Fame and Fortune
Fame and Fortune
TWO SINGLES BECOME A DOU
BLE—A VAUDEVILLE SKETCH
By Octavus Roy Cohen
THE last note of the girl's song trilled over the crowded house. There was a momentary silence, then then a thunder of the three-piece orchestra applause. The three piece orchestra struck up the chorus once more, and again the clear soprano surged from the perfectly rounded throat.
Billy Parrish cut short his speech to the house-manager and stared interestedly from wings at the supple girl who held her audience with the sheer charm and freshness of her voice. The thin lips of the man compressed sharply, and his eyebrows were upraised slightly with epicurean appreciation.
"She can sing," he commented admiringly to the house-manager.
The other chuckled.
"Sing! You just bet your bottom dollar she can sing. She's got the stuff, that dame has."
"Who is she?"
"Dolly Veerden. Just breaking into the game."
"I'm next to the close at the Orpheum," remarked Parrish. "Think I'll trot around and watch your first show to-night."
The girl finished her song and sped into the wings amid a thunder of applause. She took five curtains, and then refused to notice the continued applause of the house. The orchestra drowned the tenacious enthusiasts, and the curtain rose on the full stage set of the Dixie Comedy Trio's offering. Dolly Veerden smiled dimplingly at the manager and walked swiftly toward the dressing-room corridor.
"Goin' good," flattered the manager.
"Thanks," smiled the girl—and disappeared to change to street dress.
"She is pretty," commented Billy. "Mighty pretty."
"As a peach," endorsed the house mogul. "And she's chock-full of qit-up-an'-git. She'll be headlinin' at the Palace yet—Noo York, I'm meanin'."
"Maybe." Billy glanced once more at the somber row of dressing-rooms, nodded and waved his hand airily. "S'long, Pete. See you to-night. Much 'bliged."
The manager stared grinningly at the well set-up figure of the young man.
"I'm thinking," muttered Pete, "that Dolly's gonna graduate into the Big Time sooner'n she thinks. And not as a single, either."
BILLY PARRISH was that rarest of all things in the vaudeville world—a comedian with a personality. "Artists" who had played with him week in and week out told marvelous tales of his ability to awaken a dead audience without speaking a word. There was something in his smile, something in his attitude of chumminess, that appealed to the most blasé theater goer.
Yet there was an intangible something which Billy lacked. He knew it, and for two years he'd been trying to put his finger on the defect.
And the managers recognized the existence of the flaw, for while Billy had been featured in almost every large vaudeville house in the country, and although he had been headlined on the biggest of road-time, he'd never reached the eminence which had been attained by other singles—the eminence, for instance, of Bert Fitzgibbon or Jack Wilson—or, among the women, of Eva Tanguay or Belle Baker.
It wasn't his voice. It wasn't his stage bearing. It wasn't the fact that he didn't always make a hit with the audience. It was something no one could put a finger on.
"It's a bit tough," he remarked one day to one of the powers-that-be in the Keith offices. "Remember, I aint kicking, but it does get my goat to know that I've got the goods, and that I get 'em across, and yet that unless I do something I'll never be a Welch or a Lauder or a Tanguay. I aim high, y'see. And I'm honest. But what I want to be is one of those headliners whose name alone puts the S. R. O. up in the lobby."
The eminent booking-agent shook his head sagely.
"You've more common-sense than most vaudevillians," he remarked easily. "Most guys on the two-a-day think us managers has a grudge against 'em—when, as a matter of fact, we are combing this country from end to end for real talent. There's too many that thinks they ought to be put on seventeen times in succession in the same show at the Palace. They're too stuck on themselves. They go on pullin' the same stuff year after year, never knowin' why we want 'em less and less. Now you—you come to me for advice, and I'm dummed if I can give it. Hard lines; that's what I call it. You've got the goods, and you'll always be a good Big-Timer—but there's a kink somewheres. That's the trouble with vaudeville: we know it's there, and yet we can't find it. Maybe,"—speculatively,—"maybe a two-act—"
"Me take a partner? Aw, say—"
And so Billy had grinned, taken a proffered perfecto, and left to play twenty-one weeks on Central Time. And in Omaha he had strolled into the Majestic, which was running small-time stuff, and had heard and been charmed with Dolly Veerden. Not that he seriously considered Dolly, but—
HE waited through her act that night and marveled at her incongruous combination of stage presence and amateurish awkwardness—the polish of her singing and the crudity of her patter, the natural grace of her dancing and its antiquity. And somehow he found himself laughing into her eyes as Pete introduced him as "the Billy Parrish."
