Hollywood spins a web of fate from a roll of film for a professor’s wife and a burlesque queen, a "movie doctor" and a bankrupt agent
MILDRED GILMAN SEYMOUR WINSLOW
“Sneak preview of ‘Marriage Minded’ at the Avon tonight—” The magic news created a stir of excitement throughout Westwood Village, Hollywood suburb, particularly when it reached
FLORA KIMBALL, who had scrimped and worked long years for this moment, grooming her beautiful young niece,
GAY ORVIS, for stardom. Aunt Flora had promised Gay’s mother, on her deathbed, that she would give Gay the career the mother had been denied. If “Marriage Minded” was a Int, Gay would be hailed as a new find. Y et Gay herself—who had been started on the road to Hollywood, willy-nilly, at the age of three—was strangely indifferent to talk of wealth and fame. She wanted to marry
PAUL HYLAND, young Hollywood-born architect who scorned all Hollywood’s “phony glitter,” typified by the cheaply-pretentious facade of the Spencer Arms, where Gay and her aunt lived and sweltered. He wanted to build sensible low-priced homes where normal people—such as he and Gay— could enjoy life. So there was a terrible quarrel when Aunt Flora insisted Gay break her date with Paul to attend the preview. Gay told her that studio life didn’t thrill her at all—almost told her she was through with pictures—but finally she gave in.
MRS. RHODA SPENCER, who owned Spencer Arms, was all aflutter about the evening’s big event. Noiv she could write a letter to the friends she had left behind in Iowa, full of grandiose stories about her glamorous tenant who had found fame. She passed along word of the preview to
SAM McCABE, who made lots of money out of the movies as a free lance “movie doctor,” but spent too much of it on drink. The studios were always calling Sam in to patch up new pictures which they were afraid would flop.
(Second of Six Parts)
IF YOU watched from the dinette window at about ten-thirty in the morning, Sarah Forrest had discovered, you could see the postman turn the corner and start up the block on which the Spencer Arms faced. Then, three minutes later, he would be unlocking the row of letter boxes in the foyer. If you hurried down you could get your mail before he locked them up again. Then you’d have a fair chance of rushing back upstairs before Mrs. Spencer popped out, beamed a good morning, and looked at what you carried.
If you held big envelopes, she knew manuscripts had been returned; if you held small she thought there might be a cheque. Either was awful; the thought of a cheque might make her press for back rent, might strain her lenient feeling of friendliness for fellow Iowans to the breaking point. Mrs. Spencer needed the money; she had been kind and patient. That made the Forrests’ remissness all the harder for Sarah to bear.
Seven months ago, when they had rented apartment 5-B at the Spencer Arms, Sarah felt, each morning, a stir of excitement and expectation as she flew down those many steps to meet the postman. But for months now, she had dreaded his arrival.
Only once had the postman brought a cheque, from an insurance company, after Neal had cashed in one of his two small policies. And the postman,
as the weeks went by, had handed her so many big envelopes with returned manuscripts in them that now he scarcely paused to read the address on them.
More than once as she climbed back to the top of the house carrying two or three big envelopes, she had paused on various floors at the little iron doors marked “Incinerator,” where you threw things in and they were consumed. That was never because she considered any manuscript of Neal’s worthless, rather to spare herself the heart-rending sight of Neal’s tragic face when he first realized that more rejected work was being returned.
The postman was late this morning. Sarah made work for herself that would keep her in the kitchendinette, glad of the lateness. It would delay just so much longer Neal’s daily disappointment. Also it allowed her to stay longer in the tiny room, polishing and repolishing the thick glassware, the five-andten china with which Mrs. Spencer furnished the place. Anything to let Neal have the living roombedroom to himself as long as possible. Who could tell? He might, at this very minute, be working up a picture original that would sell, bring in thousands.
If they should suddenly get thousands she would buy so many, many things. First new socks and underwear and ties and shirts for Neal. She’d drag him to Desmonds and make him buy six new suits. And then—Sarah cut the vision short. It was folly to let yourself dream this way. The sharp crazy contrast of wealth and poverty in this town made her do it, either fabulous thousands a week for those who had arrived, or for people like Neal and herself —nothing. Dreams didn’t help. She knew they would never come true.
Neal wasn’t a picture writer, and never would be. He could write a brilliant thesis on the meaning of Shakespeare’s poetry, on the theory and technique of creative writing. That was his life. If only he could see that, admit it, go back to it, instead of continuing the hopeless struggle out here.
