A Strange Meeting
MGM STUDIOS, LOS ANGELES, CA, 1937—Though never documented on film or in writing, the scene is easy to imagine in the theater of the mind: Two men are seated next to each other: a dark-haired, wideeyed Spaniard wears an anachronistic velvet suit, while his curly haired cohort has swathed himself in a ratty trench coat. Their outlandish appearance and hand-me-down fashion, not to mention the contrast between the men themselves, paints a picture of strange characters up to no good. Anywhere else in the world, they might have been mistaken for vagrants.
But in the waiting area outside the office of film producer Louis B. Mayer, one would expect to find the most unusual people. In fact, if you weren’t such a character, you probably wouldn’t be waiting for a meeting with the head of MGM Pictures. Here, eccentrics were a common sight. Vikings, pirates, monsters, witches, and every other costumed type imaginable could be seen wandering the movie lot every day.
Yet, somehow, these two particular gentlemen seemed out of place. Separately, either would stand out in a crowd. Together, they created a scene simply by sharing the same space, their uniqueness magnified.
Regarding the duo cautiously from behind her desk, Mayer’s secretary was convinced they had to be in the wrong office. But she was new, fresh off the bus from Ohio, and this was her first job in the exciting city of Los Angeles. If only her friends could see her now . . .
She had no idea the man with the crazy red hair had already spoken to her boss, informing him that he’d be popping over with his friend from Spain to pitch a movie idea. She would learn that this particular redheaded man could see Louis B. Mayer whenever he wanted. He—Arthur, along with his brothers Julius and Leonard—had been making Mayer and the other studio heads a lot of money. And that’s why Mayer (like his predecessor, Irving Thalberg) put up with the mischief they brought to his doorstep.
Despite their names being on the list of visitors, the secretary didn’t want to flub her first day of work. So she watched the pair curiously to make sure they didn’t do anything . . . funny. The buzzer rang; the secretary jumped nervously. She picked up the telephone and heard Mayer’s voice. “Yes, sir. Right away, sir,” she replied. She put down the phone and stood.
“Mr. Dali, Mr. Marx, Mr. Mayer will see you now.”
Copyright © 2019 by Josh Frank, adapted with Tim Heidecker; illustrated by Manuela Pertega. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.