Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
Back in Indianapolis, Grace Nome made the mistake of stating that she wanted to be an actress the worst way. The remark caused so much kidding that it ultimately drove her to Hollywood.
Three days in the film city brought discouragement. She emerged from a studio casting office with a weaker desire to show the folks back home.
“It’s tough that there isn’t any work,” a youth whispered while making an exit from the same building. “Well, don’t let it get you down,” he concluded with a weak smile.
“Oh, I’ll be all right,” Grace brightened confidently. “I’m predestined, if you know what I mean.”
Lifting his eyebrows, the boy grimaced and mumbled: “Yes, I’ve heard the expression before.”
The strident noise of bad brakes impinged on their ears, and a dilapidated Ford vibrated inelegantly to the curb before them.
“Hi, Harry!” the occupant shouted. “Here comes Personality Jimmie!” Bounding from the car, a boy thumbed six tickets, then kidded brazenly: “Oh, oh, didn’t mean to muscle in. Why, Harry, were you with this young lady?”
His friend turned to the strange girl.
“Guess you’ll have to help me out, Miss—Miss—“
“Grace Nome is my name.”
“Mine is Harry Wyatt, and this would-be comic intruder is Jimmie Hagel. Don’t mind him. He’s a nut, a goof, and a swell guy all rolled into one. He swears he’s funny—you know, funny like a comedian.”
Jimmie guffawed. “Why, I’m a comic, and you know it.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. You haven’t even got a one-day job.”
“Yeah, but I’m on my way to Paramount with hope and—“
“Oh,” Grace broke in, “will you tell me the location of Paramount Studios?”
“Hop in, Miss Nome. If you can stand this rattletrap fliv of mine, be there in three or four minutes. The ol’ buggy’s perky, has the shakes, but it’s sure.”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“No trouble. Just look at that Class car, rarin’ to go! No foolin’, it has Class A inscribed on the motor. Just let me introduce you to the Baron. Hi Baron, this is Miss Nome. Miss Nome—the Baron. Barren of polish, barren of paint, barren of—“
“I can’t take it,” Harry groaned. “Jimmie, not in my financial mood. I’ll ride with you, if you’ll promise not to pun.”
“Not a pun in a carload. Hop in. I promise to keep the trap closed until I get a refusal from Paramount.”
In a few moments the three were crammed into the almost unupholstered seat, jogging zigzag and bouncy along Hollywood Boulevard. Eying the blonde beside him, Jimmie voiced his thoughts.
“You’re new, aren’t you, Miss Nome? Haven’t you seen around on the daily hunt. Bucking this extra list is tough sleddin’. What luck do you expect to have in the big bad film city?”
“Don’t answer him, Miss Nome. He’s crazy. Now, Jimmy, tell me why you rushed up with all that enthusiasm about tickets? What were they for?”
“The gamblin’ joint that’s openin’ tonight. I got six. Everybody’ll be there, ’cause they know the police won’t let it stay open long. I’m makin’ up a party. Wanna go?”
“Nope, no shekels to spare.”
“You don’t need any dough. It’s on the house. How ’bout you, Miss Nome? Wanna join us? Good way to meet the big shots.”
Jimmie laughed hoarsely.
“Only Harry and I can talk in this flivver. See,” he demonstrated, “you gotta relax your jaw or you’ll bite your tongue. And here we are, folks, rollin’ up to Paramount Studios in state—in state of hope or in hope of state. Anyway, in hope. Listen to them brakes! I think I’ll start a brake band and star on the radio.”
“Please don’t pun!” Harry pleaded. “Have a heart, Jimmie. I need work. Puns won’t cheer me up.”
The car stopped abruptly with a recoil that sent the three into a scrimmage.
“Time out for Harvard!” Jimmie yelled, and whistled like a football coach. “Out you come, you stowaways! Give the Baron a rest while we see if Mrs. Paramount will dole out nice jobs for three.”
With a laugh, he mocked their sad expressions.
“Hey, both of you, smile!” he urged. “Don’t take job hunting so seriously. It got me down once. Come on, give in! Smile, pray, and enter, or pray, smile, and enter, anyway, pray!”
