Cover image for The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association
The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association
Estleman, Loren D.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 1999.
Physical Description:
285 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Hollywood, 1913: In the dusty desert community of Los Angeles, a ragtag film company cranks out silent movies in defiance of the law.   Young Dmitri Pulski works for his father's ice company in the snowy Sierra Nevadas, and is sent on a journey south to investigate an astonishing order for ten tons of ice by something called the Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association.  Almost immediately, Dmitri, an aspiring writer, finds himself writing movie scenarios.   But things get rocky when the company is threatened with foreclosure by the local sheriff - they're grinding out their movies just outside the reach of the monopolistic Eastern Trust, which claims the exclusive right to make moving pictures under Thomas Edison's patent.   The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association is the story of the frontier's last boomtown, whose cast of big guns includes D.W. Griffith, Tom Mix, Lillian Gish, and unseen villain Thomas Edison.

Author Notes

Loren D. Estleman was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 15, 1952. He received a B.A. in English literature and journalism from Eastern Michigan University in 1974. He spent several years as a reporter on the police beat before leaving to write full time in 1980. He wrote book reviews for such newspapers as The New York Times and The Washington Post and contributed articles to such periodicals as TV Guide.

He is a writer of mysteries and westerns. His first novel was published in 1976 and since then he has published more than 70 books including the Amos Walker series, Writing the Popular Novel, Roy and Lillie: A Love Story, The Confessions of Al Capone, and a The Branch and the Scaffold. He received four Shamus Awards from the Private Eye Writers of America, five Golden Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement from Western Writers of America, and the Michigan Author's Award in 1997.

(Bowker Author Biography) He lives in Whitmore Lake, Michigan.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Young Dmitri breathes on his fingers to warm them from the ice he's carving from a frozen lake for his father's company; ice destined for the Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association, if they can pay. An aspiring writer, Dmitri sets off happily to collect the money up front and discovers a crazy world where the company secretary is also the leading lady and a semiretired prostitute. The director is determined to beat the mysterious Trust; the leading man has more male fans than female; and the cameraman just may kill you if you ruin his shot. As Dmitri's friendship with the renegade filmmakers deepens, he learns of the Trust's plot to drive them out of the business. The independents make it to the West Coast and, with the ocean at their backs, plan to make a final stand. Most of the book is set in 1913 Hollywood, an inventive and thoroughly enjoyable focus for historical fiction, and Estleman's fans will certainly relish this energetic romp. --Melanie Duncan

Publisher's Weekly Review

From the author of the swashbuckling Billy Gashade comes this curiously fragmented story comprising anecdotal episodes from the pioneer days of Hollywood. The narrative unfolds in a series of long flashbacks to the year 1913 between flickering cuts to the future. Highlights include Valentino's funeral in 1926; a huge 1927 dinner party of luminaries (Louis B. Mayer, Gary Cooper, Gloria Swanson, the Barrymores and GishesÄGarbo sent regrets) at Hearst's San Simeon estate; the 1930 premiere of Hell's Angels; and a nostalgic segment reuniting the protagonists in 1948. At the earthbound heart of this intricately detailed story is Dmitri Andreivitch Pulski, an aspiring writer whose pen name is Tom Boston and who hopes to escape his fate as heir to the family ice-cutting business in Northern California. Sent to L.A. in 1913 to investigate the credit of the Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association, a company that has just submitted the largest single order of ice in the company's history, young Dmitri finds himself caught up in the adventures of a fiery young Mexican ex-prostitute and a hardware clerk turned intrepid moviemaker who moved from the East Coast to evade unjust accusations of copyright infringement and piracy. With the help of his faithful family retainer, Yuri, the ice cutter helps the filmmakers take on crooked politicos and their hired thugs, and all ends well. While not nearly up to his best, Estleman's charming take on Hollywood history, balancing its glitzy and tawdry details, tells a satisfying story. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dmitri Andreivitch Pulski, heir to the family ice-cutting business, takes on the pen name Tom Boston and uses a business trip to Los Angeles (to check the credit of the title firm) to try to make his mark as a screenwriter. With his sidekick Yuri (also an ice cutter and erstwhile old family retainer), he joins up with the Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association as it takes on the powerful Edison Trust (as in Thomas Alva), a rival film company depicted as having much muscle and a penchant for underhanded tactics. Set mainly in the Hollywood of 1913, this oddly disjointed tale travels around in time, lavishly name-dropping, presumably to add the flavor of the early film industry. For example, there are scenes of Rudolph Valentino's funeral, a huge dinner party at San Simeon peopled with the elite of the time, and the premiere of the film Hell's Angels. This technique does not always work well; in truth, this is not Estleman's best effort. Even the redoubtable George Guidall seems not quite up to his usual virtuoso reading performance. Recommended only for large fiction collections with lots of Estleman fans. Harriet Edwards, East Meadow P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The name came to him the way everything did that he trusted, when he was reading Jack London.     He had just opened the semimonthly magazine of The San Francisco Call , the December 1, 1912, number containing the story "The Captain of the Susan Drew." The provocative pen-and-ink illustration, and the electrifying byline, warmed him in a way the wood-burning stove at his elbow could not. But the lead paragraph might have been written in Balinese for all he comprehended it.     Suddenly he put aside the magazine, touched the blunt point of the whittled yellow pencil to his tongue, and wrote the name on the sheet of coarse paper he'd been using for his figures. He looked at it, holding the sheet out at arm's length, the way his father tried to read things when he'd misplaced his glasses, then put it down and copied out the legend again and again, now printing, now in cursive, upper case, lower case, upper and lower; stacking it down the sheet like a bride-to-be trying out her new name.     He had to see it in type. He reached across the rickety worktable, slid over the Blickensderfer No. 7 on its wooden pallet--good, loyal Blick, fellow veteran of a hundred thousand unpublished words--rolled another sheet into the platen, and pecked out the letters.     "Who's Tom Boston?"     He jumped. He'd been so engrossed he hadn't heard the door opening behind him or even felt the rush of razor-cold air that came in with Yuri. The big half Tartar was wearing his bearskin coat and hat, and at a glance he appeared to be covered with coarse hair from his head to the tops of his lace-up boots. Only his Rasputin eyes and wind-chapped condor's beak of a nose showed between the long whiskers and thatched brows. His moist breath had frozen the hairs about his mouth into stalactites. He was staring at the sheet in the machine.     "I am," said the young man, calmed now by the Ukrainian's presence, which was like a huge enveloping muffler. "If it works. Does it work?"     "What's wrong with the name your father gave you?"     "Nothing, except that I was ten years old before I could spell it. Would you buy a story from someone named Dmitri Andreivitch Pulski?"     "Why should I buy one? You read them to me all the time for free."     "I mean if you were an editor. Jack London got a hundred and sixty rejections before he made his first sale. That's twelve less than me. I'm just as good a writer as he was when he started. It must be the name."     "Why Tom Boston?"     "It just came to me. Forget you've known me as Dmitri all my life. How does it sound?"     "I guess it's okay. I don't read anything but signs. If I was to start, it wouldn't be because of a name."     "Not everyone's like you." He looked at the sheet. "Tom Boston." It was the first time he'd said it aloud. He tore out the sheet, folded it, and put it in the breast pocket of his heavy woolen shirt. It would be a valuable artifact. Then he lifted the typewriter's cover from the plank floor and snapped and latched it into place. The curved wooden case looked like it belonged to a sewing machine. "Anything wrong?"     "I just came in to tell you we're ready to start cutting."     "I'll be out in a minute."     When Yuri left, the young man put on his mackinaw and fleece-lined cap, buckling the strap under his chin so his ears would stay covered, and found his mittens. He gave himself the indulgence of an affectionate look around before he turned out the lantern. The six-by-eight shack, built of corrugated iron with a tar-paper lining, was the only private place he knew. Although it was intended for the workers to escape the weather and warm up over coffee, they seldom entered it when he was inside. Everyone who worked for the Sierra Nevada Ice Company knew that the owner's son was going to be a great writer like Pushkin, and that writers required privacy the way ice-cutters needed strong backs and vodka. Guilt for his selfish acceptance of this favor kept him from personalizing the shack beyond the occasional copy of Century and The Overland Monthly and a picture of Jack London using a boulder for a desk, clipped from Cosmopolitan and tacked to the wall above the worktable. He did most of his writing and reading there and stuffed his manuscripts into brown ten-by-twelve envelopes for mailing. He thought of the place as his study, but never referred to it as anything but the shack.     