Maclean's New Serial
A Hollywood Supercolossal — Boy meets girl in a tangle of heartstrings and celluloid
SNEAK preview at the Avon tonight.” It was on everyone’s tongue that morning. The news began to go around Westwood Village as early as nine o’clock.
“Sneak preview tonight.” It passed across soda counters with a fresh-fig sundae. It was swapped for a between-classes cigarette on the quad at U.C.L.A. It was the tag line of neighborhood telephone conversations from canyon to canyon in the foothills of the Santa Monica Range. It was offered smilingly with the change from a dollar by the cashier of the Westwood Superfood Mart. It came with a tankful of gas at the great SpanishAztec filling station whose carillon of old mission bells rose blindingly into the California blue at the corner of Westwood and Wilshire Boulevards. What the studio people always fondly hoped would burst upon the second-show public as an exciting surprise was, as always, a matter of casual common knowledge, throughout preview-jaded Westwood, by mid-morning.
• By ten o’clock the whole town knew. That is, the whole town with the exception of Flora Kimball in apartment 3-H of the Spencer Arms. She had arisen as usual at seven, an early riser since her New England days, eased herself out of the letdown double bed, so as not to awaken her niece, Gay Orvis. Carefully she had avoided the spring that squeaked the loudest, and had crept in felt slippers to the kitchen-dinette, closing the French doors soundlessly behind her. Gay must have her beauty sleep !
She felt the familiar wave of revulsion against the tiny room as she shut herself in. It was more a cell than a room. The whole two-room apartment was a coop; its close shabbiness almost unbearable. For eighteen years she and Gay had lived in just such repulsive little apartments, ever since she had brought her niece, at the age of three, out to the film capital.
Thousands of other people lived the same way here in southern California. The Spencer Arms, cheap and pretentious, was duplicated in every direction. You passed miles of them in every Hollywood suburb. Their sameness weighed upon you. Seeing their dull monotony was one thing, living in them year in year out, after the varied beauty of New England—well, sometimes Flora thought she couldn’t endure another minute of it.
Some people might grow numb and accustomed to their surroundings. Not she! She straightened her stiffly corseted little body in the kitchen chair. Her determined chin lifted a fraction; she tacked back a lock of grey hair. Yes, the Spencer Arms grew more and more unbearable as release from it drew near. As things were going now, it might be only a matter of days. It couldn’t be more than a few weeks, a month or two.
Flora looked fondly through the glass door at her sleeping niece. Gay was beautiful even in sleep, when so many people look their worst. Sleep brought out the dewy childlike quality of her beauty, the perfection of her features. Even without her luminous brown eyes, so startlingly set against her natural blondness, even without their light, she was lovely.
Flora flushed with the sheer pleasure of looking upon Gay. The girl meant everything in the world to her. She had molded Gay as a sculptor molds a figure into perfection, developed Gay’s talents, taught her the value of herself.
The frown in Flora’s forehead deepened as she reached under the kitchen door for the habitual morning paper. She couldn’t push Gay out of her thoughts. There was one frightening thing; that young architect who had gone to high school with Gay in Hollywood had now come back into her life. And this time he let it be known he wouldn’t be bullied, as he called it, by Gay’s aunt or by anyone else. He defied the world to stop him from marrying Gay!
Flora’s hand trembled as she poured her coffee. Marriage now would spoil everything for Gay. She was at the very edge of success, headed straight for stardom. Of course, Flora told the coffee pot, she didn’t want to deny Gay the normal happiness of love and marriage and babies—in good time. But not now, not just at this critical moment !
FLORA raised the shade high, letting in a stabbing floor of eastern sunlight, cut into ribbons by the topmost stems and leaves of a tall bamboo clump beside the house.
Ignoring such news of the nation and the world as lay spread over the front page of the paper, she turned to the movie section, the gossip column. Flora’s coffee cooled unnoticed as she consumed the column:
“. . . Gloria Farnum the new violet-eyed find at the Classic lot has been assigned to the top role, her first, in ‘Fingers Crossed’ . . . Maida Bonnell is honeymooning at Palm Springs with her handsome hubby Don de Coppett after their private-plane elopement to Las Vegas in the romantic hours of Saturday night ...”
Marriage! Flora shuddered. No, Gay mustn’t make that mistake. Not now. And not ever to that jealous dominating Paul Hyland with his scorn of Hollywood success and picture money. He’d grown up out here too close to the movies to appreciate them. That was his trouble. If only he’d stayed back East in that engineering school, worked there, anything instead of coming back to the coast with a lot of silly plans for solving housing problems.
Flora drank her coffee grimly, laid aside the paper, turned to a fan magazine she hadn’t quite finished last night. She continued the article about Connie Webb’s new San Fernando Valley estate, which had cost Connie and her director husband a quarter of a million dollars. Flora, moving her lips as she read, not missing a single adjective, saw herself hostess in just such a setting, aunt and guardian of that lovely young star, Gay Orvis.
Sounds of quarrelling rising through the thin floor from 2-H, directly below, reminded Flora of the cheap confinement of her present home, filled her again with the burning resolve to escape with her niece from such quarters forever. Indigenous
to California, the semi-tropics, these places didn’t even exist in the East; cramped imitation Spanish interiors, fancy deceptive exteriors, arched doorways, prickly tan plaster that took the skin off your elbow if you didn’t pay strict heed to corners, walls brown with moisture stains of rain that seeped right through from the outside.
