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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.

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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 death might be transfigured to seem beautiful and where funeral objects might have aesthetic or sentimental value for the “Waiting Ones” (those not yet dead). Aimee is attracted to Dennis because she mistakenly believes that he is a real poet, rather than a plagiarizer of love poetry from literary anthologies. Yet there is an obstacle to their love: Aimee has also promised her love to Mr. Joyboy, her boss at Whispering Glades.

Unable to decide between the two suitors, Aimee, in desperation, writes for counsel to the Guru Brahmin, who dispenses wisdom in an advice-to-the-lovelorn column in the local newspaper. In fact, the Guru is not a single savant but a trio of hacks, consisting of the actual writer of the column (once titled “Aunt Lydia’s Grab-Bag”), his secretary, and a morose alcoholic named Mr. Slump, who responds to the personal correspondence addressed to the Guru. Mr. Slump, disgusted by Aimee’s inane questions, finally urges her to solve her problem by taking a leap from a high building. Instead, she returns to Whispering Glades, injects herself with embalming fluid, and dies. The presence of her corpse is an embarrassment for Mr. Joyboy, who at first cannot guess how to get rid of it. Dennis, however, ever the gallant, disposes of Aimee at The Happier Hunting Ground crematorium. On the anniversary of her death, Mr. Joyboy will receive this memorial notice: “Your little Aimee is wagging her tail in heaven tonight, thinking of you.”

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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,...

(The entire section contains 2755 words.)

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