The Guy With the Face
CHARLES L. SHAW
LIKE A lot of other movie fans, you’ve probably wondered whatever became of Igar. You remember Igar—the Great Igar, the one and only and incomparable Igar. Anyway, you’ll remember his face— the strangest face that ever came to Hollywood.
Do you realize how near you were to never seeing that face at all? Do you realize that Igar’s face would never have been brought to the screen if it hadn’t been for a craving for abalone steak which was shared by Max Flotaw and myself on a particular day in Monterey?
Max Flotaw was number one director for Superb Pictures then. He had just finished a swell job with “The Golden Door,” starring the handsome and personable Jackson Talcott; and Mandelbeyer, the boss, was delighted. He called Flotaw and me into his office and told us how grateful he was.
“Boys,” he said, looking at us through his thick glasses and over his long cigar, “you deserve a real vacation. Forget pictures for a while. Just loaf. If I were you I’d get out the old car and take a run up to Monterey. A lovely old town—so restful.”
And then, as though it came to him just as an afterthought, the boss offered another reason why we should go to Monterey. “That reminds me,” he said. “Y'ou’ll be doing ‘Hell Ship’ next. I was just thinking the script calls for Monterey. You might get some darned good ideas up there—while on your vacation.”
Just like the boss—tell us to forget pictures and then in the same breath suggest we go to work on one. But we didn’t argue. We went to Monterey.
We got there late in the afternoon when the bay was as blue as the Mediterranean is supposed to be, and the sardine boats with their brown sails made a mighty pretty picture. But Max and I were too
Any dolt could see Igar's face was his fortune, but now the truth is out Hollywood is not so sure
thirsty', and too hungry for abalone steak. We'd made up our minds about the abalone steak a long way back, so we didn’t pay much attention to the scenery. You know how it is. We didn’t do any of the things that people are supposed to do in Monterey. We kept right on driving i>ast Del Monte, sitting cool among the big trees; and we didn’t spend any time looking for Robert Louis Stevenson’s old home or the place where Castro lived. We were looking for a place that might serve fried abalone; and before long we found it.
It was just a little joint with a sign over the door. “Joe’s Grotto. Joseph Preedy, Prop. You'll Like Our Abalone.” We went inside. Nothing very grand about it, but it was clean and neat, with a high, polished counter and rail, and a row of revolving chairs. The only person in sight was a sober-looking girl with sad eyes. She took our order without smiling, although Max Flotaw kept wisecracking all the time, asking her if abalone was Spanish for baloney or bologna, and things like that.
Well, we got our abalone. I’m quite a connoisseur when it comes to abalone, and the steak that was set before us by that little woman in Joe’s Grotto was just about the liest I ’ve ever had. Even Max. who never seems to care what he eats so long as a drink goes with it, raved about it. I he questions he asked ! Finally he got the idea that he should meet the cook, and nothing could get the idea out of his head. I le’d had a lot to drink and, besides, he was a director in pictures. You know how it is.
Hut the little woman with the sad eyes said he couldn’t possibly meet the cook. “Anyway,” she argued, "you wouldn’t want to see him. You really wouldn’t.”
But Max persisted in that aggravating way he has. “Oh. yes, we would,” he said, and I knew it was hopeless to persuade him out of it, especially when he started to tell all about himself and how he wasn’t used to having people say a thing couldn't be done. But a lot she cared.
And then I saw something that made me drop my fork. It was a face, slowly emerging from behind the kitchen door
.....the weirdest face I’ve ever seen. It was more than that.
It was a face that made you keep looking at it. sort of spellbound. It gave you the strangest feeling. There’s no use my trying to describe it for you. even though I can remember every feature of it as I saw it then, after all these years. I 've never seen a face even remotely like it.
MAX SEEMED as much impressed as I was. He just sat there gawking, and that made four of us staring at each other, because by this time the girl was wondering what was going to happen and who was going to break the spell. As a matter of fact, she broke it herself. She said to the man with the face: “You shouldn t ought to come in here, Joe. These gentlemen was only kidding.”
So tins was Joe of Joe's Grotto. Joseph Prmiy, Prop. Joe wasn't nearly so mad as he looked: in fact, he didn’t seem mad at all. It was his face that made him look that way. He was. in fact, very friendly and what he said made everyone feel better.
