I knew nothing about any of this. I went up to Lake Louise and when I came back didn’t go near the studio. I think I would have started East in mid-August—if Stahr hadn’t called me up one day at home.
“I want you to arrange something, Cecelia—I want to meet a Communist Party member.”
“Which one?” I asked, somewhat startled.
“Haven’t you got plenty out there?”
“I mean one of their organizers—from New York.”
The summer before I had been all politics—I could probably have arranged a meeting with Harry Bridges. But my boy had been killed in an auto accident after I went back to college and I was out of touch with such things. I had heard there was a man from “The New Masses” around somewhere.
“Will you promise him immunity?” I asked, joking.
“Oh yes,” Stahr answered seriously. “I won’t hurt him. Get one that can talk—tell him to bring one of his books along.”
He spoke as if he wanted to meet a member of the “I AM” cult.
“Do you want a blonde, or a brunette?”
“Oh, get a man,” he said hastily.
Hearing Stahr’s voice cheered me up—since I barged in on Father it had all seemed a paddling about in thin spittle. Stahr changed everything about it—changed the angle from which I saw it, changed the very air. He was like a brazier out of doors on a cool night.
“I don’t think your father ought to know,” he said. “Can we pretend the man is a Bulgarian musician or something?”
“Oh, they don’t dress up any more,” I said.
It was harder to arrange than I thought—Stahr’s negotiations with the Writers Guild, which had continued over a year, were approaching a dead end. Perhaps they were afraid of being corrupted, and I was asked what Stahr’s “proposition” was. Afterwards Stahr told me that he prepared for the meeting by running off the Russian Revolutionary Films that he had in his film library at home. He also ran off “Doctor Caligari” and Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou,” possibly suspecting that they had a bearing on the matter. He had been startled by the Russian Films back in the twenties and on Wylie White’s suggestion he had had the script department get him up a two-page “treatment” of the “Communist Manifesto.”
But his mind was closed on the subject. He was a rationalist who did his own reasoning without benefit of books—and he had just managed to climb out of a thousand years of Jewry into the late eighteenth century. He could not bear to see it melt away—he cherished the parvenu’s passionate loyalty to an imaginary past.
The meeting took place in what I called the “processed leather room”—it was one of six done for us by a decorator from Sloane’s years ago, and the term stuck in my head. It was the most decorator’s room—an angora wool carpet the color of dawn, the most delicate grey imaginable—you hardly dared walk on it; and the silver panelling and leather tables and creamy pictures and slim fragilities looked so easy to stain that we could not breathe hard in there, though it was wonderful to look into from the door when the windows were open and the curtains whimpered querulously against the breeze. It was a lineal descendant of the old American parlor that used to be closed except on Sunday. But it was exactly the room for the occasion and I hoped that whatever happened would give it character and make it henceforth part of our house.
Stahr arrived first. He was white and nervous and troubled—except for his voice which was always quiet and full of consideration. There was a brave personal quality in the way he would meet you—he would walk right up to you and put aside something that was in the way, and grow to know you all over as if he couldn’t help himself. I kissed him for some reason, and took him into the processed leather room.
“When do you go back to college?” he asked.
We had been over this fascinating ground before.
“Would you like me if I were a little shorter?” I asked. “I could wear low heels and plaster down my hair.”
“Let’s have dinner tonight,” he suggested. “People will think I’m your father but I don’t mind.”
“I love old men,” I assured him. “Unless the man has a crutch I feel it’s just a boy and girl affair.”
“Have you had many of those?”
“People fall in and out of love all the time, don’t they.”
“Every three years so Fanny Brice says. I just read it in the paper.”
“I wonder how they manage it,” he said. “I know it’s true because I see them. But they look so convinced every time. And then suddenly they don’t look convinced. But they get convinced all over.”
“You’ve been making too many movies.”
“I wonder if they’re as convinced the second time or the third time or the fourth time,” he persisted.
“More each time,” I said. “Most of all the last time.”
He thought this over and seemed to agree.
