THE ONE ABOUT Mighty Mouse, a nephew more active than his aunt ...
EVERY THANKSGIVING DAY I learn something ...
This year I learned that nieces and nephews grow by leaps and bounds. Physically, they're all as tall as I am and they'll all be taller by next week! Mentally, well-we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, mainly because Aunt Marj is so old-fashioned. I almost said "square" but I'm not sure that's the jargon these days-at least "old-fashioned" presents an accurate picture.
The only nephew who is shorter than I am is a two-year-old who is called "Mighty Mouse" and that fits him to a T.
He discovered Aunt Marj's house on Thanksgiving morning-and neither of us will forget the occasion.
I'm not yet as wise as my parents in the matter of small visitors. Before their family descended on their house for Thanksgiving dinner, my parents picked up every interesting item within reach of a youngster's exploring hands, including a coffee table with a glass top, and locked these things out on the porch.
Aunt Marj merely opened her door and said, "Welcome."
Mighty Mouse was all eyes and quiet only long enough to be divested of his jacket and cap. Then he went exploring ... with one or two adults scrambling in his wake, picking up from the floor magazines that just happened to be within range when he went swinging by the table with the glass shelves, or whisking ash trays out of his hands, or straightening carpeting behind him, or hurrying ahead to lock the glass door so he couldn't barge out into the lake to hug the ducks.
Everything was so new and wonderful to him.
The open shelves in the kitchen held a treasure of things like cocktail picks that looked like swords, glass jars of cinnamon red-hots, cans of peanuts, see-through jars of mints and sugar cubes.
There was a cookie jar and a cracker jar and a pretzel jar. And rolls of waxed paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, freezer paper and Saran-wrap to investigate.
If he stepped on a little metal step by the refrigerator, the freezer door opened and he had a whole box of ice cubes to play with.
When somebody raced to close the freezer, he ran to the utility room and stepped on another little metal step and the dryer door opened and the inside light went on and he turned with a big smile and said, "Look! Light!"
When somebody ran to shut the dryer door, Mighty Mouse escaped like greased lightning into the living room to put his nose against the fire screen and watch the flames in the fireplace.
When you thought he was sitting quietly in front of the television set watching the parade and the bands in color, he was gone like a shot to investigate the pantry where he found the iron dog that cracks nuts in his teeth when you pump his tail, and the pink plastic broom, and the box of toy automobiles and furry animals that Aunt Marj keeps for young visitors.
He found rhe electric-sheet control on the floor beneath Aunt Marj's bed and wanted to put it in his pocket.
He smiled at himself and patted the full-length mirror with fingers sticky from the peppermint leaves he'd found in the candy jar. He flushed toilets and hid behind the shower curtain and found Aunt Marj's shoes and opened cupboard doors.
Only the fact that every other person In the house knew of Aunt Marj's inflexible rule "HANDS OFF THAT TYPEWRITER" was he forcibly kept from pursuing his explorations in his aunt's study.
He did look cute in his two-year-old excitement and wonder at new things in his widening world.
Years ago his grandmother had made a life-size rag-doll, dressed it in size 2 blue jeans and a blue plaid shirt, and kept it for visiting grandchildren to play with at the grandparents' house. Finally, she gave the rag-doll to Mighty Mouse who grew to be the size of the doll and then Mighty Mouse's mother dressed him in the rag-doll's clothes-s-and he did look like our old familiar rag-doll come to life as he paddled about my house on Thanksgiving morning.
Everybody said how cute he was. Even Mighty Mouse thought he was cute after a while. That's when Aunt Marj reverted to old fashions. I don't even know when I'm going to do it-and suddenly there I am, stern and unsmiling and cracking a whip.
I swooped up a rambunctious two-year-old, sat him down in a chair, put a toy in his arms and said, "Now you sit there, and behave yourself."
He giggled and started to wriggle to the floor. Mean Ol' Aunt Mar; put him right back in the chair and said, 'This is my house and you are my guest and you will behave yourself and that's all there is to it."
Mighty Mouse clouded up like Chief Rain-in-the-Face and let out an injured bellow.
"And it's a little too noisy in here, too," I said by way of postscript.
His roar stopped right in the middle. His tear-filled eyes looked at me and he puckered up his face. But he sat-still and quietly. For a few minutes.
I shan't forget Thanksgiving 1963. And I hope Mighty Mouse doesn't remember how mean his Aunt Marj was, but only how much she loved him.
