Review: “Citizen Hollywood” by Martin Turnbull

Book Reviews

Have you ever wanted to climb into a time machine and visit Hollywood during its heyday?

Hollywood, 1939: When Tinseltown begins to woo wunderkind Orson Welles, he stashes himself at the Chateau Marmont until he’s ready to make his splashy entrance. But gossip columnist Kathryn Massey knows he’s there.

Kathryn has been on the outs with Hollywood since her ill-fated move to Life magazine, but now that she’s back at the Hollywood Reporter, she’s desperate to find the Next Big Thing. Scooping Welles’ secret retreat would put her back on the map, but by the time she hears rumors about his dangerous new movie, she’s fallen prey to his charms. She needs to repair her reputation, find out if Welles will take on the tycoon, and extricate herself from an affair with a man whose kisses make her melt like milk chocolate.

Hollywood writers are only as good as their last screen credit, but Marcus Adler is still scrambling for his first. His Strange Cargo will star Clark Gable after Gone with the Wind wraps, but Machiavellian studio politics mean Marcus’ name might not make it to the screen. It’s time to play No More Mr. Nice Guy. Opportunity knocks when his boss challenges the writing department to outdo The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Marcus is confident–until the love of his life bursts back onto the scene. How can he write another word until he knows for once and for all whether he and Ramon Navarro will be together? And to make matters worse, it seems like someone in town is trying to sabotage him.

Everyone knows if you haven’t made it in Hollywood by the time you’re thirty, it’s curtains . . . and Gwendolyn Brick is starting to panic. She’s considering moving to a naval base in the Philippines with her baby brother, but she wants to give Hollywood one last go before she gives up. When she saves Twentieth Century Fox honcho Daryl F. Zanuck from an appalling fate at a poker game that goes awry, he rewards her with a chance at a role in a major movie. Gwendolyn needs to win before her ship sets sail.

When William Randolph Hearst realizes Citizen Kane is based on him, he won’t be happy–and when Hearst isn’t happy, nobody’s safe. Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn need to go for broke, and the clock is ticking.

Citizen Hollywood is the third in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.

Martin Turnbull’s Garden of Allah novels have been optioned for the screen by film & television producer, Tabrez Noorani.


Review
Citizen Hollywood by Martin Turnbull

Martin Turnbull’s third installment of the Garden of Allah series has truly raised the stakes. From the broad spectrum of characters to the close camaraderie of the three main protagonists, Citizen Hollywood has all of the glamour and intrigue we’ve come to expect.

While the past few books in the series have focused on the steamy and sometimes darker side of old Hollywood, with Citizen Hollywood the story arc seemed to focus more on character development rather than furthering the plot involving Citizen Kane, and Orson Welles, and William Randolph Hearst.

Martin Turnbull is a master at historical fiction. He isn’t afraid to name names, air the dirty laundry, or reveal the (literal) skeletons in the closet. Citizen Hollywood is sexy, gritty, and cheeky, yet still retains its moments of tenderness without sentimentality bogging down the text. Well done, Martin!


Want to read Book One?

Download the The Garden on Sunset for FREE across all e-reader platforms here!

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In accordance with FTC guidelines, the writers and editors of Shylock and Shakespeare and its affiliates receive no material or monetary compensation for reviews posted on this website or any social media platforms. All reviews are posted as personal reflections on said titles, and as such do not necessarily reflect the individual views and opinions of the original authors. 

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Interview with Martin Turnbull, Author of “The Garden of Allah” series