“Which one of you folks is a moving-picture director?” he asked, and when Max announced himself. Joe seemed mighty pleased. “I couldn't help hearing you talk about yourself,” said Joe. “I just had to come in and take a look. But 1 won't stay. I don’t want to sjx>il your supper.” Joe cast a sidelong glance at the girl, who was shaking her head. He turned to go back to the kitchen, but Max wouldn’t let him go so soon. We managed to get on pretty friendly terms. Joe asked a lot of questions about making pictures, and Max was in the mxd to answer them. The abalone steak had heljxxl. When it finally came time for us to be moving along, we shx*k hands all round.
“I’ll tell them down in Hollywood.” said Max in parting, “that there’s a man in Monterey called Jx* who makes the grandest abalone steak in all the world.”
Joe said that would be mighty nice, and saw us to the door. When wre got out on the curb. Max and I stxxl there. We didn’t make a move toward the car. Something was on our minds. You know how it is. Max just l«xked at me and said, very quietly: “What a pan for pictures!”
“That’s funny.” I said. “1 was thinking the same thing.” But I dare say it might have ended right there if it hadn’t been for "Hell Ship.” That was the picture that Max and I were supposed to be thinking about while in Monterey, and we started to think about it right then.
“Do you remember that part in the script that calls for a cook in the galley who raises hob with the crew and murders the captain with the skewer?" asked Max. sort of closing his eyes as though trying to get a mental picture of the scene.
Did I remember? Hadn’t I been in conference on that scene for most of a boiling afternoon?
“It's just a small part." Max went on. “but can’t you see our friend Joe in there doing it?"
“If Joe was an actor, yes,” I said. “But he isn’t. He cooks abalone.”
1 knew exactly what Max would say to that, and he did. I íe told me that Jackson Talcott had been a six-day bicycle rider before he. Max Flotaw, had taken him in hand, starred him in “Flashing Wheels” and made him famous in the films and so on and so on.
“That's all right.” I said, “but suppose Joe doesn’t want to be famous in pictures?”
“We’ll darn soon find out.” said Max. and before I realized what was happening we were inside Joe's Grotto again.
The sad-eyed girl was still unsmiling. In fact, she seemed almost hostile this time. “If you just came back for another look at Joe.” she said. “I might find an old snapshot that you could keep.”
Max said that might not be a bad idea later on. but right now he really wanted to talk to Joe - about something special.
Joe must have been listening again, because he came right in, wiping his hands on his apron. He thought we wanttxi to know how he made the abalone taste that way. He told us the recipe was a secret. Anniehe nixided toward the sad-eyed girl was the only person besides himself who knew it. They were going to keep it to themselves.
Max said that was tine: he could keep his secret with Annie. What he wanted to know was whether Joe would like to be in pictures.
OF COURSE. Joe just couldn't believe it at first. He strxxi there, grinning, with his big hands wrapped in his apron, looking first at Max and then at Annie. And when I saw the scowl on Annie's face I knew we were going to have trouble.
“There’s nothing to it.” said Max. coaxing. “We want, you for a bit part. You won’t have anything much to say. We won't take you away from Monterey. We're shxting the picture here. You could go right on cooking your fish.”
Joe hummed and hawed for a while. It was easy to see that he was tempted. He put it up to Annie. He asked her what she thought about it. and Annie didn’t have to tell us what she thought, although she did.
“I think it's pretty silly.” she said. “I always thought there was too many actors in Hollywood already. If there wasn’t a catch in it somewhere, you gentlemen shouldn’t ought to be up here picking up any Tom. Dick or Harry.”
Max tried to explain tactfully that Joe wasn't any Tom, Dick or Harry. That made Annie all the more suspicious. And she came right out with what was on her mind. She turned to Joe and said: “Can’t you see for yourself that all they want of you is your face?”
Joe looked quite hurt. “Now, Annie,” he said. “There’s no use getting personal.”
“None whatever,” said Max. being diplomatic. “Besides, suppose we did want to capitalize Mr. Preedy’s rather unique facial characteristics: what’s wrong with that? Look at Lon Chaney, Jimmy Durante and Slim Summerville?”
“Sure.” said Annie. “Go right ahead and look at them if you want. But who wants to look at Joe if they can help it?”