SARAH was lucky in catching the postman just before he unlocked the boxes. Mrs. Spencer always heard his key in the lock. So Sarah was able to reach the second floor before the landlady bustled out into the hall.
Breathless, Sarah hesitated before the fifth floor apartment door, unable to face Neal with the big envelope she carried. This was the story he’d banked so much on, the one he felt sure was a natural for pictures, the one they couldn’t refuse. He’d worked days and nights on it, without food or rest. And here it was in her hands, just like the others.
Neal looked up from the table toward her, his gaunt face expectant, in spite of himself. The faint look of hope changed to grey defeat as he saw what she brought. She couldn’t look at him, nor had she a word of comfort.
Neal tore open the envelope, then, without removing what was inside, tossed it onto a pile of similar envelopes that littered one side of the table.
“Well?” He struggled so hard for casualness, the corners of his mouth quivered. “That’s that.” He took up his pencil again as if to push ahead with the writing he’d been at since seven that morning. With one hand he shielded his face from Sarah’s
eyes and bent over his work. But the pencil did not move.
Sarah bent down and laid an arm across his shoulders. She kissed the spot where the lightbrown hair had started to thin at the top of his head. It had thinned more rapidly in the seven months they had been in Hollywood than in the previous eight years of their marriage. She took the pencil from his hand and laid it on the table. “Neal, let’s talk. Let’s make a new plan for you.” For a moment, he didn’t lift his head. Then he turned to her with a movement of weariness and defeat. But his face bore a stubborn determination that frightened her. His dark eyes in their hollow sockets were fighting eyes. He had that dreadful blind courage of the weak, that inability to stop hurling himself against a blank wall.
“I know what you’re going to say, Sarah.” His professor’s voice was slow, modulated, as though he addressed a recalcitrant class, a group he pitied rather than censured. “There is no use saying it, dear. I’m going to lick this thing. I’m going to stay with it until they come and ask me to work for them, ask me to—and at my own price. They say a man can succeed at anything, if he wills it hard enough. I’ve willed this. I’m only thirty-three, Sarah, a young man. I can’t admit defeat.”
“Neal, please listen.” His grim seriousness frightened her. He was like a slow-moving indomitable object, progressing steadily, steadily toward his doom. Nothing could stop him, nothing in the world.
“We could go back,” she said. “You can get your job back, it would be easy. They’ve never been able to replace you. You were wrong about me, dear, I wasn’t tired of being an instructor’s wife, I didn’t resent moving in what you called a—”
“A restricted circle,” he supplied the words for her. “A squirrel cage. I couldn’t let you do that— not you.” His eyes told his love for her, as they had every day, ever minute since he married her.
“I’m going to give you the life you deserve, Sarah. I must do it. Or have no more respect for myself so long as I live. I couldn’t let you grow old skimping, half starving, living on campus gossip, turning into ‘the professor’s wife.’ I couldn’t!”
She held his head against her bosom as she would that of a sick feverish child, a child beyond reason, smoothed his forehead with her soft hand, soothingly. He seized the hand and kissed it, and she thought, “I could never hurt him, not as long as we live, never, never. But it’s no longer love I feel for him. It’s pity now. Once it was love, but no more—”
“Neal,” she said quietly. “I ran into Feldman on Hollywood Boulevard the other day. He still wants me to model evening gowns for him. He says I have just the right classical figure. Couldn’t I, just till we get started?”
She knew his answer before he spoke it, a silent head shake. He closed his eyes, so the request must have hurt him more than usual.
“Did Spencer nudge you for the rent again this morning?”
“No, it isn’t that, Neal. It’s just—well, it’s silly for us to live cooped up here, eating'canned soup, when I could go out and with very little effort, earn us some money. It would help tide us over, dear, make it easier for you. And I’d be out of the way so you could work better.”
“That would be the end.” His thin mouth set itself in a grim line. “My wife modelling evening gowns for a Hollywood dress shop. Imagine it ! -Cheap nobodies ordering you around, eyeing you like a window dummy. Men watching you—” He turned to her, drew her as she stood over him, into the circle of his thin arms. “Ah, Sarah—Sarah, why can’t I earn some money at this filthy racket. Why isn’t my stuff like the rest they buy? I taught people how to write for so many years. Why can’t I do it myself now, when I want to so badly?”
“You’re too good for them,” she soothed, as she
had so many many times. “You shouldn’t try to do something so far beneath your capacities. You’re a brilliant man, a PhD., your monographs on Shakespeare have been read and accepted by scholars as authoritative.
