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Volume 5028

P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJAce edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976
 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Part 8: Chapters 13 and 14
“Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.”
– The Eagles, “Hotel California”

Not knowing that Crumb has double-crossed Allen, Shannon hurries to her mother’s orchard plot, hoping that she is not too late.  She is suffering guilt and shame due to her drug addiction.  Will her mother know?


    As Shannon Burke alighted from the Southern Pacific train at Ganado, the following morning, a large middle-aged man in riding clothes approached her.
    “Is this Miss Burke?” he asked.  “I am Colonel Pennington.”
     She noted that his face was grave, and it frightened her.  “Tell me about my mother,” she said.  “How is she?”
    He put an arm around the girl’s shoulders.
    “Come,” he said.  “Mrs. Pennington is waiting over at the car.”  Her question was answered.
    “Tell me about it,” she said at length in a low voice.
    “It was very sudden,” said the Colonel.  “It was a heart attack.  Everything that possibly could be done in so short a time was done.  Nothing would have changed the outcome, however.  We had Dr. Jones of Los Angeles down – he motored down and arrived here about a half an hour before the end.  He told us that he could have done nothing.”
Like many Hollywood directors of the silent golden era, ERB was fond of wearing riding clothes, so it is not remarkable that Colonel Pennington follows suit.  I don’t know how familiar ERB was with heart attacks during this period, but one would take him in 1950 one fine Sunday morning while he was reading the comics page at his home in Encino.
    They were silent for a while as the fast car rolled over the smooth road toward the hills ahead.  Presently it slowed down, turned in between orange trees, and stopped before a tiny bungalow a hundred yards from the highway.
You may recall seeing orange orchards in the San Fernando Valley in the movie Chinatown, where some local farmers take pot shots at Jack Nicholson.  But that was years later when development was on a much larger scale.
    “We thought you would want to come here first of all, dear,” said Mrs. Pennington.  “Afterward we are going to take you home with us.”
    They accompanied her to the tiny living room, where they introduced her to the housekeeper, and to the nurse, who had remained at Colonel Pennington’s request.  Then they opened the door of a sunny bedroom, and, closing it after her as she entered left her alone with her dead.
    Beyond the thin panels they could hear her sobbing; but when she emerged fifteen minutes later, though her eyes were red, she was not crying.
    They led her back to the car, where she sat with wide eyes staring straight ahead.  She wanted to scream, to tear her clothing, to do anything but sit there quiet and rigid.  The short drive to Ganado seemed to the half mad girl to occupy hours.  She saw nothing, not even the quiet, restful ranch house as the car swung up the hill and stopped at the north entrance.  In her mind’s eye was nothing but the face of her dead mother and the little black case in her travelling bag.
    The Colonel helped her from the car and a sweet-faced young girl came and put her arms about her and kissed her, as Mrs. Pennington had done at the station.  In a dazed sort of way Shannon understood that they were telling her the girl’s name – that she was a daughter of the Pennington’s.  The girl accompanied the visitor to the rooms she was to occupy.
    Shannon wished to be alone – she wanted to get at the black case in the travelling bag.  Why didn’t the girl go away?  She wanted to take her by the shoulders and throw her out of the room; yet outwardly she was calm and selfpossessed.
    Very carefully she turned toward the girl.  It required a supreme effort not to tremble, and to keep her voice from rising to a scream.
    “Please,” she said, “I should like to be alone.”
    “I understand,” said the girl, and left the room, closing the door behind her.
    Shannon crept stealthily to the door and turned the key in the lock.  Then she wheeled and almost fell upon the travelling bag in her eagerness to get the small black case within it.  She was trembling from head to foot, her eyes were wide and staring, and she mumbled to herself as she prepared the white powder and drew the liquid into the syringe.
    Momentarily, however, she gathered herself together.  For a few seconds she stood looking at the glass and metal instrument in her fingers – beyond it she saw her mother’s face.
    “I don’t want to do it,” she sobbed.  “I don’t want to do it, mother!”  Her lower lip quivered, and tears came.  “My God, I can’t help it!”  Almost viciously she plunged the needle beneath her skin.  “I didn’t want to do it today, of all days, with you lying over there all alone – dead!”
    She threw herself across the bed and broke into uncontrolled sobbing; but her nerves were relaxed, and the expression of her grief was normal.  Finally she sobbed herself to sleep, for she had not slept at all the night before.
It was afternoon when she awoke, and again she felt the craving for a narcotic.  This time she did not fight it.  She had lost the battle – why renew it? She bathed and dressed and took another shot before leaving her rooms – a guest suite on the second floor.  She descended the stairs, which opened directly into the main patio, and almost ran against a tall, broadshouldered young man in flannel shirt and riding breeches, with boots and spurs.  He stepped quickly back. “Miss Burke, I believe?” he inquired.  “I am Custer Pennington.” “Oh, it was you who wired me,” she said.
    “No – that was my father.”
    “I am afraid I did not thank him for all his kindness.  I must have seemed very ungrateful.”
    She followed him through the living room and the library to the dining room, beyond which a small breakfast room looked out toward the peaceful hills. Young Pennington opened a door leading from the dining room to the butler’s pantry, and called his mother.
    “Miss Burke is down,” he said.
    The girl turned immediately from the breakfast room and entered the butler’s pantry.
    “Can’t I help, Mrs. Pennington?  I don’t want you to go to any trouble for me.  You have all been so good already!”
    They seemed to take it for granted that Shannon was going to stay with them, instead of going to the little bungalow that had been her mother’s – the truest type of hospitality, because, requiring no oral acceptance, it suggested no obligation.
Shannon could not have refused if she had wished to, but she did not wish to.  In the quiet ranch house, surrounded by these strong, kindly people, she found a restfulness and a feeling of security that she had not believed she was ever to experience again.  She had these thoughts when, under the influence of morphine, her nerves were quieted and her brain clear.  After the effects had worn off, she became restless and irritable.  She thought of Crumb then, and of the bungalow on the Vista del Paso, with its purple monkeys stencilled over the patio gate.  She wanted to be back where she could be free to do as she pleased – free to sink again into the most degrading and abject slavery that human vice has ever devised.
I must say that Shannon’s drug use has me somewhat confused.  After spending all of that time ranting with Crumb about needing a week’s supply of “snow,” she is now mainlining morphine at Ganado.  Is she injecting herself with both coke and morphine?  Or is the coke just for snorting?  If she’s mainlining both, then she shooting up a “speedball,” the fatal mixture that killed John Belushi.  The way I see it, she is hopelessly addicted to both narcotics, a junkie on the verge of extinction.  ERB seems to be aware of this dilemma because in the future he will refer to the mixture as “white powders,” in the plural.