Nov. 30, 1963
“The Next Year”
YOU UNDERSTAND, of course, that year after year I never feel any older. But, every Thanksgiving when the family gathers, all the nieces and nephews have grown so much from the year before that Aunt Marj is flabbergasted.
Young Bob, whose father is Brother Bob, is now taller than I am. Margie, my namesake, is just as tall. Sandy is grown-up and working downtown. Larry's in the Marines and paid his Thanksgiving visit early in November. Linda, first of the next generation, is so grown-up she arrived with husband and baby, which was a "first" for our Thanksgiving dinners, too.
Right at the height of the "dishing-up"-when Brother Bob was carving the boned, rolled turkey just off the rotisserie, and I was juggling the casseroles and heating the rolls, and I'd put Sandy and her beau, David, to work filling the water glasses, and Young Bob was carrying the extra chairs to the table and I was calling out to everyone that I was coming through their ranks with hot casseroles en route to the buffet and would everybody PLEASE get out of my way!-there was a small voice at my ear.
"Aunt Marj, do you have a pan I can use to warm the baby's bottle?" That young niece of mine will never know what a surprise that request was. My kitchen is so small, people have to take turns going through it. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner taxes its limitations to the utmost. But everything was under control because I've had years to perfect the system, mostly by shooing spectators away and yelling, "Out! OUT!"
But I forgot all about a tiny baby.
Right in the midst of pouring melted butter over the potatoes that went back into the oven to crisp, and removing the casserole of chicken noodles and the candied sweet potatoes from the oven shelves to the range-top so the cookie sheet of rolls and the crumb-topped vegetables with cheese sauce could go back into the oven for a few minutes, and the rotisserie pan was set aside in my office under the card table which held the strawberry pies and the angel-food cake that Father had brought over earlier in the day from Mother's kitchen - right in the middle of this bustle punctuated with "Out! OUT!" and "Watch it - I'm right behind you with a hot dish!" Aunt Marj found a pan to use to warm the baby's bottle!
This was only one of many surprises on Thanksgiving Day, 1964. Everybody came early-the first ones rolled into the driveway before and the whole clan had gathered before the grandparents arrived-and they're usually the first on hand. Then we guessed the reason for the grand entrance: Mother had on a new dark-red knit suit and her New York Tony hat and her arrival was recorded on color film to surprise her. But it might have been a screen test the way she removed her gray coat out there in the cold weather so her new red suit could show in color! Father, in HIS new green winter pants and shirt to match, just grinned and played chauffeur.
Taken all in all, I guess it was young Martie, also known as Mighty Mouse, who gave Aunt Marj the biggest jolt. Last year and the year before, it had taken three people full time just to keep track of him in the house. He was quick as a minute, and into everything.
This year, Mighty Mouse is three years old-and more adult than his grandparents I
"Happy Thanksgiving!" I called out to each new arrival at my back door. Mighty Mouse solemnly climbed the back steps and I said, "Hello --and welcome to my house."
He nodded. "Hello," he answered, "and thank you." Solemnly he
entered, bearing in his hand a paper sack.
"What's that?" said Aunt Marj.
"I brought along my own toys," he said, seriously.
"Would you like to take off your coat and put it in the bedroom?" asked Aunt Marj.
"Yes," he said, doing just that without any fuss. Then he moved quietly about the house, looking but not fingering, and being a perfect model of decorum. "Is he sick?" I asked his mother, who is my little sister, Ruth.
"No," she said, "he's just growing up:'
He's the most grown-up three-year-old I've ever encountered. When Linda's husband, Rick, and Brother Bob took trays in front of the TV set to watch the football game, Mighty Mouse came over to me and said, "Aunt Marj, I'd like to cat with the men and watch the game."
Without a word I moved another tray in by the fireside while Martie's mother filled his plate. A little later, Brother Bob came tiptoeing out to me. "Do you know what Mighty Mouse just said to me?" he whispered, with an incredulous look on his face. "When I walked past him, I looked to see if he was getting enough to eat and he looked up at me and said, 'Good dinner!' He's only THREE YEARS OLD!" my brother said to me, shaking his head right in time with mine.
