FICTION

The Beard

PATTERSON DIAL June 15 1946
FICTION

The Beard

PATTERSON DIAL June 15 1946

The Beard

PATTERSON DIAL

IT SEEMED to Judy that from the moment of her birth the Beard had dominated her life. It was her first memory: when she was very small and, reaching up, put her hands on it, grandpop had slapped them away, admonishing in his peppery high voice:

“Bad girl! Mustn’t touch!”

The beard was Art; it was Industry; it was Money in the Bank. It was the highest-priced beard working extra in Hollywood.

Long before Judy was born the Beard had acquired fame. It had come into its own in Biblical pictures. Like that time—Judy had heard grandpop tell it until she knew it by heart—when they’d been shooting that epic on the sands outside Santa Maria: In some of them scenes they’d used wind machines whilst the children of Israel was atoilin’ acrost the sands toward the Red Sea. Well, most them actors had on false muffs and when the wind hit ’em, them beards was tore from their faces and went skitterin’ acrost the sands like so many tumbleweeds. But not the Tansy whiskers! Tansy had kept on his way and hadn’t lost a hair.

To hear grandpop talk, you’d think Mr. de Mille would’ve never got where he was without the Beard. As for them furriners, they’d never have reached first base with their high society drawing-room comedies. Grandpop loved them next best to the Biblical». They gave glamour to the Beard, brushed and brilliantined to a silky fall that glistened ambassadoriaily in the background of plots involving tiaras and lorgnettes and demitasses. What grandpop didn’t like was them Westerns, the old reliables where he had to chaw tobacco and spit.. It spoiled the Beard. For his Art he had to do it; but he didn’t like it.

Judy didn’t like Westerns either. She hated them. She hated all pictures. But above all, she hated being the third generation of a dynasty founded on whiskers. When she didn’t work she was a reproach to the family. When she did, chances were that she’d disgrace them by being bawled out for looking back at the camera when it looked at her.

This unfortunate obseasion dated from the day of her film debut at the age of two. Cherubic in ruffled rompers, she had toddled through a rehearsal, making her mom’s heart swell with pride in

Judy was an extra, Ben a blacksmith who didn't like actors. It may seem strange, but their romance hung by a whisker

the thought that here indeed was a true Tansy.

Until Judy took note of the camera. From then on nobody could divert her appalled gaze from what seemed to her to be a hobgoblin with one all-seeing eye just watching and waiting to pounce on her if she was a bad girl. It had scared her so that suddenly she had been a very bad girl, and her mom had carried her from the set before the director could suggest it. She had ridden home in disgrace, with a studio bath towel draped around her like a toga.

In time she lost her fear of the camera, but never the horrible fascination it held for her. So long as it could keep its baleful eye on her she had to keep her eyes on it. And invariably grandpop would hear of her shameful behavior, and would explode in all directions like a cluster of small firecrackers.

Considering how rare were her calls from Central Casting—and then merely for mob stuff at $5.50 a day—grandpop thought it only fair that Judy should act as valet to the Beard. At least twice a week she washed it in the finest soap. Daily she brushed it and combed it. And at night she rolled it up and put it to bed in a blue silk bag with strings that tied back of grandpop’s ears. This chore sometimes worked a hardship, for it meant she couldn’t stay out on a date past grandpop’s bedtime unless he gave her his permission. He never would give his permission unless she went out with someone “of the profession,” as the family put it.

Ansel was grandpop’s idea of the perfect mate for her. Ansel, big, blond and muscle-bound, was as inevitable as symbolism in the background of the prestige pictures—those arty epics where the fog rolls into every scene and there are ships and poor baffled sailors observing how like the sea is to a

woman; or factories with poor baffled laborers saying machinery is like a woman; or farm lands with poor baffled farmers coming to the same conclusion about the soil.

But Ansel was better than staying home evenings with grandpop’s friends, the aged or ageing eminents of extradom, who dropped by to gossip of the day’s doings on the sets. At least Ansel was young, even though his idea of giving a girl a swell time was to take her to a picture he’d worked in and nudge her with a complacent elbow every time there was a brief glimpse of his muscles, usually displayed down to his middle and dripping oil to look like the sweat of honest but exploited toil.

