Though I haven't ever been on the screen I was brought up in pictures. Rudolph Valentino came to my fifth birthday party -- or so I was told. I put this down only to indicate that even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.
I was going to write my memoirs once, "The Producer's Daughter," but at eighteen you never quite get around to anything like that. It's just as well -- it would have been as flat as an old column of Lolly Parsons'. My father was in the picture business as another man might be in cotton or steel, and I took it tranquilly. At the worst I accepted Hollywood with the resignation of a ghost assigned to a haunted house. I knew what you were supposed to think about it but I was obstinately unhorrified.
This is easy to say, but harder to make people understand. When I was at Bennington some of the English teachers who pretended an indifference to Hollywood or its products really hated it. Hated it way down deep as a threat to their existence. Even before that, when I was in a convent, a sweet little nun asked me to get her a script of a screen play so she could "teach her class about movie writing" as she had taught them about the essay and the short story. I got the script for her and I suppose she puzzled over it and puzzled over it but it was never mentioned in class and she gave it back to me with an air of offended surprise and not a single comment. That's what I half expect to happen to this story.
You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don't understand. It can be understood too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads. And perhaps the closest a woman can come to the set-up is to try and understand one of those men.
The world from an airplane I knew. Father always had us travel back and forth that way from school and college. After my sister died when I was a junior, I travelled to and fro alone and the journey always made me think of her, made me somewhat solemn and subdued. Sometimes there were picture people I knew on board the plane, and occasionally there was an attractive college boy -- but not often during the Depression. I seldom really fell asleep during the trip, what with thoughts of Eleanor and the sense of that sharp rip between coast and coast -- at least not till we had left those lonely little airports in Tennessee.
This trip was so rough that the passengers divided early into those who turned in right away and those who didn't want to turn in at all. There were two of these latter right across from me and I was pretty sure from their fragmentary conversation that they were from Hollywood -- one of them because he looked like it, a middle-aged Jew who alternately talked with nervous excitement or else crouched as if ready to spring, in a harrowing silence; the other a pale, plain, stocky man of thirty, whom I was sure I had seen before. He had been to the house or something. But it might have been when I was a little girl, and so I wasn't offended that he didn't recognize me.
The stewardess -- she was tall, handsome and flashing dark, a type that they seemed to run to -- asked me if she could make up my berth.
"-- and, dear, do you want an aspirin?" She perched on the side of the seat and rocked precariously to and fro with the June hurricane, "-- or a Nembutal?"
"I've been so busy with everyone else that I've had no time to ask you." She sat down beside me and buckled us both in. "Do you want some gum ?"
This reminded me to get rid of the piece that had been boring me for hours. I wrapped it in a piece of magazine and put it into the automatic ash-holder.
"I can always tell people are nice --" the stewardess said approvingly "-- if they wrap their gum in paper before they put it in there."
We sat for a while in the half-light of the swaying car. It was vaguely like a swanky restaurant at that twilight time between meals. We were all lingering -- and not quite on purpose. Even the stewardess, I think, had to keep reminding herself why she was there.
She and I talked about a young actress I knew, whom she had flown west with two years before. It was in the very lowest time of the Depression and the young actress kept staring out the window in such an intent way that the stewardess was afraid she was contemplating a leap. It appeared though that she was not afraid of poverty, but only of revolution.
"I know what Mother and I are going to do," she confided to the stewardess. "We're coming out to the Yellowstone and we're just going to live simply till it all blows over. Then we'll come back. They don't kill artists -- you know?"
The proposition pleased me. It conjured up a pretty picture of the actress and her mother being fed by kind Tory bears who brought them honey, and by gentle fawns who fetched extra milk from the does and then lingered near to make pillows for their heads at night. In turn I told the stewardess about the lawyer and the director who told their plans to Father one night in those brave days. If the bonus army conquered Washington the lawyer had a boat hidden in the Sacramento River, and he was going to row upstream for a few months and then come back "because they always needed lawyers after a revolution to straighten out the legal side."
