"More like worried about you."
Saturday, October 31, 2015
The kiss had taken me by surprise, but I didn't fight it. Instead I returned it with all the gusto and feeling I've always felt for her. I think it took her by surprise, because when we finally parted she had to take a moment to catch her breath.
"You never did hold back," she managed to whisper after a few seconds, but there was a smile on her face. Then it slowly faded as she looked away saying, "Paul's the same way. The two of you are so alike."
"Except he's built like Mr. America whereas I'm still on the slender side," I pointed out. Paul Novak had been on of her muscle-man back-up dancers from her Las Vegas revue. The two of them had been together for sixteen years, and as far as I knew all had been well. But the kiss that Mae had just given me, was worrisome. "Is everything okay between you two kids?" I asked.
She turned and gave me one of her trademark 'looks'. "Honey, if you think I'm a kid, you need glasses or to cut down on the drinking," she smirked, but I could see in her eyes she was troubled by something.
Ignoring the opening she'd left me for a good comeback, I went over to her and asked, "What's wrong, Baby?"
"Paul," she answered with a sigh.
"He's not stepping out on you, is he?" I asked in surprise. From what I'd seen of the big man in the past, his devotion to Mae rivaled and even possibly surpassed my own. Surely he wouldn't be cheating on her after sixteen years.
Mae quickly shook her head. "He's as devoted to me as ever, it's just..." Looking up and around at our surroundings she said, "This place is like me. Older, falling down in some areas... while he's still pretty vibrant and young by comparison..."
"And can't keep his hands off of you, right?" I finished for her with a smile.
That made her laugh and some of the old confidence came back. "You'd better believe it, Honey," she replied in her Diamond Lil persona. "Not that I'm complaining, you understand?"
Nodding I smiled and leaned up against the doorway and asked gently, "So why did you kiss me?"
"Sometimes, I just wonder why he's still so crazy about me," she confided. "I knew from the beginning there was a thirty-year difference in our ages, and that I wouldn't look the way I did at fifty forever. I see the changes, yet he's still as in love with me as ever, possibly more. Can he really be that happy with me or am I living in a dream?"
I'd seen her vulnerable side before, but it had been a long time ago. Everyone believed the tough, wise-cracking, sassy-blonde act from her movies was the real her, but I and a few others knew better. I also knew what she was really asking. Was she still beautiful enough to fire men's passion, especially with someone who had shared many intimate moments with her so long ago.
Before I could say anything she continued. "You told me about your first wife, Madeleine and how she'd been twenty years older than you when you married her."
I nodded, "She'd been married to my commanding officer and best friend, Brian Weston. I was the one who brought the news to her about his falling at Gettysburg in 1863. She and I married a couple of years later."
"And you stayed with her until she died in her early seventies," Mae continued.
"That's right," I told her. And then I added without pause, "And I ravished her almost every night up until that day."
"Even though she didn't look the same as when you married her? Didn't the lines or other changes bother you?"
I'm proud to say I shook my head with complete confidence and honesty. "She was still my Madeleine and I was as crazy about her as I was the first time I laid eyes on her when I was ten. And had she lived another twenty years I would've held, kissed and caressed her every moment I could."
"Is that what would be happening to me right now? If I had said 'yes' all those years ago, you and I..."
"Wouldn't be standing here simply talking, trust me," I assured her and stepped closer.
She held up a hand, "Easy there, Tiger. I'm spoken for..."
"I know," I replied and took her hand and stared out towards the glass doors near the concession stand. "And he's waiting for you."
A look of amazement crossed her face. "Paul's here?" she gasped, "I didn't tell him where I was going. Did he follow me?" she asked getting a little cross.
"No, he was just passing and I stopped him with a small dose of my mist," I explained. "I noticed him while I was still standing by the concession stand and you called out to me. A part of me assumed something was up, so I let a piece of myself slip outside and got him to hang around while we talked."
She studied me for a moment. "Can you tell if he's upset?"
"More like worried about you."
"I've been a little moody lately, thinking about what you and I have been discussing," she admitted.
"He loves you as much as ever," I told her. "Never doubt it. And I know you love him the same way. With love like that, age will never be an issue."
She looked at me and smiled. "I wish I could've believed you back in Roaring Twenties when you said those same words to me. But I just couldn't see you really staying with me as I got older and you stayed young."
