Los Angeles, February 1962
I’m a native New Yorker, Manhattan born and raised. And while it’s true that I’ve spent the past four years in the small upstate town of New Holland, New York, I’ve never lost my love of the big city.
I’m a reporter for the New Holland Republic, circulation 12,150. Mostly I cover basketball and football games, city council meetings, or Elks Club banquets. Every now and then, there’s a murder. But today, I’ve got a plum assignment. I’m going to Hollywood.
Tony Eberle is a local boy who followed his dreams to California where he hopes to make it as an actor. He just landed his first role in a new musical comedy, TWISTIN’ ON THE BEACH. Tony may not be the lead, but he plays the best pal and partner in girl-chasing and surfing safaris.
I board a TWA 707, tourist class, at Idlewild. This is my first ride ever on a jet plane, and the experience doesn’t disappoint. We’re served a fancy dinner of steak and potatoes, and the pretty stewardess keeps pouring Scotch after Scotch before we land at Los Angeles. The handsome captain winks at me as I deplane, and I nearly surrender the name of my hotel when he asks me. Must remember to behave.
It’s sunny in L.A., warm for February, I’m told. And there’s my first palm tree! The line at the taxi stand moves quickly, and soon I’m on my way. As we leave the airport, I catch sight of the brand new Theme Building, which looks like a UFO on stilts. The cabbie assures me that the restaurant on top rotates, but he’s driving too fast for me to be sure.
A few miles later, we drive through the Inglewood Oil Field where, right in the middle of Los Angeles, scores of pumpjacks are toiling away, rising and falling like great black storks spearing fish in a river.
The taxi hums up La Brea Avenue, and the driver informs me this is Hollywood. I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Squat sound stage buildings, streamlined gasoline stations, and burger joints. It doesn’t look all that glamorous to me. But then we pass the Perry Mason Studios, Paisano Productions, on La Brea near Sunset Boulevard. The cabbie says the Tudor complex was built by Charlie Chaplin. I ask him if he’s ever seen William Hopper, who plays Paul Drake on the show. I’ve had a crush on him and his shock of white hair for years. The driver says no, but he once dropped Raymond Burr off at Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. He makes a feathery hand-gesture as he pronounces Burr’s name, presumably an indication of the actor’s—ahem—predilections. I say nothing for fear of coming off as a rube unfamiliar with what seems to be common knowledge.
We turn onto Hollywood and head east toward my hotel, passing Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I ask if it’s true that hundreds of stars’ names were embedded in the cement the previous year.
My guide nods. “That’s right, sweetie. They call it the Walk of Fame. Look, there’s a bum puking on Ronald Colman right now.”
The driver pulls up to the McCadden Hotel on the corner of McCadden and Hawthorn near Hollywood Boulevard. I glance out the window and ask if he hasn’t made a mistake. My publisher assured me the McCadden was a fine hotel. Damn Artie Short. He hates me and is a cheapskate besides. He only sent me on this trip because his son-in-law, George Walsh, dreamt the plane crashed, and he refused to go at the last minute.
I manage to sleep through the night without any bites from bedbugs. Bright and early the next morning, I stop for coffee at Hody’s next to the Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Hollywood and Vine. Then I hail a cab and head off to meet Tony Eberle on set at Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue.
We pass Hollywood High School, and my new cab driver catalogues the alumni for the next five blocks. Lon Chaney, Jr., Gloria Graham, John Huston, Joel McCrae, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and James Garner. Yes, James Garner. Wow.
The cabbie drops me at the gate of Paramount Studios, and the guard checks my name against a list on his clipboard. He dispenses directions to sound stage five where they’re filming TWISTIN’ ON THE BEACH. I glance to my left and can’t believe I’m walking past the writers’ bungalows where William Holden appeared in SUNSET BOULEVARD. William Holden!
I locate sound stage five and am greeted by angry shouting. I see a man pacing like a tiger, gesticulating and shouting at all and sundry.
“That kid’ll never work in this town again!” he roars.
I ask a nearby assistant what’s going on. He tells me one of the actors is AWOL on the first day of shooting. No one can find him. Not his agent, his friends. No one.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
Heart of Stone is the fourth book in the Ellie Stone mystery series, published by Seventh Street Books, June 2016.
In the waning days of a lazy August holiday, Ellie Stone is enjoying a bright Adirondack-lake morning. Nearby, two men plummet to their deaths just a few feet short of the water of a dangerous diving pool. A tragic accident, it seems. But the police quickly establish that the two victims–one, a stranger to the lake and, the other, a teenaged boy from a nearby music camp–surely didn’t know each other. That anomaly is strange enough, but what really perplexes Ellie is her elderly cousin’s station wagon parked twenty yards from the edge of the cliff.
Wading into a slippery morass of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, rabid John Birchers, and charismatic evangelicals, Ellie must navigate old grudges and Cold War passions, lost ideals and betrayed loves. She sticks her nose where it’s unwanted, rattling nerves and putting herself in jeopardy. But this time, it’s her heart that’s at risk.
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About the author
James W. Ziskin is the Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-nominated author of the Ellie Stone mysteries Styx & Stone, No Stone Unturned, Stone Cold Dead, and Heart of Stone. Look for Cast the First Stone in summer of 2017. Visit James at jameswziskin.com, @@Jameswziskin and on Facebook
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Heart of Stone. Three lucky winners will be selected. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end June 16, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.