Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Dennis Barlow, having recently emigrated from England, hoping to establish his fortune as a screenwriter in Hollywood, arrives in Los Angeles, a city that at first seems to resemble the heart of Africa rather than a civilized Western community. At the bungalow of Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, the most dignified of English expatriates in Southern California, he learns the rules of protocol appropriate for travelers from abroad, especially the need to maintain British decorum while in Hollywood, one of the “barbarous regions of the world.” Dennis, who has pretentions to being a poet, lacks the basic skills as a writer to work for Megalopolitan Studios. The closest he can come to Megalo is to share lodgings with Sir Francis Hinsley, a shabby screenwriter, who, after having been unceremoniously fired, commits suicide by hanging himself. At Sir Francis’ funeral, Dennis’ tasteless elegy for his roommate scandalizes the English colony. They had already dismissed the young man from their society because of his employment at The Happier Hunting Ground, a glorified pet cemetery operated by Mr. Schultz.
Dennis has enjoyed one small triumph, however, to compensate for his failures. He has won the heart of Aimee Thanatogenos, assistant to the chief cosmetician at Whispering Glades. This cemetery, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, a resting place for “Loved Ones” such as Sir Francis, was established by “The Dreamer,” Dr. Wilbur Kenworthy, as a refuge where...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
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At Sir Francis Hinsley’s deteriorating Hollywood bungalow, Sir Francis and his young friend, Dennis Barlow, sip whisky and soda. Sir Ambrose Abercrombie pays a visit to his fellow Englishmen, and Sir Francis explains one of his problems in the Megalopolitan Pictures publicity department. His client, Juanita del Pablo, has been deemed too sexy given the current religious climate. Dennis has also had work troubles; his contract at Megalopolitan expired three weeks before and was not renewed. Sir Ambrose gives Dennis a lecture about the “responsibility” of being an Englishman in Hollywood, stressing that there are certain “jobs that an Englishman doesn’t take.” After Sir Ambrose’s departure, Sir Francis surmises that his friend has “heard something” about Dennis Barlow’s new job.
Dennis has certainly taken one of the jobs that Sir Ambrose warned about. After dinner, Dennis goes to work as a pet undertaker at The Happier Hunting Ground pet cemetery. As he reads a poetry anthology, the phone rings and Mrs. Theodora Heinkel informs him that her little dog, Arthur, has died. Dennis drives to the Heinkels’ house and meets Mr. Heinkel in the garden. The two men pack up the dog and place him in Dennis’s van and then plan funeral arrangements for Arthur. Mr. Heinkel chooses The Happier Hunting Ground’s Grade A funeral service that includes the freeing of a white dove and a yearly card of “remembrance” to the Heinkels. Dennis transports the dog back to The Happier Hunting Ground, stows Arthur in a large refrigerator to await cremation, retrieves his supper from the same refrigerator, and returns to his book of poetry while he eats.
Dennis Barlow is “happy in his work,” but his new profession has taken a serious toll on his social status. He is no longer invited to Hollywood parties. Dennis took part in World War II as a member of the transport command; during this time, his only published book of poetry was released. The poems were “extravagantly praised” but were not widely published because of wartime paper restrictions. After the war, Dennis went to Hollywood to write a screenplay about the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley for Megalopolitan Pictures. But studio life was too similar to military life for Dennis; he “despaired” while working there. Apparently, Megalopolitan did not think he was suited for screenwriting either.
However, Dennis is content at his disreputable job as a pet undertaker. He considers it a “worthy trade.” Sir Francis, on the other hand, is failing at his job at Megalopolitan. He tries to write a “new life-story” for Juanita del Pablo, but the “Grand Sanhedrin” of the studio rejects it resoundingly. Sir Francis is sent home for a week to work on the project but the Studio immediately begins to look for his replacement.
Sir Francis tries to work from home but his secretary is reassigned to the Catering Department at Megalopolitan. He tries to return to the studio to work but the Transportation Captain will not send a car to pick him up. After Sir Francis takes a taxi to the studio, he finds his replacement has already established himself in his office and thrown away all of his “junk.” Sir Francis’s superior will not speak to him but his boss’s boss confirms that he has been terminated.
The next day, the talk among the Englishmen at the Cricket Club is all about Sir Francis Hinsley’s suicide. Sir Ambrose Abercrombie arrives and attributes his friend’s death to the fact that he “lost face” by taking in Dennis Barlow, who is a disgrace to the English expatriates in Hollywood. Sir Ambrose, however, has left the funeral arrangements for Sir Francis up to Dennis. Sir Ambrose then warns the other members of the Cricket Club that it is crucial that Sir Francis have a respectable funeral—and they might all have to contribute toward it.
Dennis Barlow, who found Sir Francis Hinsley’s body hanging from the rafters in his home, drives to Whispering Glades Memorial Park to make arrangements for his friend’s funeral. Dennis is curious about the place because The Happier Hunting Ground emulates many of the practices of the larger cemetery. Wilbur Kenworthy (also known as the Dreamer) established Whispering Glades as a “Happy Resting Place” for “Loved Ones” (dead people) and a comforting spot for “Waiting Ones” (the deceased’s family and friends). Dennis meets with a Mortuary Hostess who explains that the park is zoned into areas like the Pilgrims’ Rest and The Lake Isle. Dennis chooses a plot at Poets Corner for Sir Francis as a nod to his writer’s background. The Mortuary Hostess also needs to confirm with Dennis that Sir Francis was a Caucasian because Whispering Glades is a “restricted park.” Dennis chooses a casket and a shroud for Sir Francis and puts down a deposit with the Mortuary Hostess.
Dennis finds the Mortuary Hostess to be a forgettable young lady but is entranced by the cosmetician who later enters the room. He finds her to be a “sole Eve in as bustling hygenic Eden” with a sensual mouth and a “rich glint of lunacy” in her eyes. The cosmetician questions Dennis about Sir Francis’s “Essential Data” such as complexion and personality so she and the mortician can make the dead Sir Francis as close as possible to the living Sir Francis.
As the entrancing cosmetician finishes her questions, the “forgotten” Mortuary Hostess reappears to take Dennis to the burial site. Dennis, however, decides he has seen enough for one day and takes...
(The entire section is 2279 words.)