Storyline Summary of Peak Experiences
From the 70,000 word manuscript, lost for 50 years
James, greatly admired by 2 sisters, was helpfully ambitious at an early age, as his Mormon polygamous family struggled with a bedridden and dying father to survive on a small farm in Utah.
James, as a preteen, has a physical altercation with a suspected murderer who was stealing their irrigation water.
The 3 children get jobs in a canning factory as a rich “ Madam” is reluctantly allowed to help the family.
James as a teenager moves to Salt Lake City to work as a waiter and is exposed to stage shows, sparking his life long show business goal.
Pursuing that goal, he travels to larger cities, to study acting and do odd jobs. He nearly is killed riding the rails, hanging under a train, and ends up walking from San Jose to San Francisco.
As a dishwasher he gets in a fight with a bully and panics as his blows knock the man’s eye out. (Later in New York, working as a stage actor, the man tells him it was a glass eye.)
James signs on as a crew member on a sailing salmon troller in the north Pacific. The ship is almost lost when it gets lost in fog, drifts into dangerous waters, and nearly suffers a mutiny.
He bluffs his way into a star roll in a stage drama by forging a friend’s signature on a prepaid railroad ticket. The friend left before it arrived. He has insufficient time to learn the lines.
He auditions for a silent movie and unable to use his voice, mimes outrageous facial expressions.
World War One arrives, he joins the “Home-guard”, along with other movie employees, training for a feared invasion.
James, now a successful silent film star, is involved in many romances. He breaks the heart of his sister’s pal, when he falls madly in love with a famous actress, Marguerite Snow, his future wife.
After an injury, from doing his own stunts, he is offered a director’s position and climbs the ladder of success, ending up with Jesse Lasky, founder of Paramount Studios.
His production of “The Covered Wagon” is a huge undertaking, involving 2 Indian tribes, 150 Wagons, river crossings, and many hardships. It becomes the epitome of success and fortune for him.
Someone is killed during the making of “Old Ironsides”, another gigantic production, filmed at the Isthmus of Catalina Island.
Millionaire James Cruze defies prohibition with moonshine hospitality at his 12 acre mansion in Flintridge. The most famous people in the world are logged in by his sister. Also he gets a Sheriff drunk, who comes to complain about the noise, and donates money to start construction of the Episcopal church there by getting the Pastor drunk.
The book ends at the peak of his success, but there are reports of his ending up penniless and dying in the shadows of a glorious Hollywood, an institution built, to a large extent, on his foundation.