Manley Halliday was reading the scenario when Shep entered. He did not look up until they came half way across the room to him, and when he did Shep saw an old young face with ashen complexion. Could this be Manley Halliday?
Halliday lifted himself out of the deep red leather chair with stiff good manners. Shep was surprised to see that the author was several inches shorter than the image in his mind, not much over five six, a slender, delicately made man with the beginning of a small paunch.
“Glad to meet you, sir,” Shep heard him say under his breath. But the soft hand hurriedly withdrawn, the disinterested flick of the eyes drew the meaning of the words.
Shep’s own response embarrassed him even though he was helpless to temper it. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Halliday.”
“Manley, it turns out he’s one of your fans,” Milgrim said with a laugh.
Shep felt he was being offered up to Manley Halliday. He wished Milgrim had waited for him to tell Halliday in his own way.
Halliday acknowledged the compliment with an almost imperceptible bow and the faintest suggestion of a smile, reflecting disbelief rather than pleasure.
“Manley, I thought I’d keep young Stearns on to collaborate with you—if that’s all right with you, of course…”
Shep had never seen Milgrim hide his own positiveness under so much deference. Even the way he said Manley seemed to imply not a casual familiarity but a respectful request for permission to call him Manley. The first time Shep heard it, he thought Milgrim had gone out of character. But then he realized that Manley Halliday was a celebrity from another world, to be admired like Baruch and Lamont and Einstein. Crawford and Hitchcock and Cary Grant were the everyday commodities of Milgrim’s world. But Manley Halliday, even ten years late, even on the skids, was a self-made businessman-artist’s ideal of eloquence, of literacy raised to the level of Pulitzer Prizes and Modern Library editions.
Manley Halliday’s collaborator. When Milgrim made the suggestion, Shep tried to meet the author’s eyes and smile to signal his realization of the preposterousness of the idea. But Halliday was polite, in that mannered way associated with capes and walking sticks, in that way which leaves one totally incapable of perceiving the intention behind the social mask.
“I haven’t collaborated with anybody since—Lord, since my roommate and I wrote the Hasty Pudding show of Fifteen.”
He paused, and then added, with what Shep feared was reluctance, “But I’ll be glad to try it with Mr.Stearns.”
Shep noticed for the first time how Halliday talked. The words came up out of a face that paid no attention to them. Only what had to be said was said. It was said nicely, with a care for amenities, yet accompanied by the unspoken hope that what had just been said would suffice.
In a delayed take—as Milgrim would have said—the producer seemed to realize the incongruity of teaming Halliday with young Stearns, for he hastened to explain, “You may find writing for the movies a little different from your novels, Manley. Most of our writers, even some of the big playwrights, find it easier to have someone for a sounding board.” Sensitive to the possible effect of this on Shep’s morale, Milgrim added, “And then if there’s anything I don’t like I can always blame young Stearns here.”
Milgrim placed his hand on Shep’s shoulder and squeezed it gently to emphasize the good nature of the little joke. But Shep was still too overcome at finding a dead god transformed into a live colleague to care whether he was called collaborator, copy boy or male stenographer. He had even forgotten to worry about the suspended sentence his script apparently had received. All he could think of just then was that he was to have an opportunity to know Manley Halliday, talk to him about his work and discuss the Twenties toward which he felt this incomprehensible nostalgia.
“Well, if everything’s all right with you, Manley, I’ll leave you two geniuses to work out how you want to get started,” Milgrim said, cheerfully managing to pay homage to Halliday on one knee while having his fun at Shep’s expense with the other. “Manley, we’d like you to come for dinner soon. Maud will call you. And by the way she’s dying to have you autograph your books for her. She’s a great collector of autographed books. And she’s always said you and Louie Bromfield are her favorite American authors.”
Halliday had answered Milgrim with another little dip of his head and a muttered something about being delighted of course.
When Milgrim left them alone they looked at each other—a little guiltily, Shep thought. Why did scenarists so often get that feeling of fellow conspirators?
“I’m afraid I haven’t quite finished your script. I’m a very slow reader.”
Shep wanted to tell Halliday that the script wasn’t really worth his time, that it was just a routine college musical written on order. But then he remembered, almost with a start, that Halliday was being hired to work on Love on Ice. Halliday was being paid to read Love on Ice. Shep wondered why. He wondered what could have happened to Halliday that would bring him down to this.