If “butler's pantry” wasn’t enough of a hint that the Pennington’s have servants in the house, this will soon become clear.  They also seem to have many ranch hands.

    On the first night, after she had gone to her rooms, the Penningtons, gathered in the little family living room, discussed her, as people are wont to discuss a stranger beneath their roof.
    “I sized her up over there in the kitchen today,” said Custer.  “She’s the real article.  I can always tell by the way people treat a servant whether they are real people or only counterfeit.  She was as sweet and natural to Hannah as she is to mother.”
    “I noticed that,” said his mother.  “It is one of the hall marks of good breeding; but we could scarcely expect anything else of Mrs. Burke’s daughter.  I know she must be a fine character.”
    In the room above them Shannon Burke, with trembling hands and staring eyes, was inserting a slender needle beneath the skin above her hip.  In the movies one does not disfigure one’s arms or legs.
ERB loved irony, and the Penningtons’ assessment of Shannon, at the very time she is shooting up, is as amusing as it is ironic.  And how about the servants being better seen and not heard?  We can imagine them being Japanese.

I recall hearing ERB’s adopted son, Lee, the son of actor-director Ashton Dearholt (the model for Wilson Crumb?), speak at the 2012 Dum Dum in Woodland Hills.  He was amused when someone asked him how the family had done during the Great Depression.  He said that they had lived in a mansion with Japanese servants and that they had never experienced the type of financial suffering most Americans were going through at the time.

At least ERB had the sensitivity to give us the name of the invisible servant: Hannah.  I love that name, and even named my second daughter Hannah.  I grew attached to it after hearing the song by that name over and over by trippy Robin Trower.  My daughter went through a period in elementary school where other kids would joke that “Hannah is a palindrome!  Hannah is a palindrome!”  It was almost as bad as being called “Hannah Banana!”  Oh, well, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that name.

And note the ERB detail about the location of her needle marks.  You’d have to see her naked before you could know for sure that she is mainlining hard drugs.  And you would have to marry her to see her naked, as Wilson Crumb sadly learned.

