Morning journey, p.1
First published by Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1951
* * *
TABLE OF CONTENTS
* * *
George Hare (of Hare, Briggs, Burton, and Kurtnitz) met Carey Arundel for the first time at the annual Critics’ Dinner at Verino’s. She was to receive a plaque for the best actress performance of the year, Greg Wilson was to get the actor’s, and Paul Saffron the director’s. These dinners were rather stuffy affairs, but the awards were worth getting; this year Morning Journey was the picture that had swept the board, all the winners having scored in it. George had seen the picture and thought it good, if a trifle tricky. He was far more concerned with his luck in being next to Carey at the dinner, for his own well-concealed importance in the movie world did not always receive such rewards. George had an eye for beauty which, combined with a somewhat cynical nose for fame, made him take special notice of her. Of course he had seen her on the stage as well as on the screen, but he thought she looked best of all in real life—which meant, even more remarkably, that she looked really alive at a party such as this, not merely brought to life by ambition or liquor.
George left her to her other neighbour for a while; he was lazy socially, content often to talk with those who would seek him out, which many people did, liking him personally and eager for any titbit of scandal that might slip from his legally acquired store. He never spilled anything worth much, but always seemed about to, and nobody realized that he picked up far more than he let drop. He was so shrewd in business that people thought his air of innocence could not possibly be real, but there was a sense in which it was, and thus he often fooled and foiled his adversaries. It was this innocence that had made him say, when introduced to Carey at the table: “You played in Boston once when I was at Harvard—I can’t remember the play, but I couldn’t forget YOU.” She had laughed, and somebody who had overheard said later that nobody had ever pinned an age on an actress more securely (though that had not been George’s intention at all). But now, turning to him again more than half-way through the meal, she said: “I think it must have been Quality Street you saw me in, Mr. Hare.”
George was surprised she had even caught his name, and this was not modesty so much as an awareness that in a community where big names are a dime a dozen, some of the higher price tags are on the big nameless.
He said: “That’s right, so it was.”
“Because I don’t believe I ever played in Boston in anything else. Not in those days.”
“Not so very long ago,” he commented gallantly.
He smiled. “What does it feel like to be a well-known actress all that time and then have people behave out here as if they’d discovered you?”
She laughed. “It’s funny.”
“I hope you’ll tell them that in your speech.”
She seemed a little perturbed. “Oh, do I have to make a speech?”
“I’m sure we all hope you will. But it needn’t be a long one. Do speeches make you nervous?”
“Other people’s do, occasionally.” He thought it was just a witticism till she added: “Paul’s especially, Paul Saffron—the director. He can be so tactless.” She went on hastily: “No, I’m not exactly scared to speak in public, but I find it much harder than acting. Perhaps that only means I find it hard to act the part of myself.”
“Ethel Barrymore once told me practically the same thing.” He proceeded to compliment her on Morning Journey, her first picture and such a success, and she thanked him with a genuine pleasure that lit her face like a girl’s, but with life rather than mere youthfulness. George wondered (as one always must with an actress) whether the transfigurement was natural or a practised artifice; frankly he could not judge, and admiringly he did not care— it was quite remarkable either way.
“Of course, you won’t go back to the stage again,” he said, and continued: “I say that because I hope you will.”
“But first, I suppose, another picture?”
“No, I’ve no plans for that. I’ve no definite plans for anything, except perhaps a vacation in Ireland… By the way, Mr. Hare, you’re the lawyer, aren’t you?”
“THE lawyer? Let’s settle for A lawyer.”
“I wonder if you could help me.”
“Of course. Trouble of some kind?”
He guessed she must have some other lawyer or lawyers somewhere, together with the usual outfit of agents, business managers, tax-consultants, and so on; he knew also how impulsively actors get themselves into a mess and how capriciously they can turn on those whom they pay to get them out. Maybe she was in a mood for such a change. He himself had tried to winnow down his clientele into those who were his personal friends and who, if they did get into trouble, would give him the pleasure as well as the task of extrication. He wondered if he would want Carey Arundel as such a client, even if she asked him. Possibly.
She was answering his question: “Oh, nothing very important. I just thought of sub-letting my apartment while I go to Ireland, but the lease says I can’t.”
George might well have replied that if the lease said she couldn’t, then very probably she couldn’t; or he might have tactfully conveyed that he was a busy and expensive lawyer and that any financial advantage of sub-tenancy could easily turn out to be less than his fees if she got into trouble over it. But simply because he continued to like the look of her, and also the sound of her voice, he said instead: “Be glad to help you. Send—or better still—bring the lease along to my office and I’ll see if anything can be done.” The chairman was pounding his gavel for silence, so he hastened to add: “Any time. Tomorrow morning if you like.”
