Have you ever experienced a moment so mortifying you wished you could just disappear like Mr Harry Houdini himself?
Well I experienced one such moment today and I still blush to think of it. How it happened was this:
One of our directors, Mr Emil Lazlo, has a doctor’s prescription for a pint of ale which the studio manager, Mr Caspar Gabor, collects for him every week.
(It is my belief that Mr Lazlo’s “nervous condition” is nothing but an excuse to circumvent the 18th amendment without having to consort with bootleggers himself, but of course I keep this thought to myself.)
When I first started working at the studio, Mr Gabor frightened me a little bit. His appearance is terribly uncouth (he is quite the most enormous person I have ever encountered – and I grew up with Swedes in Minnesota!). In addition, one of his ears is blown up like a cauliflower, suggesting he has known violence of some form in his past.
Further to this, his manner is awfully gruff – on my first day I accidentally entered his office instead of Miss Holt’s (which is next door) and he bellowed at me so loudly my ears rang all morning. However, in the months that have followed, I have come to learn that his “bark is worse than his bite” as they say, and that underneath it all he is a kind and pleasant fellow.
To return to my story, it appears that there was some kind of mix up at the doctor’s office, and Mr Gabor returned to the studio with not a pint of ale but a gallon!
So (confirming my assessment of him as decent) what he did was deliver Mr Lazlo’s pint to him, then with the remainder, he invited some trusted secretaries and assistants from his team to his office and threw a small party. Luckily Miss Holt had left for the day, so I was able to attend. I had never drank ale in my life before and found it really quite agreeable. Jazz was played and a fine time was had by all.
One of the errand boys who works for Mr Gabor is of African origin and is quite the snappy dresser. I’ve seen him hurrying around the lot collecting things for the actors or running messages to and from important people, and I’ve always been quite fascinated by his appearance, for he wears brightly colored scarves and Tweed knickers like an English gentleman. Anyway, I finally got to speak to him (his name is Jeremiah Wilson) and was just fascinated to hear his stories of dancing in Harlem – and of secret jazz clubs right here in Hollywood.
He told me that the way I Charleston is not how the dance should be performed at all, and he offered to teach me.
Well, we had all had a few drinks by then – some bootleg gin had been found from someplace to add to the party – and so I agreed. We cleared a little space in Mr Gabor’s office and Jeremiah put on a record he said was of a band he knew in New Orleans who are currently in residence in Chicago. The rhythm was like nothing I’d ever heard before – fast and uneven in a way that just caught me right in the bones and demanded I dance.
I tried to copy Jeremiah as best I could, and with the encouragement of the others really loosened up and flew my arms and legs in a crazy way – like a rag doll struck by lightening, Nancy told me later. I was having all sorts of fun and feeling really quite giddy, when the door to Mr Gabor’s office opened. I didn’t even notice for a moment or two, so caught up in the music was I…
Until suddenly I became aware that silence had fallen and everyone was staring at the door.
For there stood our publicity man (he’s a fussy little man – not pleasant at all) Mr Wallace Macmillan – with none other than Jack McCann.
Only the most handsome man in pictures – quite the brightest star of all at the present time, eclipsing even Douglas Fairbanks in my view – and he was watching me flail around like a lunatic. Mr Macmillan was naturally incensed (though Mr Macmillan becomes incensed with very little encouragement). He coldly informed us all to pack up our party and vacate the studio for the day.
He then turned tail and strode off, and after a moment Jack McCann followed — but not before he looked right at me and he winked.
Now what do you make of that?