They were rolling northward with a trainload of houseparty girls, girls of sixteen and eighteen; here and there a sleek, smart veteran of twenty-one; girls in bright colors and bright smiles, whose perfume and laughter transformed the Pullman into an Ivy League harem, charged with the special kind of excitement that only a very young woman can feel as she looks forward to the company of a preferred young man. If all brides are beautiful, Shep found himself paraphrasing, so are all houseparty dates.
From behind the lavatory door of their drawing room, Shep heard the miserable sound for which up-chuck is mild onomatopoeia. A few moments later Manley appeared.
He took a quick glance out at the aisle and said, in a weak voice, “Ah, the sweet young lambs going forth to slaughter.” “Manley, are you all right?”
Manley made a drunken face of reassurance. “Stay with me, baby, just stay with me.”
From the baggy pocket of his shapeless suit, Manley produced a bottle of gin, almost half of which was already consumed. “Have a drink, kiddo.” “Where in hell did you pick that up?” “Old pro’bition training. When in doubt, ask the bellboy.” “But wasn’t I with you all the time?”
Manley put his finger to his lips roguishly. “P’fessional secret.” Victor Milgrim appeared in the entrance. He was wearing one of the soft brown tweeds he had bought in London the previous fall. He brought a fine, tangy scent of expensive cologne into the stale little room. As an apparent concession to the collegiate atmosphere he had given up his cigars for a straight richly grained Dunhill. He was all aglow with self-conscious good taste and self-satisfaction. The perfection of his dress and his toilet made Shep feel scaly and dissolute. “Aren’t these girls terrific!” Milgrim said. “Such youth. Suchfreshness. It’s a tonic. Now don’t you see, Manley, why I insisted on your coming along?”
Manley looked at him expressionlessly. A few drops of the vomit had stained his lapel. “I’ve seen prom trotters before. Wrote a story called ’Prom Trotter,’ long, long ago. Las’ word on the subject. You pro’ly never read it.”
Milgrim’s eyes went sharp and cold. But his voice was still respectful. “You and I are old codgers, Manley. These girls are a —a new race. No more gin and sex. These girls are healthy, realists, future mothers …”
“Crap,” Manley said under his breath. Shep did not like the look in Manley’s eyes.
“Our picture has to give the audience the same feeling we get as we walk through these aisles, the same lift, the same sense of …” Milgrim’s eloquence outran his vocabulary.
“… of cute little tits,” Manley said. “Why don’t you say what you mean, Victor?”
“You woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” Milgrim said. Into his face came a look that was dark and threatening. “Or maybe you didn’t wake up on any side.”
It was a little pathetic, Shep thought, the way Manley drew himself erect, drew his dignity around him like a tattered coat.
“Victor, we might as well have this out right now. I am not used to being talked to as if I were”—(the pause, a beat too long, weakened the effect Manley was trying for) “some frightened little screenwriter.”
“Why, Manley, where’s your sense of humor?” Milgrim gave a little ground.
“My sense of humor lives its own life,” Manley said. “Right now it’s pro’ly on another train, going west.”
“Come on,” Milgrim said, “walk through the cars with me. It’ll do you good. I want you to breathe in the atmosphere—it’s terrific atmosphere!”
Manley turned to Shep. “Go with the man. Breathe in some of that terrific atmosphere for me. You’ve got stronger lungs.” He turned to Milgrim cunningly. “You know, Victor, we had trains in my houseparty days too. And the female anatomy hasn’t changed appreciably.”
“Seems to me a writer—an author—would want to keep up to date.”
“Victor, believe me,” Manley said persuasively. “Maybe their figures have changed a little. And their clothes. Maybe they call a girl on the make a fast-worker instead of a speed. Or maybe they even have a new word for it I haven’t picked up yet. But underneath the new styles and the new expressions, they’re still the same little savages they were in my time.”
“All right, Manley,” Milgrim conceded, “we’ll see you later.”
“At your service, sir,” Manley said. The bow was more mocking now. “And remember, Victor, don’t go around pinching their little bottoms. This isn’t Hollywood.”
Milgrim frowned and went out. As Shep started to follow, Manley said, “Don’t let him intimidate you. Stay here and talk to me.”
“One of us better keep him happy,” Shep said.