"That's not true," I pointed out. "I do age, just at a much slower rate than most people. The truth is I physically age 1 year for every ten that passes. Remember, I was only sixteen when I joined the Union Army."
"And now you look like you're in your mid-twenties," she replied with a sigh. Then a sly grin crossed her face, "But you're still on the scrawny side. I like my men with a lot of muscle."
"I've got plenty of muscle," I protested. "Remember that night when those five guys..."
She cut me off saying, "I meant muscles that show, Honey. No offense."
"None taken," I assured her with a smile. Then I took another look around us and asked, "So were you serious about restoring this place? Or was it just an excuse to bring me here?"
"I've been thinking about it for a while actually," she admitted.
"Then let's do it," I replied and then caught the smirk on her face. Immediately I realized my faux pas and quickly added, "Restoring the theater, I mean." I could tell my face was turning red even before I spoke.
Not that it mattered, she was grinning from ear to ear saying, "Even after all these years, I can make you blush like schoolgirl. I must still have IT."
"You do, Mae," I assured her, "Now why don't you go and join Paul outside. Tell him about your plans and then call me. The three of us can get together and discuss how to get the restoration going."
"Why don't you come outside with me and talk to him now?" she asked.
"He's been on edge for a while," I told her. "Finding out you met me in an old abandoned theater, may not look right, if you know what I mean."
She nodded. "You always were a gentleman."
"Except for when you brought out the beast in me," I smiled and waggled my eyebrows.
"I certainly did," she grinned back and headed out through the lobby.
I stayed in the theater until she and Paul were gone, then I slipped out in my mist form to make sure they were doing okay. I caught up with them as they were walking through a park, where I took a little liberty and spread myself out like a host of fireflies and illuminated their way. I could tell Mae suspected it was me, but Paul remained blissfully ignorant. He simply pulled her closer and enjoyed being with the woman he loved.
I did hear from them a few days later and the three of us bought the theater and started the restoration process. We stayed close for the rest of Mae's life. After she passed, I kept in touch with Paul and watched over him, just as I knew Mae would want, until he joined her. By then I was watching over her goddaughter who was now tugging at my sleeve saying, "Uncle Nate?"
I blink and find myself back in the present. "Sorry, I was wool-gathering," I told her.
"More like you were thinking about my godmother again, weren't you?" Olivia teased.
"She was amazing," I smile wistfully and look back at the playbill. "Let's go for it. I think a few nights of burlesque and some vaudeville will be a lot of fun?"
Olivia smiles and turns to Gina, "See? I told you he'd go for it."
The Latina beauty nods and folds her arms saying, "Yeah, but what about the 'other' show you want to put on for next Halloween?"
"Whatever it is, I'm in," I tell them, without pause and quickly regret it. The two of them eye each other wickedly and pull out another poster and unfold it for me to see. Immediately I regret my hasty words. "And what part do you have in mind for me exactly?" I ask with a sinking feeling.
"The mad doctor of course," Olivia smiles.
"NO! No way! Not happening!" I protest, but it's already a lost cause. Each of them has one of my arms and are dragging me off the stage towards the dressing room for a trial make-over. I argue all the way to the dressing room, but it's too late. It turns out that Olivia can be just as persuasive as her godmother, and somewhere back in the theater I can hear Mae laughing herself silly.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
"You want to put together a vaudeville show?" I said, raising an eyebrow curiously.
"More like a review of some of the more famous acts," Olivia told me. "And no one knows them like you do."
"That's true," I admitted and looked at the floorboards of the stage. They weren't the original boards of course. I'd had those torn up and replaced when I bough the theater back in 1970, with an old friend who'd talked me into buying the place with her.
I remembered feeling a little melancholy about having the original floorboards torn up. After all, I made my stage debut on them back in 1911 with the Marx Brothers. It was only a small part, but the brothers had made sure my brief moment on the stage had been a hilarious one. But after that night, a number of the other performers started asking me to help out in their acts. Soon I was spending most of my time in front of the curtain instead of behind it, like it had for ten years. Not that I had minded.
From the day I'd started in 1910 until that night, I had worked and learned every aspect of what went on behind the scenes of every show. From wardrobe, to sets, to actors having jitters or meltdowns, I'd seen it all and had helped out whenever I could. By the time my friends had dragged me onto the stage with them, I'd even stood in for the stage manager a number of times. Everyone seemed to turn to me, and so many asked time and again, "Why aren't you out there?" This question came up more and more after I started helping some of the performers during rehearsal by standing in as they straight man or victim.
