Monday, May 12, 2008

The never ending collaborative novel - Chapter XIV

In 1939 Hollywood Producer Darryl Zanuck chartered a Santa Fe train from Los Angeles to bring John Ford, his actors, film crew and extras to Needles for the 20th Century Fox's filming of "The Grapes of Wrath." The director and the stars of the movie stayed at the El Garces Hotel during the filming of the Steinbeck classic. It was supposed to take a week of on-location filming, but it ended up taking nearly three weeks for the perfectionist Director Ford to get the right shots. Most the cast, including Henry Fonda, did not mind the delays, largely due to the Hotels impromptu parties, eloquent catering, plush suites and excellent service. But not all were happy about Ford and his film crews continually running in and out of the Hotel at all hours of the day, especially the Harvey Girls. Inebriated and horny Film crew members were flirting with and chasing the Harvey Girls around the hotel day and night. The bar was running out of liquor and some of the film cast trashed the hotels rooms with their wild all night parties.

Jujubee Johnson was the first and only black Harvey Girl that ever worked at the El Garces. Nobody knew where she came from or how a Negro girl could get a Harvey Girl job, but there she was, out in the middle of nowhere serving meals in the diner. She was a beautiful ebony woman with chocolate creamy hair and brown silky skin. She was six foot tall and had big almond shaped bedroom eyes. She had a nickname: 'Big Mama' Any red blooded American would take notice, and many of the El Garces male staff did. She took shit from no one. There was a shady rumor that Jujubee was making some side cash for entertaining some of the guest. Darryl Zanuck had a reputation for dating Hollywood starlets. Upon checking into the Hotel Darryl Zanuck's eyes instantly wandered toward the tall Negro Harvey Girl. Zanuck's assistants made arrangements with the front desk for Jujubee to be his personal room service waitress. For the next three weeks Zanuck and Jujubee were inseparable and they rarely left Zanuck's suite. Zanuck only made it to the location filming a couple of times!

Soon after Ford completed filming of the scenes of the Okies crossing the Topock bridge into the promised land of California they wasted no time to get the hell out of Needles. Crews quickly loaded up cameras, props, and the Joad's beat up jalopy onto the flatbed rail cars and the cast and crew boarded the chartered train back to Hollywood. Nobody ever saw Jujubee Johnson again. Some old timers say she was fired for her behavior and others say she told the Fred Harvey Management to fuck off. Some say Zanuck could not resist her brown sugar, so he took her back to Hollywood with him and bought her a love bungalow. Some Harvey Girls even mentioned the Hotels safe was broken into the on Jujubee's last night, but nobody knew for sure what happened. Rumor had it, the Hotel's vault was robbed of 100 lbs. of pure gold. The crusty old timers in Needles have a saying: Whatever happens in Needles stays in Needles.

by KVJ

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