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- Merton of the Movies - 20/62 -
ashes in your mouth--now, ready; lights! Camera!"
"I like Western stuff better," confided Merton to his companion. She considered this, though retaining her arch manner. "Well, I don't know. I done a Carmencita part in a dance-hall scene last month over to the Bigart, and right in the mi'st of the fight I get a glass of somethin' all over my gown that practically rooned it. I guess I rather do this refined cabaret stuff--at least you ain't so li'ble to roon a gown. Still and all, after you been warmin' the extra bench for a month one can't be choosy. Say, there's the princ'ples comin' on the set."
He looked around. There, indeed, was the beautiful Muriel Mercer, radiant in an evening frock of silver. At the moment she was putting a few last touches to her perfect face from a make-up box held by a maid. Standing with her was another young woman, not nearly so beautiful, and three men. Henshaw was instructing these. Presently he called through his megaphone: "You people are excited by the entrance of the famous Vera Vanderpool and her friends. You stop drinking, break off your talk, stare at her--see what I mean?--she makes a sensation. Music, lights, camera!"
Down the set, escorted by a deferential head-waiter, came Muriel Mercer on the arm of a middle-aged man who was elaborately garnished but whose thin dyed mustaches, partially bald head, and heavy eyes, proclaimed him to Merton Gill as one who meant the girl no good. They were followed by the girl who was not so beautiful and the other two men. These were young chaps of pleasing exterior who made the progress laughingly. The five were seated at a table next the dancing space at the far end. They chatted gayly as the older man ordered importantly from the head-waiter. Muriel Mercer tapped one of the younger men with her plumed fan and they danced. Three other selected couples danced at the same time, though taking care not to come between the star and the grinding camera. The older man leered at the star and nervously lighted a gold-tipped cigarette which he immediately discarded after one savage bite at it. It could be seen that Vera Vanderpool was the gayest of all that gay throng. Upon her as yet had come no blight of Broadway, though she shrank perceptibly when the partially bald one laid his hand on her slender wrist as she resumed her seat. Food and wine were brought. Vera Vanderpool drank, with a pretty flourish of her glass.
Now the two cameras were moved forward for close-ups. The older man was caught leering at Vera. It would surely be seen that he was not one to trust. Vera was caught with the mad light of pleasure in her beautiful eyes. Henshaw was now speaking in low tones to the group, and presently Vera Vanderpool did a transition. The mad light of pleasure died from her eyes and the smile froze on her beautiful mouth. A look almost of terror came into her eyes, followed by a pathetic lift of the upper lip. She stared intently above the camera. She was beholding some evil thing far from that palace of revels.
"Now they'll cut back to the tenement-house stuff they shot last week," explained the Spanish girl.
"Tenement house?" queried Merton. "But I thought the story would be that she falls in love with a man from the great wind-swept spaces out West, and goes out there to live a clean open life with him-- that's the way I thought it would be--out there where she could forget the blight of Broadway."
"No, Mercer never does Western stuff. I got a little girl friend workin' with her and she told me about this story. Mercer gets into this tenement house down on the east side, and she's a careless society butterfly; but all at once she sees what a lot of sorrow there is in this world when she sees these people in the tenement house, starving to death, and sick kids and everything, and this little friend of mine does an Italian girl with a baby and this old man here, he's a rich swell and prominent in Wall Street and belongs to all the clubs, but he's the father of this girl's child, only Mercer don't know that yet. But she gets aroused in her better nature by the sight of all this trouble, and she almost falls in love with another gentleman who devotes all his time to relieving the poor in these tenements--it was him who took her there--but still she likes a good time as well as anybody, and she's stickin' around Broadway and around this old guy who's pretty good company in spite of his faults. But just now she got a shock at remembering the horrible sights she has seen; she can't get it out of her mind. And pretty soon she'll see this other gentleman that she nearly fell in love with, the one who hangs around these tenements doing good-- he'll be over at one of them tables and she'll leave her party and go over to his table and say, 'Take me from this heartless Broadway to your tenements where I can relieve their suffering,' so she goes out and gets in a taxi with him, leaving the old guy with not a thing to do but pay the check. Of course he's mad, and he follows her down to the tenements where she's relieving the poor--just in a plain black dress--and she finds out he's the real father of this little friend of mine's child, and tells him to go back to Broadway while she has chosen the better part and must live her life with these real people. But he sends her a note that's supposed to be from a poor woman dying of something, to come and bring her some medicine, and she goes off alone to this dive in another street, and it's the old guy himself who has sent the note, and he has her there in this cellar in his power. But the other gentleman has found the note and has follered her, and breaks in the door and puts up a swell fight with the old guy and some toughs he has hired, and gets her off safe and sound, and so they're married and live the real life far away from the blight of Broadway. It's a swell story, all right, but Mercer can't act it. This little friend of mine can act all around her. She'd be a star if only she was better lookin'. You bet Mercer don't allow any lookers on the same set with her. Do you make that one at the table with her now? Just got looks enough to show Mercer off. Mercer's swell-lookin', I'll give her that, but for actin'--say, all they need in a piece for her is just some stuff to go in between her close-ups. Don't make much difference what it is. Oh, look! There comes the dancers. It's Luzon and Mario."
