potentially thought-provoking story. Release date:  November 27. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Is this Quentin Tarantino’s final film before he retires? Whether you love him or hate him, this film intrigues me. It’s Quentin Tarantino’s goal at creating the historical climate of Hollywood in the early seventies. Will it be enough? As with most Tarantino films, I find the plots dubious and rambling — a lot of borrowed style but little content. I hope the script he took five years to create has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, of course, I would love to see Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio together on screen. So, too, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino. It also helps that the Manson murders are a backdrop and not the central plot point of the movie. That Sharon Tate’s sister approved of the script and that Tarantino had the class to ask her for her blessing, helps the cause. Release date: July 26.

What are some films you are looking forward to watching this year?

L13FC: The Long Careers of Actors

Today is my lucky day! You’ve decided to stop by and add to the discussion to this month’s film topic on my double-nickel birthday. Thank you!

Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Duvall are lifetime friends who bunked together while honing their craft back in the late 1950s. It’s a fascinating trifecta. Read Flip the Movie Script 2016 article, “A Brief Time in History with Friends Hackman, Hoffman, and Duvall” found HERE.

Considered character actors, they catapulted to stardom when their breakout roles were part of an Oscar winner for Best Picture. (Dustin Hoffman in 1967 with The Graduate, Gene Hackman in 1971 with The French Connection, and Robert Duvall in 1972 with The Godfather) Hoffman and Hackman won Oscars for Best Actor, and Duvall was nominated for his supporting role. As generational friends and colleagues, they’ve grown old on the screen and we’ve watched them do it. Their longevity is remarkable. According to IMDb:

Gene Hackman, b. 1930:  100 credits, 2 Oscars, 30 other wins

Dustin Hoffman, b. 1937: 84 credits, 2 Oscars, 60 other wins

Robert Duvall, b. 1931: 143 credits, 1 Oscar, 55 other wins

Having read Allan Hunter‘s biography Gene Hackman, after his win for Popeye in The French Connection, there was a battle within Hackman. How to navigate a career? Should your choices be picky for art’s sake, daring to fall out of favor if your film bombs? Or should you accept any role because you are afraid your flame will burn out quickly if you don’t maximize Oscar success? For Hackman, he never thought “this ugly mug would be so lucky.” By the middle 1970s, he accepted whatever script was offered, and it deflated his high-quality acting persona. Then in the 1980s and 1990s, he seemed to be cast in the same role over and over. The bastard. The son-of-a-bitch. He became “the man” everyone wanted to stick it to.

Please welcome my co-host, Nancy, my mother who has watched these three actors their entire careers. I asked her, “Because Gene is ordinary looking and plays ugly characters does he become repellent to you? If Gene were gorgeous and played ugly characters would he be as repulsive? Or sexier?” 

Nancy’s observations:

Gene Hackman’s looks have nothing to do with it. To me, he comes across as arrogant, even in comedies.  I don’t see him really “acting”, only playing parts that are him.  I love Robert Duvall.  Every character is different, good or bad, such as The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, and as Lt. Col. Kilgore. I don’t have an opinion on Dustin Hoffman one way or another.  Most of his roles aren’t memorable to me. None of them radiate sex appeal. Not like Richard Harris.

Cindy’s observations: 

Gene Hackman said in Allan Hunter’s biography that he knew if he couldn’t get the girl in the film, he would never become a “movie star” like, well, Richard Harris. His talents were utilitarian to a script that needed a smug, corrupt leader. He was perfect and predictable like a favorite dish at a restaurant. If you didn’t get what you expected, you’d be disappointed.

With actors who have sustainable longevity in the business, there seems to be a young version and an older version of themselves. Actors who play diverse roles are my favorite. They are the artists. One wonders after playing 80 + films, like an old horse down a hoof-beaten path, it’s not acting anymore, it becomes, as Nancy suggested, just the man on the screen. The originality of the initial spark that captivated an audience at the start of a career has long since burnt out.

Since many people have a say in the outcome of the film, it would be hard to know which film to pick. What seems like an interesting, meaty role, could end up being an unbalanced disaster beyond the actor’s control. It is the brave artist on screen who bears the criticism of good chemistry gone sour. For career actors, who make 80+ films, I have to wonder if they feel that filmmaking is a hit or miss endeavor. Maybe if one can count four or five excellent roles in a fifty-year career, that’s a job well done at the end of a life?

Considering Hackman, Hoffman, and Duvall, why do you prefer the one you picked? Their best role?

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