When Grandpa went outside to walk around the yard-his regular custom between dinner and dessert, so he can find room for the pie and cake!-Mighty Mouse joined him and the two men talked of important things, I am convinced of it. They worked up such an appetite, Mighty Mouse had both strawberry pie and a mint chocolate ice cream patty for dessert-and his grandpa had two pieces of pie.
That was Thanksgiving, 1964, at my house: a brand-new baby asleep in the middle of my bed ... a new nephew-in-law in front of the TV ... Linda and Sandy, giggling like the teenagers they are, changing to outdoor slacks and taking a walk up the road ... Young Bob and Margie counting pennies in their annual custom over at the grandparents' house where Mighty Mouse took his nap without complaining (Grandma saves the pennies and the kids get to keep them after they count them each Thanksgiving!) ... David sound asleep under the afghan on the double chaise ... Brother Bob sound asleep on the couch with pillows piled all around him in such a fashion that his wife, Jackie, and his sister, Ruth, grabbed the camera to take his picture but they fooled around so long he turned over and spoiled the scene ...
Aunt Marj? She was the one with her shoes off, sprawled in the chair by the fireplace, listening to the wonderful sound of an automatic dishwasher!
“This Old House”
FOR SEVERAL YEARS now, I have been driving past an old empty house, weatherbeaten, not a speck of paint left to the siding, its corner porch roof sagging, the barn and an outbuilding in the same state.
Somebody obviously was keeping up the farm around it, but no one lived in the house. You wondered why it didn't fall down in a high wind. If you'd heard that it had burned after a flash of lightning, you wouldn't have been surprised.
There was no refuse in the yard, no rusty auto bodies behind the barn-nothing but a plain old house sagging and leaning there beside the road without one complaint. It was no eyesore-it seemed to melt into the background of sky as I drove down that road in the dusk.
On dark stormy days, this old house seemed particularly suited to the elements. One half expected a Charles Addams character to appear in the whopper-jawed doorway. Or a witch and two bats to fly from the upper story and disappear among the scudding clouds.
I know not how that house must have been in its heydey, what families it sheltered, what happinesses and tragedies played themselves into oblivion behind its frame walls. It's the kind of plain ordinary building that could have lived a plain ordinary life with nothing to distinguish it from other habitations.
Yet, in its decay, it took on a dignity it could never have had in its younger years. Some days, the sight of that old house reminded me of a very old lady with a battered hat askew.
One evening as I drove slowly along, letting the tenseness of the day seep out of my bones, I looked up--and that old house reminded me of a lonely stretch of beach at Carmel. The locations were miles apart ... an Ohio farm and a California coast ... yet the same aura of loneliness, or separateness from the world, made the two places alike in their desolation.
Then, one day, I noticed holes in the window panes, a little later, no glass at all. Every day after that there was something different about the old house, something missing, yet the old house still stood as before.
I had the feeling it was like the gradual disrobing of an elegant old dowager ... a getting ready for the long night. First, the jewels unpinned and put away in the velvet-lined box then the ruffled fischu removed ... the combs taken out of the hair each done with dignity, each removing one last vestige of formality.
Then, with the old house, it was quite evident that someone was carefully taking it apart, board by board. First doorways and sills, all outside trim, the roof bit by bit, then the sidewalls.
Each morning and evening there was a change ... yet I have never seen anyone working about the place. The lumber is stacked carefully in the yard. Even the inevitable rubble looks neat.
I have watched houses going up, but never one coming down in such a methodical, meticulous manner. It is disappearing little by little into nothingness.
At one point, the first floor remained with the upright 2x4's of the upper sidewalls sticking up like reeds in a basket being woven by hand.
When I knew I was going to be out of town for a few days, I had a momentary regret that I'd have to miss seeing the daily drama-although what I'd miss, I didn't know, since I have never seen a human in or around that old house.
" ... this old house once rang with laughter, this old house heard many a shout ... ain't gonna need this house no longer, ain't gonna mend that windowpane ... "
Ain't gonna see it much longer, either!
June 13, 1964
NOW THE SIDING is off the front of the old house that is gradually disappearing into oblivion ...
The roof is gone, the second floor siding is gone, only the upright 2x4's of the second story raise their skeletal arms to the sky ... and now the interior of a home is laid bare to the stranger's gaze.
After observing the day-to-day demise of this old house by careful workers whom I never saw in person, only the results of their planned destruction, I regretted having to be away from it for even a few days. There was a fascination about the inevitability of its disappearance ... I wanted to watch it all.