My old pal Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was the first who started training me to be a stand-in for some of his acts, but he never got to use me, as much as he wanted to. He wanted to see me get my moment to shine and did that night, when the Groucho and company finally got me out in front of the audience, and I loved every minute it of. Roscoe had just started doing movies by then and had urged me to go with him to Hollywood and be part of his films. But alas, film could not capture my image and I came back here, much to the delight of the brothers.
Like Roscoe, Groucho and his siblings had learned of my true condition and found new ways to exploit some of my abilities as well as teaching me all about comedic timing, patter, musical instruments and other gifts. We were able to pull off certain tricks that defied all explanation and even had more than one professional magician wondering how we'd pulled them off. (But that's a story for another entry)
But they weren't the only ones who were glad to have me back. The other performers had missed my easygoing manner and how I handled things both on and behind the stage. And I soon found that even the crowds had missed me, as well. Even though I never headlined an act of my own, the audience always greeted me warmly. But soon my time at this theater came to an end, as I moved on with Groucho and company to tour other bigger venues in the vaudeville circuit. But every so often, we'd come back to this theater and it was on one of those return engagements that I found myself being asked to help out one of the newer performers, who needed a silent straight man to react to her singing.
Naturally I was only too glad to help out and that was when I was introduced to a petite fourteen year old girl, who would become one of my dearest and most cherished friends. And in 1970, she would be the one who called me back to this theater, which had by then had been abandoned and practically falling down, and talk me into buying it with her so we could restore it to its former glory.
But, on the day we met, neither of us knew what the future was going to bring us. Or that we'd become so close that we'd fall deeply in love. She only gave me her stage name the first time we met, "Baby Mae" she called herself. But down the road the world would know her by a slightly different name. And she would become not only a star but a legend...
To be continued...
Monday, September 21, 2015
Yesterday I brought Lisa to this theater so she could learn about vintage clothing styles, corsets, and costuming. Tonight, I've returned, just as I have so many times before.
It's quiet and peaceful, especially after the shows have ended. I can still hear a few of the girls changing clothes and cleaning up after tonight's performance. As they told Lisa yesterday, there's a lot more to burlesque than just taking your clothes off. The same could be said for vaudeville and just about any other type of live performance. Bands have entertained audiences on this stage, as has many actors and actresses. In fact I did my part in "Arsenic and Old Lace" around this time last year. Originally I wanted to the play the role of the the criminal brother who'd had plastic surgery to make him look like Boris Karloff, but instead I wound up with the lead role of Mortimer Brewster, the straight man who's surrounded by one cousin who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, and two sweet old aunts who also happen to mercy-kill the occasional visitor who's life had become lonely and sad.
Everyone insisted I take that role because "You're too nice-looking to play the villain... and besides your too short to play a Boris Karloff look-alike". Curse my average height for a guy from the 1860's. I mean really, five foot seven isn't that short, is it? Sigh.
Before I can ponder my 'shortcomings' Olivia appears from one of the wings. Her long wavy blonde hair frames her oval face in gold. Her blue eyes light up as she looks at me. Her smile practically illuminates the entire stage as she comes over for a hug.
"I'm glad you came back again so soon," she murmurs holding me tightly. "I've missed you something awful."
"The feeling is mutual," I reply putting her into a dip.
Her smile widens and then shrinks as a pensive look crosses her lovely features. "I'm sorry things didn't work out for us."
"So am I," I tell her honestly. She was one of those rare people I could've seen myself settling down with. Especially after the night of passion we'd shared on her twenty-fifth birthday, seven years ago. But in the end I knew she'd made the right decision. Her heart longed for another who even now was stepping out onto the stage and clearing their throat rather loudly.
Still in the dip, Olivia let's her head fall backwards and says, "Relax Gina, we're just talking."
Looking up I see only Gina's silhouette, but she's struck an enticing pose that I know is not meant for me. A moment later she steps out onto the stage and once again I remember why Olivia fell for this woman. Gina is the living embodiment of a 'Smoking Hot Latina' beauty. She's also got a slightly insecure streak when it comes to me and Olivia, who I quickly bring back to an upright position. I even pull out a handkerchief and pretend to dust her off.