“I suppose so. Most of all the last time.”
I didn’t like the way he said this and I suddenly saw that under the surface he was miserable.
“It’s a great nuisance,” he said. “It’ll be better when it’s over.”
“Wait a minute! Perhaps pictures are in the wrong hands.”
Brimmer, the Party Member, was announced and going to meet him I slid over to the door on one of those gossamer throw-rugs and practically into his arms.
He was a nice-looking man, this Brimmer—a little on the order of Spencer Tracy but with a stronger face and a wider range of reactions written up in it. I couldn’t help thinking as he and Stahr smiled and shook hands and squared off, that they were two of the most alert men I had ever seen. They were very conscious of each other immediately—both as polite to me as you please but with a softening of the ends of their sentences when they turned in my direction.
“What are you people trying to do?” demanded Stahr. “You’ve got my young men all upset.”
“That keeps them awake, doesn’t it?” said Brimmer.
“First we let half a dozen Russians study the plant,” said Stahr. “As a model plant, you understand. And then you try to break up the unity that makes it a model plant.”
“The unity?” Brimmer repeated. “Do you mean what’s known as the company spirit?”
“Oh, not that,” said Stahr, impatiently. “It seems to be me you’re after. Last week a writer came into my office—a drunk—a man who’s been floating around for years just two steps out of the bughouse—and began telling me my business.”
“You don’t look to me like a man who could be told his business, Mr. Stahr.”
They would both have tea. When I came back Stahr was telling a story about the Warner brothers and Brimmer was laughing with him.
“I’ll tell you another one,” Stahr said. “Balanchine the Russian dancer had them mixed up with the Ritz Brothers. He didn’t know which ones he was training and which ones he was working for. He used to go around saying ’I cannot train those Warner Brothers to dance.’”
It looked like a quiet afternoon. Brimmer asked him why the producers didn’t back the Anti-Nazi League.
“Because of you people,” said Stahr. “It’s your way of getting at the writers. In the long view you’re wasting your time. Writers are children—even in normal times they can’t keep their minds on their work.”
“They’re the farmers in this business,” said Brimmer pleasantly. “They grow the grain but they’re not in at the feast. Their feeling toward the producer is like the farmers’ resentment of the city fellow.”
I was wondering about Stahr’s girl—whether it was all over between them. Later when I heard the whole thing from Kathleen, standing in the rain in a wretched road called Goldwyn Terrace, I figured out that this must have been a week after she sent him the telegram. She couldn’t help the telegram. The man got off the train unexpectedly and walked her to the registry office without a flicker of doubt that this was what she wanted. It was eight in the morning and Kathleen was in such a daze that she was chiefly concerned in how to get the telegram to Stahr. In theory you could stop and say “Listen I forgot to tell you but I met a man.” But this track had been laid down so thoroughly, with such confidence, such struggle, such relief that when it came along suddenly cutting across the other she found herself on it like a car on a closed switch. He watched her write the telegram, looking directly at it across the table, and she hoped he couldn’t read upside down…
When my mind came back into the room they had destroyed the poor writers—Brimmer had gone so far as to admit they were “unstable.”
“They are not equipped for authority,” said Stahr. “There is no substitute for will. Sometimes you have to fake will when you don’t feel it at all.”
“I’ve had that experience.”
“You have to say ’It’s got to be like this—no other way’—even if you’re not sure. A dozen times a week that happens to me. Situations where there is no real reason for anything. You pretend there is.”
“All leaders have felt that,” said Brimmer. “Labor leaders, and certainly military leaders.”
“So I’ve had to take an attitude in this Guild matter. It looks to me like a try for power and all I am going to give the writers is money.”
“You give some of them very little money. Thirty dollars a week.”
“Who gets that?” asked Stahr surprised.
“The ones who are commodities and easy to replace.”
“Not on my lot,” said Stahr.
“Oh yes,” said Brimmer. “Two men in your shorts department get thirty dollars a week.”
“Man named Ransome—man named O’Brien.”
Stahr and I smiled together.
