C I f _J^
JpCtfdi ,- , > i ^
Speeu Lamkin'., accond novel is about
Hollywood, the phoniest but the most
human city in the world Mi. Lainkin
understands the take idols, the deep hopes
that draw the crowds there. Me under-
stands too the need for normnhu behind
the <L i:oi; , and this is a novel of the
Holhuood people - not just the stars,
bur the others -- trying to make their
dreams come tine.
With 11 fust, sine style that lias the
glitter of F Scott Fi'/^eiald, Lainkin
plunges into the tragic hie of an aging
oil magnate and his unhapp) young wile.
Their hectic circle of friends stream
through the enormous mansion ^ irJv*^;,
loving, cf !! c* ' ^- in their desperate
search for hippuusi
It is a sensational novel and it is also
u novel of gioat understanding and feel-
ing. This is ambition and opuk PCC. There
is the loneliness of crowded rooms, the
feverish struggle toward unknoun goals,
and behind it there is the clean quietness
wii ttn /w A' //<//
KANSAS CITY, MO PUBLIC LIBRARY
19.T' - P
It? a Easter egg
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KIN91AH JWVILOK CORP.
by Speed Lamkm
OTje &(ber*ttoe fjresfrf Camftritye , i
,.^ . , COMPANY BOSTON ,1954
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN ,
Books by Speed
TIGER I3ST THE CAROJEN
THE EASTER EGO HUNT
COPYRIGHT, 1954, BY HILLYER SPEED
RIGHTS RESERVED INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO REPRODUCE!
THIS BOOK OR PARTS THEREOF IN ANY FORIM
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGUE CARD NO. 537078
Except for one or two real people who make brief
appearances under their own, names, all of tlic
characters in this book are completely fictitious
and bear no resemblance to any particular persons
living or dead.
PRINTED IN THK U.S. A.
FOR CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD
FIRST OF ALL, I HAD KNOWN ANGELICA, HIS
wife. I went to her second birthday party at the Miro country
club, when she was supposed to have tossed pink cake in other
When I was nine, "Tootie" James and I one summer after-
noon climbed the great mimosa tree in Angelica's back yard.
I had got out on a limb about eight feet from the ground, when
suddenly I began to shake with fear. I longed to climb back
to the trunk to safety. Angelica, who was one year older, sat
in a clover bed below, looking up at me.
She was a pretty little girl, I remember, with long dark
curls, honeysuckle skin, and tawny-gold eyes that glowed like
two candles in the wind. At ten she had already begun to
paint her lips behind her mother's back. She wore shoes with
tiny heels, flaring pink skirts, and owned a diamond ring. She
noticed what make automobiles other children's families rode
in, how many servants they had, how large their houses were.
And she knew all about men's private parts, and could tell you
where babies came from. Oh, she was a lovely, snotty, artificial
little girl, and boys flocked around her like flies.
As I said, I had climbed out on this high limb and had begun
to tremble, when suddenly Angelica said: "If you really love
me, Charley Thayer, jump:" And I jumped. As a result, I
broke my right leg and I had to hobble around on crutches
the rest of the summer months.
I knew Angelica, I believe, as well as it was possible to have
known any person who had grown up with you and was not a
close friend. Well, perhaps I knew her somewhat better than
Although the O'Briens were Catholics, Angelica went to
Tucker High with the rest of us, because the young people
whom her mother wanted her to like went there. In those
days Angelica, June Kellogg, and Sarabelle White were a
familiar triumvirate. They went everywhere together and
they held the same opinions about practically everything under
the sun. They dated big smooth South Side boys like "Slick"
Chauvine and "Bubber" Jones. They looked down their noses
at "nice" boys. We weren't "cute" they really meant fast;
and they were the most popular girls in town.
Those three girls were inseparable. You used to sec them
wearing identical pink wool skirts and pink sweaters, walking
down Sycamore Lane, arm-in-arm. One Christinas at the
country club junior dance they wore pink camellias in their
hair. Easter Day they turned up at D.B.S. meeting wearing
pink silk dresses and hats. Birthday-party pink was Angelica's
color. She had adopted pink, as the Communists adopted red,
and the triumvirate wore pink everywhere.
I saw her, of course, in Miro, Louisiana, the city where we
were born and raised, and I used to see her when she was going
to that swanky finishing school in New York, I was a freshman
at Harvard. I remember the time when she came to a punch
party after a Harvard- Yale game. Outside a light snow was
falling; inside, forty men and their dates stood crowded in four
rooms in Lowell House; logs were burning in die fireplaces;
phonographs playing; and we were singing; and the hullabaloo
sounded like four merry-go-rounds turning at once. Suddenly
there were cries and screams of laughter. Angelica, looking
like a fine drenched cat, paraded through the rooms, dripping
water on everybody, swinging a Yale pennant, followed by
four Yale guests. She had got under a shower, wearing her
mother's mink coat.
I saw her in the East; and later on, I saw her in Beverly Hills,
where she and the young man whom she had married lived.
In fact, I was with her at a large party in Beverly Hills the
night that the terrible thing happened. I suppose that you
could say I had watched her character develop and grow
if a country club girl like her does grow inside.
Yet she was no worse than the rest of them. The only thing
was that June Kellogg had settled down with a nice, depend-
able life-insurance salesman back in Miro, and Sarabelle had
married Dr. Gordie Murphy's son. At one time all three of
them had dreamed of a life more fascinating than the Canasta,
coffee-hour, country-club round-robin in Miro. The other
two had given up dreams when they received their first suit-
Angelica married Laddie Wells, a young assistant producer
in Hollywood. He wasn't an assistant producer when she met
him. He was simply a good-looking young man, who spoke
English with a mild German accent. He wasn't anything. He
was a loafer, people in Miro said, a bohernian, who didn't have
his feet on the ground. And when Angelica eloped with him
after she had brought him home to be looked over by her
parents -and they had turned thumbs down everyone
said they felt sorry that Angelica had done such a thing to the
poor O'Briens! Several months later a friend of Laddie Wells
got him the job in the picture business; and overnight people's
attitude changed. Visitors to Miro were told about our home-
town girl marrying a big producer in Hollywood, and with
each telling Laddie Wells's job sounded more and more grand.
At any rate, there was this girl from my home town, mar-
ried to a young man in the picture business, living in Beverly
After I graduated from Harvard, I got a job working for
Life. I started working for Life in August 1948; in March
1951 Life transferred me to their Hollywood office in Beverly
Through the efforts of Sam Goldwyn, whom I interviewed
during my first week, I found a pleasant place to live. Dr.
Leighton Grey, a well-thought-of Beverly Hills physician,
had two rooms for rent adjoining his garage. Dr. Grey had
not only attended Mr. Goldwyn at one time but had also
married the ex- wife of a famous motion picture director. Mr.
Goldwyn implied I should be happy with a landlord who had
these points in his favor.
Before I moved to Dr. Grey's I got to know my way
around Beverly Hills. The city itself had the new-leather
look of a prosperous suburb. In Beverly Hills proper, between
Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire, stood dozens of small
shops extravagant as chocolate boxes, where producers' wives
purchased such things as silver salvers, golden lighters, and
gowns designed by platinum names. In ice-cream-colored
buildings, none of them taller than eight stories, movie agents
maintained offices with cow-hide walls, There was a tailor
who could make you look as if you'd gone to Yale.
Beyond Santa Monica Spanish bungalows, beamed Knglish
cottages, and clapboard colonial houses faced each other along
pleasant palm-lined boulevards. In the daytime nurses clutch-
ing the hands of little children strolled up and down. After
dark these boulevards were patrolled by police, who are
known to question any person walking.
Crossing Sunset Boulevard, you saw white pillared mansions,
pink Florentine villas, Spanish haciendas, and Georgian coun-
try seats, topping smooth grassy knolls like castles. These
show places belonged to the never-never past of Hollywood
when movie stars at their parties hung up artificial moons and
ate off gold plates and had peacocks and leopards and forty-
five fur coats. Marion Davies, Mary Pickford, and Goldwyn
lived on in houses there, but most of the places had been sold.
Under the noses of the show places lived some of the quiet
people of Beverly Hills. If they were once famous, they were
famous no longer, and most of them were never famous at all.
Their streets had names like Shadow Hill and Laurel, still
streets with the mock modesty of country lanes. Such a street
was Cove Way where lived the Doctor and Mrs. Grey.
My rooms, carrying out the style of the Greys' New Eng-
land colonial cottage, had a ship's model over the mantel and
lamps made of coffee grinders. From my sitting-room window
I could watch Esther, the Greys' one colored servant, cooking
dinner in the evenings: Esther, who had an old woman's stork
shape at twenty-five, and philosophized. Twice a week she
gave my rooms a cleaning, and we came to be friends,
From my bed at night I could look across Cove Way at a
huge white elephant of a place. According to Esther, it was
supposed to be Mount Vernon. It had been once owned by
the late Jean Harris, the famous platinum-blond star who
killed herself during the war. For five years the house had
stood sad and dirty at the top of a shaggy green hill, Its
sunken gardens swirling with vines, its columns yellow-
streaked. And then one afternoon about five months ago a
Mr. Clarence Culvers, Louisiana oil millionaire, had driven
up in a canary-yellow Cadillac with his young wife to look at
the house, and within a week had bought it because, so Esther
thought, it had belonged to the late Jean- Harris. Every night
lights burned in the Culverses' windows. At least twice a week
the noise of the Culverses giving a party kept "nice" people
like the Greys awake at night. The Doctor and Mrs. Grey,
Esther said, were praying for the day when the house would
grow still again.
When I went to rent the rooms one cool evening in late
March I had made a good impression on the Greys. Dr. Grey,
a soft-spoken, regular-featured man in his forties, repeated my
name several times in a tone of recognition. "Harry Thayer?
Harry Thayer? I once gave some thyroid shots to a Mrs.
Thayer out here from Philadelphia. Isn't it a Philadelphia
After I explained about our branch of the Thaycrs settling
in Louisiana before the Civil War, Dr. Grey transmitted cur-
rents of approval to his wife. Mrs. Grey received his currents
with a flick of dulled blue eyes, eyes which ten years ago when
she was married to George Wheaton the director must have
been her mark of beauty. She smiled pleasantly, smoothed her
crepe skirt, then said that she was so happy to have someone
like me in the garage rooms,
Mrs. Grey didn't know me at all. But like most of the
American upper middle class to which she belonged, she placed
her faith in good manners, a gray flannel suit, and brown-
haired American looks. Superficially that's a pretty good
description of me. When they had shown me the rooms, I had
sherry with them, and we talked about the Russian situation,
and the California climate. After I moved into the rooms, I
saw the Greys as seldom as possible.
It was pleasant living there. On an ordinary day I would
leave my rooms at nine o'clock. I would have breakfast at a
Beverly Hills eatery named the Delia Robbia, the investment
of an old-time actress who had once played opposite Ramon
Navarro; I would arrive at Life about a quarter of ten. The
Life-Time-Fortune office in a small clean modern building in
Beverly Hills had an atmosphere of Yankee New England.
We wore the same quiet tweed sport coats and gray flannels
that we had worn at Harvard and Yale, we had fairly adequate
vocabularies (never once called anything colossal) , and in
California held on to Eastern ways and values as tenaciously
as the British remain British in Singapore. We perceived some-
thing socially significant in Ava Gardner and we looked on
ourselves as the most serious and truthful reporters of the
I would return to my rooms around six o'clock, shave, take
a shower, and dress for the evening. Friends in New York had
given me letters of introduction to several high-powered Bev-
erly Hills matrons who in turn took me along to parties. Dur-
ing my first two weeks in Beverly Hills I went to sixteen
affairs. At the beginning of my third week I had a hundred
speaking acquaintances and no friends. The story of my sum-
mer in Beverly Hills began one clear April evening when I
drove down a palm-lined boulevard to have dinner with the
Laddie Wellses. He had telephoned me that morning at Life
(how he had learned I was in California he didn't say);
and he vaguely invited me for dinner, whenever I was free to
come. When I sounded so pleased with his calling me, he had
said "Why don't you come this evening?" So I had ac-
Actually, I had seen Laddie Wells only twice before in my
life; and neither of those encounters was entirely pleasant.
Our first encounter had taken place at a cocktail party in Miro.
He had arrived with Angelica by train the day before and
everyone else at the party was as curious to meet him as I. He
had behaved very badly at that party.
It wasn't anything he did, anything that you could put your
finger on. It was his way of only half listening when we spoke;
it was the measuring look in his eye, taking in the lot of us as
if we were a pen of geese; it was the attitude he seemed to bear
toward us throughout the evening: "You nice dull middle-
class people are of no use to me; nor I to you. 77
I don't know how Angelica ever persuaded him to come to
Miro. Certainly Miro, Louisiana, was the last place on earth he
would have chosen to visit. Miro was a Southern city of about
fifty thousand, more New South than Old. The oil and gas
people had the finest houses; the old families were clepressingly
broke, or going broke, trying to keep up appearances; and you
could count on one hand the people who would admit that
they were not perfectly satisfied living there. The only per-
sons Laddie would have liked were a wealthy doctor's wife,
who was a recluse, and an articulate Catholic priest, mysteri-
ously transferred to Miro from his fashionable New Orleans
parish. I don't mean to sound running down my hometown.
It is only that I understood what Laddie's looks meant. As he
himself would have put it, Miro belonged to the "burghers/*
lock, stock, and barrel And Angelica's father, J. Porter
O'Brien, who had made a million out of the war, was the
greatest burgher of them all.
I have wondered why Laddie ever fell in love with a girl
like Angelica; yet, on the other hand, I am positive that he be-
lieved Angelica despised Miro as much as he did. He believed
that Angelica had rebelled. And, indeed, she had, as far as it
meant settling down in Miro, Louisiana, or some other Miro,
for the rest of her life. Angelica wanted a life with kicks,
wanted life to be an adventure, a joy ride; we all knew that.
Nevertheless, I have wondered why.
What surprised everyone in Miro who met Laddie Wells
that summer evening was that she had chosen him. He was by
no means the best-looking one Angelica had gone with. "Why
he's just a boy, a nice clean-cut boy!" I overheard one woman
exclaim; and this was a pretty accurate description of him.
Laddie was over twenty-six years old when they married, yet
his cheeks looked as soft and flushed as a fifteen-year-old's.
He had nice light brown hair, soft as the tassels on a dressing
gown, and he wore it rather long and combed back. If he
happened to be standing near a mirror, he would whisk out a
pocket comb and run it through. Why, this was how I be-
haved when I first started going with girls! Every one of his
features, even his slender body, reminded you of a boy's, all
but the eyes.
They were as gray as the sides of a flint. When you looked
at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly cold, per-
fectly wise, perfectly, perfectly innocent. But the youthful
flush beneath his tender smooth skin gave them a curious,
pathetic expression like an old silver Lincoln penny stuck
in a pink cherry birthday cake. Everything else about him
looked so boyish, even the way he stood. He kept one hand in
a pocket, as if he were jingling coins; one shoulder, hiked above
the other; one knee bent. For some reason, as I looked at him
had copied this posture from some older boy in school or col-
lege whom he had admired some boy who had been lazy,
easygoing, and happy with the world.
And so there Laddie was, hostile, bored, silent, above-it-all,
standing beside Angelica, who stood giggling, sipping cham-
pagne. I was staring at him from behind a vase of gladioli,
thinking how he reminded me of one of those hard fashionable
young hangers-on I'd met at cocktail parties in New York.
I have forgotten about his clothes. He wore an English-cut
suit that day of fine gray worsted. His shirt was of tissue-
weight English blue gingham and was monogrammed above
the pocket. I noticed the monogram, because the large initials
were L.G., not the initials of his name. And he was wearing a
pure silk blue tie with a pattern of tiny black butterflies. He
was so elegantly dressed for a scorching evening in Miro that
he seemed almost to be wearing a costume.
As I said, I was looking at him, when suddenly he looked
directly into my eyes and smiled. The expression was that of
immediate understanding, as if he were saying, We know, but
they don't know, do they? I did not have the slightest idea of
how to return his look, so I pretended that 1 was ga/ing over
The next afternoon, when I ran into him with Angelica out
by the country club pool, he acted as if we had never met,
Now, nearly five years later, when he telephoned me at the
Life office, inviting me for dinner, I felt both curiously sur-
prised and delighted; in fact, I was as anxious to see him us I
was Angelica, his wife.
Their house, a rambling Spanish-style bungalow, painted
pink, stood in an expensive section of Beverly Hills. The
neighboring houses had manicured lawns and barbered trees,
and were copies of dwellings in more romantic lands. Their
neighbor to the left lived in a Norman cottage with a real
thatched roof. To the right there stood a pint-sized copy of
Scarlett O'Hara's plantation house. Although their tile-roofed
bungalow was no Beverly Hills show place, the mahogany
door, the two camellias growing in black tubs on either side of
it, pointed out their success in the world. It was quite a setup
for a young man who five years before had had nothing. I
stopped my Chevrolet coupe in front of the house and I got
Laddie Wells stood in the driveway in his relaxed pose, one
hand in a pocket, one shoulder slouched. He was examining
a dent in the fender of a new black Ford convertible. When
he noticed me approaching him, he glanced up and greeted nie.
He had changed little. A few lines, perhaps, creased his fore-
head. But his hair had not thinned and he hadn't grown fat.
As he spoke, he kept one hand in a pocket, and he cocked his
head. Coming from such a boyish appearance, his voice
sounded deep and male and thick, and, of course, there was
his German accent. We talked for a few minutes beside the
" Angelica has dented her new car," Laddie said. "I gave her
the car for Christmas. Like it?"
"It's beautiful; 7 1 said.
Laddie moved forward to look at the dent again.
"She doesn't know how she did it. It's too bad, isn't it?"
"A garage can fix it," I said. "You'll never know there was
We moved toward the house.
"I low do you like the house?" he said.
I said that it was a fine house. He stopped in his tracks and
looked at the house with pride. I expected him to say some-
thing such as, You see, now I've everything I ever wanted.
"I want to show you the swimming pool/' he said,
So we changed our path. We walked down the concrete
drive past a line of broad windows, until we came to a new
pink brick wall that rose to our shoulders. Over the wall I saw
a tiny kidney-shaped swimming pool that looked like an en-
larged puddle among the glass-topped tables and green canvas
lounge chairs. On one of the tables stood a yesterday's mar-
tini glass; and a crumpled paper napkin had blown to the pool's
edge. Laddie Wells opened a wooden pink door in the wall.
"Soon it will be dark," he said. u You ought to see the pool
I said I bet that it was pretty. Then Laddie noticed me
looking at the mess and frowned.
"It it's not Angelica's fault," he said, almost to himself.
"I pay a Swedish woman sixty-five dollars a week to keep this
In the distance a warm rosy tint colored the March clouds,
as though a blood vessel had burst across the sky. A nurse was
calling a child named Elizabeth to come home. From nearby
came the words and music of a song that had been popular the
year when Angelica went East: "Kiss me once, And kiss me
twice, and kiss me once again, It's been a long, long time n
And we soon entered what Laddie called the playroom. It
was a wide white glass-walled room, rippling with shadows
and dim with the pastel glow of the evening. A fat modem
sofa and easy chairs dotted a white twill carpet like islands,
Enormous lamps protruded like the tops of buoys, And cool
March breezes blew through the opened plate-glass uimlows,
changing the nylon curtains into lovely sails. Near a corner
of the room stood a small mahogany bar like a rock in this sea
of white. On top of the bar a bottle of nail polish had spilled
Into a puddle of deep pink.
I saw Angelica before Angelica saw me. The picture she
formed contrasted with the pictures of her I carried in my
mind. Wearing her pink, her thin legs drooping over the arms
of an easy chair, she sat daydreaming, drying her deep-pink
chewed-off nails. Circles had formed under her twinkling eyes
from loss of sleep, and her dark curls looked mussed. She
reminded me that evening of a wilted iris, sitting there.
When she saw me, she came gloriously to life. She gave a
silly little laugh, that matched the period of the song, and I
said, "Well, well ..." and then she rose merrily with a jingle
of her gold charm bracelets and kissed my cheek. She smelled
of Elizabeth Arden's Blue Grass and cigarettes.
"I've never been so happy to see anybody in my whole life! "
As she took my hands, twirling me around, some of the
pink polish rubbed off on the sleeve of my brown tweed
jacket. She pretended not to notice this.
"Fix Charley a drink," she told Laddie, a and play the record
again. Oh, Charley, it's been such a long time, hasn't it?"
"Now don't start telling me you feel old," I said, "because I
know how old you are."
"Oh, twenty-four can seern awfully old, Charley. Some-
times I feel like a cake with the icing all gone. Did you know
I have a baby, Charley, who's three years old?"
I exclaimed over her baby.
"I named her Florence after Mummy. I know Florence is a
horrible name for a baby, but it did please Mummy, and after
all her objections and disappointment over me marrying Lad-
die ... "
"She likes me fine, now," Laddie called from the bar.
"Well, maybe now" Angelica said, blowing on her nails.
She fell into the chair again, kicking off brown leather
pumps. She took out a cigarette from a pocket in her pink knit
suit and began looking for a match.
"There're never any matches in this house," she laughed.
"I bought her a silver lighter and she lost it," Laddie said.
Laddie came from behind the bar, lit her cigarette, then went
"Doesn't excuse there being no matches," she said, child-
ishly. "Now tell me everything, absolutely everything that's
happened back home, Charley. Is Bitsy McKenzie married
"Was married last January to Eddie Devcreaux," I said.
"Big-Ed Devereaux, who played for Tulane? And Maggie
Gardiner, Charley, what's happened to her?"
"Well," I said, "I guess you heard about her little boy
drowning down on the coast. After that, she and Soulc decided
to get a divorce."
"My Lord, no! Why?"
"She thinks she's crazy about Robinson Kane."
"Somebody she met at the races. Lives at Kane's Landing
Angelica's face got a pleased incredulous expression, then
she coughed and flicked her ashes on the floor.
"Mummy never writes me anything except about who she
saw at the country club, and who asked about me, and who's
sick, and what she's bought for the house, I never hear jt thing
in California." Then, "Why don't we move to New York,
Laddie? Don't theatre producers need assistants too?" She
jerked her head back with a little nervous motion which must
have originated in California and she added irrelevantly:
"Laddie got me the most divine little poodle, Charley. People
at a party fed it lots of sweets and it died last month. Laddie,
let's never invite those people back."
Laddie placed a hammered copper tray with two drinks and
paper cocktail napkins on a stained Chinese modern table.
He handed me a drink and kept one.
" Where's mine?" Angelica cried.
"I did not think you wanted one," Laddie said.
"He's afraid I'll drink too much and act silly during dinner/*
she laughed. "He drinks more than I do."
"I'll fix you a drink," Laddie said, moving toward the bar.
"Where're you living, Charley?" She started to paint her
lips with a lipstick that lay on the Chinese table.
I told her how Sam Goldwyn had found me rooms with a
Dr. and Mrs. Grey; and how across the street some fellow
Louisianians named Culvers gave loud parties in Jean Harris*
"Culvers?" Laddie said.
"Do you know him, Laddie?" Angelica asked.
"He's som^ oil millionaire, who's going to produce movies,"
Laddie said. "He wants his wife to become a star."
"Wasn't there a Culvers mixed up in the scandals, Charley?"
"I don't remember," I said, "but I could find out."
"He's a stupid old rich man," Laddie said, returning with
Angelica's drink. "He has the six lousiest god-damn writers in
town turning out scripts for him."
"Why doesn't he get somebody good?" Angelica said,
taking the drink,
"Now how would he know what is good," Laddie said,
sitting down* "He is only a stupid burgher"
"Oh. don't start talking about burehers," Angelica said.
Then she turned toward me. "I thought I'd lose my mind,
Charley. He talked about burghers and for a long time I
thought they were Communists or something. So one day I
asked him just what burghers were, and I found out that in
Germany they're nothing but nice businessmen like Daddy.
Laddie doesn't like burghers, and he doesn't like high-brow
intellectuals, and he doesn't like people like Jeannie and Sonny
Cartwright purely social people and he doesn't like
ninety per cent of the picture people."
Before Laddie could reply to her, a large-boned Swedish
woman, wearing a soiled lavender uniform, announced dinner.
"Let's eat," Angelica said, slipping on her brown leather
pumps. "I don't want any more of this old drink." And so,
she looped her arm through mine, leading the way through a
small living room that had a copy of a Toulouse Lautrcc poster
on one wall and imitation French Provincial chairs. Laddie
followed, carrying our unfinished drinks.
After we had seated ourselves, Laddie asked me If I liked
the inside of the house as well as I liked the outside. I looked
around the dining room, which was furnished with Grand
Rapids modern and decorated with silver candlesticks, and
silver bowls, and a tea service that Angelica had received as
wedding presents. I said, of course, that their house was
charming. Laddie, looking very pleased, asked the Swedish
woman to light the candles.
For dinner we had lamb chops, potatoes axi gratin, a green
salad with herbs, and very good red wine. Laddie talked about
The Treasure, a high-brow western which Mark Harris, his
boss, was then making for Worldwide.
"Why doesn't Mark do Tender Is the Night?" Angelica
asked. "I adored Tender Is the Night"
"That's all right for somebody else to do, but it's not for us.
Mark likes surefire pictures with actions, violence." Then,
looking at me, he said, "Mark Harris has done some of the best
pictures ever made. He's getting old now, and he wants to
make good pictures that will make money. The only good
pictures that you can count on to make money are westerns.
Mark Harris has done for westerns what Faulkner has done
for the South."
"Oh, that's very silly. We aren't like Faulkner at all, are we,
Charley? We have Bendixes, and cocktail parties, and golf
tournaments and nobody I know spends their time brooding
about the past, except maybe old Miss Julia Harrington, who
lost her money in the crash," Angelica said, laughing. "What
are we going to do after dinner?"
For a moment Laddie did not answer her; when he did
speak, he spoke as if he were teasing her. "That is always our
problem, Charley: What are we going to do after dinner.
She always wants to go somewhere. If there's no party, she
wants to dance. If she's tired of dancing places, she wants to
go to a bar. Sometimes we just drive very fast along Ocean
"1 suppose you want me to become a contented cow of a
woman," Angelica said, "like in Germany."
"No," Laddie said.
"Then, what is it you want?"
"I have everything I want," Laddie said.
Angelica drained her wine glass, then flounced her dark hair.
"Why don't we go to the Montmartre?" she said.
"Isn't this Helga's night off?" Laddie asked.
"Oh, 111 persuade old Helga to stay," Angelica said. "Helga
will do anything I say."
And so, half an hour later, the three of us drove In Angelica's
convertible to that swanky row of restaurants, shops, and
night clubs on the Sunset Strip. The Montmartre, a small frame
structure, once a private house our point of destination
clung like a white bird's-nest to a hill that rose off Sunset. It
was, according to Angelica, the one truly Continental night
club in Hollywood. It had been started by an old baroness,
rumored to have been the last of Edward the Seventh's many
mistresses. ("Most of his mistresses," Angelica laughed,
"seemed to have settled in Hollywood.") After starting the
little night club in the downstairs of her house, the baroness
developed arthritis and had to sell out to a San Francisco
gambler, who at present owned the place. The Montmartre
was divided into two sections. The bar, patronized entirely
by elegantly dressed young men, had the reputation of being
the most exclusive pansy bar in Los Angeles. The other sec-
tion, a small room draped with green and chartreuse swags,
consisted of banquettes and tables that faced two grand pianos.
On the pianos, there stood bronze Louis XV candelabra, one
of the many amorous purchases, so the story went, of the late
King Edward VII.
They made a great fuss over Angelica at the Montmartre.
A young man in a Brooks Brothers suit conducted us to a good
table, directly In front of the pianos; and the owner, although
we never saw him, treated us to a round of drinks.
"Has Grover sung yet?" Angelica asked the waiter,
"He's going on In a few minutes, Mrs, Wells,"
Angelica waved aside the frieze of smoke, "I want to see
who's here," she said. Apparently she saw no one whom she
knew, because immediately after her surveyal of the room, she
moved her head very close to mine, so close, In fact, that my
close-cropped brown hair brushed one of her loose dark brown
curls. "Let's drink to Miro," she said. "I know yon never
liked Miro any better than I did." We touched glasses and
looked directly into each other's eyes. "Do you remember
the time I made you jump from the mimosa tree?"
"Sure I remember," I said. Somehow, It pleased me that she
Laddie, who had sat drinking in silence, finished his scotch
and water. Now he waved his hand to the waiter. After the
waiter had brought us another round, Laddie said, "Let's
drink a toast to Charley." And Angelica thought that was a
fine idea. "To our one friend in California," she said, as the
glasses clinked. The toast embarrassed me very much.
"Don't you like California?" I said.
"I would not live here if I did not," Laddie said.
A spotlight, aimed at one of the grand pianos, cut through
the smoke in the blue darkness; and presently a good-looking
young Negro, wearing a finely tailored navy blue suit, walked
into the light while people clapped. "That's Grover," Angel-
ica whispered, "Grover Cleveland Coone, and he's as nice as he
Using a British accent, the young Negro began to sing.
"Let there be you, Let there be me, Let there be oysters,
Under the sea . . , "
And as he sang two young white men at an adjoining table
began to whisper: "Didn't Grover go to Amherst for a year or
so?" "Well, he says he did." "I like Grover but he just can't
face the fact he's a Negro." "Don't be silly. He faces it every
time he starts acting too high and mighty. Didn't you hear
how those L.A. cops stopped his Cadillac and took him for a
Near the end of the song Bette Davis walked in with her
new husband and a woman who looked like her mother. Her
entrance created such a commotion that you could hardly
hear Grover's song. The young man in the Brooks Brothers
suit wanted to place her on view at a table next to ours, but
Miss Davis insisted on a banquette. Some people in the room
acted blase about Bette Davis being there; others strained
themselves getting a glimpse of her. After Bette Davis smiled
at Grover, he sang another chorus of the song with all his
"Bette Davis is here. Grover's going to town," one of the
young men whispered.
Grover sang "I've Got the World on a String" and "Sum-
mertime"; and then a Negro couple in evening clothes walked
in and were seated at a table in a dark corner. The Negro
woman removed a beautiful ermine stole and laid it across an
empty chair. Then she folded her hands and listened.
"I wonder," Angelica said, "if she was a colored debutante?"
"Don't be prejudiced, Angelica," Laddie said.
"Who's being prejudiced? Anyway, 1 was talking to
Charley, not to you." She turned her back on Laddie. "Lad-
die's awful when he's drunk. I hate people who 're awful when
"Fm not drunk," Laddie said.
"Why don't you have some coffee?" Angelica said.
"I said I wasn't drunk. Do I act drunk to you, Charley?"
I didn't answer him, because I didn't want to become in-
volved in their quarrel But I did not think that he was drunk.
"Waiter! Waiter!" Angelica called, "Bring sonic coffee,"
"Why don't we have some champagne?" 1 said. I didn't
know why I wanted us to have champagne.
"I adore champagne," Angelica said.
So we ordered coffee and champagne, and by the time that
Grover Cleveland Coonc had finished singing, we all were
pretty high. Grover, who joined us for a glass, introduced us
to Bette Davis, who seemed quite nice, then to the Negro
couple in evening clothes. Angelica started to ask the Negro
woman if she had been a debutante, but Laddie said, "Shut up,
Angelica"; and the couple, thinking that there might be trouble
of some kind, retreated to the darkness of their corner.
A redheaded girl with a long-nosed sugar-daddy said hello to
Angelica, who said, u Oh hello, Irene"; Angelica said that
Irene came from Winnfield, Louisiana; and shortly after this
the waiter told Angelica that there was a man at the bar who
wanted to speak to her. Angelica froze in her seat. "What
"A dark-haired man, Mrs. Wells," the waiter said.
"Tell him I don't know any dark-haired man," she said.
Then she looked Laddie in the eye: "Do you know any dark-
"Why no, Angelica. Most of my friends have lost their
hair," Laddie said. Then keeping his eyes on her face, he took
a long swallow.
The waiter poured her another glass of champagne. After
she had drunk some of it, she began to sing: "We're poor little
sheep, that have lost our way, Bah, Bah, Bah ..." Then the
three of us sang it, and were doing fine until the young man
in the Brooks Brothers suit asked us to please stop.
"Why why don't we get out of this god-damn place?"
Laddie said, pushing his chair back. "Only reason she comes
here, Charley, is to see the niggers."
"I despise people who're awful when they're drunk," An-
gelica repeated, staring icily at Laddie.
"Aren't you glad you married me?" Laddie said, staring
"That has nothing to do with it," she said, thumping her
champagne glass with her ring finger. She wore a diamond she
had got upon graduating from Miss French's, and Laddie's
plain gold band.
"Sure you're glad," Laddie said. Then he faced me. "How
much do you make a year, Charley?"
I told him and he grunted his contempt.
"Guess what I make. Tell him what I make, Angelica. Tell
him. Tell him. Tell him. And tell him what I'll be making
"You're boring the bejesus out of us," she said. "Let's go
"I make five hundred a week. After The Treasure they've
promised to let me produce a picture of my own. I'll be mak-
ing eight-fifty. I'm the luckiest young man in America, luck-
iest in America, Charley."
"You're drunk right now," Angelica said. "Laddie's the shy
type, Charley, who gets big and bold when he's drunk. Help
me get him out of here, Charley."
"Nein," Laddie said. "Nein."
"Come on, big shot," I said, taking Laddie's arm.
Angelica signed the check for Laddie. We finally got him
out of the Montmartre, Laddie supported by Angelica and me,
Soon we were speeding westward down Sunset Boulevard.
Angelica wanted to drive to Santa Monica to look at the ocean,
but I said that it was three o'clock in the morning. I felt glad
that Angelica had insisted on me driving. As we turned into
their driveway, Laddie said, "Come come on in, Charley,
We'll open some real champagne." Angelica did not tell me
not to come in, so the three of us moved through the house to
the playroom. Laddie took out a bottle of vintage champagne
from the icebox behind the bar, Mark Harris had given him
a case of the stuff last Christmas. Sitting in a circle on the twill
carpet, we drank from the chilled bottle, as though it were
a loving cup.
"How how do you feel?" Laddie said, putting his arm
around my shoulder.
"I feel won-der-fulllll," I said. "Don't don't you feel
"/*," Laddie said.
"You're drunk," Angelica said.
"I am drunk, my darling, and I am glad of it. Hey hey
what are you going to do about Helga?"
"Oh, Helga can sleep in the guest room."
"I p m drunk too," I said. "Ver-ry, ver-ry drrrunk." I
took Angelica's hand in mine.
Outside a rooster crowed, clear and beautiful in the early
hours of morning. Angelica said that she had never heard a
rooster in Beverly Hills.
Laddie said that was N C , the sonof abitch, waking
his writers. "Once," Laddie said, "there was a writer who
stood for five minutes in the courtyard at N C 's
studio, smoking a cigarette. N C walked up to this
writer and said, 'Writer, put that cigarette out. I expect you
to be writing every minute of the day I pay you for.' The
writer got angry and when he punched N C in the
stomach, he broke his fist. It seems that when N C
was just a little codger, he had contracted a disease that finally
turned him to stone.
"You know, Charley, nearly everybody that you meet now-
adays is a stone man. I knew you weren't a stone man, the first
time I ever met you. I I told Angelica so."
"I wish you wouldn't start your stone-man talk," Angelica
said. "This talk of his is supposed to be very deep, Charley,
and every time Laddie gets drunk he spills off this kind of talk.
At parties he bores the bejesus out of everybody."
"When when are you goin' to do something big, Lad-
"What do you mean?" Laddie said, removing his arm from
around my shoulder. My question sobered him.
"Well, old man, from the way you talk and act everyone
expects sssuch great things from you," I said. I squeezed
Angelica's hand, and she squeezed mine back.
"I suppose you think that I have sold out to Hollywood?"
"Well, yeah," 1 said, "I do."
He said nothing; then he took away the bottle from my
"Skip it, old man," I said. "It's no-no-none of my business
anyway. I I'm drunk."
"Why why don't you sleep on the sofa, Charley? Why
doesn't he spend the night on our sofa, Angelica?"
"Suits me fine," I said.
"No," Angelica said, freeing her hand from mine.
"/*" Laddie said, eying his wife, "you sleep on the sofa,
"You ought to go home, Charley," Angelica said, looking
out the windows. Outside a half moon reflected into the
swimming pool; the night was lightening to the blue-green-
blue of a technicolored dawn. The gauzclikc curtains barely
"Sleep there," Laddie said, rising, pulling me by my coat
collar toward the sofa.
"No," Angelica said, "no." She rose suddenly and she
walked to the sink behind the bar and filled a glass with water.
When she came back, she poured the water on my head.
"Wake up, Charley. Go home."
"What's the matter with you, Angelica?" Laddie said, half
quizzing, half railing her.
Suddenly she walked out of the playroom, the jingling noise
of her bracelets diminishing like the passing of an April storm.
I felt the flashes of Laddie Wells's eyes like lightning before
me, and I moved my hand to my temples, feigning complete
drunkenness. Laddie offered me his handkerchief to wipe my
"Sleep there," Laddie said, pointing to the white sofa.
I crawled upon the sofa and he turned out the light. I lay
there with a cross patch of moonlight playing upon my face,
wondering about the curious behavior of Angelica.
I knew that she wanted me to sleep with her. Why had she
wanted me to leave? Perhaps, I thought, she thinks that
Laddie knows she wanted me, and only wished to fool him;
and perhaps, Laddie did know and because of some awful
sickness of his mind wants me to and wants to catch me with
her. Or perhaps she's afraid; perhaps she doesn't trust herself.
I lay there thinking these things.
And down the boulevard some poor wretch, locked out of
his house, was calling to a woman named Josephine; and for a
second time, then a third, the rooster crowed, as at the Mount
of Olives. I fell asleep, I remember, listening to the beat of my
When I awoke, her heart pounded next to mine, her lips
kissing my eyes. We did not speak at first. I remember I wor-
ried about my beard scratching her face; but this didn't matter
to her. There was no question that early morning of who
desired whom; we desired each other equally. I was thinking,
I remember, before the moment came, how I must have desired
Angelica secretly for years.
When it came, she gave out a little cry of abandonment,
turning her hot cheek to the whiteness of the sofa, releasing
"Why did you act so strangely/' I whispered, "throwing
"I wanted you to leave." >
"Because he knew," she whispered, her lips brushing my ear,
"He knew you wanted me?"
"I believe he knew everything," she whispered. "Every-
ALL THIS HAPPENED ONE EVENING AROUND
the end of March; then I did not telephone the Wellses for
several weeks. I wrote them a short, carefully worded thank-
you note, but tore it up, and finally sent them a box of choco-
late turtles from Blum's. To tell the truth I expected Angelica
to telephone me. She knew where I worked, and knew where
I lived, for I had whispered her my address before I stole out
of their playroom that morning. I expected to hear from
Angelica but she did not call
One evening a week after my evening with them I came
home from a night on the town and was taking off my trousers
when I heard a rustling in the caladiums beneath my bedroom
windows. I put my trousers back on and opened the door. As
I walked outside, Laddie Wells stepped from the flower bed.
He wore a leather jacket and had loosened his tie. He always
wore a suit to the studio, so I guessed at once that he had gone
home, changed, and now had gone out again.
"Why, hello, Laddie," I said. "Won't you come in?"
Laddie entered my rooms, his flushed cheeks apple-red from
the night air. At first he seemed unable to give any explana-
tion* He began to look around him, comparing, I suppose, his
own setup with rnv two rented rooms; then he walked into the
bathroom, walked out, went into my darkened sitting room,
switched a lamp, came out; it was as though I had stolen some-
thing from his house.
"Angelica said she left the car keys at your place/' finally
Laddie was never a good liar. Angelica could get away with
whoppers. Like most persons born into a little money, she was
naturally suspicious, believing that you were capable of all
sorts of villainies, because, I suppose, she herself was capable
of them. She would do exactly as she pleased, and could lie her
way out like a trooper; Laddie never could. He was honest
with others and honest with himself well, as honest as
humans ever are with themselves and was as gullible a young
man as Dick Whittington.
"I don't think she left her keys/' I said, " because she's
never been here.' 7
Laddie jerked his hands out of his pockets. He drew his
fingers into fists, and his jaw tightened, and his gray eyes
"I don't know whether to believe you or not/'
"Well, call Angelica," I said. "I'll bet she couldn't even
tell you where I live." I handed him the telephone receiver.
"I won't do that," he said, banging the receiver down. He
must have known that 1 had told the truth, for as he moved
toward the door to leave, he paused in the center of the red
and white rag rug at the foot of my bed and glanced clown at
his feet, as though he wanted to apologize. Then he turned
and he walked out of my rooms without saying a word. A
moment later, I heard his Chrysler charging down Cove Way,
After Laddie drove away, I undressed again; I lay itt bed,
passing an hour or so, wondering about what had happened.
Was it that Laddie Wells had come home from the studio,
and not finding Angelica there had waited for her, then had
come here, believing that he would catch her with me?
It did not occur to me this night that Laddie might have had
suspicions about his wife for a long time; that he had suspected
her before I came on the scene; and that he may have wanted
me to spend the night there only to get some proof for his own
mind. I ought to have guessed then that there had been others;
for had not Angelica said, as she lay naked in my arms, that
he knew? Oh, he must have known. He must have known
from the corner of his eye, as one notices a hideous deformed
creature in a crowd without really coming upon it face to face.
So you can understand why I did not get in touch with
them. When I did telephone Laddie several weeks later
from Culvers' house the call had nothing whatsoever to do
with his wife.
One April morning, when it was almost noon, a good-look-
ing Time-Life secretary arrived three hours late for work.
Her name though you need not remember it was Jo-Ann
Winters; and she had come from some dry, proper midwestern
town a year or so before to seek her fortune in Hollywood.
Luckily, back home Jo-Ann had attended a business school
so that now, instead of car-hopping, or operating an elevator
in Saks, she was able to earn a decent salary typing in Beverly
Hills for Life.
Jo-Ann would come to work wearing bright backless play-
dresses, as though she were on her way to Palm Springs; and
it was said that she carried in her purse more lipsticks, powders,
rouges, and perfumes than a star. After office hours Jo-Ann
dated an assortment of bit players, agents, photographers, and
publicity men; and it seemed a miracle that she could rouse
herself to come to work mornings at all. Honestly speaking,
until this April morning Jo- Ann Winters had never come late.
She did not act at all apologetic about her lateness. She
strolled in to her desk, laid down her purse, and announced to
all within hearing distance that she had but just returned from
the most "absolutely fabulous" party of her life. An agent,
who dated her, had dropped by her apartment around ten
o'clock the previous night and said: "Get into your best rags,
sweetie. We're goin' t' a great big party." Half an hour later
Jo- Ann had found herself tromping around the grounds of a
terrific estate, which was a "dead-ringer" for George Wash-
ington's, except that it was "finer. 97 The party, attended by
all Hollywood, Jo-Ann said, had cost "thousands"; and she
had been at the party a whole hour before she ever found out
the people's name. They were named Culvers, she said; they
were the richest people on God's earth, and Life ought to do
a story on them.
Perched on her desk top like a secretary in an Esquire
cartoon, Jo-Ann told all this breathlessly, with wide eyes, as
though describing a vivid dream.
"Don't you live somewhere along Cove Way, Charley?"
Jo-Ann asked me. I had invited her to have a sandwich at the
Delia Robbia. I had wanted to hear more about my neighbors*
"Yeah," I said, "I live across the street from the Culvcrscs."
"Then you ought to get to know them, sweetie, so you can
go to their parties."
Now I had the conceit that summer to believe that what
interested me very much would also interest Life's ten million
readers. When I was a boy, I would get a passionate interest
In some of the people my mother talked about. My interest
often grew enormous, as enormous as an interest in a movie
star. For instance, when old Sylvan Ledoux gave his wife
Margaret, our town beauty, a ten-thousand-dollar diamond
bracelet, and she caused so much talk wearing it to the grocery
store, I hung around Frosts 7 Grocery for a week trying to
catch sight of her. Margaret Ledoux is dead now. One sum-
mer she smashed her Cadillac into a sea wall down at Gulfport,
Mississippi. But people in Miro talk about her still.
By the time that we had eaten our sandwiches I knew that
Jo- Ann Winters had stimulated in me a burning interest in my
neighbors across Cove Way. I did not reveal, at first, any
interest in them back at the office; they would have laughed
because of Jo-Ann Winters. But that afternoon, going about
our business quietly, Jo- Ann and I found out who Culvers was.
From a 1939 issue of Time Jo-Ann learned that "C. C.
Culvers, fortyish, bearlike oil millionaire-businessman, friend
of the late Huey Long," had come out of the Louisiana scandals
with a clean name. The only other mention of Culvers in
Time was under "Business" in an issue of 1942. Culvers' ship-
building firm in New Orleans had been awarded big govern-
ment contracts. In that same story Time mentioned that Cul-
vers in 1940 anticipating war, had shrewdly bought a chain of
movie theatres and a popcorn concern.
"You mean you're from Louisiana and you'd never heard of
Culvers?" Jo- Ann gawked. And I had to explain to her how
Miro lay three hundred miles north of New Orleans, how its
inhabitants lived there in a bustling little world all their own.
I had to explain how I had gone to Harvard and wanted a life
in the East, how I had fled from the South, as she had the
midwest. Still, this caused rny stock to fall in her eyes.
A well-known society columnist, whom I telephoned, told
us more. Clarence Culvers, who during the war had quad-
rupled his millions with junkyards, shipbuilding, lumber mills,
sodapop, movie theatres, popcorn, and a famous patent medi-
cine, had one son and an ex-wife back in New Orleans. On a
trip to Los Angeles Culvers had fallen in love with a beautiful
girl, Carol something-or-other, who had a part in a western.
The first wife had agreed to accept a million-dollar divorce
settlement if, for some strange reason, she could retain the
right to use Culvers' name in Louisiana. Culvers had agreed
to this. And so, according to the society columnist, there were
two Mrs. Clarence C. Culverses: one rather stout middle-aged
woman, who presided over a Tudor-style mansion on St.
Charles Avenue in New Orleans; and the second wife, an ex-
starlet, young enough to be his daughter. The columnist said
that within the last month alone she had received four invita-
tions to parties at Culvers' house.
The next morning after I had confessed to Frank Camp,
head of the Beverly Hills office, my interest in the Cuiverscs,
he told me to go ahead, work on the story for Life.
Jo- Ann's boy-friend, the agent, gave me Culvers' telephone
number, though he couldn't recall who'd given it to him; and
that afternoon a pink and blue afternoon threatened with
rain I telephoned it: Crestview 5-33 ; and was presently
speaking with a woman secretary, who had a rough, whiskey
voice. This was Mrs, Murphy "Butch" Murphy, every-
one called her. She had been Culvers' private secretary for
"You're who?" Butch Murphy growled.
"Charley Thayer of IJfe Maga/Jnc," I said,
"What is it you want with Mr. Culvers?"
"Life wants me to do a story on one of his parties," I said.
"Hang on for a second, will you?"
I heard my call being switched to an extension in another
room in the house.
"This is Culvers speaking," another voice said. His voice,
as soon as I heard it, reminded me of a high-pitched, old-
fashioned, rhetorical voice that we had laughed at in college
Crane Bixby's, nicknamed the Whooping Crane. I remem-
ber the Whooping Crane well, a pompous, sexless, rather
learned Minnesotan, who had once cut off relations with his
artistic kid brother because the brother had hurt his chances
of getting elected to the Hawk club.
"Mr. Culvers," I said, "Life is interested in doing a story on
one of your parties."
During the short silence that followed, I heard Culvers'
heavy breathing like the muffled snorts of a caged bear, weigh-
ing what I had said.
"I don't care what you would write about me" Culvers said.
"It's what you would write about her"
"Life'IL be very fair, Mr. Culvers," I said.
"It's not me, understand? It's her I would mind about. If
you would be kind to her "
I promised him that Life would treat Mrs, Culvers fairly.
"She's going to be a big star someday," Culvers said. "Did
you see my wife's picture?"
"I don't think I did, Mr. Culvers."
"I'll run it for you. I want you men on Life to see it. My
wife's going to be a great actress someday . . . like Garbo."
Another silence followed, as though Culvers waited for me
to doubt this. "When can I see you, Mr. Culvers?" I said.
"Ill have to see you to get some facts."
Culvers placed his hand over the receiver, probably consult-
ing his wife. "I'll telephone you, Mr. Thayer. My wife wants
me to thank you for your trouble."
"All right," I said. 'Til look forward to hearing from you
After Culvers hung up I heard a second click; Butch
Murphy had listened in. She listened in, I later learned, to all
telephone conversations at the house.
I did not receive a call from Culvers that week. I heard in
a roundabout fashion that Culvers, for his wife's sake, was
afraid of Life. If I had not met Danny Hunts, an extraordinary
young man, who moved to Paris, I might never have heard
from Culvers at all.
As I look back over what I have written, I see that I have
neglected to give you any picture of Hollywood society. It
would be impossible to understand Danny Hunts without that
picture. The Hollywood area what the public calls Holly-
wood was actually a sprawling American Riviera, stretch-
ing from Vine Street, the stomping grounds of pimps and
religious quacks, to Malibu. Its capital was Beverly Hills, a
small wealthy city, two thirds suburb, one third resort. Ball-
bearing millionaires, clothing manufacturers, and hotel tycoons
had mansions there; and there were as many oil millionaires as
One met English novelists, Hungarian countesses, press
agents, chiropractors, astrologists, and professional sunbathcrs;
all the types necessary for a true Riviera. There were many
sets and crowds, and these crowds lumped together made up
There was the top-drawer set. Fifteen years before, Scott
Fitzgerald had called it the "Marion Davies crowd," After
Miss Davies retired from the scene, the top-drawer crowd
had no special name, and since her heyday, had narrowed
down considerably. Functioning, this crowd included the
heads of the five big studios, some of the top stars, some of
the millionaires and international set, columnists Louella Par-
sons and Hedda Hopper, and sundry society-minded young
men who were the greyhounds of the hangers-on. There were
other crowds: the actor-ranchers, the boy-and-girl-next-door
set, the intellectuals, the bohernians, and the professional night-
clubbers, whose fights and romances at the Mocambo and at
Giro's made headlines.
But it was the top-drawer crowd that the Culverses wanted
to crash; and Danny Hunts, a young man invited to top-
drawer parties, elected himself to help them.
There was a legend about how Danny Hunts met the Cul-
verses; a legend that was, he told me later, entirely true. I
myself had heard a part of the story from Esther, who on the
afternoon before the meeting strolled slowly reading Movie
Life on the sidewalk along Cove Way. Suddenly, across the
street a gray Cadillac stopped at the gates to Jean Harris' old
mansion, and a colored chauffeur got out, opening the rear
door. On the back seat sat Clarence Culvers, a heavy older
man, and next to him a young woman with platinum-blond
hair, his second wife. While the chauffeur stood holding the
door, Mrs. Culvers argued with her husband: "Aw come on
and look at it, Clarence, for crissake." She had one of those
smoky-dry voices, which could say anything.