Flora and Gay had lived in smaller holes than the present one, when they first came to Los Angeles. That was when Flora had that hostess job in the tearoom earning enough for diction and elocution lessons for Gay. Then they moved up a bit to the same sort of place, but in Hollywood this time, a little better address, a somewhat fancier facade. Flora gave bridge lessons to dull young women, to pay for Gay’s wardrobes, for riding, tennis instruction, swimming.
Once they escaped to the mountains. That was the summer Flora was a country-club stewardess; Gay rose from just plain five-dollar-a-day extra to dress extra at seven-fifty. The next winter she had her first speaking lines in a Superior picture. They cut most of it, but Gay was there, speaking just the same, Flora praying someone would notice her. Lou Brock one of the big-ten agents, did. He had moved dozens of girls not half as attractive as Gay
out of obscurity to stardom. Of course Lou was not what he had once been; he had lost many of his biggest names. But discounting his instincts to gamble away everything including the shirt on his back, Lou still had a genius for fitting the right actor into the right part.
Lou had moved Gay up to bit parts almost immediately, and within six months had her working with fair regularity in small speaking roles. Finally, not three years from the day they first met him, he’d actually got her a supporting role, not on contract, not a lead, but Flora knew—the Big Opportunity.
Daintily she dunked a butterfly roll in her second cup of coffee and immersed herself once again in that happy dream world of the movie magazine. Again she was the charming hostess strolling down the flagstone path between tall lilies, toward the turquoise swimming pool. She was about to join the gay group of young people in swim suits who laughed and splashed and sipped cool drinks when the buzzer above her head sounded raspingly.
Three rings! Flora came back to her cramped dinette with a start. She hurried to the door, opened it quietly and pattered down the two flights to the telephone booth in the first floor front hall.
With long-standing caution she avoided those two worn places on the stairs where the carpet might catch her toes. If she were Mrs. Spencer and running this Spencer Arms—of all the pretentious names to give to a walk-up of cubicles—if she were Mrs. Spencer whose greatest ambition was to fill her house with picture names, she’d spend a little money on new stair carpets. And for that matter on new sheets, pillow slips and blankets. And install a telephone in each apartment so that every passerby in the first-floor hall wouldn’t know all your business when you talked to someone from the booth. But, of course, if Mrs. Spencer did that she couldn’t check up and eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of all her tenants, and how empty the poor woman’s life would be without that !
TTTLORA rushed to the booth wondering who A might be calling at ten a.m. Gay’s hairdresser perhaps, about the regular appointment tomorrow, the fitter at Bullock’s-Wilshire, about Gay’s new town suit? Paul Hyland, perhaps, anxious to tell Gay about those new beach cottages he was building this side of Malibu, that were going to revolutionize California housing ... so he said! Breathless, Flora lifted the receiver. Lou Brock answered. Flora quivered with excitement as she recognized the agent’s jovial basso profundo, “Hello Auntie, old dear. How you doing this morning?”
“I’m fine.” Flora wished Lou would get down to business. She hated his vulgar small talk, which stripped her of all dignity. He had no manners. But what could one expect? They said he’d had three wives, all of whom he’d abused.
“What’s new this morning, Mr. Brock?” Her tone was hopeful. Gay had finished hellast picture a week ago, and was quite ready for another. She didn’t need to rest long between pictures at her age. Plenty of time to relax later, when she’d reached the heights and could dictate her own terms.
“Get out your iron and press up that old checked gingham of yours,” Lou said. “We’re stepping out tonight, Auntie. Say, how’s our little Gay?”
“She’s fine. Still asleep.” Flora wished he would spare her the ponderous kidding and get to the point. She asked without interest, “What’s tonight?”
“Nothing—nothing much. Just thought you and Gay and I might push around together and catch a picture somewhere. Maybe at the Avon in Westwood. How’s it hit you?”
“We saw the show there last night.” Flora wondered if Lou were sober. If he’d begun to drink heavily by ten a.m. he was no man to handle the affairs of Gay Orvis.
“Listen, Auntie, my pet. You never saw this show. Nobody has. And let me say you’d better come a-running even if you get there without your upper plate. Know what I mean?”
Flora Kimball controlled herself with an effort, asked icily, “What is the picture, Lou?”
It dawned on her suddenly. But not this soon! Only a week since Gay did her last scene. Could he mean—was it possible—had Classic Pictures chosen the Avon in Westwood Village for — She could scarcely make herself articulate.
“It wouldn’t be—” Her voice sounded strange even to herself. “I don’t suppose— The words choked her.
“You guessed it, Auntie! Sneak preview of ‘Marriage Minded’ at the Avon tonight. So pull yourself together to meet one of life’s big moments. Because Gardner tells me our Gay steals the show. Hello! Hello! Have you fainted?”
She had almost done just that. For days Flora had been going around with a lumpy sense of suspense in her chest. Any evening at some outlying theatre “Marriage Minded” would be previewed, sneaked probably. She had prayed to hear about it. “Marriage Minded” was the first movie in which Gay had a part too big to be torn to shreds by a ruthless cutter.