Max looked hurt now. He told Annie please to remember that he hadn’t been casting and directing pictures for Superb without picking up a fewr stray wisps of knowledge and experience, and knowing what he was doing. Whereupon Annie picked up a handful of dishes and swept out to the kitchen.
We found it was much easier to handle Joe by himself. We told him it would be very simple. No lines to learn; nothing to worry about. Max gave him the old line, which always irritates me. about the director being the only one in the company who has to use his head. But this seemed to impress Joe quite a lot : a big relief, evidently. He didn’t want to study anything, he said. He never had been exactly bright at school and didn't go much for reading even now, and Max told him sympathetically that he quite understood.
But Joe insisted that he'd have to talk to Annie about it. and that made Max impatient and he said some things that otherwise he might have kept to himself. He wanted to know just what Annie had to do with it. And that question brought a deep red color to the strange face of Joe Preedy.
“She’s not my wife—yet,’’ said Joe, stammering; and then, of course, we knew all there was to know.
Max apologized and said that Annie had impressed him as being a very nice girl, and he hoped that Joe and Annie would hit it off and make a fine team. But he said that he also believed Annie had a good, sensible head, and that she wouldn’t want to interfere with Joe’s career.
That door to the kitchen must have been a regular sounding board, because Annie had apparently heard everything and she’d been crying to herself. When she came in she was dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.
“Of course I won’t interfere,” she said. "I still think it’s silly and a big mistake, but if Joe wants to be in pictures instead of in the restaurant business, I won’t try to hold him back.”
Max exclaimed, “That’s a smart girl !” and I felt like cheering, but I saved my enthusiasm until weeks afterward. I don’t think anyone in Superb had any great hopes for “Hell Ship.” The plot had whiskers, and they were tangled in hokum. Max had almost rebelled when he first read the story, but Mandelbeyer had bought it and he thought there was a chance to work in some special scenic stuff and some old props.
A week or so after we returned to Hollywood after the last take on location. I had almost forgotten the piece. And then one night, in the Brown Derby, Max came over to my table. He seemed to be feeling pretty gxxl. He said he’d been in the projection room previewing some of the rushes. “And some of them aren’t bad.” he said. “Remember that guy with the face? Well, I'd just like you to take a look at him. I think he’s good.”
He was good. He was very good. You may think it wouldn’t be possible for a person who just sticks his face into a picture a half a dozen times and hardly says a word, to dominate the scene, but that’s exactly what Joe Preedy
had done. You just couldn’t keep your eyes off him while he was in action there on the screen; a strange sort of magnetic jxwer drew you to him and made you watch every movement of his homely mouth, every flicker of his little piglike eyes, and every turn of his astounding head.
Next morning 1 happened to go to Mandelbeyer’s office. The boss had seen the rushes too. He had some of the stills on his desk, and he was studying them through his thick glasses and didn’t even look up when 1 went in.
“He’s terrific,” said Mandelbeyer, still not looking up. “Absolutely terrific. Who is he? Where did you get him?”
Of course he was referring to Joe Preedy. I told him all I knew, which wasn’t much, and the boss seemed suddenly distressed. “Don’t let him get away,” he shouted at me. “Sign him. Get his name on a contract. Just imagine—a guy with a face like that and you let him get away !”
Mandelbeyer is a great judge of pictures, but usually he keeps his opinions to himself until the reports come back from the box office, and then if the picture proves a Hop he says he always knew it smelled, that it was a waste of time and money; and if it goes over big, then he rubs his little hands and puffs hard at his long cigar and tells you he knew from the very beginning that it would be a hit. But this time the boss was opening up before the picture was hardly ready for the cutting room.
“There’s something in that face that gets me,” said Mandelbeyer, pointing to Joe’s picture. “ ‘Hell Ship’ may be punk as a story, but it's got a face in it that may put it over—a face that will get the whole world talking.”
Mandelbeyer was right. I remember the first review that came into the office—from one of the trade papers. It ran something like this: “ ‘Hell Ship,’ directed by the usually reliable Max Flotaw for Superb, somehow fails to click except in a few spots where a monster whose name doesn’t even appear in the cast, freezes your spine by merely looking at you.”
