We are pleased to present WinR Rosemary Lord. Rosemary is an author, actress and is involved in issues benefiting Hollywood women and preservation. She is the author of several best-selling nonfiction books as well as a new mystery novel, “Lottie”. Welcome Rosemary!
What led an actress and best-selling non-fiction author to write a mystery?
During my years as an actress, I had often done bits of journalism as a way to pay bills between acting gigs. In England I would write interviews with some of the actors I was working with: Glenda Jackson, Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, George Segal and so on. I wrote for the teenage magazines in the UK, such as Petticoat, Mirabelle, Jackie, and then progressed to women’s mags like Woman, Woma’s Journal etc.
When I came to America and was waiting for my Green Card, I did loads of journalism for these same magazines and American ones such as Coronet, Field Newspapers, Atlantic Review and so on. I wrote a “Letter From Hollywood” column and interviewed many of the old-time actors and film makers such as Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Shaw, Glenn Ford, James Stewart, Edith Head, John Huston and so on.
Although my acting career progressed and kept me busy, I still loved history and the Old Hollywood. And so years down the line, when the opportunity came to write my first book, Los Angeles Then and Now, I jumped at the chance. Then came Hollywood Then and Now, in which I got to write about the people as well as the place.
I was starting another non-fiction book on Hollywood history and talking about it to a writer friend, Jacqueline Winspear, of the successful MAISIE DOBBS novels. She pointed out that as I found those olden days so intriguing, why didn’t I write a murder mystery set in Old Hollywood? I explained that I wouldn’t know where to begin with writing a mystery. And she said that she had not set out to write a mystery when she started writing MAISIE DOBBS. So with that encouragement, all the little pieces of stories that had been running round inside my brain, began to knit together.
You’ve recently put the final touches on your historical mystery. Can you tell us a bit about the plot and central character?
So the novel I have now finished is set in 1920s Hollywood, during the Silent Era. It was inspired from reading so many old documents I had uncovered in researching my non-fiction books. Because it is set during Prohibition, there was a lot of corruption going on, of course, but people’s behavior was still very controlled and strict. Which is why the new Movie folk in Hollywood were considered wicked and immoral. And any girls working in this industry were considered ‘loose women.’ So this is the world my young heroine, Lottie, struggles with. And because she is from England and had lived through World War I, it was like living in Paradise for her to move to sunny California, where oranges grew everywhere and she has the opportunity to work in “flickers.” And, yes, there is a murder. But other than that, I’m not saying more at this point!
How did you research old-time Hollywood?
Apart from the research that I already had from my previous books, with authenticated documents I had studied, the 1920s were a time when my mum and her sister had been working in the theatre. They were dancers from early childhood, heavily chaperoned, and had travelled all over England, France and Morocco and other exotic places. They had a “Bluebird” dancing act! And they had appeared in shows with Maurice Chevalier and many other entertainers of that era.
My mum LOVED Hollywood and always wanted to come here to work. So she subscribed to Hollywood Fan Magazines and watched the silent movies – her favorites were Clara Bow and Theda Bara – and tried to copy their make-up and fashions. I have been able to use so much of what she had told me about her young years for my heroine. And my mum was a great reader: always talking about “Aggie Christie” and her stories. And once Mum was married and had all of us kids and so no longer was a dancer, she became a writer. She used to write some of the fifteen minute “Morning Mysteries,” for BBC Radio and “Mystery At Midnight,” for Capitol Radio in England.
Also my Dad, who was in the Royal Navy, had been to Hollywood during Prohibition. And I loved to hear him talk about the speakeasies and how he had met Jean Harlow and danced with Anita Page! And my Grandpa, on my Dad’s side, was a Detective in Bristol, England. (My Dad was in the same class as Cary Grant – then Archibald Leach – at Primary School.) So I think my curiosity and questioning that my characters have, must have been channeled from him.
These days, people are popping their own homemade movies on the interenet without a thought. What methods did you employ to make the early days of filmmaking seem fresh and exciting to your readers?
I think that one of the problems with entertainment today, is that all of these “How it was made” shows take all the mystique out of movies. Many people today think that they can make movies or write a Best Seller without having to learn how, because they have learned a few trade secrets. That’s why I love films like “Cinema Paradiso,” in which we were transported back to the days of the primitive censorship of removing THE KISSES(!) from those wonderful movies. And the challenge of bicycling from one village to another with the next film reel, so the audience can see the end of the movie. That is the magic of a simpler life.
And in my novel, I have tried to bring my readers into that early time when the audience heard no dialogue – so the director was talking all the way through the scene, and the noise from the stage next to them would spill over. But the audience would use their own imagination far more than today. Today, all the details are filled in for them. In those early days, they were still working out how to produce special effects and perform stunts. And there many dreadful injuries, some fatal, because the actors were not considered too valuable. They could always be replaced! And they would work 18 hour days, in horrible conditions – but be thrilled to have a job. I loved inhabiting that simpler and more appreciative world.
You are also the author of the best-selling non-fiction book, Hollywood, Then and Now. What differences did you find in writing a non-fiction book on Hollywood and a fictional account of the industry?
The difference with writing fiction, after my non-fiction books, is that now I have the opportunity to color things. I can take actual happenings and change the people involved, fictionalize them, and hook them into another real life incident and come up with a wonderful “What if…” moment. But on the other side of it, having all that rich research at my fingertips, I hope that I can have the readers feel the integrity and authenticity of the people and situations from times gone by.
As an actress who has worked on well-loved shows such as “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Dr. Who” and who has acted with greats like Sir Anthony Hopkins, tell us how acting informs your writing? Does it help? Or is it a hinderence? Would you recommend that writers take a beginning acting class or improv class?
As an actress I have been fortunate to work with some terrific actors over the years. In England it was not so much the Star System you have here, so actors may play the lead one week and the next time they would have one line. You all learned to “muck in together.” I had a bit part in the film of “Alice in Wonderland” and was in the same scene as Dame Flora Robson, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Sir Michael Horden, Michael Crawford and a host of others in a lengthy Court Room scene that we worked on for many, many days. (I was the Chief Clerk of the Court in a Parrot costume!) But it was fascinating watching these great actors interact. And they were all considerate, humble and hysterically funny. And, as a writer, I find my acting experience helps so much with my characters, as they all have these different voices that I seem to channel! Anyone watching me write would think I should be in a loony bin, as I argue out loud back and forth in different dialects!
As an actress, are you tempted to write a script or a play?
I have written scripts years ago. I wrote a sitcom set in present day Hollywood, that the head of BBC Comedy ‘sat on’ for a couple of years, telling me how great it was. But then he got fired… And my husband, Rick and I wrote a docudrama script for a PBS series many years ago. But I must confess, I much prefer the world of novelists. Novelists – and especially Mystery novelists – are the greatest people in the world. They are encouraging, supportive and have such curious minds and great senses of humor! Script writers – like actors – seem so competitive and age conscious! It appears to be a crime to be a script writer or an actor once you reach forty years old! But novelists – well they are smart enough to go on for ever.
What’s next for you?
And so now I am going to catch up on my reading. I have a stack of novels I am anxious to read – and clearing out my office. I am wishing for the Clutter Clearing Fairy to appear on my doorstep. And then I shall start on my next book in this series. For now I have to deal with the coming of sound – of “Talkers”….!