Author Interviews

In the age of Marvel superhero movies, computer-generated dragons, and implausible car chase sequences, it is fantastic to know that a candid interest survives about the early days of film-making…
The Golden Age of Hollywood is truly named. The greatest films from that era have survived, and thrived, in our modern age.
I recently spoke with author Martin Turnbull, creator of the fantastic The Garden of Allah novels, about his thoughts on Hollywood, past and present.
Martin Turnbull, author of the Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels
“Searchlights and Shadows”
The Garden of Allah novels are rich in the history and lore of old Hollywood. What made you interested in this particular niche of history to begin with?
I had written three novels before, each of them better than the previous effort, but none of them good enough or unique enough to publish. So I was looking around for a new idea when I came across an article online about the Garden of Allah Hotel, its history and list of residents. I’ve been watching old movies and reading biographies and autobiographies and memoirs of Hollywood stars, moguls, important players and regular folks since I was a teenager but I’d never come across this hotel before. As I read through the names of people who stayed there – Bogie and Bacall, Harpo Marx, Errol Flynn, David Niven, Ginger Rogers, Rachmaninoff, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker and half the Algonquin Round Table to mention but a few – I marveled at how I’d never heard of this place.
Outside Bullock's department store at 7th St. looking north towards Hill St., downtown Los Angeles, 1937
I went looking for more information and found only one book – a non-fiction memoir of sorts by gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham. By about page 10 I knew I what I wanted to do. The Garden of Allah opened in 1927 a couple of months before “The Jazz Singer” ushered in the talkies, and closed in 1959, the year that “Ben Hur” made pretty much the last hurrah of the golden era of Hollywood. So, I realized, the Garden of Allah was open from 1927 to 1959, the exact same years of the golden era. I saw that I could tell the story of the history of Hollywood – from the invention of sound, then Technicolor, to the propaganda years of WWII, to the post war anti-communist Red Scare, and into the fifties with the decline of radio and the rise of television. And I could tell it through the eyes of the people who lived at the Garden of Allah because not only did they witness the unfolding evolution of Hollywood, but they actively participated in it. These were the people who acted in the movies, who wrote them, directed them, scored them, and costumed them. The idea to write a nine-book series came to me in one great WHOOSH! and I couldn’t wait to start.
Brown Derby, Beverly Hills, 1950s
How has writing the Garden of Allah novels changed your view of this golden age that we perceive as the greatest era of film production?
The thing that comes to mind is how small the movie industry was, and how small Los Angeles was. These days, we think of L.A. is being this huge megalopolis sprawling for hundreds of miles in every direction, home to millions of people, crowding the freeways and parking lots and airports and supermarkets. It’s been that way for a number of decades now so it’s easy to assume that it’s always been that case. However, in the years of Hollywood’s studio system heyday, it really wasn’t like that. L.A. was a much smaller, much less densely populated place. You had a bustling downtown, but outside of that, not so much. Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Hills were almost semi-rural. Consequently, everybody who worked in the movie industry was far more likely to know each other than they might today. In those days, L.A. was barely big enough to be called a city; it was really just a town — and the movie industry was a village. People regularly moved from studio to studio so they got to know everyone.
Sidney Skolsky Chats With His Daughter, Steffi At Schwab's Pharmacy
I’ve seen online comments about my books questioning how realistic it would have been for various characters to know other (famous) characters, but it really was like that. You didn’t need six degrees of separation—usually two or three at most degrees was usually enough. Especially at a place like the Garden of Allah. The residents there were so varied and so social (in other words, they drank a lot!) that if you lived there for any length of time, sooner or later you’d either know everybody or know someone who knows everybody. It’s hard to imagine in the L.A. of today, but back then, it really was like that.
 The Mocambo at 8588 Sunset Blvd
L. B. Mayer is sometimes perceived as a womanizing, omnipresent tyrant that held dominion over everyone at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer—hungry for money, and power. In “The Trouble with Scarlett,” Mayer didn’t seem like the “Lion” history remembers. Is this closer in your opinion to the real man or were most of the legends true?
I think it’s human nature to want to paint people in broad strokes, especially the prominent ones whose lives unfold in the public arena. But people are more complicated than that: heroes aren’t always good, villains aren’t always bad, clowns aren’t always happy, damsels are always virgins. I never really accepted the perceived view that Louis B. Mayer – and, for that matter, his contemporaries: Harry Cohn from Columbia, Jack Warner from Warner Bros., Daryl F. Zanuck from Twentieth Century-Fox – were all tyrannical, greedy, power-hungry tyrants 100% of the time.
