Blonde Inspiration (1941)
Directed by Busby Berkeley who received Best Dance Direction Oscar nominations for three consecutive years in the 30’s this comedy features John Shelton in one of his few leading (or even credited) roles. He plays a struggling serious writer who chooses to write “junk” (e.g. pulp fiction) in hopes of earning an opportunity to have his novel published. Unfortunately this film misses the mark badly – with Shelton providing a credible straight man its collection of oddball characters come off as silly without being funny. Virginia Grey who plays the helpful go-between and eventual love interest for Shelton and her smarmy publisher employers is unable to save it.
Johnny Briggs (Shelton) would rather write novels and make his own living than be controlled by his real estate broker Aunt Victoria Mason (Alma Kruger) like his weak Uncle Reginald (Reginald Owen) is. Wearing the pants in the family she’s fed up with her nephew’s whimsy but Johnny’s Uncle provides him the means $2000 in emergency funds his wife had given him to hold onto to continue his writing instead of collecting his Aunt’s tenants’ rent. Rita Quigley appears briefly as Johnny’s cousin. Tired of receiving letters of rejection from publishers who haven’t even read his submissions Johnny decides to visit one. He’d decided to write Western fiction for a pulp magazine fashioned after its current writer Dusty King in order to get his foot in the door. When they too reject his stories without reading them Johnny decides to visit the Smokey Trails publishers in person. Margie Blake (Grey) the secretary tells Johnny they’re not interested. But as “luck” would have it publisher Phil Hendricks (Albert Dekker) and his editor “Bittsy” Conway (Charles Butterworth) have gotten themselves into a financial crisis. They can’t pay their employees their writer Dusty King (Donald Meek) nor their printer Mr. Packer (Charles Halton uncredited) but they have to produce three more issues before a larger entity owned by Mr. Hutchins (George Lessey) will acquire their whole operation for $15000. When King revolts refusing to write another issue without being paid and Packer won’t print for same Hendricks & Conway con Johnny into buying a one third partnership with his $2000 if he’ll write the issues. Though she feels bad for Johnny Margie hasn’t been paid recently either and reluctantly helps her employers scam poor Johnny. For no good reason at all Conway has a blonde bimbo “Baby” (Marion Martin) who says little and follows him around everywhere he goes.
Johnny is then put up in the publisher’s penthouse apartment where he is expected to work through the night cranking out all the articles including a novel required for the magazine. He refuses to let his existing novel written with his “blood sweat and tears” after significant research over three years be published in anything other than a book. His publishers introduce Johnny to “The Writers-Friend” a “magic wheel” which provides the formula elements required to quickly turn out a new novel overnight! He’s assisted by Margie. When he’s finished she leaves with the manuscripts while he falls asleep exhausted. Then King sneaks into the apartment scouring his former writer’s haven for hidden alcohol then exits unseen by the sleeping Johnny with a full bottle. Also unbeknownst to Johnny his publishers print the issue using King’s established name without crediting his writing. Meanwhile Hutchins and his associate (Byron Foulger uncredited) are having second thoughts about their forthcoming acquisition. Though Margie later admits to knowing this Johnny is not upset with her. In fact she helps him again with the next issue. After this second all-nighter both end up exhausted and asleep in different rooms of the penthouse. When a disgruntled (for having his name used without his permission) King shows up again looking for booze he highjacks the latest issue. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the publisher then takes the sleeping Johnny’s serious novel against Margie’s protestations and prints it for the next issue.
What happens next? Who cares? After a ridiculous & humorless sequence showing Johnny trying to save his life’s work he will learn the truth about his talent from Hutchins. The recognizable Pat O’Malley appears uncredited as a police officer. Naturally there is more in store for Johnny regarding Margie. Even though the story is based on John Cecil Holm’s novel “Four Cents a Word” perhaps the author screenplay writer Marion Parsonnet and director Berkeley used “The Writers-Friend” (notice the incorrect punctuation) to produce this poorly titled uninspired film.