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“Mother Is a Movie Queen” By Louis Paul

Published: July 11, 2018

Summer is for steamy romance. Our new series of classic fiction from the 1940s and ’50s features sexy intrigue from the archives for all of your beach reading needs. Read “Mother Is a Movie Queen,” in which Hollywood star Lora Tremaine is convinced to accept a part in her first ever Broadway performance… by her own daughter. In her attempt to transition from seductive Hollywood roles to professional Broadway productions, she could find a new beau along with a fresh career. 

Mr. Al York, whose specialty was interviewing famous personalities, was completing an interview with Miss Lora Tremaine, one of Hollywood’s most glamorous movie stars. Usually these interviews took place in the lady’s boudoir. In this instance Miss Tremaine was seated primly in her library. “And so we can say,” remarked Al as the tape recorder continued unraveling its reel, “that you’ve definitely decided to appear in a Broadway play this fall.”

“Yes, darling. And I’m terrified. I’ve never done anything like New Blood before. ”

“Just one more shot. Would you. all. relax your limbs, Miss Tremaine?” said the photographer. “No leg pictures. Please. This is a dignified play, boys. Why do you think I insisted on being interviewed in my library? Only this morning my daughter Lily said, ‘Mamma, it’s time you gave up those awful sex roles and became a real actress.’ ” She firmly pressed the stop button of the tape recorder. “That’s not all she said. She said, ‘Mamma, someday they’re going to nominate your bosom for an Academy Award, and that’s the day I’ll die of shame.”‘

“And how old is Lily?” asked the interviewer.

Lora smiled wryly. “Now that’s a sneaky question.” Seen this close up the star was every bit as alluring as the camera made her. She somehow managed to radiate a sort of illicit charm that was as difficult to describe as it was easy to look at. “Let’s just say Lily’s in her teens. She’s been in the little-theater movement on the Coast here for several seasons. Her dad — we’re separated, as you know — helped to finance her in a couple of things that sort of expired. Anyway, she thinks it’s high time I did a Broadway play, and so I finally accepted Martin Latimer’s offer.”

“And in all these Hollywood years you’ve never been in a stage drama?”

“No. And I’m petrified. But don’t put that in your piece. In fact, dear, I’d like to see a copy of this article before it appears. Not that I don’t trust you, Al. But — ”

“I’ll have a transcript in the mails in about two weeks.”

“In that case send it on to the Park South Hotel, New York.” She gave one of her famous smiles. “If you boys like Scotch,. just help yourself. A feller in Edinburgh makes it up for me special.”

Later Miss Lily Tremaine came up dripping from the swimming pool, a towel flung around her. She was slender, somewhat tense, with a tomboyish figure and an air of deep gravity. “How did it go?”

Lora shrugged. “I talked about your father, naturally. And my other marriage when I was just a stupid kid.”

“And not about the play!”

“Of course I talked about the play. But you’ve got to toss in a little human stuff too.” Lora sighed. “I don’t know why I let you wangle me into this. What do I know about Broadway? Even Ted Loes, my manager, has his doubts.”

“Mamma, this lead in New Blood will start you on a whole new career. The play has terrific social implications, the idea of a rich society matron scheming to marry off her son to the daughter of the family cook — ”

“It don’t sound very real-life to me.”

“But it is real life. Every day you read how some royal prince has been marrying a commoner to bring fresh blood into the family. Actually it’s a sort of Strindberg plot — ”

“Strindberg. Strindberg — what studio does he work for?”

“Really, mamma! Strindberg was a famous Swedish playwright.”

“Well, unless he had a lot of screen credits I wouldn’t recognize the name.” Reaching over, she patted her little blond spaniel. “By the way, I’m taking Taffy with us. He’ll be a comfort. You know I’ve never liked New York. Cities look better lying on their sides. The way New York stands up balanced on its back legs makes me dizzy.”

“Honestly, you’re a character.”

“I’m myself, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been studying the lines of this play. I can’t seem to get inside Mrs. Broughton, of the Boston Broughtons. It’s hard to visualize myself as a society dame.”

