Hollywood Calling

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a Hollywood actress and a producer/director who are interested in turning my Roaring Twenties series into a movie! I referred them to my agent, who pronounced them legitimate and gave them a year’s option so they could start trying to raise the money. A historical movie or television series is usually more expensive than a contemporary film, due to the extra costs of period requirements like costuming and motor cars, not to mention the difficulty in finding appropriate historic settings for outdoor scenes. It’s a long shot, of course, but it’s fun to dream. Stay tuned for updates! 

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Published in: on October 25, 2017 at 9:46 am  Comments (5)  

Invitation to my new book’s birthday party

It’s my book’s Birth Day! The date the publisher chose to release it. Come to the party on Aug. 16 at Chop Suey Books in Richmond’s Carytown district and get a copy of my latest mystery, MURDER IN DISGUISE. In the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, I’m doing a short reading at 6:00 and serving suitable Prohibition beverage–and giving away a hardcover copy of the first in the series, THE IMPERSONATOR, with every purchase. Convenient, free parking behind the Byrd Theater across the street. 

Published in: on July 28, 2017 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit Grows in the 1890s

When I write my Roaring Twenties mystery series, which is set in the 1920s, I depend on my research about the vaudeville circuits of the early 20th century. One thing I learned was that these “circuits” (groups of theaters that joined together to host an itinerant group of performers) didn’t materialize out of nowhere. In the 1890s, the Orpheum Circuit, which was largely made up of west coast theaters and a few in the Midwest, needed to find some theaters in between so that performers didn’t waste a week of unpaid time traveling from the Midwest cities (like Chicago) to the west coast. Yes, it could take three or four days to travel from the Midwest to the far west by rail, which meant the performers lost that week. Anything less than one day of travel cut into their 6-day week, rendering the act unemployable for that week.

The first in-between theaters added were in Kansas City, MO, and Omaha, NE, both railway hubs that were growing in population and sophistication. After that came Denver, in those days, the largest city between Kansas City and San Francisco. The Denver Orpheum was built in 1899 at the unheard of cost of $350,000. (Sadly, it was torn down in the 1930s.) But with this stunning theater, the Orpheum Circuit could at last attract big names, because performers could travel between engagements one day at a time.

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Houdini’s Rise to Stardom

I mention Houdini briefly in a couple of my mysteries, so I became interested in his remarkable life and unusual talents.

Houdini began as a small-time magician in vaudeville. Fortunately for him, he was spotted by Martin Beck, an immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who became one of the top booking agents in vaudeville thanks to his uncanny ability to discover new talent. When he saw young Houdini, he told him he should cut out the regular magic tricks that other magicians did and concentrate on one big thriller that only he could do–escape-artist tricks like the handcuffs in the trunk.

Houdini took his advice and became a vaudeville sensation. Beck became the Orpheum Circuit’s general manager.

Published in: on July 1, 2017 at 6:19 am  Comments (1)  

Murder in Disguise Gets a Nice Review

Author: MARY MILEY

Title: MURDER IN DISGUISE

Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Issue: 19TH JUNE 2017

 Murder in Disguise: A Roaring Twenties Mystery, Mary Miley. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8714-6

The shooting murder of projectionist Joe Petrovitch, during a showing of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush at a Hollywood movie theater, propels Miley’s engrossing fourth Roaring Twenties mystery (after 2016’s Renting Silence). The police rush to the theater, but the gunman escapes without a trace. The victim’s wife, a hairdresser at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, asks script girl Jessie Beckett, who’s a skilled amateur sleuth, to investigate. With help from Adele Astaire (Fred’s glamorous sister and dance partner), actress Myrna Loy (later to achieve fame in The Thin Man), assorted vaudevillians, and police detective Carl Delaney, spunky, resourceful Jessie sets to work. Aficionados of showbiz history will delight in the technical details of filmmaking in the silent era and the peripatetic lives of the performers. Readers will also get the lowdown on bootlegging, speakeasies, and gin joints. Series fans will be pleased to know that David Carr, Jessie’s love interest, has a tidy subplot of his own.