Obviously, you don’t get to be the highest paid executive in America as Mayer was without some degree of manipulative maneuvering, but I doubt he was quite as bad as the default perceptions of him. I read in “City of Nets” how he was quite morally upright until his wife had a hysterectomy and was told by her doctor that she could never have sex again. According to the author, that sent Mayer off the deep end and he did start behaving like the clichéd movie mogul. That got me thinking about how we all evolve through various times in our lives, and how we are different things to different people, and I wanted to paint a version of Louis B. Mayer that would reflect all that.
The Garden of Allah novels are very candid about the homosexual and heterosexual relationships deemed “sinful” at a time when the Hays office and Catholic Legion of Decency was breathing down everyone’s necks—something that not many historical novelists touch on when exploring this era. What made you want to go with this angle?
I’m interested in exploring the machinations and maneuvering that went on behind Hollywood’s golden era, and what it took to bring to the screen those images that reflected idealistic America back to itself. I find it particularly interesting the dichotomy between the life that Hollywoodites were living versus the version of life they were creating for the screen.
In 1934, when the Hays Office was empowered to enforce the Production Code, the people who made the movies had to stick to a very strict set of highly moral codes in order to get their movies made. But in real life, their own lives were filled with excessive drinking and drug taking, adultery, unlawful sexual practices, wild affairs, divorces, gambling, and god knows what else.
The homosexual angle was a case in point. Hundreds and hundreds of gay men and women contributed enormously to golden era Hollywood—as directors, writers, costumers, makeup and hair designers, and in many other capacities. However their lifestyles were not allowed to be even hinted at, let alone portrayed with any honesty. I felt it was an aspect of the history of Hollywood’s golden era that was worth exploring.
Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind
Speaking of candor, you’ve chosen to utilize some of the biggest names of the time as major players in “The Garden on Sunset,” and then in “The Trouble with Scarlett.” This is one of the most appealing things to me as a reader, but many novelists are afraid of mentioning stars in their books, let alone using them as working characters. Why did you not go the “safe” route and change their names to suit the story?
To my way of thinking, the whole point of telling the story of the history of Hollywood through the eyes of the residents of the Garden of Allah was the very fact that so many famous people lived there. This is a place where Harpo Marx and Sergei Rachmaninoff were neighbors, where F. Scott Fitzgerald played charades with Dorothy Parker, and where Bogie courted Bacall. I immediately recognized that it was an immensely rich field for storytelling and figured: why bother telling it if I’m going to change the names? We’ve all read books and seen movies with names like Mammoth Pictures, which we know is MGM, and characters like Lowell Mohr, which we know is really Louis B. Mayer. I figured, why not just tell it like it was? So that’s what I’ve set out to do. Tell a fictionalized history of Hollywood sticking to the facts and real life people as much as I can.
Who is the one person you would like to have lunch with at the MGM Commissary, circa 1939?
Well, if you’re going to restrict me to 1939, can I say “The entire cast of The Women”…? Hmmm . . . probably not. In that case I’ll say Rosalind Russell. No, wait, Greer Garson. No, wait, Myrna Loy. Umm . . . I’ll get back to you on that one.
Fred Astaire working with his choreographic partner Hermes Pan, 1936  Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan, 1936.
Is there hope for Hollywood heavyweights Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, or choreographer Hermes Pan becoming supporting characters in any of your future novels? (Those are only a few of my many favorites!)
Ginger Rogers (a Garden of Allah resident—she stayed there when she arrived in Hollywood with her mother) has made a couple of cameos, and Judy has too. I hadn’t considered Hermes Pan but now you’ve got me thinking…! The temptation with this sort of material is to shoehorn all my own personal favorites into the narrative. As I talked about earlier, Hollywood was really just a small company town where everybody knew and/or worked with everybody else sooner or later. So weaving anybody I wanted to into the plot wouldn’t stretch credibility too far, but it needs to come from an organic place. If I’m going to write, say Hermes Pan into the story, it has to be because Hermes would have been around at that time and at that place, and could’ve been involved with whatever plotline I’m writing about. I’m trying to write a history of Hollywood that didn’t actually happen, but could have and to do that, I can’t just insert whichever celebrity I want . . . tempting though as that may be.
Billie Wilder's
Do you think stories set in and about Old Hollywood are becoming more popular because of the accessibility of Turner Classic Movies and their constant spotlight on great films?
