George Sterling, James Hopper, Harry Leon Wilson and Jack London. Bohemian Grove, photographer unknown, 1915. Larger.
For most of us, the fantasy of movie magic offers an escape from ordinary life. But should you ever encounter the real process of filmmaking, that romantic world can't help but lose its lustre.
In Harry Leon Wilson's hilarious satire Merton of the Movies
, starstruck Midwesterner Merton Gill enters the backlots of glamorous Tinseltown and discovers there the unglamorous reality of Hollywood
At the lower end it gave insanely upon a row of three-story brownstone houses which any picture patron would recognize as being wholly of New York. There were the imposing steps, the double-doored entrances, the broad windows, the massive lines of the whole. And beyond this he came to a many-coloured little street out of Bagdad, overhung with gay balconies, vivacious with spindled towers and minarets, and small reticent windows, out of which veiled ladies would glance. And all was still with the stillness of utter desertion.
Then he explored farther and felt curiously disappointed at finding that these structures were to real houses what a dicky is to a sincere, genuine shirt. They were pretentiously false.
Harry Leon Wilson's fictional satire of early Hollywood was first serialized in 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post
–Contributed by Christie Genochio
Perils of Pauline
, directed by Louis J. Gasnier, poster 1914. Larger.
Even though its not indiginous, the eucalyptus has become one of California's most familiar trees. So what's it doing in New York and Chicago?
In Merton of the Movies
, Harry Leon Wilson makes fun of campy Hollywood
serials like the "Hazards of Hortense," which wherever the scene is set, always features the same familiar tree.
Back in the cabin Ralph and Hortense discovered that the wolves had gone. It had an ugly look. Why should the wolves go? Ralph opened the door and they both peered out. There in the shadow of a eucalyptus tree stood Black Steve and his dastardly crew. . . .
Merton of the Movies
Upon the roof of the Fifth Avenue mansion of her scoundrelly guardian in the great city of New York she was gaining the friendly projection of a cornice from which she could leap and again escape death—even a fate worse than death, for the girl was pursued from all sorts of base motives. This time, friendless and alone in profligate New York, she would leap from the cornice to the branches of the great eucalyptus tree that grew hard by.
She escaped from an underworld den in a Chicago slum just in the nick of time, cleverly concealing herself in the branches of the great eucalyptus tree that grew hard by, while her maddened pursuers scattered in their search for the prize.
was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post
and then published as a novel in 1922, becoming one of the first—and still one of the best—Hollywood satires.
Merton of the Movies,
poster from the film directed by James Cruze, 1924. Larger.
The bright lights of Hollywood
have long beckoned to star-struck dreamers, but in the absurd reality of the movie business, those bright lights create an awfully strange glow.
In the 1922 novel Merton of the Movies
, Harry Leon Wilson tells the satiric story of a youthful middle-America dreamer, Merton Gill, whose naivety is hardly touched by the cynical realism of a Hollywood veteran, the Montague Girl.
"Those girls in the hotel scenes—I suppose they're all nice girls of good family?" he casually observed.
"Huh?" demanded Miss Montague, engaged with a pencil at the moment in editing her left eyebrow.
"Oh, that bunch? Sure, they all come from good old Southern families—Virginia and Indiana and those places." She tightened her lips before the little mirror she held and renewed their scarlet. Then she spoke more seriously.
"Sure, Kid, those girls are all right enough. They work like dogs and do the best they can when they ain't got jobs. I'm strong for 'em. But then, I'm a wise old trouper. I understand things. You don't. You're the real country wild rose of this piece. It's a good thing you got me to ride herd on you. You're far too innocent to be turned loose on a comedy lot."
Before he wrote Merton of the Movies
, Harry Leon Wilson was the collaborator of playwright Booth Tarkington, and together they wrote a number of popular Broadway productions, including 1907's The Man from Home
–Contributed by Meghan Bass
Ever seen a favorite book turned into a dreadful movie? Unfortunately, most of us have, thanks to a Hollywood
habit almost as old as the film industry.
After a successful career writing for Broadway, in 1910 Harry Leon Wilson moved to Carmel. In 1922 he published Merton of the Movies
, a satirical look at filmmaking that includes this improbable version of a film adaptation.
George Sterling, Harry Leon Wilson, unknown and Jack London, Bohemian Grove (detail), photographer unknown, 1915. Larger.
"I got it—got the whole thing. Modernize it. This chap is a rich young New Yorker, cruising on his yacht, and he's wrecked on this island and gets a lot of stuff ashore and his valet is saved, too—say there's some good comedy, see what I mean?—valet is one of these stiff English lads, never been wrecked on an island before and complains all the time about the lack of conveniences. I can see a lot of good gags for him, having to milk the goats, and getting scared of the other animals, and no place to press his master's clothes—things like that, you know. Well, the young fellow explores the island and finds another party that's been wrecked on the other side, and it's the girl and the man that got her father into his power and got all of his estate and is going to make beggars of them if the girl won't marry him, and she comes on the young fellow under some palms and they fall in love and fix it up to double-cross the villain. . . . How about that? . . ."
Merton of the Movies
The other considered profoundly. "Yes, you got a story there, but it
won't be Robinson Crusoe, don't you see?"
"Well, how about this? Call it Robinson Crusoe, Junior!"
spawned its own movie versions as well as a Broadway play by George S. Kaufmann and Marc Connolly.