Most of the other critics seemed to agree that the unknown oaf just about stole the show. “Hell Ship,” which cost a mere bag of peanuts to produce, grossed more than the million-dollar “Golden D(xr,” starring the handsome Jackson Talcott, who was always a big money player.
We brought Joe Preedy to Hollywood, and that in itself was quite an achievement. Talk about the Mounties getting their man ! When Mandelbeyer tells you to do this or that, you just have to do it, so there was no use arguing when he said he wanted Joe. But the time I had with Annie! I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her, in a way.
“I think it’s kind of a shame,” she told me after I’d persuaded her to talk things over in a reasonable way. “Joe couldn't help being born with a face like that. 1 never minded it somehow. I even sort of liked it, but I guess I'd like any kind of a face on Joe. You see, I’ve known Joe for a long, long time. He’s just a big overgrown boy, and his heart’s right even if something did go wrong with his face. I wouldn’t want to see him make a mistake.”
I agreed with her in everything she said. I promised we’d be good to Jxi in Hollywxxl, and I told her that Joe’s going away wouldn’t do the restaurant business at Monterey any harm, although down in my heart I wasn’t so sure about how things would pan out. Hollywood's a funny place; so many distractions, so many ways for a person to forget. You know how it is. But I made gcxxl for Mandelbeyer. Annie, between sobs, said she wouldn’t stand in joe’s way if he had a chance to do things in pictures or in anything else. If it was the right thing for Joe, it was the right thing for her. She was sad and a lit tle dubious, maybe, but philosophical. She wasn’t going to make it tough for anyone.
So Joe signed a contract with Superb, and he came away from Monterey with an easy conscience and as eager to get into pictures as a soda jerker. And he was eager to get back to Monterey, too, later on after he’d done big things in Ilollywoxi. He wanted to be the kx-al boy who’d made good—the old, old story. He grew quite confidential on the way down to L.A. In fact, he never could keep a secret — very long.
“When I’m a star I’m going back to marry Annie.” Joe told me with a sparkle in his funny little eyes. “She says she’ll wait.”
OBVIOUSLY we couldn’t make a star of Joe by calling him by his given name. We had a conference on the subject, and you should have heard some of the suggestions. “Josef von Predoff” was the favorite for a while, until Max Flotaw said that would sound like an Alsatian fxlice dog and there was no dog on earth that wouldn’t be insulted by being confused with a man who had a face like Joe’s. Someone who had been reading a Russian txxk had an inspiration. He thought “Igar” would seem kind of appropriate. He said you could easily imagine a man named Igar doing the dreadful things we had planned for Joe. In the book he’d been reading an Igar had murdered a whole villageful of Russians.
“And there was an Igar the Terrible.” said Mandelbeyer, who was enthusiastic for the new name from the first. We didn’t go into that Igar the Terrible stuff. We let it pass. We just billed Joe as Igar.
Joe, of course, wasn’t consulted. A little thing like
changing his name wouldn’t concern him anyway. We knew he wouldn't mind, and he didn’t. All he wanted to know was whether changing his name woulfl make it any harder to cash cheques, because he wanted to send half the money he earned back to Monterey to keep the restaurant going. He told me that Annie knew the secret about frying abalone, but things might be kind of tough at first. She'd need the extra dough.
We told Joe not to worry, and he didn’t. Nor did we, because Joe was heaven’s gift to Superb Pictures, lie was so easy to handle; nothing temperamental about him at all. I’ve never seen a more sincere and conscientious person in Hollywood. He used to take everybody’s advice, and he’d make you feel embarrassed by the thanks he'd give for the slightest suggestion. However, he'd have been gocxl even without advice. The luckiest thing about him was something that none of us could give him or improve upon-—his face. And he was lucky, Ux, because of the cycle of horror pictures that started with “Hell Ship.” Other Hollywood companies tried to imitate the success of that little gold mine; but there was only one Igar, and Superb owned him.
Joe made a gorgeous ghoul in "The Graveyard Murder Case.” Here was a role that didn’t require any dramatic art, and Joe was a natural. All he had to do was creep across the scene a few times in the semidarkness and do some frightful grimacing for close-ups, but that was enough to make him the hit of the show. There was never another grimacer just like Joe.