“When I want to go through a train brushing up against nice little sixteen-year-olds, I’ll do it,” Manley said. “But I’ll be damned if I call it research.”
“Be back in a little while. Now take it easy.”
“Don’t worry, baby. I won’t disgrace us.”
In the corridor outside the drawing room, Milgrim looked around carefully and then said suddenly, “Has Manley been drinking?”
Shep fought back an hysterical impulse to laugh. “Oh, we’ve had a few highballs—nothing to speak of.” He kept his eyes away from Milgrim because as a liar he was hopelessly without talent.
“His agent said Manley had given him his word of honor that he was permanently on the wagon.”
“We’ve been pushing pretty hard, Mr. Milgrim. An occasional drink …”
“I didn’t want to hire him because I was afraid of this damned drinking,” Milgrim said. “I suppose you know he’s a post-graduate dipso. They say one drink and he’s off for months.”
Shep thought of Sara’s champagne and the way he had urged Manley to that first ceremonial drink. “Hell, someone might have warned me.”
“I thought everybody knew,” Milgrim said. “For God’s sake, don’t let him drink any more.”
“Christ, I’m not a male nurse.”
“But you seem to be hitting it off. I know he resents me. Some sophomoric idea of his—a fix in his mind of the ignoramus producer. I could fire him right now and get Ben Hecht to jump in and save it—but I’d rather not. That would finish him in Hollywood. And I know he needs the money.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Shep said, thinking: This is more than just another location trip for Victor Milgrim. He’s moving up into the Ivy League. Maybe he’s bucking for an honorary degree. Manley Halliday, one of the few living American authors whose works are recognized by English professors, is the calling card.
“Shortly after we arrive,” Milgrim said, “the English Department is giving a reception for Manley. I want you to make it your job to see that he’s dressed and shaved and coherent.”
“There’ll be an extra charge for valet service.” Shep was tired enough to speak his mind.
“Save your humor for the script. I know how much work you’ve done so far. I’d fire you right now if I didn’t think you had some influence with Manley.”
Shep wanted to talk up—a fighting speech about a man’s pride and the degradation of the marketplace. But he thought of Sara, and of his ambition to do Informers and Deeds. And then there was Manley. On the flight east he had been fascinated by the disorder of Manley’s life and mind. But now he had begun to sense the dim outlines of a prolonged struggle. What sense was there in standing up to Victor Milgrim if that only further undermined • the cause of Manley Halliday?
So a bitter “Thanks” was all he said.
Milgrim led him down the aisle. “Take a good look at them, listen to them. Get the feel of them.”
Shep was following him automatically. There were girls stretched out across Pullman seats, girls giggling together, girls playing cards, girls chattering. There was a girl waxing skis, a girl combing and combing her hair, a girl knitting, a girl reading Screen Romance. There was even a girl reading Rainer Maria Rilke. There was a sixteen-year-old siren with honey-colored hairwho eyed them. There was a tall, dark girl who looked Spanish and had marvelous breasts. But at this moment nothing was vivid but the strained, wretched face of Manley Halliday hanging over the little toilet in the drawing room.
“Look—over there in the brown suit—if she isn’t a young Carole Lombard!”
Milgrim went through the Pullman making snap-judgment discoveries.
“Excuse me, miss. Allow me to introduce myself. Victor Mil-grim.” When the name didn’t take as quickly as he had hoped, he added, “Victor Milgrim, of World-Wide.”
“Glad to meet you,” the youngster said, “I’m Margie Hart of Minsky’s.”
Milgrim laughed uncomfortably. “We’ll be making some shots at the Mardi Gras and I’d like to spot you in a couple. It would be a sort of screen test.”
“You mean you want little me for Hollywood?” the girl said.
“If you photograph—and I certainly think you should.”
She struck a mock glamour pose. Milgrim had picked himself a sharp one. “Do my eyes sparkle too much for pictures?”
“Seriously, young lady, I wouldn’t have taken the trouble to come over if I didn’t think you had possibilities.”
“Seriously, mister, I’m a freshman at Barnard, my old man’s on the faculty there, and he’d kick my derriere from here to Hoboken if I took you seriously.”