    The day of the funeral had come and gone.  It had been a very hard one for Shannon.  She had determined that on this day, at least, she would not touch the little hypodermic syringe.
    She tried to shut the idea from her mind.  She tried to concentrate her thoughts upon the real anguish of her heart.  She tried to keep before her a vision of her mother; but her hideous, resistless vice crowded all else from her brain, and the result was that on the way back from the cemetary she collapsed into screaming, incoherent hysteria.
    They carried her to her room – Custer Pennington carried her, his father and mother following.  When the men had left, Mrs. Pennington and Eva undressed her and comforted her and put her to bed; but she still screamed and sobbed – frightful, racking sobs, without tears.  She was trying to tell them to go away.  How she hated them!  If they would only go away and leave her!  But she could not voice the words she sought to scream at them, and so they stayed and ministered to her as best they could.  After a while she lost consciousness, and they thought that she was asleep and left her.
    Perhaps she did sleep, for later, when she opened her eyes, she lay very quiet, and felt rested and almost normal.  She knew, though, that she was not entirely awake – that when full wakefulness came the terror would return unless she quickly had recourse to the little needle.
    In that brief moment of restfulness she thought quickly and clearly and very fully of what had just happened.  She had never had such an experience before.  Perhaps she had never fully realized the frightful hold the drug had upon her.  She had known that she could not stop – or, at least, she had said that she knew; but whether she had any conception of the pitiful state to which enforced abstinence would reduce her is to be doubted.  Now she knew, and she was terribly frightened.
    “I must cut it down,” she said to herself.  “I must have been hitting it up a little too strong.  When I get home, I’ll let up gradually until I can manage with three or four shots a day.”
When she came down to dinner that night, they were all surprised to see her, for they had thought her still asleep.  Particularly were they surprised to see no indications of her recent breakdown.  How could they know that she had just taken enough morphine to have killed any one of them?  She seemed normal and composed, and she tried to infuse a little gaiety into her conversation, for she realized that her grief was not theirs.  She knew that their kind hearts shared something of her sorrow, but it was selfish to impose her own sadness upon them.
    She had been thinking very seriously, had Shannon Burke.  The attack of hysteria had jarred her loose, temporarily at least, from the selfish rut that her habit and her hateful life with Crumb had worn for her.  She recalled every emotion of the ordeal through which she had passed, even to the thoughts of hate that she had held for those two sweet women at the table with her.  How could she have hated them?  She hated herself for the thought.
She compared herself with them, and a dull flush mounted to her cheek. She was not fit to remain under the same roof with them, and here she was sitting at their table, a respected guest!  What if they should learn of the thing she was? The thought terrified her; and yet she talked on, oftentimes gaily, joining with them in the laughter that was part of every meal.
    She really saw them, that night, as they were.  It was the first time that her grief and her selfish vice, had permitted her to study them.  It was her first understanding glimpse of a family life that was as beautiful as her own life was ugly.
    As she compared herself with the women, she compared Crumb with these two men.  They might have vices – they were strong men, and few strong men are without vices, she knew – but she was sure they were vices of strong men, which, by comparison with those of Wilson Crumb, would become virtues.  What a pitiful creature Crumb seemed beside these two, with his insignificant mentality and his petty egotism!