Culvers, who sat waiting for her to calm down, said: "I don't
want to look at this house."
"You still mad at me because of last night?"
"It's not that," Culvers said.
"Then what is it?"
Culvers didn't answer. Culvers glanced out at the chauffeur
holding the door, as though he did not wish to carry on a per-
sonal conversation in front of him; but when the chauffeur
glanced toward Esther, listening to all this, Culvers found
his chance to speak. "I told you once, Carol, that it's crazy to
sink a lot of money into somebody else's old barn. Nobody
nowadays wants an old barn."
"I thought you wanted a great big place so we could give
"I do/' Culvers said. "But if I'm going to spend this much
money, I want to build a place myself. I want us to build a
place which is perfectly correct."
"So that's it," the young wife said, stepping out of the car.
"You think movie stars are cheap and vulgar."
"I didn't say that," Culvers said, glancing uncomfortably
at the chauffeur holding the door.
When Mrs. Culvers got out of the car, white fringe shim-
mered on her white silk dress; and white-gold hair came rip-
pling to her shoulders like angel-hair on Christmas trees; and
her skin in the sunshine shone white as sugar. Mrs. Culvers 7
lips were painted red, red, red, and she looked every inch a
movie star, Esther thought. Esther, who was an authority on
movie stars, believed that Mrs. Culvers was only nineteen years
"Then I don't want any old house," Mrs. Culvers said,
"Anyway, it'd be more fun living in at the Bel-Air Hotel."
She stepped back inside the gray Cadillac and although her
husband said, "for Lord's sakcs" three times, and before leaving
agreed to look at Jean Harris' place, his young wife would not
get out again. Within a minute the pearl-gray Cadillac had
As I said, I had heard this much from Esther, who devoted
her leisure to keeping up with the lives of movie stars. She
would come over to clean my rooms on a Sunday morning,
and using her wild black eyes and pink palms act out a whole
little domestic drama from the Dick Powell's married life.
On Sunday afternoons Esther would visit the graves of dead
stars at Forest Lawn. It was Esther who, disappointed upon
learning that Carol Culvers was not actually in the movies,
predicted that one day she would be. Esther must have seen
the Culverses a day or so before they met Danny Hunts.
The young Mrs. Culvers, of course, won her way. They
came again a few days later, accompanied by the realtor who
then owned the house. Culvers was now prepared to purchase
Since Jean Harris' death, the house had remained unin-
habited. There had been other people interested in buying,
but until this time no party had agreed to pay the realtor's
price. Aside from the question of money, the house was not
one of the most tasteful places of Beverly Hills. Although it
was copied from Mount Vernon, the tone of the place was Los
Angeles-colonial. The front gallery had a blue tile floor; the
master bedroom had walls mirrored from ceiling to floor.
And the empty columned house, standing on its hill of dry
singing grasses, looked like the Isle of the Dead. Rats, which,
so the story goes, had first arrived during the dark weeks
before Jean Harris suicided, now swam like a swarm of water
bugs in the white marble swimming pool Cattails grew in the
hyacinth beds. When there was a strong wind, ancient news-
papers dumped there flew about the grounds like a covey of
"When did Miss Harris build this house?" Culvers asked
in a low tone as they crossed the columned portico. Already
Culvers felt an uneasiness. Though outwardly a man of bulky
dignity, his calm concealed a complex nature, which had in-
vented its own superstitions. Culvers did not like to be around
The realtor, a chicken-fat Greek, scratched his behind. "She
built it after she made Hello Broadway. Cost over a hundred
twenty thousand to build back in 1938 the house alone."
"Oh, I loved her in that," Mrs. Culvers said.
The realtor unlocked a heavy white door and they walked
inside. Some pieces of furniture, left behind after the house
was sold, stood covered in sheets. The rooms reminded Culvers
of New Orleans cemeteries nobody in New Orleans was
ever buried underground. A blue silk handkerchief lay on the
marble floor of the hall, rotting with age. The fat agent started
to kick it out of sight. "Don't," Mrs. Culvers said. "Maybe it
was hers" Mrs. Culvers knelt and gently lifted the blue hand-
kerchief from the floor. "I'll bet it 'was hers."
"It could have been," the realtor said, perceiving the value
of a ghost. "She she loved blue."
Suddenly Culvers believed he heard footsteps. Culvers
shivered. He wanted to tell them what he had heard, but now
the realtor led them into the drawing room, a pea-green and
gold room that was more cheerful than the hall. The realtor
was saying that Grace Moore had sung at a party in this room.
Culvers strained his ears toward the rear of the house. Did
he hear footsteps? Culvers did not wish to appear a fool in
front of his wife, so he suggested that they make a tour of the
other rooms before it grew dark. They walked immediately
toward the rear of the house, the realtor leading the way* Sud-
denly, moving into a small white room, the realtor screamed:
; 'God!" and turned and ran sciuare into the Culverses.
"What is it? What is it?" Carol Culvers cried.
"A man!" screamed the realtor. "I saw a man in there!"
Presently from the white room a young man walked out,
laughing. He was gracefully slender, with curly brown hair,
long-lashed eyes, and a pretty face like Tyrone Powers: one
of those young-old types Carol Culvers thought, who most
of their lives look around twenty-five.
"Of course you saw a man! What did you think you saw?
an anteater?" The young man's voice sounded hoity-toity
like an Englishman's; smoking, he used a gold and tortoise-
"You're a burglar! Fve my witnesses! I'll have you in
jail!" the Greek cried.
Danny Hunts in his left hand was carrying a stack of old
"What're those?" Carol Culvers asked.
"They're Jean's letters. For a long time I didn't know
where she had hidden them."
"I'm calling the Beverly Hills police!" the realtor cried.
"Were you a friend of Jean Harris?" Carol Culvers said.
"I'll say I was," Danny Hunts said. "During the last two
years I came here nearly every day. I was with her the after-
noon of the night she killed herself."
"I'm going to have you arrested! " the Greek cried.
"Oh, shut up," Danny Hunts said, lighting another cigarette.
"I only came here for the letters." Then Danny Hunts glanced
dramatically around the small white room. "She and her
mother played gin here. The day the Japs attacked Pearl
Harbor, they were playing gin over by the window." Then:
"Are you buying the house?"
"Yes," Carol Culvers said.
"It's a fabulous house. Only Jean would have built such a
place. Did you know," Danny said, "that there's a secret door
in an upstairs bedroom? There's also a fur vault in the base-
"It would be wonderful," Carol Culvers said, "living in
Jean Harris' house."
"Yes," Danny said, glancing around again. "It could be
exactly as it was when she lived here. There was a Fourth of
July party. We all got high as larks and shot off skyrockets in
"Oh, do go on," Carol Culvers cried, "about how it used to
And so, two days later Culvers handed the Greek a check
for one hundred and seventy thousand dollars; and Danny
Hunts attached himself to the Culverses like a wood-tick.
There was a great deal of speculation about Danny's rela-
tionship with the Culverses. Danny was supposed to have
chosen the furniture, the chandeliers, and the rugs for the
house; Danny was supposed to have decorated the place down
to the silver ash tray in the ladies' powder room. People said
that Danny Hunts, who could spot a soft bed for himself as a
fox smells fowl, pocketed several thousand dollars, doing the
People claimed that Danny threw out Carol Culvers' old
clothes and made her spend twenty thousand dollars for a new
wardrobe; they claimed he even chose the jewels that Cul-
vers gave her.
And here was the most fantastic story of all. After he
learned of old Culvers' ambitions for his wife, Danny con-
cocted what would be the most splendid foolishness, the great-
est "camp" this was Danny's favorite word for fun of
his lifetime. Using Culvers' fortune, Danny would re-create
the days when Jean Harris had lived in the house. The place
would become what it had been during Jean's heyday a fun
palace, a private week-end amusement park; and there would
be parties such as Beverly Hills had not seen since before the
How much of all this was true nobody knew. Culvers had
always done things in a big way; and setting out to establish
his young wife in Beverly Hills, the large parties, I think, fitted
into his scheme. Nevertheless, people told these tales about
the Culverses and Danny Hunts; and, of course, the tales made
out the Culverses to appear perfectly ludicrous. Danny him-
self must have first told the tales for they were the kind of
stories he loved telling about others: something fantastic and
extraordinary someone had done because it was such a "camp."
Yet I do not believe that Danny spread the tales to poke cruel
fun at the Culverses. It was how the tales got repeated that
did the harm.
There were other stories about Danny Hunts as unlikely as
his using the Culverses to re-create the past. But I am not
going to start setting down Danny's escapades, first of all
because Danny's part in my story is not an important one. 1
have brought in Danny because it seems significant that Carol
Culvers was later to become the darling of this kind of young
man and was to be surrounded by them not that there ever
was another Danny Hunts.
As I have already said, there was no way of really knowing
how much truth each story had. There was the incredible
story of how his "career" began, when as a pretty-faced seven-
teen-year-old from some town in the Florida palmetto coun-
try he wandered into a Palm Beach bar late one evening and
was befriended by a prince of Sweden. This prince, then
visiting a certain hostess of the winter colony, took Danny
with him back to Europe. This was Danny Hunt's introduc-
tion to the great world.
Danny's bills were footed in turn by a British cold-tablets
millionaire, an Anglo-Iranian engineer, and a ladies' hosiery
manufacturer from Newark. Danny ran up these bills in
Stockholm, in London, in Paris, in Cannes, in Istanbul, in
Cairo, in Rome. He had lived all over Europe before he
reached the age of twenty-three.
After Hitler attacked Poland Danny decided that this was
the proper time to see California. He had met a well-known
[notion picture director abroad, and it was this director who
?ave Danny his start on the west coast. By the time that war
:ame to this country, Danny was a familiar figure at cocktail
parties in Beverly Hills. With his English suits aad gossip of
:he great world, Danny wormed his way as an extra man into
:he crowd that gave large formal dinner parties. At one of
:hese parties he met the late Jean Harris, who liked having
A "heart" condition kept Danny out of the army, and dur-
ng the war years in Beverly Hills, Danny lived fast and well.
3e began to sell one by one the Picassos and Cliagalls and
Vfatisses which the cold-tablets millionaire had bought him
n Paris before the war, and he took trips to Acapulco and
Wexico City. By the time that Danny latched onto the Cul-
verses, he had sold his last painting and was quite broke,
I do not know very much about Danny's relationship with
he Culverses. I never saw him once with either of them* It
vas Carol who was Danny's friend. Although Culvers never
nentioned Danny to me, he must have considered him a harm-
less fluke, a la-di-da young man, whom he could safely trust
with his wife, for Culvers never objected to Danny's friend-
ship with her.
Carol never seemed bored when Danny was there. On
Saturday afternoons the two of them would entertain the
crowd around the swimming pool. They worked out a routine
where Danny would hold Carol around the waist, lowering
her into "the splits." Or Carol would straddle Danny's shoul-
ders and Danny would trot like a pony across the lawns. They
roller-skated on the flagstone terraces; and once, joining the
Sunday crowd at the pool, Carol fixed a collie's leash around
Danny's neck, and he ran before her on all fours, barking like
For nearly a year Danny Hunts was Carol's playmate and
good friend. By the time that I met Danny, he had grown
tired of Beverly Hills and had made plans to live the rest of
his life in Paris, where he had felt happiest. Although Danny
had spoken often of leaving, nobody really believed that he
I shall never forget our meeting.
I met Danny Hunts of all unlikely places at State
Beach in Santa Monica. It was one of those week-end after-
noons, bright as fluorescent light, near the end of April. I had
gone there because Angelica Wells, that dawn three weeks
before, had told me she often came to this beach Saturdays. I
did not want to run into Angelica, I did not want to be brought
into their troubles; yet I had come here, looking for her.
Not far from where I lay in the sands, I noticed a thin-
limbed young man, who could not have been older than
twenty-six, surrounded by his court. He sat there, listening to
their talk, drawing crescent moons, then rings around them,
in the sand with his toe.
Yes, he was a pretty boy, as pretty as a girl, although I
myself did not find his looks attractive. There was something
about the face I could not decide what that reminded
me of a blossom about to fall; the expression of a pampered
child who has tasted every chocolate in the box; a languid look,
As I watched him, I saw that the face was capable of remark-
able change, but languidness was its usual look.
He sat there, half on his lower back, his smallish shoulders
propped against a striped canvas back rest, drawing his cres-
cent moons and puffing a cigarette through his holder. Over
his brown curls he wore an old tennis cap, soiled to the color
of putty; and the sun had streaked his black shorts with the
colors of the rainbow. At this moment he was giving ear-
service to a conversation. "Goodness, Sebastian," he would
mumble, while his squinted eyes restlessly roamed the beach.
His court consisted of two sailors in uniform, a trim little
middle-aged Englishman, to whom he addressed most of his
remarks, and a boy who could not have been over fifteen years
old. Such a group at the beach would have interested anyone;
and when I heard the Culverses name spoken, I turned around
and looked this young man square in the face. He snubbed
It was then that I decided to swim. I walked down to the
ocean and I put on the green rubber foot-flippers which I had
bought at the movie stars' sporting-goods store in Beverly
Hills. I stood for a minute or so on the damp sand, surveying
the waves. Nearby a towheaded boy was bawling because his
sailboat was floating out to sea, Suddenly this boy, looking
down at my flippers, began to pull my arm: "Frog-man, frog-
man, please bring back my boat!" And, of course, 1 promised
him. Then I waded out.
The waves that afternoon were large and had the kick of
an angry horse. Before I plunged in, I lost my balance and was
swept against the pebbly bottom. It braised my cheek and my
chest. I did not want to lose face before the child, so I dived
through the waves like a flying fish; I am a good swimmer.
Well, I grabbed the sailboat just in time.
From the shore arose hurrahs for me from a crowd of little
children. I swam back, the conquering hero. After I handed
the boy his boat, the children followed me, marveling at my
flippers, to my place in the sand. Their adulation of me
brought smiles to all the nearby faces.
"How does it feel to be a hero?" Danny Hunts said. "I've
always longed to be a hero, but never had the chance."
I took advantage of this to join them. By now the two sailors
and the fifteen-year-old had gone. The Englishman turned
out to be Sebastian Saunders, the distinguished novelist, who
had settled in Santa Monica. I invited both of them to have a
drink with me, and so the three of us left the beach.
After we crossed Ocean Front Road, Danny led the way
to the Friendship, a cozy, smelly bar patronized mostly by
natives of Santa Monica Canyon. They all knew Danny and
Sebastian there. When he wanted, you see, Danny could
worm his way in with any crowd; and too, Danny was always
much nicer when Sebastian was there.
"I overheard you mention the Culverses," I said, after we
had ordered three Tom Collinses.
"I like the Culverses," Danny said quickly, "and I don't
allow anyone to talk about them but myself."
"They're dull and rich," interrupted Sebastian. Sebastian
Saunders had a youngness a shank of faded brown hair
falling to the side of a high forehead, merry blue eyes, and a
broad grin that went with his candor. "They're not a good
influence on you."
"Sebastian is a champion of mediocrity," Danny said to me.
"In his books he has glorified every person on earth I would
never like to know."
Sebastian only grinned. Danny was to tell me before he
sailed to France that the only persons he loved in the world
were Sebastian Saunders and two or three others back in that
crummy Florida town where he came from.
"Why do you need the rich, Danny? They're not good
for you," Sebastian said.
"Oh, I need the rich like some people need stoves," Danny
said. "I hang around them, and I feel warm and safe."
Then I told Danny about Life wanting to cover one of
Culvers' parties. I told him how I had talked with Culvers and
how Culvers had never called me back.
"I know all about it," Danny said. "He's afraid you
wouldn't be nice about Carol"
"Why wouldn't I be nice?"
"You know perfectly well that there're a lot of things Life
could be funny about."
"Is there anything to your Carol, Danny? And don't yon
lie to me," Sebastian said, covering Danny's hand with his own.
"Carol has a kind of American peasant shrewdness that
would amaze you," Danny answered, "a very high instinctive
intelligence like a child."
"That's Danny's way of saying she doesn't know anything,"
Sebastian said, grinning.
"Well, she's not as yet aware of an attitude, if that's what
"I don't want to talk about Carol," Danny said. *Tm going
away and I don't want to talk about her."
"Look, Sebastian," Danny said, staring at me. "He has
bruised himself on the rocks."
Danny touched my cheek exactly where the sore places
were; I almost jumped from my chair.
"Oh, I'm awfully sorry," Danny said. Then he told me that
he would arrange to have old Culvers telephone me.
I don't know why I have set down so much about Danny
Hunts, who as I have said, was to play no other part in the
history of that summer. A week after we met, Danny packed
his bags one day and without telling anyone goodbye, not even
Sebastian Saunders, he boarded a freighter sailing from Los
Angeles to Le Havre. Before summer ended we heard that
Danny had a new friend. This one, the wife of an Arizona real
estate millionaire, was supposed to be half Indian.
I don't know why, except that I saw Danny as a kind of
link between Jean Harris and the Culverses. It was as though
evil lived on in Beverly Hills like a disease germ, to be spread
At any rate it was Danny Hunts who persuaded old Culvers
to trust me and to invite me to his house.
I HAVE ALREADY SAID HOW COVE WAY, EXCEPT
for the Culverses' house, strove to look "New England." If
you were to take a walk at evening through the streets of the
city, looking into the picture windows, you would notice
couples like the Greys, sitting among their pickled spinning
wheels, Sandwich glass, and chintz, playing Canasta, looking
at television, reading magazines and novels. Half of the city
and half of the movie peopk rode in station wagons and tried
to live like the Joneses.
It was the other half of "Beverly Hills that flocked to the
Culverses' parties: the English set, the columnists, the starlets,
the hangers-on, the movie stars who behaved like movie stars,
the decorators, the crowd that had hobnobbed with the late
Lady Mendl, Elsa Maxwell, and Cobina Wright. The night
I went to the Culverses' party eight or nine hundred of this
half were there.
The Culverses' columned house, dancing with silver lights,
reflected into a sea of glowing lawns, rolling from the top of
the small rounded hill, where the house stood, to Cove Way,
With its band playing, its floodlit orange trees, its circuslikc
marquees, it was like carnival night.
To the right of the house stretched the marble swimming
pool, glistening like a liquid of rhinc diamonds. At one end
water rippled down marble steps in a miniature waterfall into
the pool. At the other end there stood a marble copy of the
Venus de Miio with both her arms intact.
The bowling green and the tennis courts lay to the left,
lighted up with huge spotlights as though some tournament
were about to take place. Farther down on the left slope of
the hill stood an ancient Japanese tea house, a blue-white with
concealed fluorescent tubes. The late Jean Harris had bought
this small building in Tokyo in 1938, and shipped it to her
estate piece by piece. She had believed it was a temple of love.
Three days before the party Butch Murphy had telephoned
me. "Mr. and Mrs. Culvers're having a party Saturday night,"
she had said, "and want you to come."
"May I bring a photographer?'"
"Well, not this time. Mr. Culvers wants me to explain to
you to come just as a guest."
"But Life wants to cover one of their parties."
"Later. Between you and me, Mr. Thayer, Danny Hunts
had a hard time persuading Mr. Culvers to let you come at
all. Mr. Culvers is very suspicious of the press, especially Life."
Twenty minutes after speaking with Butch Murphy, a
Western Union messenger delivered the Culverses' telegram;
they had sent a similar telegram to each of the other nine hun-
dred guests. This telegram officially invited me to their party.
When Saturday evening I walked across Cove Way, cars
had started to creep up the drive like hungry cats. People got
out, and if they had no chauffeur, policemen parked their cars.
(For his large parties Culvers hired four dozen policemen to
handle his guests' cars.)
"I went through the receiving line two weeks ago," said a
woman, dragging a mink stole. "I'm not going to go through
The woman and her escort trekked across the lawn to the
left of the house, where a white canvas marquee, the size of a
small circus tent, had been set up. Inside the marquee an
orchestra from the Mocambo played swing music, rotating
every half hour with a rumba-mambo-tango band; and here,
where people danced, and drank champagne, and picked at
two thousand canapes, was located the heart of the party. I
followed the couple straight to the heart.
A starlet in lavender tulle sat sullenly at a table with a man
who looked like Errol Flynn. The starlet complained that she
had danced in the Diamond Daisies number at her studio since
seven A.M. and her feet were killing her, and she couldn't pos-
sibly dance with the man.
"Just one dance, sweetie," the man said. "I've gotta see how
you'll feel in my arms."
"You wouldn't kid me, now?" the starlet said,
"I wouldn't do anything you didn't want me to," the man
said, leading her to the floor.
I moved on past a school of socialites from Santa Barbara,
who had athletic complexions and kept to themselves; past a
famous dress designer who sat yawning; past Mary Pickford's
husband, who sat talking with a well-known news commenta-
tor who was a good friend of the Duke and Duchess of
Windsor; past one of the Ritz brothers, dancing with a pretty
redhead who kept pulling up her straps. Presently I passed
under a white canvas canopy, which led from the marquee into
I moved through french windows into a pea-green and gilt
drawing room hung with an enormous crystal chandelier.
There were no guests in this room, and three red-coated musi-
cians played the songs of Victor Herbert. 1 kept on moving,
toward the hall. The hall had a black and white marble floor
like a chessboard; and it was there I first saw the Culverses.
They stood each on a marble square, like pieces in a chess game
against the whole of Beverly Hills.
Mrs. Culvers, Carol, dressed up in ice-blue satin, ostrich
plumes, and diamonds, looked like a Mardi Gras doll I had
spotted once in a New Orleans toy-shop window when I was
a child and had longed for and could not have. Her eyes,
which were the blue of certain dolls' eyes, could look large
and dumb; and when she moved her head, standing there re-
ceiving, her mussed white-blond platinum curls bobbed up and
down like a little girl's. The mouth, generally conceded to be
her best feature, was a woman's mouth, voluptuous, delicately
curved, exciting. Speaking with Carol, your eyes always went
to her mouth; and she had a way of keeping her mouth always
a little opened.
During all the months I knew her, Carol never looked well
dressed, and she never looked neat. She was either wearing
too much lace, or too many diamonds, or cloth play shoes with
an afternoon silk print, or white wool bobby socks with a
sweater and skirt. She had no clothes sense I don't believe
she cared enough. She had dressed well as long as Danny
Hunts had been there to tell her exactly what to wear; but
after Danny left she was either too pretty-pretty or too sloppy.
When smart women were cutting their hair, Carol wore hers
long. As I said, this night, in her satin and plumes, she looked
exactly like a Mardi Gras doll
Mr. Culvers, in his white tie and tails, looked like some great
lumpy trick bear. He was the kind of large man who is neither
muscular nor fat, a shapeless hunk of bones and flesh. He had
long tubular arms and hairless thick-fingered hands, so large
that they seemed to get in his way. His hair was the gray color
of nails. His long nose curved with wide nostrils like a police
dog's. His eyes sunk deep under thin gray brows reminded
me of the steel balls in a pin-ball machine. He ought to have
had a powerful chest, and powerful arms and legs and neck
yet he did not. He looked like the kind of large man who had
sat around in offices all his life and had his way.
A footman, standing at the doorway, would announce the
name of each arriving guest. Carol, who apparently was not
listening, would ask, "Who?" and Culvers would whisper the
name to her. Now Grady "Slimy" Dugan, a well-known
producer, owning a collection of French moderns, was enter-
ing with his fourth wife. With perfect timing, the Culverses
extended their hands and said, "So nice you could come, Mr.
Dugan, Mrs. Dugan," and the "Slimy" Dugans returned the
greetings with melodious grunts. The Culverses had not yet
been taken up by the top-drawer set, and were still more or
less a joke. And "Slimy" with his platinum-edged fifteen-year
contract at First National, certainly didn't need this rich man
who, as yet, held no power in Hollywood. The Dugans must
have considered amiable grunts quite sufficient greetings for
After I was pointed out to Culvers, he stepped out of the
receiving line, advancing toward me, one of his large hands
extended. It's for her, I thought, that you want me to like
you; for, in spite of his coming toward me with his welcoming
hand, Culvers was as cold as some jagged, lonely mountain
"My wife and I are happy you could come," Culvers said.
Culvers' handshake for so large a hand was disappointing
a loose grip that covered rny hand as though it were smothering
some small bird. When Culvers first met you, he looked you
in the eye, looked hard and straight and quick; then, immedi-
ately after this, glanced at some object over your shoulder.
Oh, Culvers was a cold one all right, who hated meeting any
other person on equal friendly terms. After I thanked him for
his invitation, we walked in rather self-conscious camaraderie
towards his wife.
At first Carol acted very nervous and shy. She would not
look me in the eye, and she drew her hands together as
though she were squeezing a handkerchief. When she finally
spoke, however, her politeness, if it was an almost agonizing
desire to do the right thing, was also a very real desire to have
you like her. Carol wanted desperately for you to like her.
"Is everything all right, Mr. Thayer?" Carol said. "Are
they giving you enough to drink?"
"Everything's fine," I said.
"Do you think everybody's having fun?"
"They're having the time of their lives," I said, smiling.
"Ill bet you'll be glad when you can have some fun."
Carol's mouth quivered, as though she did not know
whether or not she ought to smile, agreeing with me. Carol
glanced toward Culvers for help.
Culvers said, "It's the proper thing to do at a reception."
"Mr. Culvers is right," I said. "But it's always a relief, isn't
it, when you can join the party?"
"You said it," Carol said. Then she suddenly laughed, as
a child laughs after he feels that the ice is broken and that you
are on his side. Well, compared to her husband, she was in-
deed a child. Carol couldn't have been older than twenty or
twenty-one, and Culvers must have been sixty-five if he was
More people entered: one of the tobacco Dukes, who had
come to Beverly Hills with his string of polo ponies; and a
young woman who looked a great deal like Marilyn Monroe.
The Culverses went on receiving them.
I waited nearby, because Culvers, like some father wishing
to show off his child's talents wanted me to dance with his
wife. As people kept arriving and the receiving line stretched
longer and longer down the checkerboard floor and out under
the columned portico, I wandered off . I had walked through
the pea-green drawing room, where the three musicians had
got around to playing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," and had
approached the green canopy leading outside, when a waiter
came scurrying after me, asking me to return. I followed the
waiter, who ordered the musicians to come with us. The hall
had not yet cleared of people. Culvers stood in the center,
"My wife can dance with you now," Culvers said.
"Oh, we don't want to dance, Clarence," Carol said, laugh-
ing a little. She looked at Culvers, hopefully. Culvers com-
manded the musicians to play a waltz.
"Goodness no! Not a waltz!" Carol cried.
"Well, I don't know, Clarence," she said nervously. People
were gathering to watch; both of us felt very embarrassed.
"Play a waltz," Culvers said. His back was turned on the
musicians, and he spoke without bothering to face them. It
was a real order that he gave them, an imperial command.
The musicians began to play a sickly, squeaky waltz, and I,
blushing, took Carol's hand. As we danced, more and more
people returned to watch. Carol hummed the words of the
song under her breath, she was so embarrassed.
"In my swe-et lit-tle
Al-ice blue goivn ..."
Culvers stood like a statue of stone, watching us; and people
in the hall stared at him as though he were an emperor, alone in
the middle of the hall, while we waltzed around to please him.
The musicians, afraid to stop playing, kept playing on and on;
and the circles we made, waltzing, grew smaller and smaller
because of the crowds gathering to watch. All of a sudden
Culvers said: "That's enough." And the musicians stopped in
the middle of a measure, and we stopped, and for almost a
whole minute after this the crowds were stunned into a com-
plete silence. Culvers coughed loud, and brought one of the
clumsy hands to his mouth. Poor Carol, sticking close by my
side, trembled with fright.
The noise of the party commenced again, and the crowds
fled in droves from the hall, leaving behind only the Culverses
and me. Carol excused herself and ran into the powder room.
"We'll go into the library," Culvers said.
The butler, Joseph, a Czech, strutted before us, switching
on lamps and indirect lights in the bookshelves. I wondered if
all the green and gold books were real. While Culvers spoke
on the telephone to his secretary, I opened one of the books.
It was real all right. It was a history of the Peloponnesian
Wars; in fact, every book in the library was a book of history,
bound in identical green and gold. The nameplate in the book
I opened said, "Clarence Covington Culvers, New Orleans."
Culvers, who had finished speaking on the telephone, glared
at me, as though I might do some harm to the book; so I
closed it and set the book back on its shelf.
We sat down rather self-consciously in deep green leather
chairs, which stood on either side of a hearth with green
marble facing. Culvers' hands rested on the arms of his chair,
like the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial. Culvers
had little talent for putting a guest at ease.
"Do you. like books, Mr. Thayer?" Culvers said.
"Well," I coughed, "I like some books."
"I read histories," Culvers stated. 'The rest aren't worth
the paper they're printed on. I take it you don't like his-
"I like histories," I said, taking out a cigarette. "I also like
a lot of other books."
"I like histories," Culvers repeated, very stiffly. Then Cul-
vers grew silent, as though all to be said on the subject had
Outside a rumba band began to play. Culvers took out a
gold pocket watch to check on what time they had started. A
Seth Thomas clock chimed in the library with us; then slow,
heavy footsteps sounded from the hall.
"Miss Murphy, my secretary," Culvers told me.
Butch Murphy paused in the doorway, a tall, stout, broad-
shouldered woman with the complexion of a steaming red
crab. She waited a moment, examining Culvers' expression, to
tell if it was all right to enter; then she introduced herself and
she shook hands with me like a man. After the introduction
Butch Murphy said to Culvers: "Dallas wants you to call
"Did New Orleans call?" Culvers said, his lips poised. Later
I learned that "New Orleans" referred to long distance calls
from his son. Though Culvers seldom mentioned his son in
Carol's presence, he did not despise him as she tried to have
"No," Butch Murphy said, leaving the room. There was
no visible reaction on Culvers' face.
Then Culvers said: "What is it that Life wants with us?"
"Life wants to cover one of your parties, Mr. Culvers."
"Is that all?"
"We would want to get some shots of you and your wife/'
"Could I choose the photographs? 7 '
"The photographs are selected back in New York. After
you agree to let Life do a story, Life doesn't allow you to
"How do I know I would like what Life prints about me?"
"You don't know," I said.
Weighing the advantages and possible disadvantages of
appearing in Lif e, Culvers never took his eyes from my face.
The force of his eyes, a cool unrelenting force, caused me to
cough. "What would you," Culvers said, "have to do with
"Me? I'll get the story together, write it up, send the whole
works to New York. The story'll go into the magazine pretty
much as I write it."
Culvers took a deep breath as though he had heard good
news. "I would make it worth your while, Mr. Thayer, if
you were kind to my wife."
I did not answer him at once. I had never been offered a
bribe before, and if I had spoken that instant I don't know
what I would have said.
"I would pay you two thousand dollars, Mr. Thayer,"
Culvers said. "I'll give it to you tonight." Culvers picked up
the telephone receiver.
"Don't," I said, rising, taking the telephone from his hand.
"If you want Life to do a story, you must leave everything
entirely up to us. You must trust us, Mr. Culvers."
"I've never trusted a man in my life who didn't work for
me," Culvers said.
My jaw flinched, I felt color rising in my cheeks. I looked
for a cigarette in a cloisonne box but found none. I felt myself
becoming very angry.
Culvers offered me a cigarette from an old-fashioned silver
case which he carried in his coat pocket. "I never use them
myself," he said. "I carry the case because it was a present to
my father from President Taf t. My father was a representative
in Washington for six years. He once ran for governor but
wasn't elected." Culvers rubbed the case on his sleeve. "I
carry cigarettes for my wife."
I straightened my tie, preparing to leave. "Thank you very
much for the evening," I said.
"I think, Mr. Thayer," Culvers said, "that you can go ahead
and do the story."
"What made you change your mind?"
"Fm going to trust you, Mr. Thayer," Culvers said, rising.
I thought that he was going to put his hands on my shoulder,
but he didn't. He just stood there, his large hands fumbling at
his sides, as though he had suddenly thrown his weapons
Whether Culvers trusted me, or whether he did not, or
whether he liked me or not, had nothing to do with my
opinion of him; and I am not going to set down that opinion,
cut and dried, at this time; because there was Culvers' side of
the story. But I did form an early opinion of Culvers, and
though I did not change it, I put on blinders. I must have put
them on the moment that he said he trusted me. It was clever
of him to say that. It made me feel that I had gained some
advantage over him; it made me feel that he had stepped down
from his money and power and was no stronger than I.
As we sipped scotch and sodas in the library half an hour
later, I was telling Culvers about Miro. I was telling him all
kinds of things which any young person will tell to ingratiate
himself with someone rich and powerful. Culvers nodded, and
smiled, and sipped, and finally he himself began to talk.
Although Culvers never once spoke a word about his busi-
nesses, he was very glib about his ambitions for Carol. He had
organized his own small production company, Culvers Produc-
tions, to produce her pictures; and he had hired a "cultured
young Irishman" named Flanegan, to run it for him. It was
Flanegan who advised Culvers what stories to buy; it was
Flanegan who had hired the six writers to write the screen-
plays; it was Flanegan, who was going to work out a deal with
a major studio to distribute the pictures, after they were made.
"Who is this Flanegan?" I said. "I've never heard of him."
"Flanegan's all right, Flanegan's all right," Culvers said.
"Flanegan's family's been in the theatre for years."
When I didn't say anything, Culvers, with his usual sus-
piciousness, said: "Have you heard anything about my com-
pany that I should know?"
"Well, I've heard that you've hired the six lousiest writers in
town. I've heard you're throwing thousands down the well,
Culvers rose quietly from his chair, picked up the telephone,
and told Butch Murphy to try to locate Flanegan. Butch
Murphy said Flanegan had called in and left a message that
he was at the Mocarnbo that evening.
"Get Flanegan," Culvers said.
Five minutes later Butch Murphy had got Flanegan on the
telephone at the Mocambo.
"Hello, Flanegan," Culvers said. "I want you to tell me who
the writers are that you have hired. I want to know what pic-
tures they've written, what their reputations are as writers."
As Culvers listened, I pictured a snappily dressed Irishman
at the Mocambo, talking against rumba music, his blonde
waiting angrily at their table. Culvers hung up. To my aston-
ishment Culvers called off the names and qualifications of the
John Earle Baber, screenwriter for thirteen years, wrote
some of the Rogers- Astaire musicals. At one time earned $2000
a week. At present down on his luck. Adapting a Saki story
for Culvers in the manner of Quartet for $250 a week.
Matt Roberts, a screenwriter for seventeen years, was one
of the thirty-seven writers who had worked on Gone With
the Wind. Recently fired from Warner Brothers, where he
was earning $1000 a week. Flanegan got him cheap.
Frank Heinberg, working for Culvers for $200 a week, had
no screen credits, but worked for six months at Twentieth,
three months at Warners.
Louis Pokinos, wrote a successful mystery novel eight years
ago. Flanegan hired him for $300 a week.
Sam Fauston Adams, radio writer for twenty years, just
getting started in pictures. Flanegan got him for $400.
Sig Frankenburg, collaborated on two Broadway plays, that
had short runs, came to Hollywood to get away from New
York. Flanegan hired him for $900 a week, but that was
cheap for Frankenburg.
Culvers paused, waiting to sec if all this changed my opin-
ion of Flanegan.
"Mr. Culvers," I said, "I don't know of anything- wrong
with your writers. They may turn out to be swell I only
know what I've heard."
"Who was it that told you about the writers?"
a A young man very important in the picture business," I
said, "a young man who's gone far."
"Perhaps he's jealous of Flanegan," Culvers said.
"I don't think he knows who Flanegan is."
A disagreeable expression passed over Culvers' face, as
though he had a stomach-ache. "Flanegan gets ten thousand
a year," Culvers said. "I can't afford to pay a man who's worth
more. Flanegan's all right. He's new; he's learning; he'll make
mistakes. On the whole I'm not dissatisfied with what Flane-
" What has he done? "I said.
"We shot an O. Henry short story last year. We were going
to use it with the Kipling story and two others as a kind of
American Quartet. It didn't turn out very good. We've
scrapped it. We just shot a de Maupassant story.
"I want my wife to appear in fine pictures, Mr. Thayer.
I'm not in the picture business to make money, I have enough
money. I want to make something really fine like Brief En-
counter, Wuthering Heights, like Bergman's pictures, like
"Don't pay any attention to what I said, Mr. Culvers. I
think what you're trying to do is fine."
"Can you suggest, Mr. Thayer a good man for me?"
"Yeah, but he won't work for you,"
"He's under contract to a studio. He makes eight hundred
"Maybe he would work on the side," Culvers said. "He
might like some extra money. I need a young producer to
work with Flanegan."
"I don't think this one would work for you," I said.
"I would let him do any story he wanted, if he's as good as
you say. He would like that. Get him on the telephone."
"It's too late," I said.
Culvers buzzed Butch Murphy. "What is his number, Mr.
Thayer?" And so I told him. I knew the number, for I had
looked it up dozens of times in the directory and not called it.
Culvers handed me the receiver.
"Hello," Laddie Wells's sleepy voice said.
"This is Charley," I said. "Now don't hang up. I'm not
high or anything like that."
"Then why're you calling me at this time of night?" Laddie
said, waking. "What the hell do you want, Charley? It's a
quarter of two."
I told Laddie how I had become friendly with the Culverses,
how old Culvers' desire to make a fine picture had impressed
"What does that have to do with me?" Laddie said.
"Well, Laddie, Culvers wants me to ask you if you would
like to produce a picture for him. Something really fine."
"How the hell can I do a picture for that burgher? Didn't
you tell him I'm under contract to a studio?"
"I told him. He says that he'll make any story you want*
He says that he thinks you might do it on the side."
"He's crazy," Laddie said. "Fm going back to sleep."
"Please don't hang up, Laddie," I said. "This Culvers is a
man with good intentions. His wife is one of the most beauti-
ful women I've ever seen. She's going to become a big star,
someday. He's doing all of this for his wife, Laddie. Every-
thing is for her."
"What kind of picture does he want to make? You don't
just make any picture," Laddie said.
"I've told him what you said about his outfit, Laddie. He
wants to do something really fine."
"I think you're crazy, Charley, I'm going to Montana
tomorrow morning on location. I've got to get some sleep."
"Think it over, Laddie. Maybe when you come back . . . "
"/>" Laddie said sleepily. "Maybe when I come back. ..."
Then he hung up.
Culvers, who had listened quietly, wore a troubled expres-
sion. "Why won't he work for me?"
"He's coming to see you, Mr. Culvers, when he gets back
from Montana. He's going to Montana in the morning."
Thoughts of Angelica came drifting like a lovely fog into
the room with me. I started planning late drives along the
beach and a day in the mountains. Culvers' high-pitched voice
began to sound like words heard in sleep. "When is he coming
back?" the voice was saying. "When is he coming back?"
"He didn't say. Sometimes a location trip lasts as long as
Shortly after this, Butch Murphy was able to reach Clarence
Culvers, Jr., by telephone, and I excused myself.
They sat drinking in sixes and eights around the tables under
the marquee; and they would dance for half an hour to the
bouncy music of an orchestra playing the songs of South
Pacific. Then the orchestra would alternate with a rumba-
marnbo-tango band. People spread their fur wraps and lay
down on the grass, and people had their fortunes told by a
swank Beverly Hills numerologist. Two snobbish English
actors arrived with Vera Velma the strip-tease queen, who
wore pink dyed fur and was introduced as Mrs. T. Markoe
Deering of Southampton and New York.
At two-thirty sharp the man who had played Washington
in Valley Forge vomited over the buffet, and a sturgeon and
three red herrings had to be taken away. Down the hill in the
Japanese tea house two ensigns were having a crap game with
Len Evansman, the columnist. Len Evansman wanted to know
if I could change a thousand-dollar bill. At a quarter of three
a dozen Hawaiian girls did the hula-hula and a dignified pro-
ducer, who had an obsession for pinching young women's
behinds, got his face slapped by the ukelele player. A thin
man who did rope tricks followed the hula girls. It was during
the rope tricks that somebody started throwing the plates out
over the hill. "Look," cried a starlet, "flying saucers! " Forty-
five people rose from their chairs to look. Three men started
throwing plates, then a woman started.
Culvers, who had wandered to a table with his wife, forced
a smile; but his jaw tightened and he drew the large hands into
fists. Carol, gulping champagne, acted shocked.
"They're not goin' to act this way at our house! " Carol
cried, rising from her chair.
"Sit down, Carol/ 7 Culvers said. "We expected this/ 7
"They're not goin' to act this way at our house! Fin goin'
to stop it/' Carol cried, running from the table. Carol ran
down the hill to where the plates were falling, and I impul-
sively ran after her. As I caught her, we tripped on a broken
plate and tumbled on the grass.
"Let me help you, Mrs. Culvers/' I said.
She shook her head. So we lay there: Carol sprawled on
yards and yards of soiled satin, and I propped on my elbow at
her feet. Suddenly, looking across Cove Way at the Grey's
cute colonial cottage, she began to cry.
"I live over there/' I said.
"Oh, Christ, Mr. Thayer, I I need a drink/'
"Call me Charley."
"Call me Carol Please let's go get a drink. Please," she
said. And so I helped her to stand.
Carol took my hand and we galloped over lawns, flower
beds, and broken plates to Culvers' house. Inside the pea-green
drawing room the musicians were playing "My Buddy" for a
young man who had passed out on the sofa. Someone had
placed a single white rose in his hand.
"It's in there," Carol said, pointing to a white and gilt grand
We raised the top. From a spot near the bow she took out
a bottle of gin. "Like gin?"
"Sure," I said.
We poured gin into two champagne glasses that were rolling
on the rug. "Don't tell on me," she said to the musicians. "Mr.
Culvers doesn't like me to drink. Won't 'low any liquor in the
house except at parties." She gulped down her glassful of gin
and refilled it. The gin tasted warm and strong, and when I
coughed, she laughed at me. "Oh, you don't really like gin,
"It's better than nothing," I said.
"Much." She drank the second glassful. "Nobody knows
about this bottle."
"You'd better put it back," I said, hearing footsteps.
"Is somebody coming?" she said, her blue eyes enlarging.
She took a quick swig from the bottle.
Joseph, the butler, entered the room before she could put
the bottle back. Carol held the bottle behind her. Joseph,
pretending not to see it, took away the glasses we had used.
"It's a grand party, isn't it, Joseph?"
"Yes, Mrs. Culvers, it's a fine party."
After Joseph left, Carol took another swig, then offered me
one. I shook my head. "You don't like gin, do you?" she re-
peated. Then she turned toward the musicians: "Le's have
dancin' music, please." And so the musicians began to play
"I can do the splits, can you?"
I said that I couldn't do the splits.
"I learned the splits at acrobatics class in St. Louis. Daddy,
my real daddy, wanted me to be like Shirley Temple. Here,
grab me around the waist. Le's be crazy, huh?"
I held her, lowered her to the floor as she did the splits.
After the first one she started to puff, and I took my hands
away. "I guess I'm out of practice," she said. "Danny and I
were swell. I'll have to train you. Want another swig?"
"You won't mind if I do?"
"No, but someone's coming."
Carol had lifted the piano top to put in the bottle when
Joseph entered again, carrying a silver platter covered with
little sandwiches; Carol ate little ham and cheese sandwiches
late at night. This time Joseph saw the bottle; in fact Joseph
even helped her to close the top.
"I didn't call you? Carol said nastily.
"I thought you would like your sandwiches, Mrs. Culvers,"
"I won't have you spying on me. He's spying on me,
When Carol reached toward the piano, to support herself,
she fell. Joseph bent to help her. "Don't touch me! Don't
touch me! " she screamed. "Get away! " Carol clawed Joseph's
face with a great marquise diamond on her third finger. Blood
trickled from Joseph's cut onto her dress. Joseph did not bat
"Get away. He's hurting me, Charley. Make him go away! "
"You ought to go upstairs, Mrs. Culvers," Joseph said. But
when he took her arm she kicked at him; and when he finally
got a hold she screamed loud.
"Please help me get her upstairs," Joseph said.
When I knelt to help Joseph, Carol slapped at me, "Knew
you weren't my friend! Hate you. Hate you all. Danny,
Danny, come help me. Danny, Danny, Danny." Sobbing,
Carol buried her face in her hands.
"Help me, please, Mr. Thayer," Joseph said.
I told Joseph to get Mr. Culvers.
After Joseph went off to get Culvers, Carol lay there,
crumpled on the floor. Her sobs and her cries roused the
young man who had passed out. Now the young man sat up,
as though he had just waked up in an insane asylum. When I
watched him stealing, frightened, from the room, I noticed
that the musicians had akeady fled.
Culvers approached Carol as though she were a dangerous
cat slowly, stealthily, prepared to retreat. "Carol, Carol,
we're taking you upstairs," Culvers said.
"I hate you," Carol hissed, raising her head, staring at her
husband from the floor.
"Let's go upstairs, Carol."
"Don't touch me, you filthy goat. Goat, goat, goat that's
what you are Goat!"
"My wife can't drink, Mr. Thayer. Every time, it ends this
way," Culvers moved nearer. She could hear his high wheez-
"I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" Carol screamed. "I
hate your god-damn movies, for crissake. Bastard, bastard,
devil, goat. Old goat. I wanna die, I wanna die. Danny,
Danny, Danny, Danny." Carol's body began to shake with
When Carol hung her head, they pounced. Culvers grabbed
one wrist, Joseph, the other. They dragged her, kicking and
screaming, into the hall, and up the steps. As they dragged
her into some upstairs room, her screams faded; presently, one
hardly heard any screams at all. Three shocked women had
seen the spectacle from a doorway.
"Did you hear the words she screamed at him?" the first
"And she knows she'd be nothing without him. Oh, she
knows," the second woman said.
"She'd be nothing," the third said. "It's his money, his
brains, his ambitions for her that are responsible for every-
Culvers did not return, but he sent me a note by Joseph.
"Tomorrow morning my wife won't remember anything
that has happened tonight. Please don't hold this against her.
We are so very very grateful to you. Clarence C. Culvers."
I stuffed the note into my pocket before I left the house.
I looked at my watch near a floodlighted orange tree; it said
four o'clock. Though people had started to leave, the party
showed few signs of ending. Four couples were dancing in
the shallow end of the pool in their evening clothes, and by
the side of the pool Vera Velma was doing bumps and grinds.
I stopped for a moment at the top of the hill from where
you could see all the lights of Los Angeles. It looked as
though all the Christmas trees in the world blinked out there.
"You don't know me, Mr. Cooper," a woman said, fluttering
toward me from under the portico, "but Oh! oh! I'm so
I wasn't Gary Cooper; I walked down the lawns through a
snowfall of paper napkins and crossed to the quiet side of the
AT ELEVEN O'CLOCK ON SUNDAY MORNING
the Culverses' chauffeur delivered fruit to my rooms. It came
in one of those mammoth wicker baskets, shaped like a horn
of plenty, all veiled with golden cellophane.
Between a mango and a pear I found their card Mr. and
Mrs. Clarence C. Culvers with an invitation to come to
Sunday luncheon "around the pool/' I sent back word by the
chauffeur that I would be unable to come.
As soon as the chauffeur left my rooms, I telephoned An-
gelica. Helga, their Swedish woman, said that Mr. Wells had
gone to Montana that morning, and said that Mrs. Wells had
left the house shortly after. Mrs. Wells would be away for
the day. Helga promised that she would have Angelica call
tne. I killed Sunday hanging around my rooms, waiting for
Angelica to call.
Across Cove Way twenty cars arrived, bringing people to
lie around the Culverses' pool. At some time during the after-
noon Carol Culvers had thought it would be fun to have the
tJawaiians back, for around five o'clock Culvers' place began
to hum with the music of ukeleles and banjos. By the time
:hat I started out in my Cheyrolet to take a drive, word of a
Darty had spread; small crowds crossed their lawns like armies
I telephoned again at eight o'clock. Helga said that Angelica
had called her fifteen minutes before, saying that she would
not be coming home until eleven. "Did you tell her that I
called?" I said. Helga said that she had told her I had called.
I telephoned her three times on Monday, twice on Tuesday,
twice on Thursday. Each time Helga said Angelica was not
Friday I did not call her, nor Saturday. Sunday, when Lad-
die had been gone a week, I dialed the number, planning to
hang up if Helga answered. This time Angelica herself an-
swered the telephone.
"Hello . . . hello . . . hd-/0 ..."
"Angelica, this is Charley," I finally said.
"Oh, Charley! Helga told me you'd called."
I waited for an explanation of why she had not called me
back; and when none came just a reciprocal silence during
which I heard her breathing into the receiver I said: "Why
why don't you have lunch with me?"
"I'm doing something."
"I'll tell you what, Charley. I'll see if I can change my plans
for today. I'll call you back, if you'll give me your number."
"I gave you my number, don't you remember? I gave you
my office number and my number at home."
"Well, you'd better give it to me again," she said.
So I gave her my number a second time. Nearly an hour
passed before she called me.
"Well, Charley, I broke my engagement," she said.
"Why, that's wonderful, Angelica," I said.
"Oh, Charley, it'll be so good to see you again."
"Good?" I laughed.
"Well, you're from home and ..."
"I thought you'd broken away from all that a long time
ago," I chuckled.
"I have, I have, Charley. But you know what I mean,
Foolishly, I believed this was her way of hinting that she
wanted me again. I believed that she was embarrassed to come
right out and tell me. I said that I understood.
"Oh, Charley, I know a lovely place on the beach where
we can go," she said, " and talk."
"Shall I pick you up at your house?" I said.
"No, no, no," she said. "FU meet you at the Beverly Hills
Hotel in the lobby. Ill meet you there at one o'clock."
So, you see, I had every reason to believe that she wanted
Angelica arrived there before I did. She saw me walk into
the hotel, and when she saw that I had recognized her, she
smiled beautifully, and she moved across the garish green
lobby like a track of sunlight in a forest. She was wearing a
pale lemon yellow play dress, scattered with pink daisies,
which showed up her dark hair, and at least half a dozen
tinkling bracelets of gold.
Angelica had always dressed beautifully and expensively;
more expensively, perhaps than the O'Briens at one time could
afford. I can remember a little ermine muff and cape which
Angelica wore on a Christmas afternoon when she was nine.
This was during the depression years when Porter O'Brien had
just opened his plumbing equipment company, when nobody
in Miro invited them to parties. And after Porter O'Brien
made all that money during the war, Angelica at fifteen spent
more for clothes than her mother. Now I don't actually know
what Mrs. O'Brien spent, but this was what my mother and,
my mother's friends said, when people first began to take
notice of them.
I don't remember any of the dresses Angelica had worn. I
remembered how yards and yards of chiffon and satin and lace
had swept the floor, back at the Junior Dances. We were only
fourteen and fifteen, when we were going to the Junior
Dances. And I remembered her stone martens at Miss
French's, and her mink coat. The O'Briens said that it was
Mrs. O'Brien's mink coat; but that was because they didn't
want people talking about their spending five thousand dollars
for a seventeen-year-old daughter's winter coat. People used
to ask, "Why does that O'Brien girl dress up so fine?" I don't
believe that Angelica dressed up for others. She simply loved
fine clothes. She was one of those small-town girls with
money who could not resist indulging herself.