Ansel, Judy assumed, loved her, though he never mentioned it. Sometimes she wondered if he loved her for herself or because she was who she was. Nothing, she thought in her bitter moments, but the granddaughter of the Beard.

And then she met young Ben Griscombe, and stopped wondering about Ansel one way or the other. Ben worked all over the county, driving to ranches and the studios in a truck outfitted with small forge, anvil, coal keg and tools, and narrow boxes holding horseshoes, hung outside on each side of his travelling smithy.

When Judy first saw young Ben he was driving down the hill into the little valley used for all points west of the Rockies by an independent company whose specialty was cowboy quickies. Judy, with a sunbonnet mercifully serving as blinders to keep her eyes from the camera, was earning her $5.50 by riding in a buckboard amid a throng of sturdy settlers fleeing from the villians rootin’-tootin’ after them while the hero and his band came rootin’tootin’ after the villians.

The star’s horse had thrown a shoe, and being a star in its own right, the horse refused to be shod by anyone but Ben.

After the prop man had distributed lunch boxes, Judy strolled away from her fellow extras, and, sitting down beneath an oak tree, watched Ben lift out anvil and forge and set up shop on the ground beside his truck. He directed gruffly affectionate sounds toward the horse, who replied with a doting look and his best camera angle—three-quarter face with a lock of blond mane hanging over one eye.

Judy never spoke to strangers, particularly young men strangers, but she had to say to Ben:

“He likes you, doesn’t he?”

Ben never talked to actors of any age, male or female. He only nodded.

“He’s a wonderful actor too,” Judy said, taking off her sunbonnet to let the wind refresh her crumpled hair.

“Acting!” Ben snorted. “’Taint normal.” Because Judy was very pretty, sitting there in her pink gingham with the wind ruffling her hair, Ben amended hastily: “Maybe it’s all right for a girl.”

“No, it isn’t!” Flabbergasted, Judy heard herself adding, “I think it’s a miserable way to earn a living.”

“Then why do you do it?” Ben asked, wondering why he should be so pleased that she agreed with him.

“I have to live, don’t I?” she enquired, surprised at how easy it was to go on talking to him.

Covertly, but minutely, Judy regarded him. He was big—as big as Ansel. But his muscles— she could see a lot of them, as his upper garment was the scanty remains of an undershirt—his muscles seemed more practical. Not arty like a symbol of Labor with a capital L.

Judy put a hard-boiled egg back in the box. She didn’t want any lunch, not with her stomach quivering deliciously the way it was. It seemed to shiver in rhythm with the ringing, clinking sounds of Ben’s work.

Then the assistant director had to start bawling the actors back to the set, and when Judy started for her place in the buckboard she didn’t see the gopher hole. She stepped into it and fell in a pink gingham heap on the ground. Before she could move, Ben was lifting her to her feet and asking if she were hurt. She shook her head. He said what he’d been thinking about for the last half hour:

“Do you ever just go out for a ride, or anything like that?”

She lowered eyes that never before had known the first flick of a lash about coquetry. He went on:

“Tomorrow night about eight?”

“Day after tomorrow would be better,” she suggested. That was Saturday, when grandpop always stayed up late, and she wouldn’t have to be home early to put the Beard to bed.

When she returned to the Tansy bungalow she found grandpop with her mom in the kitchen.

“I’m agoin’ to Arizony on location,” he told Judy, his small wiry body

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The Beard

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fairly quivering with importance. “Leavin’ Satiday mornin’ for three weeks.” He strutted on bowlegs out to the old icebox on the back porch where he kept his cold drinks.

“Threewhole weeks!” Judy gasped. She had to hug her mom.

“My,” mom murmured, “don’t you feel good this evening!”