"I've seen you work," bubbled the girl. "You're wonderful! If I could ever attain your eminence—" Her shining eyes finished the sentence for her.
"You've got the stuff," approved Billy somewhat bashfully—it was a unique experience, this meeting a fellow-performer whose real personality was not dulled and tarnished and well-nigh obliterated by a thick, unpleasant veneer of ego.
"You really think so?"
"Yes—really. Of course, to be honest, there are a lot of things about your act that need polishing. You ought to have a few weeks under a real dancing-teacher. Your patter is stale—syndicate stuff, almost. It's been pulled until it has whiskers. But you've got the goods. You aint been at it long, have you?"
She flushed slightly, and then dimpled delightfully.
"It's a secret," she murmured. "Even the house-manager doesn't know. This is my fourth week!"
"What?" Billy was astounded. "No!"
"You're a marvel," he said simply, "—a perfect marvel."
"Oh! thank you."
Billy looked at his watch and snatched his hat.
"I gotta beat it. I'm on at nine-ten. Say,"—contrary to all training, a brick-red flush mounted to his cheeks,—"how about a bite after the show? I'd like to talk with you awhile."
"Good," she agreed smilingly; and then, when he was gone, she stared after him somewhat wistfully. Pete, the manager, sidled closer.
"Nice chap, eh?" he remarked.
"Fine!" she enthused. "He's so different from the other people I've met in the profession. He isn't always talking about how he headlined here, and brought down the house there, and started the riot-call somewhere [else]. He—he looks like a human being."
"He is that," agreed Pete. "A good fellow. And some comedian."
She looked him full in the face and smiled.
SATURDAY night: At a tiny table in a secluded corner of the café sat Billy Parrish and Dolly Veerden. The waiter bowed and withdrew to fill the order, and Billy took up the subject of his thoughts since the day he had first heard the girl sing.
"How would you like," he risked abruptly, "to team up in a two-act with me?"
The girl caught her breath sharply, and two spots of color dotted her cheeks.
"Team up?" she breathed
"Parrish & Veerden," he grinned.
"When do your bookings expire?"
"In five weeks. This is a trial for me, you know."
"I finish in three weeks. My idea is this, and I've given it mighty careful thought: I think I've got the goods, and I've got the rep' to give up Big Time bookings if we get by on the try-out, as of course we will. You've got the real stuff too. I haven't been watching you critically all week without seeing that. But you're crude; you need polish. And I think I'm the guy that can give it to you. I got a friend in New York who specializes on two-acts. He's live and up-to-date. I'll write him to-morrow from Lincoln to get busy on a two-act for you and me—plenty of breezy patter, with us dividing the laughs about two-third and one-third, me taking the long end on account of my experience. If you make good, we'll make half-and-half later.
"I'll also have my friend get busy with a song-writer friend of his to furnish us with some good lyrics and a few high-class parodies. Parodies always go, if they're good. He's a fine guy, that chap is, and he'd sell his shirt for me. He'll dope us out a real act. Then we'll beat it into New York, put in a couple of weeks' hard rehearsal, take our try-out and eat up the Big Time—what?"
"It—it sounds too good to be true. I've dreamed of such a thing—"
"It's business," he said seriously. "It aint no charity with me—not by a long shot. One of the biggest booking-agents in the country advised me to team up if I could get the right partner. And you're the first one I've seen that I'm willing to take a shot at it with. Are you on?"
In answer she solemnly extended her hand across the table and gripped his.
"That's a shake on it," she said. "I can't tell you, though, how much obliged—"
"Show it," he retorted shortly; and then, as the waiter sailed into view bearing two broiled lobsters: "You'll have plenty of time. And if I aint mistaken, you're going to make a sensation."
MAKE a sensation she did—or he did—or they did. At any rate, "Parrish & Veerden, Comedians," as they were billed, brought enthusiastic letters from the Big Time house-managers outside of New York into the office of the man who had originally advised Billy to secure a team-mate.
As for that gentleman, he smiled as he pored over the reports from the various houses, reports which showed that Parrish & Veerden had been a "riot" or a "big laugh" or "great," all recording to the particular style of descriptive adjective used the man reporting. The newspapers in the larger cities characterized their act as having a unique freshness and a piquant humor. One and all, they were unstinted in their praise over Dolly Veerden's work, although they never failed to give the famous Billy Parrish his share of acclaim.
And so it was that the booking-agent brought them in for five weeks in the New York houses, opening in a good position on the Palace bill.
New York is satisfied with good vaudeville, and an act which makes a great appeal must be of infinite novelty, faultlessly produced, and quick-moving. If the reception given by an audience is any criterion, Parrish & Veerden had the best act which had played the Palace in weeks. The spectators went into rhapsodies, much to the chagrin of the two headline acts.