Suddenly it came to her, almost as a shock, that she had to leave this beautiful place and go back to the sordid life that she shared with Crumb.  Her spirit revolted but she knew that it must be.  She did not belong here – her vice must ever bar her from such men and women as these.  The memory of them would haunt her always, making her punishment the more poignant to the day of her death.
    That evening she and Colonel Pennington discussed her plans for the future.  She had asked him about disposing of the orchard – how she should proceed, and what she might ask for it.
    “I should advise you to hold it,” he said.  “It is going to increase in value tremendously in the next few years.  You can easily get some one to work it for you on shares.  If you don’t want to live on it, Custer and I will be glad to keep an eye on it and see that it is properly cared for; but why don’t you stay here?  You could really make a very excellent living from it.  Besides, Miss Burke, here in the country you can really live.  You city people don’t know what life is.”
“There!” said Eva.  “Popsy has started.  If he had his way, we’d all have to move to the city to escape the maddening crowd.  He’d move the maddening crowd into the country!”
“It may be that Shannon doesn’t care for the country,” suggested Mrs.
Pennington.  “There are such foolish people,” she added laughing.
“Oh, I would love the country!” exclaimed Shannon.
“Then why don’t you stay?” urged the colonel.
“I had never thought of it,” she said hesitatingly.
It was indeed a new idea.  Of course it was an absolute impossibility, but it was a very pleasant thing to contemplate.
“Possibly Miss Burke has ties in the city that she would not care to break,” suggested Custer, noting her hesitation.
Ties in the city!  Shackles of iron, rather, she thought bitterly; but, oh, it was such a nice thought!  To live here, to see these people daily, perhaps be one of of them, to be like them – ah, that would be heaven!
“Yes,” she said, “I have ties in the city.  I could not remain here, I am afraid, must as I should like to.  I – I think I better sell.”
“Rubbish!” exclaimed the colonel.  “You’ll not sell.  You are going to stay here with us until you are thoroughly rested and then you won’t want to sell.”
“I wish that I might,” she said; “but –”
“All right,” said the Colonel.  “It’s decided – you stay.  Now run off to bed, for you’re going to ride with us in the morning, and that means that you’ll have to be up at half past five.”
ERB had great family memories of himself and his two sons and daughter horseback riding on the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.  His daughter, Joan, fondly remembered her father teaching her how to read animal trails by their spoor and other tricks of the trade.
    “But I can’t ride,” she said.  “I don’t know how, and I have nothing to wear.”
    “Eva’ll fit you out, and as for not knowing how to ride, you can’t learn any younger.  Why, I’ve taught half the children in the foothills to ride a horse, and a lot more of the grownups.  What I can’t teach you, Cus and Eva can.  You’re going to start in tomorrow, my little girl, and learn how to live.  Nobody who has simply survived the counterfeit life of the city knows anything about living.  You wait – we’ll show you!”
How long do you think it will it take Eva to find out that Shannon is in a relationship with her idol, Wilson Crumb?  ERB will have some fun with that one.
    At a quarter before six she was awakened by a knock on her door.  It was already light, and she awoke with mingled surprise that she had slept so well and vague forebodings of the next hour or two, for she was unaccustomed to horses and a little afraid of them.
    “Who is it?” she asked, as the knock was repeated.
    “Eva.  I’ve brought your riding things.”
    Shannon rose and opened the door.  She was going to take the things from the girl, but the latter bounced into the room, fresh and laughing.
    “Come on!” she cried.  “I’ll help you.  Just pile your hair up anyhow – it doesn’t matter – this hat’ll cover it.  I think these breeches will fit you – we are just about the same size; but I don’t know about the boots – they may be a little large.  I didn’t bring any spurs – papa won’t let any one wear spurs until they ride fairly well.  You’ll have to win your spurs, you see!  It’s a beautiful morning just spiffy!  Run in and wash up a bit.  I’ll arrange everything, and you’ll be in ‘em in a jiffy.”