But the picture that made Joe solid with Superb was “Devil Dancer.” If you don't remember it you can imagine the setup: Explorers lost among cannibals, with a lot of jungle props and native drum effects and .fix; as the fiendish devil dancer. Only he didn't have to dance. I le just sort of stood there in all his hideousness and gave an occasional writhe, while some colored dance experts went through their routine. But I can remember the press raves that poured in about Joe after that. Of course, the papers didn’t have to tell us that Igar was the ugliest and ghastliest personage who had ever blinked before the kliegs, but it was nice to know that the critics agreed with the master minds at Sujx;rb. Joe’s box-office appeal was even nicer. “Devil Dancer” was a hit everywhere. Even the foreign markets ate it up. Subtle but sophisticated dialogue might not register with the folks in Latin America and the Orient, but they could understand drum beats and Joe’s frightfulness from Tin Pan Alley to Addis Ababa.
JOE WENT right on up the heights. He became a celebrity. A goofy comic strip called "Igar the Ogre” started running in the papers, and a song hit of the day was “Stop Ogling, Igar.” Vaudeville contracts were offered, but Mandelbeyer shxk his head and Jx: obediently said no. As I've said. Joe was very easy to handle. But we did right by him anyway. One day the boss came into the office, rubbing his little hands and blowing hard on one of his long cigars. “Boys,” he announced, "we’re starring Igar” he never referred to him as Joe any more “in 'The Monster.’ ” And then we knew that Joe had really arrived. I íe was in the big money now, with a contract that made him one of the highest priced character actors in Hollywfxxl if you could call it acting. But the lag money wasn’t due to philanthropy on Mandelbeyer's part.* The boss gave only for value received and, besides, he didn’t want to give other studios a chance to tempt Joe away from Suix'rb. Personally, I doubt whether Joe would have left anyway at that time. Joe felt that he owed us a lot for putting him in pictures, and he valued our friendship. After all, when you’ve got a face like Joe’s it isn’t any tcx easy to make friends. He knew that, and it made him all the more eager to keep the friends he'd made. As a matter of fact, he was getting pretty conscious of his face, and a little tired of it.
“It wasn’t so bad at Monterey.” he told me once. “I could just stay back there in the kitchen. It didn’t matter anyway, because everybody knew me, and seeing me was nothing new. But wherever 1 go now, this face of mine stops the show.”
And he was right, of course. People just couldn’t help staring at him. especially now that he was famous. Once in a while I’d catch him standing before a mirror with a hand over his mouth or his nose or his forehead, studying his odd features, apparently contemplating how he’d lcxk if they were different. “If my face was an automobile, I'd sure turn it in for a different mxlel.” he told me, and when he got in that mood I tried to hurry him out of it as soon as I could. His face was our fortune.
“Lotsof people would give a lot for a face like yours.” I'd tell him. but I don't think he ever believed me. And then, just to change the subject, I’d say something about Annie. He’d always talk about her if he had the chance, and his little eyes would glitter as he’d tell about the letter he'd just received telling about how well she was doing with the restaurant at Monterey. "She’ll get along okay,” he used to say. “She’s got the brains for both of us.”
But after a while I discovered that it wasn’t a good idea to talk too much about Annie. I didn’t want to make Joe homesick. We had work for him in Hollywood. During the first few months he used to drive up to Monterey almost every week-end, but he couldn’t keep that up. There were too many other things to do. Folks who work for Mandelbeyer really work; and SiqxTb Pictures wanted to cash in on Igar while tie was hot. But, so far as I could see, Annie was the only woman in Joe’s life. He still had it all figured out how he’d make a fortune in pictures and then marry the girl. No other girl would take Annie’s place. That was what he said, and it was pretty easy to believe. With a face like his. Joe wasn’t exactly a lady’s man. And. being self-conscious, Joe never made a play for the girls.
And then came the time we went to Ensenada to shoot some scenes for "Rum Row,” in which Igar was cast as the evillooking boss of the liquor runners. While on location down there, Joe made no attempt to drive all the way to Monterey to see Annie every week-end. Mandelbeyer wouldn’t have stixxl for all that time off. But Joe used to drive up to Agua Caliente and spend an hour or so in the casino once in a while, and eventually it became a nightly habit. 1 le got back pretty late one night with a kind of suspicious sparkle in his eyes and it wasn’t long before 1 knew the reason.