“Oh, what good does that do me out here? Shakespeare, the greatest dramatist of all time he could have written for the movies. He did in fact. Why can’t I? Why, why, Sarah?”
“You’ll do it,” she said. It always came back to this finally, Sarah filling him with false hope, expressing a belief in him that no longer existed, trying to make him feel a love that was merely maternal anguish now.
“It’ll come all of a sudden. And I won’t take the store job. We’ll be all right, because now you’ve done some picture work and been paid for it. Think of that. And when ‘Marriage Minded’ is released and running and everyone asks who did those grand campus sequences, why then things will begin.” Sarah asked forgiveness of herself, speaking her belief in things she no longer believed, putting forth a hope and confidence she no longer felt.
NEAL stood up. But he wasn’t renewed as he had been the other times by her words, “One little job,” he said slowly. “Only week’s work, thanks to Sam McCabe. And that only because ‘Marriage Minded’ had some campus sequences and I’d hung around a campus, as an English prof. Of such fool things are the movies made.”
He picked up his hat. The gesture was pathetic, just as the shapeless felt hat itself
was. Everything about him spoke pathos, his brave futile contempt of life, his inability to turn back and capitulata
“My morning is shot. I need air—or something. I’m going to push around a little.” Like a lost child, she thought, standing there, not knowing whether to go outside or stay in the room. Like a child with soft hair, and soft hands and a boyish face, that was ageing prematurely. All the strength she had once loved gone out of him. Overgrown. His long arms hanging out of his coat sleeves. Too terribly thin; even the baggy tweed coat didn’t hide the hollow curve of his chest. Pathetic. Too pathetic!
She reached out to him impulsively as if the gesture might give him strength or comfort in his loneliness. But he walked on slowly toward the door.
“You’re the most wonderful person in the world, Sarah. You’re very, very sweet. You deserve a much better fate than marrying me. Much better! I’ve never been able to tell you how much I love you. Always remember that! Will you?”
His dark eyes were too tense. She tried to smile her assurance as he went out into the hall.
For a moment Sarah stood in the centre of the room gazing at the open apartment door. She would leave it that way and perhaps get a draft of air through the hot room. Out of long habit she went to the kitchen-dinette and retidied its already tidy shelves.
Neal. Neal. Neal. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. She had loved him eight years ago when he was her handsome English instructor. The girls envied her when he invited her to the Senior Dance. She was filled to the brim with happiness. And when he spoke his love and asked her to be his wife, the world was heaven to her. She walked on air. It was hero worship, respect; he was the most brilliant man in the world, a born leader among the faculty members, destined for great heights.
And then they were married, and the days faded one into the next. The circle of petty college affairs closed in on them.
He must have sensed her disillusionment in him. Anyway, out of a clear sky seven months* ago, he handed in his resignation and announced his intention to cash in on some of his. own knowledge of writing. It had always been his theory that the teacher of writing could write, that the master could apply his own logic and rules and mathematical precision to himself. So here they were more hopelessly tied together than they had been back in Iowa; the squirrel cage of their lives narrowed down to this horrible atticiNow they kept going only on trumped-up hopes.
What had been a mild habitual poverty in the Middle West, common to all faculty members, was terrible here in Hollywood, sharply contrasted with the fortunes and luridly advertised pleasures of those at the top.
A sudden weakness overcame her.
Neal. Neal. He tried so hard. He did it all for her who could never love him again. She felt miserably guilty, sank into one of the stiff painted chairs, buried her head in her arms.
Soothing tears of pity wet her cheeks, not just pity for Neal this time, but for herself who was caught with him.
SAM McCABE’S hoarse, genial vqjce suddenly filled the Forrest apartment
“There’s a preview at the—” As Sarah lifted her streaming face Sam stood in the doorway staring at her, his brow distressed, his eyes commiserating. He took a heavy step forward and closed the door behind him.
“Now, now,” he rumbled, looking frightened a^'d ^wkward as if he were guilty.of causing the tears.
“I’m all right, Sam. It's nothing.”
She hoped her smile was as bright as she tried to make it.
“Listen, if it’s money.” His hand was in his pocket, where he kept it for moment, struggling for delicacy.
“Almost all troubles have their origin
in the mere small matter of cash money. Now look—” He was trying hard to be casual as his wallet came out in his huge hand. “A couple hundred smackers at the right time sometimes means all the diff—”
“No,” Sarah said. “No, Sam—please. It isn’t that.”