The director had tended more toward defeatism. He had an old suit, shirt and shoes in waiting -- he never did say whether they were his own or whether he got them from the prop department -- and he was going to Disappear into the Crowd. I remember Father saying: "But they'll look at your hands! They'll know you haven't done manual work for years. And they'll ask for your union card." And I remember how the director's face fell, and how gloomy he was while he ate his dessert, and how funny and puny they sounded to me.
"Is your father an actor, Miss Brady?" asked the stewardess. "I've certainly heard the name."
At the name Brady both the men across the aisle looked up. Sidewise -- that Hollywood look, that always seems thrown over one shoulder. Then the young, pale, stocky man unbuttoned his safety strap and stood in the aisle beside us.
"Are you Cecelia Brady?" he demanded accusingly, as if I'd been holding out on him. "I thought I recognized you. I'm Wylie White."
He could have omitted this -- for at the same moment a new voice said, "Watch your step, Wylie!" and another man brushed by him in the aisle and went forward in the direction of the cockpit. Wylie White started, and a little too late called after him defiantly.
"I only take orders from the pilot."
I recognized the kind of pleasantry that goes on between the powers in Hollywood and their satellites.
The stewardess reproved him:
"Not so loud, please -- some of the passengers are asleep."
I saw now that the other man across the aisle, the middle-aged Jew, was on his feet also, staring, with shameless economic lechery, after the man who had just gone by. Or rather at the back of the man, who gestured sideways with his hand in a sort of farewell, as he went out of my sight.
I asked the stewardess: "Is he the assistant pilot?"
She was unbuckling our belt, about to abandon me to Wylie White.
"No. That's Mr. Smith. He has the private compartment, the 'bridal suite' -- only he has it alone. The assistant pilot is always in uniform." She stood up. "I want to find out if we're going to be grounded in Nashville."
Wylie White was aghast.
"It's a storm coming up the Mississippi Valley."
"Does that mean we'll have to stay here all night?"
"If this keeps up!"
A sudden dip indicated that it would. It tipped Wylie White into the seat opposite me, shunted the stewardess precipitately down in the direction of the cockpit, and plunked the Jewish man into a sitting position. After the studied, unruffled exclamations of distaste that befitted the air-minded, we settled down. There was an introduction.
"Miss Brady -- Mr. Schwartze," said Wylie White. "He's a great friend of your father's too."
Mr. Schwartze nodded so vehemently that I could almost hear him saying, "It's true. As God is my judge, it's true!"
He might have said this right out loud at one time in his life -- but he was obviously a man to whom something had happened. Meeting him was like encountering a friend who has been in a fist fight or collision, and got flattened. You stare at your friend and say: "What happened to you?" And he answers something unintelligible through broken teeth and swollen lips. He can't even tell you about it.
Mr. Schwartze was physically unmarked; the exaggerated Persian nose and oblique eye-shadow were as congenital as the tip-tilted Irish redness around my father's nostrils.
"Nashville!" cried Wylie White. "That means we go to a hotel. We don't get to the coast till tomorrow night -- if then. My God! I was born in Nashville."
"I should think you'd like to see it again."
"Never -- I've kept away for fifteen years. I hope I'll never see it again."
But he would -- for the plane was unmistakably going down, down, down, like Alice in the rabbit hole. Cupping my hand against the window I saw the blur of the city far away on the left. The green sign "Fasten your belts -- No smoking" had been on since we first rode into the storm.
"Did you hear what she said?" said Mr. Schwartze from one of his fiery silences across the aisle.
"Hear what?" asked Wylie.
"Hear what he's calling himself," said Schwartze. "Mr. Smith!"
"Why not?" asked Wylie.
"Oh nothing," said Schwartze quickly. "I just thought it was funny, Smith." I never heard a laugh with less mirth in it: "Smith!"
I suppose there has been nothing like the airports since the days of the stage-stops -- nothing quite as lonely, as somber-silent. The old red-brick depots were built right int...
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.