He remembered to smear lampblack under his eyes before stepping outside, and he was glad he had. Although Yuri and his crew had thoroughly planed the snow from the lake's surface, the ice beneath remained white enough to dazzle in the bright sun, and if one failed to take precautions against the glare, to blind. To the east, Mount Shasta below its frozen peak was the precise deep blue of the sky, and might have broken away from it in a jagged shard, as if the sky were a pane of glass and something had struck it from the other side.     As he watched, a wind fourteen thousand feet up skinned a slice of dry snow from the peak and scrolled it outward like smoke. The curl would measure a mile. It confounded all his senses to think that that distant puff was a dozen times more powerful than the gust that now came at him from the opposite direction, pushing a solid volume of air that boxed his ears and shook the side of the shack, making tinny thunder. He turned his back to keep the ice crystals from cutting his face. It was just the kind of scene he labored hours over the Blick trying to get right and hadn't yet, not to his own satisfaction. But he would.     Once the lake was cleared of snow, activity had continued with all haste before it drifted back. The ice plow, built heavily of elm and cast iron, required a six-horse team to pull it. The driver, an elderly Cossack named Esaul, labored to haul himself into the iron seat and groped for the lines, at which point the years fell away like the halves of a dried pod. With a series of barks and whistles through his remaining teeth, he coaxed the brutes forward, cutting twin furrows as straight as piano wire from east to west. At the end he turned the team and repeated the procedure from west to east, and when the entire lake had been scored in this way he drove to the north shore and began cutting from north to south, carving the surface neatly into three-foot squares. Then the sawyers moved in.     This was where Dmitri took his turn. As the son of the owner, he was there to oversee the operation, but as he began to spend more and more time while on site in the shack, reading and typing, Yuri had assumed most of his responsibilities as foreman. The young man insisted on carrying his weight, however, and had surprised and impressed the others by selecting the most arduous of all the chores involved in harvesting ice.     The work commenced with chipping a hole in one corner of the first square with a pick or chisel. When an opening had been created that was large enough to insert the end of a long, square-toothed sawblade, the cutting began in earnest, each man sawing along the lines scored by the plow. Showers of ice shavings like sawdust stung faces and made eyes water. Once a brisk rhythm was established, the friction did much of the work, slicing through the ice like a heated knife through lard; but on bitter days when temperatures neared zero, as they did today, merely pausing for breath allowed the ice to refreeze around the blade, locking it in place. A series of huffing, two-handed lunges was then required to break it free. Very soon Dmitri was sweating in spite of the cold. He paused after cutting his third block to strip off his coat and mittens.     At the end of a section, he and the others traded saws for crowbars and cant dogs, prying loose the section and heaving it aside with the hooks, hinged like the jaws of a mastiff, to form a canal of open black water. Men then moved in with poles and pushed the floating cakes along the canal or heaved them up onto the uncut ice and slued them to shore, where the rest of the crew waited with cant dogs to hoist them onto chaindriven belts operated by hand cranks. The cranks were seized and turned. The chains clankety-clanked, caught up the slack, and carried the great silver-blue blocks up to the icehouse on the hill, where they plunged through a loftlike opening onto a plank floor covered with sawdust. As architecture, the storage building was considerably more substantial than the shack, which had been thrown together as an afterthought with sheets of corrugated roofing left over from the larger construction. It was as big as a warehouse, with triple walls built of native pine, the spaces between packed tightly with sawdust and wood shavings as insulation against the heat of summer, when the lake was open blue water and even the white cap of Shasta had dwindled to half its present size. By then the great stack of ice would be nearly as valuable as bullion.     The harvest complete, Dmitri climbed the slope to the shack, foundering a little in the deep drifts, as much from exhaustion as from the awkwardness of the footing. He carried his coat slung over one shoulder with the mittens in the pockets. His own sweat had begun to chill him beneath the flannel lining of his shirt; he hoped the ashes in the stove were still hot. He didn't look forward to starting a new fire from scratch, shivering in the dank interior cold.     A puff of warm air surprised him when he opened the door. Then he realized the lantern was lit. His father was seated at the worktable, holding the sheet Dmitri had been scribbling on earlier.     "Who's Tom Boston?"     Andrei Ivanovitch Pulski was a compact man, small for a Russian, who looked more like a St. Petersburg haberdasher than a man who had spent most of his life laboring with his hands. He wore suits everywhere, even up here, where he had on heavy tweeds with the trousers neatly tucked into the tops of knee-high stovepipes. His overcoat with its astrakhan collar and cuffs hung over the back of the chair. He brushed his thick brown hair straight back and had his goatee trimmed by a barber twice a week.     