The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

he Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of - A Theda Bara Mystery



[ESTABLISHING SHOT: A faded, sepia-toned photograph showing a bird’s-eye view of a pastoral scene that could be Anytown, USA. A few stucco Spanish-style houses are in the foreground. A road lined with pepper trees and lemon groves stretches away to the horizon. The sun is rising, casting everything in a hazy orange glow.


As we CRANE DOWN, our eye is caught by a luxury sedan flying down the road. It is a gorgeous robin’s-egg blue Isotta-Fraschini, sunshine gleaming off its polished chrome hood ornament and shining black trim. The chauffeur is casual, one hand on the wheel while his elbow drapes over the side of the driver’s door. We cannot see his passenger - only the tantalizing flutter of her long silk scarf whipping and twisting in the wind.

SEARCH UP from the rear of the sedan over its roof to an object in the distance – an enormous, rotting hulk of a movie set, with impossibly high walls and exotic decoration, plaster elephants and full-breasted pagan goddesses silhouetted against the sharp blue morning sky.

SUPERIMPOSE: ‘Hollywood. 1919.’

TOBY (V.O):]

You heard the noise long before you saw anything. Big, thudding booms echoing halfway to Santa Barbara.

I still couldn’t believe they were tearing it down. The thing had squatted there for so long I figured it would still be around when the whiz kids at Warners finally figured out how to make talkies.

As we drove up, I saw some early-morning gawkers at the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood. A sharp fellow had pulled up a lunch wagon and was doing a brisk business passing out wieners and lemonade to the crowd while a couple of cameramen from Pathé News tumbled out of a truck and began hopping around for a good view. I eased the big car close to the curb, keeping an eye on the people around us as I cut the engine. We were close enough to watch the show, but far enough away so nobody would notice us. I knew she wasn’t in the mood for autograph hounds.

I stepped out, propped a foot up on the running board and popped a cigar in my mouth. Behind me, she put a pair of opera glasses up to her eyes and took one last look at the biggest white elephant this town had ever seen – the massive Babylon set that D.W. Griffith had built for his magnificent flop Intolerance.

A cheer rose from the crowd as a wrecking ball smashed into the head of a plaster elephant rearing at the top of a bulbous fluted column. A gigantic tusk tumbled down the broad stairs of Belshazzar, leaving a trail of dust and grit behind it.

I looked over my shoulder at her. The opera glasses hid her eyes, but as the ball hit again with a deafening boom! I saw her lips press together in a tense line.

“Never thought they’d tear the old girl down,” I said.

“I’m glad it’s going,” she snapped. “It should have been blown up a long time ago.” Her voice wavered as she fought to control herself.

I turned back to look at the set again. “I mean – it’s almost like the pyramids, Theo,” I went on, trying to keep things light. “Once it’s gone, nobody will ever believe it existed.”

Theda Bara dropped the glasses. “They’ve got pictures,” she said, pointing to the cameras cranking away. “And Griffith’s movie. That’s all they need.” Her face was pale as she fixed me with a cold stare. “It’s evil, Toby. It needs to be wiped out.”

I turned away from her glittering eyes and sucked at my cigar. As I dug in my pockets for a match, I noticed someone who’d stepped away from the crowd. He was a husky bull-necked man in a grey Norfolk jacket, holding a cap in one hand while he shaded his eyes with the other. He held himself ramrod straight as he watched the wrecking crew, but with every strike of the ball, he leaned forward on the tips of his toes, as if he were willing the set to collapse.

There was something familiar about his broad back and close-cropped hair. Before I could point him out to her, he turned around, like he’d felt my eyes on him. He lifted his hat in salute and walked over.

I shook his hand, slipping him a smoke. “Morning, Von.”

Erich von Stroheim gave me a thin smile. “Toby. I thought I might see you today.”

Theo stretched an arm to unlatch her door. “Can I guess what brings you out on such a beautiful morning, Erich?”

Natürlich. I expect I am here for the same reason you are, Miss Bara,” Stroheim answered, climbing in next to her. “I want to be sure every last goddamn brick of that thing is torn down.”

Theo didn’t flinch at his language. “Good,” she nodded, an angry spark in her eyes. “Good,” she repeated, daring me to challenge her.

“Good,” I muttered, turning my back on both of them and lighting my cigar. A gang of workmen had lassoed the base of the elephant, and as they pulled it loose, the strain was too much for the rotten lumber. The whole column ripped away with a screech, wood, plaster and brick crashing to the ground. The noise startled me and as I jumped back against the car, it took me a moment to get my footing.

The choking cloud of dust cleared away. We could see into the hulk of the scaffolding. A gaping black hole yawned back at us.

Oh, God,” Theo moaned, the whole mess coming back to her, while my gut twisted like Jack Dempsey had landed a solid punch. . .