    She seized Shannon around the waist and danced off toward the bathroom.
    “Don’t be long,” she admonished.
    Shannon washed quickly.  She was excited at the prospect of the ride. That and the laughing, talking girl in the adjoining room gave her no time to think.  Her mind was fully occupied and her nerves were stimulated.  For the moment she forgot about morphine, and then it was too late, for Eva had her by the hand and she was being led, almost at a run down the stairs, through the patio, and out over the edge of the hill down toward the stable.
    “Fine”!” cried the Colonel, as he saw her coming.  “Really never thought you’d do it!  I’ll wager this is the earliest you have been up in many a day. ‘Barbarous hour’ – that’s what you’re saying.  Why, when my cousin was on here from New York, he was really shocked – said it wasn’t decent.  Come along – we’re late this morning.  You’ll ride Baldy – Custer’ll help you up.”
    She stepped to the mounting block as the young man led the dancing Baldy close beside it.
    “Ever ridden much?” he asked.
    “Never in my life.”
Remember the last time Custer rode with Baldy?  He was with Grace Evans and intoxicated enough to endanger her life with reckless riding.  Has he been drinking this morning? After all, the two people who can really tell, his mother and Grace, are not there.  What ever happened to Grace, anyway, after her casting couch audition in the nude?
    Suddenly it dawned upon her that she had neither fallen off nor come to near falling off.  She had not even lost a stirrup.  As a matter of fact, the motion was not even uncomfortable.  It was enjoyable, and she was in about as much danger of being thrown as she would have been from a rocking chair as violently self-agitated.  She laughed then, and in the instant all fear left her.
    That first morning ride with the Penningtons and their friends was an event in the life of Shannon Burke that assumed the proportions of adventure.  The novelty, the thrill, the excitement, filled her every moment.  The dancing horse beneath seemed to impart to her a full measure of its buoyant life.  The gay laughter of her companions, the easy fellowship of young and old, the generous sympathy made her one of them, gave her but another glimpse of the possibilities for happiness that requires no artificial stimulus.
    That ride ended in a rushing gallop along a quarter mile of straight road leading to the stables, where they dismounted, flushed, breathless, and laughing. As they walked up the winding concrete walk toward the house, Shannon Burke was tired, lame and happy.  She had adventured into a new world and found it good.
    “Come into my room and wash,” said Eva, as they entered the patio.
    “We’re late for breakfast now, and we all like to sit down together.”
    For just an instant, and for the first time that morning, Shannon thought of the hypodermic needle in its black case upstairs.  She hesitated, and then resolutely turned into Eva’s room.
Ah, the calm before the Jones.  One usually thinks that once a junkie always a junkie, but some celebrities, like Bob Dylan, have beat it.  As he later put it: “You may serve the Devil, or you may serve the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.”  How I remember that song: it was released on August 16, 1979, the day my first daughter, Evangeline, was born.  She often rued that day when she was little, for it was also Madonna’s birthday and the day that Elvis died, and that’s all that there was on MTV for the entire day for years to come.
Until next time.

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Read The Girl From Hollywood Text in ERBzine
See the ERBzine Bibliography Entry


 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Pt. I: Ch. 1 Pt. II: Ch. 2 Pt. III: Ch. 3/4 Pt. IV: Ch. 5 Pt. V: Ch. 6/7 Pt. VI: Ch. 8/9/10 Pt. VII: Ch. 11/12
Pt. VIII: Ch. 13/14 Pt. IX: Ch. 15 Pt. X: Ch. 16 Pt. XI: Ch. 17/18 Pt. XII: Ch. 19/20 Pt. XIII: Ch. 21 Pt. XIV: Ch. 22/23
Pt. XV: Ch. 24/25 Pt. XVI: Ch. 26/27/28 Pt. XVII: Ch. 29/30/31 Pt. XVIII: Ch. 32/33 Pt. XIX: Ch. 34 Pt. XX: Ch. 35 Pt. XXI: Ch. 36/37


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