The picture had no stars, all the players unknowns, so Gay had as good a chance as any of them. Better ! Flora’s throat was dry; she couldn’t swallow. Lou said Gay had stolen the picture. He exaggerated of course, agent flattery. But even if Gay had stolen no more than a single scene, it would be—it could be—the start of anything, everything. It could be the success, the release from the long struggle that had taken all of Flora’s energies, all her strength, ambitions for the past eighteen years. It could be escape forever from all the Spencer Arms that had ever been built to house human woes !
“I’m—all right, Mr. Brock. It’s just that—Oh, I’ve been thinking of this so much . . .” Her voice broke.
“Now, now, old darling, save them tears for the payoff tonight. I got a hunch we’ll be weeping for joy, the three of us. Keep Gay in bed, make her rest so she’ll look her sweetest. There’ll be some big studio people in the audience. This is important even if it is only a B picture. And listen. Don’t tell the whole village out there what’s coming off— I mean the picture title. Under your hat, see? I’ll pick you up around ten. ’By, Auntie.”
Flora leaned weakly against the wall of the booth for a moment, pulling herself together. She wiped her eyes. Surely Lou Brock hadn’t just made it all up, about how good Gay was in the picture. He couldn’t be that cruel. Flora wished her heart would stop pounding. Tonight !
“It’s tonight,” she whispered softly and this time she wasn’t talking to the telephone-booth walls or to Lou Brock, but to her sister, Mavis, who had died eighteen years ago.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for, Mavis. This is what we both wanted—your triumph, darling.” She shed a tear for that sister, living again in Gay, the sister who ran away with a young actor for a stage career, and wasn’t able to win the smallest success before death came to them both, swiftly, in a motor accident.
Flora, the old maid even then, took the baby Gay, from her dying young sister, promised that the lovely child would fulfill her mother’s dream and—“It’s come, Mavis—it’s here. Our baby's a star ! Tonight we’ll know—for sure !”
SHE HAD almost reached the stairs when the door of A-l opened. Mrs. Spencer, crisp in a sprigged morning dress and white shoes, her deep russet hair a newly-done cap of curls, stepped into the hall. Apparently startled by the sight of Flora, Mrs. Spencer said, “Oh—good morning, Miss Kimball! Another beautiful sunny day!” Mrs. Spencer smiled easily and steadily. The corners of her mouth had learned a permanent upward twist. She had a large framed motto in her small sitting room, a relic of her late-lamented husband. “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” A smile, she knew, always helped, whether in securing good tenants or in breaking the news to delinquents that they would have to pay or move out.
Flora knew she was no surprise to Mrs. Spencer, and that the landlady had listened in on the entire conversation before hanging up her own receiver. But it didn’t matter. Mrs. Spencer was a harmless likable soul. Cheap, of course, and pretentious. That hair of hers was simply awful. She’d dyed it so much it had no color left—dark, rusty, unearthly. It was crisp and brittle from too many permanents.
Her clothes were garish, absolutely wrong, and heaven knows where she got those hats she wore.
Flora pulled her dressing gown closer about her stiff little body. “Well, I didn’t want to get caught looking like this. You’re always so neat, Mrs. Spencer. I think I’ll run up and hide.”
“Oh, you look just fine, you got so much style, such chic.” Mrs. Spencer’s admiration was genuine.
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“I wish I could wear clothes the way you do. I guess you learned that in those hostess jobs. You got to have style for those kind of jobs. Maybe you’re just born with it though.” Mrs. Spencer sighed. “You look like you just had some good news.” Mrs. Spencer, her lips a pretty upturned crescent, waited expectantly to hear what she already knew.
Flora thought, “Why not tell her? She’s bursting with it. All of them should know Gay’s triumph; everyone in the house.” She wanted to shout from the roof tops that Gay had arrived, she’d escaped from that mob of nameless extras and bit players and was headed for the heights. She wouldn’t have to sit waiting long hours for the telephone to ring, or in endless lines at Central Casting when the call for a pretty young thing with brown eyes and blond hair went out.
“Well, I did have good news. I’m not supposed to tell, but—well, you know the picture Gay just finished for Classic?”
“ ‘Marriage Minded?’ You don’t mean—” Mrs. Spencer put an authentic gasp in her breathless soprano voice.
“ ‘Marriage Minded.’ And tonight.”
“Oh, Miss Kimball! Not at the Avon?”
“At the Avon! After the second show. Gay doesn’t know it herself yet. Now you mustn’t tell anyone, Mrs. Spencer. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“I could just see it shining out of your eyes, Miss Kimball. And let me tell you, you deserve it. All you’ve done for that girl, just given your life to her, that’s what. You’ve been more than a real mother. I’ve often said to you, Miss Kimball, with your talents and your style, why you ought to be doing things for yourself. My, I wish I had half your smartness. Nothing could keep me here tied down to this apartment house. I don’t make a nickel on it, you know, hard to make ends meet really.”
Today, Flora had no time to listen to Mrs. Spencer’s oft-repeated flattery. After all, the aunt of the star, Gay Orvis shouldn’t let herself become too intimate with this middleclass Iowa widow, no matter how goodhearted and well meaning she might be.
“I’ve got so much to do between now and tonight. I know you’ll excuse me.” Flora began that first flight of stairs.