"Would you like a cocktail in the bar?" I said.
"No, let's go to the beach," Angelica said. "Nobody will
see us there."
So we moved out of the lobby toward the porte-cochere.
She wanted to go in her convertible, so that we could ride 'with
the top down; and she wanted me to drive, so I took off my
coat and my tie and threw them across the back seat.
Driving out Sunset Boulevard, Angelica said what pretty
houses there were. We were as polite as strangers. We did
not begin to talk until we had passed that impressive gateway,
leading to Bel- Air the one that looks exactly like the en-
trance to a swanky cemetery. "When will Laddie come
back?" I said.
"Not until next Sunday," she said.
I reached, then, to find her hand, but after I took it, she
withdrew it to get herself a cigarette.
"Why didn't you caU me?"
"I was out, Helga told you. I've been seeing friends of mine
in Santa Barbara. Laddie doesn't like them. Thinks they're
"You wouldn't be kidding me, would you?"
"You don't have to believe me if you don't want to/'
"The last time we saw each other "
"What happened between us just just happened. Can't
we be just friends?"
I did not say anything, and we grew quiet. I felt her gaze
upon my face. I did not want her to know about my hurt, so
I began to whistle.
"You're not mad with me, are you, Charley?" she said.
"No, I'm not mad," I said.
I was going sixty miles an hour around those dead-quiet
curves near the Beverly Hills polo fields. "Are you trying to
kill us, Charley? " So I slowed; and we drove in silence through
Pacific Palisades. Now we were taking the last curves of
Sunset Boulevard. Angelica's golden eyes squinted for sight
of the beach.
"Isn't it funny, Charley, us living in Beverly Hills?"
"What's funny about it?"
"I mean how we've known each other all our lives and how
we've turned out so differently from all the others. You prob-
ably think I'm awful, don't you, Charley?"
"I don't think you're awful," I said.
It was a beautiful blue and yellow Sunday. In Louisiana
children would be chasing butterflies and hunting for frogs;
in Santa Monica children built sand castles on the buttermilk
surfaces of the beach. Angelica inhaled a deep breath of ocean
"Aren't you glad we came, Charley?"
"How much farther is your place?" I said.
"Not much farther. Oh, look, Charley, a Jaguar!"
From the corner of my eye I saw a sly, low-slung foreign
automobile stealing like a black cat alongside the plain
"You ought to get a Jaguar, Charley. I think Jaguars are
the sexiest cars in the world. Do you ever think about cars
having sexes, Charley? Cadillacs, I think of as girl-cars; Fords
are boy-cars." Angelica giggled.
I said that sometimes I thought of things that way.
Angelica's favorite place, when we arrived there, was one
of those ultra-modern California restaurants, with walls of
slanting glass and lamps of driftwood. The building extended
far out over the ocean, and it was as though we were sitting
in a boat. Built on the edge of a private cliff, the building had
once been a retired New Yorkers' beach house. The New
Yorkers had had so many week-end guests that he had been
forced to go to work again, and he had converted his beach
house into a high-priced restaurant-inn, and had called it The
Week-End House. Important movie people came here for
quiet week-ends with their lovers. The Week-End House was
not too near Los Angeles and not too far away. A waiter
seated us at a corner table, screened by ferns, and we had a
splendid view of the Pacific. It was the perfect place if only
Angelica had wanted me and not George Martin.
I found out about George Martin, her lover, because of the
blunder of a drunk.
The waiter had just brought our soup two small cups of
shimmering jellied madrilene and had left us to ourselves.
Angelica had said that there was nothing better than sour
cream to go with madrilene, and had turned, facing the bar, to
call back our waiter. Meanwhile, this drunk, leaning on the
bar, seemed to recognize her and started to stagger in our
direction. "Hey, Martin! Hey, Martin!" the drunk called.
The drunk must have seen Angelica lunching or dining here
with George Martin in the past, for though he saw only my
back and the nape of my neck through the ferns, he mistook
me for George Martin. "Hey M-M-Martin! What about that
ten-ten-ten spot? When're y' gonna come accccross with that
ten I lent y' last week?"
Although I knew that the drunk was moving toward us, I
did not turn around. I was counting on our waiter stopping
him before he reached the table.
"Hey, Martin! You heard what I said. When-when y'
gonna pay me back?"
It was then that I turned. The drunk had one of those
pinkish pocked faces, bead eyes, and his brown slacks' zipper
was half unfastened.
"I don't think I know you," I said.
"Y' don' know me?" the drunk said, brushing aside fern
"I'm not Martin, mister," I said, rising, laying my napkin on
the table. "And I've never seen you before in my life."
"I suppose y' don' recall th' ten spot I lent you, either?"
Without looking closely, the drunk grabbed hold of my
shirt. I gave him a sound shove that threw him backward on
the floor; then two other waiters came running and dragged
the drunk out before we had a real fight. Our waiter hurried
over to apologize.
"I'm sorry, sir. I guess he mistook you for Mr. Martin. You
see, Mr. Martin and er the young lady always sit at this
That let the cat out of the bag.
Poor Angelica, who during the scene had sat there, para-
lyzed with shock and confusion, now pressed her napkin
against one cheek. Her cheeks looked red as though all the
blood in her body had suddenly rushed there.
"Let's leave," Angelica whispered.
"No," I mumbled, "I want to finish my lunch."
"Please. Please, Charley."
; "Eat your soup. Why don't we have the waiter bring us
that sour cream? " I said, lifting the spoon to my lips.
"Everybody in the place is staring at us. I want to get out of
this place," she said, reaching for her purse.
"Eat your soup," I said. "They'll stop looking at you."
"I'm not hungry, Charley. I want to leave here."
"Look Angelica. Who cares if you saw this Martin a couple
I cannot remember what it was that she said immediately
after that; I don't even know if she said anything. Her head
jerked with a little nervous motion, and her hand went to the
back of her neck as though she were about to fluff her hair,
and her chin tilted out. And all of a sudden she was telling me
about her lover.
Angelica first saw this George Martin, for that was his real
name, at the Montmartre. She had gone there one evening
after dinner with Laddie, as we had gone, and they were sitting
at a table near the rear of the main room. There was a kind of
window with a glass pane between this room and the bar, so
that the men at the bar could watch the show. Glancing
around the room, Angelica noticed George Martin standing
at this window, holding an empty glass. Raising the empty
glass to his mouth, staring through the window, he looked as
though he longed to be sitting in the main room. Then his
eyes fixed upon her. Laddie, who felt peeved because she had
forced him to come to this place, and was trying to hide his
peeve, sat listening to Grover Coone's singing with exag-
gerated interest; so Angelica returned George Martin's stare.
She left the table three times, making phony trips to the
Ladies' Room, and she lingered in the foyer near the bar; but
George Martin never sought her there. After they went home,
she could hardly carry on a conversation with Laddie for
thinking about this man. For several hours it seemed the
whole night she lay awake, after Laddie had dozed off
beside her. Her legs ached, and her head felt heavy, longing
for George Martin. It was as though a powerful ink had
spilled in her brains, blotting out everything else but George
The next day Angelica drove past the Montmartre fifteen
times, simply because she had seen the man there; and she
persuaded Laddie to take her back that night, and the follow-
ing night. When she did not find the man, she told herself
that he was some traveling salesman who had gone on his way.
One Friday afternoon after a week had passed, Angelica,
driving along Sunset, stopped her convertible at a drive-in
restaurant, the one that advertised the largest hamburgers in
the world; and it was there that she saw her man. He was sit-
ting in a broken-down old Dodge which looked about a thou-
sand years old. He recognized her at once, and she smiled at
At first he ignored her. He even looked out the opposite
window. He told her much later, Angelica said, that he had
thought at first she wasn't "nice." Imagine a two-bit rascal
like George Martin thinking that Angelica wasn't nice! He
told her that he could make love only with nice girls. Why,
it was as though a tramp marched from door to door announc-
ing that he could only eat steak. George Martin was not
handsome, he was not well-mannered, he was not entertaining
in the least; in fact, every remark he made, every opinion ut-
tered, was something stupid and inane; yet when George
Martin entered a room, the eyes of every woman in it went
Well, after George Martin so pointedly ignored Angelica,
she opened the door of her convertible, stepped out, and
walked across the pebbled parking area to the restaurant in
order for him to judge better what she looked like. Inside, she
bought a package of cigarettes; and as she was returning to
her car, opening this package, he called to her. "Come over
and have a drink with me," he said, holding up a bottle. He
had a fifth of Old Taylor, which some friend had given him,
and had been quietly drinking it alone, chasing it with Coca-
Cola. Angelica shook her head. No, she would give him back
his own bitter medicine. She would not go over to his car.
You would have thought that this would have wounded
George Martin's ego; for he was horribly, horribly vain.
George Martin waited five minutes to tell if she would
change her mind. When Angelica did not budge from behind
her wheel, he got out of his old wreck of a car, and came over
with his bottle to hers.
"How long have you known George Martin?" I said. We
had finished eating at least, I had finished. Telling all this,
Angelica had just sat there, smashing a cracker to bits with
the handle of her knife.
"Almost five months," she said. She glanced down at the
mess she had made on the cloth. "It was George, wanting to
speak to me at the Montmartre that night. Don't you remem-
ber how a dark-haired man wanted to speak to me, Charley?"
"I remember," I said.
The waiter came, bringing us two brandies with the com-
pliments of the drunk, who turned out to be Jack Swayze, the
famous tennis star of the thirties. I used to have Jack Swayze's
photograph tacked up over my desk beside Joe DiMaggio's,
Dolores del Rio's, and Edward the Eighth's. The waiter said
that Mr. Swayze had gone home.
"We don't want his drinks," Angelica said, stopping the
waiter with her hand.
"For Lord's sake, Angelica, let's let the poor fellow make
The waiter set the brandies before us. Angelica, who didn't
really like to drink, would not touch hers; so I drank both of
them. Angelica kept saying, "I bet you think I'm awful, don't
you, Charley, I bet you think I'm awful ..." until I thought
I would go off my rocker.
I didn't know what I thought about her not really. The
knowledge of her affair, helped along by brandy, caused me
to feel excited and warm and sad, and a little afraid for her.
"Why don't you order a drink?" I said.
"I don't want anything to drink."
"Well, I want another brandy, and I'm not going to sit here,
drinking alone," I said.
I had forgotten about Angelica's not liking to drink. She
would take a drink; I have seen her down three or four mar-
tinis at one sitting, but it was like drinking your early morning
orange juice, or medicine. She held back her head and drank
until the last drop was drained. When she got tight, she acted
crazy as a loon and was the life of the party, and most people
liked her better after a drink or two. But she did not really
like the stuff.
Somehow, Angelica's distaste for liquor did not fit in with
my conception of her. I thought of Angelica as very spoiled,
very passionate, very unconventional, and very mixed up.
Yes Angelica was screwed up all right.
Angelica beckoned to the waiter. I ordered a brandy and
soda, and she ordered a sweet Tom Collins. She liked a sweet
Tom Collins because it tasted like lemonade, she said.
After the waiter left, Angelica pressed her fingers over her
temples. "Sometimes don't you wish, Charley, that you could
just black out for a while? I do. I just want to sleep and sleep.
And sleep and sleep." She felt this way because I had found
out about George Martin, and because both of us knew that
sooner or later she would have to have a showdown with
Angelica despised a showdown of any kind. She preferred
to let matters ride along, drift, slide. Angelica did not know,
I suppose, what to do with herself. I do not mean that she
could not find ways to amuse herself she thought of nothing
else but how to amuse herself. What I mean is that she never
took hold of her life and said: I am a certain kind of person;
I am going to do thus and so.
As I said, Angelica's distaste for alcohol gave the lie to one's
conception of her, hinting that perhaps she possessed a strength
you never suspected her to have.
There was something so young, so foolish and weak, so
perfectly pathetic about Angelica. She was so tiny even
wearing high heels she barely reached your shoulder. What
happened was this: I began to feel sorry for Angelica and I
began to want more and more brandies and sodas.
"Come on, Angelica. Come on," I cried. "Let's get good
The waiter came running, after I cried out, and kept taking
our orders for an hour or so; and after we had got looped
it only took one Tom Collins for her Angelica wanted me
to meet George Martin, so we left the place.
Halfway between Marion Davies' old beach house and
Malibu we came to the Dolans' house, or rather George
Martin's, for though he supposedly rented only a room from
them, the household revolved around him. It was one in a
row of monotonous small frame houses, cramped side by side,
their entrances level with Ocean Front Road, their rears sup-
ported by great stakes driven into the beach. The row of
houses looked like shoe boxes overhanging a narrow shelf.
We got out of the car. Angelica pressed a doorbell that
chimed "Jingle Bells." When no one came, she beat the door
with her fists. Finally, Mrs. Dolan Lois let us in.
"Why hello, sweetie," Mrs. Dolan said.
"What took you so long?" Angelica said, brushing past her,
"Did you ring, sweetie? / didn't hear you."
Lois Dolan, chasing after Angelica into the living room,
reminded me of some miserable, unwanted cur running after
a poodle. Lois Dolan was one of those thin, pushy women
who rush about like wasps. She had large myopic brown eyes,
longish orange-red hair, which shook violently as she ran about
her little house. She was somewhere between thirty-five and
forty years old. Although Lois acted servile toward Angelica,
she behaved very imperiously toward her husband and ordi-
nary strangers. Like many aggressive plain women it was im-
possible to utter an opinion in her presence without that opin-
ion being challenged or ignored by her. For instance, when
Lois's husband, Herbert "Doc" Dolan, a jellyfish, if I ever saw
one, commented that it was pleasant living at the beach in
summer, dismal the rest of the year, Lois Dolan jumped down
"I suppose you think it's just jim-dandy in Los Angeles and
Beverly Hills in the winter? So thick with smog that you
think the atom bomb has exploded. It isn't half as nice as out
Doc Dolan, who had been wiping his rimless glasses, put
them on again to take another look at the ocean. "Lois is right,
Mr. Thayer," Doc Dolan said, taking a seat in one of the
maple armchairs, that crouched about the small living room
like camels. "There's nothing quite like our ocean."
Although Doc Dolan had got his degree as a doctor of medi-
cine, for some reason he held only a modest job, working for a
pharmaceutical firm. When I asked Doc Dolan why he did
not practice, Lois said: "Why, I wouldn't want Doc to be a
plain old doctor. As it is, we can go away on nice trips two
weeks every year, and Doc can be at home with me after five,
where he's his own boss."
Poor Dolan was never his own boss for one minute in his
life after he married Lois. I suppose that a woman like Lois has
her points certainly, whatever belonged to Lois was de-
scribed so it looked superior: Dolan's job; the lower-middle-
class seaside bungalow with its lumpy maple furniture, its
plastic cups and plates, its Hollywood beds; and George
Martin, for George had belonged to Lois since the summer
Sunday the year before, when he had driven out in his old
'Dodge to rent a room in Santa Monica. George Martin had
noticed the Dolans' Room For Rent sign, and gone there to
have a look.
At the time George Martin moved in, he worked as a shoe
salesman at a large store for women in Beverly Hills. If Lois
Dolan had wanted to know why he wished to live so far away
from where he worked, she was soon to find out. Every
Sunday George Martin passed four or five hours hanging
around State Beach. He did not swim, he did not play volley
ball, he did not lie still long enough to get a tan. He simply
hung around there in his bathing suit, looking at the teen-age
girls, I know all this, because I was to see him there one
Sunday near the end of summer.
Lord, what did Angelica see in this man? In the first place
he was too old for her. He was forty, perhaps even forty-five,
and for all I knew he might have been older. I'm positive that
he touched up his hair. His hair was black, blacker than a
Mexican's, and he slicked it straight back with not a strand out
of place. He had a heavy wide tomcat mouth, creased with
two lines deep as ditches; and a mouthful of huge square teeth.
In fact he apologized for his late appearance, telling me
that he had been brushing his teeth. George Martin must have
brushed his teeth five times a day. Lois told us that he took
two daily baths.
His eyes, I must not forget his eyes. They were hot, brown
eyes. Behind their red-streaked corneas they looked like two
small roasting nuts. He sat there quietly, folding his hands,
crossing his legs, like the president of a New England bank.
While Angelica and Lois did the talking Angelica was
saying how we had grown up together and how now I worked
in Beverly Hills for Life; and Lois was telling about her ambi-
"George is one hundred per cent correct, Mr. Thayer. It's
publicity that counts with them. Now since you're such a
good friend of Angelica's you ought to try to get a little pic-
ture of George in your magazine. Why don't you show Mr.
Thayer your photographs, George?"
George brought out a stock of photographs from his bed-
room. These photographs showed George in evening clothes,
wearing a top hat; in a mackintosh like Alan Ladd; in a tweed
sport coat, smoking a pipe; in a dark, dignified business suit;
in a yachting outfit;4n a summer tuxedo, wearing a paper
boutonniere; in a smoking jacket looking into a phony log fire.
There was one, which he hadn't meant to show, of himself in
the uniform of a Marine, standing before a Spanish stucco
house, shaded by palms.
"Were were you in the Marines?" I said.
"That was taken when I was stationed out here during the
war. Good friend of mine owned that house. Used to go to
lots of big parties, met lots of big stars. My friend and I. Some
of 'em were real nice to me. They always said I ought to be in
"Do you know anybody in the business?"
"I used to know a few during the war. My friend, who
knew all of them, has since got married and moved to Minne-
sota. I know some people who know people. Fve been prom-
ised a part in a Tarzan picture."
"Well, that's interesting."
"How do you like the photographs?" George said.
"They stink," I said.
Do you know what George Martin did? His head lowered,
his eyes narrowed to two little slits, his ears turned as red as
blistered flesh; but he took it. It was as though a cat which
had been scratching at some thick-feathered fowl had at last
clawed into meat. He sat there and took it.
"Oh, Charley will do something for you!" Angelica cried,
jumping from the maple sofa. "It's just that Charley doesn't
like to be bothered on Sunday. Lois, Lois, why the hell don't
you give us a drink?"
While Doc Dolan handed us highballs, and Lois passed
crackers with cream cheese spread, three of their friends
arrived: a portly overdressed dentist's widow, moved to Los
Angeles from Kansas City, Mrs. Gladys Hendrix; and two
brothers, Bill and Bob Titson. The Titsons were identical
twins, natives of Texas, who were engaged in making ceram-
ics near Beverly Hills. Then Angelica telephoned Grover
Cleveland Coone to come to the Dolans' house.
"Isn't he the nigger singer?" Lois said.
"Don't be an old fuddy-duddy," Angelica said.
"I just can't imagine myself entertaining a nigger," Lois said.
"Well, you won't have to imagine much longer, Lois, be-
cause he's on his way here," Angelica said.
"Well, I never ..." Gladys Hendrix chuckled, noticing
Lois's drooping lips.
Gladys Hendrix typified the sort of well-off older woman
who goes around with swish young men; and the Titson twins
with their talk of "stunning" this and "smart" that were hor-
ribly, horribly swish.
I have remembered Gladys Hendrix, chiefly because she
turned out to be Carol Culvers' mother's best friend.
"So you know our Carol?" Gladys Hendrix said to me.
"Well, 111 tell exactly how I came to know her. Back in
Kansas City, it was customary for me to visit my beauty parlor
once a week; and so, after the doctor passed away, and every-
body kept telling me that I ought to travel and see something
of the world, I fooled them. I just up and moved completely
away. Well, as soon as I arrived in Los Angeles, I set out to
find myself a good beauty parlor.
"You know how men depend on golf and tennis to get them
started in a new city, and some women, on church work?
Well, I count on my beauty parlor. I looked, and looked, and
looked, before I found a parlor I really cared about. At last
1 found one. Do you know the reason I liked it?"
"No, I don't."
"It was because of Marie Vadnum, Carol's mother. Not
only was she the best hair-setter in Los Angeles, she could keep
you spellbound, telling you the story of her life. Why, it was
better than listening to a serial on the radio! Well I never. ..."
I paused waiting for Gladys Hendrix to continue talking;
but she made a sucking noise with her tongue, indicating that
she had finished her story.
"Did you know Carol well?" I said.
"Know her? I guess I do know her. She'd be a corpse under
the ground if it hadn't been for me! You just don't know all
I've gone through with that girl! "
One of the Titsons interrupted to tell Gladys Hendrix a bit
of gossip about J P , her favorite actor.
"Call me some evening, and we'll go out and I'll tell you
plenty," Gladys Hendrix said, raising her plucked eyebrows,
handing me her card. I slipped the card into my pocket and
fell back into my chair.
What a strange crowd we were: there I was, a Harvard
Southerner, so looped that I could not raise an arm, trying *not
to seem a snob. There was Mrs. Gladys Hendrix, this doctor's
widow from Kansas City, turned, sitting on one fat thigh,
listening to an anecdote about some actor she worshipped.
There were the Titson twins, dressed in identical powder-blue
suits, sitting on the sofa with their right knees crossed, whis-
pering like girls.
George Martin's confidence had been restored by the arrival
of the Titsons. He now strutted around the little cage of a
room like a bantam rooster. Doc Dolan, a bird-watcher, was
letting his pale blurry eyes soar with a seagull into the after-
noon sky. Lois, I remember, sat staring with envy and hatred
and admiration at Angelica, who suddenly opened her small
mouth in a yawn. "I'm sleepy," Angelica said, leaning her
head against the back of the sofa.
"Do you live in Beverly Hills?" said Bob Titson, the twin
wearing a cameo seal ring.
"Live on Cove Way," I said.
"Do you know the Culverses?"
Bob Titson started to give a long, picturesque account of
the Culverses' party, telling me all that had been served to
eat and drink, to the last olive~and~bacon canape.
"How long did you stay?" I said.
"Well, I didn't actually go to the party, but I heard all
about it. You see Mrs. Culvers' mother used to set Gladys'
We turned our eyes toward Gladys Hendrk's hair. Her
hair looked like an arrangement of silver-blue steel wool
The Titson twins have since gone home to Fort Worth,
where one of them I cannot recall which one married
a widowed schoolteacher. When I knew them that summer,
they provided the Dolans with a link with the great world in
Beverly Hills. Although the TItsons knew none of the rich
fabled persons themselves, they knew people who did. For
instance, Danny Hunts was a friend of theirs, and the baroness
who had started the Montmartre, and Queen Mother Nazli's
social secretary came to casserole suppers at their apartment
off the Sunset Strip.
As the afternoon passed, Grover Cleveland Coone, the
colored singer, arrived, wearing a poplin waistcoat, sapphire
cuff links, and spats. Grover Coone sat down in a chair next
to Lois's and announced that he was flying to Paris soon. Lois
moved her chair two inches away.
Bob Titson and Grover were discussing good restaurants in
Paris, when Lois said, "If people like Europe so much, why
don't they go and live over there? We can certainly get along
The Titsons glared at Lois, but said nothing; Grover Coone
drew himself up stiffly in his chair.
"I don't see why everyone who has a few thousand dollars
saved up runs off to Europe," Lois said. Lois leered at Grover
from the corners of her brown pop eyes.
"Don't talk nonsense," one of the Titsons said.
"Sometime when I've had a couple of drinks I'm going to
tell you a thing or two," Lois said, snapping her lips at the
"You don't go to those parties," Lois said to Bob Titson.
"You don't know those people. I don't see why you talk
about them all the time."
Lois's mentioning "those parties," "those people," caused
the world in Beverly Hills to seem like a planet that thousands
of persons lie the Dolans gazed at through a telescope. These
quarreling people, crowded into Lois's tiny living room, be-
gan to seem like small snarling animals, penned up together in
a cage. I rose from my chair and I staggered toward the door.
"Don't get up, Mr. Thayer!" Lois cried. "I'll get you
"Don't want another drink. Need some air," I said. I
managed to get out of the house before the Dolans, or Gladys
Hendrix, or the Titsons, or Grover Coone could stop me.
Angelica and George Martin had gone off into a bedroom.
I stumbled down twenty steps which led from Ocean Front
Road to the beach. When I reached bottom, I fell across a
stretch of dirty sand patched with beach grasses. I vomited on
a sand castle which some child had built. As I began to get
my breath, Lois appeared, carrying a mauve aluminum glass of
ice water. "Drink this," Lois said. "You'll feel better."
The late afternoon shadows seemed to soften Lois's pinched
face. As she stood gazing out at the Pacific, I could not help
but wonder if George Martin . . . No, I don't believe that
George would have laid a finger on Lois Dolan. The odd,
queer thing about George was his fetish for young, "nice"
girls. George Martin would not look at a woman under
twenty-five. It was because of this that he never became a
gigolo in Beverly Hills. He must have had plenty chances,
selling women's shoes there.
I took the glass from Lois and I drank the cold water. I
did not invite Lois to sit down, but she took a seat beside me
just the same, and her feet began to kick sand over where I
had been sick.
"Are you a friend of Angelica's husband?" Lois said.
"Sure, I know him. I don't know him well enough to squeal
about George Martin, if that's what you mean."
"I wasn't thinking that" she said. "I wouldn't want anyone
to hurt poor Mr. Wells. I think that it's very sweet of Angelica
to think of him first."
"What on earth are you getting at?"
"Why, the steel plate in his skull, the plate! That's the
only reason she won't divorce Mr. Wells and marry George.
Didn't you know about the plate? Didn't you know that he
was wounded in the head in the war? That's the only reason
Angelica won't file for a divorce."
I almost laughed out loud at poor Lois's believing that.
"She and George are so in love, Mr. Thayer. She told
George she couldn't live without him."
I stood up, and I started moving toward the steps. Lois
picked up the glass from the sand and followed me. "I wanna
go home," I said.
"You'll be all right," Lois said, "I'll make you some coffee."
When I reached the road, I headed toward Angelica's car,
but Lois grabbed my arm, pulling me through the door. In-
side the house Grover Cleveland Coone was playing a guitar
which had stood in a corner near Doc Dolan's chair.
Brown eye?, why are you blue,
Brown eyes, honest and true . . .
Angelica, who had returned from the bedroom, was heck-
ling George Martin, who had changed his clothes.
"You've been changing clothes ever since I met you,"
Angelica said. "Why don't you try to change your stupid
mind or do you have a mind? Do you? Do you?"
George Martin coughed; and he put his hands into his
pockets, and moved toward the kitchen,
"God knows you're a dumb so-and-so. Well, aren't you?"
George, pretending to ignore her remarks, began mixing a
"And you're too dumb to know how stupid you are. You
do know you're dumb, though, don't you, George? Dotft
George walked out of the kitchen, rattling ice cubes in his
highball glass. He took a long swallow. His red eyes looked
at her uneasily; his hand scratched at his crotch.
"I wish I wish I wish I'd never met you!" Angelica
flopped down on the sofa beside Gladys Hendrix and began
hunting for a cigarette in her purse. When she could not find
a cigarette, she looked up at us, watching her, then she burst
into tears. Not one person moved in the room. You heard
Angelica's pitiful little sobs and the roar of the waves.
Grover Coone took out a red silk handkerchief from his
coat pocket. "Here, Mrs. Wells," he said.
Before Angelica could take it, George Martin walked over
and snatched the handkerchief. "No girl of mine's goin' to
use a nigger's handkerchief."
Grover Coone's lips drew together proudly. He rose from
his chair to leave.
"I don't think you realize you're a nigger," George Martin
snarled, setting down his drink. He was drawing his large
hands into fists, moving toward Grover like some great tensed
animal. One fist grabbed Grover's black and red silk tie. "Do
you do you do you you black sonofabitch?"
"I think you've made me realize my color," Grover said,
with elaborate calm.
"Don't go getting smart with me, nigger!" George's free
fist swing into Grover's face like a club; it swung a second
time, a third, and a fourth,
Angelica screamed; then the Titsons sprang on George like
two brave dogs. One twin got a stranglehold around George's
throat; the other got a hold on one arm.
"Clear out of here, Grover!" they cried.
Blood spouted from Grower's nose and mouth onto Lois's
linoleum rug. Grover kneeled, picked up his silk handkerchief
from the rug, and held it to his nose. Leaving, he had tears in
"You aren't fit to lick George's shoes, don't you know
that?" Lois said.
Angelica grabbed her purse and fought her way to me; to-
gether we ran from the Dolans' house-
As I said, George Martin had thought Angelica wasn't
"nice"; and this had angered her, knocking her, I suppose,
with the same stinging, funny, aching sensation of bumping
one's elbow hard. For Angelica, if she was anything at all,
was "nice" in the way that George Martin meant.
She had had all the advantages in the world. She had been
reared among the well-mannered children in a city where
manners counted. She came from parents who cared very
much what other people said. Angelica took "niceness" for
granted, as though it were a freckle on her nose.
I shall not, however, go on and on saying that Angelica
was not downright common and bad. If you choose to believe
the spoiled childhood produced the rotten young woman, then
believe this, for the cold facts point it out. I myself cannot
help but feel more kindly. Looking back on that summer in
Beverly Hills, Angelica reminded me of a canary escaped into
a garden, flying from flower to fig.
Sunday night, for instance, she had told me how she would
never see George Martin again. We had driven to a high point
near the top of Coldwater Canyon when she had told me this.
Quivering like some badly shaken child, she had snuggled into
my arms. They did meet again, however, and I ought to have
known better than to have believed what Angelica had said.
Three nights later a telephone call from George Martin
awakened me. There had been a change in the weather. The
air felt as chill as New England's, and I lay sleeping beneath
two wool blankets. It was around one o'clock when George
Martin's call awakened me.
George Martin lay in pain in a room in the Good Samaritan
hospital, and he used a soft urgent tone of voice, trying to
arouse my pity. "I think you'd better come at once," he
groaned. "I was the one who was driving, and we were going
along Sunset, when this bus stopped suddenly, and before I
could put my foot on the brakes, we smashed right into it and
. . . Angelica's pretty badly hurt. When they pulled her out,
they thought she was a goner. I can't talk any more. I hurt
"How badly hurt?"
"Who, me? Oh, Til live, I'll live."
"Angelica!" I cried. "How is she hurt?"
"Concussion. Both arms broken. I don't know, I don't
know what else. They've got her in surgery now. Will you
"Yes, yes, I'll come."
"There wasn't anybody else I could call for her," he said.
I jumped out of bed, put on a suit over my pajamas, and ran
out to my car.
At Culvers' house only the office light burned. There the
young man who relieved Butch Murphy after ten kept a vigil
at the heart of the empire. I drove through the dull well-
groomed streets of Beverly Hills, deserted, shiny as glass after
their midnight bath.
When I arrived at the hospital, the square clock over the
desk said a quarter of two. The nurse at the reception desk
said, "Why, Mr. Wells! It's hardly been an hour since I spoke
with you in Montana!"
After I explained that I was not the husband, her mouth
opened disapprovingly. I said that I was a family friend.
"Mrs. Wells ought to be coming out of surgery soon," the
"Was she very badly hurt?"
"Well, she's in no small pain. I suppose such goings-on
always end badly for everyone."
I said nothing.
"I imagine that this* is going to be quite a blow to poor Mr.
I still said nothing. The nurse eyed me shrewdly, trying to
tell if I had known about Angelica and George Martin's affair.
Other nurses paused, glancing at me; and there were two
reporters and a camera man sitting in the waiting room.
"We were tipped off," one reporter said, "that this accident
spilled the beans about the boy-friend."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said.
"Did Mr. Wells ever meet George Martin?"
"You'd better ask Mr. Wells when he comes. Personally, I
think you're trying to get a story out of nothing."
"He's right," the other reporter said; "besides, what's an
assistant producer! I haven't met anybody yet who's ever
heard of this Laddie Wells."
"You're right," I said, as the reporters rose to leave, "he's not
important at all."
I never learned for certain who it was that tipped them off.
I wouldn't have put it past George Martin himself, who might
have thought that here was a chance of getting publicity. At
any rate, the story leaked out, and there was a fifty-fifty
chance that it would hit the Los Angeles papers before noon:
Producer's Wife, Lover in Crash.
In spite of the nurses seeming to know the circumstances,
Angelica and George Martin had been given adjoining rooms.
When they were rolling Angelica down the corridor to her
room, Lois Dolan came out to look. Lois Dolan stood just
outside George Martin's door, one arm akimbo at the waist
of a brilliant blue and green peasant skirt, her myopic eyes
popping out of her head. Oh, Lois looked triumphantly alive
and strong, as poor Angelica came rolling by. A sheet covered
Angelica's body up to her chin; a white dressing covered her
head. Her eyes were closed, and her skin had a bruised white-
They would not allow me to enter Angelica's room. The
rest of the night I waited outside her door, reading a detective
magazine given me by the nurse. Every twenty minutes or so
the nurse came out, saying that it would have been better if
she could have slept. Because of her concussion they would
not let her sleep, and she had to lie there quiet, conscious,
At around four I had words with Lois, Lois said that
George had not been drinking before the crash. I said nothing
to this. She stood before my chair, shifting her weight from
one leg to the other. Finally I said: "Don't you think you
ought to have him moved Into another room before Mr. Wells
comes?" Lois walked away angry, I suppose, because I hadn't
inquired about her George. George Martin had come through
all right a leg broken, two of those giant teeth knocked out.
When they rolled him out, moving him to another floor, the
rascal was reading a comic-book.
At around seven I saw Laddie Wells walking down the cor-
ridor, followed by a swift-gaited Jewish doctor. Laddie
brushed past me, going into Angelica's room with the doctor.
I still waited, hoping that Laddie would come out, so that I
could tell him what I knew about the accident. He never
came. He must have sat in a chair beside her bed for hours.
After I left the hospital, I telephoned the studio and his house,
trying to find him. Each time they said that he was with his
Toward the end of the second week I heard that Angelica's
arms were healing, that she had passed any real danger from
the concussion. My mother wrote that the O'Briens were not
going to fly to Beverly Hills. Though Angelica was healing,
her spirits were low. I went to the hospital every other day,
but Laddie was always there. Laddie would not speak of the
accident. Whenever I was there, he would stand by the win-
dow, gazing down at a marble statue of the Good Samaritan in
the hospital gardens. Once, as I came into the room, a priest
was saying a prayer for her; but she was not listening. She was
staring at pink water marks on the ceiling, that reminded her
of a badly burned face.
It must have been agony for both of them. During the two
weeks In the hospital they never spoke once of the accident
or of the stories that had come out in the papers. The papers
had even printed a photograph of Laddie with Mark Harris
and a star taken on a set during his first year in Hollywood,
Snide items about the accident had appeared in the gossip col-
umns. Laddie Wells practically lived in Angelica's hospital
room. All this time they kept their thoughts like hunks of
undigested food inside them.
On my last visit I saw their child for the first time. I had
pictured, I suppose, a three-year-old Angelica, a wild, spoiled,
enchanting little girl with dark curls and golden eyes. Little
Florence Wells, the child I saw in the doorway, clutching her
father's hand, was puny and plain. She had skin the color
of floor wax, legs and arms thin and knotty as bamboo cane.
Little Florence, when I was introduced to her, shrank back
timidly into her father's shadow and had to be pulled into the
room. At first, the child even shied away from Angelica, as
though she dared not show any emotion before a stranger.
When I turned to gaze out the window she flew to the white
hospital bed and began to claw the sheets. "You're so white,
Mummy darlin'," Little Florence whimpered, "that I had to
cry so buuuuteeeefulll and white like the angels." Laddie
brought a chair for the child to stand on, and she climbed up
and she stood there, chattering like a tiny old lady, about the
imaginary activities of her dolls.
I did not see Angelica again for several weeks. They
brought her home one Sunday not long after my visit, and
she spent another week in bed, nursed by Helga, the Swedish
woman. Soon, with both her arms in slings, she was able to
wander around the house.
The Wellses never did have any violent conclusive scene.
Laddie moved into the guest room, so that Helga could sleep
in the other twin bed near Angelica. Whenever Laddie came
in, she would avoid his eyes. Laddie bought a small television
set, and if Laddie came in to watch television she would stare
at his face in the dark. Oh, she must have composed a thou-
sand little speeches to say to him!
Helga telephoned me several times at the office and at my
rooms, and held the mouthpiece for Angelica to speak. The
newspaper stories must have upset her very much. Although
she assured me she didn't care a fig what anyone wrote or said,
she kept mentioning "the filthy Los Angeles press." One day
when we talked, she said: "It's two weeks now, Charley, that
I've been home, and he hasn't breathed a word about the acci-
dent. I'm going loony crazy if he doesn't say something."
She would plead with me to come to see her, when Laddie
I don't know how Angelica bore the first month. Helga
had to light her cigarettes and put them between her lips and
take them out; Helga had to hold glasses, and to feed her. It
was Helga, I suppose, who kept Angelica from losing her
The needling began the last Sunday of her first month at
home. They were stretched out on butterfly contour chairs;
she on one side of the pool, looking at the sky; Laddie, fully
clothed, on the other side reading the airmail edition of the
New York Times. All day they had not spoken.
"Why don't you put on your shorts?" Angelica said sud-
denly. "Why don't you get a tan? I can't stand the way
you're so pale."
"I didn't think you'd noticed," Laddie said.
"How could I help but notice? It's disgusting being so
white in California."
"I don't think you've any right to say what is and what's
not disgusting. You're lucky I allow you to live under the
same roof with the baby and me."
This started it; and although their needling each other must
have released some of the tension, I heard that Laddie had
stopped coming home evenings. I heard nothing of Angelica.
She suddenly stopped telephoning me; and I did not let myself
telephone her. For all that I knew she could have flown to
[GELICA'S ACCIDENT OCCURRED ON THE
:nty~eighth of April, 1950. Then for five weeks nothing
must go back to the Monday after the Culverses' big party;
^as then that I spoke with Culvers again on the telephone,
r. Culvers," I said, "when are we going to get together
ut the story for Life?' 9
You mustn't think I've forgotten about Life, Mr. Thayer."
vers went on to say how fond of me he was, how Mrs.
.vers and he wanted me to make their house my home. Oh,
spread it thick; and I, well, I was twenty-four and still
feved that I could twirl around my finger every other per-
in the world.
What about Friday afternoon at four?" I said.
Culvers said tkat that would suit him fine.
)n Friday morning, however, Butch Murphy telephoned
, changing our meeting to the coining Wednesday. When
idnesday came, Culvers begged off again. Mrs. Culvers
> not very well; he would get in touch with me soon. A
sk later Butch Murphy telephoned me at my rooms. Mrs.
[vers was well now; so we set a date for the coming Monday
ive o'clock. This Monday I received another basket of fruit
though not so grand an offering as the first one and a
card, putting me off until the next Monday. Thus, a month
went by and Culvers still had me sitting on a fence.
During that month except for the few days when Mrs.
Culvers was "ill" they gave six or seven dinners, a cocktail
party, and on Saturdays and Sundays there were the mobs
around the tennis courts and pool. I noticed that their im-
portance had risen with the columnists. One columnist, who
had called him "Oil-Can Culvers," switched to "King Cul-
vers." Another informed her readers of a colossal financial
empire, stretching from Newfoundland to Vera Cruz. There
was a story about Culvers and Patino plotting to corner the
tin market of the world; a story about Culvers tying in with
Nazis in Argentina to buy the Krapp Munitions Works.
Within a month's time there were so many fantastic stories
that many persons, including Jo- Ann Winters, believed that
this man, who in reality owned some oil lands and controlled
a dozen or so businesses around New Orleans, was one of the
richest men on earth. All this raised Culvers' stock with the
press. Columnists and reporters telephoned his house every
other day. Life began to wonder if Culvers was in contact
with another magazine.
"We're counting on you, Charley-boy," Frank Camp would
say each morning, passing my desk, "and they're counting on
you back in New York." With Culvers breaking appoint-
ments like snapping matchsticks, I began to worry myself sick.
On a Monday morning at the beginning of the fifth week I
telephoned Culvers' house, made another date to meet in the
afternoon at five. Around two I telephoned to check with
Life from Paramount, where I was interviewing Crosby. Jo-
Ann Winters told me the bad news. Culvers' secretary had
called five minutes before, canceling our date.
I dialed Culvers' number right away; Butch Murphy started
giving me a song and dance about the "meetings" going on.
"Look here. I've been standing by for nearly five weeks,
waiting to see Mr. Culvers. I've gotten myself out on a limb
about this story. Either he's going to keep an appointment
with me within the next few days or everything's off."
"Mr. Culvers was awfully sorry about today," Butch
"Cut out the sorry routine, Miss Murphy. What's his
"I don't think Mr. Culvers is playing any game. We have
reporters calling up here every day or so. He hasn't seen any
"He may not see them but plenty of stories are leaking out.
Stories just don't spring out of nowhere like rabbits. What's
his game, Miss Murphy? What's he trying to do in Beverly
Hills? What's his game with me?"
"Mr. Culvers's not the kind of man who wants to get his
name in the papers. Mr. Culvers's never had anything to do
with newspaper people until now. Mr. Culvers can't help
what they print about him. I happen to know that Mr. Cul-
vers's most anxious to see you again soon as the meetings
are over. The men have just arrived. The men fly out to the
meetings once a month, and our lives are turned inside out. Mr.
Culvers'll get in touch with you, Mr. Thayer, within the next
"Why did Mr. Culvers make an appointment with me when
he knew he wouldn't be able to keep it?"
For half a minute not a sound came from her.
"Miss Murphy, Miss Murphy, are you there?"
"You know what they say, Mr. Thayer; it's always darkest
before dawn." Then she hung up.
As it turned out, I was to see dawn, as Butch Murphy called
It, before the end of the day. I met two people, one of whom
was to give me information, which I have used, setting this
After the terrible thing happened and the lid was slammed
tight upon the case because of "lack of sufficient evidence"
and I do not know if I myself do want the lid opened the
man who gave me information warned me against setting this
down. I ought not to go poking around a powerful man's
closets, he said. I ought to let the thing become a Beverly
Hills old wives' tale.
That is exactly how I shall set this thing down. I shall
imagine myself by the side of some Beverly Hills fireplace, gas
logs burning blue; sipping sherry in a Steuben wineglass, sur-
rounded by Sandwich glass, pickled cobbler's benches,
chintzes; a Grandma Moses hanging above a Magnavox. And
I shall go on talking this thing out to some imaginary sympa-
I do not wish any real harm to come to any of them because
of this; and I do not think any harm will. The only witness to
the thing lies somewhere on the ocean floor of the Pacific off
Chile, drowned together with a fourteen-year-old Indian girl
he had seduced, swimming one night; his tough flesh by now
chewed away by sharks, and rotted and washed away from his
bones. Eleven months after he witnessed the "crime" and
seven months before he was to face his judgment, this
scoundrel, dressed up in purple linen shorts, sandals, and a
purple and rose madras cloth play shirt, walked up to me on
the beach at Acapulco and told me the whole incredible thing
that he had witnessed the early morning of September 22,
1950. I am speaking of George Martin, the women's shoe
salesman, Angelica's love, whose front teeth were knocked
out in the accident. Well, he was able to replace those teeth
before he died with the finest false ones money could buy. I
do not know why George Martin ever told me what he had
witnessed. I would guess that at that moment in a foreign
country, feeling rich and safe for the first time in his life, he
felt that he could afford to tell anything. Or perhaps every
man, sooner or later, must tell his story, as I must tell mine.
But I must not look back from the distance of time. I must
imagine how it was that summer, when at twenty-four, I was
seeing these people and Beverly Hills for the first time. I
must tell this thing as an old-fashioned story, as I saw it hap-
pening day by day, week by week, that summer in Beverly
Let me think where I was. Oh yes those two men I met.
Monte Rizo had been hired by Culvers to handle his public
relations in Beverly Hills. Culvers had met Rizo through
Flanegan, the Irishman who bossed Culvers' motion picture
enterprises. And Culvers had hired Rizo for the same reason
that he had hired all those third-rate bum screenwriters: be-
cause he could get Rizo cheap. Flanegan was always trying
to impress Culvers with the money he saved him. It was a
strange thing that Culvers, who had gone into the movie
business prepared to spend thousands making artistic, profitless
pictures, supported a pack of hacks and leeches who could not
have got jobs with any other outfit in town. Culvers was no
fool; yet he allowed himself to be most shamefully taken in
After I called Butch Murphy from Paramount, I drove back
to the Life office in Beverly Hills. I had no sooner sat down
before my desk than the receptionist announced that a Mr.
Monte Rizo wanted to see me in the foyer in connection with
the Olivers story; so I walked out and met Monte Rizo.
Monte Rizo was one of those dark-haired gangster types
you saw shooting about Hollywood in flashy yellow convert-
ibles. Rizo wore moccasins, a loud sport coat, and a shirt
opened at the neck, revealing a thick patch of blue-black chest
*Tm here about that story you're gonna do on Mr. Culvers,"
"What about it?"
"Well, I want you t' give me some idea what kind of story
this is gonna be, before we start workin' together."
"Sure. I handle all Mr. Culvers' publicity. Mr. Culvers
wants me to find out exactly what you're gonna say in the
"Look here," I said, "you'd better go back and tell Mr.
Culvers that as far as I'm concerned, there's not going to be
any story. I don't like the way he's acted with us. The story's
not that good."
Rizo said that he hadn't wanted to come to Life, that it
was Culvers' idea. Rizo said that he knew you couldn't high-
pressure a large outfit like Life. I said that I had a lot of work
to do that afternoon. Rizo said, "Let's shake hands and be
friends." After we shook hands, he pushed the elevator button,
and the elevator came at once and he stepped inside. I never
saw this Rizo again. He once telephoned me to give me a
piece of "friendly advice" when word got around that I was
writing a book. He frightened me neither time.
I do not believe that working for Culvers affected Rizo in
the least. Rizo picked up a check once a week for getting all
that vulgar publicity into the papers and spent a hunk of the
pay taking out hard, beautiful dumb girls to nightclubs; played
tennis on Sunday afternoons to keep fit; then Mondays came.
There were a lot of Rizos around Beverly Hills, as many Rizos
I left Life around five o'clock, went to my rooms, shaved,
showered, and changed into a dark blue suit. As I drove down
Cove Way at seven, I noticed a line of rented black limonsines y
fastened like great beetles in Culvers' drive.
This brings me up to Monday evening, when I met Riley
White. I had invited Jo-Ann Winters to have dinner with me
at La Rue, one of the most expensive restaurants in the world.
Jo- Ann, as ambitious as ever about getting into movies, had to
go to a dramatic class at nine; and we had nothing to celebrate.
There we sat, eating oysters Newburg, butterfly steaks, and
imported wine discussing the Culverses.
Most of Jo- Ann's notions about life could be traced to some
motion picture she had seen. JoAnn believed that Culvers
had dark underworld connections and was afraid of Life pok-
ing around. I laughed: "He's only showing me that he can
push* me around. He's just a new rich character, who wants
to make a splash before he dies. Did I tell you I met his pub-
licity agent this afternoon?"
"There's something spooky about it all," Jo- Ann said, start-
ing to paint her lips for dramatics class. Then at ten of nine
she left me with the remainder of the evening to kill.
I sat down at the bar at La Rue next to a man wearing a
white linen suit. He was a tiny man, barely five feet tall, in
his late fifties. He wore pince-nez, carried a large old-fashioned
gold watch, which he kept taking out of his watch pocket to
look at the time; and he had long pointed rabbit ears, with
tufts of white hair sticking out like wads of cotton. He had
that type of pale pink tissue-paper skin which gives you a
good look at all the blood vessels and veins.
When the man caught me staring, I turned my head away.
For five minutes I felt him watching me; then he shifted on
his stool and fixed his sad little eyes on a creme de menthe,
which a young woman was sucking down the bar. I paid no
more attention to him, until I overheard the bartender telling
the headwaiter that there was one of those rummies who cried
at the bar. When I looked again, the tiny man had removed
the pince-nez and was wiping his eyes with a handkerchief as
large as a tablecloth.
"Look," I said, touching the man's arm. "I'm going to take
a walk. You're welcome to come along."
The man pretended at first that he did not understand why
I had invited him. He tilted his tiny pink chin with affront.
Anticipating an unpleasant scene, I paid my check and walked
out to the street. Minutes later the tiny man, puffing and
hopping along, caught up with me, walking down the Sunset
"You're sure, sir, you won't mind me coming along?" he
asked, cocking his head. "If I do come along, I don't want
to be a bother to you."
"Oh, you're no bother to me," I said.
"Very well then," he said. He bent slightly with the sugges-
tion of a bow. The little man's exaggerated old-school man-
nerisms made me laugh.
Although no one in Beverly Hills ever walks, we walked
nearly -two miles that evening. The tiny man knew about the
heavens, and as we moved along Sunset, he told me that
according to an old Indian legend the sun, the moon, and the
stars were one big family. The sun was the great chief and
ruler of the heavens; the moon was his wife; and the stars were
his children. The sun had to eat his children to keep himself
alive. Every month his wife, the moon, grieved because the
sun ate some of the stars, and put black over her face to show
her sorrow. This gradually wore off, and by the end of the
month, the moon was bright again. "The stars are always
happy with the moon," Riley said, gazing up into the night
sky, "and they sing and dance as she passes among them.
After a time other star-children disappear, and she has to put
on mourning all over again. It is a happy moon tonight."
Then the tiny man wanted a cup of coffee, so we went
"By the way," he said, bowing again, "my name is Riley
I introduced myself and we shook hands. His hand felt as
delicate as Little Florence Wells's.
"It "wasn't too presumptuous of me, introducing myself, I
"Not at all," I said. Then I told him how his white Hnen
suit made me think of home.
Riley White made another little bow, acknowledging this.
He passed the sugar; I shook my head. He served himself
three large spoonfuls.
"I don't enjoy my trips to California," he said, " if you'll
forgive my saying so. I live in New Orleans, and New Or-
leansians are like Bostonians. We don't really care for any
other city in the world if you'll forgive us that."
I told him how I had been born and reared in Louisiana too.
"But 7 wasn't born there," he said. "I'm a Virginian by
birth. I went to New Orleans to work for a young man I
met at the University. One might say that I have been in his
pay since the day we met."
Riley White smiled rather cynically, showing a mouthful
of small nicely formed teeth, decaying around the gums.
Speaking, the tiny man used a whole bag of tricks.
"Now the young man's become a rich old man, and I have
had to fly to California twelve times a year. Perhaps you
even know of my boss Clarence Culvers?"
I spat a mouthful of coffee on the counter. Riley White
handed me his handkerchief, and after I had wiped up the
mess, I told him how Culvers had behaved about Life; how
Culvers acted so pleasant to my face, and broke dates as if he
were the emperor of Rome.
"But Clarence has been acting that way all his life," Riley
White said, daintily stirring his coffee. I have forgotten about
Riley's Panama hat. He always wore a wide-brimmed Panama
hat in spring and summer, and this hat had a narrow black
band. He wore soft, costly handmade shirts of the lovely
pastel shades, and black silk bow ties as thin as ribbons. You
can imagine how the blue-jeaned crowd in Schwabs stared at
this overpolite tiny man in his costume. While we sat there, a
young woman with a six-inch pompadour told her soldier that
she remembered having seen Riley in Gone With The Wind.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Thayer, Clarence has always played the em-
peror of Rome."
Somehow, this surprised me. As I said, I had thought of
Culvers as making a killing late in life, now throwing his
money around to make a splash. I told Riley this.
