When films ceased to be silent, a migration of eastern writers, playwrights, and wits swarmed to the Golden State, to write scripts for the studios. Though it wasn’t exactly the Donner Party, its annals are not happy ones. One thinks of Fitzgerald and his quixotic, dashed hopes of bringing his brand of literary refinement and glamour to film; of Faulkner sneaking back to Mississippi as soon as one of his raids on the studio coffers had yielded its loot; of Dorothy Parker complaining that Hollywood money melted like snow and embracing communism, perhaps in protest. Novels from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939) to Bruce Wagner’s Force Majeure (1991) and I’m Losing You (1996) portray a nearly apocalyptic community of grotesque losers—schemers and dreamers driven mad by the wealth and fame apparently to be had all around them. The insider’s view, as painted by Hollywood offspring Budd Schulberg and Leslie Epstein, is scarcely rosier. Even as benign a visitor as Ludwig Bemelmans struck off a novel, Dirty Eddie (1947), despairing of the screenwriter’s lucrative but thankless lot.
What can we make, then, of long-term Tinseltown denizen Daniel Fuchs, who in 1937 left behind a schoolteacher’s job in Brooklyn, three quite brilliant novels produced in his twenties, and a career of frequent acceptances of his short fiction by The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s, to become one of RKO’s scribbling minions, and who never looked back with regret? In the story “The Earthquake of 1971,” Fuchs extols southern California as he found it in 1937,
still undeveloped…fresh and brimming and unawakened, at the beginning….everything in this new land wonderfully solitary, burning, and kind.
For him, at the time, “the studios exude an excitement, a sense of life, a reach and hope, to an extent hard to describe.” With delight he wanders the studio back-lots, their elaborate fabrications of western streets and bygone fishing villages, and watches “the studio bravos in their costumes at their perpetual play, folk coming from backgrounds unknown to me, people with a smiling, generous style.” He relishes, as the years go by, the uncanny cleanliness and health of his growing, tanned children. Looking back on thirty-four years of residence, he thanks the gods of filmdom
for the boon of work, for the joy of leisure, the happy, lazy days; for the castles and drowsy back-lots; for the stalwarts I’ve come to know, John and Bob and Sam; for the parties at Barney’s, the times at Phil’s; the flowers, the sycamores, the blessings of the sun.
No sour grapes on these vines. In his long story “Triplicate,” Fuchs lets a character assert with admitted exaggeration but without contradiction,
What people don’t understand about this place is that the whole idea is not to make great pictures but to enjoy life in the sun. They keep asking for works of art, but the picturemaking from the beginning was …
Copyright © 2005 by John Updike
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