Yes, I absolutely do! I grew up watching old movies – generally the midday movie during my school vacations. So I’d watch whatever they chose to show, but TCM has exponentially increased our exposure to the movies of Hollywood’s golden era. I thought I’d seen a lot but then along comes TCM and I realized I’d only just scratched the surface. I think it’s produced a whole new audience for these movies and a flow-on effect, like a greater interest in the time and place from which these movies sprung is an inevitable (and wonderful!) consequence.
Who has been your greatest influence as a writer?
Hmmm, I don’t know that I have a single author who has influenced my work. I read a fairly wide range of novels. A lot of historical fiction (from all eras) but anything whose plot intrigues me. Right now I’m reading “The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard” by Eric McGraw, which I am LOVING so I expect she’ll be my greatest influence . . . until I find myself reading my next OMG-I-LOVE-THIS book. If anything, I guess perhaps Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” books have been influential. I didn’t start out trying to write a “TOTC” type series, but I was nearly done with my second book, “The Trouble with Scarlett,” when it occurred to me that that’s kinda sorta what I’d done. I realized that instead about a tightly knitted bunch of friends living in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s, I was writing about a tightly knitted bunch of friends living in Los Angeles in the 30s and 40s. So the parallels are there, albeit unconscious and unintentional.
Classic Style: Old Hollywood Vintage Glamour
You have quite a background! As a private tour guide for Warner Bros. in Burbank, California and a volunteer docent with the Los Angeles Conservancy, were there any stories about our legendary Hollywood idols that surprised even you?
From our modern, 21st century perspective, we (fans of old Hollywood) tend to look on that period as a golden age of glamour and star power. And it certainly was that in a wide range of ways. But what struck me the most about my time at Warner Bros. was realizing that for the people who worked there, both then and now—not just the stars, but the costumers, the writers, the directors, the lighting guys and even the girls in the typing pool—it was simply “where they went to work.” Sure, it was highly creative and all that goes with that process, but I saw that it was a daily thing. There was always another scene to memorize, another dress to make, another set to build, another P.R. campaign to concoct. So when I started writing the Garden of Allah novels, I thought about that a lot. I am writing about people who are living their daily lives during this time, just as we do now. I don’t know that they thought they were working doing a golden time. Perhaps they did, or some of them did, but I suspect it was more a case of what they did when they went to work, and that informs the books that I write. My goal is to write a story that, while it didn’t actually happen, I could have happened, and my time at Warner Bros. helped me to see what daily life was like back then.
Ziegfeld Girl. Hedy Lamarr, 1941 (this film was a favourite of Valentino Garavani's).
Where do you see yourself after completion of the Garden of Allah story arc?
I have a ton of ideas of what to write after the ninth Garden of Allah book. I have a minor character in the series who I like a lot and I’m starting to think she deserves her own book. The other ideas I have are all set during Hollywood’s golden age. I see that period being so rich for storytelling that I could happily stay within the “Hollywood Historical Fiction” genre for the rest of my days.
Casablanca. Another classic I haven't seen... I'm sensing a movie night in my future!
This might be a loaded question for a writer who loves film, but what is one movie that has earned the coveted spot of “Martin’s Favorite”?
That is a TOTALLY loaded question! And impossible to answer if you’re looking for just one movie. I can give you a bunch though: “Gone with the Wind” – “Casablanca” – “Singin in the Rain” – “Now, Voyager” – “On The Town” – “The Adventures of Robin Hood” – “The Maltese Falcon” – “The Women” – “The Wizard of Oz” – “Citizen Kane” – “All About Eve” – stop me any time because we could be here all night . . .
Movie Making at MGM studios
I hear there is some exciting news in your court concerning present-day Hollywood…
Yes! I recently signed an option agreement with a film/TV producer who wants to use my novels as the basis for either a TV series, mini series or movie(s.) As soon as I conceived the idea, I saw it could make a great TV show. I’d been approached a couple of times but negotiations didn’t really go anywhere. Then this producer approached me, having read the first couple of books. Turns out he’s a big fan of golden era Hollywood and of L.A. history and it soon became apparent to me that he wanted to try and bring these novels to the screen for all the right reasons. We were very sympatico that way and we reached an agreement that we’re both quite happy with. So we’ll see!
Harpo, Groucho and Chico Marx outside the gates of the Los Angeles Studios MGM, 1938 (Photo by Virgil Apger)
You can read about the announcement of the deal on the Hollywood Reporter website: http://bit.ly/gardenofallah
For more about Martin Turnbull and his books, visit: http://www.martinturnbull.com/

Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Review: The Garden on Sunset by Martin Turnbull

Synopsis:

In 1927, violet-eyed Alla Nazimova, the highest paid and most famous actress in the world, converted her Sunset Boulevard movie-star mansion into a hotel and dubbed it ‘The Garden of Allah.’ Before you could say Prohibition-Schmohibition it became a fabled residence-of-choice for hopeful and ambitious arrivals in Hollywood. The likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Bogart & Bacall, Gary Cooper, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Errol Flynn, Harpo Marx, Orson Welles, and others walked, wobbled, wandered, and wafted through its doors and sometimes into its pool. Drunk. Or naked. Or both. And rarely alone.

Drawn to this hallowed haven is Marcus Adler whose own father has run him out of Pennsylvania. There is only one address he knows: 8152 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood–the home of the luminous Nazimova, a vision in diaphanous lavender tulle who once visited him when he was a child sick with diphtheria. “Come visit me any time,” she whispered into his ear. He takes her at her word but finds her home is now a hotel. With nowhere else to go, he checks in and thinks, Now what? There he meets Kathryn Massey who has run away from her overbearing stage mother to pursue a career as a journalist–God forbid a girl in Hollywood would actually want to use her brains–and Gwendolyn Brick, a hopeful actress from ‘The Other Hollywood’–Hollywood, Florida–who has come to try her luck in Glitter City. The girl is blessed/cursed with a pair of lips that the men in this town are going to be lining up to have a go at. She won’t be able to fight them off on her own.

They band together: three naïve hopefuls madly dog-paddling against a tidal wave of threadbare casting couches, nervous bootleggers, human billboards, round-world Zeppelins, sinking gambling boats, waiters in black face, William Randolph Hearst, the Long Beach earthquake, starlets, harlots, Harlows and Garbos.

THE GARDEN ON SUNSET is the first in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.

Synopsis Courtesy of the Author’s Website.

After coming off a recent reading high after finishing “Love Me” by Rachel Shukert, (review coming soon) I found the perfect solution in “The Garden on Sunset” by Martin Turnbull, book 1 in the Garden of Allah series. This self-published novel was pretty hard to track down, but eventually my library found just one copy in a library in Illinois and sent it my way.

Needless to say, I eagerly devoured this unknown gem in a few short days. It had everything I wanted in a novel about the Golden Age of Hollywood: exotic film stars, intrigue, and excellent descriptions of locales that were familiar to me via other books and movies like Schwabb’s, the Brown Derby, and the Paramount lot. Although some of the content was surprising, it fit very naturally in this plot, and I’m left wondering why this book hasn’t found a home with a traditional publishing house.

My only criticism would be about the timeline and pacing. As a reader, I was not sure if the plot had jumped forward a day, two days, a month or six months with each chapter. A  little more time could have been taken for character development and I believe a little subscript at the top of the new chapters like “Six weeks later” or “Christmas, 1934” might have helped to keep readers a bit more oriented with the timeline.

For fans of the Starstruck series by Rachel Shukert, although definitely intended for an older reader, this series surely has the ability to go further in the publishing industry with some well-placed publicity.

Book 2: The Trouble With Scarlett

About the Author:

Martin Turnbull

Martin Turnbull has worked as a private tour guide showing both locals and out-of-towners the movie studios, Beverly Hills mansions, Hollywood hills vistas and where all the bodies are buried. For nine years, he has also volunteered as an historical walking tour docent with the Los Angeles Conservancy. He worked for a summer as a guide at the Warner Bros. movie studios in Burbank showing movie fans through the sound stages where Bogie and Bacall, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and James Cagney created some of Hollywood’s classic motion pictures.

From an early age, Martin was enchanted with old movies from Hollywood’s golden era–from the dawn of the talkies in the late 1920s to the dusk of the studio system in the late 1950s–and has spent many, many a happy hour watching the likes of Garland, Gable, Crawford, Garbo, Grant, Miller, Kelly, Astaire, Rogers, Turner, Welles go through their paces.

When he discovered the wonderful world of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, his love of reading merged with his love of movies and his love of history to produce a three-headed hydra gobbling up everything in his path. Ever since then, he’s been on a mission to learn and share as much as he can about this unique time.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Martin moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s.

Author Website: http://martinturnbull.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @TurnbullMartin