"No," Riley said, "that was Clarence's father. The father
was the rough diamond. Owned a small hardware store up-
state, near Shreveport, and one day sold his store, went into
the oil business with a man named Frosting. They brought in
the Roseana field. You've heard of the Roseana field. Well,
the father made a small killing in oil and started buying up
timber lands. He quadrupled his money in timber, and moved
his wife and only son, Clarence, down to New Orleans.
Bought a great big Tudor-style mansion on St. Charles, that
had a pipe organ on the stair landing, and a sprinkler system.
The father keeled over dead on the stairway one evening,
while Clarence was a senior at the University of Virginia.
Left Clarence and his mother two and a half million dollars.
Oh yes, during the last years of his life the father served two
terms as representative in Washington. Came to Charlottes-
ville once or twice to call on Clarence. I never saw the old
"But I did know Clarence's mother. She had a voice so soft
that you thought you were listening to the wind. Once upon
a time she had been a schoolteacher. I don't know how her
pupils ever understood a word. When I knew her, she was
giving musicals and play-readings in the big house on St.
Charles. Used to entertain herself playing Baptist hymns on
the pipe organ.
"And once she allowed the Baptist orphans to hold a picnic
on her lawns, and Clarence, the devil, turned on all the
sprinklers. Those poor orphans got drenched as river rats.
Do you know what the old lady did? She bought a new out-
fit for every single child. Never scolded Clarence with one
"What was Mr. Culvers like at the University?" I said.
"Why, much the same as he is now. Clarence had more life
then, of course, and was always playing the most elaborate
practical jokes on his professors. Clarence did the pranks to
the boys like him. Clarence was never popular with the
boys, you see. He was one of those large clumsy young men
who want to be the whole show.
"Let me tell you how Clarence and I became friendly. It
was about thirty years ago. Clarence, who had political ambi-
tions in those days, prided himself on his oratory. He could
roll words and phrases like a hard-shell Baptist preacher, and
he would beat his fists, and shake his fingers, and rant and rave
in that high-pitched voice for hours on end. Well, I was the
one teamed against Clarence in the big debate in Government
class. In those days I was going to become a trial lawyer.
Dreamed of saving poor devils from hanging, all that kind of
thing. Well, I walloped old Clarence, and after the judges
announced that I had won, the whole class stood up and
cheered and clapped and picked me up and carried me around
the classroom on their shoulders. When all the hullabaloo had
died down, Clarence had fled. Do you know what Clarence
did? He walked over to my rooms that evening and he invited
me to go into Charlottesville with him for dinner. Clarence
bought me the largest, juiciest steak I'd ever tasted, my first
real French champagne. Imagine Clarence doing all this, Mr.
Thayer, after I had made such a fool of him before the whole
"Don't you ever underrate Clarence Culvers for one minute.
Look at me! Look at the boy who everyone thought would
become the most famous trial lawyer in the country. I suppose
I brought Clarence the greatest humiliation he ever suffered
in his life. And look at me, Mr. Thayer. Clarence's been my
boss ever since the day."
"What about the first wife?" I said, "and the son?"
"Both of them are very nice," Riley said. "Etta Culvers was
just a pretty country girl with a peaches and cream com-
plexion, who worked in a lunchroom in Jackson, Mississippi.
Clarence married her right after the first war. Today when
Etta Culvers steps out of her long black Cadillac, people bow
and scrape to her, and this ticldes her pink. Etta's finally made
the grade with the crowd that always bored Clarence to death.
"The son's a pleasant well-mannered young man, normal
as apple pie.
"But let me tell you who holds Clarence's heart." Riley
picked up a knife that lay on the counter; and he held up five
fingers and pretended to chop away the thumb, the first finger,
the second, and the third, until only the little finger stood.
"Clarence loves the tip of Carol's little finger, more than all
the rest of the world.
"Why, he's gone into the movie business to make her a star.
Wants to make her as famous as Coca-Cola. Wants her to
become a great lady out here. Wants to make her a queen.
That's why they give all those parties. That's why Clarence
has hired a publicity agent. That's why Clarence has the big
house, and the pool, and the tennis courts, and the servants.
Clarence never cared about seeing his name in the papers.
Clarence hated Etta Culvers' parties. It's for Carol, man. All
of this Hollywood foolishness is for Carol. Clarence wants to
give poor Carol the world.
"That's why Clarence keeps stalling yon, Mr. Thayer.
Clarence doesn't want anything written about Carol that
people would laugh at. Now, don't you understand it, man?"
I told Riley how in the beginning Culvers had practically
told me all this himself.
"Then Clarence told you the truth, and you ought to have
recognized the truth. That girl's his sun and his moon and his
stars and if any harm ever came to that girl, It would kill
Clarence! 7 '
After we left Schwabs we walked down Sunset and La
Cienega under the starry night sky. The legend of the un-
happy moon and the sun that ate little stars came to my mind.
The legend fitted the Culverses as close as a glove.
We rode in a taxi back to where I had parked my car.
Riley climbed inside the car, settled himself grandly upon the
plaid upholstery, and said: "Now we'll go to Clarence's
house. 111 put you in Clarence's good graces."
"I don't think Mr. Culvers wants to see me," I said.
"Don't argue, Mr. Thayer. Hurry along to Clarence's,"
Riley said, gazing out at the sleepy, velvet streets of Beverly
When we turned into Cove Way, lights burned in every
window of Culvers' mansion. The other houses, where
families were asleep, looked peaceful and still
AS WE ENTERED THE SMALL OFFICE IN THE
left wing of the house, Butch Murphy, lolling in the swivel
chair, suddenly straightened like a roused watchdog. And Mrs.
Culvers Carol thumbing through the Saturday Evening
Post, bounced up from a leather chair beside a filing cabinet.
"Well, well! Where the hell have you been?" Carol cried,
throwing her arms around Riley's neck.
Carol wore blue slacks and a cheap little rayon blouse,
pinned at the neck with a blazing cluster of diamonds and
rubies. The dark roots of her platinum hair showed, and there
were half -moon circles under the doll eyes. As she hugged
Riley, she faced me with embarrassment.
"Jesus, Mr. Thayer I mean Charley " she said, her
hand going to her mussed curls. "You certainly caught me
looking a sight!"
Riley said how much he had enjoyed talking to me, and 1
said how we had met at La Rue and gone for a walk. The doll
eyes, as we spoke, went from Riley to me. She kept saying,
"Uh-huh, uh-huh"; but I was never certain about whether she
believed my story. She half acted as though she suspected that
little Riley had been tricked by Life.
Meanwhile, Butch Murphy, good watchdog that she was,
had stolen out of the office to inform Culvers.
"Have a seat," Carol said to Riley. "You shouldn't have let
those louses get you in a huff today. Do like I do, honey."
Suddenly, Carol stuck out her tongue. "That's what you
ought've done to them this afternoon."
We laughed; then Riley asked how she had entertained
herself that day.
"Well, Butch and I went shopping for some pure white
parakeets. I thought it would be sort of cute to have some
pure white parakeets up in my bedroom, which is practically
pure white too. But we couldn't find any, except a pair in
Westwood that were so old they couldn't control their bowels.
"So I gave up the idea of parakeets and we went to Robin-
sons to look at evening dresses. I found a peach satin one,
exactly like one Lana Turner wore in The Three Musketeers.
Then we came on back here and found everybody upset over
how you had just walked out of the meetings the louses. I
couldn't go anywhere else because Clarence thought I needed
to rest, so "
Carol stopped speaking. Culvers now stood frowning in the
doorway, his long iron-colored hair tangled and frowsy, like
some old animal's. He was wearing old brown slippers and a
green velvet smoking jacket, whose pockets were stuffed with
pieces of blue notepaper Culvers' personal memoranda of
the meetings. Behind Culvers in the hall stood a strapping
young Irishman, rather thick under the chin. I guessed that
this was Culvers' henchman, Bill Devlin of whom Riley had
told me; behind Devlin, a sea of faces, each face wearing
glasses. These men I took to be the other directors. They
were loping up now, more and more of them, like tired old
cows, to get a look at the one that had returned to the fold.
"Look who's back, Clarence! " Carol cried, skipping over to
RHey's chair, hugging Riley. "Isn't it grand, Riley's back? 5 *
Looking directly at me, Culvers still frowned. Riley noticed
the frown, and said: "Mr. Thayer didn't want to come here
tonight, Clarence, but I insisted. He's been very kind to me
this evening, Clarence. Mr. Thayer's a fine young man."
Culvers walked over and shook hands with me. "Well, Mr.
Thayer/' Culvers said, "I see we've finally gotten together."
I didn't say anything.
"Please make yourself at home, Mr. Thayer," Culvers said.
Then Culvers faced Riley, who slumped in the leather chair,
staring into space. "Riley, could you please come into the
library with me for a moment?" Culvers walked out of the
ofSce as a path was cleared for him through the herd of
bespectacled men; then Riley stood up and followed his old
"Each one wants me to influence Clarence to Ms way of
thinking," Carol said, with an air of childish importance.
Butch Murphy chuckled. Carol shot her a look of malevo-
lence. "Now what are you cackling about?" Butch Murphy,
starting to make some list, did not reply.
Carol picked up the Saturday Evening Post and showed me
a photograph of the Windsors. "The Post is getting awfully
social, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes," I said. "They'll be wanting to do a story on you
"Certainly," I said. "You're the most talked about party-
giver in Beverly Hills. Didn't you know that?"
Carol laughed. "No kidding?"
"Yes," I said, "you're getting famous." When I asked how
they went about planning such grand affairs, she flounced out
of her chair, went to a green metal filing cabinet, and started
pulling out drawers, containing hundreds of small white cards.
"These are the musical people," she said, running her finger
through the cards. "When we want to have a musical crowd
Jeannette AiacDonald, and opera singers, and composers
we just look through this drawer and pick out thirty or forty
names. Then Miss Murphy sends out a bunch of telegrams.
We even have names of nice single men who just appreciate
She pulled out an "Intellectual" drawer; a "Strictly Social"
drawer; an "Interesting People" drawer explorers, big-
game hunters, senators, Ruth Draper, Ali Khan; and finally,
the small drawer which contained the names and addresses of
Hollywood creme de la creme.
"Who decided who's cream and who's not? " I laughed.
"I wouldn't know," Carol said seriously. "But I'll find out
if you want me to."
"I wouldn't want you to go to any trouble," I said.
"For a great big party, Butch Murphy sends out telegrams
to just about every name in the file, and all those people arrive
with dozens of others."
Carol passed a box of Whitman's chocolates; I took out the
"Where on God's earth did you get so many names and
addresses and numbers?"
"Oh, there's a lady in Beverly Hills who makes her living
supplying lists of people to be invited to parties."
Carol pushed the drawers back into the olive-drab file,
walked to the desk, snatched the list Butch Murphy was mak-
ing, glanced at it, handed it back. Butch Murphy did not bat
The telephone rang. Butch Murphy placed her hand over
the receiver, saying that it was Mrs. Culvers' mother calling;
she waited for Carol's reaction. Carol shook her platinum
curls from side to side; Butch Murphy told the mother that
Mr. and Mrs. Culvers had gone to bed.
Not long after this a buzzer sounded. After Butch Murphy
had picked up the telephone and listened, she walked out into
the hall. The office suddenly seemed as peaceful and as still
as Forest Lawn. You could hear crickets chirping; down by
the marble swimming pool a bullfrog croaked.
"Do you enjoy the meetings?" I said.
"Oh, they're all right," Carol sighed, swinging a pair of
dark glasses in a circle. "Of course sometimes they're pretty
interesting just like going to a gangster picture. Everybody
double-crosses and triple-crosses everybody else. All of them
play up to me while they're in Beverly Hills. When they go
back to New Orleans they play up to Etta Culvers and the
son. If you want to know the truth, it's just a bunch of louses
battling bedbugs. I could flush all of 'em down the toilet and
never miss a one."
Suddenly Carol lost hold of the dark glasses. The glasses
smashed into a hundred tiny dark green pieces on the floor.
"Oh, Lord! " Carol cried, her wide eyes growing wider. "Now
I'll have to explain in detail to Clarence just how they broke!"
Using my handkerchief I helped her sweep the pieces into
a manila envelope, which she sealed, then placed in a drawer
in the desk used by Tommy Meek, the other secretary. "I
have six other pairs," she explained. "Maybe he'll never find
"I don't think he'll find out," I said.
"I have to explain everything I do. Isn't it boring? Danny
went down to Laguna one week end and brought me back a
silly little water pistol. One morning I hid behind the bath-
room door, while Clarence was taking* his steam bath. When
Clarence came out, red as a boiled crab, I jumped out and
aimed the water pistol at his navel Clarence nearly fell over
dead thought I was really going to kill him.
"Well, by the time I got through explaining how I had got
the damned water pistol, and so forth, and so forth, and so
forth, I was ready to flush the damned thing down the toilet."
Joseph came carrying a pyramid of little ham and rat-cheese
sandwiches on a magnificent silver plate. He set the plate
down beside Carol, who took a sandwich from the top of the
"Whatever happened to that young producer you were
going to bring here?" Carol said, biting into the sandwich.
"Clarence Clarence was anxious to get in touch with him."
"I haven't seen Laddie Wells in about five weeks," I said.
"He's not a producer, anyway. He's an assistant producer."
"That doesn't matter. Why don't you introduce him to us> "
"If you want to know the truth, we're not very friendly
"We just aren't, that's all."
"I saw his picture in the Mirror, when his wife was in the
accident," Carol said.
At twelve-fifteen Butch Murphy came back; she said that
Mr. Culvers was going to show his picture. Carol sat cross-
legged in the tan leather chair, still munching sandwiches.
"Oh, Jesus," Carol giggled. "Why does he want to inflict
"Is it that bad?"
"Oh, no, Charley," Carol said, the doll eyes narrowing, "It's
really a wonderful picture." Carol began to tell about her
husband's having gone wild over Maugham's Quartet, and
wanting to make an American Quartet, starring her. She told
me that Clarence Culvers was one of the most brilliant men
in the world.
I said nothing
"He is; Clarence Is that, no kidding. Clarence knows what's
I still said nothing. One of the faults of my character Is
that I cannot listen to refrigerator salesmen expounding their
views of modern art; or society women, on books. I like
squares fine as long as they stay in their own territory. When
Carol spoke about Culvers' hatred of modem art, modern
books, modern music, I just sat there bearing it all in silence,
as I used to put up with those businessmen out at the Miro
Country Club running down Harvard and New York. "Why
don't you go into your dad's insurance business, Charley-
boy? Miro's growing, man! Miro's going to be the third
biggest city in the state!" If they'd just left me alone, I
wouldn't have minded. But they brought up the subject of
Harvard and New York every time they saw me, because, I
suppose, I stood for a lot of things they did not understand,
and hence could not like.
In many ways, Culvers was one of them. Culvers was built
on a grander scale, that was all. Culvers had broken away from
the "little woman," and had fallen in love again. Nevertheless,
in spite of all his fabulousness, Culvers deep-down was a
square, and was suspicious and contemptuous of what he could
not readily understand. Carol's seriousness did not come off,
but Carol was no opinionated square.
I don't know what one could set Carol down as. Here was
this perfectly beautiful young woman, full of fun and life,
married to a wealthy older man who wanted his sweetheart to
become the sweetheart of the whole world. . . .
By one o'clock Butch Murphy had located a man to operate
Culvers' projector: a red-eyed creature in a shabby green suit,
glad to get work, who told us that he had come to this house
in the old days to run pictures for Jean Harris. This pleased
Carol, and she stuffed the man's pockets with sandwiches.
After Butch Murphy showed the man the way to the pro-
jector, Culvers came looking for Carol. This time Culvers
acted more pleasant toward me; I suppose Riley had told him
I was fond of Carol, or something. Culvers wanted to know if
Joseph had served me a drink. I said that I would like a scotch
and water; and he rang the buzzer for Joseph to come.
While I waited for my drink, the men wandered outside in
the hall, probably composing praises for the picture they were
about to see. Then Riley came. Riley looked like an elf who
had had the spirit knocked out of him. Riley's lips were ar-
ranged in a polite little artificial smile. Fie took a seat in Butch
Murphy's swivel chair, folding his tiny hands. "I hope you
haven't been too bored," he said in an undertone.
"We've had quite a time," I said. I caught Riley's eyes, but
the eyes gave no hint of what had taken place with Culvers.
Butch Murphy came back and telephoned Flanegan's apart-
ment two or three times; then I heard Culvers' high-pitched
voice announcing that we would go ahead and see the picture
without Flanegan. Clutching Carol's hand, Culvers led the
procession out of the office down the hall to the pea-green and
gold room. There, three rows of gilt side chairs had been
arranged before an enormous blank screen. Culvers and Carol
occupied two plush armchairs in the center of the first row.
I was assigned a gilt chair next to Carol's, and Riley White, a
chair beside his old friend's. The lights went out.
The picture, based on one of Maupassant's poorer short
stories, lasted around sixty-five minutes far too long. The
camera work was undistinguished; the dialogue trite; the
realism, which could have given the trick story a credibility,
was old-fashioned and weak. As I have said, it was too long
and drawn out. Culvers had had the girl's part blown up in
order to show off his wife.
On the other hand, the picture had some nice touches. For
instance, while the girl dresses herself in patched finery to go
to the Duchess's ball, a mouse, just before nibbling cheese in
a mousetrap, pauses to gaze at her. There was one other nice
touch: as Carol enteres the ballroom, you are watching her
through a gross dowager's lorgnette.
You had the feeling that a person of taste could have brought
it off. The director, aiming to get a straight performance out
of Carol, had changed her into an ordinary pretty-girl. Carol's
performance in the picture was so poor that it made you em-
barrassed for her. When the lights were turned on, we all just
sat there, staring at the huge blank screen.
Carol saved the day. "Give us our money back! We want
our money back, Clarence!" she called out, laughing; and, of
course, we laughed too. Then the men, all but Riley, walked
forward, praising the picture. Culvers ignored their praises.
Culvers' eyes were fixed on Riley White, who sat expression-
less, still as a church mouse, in the chair next to him.
"What did you think?" Culvers said.
"I liked two or three bits very much," Riley said.
Riley had liked the same touches I had liked. When Culvers
looked at me, I backed up Riley's opinion. Culvers nodded
several times, and said, "The director was clever there, wasn't
he?" The men, standing around us, looked bewildered. The
men hadn't thought the mouse was so important. They began
to talk all at once about the mouse; but Culvers wasn't listen-
ing. Culvers' cold gray eyes, looking at Carol, had got a curious
"What did you think of the picture, Carol?" Culvers said.
"You know what I think," Carol said, smiling at Culvers
like some sweet, lovely child.
"Then that's all that matters," Culvers said, rising.
We began to file out of the green and gold room into the
hall. The men, anxious to get to bed, stood near the front door,
talking in undertones. Riley White stood in the center of the
hail, making his short bows to each of the men leaving.
"Why don't you come over tomorrow, Charley?" Carol
"I thought Mr. Culvers was afraid of Life?"
"Did Riley teU you that?"
"I don't remember who told me, but that's what I've heard."
"Don't you believe it, Charley. You come over here as much
as you like." She took out a Kleenex from the pocket of her
slacks and blew her nose. "Are we really going to be in Life,
Charley?" When I nodded, she giggled and moved, as though
she were about to clap her hands; then she bounced off toward
the office to get another Kleenex.
The men got into the limousines hired for them, and one by
one the large black cars growled and stole away. Riley
White walked with me to my car. The grounds were floodlit
that night, even the marble statues and the orange trees. The
place looked like a palace out of the Arabian Nights.
"Isn't this preposterous?" Riley said. "Whenever I think of
California, I cannot help picturing this preposterous place of
"This isn't the real California," I said, stupidly. "By the
way, how did things go tonight?"
"It's too late to talk about me," Riley said; he moved toward
the columned portico. "I'll see you again sometime. ..."
I started the motor. I saw Riley's tiny chest inhale a deep
breath of strong California night air; then, drawing himself
together, he walked into the house.
I heard much later that Culvers stripped Riley White of his
powers that night. Riley White would continue to draw his
huge salary, but was made weak and impotent in the organiza-
tion, as through the years he had become in life.
ALL THIS HAPPENED ON A MONDAY NIGHT.
Wednesday afternoon a telegram was delivered to me at Life:
"Please come for dinner at eight o'clock tonight if possible.
There will be no one else. Your Friend, Carol Culvers."
At eight o'clock that evening during the first week in June
I crossed Cove Way and walked up the drive. Their roses
were in bloom and a summer wind stirred the branches of
the palm trees; the house and grounds were lit up like Coney
At nine o'clock the three of us Culvers, Carol, and I
were seated at a fourteen-foot Chippendale table that had been
specially made for them in Grand Rapids. In the center of the
table, beneath an intricate crystal chandelier lit with orange-
pink globes, a cattleya orchid bloomed in a Mexican silver urn,
decorated with cupids and bull horns. The urn had been given
Culvers by the President of Mexico. There also stood on the
table two large silver-gilt candelabra; four Meissen peacocks;
and a splendid silver meat dish that had once belonged to
Alexander II. With all this grandeur we used paper -napkins,
because Culvers manufactured Sweetheart paper napkins; and
we used lime-green plastic pepper-and-salt shakers that came
from Woolworth's. The house was full of cheap little objects
which Carol went ont and bought on her afternoon shopping
trips through the stores of Beverly Hills.
The dining room was Hollywood-English. Its high walls
were of rafted dark brown leather, in spots water-stained and
cigarette-burned; and it had the odor of a saddle room. At one
end was a huge mahogany breakfront, whose lighted shelves
held Carol's collection of Toby jugs; at the other end was a
carved walnut fireplace ten feet taU, which burned great gas
Culvers wore a short-sleeved shirt of sarong cloth, which
made his heavy hairless gray-white arms look pale as death.
Carol wore white sharkskin slacks, a mauve silk blouse, a
diamond bracelet, white leather sandals, and had pinned a
gardenia in her platinum curls. Each time Joseph passed food,
crystals tinkled in the chandelier, Carol would look up. This
annoyed me, for I had finally maneuvered Carol into talking
about herself. Every time she looked at the chandelier she
would make some silly remark, which made me afraid that
she would change the subject. She had started telling me about
her dead father, to whom she had been "deeply, deeply de-
"My daddy was an electrician," Carol said, chewing a
mouthful of au gratin potatoes.
"Your father was an electrical engineer," Culvers inter-
rupted, catching her eye.
"Oh, yes, an electrical engineer. Clarence is right."
"Carol was so young," Culvers explained to me. "Carol was
only twelve when he died."
"Anyway," Carol said, "Daddy was wonderful. We lived
in St. Louis in a little stucco house on a street with arbor-vitas,
and I was the only child. I took dancing lessons, singing les-
sons, and lessons in speech elocution. Daddy always wanted
me to grow up and be like Shirley Temple."
"Carol's father was a very cultured man," Culvers inter-
rupted. "Carol's father had an appreciation of music."
"That's right!" Carol exclaimed, her doll eyes rounding, as
the daddy's stature rose.
"There was an upright piano in the living room next to
Daddy's armchair, and every afternoon when Daddy came
home from work, he would ask me to go to the piano and
play 'Glow, Little Glowworm, Glimmer, Glimmer.' Every-
time I hear 'Glow, Little Glowworm' I think of Daddy "
Joseph entered; Carol stopped speaking as the chandelier's
crystals tinkled. Culvers coughed for her to go on.
"Well, Daddy died," Carol said, serving herself a slice of
rare roast beef. "Daddy was burned crisp as bacon up on a
pole during a lightning storm. It was awful, and Sweetheart
that's my mother wouldn't allow me near Daddy's coffin
when we went to the funeral home."
Culvers coughed. "Are you sure about the way he died?"
"Why, sure I'm sure," Carol said. "Ask Sweetheart if you
don't believe me. Ask Sweetheart."
Although Carol had spoiled Culvers' "electrical engineer"
theory, after dinner we sat in the library, .where I had to
examine papers tracing her father's family back to a Duke of
Northumberland. Culvers also showed me sketches for a
portrait of the electrician that a Beverly Hills artist had been
commissioned to do. Culvers told me a yarn about Carol's
father's family owning a great castle in Salisbury. While I sat
examining all the papers he showed me, Carol whispered to
Culvers: "What did I say that was so wrong?"
"Be quiet," Culvers said.
"Oh, go stick your head down the toilet," Carol mumbled;
she sat there, pouting.
Butch Murphy came shortly after this, telling Culvers that
Mrs. Culvers' mother had arrived, and was waiting in the office
with a friend.
"I don't see why you're telling him" Carol said, glaring at
Butch Murphy. "It's not his mother. And don't have my
mother waiting in the office like a common salesman, for
Butch Murphy walked back to the office to invite the
mother into the house.
At this time I didn't know very much about Carol's rela-
tionship with her mother. There was a story, told around
Beverly Hills, that the mother had forced Carol to marry
Culvers. Now the mother was not welcome at Culvers' house.
The mother, Mrs. Frank A. Vadnum or rather, Mrs.
Marie Vadnum she was called, for Carol's stepfather had
deserted them in Chicago had dyed golden-blond hair,
which she wore in a glamour bob; a straight forceful nose;
and heavy-lidded, passionate blue eyes. She had prominent
cheekbones, painted so heavily with rouge that it looked as
though a candle burned inside her skull. She wore a black
crepe dress, a silver fox jacket, which was a present from
Carol; a bulbous modernistic gold watch; a microscopic dia-
mond solitaire, which had been her engagement ring from
Carol's father, the electrician. She looked, I suppose, exactly
as one would have expected a beauty operator to look, whose
only daughter had married a millionaire.
As Butch Murphy conducted her down the marble hall to
the library, Mrs. Vadnum took easy careful steps, as though
she was afraid of slipping on the marble and disgracing herself.
Her friend Mrs. Gladys Hendrix, whom I had met at the
Dolan's, was decked out in black crepe and yellow fox. Gladys
Hendrix followed at a distance, puffing.
We had walked just outside the tall library doors.
"Hello, Baby," Mrs. Vadnum said, reaching Carol. They
held each other for a moment like two sisters who had quar-
reled. Culvers watched, his heavy old face frowning with
disgust. How he must have hated Marie Vadnum's visits, this
mother who gave the lie to the fine background he had con-
cocted for his wife.
"Why, Sweetheart!" Carol said. "You look just grand!"
Marie Vadnum and I were introduced; then I said hello to
Gladys Hendrix. Carol must have imagined that a Harvard
man had only acquaintances among blue-bloods. She seemed
surprised that Gladys Hendrix and I knew each other. "Did
you already know Charley? " Carol asked.
"Oh, yes, sugar," Gladys Hendrix said, chuckling. "Mr.
Thayer and I have mutual friends together." Then Gladys
Hendrix turned toward me. "Well I never . . . what are you
doing here?" Then without waiting for an answer, she said:
"Marie took dinner with me at my apartment and I was sur-
prised to death when she told me that she hadn't seen Baby in
a week or more. So I just told her to march right on out here.
"Well I never . . . What are you doing? Getting material?"
"If you want to call it that," I said.
"I thought you were coming to take dinner with me, so that
I could tell you a few things," Gladys Hendrix said, winking
Then Gladys Hendrix turned toward Culvers, who still
wore an expression of agony. "Why, Clarence!" she ex-
claimed. "Where did you ever get such a darling shirt?"
Culvers said that one of his men had bought it in Honolulu.
"Well I never ..." Gladys Hendrix chuckled. "Say, Marie!
Get a load of Clarence's hula shirt! "
Mrs. Vadnuin said that it was just too darling for words.
We began to move toward the drawing room, Joseph
marching ahead of us switching on a chandelier and half a
dozen lamps. The Culverses sat down on a plush gilt sofa
beneath a fake tapestry depicting Adam and Eve.
Mrs. Vadnum asked Culvers how he was; Culvers said that
he was fine. Then Culvers asked Mrs. Vadnum how she was;
and she was fine. During these exchanges, Gladys Hendrix,
looking back and forth from Mrs. Vadnum to Culvers to Mrs.
Vadnum, crossed and uncrossed her legs. I was thinking how
differently it had all turned out from what Mrs. Vadnum had
expected, for Culvers plainly despised Mrs. Vadnum. Culvers
sat there, Ms thin lips turned down, holding long breaths, as
though he were smelling rotten fruit.
To please Carol, Culvers suggested that we have cham-
pagne; Gladys Hendrix and Mrs. Vadnum said that that would
be very nice. It must have pleased Carol, indeed, for she
leaned over and kissed Culvers' cheek and said, "Ummmmm."
Culvers rang a buzzer on the marble-topped table beside the
sofa. Joseph came.
"We would like some champagne, Joseph," Culvers said.
Joseph bowed and walked out of the room, as though he
understood everything. Minutes later Joseph came carrying
glasses, monogrammed C. C. C. in gold. While Joseph poured
the champagne, Culvers asked Mrs. Vadnum how she liked
her new apartment.
"It's just as attractive as it can be, Clarence. Today I bought
myself a pair of boudoir lamps with figurines of a little Dutch
boy and girl. They look just lovely on either side of my bed.
Didn't you think my lamps were cute, Gladys?"
Gladys Hendrix said that she'd never seen cuter lamps any-
After we had had champagne, Culvers grunted twice, then
excused himself. Whenever Mrs. Vadnum came, Culvers
excused himself, went into the library, and closed the door.
Carol invited her mother to come upstairs to see her new
"Well, Mrs. Hendrix, have you seen the Dolans lately?" I
said, when we were alone in the room.
"The Dolans are just fine," Gladys Hendrix said. "Of
course, Lois says that George Martin's career is simply ruined
because of those teeth being knocked out. But they're fine.
Doc bought Lois a television set, and they invited me out last
Sunday, but of course I didn't want to go out by myself. The
Titsons and the Dolans have fallen out. That makes things
hard for me. What about Mrs. Wells your friend? I could
have died when I picked up the paper and read about the
accident. Well I never ..."
I said that I had not seen Angelica in a long time.
"She certainly got the worst of it. Personally, I hope she
drops George Martin like a hot potato. I'm inclined to agree
with the Titsons about George, even though Lois is a friend
of mine. I just can't understand why Lois lets George Martin
keep on living there."
I said nothing to this; then Gladys Hendrix said, "I thought
you were going to get in touch with me."
"I will," I laughed, "if you'll talk."
"Tdk? Talk about what?"
"You know what?*
"You mustn't ever mention what I told you." She glanced
toward the tall double doors opening into the hall.
"But you didn't tell me anything."
"Didn't I? Well, I can't remember if I did or not. I re-
member I told you to call me. I "
I said that I was the kind of person who could keep some-
thing to myself.
"I'll tell you about Carol Culvers. I know plenty too, be-
lieve you me. She still telephones me all the time. But I
wouldn't want to be the one to hurt Marie."
"Why, he might cut off Marie's allowance. He's very nice
about Marie, you know; and besides, Mr. Thayer, I wouldn't
want to get Clarence mad at me. Clarence has always been
nice to me.
"The Doctor, my late husband, hated people who talked too
much. The Doctor never, never told me anything. Why, I
never even knew he had a brother living in Miami Beach, who
painted china cups and plates, until this man wrote me after
the Doctor died, asking for money. What do you think of
I said that the Doctor must have been a sensible man.
"The Doctor was; the Doctor was" she sighed; then mak-
ing a face, Gladys Hendrix drained the last drop of champagne
from her glass.
"He wouldn't let me smoke, and he wouldn't let me touch
a drop of anything with alcohol in it," she tittered. "Why, if
the Doctor could see me now, he'd try to crawl out of his
Now Mrs. Vadnum and Carol returned. Gladys Hendrix
listened to Mrs. Vadnum describe Carol's new clothes. Five
minutes later Mrs. Vadnum and Gladys Hendrix rose from
their chairs. They wanted to "put in an appearance" at a
Christian Science lecture. Both of them, good Methodists
back in their old home towns, had become Christian Scientists
in Beverly Hills.
After they left, Carol and I sat for a while in the office; the
office, it seemed, was Carol's favorite room of all the rooms in
the mansion. I must not forget to describe this office, for here
was where poor Carol sat, after Culvers had gone to bed. Carol
would sit there in slacks or in silk pajamas, drinking her gin,
nibbling her sandwiches of ham and rat cheese, swearing out
against her sheltered, lonely world. This is where, after leav-
ing the studio, Carol must be sitting out her nights now. . . .
The office was a small room ten feet by twelve, with its own
entrance to the grounds, an entrance into the kitchen, an en-
trance to the servant's wing, and an entrance into the marble
hall of the house; it was the nerve center and the center of life
in Culvers' house. There was always a secretary, like a police-
man, on duty there; and the room with its off-white walls,
cold tile floor, desks, filing cabinets, tan leather chairs was
always lit as bright as day by a dozen fluorescent tubes. I don't
know why Carol preferred this glaring, uncomfortable pas-
sageway, except that here there was always someone to talk to;
there was life.
We were sitting in the office, drinking the rest of the cham-
pagne, when the buzzer rang. Butch Murphy answered it,
then suddenly walked out of the room.
"Do you like to dance, Charley?" Carol said.
"Well, yes," I said, "but I'm not very good."
"Would you mind dancing with me?"
"We don't have any music," I said.
"I can hum," she said.
Carol took my hands, and I stood up. Carol began to hum
"Stardust" and I put my arms around her and we moved in a
small circle in the center of the brown tile floor.
"You're a grand dancer, Charley."
"Charley, that young producer "
"What about him?"
"What's he like?"
"Look. Mr. Culvers had better find somebody else to work
for him. I don't think Laddie Wells would walk across the
street, if I told him to."
"I don't want to talk about it. It's one damned mess."
We heard Butch Murphy's footsteps crossing the marble
squares; I let go of Carol.
"Don't stop," Carol said, grabbing my arm. "Please let's
dance a little longer. Please ..."
"It's late," I said, pulling away.
Butch Murphy, pretending to have noticed none of this,
walked into the room, sat down in the swivel chair, picked up
a newspaper, and started to read. Then Culvers came into the
office, wearing pajamas, his old brown slippers, a purple wool
robe, piped in gold. Culvers had rubbed talcum powder on his
large, sagging cheeks, and had given his hair a good brushing.
He took Carol's hand.
"You'll have to forgive us, Mr. Thayer," Culvers said.
"Ordinarily we try to get to bed at a reasonable hour."
"I was just leaving," I said.
"Did you get enough material tonight for your story?"
"Of course, I won't be able to turn in any of this until we
get photographs and "
"Yes, yes, I understand. Well, call us anytime," Culvers
said, moving toward the hall door.
I thanked them for a pleasant evening. I put my hands in my
pockets and walked out of the house down the drive to Cove
Way. From my bedroom windows I watched the lights go out
in Culvers' windows, twenty lights at a time, as a stage darkens
after a play all but the office lights.
Three weeks after Carol's father got killed (said Gladys
Hendrix, settling herself after dinner in a clutter of satin
souvenir pillows on her sofa. I had gone at last to "take dinner"
with Mrs. Gladys Hendrix at the Marie Antoinette Apart-
ments, where she lived with a pet canary) Marie Godsen
was receiving visits from a Mr. Frank A. Vadnum. If you ask
me, Marie was meeting this Vadnum for some months before
her husband Will Godsen died; but that's neither here nor
there. Now Marie is nobody's fool, so I don't understand how
Marie was ever taken in by Vadnum; but she was. Vadnum
was nothing but a common dago; had eyes as black as night,
and was as bald as an egg. Vadnum swore to Marie that he
wasn't any dago, but I've seen photographs. Marie has kept
dozens of photographs of Vadnum she's still wild over that
man, I tell you so I don't think Marie really cared what
One good thing was that Vadnum was very fond of little
Carol. Oh, he was wild about Carol. When Carol couldn't
eat apple dumpling because of four sugar bumps on her chin
she was just twelve Frank Vadnum wouldn't touch his; said
that if Carol couldn't have apple dumpling, he didn't want
apple dumping either. The next time he visited Marie he
brought Carol a gold-plated vanity stamped with her initials;
and he insisted that Carol go along with them to the movies
that night. It became customary for the three of them to go to
movies together. Oh, he was crazy about Carol. Marie gave
Vadnum a snapshot of Carol, holding a Japanese parasol, and
Vadnum carried this in his wallet, next to his heart, he said.
Marie knew very little about Frank A. Vadnum. He
claimed to be a realtor, but when Marie told him about not
being able to find his office in the yellow pages, he shut up like
a New England clam.
One evening Vadnum arrived earlier than usual. He had
Marie go to her window and look out at his new Buick con-
vertible, parked in front of her house. Then he took out his
wallet and laid it before Marie on a table. "Look what's
inside," he said, a sly grin stretching his soft reddish lips
Vadnum had lips full and colored, like a woman's. Marie
opened the wallet and counted five one-thousand-dollar bills.
Two days later Marie and Frank were married by a justice
of the peace in Louisiana, Missouri, which is just outside St.
Louis. Marie sold her house, her furniture, in fact Marie sold
everything that she had owned with Will Godsen except the
photographs of Carol. There were dozens of photographs of
Carol: Carol in a sailor suit; Carol tap dancing in tights; Carol
in her Easter dresses from the time when she was one year old;
Carol riding a pony in the park; Carol laughing; Carol looking
sad; Carol doing cartwheels in her acrobatics class. With
eleven thousand dollars five from Will Godsen's insurance
and six from the sale of property and goods Marie and Carol
moved with Frank A. Vadnum to Chicago, where Vadnum
was supposed to have connections and friends.
Frank Vadnum bought a Tudor-style house on the brink of
Oak Park. Marie decided that it was up to her to furnish it so
she spent over four thousand dollars; Marie wanted their house
to look fine for Frank Vadnum's friends. Frank insisted that
Carol go to a girl's school, so Carol was enrolled in an expen-
sive private school in Lake Forest.
The bumps on Carol's face disappeared after a few months
in Chicago, and by the time Carol was thirteen she was beau-
tiful. Unfortunately her beauty brought her no happiness at
the school. Whenever Carol was around, the girls put up a
united front against her. They said that Carol was pretty, but
had no personality. They said that no one knew her mother.
They said that Carol didn't seem to care whom she associated
with; that she smoked; and that she was subject to the most
terrible states of the blues. The remark about whom she went
around with was directed against a girl named Christy Platt,
Marie says, who couldn't help wetting her pants. (Christy
Platt, Carol's best friend, is now happily married to a Lake
Forest C.P.A. Carol telephoned her, when she and Clarence
passed through last year, but Christy didn't have a baby sitter
and couldn't come in.)
The Vadnums went to parties, to night clubs, and to Ameri-
can Legion dances in big hotels Frank was a beautiful
dancer. Once when Frank made a lot of money on a deal,
there was a party at their house that lasted nine hours. Two
famous night-club singers came to the party, and big politi-
cians, and a cousin of Al Capone's, and three stag women in
beautiful ermine coats. Life with Frank seemed like a roller-
coaster ride to Marie, after being married to Will T. Godsen.
After coming home from school every afternoon, Carol
would sit on Frank's lap, put her arms around his neck, kiss his
cheeks, and talk to him. Frank disapproved of the neighbor-
hood boys who came to flirt with Carol: no one was good
enough, and when a Lake Forest boy drove sixteen miles to
take her to a movie, Frank said that he used bad language.
Carol, who didn't like any of the boys very much, used to
tease Frank telling him things boys had said and tried to do
In May 1942 Marie's mother had a fatal stroke, work-
ing in her nasturtium beds. Marie flew to St. Louis and stayed
four days. When Marie came back, she knew that something
terrible had happened. Carol locked herself in her room every
evening, coming out only to eat supper and to go to the bath-
room. During supper, Carol avoided Frank Vadnum's eyes.
Once late at night, standing outside Carol's door, Marie heard
sobs. Then Frank, who explained that they had quarreled over
one of Carol's boy friends, went away the next week end on
business. He came back, bringing Carol a heart-locket of
solid gold. But Carol continued to act strange toward Frank.
She began to act strange, Marie said, around all males, except a
red-haired sissy nicknamed Prince Albert, who encouraged
her ambition to become a movie star. Then one week end
Frank Vadnum went away and never came back, and Marie
found that he didn't actually own their house, and that he
hadn't invested her money in any stocks, and that he had
drawn all but $400 from their joint bank account. Well I
(Gladys gasped, wiping her forehead with a handkerchief
embroidered with teddy bears.)
I met Marie Vadnum in July 1946. As I said, I had spent
my first two weeks in Los Angeles trying to find a beauty
parlor that suited me. I was on the verge of going home to
Kansas City, when I walked into Ceil-et-Cecile's, a lovely
parlor, decorated in lavender, aronnd the corner from
Schwabs. There were only three other persons in the parlor
that day: a Mexican actress, getting her hair washed by Mon-
sieur Ceil, who wore a pretty lavender smock; and a woman,
also in lavender, who wasn't busy. I collapsed into the nearest
booth. "Give me the works, dear," I said; I always have a new
parlor do everything, so that \ can tell all at once whether I'll
like the place.
By five o'clock Marie Vadnum had given rne accounts of
her first marriage in St. Louis, her second marriage in Chicago,
and had told me about her beautiful eighteen-year-old daugh-
ter, who had already acted in a movie, under the name of Carol
Clayton. I had never heard of a Carol Clayton, so Marie
opened her purse and took out a movie magazine, which had
a photograph of Carol Clayton posed as a cow girl on Santa
Monica beach. c Tm very proud of Baby," Marie said.
"Is that what you call her?" I said.
"We're very close. I call her Baby, and she calls me Sweet-
When I first knew them, Marie Vadnum and Carol had
moved out of a dump in downtown Hollywood into a sixty-
dollar-a-month apartment on North Doheny, practically in
the limits of Beverly Hills. Their apartment had three rooms,
if you counted the kitchenette and bath, and a tiny terrace,
which went unused because Carol didn't like to lie in the sun.
They had had twice as much space in Hollywood, they said,
but Hollywood was a bad address. Everybody who was any-
body lived in Beverly Hills.
They had lived in Hollywood four years. Marie Vadnum
had arrived there the summer of 1942 with three hundred
dollars in cash and this beautiful daughter, who had spent her
fourteenth birthday on the Greyhound coach. They found
a room through a kind waitress at the Hollywood Pig 'n
Whistle. The room, three floors above an antique shop on
Highland, had a Mae West type swan bed and an office chair
repaired with chicken wire. In a room next door lived a down-
and-out English actor, who raised hamsters under his bed-
While Marie looked for a job, Carol played with the hamsters.
Carol liked the Englishman, who, she claimed, was the same
type as Prince Albert; and it put Marie's mind at rest to know
that her daughter was playing with hamsters instead of wan-
dering through the streets of Hollywood, crowded with sol-
diers and sailors and marines. Marie saw a Help Wanted sign
in Ceil-et-Cecile's window at the beginning of the second
After Monsieur Ceil hired Marie, they moved to a gloomy
vaulted apartment in a Spanish-type apartment house, where
Randolph Scott had once lived. That summer Carol spent
most of her time sitting around the beauty parlor, where
Monsieur Ceil worked out his inspirations on her hair. It was
Monsieur Ceil who decided that Carol was the Jean Harlow
type and ought to become a platinum blonde.
Carol liked Hollywood High a great deal better than the
all-girl's school in Lake Forest. Nearly everybody at Holly-
wood High had ambitions of becoming a movie star; and no-
body gave a damn about not knowing your mother. Carol
began to act normal around boys again. Although none of the
boys came up to the boy who moved through her dreams, she
had sodas and root beer with them and let them hold her hand,
and peck her cheek in movies, and wore their basketball
sweaters and sailor caps.
At any rate, Carol had got over whatever had happened
with her stepfather in Oak Park. About this time a picture
about a sex crime was being planned in a producer's office at
Magnum Pictures. One April afternoon during her senior
year Carol Godsen was spotted on a street corner near Holly-
wood High by Hal Entrican, a small-time movie agent, who
had stopped for a red light there. That summer Carol played
the murderee in the sex crime picture, and was given a contract
at Magnum, paying her $100 a week. Hal Entrican believed
that he had discovered a star.
The telephone rang. Gladys Hendrix answered it, then
placing her hand over the receiver, glanced at me. 'It's
Carol," she whispered, "drunk as a sailor." Gladys Hendrix
gave her attention to the telephone: "You mustn't say those
things, Baby. You mustn't say those things about your
mother, or God'll punish you. Your mother loves you . . .
Uh-huh . . . Uh-huh . . . Uh-huh, uh-uh . . . You know as
well as I that your mother would cut off her fingers and toes
if it would make you happy . . . Yes, Baby, I promise. Good
night, Baby . . . Good night."
Gladys put back the receiver and sighed.
"She calls me up every time she gets polluted, and starts
attacking and blaming poor Marie."
"What's it all about?" I said.
"It's all in Carol's mind," Gladys Hendrix said, "all in her
mind. I'm going to take an aspirin, Mr. Thayer. Would you
like an aspirin too?"
I shook my head.
Gladys Hendrix went into her bathroom. The toilet flushed,
a glass clinked, a water faucet was turned on and off. When
she came back to the living room, she opened the door of her
canary's cage. "It's terrible of me not to have let Archie out
today, but I've been so busy, Mr. Thayer," Archie flew out
of his cage, circled the room twice, finally perched on a
sterling silver frame holding a photograph of a man who
looked like Calvin Coolidge. I asked Gladys if she had known
Calvin Coolidge. "Why, that's my late husband!" Gladys
Hendrix exclaimed. "That's the Doctor, Mr. Thayer. My,
he would have loved your saying that!"
The telephone rang again. Gladys Hendrix looked at me
knowingly, nodded, then made a sucking noise with her
tongue, indicating that she wasn't going to talk to Carol any
more this night. "It'll go on and on and on. She must have got
stinking early today. Sometimes she calls up fifteen times in
an evening. Blesses me out, Mr. Thayer, as if I had had any-
thing to do with it. Blesses me out because I'm a friend of
Marie. I have to tell myself that the darling doesn't know
what she's saying when she's like that. Otherwise, I ..."
"When did Carol start to drink?" I said.
Gladys Hendrix settled herself again among the pillows.
In the early spring of 1947 Carol brought a young man
to my apartment. Naturally, this surprised me, knowing how
little Carol seemed to care about boys. Until she met Jack
Lonsdale, Carol had thought of boys as puppy dogs, who fol-
lowed you around. Now she stood in my doorway, clutching
a young man's hand.
"Well, come on in, Baby," I said, "come on in."
Carol and the young man walked inside. They stood near
the coffee table, looking at each other, looking at me, looking
back at each other, as though each waited for the other to
speak first. Finally, Carol said what his name was and where
they had met.
She had met Jack Lonsdale the evening before at a U.C.L.A.
prom. The studio had arranged for her to attend this prom
as The Ideal College Man's date. The week before, Carol had
appeared at a dairy convention, and the week before that, had
been a Lemon Queen. All this was part of a starlet's business,
like showing up at Giro's or getting your teeth capped. It was
as though Carol had met the young man of her dreams, getting
her teeth capped, or something.
While I fixed Tom Collinses, Carol and Jack Lonsdale sat
on the sofa, their hands still clasped, their eyes still caught,
Carol snuggled close to his cashmere sweater. When they
thought I wasn't looking, he kissed the tip of her nose, then
he kissed her lips
Well, Mr. Thayer, I dropped and broke the ice bucket that
the Titsons had given me on my birthday. If you'd seen them
together you'd have dropped your ice bucket too.
Later that evening Carol telephoned me from a drive-in,
where they were having supper. Carol wanted to know what
I thought about them getting married. "Well, Baby," I said,
"if you don't marry that young man you'll be the craziest and
miserablest girl in the world."
"Oh, Gladys," Carol said, "I love him so much I could die! "
They went everywhere together that spring. They went
swimming out near Malibu, and they went on little trips to
Laguna and Carmel, and they ate together, and shopped to-
gether, and talked about getting married. The love affair dis-
pleased Carol's studio. Carol had been given a role in a high-
budget western. The studio planned to give her a build-up
and wanted her to go around with a star.
"Jack's taking up too much of Baby's time," Marie Vadnum
would say to me. "Baby's neglecting her career." It was
understandable, Marie's thinking this. Marie spent her
evenings, now, ironing Carol's dresses, daydreaming of Carol
as a star. As far as I know, Marie had nothing personal against
Besides being elected The Ideal College Man, Jack Lonsdale
came from nice people; you could tell this right away. His
people weren't millionaires, or anything like that; the father,
I believe, owned a Pontiac agency back in New Jersey, and
had given Jack a convertible and a suitable allowance; and the
father was perfectly willing for Jack to play around Los
Angeles that summer after he graduated. Marie knew this
much about the Lonsdales.
One evening in late August Carol had to break a date with
Jack. Her producer wanted her to go to the Mocambo with
an oil man who had been kind to him in New Orleans. The
oil man had come to California to recuperate from pneumonia.
So they all went to the Mocambo, Carol, the producer, and
the oil man; and by two o'clock back at her apartment, Carol
had forgotten the oil man's name.
His name was Mr. Clarence C. Culvers; he was sixty-two
years old, had a son as old as Carol, and was separated from
The next day six dozen white roses arrived at Carol's apart-
ment; and the day after that Clarence Culvers was paying a
visit on Marie. Although Carol saw Clarence Culvers only
one other time that month, items about them began to appear
in the gossip columns. It was during the first week in Septem-
ber that Marie bought a Cadillac; and it was the same week
that Jack Lonsdale told Carol that his father wanted him to
The evening before Jack Lonsdale left California, they
drove to Pasadena, Carol said. The next morning around six
o'clock my doorbell rang. Half asleep I stumbled to the door.
"Who is it? "I said
"Carol," a weak voice said. "It's Carol."
I opened the door; she stood in the doorway, her shoulders
stooped, her hair straggled, her make-up worn off, her skin a
"He's gone," she said.
"Don't try to talk about it, Baby," I said. "You're all tired
now. You ought to get some sleep."
"He's gone, Gladys."
"You've got to get some sleep, Baby,"
"He's gone and I don't wanna live any more."
"Come on in, Baby. I'm going to put you to bed so you can
Carol lay on my bed, her head buried in a pillow, until six
o'clock that evening, and would not eat, would not drink any-
thing, would not even go to the bathroom.
Carol never received a single letter from Jack Lonsdale.
She wrote him letters every other day for a month, but he
never answered them.
Carol believes Marie had a hand in it. The poor girl gets
polluted and sits down in that office at night, and telephones
me, and tries to get me to say that it was her mother, who ran
All this happened in September 1948. Carol and her mother
were shipped off to Mexico City, shortly after this, under the
chaperonage of Butch Murphy. They passed the winter and
spring months in Mexico City, while Culvers arranged for
Ms first wife to divorce him.
"IS THIS YOU, CHARLEY?"
"Yeah," I growled sleepily. "Who're you?"
"You don't remember me?" a young woman's voice said.
"So you don't remember me." Through the receiver came
the sounds of water rushing and the clear early morning
whistling of birds.
"Who is this?" I said, my eyes still closed, smiling.