Merton Gill looked. These would be hired dancers to entertain the pleasure-mad throng, a young girl with vine leaves in her hair and a dark young man of barbaric appearance. The girl was clad in a mere whisp of a girdle and shining breast plates, while the man was arrayed chiefly in a coating of dark stain. They swirled over the dance floor to the broken rhythm of the orchestra, now clinging, now apart, working to a climax in which the man poised with his partner perched upon one shoulder. Through the megaphone came instructions to applaud the couple, and Broadway applauded--all but Merton Gill, who stared moodily into his coffee cup or lifted bored eyes to the scene of revelry. He was not bored, but his various emotions combined to produce this effect very plausibly. He was dismayed at this sudden revelation of art in the dance so near him. Imogene Pulver had once done an art dance back in Simsbury, at the cantata of Esther in the vestry of the Methodist church, and had been not a little criticised for her daring; but Imogene had been abundantly clad, and her gestures much more restrained. He was trying now to picture how Gashwiler would take a thing like this, or Mrs. Gashwiler, for that matter! One glimpse of those practically unclad bodies skipping and bounding there would probably throw them into a panic. They couldn't have sat it through. And here he was, right up in front of them, and not turning a hair.
This reflection permitted something of the contemptuous to show in the random glances with which he swept the dancers? He could not look at them steadily, not when they were close, as they often were. Also, he loathed the cigarette he was smoking. The tolerant scorn for the Gashwilers and his feeling for the cigarette brought him again into favourable notice. He heard Henshaw, but did not look up.
"Get another flash here, Paul. He's rather a good little bit." Henshaw now stood beside him. "Hold that," he said. "No, wait." He spoke to Merton's companion. "You change seats a minute with Miss Montague, as if you'd got tired of him--see what I mean? Miss Montague--Miss Montague." The Spanish girl arose, seeming not wholly pleased at this bit of directing. The Montague girl came to the table. She was a blithesome sprite in a salmon-pink dancing frock. Her blonde curls fell low over one eye which she now cocked inquiringly at the director.
"You're trying to liven him up," explained Henshaw. "That's all-- baby-vamp him. He'll do the rest. He's quite a good little bit."
The Montague girl flopped into the chair, leaned roguishly toward Merton Gill, placed a small hand upon the sleeve of his coat and peered archly at him through beaded lashes, one eye almost hidden by its thatch of curls. Merton Gill sunk low in his chair, cynically tapped the ash from his tenth cigarette into the coffee cup and raised bored eyes to hers. "That's it--shoot it, Paul, just a flash."
The camera was being wheeled toward them. The Montague girl, with her hand still on his arm, continued her wheedling, though now she spoke.
"Why, look who's here. Kid, I didn't know you in your stepping-out clothes. Say, listen, why do you always upstage me? I never done a thing to you, did I? Go on, now, give me the fishy eye again. How'd you ace yourself into this first row, anyway? Did you have to fight for it? Say, your friend'll be mad at me putting her out of here, won't she? Well, blame it on the gelatin master. I never suggested it. Say, you got Henshaw going. He likes that blighted look of yours."
He made no reply to this chatter. He must keep in the picture. He merely favoured her with a glance of fatigued indifference. The camera was focused.
"All ready, you people. Do like I said, now. Lights, camera!"
Merton Gill drew upon his cigarette with the utmost disrelish, raised the cold eyes of a disillusioned man to the face of the leering Montague girl, turned aside from her with every sign of apathy, and wearily exhaled the smoke. There seemed to be but this one pleasure left to him.
"Cut!" said Henshaw, and somewhere lights jarred off. "Just stick there a bit, Miss Montague. We'll have a couple more shots when the dancing begins."
Merton resented this change. He preferred the other girl. She lured him but not in so pronounced, so flagrant a manner. The blight of Broadway became more apparent than ever upon his face. The girl's hand still fluttered upon his sleeve as the music came and dancers shuffled by them.
"Say, you're the actin' kid, all right." She was tapping the floor with the heel of a satin slipper. He wished above all things that she wouldn't call him "Kid." He meditated putting a little of Broadway's blight upon her by saying in a dignified way that his real name was Clifford Armytage. Still, this might not blight her-- you couldn't tell about the girl.
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