It was as if I had never left. The old house took a breather, resting in its dishabille, leaning and sagging but not collapsing entirely.
But, now again, the work towards a complete eradication goes on ...
In the center of the first floor, now entirely without interior walls to block off the rooms, stands a wooden stairway. Once it was an entry to a second floor ... straight steep steps to bedrooms holding dreams, dreamless sleep, wakefulness on moonlit nights, heartaches, happinesses ... somebody surely must have called out cautions: "Watch these steps! Take it easy!" and, at least once a mother must have scolded children running up and down in their exuberance ...
Maybe a wife set some shoes or a pile of freshly ironed sheets on one of the steps, intending to take them upstairs on the next trip ... and a husband, heedless and hurrying, stumbled over those things and yelled, "How many times do I have to tell you-don't put things on the steps - it's dangerous!" ...
Maybe a little girl played house on the steps, having heard her mother say she did the same thing when she was little, too ... maybe ... maybe ...
Now those steep straight steps are a stairway to the stars.
Open sky above, exposed and naked in its helplessness, the old house is nonetheless meeting its destiny with dignity.
June 18, 1964
THE OLD HOUSE?
Open to the sky, there is but a bare skeleton remaining. The inside stairway still goes up to nothing. Only the bones are left now ... and these are leaning precariously. Maybe the next big wind will topple it all to the ground ...
Ernest Rismiller, who lives on a farm on the next road, bought the old house, its outbuildings and land a few years ago and debated a while before deciding to take the house apart board by board.
"They made houses to last in those days," says his wife, "and some of the lumber is still in good shape.
"The good lumber is stacked in our barn and some day it will be part of a tool shed, or a shed for the tractors.
"Nothing much has been done at the old house for several weeks because the men are so busy with regular farm work.
"It won't be long, however, before the old house will disappear forever ... "
And then after a while only the wind moaning in the grasses will remember what once was there.
July 18, 1964
THAT OLD HOUSE has now disappeared forever ...
It leaned and it faded with the weather-and now the last brick and board has been dismantled and the house is a memory only. A few piles of rubble remain but soon these will be taken away by the careful farmers who have been stripping the structure to its bare bones-and then they took apart even the bones.
And how amazing to see what a small area the old two-story house actually occupied.
When you see it now, the outlines of the foundation enclose such a smallish space. It doesn't seem possible that families lived there for many years, with all the activities that families have, and did it all in so little elbow room.
With the house out of the way, you can really see the barn! It is a big one. Or so it seems to a city-type person lately removed to the country.
The weather-beaten old barn, three times as big as the old house was, leans into the landscape in much the same manner. Its open doors arc hanging by a hinge or two. You can see daylight through the cracks in the siding.
But it doesn't have the air of dignity or decorum that the house had.
The sprawling, rickety barn, with roof askew and shingles missing, looks like a caricature of a proper barn.
It looks like W. C. Fields on a toot. Like a lovable old bum with a snootful and you can't find it in your heart to do more than give a mild scolding, knowing that you're talking to the wind.
Maybe in this farm complex, the house was the old dowager with the pearl dog collar and the stiff stays-and the old barn was the rascal who knew how to draw to an inside straight.
“Marj Is A Patsy”
Dec. 15, 1958
HOW LONG, oh, how long will it be before I can get the best of Rol Karns in a joke! That man has done it again. He, with his innocent face and his Boy Scout manners, has perpetrated an outrageous trick upon me AGAIN-and I not only didn't know it, I even inadvertently helped him do it! Will I never learn?
I'm still trying to get even with him for that wretched trick he pulled on me a few years ago. This is the same Rol Karns of Arcanum, originator of the famous "Coffee Joke."
Roger Byrd of Arcanum and I have birthdays on the same day and, on our birthday a few summers ago, we politely maneuvered Karns into buying our coffee that morning in Clark's restaurant where we all eat. We also twisted his arm. He bought our coffee.
"But," said Karns, "only if you buy MY coffee on MY birthday," Agreed, said Marj, but only if you can find somebody else who shares your birthday.
I didn't know it until later but, from then on, Karns canvassed Darke county for persons born on his birthday. He even went to the courthouse and checked birth records but he couldn't find anybody else who shared his birthday.
Undaunted, he posted a sign in the restaurant advertising for persons with the same birthday as his. None appeared. Then he changed the sign to read: "Free Coffee on Karns' Birthday. Sign Here."
