The fourth chapter from Hollywood Undressed, a 1931 memoir attributed to the assistant of masseuse and health guru Sylvia Ulback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood (but actually ghost-written for Sylvia by newspaper reporter and screenwriter James Whittaker) includes more tales of Sylvia’s tumultuous tour with actress Mae Murray and a humorous account of actress Alice White‘s role in the ensuing court proceedings after Murray sued Sylvia.
XMAS! “X” MARKS THE SPOT
ACCORDING to Sylvia, when the company got to Buffalo Statler, everybody went to their rooms and crawled into the hay and hung out the Don’t Disturb sign. Sylvia was just dozing off when—wham!—there went the phone bell: Mae, calling for a treatment.
Murmuring fond benedictions on the head of her employer, Sylvia crawled into clothes, dipped her face in cold water, and went upstairs. She found the prince alone, and the cordial relations existing between Caucasian knight and the Scandinavian pawn led to an enjoyable interval of about a half-hour during which no conversation was exchanged. After a long while the prince did address to Sylvia one of the rare sentences that he left fall in her direction.
“Are all American women crazy?” he demanded.
When Mae came in a few minutes later, she was the spark to the powder. Right away the boss could tell there was something up. Mae had been out gallivanting around in the zero weather, dressed in a skirt and sweater.
“You’ll have pneumonia!” said Sylvia.
“I hope I get it double,” said Mae and began to sniffle. Sylvia went to comfort her.
“Take your hands off my wife!” roared the prince. “And what’s more, Sylvia, you’re fired! Understand?”
Mae stuck out her chin under the prince’s nose and said:
“Sylvia isn’t fired. She stays!”
The prince glared at Sylvia, and she got on the other side of the bed. He looked as if he were going to take the obstacle in one jump, but contented himself with giving the mattress a big kick and yelling:
“You get out or—or—“
Well, Mae got him quieted down and he consented to leave the room. The minute he was out, she bolted the door.
“What’s it all about?” Sylvia inquired.
“Don’t ask me!” groaned Mae. “It’s still that fuss about his boy’s Christmas present.”
Well, if it was just a Russian version of the Yuletide spirit, Sylvia thought she could risk sticking around; so she began treating Mae, hoping to head off pneumonia. For the next hour the prince kept trying the locked door and growling through the keyhole every few minutes.
After a while Mae dozed off. There was no noise outside, and Sylvia, being all in and starved, phoned down for a meal. When the waiter brought up the order the prince was lying in wait in the hall, and Sylvia no sooner drew the bolt than he popped in.
By this time Sylvia was hardened, so she sat and hate her lunch and looked on at the domestic scene in comfort from a neutral corner. Mae woke up, and they went at it hot and heavy, until Mae said she’d go over to the prince’s room, where they could have it out without witnesses.
But she was back in ten minutes, and made Sylvia promise she wouldn’t leave her, day or night.
It went on like that during the rest of the afternoon and evening, and along about bedtime it got a good deal worse.
In the end, Sylvia was too far out of patience to remember what she owed to an employer and a member of the old Tartar nobility, so she gave his Highness her candid opinion of him.
The hotel’s house manager was on the noisy scene by that time. He was scandalized and, being a good American, couldn’t get over how Sylvia had talked to a blue-blood.
“Remember,” he almost wept, “after all, you’re addressing Prince M’Divani!”
With the manager as mediator, Mae and the prince worked out a compromise that restored order. The prince was to let his wife go to another hotel for the night, but as security he was to hold on to her theatrical trunks until she came back!
The arrangement deprived Mae of most of her private wardrobe as well, as the prince locked himself in and she couldn’t get to her luggage. However, she and Sylvia slipped out of the Statler. They ducked, half frozen, in to the first hotel they came to—the Tower.
The next day Mae and her prince got together again, the M’Divani boy got the Christmas present, and Sylvia got merryell from two directions. Mae and the prince decided Sylvia was responsible for the whole thing.
But the boss managed to stick it out for the next few weeks. The troupe got to Chicago, where it was to play one week and then break up. After that Mae and Sylvia were to return to Hollywood.
The last performance of the tour came around. There’s a time-honored stage custom that the star of a show throws a dinner for the supporting cast after the last performance. For a week Mae had been worrying about that dinner. There were ten girls to feed.
Sylvia got to the theater in Chicago early on the night of the last show, and ran into Jean Pittsman, captain of the chorus. Jean buttonholed the boss and asked:
“Where is Miss Murray taking us to supper? The girls are pestering me to know.”
The other girls swarmed out of their dressing rooms, all excited, and pumped Sylvia, too.
Mae swept in from the stage door about that time and heard the girls chattering about their supper. She gave them a big, radiant Madame Happiness smile and called out:
“Girls, I have a surprise for you. Wait around after the show!”
The girls almost gave her a cheer. Mae motioned to Sylvia to follow her into her dressing room. Once inside, she closed the door and said:
“Sylvia, I need your help.”
“To order the supper?” said Sylvia, bright and eager.
“Well, sort of,” said Mae. “I just had a grand idea about that supper on my way down in the taxi. I do so want to do something nice for those darling girls, and I know just what will do them the most good. They absolutely ruin their systems, eating the stuff they do.”
“They haven’t much to spend on eats,” put in Sylvia.
“Exactly,” approved Mae. “That’s why I’ve thought up this idea for them. It’ll teach them to eat well and yet economically.”
Even then Sylvia didn’t suspect what was coming, and was left gaping and speechless when Mae opened her bag, handed Sylvia her trunk keys, and said:
“What I want you to do is go and get together all those cans of health food!”