He watched Halliday’s face as the author supported his head with his thumb to his cheek and two fingers pressed against his forehead. A familiar pose, Shep thought, and then he remembered the jacket of The Nig/it’s High Noon, when Halliday was the wonder boy of the Twenties, the triple-threat Merriwell of American letters, less real than the most romantic of his heroes, the only writer who could win the approval of Mencken and Stein and make fifty thousand a year doing it and look like Wally Reid. From the rear flap of that book, Shep remembered the exquisite chiseling of the face, the theatrically perfect features, the straight, classical nose, the mouth so beautiful as to suggest effeminacy, the fine forehead, the slicked-down hair parted in the middle. Only an extra delicacy, a refined quality of sensitivity (was it the faint look of amusement uncorrupted by self-satisfaction about the eyes?) marked the difference between that face on the flap and the favorite face of the period. Strange, Shep thought, how faces pass in and out of style like fashions in clothes. The style to which Halliday belonged was the magazine illustration’s, the matinee idol’s and the movie star’s in 1925, the sleek, shiny, Arrow-Collar perfection, finely etched, sharp-featured, a prettyboy face drawn with the symmetry of second-rate art, pear-shaped, with a straight nose, cleft chin, dark hair parted smartly down the middle, combed back and plastered down with vaseline or sta-comb, the face of someone who has just stepped out of a Turkish bath miraculously recovered from the night before, the clean-cut face of the American sheik, the smoothie, the face of the young sophisticate who has gone places and done things, yet a face curiously unlived in, the face of Neil Hamilton, the face Doug Fairbanks could never quite conceal behind his gay moustaches and Robin Hood’s cap, the face Harold Lloyd parodied, that Ramon Navarro and Valentino gave slinky, south-of-the-border imitations of; this was the face of the Twenties, turned in now on a newer, more durable model as befitted more spartan times, but still worn by Manley Halliday like a favorite suit that has not only passed out of style but has worn too thin even for a tailor to patch. The bone structure was still there to remind you of the days when women admirers pasted rotogravure pictures of him inside their copies of his books as others prized photos of John Gilbert and Antonio Moreno. But the hair, still combed back though parted on the side now, was gray and thinning; the famous turquoise eyes had washed out to a milky nondescript; the skin had lost color and tone; the face that Stieglitz had photographed, Davidson had sculptured and Derain painted with such flattering verisimilitude had lost its luster. The association pained Shep but he suddenly thought of the famous juvenile of the Twenties he had seen on the lot the day before, whose receding hairline and expanding waist-line could not alter the fact that he would be a juvenile, irreprievably, until he died. Reading very slowly, as though reading were a physical effort, the turning of a page a challenge to his strength, Halliday finished the script. Then he read the last page again, stalling for time.
“Well, Stearns, I don’t suppose you expect to win any Academy Awards with this but” (Shep saw the attempt at a smile) “I suppose it could be worse. I think we may be able to make a nice little valentine out of it.”
But this was the last thing Shep wanted to talk about with Manley Halliday.
“Mr. Halliday, if we stay here and talk, Milgrim’ll think we’re standing by and grab us for a conference. He seems to be queer for these early-morning conferences. So what do you say we go catch a drink somewhere?”
That was as casual as he could make it; he was eager for the answer.
“I’m not drinking any more.”
Halliday wished he had put it less revealingly. To correct the impression, he added hurriedly: “Diabetes. Doctor’s orders.”
“Then how about a spot of coffee?”
Halliday saw the interest in the young man’s eyes.
“Well, I should have been in bed hours ago—more doctor’s orders, but maybe one cup of coffee—a quick cup of coffee,” he amended. He took a childish—or was it an author’s—pride in being able to talk the language of this new generation.
“Swell. How about the Derby?”
“Don’t they close at two?”
“Just the bar. I think we can still get in if we move fast.”
Shep reached the Derby entrance at least five minutes before Halliday. Two newsboys, a legless veteran and a paralytic, guarded the entrance like deformed sentries. Halliday drove up in an ancient Lincoln roadster. Vintage ’33 or ’34, Shep pegged it. What’s he doing with that beat-up old wreck? The paint had faded, one fender was crumpled and the motor obviously labored under difficulties.
Halliday came toward him out of the darkness of the parking lot and Shep saw why he seemed so out of place here in Beverly Hills; his appearance made no concessions to local fashions. He wore a dark wool overcoat, much too heavy even for the brisk
California nights, and a gray homburg. He looked like Fifth Avenue, around the Plaza, on a snappy Sunday afternoon. The image of a ghost came back to Shep as he watched Halliday approach in the pale blur of the street lamps. The ghost goes west, he thought irreverently. Then eagerness hurried him forward.
“Well, did you think I wasn’t going to make it? The Smithsonian’s been trying to get that bus away from me for years.” It was forced gaiety, delivered with that forced smile that was beginning to make Shep feel uncomfortable.
The Derby was almost empty. Just a few stragglers, a middle-aged man whose face was no match for his sporty clothes, with a very young showgirl, and two men in their middle thirties whom Shep recognized as a successful writing team.