Much to my relief this makes Gina laugh. It's a lovely laugh and genuine. Obviously, she's more confident in where things stand between me and her love.
As she draws closer I see her dark eyes turn to Olivia with a hopeful look in them. "Did you ask him?" she whispers.
"Not yet," Olivia replies and quickly smiles at me. I know that particular smile only too well.
Quietly I pull out my wallet, doing the long-suffering father routine, and say, "Okay, so how much this time?"
"Hey, I never ask you for money!" Olivia protests loudly, her voice echoing off the walls of the empty theater. "And I'm not about to start now."
My eyes narrow. "You want me to do Arsenic and Old Lace for Halloween again, don't you?"
Both of the ladies give me wide innocent smiles.
Immediately I realize that's not the case, they want something else. "Okay, what's up?"
Gina quietly hands me a rolled up poster which I carefully unfurl. A moment later my eyes widen and my mind is catapulted back across the decades...
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
I didn't have to come all the way out to here to Hollywood to do the signing, but I wanted to. It had been a long time since my last trip out here and I wanted to see how much things had changed.
As usual I waited until evening to make my pilgrimage and began exploring the streets. Eventually I found myself wandering down the Walk of Fame. I hadn't even realized it at first, which goes to show how much my head was still in the clouds from my movie deal. But when I did notice I couldn't believe whose name was on the star at my feet.
For a moment I couldn't move and had to fight back the red-stained tears that wanted to come. But I knew a man crying blood would really cause a commotion, or a land me a movie role with my luck. so I held them back and just kept staring at the star.
I remembered the first time I saw him on stage. It was my job that night to man the 'crook' (the comedic giant hook) to pull acts that were bombing off the stage (which I sometimes hated). I never liked seeing anyone fail, bu sometimes it was for the performers own good. You never knew what might get thrown at you instead of a rotten tomato. The crowds could get pretty ugly some nights.
But on this night I was told that the performer wanted it to be used. So I did as I was told. Next thing I knew this big, heavy fellow came out on stage and began singing and oh what a voice he had. It was so lovely, but some people in the crowd started booing and tossing things onstage. I didn't know it at the time, but those people were put there by the stage manager, so Mr. Arbuckle could dodge and tease as he continued his song. The man was so nimble I couldn't believe my eyes. It was like watching someone moving on air, especially when he danced. I was so transfixed I almost forgot to do my job and try to use the oversized hook to get him. But I remembered just in time and almost got him... almost. The man somersaulted out of the way and wound up in the pit with the musicians, making the audience go wild.
Afterwards, I went to find the fellow to congratulate him on a fantastic performance. As I searched for him, I asked one of the other performers where I could find the man. I hadn't caught Roscoe's name and had to describe him to which the fellow I was asking said, "Oh you mean Fatty, that's what we all call him."
Instinctively, my back stiffened. I'd known a number of soldiers who got unflattering nicknames, which they hated and I refused to repeat. Straightening up I said evenly, "The man has a real name you know?"
As soon as those the words left my lips, a voice behind me said, "Yes I do. It's Roscoe Arbuckle and I'm pleased to meet you."
Turning I saw the man I'd been seeking who gave me a big warm smile and a hearty handshake. It was the first of many encounters. I found Roscoe to have a heart bigger than his frame. He'd let me help him practice routines and songs, as well as teaching me how to take pratfalls and do comedy. I had many mentors when it came to learning how to be funny, but Roscoe was the first. I got so good, he wanted to use me out on stage, but I wasn't ready. Some of his performances took place in the daytime and of course I could only operate at night. This puzzled him at first, but later on he learned my secret (a tale for another time) and quickly understood.
But our friendship continued to grow and blossom, as did I under his guidance. By the time four brothers: Arthur, Julius, Leonard, Milton and Herbert (better known as The Marx Brothers), entered my life I was very well versed in comedy. However, when Hollywood beckoned we had to say farewell for a time. He had wanted me to come with him and I readily agreed. However, the studios insisted on some test footage be shot. Roscoe knew about my condition by this time and insisted on doing the shooting himself. So he and I, along with his cousin Al St. John shot a few scenes only to discover that film could not capture my image. The footage, which I still possess and have carefully had restored, is quite funny. It looks as thought Roscoe and Al are dealing with an invisible ghost who's handing or tossing things to them. For a brief while Roscoe thought about using me anyway for such a film, but it would've meant others finding out about what I was so the idea was scrapped and I went back to Vaudeville.