“Now don’t tell me you’ve got an inferiority complex!”

“It’s possible.” Lora shrugged. “I’ve been so busy bringing you up and running what I was born with into a million-dollar trust fund that I haven’t had time to figure out my complexes.” She took the towel and began drying her daughter’s back and shoulders. “You’re the talented one in the family. You remind me of your father. I mean his good side. He was -Furthermore, I don’t like flying. Especially these jets. Why can’t we take the Super Chief?”

“Mother, where have you been all these years!”

“You know where I’ve been. In my dressing room practicing how to be enticing in front of the mirror. All I hope is that Taffy don’t get airsick.”

“’Doesn’t,’ mamma.”

“Can’t I talk bad grammar privately when we’re alone, honey? Remember, I got married when I was fifteen, and it kind of put a crimp in my education.”

A few days later, comfortably quartered in a suite at the fashionable Park South Hotel, Lora was telling her daughter, “The closer it gets to two o’clock, the sicker I feel.”

“But you’ve talked with the producer, Mr. Latimer. You saw how charming he was. You’ve seen Gig Bixby, the director. You’ve met Harriet Hart, who has the big part of the cook. They’re utterly thrilled at having you in the play.”

Lora anxiously examined herself in the large, beveled mirror. “Is this jersey suitable? I don’t bulge too much?”

Lily gazed at her mother’s figure critically. “Let’s admit it, mamma. You automatically bulge. But never mind that. Just concentrate on rehearsal.”

“All right. But I wish you’d change your mind and come with me.”

“Mother, once you get into it you’ll love it!”

The handsome, statuesque actress pulled on her gloves. “I’ll probably love heaven if I ever get into it. But that don’t mean I’m in a hurry to kick the bucket.”

Lily had to laugh. “I still say you’re a character, mamma.”

On the empty stage of the dimly lighted theater the company had assembled in working clothes, and they cast curious sidelong glances at the star as she entered.

Following the usual introductions, Miss Tremaine exchanged a nervous joke or two with the producer, a rather elegant man with a pleasant touch of white at the temples. “I can’t tell you how I felt when you agreed to do this play,” he said.

“Good. Then I won’t have to tell you how I felt.”

The cast finally gathered around a long, scarred oak table while the director made a few observations. There was nothing elegant about Bixby, who looked as though he’d slept in his clothes.

“I happen to feel that the better we understand the purpose of a drama,” he said, “the more likely we are to convey this meaning to the audience. Now you all remember the old story of the tricky little gold digger who gets her hooks into the son of some upper-crust family. Father eventually exposes her by writing a walloping check so young Reggie can marry one of those pudding-faced daughters of the rich.” He flipped through the pages of the play script. “Well, if you’ve read New Blood, you know it’s something more than a variation on this threadbare theme. It’s no longer a question of buying off the little gold digger. On the contrary, she’s needed to put back some vigor into the family blood stream. So we have in Mr. Clary’s play a dramatization of this proposition, the campaign of the wealthy Broughtons to arrange a match between their playboy son and the cook’s sprightly daughter. The young couple is willing enough, but it’s not quite that simple. Mrs. Quinlan, the cook, is dead set against any such union. ‘I’d rather Marie stayed single the rest of her days than marry that night-club rounder and drunkard, Monty Broughton,’ she declares indignantly. ‘Remember, their children will be my grandchildren, and I’m damned if I want any such mixture as this in my family. The rich are good enough to work for, madam. But to marry — ‘

“Well, you get the point. Obviously there’s more to this play than mere surface story. It’s the way these two parts are played that is crucial. The head-on collision between Mrs. Broughton, the socialite, and Mrs. Quinlan, the cook, represents the differences in our democratic way of life itself. Can they come to terms? Are Judy O’Grady and the colonel’s lady really sisters under the skin? That’s the question.