“All right, take it anyway. Take it for Neal—as a loan. Tell him I’ll insist on full return. I’ll bring suit in sixty days.” He grinned, and she returned the grin warmly, wondering why she wasn’t offended by his offer of money.
The reason was you couldn’t be offended by Sam. He was the nicest, kindest person she and Neal had met in this horrible place. He seemed to know the answers to everything out here. She could talk to him frankly, and know her confidence would be kept. She could share her worry with him, seek his hearty sincere advice. He was as sensitive as a woman behind that huge exterior and that whisky breath.
“Sam, you know Neal’s too proud for that. And I can’t just take it, and deceive him. You have to be so careful, with Neal. Especially now—oh, Sam, he’s terribly upset by everything.”
“Sarah, believe me I know. I’ve nursed so many people through it and sent plenty of them back where they came from and where they belong. Why don’t you just take this for yourself, Sarah? Think of it as a little legacy you never knew was coming. Do that, will you? It’s silly for you to go without when I fiave more than I need—not logical.”
Still she shook her head. “But Sam—I do want you to know what a grand person you are. Nobody else could even offer it without seeming, well, sort of insulting. I, both of us, appreciate all you’ve done —so much.”
Sam still held out the sheaf of bills. “It’ll all go to the distillers if you don’t use it for something better.”
“You use it for something better, Sam.” She looked at him so steadily, right into his eyes. He had to turn away.
“I guess there’s nothing much I can do.” He was genuinely unhappy. At the door he paused. “Oh, almost forgot! What I came here to tell you and Neal was that ‘Marriage Minded’ is being sneaked tonight at the Avon. And I want you both to come to dinner with me and later take in the big event. How does that hit you? We’ll form a claque to applaud Neal’s scenes, put him across bang with the Classic people.”
“ ‘Marriage Minded?’ Tonight, Sam? Oh, thank heaven!”
Sam leaned against the table’s edge, watching
her happiness. Her face lighted up with the good news, her grey eyes glistened.
“You’ll go with me?” He took one of her small hands in his.
“Of course.” She was happy and relaxed now. “Sam, it’s wonderful. I didn’t dream they’d do it so soon. Right now, he needs it so badly. It might be the turning point for him, mightn’t it, Sam? I mean if the scenes are good, if the dialogue is.right. It’ll make all the difference in the world to him to hear his dialogue spoken by real people. Oh, Sam, I haven’t told you how low he’s been feeling. It scares me.”
Sarah looking up saw a new, different Sam McCabe, clear-eyed, watching her alertly. The whisky slackness had left his features, the slouch was gone from his broad shoulders. He must have seen her admiration for him, must have felt the sudden change in himself. Impulsively he stooped and kissed her. She returned the kiss.
“God bless you!” Sam said, and was gone.
Sarah stood, watching him, astonished at herself, stunned at her uprush of feeling. “But I can’t be in love with him,” she thought. “I can’t be.” Yet, a warm gentle fèeling of peace, transcending all her troubles and worries, slowly enveloped her.
LOU BROCK, late that morning, sat in his Vine Street office, alone. To an onlooker he would have given the illusion of being seated in the centre of a large group of men and women, perfectly barbered, perfectly made-up and coiffured. They beamed and scowled upon him in almost life size from the frames that covered his walls.
Beneath each impressive face was some such inscription as, “To the World’s Best Agent, Lou, from Leila Fortesque,” “To My Old Devil’s Gulch Buddy from Buck Harden,” “To Lou Brock, with a Heartful of Thanks from Sandra.” It was as if the signers had tried to outdo each other in pouring on the appreciation they felt for agent Lou Brock.
Lou sat alone, and he hated to be alone. He shunned solitude; it did awful things to him. One of the things he loved about Hollywood was the ease with which one could keep oneself surrounded by people, night and day; clients and talent buyers, pals and competitors, borrowers and lenders, spongers, job hunters, women looking for jobs, or meals, or only flattery. Bookmakers. Tipsters.
Bookmakers and tipsters. They were the boys who had made a sap out of him. No, that wasn’t fair. He’d made a sap out of himself. Here he was today, probably the biggest dope in Hollywood. One of the best talent agents that ever hung out a shingle in this crazy town, and broke, dead broke. That’s what the horses would do for you. They’d do it every time. And there was no use claiming he’d had to gamble to get the cash to meet three separate alimony payments each month. He could have paid all those women, kept them in luxury, and had money to spare if it hadn’t been for the horses.