“Thanks. Tomorrow morning, then,” she said hurriedly, fixing her face for the degree of attention that was appropriate in one about to be honoured.
The chairman made a very dull speech about the significance of motion pictures in the national life, and during the applause that followed George said: “Are you by any chance going on to the Fulton-Griffins’ when this thing is over?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I was asked, but I understand there’s such a crowd always there, and I hate crowds.”
“So do I, but a Fulton-Griffin party is something you ought to see if you haven’t been to one before. I thought if you were going I’d have a chance to talk to you without all these interruptions.”
“Oh yes, I’d like that, but I really think I ought to go home. I’ve been rather tired since the picture finished and—”
The chairman was introducing the next speaker, a local politician who would present the awards. He was her neighbour on the other side, so the mechanics of it would be simple. But he talked too long, though he was easier to listen to and told a few mildly amusing stories. Presently he veered his remarks in her direction and announced her as the winner of the actress award.
George applauded with more than his usual fervour when she accepted the plaque. Then she made a short but charming speech in which there was no discernible trace of nervousness at all. He wondered if it were concealed, or whether she had made a habit of telling people about it in advance and then surprising them. George, however, was not surprised. He had seen tricks like that before, and had sometimes practised them in court with much success. But he admired the total effect of her performance and was more than sincere in his whispered “Bravo” when she sat down. “You did very well,” he commented.
“Did I? Who’s next? Is it Greg?”
It was Greg. He was a handsome fellow, i
Then the director’s award to Paul Saffron. For some reason Saffron was seated far down the table, and had to come forward to a microphone; as he did so George studied him with curiosity, chiefly because of Carey’s remark that his speeches were apt to make her nervous. George wondered how many of them she had been forced to hear. Saffron was certainly a personality; his face large and jowly, the expression that of a man facing limitless challenge; there was a certain splendour, though, in the contour of cheeks and forehead, caprice in the waving wispy hair, something of a Pan-like sparkle in the small blue-grey eyes. George wondered if he had drunk too much; a few minutes later he was beginning to wonder what else could be the matter with the man.
For it was, by and large, the most deplorable exhibition George could remember. Saffron, in a strident staccato that would have been loud enough even without a microphone, began by telling the donors of the award that he considered their choice a bad one. At first some of the audience thought this must be a joke, but he glared them down and went on to state categorically that Morning Journey was the worst picture he had ever made. “Of course an artist gets used to being praised for all the wrong reasons—he’s lucky to be praised at all—and in my own case I can boast that my best work was never praised, it was never even finished—they wouldn’t allow me to finish it.” (He didn’t say who ‘they’ were, but by this time it was abundantly clear that he was not cracking jokes.) “As for Morning Journey, I have this to say, and as an artist I must say it, that the picture you have so extravagantly praised and undeservedly honoured is a product of the gigantic factory that does for entertainment what Henry Ford has done for automobiles. A competent picture—oh yes. A clever picture— perhaps. But a great picture?… Oh dear no, let us save that word for some occasion when it might possibly be needed—even here. Because it has been needed here—in earlier days. Griffith could have claimed the word—and Chaplin—perhaps a few others whose names are less well known, perhaps a few whose names are by now completely forgotten…”
George shared the general discomfort with which all this was received. It was not that he specially disagreed; he had no great opinion of Hollywood and all it stood for; to him it was a place to earn a living, a place also in which he had found friends. A few of Saffron’s remarks he would not have disputed at all—for instance—“This place is full of craftsmen who might have been artists if only they’d stayed away.” That, in a magazine article, might have been worth saying and quotable; on an occasion such as this it seemed merely graceless. There was, indeed, an appalling disregard of the feelings of others in the whole spectacle, and George, who considered manners more important than sincerity on many of the occasions of life, felt as if his mental well-being were being sandpapered. When, he speculated, does such an irritant make one get up and punch somebody on the nose? Then he chanced to catch Carey’s face and saw in it a disturbance so extreme that his own indignation sharpened. By that time Saffron had abruptly finished; with the plaque in his hand, he had not even said thank-you.
There was perhaps as little applause as a speaker could ever receive without being actually booed or hissed; the chairman rose and, bore though he was, eased the situation and won a grateful laugh by saying: “I think, Mr. Saffron, we must all feel that you are a better maker of pictures than a judge of them.”
The affair broke up very quickly after that, many showing an embarrassed eagerness to escape. Held in conversation with his other neighbour, George was presently aware that Carey had left the table without a sign or a good-night. As he mingled with the departing crowd, he caught sight of Randolph, the producer of Morning Journey. Randolph, whom he knew fairly well, was in consternation; all he could mutter was: “What got into that guy? Is he crazy? You saw the press taking it all down—they loved it —I suppose that’s what he’s after—what ELSE could he be after?”
