Melissa ‘Missy’ McGuire comes to Los Angeles in 1962, hoping to act in Hollywood. Instead, she ends up working as a nude model in a photo studio. Eddie Conklin, a black gangster and part-time pimp, befriends her at the studio. Later, during a weekend in Las Vegas, she meets Eddie after losing money at the roulette wheel. Eddie offers her money if she will have sex with a black boxer, Jackson Coots, who is under contract with him. Missy agrees and this leads to a secret affair with the boxer.
Missy eventually becomes a known photo model in New York and then a film star in Hollywood. The studio boss gets wind of Missy’s affair with the black boxer and hires the mob to put pressure on Eddie Conklin and persuade Jackson Coots to break off his affair with Missy. Jackson, distraught, dies in a drunken accident. Missy decides to leave Hollywood and retires to a farm in Tennessee, occasionally acting in television serials.
Years later when her agent offers an opportunity to act as the female lead in an interracial film, she sees it as a comeback chance. After the film is shot in Toronto, she goes to Los Angeles for a publicity photo shoot.
Lisa Donovan assigns Jason Grant, the token black employee in her talent agency, to chaperon Missy during the photo shoot. Jason checks up Missy’s biography and notices that she quit Hollywood at the height of her career. He requests a friend to investigate. They manage to get some compromising Polaroid shots of Missy with Jackson Coots, a black boxer.
While driving Missy to her hotel, Jason informs her that he has the photos of her with Jackson. Missy suspects Jason’s intentions and this leads to an altercation.
Read the book to know what happens next.
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What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have been a film buff since my childhood and fascinated by film stars as well as the way Hollywood studios promoted the stars on their payroll. There was an incident in the late 1950s when the head of Columbia studio broke up a romance between Kim Novak and Sammy Davis Junior, a black song-and-dance man. He threatened to hire the mob to beat up Sammy Davis and that was the end of the relationship. Using this real-life event, I developed a fictional story about a Hollywood actress who breaks up her relationship with a black boxer under pressure from her studio. I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the late 1950s and early 1960s when studios spent money to protect the image of the stars who worked under contract with them. At the same time, I also wanted to show the social pressures of that era working against interracial relationships. The narrative spans over several decades to highlight the change in racial attitudes.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character, Melissa ‘Missy’ McGuire, is a blonde Hollywood sex bomb. It was easy to develop Missy’s back story because I was an ardent fan of sultry blonde sirens such as Jayne Mansfield, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe. My history for Missy was based on the lives of female stars who posed for nude shots before making it in big time. My black characters were based on images of the current crop of film stars such as Morgan Freeman and Wesley Snipes. Using these visual images made it easier for me to come up with a set of plausible characters.
“Can you move your legs a little apart?”
Missy had assumed a seductive pose for black man with a camera in his hand. She had already taken off her panties at the man’s request. Now she was on the couch with her hands behind her head and her knees up. It was a frequent request from her customers.
“Sure,” she said, moving her knees just a little apart so that the man could get a view of her crotch.
She took a tissue to wipe her face. It was hot as the man moved the klieg light closer towards her.
“That is nice.” The man moved to the foot of the couch and bent forward to look. He did not take any photographs. By now, Missy knew that some men came just to have a look at her nude body. She had now been working for a fortnight at the photo studio and gotten used to its tawdry atmosphere.
“You’ve have a beautiful body.” The man was still staring at her pudenda. Turned on by his look of admiration, she felt blood rushing to her mound. She opened her legs wider to expose her inner labia.
“That’s wonderful.” The man seemed mesmerized by the sight of her intimate parts.
The man’s look of concentration was briefly disturbed when the room air-conditioner noisily sprang into operation. There was a constant hum but Missy, although nude, welcomed the cool air.
Missy noticed that she had been getting a large proportion of black men requesting one-to-one sessions with her. Probably the word had got around among black men that there a blonde beauty in the studio. At first, she had been uncomfortable but most of them just wanted to see a naked white woman.
She noticed the man get up and walk around the couch. He was young with short curly hair and a slim moustache. Now he was looking down on her.
“How would you like to make some good money?” He had a sinister smile.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean we could meet outside when you’re free.”
“I’m sorry but I’m a photo model and we do not fraternize with customers.”
“I’ll make it worth your while.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m willing to pay two hundred dollars for a one-hour sex session with you. It can be either at your place or my pad.”
Missy was surprised that the man was willing to offer so much money. Although he was neatly dressed in a checked shirt and cotton trousers, he did not have the look of a big spender.
“I’m afraid but it’s out of question.”
“Please don’t say no. The other girls do it.”
Missy was surprised. Rosemary was not the type who would engage in sex for money. She did not know the other girls so well. Perhaps the man was bluffing.
“I don’t believe you. Please let us stop this conversation.”
“Have it your way.” The man shrugged his shoulders.
“Please, if you don’t mind.”
“My offer still holds in case I come past the next time.”
He smiled and left the room.
Missy was shocked and surprised. She was shocked at the audacity of the black man offering money to have sex with her. At the same time, she was surprised at the amount of money he had proposed. It amounted to almost a week of work at the studio.
When her shift was over, she decided to talk to Barry about the conversation. Fortunately, Barry was alone reading the sports paper.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Barry looked up from his paper.
“A man propositioned me during a photo session.”
“What kind of proposition was it?” Barry did not seem overly curious.
“He offered me money to meet him outside.”
“What you do in your own time does not concern me.” Barry went back to reading his newspaper.
“He wanted to have sex with me.”
“Look, I am there to protect you. You press the button in case you are uncomfortable with the man’s behavior. Otherwise, it is between you and the man.”
“My last client was black.”
Barry looked up his paper.
