365 Nights in Hollywood: Humor Risque, Pt. 3

Jimmy Starr began his career in Hollywood in the 1920s, writing the intertitles for silent shorts for producers such as Mack Sennett, the Christie Film Company, and Educational Films Corporation, among others. He also toiled as a gossip and film columnist for the Los Angeles Record in the 1920s and from 1930-1962 for the L.A. Herald-Express.
Starr was also a published author. In the 1940s, he penned a trio of mystery novels, the best known of which, The Corpse Came C.O.D., was made into a movie.
In 1926, Starr authored 365 Nights in Hollywood, a collection of short stories about Hollywood. It was published in a limited edition of 1000, each one signed and numbered by the author, by the David Graham Fischer Corporation, which seems to have been a very small (possibly even a vanity) press.
Here’s Part 3—the finale—of “Humor Risque,” a not-so-short story from that 1926 collection. (If you missed them, you can read the first two installments here: Part 1 | Part 2)

HUMOR RISQUE

 
 
Monty sat on a lamp box at the side of the set, calmly watching. He was glad when Jackson shouted at the top of his lungs: “Lights—Action—Camera!” He loved the hum of the clicking camera and the sudden quietness that followed. There was a certain tenseness felt by every actor at this moment when the first scene of a new screen masterpiece was shot.
At the end of it Jackson heaved a sigh. The first had been perfect, he thought, but he took it twice again to be sure.
Then came the staccatic “Pull ’em!” from the head electrician, and a man seated at the large portable switchboard snapped down the big three-way switch, and the white lights died down, leaving only the deathly blue of the Cooper-Hewitts.
The assistant director, a small man, who imagined he should be the director and was fond of making that impression, handed Jackson the script. After studying it for a few moments, he called Norma from her dressing room. Monty was then sent for.
Jackson explained:
“Edwards, you make your entrance into the dive. Saunter over to a table and flop down in the chair by the piano. This’ll give us a chance to work in a laugh with the ivory tickler. Now, one of the dames comes over and tries to make you. You tell her to beat it. Then the wop who runs this dive sees you do this. He gets sore and forces Norma to go over and make the grade with you. She is supposed to be his latest protege. She’s innocent and tries the hard stuff with you, but it isn’t convincing. You laugh at her. Then you see she’s hurt. You figure out the gag the wop is pulling with her. You get confidential. She tells you the old story of how she ran away. You fall for this and give her one of your cards, stating that you’ll see her get a real try-out—if she’ll come up tomorrow. She is very grateful and promises to do so. Then you fade out of the dive.”
Jackson had gone through the action of this scene while explaining it to Norman and Monty. The cameraman was busy setting his camera and directing the electricians in placing the lights. The extras sat around languidly on boxes, chairs and, in fact, anything there was to sit upon. They told each other of the great parts they had played in their last pictures!
“And don’t forget the scene with the melody-maker,” sweetly lisped Norma, admiring herself in the small hand mirror which she carried for that purpose.
Jackson nodded.
“Now, you’ve got the idea, Edwards?” he asked.
Monty answered in the affirmative.
The action was too slow the first time, and Jackson called for the N. G. sign after the camera had turned forty feet. They tried again and it was better, much better, claimed the director. Even the assistant director thought so.
The siren sounded for lunch and as soon as the scene was finished, Jackson ordered them off, setting the return call on the set within an hour. The lights were switched off and the entire company drifted out into the street and to their different eating habitats. The afternoon passed quickly and at four o’clock Jackson came over to Monty and told him that he could leave, but to be made up and ready at nine in the morning. “The scene is back-stage. Same make-up,” Jackson said, as he hurried back to the camera.
Monty returned to his dressing room and removed his make-up. Again in his street clothes, he stopped into the office to see Gus.
“Monty, you gotta come down to The Devil Blue Inn tonight.”