“Those are not writers,” said Stahr. “Those are cousins of Cecelia’s father.”
“There are some in other studios,” said Brimmer.
Stahr took his teaspoon and poured himself some medicine from a little bottle.
“What’s a fink?” he asked suddenly.
“A fink? That’s a strike breaker or a Company Tec.”
“I thought so,” said Stahr. “I’ve got a fifteen hundred dollar writer that every time he walks through the commissary keeps saying ’Fink!’ behind other writers’ chairs. If he didn’t scare hell out of them it’d be funny.”
“I’d like to see that,” he said.
“You wouldn’t like to spend a day with me over there?” suggested Stahr.
Brimmer laughed with genuine amusement.
“No, Mr. Stahr. But I don’t doubt but that I’d be impressed. I’ve heard you’re one of the hardest working and most efficient men in the entire West. It’d be a privilege to watch you but I’m afraid I’ll have to deny myself.”
Stahr looked at me.
“I like your friend,” he said. “He’s crazy but I like him.” He looked closely at Brimmer. “Born on this side?”
“Oh yes. Several generations.”
“Many of them like you?”
“My father was a Baptist minister.”
“I mean are many of the Reds. I’d like to meet this big Jew that tried to blow over the Ford factory. What’s his name—”
“That’s the man. I guess some of you believe in it.”
“Quite a few,” said Brimmer dryly.
“Not you,” said Stahr.
A shade of annoyance floated across Brimmer’s face.
“Oh yes,” he said.
“Oh no,” said Stahr. “Maybe you did once.”
Brimmer shrugged his shoulders.
“Perhaps the boot’s on the other foot,” he said. “At the bottom of your heart, Mr. Stahr, you know I’m right.”
“No,” said Stahr, “I think it’s a bunch of tripe.”
“—you think to yourself ’He’s right’ but you think the system will last out your time.”
“You don’t really think you’re going to overthrow the government.”
“No, Mr. Stahr. But we think perhaps you are.”
They were nicking at each other—little pricking strokes like men do sometimes. Women do it too but it is a joined battle then with no quarter, but it is not pleasant to watch men do it because you never know what’s next. Certainly it wasn’t improving the tonal associations of the room for me and I moved them out the French window into our golden-yellow California garden.
It was midsummer but fresh water from the gasping sprinklers made the lawn glitter like spring. I could see Brimmer look at it with a sigh in his glance—a way they have. He opened up big outside—inches taller than I thought and broad-shouldered. He reminded me a little of Superman when he takes off his spectacles. I thought he was as attractive as men can be who don’t really care about women as such. We played a round robin game of ping-pong and he handled his bat well. I heard Father come into the house singing that damn “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” and then breaking off as if he remembered we weren’t speaking any more. It was half past six—my car was standing in the drive and I suggested we go down to the Trocadero for dinner.
Brimmer had that look that Father O’Ney had that time in New York when he turned his collar around and went with Father and me to the Russian Ballet. He hadn’t quite ought to be here. When Bernie the photographer, who was waiting there for some big game or other, came up to our table he looked trapped—Stahr made Bernie go away, and I would like to have had the picture.
Then, to my astonishment, Stahr had three cocktails one after the other.
“Now I know you’ve been disappointed in love,” I said.
“What makes you think that, Cecelia?”
“Oh, I never drink, Cecelia. I get dyspepsia—I never have been tight.”
I counted them. “—two—three.”
“I didn’t realize. I couldn’t taste them. I thought there was something the matter.”
A silly glassy look darted into his eye—then passed away.
“This is my first drink in a week,” said Brimmer. “I did my drinking in the navy.”
The look was back in Stahr’s eye—he winked it fatuously at me and said:
“This soapbox son-of-a-bitch has been working on the navy.”
Brimmer didn’t know quite how to take this. Evidently he decided to include it with the evening for he smiled faintly and I saw Stahr was smiling too. I was relieved when I saw it was safely in the great American tradition and I tried to take hold of the conversation but Stahr seemed suddenly all right.