Presently the three were back on the sidewalk again. Two were as dejected as loiterers.
“Am I sore at Mrs. Paramount? Am I sore!” Jimmie kidded for cheering purposes. “Anyway, folks, you know things don’t go on like this forever. No, they get worse. Now listen, you two,” he demanded seriously. “Don’t get job hunting get you down. What you both need is a few laughs and to shuffle yourself a new deal. Better join us, Miss Nome. Step out with us tonight. Meet the best—meet the celebrities at play.”
Addresses and telephone numbers were exchanged. The hour was set for midnight.
Midnight, Grace thought several times while dressing. Her friends back in Iowa were well on their way home from a social function at such an hour. Tonight she was to mingle with stars and producers. She certainly was progressing. At such a rate she’d be an actress in—well, at least she was stepping along speedily.
Shortly after midnight, Jimmie’s party of six heard the weight of a heavy door being bolted behind them and saw rows of crap, roulette, and card tables as they were ushered to a room where a dance floor was surrounded by drinking booths.
After craning her neck for a glimpse of the elite, Grace whispered coyly to Harry.
“How many stars do you think will appear?” she gushed.
“None,” Harry returned confidently.
“Surely you’re joking!”
“Maybe you’re ribbing me. Say, didn’t you really tumble to this racket?”
“Yes. Jimmie’s just a roustabout for this place. You know, drummin’ up business. As far as we’re concerned, why, it’s all for a few drinks, a few laughs, and to forget our troubles. Jimmie told you it was a joint, or are you kidding me?”
“You mean that Jimmie’s nothing but a—“
“Now don’t get me wrong. Jimmie’s a swell person. He’s a clown for any of his friends are down with the depression. He’s trying to keep from starving too, you know. So he’ll keep at this racket until he lands a decent job.”
“But why did you say roustabout?“
“My error. I thought you got it. Well, we’re in evening clothes. Nobody else is, you notice. Bellhops and taxi drivers tell the tourists where they may find the stars at the old night life. So they come here, and when they see extras like us all dolled up, they think they’re looking at celebrities. The waiters have probably given your name out as Lilly Gilch, explaining that you’re a new find at the So-and-So Studios. Then the saps come again and again, thinking that they’ll eventually run into their favorites. Get it? It’s the jolly ol’ merry-go-round!”
A sickly smile faded over Grace Nome’s face. Then the color left it. Three pistols shots resounded, and bottles began crashing against the walls. In terrorizing tones, a female voice cried: “Raid!”
After a death-like silence, flashlights flared in every corner. Disgustedly a commanding voice yelled:
“Everybody come out from under them tables and sit where you was till I check yuh! Ok, the lights!” he prompted.
Gradually emerging from a fainting spell, Grace heard Jimmie’s kind voice consoling her, and felt the cool, wet napkin which he had been applying to her forehead and wrists. Very conscious of harsh tones demanding her name and profession caused her to blurt out:
“Grace Nome. Motion pictures.”
“Aw, what made you tell him, kid?” Jimmie crabbed. “He’s only a reporter.”
Lights began flaring, flooding the room again. An officer moved alongside the booth and recognized Jimmie.
“You’re excused!” he ordered. “Get your party out of here.”
Early next morning, Grace was startled to hear Jimmie’s apologetic voice on her telephone.
“Sorry about last night, kid. My fault for gettin’ you into print.”
“In print?” she gasped. “What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you seen the morning papers? Terrible! Can I bring ’em up to you?”
Ages seemed to pass until Jimmie burst through her apartment door and sheepishly spread the front-page news before her.
“Don’t know what I can ever do to make up for this,” he grumbled sincerely.
As if unable to look at the headlines with her, Jimmie retired to the window, looking out on a hateful world.
With increasing interest, Grace read the story of her fame in bold, black type:
Quite unable to believe what she read, Grace lifted her eyes to Jimmie for additional truth, astonishing him with her attitude.
“At last! At last!” she cried. “I am an actress!”
The press had proclaimed her one.