But Mrs. Spencer couldn’t let her go. “I do hope you’ll let me tell just the Forrests. May I? They’ve been living for the preview of this picture. He wrote a couple of scenes in it, campus scenes, I think. He might get a credit line. You know what that means to them. They’ve had such hard luck.”
Flora felt generous, the fairy godmother. After all she could afford to be magnanimous; she could share her great happiness.
“Of course, tell them. Are you sure it was ‘Marriage Minded’ he worked on? Tell them it comes on about ten-thirty.”
Mrs. Spencer watching Flora
move briskly but cautiously up the steps, mentally resolved to do something about that stair carpet. She felt happy in spite of the heavy weight of the Spencer Arms on her landlady shoulders. This picture might—just might—prove a real step forward for Gay Orvis. Even for Neal Forrest. And if it did, that would make two more names, even if small ones of picture people living in her house. Small names often become big names. But even if they weren’t like Ginger Rogers and Daryl Zanuck, they were still good to use in writing to old friends back in Iowa, to let them know how close she was to the glamorous world of the movies. They mustn’t think she scrimped and counted pennies and had a hard time each quarter meeting the mortgage interest.
They must know rather that her roof sheltered picture actresses, the very ones they saw on the screen in Oreville, picture writers who put together the dialogue they sat there and listened to—paid to hear. She, Rhoda Spencer, talked with such people every day just as familiarly as you’d talk to anyone, loaned them a cocktail tray or borrowed an egg. A letter to Mattie Wright began to form in her mind as she turned back toward her own door . . .
“. . . Gay Orvis, one of my ‘girls’ as I call the little group of starlets who have apartments in the Spencer Arms, came flying into my shady little patio here a moment ago to beg her aunt Rhoda . . . that’s what they all call me! ... to join her party of studio people . . . their names would make you gasp ... on a week-end cruise down the Coast in Gay’s brand new sea-going yacht, and I thought of you, Mattie, wishing that you ...”
A curse interrupted her pleasant mental composition. Sam McCabe of 3-B had tripped descending the stairs on that bad third step and taken a header. Fortunately he had only three steps to fall and he was probably tight again, but Rhoda mentally chided herself, “I must get new stair carpet the minute the rent cheques are in next month, even if I have to put off the leaky gutters, and the plaster down in 5-C for another month. One of the tenants might really hurt himself badly on that step and sue!”
Sam McCabe looked up from the floor at her feet and Mrs. Spencer was ready for the tirade she deserved because of the torn stair carpet. But Sam could never bawl anyone out; much less a nervous grinning landlady whose showy facade always reminded him of the ornate front of the Spencer Arms itself.
“I’m really going to get that new stair carpet, Mr. McCabe,” she said apologetically. “I hope you’re not hurt.”
Sam hoisted his huge frame onto the imitation-stone bench in the vestibule foyer, and she noted with amazement that although he smelled of whisky as usual, he was far from drunk.
“Perfectly all right, my dear Rhoda. We need something to slow
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us down out here. Pace much too fast. If you come down those stairs at a decent clip, they never throw you. Almost never. You’re looking very beautiful today, my dear.” He loved seeing the corners of her mouth push even farther upward as his flattery took effect. Anyone who tried so hard to be young and beautiful as La Spencer did, deserved a little praise.
"You’re a josher, Mr. McCabe.”
"Josher nothing. I mean every word of it. You’re the best looking package for your age I ever saw. And I mean forty.”
Rhoda Spencer flushed with pleasure. At fifty-one, she enjoyed being taken for forty. It was payment for all those hours she spent in the beauty parlor, baking in permanent machines, having mud packs and massages and manicures. And she liked having him call her Rhoda, although she always addressed him as Mr. McCabe.
He was in a way more of a celebrity than anyone in the house. He had had his hand in dozens of movies, credit lines in some, not a word of credit in others. He was sort of a play-doctor, Rhoda knew, the man they called in when everyone else had had a whack at a picture and failed. Sam went in and straightened it out. Once he’d earned a steady salary in four figures at the best companies, but he quit it all suddenly for free lancing. Free lancing and drinking. He said a steady job cut into his drinking. And yet he wasn’t really a drunkard. Rhoda couldn’t figure him out. His scorn of success annoyed her. He should have been building up the prestige of the Spencer Arms, but of course she was lucky he lived here at all. It was just sentiment on his part. He could afford a much better place, but she’d been his landlady years ago when he first came to Hollywood and he really liked her and the way she ran a place.
Rhoda wanted to push Sam McCabe, prod him into being the successful writer he should have been. But she could have pushed a mule easier than the six foot two inches of complacent humanity that sat on the stone bench before her.
"Did I hear something about a sneak preview as I came floating down?” Sam asked.
"You were listening.”
"Since when is it a crime to listen in this building? When you and that girl friend of yours up in 3-H get started, there’s nothing else to do. Where is it—the Avon? ‘Marriage Minded?’ ”
"Yes, it is and you’re not to tell. Mr. Brock told Miss Kimball and she told me nobody’s to know it’s being sneaked tonight.”
“Well, I won’t tell any but my closest friends, and I’m going back up to tell a couple of them right now.”
“Sure. He did those campus scenes in it. This is breaking just about right for him. He needs a little build up. I feel sorry for him.”