The list of signatures to THAT notice grew day by day. I demanded to see birth certificates but it was a lost cause.
On Karns' birthday, I paid off. I bought coffee for thirsty customers who came in for miles around. The best part of Karns' little joke was the price of the coffee. HE paid off on my birthday when coffee was five cents. By the time his birthday came around, the price had been raised. I had to payoff at TEN cents a cup. I blew a $10 bill paying my obligation and HE got off for 10 cents.
Rol Karns has been pretty trustworthy ever since ...
Until last week. All unknowingly, I offered him a 14-karat gold opportunity to hoodwink me again.
I was planning a party. I needed another card table. Rol owns a furniture store. I asked Rol if he had a card table exactly 26 ½-inches high. I want to team it with another 26 ½-inches high table I already have, I explained-you know, put two tables together to seat six persons for dinner.
Stuffing himself with doughnuts and coffee, Rol managed to indicate that yes, he had card tables and probably had one about that high.
Nor ABOUT, I insisted. It MUST be exactly 26 ½-inches high. I don't want an uneven middle-of-the-table with plates tipping over. Do you or do you nor want to sell me a card table EXACTLY 26 ½-inches high?
"You stop tonight on your way home," said Rol, "and I'll have you a card table EXACTLY 26 ½-inches high if I have to saw the legs down to that size."
I demurred. Don't go to all THAT trouble, I said. I'll check in Dayton ...
"No, no," said Rol. "It won't be any trouble. Glad to do it."
THAT should have been the tipoff. But, no. Blithely I put my faith and trust in that villain. I stopped at his store on the way home that night and there was the card table.
Right height? I asked.
"You measure it yourself," said Rol, handing me the yardstick. I measured carefully. Exactly 26 ½-inches. I'll take it, I said, if you'll tote it over to my car. Since Dick Drew was servicing my car at his station a block and a half away, I figured I'd made a pretty sharp deal ...
A few days after the party, I ran into Karns at the postoffice one evening. "Come on," he said, "I'll buy you half a cup of coffee." We leaned elbows on Clark's counter. "How's everything?" said Rol, conversationally. "Party turn out all right? Table OK?"
I began to smell a rat. Yesssss, I said, trying to think fast ... "High enough?" asked Rot
I KNEW then that I'd walked into a trap. I remembered, too late, that I had NOT measured the tables against each other. Two of my guests had put up the tables, had put on the tablecloths. And when the pitcher of cream upset all over the tables and there was quite a mopping ceremony, I'd blamed it on high spirits ...
THAT TABLE WAS NOT 26 ½ INCHES HIGH! I shouted there in the restaurant.
"Why, you measured it yourself," said Rol, with serious mien. But he couldn't keep a straight face. He began to laugh and then he ran out of the restaurant, across the street to his store. In a moment, he was back. He handed me a yardstick.
Taped to one end was an extra piece of wood! Karns had handed me the yardstick the week before in such a manner that I never noticed he'd added the extra length. Whatever height the card table was, it came out 26 ½-inches by that yardstick!
I was beat. Real gone.
Karns sat there, grinning. I had to laugh, too-Gullible Marj, they calls me ...
"I expected you back the next day, raising cain," he said. "And I kept the yardstick to give you as a souvenir."
Rol paid for my half cup of coffee like the last of the big-time spenders-and I took my rigged yardstick and went home.
Now I have to apologize to three of my guests-Jim Steinle, Bill Williams and Crib Schlagetter. They thought THEY spilled the cream. If your wives scolded you later for such carelessness, I apologize to them, too, fellas ...
I still wasn't convinced, though. At home, I measured those two tables with Raj's yardstick. BOTH were 26 ½-inches high. They COULDN'T be! I hunted around for more yardsticks-c-one from a Dayton store, one from a Greenville store .... I got three different answers two times around ...
I don't know how high ANYthing is! All I know for sure is that Rol Karns' joke with the 26 ½-inch yardstick produced a handful of more yardsticks for my collection-and even in 1964, eight years after, there are readers who remember and laugh and ask me what joke Karns has pulled on me THIS week ... !
“Bessie, the Dressmaker’s Dummy”
THE SAGA OF THE IRON MAIDEN-or how do I get into things like this ...
