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American Drama Historical Fiction

November 3rd, 1939

Ruby Dove Found Dead by Hotel Staff

Ruby Dove, 26, was discovered dead in her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills late Wednesday night. 

The striking redhead was found in her bed by hotel staff at 9pm. She had been dead an estimated six hours. Her body was taken to County Morgue, where Coroner Bertrand Humphrey said after an autopsy he could give a “presumptive opinion” that death was due to a drug overdose. Several empty Veronal bottles were found amongst her possessions, with prescription dates of only two or three days ago. 

Ms Dove, a former contract player with RKO, had been struggling with her career in Hollywood since 1937, and friends believed her to be depressed. She is survived by two ex-husbands and her mother. 


***


“Hi momma. I know. I know it’s been a long while. I just wanted to see how you’ve been doin’? That good, huh? I’m sorry I haven’t been able to send any money along for a while. No. No, Rex and I don’t speak much anymore. I haven’t seen Howard Hughes in years, momma. Momma, listen - I just wanted to call because - because, well, I think...Momma, listen. I think - I think I might have another chance at a studio contract. Not RKO, no. Yeah. They want to do a screen test. I know, momma. It’s real good news. Um...I don’t know. Soon. Listen - I gotta go. That’s room service with my supper. Yeah, momma, I’m at the Beverly Hills again. I don’t know, momma. It reminds me of happy times. I got married here. I know it’s not cheap. I got it though, okay? I got it. Okay momma. G’night. Love you.”


***


May 5th, 1939

Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood

Boy Was Her Face Ruby Red

Well folks, there you have it. Ever since her divorce from ex-Broadway baby turned MGM Box Office Hit Rex Dorsey, we all knew Ruby would want to prove capable on the Broadway stage herself. After all, a few bit parts in some lacklustre RKO movies, a nightclub act and a few high school plays is all the preparation you need, right? If you’re looking to see for yourself - well, you’re out of luck, because the run of Fallen Female has been cancelled after just two performances. Sources suggest Ruby’s performance was laughably flat - and that’s when she could remember her lines at all. 

Ruby’s contract at RKO was not renewed earlier this year. It’s unknown what The Ruby Redhead is planning to do next.


***


July 13th, 1938

Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood

Move Over Ruby Dove - The Rubber Duck is Here.

Oh, the rise and fall of the charming Ms. Dove. Or are we back to Miss? Hot off a divorce (rumour has it this is her second divorce) to the dashing Rex Dorsey, you might think Ruby would have all the time in the world to keep her eye on the prize. Rather not, it seems - instead she spends her days chugging martinis and never leaving home - which makes sense, as rumour has it she’s about to lose it because of unpaid rent. Suspended without her salary from RKO due to a breach of her morality contract (on-set affairs are only swept under the rug for bigger stars, Ruby dear), she languishes: no movies to make, no nightclub performances to struggle through, and Photoplay won’t be calling any time soon with the state of her once-enviable physique. The transformation is complete: The Ruby Redhead’s descent into The Rubber Duck is as tragic as the late, great Jean Harlow’s metamorphosis from The Platinum Blonde to The Brownette. At least Jean had a stellar filmography behind her already. Pity the same cannot be said here.


***


January 28th, 1938

The Course of Ruby Dove Never Did Run Smooth…

by Louella Parsons

Oh Ruby! This humble reporter had such high hopes for you - such a charming girl, with such screen presence. It’s with deepest regret I must inform my readers that the RKO star-that-never-was seems to be headed down a thorny path! Since being signed to RKO in 1935, Ms Dove has been known more for her cabaret performances, dozens of pictorials, and glittering “social life” than anything she’s done on camera. By the sounds of it, that’s not about to change soon. On the set of her next film Starting the End, it’s said she’s been spotted in the arms of co-star Erik Rhodes more than once. Say it ain’t so, Ruby! Rumours are flying on the backlot about the young starlet’s growing dependency on - ahem - certain libations, and I have it on good authority her fittings and makeup are taking a little longer than they should. I’m rooting for you, Ruby - pull it together!


***


Ruby threw down her copy of The L.A. Examiner in disgust. “Two pages on his dazzling onscreen pairing with Myrna Loy! They call her a sizzling redhead!

“Rex knows the only sizzling redhead he needs is you, Ruby,” said her friend and acting coach Natasha, her voice low and soothing. She picked up the magazine from the mess of ashtrays and cocktail glasses on the glass side table between their loungers. 