Dmitri hung up his Mackinaw and cap and went over to warm himself by the stove. The woodbox was nearly empty. All those years of cutting and carrying ice had left the elder Pulski with a chronic chill that even in summer forced him to lay a fire and spread a blanket over his knees when he studied the company ledgers in the evening. Dmitri had never seen him read a book or give more than passing attention to a newspaper.     "Just a character." He didn't want to get into it just then. "I didn't see the Ford."     "Your Uncle Paul dropped me off. He's in town picking up the mail. Is this what you do when I send you up here to work?" He brushed the sheet with his fingertips.     "I just finished cutting a ton of ice."     "That's not your job."     "I'm better at it than I am at giving orders. Half these men watched me grow up. They've seen me in knickers."     "Then there shouldn't be any confusion about whose son you are."     He made no answer. His father was slow to anger, but once he began there was nothing to do but wait until his passion had run its course. Andrei's own grandfather had cut ice in Alaska to fill the demand created by the Gold Rush, then when the demand subsided had come to California to hunt sea otters for the Russian-American Company. When the otters played out, San Francisco was still in need of ice, and so Andrei's father and a partner had formed the Sierra Nevada Ice Company to harvest the northern lakes. He was the grandson of a mountain man and trapper, the descendant of an officer in the Czar's army, and stubborn traces of the career soldier and hearty pioneer remained beneath the executive exterior, like the tough sierra grass under two feet of snow. He had spent his youth working side by side with his own father's employees until the business was sound; now he took it as a personal affront that his son should do the same, as if the years of toil had made no progress. Dmitri couldn't tell if his father was more upset by that or by his own ambition to be a writer instead of an iceman.     Andrei surprised him, for the second time that day, by letting the matter drop along with the scratch sheet. "How much ice do we have in inventory?"     The young man hesitated. "About eight tons, including today's."     "I've received an order for all we have."     "Who from, the City of San Francisco?"     "Some company in Los Angeles." He pronounced it with a hard G , as did everyone Dmitri knew. Only the occasional Mexican who came up to work with them for a winter softened the consonant. As he said it, Andrei drew a folded sheet of paper from an inside breast pocket, snapped it open, and hooked on his gold-rimmed spectacles to look at it. "The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association. Have you heard of it?"     He said he hadn't. Moving pictures. He'd seen two or three flicker shows at the end of the vaudeville bill at the opera house in San Francisco--crude, jerky images of firefighters in action and young women undressing--but it had never occurred to him that anyone made a living making and showing the things.     "We don't sell that much by August," Dmitri said. "It's only January."     "See for yourself."     Dmitri accepted the sheet and turned it toward the lantern. The name his father had read was professionally printed across the top, along with an address on Yucca Avenue.     Dear Sir: An exhaustive survey conducted among suppliers of ice throughout the Pacific Northwest has led us to the conclusion that the Sierra Nevada Ice Company offers the highest quality product at the most reasonable rates. Kindly accept our order for ten tons of quality ice, or if you have not that much on hand, as much ice of the highest grade as you can supply us at this time, provided the amount is not less than six tons. Delivery to be arranged pending your positive response on or before 15 January 1913. Yours very sincerely, Arthur Bensinger, Jr. President     "I didn't know there were different qualities of ice." Dmitri gave back the letter.     "There are two: thin and thick." His father glanced again at the typewritten words, then laid down the sheet and returned his glasses to his pocket. "I think we ought to check out this Rocky Mountain company. No one I've asked has heard of it or Arthur Bensinger."     "It's good stationery."     "Anyone can manage that. It doesn't mean they can pay for eight tons of ice."     "What do you suppose they plan to do with it?"     "That's one of the things I want you to find out."     "Me?"     "I want you to drive down and take a look at their operation and report back to me. I'll lend you the Ford. Don't wreck it. I'd send you on the train, but how would you get around once you got there? Los Angeles is a desert town, strung out across ten miles of dust."     "Why me?"     "I can't spare the time, especially if it turns out to be a wild goose chase. Sooner or later every crook and four-flusher in the country winds up in southern California. Moving pictures." He stood and put on his coat. "Learning how to separate the charlatans from the solid customers will help you run this business. I have nothing against your wanting to write, Dmitri. But when times get hard, entertainment is the first thing people find they can live without. Meanwhile they'll always need ice." Copyright © 1999 Loren D. Estleman. All rights reserved.