“Now, the burden of these portrayals lies squarely on the shoulders of Lora Tremaine and Harriet Hart. Miss Tremaine, as you all know, is one of our foremost picture stars. And while this is something of a new departure for her, I think we have a right to expect great things. As for Harriet Hart, her selection to play the cook was, in my opinion, an inspiration. Bill Garrett as Monty and Alice Chalmers as the cook’s daughter round out an experienced group of performers. Now this has been a long speech, and it’s time we got on with the reading. So please settle back and feel free to interrupt at any point in the procedure.”

When Lora returned to the hotel, Lily said, “Well, mamma? How did it go?”

“Rotten.” The actress tossed her gloves on the sofa. “I’m more confused now than when I started.”

“Why, mamma? What went wrong?”

“Nothing. I just got lost after the first six minutes.”

“But you have to expect it to be a little different from pictures, mamma.”

“Do I have to expect funny looks and snide remarks behind my back?”

“Oh, now you’re just imagining things.”

“Well, before it’s too late maybe I’ll imagine myself right out of this play. How I ever let myself be talked into this crazy venture is a mystery!’

“But, mother, you’ve got talent!” exclaimed Lily passionately. “I know you better than anybody in the world. I want to be proud of you!”

“You don’t have to shout, dear. I hear good. I’ve just got an awful feeling this whole thing is going to turn out to be a disaster.”

The girl gestured in a characteristic way with her finger. “You listen a minute, mamma. How do you think I feel when people refer to you as ‘The Shape’? How long can you go on playing the sexy dame, the femme fatale in these vulgar films? It ruined your life with papa — ”

“Leave your father out of this.”

“And now it’s coming between us. Here’s your chance to play a strong dramatic part, to show you’re a real actress, and you’re fighting it. Can’t you try?”

“O.K. But I feel out of place, like a whale in a teacup. You’ll just have to come to rehearsals and explain things to me as we go along, baby.”

On stage the following afternoon the property man had arranged some chairs to represent the Broughton living room. “Let’s take it from Mrs. Broughton’s first entrance,” said the director. “Miss Tremaine, haven’t you got your play script?”

“I’m a quick study. I know the lines.”

“Good. We’ll run through this bit with your son Monty to get the feel of the dialogue. You’ve met Bill Garrett, of course.”

The young actor was staring at her with a mixture of awe and respect. She blinked. “Don’t I know you from somewhere, sonny? From way back?”

He shrugged, smiling.

“No, I guess not. Well, let’s get on with it.” She turned to the director. “What do I do?”

“Do?” Bixby’s brows went up. “Just go ahead.”

Lora gulped. “‘You were intoxicated again last night, Monty. I simply will not have it, do you understand? You’re a disgrace to the Broughton name.'” The scene continued. Lora read her lines in a low, husky voice.

During a breather Bixby took her aside. “You’re underplaying. There’s no microphone. You’ve got to project right up to the last seat in the balcony.”

The next time, she cried out in a heavy exaggerated way, ” ‘You were drunk again last night, Monty. I just won’t have it, see! You’re a disgrace to the whole damn family –‘ ”

“Don’t ad lib, Lora. Read the lines. And bring down your voice.”

For several days this sort of thing continued. Young Bill Garrett and Lily had struck up a pleasant acquaintance. He described the difficulties of a boy from a suburban town getting a start as an actor, and she talked about her work in the amateur theater. Bixby, concerned, suggested night sessions. Breaking for dinner, he said, “Lily, I wish you’d tell your mother not to strain so hard. She keeps going from one extreme to the other.”

“Give her time, Mr. Bixby. Mamma will come around.”

“Incidentally,” said Bill Garrett, “it so happens that I’ve got a couple of stools reserved at Jensen’s drugstore around the corner. How about one of their famous corned-beef blue plates?”

“Yes, you go along,” said Lora, coming up. “You know I never eat when I’m rehearsing.”

“You’ll be all right?”

“Sure. Harriet Hart has been telling me about the time she opened in the play version of Salome. John the Baptist’s head rolled off the charger into an old lady’s lap — Anyway, you go on.”

“Now there’s a real woman,” commented young Garrett as they emerged into the daylight of Forty-eighth Street.

“I don’t know.” Lily shook her head. “She doesn’t seem to be taking direction. That really isn’t like mamma.”