“Here’s my typical experience,” he said very succinctly and clearly to Brimmer. “The best director in Hollywood—a man I never interfere with—has some streak in him that wants to slip a pansy into every picture or something on that order. Something offensive. He stamps it in deep like a watermark so I can’t get it out. Every time he does it the Legion of Decency moves a step forward and something has to be sacrificed out of some honest film.”
“Typical organization trouble,” agreed Brimmer.
“Typical,” said Stahr. “It’s an endless battle. So now this director tells me it’s all right because he’s got a Directors Guild and I can’t oppress the poor. That’s how you add to my troubles.”
“It’s a little remote from us,” said Brimmer smiling. “I don’t think we’d make much headway with the directors.”
“The directors used to be my pals,” said Stahr proudly.
It was like Edward the VII’s boast that he had moved in the best society in Europe.
“But some of them have never forgiven me,” he continued, “—for bringing out stage directors when sound came in. It put them on their toes and made them learn their jobs all over but they never did really forgive me. That time we imported a whole new hogshead full of writers and I thought they were great fellows till they all went Red.”
Gary Cooper came in and sat down in a corner with a bunch of men who breathed whenever he did and looked as if they lived off him and weren’t budging an inch. A woman across the room looked around and turned out to be Carole Lombard—I was glad that Brimmer was at least getting an eyeful.
Stahr ordered a whiskey and soda and, almost immediately, another. He ate nothing but a few spoonfuls of soup and he said all the awful things about everybody being lazy so-and-so’s and none of it mattered to him because he had lots of money—it was the kind of talk you heard whenever Father and his friends were together. I think Stahr realized that it sounded pretty ugly outside of the proper company—maybe he had never heard how it sounded before. Anyhow he shut up and drank off a cup of black coffee. I loved him and what he said didn’t change that but I hated Brimmer to carry off this impression. I wanted him to see Stahr as a sort of technological virtuoso and here Stahr had been playing the wicked overseer to a point he would have called trash if he had watched it on the screen.
“I’m a production man,” he said as if to modify his previous attitude. “I like writers—I think I understand them. I don’t want to kick anybody out if they do their work.”
“We don’t want you to,” said Brimmer pleasantly. “We’d like to take you over as a going concern.”
Stahr nodded grimly.
“I’d like to put you in a roomful of my partners. They’ve all got a dozen reasons for having Fitts run you fellows out of town.”
“We appreciate your protection,” said Brimmer with a certain irony. “Frankly we do find you difficult, Mr. Stahr—precisely because you are a paternalistic employer and your influence is very great.”
Stahr was only half listening.
“I never thought,” he said, “—that I had more brains than a writer has. But I always thought that his brains belonged to me—because I knew how to use them. Like the Romans—I’ve heard that they never invented things but they knew what to do with them. Do you see? I don’t say it’s right. But it’s the way I’ve always felt—since I was a boy.”
This interested Brimmer—the first thing that had interested him for an hour.
“You know yourself very well, Mr. Stahr,” he said.
I think he wanted to get away. He had been curious to see what kind of man Stahr was and now he thought he knew. Still hoping things would be different I rashly urged him to ride home with us but when Stahr stopped by the bar for another drink I knew I’d made a mistake.
It was a gentle, harmless, motionless evening with a lot of Saturday cars. Stahr’s hand lay along the back of the seat touching my hair. Suddenly I wished it had been about ten years ago. I would have been nine. Brimmer about eighteen and working his way through some mid-western college and Stahr twenty-five just having inherited the world and full of confidence and joy. We would both have looked up to Stahr so, without question. And here we were in an adult conflict to which there was no peaceable solution, complicated now with exhaustion and drink.
We turned in at our drive and I drove around to the garden again.
“I must go along now,” said Brimmer. “I’ve got to meet some people.”
“No, stay,” said Stahr. “I never have said what I wanted. We’ll play ping-pong and have another drink and then we’ll tear into each other.”