Milgrim smiled defensively, asked her to call him at Webster Inn if she changed her mind, and, relatively undaunted, went on down the aisle. “See what I mean?” he told Shep. “Fresh personalities. Fresh dialogue. Full of that new spirit.”
In the next car Victor Milgrim discovered a young Kay Francis, a young Katharine Hepburn and a young Irene Dunne. There was even a demure child from Miss Wadleigh’s who impressed him as a young Janet Gaynor.
Shep passed a nondescript girl who might have been anybody and said, “Look. A young Marie Dressier.”
Milgrim looked reproachful. Then he saw a girl who was really startling, with soft yellow hair, peach complexion and enormous blue eyes. “A young—a young Dolores Costello!”
Milgrim gasped. When he introduced himself she was all dimples and Southern accent and “Ah think that would be adohrable.” She turned out to be a professional model from Conover’s who had come up from Savannah to go on the stage. Her name was Savannah Castle. Milgrim told her to look him up at Webster Inn. She would simply adohre to. Milgrim felt better when he moved on. This was more like home. “See what I mean—a fresh face!” Shep wondered how Milgrim could reconcile his quest for freshness with his search for younger carbon copies of established stars. But he went along in silence.
“This is why we should all get out of Hollywood every so often,” Milgrim said. “No matter how creative we are, we need to meet new people, new ideas—there’s nothing like outside stimulation.”
Thus Victor Milgrim walked from one end of the train to the other, eyeing the girls and feeling better and better.
On the way back he smiled and bowed to Savannah. Her little pink hand fluttered up to her hard, magnificent mouth in demure recognition.
“There’s a great little bet,” Milgrim said. “I wonder if our publicity man could fix it for her to be Queen of the Mardi Gras. Make a nice tie-in for the picture.”
Back at their drawing room at last, Milgrim said, “Shep, you know a little bit about this business. We’ll have a camera crew waiting for us in the morning. You’ve got to give them some idea where the main scenes are going to be played so they can pick up their backgrounds for the transparencies. You’d better see to it that Manley gets on the ball. You can use Peggy if you want to dictate tonight.”
“We hired a secretary from the hotel. She’s on the train somewhere.”
That had been a last-minute whim of Manley’s, to bring Miss Waddell along. Miss Waddell was a large, eager woman in her late forties who had not been out of New York since she had arrived there, for some reason long since forgotten, from Kansas City twenty-seven years before. Because she was a home-town girl and because he sensed that this would be the most exciting thing that had happened to her since a man followed herthrough lower Central Park in the Spring of Twenty-six, Manley had insisted that she accompany them.
“I don’t care how you do it, just so long you two geniuses come up with a workable line by the time we get in,” Milgrim said.
When he found their drawing room empty, Shep was mildly alarmed. Searching through the adjoining car, he thought he recognized Manley’s voice behind the dark-green curtain of the men’s room. Inside, surrounded by smoke and a group of natty, good-looking, junior executive types, Webster men, vintage thirty-five, -six and -seven, there he was, passing around the last of the gin.
Shep recognized Gene Hoffman, a big, blond boy who had won his block W in football three successive years without ever making first-string. Gene had been one of those aberrant athletes with a restless, second-rate mind, who begins to have a vague awareness of the intellectual life of the college. In Shep’s class, Gene had been elected president of the Socrates Society. As a result Gene had passed from the halls of Webster to his bond salesmanship with a swollen idea of his intellectuality. Four years beyond the academic life, he still took himself seriously.
Shep shook hands with Hoffman, who had put on twenty-five pounds since they had last seen each other at Commencement. After the stylized classmate repartee, Hoffman said, “This joker is trying to tell us he’s Manley Halliday.”
Hoffman’s chums, going back for Mardi Gras in holiday spirits, would have laughed if they had been a little more certain who Manley Halliday was.
Manley glared at Hoffman. “Wha’ I have t’ do t’ convince you I’m Manley Halliday—write you a goddam novel while you wait?”
Hoffman winked to the boys superiorly. “Look, old man, I saw Manley Halliday once. He spoke to the Socrates Society.”
“Nnn, nnn, not this baby. Never believed in lecturing, ’specially to college students. Sure it wasn’t William Lyon Phelps?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Hoffman said, but he was less sure now. He had lost touch with these things since going downtown.