“Blah blah...movie came out August ‘37, already creating Academy Award buzz...Rex Dorsey and on-screen lover Myrna Loy are perfectly matched, with the kind of good looks and chemistry that makes this reporter wish the film was in colour, just so you could see the flush in Rex’s cheeks when he looks at her…” she grimaced, and put the offensive article down. “Ouch.”

“I’ll never sleep tonight,” Ruby said, sounding anguished. “I have a photoshoot tomorrow morning. I’m going to look like death.” In the golden Los Angeles sunshine, Ruby looked as glamorous and beautiful as she ever would: her long legs exposed by the short, sheer gown she wore over her bathing suit, her red hair glimmering like burnished bronze, and her face glowing, perfectly made up even for an afternoon by the pool, complete with the ruby red lipstick she was desperate to become known for. She’d even had her agent chase the ad company behind Lucky Strike, hoping to have her face and plump red lips immortalised in one of their ads like Jean Harlow and Claudette Colbert before her, but they weren’t interested in a contract player with so little buzz about her.

“I’m going to call my doctor,” she said suddenly. “He gave me this amazing little pill last time I couldn’t sleep. It knocked me right out, and I was fresh as a daisy the next morning.”

“That’s a good idea,” Natasha said. “Do you want to go over this script again?”

“It’s three lines,” Ruby muttered mutinously. “I’m sick of this game. If I don’t have a hit soon I’m getting outta this town.”

Natasha said nothing. She knew it wasn’t true, and had seen enough of Ruby’s temper over the year she’d been working with her to hold her tongue. Ruby was addicted to the game. 


***


February 6th, 1937

With A Twist: RKO Vehicle for Ruby Dove Leaves Sour Taste

by James Agee

RKO’s latest offering With A Twist, directed by Edward Killy and starring Ruby Dove, is a gangster movie set in 1920s New York City, which struggles under the weight of its own lofty ideals. With middling direction, glacial pacing and lacklustre writing, it’s a wonder that Ruby Dove - the new Mrs Rex Dorsey - still manages to bewitch the camera with every scene she’s in. Playing a gangster’s wife with a habit of getting involved in her husband’s business, Miss Dove manages to be at once icily beautiful and charmingly witty - when the script gives her room to be. A disappointing first starring role for the young Ruby Redhead - let’s hope RKO’s next pick for her is better. In the meantime, you can see Ruby performing at the Cocoanut Grove through March.


***


September 11th, 1936

Dove and Dorsey Tie The Knot in Lavish Private Ceremony

RKO contract player Ruby Dove, known for her pictorials in Photoplay as much as for small roles in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and Yellow Dust (as well as high profile rendezvous with Howard Hughes and David Selznick, and an on-set cat-fight with Jean Arthur) has married the Broadway actor turned MGM song-and-dance man Rex Dorsey in a luxurious, magnolia scented ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel last weekend. The bride looked beautiful in white lace by Kiviette.


***


“Can you get me a role that’s shooting in Nevada?” Ruby asked her agent urgently, speaking from the poolside telephone at her Beachwood Canyon home. “It’s really important.”

“I don’t know, doll,” he replied with his usual New York drawl. “What’s the rush? Got money to burn?”

“No,” she said. “I need to… you know. Establish residency.

“Hell’s bells, who have you gone and married? RKO won’t be happy, I thought you were engaged to that pretty-boy, what’s his face -”

“I am,” she said. “I got married straight out of high school, okay? I need a divorce and I gotta get it quick, before Odlum finds out and before Rex decides not to marry me at all. He thinks I’m a star. I don’t want him to think of me as some hick who married the first louse who asked, especially as the louse ended up being a drunk and a cheat. He’s half the reason I left Batesville in the first place!”

“Alright honey, alright. I’ll see what I can do. If I can’t get you a role, I’ll get you into a nice desert health facility. We’ll say it’s a nervous disposition.”

“That doesn’t sound too good either.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “But I guess it’s better than polygamy.”

“Bigamy, sweetheart. Unless you’ve got another ex-husband stashed away in that rented palace of yours. Now, once you’ve got what you want out of Reno, concentrate on something that’ll make you money, huh? Instead of costing it. Health facilities ain’t cheap, and neither are lawyers, and neither’s rent.”

“You got it, boss,” she said. “Rave reviews, coming our way. I promise.”

He hung up with a chuckle, and Ruby leaned back in her lounger, feeling relieved. This was the final shackle to her past - to Ellen. Soon she’d be Mrs Rex Dorsey in private, and Ms. Ruby Dove in public, and she could focus fully on her glittering future. She just knew it.