“I feel,” Judy said and stopped. How could she describe a feeling that was like the look of a bird soaring in the blue sky? Her mom understood why when young Ben Griscombe arrived on Saturday night. Even though Ben wasn’t of the profession, if he could make her girl feel the way Judy was looking up at him, he must be all right. Judy’s dad felt the same way about it. It was wonderful. Judy clasped her hands tightly together because it was so wonderful.

This was the way people not in pictures—the kind she called ‘‘private people”—behaved. This must be the beginning of love. Even with grandpop gone for three weeks it would be too short a while ! Her eyes fled from Ben’s and sought her mom and dad sitting side by side on the sofa and being nice to Ben because she wanted them to be. Never had they seemed so much her own.

Ben was wondering why such nice people would want to work in such a screwy business as pictures. But he didn’t think he ought to ask about it. All he said was:

“Seems funny to see folks like you connected with pictures.”

It was a compliment. Just about the highest he could pay.

ONE DAY he took Judy to meet his father, when the sun was slanting low across San Fernando Valley. The old man was nice. He, too, was private people. And he was no actor—he did not have to be to convince Judy that he liked her.

The strangest feelings excited the serene, overwhelmed Judy. It had happened. She didn’t have to wonder any longer if it would. This was love, she realized; a deep, all-embracing sort of love. She loved Ben. She loved Ben’s old man and this solid comfortable land of theirs. She sent up a little prayer to Heaven that before grandpop’s return Ben could, and would, learn to love her enough to overlook grandpop — even at grandpop’s worst.

But Judy’s precious weeks dwinled from three to less than two and she couldn’t tell yet whether or not Ben had learned to love her at all. He could match Ansel any day when it came to keeping his mouth shut about his true feelings toward her. The most reassuring thing he did was to hate Ansel on sight. One night Ansel dropped in right after Ben arrived. He didn’t stay long. He had an early studio call and he had to have his 10 hours’ sleep. The door had barely closed behind him before Ben was demanding:

“Who’s that guy?”

Judy leaped at the glorious suspicion that Ben was jealous. “Just a friend,” she said, and tried to look mysterious. “He works extra in pictures.”

“Oh!” Ben dismissed Ansel. “An actor!”

Her little dream of fanning his jealousy—if it were jealousy—into a flattering flame collapsed. She ought to have known that he’d never admit being jealous of an actor. But Judy hugged to her uneasy heart the fact that Ben hadn’t liked Ansel even before he knew what Ansel was. It was a little something to put against Ben’s silence.

Judy didn’t know what to think, what to say. Time raced on until finally a telegram arrived from grandpop: he’d be home the next morning, but would report to the studio for interior shots. A call came from Central Casting for Judy to report at the same studio. This meant working with grandpop. Judy dreaded the thought, but she accepted the call. He’d be tickled to find her working.

She was among the first of the hundreds of extras to arrive on the set. It was a big set, the interior of a log stockade, cluttered with shattered props to denote a siege. Grandpop’s arrival was typical. Grandly—few stars would have dared to be so grand —he marched to the sound stage, escorted by a group of his cronies. They all had beards, but none so white, so luxuriant and long as the Tansy whiskers. They weren’t in his class and they knew it. Like a guard of honor they followed the strutting small figure in tattered blue jeans and calico shirt.

“Hello, grandpop!” Judy stepped respectfully across his path.

“Why, grandda’ter!” Beaming, he gave her a prickly peck on the chin. “How’s your mom and your dad?” He didn’t wait for her to answer but began to tell her how the whole trip had been but another personal triumph. “Three lines of dialogue,” he crowed, “and two close-ups!”

“My! my!” Judy murmured. It was hard to be as proud of grandpop as he was of himself.

The morning was spent in getting a long shot of the stockade’s brave defenders, fighting off the presumable Indians creeping down the presumable hills outside. Judy and a few others would appear later, rushing forth from the log hut in a corner of the stockade. Grandpop was giving his all to a character he had perfected over a period of 20 years—that goodhearted, tobacco-spitting, old codger ashootin’ and acussin’ and aswiggin’ from a whisky jug.

