Saturday, November 19, 2005

P.G. Wodehouse on Hollywood

I thought I'd type up a quote from the story "The Castaways," about a man who goes to Hollywood and is more or less kidnapped by a Hollywood studio and forced to work on a script that has been in development for years. The situation of writers in Hollywood, always a sore point with Wodehouse, is explicitly compared to the "press gang" which would force people into military service.

Here's the scene where the hero, Bulstrode Mulliner, goes to the studio to get back a hat he lost, only to discover that they won't give him his hat but will force him to stay there forever:

The motion picture magnate took a quick look at Bulstrode and thrust a paper and a fountain pen towards him.

"Sign here," he said.

A receipt for the hat, no doubt, thought Bulstrode. He scribbled his name at the bottom of the document, and Mr. Schnellenhamer pressed the bell.

"Miss Stern," he said, addressing his secretary, "what vacant offices have we on the lot?"

"There is Room 40 in the Leper Colony."

"I thought there was a songwriter there."

"He passed away Tuesday."

"Has the body been removed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then Mr. Mulliner will occupy the room, starting from today. He has just signed a contract to write dialogue for us."

Bulstrode would have spoken, but Mr. Schnellenhamer silenced him with a gesture.

"Who are working on Scented Sinners now?" he asked.

The secretary consulted a list.

"Mr. Doakes, Mr. Noakes, Miss Faversham, Miss Wilson, Mr. Fotheringay, Mr. Mendelsohn, Mr. Markey, Mrs. Cooper, Mr. Lennox and Mr. Dabney."

"That all?"

"There was a missionary who came in Thursday, wanting to convert the extra girls. He started a treatment, but he has escaped to Canada."

"Tchah!" said Mr. Schnellenhamer, annoyed. "We must have more vigilance, more vigilance. Give Mr. Mulliner a script of Scented Sinners before he goes."

The secretary left the room. He turned to Bulstrode.

"Did you ever see Scented Sinners?"

Bulstrode said he had not.

"Powerful drama of life as it is lived by the jazz-crazed, gin-crazed Younger Generation whose hollow laugter is but the mask for an aching heart," said Mr. Schnellenhamer. "It ran for a week in New York and lost a hundred thousand dollars, so we bought it. It has the mucus of a good story. See what you can do with it."

"But I don't want to write for the pictures," said Bulstrode.

"You've got to write for the pictures," said Mr. Schnellenhamer. "You've signed the contract."

"I want my hat."

"In the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Motion Picture Corporation," said Mr. Schnellenhamer coldly, "our slogan is Cooperation, not Hats."

Bulstrode and the other writers are finally set free when the studio head is informed that the studio never actually bought the rights to Scented Sinners.

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