George thought it pathetic that Randolph should not even contemplate the possibility that Saffron, however nastily, had been actuated by a desire to tell what he believed to be the truth. One need not, of course, think of such a thing nine times out of ten, but it was foolish to deny that it could conceivably happen. All of which, however, George wisely kept to himself.
Suddenly voices upraised near the exit revealed the by now unmistakable element of Saffron’s, his high-pitched tenor involved in an argument. “Of course she’s an artist,” he was shouting. “Not a supreme artist, I grant you, but—”
“What d’you mean?” someone interrupted. “Are you talking like God, or just jealous of her success?”
“I’m proud of her success. It was always my ambition—”
“So you take all the credit?”
George was near enough now to recognize the other man as a young journalist named Hazelton who wrote movie criticism for one of the local papers.
“I take much of the credit,” Saffron was retorting, “because I know she needs someone else to bring out what she has, which is quite enchanting in its own way—”
“Then how can you say she isn’t a great artist?”
“Supreme was the word I used.”
“All right. Supreme. Maybe she isn’t. Maybe she isn’t even great. After your speech tonight we know how you feel about the word. But she’s good —or do you deny that?”
“Of course I don’t, but you don’t know how good she is. How could you? Are you an actor? Have you directed plays? Do you know anything about acting and the theatre?”
This was so brazen that it had to lead to either a fight or laughter. Hazelton chose to laugh. “I won’t argue that, Saffron, except to tell you I’ve seen her act when you had nothing to do with it.”
“In what, may I ask?”
Hazelton mentioned a Broadway comedy that had enjoyed a long run during the later years of the second world war.
Saffron snorted. “Rubbish.”
“But she was good in it.”
“Did you see her?”
“My friend, I had the misfortune to spend that period of my life in an internment camp in France while you were gadding about to New York theatres —”
Hazelton laughed again. “I happened to be on leave from the Pacific, but let that pass. The point is—and take my word for it—she was good in that play.”
“And take my word for it she was best of all as Desdemona, before you were born, and as Candida in the Shaw play, and as Mrs. Vincent in a play called The Widow in the Forest which was a great hit when you must have been in knee pants—”
“All of which, Saffron, by sheer coincidence you directed yourself?”
“No coincidence at all. She’s always best when I direct her.”
“Ah—so now we know. She has to have you.”
“Yes. And she knows it. She knows it better than anybody.”
Hazelton moved away still laughing and Saffron completed his exit to the corridor. When he had gone, Hazelton spotted George, whom he knew, and walked over to him. “You heard all that? What a guy! What an evening! Well, it’s something to write about, anyhow. The most exciting thing at a show like this since DeMille called the Chinese Ambassador a Jap—remember that?”
Randolph said: “I suppose it’s no good asking you boys to play it down. A packet of bad publicity for the whole industry…”
Of course it was no use. One might be able to buy a certain amount of good publicity space-wise, but the real news nuggets, the mishaps and misfires of the celebrated, were so precious that no paper could afford to let them go. By that reckoning a table brawl at Ciro’s was always more important than the Nobel Peace Prize.
* * * * *
George went on to the Fulton-Griffins’, where the party was already in full swing and
“But he insulted Miss Arundel, didn’t he?”
“No. All he said was that Morning Journey was the worst picture he’d ever made, which by implication of course wasn’t so very kind to—”
“But didn’t he say she was a bad actress and couldn’t do a thing without him as director?”
“That was afterwards—and anyhow, that wasn’t what he said at all. As a matter of fact he defended her—he said she was enchanting —”
But George knew that rumour could never be overtaken by fact. He broke off with a shrug: “Ask someone else. I wasn’t the only one there.”
But he also knew that others who had been asked, or would be before the evening was out, were less trained than he in the reporting of evidence, as well as possibly less ethical. He edged away from the crowd and found his usual comfortable corner with a drink which he could make last a long time, and with enough people to enjoy talking to among those who would look for him. He kept thinking of Carey and wondering how soon the twists and exaggerations of what had happened would get to her ears. Several people he talked to mentioned her sympathetically; during the short time she had been on the Coast she seemed to have made herself generally liked. Saffron, by contrast, was in the special dog-house reserved for those whose unpopularity has somehow not deprived them of stature. Diagnosis of him veered from the surly genius to the psychopathic charlatan; anecdotes in proof or disproof were in steady supply as argument grew livelier. An actor who had had a small part in Morning Journey remembered that Miss Arundel had once quarrelled bitterly with Saffron in one of the studio dressing-rooms during the making of the picture.