Well, yes, and that big crap game they ran in L.A. And now and then one of those lousy gambling ships anchored off Long Beach. But if he hadn’t ever bet a nickel on anything he’d still have Maybelle, his first wife and the sweetest wife a man ever married. And he’d have those two cute little girls of his and Maybelle’s, the prettiest kids west of the Rockies ! Thanks to Maybelle for their looks!
Maybelle. When he thought of her his heart ached, really ached. He never had loved any other woman and never would. But was he living with her in marital bliss as he should have been, loving her so much? No. He was shut out in the cold, allowed only the privilege of paying alimony for Maybelle and the daughters. He could see the kids week ends, when he stayed sober and called before their bedtime, with the nurse there all the tyne.
What kind of life was that, hi3
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Continued from page 22—Starts on page 20
heart eating itself out for Maybelle? But it was all his fault; he had driven her away, knowing that he was doing it, with his gambling. Generously, forgivingly, she had given him plenty of chances. He’d muffed every one. If he’d give up gambling, Maybelle would take him back right now. If he could give it up! Right this minute, sunk as he was, he laid himself a private bet that an ant walking across the window sill would reach the other side quicker than its companion which had started in a dead heat with ant number one, and had no edge on it with regard to weight.
Lou Brock shook himself, suffering from the solitude. A man like Lou should never take time to thij^k, never give his conscience time to get. to work on him. He even,, lofcked different when he was alone; the harsh ready smile that spread over his wide countenance disappeared down to its integral lines; his beady brown eyes set in a puffy face slid gently out of focus. His fat short hands were spread out aimlessly on his desk, clutching nothing; his stubby wide body was taut. By heaven, he thought, snapping himself to attention; by all that’s holy, I’ll make myself quit. This time I mean it. This time it’s going to stick.
From his desk he got out a portrait photograph of Maybelle. In pose and expression it was not different from those other photographs that papered his office wall, a pretty blonde, a little on the plump side, perfection in Lou’s, eyes. Across the bottom, it said in Maybelle’s beloveck round script * which she learned sitting right beside him back in p.s. 143 Brooklyn, “All my love, always—Maybelle.”
Lou Brock braced it solemnly against the lamp standard and raising his right hand, said, “As God is my judge, I will never gamble another penny again in anyway whatsoever.”
HE PUT the picture away quickly.
The sight of her innocent eyes looking at him increased his torture. They’d been in love ever since they were kids together, her dad running the corner news stand under the Elevated tracks, his dad owning a nearby junk shop.
Those other wives of his meant nothing—why he couldn’t even remember their names half the time. The second one lasted less than twenty-four hours. Neither of them filled the empty void Maybelle had left.
He felt better already after his firm resolve. It wasn’t just money he’d sworn off gambling. His biggest losses had been in gambling away contracts with stars and stars-to-be. He’d be a millionaire today if he hadn’t lost his biggest earning clients on cock-eyed bets. Bobby Osborne, Phyllis Ware, and Elise Burnham. Those three alone would have made him wealthy. Right today he’d be able to lay a million dollars at Maybelle’s feet. And even that wouldn’t show her how much he loved her. No, not ten million.
All right, he was through with gambling. Now to start getting some good people on his list again, good
money earners. Sure the town was full of agents. Competition was frightful. But not so many of those agents knew how to bring the promising actors along into the big money the way Lou Brock did. Right now he had a comer. Gay Orvis was going to step into the surtax brackets any day now. He’d start his comeback with her. After tonight she was going to be sure money. Hadn’t John Gardner told him the kid ran away with “Marriage Minded?” John had seen the rushes day by day while they were shooting. After tonight’s preview, if Lou handled things right, he was set. And would he handle them right! He’d sign Gay Orvis up with M.G.M., and at what a price. Or get three or four of the big outfits bidding for her. He’d start his new high-pay list with Gay Orvis.
Through Lou’s mind flitted a bright picture of himself arriving home from the office at the close of a day, in a chauffeur-driven car in front of a great rambling Beverley Hills house. And as he stepped out, the two prettiest little girls in the world ran toward him down the gravel path calling, “Daddy! Daddy!” And behind them, her face sweet with welcome for him, came Maybelle. Yes, he’d make that come true, starting tonight. Gay Orvis, putting Gay Orvis across, that was the first vstep. He reached for the telephone $nd gave a number.
“Classic Pictures,” came the reply.
“Give me John Gardner.” He’d confirm that date for the sneak ‘ preview tonight, make sure Gardner would come along. He couldn’t risk a miss here. If Gay Orvis was going to knock ’em over it was good business for him to be seen not only with Gay but with Gardner. It would give him a standing when it came to bargaining with the big studios. They’d know they had someone to bid against.
