Title: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Author: Elliott Capon
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Book Heat Level: 1
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In 1940, American Heartland Pictures, once a great studio producing hybrid talking/silent Shakespeare films, is now gushes forth the cheesiest, crappiest, lousiest low-budgetest serial adventures in the industry. And that’s fine with Farley Rottenwood, the immigrant-turned-sort-of-mogul who bought the place and kept the owner’s widow on as Girl Friday. But, while he produces his greatest—albeit most inept-- serial adventure (which you get to read!)—his wife is cheating on him, his staff are dropping like flies, and Nazi agents are producing pro-German propaganda right behind his back…and believe it or not, this is funny!
THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 1940
The conference room in The Building was also the lunchroom, so meetings at AHP were generally held early in the morning. Luther had arranged the three bingo hall tables so they formed one long conference table. Farley Rottenwood sat at the head. To his right, steno pad at the ready (though she didn't know steno) perched Mrs. Greenbaum. At these meetings, she took notes in her own personal shorthand, and then typed up formal notes while the memories were still fresh in her mind. Her abbreviations 'fk fr,' 'fr shthd' and 'gdm fr' did not make it into the formal record. Also at the table this morning were Emile Linkletter, still a little pale. For some reason, he kept shooting mysterious and unfathomable looks at Ted Zuresberg, who sat on the other side of the table, two seats down. Dan Silberman was there, and Winston Niddleman who sat alongside Bob DeKalb, one of the older writers. Messrs. Pahverty and Rowe were of course in attendance, as were four production technicians (none of whom, we discovered as we jumped ahead in the story, said anything important at this meeting and therefore do not deserve names). The table also entertained newcomers to our tale.
The first of these was a silver-haired gentleman of at least sixty years of age who bore the patrician air of, and a remarkable resemblance to, Vincent Price at his most regal. This gentleman's name was Alfred Smythe Weddick and he was American Heartland Pictures' number-one director. About eighty percent of AHP's serials went out with his name in the directorial credits. Rumor had it that some people swore they knew people who knew people who, forty or fifty years before, had seen Weddick when he was sober. No living eyewitness could ever make such a claim, however. Weddick was apparently pickled in perpetuity, but that didn't stop him from directing AHP serials as they were meant to be directed.
Reading the script for the first time as shooting was going on, Weddick would point here or there, and the actor would duly move left or right, up or down. With a casual wave, Weddick would move the camera in close or back it up. Often the sound guy would have to remove an "Oh!" from the soundtrack as it recorded Weddick's surprise at some plot machination the actors knew about, but he didn't til they delivered their lines. In fact, if one could ever get one's hands on a print of INSPECTOR BLODGETT IN VENICE [it was Venice, California], in Chapter Seven, after a particularly dramatic revelation by the damsel in distress, one can actually hear an off-camera voice in a stately British accent say, "Bloody genius! Never saw that coming!"
No one could actually remember seeing Weddick drink, that is, lift a glass to his mouth, but he was always pleasantly crocked. Conventional wisdom held that he kept a hot water bottle full of booze hidden in his pants and an intravenous needle feeding it straight into his bloodstream.
The Boss certainly didn't mind because Weddick was infallibly polite and even-tempered, and produced good enough pictures for relative dirt-cheapness, salary-wise. Here was a guy who at the age of seventeen had performed Hamlet in front of Queen Victoria. Apparently, bourbon was unknown in England, and so when he joined the exodus to Hollywood after the First World War and was immediately introduced to the liquor's golden charms, a might-have-been career as a Hollywood actor/director was washed away. Which made him perfect for American Heartland Pictures. He had been Rottenwood's first acquisition after buying the studio, one he never regretted.
"So what's cooking?" Rottenwood asked, getting the meeting underway.
Pahverty, after seeing that no one else had anything to say, decided to answer. "Um, well, Mr. R., BONGA THE JUNGLE GIRL is in editing, and, let me see, um, DOPE DEALERS OF DEATH is wrapping up the last chapter, I believe tomorrow, right, Cornelius?...Right, and, um, oh, of course, we have four chapters of ACE O'HARTZ in the can."
"ACE O'HARTZ," Rottenwood repeated, as if tasting the words. "Oh, yeah, the FBI picture."
"Not FBI, really, Boss," Winston interjected. "G-man."
Farley waved his unlit cigar.
Winston's lips tightened. "I think it's the best thing I've written in a long time, Boss. Maybe the best thing I've ever written."
Pahverty nodded. "Everyone on the set seems to really like it, too, Mr. R. You know, you do a picture, you do a picture. But this one, everyone is happy to come to work."
"I think it's the best thing I've done so far, Boss, if I may say so," said our hitherto-unnamed attendee.