Pat Hobby, the Writer and the Man, had his great success in Hollywood in an era described by Irvin Cobb as “when you had to have a shin-bone of St. Sebastian for a clutch lever”. You had to have a pool too and Pat had one—at least he had one for the first few hours after it was filled every week, before it stubbornly seeped away through the cracks in the cement.
“But it was a pool,” he assured himself one afternoon more than ten years later. Now he was more than grateful for a small chore at two-fifty a week but all the years of failure could not take the beautiful memory away.
He was working on an humble “short”. It was precariously based on the career of General Fitzhugh Lee who fought for the Confederacy and later for the U.S. against Spain—so it would offend neither North nor South. In conference Pat had tried to cooperate.
“I was thinking—” he suggested to Jack Berners, “—that it might be a good thing nowadays if we could give it a Jewish touch.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Jack Berners quickly.
“Well, I thought—the way things are and all, it would be a sort of good thing to show that there were Jews in it too.”
“In the Civil War.” Quickly Pat reviewed his meagre history. “They were, weren’t they?”
“I suppose so,” said Berners, with some impatience, “I suppose everybody was in it—except Quakers.”
“Well, my idea was that we could have this Fitzhugh Lee in love with a Jewish girl. He’s going to be shot at curfew so she grabs the church bell—”
Jack Berners leaned forward earnestly.
“Say, Pat, you want this job, don’t you?”
“Sure, I do.”
“Well, I told you the story we want. The Jews can take care of themselves, and if you thought up this tripe to please me you’re losing your grip.”
Was that a way to treat a man who had once owned a pool? The reason Pat kept thinking about his long lost pool was because of the President of the United States. Pat was remembering a certain day, a decade ago, in every detail. On that day word had gone around that the President was going to visit the lot. It seemed to mark a new era in pictures because the President of the United States had never visited a studio before. The executives of the company were all dressed up with ties and there were flags over the commissary door…
The voice of Ben Brown, the head of the shorts department broke in on Pat’s reverie.
“Jack Berners just phoned me,” he said. “We don’t want any new angles, Pat. We got a history. Fitzhugh Lee was in the cavalry. He was a nephew of Robert E. Lee and we want to show him surrendering at Appomax, pretty sore and all that. And then show how he got reconciled—we’ll have to be careful because Virginia is still lousy with Lees—and how he finally accepts a U.S. commission from McKinley— And clean up the stuff about Spain—the guy that wrote it was a Red and he’s got all the Spanish officers having ants in their pants.”
In his office Pat looked at the script of True to Two Flags. The first scene showed General Fitzhugh Lee at the head of his cavalry receiving word that Petersburg had been evacuated. In the script Lee took the blow in lively pantomime, but Pat was getting two-fifty a week—so, casually and without effort, he wrote in one of his favorite lines of dialogue:
LEE: (to his officers)
Well, what are you standing here gawking for? Do something!
6. Medium Shot. Officers — pepping up, slapping each other on back, etc.
Dissolve to what? Pat’s mind dissolved once more into the glamorous past. On that great day ten years before his phone in his office had rung at noon. It was Mr. Moskin.
“Pat, the President is lunching in the Executives’ Dining Room. Doug Fairbanks can’t come so there’s a place empty and anyhow we think there ought to be one writer there.”
His memory of the luncheon was palpitant with glamour. The great man had asked questions about pictures and told a joke and Pat had laughed uproariously with the others—all of them solid men together—rich, happy, successful.
Afterwards the President was to see some scenes taken on a set, and still later he was going to Mr. Moskin’s house to meet several women stars at tea. Pat was not invited to that party, but his Beverly Hills home was next door to Mr. Moskin’s mansion and he went home early. From his veranda he saw the cortege drive up, with Mr. Moskin beside the President in the back seat. He was proud of pictures then—of the position he had won in them—of the President of the happy country where pictures were born…
Pat signed. Returning once more to reality he looked down at the script of True to Two Flags and wrote slowly and thoughtfully:
Insert: A calendar—with the years plainly marked and the sheets blowing off in a cold wind, to indicate that Fitzhugh Lee is growing older and older.
Pat’s labours had made him thirsty—not for water, but he knew better than to take anything else his first day on the job. He went out into the hall and along the corridor to the cooler—and as he walked he slipped back into his reverie of things past…
It had been a lovely California afternoon so Mr. Moskin had taken his exalted guest and the coterie of stars into his garden, adjoining Pat’s garden. Pat went out his back door and followed a low privet hedge keeping out of sight—and then accidentally came face to face with the Presidential party.
The President smiled and nodded. Mr. Moskin smiled and nodded.
“You met Mr. Hobby at lunch,” Mr. Moskin said to the President. “He’s one of our writers.”
“Oh, yes,” said the President. “You write the pictures?”
“Yes I do,” said Pat.
The President glanced over into Pat’s property.
“I suppose——” he said, “——that you get lots of inspiration sitting by the side of that fine pool.”
“Yes,” said Pat. “Yes, I do.”
…Pat filled his cup at the cooler in the hall. Down the hall there was a group approaching—Jack Berners, Ben Brown and several other executives and with them a girl to whom they were very attentive and deferential. He recognized her face—she was the girl of the year, the It Girl, the Oomph Girl, the Glamour Girl, the girl for whose services every studio was in heavy competition.
Pat lingered over his drink. He had seen many phonies break in and break out again, but this girl was someone to stir every pulse in the nation. His heart beat faster—as the procession drew near, he put down the cup, dabbed at his hair with his hand and took a step into the corridor.
The girl looked at him—he looked at the girl. Then she took one arm of Jack Berners’ and one of Ben Brown’s and, without the suggestion of an introduction, the party walked right through him—so that he had to take a step back against the wall.
An instant later Jack Berners turned around and called back, “Hello, Pat.” And one of the others glanced around but no one else spoke, so interested were they in the girl.
In his office Pat looked gloomily at the scene where President McKinley offers a United States commission to Fitzhugh Lee. Berners had written on the margin “Have McKinley plug democracy and Cuban-American friendship—but no cracks at Spain as market may improve.” Pat gritted his teeth and bore down on his pencil as he wrote:
Mr. President, you can take your commission and go straight to Hell.
Then Pat bent down over his desk, his shoulders shaking miserably as he thought of that happy day when he had owned a swimming pool.
This revised text was received by A. Gingrich (“Esquire” editor) on October 15, 1940, too late to make changes in already printed magazine; revised text has been published in Pat Hobby Stories collection.
The first version of this story, published in November 1940 "Esquire" magazine, is available here.