Back on the rehearsal stage the director and producer, along with the author, were sitting on camp chairs with their heads together. “Let’s face it,” Bixby was saying. “That woman can’t act.”

The producer shrugged. “You said we needed a box-office name.”

“What good is her name if the play closes in Wilmington?”

Clary, the white-haired playwright, felt his unshaved chin. “I wasn’t too happy about her in the first place.”

“No, but you thought she’d be boxoffice too,” Latimer declared. “People have always paid good money just to see Lora Tremaine do nothing.”

“That’s the trouble,” said Clary. “She’s doing something all the time. What she moves, and the way she moves it, takes your mind off the lines. You always feel she is uncomfortable in the part. There’s not an ounce of Mrs. Broughton in her system. Let’s admit it, we’ve done a major bit of miscasting.”

“Well, it’s too late to change now,” said the producer. “And don’t forget where a large part of the production money is coming from.”

Meanwhile, Lora and Harriet Hart had been exchanging reminiscences. “It’s my daughter,” Miss Tremaine was saying.

“For a long time she’s been after me to do something arty on Broadway. Her father, a Los Angeles lawyer, and I just don’t see eye to eye on my career, and so we’ve been separated for the last couple of years. Maybe I’ve spoiled Lily a little to make up for things. I’m probably making another mistake about this Broadway play, but she’s so hungry to see her mother in something dignified that I agreed against my better judgment.” She sighed. “They all know I’m no actress.”

Miss Hart said, “Well, let’s give it the old Method treatment. I’ll fire the lines in your face with both barrels, and you come back like you hated my guts. O.K.?”

“I’ll try. But I still don’t know what this play is about. Personally I agree with Mrs. Quinlan, the cook. I wouldn’t want Monty in my family either.”

When the cast was reassembled, Bixby said, “Act one, scene two. Lora and Harriet. I’d like to start on a low key and work up gradually so there’s a nice feeling of climax when the cook finally says, `You go to hell, madam,’ and storms out. . . . All right, Harriet. Come in.”

It went along until Bixby interrupted. “No, you’re just squabbling.” He ran his hands through his hair. “This is a charged-up meeting. Let’s feel something electric beneath the words.”

Lily and Bill stood together watching intently as the two actresses repeated the scene. Suddenly, in a burst of temper, Bixby exclaimed exasperatedly, “Damn it, Lora, quit wriggling your hips!”

The actress turned. The color was drained from her features. When she spoke, it was in a low, restrained voice. “Do excuse me. I’ll be leaving now.”

“Mother, please!” cried Lily. “You were wriggling your hips. Can’t you do what the director tells you?”

“Would somebody find my coat?”

Bill Garrett hastily fetched it for her.

“Mother, if you walk out now I’ll never forgive you!”

Young Garrett, the actor, came downstage. His eyes were blazing. “Why, you spoiled little brat, you don’t deserve a mother like Lora Tremaine.” He turned and said furiously, “Ever since these rehearsals started you’ve all paid her compliments to her face and made slighting remarks behind her back. Well, what did you expect, Sarah Bernhardt?”

“Darling, you shouldn’t get so excited,” said Lora in a husky voice. “But thanks anyway. Would you put me in a cab?”

“I’d like nothing better.”

The following day, at noon, a group of rueful-looking stage people called at Miss Tremaine’s suite at the Park South Hotel. “I don’t think she’ll see you,” said Lily in the small sitting room. “She’s been talking on the phone with her manager. He’s flying out to take her home.”

“She can’t fly home, Miss Tremaine,” declared Martin Latimer. “We’ve got an iron-clad contract.”

“You don’t know mamma. She has lawyers who can break any contract.”

“Well, at least ask her to let us apologize,” said Bixby. He nodded at Bill Garrett. “Maybe she’ll speak to Bill.”

“Maybe she will,” said Lily bitterly. “So let him go in and tell her again how her daughter is a spoiled brat who doesn’t deserve a woman like Miss Tremaine for a mother.”

