In 1923 a Russian family (semi-theatrical) arrives at Ellis Island and is interminably detained. Young daughter, 18, has been in Imperial Ballet. She dances for other passengers in steerage to accordion music.
She has no idea of New York, and to attract man in small launch, who may get her in before her parents, she throws an old ballet shoe at him.
He is an adventurous young rum runner coming in from the fleet—and says that if she’ll slip over the side he’ll run her to New York.
They get there, but next day they can’t get back. So she loses her family. He accompanies her to debarkation docks without success, and sadly she concludes they’ve been deported back to Europe.
The rum runner accompanies her to theatrical agencies interpreting the ways of New York to her. No go. On one pilgrimage she saves a little waif from traffic and in doing so breaks her ankle. She goes to emergency hospital and rum runner takes care of little girl. But she finds out she can never dance again. The ankle doesn’t last.
Meanwhile the father has been admitted to U.S. but has changed his name from Krypioski to Kress, on advice received in first sequence on boat and Ellis Island by comic figure, not mentioned further in this sketch but running through picture as father’s friend. He is a man who thinks he knows all about U. S. but never finds out anything. Father prowls streets looking for his daughter, thinking she has gone loose, stopping other girls. He speaks some English and becomes in course of time a theatrical booking agent.
On emerging from hospital heroine has decided to make little girl a great dancer as she can never be. She paints barn-like studio herself and starts ballet class with help of rum runner. He has inherited a small shoe factory and gone respectable. But she doesn’t marry him, her only deep passion being for the ballet and the little girl’s future, a substitute
Six years pass while the little girl grows up. The school struggles on. The great Pavlova comes to New York but she and the little girl can’t afford seats. The heroine has also changed her name on her beau’s advice. Frequently she has talked to her father on the phone, he asking her to supply a dozen dancers for such and such a ballet and having no idea that “Madame Serene” is his own daughter.
The time for the little girl’s debut has arrived. By sacrificing everything they have the money for it. The little girl sits in their apartment at 125th Street and sends her last pair of shoes to the cobbler because the ex-rum runner is to bring her some from his own little factory. She does not know that with his arms full of shoe boxes (including some ballet shoes he has made) he has been stopped at 48th Street by a detective who wants him as witness for some misdemeanor, committed six years before in his rum running days.
The time has grown short—the young protege finds that a pair of worn ballet shoes is the only shoes in the apartment. Putting them on she starts for the theatre with one nickel for subway. She loses it in a grating and has to walk from 125th Street to the theatrical section. She reaches there exhausted and crying, and, to the Russian girl’s horror, with her feet in awful shape.
They try it however. The curtain goes up on her number and the Russian woman (the heroine) dances in the wings in time with the young girl, to keep her morale up. The number goes over.
There is a sudden interruption to the second number. The hero, intent on delivering the shoes, has broken away from the detective, but has been followed.
Now meanwhile, in the audience, the father has been impressed with young girl and gone behind scenes to engage her. He comes in on the row and in the course of it finds that his daughter is the teacher. It is implied that he can bring pressure to bear to exonerate the young man from what were only false charges.
The show is over, the stage is cleared. The Russian girl dances alone on the stage before her father who sits at the piano and plays for her. The hero and the young girl watch from the wings. The music of St. Saens, The Swan rises to a crescendo and there are tears in the father’s eyes—
—as the picture ends.
Published in Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual (1976). Written in 1936.