“Health food!” was all that Sylvia could say.
“Wasn’t I foolish not to think of it before?” Mae went on happily. “You remember how to prepare it, don’t you? Get some olive oil and about three cans of the food and—oh, wait a minute.”
She went over to the dressing table and undid a big brown-paper package. Inside was a large salad bowl.
I borrowed it from the hotel. Mix the food in it.”
As Sylvia turned to go, Mae cautioned:
“Don’t say a word to the girls. I want it to be a surprise.”
WELL, Sylvia didn’t say anything. She carried out Mae’s instructions to the letter and mixed up plenty of the oil and health food in the bowl.
The act ended. Mae took her bows and came into the dressing room. She gave the mess in the bowl an extra stir and sniffed it.
“Delicious!” she murmured. “And now, Sylvia, call the girls in.”
Sylvia started off to obey, but Mae stopped her.
“No, I’ll go to them with it.”
She picked up the bowl and went over to the chorus dressing room, Sylvia tagging along. Mae threw open the door of the girls’ room.
“Girls,” she said, like a lecturer, “I want to give you a little talk. It’s about eating. I’ve given the subject a good deal of thought. Madame Sylvia, here, has been teaching me a lot—“
Sylvia got behind the speaker and sent the girls a wink meaning: “Leave me out of this.”
Mae went right on: “After investigating every kind of diet I’ve found the grandest health food in the world. Now—” And she presented the bowl with a flourish. “Now I want you girls to try this food and tell me what you think of it.”
The girls sort of drifted up to look and sniff at the bowl. They were more amazed than anything else.
“It’s something you eat?” inquired Jean Pittsman in a dazed way.
“As much as you want!” cried Mae. “If this isn’t enough, there’s more where it came from. And I’m going to give each girl a can of it to take with her.”
There was what you might aptly call a stage wait as the girls stared at each other, and then Mae said:
“Don’t mind me. Go ahead and eat.”
Jeannie had the presence of mind to speak up. “Thank you, Miss Murray,” she said gratefully.
A little girl, the youngest of the troupe, came up and took a spoonful of the mess and put it in her mouth. A second later she spat it out.
Mae looked at her, maybe a little sternly, and the kid got frightened and apologized:
“I’m sorry. It slipped.”
Mae left, with dignity. Sylvia went with her.
The girls took one more look and grabbed their raincoats to beat it over to the doughnut-and-coffee stand, as usual. Soon they could be heard trooping back from their quick lunch. They were all laughing uproariously. Mae listened with a pleased look.
“They loved it!” she breathed. Presently she rose and said: “Let’s see what they’re up to.”
Sylvia opened the door and popped out first—
And took one step and fell over the salad bowl full of oiled health food, as she mad a desperate pirouette to avoid putting her foot right into it. The girls were disappointed. They had meant the trap for somebody else—they didn’t say whom.
THE rest of Sylvia’s tour with Mae was a succession of squabbles over moneys due and unpaid. Everybody got home alive enough to go to law. This account as well end up as the trial did—with the sensational appearance in court of ###Alice White.
When Alice had first come to Sylvia, she had been as nearly disgusting-looking as so cute a kid can get on a cream-puff-and-chocolate-candy diet. Sylvia had taken her in hand and whacked her into such shape that the first thing a director asked, when an Alice White picture script was submitted, was: “Where is the undressing scene?”
Alice was determined to be Sylvia’s witness. “I’ll be there,” she insisted, “and I’ll bet that judge invites me to testify.”
In the concluding minutes of the trial there was a sudden commotion at the door. Alice had dressed in a costume which showed about as much of her as the law would allow. And she had a corsage of sweet peas on what there was of a shoulder piece to her gown.
Well, those court attachés had never seen anything like it. They opened up an aisle and Alice came down front. Sievers, Sylvia’s lawyer, rose to address the court.
“I don’t know whether this is material and ethical or not,” he said, waving at Alice, “but there has been insinuating testimony to the effect that Madame Sylvia is not expert in her profession, and we have an exhibit here in court in the person of Miss Alice White.”
“Let’s have a look at the exhibit,” piped up Mr. Gilbert, the opposition lawyer.
The judge took a look at Alice and said:
“File the exhibit.”
Well,the legal boys had a lot of their idea of fun. Mr. Sievers asked Alice:
“What is your business?”
Q. How long have you been so engaged?
A. Over two years.
Q. Throughout that time, have you taken massage treatments?
Judge Burnell. What’s the purpose of this?
Lawyer Sievers. It is intimated, your Honor, that Mae Murray claims Madame Sylvia was no good at her job.
Lawyer Gilbert. Well, I object that Miss White’s testimony can’t be anything but indefinite, because we all appreciate that she looks like someone’s good job, but how are we to discriminate between that part of the result which would be attributable to God and those parts attributable to the father, the mother, and the masseuse?
Judge Burnell. Those parties you mention have not been made parties to this action. Even if they were, I doubt whether they would have had you as their lawyer.
Loud laughter in the court.
Judge Burnell went on: “Do you wish the exhibit marked for identification?”
Well, everybody was willing to do the marking, and Alice sort of hitched around in her chair as if to inquire what part of her they wanted to put the seal on.
The judge got gallant. He gave a bend toward Alice, who gave him the eye, and he said:
“Please call this witness back sometime when we have an action that is going to last longer.”
And Alice got up and left, and everybody that wasn’t nailed down got up and tagged after her—so there were only the lawyers and Sylvia around to hear the judgment in Sylvia’s favor.