I walked out on stage and said “Hello!” with a bit more cheer than necessary, paused, looked out over Orchestra Hall - all three balconies filled, the usual array of faces looking up and down - and said “Have you ever been in line at Target and had the sudden, horrible conviction that you’re supposed to be on stage somewhere?”
The laughter was generous, and I hung my head and milked the moment.
It was all okay. It was going to be fine.
Let us back up to several weeks ago, when my eggbeater broke. I imagined the conversation at the company that made it.
“This eggbeater is simply designed, and sturdily made,” frowned the company executive. “It will last forever. No one will need by another. What can we do about that?”
The designer smiled. “See this handle? It’s made of two pieces of interlocking plastic. Over time, they will loosen until they come apart. They will snap back together and work for a while, but will soon fall apart again.”
“Ah. But won’t people just glue them back together?”
“Some might. But the way they snap back together gives the user the illusion that they have fixed it - and then when it breaks again, and again, it will lose authority in the customer’s mind, and become broken and unfixable. Some, at that point, may choose to glue. But studies have shown that they will decide a new one will provide a small amount of satisfaction, since it will not have the accumulated gunk they’ve been meaning to remove, but never have.”
“Good. Make ten million of them.”
And so I found myself at the store, looking for an egg beater. A whisk would do - indeed, I had been whisking for two weeks. But whisking eggs seems intimate and punitive, while using an egg beater is mechanical and efficient. Nothing personal, egg. It’s just business. I mean breakfast.
The store’s kitchen utensil department did not have an egg beater.
Hmm. They had whisks, of course, but no egg beaters. I tried another grocery store: same thing. They had all manner of obscure kitchen tools - well, obscure to me - but nothing that would punish an egg the way I wanted. This lead me to Bed Bath and Beyond, where I went to the Beyond department. Floor to ceiling kitchen tools. No egg beaters.
I found a clerk. “An egg beater,” I said. “You turn the handle. The . . . .the things go around and beat an egg. Right?”
“Yes! So they do exist. But where are they?”
She led me back to the Great Wall of Tools, which had a garlic delighter and a lemon-zest infuserator, but no egg beater.
“I have inspected every inch,” I said. She couldn’t find it. She said she would go check the computer. Five minutes later she returned and said they had four, and the brand was Oxo. We went back to the Oxo section and stared at the wall for a few more minutes. Nothing.
Another clerk joined us. Now you have three people staring up at the wall, confused. It’s here but we’re not seeing it? How is that possible?
I wandered away to another part of the display, and there I found it. Not the configuration I was looking for - unlike the simple old beaters of yore, this had a differently styled handle, and a body that enclosed the gears. I took it down and showed it to the other clerks. Ah hah!
They looked at it, and were confused: that’s not an egg beater.
“It doesn’t look like one,” I said. “That’s why we couldn’t find it! Now you know.”
Indeed, now they knew. This would never trouble them again.
I managed to buy it without having to give the store my email address, which was nice, and then I went to Target to get a rug and some headphones. The dog ate the last pair. Found some nice over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, although the box should have said “one more damned thing to charge, eh?”
Thought ahead to the rest of the afternoon - a nice Sunday, really. Oh, I’d be glad for Monday’s routines to assert themselves, and I had a column to write, but it was a good day -
Phone rings. I answer it on my wrist, with a cheery announcement of my name, since I don’t recognize the caller. Usually I let unknown numbers go, but for some reason I picked up.
Yes, hi, this is MYS?
And I wondered why my daughter’s old music school, the Yamaha Music School was calling. No that was YMS. No, that was YCMS, Yamaha Children’s Music School -
“We were wondering if you were here because it’s five minutes before the concert starts and usually you’re backstage”
OH HOLY CRAP
THERE’S A CONCERT TODAY
HOW DID I NOT
I tell her I can make it as soon as possible, can someone else fill at the top, oh I am so sorry I didn’t see the email it wasn’t in my calendar sorry sorry sorry
She assures me it’s okay, they’ll find someone, don’t worry, it would be odd to have two MCs, see you in April
CRAP CRAP CRAP I am not going to let them down. I drive home at Ludicrous Speed and shine my shoes and get in my suit and print off the script (which I found in my secondary-importance mailbox, gah) and made haste to Orchestra Hall. I was expecting to be excoriated but everyone was happy to see me, amused by my distress, and told stories about the time they’d forgotten they had a concert.
Ding! Time for the next MC reading, so I grabbed the script (hadn’t read it, prayed the names of the composer and concertmaster was easy to pronounce) and walked out. The previous two introductions had been done by the nice lady who called me to ask where I was, and now there’s me. So I went out and said hello and did the bit about being in the checkout line at Target.