***


May 28th, 1936

Ruby Dove Flies Above Co-Stars

by Louella Parsons

Reports of scene stealing from the RKO backlot have hit Jean Arthur hard. Ravishing redhead Ruby Dove, AKA “The Ruby Redhead” managed to steal every scene she was in of The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, something the beleaguered star, Jean Arthur, will be fuming over. Ruby’s rapid-fire delivery and impeccable comic timing made her brief scenes a delight to watch. Ruby’s made a splash in her first year with RKO, with bit-parts in several movies produced by the studio - but the less said about Sylvia Scarlett, the better. This humble columnist can see Ruby’s name in lights for years to come - after Sylvia, she’s certainly got better odds than Ms. Hepburn…


***


“Do it again, Ruby,” the director said, wiping tears from his eyes. “It’s just so funny, I could watch a hundred takes!”

“We have a whole movie to shoot,” Jean said, sounding frustrated. “This one scene has taken hours, she’s just shrieking and slapping a guy and falling over, any putz could do it.”

“That’s why you’ll never direct,” he said to Jean. “Look at this girl! That red hair, those lips, that ass! You think it’s easy to do slapstick lookin’ like that? You take yourself too seriously to put your back into a role like this, Jean. Ruby, again!”

Ruby performed her comedy routine twice more before the director called it a day, and then she went back to her dressing room. She had been sitting in front of her mirror only a moment - she’d taken in the sight of her made up face, flushed with excitement; her hair, carefully done up but just beginning to wilt after a long day of shooting; the red dress, whose thin strap had burst on cue over and over again as she repeated the take - when there was a knock at the door, a brief one - and the director let himself in. 


***


June 6th, 1935 

RKO Pictures signs Ruby Dove

Dubbed “The Ruby Redhead,” 19 year old Ruby Dove is RKO’s latest star to be plucked from the cosmos. Fresh off the train from Arkansas, Ruby has been cast in a small role in Sylvia Scarlett, starring major RKO stars Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, due to be released in January.


***


The room was panelled in rich, dark wood, and it smelled like cigarettes and nervous sweat. “Mr Odlum will be with you in a moment,” the secretary had said twenty-three minutes ago, and since then she’d just been imagining the worst possible outcomes, how she just doesn’t have the look we want right now, or we just don’t think you have it.

She had it. She was sure of it! And nobody called a gal into their office just to reject their screen test, surely?

“Miss Geist? Mr Odlum will see you now.” 

She smoothed down her slim grey skirt and walked the seemingly endless distance between her straight-backed chair and the huge, mahogany door of his office.

Odlum was middle aged; balding, with small, round glasses. “Ah, Miss Geist,” he said, looking up only briefly as she entered the room. “This is Mr Cooper,” he said, gesturing carelessly at another man who was sitting across the desk from him. “We’ve had a look at your screen test. You’ve got potential.”

“I do?” She gasped. “Oh thank you Mr Odlum - and Mr Cooper, thank you, I promise I’ll be -”

“Don’t promise anything just yet, girl,” Odlum said, sounding peeved. “Some podunk kid from some podunk town in Arkansas - what are you, 20? Shoulda come West in your teens, it woulda given us more to work with. You’re not even a diamond in the rough, understand? You’re a rhinestone. You need polishing up, and the right setting, and then you might just convince people you’re the real thing…” he trailed off, looking her up and down. “You need just about everything. Now, sit down and listen.”

She sat down and listened. She couldn’t have talked if she’d tried; she was so busy trying to gulp back down the lump in her throat. She hoped her rapid, don’t cry blinking would be seen as coquettish. 

“You got some chops,” Cooper said, speaking for the first time. “You’ve done a high school play or something before, huh?” She nodded. “Yeah. You got something.”

“We need a redhead,” Odlum cut in. “If you want in on the ground at RKO, you’re gonna have to get rid of the mousy brown, and go red. And stop dropping your ‘g’s’! Your screen test was all over the place. You’ll need elocution lessons to get rid of that hick drawl of yours.”

“That’s fine, Mr Odlum,” she whispered.

“And the name!” Odlum rolled his eyes dramatically. “Ellen Geist. Ding dong! Your local Avon lady is calling! Ellen Geist is not a star. Ellen Geist makes a great meatloaf, and hangs her panties out to dry on the lawn. You got a new name in mind, Ellen?”

“My middle name is Ruby,” she ventured awkwardly.

“Ruby,” Cooper mused. “Ruby the redhead. It’s got legs.”

“And so does she,” Odlum smirked. “Okay, a surname. Something short, snappy.”