However, Roscoe and I kept in touch regularly and visited each other frequently. Every so often on a rainy day when he was shooting indoors, I got to visit the set and met his protege' Buster Keaton. As it turned out I already knew Buster from his early days as a child star when he'd performed with his parents.
I also got to meet Roscoe's dog and fellow star Luke. Luke was an English Pitbull who belonged to Roscoe's wife Minta Durfee. She'd gotten the dog as a bonus from one of her producers after she'd pulled off rather dangerous stunt for a movie. Luke was a sweetheart and took to me right away. To this day I still consider Luke one of the most talented animals I'd ever met. I often model my 'Black Puppies' after him, especially their behavior. He was such a fun dog.
Looking down at the star I sighed quietly and said, "Well Roscoe, I'm finally making my mark here in Hollywood. I hope I do you proud, old friend." With that I looked around to make sure no one was around or looking at me. Then I did a few steps from Roscoe's "Butcher Boy" film, remembering how he'd taught it to me, and then took a bow.
After that I moved on. But as I did so I heard a faint clapping coming from behind me. I turned but didn't see anyone. Not that they couldn't have been hidden someplace, but a part of me liked to think Roscoe was giving me the applause he'd always felt I'd been denied so many years ago.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
I'm beginning to think I may have made a mistake in getting Uncle Nathan to transcribe all those letters and journals. He hasn't been himself since he started. I'm guessing that even after a hundred and fifty years some wounds just don't heal enough. Though he already told me he's determined to finish the task. He really laments all the journals, pictures, and personal mementos that were lost to him over the last century and a half. At least in cyberspace they can never be lost. Plus he really wants those of us who know him to really be able to understand all he's seen and done throughout his long life.
I still find it hard to believe that he's been around for almost a century and a half. I don't mean just the fact that he's existed all that time, but what he's seen and done over the decades. He didn't just sit around brooding and despairing about outliving all the friends and family he knew. The man keeps looking ahead, eager to see new things will come.
I mean think about it. Here is a man who has witnessed the birth of movies, television, computers, and so many other inventions that have changed the world. Plus, he's witnessed or even been part of historic events, both good and bad. But that's just the start.
He's attended night classes at a number college and universities. I know for a fact that he has at least two doctorates, three masters and I don't know how many A. A. and B. A. Degrees. He's learned to play several musical instruments and is a master of ballroom and modern dance styles.
There are photos and posters from the stage and theater. The man was actually part of Vaudeville, for crying out loud. He knew some of Hollywood's biggest names before the movie industry ever even existed. God knows he's made so many of us laugh performing some of his old skits, recreating some performances by other legendary figures like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Houdini, Rudolph Valentino (before the movies when he was mostly known for ballroom dance) The Marx Brothers and Mae West to name a few.
The Marx Brothers had a huge influence on him. He learned to play the piano from Chico and later the harp from Harpo. Right now, we're in 'The Crypt' and Uncle Nate's tearing up the piano in Chico's style.
*Author's Note: click here to see Chico in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfIVnzpj1vM
While his teacher was well known for polka and classical, Uncle Nate likes to let loose with a mixture of Jazz, Hip-Hop, and others while still using the same finger movements and comedy. Even the youngest of the Hip-Hop crowd love to watch him in action. Especially when he uses some of those comedic skills up at the turntables when he sits in for the club's DJ.
He never has to worry about the owner of the place being bothered by his antics, he is the owner. He acquired the building back during the Great Depression. "The Crypt" is in the basement and is always open most of the night. Alcohol is never served. That came to an end back in Prohibition and he never lifted the ban. He just wanted a place for everyday people to enjoy themselves.
Right now he's up there getting his and everyone else's groove going. I could go on and on about him, but I think it's better when these things come from him. Which I'm going to try and encourage. Transcribing the letters and journals are still important, but so is existing in the present. This is something he's taught me and so many others over the years. I guess that's why we love him so much and help keep his secret. At least half of the club's visitors know and keep quiet. They also donate regularly so there's always a supply for him in the refrigerators. He only takes from people directly on rare occasions. But that's an entry for another day. Right now, he's stepping over to the piano and cutting loose there, and my feet are itching to get on the dance floor with my wife and children. Even at forty we know how bust moves with the best of them. Uncle Nate taught us the importance of always moving with the times and living our lives to the fullest.