Lina Lamont wan't dumb.
She knew people thought she was, but she also knew that's not the same thing. She's just not good with people, and the fact that she never graduated High School doesn't help. (But it wasn't the classes that had been the problem, it was the people. Everybody always picked on her, anyway, and Mama said girls don't need learning anyway, so she'd stopped going.)
The point was, she knew right away after Don and RF and Cosmo and that horrible Kathy played their trick on her, that her career was over. Even the studio couldn't keep that out of Variety, even if they wanted to. And RF didn't!
She probably couldn't even stay in Hollywood, either. Not without being a laughingstock. And half the fun of being a movie star was that people loved her! For the first time in her life, nobody picked on her! People invited her to parties, they laughed at her jokes, they wrote letters to her saying how wonderful she was!
Well, that was all over. She knew for sure when none of her friends would take her call. (Not even Zelda, that little brown-noser! Where would Zelda be without Lina, huh? Where was the gratitude?!?)
So, Lina would have to move. And not to a city or anyplace with lots of people; they'd know who she was, and she might as well stay here in Hollywood. She called her real estate agent to make arrangements to sell her house and begin looking for another one somewhere nobody would know her. And she called her maid to help her begin packing up the house in LA and figuring out what she wanted to keep (her favorite stuff and anything with sentimental value) and what she wanted to get rid of (quite a lot, as it turned out—where was she going to wear cocktail dresses in Nowheresville? And where would she find a house outside of LA or New York big enough to house all her furniture?).
Her agent came over while she was deciding which set of dining room furniture to keep and which to sell.
"Lina, darling," he said as always, kissing her on the cheek. But this time he didn't mean it; his smile looked funny.
"Hello, Jimmy," she said, "what are you doing here?"
"That was quite a scene the other night," Jimmy said.
"Wasn't it!" Lina fumed. "They made a laughing stock out of me! Me, Lina Lamont! I'm having my lawyer sue them for damages, and we'll see how much I get." She frowned. "It hasn't hurt the Dancing Cavalier, has it?"
"Raking in money hand over fist," Jimmy said. "And you're getting your fair share, you put in a lot of work on that picture. They wanted to change the contracts after the fact, but I'm holding them to it."
"They wanted to give the Selden girl part of my money, didn't they," Lina said.
"Yes, and they said the scandal damaged the film's prospects. But I reminded RF that that was their fault, not yours."
"Thank you," Lina said. "Was there anything else? I'm terribly busy today!" She gave him the smile the studio had helped her develop—the papers called it "brilliant!"
"What could you possibly be doing?" Jimmy said, looking around for the first time.
"Packing up to move," Lina said. She rolled her eyes. "Well, it's not like they're going to put me in another movie now, is it? They say my voice is all wrong for talkies—I don't see what's wrong with it, it's a perfectly nice voice!"
"RF is already trying to wiggle out of your contract to the studio," Jimmy said.
"If they're willing to pay me a lot of money not to act, I'll take it," Lina said. She thought for a bit, and a smile came over her face. "You know, my contract has another eight years in it, right? I'd really like them to keep paying me for those eight years, even if they won't put me in a picture. In fact, if you could arrange it so that RF has to personally write the check to me every month, that would be even better!"
"I'll see what I can do," Jimmy said. He looked around at the boxes everywhere. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm leaving town," Lina said. "I've already got my real estate agent looking for a new place for me. Some small town where it's warm, far away from here. Maybe Mexico! I took a vacation there once, it was pretty nice!"
"Okay," Jimmy said. "Well, I'll leave you to it."
She did have to go to one meeting with RF. Don was there, too, the jerk, with Cosmo behind him as always. Mostly what she was there to do was smile prettily at RF and make him happier with her, Jimmy said.
"But she won't be making any pictures for us!" RF protested.
"That's not her decision," Jimmy said. "That's all on you. Her contract clearly states that her salary is not dependent on the number of pictures she makes per year—a clause you insisted on, by the way."
"Yes, but that was when she was in four pictures a year—five on a good year!" RF said. "Now, she won't be in anything!"
"I know you don't like my voice, and truth to tell, I don't like musicals," said Lina. "But since you like laughing at me so much, you could put me in a comedy!" She smiled brightly at RF, hoping he would hear the dig at him. People often misunderstood what she said.
"Actually, you know, she has a point," Jimmy said thoughtfully. "Her voice wouldn't be as much of a problem in a comedy, as a screechy girlfriend or something."
"That wouldn't take any acting skill at all," Cosmo said brightly. "Lina, it'd be right up your alley!"
"Lina, be reasonable," Don said. "You can't act! When all you had to do was stand there and look pretty nobody cared, but this is 1928! You need to be able to act, not just make a dumb show!"
"Well of course I can act," Lina said. "I can even act when people don't write out my lines ahead of time! I fooled all of America into thinking I was in love with you didn't I?"
"What?" Don said.