“And for his wife!” Mrs. Spencer didn’t say it unkindly. She was happy to have Sam McCabe take an interest in that pathetic couple from the Middle West. The professor was having such bad luck with pic-
tures. "I bet you helped him on this job.”
"No, I didn’t. I just slipped him the tip. That’s all. You can’t coach Neal. He has to do it his way. He’s got spunk, but heaven knows, you need more than that to break into this place.”
Sam shook his shaggy head, and Rhoda thought he must have been a very handsome man in his youth, one of those big broad-shouldered men you want to lean up against and cry out your troubles to. Funny he’d never married, out here in Hollywood where a man thought nothing of two or three wives. She wondered if he really thought she was only forty and how much younger he actually was than herself.
Lots of times a man is very happy with a woman older than himself; she’d certainly make him give up his drinking and take a contract job again at a studio. But he was no more than forty; he’d been just a boy when they first met. And she was after all fifty-one, not forty-one, and he hadn’t asked her to marry him. Nobody that she cared anything about had, since Harold Spencer died of Bright’s disease fifteen years ago back in Iowa, and left her $15,000 worth of insurance and a defunct patent-medicine business.
"Go on up and tell ’em, Mr. McCabe,” she said. "Tell—her.”
SAM McCABE promised himself a nip of whisky as soon as he reached the second-floor level. He pulled a bottle from his pocket as he topped the flight of stairs and was about to tip it up when he saw, in mental image, Sarah Forrest at the moment she had said to him two days before, "Sam, why do you drink so much?”
There was something in the way she had said it, a quality of voice and intonation, as if she really cared whether he drank much or little or nothing. There was something in her face, maybe he imagined it, that seemed to show concern over what he did with his life. She had clear calm eyes set far apart. They looked at you with such steady sincerity out of a face that had the kind of beauty they used to rave about in ancient Greece. Yes, those goddesses of old had looked like Sarah Forrest. It was something more than beauty. There was no name for it, dignity, human magnificence, human gloriousness. Words couldn’t say it. Sarah Forrest made the so-called Hollywood beauties look like cloak models.
Sam McCabe puffed a moment on the second floor, his hand clasping the neck of the bottle. Then he let it go, proud of the effort, the slight sacrifice. He wished Sarah Forrest might know he’d done this small thing for her, that it meant something to him to be as she wished him to be. Then he snorted with laughter. All in his imagination! She didn’t give a hoot one way or the other. She had simply the human interest any person would have in seeing another creature drink too much. Repulsion perhaps, certainly not concern, far from love.
“McCabe,” he told himself, as he checked his speed on the third flight, "cut out thinking about another man’s wife who looks on you only as
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an alcoholic ex-glamour boy, drinking himself picturesquely to death. An object of pity perhaps. That’s the way she thinks of you. And that’s the only way she’d think of you even if she weren’t another man’s wife. Snap out of it, McCabe. You’re not the type.”
On the third-floor landing Sam cursed the steep stairs, and the Spencer Arms and himself for chasing up to an attic to bring glad tidings to a small town ex-professor and his beautiful wife. You couldn’t really help a man like Forrest. Too much pride in him; too licked and too defiant. Touchy as an open nerve. He should have stayed in his little Middle-Western cow college, become a big duck in a small puddle, instead of getting Hollywood pretensions. But he had to prove he was worthy of that lovely girl he’d married. He couldn’t let her drag along on an instructor’s meagre salary. Sam could understand the instinct.
The fourth flight was too much for Sam’s heart, already impaired by excessive use of liquor. He knew a man of forty odd ought to think about his blood pressure, and do something about dizzy spells when he got up too suddenly out of his bed in the morning. But he couldn’t do things easily, or placidly or right. His whole life had been a series of jerks, out of bad situations, into worse. His curse was a tremendous facility with his pen, a claustrophobic horror of being chained down, to a desk, a salary, a wife.
Back in the old days when he was first a well-paid gag man, later a topnotch script writer, movie girls had come and gone in his life. He’d been lean and muscular then, a fine figure of a man. He could have married two or three of the most famous women in Hollywood. But always at the last moment he cut loose. He’d dealt too long in movie emotions to be fooled by Love and Passion and Tenderness.
That last flight was a killer. How did anyone live up here where the California sun beat down on the roof, soaking through hot tile?
“You’re a sap, McCabe,” he thought, “wearing yourself out, chasing something that doesn’t exist. You’re forgetting. Cynics are born not made. They can’t be changed.”
Even in kindergarten nobody could kid McCabe. He knew the answers. They didn’t catch him weaving fancy mats and building villages out of sand. No percentage in it, or anything else.
The way he lived now—was best. He panted—leaned against that top railing not wanting to burst in on the professor and his wife in this apoplectic state—much best—no worries —short jobs—sure money—they had to call in old Doc McCabe. He knew that—he had the touch—the divine spark of writing the tripe the producers wanted. He sold them back their own plots, carefully weeding out the new things that frightened them, bringing boy and girl safely into the clinch.
He knocked softly on the undersized door that led into the Forrest’s cubicle. The heat was ghastly up here under the roof. What demon mind conceived this Spencer Arms, this forerunner of eternal damnation?