“I still think it was Halliday,” Hoffman said.
“No, Gene, it was John V. A. Weaver,” Shep said.
“Weaver, that’s right!” Hoffman said. “What got me mixed up was you both used to write for College Humor.”
One of Halliday’s serials and a few of his stories had run in College Humor, a lot of quick work to pay the bills.
Manley took the bottle back and tipped it to his lips. “Hoffman, bet I c’n tell you the las’ book you finished.”
“Mind reader, huh?” Hoffman laughed. “Do you want a blindfold, or are you blind enough without it?”
“The Yearling,” Manley said.
“By God, what’ve you got in that gin—you’re right!” Hoffman said.
“And the book you’re reading now—” Manley thought a moment “—Rebecca.”
“Little man, you win the daily double,” Hoffman said.
“I know everything about you—your reading habits, your sex habits, your mental capacities, the extent and the limits of your ambition,” Manley said.
“My, my, you should get yourself a job in a 42nd Street Flea Circus telling fortunes.”
It bothered Shep that Hoffman confused what Manley was saying with the way he looked. “Come on, Manley, let’s go back to our room.”
“No kidding, Shep, you mean this is really Manley The Night’s High Noon Halliday?” Under the surface of Hoffman’s contempt was a worn lining of admiration.
“No—’low me t’ introduce myself,” Manley said. “Zane Grey’s the name. An’ this is Boola-boola, my Tahitian baitboy.”
Hoffman laughed, but not with Manley. “He’s like one of the screwball characters in his own books,” he said.
“How would you know?” Manley said.
“Come on, Manley, let’s go,” Shep begged.
“What’sa hurry?” Manley said. “In’eresting case, Hoffman. Gets a liberal arts education t’ fit him for business that’s as far removed ’s possible from liberals an’ art.”
“Look who’s talking, a fugitive from the Twenties,” Hoffman sneered. “You jokers went off on one long tear and left usto pay the check. And you don’t seem to know yet that the party’s over.”
“How you’ve suffered!” Manley said. “Bet the only time you’ve worked up a sweat since college is when your boss takes you to the Racquet Club to play handball with you—and you let him win. And I bet the boss has a daughter or a niece who goes for good-looking husky blonds who used to play Ivy League football. And one of these days you’ll be a junior partner. And you’ll be faithful to your wife for a little while …”
“Ha ha ha,” Hoffman said, not liking it at all. “With a plot like that you ought to be able to buy yourself a clean suit.”
“Use t’ have fifty suits,” Manley said. “Lot o’ damn foolishness. Use t’ think appearance was important.”
“I can see you’ve reversed yourself on that one, pal,” Hoffman said, winking at the chums and directing their laughter at the stained, baggy suit.
“Better’n buying clothes y’can’t really afford,” Manley said. “I know ya, Hoffman. Y’haven’t changed. Pro’ly don’t get over five hundred a month.”
“So this is the great Halliday. What’d they call you—the spokesman for your generation? Boy, your generation ought to buy you back and keep you under cover.”
Hoffman’s two hundred and thirty pounds draped in an immaculate pin stripe seemed to be crushing down on Halliday.
“All right, Gene, lay off,” Shep said.
“Who the hell are you, his bodyguard?”
Shep would have to spot him fifty pounds but there was a lot of fat on Hoffman. “Yeah,” he said. “As of right now I am.”
“I’ve heard about you Hollywood tomboys,” Hoffman said, very ready.
“Don’t need anybody t’ fight my battles,” Manley said. “Know how much I make, Hoffman? Two thousan’ a week. Three hundred ’an’ thirty three dollars a day …”
Shep felt painfully embarrassed, but Manley was insulated behind a child’s pride. “Even Shep makes twice as much as you do. An’ I—did I tell ya how much I make—two thousan’ dollars a week.”
The prolonged sleeplessness and drinking seemed to haveshrunken him. He looked very small and emaciated as he sat there among the young grads in the men’s room holding up his little boasts like half-inflated balloons.
“Oh, sure, you Hollywood bigshots really rake in the jack,” Hoffman said. “Tell me, do all great authors go to Hollywood when they die?”