"The woman you love," she said. She giggled, as though to
remove any meaning from the words. Then I heard the crash
of a glass on stone; the giggling stopped. "Christ!" She
screamed for someone to come clean up the mess.
"Hello," I said. "It's six o'clock in the morning and I don't
"Anybody who doesn't love anybody, re-gard-less of six
o'clock in the morning, ought to be flushed down the toilet,"
she said, rather nastily. "The sonsofbitches have come out
now, and they're cleaning up the mess. Do you think I ought
to break another? Do you^ Do you?"
"If you want to," I said. My eyes were opened now; and
I sat up in bed.
"They're coming out to get me," she whispered, "to put
me to bed. They think I might ac-ci-dent-tally drown myself
in my swimming pool. Get away! Get away, goddammit ..."
The receiver must have been jerked from her hand, for I
heard her cursing them at a distance from the telephone. "Take
your hands off me. I'll report you, I'll report, I'll report . . . "
Her servants must have won out. Several minutes later the
receiver was put back on its hook, and buzzing began like the
noise of some poor fly beating against a window screen. If I
had had binoculars, I could have watched the servants from
my window, dragging Carol Culvers into the house.
That week, the week after my evening with Gladys Hen-
drix, Carol telephoned again. This time she called about one
o'clock in the morning from her bathroom. Culvers had hired
a nurse to take care of her, and she had got drunk again, and
locked herself in the bathroom so that the nurse couldn't give
her a knockout shot.
"Hello, Charley," she said. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Fm lying in bed," I said, "smoking a cigarette, trying to go
"I can't sleep either. I'm just like you, Charley. Why don't
you come on over?"
"Oh, it's late, Carol."
"Are you in love with me?"
"Of course Fm in love with you," I said.
"Anyone who doesn't love me ought to be "
" flushed down the toilet," I added.
"Tha's right. Charley I " Suddenly Carol began to
cry; I could hear the nurse pounding on the door. "Why don'
you come over here, Charley?"
"I can't," I said.
"Fm I'm goin' to New Jersey, Charley. Wanna come
"What's in New Jersey?" I said.
She didn't answer at first; I could hear her breathing fast
into the receiver. The nurse started pounding again.
"Nothing's in New Jersey," she said, "but I love New
Jersey. New Jersey's a grand state, isn't it, Charley?"
"All right," I said, "I'll come along."
"We'll leave in the mornin'," she said. "Goo 5 night,
"Good night," I said.
She did not telephone me again.
By this time, Gladys Hendrix had told me about Carol's
"good nights" and "bad nights." "Good nights" were the
nights when she didn't drink anything, and could sleep, and
didn't need shots. On "bad nights" she drank until morning,
sitting in the office with the night secretary, Tommy Meek,
or the nurse, and telephoned and played the record player.
Once she forced the nurse to dance with her.
Culvers, who went to sleep at midnight, didn't know very
much about the "bad nights"; and the servants, if they had
told him anything, would have been fired; and probably Cul-
vers would not have believed them. Ordinarily, Gladys Hen-
drix said, two nights in a week were bad nights, but there was
no real way of knowing. During the recent meetings, when
Culvers had been occupied with his businesses, Carol had
stayed up six nights in a row.
Butch Murphy, who worked only until twelve, had heard
about six bad nights from the servants' grapevine, and had
suggested to Culvers that he hire a nurse. Culvers hired a
spinster, a carrot-haired woman named Miss Martha Thorn-
hill, who babied Carol: read to her, waited on her, and held
her in her arms when she was drunk. After the nurse was
hired, Carol looked upon Butch Murphy as her enemy. No
one knew how Carol had found out about Butch iMurphy's
squealing; but she did find out. Eleven servants and two secre-
taries worked at the house, who, with the exception of Butch
Murphy, feared and fawned over CaroL I suppose that Carol
could have found out anything that she wanted to know.
During the day Carol amused herself. There were always
people, using the tennis courts, and using the pool; and these
people brought other people there. While Carol played, old
Culvers would sit on the terrace in the shade, reading histories,
or dictating letters to Butch Murphy, or speaking on the tele-
phone. Every ten minutes Culvers' heavy face would look up
to see what she was doing. When Carol grew bored with
people, she shopped, or visited her mother, or visited Gladys
Hendrix, or went for a hamburger with a girl-friend. And, of
course, Culvers' ambitions for her took up a great deal of
I don't know what lay behind those ambitions; whether he
wanted to "show" New Orleans, which had sided with Etta
Culvers during the divorce; or whether in his sixties he had
tired of his "empire" and his business power and wanted to
conquer some new world with this girl he worshiped. Culvers
was enormously ambitious for CaroL It was because of this
ambition and not out of kindness to me, or because of his
promises, that he suddenly telephoned me the last Saturday in
June, inviting me to bring a photographer to the house and
get on with the story for Life.
I went to Culvers' house with Bob Leamus, a Life photog-
rapher. At two o'clock when Butch Murphy telephoned up-
stairs, announcing us, Culvers wanted to know what Carol
was supposed to wear. Leamus, who had a flair for "camp,"
wanted to get shots of her lying around the marble swimming
pool beneath the two-armed Venus de Milo; Leamus wanted
her to wear a bathing suit, or shorts. Butch Murphy told Cul-
"Mr. Culvers doesn't think a bathing suit would look dig-
nified," Butch Murphy said, placing her palm over the mouth-
"Who wants a doll to look dignified!" Leamus cried.
"Shut up, Leamus. Let me speak to Mr. Culvers," I said.
I explained to Culvers why we wanted Carol to wear a
bathing suit, and Culvers listened quietly. After I thought that
I had persuaded him, he said: "I don't consider bathing suits
necessary to a serious acting career."
"All right, Mr. Culvers," I said. "Tell her to wear what
she usually wears in the daytime."
"I don't want her photographed in those slacks either,"
"Tell him to have her put on a tea gown with ostrich
feathers," Leamus said.
"Anything will be all right, Mr. Culvers," I said. I handed
the receiver back to Butch Murphy, who, after a half-dozen
"yes-sirs," hung up.
"Nobody wants to see a picture of a rich woman taking a
walk around the estate," Leamus said, kicking his toe against
Butch Murphy's swivel chair. "That's no story. What I
"I know what you wanted," I said, frowning. I wanted
Leamus to stop sounding off around Butch Murphy, who sat,
leaning forward, a Ticonderoga pencil point pricking her
sharp teeth, listening, observing us for her boss. "We can't
always get exactly what we want, Leamus," I said.
Leamus wanted to show a beautiful blonde, married to an
old Croesus, who had locked her up in a platinum cage. Butch
Murphy, grinning at Leamus, said that Mr. Culvers had his
own ideas about Mrs. Culvers* career.
"I'll lay you ten to one there's not going to be any career
if he keeps his hand in it," Leamus said, lighting a cigarette.
Butch Murphy leaned back in her swivel chair, chuckling
Waiting for the Culverses, we walked out by the swimming
pool, where a young Greek with cold cream on his face lay
sunning. As we approached, the Greek's heavy-lidded turtle
eyes opened, then closed again.
"Thought it was her" the Greek said.
"Mrs. Culvers is upstairs, dressing," I said. "We're going
to take some photographs."
"Good," he said. "Maybe I'll have some peace for a while."
"Why do you come here if you don't like her?" I said.
The turtle eyes opened, and the Greek gazed up aggres-
sively. "No pool at my apartment house. What's it to you
"It's nothing to me," I said.
The young Greek raised himself, leaning on his elbows.
"I ain't got nothing against her, except I wouldn't like to
get the old man sore on me, now, would I?"
"I suppose not," I said.
"She ain't really bothered me much this week. Maybe she's
found herself somebody. Me, I just want to get a real pretty
The Greek gave his swarthy face a fresh coating of cold
cream, wiped his hands on maroon sateen trunks, then lay
again beside the pool. We walked on.
Down at the tennis courts two agents were playing doubles
against a manicurist from the Beverly Hills Hotel, and a Balkan
spy. According to Leamus, the Balkan had actually done
some spying once upon a time for Tito. Now the Balkan spy
played rich-bitch society-girl roles in Hollywood.
As we sat down to watch the tennis, Joseph came, saying
that Mr. and Mrs. Culvers were waiting by the swimming pool;
so we followed Joseph up the hill. Culvers, sweating through a
tan linen sport coat, stood holding Carol's hand. Carol wore
a white lace cocktail dress, diamond earrings, a diamond brace-
let, and diamond clips.
"Hi," Carol said.
I introduced Leamus to Culvers. Culvers put his hand on
Leanras' shoulder and said, "Do you think you'll be able to get
some good ones, Mr. Leamus?"
Leamus surprised me. "I'm going to try to get good ones,
sir," Leamus said, giving a broad, obsequious smile.
Carol poked her hand in Culvers' pocket, took out his old-
fashioned silver cigarette case, and offered us cigarettes. We
shook our heads.
"Where shall we start?" Culvers said to Leamus.
"Well, sir," Leamus said, "I think it might be a good idea
to get some shots of you and Mrs. Culvers walking around
your estate. You know: by the swimming pool, by the tennis
courts, etcetera. Then we can get some shots in the house."
Culvers said that that sounded fine.
The Greek sunning himself would never have batted an eye
if Carol had not tripped over his body.
"Oh, goodness!" Carol cried.
"That's all right," the Greek said, settling himself again.
"Who's that?" Culvers said.
"Now how would I know who that is, Clarence," Carol
said. Carol moved into a position near the two-armed Venus
de Milo. "How's this?"
"Swell!" Leamus shouted. Leamus had set up his camera
across the pool. He was getting a long shot of the Culverses
and Venus, reflecting into the pool.
"Don't you want him to move?" Carol said, pointing to
"He won't show," Leamus said, squinting into the camera.
"Now, Mrs* Culvers, you and Mr. Culvers please look to the
right. Look like you've just come outside to see what your
guests are up to."
"Oh, that's a cute idea," Carol said.
"Don't talk," Culvers said.
Carol stuck out her tongue at Culvers; Leamus shot her
sticking out her tongue.
"Why, you old sonof abitch! " Carol cried.
"I'll give you that one," Leamus said.
Leamus took six long shots from the end of the pool.
"Now, we'll go by the waterfall," Leamus said. "Why
don't you look very happy, Mrs. Culvers, with Mr. Culvers by
"I'm mad at him," Carol said. She reached over and pinched
Leamus' flushed cheek. "Leamus-cleamus!"
"How's this?" Culvers said, squeezing Carol's hand.
Leamus said that that looked swell.
"Now, look happy, Carol. Smile and look happy," Culvers
"All right," Carol said, and she smiled beautifully. After
Leamus got his shot, Carol gave Culvers a push. Culvers
stumbled backward and almost fell into the pool. Leamus
wasn't sure whether he ought to laugh or not. Culvers said
that he was going to give Carol a good spanking, when he got
her inside the house. Leamus laughed very weakly.
*7 think that I shall never see,
Clare?ice climbing a coconut tree . . . **
Carol sang. Culvers took Carol's hand again.
"What do you say we move on?" Carol said, freeing her
As we approached the tennis courts, the Balkan spy blew
the Culverses a kiss. "No, no, don't stop," Culvers shouted.
"Keep on playing," Carol cried, "we're supposed to be
watching the game."
Leamus took ten shots of the Culverses pretending to watch
the tennis match. Leamus also photographed them crossing
the lawns, leaning against the white pillars of their house, and
gazing up at clouds.
During the photographing, new people arrived. Cobina
Wright's secretary; and the Abe Abramses, who had money
in Van-color; and an Egyptian princess, who had drifted to
Beverly Hills in the entourage of the Queen Mother Nazli;
and a blank-faced Dutchman, who owned a pepper business;
and a man in pink shorts, who sold Fords; and the man who
had once played Dagwood Bumstead. A producer's wife had
brought canvas, easel, brushes, and oils, and had started to
paint the artificial waterfall.
Around four o'clock, climbing the last hill, Culvers began
to puff. Leamus said, "Don't you think we've had enough
photographing for one day?" Culvers said his doctors didn't
like him to feel tired.
"Mine don't either," I said.
"We'd better go," Leamus said.
A messenger boy on a motorbike came flying up the Cul-
verses' drive. The boy stopped the bike in front of the col-
umned portico, and he rang the bell.
"What have you got there?" Culvers said.
"You Mr. Culvers?" the boy shouted.
The boy ran across the lawn, handed Culvers a large brown
envelope, and ran back to his motorbike.
"What is it, Clarence?" Carol said.
Tearing open the envelope, Culvers took out some yellow
pages fastened with a paper clip. "It's from our new pro-
ducer," Culvers said. Culvers read a short typed letter at-
tached to the pages.
"What does he say, Clarence? What does he say?"
"He says he's sent me an outline of the story. He says he's
thought up a title for the picture."
"What does he want to call it?"
"He wants to call it The Thousand-Dollar Day" Culvers
"Oh, that's cute!" Carol said, kicking a rock. Then she
glanced up and she saw Culvers' frown. "Don't you like it?"
"I didn't say I didn't like it," Culvers said.
"It's not only cute, it's good.' 9
"We'll see what Flanegan thinks."
"Flanegan's head of my production company and I don't
want him to feel I'm going over his head. Flanegan's all right,"
"I don't see why you go and hire a fine young producer,
then let a dope like Flanegan decide whether what he says is
good or not."
"You've never liked Flanegan, have you, dumpling?" Cul-
vers pinched Carol's forearm; then turned to Leamus and me:
"She's never cared much for Flanegan."
"Flanegan could never get a job In Hollywood, until you
came along. You ought to hear how Clarence met Flanegan,"
Carol said. "Clarence is down in Mexico City seeing Sweet-
heart and me and is having this terrific argument in the lobby
with the manager of our hotel. Clarence thinks the manager's
cheating him on our bill. Clarence can't speak a word of Span-
ish except two or three dirty words, and he kept saying these
dirty words over and over to the manager. So this guy
Flanegan comes over and tells Clarence that he speaks Span-
ish. Flanegan gets into the argument and saves Clarence seven
forty-eight on our bill. So Clarence thinks he's discovered a
wonderful, brilliant, clever man, and takes Flanegan along
with him everywhere he goes, even takes him along with us to
Acapulco. At this time in my life, I was in no mood to have
anybody else along, especially Flanegan, and anyway / was on
to Flanegan from the start. The next thing I know this Flane-
gan is put in charge of Clarence's production company, which
has just been formed, and which I'm supposed to be the star
"Flanegan wants to make artistic pictures," Culvers said,
"not the kind of pictures Hollywood turns out. Flanegan and
I are in complete agreement."
"Who doesn't want to make artistic pictures, for crissake?"
Carol cried. "Flanegan Flanegan can't even turn out crap.
Know what Flanegan was doing before he met Clarence? He
was playing the saxophone in some two-bit flophouse down
"Flanegan knows what's artistic," Culvers said stubbornly.
"Flanegan's all right."
"It's god-damned stupid of you, Clarence, to hire a thou-
sand-dollar-a-week producer, then let a dope like Flane-
"Flanegan's not going to interfere," Culvers said.
"Flanegan's no good!" Carol cried. "He's no good, I tell
you. I don't see why you like having men who're no good
around you. You just want louses around. You just want
louses you can push around. You're going to ruin the new
producer the way you ruined Riley. Don't think I haven't
heard how much smarter than you Riley was. You're afraid
of anyone smarter than you!"
Her doll eyes had narrowed, as though she were thinking
and saying those thoughts for the first time; and as the June
wind blew her white-blond hair, her ears above the diamond
cluster earrings turned deep rose with anger.
At first Culvers stood there, looking at her, saying nothing;
but when her painted lips opened to cry out again, Culvers
spoke. "What's come over you? Why has this producer got
you so upset?"
"The producer hasn't got me upset," Carol said, her lips
quivering, her wide blue eyes clouding with tears. She pulled
at a strap beneath the shoulder of the white lace dress. "I just
get mad when I think of all those louses you have around
when I think of what's going to happen to Laddie Wells."
"Laddie Wells?" I said.
"I hired Mr. Wells a week ago," Culvers said, "but you
mustn't say anything about it, because he's working on the
side and this might get him into trouble with his studio. Aren't
you the one who told me about Laddie Wells?"
"I was the one," I said.
The next afternoon, Sunday, I dressed up in linen trousers
and a pink shirt and walked out of my rooms, heading toward
Culvers' place. Dr. Grey, my landlord, lay in a green canvas
hammock, puffing on his pipe. "Looks like they're having an-
other party," Dr. Grey said, glancing across Cove Way.
"That's just the week-end crowd," I said.
Mrs. Grey, tying back yellow cabbage roses, gazed toward
Culvers' place, a mixture of smugness and hate in her dulled
blue eyes. "It looks like the whole world's over there, doesn't
"Yes, it does," I said; then I quickened my steps, for though
I did not admire the Culverses, I had no feelings whatsoever
about the Greys. I did not like believing that all life had to be
boiled down to a choice between Culverses and Greys, as Mrs.
Grey's tone had implied.
Mrs. Grey had been right about a world over there. The
Culverses did have their world: a nightmare world, peopled
with sun-tanned social gypsies and servant spies and gentlemen
wrecks; and wide-eyed Rastignacs and gray-flanneled leeches;
and fair-weather acquaintances, soft and sugary as marsh-
mallows, baking in the sun; a whole world in miniature, com-
plete with struggles for power, office politicians, neutrals,
pawns, favorites, and a chief of state.
At three o'clock a large part of their world had come to sit
around their marble pool.
A white yachting cap cocked over one eye, wearing a one-
piece white satin bathing suit, Carol Culvers sat beside the
pool's edge, playing two-handed Canasta with the Greek.
"Hi," Carol called.
"Hi, yourself," I said. "Has Leamus arrived?"
"Yeah, he's here," she said, looking around. "Leamus-
cleamus was on a big drunk last night. Last time I saw him he
was sitting out his hangover on the terrace. He may have gone
to sleep somewhere."
"Why din't you freeze the pack?" the Greek said, picking
up a fat stack of cards.
"I don't know why, for crissake," Carol said.
I spotted Leamus kneeling on the terrace steps, vomiting
into a putty-colored terra cotta urn. I walked over and I
offered to drive Leamus to his apartment, but Leamus didn't
want to leave. "You ought to let me take you home/' I said.
"Aw go lay an egg," Leamus said. Leamus sat down on the
flagstone steps, burying his head in his arms. A lovely girl
walked across the terrace and down the steps, painting her Hps
with cherry-colored lipstick. "Hello, Agnes," Leamus said.
But the lovely girl kept on walking and would not speak.
Leamus watched her moving toward the crowd around the
swimming pool. "That's Beverly Hills for you," Learnus said.
"That's everywhere for you," I said. "Don't start blaming
I wandered toward the pool.
"I'm painting a portrait of Reggie," said a honey-skinned
"I got it straight from the front office that they don't want
Reggie for The Raging Sun. They don't want any lush," said
"Say, Sam," she said. "Why don't I just go with you to the
Foster McWhortens' on Friday?"
An old man wearing lime-green shorts was saying that he
remembered when coyotes cried in Beverly Hills.
It was then that I noticed Culvers, wearing a linen suit,
standing on the flagstone terrace, surveying us all. Culvers'
heavy gray face expressed his resignation and amusement and
contempt. When, for Instance, poor Leamus, crouched on
the steps like a leper, looked op at him, Culvers moved away
with barely a glance.
"Why did you go down so soon?" the Greek was asking
Carol They had moved their Canasta game to the diving
board, and the Greek now wore her yachting cap.
"Haven't I warned you not to keep asking me stupid ques-
tions? " Carol said.
Leamus rose from the terrace steps, and started to stagger
down the drive.
Leaving, Leamus must have passed Laddie Wells, parking
his Chrysler. Five minutes later I saw Laddie Wells walking
up the Culverses' drive. Laddie was wearing white flannel
trousers, a navy blue blazer, clean white buckskin shoes, and
a crimson silk scarf, tied like an ascot inside an opened pale
blue collar. I wondered if he had consulted his tailor about
what to wear.
Before Laddie joined the crowd, he took out a pocket comb
and ran it through his long brown hair; then he put one hand
in his trouser pocket, as though this would put him at ease.
It upset him, finding me at the Culverses'. Walking toward
the pool, he singled me out, keeping his eyes fixed on me until
he stood on the edge of the crowd. Then he moved his eyes
to the producer's wife, painting, and spoke to her first, trying
to hide his upset.
"Well, well, if it isn't Culvers' new hired hand! " I said.
Laddie's eyes looked pink around the edges; a fever blister
had popped out at the corner of his mouth. He took a long
deep breath, as though rny presence here was the last straw.
"How've you been, Laddie?"
"Where's Mrs. Culvers?" he said.
Carol had spotted him walking up the drive; she had been
waiting for him all afternoon. She threw down her cards,
and they scattered into the swimming pool. Carol hopped
down from the diving board and ran to him.
"Hi!" Carol said. "Did you bring your wife?" Carol had
made him promise to bring Angelica; she wanted to know
what his wife was like.
"My wife couldn't come," Laddie said.
"No kidding? Well, let's have a drink," Carol said, taking
his hand, leading him toward the house. "Come on, Charley,"
she called; so I followed them.
As we crossed the blue tile floor of the portico, Carol jerked
her hand away. We met Culvers, lumbering around the
marble hall. Culvers wanted to know where we were going
and what we were going to do.
"We're going to have some tea," Carol said. "Have you
seen Joseph anywhere?"
Culvers said that he would ring for Joseph.
"Whew!" she pulled at her white bathing suit, her bare feet
making slapping sounds on the black and white marble squares.
"You're pretty quick with answers," I said.
"You'd be quick too, if you were married to Clarence; but
of course you're not a girl," she giggled. We walked into
the small white room where the Culverses were supposed to
have met Danny Hunts. It had been changed into a blue room
with blue china candlesticks, blue chintz chairs, and a soft, low
blue chintz sofa. The walls were blue, the rug was blue, even
the flowers were blue tall stock in Chinese blue vases. Carol
said that this was the morning room. Apparently all she did in
the morning was read movie magazines, for on the blue leather
coif ee table I saw dozens of them. Carol and Laddie sat on the
blue chintz sofa, and I sat in one of the blue chintz chairs.
"Did you tell him what I said?" Laddie asked her.
"You don't have to worry about Flanegan. If Flanegan
opens his big trap, I'll put a dead roach in it from the swim-
ming pool. Anyway, Clarence thinks it's just grand, your
producing a picture for us."
"I won't have any cheap Irish trombone player shooting off
his mouth to me about my picture."
"Don't worry about Flanegan," Carol said, trying to catch
"I won't have anything to do with that crook," Laddie said.
"Don't worry so much." Carol squirmed to a position closer
to him on the sofa. "Why didn't your wife come?"
"I didn't come here to talk about my wife," Laddie said,
rising from the sofa, walking to the window, looking out at a
faded pink sky. Against this sky a young woman in a bloomer-
type play dress was standing on her head, and three middle-
aged men, watching her, were making bets. Laddie smiled.
"Why why did you come here?" Carol said.
"I had nothing better to do," Laddie said. "Where's that
drink you promised us?"
Carol sank into the sofa until the white bathing suit became
submerged in blue chintz. With one arm she wiped away a
mustache of perspiration and a tear,
"IVe been living in Beverly Hills for five years," Laddie
said, looking out the window. The bloomer girl still stood
on her head and the betters were shouting. "We flew out to
Los Angeles from New York exactly five years ago today, and
took a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They told me you had
to do that."
Joseph entered, carrying a heavy silver tea service, carved
with cupids and fruit, and blue china cups. He placed the
sendee on top of the movie magazines, then left us.
"That's a fine-looking tea service," I said.
"The corporation gave it to us for a wedding present,"
Carol said, starting to pour tea, "I remember three bellboys
came, carrying six big boxes, to our honeymoon suite; and
Clarence and I sat down on the carpet and opened the boxes
one by one just like kids." She gave a silly, sad little laugh.
"And after we had opened all of them, Clarence had Room
Service send some tea, and showed me how to use it. I thought
I'd never learn to use this damned thing. I burned my thumb
awfully bad the first time."
"Where're the drinks?" Laddie said. "Nobody wants tea." 1
After glancing toward the doorway, Carol knelt on the
blue rug, raising the sofa's chintz skirt. She stuck her hand
under the sofa and brought out a bottle of gin.
"Whoever heard of drinking gin in the middle of the after-
noon," Laddie said.
"Well, go on out by the pool!" Carol cried, fighting back
a flood of tears. " and drink all the god-damned whiskey
you want!" She began to pour gin into a teacup.
"Oh, for the Lord's sake!" Laddie stood there for a few
seconds, staring at Carol, then he walked out of the room.
After Laddie had gone, she filled a cup with gin for me.
Although I made a hideous face, I swallowed the stuff in
"Laddie doesn't mean to be nasty," Carol was saying. "It's
his wife's fault. They don't love each other any more."
"How do you know?" I said.
"I just know."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," I said. "Two persons can
behave Hke mad dogs and still love each other. How long
have you known Laddie? 5 '
"It doesn't matter how long I've known him," she said.
"You wouldn't understand/ 7
"But how long?" I said. "I met him five years ago and I've
known his wife all my life, and I don't know."
"Well, I've known Laddie only a week. But you still
wouldn't understand," she said.
"Why wouldn't I understand?"
"Just because," she said.
"Because of what?"
Although she had curled up kittenishly on the sofa, one
burning cheek pressed against a blue cushion, her left fingers
trembled, shaking the cup; and her right fingers began to twist
and pull at her bathing-suit strap.
"Because," she said, gazing out the window, "I was in love
once with a boy who was a lot like Laddie Wells!"
One May afternoon the day when the story of Angelica's
accident hit the papers Carol Culvers was having coffee at
Googie's with Dolores Amrnon, a heavy-faced brunette who
had been her best friend at Hollywood High. Dolores was
telling Carol how her poor mother lay stricken with arthritis
and how a hundred dollars would help her to get well.
Dolores, who had a large dull repertoire of hard-luck stories,
was beginning to bore Carol. The doll eyes began to roam the
lopsided glass-and-brick eatery for an interest in which to
escape. Suddenly, they fixed upon a picture in a newspaper a
woman across from her was reading. There, in the woman's
newspaper, Carol saw or thought that she saw a photo-
graph of Jack Lonsdale. A sharp pain shot through her chest,
and her throat began to feel warm and thick.
"Dolores," Carol said, "would you do me a favor, honey?"
"You know I'd do anything, sweetie. What?"
"Go next door to Scwabs and buy six copies of the paper
that woman is reading."
Carol took out a fifty-dollar bill from her purse. "You
can keep the change, honey," she said.
Dolores thinks I'm a sucker, Carol thought. Ever since she
had become Mrs. Clarence C. Culvers, her old friends thought
of her as a sucker and a soft touch. Clarence, whom she con-
sidered the wisest person she knew, had warned her about her
old friends after they were married. But she liked her old
friends, and she felt comfortable with them; and she did not
want them to feel that she had changed, though of course she
had changed. This new attitude of her old friends angered
her, and it also made her feel lonely. "You'd better hurry,"
Carol said, forcing a laugh, waving the fifty under Dolores*
Dolores snatched the bill, and without any expression of
surprise over such a request flew like a great crow out of
Googie's and returned, carrying six copies of the newspaper.
Dolores handed her the papers with a smile.
You don't know it yet, honey, Carol thought, but you're
going to have to go to work.
"Well, honey," Carol said, picking up the papers, "it's been
grand seeing you."
"You're not leaving, sweetie?"
"Yeah," Carol said, "I've an appointment."
"When'll I see you again, sweetie? You never call me any
"You'll have to come up and go swimming in the pool."
"I'll call you/' Carol said, vaguely. a So long."
"So long, sweetie," Dolores said.
Dolores never even thanked her for the fifty; and it cer-
tainly proved Clarence's point about her old friends.
Later that afternoon Carol parked at a drive-in specializing
in nutburgers and ordered another cup of coffee. There,
examining the photograph she saw that it was not at all Jack
Lonsdale. It was the photograph of a young assistant pro-
ducer, earning five hundred a week, whose wife had been in
an automobile accident with another man. Nevertheless, Carol
read about the accident with interest. She read about Laddie
Wells having come at twenty-eight to Hollywood, about his
being Mark Harris' assistant, and being called a Hollywood
intellectual; all of which impressed her. What impressed her
most of all was his having gone to Harvard. Jack Lonsdale
had at one time thought of going to Harvard, which had
prejudiced her forever in favor of President Roosevelt's col-
lege, in spite of Clarence's hatred of Roosevelt. And the young
assistant producer looked enough like Jack Lonsdale to make
her stomach feel like a vast empty hole. She sympathized with
the assistant producer's humiliation; she told herself that if
they met they would fall passionately in love.
After Carol went home, she locked herself in her bathroom,
and sat in there gazing at the photograph. When she left the
bathroom, she stuffed the newspapers under her mattress; then
she buzzed for Butch Murphy. She told Miss Murphy that
that afternoon she had gone to a grand western with her friend
Dolores and that she had written down the producer's name.
She spelled out the name for Butch Murphy, and told Butch
Murphy that she had heard the movie had been taken from a
novel and to please order some copies of the book.
That evening the chauffeur drove the Culverses to Pasadena,
where one of Mark Harris' pictures was showing. After the
picture ended, Carol told Clarence that she had heard it was
really the assistant producer who was largely responsible for
the fine picture; and Clarence, who felt that his young wife
possessed a kind of superhuman natural intelligence, promised
that he would hire the assistant producer away from his studio.
The next morning Flanegan contacted Laddie Wells's agent.
The agent Carol heard had laughed in Flanegan's face.
This was what serious Hollywood people thought about Clar-
ence's movie plans.
The next week (Angelica's second week at the hospital)
Carol visited stages at Worldwide Pictures, hoping to catch
sight of Laddie Wells; she had no luck. Once she walked back
and forth in front of his office so many times that a policeman
came out and told her to go away. Toward the end of the
week she burned the newspapers stuffed under her mattress in
her bathtub, and she flushed the ashes down the toilet. Losing
hope, and rationalizing that with Clarence she had everything
that a girl could want, she tried to forget Laddie Wells's face.
A month went by. (Angelica had come home and I did not
see the Wellses; and I was working on the Culverses' story for
Life.) Culvers learned about Carol's "bad nights," and taking
Butch Murphy's suggestion, hired the nurse. Before the nurse
resorted to giving Carol shots to make her sleep, the nurse tried
reading to her. One night the nurse picked up one of the five
copies of the novel upon which Laddie Wells's movie was
based; and because it was a short novel, decided that she would
read it aloud that night to Mrs. Culvers. Although Carol was
drunk, she sat up in bed to listen, and she began to have the
feeling again that had come to her, that afternoon, looking at
the picture. "Stop," Carol said to the nurse. "What do you
think about the book? Is it good?" The nurse said that, per-
sonally, she did not care for books where everybody was poor.
Carol began to feel strong again, and she stood up and hobbled
to the telephone. She telephoned Worldwide Pictures, saying
that it was urgent for her to get in touch with Mr. Wells. The
operator at Worldwide said that she was not allowed to give
out telephone numbers of homes.
And it was the week after this that in her misery she tried
to become "friendly" with the young Greek, and she tele-
phoned me twice. Finally, Carol telephoned Laddie Wells at
his office. She said who she was, and after a while the secretary
said that Mr. Wells was on the line.
"Oh, hello," Carol said, giving a weak laugh.
"I'm Carol Culvers," she said.
"I know who you are."
"Well, our mutual friend Charley Thayer told us you're
such a fine producer and Charley's coming here today with a
photographer to photograph us for Life and "
"What am I supposed to do pose with you?"
Carol knew that Laddie Wells was poking fun at her. Her
throat got choked and dry, and she could not speak.
"Hello? Hello? Are you still there?" Laddie Wells said.
"I I thought you might might come here for a drink
with Charley. I I know you're awfully busy and "
"I couldn't come there" Laddie Wells said, laughing.
"Why couldn't you come here?"
"I couldn't think in such a house. Is anyone ever able to
think at your house?" Laddie Wells said.
"What d'y' mean?" Carol said.
"Well, I'll I'll meet you somewhere else. I saw your
movie. I even read the book, and "
"What about the Beverly Hills at six?" Laddie Wells said.
Carol's heart jumped; and she almost agreed to meet him
there. "Oh, no, I couldn't," she said; for a lot of the people
who came to their parties hung around the Beverly Hills Hotel.
"Isn't there somewhere else we could meet?"
"Yes, I know of another place." Laddie Wells named a
restaurant-bar on the corner of Santa Monica and Roxbury in
downtown Beverly Hills; and it was there that they finally
Carol told me all this on Sunday afternoon. When she
finished talking, the pink sky had faded to a gray, and most
of the people had gone home. Later, she put on cloth play
shoes and a robe some woman had left behind, and we took a
walk around the grounds.
"If it hadn't been for you, Charley, he would never have
talked to me "
We had strolled to the Japanese tea house, and had sat down
inside in Mexican wicker chairs. Carol was pouring gin into
two paper cups; then suddenly she knelt on the floor beside me
pressing my fingers to her lips. "I owe so much to you,
"Oh, for God's sake, Carol! " I jumped from the chair.
"You think I'm drunk again, don't you, Charley? Well, Fm
not." She picked up the bottle and began to pour the gin into
a puddle on the dry straw rug.
"Stop that," I said, taking the bottle from her.
"I love him," she said. "Don't you believe me, Charley?'*
"I believe you," I said.
"You're my friend, aren't you, Charley?" She took my hand
again, gripping my wrist, as a child hangs on to a swing. "My
friend," she murmured, "my friend . . . "
"I'll be your friend," I said, freeing my arm.
I promised her always.
I had not the heart to say to her the speech that I had pre-
pared in my mind. It was preposterous, her identifying The
Ideal College Man with Laddie Wells. It was believing a
Woolworth rhinestone to be a long lost diamond ring.
Anyway, it was already too late, for poor Carol had fallen
in love again with all her heart. Knowing how it all turned
out, I am glad that I added no more weight to my conscience,
spoiling her picture of him.
SINCE THE ACCIDENT, IT HAD BECOME CUSTOM-
ary for Laddie Wells to stop at the Thespians on his way home
from the studio. This restaurant-bar had been started nine
years before by a high-salaried director to lose him money.
Now the director, broke and out of a job, tried to squeeze a
living out of the place.
It was a two-story blue and white building on the Sunset
Strip. It had three pine-paneled dining rooms upstairs, and
there was a terrace where one could dine under the blue and
white striped umbrellas. Downstairs, there was the kitchen,
where in the old days the director had prepared exotic dishes
for his friends; and there was a narrow, shadowy oak-paneled
bar, lighted by blue globed hurricane lanterns.
The Thespians bar was a favorite meeting place of writers
and brainy actors, of would-be writers and would-be actors,
divorced men or pansyish bachelors, all of them rootless,
articulate. The bar had been nicknamed Chez Lonely-Brains.
Laddie Wells liked to stop here for drinks. He liked talking
to the men and drinking with them. The men spoke in sad-
funny wisecracks; not a one of them swung any weight. You
could speak your mind.
Laddie Wells, who had a curious hardness for a young man
of artistic bent, was too shrewd to do much talking at the
studio. At the Thespians Laddie could say whatever came to
his mind. He felt superior to most of them; and he would sit
there, hunched over his drink, feeling at ease, talking, yet
feeling apart. Laddie had always felt apart, no matter whom
he was with, or where. When he was riding high, he called
his apartness his "spiritual isolation"; in a low period, as the
one into which he had sunk since the accident, he termed his
apartness "gloom." Laddie knew that the Thespians bar was
the worst place, yet was the only place, to have frequented
.after his marriage went bad.
"I am one of the gloomy ones," Laddie would say, cocking
one eyebrow at whomever he happened to be drinking with.
Laddie would roll his words theatrically, and the listener
would chuckle. "You've no right to laugh, baby. You're
gloomy too" Laddie would say. "You're not only gloom~y,
you're stupid, and queer, and gloomy. You're three times
worse off than L"
Other times, Laddie would invite them upstairs to have
dinner with him. Flattering them, he would ask their opinions
about such-and-such producer, about such-and-such director.
What did they really think of A Place in the Sun? He would
.ask how they would have written such-and-such a scene.
But not even the Thespians crowd could put up with a
drinking Laddie Wells for long. Once a writer Laddie had
offended told him off: "You're a rotten banana, Wells, and
you're trying to turn the whole boatload of us rotten. All
bananas aren't like you."
Laddie Wells had thrown a drink in the writer's face. If
someone had not warned the writer about the steel plate in
Laddie's skull, the writer would have killed him.
An actor, who had driven him home when he was too drunk
to drive himself, said: "He's waited all his life to live a certain
kind of life. Now that he's a big success, he doesn't know
how." A writer who ran around with John Huston said:
"He needs his wife, his kid, his television set. In a pattern he's
all right; he's straining the reins, but he's happy. Outside of
the pattern, he's a bum." The bartender at the Thespians said:
"He's fifty-one per cent ass, and between you and me, I wish
he'd keep his fifty-one per cent out of here."
I do not mean that they sat around night after night discuss-
ing Laddie Wells; they simply had their opinions. Laddie
Wells was a man of taste on the way up, and they respected
this; and when, after his wife's accident, he started going to
the Thespians bar, making an ass of himself, he was doubly
conspicuous. Laddie himself would have told you this.
At any rate, from the time of the accident, until the evening
when he met Carol Culvers, Laddie Wells was wasting his
nights at the bar and living with Angelica like a close-mouthed
stranger who had only a room in the house.
On the evening that Laddie Wells was supposed to meet
Carol Culvers, he arrived on time at the Whiffen'cock. He had
had nothing to drink, and he felt fine. It had pleased him that
the girl had wanted to meet him the beautiful blonde who
was considered such a joke in Hollywood; and he was glad
that he was meeting her at Whiffen'cock and not at the Thes-
pians. He had met a girl once before at the Whiffen'cock,
during a week-long quarrel with Angelica, and he had liked
The Whiffen'cock, with its paneling, and Toby jugs, and
chintz, and open fireplace, was supposed to be an English
tavern. The Whiffen'cock was patronized mostly by a
younger crowd, sons and daughters of directors and producers,
who looked as though they had nothing whatever to do with
the picture business. The girls with their lucite bags and gold
bracelets and sandals reminded him of the girls at the Boston
Ritz, or the Biltmore. The boys wore tweed sport coats and
knit ties. He was glad, he told himself again, that he had not
had Carol Culvers meet Mm. at the Thespians. The young
people spouted cliches here, but they looked fresh and bright.
He recognized the son of Norma Shearer and the late Irving
Laddie seated himself at a comer table that held a brass
lantern with a candle burning inside a red globe. The lantern
gave off a beautiful ruby glow, and for a reason of which his
conscious mind was unaware, he stared at the lantern intently.
Then a waiter came and just as he told the waiter that he was
expecting someone, he saw Carol Culvers enter the place and
look around trying to find him.
She looked taller than he had pictured her and more plump.
She wore a boyish white shirt, open at the throat, that pulled
right across her full young breasts; and her white skirt had a
grease spot near the right hip. She had on woolly bobby socks
and dirty cloth play shoes. Her platinum hair was tied with
a baby-blue ribbon; and around her pink neck was tied a green
silk scarf which reminded Laddie of a magician's handkerchief
and did not go with the costume at all; nor did the bracelet
watch of diamonds, nor the diamond star, pinned on the shirt
collar, pulling it down.
Strangely enough, Carol Culvers quickly recognized him.
As she sloughed across the room in the play shoes, she fixed her
eyes on him and smiled, unaware of people's stares.
"Oh, hello," Carol Culvers said.
"Hello," Laddie said.
For five seconds they looked into each other's eyes, then
the doll eyes swept over his tired face, as though they had
known each other a long time and she was examining it to tell
if he had changed.
Laddie invited her to sit down. She slid down the red leather
banquette to a point near him. She was staring at his mouth.
"What would you like to drink?" Laddie said. "Or are you
"I'd like a Tom Collins," Carol said. "I can't stand whiskey."
He gave the waiter their order: a Tom Collins for her, a
whiskey and water for himself, and some fresh black olives.
"Am I not the one you expected to meet here?" Laddie said.
She was staring at his flushed cheeks, then gazing into his cold,
Her eyes lowered to his hand, lighting himself a cigarette.
He had forgotten to offer her a cigarette, but she had not
"Oh, you're the one," Carol said. "I didn't mean to stare."
"I'm hardly worth a stare any more."
"Well, you aren't very much like that picture of you that
came out in the papers," she said.
"That was an old picture from their files," Laddie said.
"That was how I looked five years ago, when I first came out
here." Then his lips closed tight, and he gazed at the red
lantern, as though he understood her disappointment.
"I didn't mean anything was wrong with you," she said,
playing with the diamond star. "You you look grand to
"I've acquired a liquor chin," he said, touching his chin,
"Not a very terrible one, but a liquor chin, nevertheless."
"I suppose everyone gets one sooner or later," she said,
picturing Jack Lonsdale's chin.
"I've lost a little hair," he said,
"Yes, that's the worst change, isn't it?"
The waiter came, bringing their drinks. Laddie took a long
swallow of whiskey and water, while she watched.
"When when did you start drinking like this?" she said,
wondering if Jack Lonsdale was drinking.
"I took my first drink the day I left home. My mother
doesn't know about my drinking," he said. "I don't drink as
much as some. I could stop tomorrow. I never drank as much
as I drink now. One good thing is that I don't drink when
"Drinking's all right," Carol said. "It's fun, and it's stupid
not to like what's fun."
"Smart people have to do things that hurt them sometimes.
Smart people have to play it close to the line," Laddie said.
"You know everything's funny that you say, and yet it's not
so funny, what you say. I mean you "
"You mean I what?" he said.
"I mean you're trying to make sad things sound funny,"
she said. She gave a little laugh.
"Gloomy," he said, "is what you mean. Learn to use that
word. You'll need it, and when you've grown older and when
the old man still doesn't die."
"I didn't say you were gloomy," she said. She began to suck
her drink through a transparent straw; her cheeks became rose
with hurt and her head spun.
Laddie Wells took a long swallow; for a moment he did not
"All right, Miss Sunshine and Flowers, explain your cos-
tume. Did you think we were going on a bicycle ride through
the streets of Beverly Hills? Or were we going to play a quick
game of tennis? No, you don't have on your tennis shoes, do
you?" He pretended to look under the table.
"I I had to come as I was," she said, "so Clarence wouldn't
"Clever of you."
"Clarence's other secretary, Tommy Meek, and I were
playing croquet, and I said I had to telephone my friend
Dolores at five-thirty. So I ran into the house at five-thirty,
and came back out and said that Dolores' mother had taken a:
turn for the worse, and Dolores wanted me there. So," Carol
said, adjusting the silk handkerchief around her neck, "here I
"Dolores del Rio, I presume?"
"Heavens, no! Dolores Ammon, who's a face like a crow.' 7 "
"An old friend with a tubercular mother, I suppose, who
"Why, yes!" Carol cried, "only it's arthritis!"
"Ah, a cripple!"
"Uh-huh*" She began to suck the straw.
"Suppose your husband finds out the mother didn't die?"
"She could' ve gotten well, couldn't she, for crissake?"
She sucked the last drops.
"You sound as if you need another," Laddie said.
Carol shook her head. "But Tom Collinses are grand, aren't
they? Remind me of lemonades when I was ten. My daddy
used to buy me lemonades in the park on Sunday afternoons.
Daddy adored music, especially waltzes. If today was a
Sunday afternoon, Daddy would be sitting on a bench in the
park, thumping his shoe to the 'Blue Danube.' Daddy's been
dead for almost twelve years now. You'd have loved Daddy."
"I doubt that seriously," Laddie said.
Her cherry-colored lips moved pathetically. She was about
to cry, and he felt ashamed of himself. He thought that she
had acted very sweet to him. He did not know that she was
already in love with him.
"I didn't mean it that way/ 7 he lied, his fingers touching her
hand upon the seat. "I only meant boys aren't supposed to like
girls' fathers, are they?"
She bit her lower lip. "It's because of your wife, isn't it?"
She was looking into his eyes, and he could not lie to her.
"It's not entirely my wife's fault," he said. "There's no one
reason why a man becomes gloomy."
"I think it's your wife's fault, but you don't have to say so
if you don't want to." She still gazed into his eyes. No girl
had looked into his eyes this way since the night he first kissed
Angelica. Carol Culvers moved her hand away.
"Would you like to have dinner with me?" He found her
hand again on the seat near his thigh. When he took her hand,
she started to breathe very fast. She wiggled her hand inside
his, and he squeezed. But she did not reply to his invitation
to have dinner.
"You mustn't mind what I say," he said. "I can't help it,
and anyway, I don't mean anything bad I say to you. Why
won't you have dinner with me? We could drive to Santa
Monica, There's a little Italian place I like very much near
"You're only trying to be nice," she said, her eyes fixed on
"I'd go to a bar and drink," he said.
"Nothing to do, nowhere to go, nobody to drop in on, and
I never go to a movie if I can help it."
"All right," she whispered. Her heart pounded loud as a
clock as Laddie Wells called for the check. "You can tele-
phone the old man from Santa Monica. You can tell him
you're staying for the wake."
Carol threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, this is so
funny. You don't know how funny it is tonight."
He paid the check. As he helped her from the table, she
knocked the lantern. It crashed to the floor, scattering ruby-
colored glass. "Oh God! "Carol cried. She stooped to pick up
"Don't touch the broken glass!" he said.
Suddenly there appeared a formidable-looking man, sun-
burned a rich lavender-brown; he wore an elaborate gold
wrist watch as large as a small clock, tan suede loafers, and a
loud plaid sport coat that emphasized his dark features. He
smiled at Laddie, a queer abstracted smile, as though in his
time he had witnessed hundreds of little accidents. Laddie
put his hand into his pocket and took out two crumpled one-
dollar bills. "Is that enough?"
"You don't have to pay for it," the man said.
"But she she broke it," Laddie said. "Is two dollars
"That's enough," the man said, pocketing the money, still
smiling at him.
"Did you think we'd try to beat it out of here without pay-
ing you for it?" Carol said, brushing past him.
"Oh, yon can tell the ones who'll pay, miss," the man said.
"Then why did you come over to us?' 5 Carol said from
half-way across the room.
The man, standing near their table, watched them leave, his
heavy creased lips frozen in a smile that was a thousand years
Outside, Carol said: "Honestly, that sonofabitch made me
sore as hell."
Laddie took her hand. They moved through the powder-
blue twilight toward his car, a four-door Chrysler of dark
"You" Carol said, looking at Laddie's face, "you look as if
he gave you the willies. Did you think he was Clarence or
"No," Laddie said.
"Then why did you look as if you'd got the willies?"
"I don't know," Laddie said.
"You acted like that guy was Clarence."
"Or a ghost," she added. "Well, you did. You looked as if
you'd been caught hunting ducks out of season, or something,
and expected to be hauled off to the clink. Me, it only made
me mad as hell."
"/#," Laddie said. He stopped at Santa Monica Boulevard,
for a funeral procession to pass. Behind the hearse they saw
the olive-skinned faces of four children, staring out the win-
dows of a limousine. Carol said that they were probably
Catholics. It was not an important funeral; soon they were
able to drive on.
"Are you hungry?" Laddie said, taking her hand.
'I'm starved. I don't know what I want to eat, though, do
"We're going to a place that serves pizza," he said. The
Chrysler speeded along a palm-lined boulevard through the
heart of Beverly Hills.
"I used to go to a Hawaiian place," Carol said, "where
lobster costs only a dollar eighty. A boy a boy I liked was
crazy about lobsters. It's called Luna-by-the-Sea, and a girl in
a hula skirt serves you a full course meal without you ever
having to get out of your car. It's a grand place, it really is."
"No," Laddie said, "I don't want to go to a drive-in."
"We could go inside then," she said, watching his expres-
sion. "It's made of bamboo and straw inside. It's real cute."
"All right," he said, "we'll go to your place."
As the car turned at Sunset Boulevard, heading toward the
ocean, he said again how glad he was that she had telephoned
him; and she laid her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes.
She was thinking that the only thing in the world she wanted
was to be with Laddie Wells, lying in a bed with him, or on a
floor or on the sands; or drowning with him or jumping off a
bridge with him, or running away with him to a leper colony;
anywhere. She would not lose him this time; she did not care
how it would end.
When they arrived at Santa Monica, the sun had sunk into
the ocean, and the moon had not yet risen. As they drove
along the ocean, she raised her head from his shoulder to look
out. The deserted beaches looked forbiddingly still and sad to
her. A couple of old beachcombers, bent and twisted as drift-
wood, were wading out after a lovely red and yellow ball,
forgotten by some child. A steel-haired woman, wearing a
visor and clumpy oxfords, was taking a brisk walk with her
cocker spaniel across the sands.
The little bamboo and straw restaurant, where Carol had
dined with Jack Lonsdale five years before, had grown into a
beehive blazing with chromium, plate glass, and a barn-fire
of neon lights. They had to park almost seventy-five yards
from the building. Fifteen minutes later a young girl, wearing
a hula skirt of cellophane, came to the car and took their order.
The lobsters which Carol had recommended were not very
good, and Laddie got mayonnaise on his trousers. While they
ate, Carol leaned forward, squinting at an older waitress as
though she recognized her from five years ago. For a few
minutes neither of them spoke.
Laddie was thinking that she had become bored with him;
this irritated him. Eight, nine, ten years ago, during the war,
he had been able to amuse her type, as well as the articulate
ones. He had never been able to get along with people as
well as Angelica. Angelica seemed to take life lightly and
could speak the languages of several levels. Angelica could
fool people into thinking that she was one of them. Laddie
was not half as good at it as Angelica was, but he had got along
all right. He had drunk with them, and grinned, and coasted
along with little questions. Toward the end of an evening
somebody, noticing his grave, boyish face off-guard, would
slap his back buck up, old man and he would snap out of
it. Laddie had never seemed one of the crowd, but he had got
The best people were gay, like Angelica, Angelica before
the accident; and he envied them. With Angelica it was posing
as a firefly. His serious friends had believed at first that he had
married a pretty, silly, expensive dancing firefly. But in the
end she had fascinated them, too, most of them, and they had
come to accept her and champion her. One of them behind his
back had chased and caught his firefly, one summer night,
when they were living in the walk-up on Eighty-Ninth Street.
No, no, he mustn't remember that.
How he envied the gay ones! How he had envied and
despised Angelica at parties for making him appear so gloomy
and dull. The time he threw the martini glass across the room
at her; the time he got drunk and vomited; the times he cursed
her in front of everybody; the time at a party when he burnt
her arm with a cigarette, and wrote an A with red lipstick on
her back: all of this came from his despising her at parties. He
knew very well when it was, and why it was, that he began
despising Angelica. No, no, no, no, no. He would not think
The girl, Carol Culvers, sitting beside him in his car, had
set her plate upon the tray; she was watching an airplane
winking lonely red and green lights in the darkening sky.
"Would you like to drive up the highway?" Laddie said.
"Aren't you going to telephone your husband?"
"No," she said, "I don't care."