Lina shrugged. "The studio said our films would be worth more if everybody thought you and I were in love," she said. "So I made sure they thought that! You were the one who could barely keep it together long enough for Variety to take a few pictures every month. So I'm a better actress than you are an actor!"
"Lina, you're through," Don said. "Finished. Done. Nobody in Hollywood will work with you anymore! I don't know what you're getting at with this contract, but it won't work. And if you continue on, I'm going to go down to Variety and tell them all about you. Get out while you can."
"Too late," Lina said. She dug in her handbag. "I got there first." She handed out advance copies of the magazine that they'd been kind enough to courier over first thing this morning.
Don took one and gaped at the cover. "Don Lockwood Throws Over Lina Lamont for Nightclub Dancer—Lina Heartbroken? Lina, what is this?"
"My exclusive," she said. "I gave it yesterday. It might be my last one, so I thought I'd make it good and juicy."
Cosmo had flipped past the headline to the article. "Don, this says you were two-timing her with Kathy Selden. And lying to Lina about her singing and dancing! It makes you sound like a real cad, using and abusing your deeply devoted girlfriend!"
"Well, he was," Lina pointed out.
"I never had an affair behind your back because we were never together," Don pointed out.
"According to the fan magazines, we were," Lina shot back. "And like I said, I'm a good actress. There's all kinds of pictures of you and I looking all lovey-dovey at the Coconut Grove just last week! If you and RF don't give me what I want, I'll be happy to spread my sob story across all the newspapers and magazines in town … and not all of them are controlled by this studio."
It took a little more persuasion, but RF eventually saw things her way, like always.
The house Lina found wasn't quite in the middle of nowhere, but the town didn't have a movie theater, so she figured that was close enough. Some rich man from New York City had built a summer house here, and then lost it somehow; it was very nice, with all the modern conveniences, but small enough that she only needed one maid to take care of it. If she wasn't going to be working any more she'd have to economize: there wouldn't be any more contracts once the current one ran out. Her financial planner said she'd have money to live on for the rest of her life even without working; she'd always been good at saving money and choosing good managers. But still, better safe than sorry!
It was nice to be away from Hollywood, where people pointed and stared, but Lina didn't know anybody to talk to, here; she'd thought about inviting a party to get to know people better but she didn't have a clue who in town to invite.
The house had a beautiful garden, and she enjoyed spending time there, but you could only sit and stare at a rose for so long before you went a little crazy. Lina got up and dressed to go into town.
Not that there was much here, either, she thought as she parked her car. Small stores, and fewer of them, and none of them had the selection you could find in LA. She wandered in and out of them, striking up conversations with people she met, until she found herself in a book store. She was browsing the rack by the counter when it occurred to her: there were no cameras waiting outside! No tourists come to gawk at the stars! She didn't have to walk out of here with a smile and a wave and the latest hit under her arm with the title out so people could see, and anything serious buried in her handbag like a guilty secret. She could walk out of here with any book she wanted. For all the world to see!
Well. That was an unexpected upside to this whole turn of events. She went browsing, trying to remember what she'd liked before Hollywood.
When she brought her finds up to the counter, the man at the register raised an eyebrow at the top one. "A present for your husband, ma'am?" he asked as he rang up her purchases.
"No, it's for me," Lina said.
The clerk sighed. "This is an excellent volume, but a trifle, advanced for a lady. Why don't you let me help you find something more suitable. If you like mysteries, Dorothy Sayers has a very exciting one that's just come out …"
"What do you think I am, dumb or something?" Lina said. "I picked this one; I want it. I'm not stupid!"
He sighed again. "Very well, ma'am."
Back home, she laid her finds out on the table to decide what to read first. Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle looked good, and so did The Mystery of the Blue Train. But there was also The Skylark of Space, with its exciting spaceships on the cover, and The Nature of the Physical World, the one the clerk had argued over. She chose the last one. Served him right.
A week later, she still hadn't started Tarzan or the Agatha Christie mystery. But she'd plowed through The Skylark of Space and was laboriously making her way through The Nature of the Physical World. She'd had to go back to the bookstore for other reference works to help her figure out what Arthur Stanley Eddington was talking about, but oh, it was worth it.
She'd forgotten how much she liked school. She hadn't liked the other children, but some of the stuff in science and math was just neat. Why, you could see the way the world worked! Twelve times twelve always equaled 144; baking soda always reacted with vinegar. All you had to do was memorize the steps and follow them correctly, and you'd get the right answer. They never said you were a wonderful actress with a stunning personality in one moment and a hack and a harpy the next. People were a lot harder.
And boy, wasn't it exciting to read about travelling on a rocket ship in space? Why had nobody ever told her about this? Why did they keep trying to make her read boring histories and biographies? Well, she supposed, her mother did it because she wanted her to be more ladylike (and thought that reading about ladies might help). The studio did it because they wanted her to read stories about people she might play in the movies, and she'd done an awful lot of costume dramas. It'd be real hard to make a movie about The Skylark of Space; the rockets would have to look awful fake.