“Let’s not rake over the past,” said Harriet Hart. “We were tired and wrought up.” She raised her voice. “Lora, dear. Do come out.”

“Well, what’s all the fuss?” asked the film star, emerging from her bedroom.

“Darling, listen,” said Harriet earnestly. “You mustn’t take stage people literally. During rehearsal what sounds like an insult is only our jangled nerves talking.”

“No doubt about it,” said Bixby, “Bill Garrett was right. We’ve been acting like stinkers, and I’m the biggest.”

“No, the mistake was mine,” said Lora firmly. “I’m just somebody who was brought up in the sticks. I’ll never be a Broughton of Boston-if I try till my dying day. So I’m simply stepping out.”

Young Garrett said, “I — I wish you wouldn’t, Miss Tremaine.”

She turned. “How come you to agree with these others? Yesterday you were riled up. What changed your mind?”

“Yesterday I forgot one thing. I forgot that if our play folds, about forty innocent people will be thrown out of work, people who are being hounded by landladies for their back rent.”

“Maybe,” Harriet Hart suggested, “we could get together mornings and work the two parts by ourselves.”

“You don’t Seem to understand,” murmured Lora. “I was doing this for Lily. She’s too young to know you can’t make a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

Lily’s lip trembled as an unbidden tear ran down her cheek. “Don’t say that, mamma. Don’t say that in front of all these people! It wasn’t for myself. I thought — I thought if you acted in s-something serious, if you were a b-big success in a fine play, it might change things between you and papa, bring us all together again. I th-thought — ” Unable to control her emotions, she ran sobbing from the room.

After a long silence Bill Garrett spoke up. “I have a feeling we’ve all been saying the wrong thing except Lily. Will you come back, Miss Tremaine. Please?”

She hesitated, then said; “I’ll let my daughter decide. If she thinks I ought to take another stab at it, I’ll try. . . . Lily! Stop sulking and come out here.”

Clary, the author of New Blood, who had not said a word during all this, was staring into space as though in a trance.

“Our literary friend,” commented Bixby, “seems to be off in some private world of his own.”

“Wha — what?”

“Are you here,” asked the producer, “or somewhere else?”

“Somewhere else,” admitted the playwright.

“And where,” inquired Lora, amused, “do you get your material from, darling, if you don’t pay attention to what goes on in life?”

“I often wonder,” said Clary vaguely.

“I’ve been thinking.” Lily had returned with reddened eyes and slipped her warm hand into her mother’s. “But before I say what I’ve been thinking, let me repeat an observation I made at rehearsals,” Clary went on. “I said then, and I say now, that in Lora Tremaine’s case we’ve done a major bit of miscasting.”

“Look,” said Bixby. “We’ve just about got Lora in the mood to return to the play. What are you trying to do, louse the whole thing up again?”

“Not necessarily. With Lora and Harriet in the leading roles, I figure New Blood could be one of the biggest things on Broadway. The trouble is, nobody’s ever taken a real close look at these two women.” He paused. “Did I hear you say you’re a quick study, Lora?”

“Yes. Why? I know everybody’s lines, by heart. I’ve got a photographic mind or something.”

Clary glanced around as though mentally setting a stage. “Then try your entrance from that door. Come barging in out of a hot kitchen as though you’d just finished baking a pecan twist.”

Lora stared at him. “Me?” she asked. “You mean I’m to play the cook?”

“Exactly. Switch parts. I can’t imagine what we were thinking of. You’re Mrs. Quinlan to a T — voice, gestures, the works. . . . Harriet, do you have Mrs. Broughton’s lines?”

“Sure.”

“Then let’s go.”

The air suddenly shot sparks as Lora, now assuming the cook’s part, declared, — You listen to me. I’d rather Marie stayed single the rest of her days than marry that idiot son of yours, Mrs. Broughton. Just remember, their children will be my grandchildren, and I’m damned if I’ll have any such mixture as this in my family. Oh, you rich are all right to work for. But to marry — ‘ The dialogue crackled back and forth as Miss Hart, assuming the haughty socialite’s role, rose to the occasion. At the scene’s end, when Lora turned, then flicked her head back and said, ” ‘You go to hell, madam,” and strode from the room, a burst of applause broke out spontaneously from the little audience.