But with it all, Billy was not fooled. It was his old friend, the booking-agent, to whom he confided his troubles.
"Frank," he said evenly, "I aint kidding myself none whatever. I picked up the kid when she was doing the three-a-day, and I deserve a bit of credit for that. And I taught her all I knew, and a little bit more. I polished her off. But what I aint kidding myself about is this: that defect of mine, whatever it is and however I got it, is still there. Our act aint never going to be standard like—well, Williams & Walker, for instance, or McIntyre & Heath. It's gonna be good; I know that much. But it aint perfection. And I'm the drag. Aint that the truth?"
"You want it straight—or with an anesthetic?"
"Well—that bein' the case, you've got the dope dead right. This girl is a marvel. She's a second Tanguay, if I'm any judge. She's a fifteen-hundred-dollar-a-week single. Your act might develop into a fifteen-hundred-dollar act. That's the long and short of it."
"You mean—she's as good an act, single, as she is teamed with me?"
"Precisely. She's one in a generation."
"I see." And then, with a wry face: "You sure don't sugar-coat your pills."
"You asked for the truth. You're good, Billy, awful good. You'll always be good. But I'm afraid you aint a history-maker. She is. That's all."
"And so I suppose—" He paused, and then with a half-angry, half-wistful exclamation, he smashed his right fist into the palm of his left hand.
THE booking-agent glanced at him sharply, and the faintest shadow of a smile played about his lips. He whistled softly.
"So that's where the land lies, is it, boy?"
Billy blushed rosily.
"Aw! come clean, now, and tell your Uncle Dud. You've kind of fallen for her, eh?"
"Do you blame me?" exploded the very young man.
"I do not," expostulated the elder, "not by a helluva sight,"
"Well," Billy exhaled in one great, relieving sigh, "I couldn't help it; that's all."
"Doesn't know a blooming thing about it—of course."
"Why the 'of course?'"
Billy raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"I couldn't tell her now, could I? I haven't the right."
"Haven't the right?"
"Surely not. That"—with a fidget of slight embarrassment—"is one of the reasons I asked your expert advice. If she wasn't any better than me, why, I'd ask her to marry me, right off the reel. But as it is, I can't."
"I don't see—"
"Oh yes, you do see. D'you think I'd be doing the square thing if I tied her up with me for life, when she's crazy ambitious to get to the top of the heap, and has the stuff to do it too, and me always going to be—well, just short of a real, lasting star?"
"Son," asked the elder quietly, "did you ever hear of Don Quixote?"
"The gink who was off his bean and who went around with a chip on his shoulder looking for trouble?"
"The same. Well, he lived a long, long time ago. There aint been another guy like him in the limelight for many a year. I wouldn't try to pull his act if I were you."
"But nothing. When you get my age, son, you'll know that there aint nothing in the world that means half as much to a woman as marriage to the man she loves. Dolly—"
"She aint soft for me!"
"The devil she aint! She couldn't help it."
"No bunk. You've put her where she is to-day. And remember this: you aint no small-time piker. You've got the goods—not as strong as she has, maybe, but still, you're there. If I was you I'd go straight to her and spill the bean. I'd pull the love-stuff good and strong. Then you'd both be happy."
"If—" He coughed apologetically. "There aint no use stalling with you, Frank. I just aint got the nerve; that's all."
"Son," retorted his adviser, "when you get a mite more experience and a bit of sense into that cranium of yours, you wont be quite such a blame fool."
DOLLY was worried. Furthermore, Dolly was in love. The two inevitably run hand in hand. She stared into her mirror and furrowed her brow perplexedly.
"I don't know," she cogitated. "He seems to love me—but then again, I aint sure. I wonder—" Wherewith, being a woman of action, she strolled down the corridor and rapped on her partner's dressing-room door.
The rest of the performers had gone, save he of the trained cats, who was busy seeing that his pets were served their proper proportions of the evening meal. The dressing-rooms were pervaded with the odor which is distinctively theirs: a combination of grease-paint, trained animals, the unwashed overalls of stage-hands and rank cigar-smoke which drifts in from the fire-exit where the performers are sometimes wont to sit during the show and enjoy a smoke with the fireman on duty.
The Dolly who entered Billy's dressing-room was a new Dolly, a different being altogether from the little girl whom he'd plucked from the Kerosene Circuit. She was dressed to the latest rave of fashion, even the tiny pulled-down hat and the screamingly striped black-and-white dress failing to conceal her piquant beauty, her grace, her natural allure. Billy rose and motioned her toward his trunk.
