When All Else Fails, Write!

Although I live within walking distance of a studio, and within a few miles of some other historic and typically active lots, there’s little going on inside them these days, and most of the creativity is saved for picket lines in front of them.  Given the stakes and the vitriol that have clearly become evident and entrenched in the past month, there’s little chance that will change anytime soon.  A good deal of what writers, and eventually directors and actors, are concerned about is both how much they are being paid and whether or not they could be replaced by artificial intelligence.  Tech-based companies that have made billions by outsourcing work overseas and automating transactions where possible see the possibilties and rapid growth in that area and appear determined to apply it to the creative process, in effect, threatening the Hollywood that we’ve known for over a century.

It’s in times like these that it’s good to be reminded that there once a time where humans were absolutely necessary and Hollywood was much more active.  And for creatives who are honoring their unions, they currently can’t write a script where their visions can be produced.  But they can write books.  And one such creative who recently published one just happens to be a friend and a professional with ties to my beloved alma mater, SUNY Oswego.

Doug Smart has done a lot more in his career in more places than many folks I know; indeed, he has taught longer at other institutions and, per his LinkedIn, had more than two decades of experience in TV production, working sets for many Witt-Thomas sitcoms including THE GOLDEN GIRLS, and shows that would appeal to their fans such as THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.  He even survived a season of one of the most expensive syndicated variety shows of all time, THE MONTE CARLO SHOW, which if you can find any video of it online is a testimony to why so many executives believe non-humans can do better work.

These days, Doug is writing books besides spending some time teaching at a small Kentucky college, and he just sent me a copy of his first novel, THE GUNSLINGER OF GOWER GULCH.  And on a slow holiday weekend, with decent but hardly beach-inviting weather, it was a perfect companion for relaxation.  And it’s a reminder that truly creative humans still exist.

Doug draws us deeply into the Hollywood that was Hollywoodland, circa 1938, when cheap Westerns were being churned out and aspiring actors would regularly congregate at dives near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, catty-corner from the Paramount lot and close to a confluence of streets that would take the lucky ones to more remote locations in the San Fernando Valley.  As Wikipedia details, it was an opportunistic world where anyone who could rock a Stetson and even look like a law enforcer could, for a few minutes, be one:

Since the days of silent film, the surrounding area had contained several movie studios, including the Christie Studios (on the northwest corner) during the 1920s, then later, Columbia and Republic Studios to the south along Gower Street.

Western films at both studios were extremely popular, especially from the 1930s through the 1950s, and actual working cowboys would come to Hollywood hoping to find work in the movies. They would congregate at that particular street corner, which is how it acquired its nickname.[1] The Columbia Drug Store, which stood on the southeast corner for several decades, was a hangout for many western film extras in hopes of finding work, knowing the casting agents from the studio could reach them there.[2] John WayneGene Autry, and Roy Rogers all got their start in this neighborhood, as did director John Ford.[citation needed] Columbia Studios was filming western films about every ten days for a time. The cowboy extras stood at the corner already dressed in their Stetson hats, boots, and bandannas, ready for saloon scenes, as cattle rustlers, or as members of a posse. The pay was about $5 a day or $10 for a minor speaking role.[citation needed]

Like Doug, I worked in the neighborhood for years, and regularly would have lunch at what the time was a pretty good sushi place in a strip mall with this name.  These days, you’ll only find a mediocre crab joint, a nondescript Stsrbucks and some of the most needlessly obsessive parking lot security people you’ll find anywhere.  But spend a few minutes with Smart’s new book and you’re transplanted into a time where that corner was dotted with far more iconic hangouts like that drug store and Carpenter’s Drive-In.  Smart takes us into a detailed description of a freeway-less Los Angeles, navigating it through oversized and underpowered Packards and Studebakers, with the kind of nuance we’ve only seen spoofed by Johnny Carson’s fast-talking pitchman Art Fern and by the Waze-inspired zanies from the SNL sketch THE CALIFORNIANS.  And in the midst of that, he also unfolds a compelling tale, as his Amazon site blurb hints:

In Hollywood, secrets can wield tremendous power. Some would kill to keep their secrets. Others would kill to learn them.”

June, 1938. Hollywood, California. Clayton Mosby is waiting on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, an area known within the motion picture industry as “Gower Gulch.” Soon a truck from Republic Pictures will arrive to round up extras for one of their low-budget westerns. Clay, a down-on-his-luck former Texas Ranger, is just hoping for a few days of work as a movie cowboy. He could sure use the money.

Money is no problem for Irene Durand, the beautiful actress who is Monarch Pictures’ biggest star. Her problem is blackmail, and she’s willing to pay handsomely to make it go away…quietly. Around Hollywood Clay has become known as “The Gunslinger.” It’s a reputation he despises. But “The Gunslinger” is exactly who Irene is looking for. And the money is certainly tempting. Almost as tempting as Irene herself.

But Clay soon discovers he’s drawn the attention of Eddie Kessler, Monarch Pictures’ notorious “fixer,” who has designs on the beautiful actress. Kessler is accustomed to getting what he wants, and he wants Irene Durand. Blackmail suddenly turns to murder as Clay finds himself entangled in a deadly Hollywood plot of secrets and lies…a plot in which “The Gunslinger” has become both the hunter and the hunted.

When you get deeper into the book, you’ll quickly learn Smart’s strength in storytelling.  One particularly descriptive paragraph caught my attention:

There had been a struggle.  Under one window a side table had been overturned…Scattered in its wake were pieces of a shattered ceramic yellow ashtray along with a dozen or so cigarette butts…Strewn across the floor were a crumpled copy of Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times…a couple of greasy cartons of Chinese takeout, a half-empty bottle of Old Crow bourbon and, to my utter surprise, Irene’s envelope with the blackmail payoff money still inside.

And then of course tbere was the body.

Now just to double-check, I had our friend Bing attempt to write something with the elements that Smart incorporated.  Here’s a sample of what artificial intelligence produced:

He had seen her on the silver screen many times, but nothing prepared him for the sight of her in person. She was more beautiful than any camera could capture, with a face that could launch a thousand ships and a body that could stop a train. She walked into his office like she owned the place, and he felt his heart skip a beat.
"Mr. Colt?" she said in a voice that was honey and whiskey at the same time. "I'm Rita Starling. I need your help."
He stood up from his desk and offered her a chair. He tried to act cool and professional, but he knew he was out of his league.
 He was just a washed-up movie cowboy, trying to make a living as a private eye in Gower Gulch, the dusty corner of Hollywood 
where the B-movies were made. She was a star, a goddess, a legend. What could she possibly want from him?

I'm pretty sure if Humphrey Bogart were still alive, or if Jack Nicholson were less close to death, I know which script they'd 
be drawn to.

If you're the least bit intrigued--and you should be--I've taken the liberty of providing a link to the Amazon site 
where you can purchase your own copy of Doug's book.  Better yet, try and find an actual brick-and-mortar store near you that may
carry it.  The proceeds will go to charity, in case you were wondering.  That's something else that humans--at least some--tend to want to do.

And just as writing this inspires me, reading this despite the dystopian and far less intriguing times we and the current iteration
of Gower Gulch exist in is a reminder that good creatives and good humans are still very much in demand.  Even if there are plenty 
of cleaner Starbucks with better parking readily available elsewhere.  

I heartily recommend you find one near you and bring a copy of THE GUNSLINGER OF GOWER GULCH along.  

Until next time...

The Gunslinger of Gower Gulch: Smart, Doug: 9781737829829: Amazon.com: Books

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