“Terrific!” cried Bixby. “Mark my words, we’re going to see the birth of a fresh, new dramatic star.”

“Well, don’t leave out Harriet,” said Lora, beaming. “She can play both parts. That’s what I call an actress.”

Lily and Bill Garrett had decided to walk back to the theater together. “You’re very quiet,” she was saying.

“I’m sorry. I was thinking of what I said yesterday. You know, that loud speech about your not deserving a mother like Lora. I–I’ve been sort of revising my opinion.”

“I should hope so.”

“I’ve decided I was talking about the wrong party. It’s your father, whoever the devil he is, who doesn’t deserve a woman like Lora Tremaine.”

“You’ve always stuck up for mamma from the very beginning. Why?” asked Lily curiously.

“The answer’s simple.” Garrett was smiling. “Remember when your mother first spoke to me? She said, kind of puzzled, ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere, sonny? From way back?” He held her arm as they waited for a traffic light. “Well, she was right. Only it was too long ago for her to remember. Her folks lived on our block. I was just a small kid then. I used to see her when she’d come home after some night-club engagement or other. To us kids she was an actress, a glamorous star.”

After a little intake of breath, Lily said, “I knew there was something, the way you’d steal an odd glance at her every once in a while — ”

“She’d drive up in a big car, and there’d be piles and piles of packages, presents for her ma and pa. One time — ” He had to laugh. “Once she gave us kids bags of candy, and I slept with mine under my pillow. We never knew exactly what she did on those road trips, but whatever it was, it was bringing comfort and happiness to her folks. And in this play I realized she was still using her talents for somebody else’s sake. That’s why I blew my top and said you didn’t deserve such a mother.”

“I’m going to cry in a minute,” Lily told him.

His fingers felt for hers. “Don’t. Remember, we all belong to the world of make-believe. In the end it turns to comedy, and the curtain comes down on a laugh — or maybe a kiss.” He stopped and leaned close to her.

“A kiss? Here, in broad daylight — with everybody watching?”

“If you intend to be an actress you might as well get used to audiences.”

He kissed her again and again as the passing crowds stared at them. She finally had to draw away.

“I feel kind of heady,” he said. “Let’s go and have a gypsy tell our fortunes.”

“Why?”

“Well, if she doesn’t say a big, tall, handsome fellow named William Garrett is about to come permanently into your life, we’ll call the police and have her arrested as a faker.”

“Mr. Garrett, is this your daffy way of proposing?”

“Let me put it this way. How else can I go about getting Lora Tremaine for a mother-in-law?”

When they at last arrived at the theater, they found Miss Tremaine in tears. “Now what’s the matter, mamma?” Lily exclaimed.

“N-nothing,” she sobbed.

“Look. People don’t sit down and bawl for nothing, mother. What happened?”

“Nothing, I tell you. Just this telegram.”

“Who is it from?” Lily demanded.

Lora dabbed at her eyes. “Here. I guess you’d better read it.”

“Dear Lora,” the wire read. “Have just been speaking to Martin Latimer on the phone. Informs me you have changed roles and are superb as Mrs. Quinlan in New Blood. I said this was great news, but no surprise to me. Have always insisted you could act, so I backed this play with half its production money two months ago to show I meant it. Will be on hand. opening night to yell bravo. Give my little girl a big hug and kiss, and say I hope all three of us will be celebrating your success together. Meanwhile, love. George Tremaine.”

“Now she’s crying!” Bill Garrett scratched an ear, nodding at Lily. “What is this, anyway — East Lynne?”

“I doubt it,” said Lora, gazing at the young man quizzically. “Here, let me have your handkerchief — mine’s soaked.” She reached up and rubbed his lips. “I doubt if there’s any character in East Lynne who enters with his mouth all smeared up with lipstick.”

“I can explain that, mamma,” said Lily.

“O. K. Start explaining.”

 

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