I If Kimball kicked about the size of
her kitchen, she should be forced to live with her niece in this unbarredjail cell. It had two chairs, a table, a bed, a gas plate in a kitchenette no bigger than a closet. Hideous place for Sarah.
Sometimes at night when he thought of her up here, stifling, worried, suffering, he couldn’t stand it. He wanted to tear the flimsy Spencer Arms apart and rescue her.
Who could write in a furnace like this? Something had to be done for them—and soon ! You can stand just so much of this sort of thing, seven months they’d been here, with only the one break that he, Sam, had got for them.
He knocked on the slightly-opened door. “There’s a preview at the Avon—tonight—”
He stopped. Neal wasn’t there. But at the table in the dinette sat Sarah, her head buried in her arms, her shoulders shaking with deepdrawn sobs.
GAY ORVIS had been awakened by the sound of the buzzer that summoned her aunt Flora to the telephone. She opened her eyes, then closed them again, pretending to be asleep until Flora had shut the apartment door behind her. Poor dear, tip-toeing around, always trying to spare Gay this and that, always pushing, manoeuvring, yes and sacrificing, to make a picture actress out of Gay. Never letting the thought leave her mind—pictures— stardom—money—fame! A big white house, a turquoise swimming pool, full-length portraits in the fan magazines, a salary the newspapers printed at income-tax time!
It meant so much to aunt Flora. And nothing to Gay. Less than nothing. She’d been forced to spend her entire conscious life in the narrow confining routine of becoming a picture actress, trained to follow the elusive rabbit of stardom like a whippet. The result was she hated it, longed for the natural freedom of home where you woke up, lived, went to bed at night without studio demands—without bright lights and make-up and hairdressing parlors, and push and hurry, or worse yet, interminable waiting and heartbreak.
It was a pity aunt Flora didn’t use her amazing energy and talentsfor her own good. She could have gone far as a hotel hostess or store executive or personnel manager. And she’d have been much happier than she was wrapped up so tightly in Gay’s life. Heaven knows, Gay, caught in the warm embrace of her aunt’s passionate ambitions, would have preferred this.
The older woman’s domination terrified her at times, seemed hideously unreal. Gay’s daily living prayer was to escape from it, and this prayer would soon be realized. Paul had come back to her, Paul^ whom she’d loved ever since they went to high school together.
Gay tried to recapture the wonderful dream the buzzer had interrupted. She and Paul were walking through tall dune grass along an ocean shore. Paul was going to show her the house they would live in when they were married. But somehow they walked and walked and the house didn’t come into sight. It was just over the next big sand dune, Paul
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said, and Gay started to run, wanting so much to see it, when the buzzer cut in on the dream.
And now she couldn’t get the dream back. She had been longing to reach the house, to go all through it, top to bottom, looking at everything, opening doors and drawers, finding surprise closets and hidden ironing boards. It would be a perfect house. Paul had built it himself; it was bound to be perfect. She needed a home so much, sick of living in cramped rooms with nothing to show for your rent money but a pretentious address.
Paul. She hoped Flora wouldn’t come back soon, so she could keep on thinking about Paul. Gay raised herself on one elbow to look at the little clock on the desk, then fell back on the pillow. Ten-thirty. Paul would have been at work for two hours or more by now. She wondered what he was doing right this instant. Perhaps standing in the sunlight, his shirt open at the neck, his sleeves rolled up, holding a big scroll of blueprint in his strong hard hands, looking from the print to the upper studding of another new house, calling to his foreman to check on that gable height.
Perhaps he was watching his men pour concrete for a carriage yard where the cars of famous movie people would come and go on festive nights. Perhaps he was sitting on a pile of lumber, drinking a coke and thinking of her. He said he thought of her a thousand times a day.
But that was nothing to the number of times she thought of him. All the while he was at engineering school back East, she’d thought of him, when aunt Flora hoped she’d forgotten. And when he came back with his dreams of little homes, when she saw him again, she knew there could never be anyone else for her -ever.
She smiled, remembering the number of times she’d blown up in her lines while they were shooting “Marriage Minded” because Paul crept into her thoughts. Once she’d spoken his name instead of the name of the boy she was supposed to love in the picture.
John Gardner, working so hard to make a good picture of it, must have thought her a dope most of the time. Yet he had been wonderfully patient, rehearsing scenes again and again when she hadn’t been able to get the feel of the lines and action. If she’d done any kind of job at all in the picture, the credit was all John’s.
For his sake, because he was the nicest, most helpful director in the world, and so very new in Hollywood, Gay hoped the picture wouldn’t be a flop. And for poor Flora’s sake, Gay hoped she hadn’t been too completely rotten in the part. She’d done her best to put across the foolish thing. The sad part about this business was that you never knew till the final picture appeared, cut and strung together, whether you’d been good, passable, or simply terrible. There was no way of knowing this while the picture was being shot in little disjointed scenes that bore no apparent relation to one another.
Paul would go with her to the opening as he had before when she’d appeared in a picture, and he’d
growl, “Drivel! Mush! How can you do it?”
And then she’d realize he hadn’t even followed the picture, but had been sitting there watching her face in the shadowy darkness, his eyes tender and glowing. And squeezing her hand he’d whisper, “You’re the sweetest thing in the world! You’re too good for all this stuff.”