“Hello—Gardner speaking.” The voice was gloomy.
“John, this is Lou Brock. How are ya?”
“Not so good. What is it, Lou?”
“But you sound sunk.”
“John, look, it’s nothing about ‘Marriage Minded,’ is it?” Lou’s tone pleaded with him to say no.
“W-e-1-1—maybe we better talk about something else.”
“John, can you meet me? Right away?” Lou was panicky.
“Guess so. But don’t expect any good news.”
“The Beverley Derby, John—in twenty minutes.”
Lou Brock broke into a cold sweat. Now what was going to louse up his hopes and plans? If that Gay Orvis didn’t come through for him in “Marriage Minded,” he’d be dumped into bankruptcy.
“Cutting-room trouble, Lou,” John Gardner said morosely, over a couple of double straight bourbons in the Derby Bar. “They chopped so much footage out of it, the thing will look like a trailer. Smell like one, too.”
Gardner snuffed out a newlylighted cigarette and began another. His thin nervous fingers rotated his glass round and round on the table.
“But you told me it was a smash— that you’d seen it!” Lou Brock’s voice was a wail.
“I saw the daily rushes, that’s all. They were great. I was out on location when the cutting was done. Just got back. And from what they tell me it’s trimmed down to the bone.” He rested his head on his hands and Lou could see the beat of his pulse at the temple between skull and skin.
“Lord, Lou,” he said, “I put everything into that picture, everything I had. I’m going to stand or fall by it.”
“That makes two of us,” Lou said, as if from the grave. “But look, John. No matter how they cut they couldn’t take Gay Orvis out of it. And if she’s in and as good as you say—”
LOU,” John interrupted. “She’s i wonderful.” His lean sensitive face glowed. “She’s a work of art, Lou, and I’ve never said that about any woman before in my life. She’s the rarest thing that ever walked a set in this insane town. No front to her, not an ounce of deception in her whole make-up. She’s refreshing after the little scene grabbers I’ve had to work with. She brought out the rest of the cast, warmed them, gave to them. I can’t describe it, Lou. The girl is great—that’s all!” “Fine,” Lou said, “but does that mean a percentage for me? Can I get Louis B. Mayer bidding against Sam Goldwyn for her?”
“Lou!” John Gardner’s deep-sunk eyes were a smoldering threat. “Don’t take her away from Classic. I mean it.” He switched to persuasiveness. “I’m creating her, Lou. I’m going to make her one of the greatest actresses in the world. But it’ll take time. I know just what to do with her, just how to bring her along. Whatever happens in this particular quickie doesn’t matter at all. That s just the start for Gay, the obscure start. She’ll top them all, the way I’ve got things planned.”
“Maybe,” Lou said distractedly, “maybe whatever happens tonight matters something to me. John, I’m flat. I mean I’m down to my last sixty bucks.”
He looked around cautiously as he spoke. This kind of talk shouldn’t be circulated in the Brown Derby, where Hollywood big shots went to be seen and admired and overheard only when they were boasting.
Lou nodded, lowered his voice. “Mostly it’s the ponies. But I’m off them now, John, off them forever.” “Stick to that. But Lou, don’t bank on anything from ‘Marriage Minded.’ You can bank on Gay Orvis personally, yes. Provided you
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let me direct her. What’s a year? Five years?”
“Too long for me to wait for cash assets. I’ll be on the street in another week.”
Lou Brock felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up. A man he knew only as Freddy put his lips close to Lou’s ear and said, “Frosty Lady in the sixth at Santa Anita. Twentyto-one. Don’t say I never did anything for you.”
Frosty Lady? Lou knew she came from a good stable. Her dam had been Snow Queen. Her sire, Lord Q. Both winners. And as for Freddy, his wife’s brother was jockey.
Gambling—he’d taken a solemn oath against gambling. But what was an agent’s whole life but gambling, on talent, on stories, on public taste? And now here was Gay Orvis in “Marriage Minded,” as big a gamble as the turn of a card. He might lose on Gay. He might win on Frosty Lady.
Any chance was worth taking if it pulled him out of this hole and brought him a step nearer to marrying Maybelle again. A curious picture flitted through his mind; it was Maybelle, a kid back in Brooklyn. She stood there crying because Lou had won a lot of marbles from her young brother. It wasn’t the marbles she was bawling about. Her brother had promised their mother he wouldn’t play for keeps. She thought it was wicked. Lou remembered what he told Maybelle that day, how cocky he felt: “Don’t you see I can’t help playing for keeps. I always win !”