It all started when I had lunch with Clara Weisenborn one day last week. "I'm considering," said I, "investing in an adjustable dress form. They ARE handy when you're trying to fit shoulders, and back waistlines particularly, and I thought ... "
"Don't do it!" cried Clara.
"No. I'll give you Bessie. Paid a quarter for her at a farm sale about four or five years ago and Howard laughed and laughed at me, joshing me about why I wanted that old thing, and Herbert shushed him and said there was a quarter's worth of iron in her even if I didn't use it and they might as well humor me-besides, it was my quarter!"
"Don't you use it?"
"Heavens, no. I've never used it. It's been sitting in that attic ever since I got it-it's never even been cleaned since it sat in the yard at the farm sale-and you'd do me a big favor to get it out of my attic."
That's how I met Bessie. In the middle of Clara's immaculate, magazine-photograph kitchen with the good smells of baking all around. Bessie-with her 16 adjustments, undercoating of rust, two moth-holes in her faded jersey bodice, and her epaulets of bird droppings.
They laughed when Bessie and I came home together. Even I had a few misgivings when a faintly printed label in Bessie's innards testified she'd been new in 1918.
Prices and wars aren't the only things that have changed in 33 years.
Figures have, too. Bessie was sway-backed and her chest had slipped, without indentation, into her waist. She was the very image of the old girl Grandma used to swathe in a voluminous nightgown between fittings.
A screwdriver, a hacksaw and some choice conversation divested Bessie of the metal fence she wore for a skirt. The vacuum cleaner and some soap and water made her presentable for company. And company I had while I wrestled with Bessie, trying to make her curves into mine.
Needed were a skilled mechanic, a mechanical engineer and a weegie board to figure out Bessie's 16 adjustments which were supposed to lengthen and widen her various segments in varying degrees.
All I had was determination, a day off, and a gallery, including Buff and a couple of neighbors soon drafted in the construction work.
When you adjusted Bessie's chest, her shoulders narrowed. When you adjusted her shoulders, her neck got as big as Mildred Burke's, lady rassler. Finally, I hung onto Bessie's chest with one hand, forced her shoulders back with the other, and Hugo, Helpful Neighbor, got a strangle hold on her neck-and we got Bessie collared.
Padding erased her swayback. A hacksaw whittled away the part of Bessie that. stuck over and couldn't be adjusted.
Cotton uplifted Bessie to a more modern facade-but I got so interested in a radio program at the same time that I created a Dagmar before I knew it, and had to unstuff.
With the two of us, plus tape measure, hasily constructed calipers and plenty of laughs, Bessie began to look more and more like someone I'd seen before. When I tried one of my dresses on her, she definitely looked familial-except her 1918 rib-cage stuck out.
So I peeled Bessie back down to her new black jersey skin again, and Hugo picked up a hammer and whacked her one in the middle. She flattened without a murmur. But Buff barked to her rescue. By this time, even he could see a resemblance to somebody ...
Bessie's healthier looking now, wearing a sport shirt over her black jersey skin, and roped pearls at her throat. Buff and I look at her with the satisfaction of a job well done. But when he thinks I'm not looking, Buff goes back for another sniff. Bessie DOES look like someone he thinks he's seen before but he can't remember where ...
SHE WAS A LITTLE GIRL and she was all smiles the day before Christmas. She went in the neighborhood store and the proprietor said, "And what are YOU going to get for Christmas?"
"I'm going to get a p-u-p-p-y," she said, spelling it very carefully.
"But I don't know what that is yet."
“My First Hollywood Premiere”
LOS ANGELE5--I witnessed my first, genuine, top-level, invitational, Hollywood movie premiere-and I live to tell the tale.
The movie: "Julius Caesar." The place: Four Star theater on Wilshire boulevard. The stars: Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Guilgud, Louis Calhern, Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr. The swivelneck: mine.
The whole experience-from the time the fans in the sidewalk bleacher seats yelled "Hail Caesar" to the time I joined the tide of actors leaving the theater-seems unreal, like something out of the movies.
There were powerful searchlights crisscrossing the warm November night over Wilshire boulevard. An honest-to-goodness red carpet, music, police, autograph hounds, shrieking and screaming, three dozen white-coated boys to drive away and park the cars that arrived on the dot every minute, from 8: 15 to 9 p.m., under the marquee.