Laddie honked and paid the girl in the cellophane skirt. He
backed out the car, turned, and headed up the highway along
"There's a very pretty beach near Malibu," Laddie said.
"There's a monastery, and they ring the bells about this time
every evening. We can buy some liquor, and sit down there
for a while."
Carol said that she would like to go to his beach. He stopped
at a liquor store, half a mile up the highway from Luna-by-the~
Sea, bought a pint of scotch, gin, four iced Coca-Colas, and a
package of paper cups. For twenty minutes they rode in
silence. Carol seemed to be listening to the waves. Then
suddenly Carol turned on the radio. A woman singer was
singing "The Touch of Your Hand."
Now you heard the bells from the monastery up on the
hill: cling, gong, ding, ring, clong, gong, ding, ring, clong.
As they approached the monastery overlooking the beach,
they could not hear the rest of the song for the ringing of the
bells. Carol turned off the radio. Laddie slowed and they
parked by the side of the highway and got out of the
Chrysler, carrying the bottles and cups.
The sky was black, now, and the warm sand through which
they trudged reflected the paleness of a crescent moon. You
could barely hear the ocean's roaring, because of the bells:
cling, clong, gong, ding. Laddie stopped walking and sat
down in the sand at a point near the water's edge, Carol began
to strike matches, so that he could see to open the bottles. The
ringing of the bells was deafening: ring, clong, dong, ding.
"Do you want coke with your gin?" Laddie shouted.
"Yeah," she shouted back.
Then suddenly the ringing stopped, and echoes seemed to
die all around them.
"You don't have to strike matches. My eyes have grown
used to it," he said. He handed her her cup in the dark.
As she took the cup, their hands touched. "Thank you,"
After Laddie fixed a whiskey and coke for himself, he took
xff his coat and, leaning on an elbow, lay back in the warm,
pale sand. He drank his whiskey slowly, looking out at the
He had come to this beach before, the last time, on a summer
Sunday night nearly a year ago, August. Angelica had spent
the week end in Santa Barbara with Jeanie Cartwright, a pretty
Alabama girl, married to a dull, young Philadelphian, called
Sonny. Sonny Cartwright had a sizable hunk of a baby-food
fortune. The Cartwrights came every spring and summer to
Santa Barbara, where they owned a large Spanish-style house
with cool, white rooms. There they ran around with other
rich, fast young couples who did not have to work. They
went to parties, and they played tennis, and they stayed tight
ten months of the year. Because Angelica had been a friend
of Jeanie Cartwright at Miss French's, and because Angelica
was the "life of the party" type, the Cartwrights invited them
for week ends two or three times every year. This particular
week end Laddie had at the last minute refused to go to Santa
Barbara. He had insisted that Angelica go on without him;
and Angelica had gone.
When Angelica had come back from Santa Barbara late on
a Sunday evening, she had not had much to say, had been most
suspiciously quiet. Angelica did not want him to think that
she had enjoyed herself. But this had not fooled him.
"Would you like to go out for dinner?" he had said, circling
the playroom, his hands in his pockets.
"Why yes!" Angelica had said, "I'd like to go out very
"We might drive out to Santa Monica to my pizza place."
"Suits me fine," Angelica had said, still hiding her good
They had driven to his pizza place, and sipping the Italian
wine he had told Angelica stories that had made her laugh, and
afterward Angelica had begun to tell him the silly tilings
people had said that week end in Santa Barbara. After dinner,
driving to this beach, he had let her talk on and on about the
week end, giving her more and more rope; then, lying in the
sand, after the bells had rung, with Angelica crouched beside
him, he had said, "I'm sorry, now, that I didn't go,"
"Oh, I am too, Laddie/ 5 Angelica had said, bending, lightly
kissing his lips. "It was all perfectly wonderful. Nobody did
"Perhaps it's just as well I didn't go," he had said, keeping his
pleasant toney voice. He had stood up, looked down his nose
at her, and walked off through the sand to his car. He had got
into the car, turned on the key, and driven off ignoring her
cries: "Laddie! Laddie! wait, Laddie, wait!" He had said noth-
ing of his suspicions about Sonny Cartwright and her. He had
simply driven off and left her on this beach.
Angelica, as far as he knew, had trudged up the hill through
vineyards and vegetable gardens and spent the night at the
monastery. At any rate, In her gossip, this was the sort of
ending Angelica would have given the incident, if the incident
had happened to anybody else. Laddie smiled to himself in the
" Would you like another drink?" he asked Carol Culvers,
his fingers feeling in the sand for the gin.
"I wouldn't mind a little," Carol Culvers said.
When he found the bottle, he handed it to her. Suddenly
he felt tired and sleepy. Although it hurt, he wanted to think
and dream about the past. Carol Culvers watched him take
off his shirt, and spread it on the sand, then fold his coat into
a pillow. "If you're tired, sleep a little while," Carol said. "1
"I'm not tired," he said. He listened to the sound of the gin,
pouring into the paper cup; he listened to the deep, dependable
roaring of the waves. "I'm not very tired," he said, closing his
He was asleep on the beach; and, he thought, he must have
been asleep for a long time. One knee was raised, one cheek
against the sand, and sand had got on his lips and into his
mouth. Underneath him the shirt had twisted. He moved his
face, and spit out the sand. It was then that he felt her hand.
She was asleep in the sand beside him, her perspiring hand
clasping his own.
He turned on his side and as he put his arm around her waist,
he knew that she had awakened. They did not speak. She
squirmed nearer, and he raised her slightly so that his arm
could go under and around her body. Then he held her, her
breasts in the boyish shirt pressed against his bare chest. He
kissed the exposed cheek the other cheek lay against the
sand and with his free hand, he turned her face toward his
and kissed her lightly on the lips.
"You wanted me to do this?" he said.
"Yes," she whispered, "I wanted you to."
"Why don't we take off our clothes?" he said.
He threw his trousers into the sand. Then he helped her to
unfasten the skirt and pulled off the play shoes and the bobby
socks. After they were undressed, they lay close against each
other, their mouths tight. As her lips slowly opened, his arms
tightened around her shoulders. He felt warm all over and
light as a balloon, and his head felt drunk with the whiskey and
with love. There returned to his mind, the memories of the
happy times with his wife; and he was able to whisper to her,
"I love you, I love you," without feeling embarrassed by his
own intensity. He kissed the girl's shoulder and her eyes and
her lovely neck. For a long time, for a very long time, he had
not felt so unworried, and untired, and unthinking. Not since
the first time with Angelica had he felt such delight.
They had begun to sweat and the sweat had mixed with
grains of sand and it scratched. "I love you, Carol. I love the
way it hurts." The sweat from his face dripped down on her
cheeks. Then suddenly he fell dead on her, burying his head
in the nape of her neck. After a while he turned his head away
from her, and his arms relaxed their hold.
"Now, you don't love me any more," she whispered.
"I said I loved you, didn't I?"
She drew Laddie Wells's hand to her face, pressing it against
her cheek, then to her lips. When she had kissed his hand, he
turned toward her again, and their lips brushed each other's
faces. They moved apart, looking into each other's eyes.
* What were you thinking about when you turned away a
minute ago?" she said.
"I was thinking how lovely it would be to feel like this al-
ways," he said.
"Ja, I was lying," he sighed, his toes tangling with hers, "but
only partly lying."
He had been thinking how his marriage had gone bad, and
how he was irrevocably tied to the badness, and how he would
go back to the badness, and she, to Culvers' house, after it was
"Don't think about it," she whispered. "Let's not think."
"How did you know what I was thinking?" he said.
"Oh, I knew what you were thinking." She breathed hard
into his ear.
"All right," he said. "Let's not think."
He lay spent, more spent than he had ever felt before. He
wondered if she had liked doing it with him. Angelica, after
he had found Angelica out, and had told her that he had found
her out, had screamed: "I love you, but I don't like doing it
with you. Do you want me to lie? Do you want me to lie to
He moved away from the girl in the sand.
"I love you," Carol Culvers said. "I will love you always."
She moved close to him again, and kissed his lips tenderly;
then he kissed her. When he kissed all over her eyes, he knew
that her eyes were wet and salty from tears. He said nothing
about her eyes.
"Why?" he whispered, "why will you love me always?"
She did not answer this.
They lay on the beach, until it was nearly two o'clock.
They helped each other into their clothes, then drove back to
Beverly Hills to their houses.
This was substantially the story of their meeting; the begin-
ning of their aff air. Laddie Wells himself told me most of this,
after we spent a week end at Laguna. I have pieced together
the rest from bits that Carol had let slip out that Sunday eve-
ning. At this time, however, I knew nothing about their night
on the beach. I had not seen Laddie for five weeks and, as I
said, when I ran into Laddie at Culvers' house, he would have
nothing to do with me.
LATE AFTERNOONS OF THAT SUMMER I USED
to see Laddie's Chrysler parked in Culvers' drive. The job
with Culvers' production company gave him a fine excuse; so
Laddie and Carol must have arranged their meetings under old
Culvers' very nose.
Culvers himself felt flattered that such an intelligent, learned
young man seemed to enjoy his company. It was a pleasure to
have found someone in California with whom he could discuss
history and his hero, Napoleon. Why, Culvers was so de-
lighted to have found such a person that it never entered his
mind to suspect Laddie Wells with his wife. It turned out
that the old boy did have his suspicions all right, for he knew
his young wife's humors as an old seaman comes to know the
winds. If Carol avoided his cold deep-sunk eyes but once, or
forced but one little laugh, Culvers would have suspected
something. He suspected; and one morning during the begin-
ning of their affair Culvers instructed Butch Murphy to find
out the name of the most reliable private detective in Beverly
Hills. But neither Culvers' suspicions, nor the detective's were
directed toward Laddie Wells not until just before the end.
Carol had seen to that.
I have no idea where their meetings took place; neither of
them ever told me, and I saw them out together only once. I
ran across them one evening at the Fine Arts Theatre in
Beverly Hills. Carol had probably told Laddie that Culvers
despised foreign films; and I had spotted them there, holding
hands, during La Belle et la Bete.
Their later meetings took place inside a turquoise-blue
stucco cottage, that stood on the Ocean Front Road, halfway
between Santa Monica and Malibu, the "death cottage" as the
newspapers were to call it that fall. Laddie Wells rented this
cottage after he moved out of the house in Beverly Hills.
Ironically, it stood less than a quarter of a mile up the road
from the Dolans' house, where George Martin lived.
I have wondered if it was Carol who picked out the cottage,
for she and Jack Lonsdale had liked going to the beach. I'm
certain that Carol did everything in her power to persuade him
to leave his wife. Alone, Laddie would never have left An-
gelica. He could no more have left her than a wounded soldier
could reach for a bayonet and start to cut away a gangrenous
leg. At any rate, the first Saturday in August Laddie Wells
moved out of the place in Beverly Hills into the "death cot-
tage" . . .
I don't know what really happened; I don't know what it
was that happened to persuade Laddie to take the step. It
seemed a wonder that the marriage had lasted as long as it had.
Laddie had had Angelica's number for a long time; and An-
gelica had long ago ceased to feel any physical desire for him.
Angelica's desire was simply for friendship, strong friendship.
Angelica had come to lean upon her husband as a mentally
superior companion, as a kind of parent of her own age, whom
she could love and respect and heed and deceive. Like most
well-to-do small-city Southern girls, Angelica had never be-
come weaned from her mother; she depended upon Lad
fulfill a parent's role in Beverly Hills. Angelica did n<
having to think for herself. For five years she had had I
to back her up in her weak declaration of independence
Miro. When she awoke that Saturday morning and sa
drawers pulled out of the bleached-oak chest that stood
pink bedroom, her heart must have skipped a beat.
I heard that she followed him through the house
packed his clothes and liquor and books, like a child, c
out: "What am I going to do? What am I going t
Laddie?" He never answered her; he simply pretende
wasn't there. After he had packed he walked into Little
ence's room to say that he was moving to another house.
Florence presented him with one of her dolls; she did noi
her father to feel lonesome at his new house. He took th
with him to the cottage on Ocean Front Road. The doll
ing on a stack of his old Harvard textbooks, stayed wit
till the end.
After Laddie moved, Angelica must have felt like some
lost in a broad, flat field. Wandering around her hous
must have longed for Miro; she must have felt deeply w<
and shaken in her despair, for she vomited and could noi
food the rest of that day. She felt too proud to telephoi
Saturday afternoon, lazing around my rooms, I diale<
gelica's number. I knew nothing about Laddie's having r
out of the house that morning, and it was then around
o'clock. I did not expect Angelica to be at home.
"Hello, Charley," Angelica said. She sounded as th
sooner or later, she had expected me to call her. As I i
knew nothing about Laddie's having left her that day; and I
did not know that a Catholic priest had arrived at the house an
hour or so before, and had gently taken control.
"What are you doing this afternoon?" I said, spinning the
handles of the coffee-grinder lamp. "I'd thought I might drop
over to see you."
Angelica did not reply at first; she wasn't certain about
whether I had heard about Laddie's moving out. When she
decided that I hadn't heard, she said, "Fin busy this afternoon,
"We haven't really had a chance to talk since the accident,"
"What have you been doing with yourself?"
"Nothing. Nothing that would interest you," she said,
"Well, 111 give you a ring sometime," I said, feeling hurt.
"Don't you know that it wouldn't have been right for me
to have come there after the accident? You saw how Laddie
acted at the hospital ..."
"It doesn't matter now."
"Angelica! Angelica! I want to see you!"
"I'm Fm busy this afternoon."
"I've company now, Charley," she said.
"Why? Why can't I see you?"
"Fve got to go now," she said, hanging up.
"What's his name?" I yelled into the mouthpiece. "What's
the new one's name?" All this happened at around t
Tired as a poor hound, I spotted Angelica, walking h;
block in front of me past a row of darkened silver shops
leather shops. I had been wandering for several hours
Benedict Canyon into some real hills. The sun had gone do
and on my "way back, I had seen three couples arriving at
Greys for a dinner party, moving two and two like ani
into the Ark to be saved. I had kept on hounding the stri
Vaguely, I was heading toward Warners' Beverly I
Theatre when I spotted Angelica, walking alone ahead of
her narrow shoulders slightly bent and hunched together,
arm carrying a small black purse, as though it were the we
of the world.
It was strange to see Angelica out alone on a Saturday <
ning: Angelica, who liked people and parties and dancing
busy week ends. Suspecting that she was on her way to n
the new man, I quickened my steps, moving into the shad
of the darkened shops.
She was passing the well-lighted frontage of the Scotsm
Market, a pink and gray grocery, where movie people do m
of their shopping; and I could see her more clearly. She
wearing black pumps, no stockings, and a dull tan dress,
hung too loosely because of her having lost weight. As
moved through the neon glow, the back of her pale r
looked as fragile as a bird's; almost a transparent ned
thought. As she turned she twisted her ankle. She pause
second, glancing down at her ankle, then entered the groc
store. I still expected to see some man step out from bel
cans of soup, keeping a rendezvous. She started to push on
those baskets~on-wheels contraptions toward the lettuce heads.
I decided that I would go inside the store, push around one
of those contraptions, pretending to shop for food. I would
watch her from the corner of my eye; and she would suddenly
look up and see me there. She would be trapped.
The plan worked beautifully. As I loaded my basket with
cans of soup, I caught her astonished look without her realiz-
ing it. It was the look of some tender female animal, raising
its head, perking its ears, at sight of the male. When I saw her
approaching me, I pushed the basket slightly forward in the
opposite direction, turning my back.
"Charley?" she called.
I turned around facing her, eyes meeting eyes. Her face
needed powder and color; her lips with the lipstick worn off
showed their natural pale pink. I wondered if she was ill.
"It's good to see you, Charley," she said, pushing the basket-
"Funny place to run into you," I said.
She gave a little laugh.
"Who'd have thought that on a Saturday night in Beverly
Hills, we'd meet in a grocery store?"
Suddenly she came to a dead stop, and she gave another
little laugh. Then I was feeling sorry for her all of a sudden,
so I asked her how she was.
"Oh, I'm all right," she said. Her eyes darted past me,
sweeping the other aisles. She headed toward the coff ee aisle;
she picked up two tins of Maxwell House.
"WhatVe you been doing with yourself?" I said.
"Nothing. I told you over the telephone nothing." She
placed the coffee tins in the basket. Then all at once she was
opening her purse, taking out a yellow comb, lipstick, powder,
handing me a tiny mirror to hold for her. "I must look a sight,"
she said. "Helga was going to fix supper for the baby and me
and we suddenly realized that there was nothing to eat in the
house." She did not say where Laddie was and I did not
"I know people think I'm common, doing this," she laughed,
running the yellow comb through her dark, mussed curls.
She began to paint her lips, bright red.
"It doesn't matter what people think," I said.
"I feel better now." She took the mirror, dropping it into
her purse. She would not look into my eyes.
"Angelica. Has something happened?" We had moved to
salad oils, vinegars, pepper sauces, and catsups. She took a
bottle of vinaigrette dressing, then faced me. Her eyes were
sparkling, as though she were about to tell some joke.
"Laddie's moved out of the house, Charley. He's got a girl."
I did not say anything.
"You probably knew about it all along," she said.
"It's probably nothing serious," I said.
"We hadn't been getting along too well ever since the
accident. But last night Laddie deliberately picked a fuss. I said
some things I shouldn't have said, then he said some things,
then I said I was sorry. He marched out of the room, went
into the guest room, where he's been sleeping since I came
home from the hospital, and locked the door. When I awoke
this morning, he was moving out."
"Oh, he'll come back," I said.
"I think so too," she said. We were moving toward the
counter, where people stood in line to pay.
"He'll come back," I said a second time, standing in line
behind her. I had to buy something, so I had bought a box of
"No happiness can ever come to a girl who breaks up a
home/' Angelica said suddenly. I thought how Angelica her-
self had carried on, how she had looked upon herself as so-
phisticated, and cheated right and left.
"What are you going to do? 7 ' I said.
"I'm going to wait for him to come back, I want him to
come back, Charley."
The clerk was taking groceries from the basket contraption
and making out her bill.
"Oh, he'll come back," I said a third time.
After Angelica paid her bill, a boy came and picked up her
bag of groceries, and she led the way to her Ford convertible,
parked in a lot down the street. As I walked beside her to the
lot, she asked me if I had heard any news from home; no, I
had heard nothing from Miro.
"If only he would come back ..." she said, getting into the
car. She opened her purse and handed the boy a quarter.
I told her to call me if I could do anything; then she drove
off past the windows of expensive leather shops.
WHEN I WENT THERE ON A WEDNESDAY EVE-
ning the next week, Little Florence had been put to bed; and
Helga, who had let me in, had returned to the kitchen to dry
the supper dishes. I found Angelica, wandering about the
playroom in a loose pink kimono. Warm August winds,
blowing in, caused her dark hair to blow about her face like a
tangled net. Angelica kept pushing the hair back.
"How could he do such a thing to me, Charley, walking out
like a nigger! "
Laddie had moved out five days ago, and she had not yet
telephoned her parents to tell them what had happened. She
had waited for him to come back to her. Now she felt helpless
and angry, and sick, and hurt, as though a parent had gone
away on a long trip and left her.
I walked over and sat down on the white sofa; the sofa had
become soiled from cigarette ashes, yellowish from spilled
"There I was, nineteen, with everything in the world," she
was saying. "There I was at Miss French's, going out with
everybody at Yale, when I go to this cocktail party and fall
for that line of his. I thought he was the only boy I'd ever
gone with who had something to him.
"Mummy and Daddy said he wasn't our kind of people. I
thought they meant he wasn't Catholic. I thought it was be-
cause Mummy and Daddy didn't understand about New York,
and liking art, and everything.
"After I met his parents, I saw what they meant. I got so
depressed I didn't want to see anyone for days. I told him
that I had got a stomach-ache from eating Kadota figs at
Schraff t's, but I think he knew.
"I've never told a soul what his parents are like. I told
Mummy they were like the Joe Schlenkers. Well, they're not
half as nice as the Joe Schlenkers, Charley. They're like people
on South Second."
"Imagine me being married into people like on South
Second, Charley me!"
This went on for an hour and a half, her ravings against
Laddie. By nine o'clock she sat on the sofa beside me, and had
let me take her hand.
"Charley," she said softly, "will you do me a favor?"
"You go to see him, Charley. You tell him that if he comes
back, everything'll be different."
"Why I don't think he'd see me," I said. "I ran into him a
week or so ago and he hardly spoke."
"Where was that?"
"At the Culverses'."
"What were you doing there?"
"You don't know what you want, do you? " I said.
She nibbled at her nails.
"If he'd only come here, Charley, I could talk to him. Won't
you please go to him, Charley, and tell him to at least come
here for a talk?"
"All right," I said, "111 talk to him."
Then, like a child who has got what it wanted out of you,
her head fell against my chest, and she snuggled into my arms,
"Oh, Charley ..." My mouth moved close to hers, but she
"Do you think we ought to, Charley?"
"Yeah, I think we ought to."
I rose from the sofa, pulling her to me, kissing her. "Now,
don't go away." I walked over and switched off the lamp.
She stood there, gnawing the nail of her forefinger, watching
me. I came back, and I took her in my arms, and kissed her.
She pulled away again, moving toward the living room.
"Where're you going?"
"I'm going to tell Helga she can leave," she said.
While Angelica went off to dismiss the servant, I took off
my clothes, throwing them helter-skelter about the darkened
room; and I walked out through the sliding glass windows and
sat down beside the tiny swimming pool, dangling my legs.
The silver of a moon started to squirm as I kicked, like some
silver-bellied snake in the water.
Minutes later I heard her bracelets, jingling from the play-
room. She must have seen my clothes, for she walked on out
to the pool, walked up behind me, and started to massage the
back of my neck. "Helga's leaving now," she said.
She started to undress, tossing her things across a grimy
glass-topped table. When she was naked, she ran to me, tak-
ing my hand, and she pulled me into the water as she jumped.
She came to the surface before I did, and when I came up,
spitting and flinging water, she had swum to the shallow end,
and was knocking her temples to get the water from her ears.
I swam up to her and said, "Hello."
She slipped down into the water, her long legs tangling for
an instant with mine; then she curled over in a surface dive
with the graceful motion a porpoise has. I swam to her, and
she did it again. The third time, I caught up with her. She
twisted and rolled over and floated on her back, gazing up at
the moon and the stars, her arms spread like wings. So, after I
squirmed out of my shorts, I turned over too and floated on
my back about three feet away from her, looking up at the
A plane crossed, very high up, directly above us, its green
and red light moving among the stars like marbles. I won-
dered if Angelica was looking at the plane. When I looked
over at her, her eyes were fixed on a tall Hawaiian palm grow-
ing in her neighbor's back yard; a boy's paper kite was caught
in the fronds of the palm. Then she knew that I was looking
at her; and all at once, she turned in a direction toward me
and made a surface dive that took her underneath rny body.
Halfway across the pool she came up, looking to see if I was
following her. I swam after her, hard and straight; and when
I reached her she lay there, rising and sinking in the water,
waiting for me. I swam into a position over her, and her arms
went around my neck and back, pulling me to her: her eyes
were closed; her face pale as moonlight, her dark hair floating
behind her head like a fan of seaweed. We rose and sank; part
of the time her nose went under. My breath stopped and I
could feel everything inside swelling to burst, as when you
plunge deep under water, thinking you'll never come up again.
Then suddenly Angelica was choking and coughing and
struggling to come out from under me. She broke away and
swam to the edge of the pool and held on to the concrete side,
gasping, as though she had just escaped from drowning. I
swam to her and I put one arm around her shoulder. "Let's
get out," I whispered. I climbed up on the concrete, and I
gave her my hand. When she was out of the water, she gave
a small sigh of relief. I still held her hand.
"You almost strangled, didn't you?" I said. "I'm sorry . . . "
Her hold grew tighter on my fingers. I moved close to her,
and I put my fingers around her throat, holding her throat as
though it were the trunk of a young tree, while I kissed her.
She squirmed until she had wrapped her arms and legs around
me and we were all tangled up together like two boys
wrestling and all the time I was kissing her, and she was
returning my kisses, with a furious swirl of elbows and twist-
ing. Then, when we were ready to go the limit, she noticed
a lamp burning in the playroom. She jumped away from me,
her mouth opened just slightly, as though her heart had tight-
ened. At first she must have thought that Laddie had come
back. But then she heard Little Florence's cry, "Mummy!
Mummy! What are you doing out there, Mummy?" and she
could make out the form of Little Florence in white pajamas,
staring at my clothes thrown around the playroom.
"Don't come outside, darling. It's too cool for you out-
side." She was getting into the clothes like lightning.
"Mummy's been taking a swimming lesson from Daddy's
friend." And when she was dressed, she walked into the
playroom, patted her child's forehead, and led her out of
the room back to bed.
I tiptoed inside, dressed as quickly as I could in the dark,
and was making my way to the front door when Angelica
appeared, her hair hanging in long wet ropes. She kept her
eyes fixed on her sandals, as though she were too ashamed to
"It's pretty late," I said.
As I got into my car, she stood IB the doorway, wearing the
pink kimono, watching me. Angelica could not stand being
Later that night she telephoned my rooms, reminding me
of my promise to go to Laddie for her. "Tell him everything
will be different/ 5 she said.
The next morning I telephoned Laddie Weils's office at
Worldwide Pictures. Laddie's secretary said that he had
stepped out for a few minutes. I left my name and the num-
ber at Life and waited for him to call. I waited all that day.
At around eleven o'clock that night the telephone rang
beside my bed. "This is Laddie," he said in that husky York-
You could hear the waves breaking on the 'beach beneath
the windows of his new house, and the portable radio giving
out news of the new war. You could almost see Laddie, poised
on the arm of a greasy overstuffed chair that had come with
the house; his fine clothes still lying across the sofa; his books
piled on the bare floor; his liquor bottles standing on the
kitchen sink. Ordinarily Laddie was as neat as a prig, but he
had not brought himself to putting his belongings in order in
the cheap little house.
"Angelica wanted me to call you," I said. "She wants to
talk things over. She's pretty bad off , Laddie."
"She'll get over it," Laddie said. "I knew how it would
be for her the first week."
"Can't you at least give her the chance to talk things over?"
"Talking things over won't settle anything," he said. "I'm
not going back to her."
"Is that what yon want me to tell her?"
"/* tell her that," he said. "Charley "
"Charley, would you like to have dinner with me some
"Come to the Thespians around seven," he said.
It was shortly after we said good night that I heard the
noises for the first time: a rustling in the caladiums outside my
window, a thump against wood. It can't be Laddie this time, I
thought. My heart started to pound like a possum's. I switched
out the lamp and lay as still as dead.
When, after a moment or so, I heard nothing, I threw off
the sheet, and slowly raised myself, looking out into the night.
The new moon was shining through clouds, that hung like
tulle draperies over Culvers' house. A midnight swimming
party was going on over there: a piano-accordion, whining
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" into the heat of the August night;
splashes, laughter, and screams. I found out later that Culvers'
son, who until this time had refused to meet Carol, had visited
over there for a few days.
A man, wearing a dark business suit and a fedora, was steal-
ing down the Greys' gravel drive toward Cove Way.
The next evening, when we had dinner together, I did not
tell Laddie about the noises. At this time I simply did not see
any connection between Laddie and my Peeping Tom.
When Laddie arrived at seven-twenty, I was sitting hunched
over a highball at the Thespians bar. Laddie walked up behind
me, placing one hand gently on my shoulder. "Charley," he
I turned around, facing him. He was wearing an expensive-
looking hound's-tooth cloth suit and a black silk tie. The
longish brown hair was slicked back to perfection; the boyish
face, rosy. The gray eyes, which could look so cool, so old,
now sparkled as though we were close friends, meeting here.
"You're looking pretty darned good," I said.
He wanted to buy me another highball. He raised his hand,
lifting his chin imperiously. The bartender, who did not like
him, came and took his order without a word.
I downed the remainder of the first drink and started to
sip the one Laddie had bought. We sat for a while in the
narrow paneled bar, fingering our glasses.
"How's how's Angelica today?" Laddie said, turning,
giving me a twisted smile, as though running down some friend
of mine whom he disliked. Although I knew that he still
cared for her, something told me, then, that he was not going
"I don't know," I said, keeping a straight face. "I've only
seen her twice once in a grocery store, and night before
"And and what went on night before last? Don't let
let me rattle you, Charley-boy." His jaws flinched and veins
in his temples moved, as though telling himself that he had
made his choice, and he must no longer care. You could tell,
just the same, that he still felt jealous.
"She spent the whole time wailing about wanting you
back," I said.
He said nothing to this. He signed the check, then he stood
beside me, placing his hand again on my shoulder. I must have
reminded him of his Harvard friend, wearing a seersucker
coat and the Pudding Club tie. He recognized the tie, and
said: "I see you made Hasty Pudding." He used a tone which
told that although he hadn't had what I had had, his success
in Hollywood had compensated for that. I looked down at
the tie: horizontal white stripes on black, like the body of a
deadly spider. I didn't say one word.
"I've ordered us lobsters," he said.
We climbed a narrow stairway to the Thespians' dining
rooms, New England rooms with cheery brass lanterns,
knotty pine paneling, and blue and white checked tablecloths.
Laddie nodded to a red-eyed screenwriter, who sat alone
eating a great fruit salad. After we had sat down, Laddie said
that the screenwriter, an ex-Communist, was waiting to be
called to testify. The Thespians crowd had taken bets on
whether the screenwriter would squeal. If he squealed, his ex-
Coinmunist friends in Hollywood would be washed up; if he
didn't squeal, he would go to prison. Laddie had bet that the
screenwriter would choose prison to save his friends.
"What would you do if you were in his shoes?" I said.
"I would do what M W is going to do, though 1
know good and well no living soul would do such a thing for
One week later Carol Culvers showed that she was pre-
pared to give up everything for him. . . .
Laddie would not speak about Carol this evening. At the
beginning of the meal, I said, "You know, old Culvers is one
tough egg. I'm not going to feel good till my story's in a
nice brown envelope on its way to New York." Laddie an-
swered this with a "/#"; then quickly changed the subject
back to Angelica, speaking of Angelica's "confused, childish
"Fin never going back," he said, digging into a fine iced
lobster. "I never want to see her again."
"Are you going to get a divorce?"
"How can I get a divorce? Angelica's Catholic."
It was then that Laddie told me the story of Angelica and
the Catholic priest.
One evening in 1947, the Wellses went to a party at the
Fleishhackers'. The Fleishhackers lived in an elaborate Geor-
gian house, decorated with Degas', Toulouse-Lautrecs, and
signed Chippendale chairs. Benny Fleishhacker, vice-presi-
dent of Worldwide pictures, liked to be thought of as "funnier
than Groucho Marx"; Mrs. Fleishhacker, a melancholy Aus-
trian, liked to be thought of as sensitive. Mrs. Fleishhacker
was worldly, to be sure, for she had married Fleishhacker and
had created this house; but the other half of her nature sought
the company of writers and composers and articulate hangers-
on. For this reason, Laddie Wells and a lot of others not im-
portant enough, or socially inclined enough, to run around
with top-drawer Hollywood, were invited to the Fleish-
It was quite late. Many of the guests were tight, and some
of them drunk. Laddie Wells stood on the fringe of the party,
glassy-eyed, gloomy, almost drunk. He had felt on edge all
evening. Although he had sensed, as soon as they entered the
house, that he would never fit in with this crowd, he had
tried hard to adapt himself. He had silently promised himself
and Angelica not to talk about anything serious, not to
get nasty, not to sound sarcastic, or dogmatic, or conceited
not to act German, as Angelica put it.
Three or four persons with whom he had started conversa-
tions had seemed pleasant enough. He had glanced over at
Angelica out of the corners of his eyes to see if she looked
pleased with him: Angelica didn't know he was alive. She was
concentrating on a good-looking English actor, who had
played on Darryl Zanuck's polo team. Her head was thrown
back, her pearl earrings dangling, her painted lips opened wide,
laughing at the English actor's joke. After two or three
minutes the persons he had been speaking with had got that
trapped look which social people get at cocktail parties, and
he had let them go.
Now he stood alone, drinking, taking a new drink every
time the butler passed a tray. The party in front of him began
to sound like a lawn 'with robins and blue jays and thrushes.
Suddenly suddenly he could not find Angelica. The
actor, he thought; he could not find the actor either. He
moved closer to the heart of the party; he squinted his eyes.
No, they were not there.
He stumbled off on a tour through the Fleishhackers' house
room after decorated room and did not find them; until
at last he found himself on a terrace with a marble balustrade,
facing a wild-garden. He heard sounds there. Holding his
glass, he walked down a flagstone path. When he reached the
wild-garden, he pushed aside clawing branches and flowering
vines, stumbled, fell on his face. A frightened rabbit darted
out across the lawns.
He picked himself up, and holding a handkerchief over his
bleeding cheek, walked on. He walked under a marble pergola
near a gaseous-blue swimming pool, where the Fleishhackers
held Sunday luncheons; he walked through a formal garden
with a sundial; past the mirroring plate-glass walls of the pool
house and could not find them.
He decided to go back to the party and wait for them.
He spotted them as soon as he entered, at the far end of the
Fleishhackers' living room. They were practically alone there:
Angelica, leaning against the white Georgian paneling; the
actor, one large hand near her dark hair on the paneling, bal-
ancing himself before her. They were smiling at each other
flirtatiously, speaking in low tones.
Laddie pushed his way through the crowd toward them;
but before he reached where they stood, the actor disappeared.
Laddie fixed his blurry gray eyes where the actor's hand had
rested, near her hair, and moved closer. Angelica's eyes,
watching him approach her, glowed like heated coins; her lips
opened, slightly, as though she were about to scream. Before
Laddie quite knew what he was doing, he walked up to her
and hit her hard on the chin. She stifled a scream, fleeing into
the crowd. Laddie stumbled off after her, pushing guests from
his path. At last he cornered her before the marble mantel.
He struck at her chin again, but missed. Somebody screamed.
Then Angelica began to laugh, pretending that it was some
game they were playing. She broke away from him and ran
across the room laughing. By now half of the party stood
hypnotized, watching their game; some of the people even
laughed. Suddenly she stopped running. She stood dead in
her tracks in front of a rose damask sofa, looking to the right,
then to the left, still forcing herself to laugh. He had cornered
A man in a dark suit, who had been watching, said something
to her, and she ran to him. Before Laddie could catch her, the
man had put his arms around her. Laddie struck at the man,
but the man's strong right arm stopped his blow. When Laddie
looked to see who the man was, he noticed the reversed collar.
The man was a Catholic priest.
Someone behind Laddie began to shout, "Throw him out!
Throw him out!" Then all at once he was stumbling, run-
ning, crawling, out of the Fleishhackers' house into the night,
his face bruised, blood trickling from his nose and mouth.
This marked the beginning of Angelica's on-again-oif -again
relations with the Catholic Church. The priest, a visitor from
Maryland, had started Angelica going to Mass every morning;
and the priest had brought about a fine change in her, Laddie
thought; but a week after the priest left Beverly Hills Angelica
fell back into her old ways. Day by day she drifted, slopping
around the house, playing with the baby, shopping at Saks,
getting her hair done, asking Laddie what they were going to
do that night.
She was a poor Catholic, as she was a poor wife, a poor
mother, a poor everything. It was unlikely that she could ever
bring herself to get a divorce, for she had never made up her
own mind about anything in her life.
She did not like the prospect of not being able to marry
again; she was afraid to break the laws of the Church; so, she
wanted him to come back to her. It was easiest for things to
go on as they were.
I never found out what had provoked his leaving. She had
been too shocked by the scandalous publicity to carry on after
the accident; and she had broken with George Martin, cold.
Perhaps he had been planning to leave her for months.
Nor did I know how Angelica had found out about Carol
Culvers, nor to what extent Carol Culvers had influenced him
to move out. No one will ever know these things.
At any rate, Laddie was not going back to her. That eve-
ning, after I returned to my rooms, I telephoned Angelica and
told her so.
ABOUT THIS TIME ANOTHER OF CAROL CUL-
vers' telegrams was delivered to me at Life. It said: "Would
love you to be guest this week end. We are going to Laguna to
stay at my mother's estate by the sea. Your friend, Carol
Later that day, I telephoned Laddie at Worldwide and he
spoke about Carol Culvers for the first time. It seemed that old
Culvers had rid himself at last of Marie Vadnum. For months
Culvers' men had hunted around for a house for her outside
Los Angeles; now, Culvers had bought a house. Apparently
the house was grand enough to lure Mrs. Vadnum away from
Beverly Hills, and was impressive enough to satisfy Culvers,
concocting a family background for his wife. Marie Vadnum
had moved to this "estate" the week before.
"Is Culvers going?" I said.
"Now, Charley-boy, don't go worrying your pretty head
about Carol and me. We've been managing for quite a few
I wanted to tell him then about "the noises" last Saturday
night; but he had already hung up.
Friday afternoon, when we were to leave Beverly Hills,
dark storm clouds shifted across a dismal August sky like a
herd of shadowy animals. Six automobiles stood lined up in
Culvers' drive. The first four, Cadillacs, yellow, gray, blue,
and black, belonged to Culvers. They were to carry the
Culverses; Butch Murphy; Carol's nurse; Carol's maid, two
chauffeurs; a record player and records; eleven suitcases; a case
of champagne, a case of scotch; a typewriter; a portable radio;
a collapsible canvas cabana for the beach; three briefcases; a
jewel case; boxes of Kleenex and special toilet paper and for
some odd reason, a full length ermine coat in a plastic bag,
which had been sent that afternoon on approval from Maxi-
milian Furs in New York.
I was to ride with Laddie in his Chrysler, the fifth automo-
bile. Laddie also carried a typewriter; for, ostensibly, he and
Flanegan and Culvers were going to get into a huddle over the
week end to work on The Thousand-Dollar Day, the picture
he was working on for Culvers-Productions in his spare time.
The sixth automobile, a flashy claret-colored Jaguar, be-
longed to Michael Flanegan, the ex-trombone player, whom
Culvers had placed at the head of his motion picture produc-
Waiting for the Culverses to appear, Michael Flanegan bent
over his fender, wiping away the dust with a soft green cloth.
He kept the green cloth for that purpose underneath the
"Michael!" Laddie called. Laddie leaned against the fender
of our Chrysler, his yellow-brown English loafers rubbing
against each other, his hands in the pockets of his gray flannel
As he heard his name called, one of Flanegan's midnight
blue suede shoes jerked forward, as though he were about to
come running; and his head perked up. It was a head marked
by contrasts. The fox-terrier eyes, the nose the kind of
nose for telling which way the wind blew were all nerves;
the face itself, unchallenging, depthless, not bad to look at,
was as smooth as new cloth on the bolt. Foxy but submissive,
it was the ideal type face to show around a kingfish's
"Michael, come over here and meet Mr. Thayer," Laddie
Flanegan came over, and he shook hands with me, mum-
bling, "Please'-t'-meet-y '," under his breath. Flanegan seemed
afraid of appearing friendly toward me.
"When are we going to get started?" Laddie said.
"They'll be out, they'll be out soon." Flanegan began
jingling keys and coins in his pocket. "It's a fine house you'll
be staying in."
"How many rooms?" Laddie said.
"About fifteen, I think, not counting the servants' rooms.
I was the one that found the house for Mr. Culvers," Flanegan
Now Culvers came lumbering out of the house; and Carol
came, bouncing along behind him, her chartreuse slacks, shin-
ing phosphorescent in the bleakness of the afternoon. She was
tying a green scarf around her platinum hair. Her nurse fol-
lowed her, carrying a box of powder, a bottle of red nail
polish, and three packages of cigarettes.
"Hi, fellows! " Carol called. She came to me, asking me to
please tie the scarf under her chin.
"I'm glad you're along, Mr. Thayer," Culvers said in an off-
hand manner, stalking off in the direction of the first Cadillac.
Flanegan trailed Culvers like a pet dog.
After I had fixed Carol's scarf, she moved nearer Laddie
"Hello," she said.
"You look very pretty," he said, their eyes flashing together.
"Thanks," she said.
Carol moved away; started back as if she had forgotten
something inside the house; turned; did a complete circle on
the lawn, before she went to the first automobile where Culvers
sat waiting for her.
Shortly afterward, Joseph, the two chauffeurs, the maid,
and the nurse finished loading things into the automobiles;
and we were ready. Laddie had already got into our car and
had turned on the ignition, when I noticed Butch Murphy,
dressed in a fancy straw hat and seersucker suit, walking
toward our car, carrying a suitcase.
"Murphy's going with us," Laddie said. "Be careful what
Butch Murphy opened the back-seat door and stepped in;
a second after she had croaked "Hello" to me, the automobiles
ahead of us started to move.
Moving down Beverly Boulevard, three little girls, having
a tea party under a dwarf palm, turned their heads our way,
pointing; and a young matron, hurrying to get inside her Cape
Cod Colonial house before the storm broke, nearly tripped,
dropping a bag of groceries, staring at us.
The procession turned right at Santa Monica and headed
out that boulevard until we came to Sepulveda. There we
turned and drove south down Highway 101, which leads to
Long Beach, and Laguna, and San Diego, and to the bullfights
in Tiajuana, Mexico. Halfway to Long Beach it started to
rain, and we listened to a baseball game on the radio.
"It's rainin' cats and dogs, isn't it, Mr. Wells?" Marie Vad-
num said, greeting us in the Spanish style entrance hall of her
"fa j&" Laddie said, "cats and dogs."
The estate consisted of a tile-roofed stucco house, joined to
a three-car garage, all crammed on a small piece of ocean-front
property. The house was no mansion by a long shot, nor the
place any estate, but it was, I was told, the largest house in
town, a distinction that pleased Carol's mother no end. The
house had been the folly of an elderly movie tycoon, who in
his dotage had become infatuated with a Laguna hotel clerk's
daughter; and the hall of the house had a beamed Spanish ceil-
ing, touched with gold.
Wearing a plum-colored turban and slacks, Marie Vadnum
stood in this hall near a Grand Rapids mahogany console that
held a pottery vase filled with paper lilies. She stood, flanked
by two servants Culvers had hired for her, playing lady-of-the-
house. "It'll be hunky-dory with you, won't it, Mr. Wells, if
Mr. Thayer puts up in your room?"
Although she had addressed these words to Laddie, she had
looked toward Culvers, who nodded, grunted, showing his
approval of the arrangement then started to move toward the
stairway. Culvers trudged up the stairs, using the wrought iron
rail. The servants, Butch Murphy, and Flanegan followed
him, carrying his bags.
Carol, holding the ermine coat in the plastic wrapper, waited
in the hall with her mother. As Laddie and I climbed the
stairs, she threw aside the wrapper, and tried on the magnifi-
cent coat over her slacks. "If I like it, I can keep it," Carol
said, parading before Marie Vadnum's eyes.
Upstairs Laddie and I walked down a tile-floored corridor,
passing a caravan of servants carrying bags. We came to the
room assigned to us for the week end. The room had coral
draperies and a fake oil painting of a flamingo in a Florida
lagoon. While I went to the John, Laddie, exhausted, fell
across a bed,
When I came back, I saw that Culvers' servants had brought
up our bags; they had set Laddie's typewriter on a bleached-
oak table facing his bed. Laddie still lay there, his legs spread
apart, his tired hands thrown behind his head, cooling beneath
a pillow, his eyes staring through the typewriter at the drizzly
evening sky. Laddie did not feel like talking; so I lay down on
the other twin bed, closing my eyes for a cat-nap.
Minutes later, Joseph stuck his head into our silent room:
dinner was being served downstairs.
Dinner was served the first evening in Laguna on a
broad wet flagstone terrace running the length of the rear of
the house. The rain had stopped. Beyond the soggy sands of
the beach, a heavy fog hung over the Pacific, and a white
summer moon shone through like a dim flashlight.
We sat in green metal chairs around a shaky glass-topped
table covered with turquoise pottery china plates and mats of
transparent plastic straw. Salt and pepper trickled out of
pottery turtles' mouths. At the beginning of dinner Laddie
spilled tomato soup; and the soup seeped through, making a
pool underneath the mat, then crept up again through the
plastic straws. I remember how his mat suddenly got the look
of an open wound, complete with a fly that had lighted there.
Culvers sat at one end of the table with Carol on his right,
with Laddie on his left, facing Carol. I sat next to Laddie, fac-
ing Flanegan, who alone among us had changed his clothes.
Flanegan now wore a lime-green shirt and loud yellow shark-
skin trousers. "You can depend on Mr. Culvers' taste to be
right," Flanegan was saying, smacking his lips.
They were discussing The Thousand-Dollar Day; and
Laddie was only half listening. Laddie gave his real interest to
Carol, across from him, with bold glances, and double en-
tendres which I have wondered if she fully understood. "I
want the girl's unhappiness to reveal itself by the intensity of
her love scene with Rob-Roy " Laddie said, looking into
Carol's eyes. He was working for Culvers only to be near
Carol; and had little interest in the project.
Carol was acting silly. When Butch Murphy walked out
and whispered to Culvers, Carol held her nose. "I smell a
skunk! I smell a skunk!" Another time, she pinched Flane-
gan's leg under the table, causing him to spill mint sauce down
his shirt. Flanegan, who concealed his low opinion of Carol
with overpoliteness, almost spat in her face, before the smile
came, turning it into a joke.
I started a conversation with Carol's mother, who sat, wear-
ing her turban, at the other end of the table, facing Culvers;
and not once during the dinner had Culvers glanced at her.
"Do you like living in Laguna?" I said.
"I like it all right," she said. "But I don't have any friends
down here, and everybody down here belongs to a crowd."
"With this big house, you'll soon have a crowd of your
own," I said.
After dinner when Laddie went upstairs with Culvers and
Flanegan to talk about the picture, Carol acted very nervous.
We sat in the living room, having after-dinner coffee: Carol
and I on a mulberry ottoman, and Mrs. Vadnurn in a wing
chair, slightly to the right of a carved mantel seven feet tall
Carol rose three or four times and went to the windows. There
was a windless calm over the Pacific, which must have height-
ened her uneasiness. After looking out, she would come back
to the sofa, each time shakily raising the demitasse to her lips,
or lighting a cigarette, or blowing her nose on a Kleenex, or
twisting the hunk of diamond on her third finger left hand that
was Culvers' engagement ring. She was acting, I thought, as
though she expected something to go wrong.
Thus, twenty minutes jerked along; then, Carol wanted to
play a cutthroat Canasta in the card room.
We played three-handed Canasta for almost an hour. Carol
played well. She seemed to have channeled all of her anxiety
into winning this game; and when her mother picked up a
juicy stack, which I had frozen, Carol slapped her mother's
hand. No one actually won. We stopped playing shortly
after Flanegan walked past the door on his way out of the
house. Carol yawned, examined her diamond watch. "Well,
kiddies, I'm going to turn in. Why don't you go out with
Flanegan? " she said to me.
So I jumped up from the chair and hurried out to catch
Flanegan. As I reached the drive, I heard the roar of Plane-
gan's Jaguar down the highway. Carol gave me the keys to
the blue Cadillac, which was hers.
As I turned the blue Cadillac into the highway, I noticed a
man, sitting in a darkened Plymouth, parked directly across
from the house. When I passed him, his lights flashed on. He
was following me. The blue Cadillac's chromium clock said
five minutes of ten. This would have given Carol and Laddie
three hours to do as they liked without the Culvers' detective
hanging around, for I drank at the Captain's Cabin about that
Now I knew, of course, why she had wanted me here: to
arouse old Culvers' suspicions. She had played her game well,
for old Culvers as well as the rest of them seemed to think that
I was the one with whom she was carrying on the affair.
I sat on a rickety bamboo stool at the Captain's Cabin, sip-
ping Tom Collinses. Twenty minutes before I left, the man
in the fedora walked in and stood at the end of the bar.
At around one o'clock I drove to Marie Vadnuni's and I
went to bed. From one-ten until four I must have slept, be-
cause between those hours I didn't remember anything hap-
pening. When Laddie "walked in at around four o'clock, I
He moved into the room quietly, and for ten minutes or so,
he sat on the side of his bed. I heard him stand up; I heard him
take a few steps; and I could make out him picking up his
typewriter, raising it above his head. Suddenly he bashed the
typewriter on the floor with all his strength. Things cracked,
and popped, and a tiny bell tinkled, and wheels rolled. To
people sleeping, it must have sounded as though the world
had come to an end.
"My God!" I cried. "What's the matter?"
"Ohhhhhh haven't you found out that something's
always the matter?" he said.
"People don't go around bashing their typewriters to
pieces," I said, "because of it."
"Maybe people ought to," Laddie said.
He turned down the sheets, got undressed, and lay down.
Then he lighted a cigarette for me and a cigarette for himself,
and he walked over and sat down on the side of my bed.
"I think I ought to tell you," I said, "that a detective's been
on my trail for a week now. He's followed me down here."
"What've you done?" Laddie laughed.
"It's Culvers' detective," I said.
"So the old boy's finally wised up?"
"Your girl friend has been pretty smart so far. Everybody
Laddie laughed again.
"Don't you see that in a few days he'll start tailing you?"
"You mustn't worry so much, Charley-boy," he said.
He walked naked into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, went
to the John, and got into bed. He did not explain bashing Ms
typewriter, and I did not ask him.
When I awakened late on Saturday morning, Laddie's bed
was empty. He had set the wrecked typewriter back on the
table, covering it with a T-shirt. He had left a note for
Joseph, asking him to throw the machine away.
I had breakfast on the terrace by myself. As I was eating a
melon, Butch Murphy and Flanegan came strolling out, speak-
ing in low tones.
"Bide your time, Michael," Butch Murphy was saying.
"Don't forget that the others are biding time down in New
They were discussing Carol's rudeness to both of them at
dinner last night. Butch Murphy was telling Flanegan to take
a lesson from the first Mrs. Culvers and Clarence Culvers, Jr.
one day the "empire" would fall into the hands of this
mother and son.
As soon as they saw me, they stopped speaking. Flanegan
strutted like a bantam cock across the terrace toward the beach.
Butch Murphy walked over and sat down.
"If I was to ask you a question, would you truthfully answer
it?" Butch Murphy said, leaning forward, folding her hands.
"Aren't you planning to write a book about Mr. and Mrs.
"I'm writing the story for Life. I'm not writing any
"I'll bet one day you write a book about them," Butch
Murphy said, her bulldog mouth forming a sly, worldly smile.
She glanced toward an emerald-colored canvas cabana, which
had been set up on Mrs. Vadnum's beach. You could not see
the Culverses; but you could see Joseph, dignified as a Wall
Street lawyer in striped trousers and black coat, moving in and
out; and you could see the maid and the nurse, jumping around
Eke sparrows; and you could see Flanegan, kneeling on one
knee, facing the cabana: you knew that the Culverses were
"Well, if I do, and I get hard up for facts, I'll know whom to
come to," I said, grinning at her.
Chuckling in her deep gruff voice, Butch Murphy rose
from the chair and wandered back into the house. I sat there,
tapping a fork against my water goblet.