They couldn’t help watching their waitress’ legs as she strode toward the kitchen. With those Derby get-ups, you had no choice. They wore brown starched hooped skirts that fell short of the knee. It wasn’t graceful or becoming and it certainly wasn’t practical—just a little public exhibition thrown in with the service. The costumes always bothered Shep. It wasn’t like these places he had heard about on the Rue Pigalle where they didn’t wear anything at all. At least that was out in the open. This was American sex, awkward and self-conscious and cautiously obscene. Shep was wondering what Halliday was thinking about. “Have you worked out here a long time, Stearns? You seem to know your way around.”
“This is my first writing job. But I’ve lived here all my life.”
“You mean Hollywood’s your home town?” Halliday was mildly interested. “That must have been quite an experience.” Halliday had the typical outsider’s view of Hollywood. Though now that Shep thought about it, that wasn’t too surprising. One of the weaknesses of Shadow Ball—for all its brilliance—had been the inaccuracy of its atmosphere. Not that any single reference had been mistaken—Halliday was too thorough a craftsman for that—it was just that there had been too much atmosphere, too much Hollywood, the way one sees it when he’s just come in and makes a point of recording all the special things about it, the palm trees, the flamboyancy of the architecture, the jazzed-up mortuaries, the earthquakes, the floods, the pretties on Hollywood Boulevard in their slacks and furs, the million-dollar estates of immigrants who never completely mastered the language of the country they entertain—all these things could be found in Hollywood, but not all run together like that.
“Hollywood was just the name of my home town when I was a kid,” Shep tried to explain. “I raised pigeons, we had gang fights in vacant lots, I ran the 660 for the class B track team at Hollywood High, I sold magazines at Hollywood and Highland, the good-looking girls I knew in school tried to get into the studios the way girls in Lawrence, Mass., tried to get into the textile mills.”
“Is your father in the picture business?”
“In a way. He rents cars to studios, all kinds, museum pieces, trucks, break-aways … See, that’s what I mean, Mr. Halliday. I never thought of Hollywood as anything special at all until I went away to Webster.”
“Webster—I used to go up there for football games and parties.”
“You did a honey of a job on that flashback to a Webster houseparty in Friends and Foes, Mr. Halliday.”
So the young man did know something about his books. At least he said he did. Even that was something, these days. “I used to know Webster pretty well. I went up there for a houseparty one fall and stayed until Christmas vacation.”
For the first time in years Halliday thought of Hank Osborne, in whose room in the Psi U house he had spent those six crazy weeks. It had been in Hank’s room at three o’clock in the morning that they had both decided to quit school and join the Canadian Air Force. Hank had become one of the first celebrated American flyers. After he was shot down and grounded, they had had some high times together in Paris. Hank had written the first sensitive account of a flyer’s experiences, done a little painting, married Mignon, contributed to transition and helped edit it for a while—then had come that horrendous night—it almost seemed in his life the inevitable night—of the fight: my God, he couldn’t even remember touching Minnie … Years later he had heard that Hank was back at Webster teaching European literature or something.
“You didn’t happen to know an instructor called Osborne up there? Hank Osborne?”
“Professor Osborne! Sure, I had him in Modern French Literature. A swell Joe. And terrific on Zola and Balzac. He was head of our chapter of the League Against War and Fascism when I was up there.”
Yes, Halliday remembered Hank’s going left. Back from Paris in Thirty-one, out of a job, out of money and, even more serious, out of a way of life, there probably hadn’t seemed any other place for Hank to go.
“Professor Osborne’s a great admirer of yours, Mr. Halliday.” So Hank hadn’t let these years—Lord, was it more than ten!— of bad feeling influence his opinion of Manley’s work. Well, that was pretty decent of Hank, more than he might have expected. After all, in those good years on the continent, Hank had been mighty jealous of his success. The time he accepted Hank’s invitation to tell him exactly what he thought of his novel, for instance, the one that never got published—that’s what it had really been about, not the silly drunken business of Mignon. “Well, I’m glad to hear I still have a few boosters.” Halliday had meant it to pass for modesty. He was a little dismayed himself at the tone of self-pity that accompanied it. This had happened several times recently and he must guard against it. There must be no more of this going around to the back door begging complimentary handouts.
“Mr. Halliday, I might as well jump in with both feet. I’ve read all your books. High Noon was the closest thing to a Bible I had in college. There used to be a group of us at Webster who’d sit around quoting Halliday to each other.” “Is that so?”
Shep saw a flicker of interest in Halliday’s eyes. “I know it sounds kind of—grandiose, but our whole intellectual attitude toward the war and the Twenties was based more than anything else on Friends and Foes and The Night’s High Noon. Gee, Keith Winters, Ted Bentley and those other characters of yours, we knew them so well they were almost like roommates.” Halliday was listening intently. Shep hurried on.