“Why?”
“I want to surprise the gang with your hair. It’s great,” Gus declared.
“Yeh, I kinda like it myself now. Got the old pep back, too. It’s a funny thing! Guess I’ll wire Harry when I finish this bit and ask him to put me on again.”
“I’d like to see you do it,” returned Gus, earnestly. “But tonight, Monty, I want you to be my guest. It’s professional night, and we’re all gonna do our little bit. Can’t you put on the single you used to do?”
Monty reflected a moment.
“I believe I will. It would give me practice and I’d like to see how the hair gets over among friends. If it gets by with them, I’ll know it’s all right for the general public.”
“That’s the stuff!” Gus exclaimed, slapping Monty vigorously on the shoulder.
The next morning Monty sat in his dressing room whistling a popular melody. His make-up was already on, and he was just in the act of putting his tiny black tie under his low collar, when Benny, his face wreathed with smiles, entered suddenly without the ceremony of knocking.
He grabbed Monty’s hand.
“Congrats! Big-time trouper! You were the whole show last night, Monty! I’ve got to hand it to you. You’re there, baby!”
“Thanks,” returned Monty, modestly.
“What I want to know is why you’re not claiming the good old white spot-light for twenty minutes every afternoon and night?”
“Well, it is really going to be that,” said Monty, still adjusting his tie. “And it is going to be real soon, too. In fact, I think right after this bit of mine is finished. And Gud told me last night that Jackson expected to be finished in about three weeks, as they had cut some of the scenes. But I might be held in case of re-takes.”
Gus entered the room at that moment.
“‘Lo, Benny. Feel sleepy, Monty? No? That’s fine. I hated to keep a hard working ator like you out so late, but last evening was the frog’s tonsils, as the flappers say. You’ve got the greatest little monologue in the game, Monty.”
Monty blushed under his make-up. He was one of the few vaudeville fun makers who did not know how clever he was. That was, probably, why he was so successful.
“Mister Edwards on the set!” came the call down the narrow passage from the stage to the dressing room. Monty grabbed the make-up kit and dashed into the stage. Gus and Benny went bak to their respective offices.
The extras this morning were an entirely different bunch, Monty noted, as he stepped in. There were all girls, supposed to be chorus girls, and they were quite scantily clad, he observed as he walked closer to the raised platform.
There was the imitation brick wall with the familiar sign: “No Smoking,” and the painted drops and wings. It seemed like home to Monty. It brought back memories of a time when he called it home for a week in a place just like this. Then further back he noted an iron spiral staircase, which supposedly led to the lesser dressing rooms. A grand piano was shoved into view. Monty’s fingers itched to touch the white and black keys. He would, he thought, at noontime, when the rest were at lunch.
The morning’s work consisted of scenes with the chorus girls. Monty was in two of the scenes and the remainder of the time he wandered around the stage, viewing the other sets in the making and those which were ready and waiting for the director.
“All off for lunch!” came the call again.
Monty hurried out for a hasty bite. He was already seated and eating when the girls wandered into the cafeteria clad as they had been on the stage. They thought nothing of it, and the studio employees took it as a matter of course.
Monty noted the surprised expressions on the faces of four visitors who were the guests of the publicity director. He knew what would be said when they arrived home. The older woman of the party would likely run next door to her neighbor and say:
“Why, it is perfectly shocking! Those awful actresses run in and out of the studio with hardly any clothes on! They came right into the restaurant where we were eating and—well, it was just too terrible! I truly believe Hollywood is as bad as it’s printed—if not a lot worse!”
With this amusing thought still in his mind, Monty hurried back to the stage, and to the piano.
He ran over the scales twice, and then played bits of the popular newer tunes. Suddenly he stopped, his hands resting on the keys. Then slowly, but clearly, came the beautiful strains of Humoresque. His hands caressed the keys like a great master of piano art. It brought back memories of many happy days and nights.
He had finished the piece now, but his fingers still rested on the last notes. He was staring into the very depths of the piano now.
“That was wondrously beautiful,” said a soft feminine voice behind him.
Monty turned quickly, dismissing his thoughts.
She smiled prettily, displaying a row of even pearl-like teeth, beneath two crimson cupid-bow lips.
“Did—did you like it?” he asked uncertainly, noting that she was young—not more than eighteen or nineteen.
She murmured something, but Monty did not hear. He was fascinated by her beauty, her honey-colored hair, her liquid blue eyes. He noted that she was dressed in something filmy and soft, in dainty colors. And she had slender ankles.
“Do you play?” he asked finally.
“Yes—a little,” she answered softly. “Would you mind, or don’t you—that is—will you play—jazz?”
He answered her question by turning to the piano and carelessly hitting the keys a terrific bang. Then he started the melody with all the motions of a well trained artist, and finished with a trick ending.
“Why—why, that’s better than I’ve ever heard before, and I’ve been all over the country. I’ve been to New York just lately, and I’ve never heard that piece before.” Her eyes were twinkling, and demanding an answer.
“Well,” Monty said slowly, “I don’t know about the playing being the best, but I do know you’ve never heard the piece before. To tell the truth, that was the first time it has ever been played before anyone.”
“Oh, you’re a composer!”
“You guessed right the first time,” Monty answered her smilingly.
“What’s the name of it?”
“Humor Risque,” he said simply.
“Humor Risque? That’s a strange name. Are there any words to it? Or is it the jazz of Humoresque?”
Monty hesitated for a moment.
“No. I believe that Humoresque is far too beautiful for one to write a parody of it. I don’t believe it could be done—successfully.”
“But,” she insisted, “has yours any words?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, producing a typewritten sheet from his leather card case, and handing it to her.
“Now play it again,” she requested, as she eagerly grasped the paper.
Monty went through with the usual starting methods which is customary and expected of all jazz maniacs. He finished the introduction and started on the first verse. He was surprised to hear her voice in harmony with his playing. He continued, however, delighted to hear his words sung by one who could really sing—and this girl could. He wondered who she was, and why she was an extra, with such an excellent voice.
Monty stopped suddenly.
“Wait. You’re doing fine. But it will be much easier for you if I play this in three flats. Now, start all over again.”
She began with the first verse again:

