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- Merton of the Movies - 40/62 -
that was not mock, for it now occurred to him that he had no experience in love scenes, and that an actor playing Parmalee parts would need a great deal of such experience. In Simsbury there had been no opportunity for an intending actor to learn certain little niceties expected at sentimental moments. Even his private life had been almost barren of adventures that might now profit him.
He had sometimes played kissing games at parties, and there had been the more serious affair with Edwina May Pulver-nights when he had escorted her from church or sociables to the Pulver gate and lingered in a sort of nervously worded ecstasy until he could summon courage to kiss the girl. Twice this had actually happened, but the affair had come to nothing, because the Pulvers had moved away from Simsbury and he had practically forgotten Edwina May; forgotten even the scared haste of those embraces. He seemed to remember that he had grabbed her and kissed her, but was it on her cheek or nose?
Anyway, he was now quite certain that the mechanics of this dead amour were not those approved of in the best screen circles. Never had he gathered a beauteous girl in his arms and very slowly, very accurately, very tenderly, done what Parmalee and other screen actors did in their final fade-outs. Even when Beulah Baxter had been his screen ideal he had never seen himself as doing more than save her from some dreadful fate. Of course, later, if he had found out that she was unwed--
He resolved now to devote special study to Parmalee's methods of wooing the fair creature who would be found in his arms at the close of the present film. Probably Baird would want some of that stuff from him.
From the very beginning of "Object, Matrimony" it was apparent that the picture drama would afford him excellent opportunities for studying the Parmalee technique in what an early subtitle called "The Eternal Battle of the Sexes." For Parmalee in the play was Hubert Throckmorton, popular screen idol and surfeited with the attentions of adoring women. Cunningly the dramatist made use of Parmalee's own personality, of his screen triumphs, and of the adulation lavished upon him by discriminating fair ones. His breakfast tray was shown piled with missives amply attesting the truth of what the interviewer had said of his charm. All women seemed to adore Hubert Throckmorton in the drama, even as all women adored Harold Parmalee in private life.
The screen revealed Throckmorton quite savagely ripping open the letters, glancing at their contents and flinging them from him with humorous shudders. He seemed to be asking why these foolish creatures couldn't let an artist alone. Yet he was kindly, in this half-humorous, half-savage mood. There was a blending of chagrin and amused tolerance on his face as the screen had him murmur, casting the letter aside, "Poor, Silly Little Girls!"
From this early scene Merton learned Parmalee's method of withdrawing the gold cigarette case, of fastidiously selecting a cigarette, of closing the case and of absently--thinking of other matters--tamping the gold-tipped thing against the cover. This was an item that he had overlooked. He should have done that in the cabaret scene. He also mastered the Parmalee trick of withdrawing the handkerchief from the cuff of the perfectly fitting morning coat. That was something else he should have done in The Blight of Broadway. Little things like that, done right, gave the actor his distinction.
The drama progressed. Millionaire Jasper Gordon, "A Power in Wall Street," was seen telephoning to Throckmorton. He was entreating the young actor to spend the week-end at his palatial Long Island country home to meet a few of his friends. The grim old Wall Street magnate was perturbed by Throckmorton's refusal, and renewed his appeal. He was one of those who always had his way in Wall Street, and he at length prevailed upon Throckmorton to accept his invitation. He than manifested the wildest delight, and he was excitedly kissed by his beautiful daughter who had been standing by his side in the sumptuous library while he telephoned. It could be seen that the daughter, even more than her grim old father, wished Mr. Throckmorton to be at the Long Island country home.
Later Throckmorton was seen driving his high-powered roadster, accompanied only by his valet, to the Gordon country home on Long Island, a splendid mansion surrounded by its landscaped grounds where fountains played and roses bloomed against the feathery background of graceful eucalyptus trees. Merton Gill here saw that he must learn to drive a high-powered roadster. Probably Baird would want some of that stuff, too.
A round of country-house gaieties ensued, permitting Throckmorton to appear in a series of perfectly fitting sports costumes. He was seen on his favourite hunter, on the tennis courts, on the first tee of the golf course, on a polo pony, and in the mazes of the dance. Very early it was learned that the Gordon daughter had tired of mere social triumphs and wished to take up screen acting in a serious way. She audaciously requested Throckmorton to give her a chance as leading lady in his next great picture.