"S'down, Dolly," he invited. "Waiting to go out for dinner?"
"Yes—" She coughed tensely, and then: "Billy, I want to have a plain, straight talk with you."
He glanced at her nervously.
"It—it's—about me—and you."
"Have you thought about—us—any?"
"Thought about—" he started explosively, his mind flying back to his troubling interview with his booking-agent friend some five weeks before. Then he checked himself with an effort. "Thought about— Why—why—yes, Dolly, I've thought about us. Just what, though, might you be meaning?"
"Our act." She was cool as ice now.
"Ye-e-s. It's a pretty good act, it strikes me. You think it needs toning up? Or a new patter? Or new lyrics? What, maybe?"
"It aint that." She was speaking slowly and enunciating very distinctly. "It's—well, I'll be very frank: I don't think our act is as strong—that is, we don't team up as strong as we'd each go single."
A shadow flashed across the young man's face. Gamely he fought it back and summoned his stage smile. In a flash he understood.
"You've got an offer to book single?" It was a statement, rather than a question.
Her eyes dropped, and her hand trembled.
"Fifteen hundred a week!"
THEY had both risen; he crossed the tiny room and placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Congratulations!" he said softly, his voice somewhat choky. "It's a big chance. It means"—with game jocularity—"that you've graduated from my class—that your picture is going to be featured in the theatrical sections, that you're going to contribute articles on dress and beauty to the magazines. It means that cigars are going to be named after you—cigars and race-horses and such. It means, Dolly, that you're the one-hundred-per-cent-pure stuff. I've known it all along."
Her face was white and she was pitifully close to tears.
"Not that, Billy," she cried, "not that! It aint—oh I don't like it—"
"Aw, come now, kid,"—he scourged himself relentlessly.—"it just means that you are worth fifteen hundred single, and you and me together are worth fifteen hundred. And fifteen hundred from fifteen hundred just about gives my value to the act."
"Rut I hate to—"
"Don't you let that worry you none whatever. Don't you suppose there'll be satisfaction enough for me to look at you when you've made Tanquay look an also-ran, and say: 'I picked her up in the Kerosene; I taught her the stuff she knows; I put her up there!' Sure, that's all a man c'd ask."
"I know you, kid. I know you like a book. I know you're sort of feeling that you hate to break the act up because of what I done for you, and you're thinking it wouldn't be square to me. But don't kid yourself like that. Of course I aint in your class, but Frank told me if we ever split, he'd book me solid at a thousand, and that's a bit more'n I've ever got before. So let's don't worry—"
"But it isn't so much that," she wailed hopelessly. "It isn't entirely that. It's—it's— Oh! Billy— "
"Come now!" He stroked her shoulder reassuringly, his heart beating an erratic tattoo. "It aint—it aint—" And then somehow her head was resting on his breast and he was crushing her to him until it seemed that the breath must be forced from her tiny body. They were laughing and crying at the same time, and—well, her arms were about his neck, and then he kissed her, and talked very, very foolishly, calling her pet names and crooning to her. And she just stood there, crushed and happy—and sobbing.
"And we wont break up the act," she sobbed. "We wont! We wont! We wont! It's the dearest, best act in the world. It—"
He pressed her even closer.
"No, sweetheart, we wont break up the act. It'll be the same old Parrish & Veerden—or maybe 'Dolly Veerden, supported by Billy Parrish.'"
"No! No! It'll stay Parrish & Veerden. Please!"
And then, when the earth had again righted itself, and the foolish young couple had descended from the heaven of their bliss, she snuggled c1ose to him and remarked that she had a confession to make, and he kissed her and asked her to make it.
"I lied to you," she announced solemnly.
"Yes, I did, too. I didn't have any fifteen-hundred-dollar offer."
"No—you see—I thought—thought—if you imagined that we were going to separate—you might do—just what you've done."
AS Dolly entered the room, Frank threw his cigar out of the window and bowed.
"How are you?" he greeted; and then: "But I needn't ask. I don't think I've seen as blissful a looking human in twenty years."
"And you wanted to tell me?"
"Two things. The first is that I must turn down your fifteen-hundred-dollar offer to go single. The second is—that Billy must never, never know that you made me the offer. I swore that you didn't—that I'd just fooled him. You see, if he once had the idea that I am better than he is—he'd never be happy. He'd always feel that he was holding me back. And—" she dimpled delightfully—"I'd rather be held back—with Billy, than—oh, you know!"
"You and Billy—engaged?"
"Yes.you congratulate me?"
"I'll congratulate Billy," he remarked gravely. "And I have a hunch that maybe your act will become a vaudeville classic. It seems to have the right spirit."