“I looked at my watch, and I could make it if I left now, but on the other hand, this is a really good deal on chicken. I mean 24 ounces fro $3.99. That’s three dollars off. The good news is that this is how I dress when I go to Target.” (Suit, red tie.) “They love the tie.”
On with the show.
It's a repeat, but it was so long ago I doubt you remember. I don't. I do remember that the movie served as a periodic reminder that judging the 20s by the inexpensive comedies or stage-bound dramas doesn't give a full accounting of the era. This is not a review or a recap - just a look at the images and faces of a long-gone era.
Consider the names and history packed in that simple title card. Nowadays everyone would have to have his own production company with a 7 second computer-generated logo, but those were simpler times. Zukor co-founded Paramount - but first he founded Famous Players, which merged with Jesse Lasky's production outfit to form Famous Players - Lasky, which shows up at the bottom in tiny type here as "Paramous Famous Lasky Corporation." Got that?
As for Mr. Schulberg, Wikipedia notes:
Born Percival Schulberg in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he took the name Benjamin from the boy in front of him when registering for school to avoid mockery for his British name. Schulberg, who started as a publicity manager at Famous Players-Lasky, but in the power struggle around the formation of United Artists ended up on the losing side and lost his job.
United Artists: there's a story for another day. Schulberg, of course, was the father of Budd, the accomplished screenwriter and novelist.
Sternberg was more than a prodcer - he was the director. Seven years after this movie was made, Von Sternberg would hire Richard Neutra to design his house. (Ayn Rand lived there for a while in the 40s.) Wikipedia:
Neutra was mindful of his customer's desires even when he found them absurd. He would later regale his friends with the story (among others) of Von Sternberg asking that none of the bathroom doors have locks, in order to prevent his party guests from locking themselves up in there and threatening to commit suicide.
More on the house here. Second title card:
Furthman wrote many films, including "The Big Sleep." Saunders was born in Minnesota, and not only wrote novels but penned the scrupt of "Wings," the first movie to get the "Best Picture" Oscar. He divorced Fay Wray in '39 and hung himself in '40.
Julian Johnson, who wrote the titles, was married to Texas Guinan for a while.
On to the actors. There’s nothing unusual, or particularly interesting, in the story. Boy meets girls when she throws herself in the drink. In this case, the boy is about the grimiest manly man whatever strode though a flicker:
George Bancroft. He had a good run in the silents as a rugged type. Known for a substantial ego.
The print of the movie is excellent, which reminds you that people in the 20s saw movies with the same expectations we have today; they didn't see washed-out scratchy prints with missing frames, but pristine works of art.
Baclanova: she only needed one name.
"An exotic blonde temptress, she was billed as the 'Russian Tigress.'" said Wikipedia.
Remind you of anyone?
She's one of the hookers in the bar, the second female lead. She's not the hooker the hero saves; that would be . . .
Betty Compson. She went from playing alongside Roscoe Arbuckle in one- and two-reelers to top-star status, earning five grand a week. And more: imdb says
Compson was sent a 1912 Rolls-Royce by a South American who had it stored in a New York garage. As she already had a limo, she was initially annoyed but later discovered she could rent it to the movie studios at $100 per day. She ultimately made $20,000 on it before selling it. This situation may have been the inspiration for a similar situation in "Sunset Boulevard.".
Alas, you can't stay on top forever.
The stature of her roles began to diminish from the mid-1930's, though she continued to act in character parts until 1948. Betty's personal fortunes also declined. This came about primarily as a result of her marital contract to the alcoholic Cruze, whom she had divorced in 1929 . For several years, Cruze had failed to pay his income tax and Betty (linked financially to Cruze) ended up being sued by the Federal Government to the tune of $150,000.
This forced her to sell her Hollywood villa, her cars and her antiques. In later years, Betty Compson developed her own a cosmetics label and ran a business in California, producing personalised ashtrays for the hospitality industry.
The company was called "Ashtrays Unlimited."
This shot . . .
. . . appears to be this, from a lobby card.
The audience had a color-context before they saw the movie.
There's a preacher, Hymn-book Harry:
Gustav von Seyffertitz. Early in his career - he went into movies in middle-age - he went by other names that sounded more English. Like "G. Butler Clonblough" and "G. Butler Clonebaugh."
There are a few exterior shots, but most of the movie takes place in the bar, or in cheap lodging rooms. There's little of the big overacting people associate with silents, and every time the camera alights on a new face, the decades fall away - and the shadows come back to life again.
The best movies of the era remind you that all this . . . was really just yesterday.