I first met Jane Davender on the set of a boy-meets-girl picture she had written on loan to Harry York. Between camera set-ups, she vigorously besieged the morning’s Racing Form with a stubby carpenter’s pencil, making no effort to hide her fondness for honest horses and honest roulette wheels. And she could now and then step down in class. She proved that easily enough when the picture wrapped by gracefully accepting my proposal for a weekend at Agua Caliente, just across the border in Tijuana. Her spirited emerald eyes danced delightfully when she set down two strict conditions. I would be a gentleman at all times and I would book separate rooms.
To drive her south of the border in style, I borrowed a sleek burgundy-and-black Packard Speedster from the studio lot. When you run security for one of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood you get to do things like borrow burgundy-and-black Packard Speedsters – as long as the sinfully proper autocrats who buzz over the studio’s daily reports don’t grow hinky about it. Being the weekend, I figured it was a safe bet.
I promised Jane I’d be at her ritzy digs at four-thirty Friday and I was dead on time – give or take – with the Packard’s top down. Lovely in an ivory linen travel suit, Jane snapped her emerald earrings into place and we were ready to roll but for one small detail.
“I have to take these rewrites to the studio,” she told me, gathering a sheaf of multi-colored papers. “You don’t mind?”
I didn’t. The studio where Jane ruled as top scenarist was practically on our way, and how long could it take to drop off a shooting script?
“Greg needs this tonight. He wants to shoot the last dancing scene tomorrow and I needed to add some witty repartee for the two leads.” Her voice turned overtly sultry. “While they press their lithe, hungry bodies together.” She laughed lightly. “They’re rehearsing the thing tonight.”
“Tonight? Little odd, isn’t it?”
“Usually, yes. But the picture’s behind schedule because the last scene they shot fell flat and Greg needed me to doctor it. Release dates have been set for the houses, and the houses need product to show and they need it on time.”
Everywhere you went in these hardscrabble times, scruffy ginks with dead eyes and ragged clothing suffered long bread lines, and Hollywood movie moguls were, in the main, running short of the stuff.
“What’s it called?”
“Greg doesn’t like the original title so I suggested a few things. I typed what I like on the cover and jotted a couple of other ideas inside.”
“What do you like?”
“Invitation to Dance.”
“Who are the leads?”
“Nancy Kirk and Billy Cass.”
Nancy Bidenkirk and William Kasskavage were the biggest stars in Gregory Poulter’s small stable. Nancy was adept in weepies and certainly capable in light comedy and romantic fluff. Cass was nothing but a sheik for love-starved women to sigh over longingly.
“I know what you’re thinking, but Nancy can sing and dance. She’s a pro. Greg promised her that if she’d do this picture for him, he would green-light a pet project she’s been dying to do.”
I gave her a sideways glance.
“It’s all silk. They signed the deal and pre-production has started. Greg can’t give her the gate now.”
“Billy has to take whatever they shove at him. He’s a dead hoofer but the camera can work around that.”
“Can he warble?”
“We’re dubbing his voice.”
“Okay by me. I don’t have to watch it.”
Jane smiled sweetly. “Nor do I.”
Greg Poulter had leased the old Selig lot in Edendale, and named his studio Knightsbridge. A long, white, two-story Southern Colonial stretching north-south held the studio offices. Behind that building, a rectangular pond separated two huge sound stages. The shallow pond was just big enough to shoot everything from ancient sea battles to lovers in a canoe whispering into a hidden camera under fake moonlight.
Behind the two sound stages, a wide-open field offered enough room for outdoor scenes. For other needs, Poulter rented space from the large studios.
The guard at the south gate made Jane and waved us through. Fancy iron and dull crates jammed the small parking lot. I found a grassy spot I was sure was off-limits to parking, intending to wait in the Packard. Jane would have none of it.