Manley rose, his small hands clenched, his face bloodless and taut. “Why, you young snotnose! Nobody c’n say that to me. Don’ care how big he is …”
“Put your hands down, Halliday,” Hoffman said, “or I’ll swat you like a gnat.”
There was a terrible expression on Manley’s face. “Come on, you sonofabitch. Not afraid o’ you. Use ’t’ hold my own with Freddy Welsh.”
“Who the hell was he?”
The insult to Freddy Welsh drove Manley to violence. He threw a wild punch that Hoffman easily avoided. “Don’t get me mad,” Hoffman warned. Shep felt a nightmare closing in like an ether cone over his face. He forced himself between them and grabbed Hoffman’s arms. “Go on, beat it, Gene. Leave him alone, for Chris’sake.”
Manley was still struggling to get at Hoffman. “Manley, you take it easy too,” Shep said. With his body checking Hoffman, he turned to pin Manley’s arms.
“Leggo, I’ll box his ears off,” Manley insisted.
“The great Manley Halliday,” Hoffman sneered. “Stinkin’ as a skunk and twice as drunk.”
“Disappear, Gene,” Shep said.
“All right, I’ll leave you two geniuses to earn your hundred dollars a minute,” Hoffman said.
Manley sank down against the leather seat. His head was heavy. His chin came to rest on his chest. In the silence they could hear the idiotic rhythm of the spinning wheels and the flirtatious laughter of young men and women passing in the corridor.
“Manley, I’m no Freddy Welsh, but I’m going to start getting tough.”
“Don’t lash me, baby. I feel lousy enough.”
“It’s your own goddam fault.”
“Don’t worry. Not blaming you. Not blaming anybody. All my fault. All the things ’at happened, my fault. Pick people who destroy you—it’s second degree self-destruction.”
“Manley, listen to me. I’ve got to score on this job. I can’t slide by on a famous name. Keep on like this and we’ll both get the heaveroo.”
“Heaveroo? Never heard o’ that word. You make it up? ’r is it generic?”
“Manley, forget all that. Forget everything but Love on Ice. You’ve got to concentrate. Quit drinking, quit thinking, and concentrate.”
“All right. All right, Shep. All right. All right, baby. All right …”
“How about some coffee?”
“A little food with it?”
Manley shook his head. “No food—stomach feel lousy.” His head rolled on his chest. “I’ll be thinkin’ ’bout the story.” He shut his eyes and seemed to drift off.
Shep touched his shoulder. “Manley, you can’t sleep here. If you want to sleep, let’s go back to the…”
Manley sat upright. “Sleep? Who wants t’ sleep? Let’s work. Let’s get the damn story straightened out. Where’s Miss Waddell? Le’s dictate to Miss Waddell.”
“Okay, I’ll look for her. Will you meet me back at the drawing room?”
Miss Waddell wasn’t in her seat or in the diner and Shep was afraid to search further for fear of leaving Manley alone too long. Manley wasn’t in the drawing room when Shep returned. Shep found him still in the men’s room, half sitting, half lying on the long leather seat, his eyes closed, his mouth open, breathing heavily. Shep wasn’t sure whether to wake him and get him back to the drawing room or to let him enjoy the first nap he had had since leaving Hollywood. He stood over Manley, staring down into his face.
Manley’s voice startled him. “All righ’, meeting ’ll come to order.” Manley still hadn’t opened his eyes. “You’re suppose’ t’ be a clever young man. Why don’ you come up with a brigh’ idea?”
“I do have one new notion I thought I might try on you. Man-ley, are you listening?”
“Shsure, shsure, I’m all ears,” Manley said, suddenly smiling.