It was midafternoon before Judy’s moment was reached. Outside, presumable gunfire heralded the rescuing cavalry, who had been photographed already on location. Grandpop, as he lifted the whisky jug to his lips, was knocked over by an arrow right through the beard—arrow to be supplied in a later closer view. He died with an exquisite blending of comedy and pathos.

Keyed up by a resolve to be the perfect extra and please grandpop, who was alive and watching by now, Judy was at least adequate during rehearsals. Then she caught a glimpse of that baleful one-eyed camera glaring at her between the star and the comic. It was to her left. She moved to the right with the crowd, but her head, as if pulled by

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invisible wires, turned to the left, watching the camera watching her.

The director was nice about it. After the take he sent his assistant over to warn her quietly not to do that again.

But she did—just a quick little look to make sure she wasn’t looking.

“Hold it! The director’s voice rang out. He flung his script to the floor and turned to his assistant.

“Take her away!” he ordered through clenched teeth, and pointed at Judy. His voice rose to a bellow that echoed in the rafters. “And never let her on this lot till she’s camera broke!”

Everybody tittered. Except Grandpop Tansy. Livid beneath his beard, paralysed with humiliation, he remained contorted on the floor in his artistic attitude of death while Judy stumbled from the set. Tears blinding her she ran toward the door far down at the end of the stage, her own humiliation lost in a deeper woe.

AT HOME she found her mom and - dad. She poured out to them what had happened, ending with a choked: “And now I can’t see Ben here at home. Grandpop claims to own it, and he bosses all of us like he owned us too.”

“Honey,” her mom smoothed Judy’s hair back from her brow, “why don’t you just run away and marry Ben?”

“It’d be all right with us,” her dád said gently.

“Marry him!” Judy despaired. “I don’t know if he even loves me!”

“Oh, dear!” her mom said and looked at her dad. Each gave the other a stern glance, a command to stand up to grandpop when he returned. Hours later he bounced into the house, bowlegs prancing and shrill mutterings emanating from the beard.

“Now you hadn’t ought to be harsh with Judy,” her mom begged.

“Calm yourself, pop,” her dad said stoutly. “Calm yourself.”

Grandpop calmed himself. He withdrew into the lofty silence of a smoldering volcano. This was even more fearful than his usual fireworks, and everybody moved warily, waiting for the explosion.

After supper Judy crept out to the small back porch and sat down on the steps. She sighed. Behind her in the corner the old icebox seemed to sigh too as the floorboards beneath it cracked and sagged. “Those boards!” she thought dully, always damp because nobody ever remembered to empty the pan under the box before it overflowed. And grandpop wouldn’t give it up even though they’d had an electric one in the kitchen for years. Even down to iceboxes it was grandpop who ran their world.

Inside, the silence was broken by the slam of the front door, and the family’s voices went social as they always did with callers. Judy recognized Mr. Lasher’s voice answering them. Mr. Lasher was grandpop’s particular friend. He was supported by a rat who worked in pictures. Once it had been a duck; and before that a skunk. But it was a rat now.

Mr. Lasker had encountered this rat one night down on the wharves at San Pedro harbor. The rat, a big young one, was cordial in manner and

quite as intelligent as Mr. Lasher, who caught it and carried it home. He named it Luther. After a few weeks’ training Luther turned out to be a natural-born trouper. And now Mr. Lasher’s business was taking care of Luther while Luther took care of Mr. Lasher. As a rule Mr. Lasher brought Luther calling with him, and Judy could imagine Luther in there now, sleek and grey, sitting on Mr. Lasher’s lap and watching everybody with his beady bright eyes.

A few minutes later Judy heard a high vixenish giggle and she knew that Mrs. Digdale had dropped in. Mrs. Digdale was one of the Old Guard. When she took her teeth out she could make her chin and nose meet. Her iron-grey hair, hanging in tatters around that fearful mask, was something to see. Her face was one in a million and it supported Mrs. Digdale.

