Shopping for Your Characters, Part 1

Apart from my love of movies, I absolutely adore antique shopping. If I have to shop for clothes, I want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Not so with antiques where I must investigate every pile. I have certain collections I like to feed, but I discovered another plus to antique stores – I can find the characters for my book. Nearly every antique dealer will have a collection of old family photographs (some nice studio portraits or candid snapshots), typically under a sign inviting you to “Adopt a Relative.”

Some writers will cut out pictures from magazines of movie stars or models to serve as the inspiration for their characters. I like to browse through these old pictures to see if there’s anyone I can use. The advantage to these old pictures is that you have the period costumes right there to help with descriptive passages. Granted, most of the pictures you’ll find are from the early decades of the 20th Century or jump to the 1960s and ‘70s. Because my characters are from the 1930s, it’s sometimes more difficult to find just the right “character.” Like shopping for my couch, I don’t necessarily know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.

There’s usually a hugh pile of pictures, so you have to be patient but, in my case, perseverance paid off – I found a gem earlier this year. As soon as I saw this picture, I knew I had my Valerie Sharpe. Let me introduce her to you.

Valerie Sharpe 1Valerie Sharpe (born Lottie Schoenbrucher on March 2, 1907 in Pasadena, California) rose to stardom in the late 1930s to become the top comedienne of Majestic Studios (comparable to MGM’s Carole Lombard). Her Hollywood career started when sound came to films (1927) and she often played bit parts for comic relief until 100 Bedrooms (1933) where her role as a maid in a large New York hotel brought her to the attention of movie audiences and Studio executives who began to feature her in larger and starring roles.

Although gossip columns of the time often intimated at a romance between Valerie and the Studio’s top leading man Colin Hoskyns, Valerie married the Studio’s Head of Production, Samuel Jakes, in 1939. Jakes was nearly twenty-five years her senior, which also was fodder for the gossips. After the shooting death of Hoskyns on Christmas Eve 1943, fingers were pointed to Jakes for contracting the murder, but charges were never filed. Sharpe and Jakes remained married until Jakes’ death in 1949. At that time, Valerie retired from motion pictures and lived out the remainder of her life in the home she shared with Jakes in Majestic, California until her death in 1985 at age 78. Throughout her retirement, she refused all requests for interviews about the Hoskyns murder.

I’m still on the lookout for a picture that will capture Colin Hoskyns, who was the top leading man at Majestic (think of him as an equivalent to MGM’s Clark Gable or Warners’ Errol Flynn). If anyone thinks they know where I can find that, please let me know. In the meantime, while I continue to search, I’ll be introducing other characters along the way.


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