I had always wanted to write a novel. My instructor in
English 4- A, who had sold stories to the Post, had said that a
writer could cut his teeth writing on a novel; and once during
a sweltering New York summer, I had begun a Fitzgeraldish
book about my friend Bugsy Ames, a Virginian with whole-
sale grocery money, who had established a salon in his rooms
in Eliot House. \ Bugsy Ames's rooms, decorated with Beards-
ley drawings, Persian rugs, maps of France, had been the gath-
ering place of people like Eddie Lubormorski, whose father
had a Polish title; and David Lewis who had visited Somerset
Maugham; and of snobs and wits from places like St. Paul,
Milwaukee, and Grosse Point. They were an off-color,
slightly notorious group, who drank Russian tea during the
Harvard- Yale game. My roommate, Ed Sturgis, a big wheel
in the Hasty Pudding, nowadays dabbling in television, de-
plored my seeing this crowd. "Why do you want to get your-
self talked about, Charley?" But I went on seeing them, just
the same. And I had just discovered Huxley and Proust, and
I hung on their every word. I would have written that novel,
or at least a part of it, if I hadn't gone off to Long Island to
stay with the Sturgises. The Sturgises lived in a huge stone
pile of a house, larger than the Miro Parish courthouse. It
f aceS a lovely blue bay on the Sound where J. P. Morgan used
to anchor his yacht.
There were always these two sides of my nature, like two
wheels, heading left, heading right: the Bugsy Ames side, and
the Ed Sturgis side. Then there was the problem of Miro
the fear I had of having to go back to live in xMiro, which was
a kind of third wheel, spinning in reverse.
I held a secret dream that one day I would do something
big, and start all those wheels to spinning in the same direction.
I used to daydream about writing novels.
At Harvard I had put off writing, like putting off going to
the dentist. I was always running around doing Lampoon
business, or playing tennis, or lying on the banks of the Charles
with Bugsy Ames. Then, I had gone to work for Life; and
after a year in New York Life had transferred me to the office
in Beverly Hills.
As I sat there in a pain of worrying about myself, Butch
Murphy sat in the living room, telephoning long distance to a
catering firm in Beverly Hills. She was placing an order for a
thousand roast chickens on September the third. There was to
be held on that day, Carol's twenty-fourth birthday, a costume
The rain had cleared the sky to a robin's-egg blue, and there
was an August wind blowing that would have been fine for
sailing. After breakfast I took a walk down the beach.
A fat woman with a sweet baby face lay like a pink and
white hippopotamus, getting the sun; and a sailor was chasing
a redhead, who kept pulling up the bra of her strapless bathing
suit; and four children wearing crepe paper hats were conduct-
ing a double Tom Thumb wedding. I sat down near three
young women hidden behind a fat green beach umbrella.
Though you could not see their faces, you could see their slim
legs, stretched out, shiny with tanning oil. They were ac-
tresses, I found out, from the La Jolla Playhouse, and they had
come to Laguna for the day; and for almost an hour they dis-
cussed whether a girl named Joan was going to marry a young
man named Al, or whether she was going to hold out for a man
with money. When I heard their portable radio announce one
o'clock, I jogged back to Marie Vadnum's house.
"Mr. Thayer," Culvers said, "when do you think the story
will come out in Life? 77
"I don't know when," I said. "I haven't even sent it in
"Can't you give me some idea? "
"Well, Mr. Culvers," I said, "Leamus wants to get some
glamour shots of Mrs. Culvers. Then he wants to photograph
your next party the costume party. As soon as he's done
this, we can shoot the story on to New York."
"Then possibly in two weeks they'll have the story in New
York; is that correct?"
"That's correct," I said.
Culvers dug into a pink lump of shrimp salad, avoiding my
Marie Vadnum had driven to La Jolla to meet Gladys Hen-
drix and the Titsons; and Flanegan had gone to the races at
Del Mar. There were only the four of us at lunch on Sat-
urday: Culvers, Carol, Laddie, and I. Carol sat opposite Lad-
die, poking her finger into her water glass, eating little,
mumbling about a stained-glass window in Long Beach.
It seemed that an old acquaintance of Culvers, in New
Orleans, a Baptist minister, had been made recently the pastor
of a new church in Long Beach. Culvers had been persuaded
to donate a window in memory of his mother. We were going
to drive to Long Beach Sunday for the dedication of the
window and for a picnic lunch at the parsonage grounds.
Now, the day before, Carol slumped in her chair, like Raggedy
Ann with a broken heart.
Laddie seldom gazed up from his plate; and after lunch was
over and the Culverses had gone to their rooms to take naps,
Laddie moped around as though he had done something
horrible. Later that afternoon we stripped and took sunbaths
on the private deck outside our room. It was then when
Laddie told me about meeting Carol Culvers and about the
night they had spent on the beach.
At around seven o'clock the second evening in Laguna,
while I was taking a shower, Laddie was summoned to the tele-
phone. He came back as I was stepping from the shower and
as I was drying myself, he stood for a moment in the doorway.
"That was my agent," he said. "My agent ran into Angelica
and her parents at the Beverly Hills Hotel."
Then he lay down on my bed, and he pulled his silk dressing
gown around his body, as though to keep warm, and closed
his eyes. He was exhausted. I did not awaken him until eight
While Laddie was dressing, Joseph came, saying that Mr.
Culvers was anxious to do some work. Laddie, Flanegan, and
Butch Murphy would have their dinner off trays in Culvers*
room. After Joseph left, Laddie said: "Right now the old
man's all hepped up. In a week or so he'll be hepped up about
something else and he'll dump the picture in the lap of a goon
like Flanegan. Makes me feel I ought to get all the money I
can out of him and clear out. That's a bad way to feel."
"Yeah," I said, "it's a bad way to feel."
"He's only playing around," Laddie said. "If the picture
turns out bad, it doesn't really matter to him. He says he
doesn't need to make money with his pictures. He wants art.
Flanagan's fooled him into thinking he knows all about art.
It's too bad, because the old man wants to do something really
fine for Carol."
"Yeah, it's too bad," I said.
"He's got a lot of money and he believes he's an authority
on everything under the sun. Money's a kind of stick he holds
over your head."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Fm going to do my job and clear out of the picture. It's
bad to feel this way about a person," Laddie said.
At dinner there were Gladys Hendrix, the Titsons, Marie
Vadnum, Carol, and I. Carol got a little tight on the red wine,
and everyone fawned over her, and after dinner she had a
record player brought out, and she and the Titsons formed a
line and kicked like chorus girls. At around ten o'clock Culvers
sent Joseph to ask her to come upstairs.
When Marie Vadnum and her friends went off to the Cap-
tain's Cabin, I worked on the cross-word puzzle in Laddie's
New York Times. By eleven-thirty I lay in bed mulling over
what Gladys Hendrix had whispered to me, while Carol high-
kicked: "Take my advice. Don't fool around with her!" the
echoes of her whispering ringing like echoes of pistol shots in
I fell asleep at around one and kicked and tossed through
Sunday morning bright hot August sun had risen in a sky
as soft and blue as a baby's blanket. A bell was ringing at a
Laguna church. People swarmed like ants over the sugary
beaches. Far out you could see sailboats gliding down from
Balboa. Inside the house there was still a coffee smell. The
Sunday papers lay strewn over the terrace where we had had
Laddie Wells and I had packed already. We planned to
leave the Culverses after the picnic at the parsonage in Long
Beach and to drive on back to Beverly Hills. Now we stood
in Marie Vadnum's living room, wearing seersucker suits,
waiting for the procession to get started. Laddie had rubbed
talcum on his sunburned face, and he kept taking out a hand-
kerchief from his hip pocket, wiping his cheeks.
"I don't like to smell too sweet," he said. "My father used
to dress up and powder like some damned New York fairy."
"Is your father still living?"
"/<*, still living."
"Ja, my mother too."
"I thought probably they were. It's just that I've never
heard you speak of them."
"What's there to say? I'm an only child, and the three of
us came over in 'thirty-eight. My grandfather on my father's
side was a Jew."
"I didn't mean to sound prying."
"All of us in California have parents back somewhere,"
Suddenly the room became infested with servants, and para-
sites; then Culvers himself paused in the doorway, peering at
us out of old-fashioned dark glasses with perfectly round
"The ceremony has already started," Culvers said. "We're
going to arrive very late."
Now Carol walked in, dressed all in black like a widow, and
wearing almost every diamond she possessed diamond clips,
diamond bracelets, diamond rings, even a diamond brooch,
fixed on the brim of her black silk beanie. She wore black,
because Culvers wanted her to look dignified in the church.
"I'm a little scared," Carol laughed.
"There's no reason to feel scared," Laddie said. Laddie was
staring into the doll eyes, then at the shining platinum hair. It
was as though he did not notice the preposterous black cos-
tume, or the diamonds she wore.
Carol laughed rather nervously, as though she were only
pretending to feel afraid, and wasn't. Then Culvers called
from the hall, "We're ready to leave, Carol," and the three of
us walked to the automobiles lined up before Marie Vadnum's
Four automobiles formed the procession to Long Beach. A
chauffeur and Butch Murphy rode in the first automobile with
Culvers, who wanted to dictate letters. Carol, the nurse, and
another chauffeur were to ride in the second one; then at the
last minute Carol insisted that Laddie and I ride with her.
Culvers 7 face in the first car window showed a look of such
agony and hate, hearing this, that Laddie asked Carol to sit on
the rear seat with the nurse. In the third car sat Flanegan and
Marie Vadnum, trying to hide her peeve over Culvers' not
having invited along Gladys Hendrix and the Titsons. Fourth
came Joseph, driving Laddie's car.
We started out pleasantly enough. I told a joke about Sam
Goldwyn; then Laddie told one; then Carol told the one about
the Jewish rabbi and St. Peter. Then we stopped telling jokes
for a while and we gazed out at people sprawled on the
beaches, at steaming trailer camps, at sailors hitch-hiking; and
before we quite realized it, we had ridden for twenty minutes
without anybody speaking a word.
All at once, as real noises penetrate sleep, you heard the
scuffling in the back seat. When I turned around I saw the
nurse trying to take away a bottle of gin from Carol's hands,
neither of them uttering a sound. As soon as the nurse saw me
watching, she straightened primly, folding her hands: to save
Carol any embarrassment, I suppose. Carol took advantage of
the truce; she placed the bottle in the corner of the seat, out
of the nurse's reach. She grinned at me as innocently as a child
of ten, caught doing something bad, her platinum curls
mussed, covering one eye, perspiration seeping through her
powdered forehead, the beanie with the diamond brooch dan-
gling like a crown which meant nothing to her. I said nothing,
of course. Meanwhile Laddie sat frowning, as though some
struggle of his own was going on in his mind. Minutes passed.
"Take your filthy hands off me, goddammit!" Carol
screamed. Both of us turned around.
Carol, forced like some animal into the corner of the seat,
was using one hand to hold the bottle, the other to claw at the
"Miss Carol oughtn't to drink anything on a hot day like
today," the nurse said.
"You filthy witch!"
"I don't know who could have given her the bottle," the
nurse said. "I searched carefully through her purse before we
"Don't ever look in my purse again, God damn you! "
It went on several minutes longer with Laddie trying to
calm Carol, and I, turned almost complete around, trying to
take away the bottle. Through all of this the chauffeur, a
forty-year-old fellow with rimless glasses, drove on as though
this was nothing strange to him.
"God damn bastards! God damn bastards! All o' you God
"Miss Carol! You're not yourself, saying those things!
You're not yourself!"
Carol drew back her hand and slapped the nurse's face.
While the nurse sat there, whimpering, "She's not herself, she's
not herself when she gets that stuff inside her," whimpering,
babbling like a woman struck by her own child, Carol
crouched in the corner of the seat, drinking from the bottle
"Give the bottle to me," Laddie said, reaching, his fingers
brushing her legs.
Carol hissed at him like a wildcat, but she lowered the bottle
from her lips. "There, there!" she cried, tossing the bottle
out the window. "That's what I think of you! " She sulked
nastily for a moment or so, and we straightened in our seats,
facing the road to Long Beach. We had not sat straight for
five minutes before Carol began to beat the chauffeur's head.
"God damn you, you're taking all day. You-you want me to
miss-miss everything? It's for Clarence's mother, God damn
Laddie knocked away Carol's hands: "Are you trying to
wreck us, you little fool?" Laddie straightened again; and
both of us watched her in the mirror. Carol was glaring at the
nurse, then she pinched the nurse's arm. When the nurse
slapped her hands, Carol drooped her shoulders and started to
cry pitifully: "I wanna die ... I wanna die ... I wanna go to
sleep ... I wanna die like you, Daddy ... I wanna die like you,
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, help me ... help me ..."
"Miss Carol's not herself," the nurse said calmly.
"I wanna die, Daddy ... I don' wanna live any more,
Daddy ... I don' wanna live any more ..."
"Oh, Lord! Can't you make her shut up?" Laddie cried.
Laddie's arms and then his legs began to tremble, as though
his body were going to fall into pieces.
In the car mirror I watched Carol raise her frazzled head,
and with damp red eyes, look at the back of Laddie's head.
She moved her hand to his shoulder; she touched his neck,
tenderly with her palm. Then she drooped again, sobbing,
babbling, forming no words, like some hopeless idiot child
who understands nothing of the world. "I wanna die now . . .
I wanna die now ... I don't wanna live any more, Daddy . . .
no more ..."
"She's not herself," the nurse said. "Somebody must have
slipped her the bottle."
The chauffeur, following Culvers', the number one auto-
mobile, drove down a treeless street lined with Quonset huts,
which had geraniums in the windows. At the end of this
street stood a building, resembling the Alamo, and people
were departing from this building in their Sunday clothes,
moving past a neon sign in front that said the such-and-such
Baptist Church of Long Beach, filing around toward the par-
sonage grounds next door. Culvers' Cadillac stopped in front
of the church, and our Cadillac pulled up behind his. Culvers
sat inside the car, looking out at the crowd, who stared at him.
Laddie and I got out to help the chauffeur with Carol, who
was now sickeningly drunk from the straight gin and heat.
Laddie took one of her arms and the chauffeur the other arm,
and they supported Carol, while the nurse brushed Carol's
hair, and put on lipstick. A hot dry wind was blowing, and
the crowd had stopped moving to watch. Culvers' large old
face, seeing this, became contorted as though he felt a pain at
his heart. Culvers climbed out of the car, and he lumbered
toward us, perspiration dripping down his chin like saliva.
"How how who who how did she get hold of
any?" Culvers' words came out as though he were about to
"She just pulled out this bottle from her purse and started,
Mr. Culvers. I searched the purse well, about ten minutes
before we left the house," the nurse said. "The gentlemen here
did everything they could to help."
Now the pastor of the Baptist Church, Culvers' old friend,
approached us, a squat pink-faced man of sixty, who had curly
white hair. Culvers stepped forward, and the pastor, who had
given Culvers a beaming smile, suddenly got grave. You could
not hear what Culvers said to the pastor, but the pastor took
out a handkerchief and dabbed his lips.
The pastor walked toward the crowd, telling them that they
should go to the parsonage grounds. Most of them moved a
few feet, then slowed to stare again. Meanwhile, Culvers
came; and Laddie, the chauffeur, and I helped Carol to climb
four concrete steps leading to the church. Butch Murphy >
Flanegan, and Joseph followed us, looking as though they had
expected this to happen. Marie Vadnum came last, as though
she did not wish Culvers to know she was there.
The sight of the church's strong wooden doors sobered
Carol somewhat, and as we entered Carol turned her head
toward the pastor and smiled sweetly; then her knees gave
way and the chauffeur and I, supporting her under the armpits y
had to drag her in. Except for two elderly women, the church
had emptied. The women stood near the pulpit, staring up
at the new stained-glass window. When they saw us dragging
Carol down the aisle, they shook their heads and walked out,
Halfway down the aisle Carol was sick, and we dragged her
to a seat, while the nurse took out a face towel from the make-
up kit and cleaned up. "I wanna go home," Carol moaned.
The pastor coughed.
"There's your window, Clarence," the pastor said suddenly,
pointing to the crucifixion scene in stained glass.
"My mother would have liked that," Culvers said, glancing
from the stained-glass crucifixion to poor Carol.
Hearing Culvers mention his mother, Carol tried to stand up.
She collapsed into the seat, hanging her head.
"Poor Mrs. Culvers," the pastor said, "let's get her into my
So we dragged her across the church through a small
wooden door into the pastor's study, and we laid her on a
green studio couch, where the pastor took his naps. While the
pastor spoke to Clarence, the pastor's wife appeared, a crippled
woman, wearing a mauve rayon dress. As soon as we had
arranged Carol on the couch, the pastor's wife hobbled over
with a glass of orange-ade.
"I wanna die, I wanna die," Carol moaned.
"The congregation is waiting to eat," the pastor said, pacing
the floor, dabbing with the handkerchief at his lips.
Culvers walked to the window and looked out at the five
hundred hungry people.
The nurse held the glass of orange-ade, trying to coax Carol
to drink; the pastor's wife sat, trying to hold Carol's hand.
"Leave me alone. Let me die, for crissake," Carol turned
her cheek against the coolness of a pillow. The nurse started
to remove the bracelets, rings, and clips, placing them on a
table beneath a water color of Jesus.
"She'll never get through the picnic," Laddie said to Culvers.
"Why don't you take Carol home?"
Culvers did not answer this; Culvers eyed the pastor's wife,
who now stared at the diamonds.
"Why don't you take Carol home?" Laddie cried. "Why
don't you take her home?"
"Yes yes, we'll take her home," Culvers said.
While Culvers apologized to his old friend the pastor, Laddie
picked up Carol from the bed and carried her out of the
church in his arms.
That's all I remember about the trip to Long Beach, ex-
cept for the business of the diamonds. The nurse, who had
collected the diamonds, suddenly cried out, when we were
outside the church. She had left behind one of the diamond
bracelets. I said that I would fetch it. When I returned to the
pastor's study, the pastor's crippled wife sat fondling the
thing, as though to possess it would bring her her greatest joy.
"Pardon me," I said. "The nurse forgot one."
"Such a gorgeous thing," the woman said, hobbling toward
me. "Well, here it is. Take it to the poor girl."
Driving up Highway 101 to Beverly Hills, there were only
the two of us. Friday night, Laddie said, the night when he
bashed the typewriter to the floor, he had backed out of a plan
they had had of running away to Mexico.
WE CAME BACK FROM THE LACUNA WEEK END
on a mid- August Sunday night. Monday morning Angelica's
father, Mr. Porter O'Brien, telephoned me at Life.
"We're out here for a coupla days, son, and we didn't want
to get away without seeing you," Porter O'Brien said.
What he meant was that he didn't want to run into my
parents back at the Miro Country Club without having both-
ered to get in touch with me. They weren't friends, actually.
But Miro was still a small city, and nice people were supposed
to think the world of each other. The Porter O'Briens, who
were new nice people, were sticklers for doing the right thing.
"How about having dinner with the ladies and me tonight,
"Why that sounds mighty fine, Mr. O'Brien," I said, using
my good-old-Charley tone.
He said that we were going to have a nice quiet dinner at
the hotel, just us "home folks."
Monday evening, driving to the Beverly Hills Hotel, I pic-
tured us there. Porter O'Brien, the stocky ex-mechanic, would
be adjusting rimless glasses over his squinting pig eyes, saying:
"Go on, folks, order anything you like steaks, cav-vy-yar,
champagne." And Mrs. O'Brien, Florence, a pretty Miro
society matron who hadn't been a society matron as long as
others, would be sitting there a little too ladylike in her green
rayon suit and flowered hat, removing white gloves, praying
that Porter wouldn't brag too much about his business, or flash
his bankroll, or speak too indiscreetly about Angelica's marital
troubles in front of the G. W. Thayers' son. Angelica would
sit there, dressed in pink, a little subdued, confident that I
wouldn't tell anything she didn't wish her parents to know.
Dinner began as I had imagined it: steaks, a bottle of vintage
champagne, and a wavy-haired violinist who, having caught a
glimpse of Porter's hundred-dollar bills, now paraded around
us, playing "Some Enchanted Evening."
Angelica sat next to me, fidgeting with her gold bracelets,
running her fingers through her new cropped hairdo I had
told her that she looked like Elizabeth Taylor with short hair,
and this had flattered her. Once, while Porter O'Brien told
about the reactivation of McWilliams Field, Angelica had
looked into my eyes, and underneath the table I had pressed
my leg against hers. Toward the middle of dinner Angelica's
spirits picked up. It was as though she felt secure and safe
with her parents there and could afford to act her old self.
When a good-looking blonde walked past, and Porter O'Brien
stared, Angelica laughed: "Now don't let that song go to
your head, Daddy. You're going to spend your enchanted
evening right here with us."
"Angelica! Aren't you ashamed!"
"It's all right, Mother," Porter O'Brien said, patting his
wife's hand, "We want our Little Girl to have fun tonight.
Our Little Girl's had a tough time out here all by herself. But
we'll fix everything up for her. Her daddy'll see to that"
Mrs. O'Brien's green eyes flashed, trying to stop her hus-
band, but neither her eyes nor her manicured fingers, placed
on her husband's rough hairy hand, did any good. Looking
at me, he told how he had warned Angelica that Laddie Wells
was not the one for her to marry, how he had said all along
that Laddie wasn't the kind of husband they wanted for their
Little Girl. Laddie Wells was not their sort of person. Laddie
Wells was not the kind of young man content to settle down,
raise a family, and win the community's respect. Laddie Wells
wasn't like the fine young men back home who stayed in
Miro, where they belonged, and lived normal Christian lives.
No, Laddie Wells was a young man Porter O'Brien could
never understand, and he had warned his Little Girl not to
marry him. Now, Laddie Wells was unfaithful to his Little
Girl; and he wasn't going to see his Little Girl treated this way.
It was all that I could do to keep from spilling the beans
about the Little Girl herself. As for the Little Girl, color rose
in her face until her face glowed as pink as the crisp pink
taffeta underskirt under the organdy; and she used every trick
in the book flicking her gold eyes, pressing my leg, giving
desperate little coughs pleading with me not to tell any-
thing. Mrs. O'Brien, playing lady, dabbing her thin lips with
a crumpled white handkerchief, simply allowed her husband
to have his say. There was nothing she could do when her
husband wanted to voice his opinions; and, anyway, her hus-
band had made a lot of money and knew best. As Porter
O'Brien ended his tirade, he looked me coolly in the eye, as
though I, too, were a rogue for having broken away from
Miro. He said: "Don't you think for one minute that I'm
going to let any highfalutin young fop get the best of us. No,
sirreee, sonny-boy, I'll fix him."
"What are you going to do?" I said.
"Don't you ever underestimate us back in Miro," he said,
squinting his pig eyes, tightening his colorless thin lips.
"What are you talking about?" I said.
"Rob Roy Hutchins, my lawyer back home, has contacts
all over this country. Rob Roy's put me in touch with one of
the biggest lawyers in Beverly Hills. We're going to give
Laddie one more chance. If he won't come back to our Little
Girl, we're going to file for a separation and property settle-
ment that'll squeeze the blood out of him. We're going to
leave him just enough money to buy cigarettes and gas. We
can't allow our Little Girl to divorce. Our Little Girl would
never go against the laws of the Church. But we're going to
file for a legal separation I've already spoken with a priest
out here. We're going to put the squeeze on Mr. Laddie
"How do you know you can?" I said.
"Talked to the lawyer this afternoon. The lawyer said what
we could get all I mentioned and maybe more. No, sir,
nobody's going to treat my Little Girl this way and get away
"Whose word are you taking that he's done anything? "
My ears burned, my cheeks glowed like paper lanterns.
"Why, I'm taking my Little Girl's word! He left her, didn't
he? He left her for some cheap actress, didn't he? I'm taking
my Little Girl's word! "
"Your Little GirFs?"
"Please, Charley; please, Porter; people are hearing every
word you say," Mrs. O'Brien said, leaning forward.
"My Little Girl wouldn't tell us anything over the tele-
phone, when we called her long distance. But her folks knew
that something was the matter they knew. We've suspected
something's been wrong ever since the accident, ever since
those rotten Hollywood papers tried to make something of
her going out to dinner with Mr. Martin. I ought to have filed
suit against every one of those lying papers. That's what I
"Well, we've known something's been wrong, so I suggested
to Mother, here, that we just jump on a plane and fly out here
and see for ourselves. After we got here we wormed every-
thing out of her. Believe you me, sonny, Laddie Wells's not
going to make a success in life with this on his conscience."
"I don't see how he's going to be able to make anything,
after what you're going to do," I said.
"Hoo-hooo-hoooo," laughed Porter O'Brien, "I'd like to
catch the look of his face the day after the papers are served.
He acted mighty high and mighty down in Miro. Now it's
our turn to laugh. What do you think about that, sonny-boy?"
"I think you're a sonofabitch," I said, calmly.
"What what you what? "
"Porter! Porter! Please, Porter!" Mrs. O'Brien said, pull-
ing at her husband's blue-green sleeve.
"I said you're a sonofabitch."
"Come outside and say that, sonny! " Rising, Porter O'Brien
glared with angry contempt, as though he were some goutish,
"I'll go outside with you," I said, rising also, "and I'll finish
telling you all about yourself."
"Charley! Charley! Stop it! Stop it!" Angelica cried, pull-
ing my coat sleeve,
"Well, come on. I'll tell you what I think of you. I'll tell
you what a lot of people back in your blessed little Miro think
of you. Come on outside. I'll tell you all about your Little
"Stop it!" Angelica cried, grabbing my arm.
"Well, are you coming?"
I knocked away Angelica's hand, and I stalked off from the
table. From the lobby I could see them still sitting at the
table. Porter O'Brien, waiting for the check, sat fuming and
snorting, his pig eyes squinted into slits. Mrs. O'Brien, already
dreading gossip about the scene back home, had placed her
fingers on his forearm, calming him. "He's young, Porter. It's
only that he's young." Presently both of them raised water
goblets to their lips and sipped. Angelica, sniffling into a
salmon-pink napkin, blew her nose. They had gone into the
act, Nothing Has Really Happened to Us.
It was on Wednesday morning that Porter O'Brien tele-
phoned Laddie Wells at the studio to arrange a meeting to
"talk things over." Angelica, who hated never being able to
marry again, had told her father that she loved Laddie Wells
and wanted him back. Laddie met with Porter O'Brien and
the lawyer at around eight o'clock Wednesday at the Beverly
Hills Hotel He arrived at the cocktail lounge and he spotted
Porter O'Brien sitting at a table with the lawyer. He walked
over to the table.
"Why, hello there, son," Porter O'Brien said, rising, slap-
ping Laddie's shoulder.
Laddie sat down with them.
"You look all worn out," Porter O'Brien said.
Laddie said nothing to this.
"Well, I was never a man to beat around the bush. What I
want to say is this: My Little Girl loves you and doesn't want
a separation. My Little Girl wants you back, son. She wants
you to leave California, and live in Miro.
"Now you won't have to worry about a job, son. Fm get-
ting old. I'm going to have to train some smart young fellow
to take over. It'll be Angelica's business, when I'm gone."
"Angelica Angelica wants to go back to Miro?"
"She does. Miro's her home. Miro's where she belongs."
"Perhaps you're right."
"My Little Girl's grown up," Porter O'Brien said, rattling
ice cubes in his glass. "She's come to realize that Hollywood's
no kind of place to live a decent, normal life. She wants to
come home and live among the right kind of people."
"What's funny about that?"
"Did she think for one minute I'd live in Miro?" Laddie said.
"Nine tenths of the young men in America would jump at
what I'm offering you. Know how long it's taken to build up
my business? Thirty-two years, man, thirty-two years. Know
what I did when I first came to Miro? A machinist. What do
you think of that? A machinist. Know what my business is
capitalized at today? Over a million dollars. What do you
want, man? What is it you want out of life?"
"I'm not going into what I want, Mr. O'Brien. But I'll
tell you what would happen to me down in your business.
I'd sit behind a desk and grow fatter and fatter, and another
part of me would grow smaller and smaller and smaller. Do
you know the way a candle flame grows weaker and weaker
and finally goes out? Would you want to lower a jar over
my candle flame, Mr. O'Brien?"
"No, no, no. What are you talking about, man?" Porter
O'Brien's fist came down on the table top, causing the glasses
"My candle flame, Mr. O'Brien. How I don't wish the flame
to go out."
"I never did understand you," Porter O'Brien said, his pig
eyes glaring. "I knew from the day I first laid eyes on you
that you weren't the young man for my Little Girl."
"What didn't you understand, Mr. O'Brien?"
"I don't want to hear your damned fool ideas."
"You don't understand why your Little Girl married me, is
that it, Mr. O'Brien? Well, for one thing, she wanted more
than what you and your money and your Miro had to give.
I doubt if she realized it at the time, I doubt if she realizes
it now, but she did, Mr. O'Brien. She used to talk about want-
ing a wonderful crazy life, and knowing wonderful people,
and doing wonderful things. You never knew your daughter
"My Little Girl was just a kid when she married you, and
that was just kid talk. Most kids have pipe dreams libe that."
"She had a wonderful, crazy streak that you wouldn't have
"She's grown up now. She wants to settle down to a decent
normal life, like her mother has with me."
"Do you know why I married her, Mr. O'Brien? I married
her because she was a firefly. She was flitting around at a
cocktail party in a pink dress, saying the silliest things you
ever heard. She said that she'd marry me if I stood on my head.
She had me standing on my head at this cocktail party in New
York, Mr. O'Brien. I'd never met such a girl, and I was crazy
about her. Beware of fireflies, Mr. O'Brien. Beware of fire-
"Don't talk that damned poppycock to me." Porter O'Brien
wiped his forehead with a soiled white handkerchief. "My
Little Girl's unhappy and wants to come home."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you, Mr. O'Brien? You'd like
her to be like everyone else. You'd like her the sort of person
yon could put your finger on, a person in a neat little groove."
"Fve offered you everything in my power to give, man."
"You've offered me money, Mr. O'Brien, money and a slow,
"I won't sit here and listen to your damned fool poppy-
Suddenly the lawyer coughed loud. The lawyer had sat
there, like some powerful mute force of society, backing up
Porter O'Brien's words. Now the lawyer opened a briefcase
and handed Laddie a summons. "We're asking for fifty per
cent of your earnings, Mr. Wells. Under the circumstances, I
think that the court will agree."
Laddie stood up and he looked straight into Porter O'Brien's
pig eyes. He picked up the summons, and walked out of the
On Friday evening at a quarter of six o'clock I told a kindly-
faced old man, sitting behind a screen of glass, that I wished
to see Mr. Laddie Wells. The old man promptly telephoned
Laddie's office to find out if he knew such a person as I. Shortly
after this, the old man wrote my name and the hour on a slip
of blue paper and handed me the slip. An electrically oper-
ated glass door opened in the wall.
Inside the studio people were moving across a grassy court-
yard crisscrossed with sidewalks, going home: a pale, bald
man, wearing a sport shirt, who carried a blue-bound script
and The New Yorker; a peroxided girl in slacks; a secretary,
carrying The Ladies Home Journal; a dwarflike man, reading
a racing form.
You heard the tack-tack-tick of typewriters, still; and you
heard a grand piano somewhere, giving out the "Moonlight
Sonata" in blues; and you heard the roar of a great truck back-
ing up. I followed a sidewalk, leading under an iron trellis,
that was covered with odorless yellow California roses. I ran
into a policeman, to whom I showed the blue slip of paper; I
Laddie's office was in the "front office" building, a three
story Spanish style structure, the color of pink lemonade. This
was the nerve center of Worldwide Pictures. On the stair
landing there was a window that had Moses Lehman's portrait,
worked out in stained glass: old Moses, the deposed founder
of Worldwide, who at eighty-four lived on in a Norman castle
on Doheny with trained nurses to tend his artificial bowels.
Laddie's office on the second floor of this building was one
of four smaller offices, flanking the office of Mark Harris. You
heard that Mark Harris' had a kitchenette, a steam bath in
the bathroom, and a game room with a real roulette wheel,
where Mark Harris tried to win money from himself, I never
got inside, so I couldn't swear to this. At any rate, Mark
Harris was one of those fabled old-time producers, still going
strong after twenty-four years in the business, the real McCoy*
Scott Fitzgerald had written that you can either take Holly-
wood for granted or dismiss it with the contempt you reserve
for that which you don't understand. I don't pretend to under-
stand Hollywood. But it's not a Detroit where they manu-
facture motion pictures instead of automobiles. And it's nor
the phoniest place in the world, as the highbrows prefer to
think. And it's not a hive of sin and vice, any more than New
Orleans, or San Francisco, or New York. On the other hand,
it's no typical American city, where people like the boy and 1
girl next door eat apple pie and make their livings as movie
stars. The industry publicists hatched up this one, a couple
of years ago, when two prominent actors were being tried
I don't understand Hollywood; and the best chance I ever
had to try to understand it was to have got to know Mark
Harris, who was a great man there. Unfortunately I never
did; although I suppose I could have got to know him through
Laddie, who had come to Hollywood five years before as his
assistant, and had become his man Friday, his protege, a sort
of professional son.
They had met in England during the war. Colonel Mark
Harris was in charge of an army motion picture unit operat-
ing near London. Laddie Wells, a private, wounded in the
skull in the battle of Rapido River, was a convalescent in a
great country house in Salisbury. Laddie Wells's nurse had
been once married to a British director and had known Mark
Harris before the war. After the nurse introduced them,
Mark Harris managed to have Laddie Wells transferred to his
unit. Laddie Wells had had no previous experience in pictures.
He had had two years as a scholarship student at Harvard,
where he had majored in English, and he had quit Harvard
before he was drafted and had worked as a stage hand for two
Broadway shows. After the war, a couple of months after he
married Angelica, Laddie Wells got in touch with Mark
Harris, who gave him the job in Hollywood.
To get to Laddie Wells's office you had to pass through Miss
Shrewsbury's, his secretary's. Miss Shrewsbury, a fortyish
old maid, wore glasses with bright green horn rims. She was
accustomed to men who kidded her along, and she had had a
hard time getting to know Laddie. When she finally attributed
his aloofness to being German and his stylish clothes to corning
from New York, she liked him fine. She had come to believe
that he was destined for great things at the studio. I did not
have to spend much time with Miss Shrewsbury. Laddie had
said that I was to come on in.
His office was a room twelve by fourteen feet, furnished
with a standard brown metal desk, two worn leather chairs, an
old leather sofa, and three olive-drab filing cabinets. There
were photographs of Angelica and Little Florence in leather
"Hello there," Laddie said, rising from behind the desk.
He had his coat off, and the coat hung on a rack that stood
in the corner to the right of a large engagement calendar on
the wall. He was wearing one of his monogrammed shirts,
which had damp half moons under the arms.
"Was in your neighborhood," I said. "Thought I'd drop
"Ja." He took out the comb from his trouser pocket and
ran it through his hair.
The phone rang. Laddie stalled a writer, who wanted to
have a conference with Mark Harris after they saw the
rushes. No sooner had he hung up than it rang again. Now
the head of the publicity department wanted to know if he
thought Life would be interested in The Treasure, Mark
Harris' new picture. "Ja, ja. As a matter of fact, a man from
Life's in my office this minute," Laddie said, winking. He
"Working late tonight," Laddie told me. "Mark's got to
look at the rushes in a few minutes. It's been like this all day."
The phone rang. This time a small-time agent wanted
Laddie to put in a good word about a redheaded actor who
could sing, ride, and shoot like Autry, swim like Weismuller
this kid's a strawberry Valentino. "Ja, ja" Laddie said;
then he hung up.
"Next year I won't have to answer all these calls. Next
year I'll be a producer myself," Laddie said.
A door opened to the right of Laddie's desk. A muscular
old man, wearing a tan felt hat with the brim rolled up,
walked into the office, chewing gum. The old man's face
looked brown and lined like alligator hide.
"You ready?" the old man said, speaking around his wad of
"I'm ready," Laddie said, reaching for his coat. After he
had put on the coat, he introduced me to Mark Harris, who
had made Love and War y and The Charge to Glory, and Blue
"Friend?" Mark Harris said, nodding toward me.
"/# 3 a friend," Laddie said. They moved toward the door-
way. "I'll be in the projection room half an hour. Will you
'Til wait," I said.
Laddie paused ten seconds to speak a few words to Miss
Shrewsbury, then followed in Mark Harris* footsteps down
the corridor. Miss Shrewsbury, listening to the thump-tap
thump-tap of their shoes on tiles, looked through the opened
door at me and smiled. He was a young man on the way up.
They stayed in the projection room for forty-five minutes.
When Laddie came back, I heard an account of the meeting
with Porter O'Brien. I remember he was standing at the win-
dow, looking out over those great barnlike sound stages, facing
Lehman Street. The sky had turned the color of muddied
spring water, and a full moon was shining like a silver dollar.
Far off a shooting star was going to fall in the San Fernando
Valley among those ranch-style houses of the station-wagon
set. When he finished talking, he swallowed a couple of times,
as though his throat felt swollen and dry.
He turned toward me and he said: "By the way your detec-
tive's been hanging around my place at the beach. Last night
there were two of them hanging around."
"Two of them?"
"The man in the fedora, your detective, was there till about
twelve, then about one another came, a man with coal-black
hair, wearing a T-shirt."
"Have you seen Carol?"
"You ought to stay clear of her till things quiet down."
"/*," Laddie said.
I invited Laddie to have dinner with me, but he said that
he didn't feel like having dinner with anybody. He had spent
the last three evenings holed up in his place at the beach. He
read magazines, he drank beers, he listened to the news, or,
perhaps, he just lay thinking on his bed.
The Porter O'Briens flew back to Miro on Saturday,
Angelica stayed on alone in Beverly Hills.
ONE NIGHT ABOUT THIS TIME CULVERS HAD
gone to bed at eleven; and Carol, who had been having bad
nights, had been given a shot by the nurse to make her sleep.
Around one o'clock this night the shot's effect wore off. Carol
insisted on going downstairs to the office. Wearing skimpy
blue silk pajamas and sloppy fur mules, she hobbled through
the darkened house, followed by the nurse, who kept begging
her to come back to bed.
It was a typical "bad night." Tommy Meek, the night
secretary, had prepared a plate of little ham sandwiches in the
kitchen; and Carol, having sent the nurse off on an unnecessary
errand, had sneaked out a bottle of gin from Butch Murphy's
desk drawer, like a child snitching a piece of chocolate candy.
Carol proceeded to get drunk on straight gin. Half an hour
later she had started to babble about her husband's money and
power and brilliant mind, her head wobbling like a doll's with
a broken neck.
"I wanna talk to Gladys," Carol said, suddenly. "Get Mrs.
Hendrix on the telephone for me."
"It's very late, Mrs, Culvers," Tommy Meek said.
"Do what I say, damn you!"
While Tommy Meek dialed Gladys Hendrix's number,
Carol remembered that Gladys Hendrix was spending the
week in Laguna with her mother. "Oh, Gladys's not in town,
for crissake," Carol said.
Now Tommy Meek, a slight, weak-faced blond young man
with an habitual expression of pain, worshiped Carol, and
defended her behavior to the other employees. Both Tommy
and the nurse suspected her unhappiness, married to the "old"
man; and so, on bad nights they ignored her rudeness to them.
"Wouldn't you like a little coffee?" Tommy Meek said.
"It'll keep her awake," the nurse said, quickly.
"See, Tommy, I can't ever 'ave anything I want," Carol said.
And thus they sat, passing the hours of the early morning,
when at around a quarter of three the telephone rang.
Now Carol had been cautioned by Culvers that a lady in
her position ought never to answer her own telephone. Any
number of cranks, crackpots, and undesirables might be call-
ing the house; and besides, it simply wasn't the thing to do.
When Carol was drunk, she answered it always; and one of
the problems of a "bad night" was keeping her away from the
phone. This night when Vera Leonard, a small-time movie
columnist, telephoned Culvers' house, Carol snatched the re-
ceiver, eager to talk.
"Is Mrs. Culvers there by any chance," Vera Leonard said.
"Why yes," Carol said, "I think she's here."
"Then I would like to speak to her, if you please."
"This this this is her," Carol said, one hand moving
to primp her platinum curls.
"O^Mis. Culvers "
"This is Vera Leonard, the columnist."
"How are you today?" Carol said.
"Fin very well, thank you. And you?"
"Grand. Just grand, Miss Leonard. Are are you comin'
to the party ?"
"Well, no. As yet I haven't been invited. You see "
"You're invited, Miss Leonard. Fm goin' t' kill that bitch
of a secretary for not inviting you. Who does that bitch think
"Why thank you, Mrs. Culvers," Vera Leonard said.
"Think nothing of it, honey. And bring your husband too."
"I don't have a husband."
"Then bring your boy-friend, sweetie. I'm sure a pretty
columnist like you has a boy-friend."
Vera Leonard laughed, then she got down to business.
"Mrs. Culvers, whether you know it or not, you've become
big news out here. Everybody's heard about your parties, and
everybody wants to know about you. You've become one of
the most talked about party givers on the coast, right up there
where Atwater Kent used to be, and Marion Davies."
"Oh, that's very sweet of you, honey," Carol said, starting
to giggle, her head toppling against the back of the chair.
"Did you used to dream of becoming a great hostess, Mrs.
"What's that? Oh, yes, yes, yes," Carol mumbled, "
dreamed night and day."
"Did you give parties when you were a little girl?"
"I had a birthday party when I was five. Children came and
rode a Shetland pony and had ice cream and cake. But it was
all my daddy's doings."
"What did your father do, Mrs. Culvers?"
"Electrician. That's how he died he got fried up on a
pole. And then Sweetheart that's my mother got mar-
ried again and we moved away to Chicago."
"Now that's very interesting, Mrs. Culvers," Vera Leonard
said. "You know my column runs in forty-two papers."
"Why why that's just grand, honey," Carol mumbled,
closing her tired blue eyes against the glare of the office's
"Tell me, Mrs. Culvers, where did you meet your husband? '*
"Guess," Carol said.
"Why, I have no idea," Vera Leonard said.
"Guess. Where would you guess I met him?"
"I couldn't guess in a thousand years."
Carol started to giggle again. "Well, I'll tell you. I was
buyin' an ice-cream cone in a drugstore, and this nasty old man
walks up and wants to give me a piece of candy. The old man.
turns out to be Clarence Culvers, the millionaire."
"Cross my heart," Carol said, but crossing her fingers for
Tommy Meek and the nurse.
"Then you knew Mr. Culvers for some time before you
"I knew him long enough the old goat."
"How old were you when you met Mr. Culvers?"
"Fifteen, sixteen, thirteen, twelve. Christ, I dunno how old!
I was. It was a long time ago."
"I was old enough, if that's what you're getting at," Carol'
said. "What's wrong with thirteen? Girl in South America
had a baby when she was five, didn't she, for crissake?"
Suddenly Tommy Meek walked over and bent over her try-
ing to take away the receiver. Carol slapped his hand.
"What what else do you wanna know?" Carol said, her
head swinging in a circle.
"Oh, that's quite enough, Mrs. Culvers. I I hope I didn't
wake you up."
"Why no indeed, honey. As a matter of fact, we were just
sitting down to supper." Then Carol's head drooped, and she
dropped the receiver, and her body sprawled in the chair.
"Mrs. Culvers! Mrs. Culvers! " the dangling receiver cried.
"Who was that?" Tommy Meek asked, placing the receiver
on the hook.
"Some half-ass reporter," Carol mumbled.
"No, no, no, darlin'. That was just my friend Dolores, actin'
silly," Carol said, rising, then falling back in the chair. "I feel
like dancin', honey. Help me up, honey. I wanna dance."
"It's late, lamb," the nurse said, moving toward Carol.
"Let's go upstairs and get some sleep, so we'll look pretty
"I wanna dance with Tommy."
"It's past two o'clock in the morning," the nurse said.
"Wanna dance! Wanna dance!"
"We're all worn out, lamb," the nurse said slyly, leading
Carol toward the door.
"Wanna dance, wanna dance ..."
"Wanna dance ..."
Her voice in the hall sounded fainter and fainter, like a per-
son's voice drifting out to sea; Tommy Meek knew that the
"bad night" had ended.
Upstairs in her bedroom Carol was given another shot.
Carol fell into a dead sleep, lasting until two o'clock the next
afternoon, when the newsboys of Beverly Hills first began to
sell the afternoon edition of the Herald News. Minutes later
a dozen telephones in the house started to ring; reporters
flocked to the house to get comments and statements; and
servants scurried into pantries and empty rooms to avoid old
Culvers 5 rage. When Culvers first read the story, he looked as
though a boulder had fallen upon his back.
I did not blame old Culvers. Vera Leonard's interview
filled three long columns on the feature page; and it made
poor Carol a laughingstock on the eve of their costume party.
I heard that Carol had gone to pieces, and that the fabulous
party had been called off. Half of what I had heard was
The afternoon that the story broke, Carol's room was kept
darkened. Carol lay in bed, damp with perspiration and tears,
staring at the nurse. The nurse sat nearby, filing her nails in
the glow that penetrated the blue Venetian blinds. Carol re-
fused to eat anything, and refused to get out of bed, and just
lay there, never wanting to face the world again. . . .
No one knows what Culvers said to her. Late that afternoon
Culvers lumbered into her bedroom, sat down on the side of
the bed, and ordered the nurse to leave. Perhaps Culvers said
to Carol what he often said to his men: that you could judge a
man by how he acted when he was down. Or perhaps he
simply spoke to her as though she were some child. The nurse,
wandering in the upstairs hall, only heard: "Nothing they say
or do can ever hurt us, do you understand?"
At any rate, when the nurse returned to the room, Carol
had got out of bed- Carol sat before her long-mirrored dress-
ing table humming "Deep Purple," brushing her hair.
I learned all this much later from Butch Murphy, who, in
turn, had wormed it out of the nurse. Butch Murphy, a jealous
woman, now realized that Carol hated her. Sensing that a de-
cline of her power had set in, Butch Murphy tried to poison
the minds of the other servants, and of anyone else who would
listen, against Carol. I do not mean that that big bull of a
woman sat at her desk blurting out things; she did not. She
went about her vengeful business stealthily, sniffing, back-
tracking, circling, feeling you out, like some large cunning
animal stalking prey.
For instance, I telephoned Culvers' house shortly after the
Vera Leonard interview appeared, to complain that Culvers
had broken his promise to me. Culvers had promised that they
would not give out stories or interviews to other publications
until after the story came out in Life. Butch Murphy said:
"Now don't be too hard on Mr. Culvers. It's not his fault."
"Then whose fault is it?" I said.
She would not answer this. I pictured her smiling surrep-
titiously into the receiver.
"Well, can you arrange for me to see Mr. Culvers? I would
like to see Mr. Culvers," I said.
"Sure, I can fix it up," Butch Murphy said. "Why don't
you come here this afternoon?"
"Could Mr. Culvers see me at three o'clock?"
"Three o'clock would be fine," she said.
I never did manage to see Culvers that afternoon. I waited
almost three hours in the office with Butch Murphy. Later,
I learned that the Culverses would see no member of the press
before the night of the costume party. Butch Murphy had
tricked me into coming there.
Butch Murphy's relationship with Carol Culvers began
years ago, the day after Culvers met the girl. Butch Murphy
sat typing letters on a card table set up in Culvers' suite at the
Bel-Air hotel, when at around three o'clock a woman, who
gave her name as "Carol Clayton's mother," telephoned there.
"What is it 7011 want with Mr. Culvers?"
"Who're you?" the mother said.
"I'm his secretary."
"Oh," the woman sighed. "Just tell Mr. Culvers that the
roses he sent my baby are so beautiful that I wanted to call
and thank him."
"All right, I'll tell him."
"When will Mr. Culvers be in?"
"I'm not accustomed to asking Mr. Culvers his habits,"
Butch Murphy said coldly.
"Well, thank Mr. Culvers for me," the woman said, "and
please tell him that Carol Clayton's mother said that he's
welcome to drop by, any time he's in our neighborhood."
Butch Murphy gave Culvers the woman's message. Culvers
visited Marie Vadnum, the mother, that same afternoon.
During the next two weeks Culvers visited the mother fre-
quently. Culvers ordered two dozen white roses to be deliv-
ered to the girl's apartment each day, and he sent the mother
boxes of candy and baskets of fruit. When one evening the
mother came out to dine with Culvers at his hotel, they sat at
a corner table in the dining room, speaking in low tones, touch-
ing their food hardly at all. When Butch Murphy approached,
they stopped speaking; and they did not speak until after she
had gone. They reminded Butch Murphy of two persons
working out a tricky business deal.
One afternoon Culvers asked Butch Murphy to accompany
him to a jeweler's in Beverly Hills. "I want you to help me
pick out a present for a young lady," Culvers said, upon arriv-
ing there. Without asking questions Butch Murphy started
to browse around the store. Finally, she asked Culvers to take
a look at a certain large star sapphire ring. "Do you really
like it?" Culvers said. Butch Murphy said that it was the hand-
somest ring she had ever seen. Culvers took the ring from its
turquoise satin box and he ordered Butch Murphy to hold out
a finger. When he had slipped the ring on her finger, he said,
"It's for you, Miss Murphy. I'm going to need your help in a
few weeks. I want you to know how much I'm depending on
"Why Mr. Culvers!" Butch Murphy cried, "I couldn't
"Of course, you can accept it. I'm going to count on you,"
Culvers said. "I'm going to need your help."
Later that afternoon Culvers' limousine drove to a street of
pastel apartment houses off the Sunset Strip, and it stopped
before one of these houses, an apple-green colonial-style build-
ing that had violet plantation shutters. Culvers walked inside,
pressed a buzzer, and was admitted to one of the apartments.
Culvers had gone to see the mother of the girl.
The sun went down and the palm trees became graceful
silhouettes against a pearl-gray sky; and at the top of the
street a sign advertising Nutburgers lighted up, orange, and
fuchsia, and red. Still Culvers did not come out. Butch
Murphy, however, was unaware of the passing of time. She
sat on the rear seat of the limousine, feeling her star sapphire,
pressing it against her cheek, taking it off, trying it on other
fingers. She still could not believe the ring was hers. Suddenly
another automobile pulled up behind the limousine and
stopped. Butch Murphy looked out from the rear. She could
make out the figure of a young man behind the wheel of a con-
vertible, and beside him a girl with platinum hair a movie
star, Butch Murphy thought; and so she watched the couple
with interest and listened. The young man's hands still
clutched the wheel, as though he were waking for the girl to
"Are we going out tonight?" the girl said.
"If you still want to go out," the young man answered.
"You know I want to be with you."
"Please, let's not quarrel then."
The girl turned in the seat of the convertible, facing the
"If you leave me, I'm going to kill myself," she said.
"Don't talk silly."
"Why won't you tell me, darling?"
"For the hundredth time let's not talk about it any more."
"Somebody's told you something, haven't they?"
"I didn't say that."
"Somebody's told you something. What lies did they tell
you, my darling? What did they say?"
"Oh, for God's sake!"
"Somebody's told you something and you're going away."
The platinum-haired girl started to cry. She leaned her head
against the back of the seat, and as she cried her breasts heaved
as though she were about to die. The young man started the
motor of the car.