 

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Last Call in Virginia 1916

On November 1, 1916, all saloons, breweries, and distilleries in Virginia shut down. (Or they were supposed to. Some stayed open secretly and illegally.) There was one great, last-minute stampede to buy drinks, and it was reported in the Alexandria Gazette.

“The rush for liquor refreshments [in Harrisonburg, VA] Monday night and yesterday morning resembled a football mass attack or a charge of women on a bargain counter . . . it was like a Christmas holiday rush” as people swarmed the saloons for a last, legal drink.

So when national prohibition came around to the rest of the country in 1920, Virginians hardly noticed.

Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 1:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Prohibition Exhibit at the Library of Virginia

An exhibit at the Library of Virginia tells the story of Prohibition in Virginia. Titled “Teetotalers and Moonshiners,” the exhibit traces the prohibition movement from its start in Virginia in 1914 (6 years before national prohibition began in 1920) to its end. As in all states, implementing the new federal laws proved impossible, in part because so little money was allocated for enforcement. “Having only fifteen inspectors in this state, it is impossible for us to give prompt attention to the hundreds of complaints that come to the office,” wrote Harry B. Smith, Director of Prohibition in Richmond. He didn’t mention that their low pay made it easy for law-breakers to bribe them to look the other way. 

It’s a good exhibit! It runs through December 5, so you have plenty of time to drop in and see it. And there is free parking in the underground garage below the Library. 

Published in: on May 14, 2017 at 6:27 am  Leave a Comment  

A Pre-Order Deal on Book #4

For readers who want a hardcover copy of Book 4 in the Roaring Twenties series, I noticed that my publisher has posted it on amazon.com for pre-orders at a discount. The regular hardcover retail is $29, but pre-orders are $22.68. (One wonders where they get these odd prices . . . last week it was $22.46) The book won’t be released until August 1, when it will  be available in ebook format as well. Paperbacks don’t appear until about 6 months after that. 

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

January 17 Anniversary

dark-time-05On January 17, I like to mark the anniversary of the first day of Prohibition back in 1920 with a drink! That’s what most drinkers did that year, they held a wake at their favorite bar on January 16, the last legal day to drink, and went home to mourn.

Look at these fabulous flapper dresses!

circa 1925: Flappers at the bar of Isa Lanchester's night club in London. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

circa 1925: look at these fabulous flapper dresses!

They need not have bothered, as it soon became clear that the gangster element would quickly step in to fill the demand for booze, bringing far more problems and anguish than existed when liquor was legal. In fact, historians now say it was probably easier to get a drink during Prohibition than it was when Prohibition ended in 1933 and regulations limited people’s access.

So join me on January 16, the last day of legal drinking, and again on January 17, the first day of Prohibition, and lift your glass to one of the biggest mistakes in American history. 

Published in: on January 14, 2017 at 10:21 am  Comments (1)  
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A vio-tortionist? One of Vaudeville’s most unusual acts . . .

I’m always on the look-out for unusual vaudeville acts that I can weave into my novels. When I met a woman whose mother and aunt had been unusual vaudeville performers, I knew I had a keeper! These two young women were violinists and acrobats, which gave them a most interesting profession: bio-contortionist. Helen Myra, my friend’s mother, was a ballerina who performed Pavlova’s Dying Swan while playing the violin. Her sister, Olga Myra is pictured below, playing the violin as she performed acrobatic feats. They performed in the mid-1920s, which is when my Roaring Twenties series is set, so I incorporated these usual acts into the fourth book in my series, due out next year.

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Here are some of Olga’s reviews, courtesy of her niece. I found them fascinating to read. 

Pittsburg Daily Post, 3 July 1923, p. 10

“Olga Myra’s high kicks and her violining while she did the split…”

Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 25 September 1923, p. 23

“Olga Myra and her Southern Entertainers “stopped the show” in the fifth position. Miss Myra was also favored with a fetching personality…and in a variety of picturesque  costumes she exhibited marked suppleness and more or less originality of style in  dancing. Hers was mostly “stunt” dancing, and she excelled in “splits,” back bending and kicking.”

Amsterdam, NY Evening Recorder, 9 October 1923

“No other performer on the stage has been able to execute a happy combination of  acrobatic dancing and violin performance at the same time as young and winsome Olga Myra…She is a finished artist in her line, having devoted eight months of continuous  study and practice at the Theodore Art School in New York.”

