“Presenting the Mobius Follies” by Tom Brennan

January 20, 2013

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“I don’t remember seeing any photos or sketches of the set and I’ve been through most of the archives.”
The old director stared at him. “And you never will. They burned all the plans afterward.” [17min]


Driving up Walnut Creek Parkway toward Sam Petchey’s estate, Joel dry-swallowed two painkillers and rubbed his eyes. The hot greasy air shimmered, as before a thunderstorm, but the hills around Los Angeles carried no anvil clouds. What a day for a wasted journey.

After trying to interview the reclusive old director for months, Joel half-expected this summons to be a hoax. Sure, he had enough material for his book, a history of Thirties’ Hollywood dance films. Ancient dancers, technicians and choreographers had supplied anecdotes; the AMPAS archives had supplied facts and photos. But Petchey, King of the Follies, would have rounded off the book. Maybe still would.

Joel drove past high walls and Armed Response signs until he found Petchey’s address, where he spoke into a grille set beside tall gates. “Joel Simmons. To see—“

“You’re expected, sir.”

Inside, Joel parked his rust-cratered Impala next to a gleaming Rolls Royce. He looked down over tiered Italianate gardens toward LA. Downtown office spires gleamed as if oiled.

He followed an English butler through cool, echoing rooms. Dark wooden furniture, faded tapestries on the walls. At the back of the mansion, a huge room with oak paneling and a mirrored bar. Studio publicity posters hung in gilt frames: Stanwyck, Bogart, Gable, Grant. Monochrome stares from across the decades.



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