Close on Mrs. Digdale’s heels Ansel arrived. The rumbling choked sound of what he called laughter blurted forth as grandpop, evidently rising above his tragedy, greeted him with a sprightly sally.

Burying her face in her crossed arms, Judy waited tensely for grandpop to stop fascinating Ansel long enough to send for her. She didn’t hear Ben when he came around the corner of the house. She felt his hand on her shoulder, and he whispered:

“Your mom saw me from the window. She came out and told me to ease around this way.”

Startled, Judy lifted her head and was about to beg him to go. But the look on his face stopped her. She had never seen him in such agitation. He was a long while getting out a word, then he blurted: “Do you think a guy and a girl have to know each other a long time before they can be sure they’re in love?” Her heart was suddenly beating in her throat as he continued, not waiting for her answer, “I thought so till I met you.” He scowled down at his hands. “But now it seems like I can’t wait to know how you feel about me.”

She couldn’t speak. All she could do was to tumble into his lap as his arms went around her. That was how grandpop found them when he came out.

“Well, really!” he gasped, and snapped on the porch light.

Judy jumped from Ben’s lap, saying wildly: “This is grandpop. This is Ben Griscombe, and we’re engaged.”

“Please to meet you, I’m sure.” Ben jumped to his feet and held out his hand. Grandpop ignored it as he demanded:

“And what stoodio do you work

at?”

“I’m a blacksmith,” Ben began.

“Blacksmith!” The word blasted from the Tansy whiskers as mom ran out of the door, crying to Judy: “I tried to stop him!” Dad was at her heels, imploring: “Pop, calm yourself!”

“Ca’m myself!” grandpop screeched like a steam whistle. “I come home to find my own flesh and blood aidin’ and abettin’ the name o’ Tansy to keep company with a blacksmith!”

“Now just a minute,” Ben said,

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“you can’t talk like that to me.” “Young feller,” grandpop drew himself up to his full height, which brought the top of his head to Ben’s shoulder, “are you aware of to who you are aspeakin’ to?”

“Grandpop, please!” Judy whispered, and her mom and dad put in their mild protests.

“This is my house,” Grandpop blazed at them all. “Them that don’t care for the way I behave in it can leave. All of ’em.” He bent backward to glare up into Ben’s smoldering blue gaze. “As for your engagin’ yourself to my grandda’ter, I have other plans for her.” He turned toward the icebox in the corner. “She’s as good as a bespoke a’ready by somebody in her own profession. Ansel is the fitten man to come acourtin’ her.” To show them all that he was finished with them, he said, like a monarch dismissing a recalcitrant minority: “And now I think I’ll have me a drink.”

As he removed a bottle opener from a hook on the wall, he was shaking with such a rage that the opener leaped from his fingers, hit the floor, and bounced under the icebox.

“Dang drat it! Dang bust it!” he sputtered, and, getting down on all fours, peered under the box. He was so mad that he forgot to be careful of the Beard. Spying the bottle opener gleaming far back against the wall, he reached for it without first lifting the Beard away. Most of it went under the box with his hand.

THERE WAS that sighing sound again as the floorboards beneath the box cracked and sagged under Grandpop’s extra weight. There was a groan as the wet rotten wood gave way and the big heavy box went crashing down through the porch to the ground below.

Grandpop jerked his hand out just intime. But a good half of the Tansy whiskers were swept down with the box and caught between it and the broken floor. Caught close to his chin; and as he yanked his head back a yowl of pain escaped him. He eased down from his crouching position to lie prone with his chin against the icebox.

Ansel came out of the house on the run. Judy cringed against her mom, hiding her face from Ben, who was regarding the scene like a man suddenly thrust into an insane asylum.

“Git me out 0’ here!” grandpop howled, his enunciation blurred by his lack of chin room. “Do somethin’ some 0’ ye!”

Judy’s dad tried to shake the box and thus enlarge the hole. The box wouldn’t budge.

Ansel took command and said soothingly. “I’ll just lift the box, Mr. Tansy; and you be ready to pull out real quick.”