Darling, darling Paul. Only about three hours now until she’d see him again. He’s said he could get to her early in the afternoon. They would drive northward along the coast highway to where he was putting up fifteen new beach houses, not the usual cheap shacks but houses full of beauty and meaning for the people who would live in them. She and Paul would sit on the sand and watch the sunset across the Pacific, and he’d tell her of his dreams for building decent homes for people with little money, homes that would give their occupants respect and assurance and happiness.
Aunt Flora said he was hipped on housing; that he’d never make money the way he was going, but ought to get his hand into some of the real profits, build stars’ homes, the big money. At the end of everything aunt Flora always saw the Big Money. Gay shared Paul’s vision and loved him for it.
THE door flew open. Flora burst into the room like a small hurricane. Gay frowned instinctively.
“You look shot out of a gun ! What is it, Aunt Flora?” Gay swung her feet to the floor. The frown relaxed and she smiled at her little dynamo aunt, who stood there looking so comical.
“You’re as flushed and flustered as if you’d just been kissed. I bet you met Sam McCabe on the stairs!” “Gay!” Flora panted, couldn’t proceed. “Gay!” She began again, put a hand on her chest as if to quiet the tumult. “Gay—tonight—it’s tonight—at the—oh, Gay.” She sank helpless into a chair.
Gay reached for her stockings, started to pull them on. “Flora, in heaven’s name, what’s tonight? Not the end of the world I hope?”
Flora struggled for control, sat up, managed to speak consecutive words. “Tonight at the Avon, ‘Marriage Minded’ is previewed. A sneak, but Mr. Brock called up to tell us.” Her hands fidgeted with excitement; her eyes behind thick glasses grew blurry with emotion.
Gay paused in her dressing. “How can that be? We just did the final scene last week?”
“They must have rushed it through. Brock says they do that with B pictures sometimes. They’re in a hurry to get it out and make some money. Anyway, it’s after the second show. Gay, do you realize what this means—”
Gay shrugged her shoulders, avoiding Flora’s tense state.
“It’s the beginning, the real beginning for you—Brock says—”
“Calm yourself, Auntie, it’s everybody’s picture. There wasn’t any star.”
Suddenly Flora burst into tears. Gay hugged her impulsively, pulled her down on the rumpled bed, tried to calm her.
“I’m all right now,” Flora said. “It’s just that we’ve worked so long
and maybe this is the turning point; Lou says you steal the picture. John Gardner told him so. He saw the rushes. He couldn’t be fooling—” Flora’s sudden terror was too funny. Gay laughed. “Nobody could be that mean,” Flora continued.
“He just wants to make us feel good. John’s been very nice; I hope the picture goes for his sake.”
She thought it would be strange, doing a good job in a picture to which she’d been indifferent; maybe John had pulled it out of her; John was going far as a director. For a moment she glowed a little with pleasure and anticipation; maybe they were right. Maybe the picture would transcend its B rating, put the new Classic Pictures Company on the map. Maybe John’s dream of its being a “natural” had come true.
“I want you to wear the gold lamé tonight,” Flora said, bustling toward the closet, now in complete control of herself.
Her tone annoyed Gay. “Not tonight,” she said, but Flora didn’t even hear her.
Flora fetched the dress out of the closet, carefully swathed in its glazed envelope. “It makes your hair look like honey and your eyes—”
“Glow like smoldering stars,” Gay finished for her. “Flora, you see too many movies. You’re getting to talk like them.”
“All right, laugh at your old auntie. But this is what you should wear. It’s the most becoming thing you own, exactly the color of your hair. It brings out your best points.
“Brock said lots of studio people will be there. They’re watching Gardner, because it’s his first big job and pretty important even if it is just a B. My, I’m glad we got you this.” She thought of the weeks she’d had to work in that hot Los Angeles department store a year ago, when Gay needed just such a gown badly as a “dress extra,” and they couldn’t scrimp it out of their meagre earnings.
Gay said, “Too bad it’s tonight, Auntie, because I can’t make it. Got a date.”
Flora’s jaw dropped. She let the gold dress sag toward the floor. Out of her mouth came the incredulous words. “You—can’t—make —it?”
“Date,” Gay said. “I’ve had it for days.”
“Oh, Gay! You don’t mean—” “But I do mean. Paul and 1 are going up the shore where he has one of the new cottages finished. And after we go through that we’ll swim at Santa Monica. And then have dinner somewhere and in the evening—”
“Gay—no! You mustn’t! This is important, more important than any—” She stopped, unable to find words for her distress. She ended hopefully, “Oh, you’re fooling.” “Flora, I’m not fooling. Look, if I’m any good in this thing, it’s going to keep. I’ll be just as good when it’s booked as when it’s previewed. No changing me now. So what’s the difference when I see it?”
“Gay!” It was coming now, Flora’s grim manner, her measured words. She stood as she had so many times, directly in front of her niece, only now the niece was taller than herself.
“You will have to break your date
with Paul. You’ve seen him or talked to him almost every day since he’s been back. I have accepted this engagement for you, with Brock. He’s trying to get Gardner to go with us. It means a great deal to all of them. Mrs. Spencer will be there, the Forrests—you’re being very heedless and selfish, not like you, Gay, to let a little date spoil the pleasure of these people. Besides all that, it’s most important for you to be at the sneak preview of your own picture!”