“What can I do if she seems to think I'm okay?” said Joe. “Her name’s Mirabelle
Mirabelle Labelle; that's kind of a pretty-sounding name, isn’t it?”
XvflRABELLE LABELLE. Let’s see;
where had 1 heard of her before? And (hen 1 remembered. Well, she certainly wasn't young any more. You’ve probably
forgotten her, but back in the days when bathing beauties were silent, Mirabelle was quite a noise.
You could see that Mirabelle had Joe in a dither, and it was easy to tell why. You see, the girls never did go for Joe. To be seen with him was tixi much like doing a tank act with an octopus or dancing the rhumba with King Kong, although I’ll say this much for Joe: With all his looks, he was always gentle and well behaved. Mirabelle didn't seem particular about the way her boy friends looked. She always seemed to enjoy herself if the payoff was generous enough. Joe saw a lot of Mirabelle, and that was all right with me. I wasn’t going to interfere with his social life. I liked to see him having a good time for a change.
It was only when he started to go temperamental that I began to worry. I couldn’t help noting the change coming over Joe. He wasn’t so easygoing as he used to be, and not so confidential. He was fussier, harder to handle, and he’d get sensitive about little things that he’d have laughed off before. Somehow he seemed to imagine that Superb wasn’t doing the right thing by him. He carried a grouch with him all the time, and because it was so unlike the old Joe Preedy to act that way, I just couldn’t make it out.
Why, he’d even make suggestions to Max Flotaw and the cameramen, and when they'd protest he’d say, “Who’s the big name in this picture, boys?” He said it with a sort of sarcasm that made Max and
the rest of us boil, and he was always saying that he wasn’t getting the breaks that were coming to him.
There was hardly a day without production being held up for a while on the set where Joe was working, because of some row with the director. It was all very hard to understand. Joe got ideas about his salary, too. He’d mention this or that actor, and say that if Jackson Talcott was worth so much, then he, the Great Igar, who was much bigger box office, was worth at least as much. I used to argue with him, of course. I told him that everything would come in time if he’d just be patient, and I reminded him that it wasn’t every small-town cook who could hop into a four-figure weekly pay cheque in a few months; but Joe wouldn’t listen to me. He seemed to know all the answers—knew them so well that I used to think sometimes that he’d learned them by heart.
And. sure enough, he had. I found that out one day after I’d given him a long sob story about the great stars of Hollywood who had sacrificed all so the show might go on; you know the line. I laid it on so thick that tears began to ooze from Joe's little eyes and cascade down his mountainous nose.
“You don’t need to tell me that,” said Joe, putting his hand up in surrender. “Maybe I'm a heel; but a guy’s got to be hard-boiled in this racket.”
It still didn’t sound like Joe. It sounded as though someone else was putting the words into Joe’s mouth.
“I’ve had to sweat blood for everything I’ve got in Hollywood,” he went on. “I’ve endured humiliation and—and ridicule. I’m only sticking up for my rights. Mirabelle says—”
I didn’t let him finish.
“So that’s it,” I said. “It’s Mirabelle who’s been filling your funny head with these ideas. Let’s get this straight. It is Mirabelle; isn’t it?”
JOE said yes; he guessed so, and what if it was? She’d been a real friend to him; she’d given him a good time, and she’d taken the blinders off his eyes.
“She gave me the truth about Hollywood,” said Joe dramatically. “She showed me just how they’ve been making me a side-show freak.”
“For a side-show freak,” I said, “you’ve been doing pretty well.”
“They’ve been using my face making me a buffoon.”
"And a rich young man,” I added.
“I can do more than scare people by standing in front of a camera,” Joe argued.
“I can act.”
“You only have to prove it,” I said.
“If I had a face like Jackson Talcott now—or even just a plain, ordinary face—
I wouldn’t have to prove anything,” said Joe. “I’d get regular parts. I wouldn’t have to go on being gorillas and hunchbacks and village nitwits. I could be like a human being. I could express my— myself.”
After all we’d done for him, that sounded like ingratitude. And it also sounded pretty foolish; so foolish, in fact, that it seemed like a waste of time to go on talking with him.
“Tell it to Mirabelle,” I said. “Maybe she’ll understand. I can’t.”