“It’s just a stab in the dark but it might work. What if the boy, Joe, stops near one of those schools where the girls are supposed to go out and get practical training every so often. You know, Antioch, or Bennington. So the waitress in the diner, Gretchen, or Diane, is really the daughter of the President of Webster. Joe goes for her and tells her all about Webster, thinking he’s impressing her with being a college man. She plays dumb, laying it on pretty thick—says she’s always hoped that some day she’d meet a Webster man, she’s heard so much about the Mardi Gras. So Joe winds up asking her to the Mardi Gras and when he gets back to school he tells his fraternity brothers about it. He’s playing it strictly for kicks—as a kind of practical joke on the typical upper-class chicks who always show up for Mardi Gras. He even thinks he can fix it to run her in as Queen. Manley, are you listening? I think maybe this’ll work. Now, when Gretchen, or Diane, gets to Webster, the first thing she does is …”
“Wait. Got a better idea.” Manley’s eyes were half closed and his head still lay against the back of the seat; the beginnings of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. “ ’Stead of the President having one beautiful daughter, he’s give him twelve. That way Victor can use all the girls he’d like to sign up on the train. The Varsity Eleven gets the romantic idea of marrying all the President’s daughters en bloc. The Varsity men can’t count so well. They’re in on scholarships. When someone, pro’ly a mathematics prof, points out to them that they’re one short, they send for the water boy. Mickey Rooney ’d be terrific casting. But terrific. Now, the complication. Can’t have a good movie without the complication. Whatta ya call it—the weenie? Okay, here’s your weenie. If the Home Team doesn’t win the Big Game the President ’ll have to cut the players’ salaries and they won’t be able to afford to marry his daughters. In the last minute of the game, score sixty-nine t’ sixty-three against ’em, one of the Eleven ’s carried out. Before Mickey Rooney c’n get off the field, play’sresumed. When the ball’s kicked off it lands right in Mickey’s pail. While everyone’s hunting for the ball he calmly walks down the field with his pail an’ scores the winning touchdown. Now, here’s ya topper, an’ it’s a real topperoo. Webster wins seventy t’ sixty-nine an’ not only do all the players get bonuses and marry the twelve daughters but the President resigns in favor of Mickey an’ we’re right into our sequel, Mickey Rooney in The Sexy Prexy.”
Manley opened his eyes and chuckled. “In the whole, I mean old days Ben Turpin would ’ve been great for the College President. Or Chester Conklin.”
“Who’ll play the twelve daughters?”
“Anita Louise,” Manley said.
Feeling a little guilty for encouraging him, as with a disobedient child who draws attention from his own misdeeds by being consciously, precociously “cute,” Shep had to laugh.
“Maybe we could get Chaplin for the President. Always wanted t’ write something for Chaplin. Anita Louise would’ve made Charlie an ideal dream girl. I mean a dream ideal girl. Edna Purviance. Virginia Cherrill. Know the secret of Charlie? Not a man at all. Sneaks up in attic, puts on father’s clothes, pants too big, shoes too big, wears all kinds of different clothes, together, anything he happens to find lying around. Then he pretends he’s grown up. But it’s all a dream. Girls he falls in love with, ’thereal, too beautiful, ’way little boys fall in love with grown-up women from a distance. Dances with ’em, makes love to ’em, gives ’em won’erful presents, all in a dream. ’Member City Lights. An’ that face on Charlie. From ridic’lous t’ sublime no cliche for Charlie. Real art, real tragedy, only tragedy I ever saw in the movies. That face on Charlie. The pain. I c’n see it right now. All his pictures, same idea, the dream’s a beautiful balloon, a kid’s balloon an’ reality’s a sharp point on a fence. The balloon drifts over into the forbidden garden, hits the point ’n bursts—” way all of us wake up right back where we were. Chaplin’s the only one saw the movie as the bes’ medium in the worl’ for dreams, the child being the father, the tramp being the millionaire, the homely little bum being the elegant Don Juan. Jere ’n I were Chaplin fans in Paris right after the war.