AY SMOOTHED over the rattly X clanking double bed, shoved it up into its closet, transforming the bedroom into a living room. She kept her face averted from Flora. Someday she’d break out too, answer back word for word, end the spell Flora held over her, tear herself away from the cloying dominance, made iron strong by love and duty, by death-bed promises and all such unfair things.
. “You’ll have to break your date with Paul !” Flora’s voice trembled.
Gay wheeled around, faced her aunt. “Have to?” Her lips quivered. She was more beautiful than ever, as she stood furious, ready to hurt, straining at the chains of duty Flora had welded so tightly about her. She didn’t look like a quiet blond angel at this moment; her brown eyes flashed fire; her cheeks were flushed, her chin determined as Flora’s own, thrust forward.
“Flora, I’m twenty-one years old now, and have been for three weeks.
I own myself. I can do as I please, love whom I please, go where I please.
I don’t have to break my date with Paul. We’ve both looked forward to a real day and evening together, all the while I’ve been making this picture. He’s been in San Francisco for a week, just got back last night. This is the first really free moment we’ve had in ages. You know it. He’s coming for me soon and we’re going out together. Not you—not all the sneak previews in the world can stop us!” She was a little frightened watching her aunt’s stern face grow slack.
She’d done it at last, Gay thought, met fire with fire. She wasn’t a baby any more, no longer the docile child delight of directors. They would have to realize, all of them, that she had a mind of her own; that she wasn’t just something you wound up like a toy, or pulled with strings.
But of course, aunt Flora had one unfailing weapon. Gay’s eyes grew fearful as she watched her aunt’s mood change, her manner soften. She should have been the actress, not Gay. Flora could outdo Bernhardt when she tried.
“I am asking so little of you, Gay,” Flora began tenderly. “Just wait till you see yourself in this picture. Then I won’t have to argue and talk to convince you where your real future lies. You’ll know it yourself—you’ll see what I have in the little glimpses of you during the years.
“Gay, I’m not asking your pity or compassion for the years I’ve spent teaching you, training you, giving you the best of everything, going without myself to further your interest. You know all that. I was willing to make the sacrifices; they were nothing compared with my love for you.”
Gay, listening to her aunt, felt the
blood pounding against her temples, felt the inevitable defeat. She was lost. No matter what happened about the preview, who won this little argument, it would always be the same. Always the sacrifice, the love and this last scene. It was coming now; Gay knew the build-up for it by heart. It was as sure fire as the American flag, the Star Spangled Banner.
“Gay,” Flora’s lips quivered just enough. “Pm not really asking these things for either of us but for—you know—darling. If you could have seen your beautiful young mother lying there, crushed and dying, after the accident. She wanted only one thing—‘give my baby the chance I didn’t have, train her to be what I missed being. Do this for me, Flora.’ I promised. I held her in my arms as she died.”
Duse couldn’t have done it better, Gay thought, but it’s all true. It all happened. I was that baby, and I’ve grown as she wished me to, and I may be a star just as she hoped. But it means nothing to me. Somehow, somewhere, Flora slipped up in the training. With all her drive and force she failed to awaken the proper spark of desire. Gay heard herself saying docilely, as she had at the end of so many scenes identically like this one: “You win, dear.”
She patted her aunt’s arm and made a smile come to her lips. “The way you always do, and always will, I suppose. I’ll go, and maybe have to duck the tomatoes. After all, Auntie, you’re the only one that’s ever thought I’m a genius. You can buy my blonde type out here a dime a dozen, you know that; only because I’m yours, you think I’m different. I have that—oh, well, I’ll telephone Paul, only—”
“He won’t mind postponing it just one night.” Flora pressed her advantage. “Couldn’t he join our party?” she added magnanimously.
“He wouldn’t—not the way he feels about the movies and me. And he knows you can’t stand him. We were going to duck all the movie stuff tonight, get as far away from it as possible.”
“Well, I do think he’s a very selfish, possessive—”
“Don’t bother, Auntie, I’m going with you—tonight.” She didn’t add what ran through her mind, the scene when she would tell Flora once and for all she was through with acting and going to be Paul’s wife. That she didn’t crave the half-million-dollar fan-magazine movie home Flora did, but a beach cottage, lying out there in the sunshine waiting for her, and a home in the canyon for the winter months, a home Paul would build just for her, as he’d fashioned the beach cottage just for her.
Wearily she picked up the telephone receiver to tell Paul their reunion would have to be postponed again, as it had been so often by hairdressers, sudden studio calls, fittings, late hours of work.
Maybe, she thought with faint hope, he’ll come with us. Maybe he won’t mind since I do have a real part in this picture.
That little tingle of excitement ran through her again. She might be good. In a cast of unknowns she had as good a chance of making an individual hit as anyone. What would it feel like to make a hit with
an audience, to hear them applaud you spontaneously, to read in Hollywood Variety, “At the Avon in Westwood last night Classic sneaked a B under the title ‘Marriage Minded’ that may long be remembered as the picture in which a certain gal by the name of—”
Through the telephone the voice
from the beach construction office said Paul Hyland had left for L.A. a half hour before. He had to clear a carload of shingles at the freight yard. No, there was no way of reaching him. He’d taken the day off and wouldn’t be back. He mentioned to someone that he had a heavy date.
To be Continued