"If you're going to act this way, I'd rather not go out. I
want to remember you like you were the night at the dance,"
he said, looking into her eyes.
The girl wiped her eyes with her fingers; then she opened
the car door.
"Fm not going to talk about it any more," she said, stepping
out of the car. "But if you leave, I don't want to live any more.
I know somebody's told you something."
"I'll pick you up at seven-thirty," the young man said. The
convertible backed up, then drove off down the darkened
palni-lined street. The girl, standing on the curb, watched
until the car was out of sight, then she moved slowly toward
her apartment house, her shoulders drooping as though nothing
else in the world could interest her. Halfway to the door, she
paused, looking up at dimly lighted windows toward the
right. There was a faint evening breeze and the white rayon
curtains blew into the room like nets for catching butterflies.
This was the first time that Butch Murphy eavesdropped on
one of Carol's conversations; it was not to be the last time.
After the young man went away, Culvers bought Carol Clay-
ton's contract from her studio, and made plans to set up a
production company with Carol as his star.
As I said, that November Culvers sent Carol off to Mexico
City with Marie Vadnum and Butch Murphy. Culvers de-
pended on Butch Murphy to be his eyes and ears down there.
I have never heard what went on down in Mexico. It must
have been pretty awful with Culvers' watchdog living and
sleeping in an adjoining hotel room, reporting over the tele-
phone everything that Carol did and said. I do not believe that
Carol could have killed herself if she had wanted to.
I sat in the office at Culvers' house nearly three hours that
afternoon, while Butch Murphy talked. Every twenty min-
utes or so Butch Murphy would buzz upstairs to deceive me
into thinking that she was trying to arrange a meeting with
Culvers. And workmen would walk in, carrying forms to be
signed. One of the workmen said that they would have to
tear down a section of the brick wall along Cove Way in
order to move the merry-go-round onto the lawns. Butch
Murphy told them to go ahead; the wall could be built back
again after the party.
A champagne salesman, who bore remarkable resemblance
to the late Kaiser, passed with great dignity through the office
into the house.
"In the old days, he was a prince," Butch Murphy said,
twisting Culvers' star sapphire on her fat knotty third finger,
"The prince was a real big-shot in that country where Joseph's
from. Now the prince lives in two rooms over a barbecue
joint on La Cienega. Joseph gets very nervous whenever the
man comes here to sell us champagne. Calls him Your Royal
"Let me have a look at the ring," I said.
As Butch Murphy extended her hand, Carol's nurse, going
off duty, walked into the office, wearing a white straw hat
with cloth daisies. The nurse said, "Hello," then she set down
a small black suitcase and straightened her skirt.
"Well, honey," the nurse said, addressing Butch Murphy,
"we got her through the last fitting, and then I gave her
another shot. You won't hear a peep out of her until mid-
Butch Murphy chuckled.
The nurse picked up the suitcase. "Well, I'll be seeing you
"All right, Miss Thornhill. Have a good time at your
sister's," Butch Murphy said.
After the nurse had gone, Butch Murphy took off the ring
and handed it to me,
"Don't think I haven't earned that ring, Mr. Thayer," she
I handed the star sapphire back to her with a complimentary
"Don't think Mr. Culvers gave it to me for nothing."
"I'm sure you've earned it," I said wearily, rising to leave.
Suddenly, my head felt heavy as stone. I didn't want to hear
"Don't you want me to buzz Mr. Culvers one more time?"
Butch Murphy said, walking to the door with me.
I walked out of the house, I got into my Chevrolet, and I
slammed the car door.
"I'm leaving," I said. "I've heard enough."
There was one other story about Carol Culvers that got
around before the party. Several days after my afternoon
with Butch Murphy, Culvers' men began to arrive for the
meetings. The date set for the meetings had been changed, so
that the men could stay over for the party. One evening dur-
ing the meetings, Carol came downstairs, wearing a mink coat
over her panties and bra, and ran out of the house to her car.
For several hours she drove through the empty streets of
Beverly Hills; then, while driving around, she had to go to the
bathroom, and so she stopped the car, got out, and went to the
bathroom on a well-known comedian's side lawn. . .
same crowd, disguised as Fathers of the Republic, danced with
beautiful blankf aced pioneer women as peroxided Confederate
spies. And in the floodlighted marble swimming pool hun-
dreds of gardenias floated, red, white, and blue, giving off a
rich funeral-like perfume. The two-armed Venus de Milo,
draped in white sateen, crowned with rhinestones, had been
transformed into the Statue of Liberty. And the tennis courts,
decorated with crepe-paper sagebrush, were prairies; the
Japanese tea house, a Wild West saloon.
Only the house itself, this Beverly Hills Mount Vernon, had
been left unchanged. Inside, standing on black and white
marble squares, the Culverses were receiving as George and
Martha Washington. Leamus was getting some extraordinary
shots: Martha Washington, sneezing, turning a doll-like face,
trying to find a dry spot in a wad of Kleenex; George Wash-
ington, beating his chest like the gorilla in the Central Park
Zoo; George Washington's cabinet, huddled together, discuss-
ing the shake-up in Sweetheart Toilet Tissue; Benjamin.
Franklin, completely looped, stumbling, then sprawling at
Washington's feet, and Washington calling a Negro to haul
It was shortly after this that Culvers was called away to the
telephone. "A man named Joe," Butch Murphy had said.
Dressed as Molly Pitcher, she had stalked up to Culvers in the
receiving line, and her words had brought a frown to the heavy
old face, as though something important had gone wrong.
At eleven-fifteen, when Culvers returned, Carol said that
this was her birthday party and she wanted to have fun; so the
two of us ran off to the party tent. Dancing, Carol's elaborate
white wig, more like Marie Antoinette's than Washington's
wife's, got knocked lopsided, and one of her trembling hands
raised to straighten it. She had had nothing to drink, and she
felt sick with shyness. "I can't can't tell tell who any
anybody is, can can you, Charley?"
"I know a few of them," I said.
The Greek who sunbathed danced by one of the Lin-
coins ; and nearby sat the Balkan spy, a Harvey Girl in blue
and white gingham, forcing black coifee down Lafayette, a
well-known dance director, already quite drunk. "It's the
Early American drag party of the year! " Lafayette cried, wav-
ing a lace handkerchief in our direction.
"Is the wig straight?" Carol asked.
"It's fine," I said, smiling at her.
Then for no apparent reason her mouth twisted in a forced
little laugh as though she realized suddenly that she should
appear to be enjoying herself.
It was shortly after this that she spotted Laddie Wells,
standing in a corner of the tent, watching the party a lonely
figure. He wore his Army khakis, and he had on his overseas
cap, cocked to the right on his head. His pink cheeks were
flushed deep rose with the excitement of the party, his cool,
solemn gray eyes roaming the scene like the lenses of some
powerful camera. And for a moment Carol could not take her
eyes off him, and she held her breath, and her lips parted. It
was as though the earth stood still.
The orchestra played Carol's favorite, "Baby, It's Cold Out-
side." Carol began to draw quick violent little breaths. "Let's
kick!" Carol cried. "Let's be chorus girls, huh?" She started
to kick under the sky-blue silk and lace. "Come on, Charley,,
"I don't feel like a chorus girl tonight."
"Yes, you do. Come on and kick."
And so we put our arms around each other's waists and we
did high kicks. People cleared space for us and stared, and
pointed, and laughed: "She used to dance at the Diamond
Horseshoe," a woman said.
Later the orchestra played "Bali-Hai" and Carol danced
close to me, her cheek burning against mine, her hands quiver-
ing, as though her whole body shook. She had not seen Laddie
Wells since the Laguna week end. Now as he stood looking at
us, she closed her eyes, pressing her body against mine. We
danced in slow motion in a tiny circle on the floor.
She was trying to make him jealous. Laddie understood this
and smiled a slight, knowing twist of closed pinkish lips.
The smile faded, he shifted his legs, a hand went to the Purple
Heart he wore, as though he were feeling a mole.
I was surprised that he had come to this party. Since the
evening I went to the studio, we had spoken twice over the
telephone. The first time, when I had called to borrow the cos-
tume, he had told about Mark Harris having got him a lawyer
Mark Harris' own lawyer. This lawyer was urging him to
file for a divorce against Angelica, if necessary, a divorce
charging adultery. This seemed the only way of calling
Porter O'Brien's cards.
Laddie had not said what he was going to do. His voice
had played tricks in his throat, after telling me this, coming
out in deep thick croaks, and coming out as though he sat on
some other continent. Laddie would have called it spiritual
nausea. There is stuff that you can put into liquor which
makes the person vomit and puke and never want to taste
liquor again. Now it was as though fate had slipped some of
this stuff into Laddie's mind.
The second time we spoke he had sounded better. He had
had a talk with Mark Harris, who had advised him to keep
away from the "girl." When I asked if he still had Peeping
Tom's, he had mumbled something about a pistol on his
chiffonier, a .45 that he had bought during the war.
This evening, earlier, Laddie had gone to the Thespians,
where he had had a few drinks at the bar. He had spilled part
of a drink on his tie, and had gone to the men's room to wash
out the liquor spots with cold water. He had returned to the
bar and had moved to the last stool, where he wouldn't have
to talk to anyone. At about seven-thirty he had walked out of
the bar, one hand fumbling in his coat pocket, as though he
were hunting for a cigarette. He had stepped into his Chrysler
and headed out Sunset Boulevard. He drove to Santa Monica
to the beach house he had rented on Ocean Front Road. At
around eight o'clock he turned the key in the front-door lock.
The cheap little house looked dark as an attic, bare as a chicken
coop bare of ash trays and knickknacks, bare of rugs and
occasional tables, bare of any signs of life except for Laddie's
own few personal belongings his Eastern clothes, his books,
his boyhood violin; the cheap furniture; a yellowed calendar
with a picture of 1949's Miss Rheingold hanging on a kitchen
wall. He felt his way into the living room to a lamp, a hideous
puce-colored plaster-of -Paris pine cone that stood on a liquor-
stained card table, lighting a wine-colored studio couch. He
flopped down on the couch, lit a cigarette, stumped out the
cigarette in a thick drugstore cup, still sticky from his morning
coif ee; he stood up and stalked restlessly around the room like
some penned-up high-strung foal. He turned on the radio, and
a swing band blared out like a thousand trumpets, announcing
the end of the world. He turned off the radio. Now you could
hear the regular muted roar of the waves, beating against the
beaches like the tides of time. Laddie stood in the center of
the room, gazing out at the waves; and the picture window's
black plate glass gave back a reflection of himself, standing
lone and miserable in the room.
Probably it was at this time that he sat down in the living
room, took out his fountain pen, and wrote the suicide note on
a sheet of Bond typewriter paper. He must have wandered
into the bedroom, and must have thrown himself across its
Hollywood bed; because a deep fresh cigarette burn was
detected on the imitation red leather headboard near the
pillow. Perhaps he fell asleep for a few minutes, his arms
stretched across the bed, two fingers clutching a lighted ciga-
rette. And perhaps, feeling better after his brief sleep, he
jumped from the bed, dashed into the bathroom, sprinkied
cold water on his face. It was probably after this that he de-
cided to go to the Culverses' party. He walked back into the
bedroom; he took off his gabardine suit, emptied the contents
from his pockets onto the bed. Then, with his German thor-
oughness, he hung up the suit in the closet, flung his shorts,
socks, and shirt across the seat of a chromium-legged chair
they found the clothes crumpled there the pale mono-
grammed L. W. above the pocket, still damply cool from per-
spiration. Stripped, he walked into the bathroom and he
showered, and shaved the wet white towel and hairs in the
razor furnished proof of this. From a battered black suitcase,
that he had used at Harvard, he took out his Army uniform
and dressed, Purple Heart and all. Standing before the chiffo-
nier mirror, he brushed his hair vigorously. A snowfall of dan-
druff fell around the .45 leaving an outline of the gun.
Now, costumed as the soldier of World War II, Laddie
Wells stood near a table of tipsy Pilgrims in a corner of the
tent an observer. . . .
As the orchestra played the last bars of "Bali-Hai," a purple-
faced General Grant a retired successful corset manufac-
turer from Newark pushed me aside. "It's my turn, Reb,
haw-haw-haw!" General Grant hollered, leading Carol into
an awkward, old-fashioned one-step. Poor Carol, akeady half
out of her mind with Laddie's being there, tripped on her lacy
skirts and almost fell flat.
"Are you comin 7 back, Charley?" Carol called, as I shoved
my way through the crowd. "Come back, Charley, come
I could not answer her cry; the orchestra suddenly went into
a Charleston it was the year of the Charleston revival
and the crowd went wild. I got knocked sprawling into the
bony lap of a teen-aged Lillian Russell, who looked as lean and
long-legged as a colt, sitting at her table. "Oh, goodness!"
young Miss Russell cried, adjusting her falsies. I scrambled
quickly to my feet, removed my gold-braided Stetson, made
a sweeping low bow, and moved on.
I took two glasses of champagne from a silver tray, passed
around by a Negro waiter dolled up in white satin knee
breeches; and just as I started plowing my way across the
crowded floor toward Laddie Wells, the champagne glasses
high above my head, women began to shriek and scream. An
elderly man, costumed as the Republican elephant, rose from
his chair in fright, pressing a gray cloth paw to his heart.
Bennie Fleishhacker took a long cigar from his mouth, and
looking toward the side of the white tent, narrowed his eyes*
Mrs. Kafritz Marx, Moses Lehman's daughter, collapsed in a
faint as the last of the figures in long flowing gray- white robes
and hoods crawled in underneath the side of the tent, carrying
ropes and clubs and guns in their hands. Six of them now stood
in a line inside the tent, glaring at the crowd like monster
turkey buzzards through their eye-cutouts, their weapons
barely moving, their sinister hoods turning right and left, as
though they were about to choose a victim.
"Who're they supposed to be?" an ash-blond Pilgrim maid
cried, clutching an Indian brave.
"They're the Klan, Arlene, the Ku Klux Klan."
Now the orchestra stopped playing; for an instant the crowd
was stunned into silence. You could hear the guitarist, chant-
ing his sad cowboy ballads down at the tennis courts, and you
could hear the childlike pipe music of the merry-go-round,
and a balloon popping sounded like a far-off cannon. A young
woman laughed, shrilly and nervously. A ripple of laughter
rose around her, and swelled into a great wave of laughter as
the crowd caught on to the Cartwrights' joke. The orchestra
leader raised his baton, people danced again.
Two of the Klan joined the dancers on the floor. The other
four stood around congratulating themselves on their joke's
success. A crowd, staring, whispering, snickering, pointing,
gathered before them. Laddie Wells moved from the corner
of the tent, one hand in a pocket of his uniform, his gray eyes
squinting. He approached the onlookers and he stopped slight-
ly away from them, his chin tilting out, as though trying to
get a better look. I pushed across the floor, still carrying the
glasses of champagne.
There was a cowboy lurking along the white side of the tent
to the right of the four Klansmen. Now the Klansmen had
tossed aside their ropes, toy guns, and clubs, and they were
laughing. One of them, the tall one, bent forward, laughing
hysterically, his hands clutching his thighs.
The cowboy: I don't know why I noticed this man. Per-
haps it was his loneness, contrasting with the Klansmen's
laughter; perhaps it was the mean look on his hard, dark,
serious face, deeply wrinkled at thirty-five, as though na-
ture had taken a steak knife and had cruelly sliced his low
forehead and around his sad black eyes and around his small
hard mouth. The cowboy had a tough lean hipless frame, and
underneath a red checked shirt his shoulders hunched like an
old man's. His yellow leather chaps had slipped down almost
ro his groin.
Suddenly the cowboy jerked up his chaps, threw aside two
pearl-handled Hopalong Cassidy cap pistols, and drew his
smallish hands into fists. He went for the tall large one, Sonny
Cartwright. He shot his fist straight into Sonny Cartwright's
stomach, knocked the wind out of him. Sonny fell.
The cowboy kicked him in the face, kicked again, kicked a
third time, a fourth, a fifth. Sonny Cartwright's large smooth
hands tore at his hood. Because of the hood, he could not see
to defend himself.
"Help! Why doesn't somebody help him? " a young woman
screamed inside her hood. This was probably Jeanie Cart-
wright. The other two Klansmen had backed to the side of
The cowboy kicked twice more, before Sonny Cartwright
tore away the gray-white hood. The paunchy florid cheeks
looked like hamburger meat. Blood streamed from the ski-
jump nose; blood oozed from the corners of the mouth; blood
colored the cold wide stupid eyes. Blood covered the hands.
Blood, blood the babyf ood heir was covered with blood.
Sonny got to his feet, drew the great bloodied hands into
fists, and moved toward the cowboy, mumbling, "How'd you
get out of the gutter . . . ? How'd you get out of the gutter
. . . ?" Sonny swung once with his right and knocked the
cowboy stumbling into the crowd. By now the crowd had
tripled in size and people were running to the tent from the
merry-go-round and from inside the house and from the tennis
courts. "How'd you ever get out of the gutter . . . ?" The
cowboy did not run. The cowboy took a few steps backward,
his nose dripping a trail of dark blood; then, when he seemed to
have got his balance, he met Sonny's advance. The cowboy
shot his fist into Sonny's pulpy red cheeks. Sonny's right
smashed into the dark hardened little face, and knocked the
cowboy out cold. The cowboy lay crumpled on the floor.
As the crowd started to disband there was a babble of voices,
a great rush of feet. A woman screamed.
It all happened so quickly. While Sonny Cartwright
stumbled back, wiping blood on the skirts of the Klansman's
robe, one of the crowd, a tipsy Indian chief, rushed for-
ward and started to tear at the hood of one of the others,
who stood hovering like three ghostly monster birds along the
side of the tent. The Indian chief ripped off the hood, reveal-
ing the face of Angelica Wells. Angelica's scarlet-painted
lips were parted as though she did not know whether to cry
out or to laugh, her eyes wide, pitifully, childishly wide and
white; her pale skin above the corpse-gray robe, pink as a
baby's; her dark hair frowzy; her chest going up and down
with short, fast, desperate breaths. Laddie pushed through
the crowd. When the Indian chief reeled back at the sight of
Laddie's uniform, Laddie grabbed Angelica's hand and they
started running along the side of the tent. When they came to
an opening to the left of the orchestra, they flew out into the
"They oughta be thrown in jail!" the Indian chief shouted.
"Just a joke!" Sonny Cartwright shouted back at him.
"Haven't you ever played a joke? Haven't you ever played a
The Indian chief walked away quietly. The orchestra
struck up "California, Here I Come"; and people shouted "Yea
Cal-i-forn-ya"; and after two policemen arrived on the scene
and had a calm, pleasant talk with Sonny Cartwright, the rest
of the crowd drifted off to dance, to ride the merry-go-round,
to get high on the Culverses' champagne. Four other police-
men came, carrying a stretcher, and bore away the body of
the mean-faced cowboy.
All this took place shortly after midnight. It was around
twelve-thirty when, strolling outside for air, I heard Carol
Culvers raving on the slope of the hill between the tent and
the merry-go-round, the nurse holding one of her arms, Butch
Murphy the other arm, and poor Carol in the Martha Wash-
ington costume, twisting, struggling, kicking at them. Some-
body had given her something to drink, and she had seen, or
had heard about, Laddie Wells leaving the party with his wife.
Carol's face was dead-white and desperate and shiny with
her tears. The dark red lipstick had smeared at the corners, as
though her mouth bled. The eye shadow had trickled muddily
down her cheeks; and her wig had toppled off, showing her
platinum hair pinned close to her skull.
"Make them let me go, Charley! Make them let me go! "
I told them to take their hands off her. Butch Murphy
glared at me: "What a pity Miss Carol had to go and act like
this tonight." Her large bosoms heaved inside the Molly
Pitcher costume. She took a deep breath, and she turned and
walked away from us, heading toward the house.
The nurse, Miss Thornhill, stooped to pick up the wig.
"I I don't want to wear that old thing," Carol said softly.
The nurse retrieved the wig, just the same, and stood, brush-
ing grass blades and grit from its white curls.
"Do do you have a comb and brush?"
"Want me to brush out your hair, Miss Carol?"
The nurse laid the wig on the grass, next to a small plastic
bag that held Carol's brush, comb, cigarettes, lighter, lipstick,
Kleenexes, and powder. During a party the nurse carried this
plastic bag, following Carol around. The nurse took out a
milk-white plastic brush and a milk-white plastic comb and
handed these to me. She started to take out silver bobby pins
from Carol's hair. After the nurse had done this, I handed her
the brush and the comb, and she gave the platinum hair forty
strokes, standing right there on the dark grassy slope of the
hill between the white tent and the merry-go-round in the
heaviest traffic of the party. A tipsy Buffalo Bill paused, tried
on Carol's wig, took it off, and moved on.
"My name is inky-doo ..." Carol mumbled, scratching her
"I believe Miss Carol's feeling better," the nurse said.
"Aren't we feeling better, dear?"
When the nurse had finished brushing Carol's hair, she
fluffed the curls with the comb, and after she put back the
comb and brush into the plastic bag, she gave the curls a few
last fluffs with her fingers. "Now we're pretty as a picture,
aren't we, dear?"
"Why don't you take that silly old wig into the house?"
The nurse glanced at me, saying nothing. The nurse had
been given orders not to lose sight of Carol for one second.
"Why don't we go inside, dear," the nurse said, smiling at
Carol, "and we'll have some nice little sandwiches."
Carol shook her head. "I'm feelin' grand. Til stay here."
"I'll stay with her," I said. "We'll wait for you right here."
"Le's go dance, huh, Charley?"
"We'll be in the tent," I said, as Carol took my hand, leading
the way up the hill.
"Are you sure we're all right, dear?" the nurse called. The
nurse stood there for a few seconds, watching us enter the tent;
then the nurse walked away, carrying the wig and the plastic
The crowd inside the tent seemed to have forgotten the
fight; one of the Klan rumbaed with a pretty Pilgrim maid.
"Le's have some champagne . . . huh, Charley?" Carol said.
"I don't see a waiter," I said, glancing around us.
She knew I didn't want her to have champagne. "I'm all
right, Charley, honest," she said, " honest."
So I pushed my way to a Negro serving champagne to the
Republican elephant's table. When I returned with two
glasses, Carol had gone.
I flew out of the tent. Miss Thornhill, the nurse, was trot-
ting across the lawns toward the drive. Running, I called to
her: "Miss Thornhill; Miss Thornhill!" She turned I knew
that she heard me but she would not stop. I caught up with
her near a group of policemen standing around smoking in the
drive. She clutched my *arm with both hands, as though to
keep from falling.
"Mr. Thayer," she exclaimed, "Mr. Thayer!"
"I left her for just three minutes," I said. "She "
"Oh, Mr. Thayer, you've got to stop her you've got to
stop her "
"Where's she gone?"
" no telling what she'll do to herself like she is. I saw her
getting into the blue Cadillac I called to her I knew I
oughtn't 'ave left her I knew it was f oolin' on her part
Oh, Lord, Mr. Thayer "
"Foolin 7 me she was all right you've got to stop her
for Lord's sake, Mr. Thayer "
I grabbed Miss Thornhill hard, with a hand on each shoul-
der, and I shook her. "Stop your damned for-Lord's-sake-ing
me. Where's she gone?" I said.
"I don't know I don't know oh, you've got to stop "
"Where's she gone, Miss Thornhill?"
"I don't know to him, I suppose to him "
"To Mr. Wells she's crazy about him somebody's got
her believing Mr. Wells's going back to his wife!"
It did not surprise me that the nurse knew; the nurse, who
held poor Carol in her arms at night, who read to her and
sang to her yes, the nurse knew Carol loved him.
"She didn't see the fight?"
"She didn't see anything," the nurse said. "I lost sight of
Miss Carol for ten or fifteen minutes. I went inside to the
ladies' room, and I thought she was riding the merry-go-round.
The next thing I knew, Butch Murphy came marching up to
me, crossing the lawn, saying Miss Carol had got hold of some
liquor and I'd better come quick. When I got to her, she was
stumbling crazy-like across the lawn. We tried to get her into
the house. . . , "
It was one o'clock when Carol Culvers got into the blue
Cadillac, parked at the rear of the house, and started out for
Santa Monica. Culvers had been strolling around alone down
by the tennis courts. Joseph had been changing his damp
white shirt. The policemen in the drive had paid no attention
to the car driving out. Nobody saw her leave, and nobody
knew but the nurse and I. As I started running down the
drive, the nurse hurried to notify Culvers.
Back at my rooms I lost ten minutes, hunting for the car
keys. They had slipped out of the trousers I had worn that
day, and fallen behind a chintz cushion. I lost another ten
minutes making a call to Laddie's house in Beverly Hills. An-
gelica answered. No, Laddie wasn't there. He had driven her
home, hardly speaking a word. He had said, "Now get out
and go to bed." He wouldn't come inside to talk with her qp
anything. She wanted to know what she was going to do.
Had Laddie said where he was going? No, he had just said
quite rudely, "Now get out and go to bed," as though the
entire fault of the Klan joke lay with her, as though in a way
they really were the Klan. She couldn't understand Laddie,
she said; and what was she going to do?
I called Laddie's number in Santa Monica, but there was no
answer. I lost another ten minutes in the traffic jam on Cove
Way cars still moved like a procession of ants toward
Culvers' gates. When I started out Sunset Boulevard, it was
two o'clock and it was a twenty minutes' drive to Laddie's
house on Ocean Front Road.
The "Suicide," as the newspapers called it, took place at
around half past one, shortly after Carol Culvers in her
Martha Washington getup arrived at the house.
George Martin, who had been Angelica's lover, was the
only witness to what happened. During the three weeks previ-
ous to this he had prowled around the cheap little house at
night, peeping in through windows at Laddie Wells. He had
done this out of a curiosity about Angelica's husband, al-
though Angelica had terminated their affair three months be-
fore. And he had hung around the house because three weeks
ago, taking a midnight stroll, he had seen a beautiful platinum
blonde Carol Culvers enter Laddie Wells's house. He
had sneaked to the bedroom window, and he had watched two
forms in the darkness, making love. Yes, George Martin was a
Peeping Tom; there were a good many other awful things
about him, but the peeping was the only thing that ever paid
This night, September third, George Martin, who lived only
a half mile down Ocean Front Road, had followed a college
girl whose convertible had had a flat near the Dolans'. He was
trailing her, walking toward an Esso station, when he noticed
the blue Cadillac parked in front of Laddie Wells's house
the Cadillac of the platinum blonde. He gave up following
the college girl; and he stole to Laddie Wells's bedroom win-
dow to watch.
Inside the tiny pine-walled bedroom one electric globe in
a wall fixture near the doorway glowed orange. Everything
looked shadowy, and still, and serious, to George Martin, as in
i whorehouse or a church. Laddie Wells in his uniform sat
Dn the edge of a Hollywood bed, his head slightly bowed, his
lands crumpling a sheet of white paper into a ball. The plati-
lum blonde, in her hoop skirt, stood near the foot of the bed,
istening as Laddie Wells spoke: "Know what this paper was?"
Carol Culvers shook her head. Color had risen in her pink-
vhite cheeks and something about the way her head moved
linted that her eyes were teary, her throat too dry to speak.
Laddie Wells juggled the wad of paper, as though it were a
tennis ball. "This was a suicide letter," he said. "Four hours
ago I was going to give up the ship. You don't believe me?"
He tossed the wad of paper to her. She did not catch it, and she
stooped, and picked it from the floor, and uncrumpled it to
read what was written. Still sitting on the side of the bed, his
fingers squeezing creases in the sleezy red bedspread, Laddie
Wells went on speaking to her as she read the letter: "Friend
of my father's in Berlin well-known composer over there
Jewish heard Hitler's police walking up the stairs of his
house was sitting on the toilet in his bathroom glass of
water in one hand fistful of sleeping tablets in the other
and couldn't do it. We got word later that they were using
him for kidney experiments. Ja he just couldn't do it.
Well, I went as far as composing a letter. ..."
Hearing this, George Martin was shocked; at thirty Laddie
Wells had a house in Beverly Hills, wore classy clothes, had a
swell job in pictures, got his name mentioned in the columns.
It was inconceivable to George Martin that such a well-off
young man had thought of suicide. Through the dirty win-
dowpane, he stared at Laddie Wells hard.
Perhaps, George Martin thought, something was the matter
with his Thing. A commander he had known, who had acted
as a sort of father-confessor aboard his ship, settler of every-
body else's problems, had swallowed a bottle of rat poison.
The gossip aboard the ship had had it that something had
been wrong with his Thing. The commander and Laddie
Wells, George Martin thought, remembering what Angelica
had said about her husband, were two of a kind: talkers, fig-
urers, pretty damned certain about what everything in life
was worth. Something's wrong with his Thing, George
Martin told himself; it is as simple as one, two, three.
The well-off young man, who earlier had held thoughts of
suicide, looked straight above George Martin's black hair into
the night sky, his old-man's eyes hard as lead slugs, sad as a
hound's. The commander had had old-man's eyes at times, as
though he had lived too much alone. Now Laddie Wells's
eyes stared out at the moon, fat, round, juicy as a cheesecake
in the sky. Then Laddie Wells's eyes returned to earth again,
to the boxlike bedroom, roaming over a child's doll that sat
atop a stack of books beside the bed; pausing at a violin case
on a card table; pausing at a beat-up old black suitcase, pasted
with faded red Harvard stickers, that lay opened on the floor
before him; his eyes finally getting around to the beautiful
blonde, whose platinum hair glittered brighter than any hair
George Martin had ever seen.
"... the important thing about life is sticking it out,"
Laddie Wells was saying. "That's what I want on my tomb-
stone: Laddie Wells He Stuck It Out. And some day,
Carol, that's what people will say about you. The greatest
thing about Carol Culvers, they'll say, was that she stuck it
out with the old man she stuck it out."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Carol let the
wrinkled paper float like an autumn leaf to the floor. "I don'
care about sticking anything out all I care about is you
I want to be with you I wanna do everything with you
I'll take dope with you steal with you I wanna run away
with you I don't care what happens long as I'm with
"You're talking like some histrionic shopgirl," Laddie
frowned, his mouth set, as though he wished to be rid of such
"I don't wanna go on livin', Laddie, I love you so much
if I can't live with you "
"I can't run away," Laddie Wells said. "I couldn't run away
the last time. You don't understand." His eyes moved back
to the violin case across the room.
"I don't care if we don't have any money, Laddie "
"It isn't not having money," Laddie Wells said, "it's the
running away. You don't understand." His fingers began to
twist his gold wedding band. Carol Culvers' moist blue eyes
fixed themselves on his ring.
"You're going back to her, aren't you! "
Laddie Wells rose from the bed and started to walk around
the small shadowy bedroom, his hands in his pockets, his eyes
gazing down at his brown shoes.
"You love her! You love her! You're going back to her!"
Laddie Wells still said nothing. He moved into the glow of
the orange globe. At this moment his boyish face looked old
and tired. There were no lines, there was no paunchiness.
The face looked old as all boy-faced men come to look old;
masklike, but the skin stretched like rotten elastic around the
eyes; choirboy-ish cheeks, but the forehead lined like a street
urchin's; fresh young lips, as though just having licked a straw-
berry sucker, but two hard creases at the mouth's corners,
like a whore's. "I don't know what's going to happen I'll
make out I'm lucky " Laddie Wells was saying.
"You're goin' back to her!" Carol's eyes swept frantically
in a semicircle before her, like two flashlights, searching for
an object in the dark. Her eyes stopped at the chiffonier. She
spotted the .45.
Thirty seconds later she rushed to a corner of the bedroom,
waving the pistol's muzzle near her skull.
Laddie Wells darted across to her. He managed to get a
hold on the pistol; but her fingers were strong. Her index
finger was but a tenth of an inch from the tiny steel trigger.
Slowly, Laddie Wells forced down the pistol in an arc from
her skull to her breasts. "Let go, you silly "
"I wanna die, I wanna die," she moaned.
Laddie Wells twisted her wrist. The muzzle which had
pointed toward her now pointed toward his stomach. George
Martin at the window saw three little spurts of yellow fire,
littler than a firecracker's, flame from the muzzle of the gun.
As Laddie Wells fell, the pistol dropped from her fingers;
and her lips parted, as though she wanted to cry out and
couldn't. For half a moment she stood swaying over his body;
her right hand, which had held the gun, burrowing into the
blue silk of the hoop skirt; her left hand pressed over an ear, as
though trying to shut out the echoes.
The staccato reports came back three times from the Pacific,
muted and dragged out, as though they had traveled round
the world. George Martin had seen an Indian movie the night
before: the Indians had lost the battle and you heard echoes of
three last shots from somewhere off in the hills. It was like the
Indians, he thought.
Laddie Wells lay on his back, his arms stretched out behind
his head, one knee slightly raised, one cheek to the floor. At
first he looked like a man who had just passed out. Then:
George Martin saw the three spots of blood on his khaki
trousers, little spots at first, no bigger than ringworms, then
larger and larger spots until the entire area of khaki below the
belt to the thighs was soaked red.
George Martin watched Carol Culvers flee from the bed-
room. Seconds later Culvers' black Cadillac pulled up before
At two-thirty in the morning, driving down Ocean Front
load, still some distance away, I saw the searchlights atop
>olice cars, the dozen or so automobiles, and the crowd gath-
ered in front of Laddie's rented beach house, and I slowed
lown. Some of the people were in pajamas and dressing
rowns, and two were in 1920's costumes, on their way home
"rom the Culverses 5 party.
"Man shot himself," a man called to a slowing taxicab. "His
rirl was in the bedroom with him."
Although dozens upon dozens of tales piled up, this explana-
ion of what happened September third came to be accepted
>y a majority. One week later the Santa Monica district
ittorney had dropped his investigation of the case.
LADDIE WELLS DIDN'T DIE THERE IN THE
cheap little beach house at the foot of a Hollywood bed. He
lingered on for quite a while, for four days, to be exact, and
died in a white ether-smelling hospital room graced with a
crucifix. For four days an army of reporters there sweated
Life planned to throw in the Culvers story with the story of
"the suicide." What was to have been a "Li/e Goes to a
Party" would become "Suicide in Beverly Hills Young
Producer Interrupts Millionaire's Ambitions with Suicide," a
juicy, five-page spread. The spread was scheduled as the big
news story of an issue appearing in seven days, if he died. The
office was predicting the story would bring me a raise.
The press waited; Culvers waited. The merry-go-round
had been hauled away; but the marquee still stood, five hun-
dred dew-drenched flags fluttering from its sides, giving it
the appearance of some tomb-shaped feathered creature from
Mars. And a hundred dozen dead gardenias filled the swim-
ming pool. Days later Culvers' place still looked like the
morning after. Lest cleaner-uppers should turn out to be
clever newspapermen, he had ordered that nothing was to be
Two private policemen stood guard at Culvers' drive, aad
they had orders that no one was to enter, not even delivery
boys. Two policemen tramped over broken glass and garbage,
patrolling the grounds. Two policemen sat under the col-
umned portico in front.
The newspapers printed that Carol Culvers had gone to
pieces. I heard that Miss Thornhill, the nurse, sat beside the
bed in the twilight of closed Venetian blinds, and that Flane-
gan, the ex-trombone player, sat in the upstairs hall guarding
.her bedroom door. Culvers kept someone with Carol night
and day. The telephone was removed from her room, and her
razor, and her pearl-handled fruit knife, and her diamond
clips and brooches, and straight pins and safety pins. Most of
the time Carol lay stretched out in a drugged rose haze.
Downstairs the phones rang every two minutes. Reporters
and columnists wanted statements, and anonymous persons
shouted, "Murderer, murderer," then hung up. Old Culvers
stalked through the hushed glittery rooms, waiting for Laddie
Wells to die. When he died, they would close up the place
and go away for awhile.
It was on the third day that I drove out to the hospital in
Santa Monica. By this time the O'Briens had flown out from
Miro; and Laddie's parents had arrived from New York. A
Sister, hurrying across the foyer, told me that Laddie was re-
covering from the operation nicely. But when I walked into
the waiting room and looked at the faces there, I knew that he
His parents, the Wellbachs, who owned some small dry-
goods store in Yorkville, sat primly in stiff maple chairs, their
colorless lips fixed in grim straight lines. His mother had iron-
gray hair, parted in the center and brought around into a
plaited bun. She wore no make-up, and she had on an old
black felt hat and heavy black shoes. His father, who had the
foreign blood, was smaller than the mother, and wore pince-
nez and a tight-fitting prissy little black suit. The father had
owned a small bookstore back in Germany; it was the mother
who managed the dry-goods store in Yorkville. Their son
had met important people during the war, and after the war he
had changed his name and had gone far. Once in a while then-
son had telephoned them from California, and he had bragged
about his pink house, his important job, his fine life out there.
The O'Briens sat on the opposite side of the waiting room
on a green chintz sofa. Mrs. O'Brien stared at Mrs. Wellbach's
shoes; Porter O'Brien sat, looking at a pot of sanseveria on the
window sill, picking his nose. Angelica, sitting between them,
was swallowing, as though she had a dry throat. When I
walked in, Angelica stirred; the O'Briens hardly looked up.
Mrs. O'Brien placed a white-gloved hand on Angelica's knee.
Angelica sat back, and started to nibble at her nails. Mrs.
O'Brien stopped this.
I had told the Sister to tell Laddie that I was here. Shortly
after I had sat down in the waiting room, the Sister came, say-
ing that he wished to see me.
When I saw Laddie, he looked pretty bad. The skin sagged
under his chin, and flesh had fallen away from his young-old
face, giving him Mr. Wellbach's sparrow look. The flush had
faded from his cheeks, as though all along it had been nothing
but rouge and paint. His old-penny eyes, staring up at the
crucifix of Angelica's church, looked as old as Rome.
As I moved into the room, his eyes rolled toward me slowly,
and his grayish lips twisted in a kind of smile. It was the same
peculiar kind of smile that he had given me five years before at
the O'Briens' cocktail party in Miro; the smile that said, We
know, but they don't know, do they, Charley-boy? The
smile that told of a secret understanding, like a sign passed
between two members of a club. I returned his smile, and I
walked over close to the white bed and patted his feverish
hand. When he spoke, his words came out just above a whis-
per: "We finally got together, didn't we, Charley-boy?"
"You bet we did," I said, forcing a smile. I took his burn-
ing hand in my own and held it.
"Friends they're the most important thing, aren't they,
"Sure, they are, Laddie," I said. I didn't know whether I
believed this or not, but I said it; and my throat started to get
choked and dry, and my eyes began to feel moist and warm
and my heart, well, I would have taken it out of my body at
that moment and handed it to him.
The muscles of his mouth gave, and his jaw dropped. His
face looked old and long and sad and tired, as though he had
given up. Then his eyes looked directly into mine, and he
spoke again: "You don't believe what I said about friends."
"Sure I believe it, Laddie. Sure I believe."
"Friends you don't believe about friends, now, but you
"I believe," I said, laughing a little, using my free hand to
wipe a tear. From his window you could see the Goodyear
blimp, blindingly silver, creeping toward us above the blue-
green-blue of the Pacific. It was creeping toward us, as surely
as death comes, across a September sun yellow as daffodils.
Now he moved his hand in mine.
"Carol she's a good scout, Charley-boy. She's fond of
"Fm fond of her, Laddie. I really am fond of her," I said.
It was then that the nurse walked over to the bed, warning
me with a frown, that I had better leave. I laid Laddie's hand
alongside his slender body under the sheet and stepped back
from the bed.
"So long, Charley-boy," he whispered. "I must have a bit
of rest now."
"So long, Laddie," I said, raising my hand in confusion as
though I were about to wave.
"I'll be seeing you," he whispered. He made an attempt to
give his old smile, but he was too far gone.
He died the next morning at eleven-fifteen. He was not
Catholic, and Florence O'Brien did not wish him to rest in a
Protestant cemetery, nor in something like Forest Lawn;
so it was decided that after a dignified Lutheran service,
he should be cremated immediately. The service was con-
ducted at a crematorium in Hollywood that same day. Con-
sidering that it was held on such short notice, there was a
damned fine turnout. Every bigwig of Worldwide Pictures
came, and half a dozen Worldwide stars; Mark Harris saw
After the service Florence O'Brien, anxious that her
daughter should do the correct thing, had Angelica divide
Laddie's possessions before his parents flew back East. His
parents drew his violin, his Harvard suitcase, containing the
bloodied Army uniform and the Purple Heart; Mark Harris
drew the pick of Laddie's books; Miss Shrewsbury, his secre-
tary, drew a portable radio; and I got the pick of his clothes.
By six o'clock I was back at my rooms with an arrnfol of
:ustom-made shirts, a couple of expensive English suits, and a
louble-vented brown tweed sports coat. At exactly six forty-
five, when the sky had turned gray-lavender and gold, four
dark Cadillacs stole down Culvers' drive to Cove Way. The
last Cadillac paused just outside the premises, and Joseph wear-
ing a black bowler, stepped out, closed the iron gates of Cul-
vers' Mount Vernon, and locked them with a thick steel chain.
The dark Cadillacs moved on into the dusk.
SO THE SUMMER IN BEVERLY HILLS CAME TO ITS
end, drying up like a great swollen California fruit, and every-
thing was as it had been before.
A week later on a cool September morning my telephone
rang, while I stood shaving. Lathered like a mad dog at the
mouth, I hurried into the bedroom.
"I've only a few minutes," Angelica said. "I'm calling to
For a minute or so Angelica rattled on about having con-
sidered going to France with the Sonny Cartwrights, who had
rented a place at Neuilly. Finally she took a deep breath, as
though she were about to make some confession to me. "I'm
going home, Charley. I want to go home. It it's the thing
for me to do."
When I said nothing to this, her voice grew in volume and
force. She told me that she was sick and tired of California.
She was sick to death of "worthwhile people" and "creating"
and "art." It was all a lot of poppycock, and where did it get
you in the end? She almost spat the words, as though she were
finally voicing her suspicions and secret beliefs.
I was thinking that she had not ever really believed in any-
thing outside of Miro. She believed in her father, who had a
million dollars and a nice safe rut.
"Charley, are you there, Charley?"
"Yeah," I said, "I'm here."
She interrupted herself to give instructions to movers, ar-
riving to remove the last of the furniture from Laddie's house.
I heard the jingle of a gold charm bracelet as she raised her
wrist to point. I pictured her dressed in some flimsy pink
traveling suit, her pumps kicking a pile of excelsior.
"I I didn't mean what I said a moment ago."
"What was that?"
"You know, Charley, about it being poppycock."
"Don't apologize to me," I said. "I'm no artist sonofabitch."
"Yes, you are, Charley. You go in for poppycock. You
know what I mean."
"I don't know what you mean," I said. I wanted to give her
a hard time.
"It doesn't matter, Charley. It doesn't matter," her voice
cracked. "Oh, Charley, I'm so damned sick and tired of it all.
Everything's turned out so awful for me since since the day
I left home. Why did everything turn out so awful, Charley?"
"I don't know why anything turns out awful," I said. "I'm
no answers-boy. I don't know any answers."
"I don't want to go home, Charley, but what else can I do?
What must I do, Charley? What must I do?" Her voice had
got back its old Jack-in-the-box helplessness; and I was getting
a lump in my throat. For just a minute I wondered if I was
not in love with her.
"Oh, Charley Charley, darling, maybe I ought to have
fallen in love with you. You understand me, Charley, and
we've known each other all our lives and Oh, Charley, if
you loved me "
"Don't start your If-you-love-me crap," I cried suddenly.
"The last time you pulled that on me, I broke my leg. I don't
want to break anything else."
She breathed furiously into the mouthpiece. Finally she
spoke: "I think you're all crazy, Charley. You'll go on and on,
hunting, and looking, and criticizing, and choosing, making a
mess of your lives with poppycock. What do you think life
is, an Easter Egg Hunt?"
I parted my lips to form words, but no words came. Sad-
dened, half angry, and half in love with her I hung up. This
was Angelica's goodbye.
Later Monday, I had a sweet roll and coffee at the Delia
Robia. The boy behind the counter still spoke of Laddie's
suicide. The boy had it from a reliable source that old Culvers
had hired thugs to beat up Laddie Wells while the party took
place in Beverly Hills; and Laddie's showing up at the party
had foiled this plot.
I thought back to the night of the party, when Culvers had
been called away to the telephone. Then the thugs, ignorant
of the steel plate in his skull, would have finished him off; there
was a chance old Culvers would have hanged.
But it didn't matter now. The luck had been on Culvers'
side and on Angelica's all along.
I am writing this, now, a full two years after I quit the job
at Life. I am living in a two-room apartment above a grocery
store in Santa Monica Canyon, near Sebastian Saunders' house.
I no longer spend much time in Beverly Hills.
Laddie Wells is two years and two months dead; and it is as
though he had died in order that Angelica should have a happy
time the remainder of her days. Having returned to a normal
pattern of life, she is as strong and as self-complacent a woman
as her mother; in fact, in a sense she is thought even stronger.
Laddie had taught her something about books and music and
painting, and she has set herself up as the authority on culture
in Miro. Whenever discussion of a novel, for instance, crops
up during Canasta games and coke hours, Angelica has the
last word. As June Kellogg will tell you I cannot for the
life of me recall June's married name Angelica places a
strong period at the end of every sentence.
Angelica no longer feels compelled to wear only pink. I
have heard that there is no more pink in her house there than
in June's or Sarabelle White's. Angelica's new house is ranch-
style modern. Angelica travels to Neirnan-Marcus twice a
year for her clothes. She belongs to a Canasta club and a
bridge club; and she belongs to the Junior League and to the
Miro Garden Club. She is on the entertainment committee of
the Miro Country Club, is secretary of the Catholic Ladies
Altar Guild, and is president of the Miro Association of
Thus, Angelica lives today happy in Miro with Little
Florence Wells, little Ruff, her one-year-old son, and her
second husband, Dr. T. J. "Ruff" McKedrick, a good Joe if
there ever was one. The whole of Miro agrees that married to
this young dentist, Angelica is far better off .
This is probably true, for essentially, Angelica is a normal
type, who must run with the herd. Society, I suppose, works
for the preservation of her type, who have a large majority,
and the passionate, the unusual, the proud, the romantic must
perish like so many black sheep in a river current if society is
to go on.
Laddie Wells is dead; Angelica is having her good time with
"Ruff" McKedrick; the Culverses are back in their preposter-
ous Beverly Hills Mount Vernon. They had fled, after
Laddie's death, down to La Jolla, and had been living on half
of a hotel floor, when the Life story came out. Old Culvers
had hit the ceiling, swearing to have my blood; but the story
had managed to get across the personality of the beautiful and
unhappy young woman who was his prisoner. A couple of
months later the Hollywood Reporter had come out with the
announcement of Culvers' production deal with Worldwide.
Carol was on the way to becoming a star.
Culvers hired a psychiatrist to stop her from drinking and
two extra nurses, who kept an eye on her night and day. The
next year she was drinking just a little, and there were a few
"bad nights" when she sat in the office, the platinum head
wobbling this way and that, as though she only wished that she
were dead. They were saying that she was a star in the old-
time tradition. She owned a full length white mink coat, and
she appeared at parties wearing a hundred thousand dollars
worth of jewels, accompanied by a guard. In her evening bag
there would rest a large silver-gilt perfume bottle, filled with
After the death of Laddie Wells, I did not wish to stay on in
Beverly Hills. I have seen the lights of New York again, and I
have rushed along the crisscross of paths in Harvard Yard.
I have hurried through the spanking-new cities of Texas, and
I have roamed at forty miles an hour through Mexico.
I have seen New Orleans again and have spent several nights
there, making the rounds of Riley White's favorite bars. He
stayed drunk the three days of my visit there, and I gathered
that he is drunk most of the time. He is a pathetic, interesting
little fellow; he had sold himself to Culvers for security, and
now Culvers had given him his useless self back. He still draws
his enormous salary twice a month but has not the power of a
hare. Riley White had enjoyed "the empire," such as it is, and
it was sad to hear him speak of it. He spoke of his old success
with Sweetheart Toilet Paper as though this had been Aus-
While I was in New Orleans, we telephoned Butch Murphy,
who had been fired. She was still intensely loyal to Culvers
and spoke very short with me.
The evening before I left Beverly Hills a late fall sunset
smoldered behind Culvers' house, as though there had been a
great fire in the city. I had sold the car; my bags were packed.
I went over there, wearing Laddie Wells's English tweed sport
coat, to look at the place once more. The week before, the
chain had been removed from the great iron gates, the grounds,
cleared of paper and broken glass. Any day now the Culverses
would come back. This evening the house looked spooky, and
dead, and dark.
Crickets were chirping around me, and not too far away I
heard a mockingbird, imitating the nightingale. I stood by the
swimming pool, listening to the water trickling down the
marble steps. Rome fell because the Goths smashed the aque-
ducts. I imagine that Roman water, dripping on the green
wall of the Campagna, sounded the same way.
I left the pool and strolled toward the Japanese tea house,
walking slowly across the blue lawns, savoring everything,
taking everything in. I sat down on the slope of the hill.
Now the lights of Los Angeles were coming on. It looked
as though all the Christmas trees in the world twinkled out
there. I thought of how I used to stand on Main Street back
home, squinting my eyes, making believe they were these
lights. I thought of how boys stood on Main Streets in every
city and town in America, squinting their eyes. A lump
formed in my throat.
I sat there on Culvers' wet grass, thinking all this. I did not
hear the Cadillacs crawling up the drive. I stood up. Two
searchlights swept the sky, advertising the largest drive-in in
the world. I did not hear her footsteps in the Japanese tea
house behind me, only her scream.
When I turned around, I saw Carol, standing there in white
slacks. A violet scarf she had worn around her head, driving
up from La Jolla, floated to the floor. She was staring at
Laddie Wells's coat, her lips parted wide.
"I thought I thought you were "
I moved forward, and I took her hand. "I know/' I whis-
I held her hand for a moment, then I went off down the
hill, past the floodlighted orange trees.
continued frt^m front flap
.of the hills! and the sweep of the 'Pacific.
Speed Lamkin, the author of Tiger In
The Garden, Is well qualified to write
about Hollywood r ~ *K ^uis iKeJ^f^i
several years in the kind of community of
which he writes. With great authenticity
of detail he has been able to convey the
true character of America's Eldorado.
And the fact that few people find any
of the Easter eggs makes the hunt no
less desperate , or exciting.
jpccd Larrikin s first
novel, Tiger in the Gar den ^ was published
in 1950. The New York Herald Tribune
said of it:
" 'Tiger in the Garden* is a vigorous
and substantial piece of work. It has
freshness and an unusual range in sub-
ject and perception. . . ."
After publication of his book,- Mr.
Lamkin, a native of Monroe, Louisiana,
went to live in Beverly Hills, California
the setting of his second novel, The
Easier Egg Hmit. He worked for a short
time at Warner Brothers Studios and did
some writing for the Hearst newspapers.
His short stories have appeared In
Mademoiselle and Colliers, His first pub-
lished one, "Comes A Day/ 1 won an (X
Henry award, appeared in The Best
American Short Stories of 19^0^ and has
been sold to the movies.
Jacket by Vivian Bermm
1 34 446