I was pretty well fed up with Joe, and I guess he wasn’t any too pleased with me, even after all I’d done for him. Here I’d helped to make him famous all over the world as the owner of the ugliest face; I’d helped to make his name suggestive of all the dreadful things imaginable; and this was the thanks I’d got. Well, that was that. We parted mad, and I didn’t see Joe again for months.
I was out of town for a while and lost track of Joe, but I did hear that he was having contract trouble with Mandelbeyer and wanted a new type of picture that would make him seem gentle and not so gruesome. That didn’t surprise me either after what Joe had been telling me, and it didn’t surprise me either when I heard that Mandelbeyer had merely laughed and told Joe to take a long vacation and think it over. Mandelbeyer was still laughing when I saw him.
“He wanted a straight part,” said the boss. “Imagine it! With a face like that!” And then he laughed some more, but there was a phony note in the laughter somehow.
I could see that Mandelbeyer was worried.
I sort of hoped that Joe would go to Monterey for that vacation. He would see Annie up there then, and she might put some sense into his head. Once or twice I had a hunch to get in touch with Annie myself and ask her to use her influence with Joe, but I never did anything with it.
I felt kind of sorry for Annie sometimes, because of the way Joe was acting up, although, after all, it wasn’t anything to me. And maybe it was just as well for Annie.
Things have a way of working out for the best. It was only when I heard that Joe had gone to Europe —yes, all the way to Europe, and with Mirabelle Labelle tagging along too that I was really burned up. But there was nothing I could do about it. You know how it is.
No news of Joe for a long time, and then a postcard. It was dated Vienna and said: “When you see me you will be surprised. Affectionately. Joe.”
He was absolutely right when he said I’d be surprised. When Joe finally turned up in Hollywood I didn’t know him. A complete stranger walked into the office — a stranger with an ordinary sort of face, more or less regular features, straight
nose and mouth. But the voice betrayed him.
“Joe!” I gasped. “It can’t be Joe Preedy.”
But it was. I just couldn’t figure it out at first. And then the awful truth hit me. Joe had gone to one of these famous European plastic surgeons and had his face made over.
“Did the old boy do a masterpiece, or did he?” asked Joe, beaming. “I had the bandages on for months. It was terrible.”
“And tell him how much it cost, Joe.” said a husky voice that I recognized as Mirabelle Labelle’s. Mirabelle was all decked out in a luxurious sable wrap that must have cost as much as Joe’s operation, and with fingers sparkling like a jeweller’s window, and her white teeth flashing in a proud smile. “It was worth it,” said Mirabelle, referring to Joe’s face-lifting job. “Now Joe is going to get a new deal in pictures to match his new face. He’ll show them that he’s an actor as well as a spectacle. Now we’re going places.”
I was a bit sceptical about the whole business, and I guess I looked it. But Joe just stood there grinning, and Mirabelle was waiting for me to speak. I had to say something.
“My opinion isn’t important,” I told them. “You’d better see the boss.”
Joe seemed surprised and a little disappointed. but not Mirabelle. “The boss is exactly the man we’re going to see,” she said.
I wished them luck.
They saw the boss all right. I’m just as glad I wasn’t present at the conference. I saw Mandelbeyer afterward, ghastly pale, like a man who’d been talking to a ghost. He was wringing his little hands. His voice was very sad.
“Do you remember Igar?” he asked me. “Poor Igar is no more.”
And that was the truth. We had Joe Preedy with us again Joe Preedy with his brand-new but very ordinary face; and the Great Igar, known to all the world as the ugliest man in Hollywood, was extinct. It was an occasion for much grief in the offices of Superb and a great loss to pictures. And nothing could be done about it. You don’t pick up a complete answer to a casting director’s prayer every day, or every ten years for that matter. It was pretty tough, all right.
THE saddest part of it all was that Joe, in his simple way, couldn’t understand why we felt that way. He couldn’t see why, if he made such a hit with a homely face, he couldn’t get an even better chance in pictures with an ordinary one. He owed all his success in pictures to the face he’d been born with—the face we’d been building up with a million dollars worth of publicity in newspapers, magazines, billboards and electric signs. And now that face was gone, and Joe’s boxoffice appeal with it. Of course, we couldn’t blame Joe entirely. There was that Mirabelle Labelle who liked Joe’s money but got tired of his face, but let’s try to leave her out of this. The very thought of Mirabelle annoys me.
