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Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary

In these chatty letters to a New York chum, Valeria Belletti writes about Hollywood before the talkies, let alone text messaging, took over the biz. As secretary to Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille, Belletti had a bird's-eye view of the developments -- and gossip -- of the day, which she eagerly passed along to her pal, along with more prosaic musings such as her need for a new dress.

In these chatty letters to a New York chum, Valeria Belletti writes about Hollywood before the talkies, let alone text messaging, took over the biz. As secretary to Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille, Belletti had a bird’s-eye view of the developments — and gossip — of the day, which she eagerly passed along to her pal, along with more prosaic musings such as her need for a new dress. Perhaps her greatest contribution —- the discovery of Gary Cooper — is mentioned almost in passing. Her engaging missives, accompanied by annotations by Cari Beauchamp, provide a window to a less guarded era, and one when the lost art of letter writing was alive and well.

Feb. 19, 1925

Dear Irma,

I just had to write to you to tell you of my good fortune. I’m in the movies — of course, not an actress. I’m a private and social secretary to Mr. Samuel Goldwyn. Can you imagine it! The odds were about 50-to-1 against me, but through Mr. Loeb’s influence, the position was given to me. So far as I can see, it’s the sort of job that I’ve always dreamed about, but that I never, by any stretch of the imagination, hoped to get.

As Mr. Goldwyn’s secretary, I come in contact with every phase of the movie industry: looking for new material; keeping in touch with the producers in New York; reading new books; turning over possible material to the scenario writer, who happens to be Frances Marion; hiring actors and actresses, directors, cameramen; keeping in touch with the art director, publicity man, the projection and cutting rooms; and ever so many other things. Everything is so new and interesting that I just love to work. Of course, I am not busy just now because Mr. Goldwyn is in Europe and we’ve just finished a picture called “His Supreme Moment” with Ronald Colman and we don’t start another production until the first of May, which will be “Stella Dallas.” We’re only starting to look for a cast suitable for the characters of the play and things won’t be ready for actual shooting until May. I’m working in Hollywood, of course, and it’s too bad you can’t come out to the coast now, because I could get you in the studios to see everything.

May 20, 1925

I’m tremendously busy — it seems I have to write letters for everybody. We have another girl in the outside office, but nobody gives her work because she is rather stupid. Mr. Henry King hands me his mail and says, “Here, answer it — I don’t care what you say, so long as you’re polite in declining everything.”

Most of the letters are from actresses looking for jobs — so I just write a lot of blarney and sign his name to them. I do this for his assistant director Mr. Dugan as well, and of course for my own boss, Mr. Goldwyn. I don’t mind doing this because I can say what I like and they don’t want to see my letters. Sometimes when some of the actresses call up and they are very persistent about seeing either Mr. Goldwyn or Mr. King, I tell them to call and see me and I take their photographs, experiences and all other dates and enter on my records and then I tell them that just as soon as I can arrange an appointment with Mr. Goldwyn or Mr. King, I’ll be glad to let them know. This invariably pleases them and they go away and leave me alone for a while.

June 26, 1925

Dear Irma,

I’ve had a hectic morning — but thank the Lord my Boss went to the beach with his wife at 1:30 so that I have very little to do this afternoon. Furthermore, both companies are on the lot shooting, so that the studio is more or less deserted. Tonight is the Charlie Chaplin “Gold Rush” premiere at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theater and after the show Mr. Goldwyn is giving a party at his home for Charlie. Mrs. Goldwyn and I invited guests several days ago, but this morning Mr. Goldwyn had me call them all up and make sure they are coming.

July 15, 1926

Do you know that boy I raved to you about, Gary Cooper? Well, I raved so much about him to Mr. Goldwyn, Mrs. Goldwyn and Frances Marion and our casting agent — and in fact anyone who would listen to me — that Mr. Goldwyn finally wired to camp and asked our manager to sign him up under a five-year contract. I was happy he did this. Of course, this only makes the rift between us wider because he wouldn’t have a thought for me since he is now on the road to bigger things, but I am happy anyway and I shall always cherish the thought that I helped him.

Aug. 2, 1928

Did you know Norma Talmadge and her husband Joseph Schenck are no longer living together? I believe they are going to be divorced very shortly — this is merely a rumor. Of course Norma has been carrying on dreadfully with Roland Gilbert for the last year and she hasn’t taken any pains to conceal from the public how she felt towards him. And so it goes — all marriages seem to break sooner or later amongst the movie people.

The “talkies” is creating quite a revolutionizing effect in the industry and productions are being held up pending the information of new policies taking this new element into consideration. I don’t know what it will lead to, but things are changing and it seems to me that speaking pictures will be all the go in the future. Dramatic schools are flourishing all over and stars are beginning to really cultivate their voices. MGM is building two sound stages (noise-proof) for the making of such pictures and I suppose other studios are doing likewise.

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