It was an omen! He took it for a sure sign !
“Excuse me, John.” He went to the telephone booth. “Fifty bucks on the nose, Pete,” he told his bookmaker, “Frosty Lady, sixth race.”
MONA DELYS woke up in Apartment 5-D of the Spencer Arms with a hang over, just bad enough to make her not want to wake up at all. But every morning you have to wake up and face the day, providing of course you are still alive. Mona didn’t have to pinch herself to discover she was at least that.
She thought about last night and that horrid party where the men were so vulgar. She’d escaped just in time and with no promises of picture contracts!
She’d like to throw a shoe at that big booming clock on the church tower the other side of Westwood Boulevard, now beating out twelve boiler-factory strokes to mark the hour of noon. Each clanging stroke, as it hit her ears, raged round and round inside her head, racking her with pain.
All right, heaven have mercy !—she was awake in this forsaken attic she called home. Turn off the racket! Coffee ! She had to have coffee—fast ! But that entailed dragging out of bed and making the coffee herself in that three foot square alcove Madame Spencer called a kitchenette in the ads.
Some party! If you could only | tell in advance what kind of people j were going to be at these Hollywood | parties.
Last night! What a crafty, clutching bunch of men. Baboons—that’s what they were! She had escaped just in time. In memory, Mona
rapidly re-ran the film of last night’s party through her mind. Vague snatches appeared — the Beachcomber’s dusky interior — Dave j Chasen’s, which she hated because it was so full of successful people.
She must have been on the Strip too, and that last place might have been Giro’s, or it might just have been a Nutberger stand, for all she remembered. Anyway she’d walked I home, until the police car gave her a j lift along Sunset.
Why did the men all tell you they could get you a job? They all had tremendous influence, to hear them talk. They were big shots. And then before you knew it, the funny business started. And no job at all. Justa horrible hang-over.
A dull flush came over her as she stared aimlessly at the turquoise patch of sky through her window. The heat wavered and burned between her and the brilliant sky.
Why did all these lugs she met jump to the conclusion she wasn’t— well, wasn’t what her mother used j to refer to as a lady?
Through Mona’s aching head went a whole series of banners, one after another, in singsong rhythm.
“Not Mona DeLys — Myrtle Lawler.”
“Not from Ridgefield, Connecticut —from Tenth Avenue, New York City.”
“Not a Little Theatre Actress— a 42nd Street Strip Teaser.”
“Not a Born Red Head—A Beauty Parlor Job.”
“Not Nineteen Years Old — Twenty-Fi—”
Oh, break it up ! Stop it—stop it— stop it! Mona heaved herself painfully to a sitting position. What the devil ! Everybody here in Hollywood was pretending to be something he wasn’t. Well, almost everybody. Even the stars, especially the stars, made up phony pedigrees for themselves. And for a good reason, too, since so many of these big-money babies came up from just nowhere.
Coffee! That was the thing to concentrate on at the moment. She’d make some coffee and start a new day. Anything might happen on a new day.
MONA DELYS had been in Hollywood for almost a year. She hadn’t starved. But that was only because she’d landed in town with two thousand dollars she had earned and saved in New York.
Since coming to Hollywood, she had taken in exactly fifty dollars, which had gone long ago. The two thousand, although she had thought twice before spending each dollar of it, and almost lived on cocktail hors d’oeuvres, had dwindled to less than a hundred.
She was sick of hanging around Central Casting, sick of waiting for Mrs. Spencer’s telephone down in the front hall to ring for her, sick of playing up to people who were always “discovering” her, and “going to help” her.
If she could get out of this phony place, this false-front apartment, even a Tenth Avenue tenement would look swell. Honest, not trying to be something it wasn’t, like the j Spencer Arms. Mona never thought she could hate anything inanimate as much as she hated the Spencer Arms. It did things to her soul, if she
still had one after living out here. She lived only to escape from its clutching embrace, the way the other tenants probably did. It was crumbling and senile, in spite of its youth. Sam McCabe said it had been as new as a bandbox when he first moved into it.
Only a good-natured dope, like Sam, would live in a Spencer Arms from choice. She had to laugh just at the thought of him. Yet, maybe she’d been neglecting a contact here. Maybe Sam was the kind of guy she should cultivate. Once, in a weak miserable moment she had felt like breaking down and telling him all about herself. Shedding a tear or two on that wide manly bosom of his. Plenty had probably been shed there. He was a sucker, an easy mark for anyone who took the trouble to stir up his emotions.