“Sh—there’s been lots of talk,
Sh—About the way we walk;
And our mode of dressing
Is so—so distressing.
It’s the flappers—I mean,
So bold and serene.”

Monty planted his foot on the soft pedal during the chorus:

“I’m just Humor Risque,
I never ask if I may;
I’m short and snappy,
I’m wild and happy;
I’m a bold, bold flapper,
It’s known I’m rough,
For I’m a cold, cold flapper,
And I know my stuff;
I have my own little way,
For I’m just Humor Risque.”

The music stopped with an exceedingly loud crash.
“Gee, that was good!” Monty exclaimed enthusiastically.
“I’ll tell the world!” she cried excitedly.
Her eyes told him to start on the second verse.

“We go with tailor dummies,
and dance hall rummies;
We mean nothing in life,
and much less as a wife;
Because I say—
We’re Humor Risque.”

The girl sang the chorus again, going through the motions of an experienced jazz singer. Monty watched her closely. He would find out who she was very shortly—he hoped. He was playing softly now, listening to her voice.
“Boy! That’s a great little tune,” she said, after finishing the chorus a second time.
“So you really like it?”
“Do I? I honestly think it’s a world’s knockout. Have you had it published yet?”
“It’s being published now,” Monty said, twisting his fingers over the keys noiselessly.
“Have you written any others,” she asked, resuming her seat on the shaky box near the piano.
“A few,” he turned towards her. “Tell me, have you had stage experience?”
“Oh, yes, been doing it for some time. Just came out from New York. Doing this stuff for the fun of it. I just came—“
She was interrupted by the re-appearance of the company. Monty was sorry; he wanted to talk more to her. She was, he thought, a most delightful creature. Clever, too, he mused.
The afternoon slipped by and Monty was denied the chance of speaking to his newfound friend again. There had been few delays in the shooting that afternoon. If everything went well, they would finish in three weeks, for this picture was just an ordinary program feature, and just one of the six which Norma Lee made in a year.
Monty had just removed his make-up and was combing his new brown hair when there was a timid knock on his dressing room door.
“Come in,” he called out.
The door opened and the pretty young girl stood on the step.
“Pardon me, Mister—Mister—” she was floundering helplessly.
“Edwards,” he supplied, “Monty Edwards.”
“What!” Her large blue eyes grew larger. She grasped the sides of the door, and stared at him.
“Why, what’s wrong?” he asked, in astonishment.
She continued to stare at him. Monty grew nervous.
“Monty Edwards!” She murmured.
“Tell me, what’s wrong?” he insisted, rising from his chair.
“Oh, nothing much”—she caught her breath—“only—only you—you’re my father.”
Monty really never knew how it all happened, but he found himself holding her close in his arms. And she was telling him about her mother—his Flo. He was caressing her hair, her cheeks, and her upturned lips.
“Carol, little Carol. God has been good. You’re wonderful! More wonderful than I had ever hoped for. Oh, Carol, nothing shall ever separate us again,” he was saying brokenly.
“Daddy, dear, I’ve missed you; I’ve missed you most awfully. Everyone in Europe we knew asked for you, and we didn’t know, daddy, we didn’t know what had happened to you. Mother used to cry herself asleep after the performance.”
Carol was still in his arms. His eyes were watery now. If only Flo were here too! How he longed for her.