Saw he was the mos’ serious way back when he was playing slapstick. ’Member one picture little one-reeler, can’t even ’member the name of it. Charlie’s a drunk being dragged along, grabs a bush as he struggles, finds a daisy in his hand. Daisy changes mood entirely. Becomes a poet, a dreamer, an aesthete. So convincing it looks like impro—improvisation an’ when you think of Charlie as a child not even unrealistic, you know the way a little boy sees a toy boat an’ becomes a boat captain, picks up a gun an’ goes right into character of a soldier. See what I mean? Don’t think of Charlie as an adult acting like a child but as a child acting like a grownup. Like The Gold Rush. Jere ’n I saw it five times, wrote a ’preciation of it for Vanity Fair. If movies didn’t die so fast it’d be considered a permanent classic like Hamlet or Cyrano. Funny as hell on the surface and full of inner meanings an’ the idea, the Gold Rush, just when the whole country was rushing for gold. Money crazy. One of the signs of an artist is his sense of contemporaneity—didn’t say it right, you know what I mean—without going opportunist. Like my books. Lot of writers tried to cap’alize on the era. You know, cheap books about jazz babies n’ bootleggers. Some of ’em got serious review in their time. My books were lit up with the light of our time because that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I mean not consciously but—how the hell did I get talking about myself? Thought I was talking about Charlie. I’m no analyst, but I could analyze Chaplin from his comedies—that’s how true they are. No good work of art I mean there’s no good work worthwhile work of art without the artist’s exposing himself. You ’n I f’r’instance, Love on Ice isn’t us, that’s why it’s so hard to concentrate, easier to write something good than some-think like that. Only two kinds of writing come easy, when you’re a real writer ’xpressing yourself or when you’re a natural hack an’ haven’t got any self to ’xpress.” He paused finally. “Damn. Can’t stay on the subject. Whatsa matter with me? Charlie Chaplin. Notice how there’s always a great big brute of a man pushing little Charlie around—prospector in Gold Rush, millionaire in City Lights, employer in Modern Times, always the same father image, switching suddenly from love to hatred of Charlie like the millionaire picks him up when he’s drunktakes him home lovingly tucks him in, then sobers up in the morning an’ throws him out. Conflict with the father, whether Charlie sees it or not. All Charlie’s pictures full of it. Psychiatrist c’d do a helluva book on Charlie’s movies. Thought of it myself. Another of the things I left undone but I was too much of a layman even though I read a lot about it trying to figure out Jere. Read so much about it it was no use being analyzed. Just enough knowledge to make a bum patient an’ an’—” he faltered —“what’m I talking about…?”
“The Chaplin movies …”
“… don’t switch from comedy to tragedy. No phony, mechanical change o’ pace. The funniest parts, the parts where you laugh the loudest, are tragic. That’s where the genius comes in…”
“But isn’t there more to Chaplin than a comic interpretation of the Oedipus Complex?” Shep interrupted. “Now in Modern Times—”
Seeing that Manley was only coherent enough to make his own kind of sense but not equal to the greater effort of listening, Shep stopped abruptly.
And Manley went on talking, like a man hypnotized, in an automatic stream: “Jere and I talked to Charlie when we were out there about writing a story for him. It was an idea Jere had. She wanted me to write it with her. Almost did it. Charlie was interested for a while. Hollywood was—a lot crazier then than it is now—more of a factory town now. But in those days it was
—it had the quality of a vulgar fairy land. There were wonderful parties that lasted for days and there was a nice sense of sin that’s only found in worlds of true innocence. The girls were
—Lord—they were beautiful and the leading men looked the way leading men are supposed to look in a salesgirl’s dream. Tall dark and handsome and completely unreal. When you have men playing leads, even becoming stars, who aren’t conventionally dreamily handsome, it means the world’s becoming more realistic, less romantic. We were romantic as all hell. Even though we thought of ourselves as terribly realistic. Oh, we knew the facts of life. We called a spade a spade. We weren’t a-Freudof anything, Jere said once. It was a shameful pun but it made a kind of sense …”
Manley rubbed both hands up and down his face from his hairline to his mouth as if he were washing. “Oh, hell, What am I—talking about?”
Shep wasn’t sure whether to say Jere or The Twenties or Chaplin or Hollywood or For Christ sake go to bed. Was Man-ley Halliday (the ominous way Milgrim had said it) a dipsomaniac? Shep had known some heavy drinkers but he realized that dipsomania was still an abstract apprehension. What did dipsomaniacs do? Shep had nervous visions of urinating in public places, of committing rape, of stabbing friends with bread knives, of falling off trains, of challenging a dozen stevedores to suicidal combat; an alcoholic maniac. But Manley, at least now that Hoffman was gone, not only showed no signs of violence, but actually seemed to grow more gentle, and in some ways more sensible, than he had been at the beginning, despite the rambling and the thickening tongue and the heavy lids.
Shep lit his pipe and settled down to listen, resignedly at first, but sympathetically and then with increasing fascination as Man-ley Halliday, a ghost figure on a phantom train, went back and back and back in restless search of Manley Halliday.
Published as The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg (1950).