Well, Joe found out soon enough that he’d made a mistake. Mandelbeyer refused to renew the contract at any price. Joe tried to smile it off, saying there were other studios. But the other studios had no use for Joe with his new face. Why, there were thousands of people with everyday faces on file at the Central Casting Bureau—good actors some of them, too. Why would the studios be interested in one more?
Joe kept on trying. He was still putting on a front, but his little act didn’t fool even himself. He staged a few parties and blew in a lot of dough, and while that was going on, Mirabelle was riding high. She said Joe could always land a job in vaudeville, and eventually he did get one. exploiting his vanished fame and his made-over face. Their act, I heard, was pretty bad. They went up the coast—Joe and Mirabelle, doing a four-a-day; then they drifted somewhere into the Middle West and out of sight. Complete fadeout then. For all we knew in Hollywood, the earth had opened up and swallowed not only the Great Igar hut also Joe Preedy.
And then, months later in Los Angeles, a sign over a seafood restaurant brought Joe to my mind. I don’t know why, exactly, unless it was the line under the name that made me think of that day in Monterey: “The Grotto. You’ll Like Our Abalone.” Something drew me into the place.
It was a pretty swank layout—strictly modern, with all the trimmings. Expensive furnishings and decorations done in style. Live fish in a huge tank, sea pictures on the wall, and an elegantly uniformed chef. It must have cost a fortune. And business was very good. You could tell that by the way the customers poured in, and by the prices they cheerfully paid.
And guess who was at the cash desk: Annie—herself in person! Annie, looking just about the same as she used to up in Monterey, only more stylish and selfassured. She spotted me right off, and for the first time I can remember, she actually smiled.
It seems she was a partner in the establishment. Yes, she'd been fortunate, she told me. Things had been coming her way ever since she moved down to the big city. “If you set your heart on the right thing, it comes to you in time,” she said. Same little old Annie.
Customers pushed along to pay their checks, and I was in their way, holding up the line. The conversation was repeatedly broken, but I found a chance to mention Joe.
“I’m sorry things turned out the way they did,” I said. “For a while he was right up there on top. He’d have gone a long, long way.”
"DUT THERE was no use trying to tell her anything about Joe. I could see she knew everything already. She'd followed his career right along, up and down.
“You shouldn’t ought to feel sorry for Joe.” she said. “If he’d been meant to be an actor, he’d be one. It’s like I said up in
Monterey; you’ve got to accept things as they come. Joe's face, for instance. It never troubled me like it did some other folks. I just accepted it. and I could always look right through it and see Joe as he really was. He changed his face, but he couldn’t change himself. He’s just the same.”
When I mentioned Mirabelle, Annie didn’t even seem interested.
“Oh. her,” she said with a shrug and a sniff. “Joe used to write about her. He seemed to think she’d be a help. Well, so she was in a way. You shouldn't be too hard on Miss Labelle. She was only doing what she thought was right, and I guess I’m as much to blame as anyone. When Joe wrote me about what Miss Labelle had put him up to—I mean about his face—I sent a wire right back, saying it didn’t matter to me what he did with his face, but it might be a good idea. I could see just what would happen, even better than Joe did or Miss Labelle. And now that it’s all over and done with, I’m perfectly satisfied. And so is Joe.”
That sounded sort of funny. I wondered how she knew. And then she put me right by adding: “I'm pretty busy right now
and you’re holding up the line again. But why not talk to Joe?”
And then I saw something that made me feel all funny inside. Coming toward me with a grin on his very ordinary face was the elegantly uniformed chef. He'd recognized me first.
“Well, fancy seeing you here!” said Joe.
So now you know what became of Igar— the Great Igar. But don't say too much about it. He’d just as soon keep it quiet, and so would Annie. Particularly Annie. They are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Preedy now, and as happy as any two screen lovers in the last few feet of film—happier, in fact; and there’s no sense spoiling it all by having a lot of smart alecks and busybodies rubbernecking around and asking questions. You know how it is. After all. says Annie. Los Angeles is full of people who used to be good in pictures. The person with a genius for making abalone steak is very rare indeed.