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Hollywood Fictions: Horace McCoy’s I Should Have Stayed Home

Midway through Horace McCoy’s[^1] 1938 Hollywood novel I Should Have Stayed Home, the novel’s protagonist Ralph Carston, a naïve Southerner, movie extra and aspiring Hollywood star, wakens to find a total stranger standing by his davenport. The man, who is still sobering up from a bender the previous evening, is Johnny Hill. Hill explains his drunkenness as the result of his celebration the evening prior having quit his job at Universal where he was a publicity agent. He then proceeds to provide a rather befuddled Carston with the evidence, which he reads from a movie column published from “that great reactionary journal” (McCoy 59) the Los Angeles Times.

‘The German Consul, incensed at the final scenes in The Road Back’ – that’s one of our big pictures – ‘incensed at the final scenes of The Road Back, showing German youngsters being drilled as soldiers, has induced Universal to revise the film’s ending. At the same time the studio will try to work in some more love interest.’ He took a few more sips of his coffee, looking at me. “That’s why I quit,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?” (59)

When Carston says he doesn’t understand why Hill quit, Hill elaborates that Hitler is brewing up another war, and because The Road Back insinuates as much, the German Consul has got his “bowels in an uproar” (59). Ironically however, Hill clarifies that it isn’t the politics of the situation he’s upset about but rather that the studio has let the German Consul “…tell ’em where to get off…none of these studios’ve any guts. They’re all yellow.” (59)

I Should Have Stayed Home (1938), by Horace McCoy
I Should Have Stayed Home (1938), by Horace McCoy

The conversation is cut short with the entrance of Mona Matthews, Carston’s roommate, who reveals she is the reason that Hill is there, having brought him home with her after a party the night before. As Carston gropes to understand Hill, Matthews humors him, already having heard his story twenty times; but for both characters in Hill’s world, politics and a righteous sense of artistic integrity are alien. Carston and Matthews are instead focused on the minutia of their situations and the realities of their own day-to-day existences of making ends meet, paying rent and surviving in Hollywood.

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