Louisville, KY Courier-Journal, 20 December 1923, p. 4

Olga Myra will top the new vaudeville program that will be offered at B.F. Keith’s  National this afternoon and the remainder of this week. She is a dancer who combines  violin playing with a characteristic form of acrobatic dancing…”

Variety, 1 April 1925, p. 11 (reviewing the show at the NY Palace)

Olga Myra and the Bitter Sisters, a Foster Hip turn, with a big production and swift changes of pace, costumes and methods in dance, ran 13 minutes and seemed like six. Miss Olga Myra is an accomplished contortionist, but of the refined and subdued order. She does some unusual fiddling while going through her bends…”

Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 13 October 1925, p. 18

“Keith’s Theater: One of the most colorful and artistic dancing acts presented at Keith’s vaudeville house this season, or any other season for that matter, is the offering of Olga Myra and her two assistants, Betsey Rees and Margaret Litchfield. All three are graceful and agile dancers of an exceptional order. Then the act is staged with exceedingly good             taste, a charming simplicity of setting being used for each dance number so that the audience’s eye is centered on the dancers and yet conscious that all surrounding details are satisfying artistically. In fact, it is one of very few dance acts that is not over done in setting and costuming. Olga Myra herself is a supple dancer who seems capable of achieving any position at all with her agile limbs. The other two are toe dancers and interpreters of charming dance designs, which their grace and ability make remarkably appealing.”

In separate article on page 23: “Keith star offers real dance novelty…Olga Myra offers a distinct novelty in the nature of acrobatic dancing with violin playing. She knows how to fiddle well, and she lays her instrument while exerting exceedingly difficult acrobatic dancing feats. Miss Myra is the only performer who does this novelty. In various numbers she also displays ability to do true aesthetic dancing. Hers is obviously a genuine dancing temperament coupled with an understanding of vaudeville showmanship…”

Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 22 December 1925, p. 15

“Olga Myra, dancing violinist, and two other dancing artists who are featured in the same act, Misses Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield, the latter a Pittsburg girl…Miss Myra was the embodiment of ease of movement in a waltz that lofted toes sideways, forward and backward with equal smoothness and rhythm. She also played sweetly on the violin as she performed an acrobatic obbligato in slow movement. The entire act was prettily staged and it was one of the most popular on the bill.”

In separate article on p. 11: “A much-admired dancing attraction by Olga Myra includes her curling and uncurling herself to her violin playing, her backward bending and high kicking and splitting…”

Variety, 16 June 1926, p. 21 [a review of the act]

“Olga Myra and Company, Dancing, 16 minutes, Full Stage, at the Palace.

“Olga Myra formerly appeared with a band. In her new turn are but two girl brunet dancers, while a special musical director, Fred Hathaway, is in the pit. Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield dance with Miss Myra, the minor members opening the act with a Columbine-Pierrot dance, backed scenically by a Venetian Canal drop revealed through a set frame mounted upon a platform. Miss Rees, a toe dancer, was the Columbine and Miss Litchfield (hair short) the Pierrot.

Opened well and led to a solo waltz by the featured artist, whose forte in this number was high side kicks, helping to send her off well. A special drop backed the frame for this.

For the following number, “The Enchanted Rose Bush,” Miss Litchfield was a pensive lover admiring a rosebush, which suddenly opened, disclosing a toe dancer who went into some nice steps to the measures of “La Traviata’s” ballet music and ending with the dancer retiring to the bush, the lover resuming the pensive attitude.

Then, Miss Myra for a violin solo played as she went through a difficult contortionistic routine on the platform. This was her old specialty and is built up to be the act’s feature. A Russian trio dance closed the act [other accounts note this dance trio was entitled “Boots”]. The turn was moved from fourth to closing intermission and scored in that good spot. In addition to the good work of the principals, especially the featured girl, the costuming is not only handsome and lavish but in excellent taste.

As a dance-flash turn for vaudeville or the big picture houses, this one frames all around. With some speeding it would be a set-up for the cinema palaces, where they appear four- a-day, but pay more money than in vaudeville.”

 

 

 

Published in: on December 11, 2016 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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