“You see, daddy, while you were overseas Roddy Roderick, the comedian, came back from the war and showed mama a snapshot of you with your arms around some French dame, and—“
“What!” shouted Monty interrupting.
“Now, wait daddy, until I get through. Of course it wasn’t you, but the resemblance was almost unmistakable. And then the tales he told mama were something terrible. And she believed him. So she took me and we left the day before you arrived.”
“Why didn’t Harry tell me all of this?”
“Because mother wouldn’t tell him. Then while we were over there, we took a week’s layoff to see Paris. It was while we were sitting at one of those Boulevard cafes that some friend of yours—I forget his name—dashed up and greeted mother as Mrs. Edwards.”
“Well, mama took one look and nearly fainted right there. It was the man in the snapshot—the one who looked so much like you. He told mother that while you and he were at the front, you were often mistaken for twin brothers.”
“Yeh, his name is Joe Temple. A great boy, too,” Monty added.
“Mother then realized what a dirty trick Roddy had played on her,” Carol continued. “And she’s been trying to locate you ever since, but you’ve been taking some pretty big jumps.”
“Baby, what are you doing over here alone?”
“I’m not alone. I came over here with our wardrobe mistress.”
“Why did you leave your mother?”
“Because she wanted me to.” Carol smiled roguishly at him.
“What!”
“You see, daddy, it was this way. Mother sent me over here”—she waited—“to find you.”
Monty gave her an extra hug and patted her shoulder happily.
They stood there in silence, both thinking of the circumstances which had altered their lives so strangely.
“It’s wonderful!” he murmured.
Carol woke Monty suddenly from his reverie by grabbing for his hat upon the make-up table. She crammed it upon his head, saying excitedly:
“Come on. We’ve got to hurry to the telegraph office. I’ve got to send Mother a cable at once.”
Monty followed her happily, putting on his coat and vest as he went.
They entered the telegraph office breathlessly. Carol sat at one of the small tables and wrote hurriedly on a cable blank. She finished and handed it to Monty, who had stood close beside her. He read:

Flo Edwards,
Hotel Ritz,
London, England
Have found daddy. He forgives you and everything.
Come home at once. Will meet you in New York.
He has a new act for us. Address Hollywood Hotel.
Daddy has just dyed his hair. He looks about twenty-five.
            Much love,
                       Carol

At the finish, Monty nodded approvingly and handed it to the clerk. He paid the charges and they went gayly out upon the street, telling each other of their many adventures since they had last been together.
Three days later Carol and Monty sat together on the tiny outside balcony of the suite they had rented in the Hollywood Hotel.
“Just think, dad,” she cooed into his ear, “Humor Risque brought us together. What a marvelous piece it is.”
Monty nodded happily.
While they were sitting there, a Japanese bellhop brought them a cable from England. Monty dropped a large silver piece on the boys tray while Carol in a state of nervous excitement tore open envelope.
She read it aloud:

Carol Edwards
Care of Hollywood Hotel,
Hollywood, California, U. S. A.
I am so happy can hardly wait to see you both. Will arrive in New York about three weeks. Will wire exact date. Tell Daddy I just had my face lifted and I look twenty.
            Love,
                       MOTHER.

 

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