He softened his refusal by explaining to her that acting was a difficult profession and that suffering and sacrifice were necessary to round out the artist. The beautiful girl replied that within ten days he would be compelled to admit her rare ability as an actress, and laughingly they wagered a kiss upon it. Merton felt that this was the sort of thing he must know more about.
Throckmorton was courteously gallant in the scene. Even when he said, "Shall we put up the stakes now, Miss Gordon?" it could be seen that he was jesting. He carried this light manner through minor scenes with the beautiful young girl friends of Miss Gordon who wooed him, lay in wait for him, ogled and sighed. Always he was the laughingly tolerant conqueror who had but a lazy scorn for his triumphs.
He did not strike the graver note until it became suspected that there were crooks in the house bent upon stealing the famous Gordon jewels. That it was Throckmorton who averted this catastrophe by sheer nerve and by use of his rare histrionic powers--as when he disguised himself in the coat and hat of the arch crook whom he had felled with a single blow and left bound and gagged, in order to receive the casket of jewels from the thief who opened the safe in the library, and that he laughed away the thanks of the grateful millionaire, astonished no one in the audience, though it caused Merton Gill to wonder if he could fell a crook with one blow. He must practice up some blows.
Throckmorton left the palatial country home wearied by the continuous adulation. The last to speed him was the Gordon daughter, who reminded him of their wager; within ten days he would acknowledge her to be an actress fit to play as his leading woman.
Throckmorton drove rapidly to a simple farm where he was not known and would be no longer surfeited with attentions. He dressed plainly in shirts that opened wide at the neck and assisted in the farm labours, such as pitching hay and leading horses into the barn. It was the simple existence that he had been craving--away from it all! No one suspected him to be Hubert Throckmorton, least of all the simple country maiden, daughter of the farmer, in her neat print dress and heavy braid of golden hair that hung from beneath her sunbonnet. She knew him to be only a man among men, a simple farm labourer, and Hubert Throckmorton, wearied by the adulation of his feminine public, was instantly charmed by her coy acceptance of his attentions.
That this charm should ripen to love was to be expected. Here was a child, simple, innocent, of a wild-rose beauty in her print dress and sunbonnet, who would love him for himself alone. Beside a blossoming orange tree on the simple Long Island farm he declared his love, warning the child that he had nothing to offer her but two strong arms and a heart full of devotion.
The little girl shyly betrayed that she returned his love but told him that he must first obtain the permission of her grandmother without which she would never consent to wed him. She hastened into the old farmhouse to prepare Grandmother for the interview.
Throckmorton presently faced the old lady who sat huddled in an armchair, her hands crooked over a cane, a ruffled cap above her silvery hair. He manfully voiced his request for the child's hand in marriage. The old lady seemed to mumble an assent. The happy lover looked about for his fiance when, to his stupefaction, the old lady arose briskly from her chair, threw off cap, silvery wig, gown of black, and stood revealed as the child herself, smiling roguishly up at him from beneath the sunbonnet. With a glad cry he would have seized her, when she stayed him with lifted hand. Once more she astounded him. Swiftly she threw off sunbonnet, blonde wig, print dress, and stood before him revealed as none other than the Gordon daughter.
Hubert Throckmorton had lost his wager. Slowly, as the light of recognition dawned in his widening eyes, he gathered the beautiful girl into his arms. "Now may I be your leading lady?" she asked.
"My leading lady, not only in my next picture, but for life," he replied.
There was a pretty little scene in which the wager was paid. Merton studied it. Twice again, that evening, he studied it. He was doubtful. It would seem queer to take a girl around the waist that way and kiss her so slowly. Maybe he could learn. And he knew he could already do that widening of the eyes. He could probably do it as well as Parmalee did.
* * * * * * *
Back in the Buckeye office, when the Montague girl had returned from her parting with Merton, Baird had said:
"Kid, you've brightened my whole day."
"Didn't I tell you?"
"He's a lot better than you said."
"But can you use him?"
"You can't tell. You can't tell till you try him out. He might be good, and he might blow up right at the start."
"I bet he'll be good. I tell you. Jeff, that boy is just full of acting. All you got to do--keep his stuff straight, serious. He can't help but be funny that way."
"We'll see. To-morrow we'll kind of feel him out. He'll see this Parmalee film to-day--I caught it last night--and there's some stuff in it I want to play horse with, see? So I'll start him to-morrow in
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