Brimmer hesitated. Stahr turned on the floodlight and picked up his ping-pong bat and I went into the house for some whiskey—I wouldn’t have dared disobey him.
When I came back they were not playing but Stahr was batting a whole box of new balls across to Brimmer who turned them aside. When I arrived he quit and took the bottle and retired to a chair just out of the floodlight, watching in dark dangerous majesty. He was pale—he was so transparent that you could almost watch the alcohol mingle with the poison of his exhaustion.
“Time to relax on Saturday night,” he said.
“You’re not relaxing,” I said.
He was carrying on a losing battle with his instinct toward schizophrenia.
“I’m going to beat up Brimmer,” he announced after a moment. “I’m going to handle this thing personally.”
“Can’t you pay somebody to do it?” asked Brimmer.
I signalled him to keep quiet.
“I do my own dirty work,” said Stahr. “I’m going to beat hell out of you and put you on a train.”
He got up and came forward and I put my arms around him, gripping him.
“Please stop this!” I said. “Oh, you’re being so bad.”
“This fellow has an influence over you,” he said darkly. “Over all you young people. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Please go home,” I said to Brimmer.
Stahr’s suit was made of slippery cloth and suddenly he slipped away from me and went for Brimmer. Brimmer retreated backward around the table. There was an odd expression in his face and afterwards I thought it looked as if he were saying, “Is this all? This frail half sick person holding up the whole thing.”
Then Stahr came close, his hands going up. It seemed to me that Brimmer held him off with his left arm a minute and then I looked away—I couldn’t bear to watch.
When I looked back Stahr was out of sight below the level of the table and Brimmer was looking down at him.
“Please go home,” I said to Brimmer.
“All right.” He stood looking down at Stahr as I came around the table. “I always wanted to hit ten million dollars but I didn’t know it would be like this.”
Stahr lay motionless.
“Please go,” I said.
“I’m sorry. Can I help—”
“No. Please go. I understand.”
He looked again, a little awed at the depths of Stahr’s repose which he had created in a split second. Then he went quickly away over the grass and I knelt down and shook Stahr. In a moment he came awake with a terrific convulsion and bounced up on his feet.
“Where is he?” he shouted.
“Who?” I asked innocently.
“That American. Why in hell did you have to marry him, you damn fool.”
“Monroe—he’s gone. I didn’t marry anybody.”
I pushed him down in a chair.
“He’s been gone half an hour,” I lied.
The ping-pong balls lay around in the grass like a constellation of stars. I turned on a sprinkler and came back with a wet handkerchief but there was no mark on Stahr—he must have been hit in the side of the head. He went off behind some trees and was sick and I heard him kicking up some earth over it. After that he seemed all right but he wouldn’t go into the house till I got him some mouthwash so I took back the whiskey bottle and got a mouthwash bottle. His wretched essay at getting drunk was over. I’ve been out with college freshmen but for sheer ineptitude and absence of the Bacchic spirit it unquestionably took the cake. Every bad thing happened to him but that was all.
We went in the house; the cook said Father and Mr. Marcus and Flieshacker were on the verandah so we stayed in the “processed leather room.” We both sat down in a couple of places and seemed to slide off and finally I sat on a fur rug and Stahr on a footstool beside me.
“Did I hit him?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Quite badly.”
“I don’t believe it.” After a minute he added, “I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted to chase him out. I guess he got scared and hit me.”
If this was his interpretation of what had happened it was all right with me.
“Do you hold it against him?”
“Oh no,” he said. “I was drunk.” He looked around. “I’ve never been in here before—who did this room—somebody from the studio?”
“Somebody from New York.”
“Well, I’ll have to get you out of here,” he said in his old pleasant way. “How would you like to go out to Doug Fairbanks’ ranch and spend the night? He asked me—I know he’d love to have you.”
That’s how the two weeks started that he and I went around together. It only took one of them for Louella to have us married.
The following synopsis of the rest of the story has been put together by Edmund Wilson from Fitzgerald's notes and outlines and from the reports of persons with whom he discussed his work.
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