“You’ve to be careful. Some of these black men are pimps looking for white women for their stables.”
“This man was young and seemed nice.”
“It could be that he had the money and the itch.” Barry laughed.
“What you’re saying is that you don’t care if we meet clients outside working hours?”
“You’re a big girl and have to decide for yourself. Ask the other girls.”
Missy decided to ask Rosemary for her advice how to handle such situations.
* * * * *
A few days later Missy bumped into Rosemary in the locker room. Rosemary was late and was undressing in a hurry.
Missy explained how the black man had offered her money for sex.
“Do you get such proposals?” Missy asked.
“Yes but I turn them down. You never know with the weird kind of men who come to the studio.”
“This man was offering two hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money.”
Rosemary raised her eyebrow just as she put on her bathrobe. “You were actually considering taking him up on his offer?”
“No,” Missy protested. “I’m just telling you about it.” Actually, she could have used the money.
“Why don’t you check with Rhonda?”
“I haven’t met her yet. How does she look?”
“She is a peroxide blonde with a big butt. She does a few tricks on the side. Some of her johns are coloured men.”
“I’ve got to rush.” Rosemary brushed Missy’s cheek with her lips and left the locker room.
Missy decided not to check with Rhonda. Beneath the surface, Hollywood was about sex and money. She had to make her choice.
* * * * *
“Your next appointment is with Eddie Conklin,” Barry announced as Missy reported for work.
“Will it be the usual fifteen minute session?”
“No, Eddie does some glamour photography on the side and is always looking out for new models. He has asked for a thirty-minute session.”
“Does he have any special requests?”
“He’ll probably want some artistic nude shots. You’ll have to do a bit of posing.”
Missy left for the dressing room, hoping that she would get a break as a photo model.
When Eddie entered the photo room, she was surprised to see a big, brown-skinned man in a white T-shirt and jeans with two cameras and a tripod stand. This was not one of her usual customers.
“Hi, I’m Edward Conklin. Just call me Eddie.” Missy felt her body blush as he sized her up from head to toe. The man looked fiftyish, had carefully coiffed curly greying hair, light-colored eyes and a moustache. He was upscale compared to her usual customers.
“That’s a nice name. Are you from the South?”
“I’m from Nashville.”
“How long have you been in LA?”
“I’ve been here for just about a month.”
They talked a bit. Eddie did not seem to be in a hurry to take any photographs.
“I’ve heard that you do glamour photography,” Missy said. Eddie had been asking too many questions about her personal life and she wanted him to stop talking and take some photographs.
“I do some photography but that’s not my main line of business.”
Missy was disappointed but not surprised. It was rare for a colored male to be photographing white female models.
“What kind of business?”
“I’m a talent agent.”
“Do you represent artistes and performers?”
Eddie smiled slyly.
“Well, all sorts of people. I also have contracts with a few boxers and set up fights for them.”
“I don’t know much about boxing,” Missy admitted.
“Ever heard of Jackson Coots?” Eddie mounted a Rolleiflex camera on his tripod.
“I’m setting up fights so that he becomes the welterweight champion.”
Missy did not comment while Eddie talked about how he first met Jackson Coots in a Bronx gym. All the while, he was looking in his camera to take a shot.
“Let’s change the subject,” Eddie suggested. “I’ll be taking a face and shoulders shot of you.”
Missy was surprised. Most men wanted to take nude shots of her. Perhaps Eddie was into glamour photography.
“Look at the camera but you don’t need to smile.”
Missy followed his instructions as he took of her face and its profile.
“Now I want you to just lie with your hands on your sides and your legs together.”
Eddie took a couple of photos.
“Now I need one last photo with you sitting up with your knees folded under you and your hand on your crotch.”
It took a while for Missy to assume the pose that Eddie wanted but she finally managed it.
“That’s fine. I’m done.” Eddie started to unmount the camera from the tripod.
“By the way, are you happy with the money that you’re making on this job?”
“Actually I’m hoping to break into movies. This is just a temporary thing.”
Eddie nodded as if he understood her situation.
“I know but are you satisfied with your wages?”
“I’ always like to make more. Everyone does.”
Eddie took out a visiting card from his shirt top pocket.
“Here’s my card. Give me a call in case you want an opportunity to make a few extra bucks.”
Missy looked at the card. There was Eddie’s name and a telephone number.
“Don’t you have an office?”
“Like I said, I’m a talent agent. My office is where the talent is.” Eddie winked and gave a big smile.
“What kind of work do you have in mind?”
“I’m thinking of some sort of escort work.”
Eddie looked at her while folding his tripod.
“You know there are lonely men out there who would appreciate the company of a classy blonde like you.”
“Does it involve sex?”
“It may or may not. The money will be good. I’ll be your agent.”
Missy thought that he would be more like a pimp than an agent.
“Think about it.” Eddie looked at his watch. “I’ve got to go. Feel free to give me a call whenever you feel like it.”
Eddie’s mysterious offer and his easy-going manner intrigued Missy. He certainly did not look like one of those flashy pimps in fur coats and gold chains.
* * * * *
At the end of her shift, Missy asked Barry about Eddie.
“Eddie told me that he is a talent agent. What does he do?”
“I really don’t know. They say that he has connections with boxing promoters and the Mafia.”
“He seems to be some sort of photographer with two fancy cameras. Do you think that he is a freelance glamour photographer?”
“I’ve never seen his name in any glamour magazines. May he has a private collection of nude photos.”
Missy left with a feeling that she would cross paths with Eddie.
Nick Shaw has been a passionate reader and writer ever since his youth. He has travelled in many countries and his books have a common theme: interracial relationships in the context of prevailing attitudes and prejudices.
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