Merton of the Movies, which Gertrude Stein called “the best book about 20th century American youth,” follows midwestern bumpkin Merton Gill’s unlikely journey from a Kansas stockroom to the star-studded set of a silent film. Unfortunately, the actors he’s idolized from afar lose their luster up close, which fuels his desire to become a dramatic leading man — not some slapstick fool. By a stroke of luck, Merton lands a gig as an extra. His natural oafishness catches the eye of stuntwoman Flips Montague, and before long he’s a comic star — the only problem is, it’s all a spoof, and he doesn’t know it.
First published in 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post, and adapted three times to film and once as a Broadway musical, Harry Leon Wilson’s cartoonish tale has earned its place as an essential California classic. This freewheeling romp gets to the heart of any Angeleno’s worst nightmare: what if I’m not in on the joke?