There were flowers and furs, rhinestone-heeled pumps, jewels, fake eyelashes, diamonds, black ties, dinner jackets, perfume, fans lined 10-deep at the curb, crowding, pushing, noise, confusion, mike speeches, handshakes, flashbulbs, laughter, hugs, sequins, blond, henna and blue rinses, painted smiles, lights, action, cameras.
Bedlam in black tie. Glamor in tight shoes. The populace agog over the free show as they clapped and screeched, pleaded for autographs and showered acclaim on movie stars arriving in their own or borrowed finery for MGM's west coast premiere of William Shakespeare's story of Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony and Cassius.
Protocol was strict. Starlets arrived before stars. Fords parked around the corner and their occupants hoofed it through police lines. Cadillacs cuddled the curb and their chauffeurs handed out the guests. Nobody loitered in the lobby except radio commentators, fire inspectors, cameramen, studio spotters who scanned the cars as they pulled up, raced to the official microphone, whispered and then later shouted to the announcer who welcomed and backoned and urged and smiled and kept things from becoming hopelessly snarled.
Eddie Lawrence, MGM's man in charge of visiting firemen with press cards, overruled uniformed objections to "unknowns" loitering in the lobby and inserted Bob Murphy, Minneapolis Star newspaperman, and me between the official mike platform and the gilt papiermache staffs and the Eagle of Caesar which decorated the theater foyer.
Talk about the face on the cutting room floor! I shall be airbrushed out of more photographs of toothy, shoulder-hugging Hollywoodites than you can shake a negative at--l was part of the spotlighted background and couldn't move out of the way.
Donald Crisp was among the first of the name stars to arrive. He was polite, gracious and crisp in his greeting. Elaine Stewart arrived early enough to be recognized, get her new picture "Take The High Ground" plugged on the air, and into position to be swarmed over by the fans who thrust pencils, cameras and themselves at her.
And then, suddenly, the deluge. Robert Sterling, beaming, was elbowed, alone, to the mike while his pretty partner feigned great interest in the state of her pink satin and jeweled gown. "That's Ann Sterling, his wife," a studio spotter prompted the announcer who made a quick recovery and gathered the two into the bosom of the nation where they confided they were happy to be there, and expected to love the picture which they knew would be a tremendous success.
An unidentified starlet was shoved near the mike. The announcer coached offside: "Say you're happy to be here and you're going to love the picture." She recited, and was thrust back into the eddy.
Also happy to be there, and also expecting to love the picture which they also knew was going to be a colossal, terrific, outstanding success were June Taylor, Richard Conte, Les Campbell, Dewey Martin, Marilyn Erskine, Debbie Reynolds, Mala Powers, Russ Tamblyn taking their mike bows, maneuvered up and down the platform by practiced skill of hard-working studio men.
Elsa Lanchester almost slipped by when the fans set up such a clamor the announcer was forced to recall her. The photographers swarmed over Arturo Rubenstein whose shock of white hair was unique in the mass of bleached, curled, long, over-the-collar coiffures of many male stars.
Jeff Chandler, his gray hair and outstretched ears, got swoon-attention. Robert Ryan marched in. Agnes Moorhead, in regal purple velvet robe and beautiful red hair, was ever the gracious lady who shared her acclaim with George Macready.
And then the stars arrived so fast, Murphy and I teamed to keep up.
"Paul Henreid here," I nudged. "Ann Blythe," breathed Murphy. "Louis Calhern, Ricardo Montalban and, wow, Shelley Winters," was my score. "Angela Lansbury rounding port bow." "Mickey Rooney coming up." "John Huston, the director-and look at his black velvet shoes." "Mercedes McCambridge, Florabel Muir, Jane Powell."
We were calling them off as fast as our eyes could take them all in.
The noise was ear-bending, the flashbulbs blinding, the elbowing murder. It was a melee of the great, near-great and those who would be.
Then, all of a sudden, there was a sharp intake of breath and Murphy murmured reverently, "Oh, God." I turned to see what had stirred him ... maybe even Shakespeare or Julius LaRosa.
It was a living, breathing, Marilyn Maxwell, bigger than lifesize, with a neckline so low and wide and revealing that it's no wonder men were struck dumb. She's one actress who, obviously, doesn't sail under false pretenses. Stronger men than Earl Wilson would have trembled in her presence. The crush pushed her so close we counted moles.
The picture? What picture? Oh, you mean "Julius Caesar"? Oh, it was good. It took the still-life of a senior English requirement and made it into a newsreel of current events.