But there was no place to get a grip on the box. Ansel tried placing his palms on each side of it and pressing.

“Quite a problem,” he grunted. “You got to both press and lift at the same time.” He crouched his enormous body and pressed and lifted. Nothing happened except to himself. His photogenic but illconditioned muscles rebelled, and pain shot like hot needles down his

back. He let go the box as if it were an adder. “My back!” he explained, “I strained it; and I gotta play a stevedore in a dock fight tomorrow.”

Grandpop, taut to spring away when the box was lifted, collapsed in a torrent of curses, incoherent as the chatter of a maddened monkey. But he made no secret of what had happened to his opinion of Ansel.

A happy grin broke across Ben’s face. “Would you mind if I made a suggestion?” he said loudly. “Why don’t you just get a pair of scissors and cut his whiskers off?”

Their unanimous gasp of horror was lost in an outraged screech from grandpop.

“Well, he can’t spend the rest of his life like that, can he?” Ben asked.

“The rest of my life?” Grandpop’s voice weakened and wavered in sudden terror. Yet Tansy without the Beard wasn’t Tansy. He would be nothing but a little old man like hundreds, thousands, in Hollywood.

Ben looked down into the one frightened eye glaring from the mussed mass of white whiskers that seemed to froth up from the floor. He couldn’t feel exactly sorry for the little old guy—not after seeing the way he treated Judy and her mom and dad. But, after all, he was a very old guy and Judy’s grandpop.

“Lemme have a try at that box,” Ben said abruptly.

Judy came out of hiding in her mom’s shoulder, not daring to believe that this meant he loved her enough to overlook grandpop—and at the worst he’d ever been. Ben stepped up on the porch and had a tentative try at the box. “It might be done,” he conceded and removed his coat.

“Boy,” grandpop quavered up at him, “if you git me out from here you kin write your own ticket.”

“You know what that’ll be,” Ben said, his eyes seeking Judy, who gave him the look of a waif snatched from the brink of oblivion.

“Git goin’, boy,” grandpop besought him. “And write your own ticket!”

Ben stooped again to the box. His shirt cut into his arms as his muscles flexed. He yanked the shirt off. Bare to the waist, he stood more superbly Herculean than Ansel ever was, even when posed in a fog-bound long shot.

Judy gasped softly and shivered close against her mom. She had once recited Mr. Longfellow’s poem about the Village Blacksmith—now it was skittering all jumbled and confused through her mind.

Ben planted his feet before the box. He bent at knee and hip, and put his hands on the sides of the box, his fingers spread wide. His back arched. His thighs were stone, straining the cloth of his trousers. Pressing and hoisting, his great arms knotted.

“Ready?” he said through clenched teeth, and grandpop tensed to spring away. Slowly, slowly Ben’s body began to straighten, and the box, held firm in the vise of his hands, began to ascend. Hs flung back his head, the sweat beading on his forehead. Then in one lightning-quick upthrust he heaved the box above the floor.

Grandpop scuttled backward like a crab, scrambling the Beard into his

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arm. He was free before Ben’s hands, strained beyond endurance, let the box go crashing back into the hole. Dizzily Ben turned to him, gasping:

“Okay?”

But grandpop was no longer there. He had fainted. Limp as a little rag man, he lay huddled and entangled in the Tansy whiskers.

Nobody but Judy’s mom knew whether to thank Ben first, or first attend to grandpop. Mom took command. Ansel was rubbing his back with ostentatious anxiety.

“Carry him into the house,” said mom, and nudged Judy’s dad. “You help.”

When they were gone, grandpop

dangling between them, mom said to Ben, who was calmly putting on his shirt:

“I love you too.”

As he disappeared into the kitchen Ben ducked his head after her, his exhausted hands fumbling at the buttons of his shirt.

“Let me help,” Judy said. Adoring, she reached up to a button heaving with his big chest. A line from Mr. Longfellow was playing tag in her mind:

“The smith—”

Ben caught her close, his arms crushing her against him.

Ecstatically gulping for breath, she gasped :

“A mighty man was he!”