“I really felt I was living through the Twenties with Ted Bentley. He was such a terrific symbol of the conflicting values of the times, the corrosive materialism. And yet he wasn’t a symbol. Not a theory dressed up as a man like Charley Anderson in U. S. A. Bentley lives in your book. Sometimes in school I’d find myself arguing about various attitudes typical of the Twenties as if I had actually been around in those days and experienced them myself. And then I’d realize it was actually Ted Bentley’s experiences, Ted’s attitudes I had lived my way into.”
This kind of enthusiasm could not be fabricated. Halliday’s ego was warmed as surprisingly as if one were to go out for a night’s stroll and discover the sun. He often found himself slipping into the vain third-person: nobody reads Halliday any more. The year before last he had written his publisher suggesting a one-volume collected Halliday to reintroduce him to the new readers of the Thirties. And Burt Seixas, his old friend, his discoverer, had given him that old run-around: “Now doesn’t seem to be quite the right time” … Maybe after they published that “new” novel Manley had been promising ever since Shadow Ball … But here, from a most unexpected source, was what he was hungering for—proof of the lasting value of his work.
“I’m honestly surprised my books stay with you this way. They were written so long ago, in such a different time. I had the idea your generation went in more for Steinbeck and Farrell and Tom Wolfe. The holy trinity!”
Though the remark was dusted with sarcasm, Shep’s earnestness brushed it off. “I think Steinbeck’s the kind of writer we’ve needed in the Thirties, maybe the best we’ve got who’s producing at the moment …”
Shep was too wound up to notice the slur or its effect on Halliday.
“—at least he tries to deal honestly with the depression. With people, I mean working people. You know what Ralph Fox says —the only class that can still produce heroes.”
Because each was willing to accept the other as representative of his time, they stepped gingerly over the lines of disagreement into the area of common understanding.
“How long has it been since you’ve read High Noon, Stearns?”
“I know this sounds phony, but I read it again just a couple of weeks ago. That girl you’ve got in there, Lenore Woodbury, she fascinates me. That’s a great scene, really a terrific scene, when she calls Ted up at the Club after he’s left her and tells him what a wise move she thinks this is for him, how she realizes she can’t help making a mess of everything she touches because she’s sick inside with the incurable sickness of the times—and all the while Ted has his bag packed ready to come back to her. And then it almost drives him nuts trying to figure out whether she called him to get him back or to strengthen his will to stay away.” “Poor Lenore didn’t know herself.”
“That’s the way you make us feel about your characters—that no one is forcing them to do anything—that they’re living, trying to make up their own minds from page to page.”
“I guess that’s the hardest part, trying to keep your long arm out of your characters’ way.”
“I suppose everybody asks you this, Mr. Halliday, but was Lenore a real person—someone you actually knew?”
As if awakening from a long sleep, the loneliness in him stirred to find her again—Jere … Jere … Calling into a void, into nothing, nothingness, and the only answer was the muffled echo jeering ree-ree-ree … It was a buzzing in his ears, a familiar symptom.
“Mr. Halliday, are you all right?” “Yes—yes—these late hours. Better get our check.” While they waited for their change, Halliday braced himself. He had a strong sense of pattern, and since this had been a good evening he did not want to let it down. “Well, we didn’t accomplish too much with Love on Ice—except to break the ice a little bit ourselves. But, this has been rather pleasant. When I think of some of the collaborators I might have drawn …”
“I’ve still got a million things to ask you about your work. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, not at all. I’m delighted to find a young man seriously interested in literature—especially my own.”
Shep grinned when he saw the quick light that brightened Halliday’s face—his first spontaneous smile of the evening. Halliday was in his car now. “Well, Stearns, I’d better get home and start catching up on my sleep. I’ve read somewhere that the secret of screen-writing is a sound mind in a sound body.”
The smile was meant to be as genuine as the one that preceded it, but something began to go wrong with it. It proved to be a dud and fizzled out.
What time should they meet next morning? Say around ten, Shep suggested. Halliday’s creative juices weren’t used to flowing much before noon, but he’d try. Anything to please a gentleman and a collaborator, and, most important of all, Halliday added with a little flourish, “a loyal reader.”
He touched the homburg in a dignified—and to Shep strangely old-fashioned—gesture of farewell.
Shep stood there watching while the old Lincoln moved slowly down the wide boulevard. When it was almost out of sight a hopped-up Ford with a gaga passenger list of three high-school couples came up fast on the outside and let the Lincoln have it with one of those comical horns that play My-dog-has-fleas. Halliday cut sharply to the curb and proceeded at an even slower pace until Shep lost him in the fog of the street lights.