In Barry’s Windhall (Pegasus Crime, Mar.), an unsolved 1948 murder obsesses L.A. journalist Max Hailey decades later.
You’ve lived in Australia for several years. Was it a challenge to write about Hollywood, both old and contemporary, from such a distance?
I’m actually a native Californian who lived in Los Angeles for three years after college in Santa Cruz. On my days off I would drive around and visit all these famous sites: the Witch House in Beverly Hills, filming locations for Chinatown, Westwood Memorial Park where Marilyn Monroe’s crypt is. I’m obsessed with both present-day Los Angeles and the city’s rich history.
What is it about the golden age of Hollywood that grabbed you to begin with?
It contained the perfect balance of incredibly talented people and a limited amount of authority or oversight. Even in the ’40s, Hollywood was still considered by some to be the Wild West. Adventure and new frontiers have always appealed to me, and Los Angeles in its infancy was kind of the last American frontier. It grew to become this chaotic adult playground. The craziest story I read is probably the one about the corpse of John Barrymore: director Raoul Walsh borrowed his friend’s dead body from a funeral home and took it to Errol Flynn’s as a prank. Events like that were the norm. There was a haunting element to many of the stars’ lives, which fascinated me. And as a result of WWII, a lot of artistic European nobles fled to Los Angeles.
What did your research involve?
I was fortunate to meet Daniel Selznick, David O. Selznick’s son, when I lived in L.A. He was a regular customer at a restaurant where I worked, and he and his wife were very friendly and conversational. We would chat about Old Hollywood; I learned a lot from them. I had dinner at Musso & Frank’s restaurant on Hollywood Boule-vard, which was and still is a legendary gathering spot for actors and other film folk. It was mandatory, too, to spend time at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grau-man’s Egyptian Theatre, where all the big film premiers were held back in the day. My intention was to soak up as much of the atmosphere of that incredible time in L.A. as possible.
Did Windhall, the mansion where the crime occurs, actually exist?
Windhall isn’t based on any one house; it’s a compilation of historic houses and abandoned places that I have visited, including Liza Minelli’s childhood home, which is now just this big dilapidated mansion.