She’d like to tell him, or someone, how at sixteen she came home to the tenement walk-up, tripping over garbage pails, and told her mother she had a job as hat-check girl on Broadway. Mona had to explain carefully what that was, and even so her mother insisted poor Michael get up at three each morning and call for his sister, to bring her safely home.
The money Mona brought in paid the rent, kept the old man in whisky and contented enough so he stopped running out on them.
The floor-show manager needed a girl to fill out his chorus. “Cute face,” he said to Mona. “How are your legs?” She got the job. She learned a dance routine and was given a spot at the end of the line. There was something about the demureness of her face in contrast to her figure that made men notice her.
“Ever think of stripping?” a burlesque man asked her after the final show one night. “I think you could go places in that work. If you catch onto how to put some real tease into it, of course.”
Michael was studying to be a priest. He needed money for tuition and clothes. Mamma needed a lot of teeth pulled and a set of new ones. Mary, Jimmy and Trudie needed separate beds. Pa needed more snake-bite remedy for his sciatica which kept him confined to his easy chair at the front window.
Mona studied every strip act in town and worked up one of her own, just a little better than any of them. She had a Venetian madonna face. Her body and the way she handled it were natural burlesque box office.
Billed as Elicita, she packed them in. For the male customers there was something about watching the disrobing of a girl with a spiritual face and a sinuous figure that beat all the teasers in town. Only her family had no idea that the famous Elicita was their own darling daughter, Myrtle, later to become Mona.
MICHAEL was the one who found out. She would never forget his face that night he waited up for her in the front hall. He’d been away at school for several months; this wasn’t a vacation: his face w^as tragic.
He didn’t act holy or high hat, didn’t bawl her out, just said he’d quit. He couldn’t go on studying for the priesthood with his own sister a stripper, using her lovely innocent
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face as a come-on, her pure body to arouse men’s passions. He didn’t even ask her to quit; his sorrow was
more for her than for himself.
Michael was always like that, even as a young kid. You couldn’t beat him, or get around him. You finally did just what he wanted you to without his even asking you. Michael wanted to be a priest almost as soon as he could talk. She couldn’t ruin the boy’s life; she had a special weakness for this one of her brothers. He’d taken the rap for the family as much as she had. He deserved to be a priest, since that was what he wanted so much to be.
“I’ll quit,” she told him that dawn. “I won’t ever do another strip tease. I’ll change my name. Elicita’s dead! Go on back to school, kid.”
“Your soul is so much more important than your body.” She’d never forget the earnest look of his blue eyes as he said it. He was a handsome kid; he’d give Robert Taylor a run for his money if Hollywood ever saw him. “Because your soul survives and your body doesn’t,” he added.
So Mona removed her body and soul from Forty-Second Street, from Tenth Avenue and New York City, passing up a new contract at two hundred and fifty a week and a future as the highest paid stripper in the business, to come to Hollywood.
She divided her savings with her family and became Mona DeLys on the way to the coast. She left Elicita far behind, as buried as Myrtle Lawler. And it was lonely shedding her old personality, splitting herself in two; not a lady really, no longer a strip-tease queen.
When she felt really badly as she did now, she had to think about
Michael very hard, how much he meant to her, the earnest light of his blue eyes, all the good he would do in the old neighborhood. And she was going to succeed out here or bust, and those movie moguls like the ones she’d met last night might as well find that out now as later.
The only trouble was, in Hollywood she was just one more goodlooking gal trying to crash pictures. Even if she had wanted to say who she was and what she had done, the studios had no use for strippers. What did they want? They didn’t know.
Mona struggled to her feet, creaking the angry floor boards. She drew on a theatrical dressing gown of red and gold. Even with her head bursting, she put the old instinctive seduction into her movements. Coffee. Lots of coffee. She reached for the coffee can on the cupboard shelf of the kitchenette.
Empty! Not a grain left. She should have remembered that. She had used it all up the morning before by perking two consecutive pots of strong coffee.
Well, there was nothing for it but to borrow a cupful. She’d done it before and always . paid it back double. That Mrs. Forrest across the hall was the kind of housekeeper that checked her staples every day, what few staples the poor thing ever had.
Mona discarded the dressing gown, pulled on slacks and a tight jersey that outlined her beautiful figure. She opened her door and started down the hall. At the same moment, Sam McCabe let himself quietly out of the Forrest apartment, without even seeing her. He stood there looking as though he’d just signed the pledge.
To Be Continued