“Dove,” Cooper suggested. “Billie Dove’s retired, says she ain’t coming back. Ruby Dove’s got a ring to it, no?”

“Ruby Dove,” Odlum sat back in his chair and grinned; to Ellen it seemed more like he was baring his teeth. “The Ruby Redhead. It’s no Platinum Blonde, but not everyone can be Jean Harlow. Alright, kid. Three year contract. Standard morality clause - that means no embarrassment for RKO, ya hear? And I decide what embarrassment means. Are you in?”

“Yes,” she said, feeling her body tingle with excitement - nerve-wracking, life altering, vomit-inducing excitement. “I’m in.”


***


“I’ll take a scoop of vanilla, please,” the girl said, sliding onto the pink leather stool. “No, two scoops! I’m celebratin’!”

The boy behind the counter smiled at her. “What are you celebrating?” he asked, spooning ice cream into a silver dish.

“My arrival in town!” she said. “I’ll take a cherry on top, if you please.”

He slid the dish over the counter to her. “You gonna be a star?” he asked, smiling wryly.

“Why yes, I am,” she said. “I’m gonna be the next Jean Harlow!” she sounded giddy, and he shook his head as she plucked the cherry and bit into it. The sticky red syrup coated her lips, made them look bee-stung and beautiful, until it made her look messy and childish. 

“Where are you from?” he asked her, thinking that his intention upon arrival in Tinseltown had been to be the next Douglas Fairbanks. 

“Batesville, Arkansas,” she said. “But I don’t belong there.”

“Well, nobody belongs here,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Ellen,” she said, her blue eyes sparkling. “Ellen Geist.”

He laughed. “That name’ll never be in lights. Hey, when they change it - and your hair, you’ll never be Jean Harlow with those brown locks - and whatever else they change, come on back here and let me know who to look out for, huh? I’m sure I won’t recognise whoever you become, if you become anyone at all.”

She looked haughty and beautiful all of a sudden, and he regretted his words. “You know what? I’ll do that. I’ll thank you in my first Academy Award acceptance speech. Then you’ll see. It’ll be in history books: 1935, the year Ellen Geist came to town.”

“You’re on, Ellen. Welcome to Hollywood,” he said. “The ice cream’s on me. Good luck out there, kid.”



April 13, 2021 15:28

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10 comments

David G.
16:55 Apr 24, 2021

Well done! It has the feel of a Hollywood movie, and I could hear the old timey newsreel voice in my head as I read this. The dialogue is right for the era too. I like the mix and match of the different formats.

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Rachel Loughran
07:10 Apr 25, 2021

Thanks David! It was fun to write! I am fascinated by the era, I think I’d like to write more about Ruby one day if I can - 3000 words wasn’t enough!

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Rose Quartz
22:28 Apr 19, 2021

👍

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Claire Lewis
04:13 Apr 16, 2021

There’s so much to unpack here, wow! I loved the 1930s setting, the gossip column cutouts, and the fascinating characters. A fantastic execution of the prompt. Knowing how Ruby’s story ends makes each new part of her backstory feel more tragic. And the prose is perfect; something about the way it’s all written had me picturing the whole thing playing out in black and white at an old theater. Brilliant work!

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Rachel Loughran
07:50 Apr 16, 2021

Thank you so much Claire!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:03 Apr 14, 2021

Whew, what a ride! Like rewinding a dusty celluloid reel. Snippets of life flickering in the darkness. Well done with the prompt. And the journalistic sniping was brilliant. So many lines I liked, and this made laugh, "Ellen Geist makes a great meatloaf, and hangs her panties out to dry on the lawn." This would be make a good film script, too. Well done, I enjoyed it immensely.

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Rachel Loughran
10:58 Apr 14, 2021

Thanks Heather, I'm glad you liked it! I struggled to keep it under 3,000 words to be honest, I feel like Ruby's story is a lot bigger than what I've told here. That line is also one of my favourites - it's one of those that I just wrote in the flow and then read back over and was a bit surprised by. You know, I really rather enjoyed writing as bitchy Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons...I wonder what that says about me as a person.

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H L Mc Quaid
13:50 Apr 14, 2021

I like to think I'm channeling the darker parts of my psyche when my characters are annoying/evil/murderous. Maybe that's what actors feel. They get to do and feel things that they never would in 'regular' life. :)

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Rachel Loughran
14:25 Apr 14, 2021

I've often heard actors say it's quite fun to play the villain, too. Keep your eyes peeled - perhaps next week's story will be a full length, villainous bitch-fest!

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H L Mc Quaid
15:00 Apr 14, 2021

🤞🤞🤞

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