Maybe she could build one herself? She had the money, and lots of space!
" … but then, of course, you'd need an awful lot of thrust to break all the way free of gravity," Lina said. "And nobody's figured out how to get that much, yet."
"How very fascinating, my dear," her hostess said. Lina frowned at the interruption—Mrs. Adams didn't sound fascinated. Mrs. Adams was the wife of the local Methodist pastor, and had invited her over for dinner. It wasn't the first dinner invitation Lina had received, and she supposed she'd have to throw a party or something in return—her mother would have insisted on it. But arranging menus and table arrangements and invitations was so boring, and in Los Angeles she could just hand that off to someone else to do. The studio had been the one throwing most of "her" parties, actually; all she had to do was show up and smile.
"Have you considered speaking with the professors at the Virginia Polytechnical Institute?" Mrs. Adams said.
"The what?" Lina said.
"The Virginia Polytechnical Institute," Mrs. Adams repeated. "It's a public college that focuses on the sciences, and it's located in Blacksburg, only about fifty miles away. I suggest this because you would be far more likely to find people interested in rocketry there, I should think. Then you could have an actual discussion on the subject, instead of giving lectures."
Lina blinked. "Why, what a good idea!" she said. "Thank you, Mrs. Adams." And they would probably know where she could get pure oxygen to mix with gasoline to make a liquid propellant rocket!
"I'm sorry, Miss Lamont, I have no time to play astronaut with washed up dilettante actresses, no matter how attractive," the professor said as he showed her out of his office.
Lina fumed for a while. Here she had made the trip out all this way, and he was just kicking her out! Dilettante! She'd show him dilettante!
On the other hand, she was here now; it was a pretty campus, made more beautiful by the many young men wandering by in military uniforms. She might as well see the sights while she was here. It was a bit cold, but she had a warm coat with fur muffs. She found a nice bench in a sunny spot to sit on, and watched the men walking by.
"Excuse me, miss, can I help you with anything?"
Lina looked up to see a plain-looking man, a bit older than the cadets she'd been watching. "Do you like rockets?" she asked.
"Rockets?" The man blinked. "Why, yes, I am quite fascinated with them. I wish the Institute had the money to run a rocketry program—Goddard's been doing such wonderful work up at Clark University, but so far I haven't been able to scare up any funds. I thought I had a backer, but then he lost everything when the stock market crashed last month."
Lina stood up and linked her arm through his. RF was still sending her checks, and besides, she'd never put much of her investments in the stock market. If there was one thing she'd learned from her father, it was that get-rich-quick schemes were often more like get-poor-quick schemes in reality. Consequently, she hadn't lost that much compared to most of the people she knew. "I think you and I are going to be great friends," she said, giving him her brightest smile. "I love rockets, and I have money. I just need some help with the technical side of things."
His eyes widened. "Really?" he said. "I am Doctor Andrew White, and I am pleased and honored to meet you, Miss …?"
"Lamont," Lina said. "Lina Lamont."
Doctor White blinked. "As in, the actress?"
Lina felt her smile go a little flat. "Used to be," she said brightly. "Now I live here in Virginia and am working my way through Amateur Telescope Making and The Story of Modern Science. There just aren't many books on rockets, though, unless you count science fiction, which is all very exciting but doesn't tell me how to make them."
"Do you have a copy of Goddard's monograph A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes? No? I shall have to get you one. It's fascinating."
"I can't wait!" Lina said. "Tell me all about it, Andy!"
"Jimmy, I need the money!" Lina said. "Tell RF he has to pay me!"
"Everybody needs money these days, Lina," Jimmy said over the phone. "And nobody's got money. Judges are different, now—if the studio sues, they can probably break the contract. You haven't appeared in a picture in two years, and the studio can't afford to pay stars who don't work."
"Then make them give me a part!" Lina said. "What about that idea of doing comedies?"
"I thought you never wanted to see any of them again," Jimmy said suspiciously. "What changed? Last I heard, you were about the only person in Hollywood who didn't lose her shirt when the crash came—I thought you were nuts going for utilities and railroads and real estate instead of the stock market, but it paid off. You should be able to live on your dividends, if you're not living like a star."
"Sure, I can live off my investments," Lina said. "I have been! But I can't build rockets without the money from the studio!"
There was a silence. "Rockets? Look, Lina, I don't want to know. I'll see what I can do about getting you a comedy or something. Not with Don, obviously … although, come to think of that, the studio might go for that, do a big reunion picture …"
Lina broke the news to Andy while they were working on plans for the gyroscopes. Well, Lina was working on them (at her own insistence), and Andy was checking her work. "I'm gonna be gone for a couple of months, I don't know how long," she said.
"What, when?" Andy asked, blinking as he raised his attention from the papers in front of him. "Why?"
"If you say where and who you'll have the full set!" Lina said with a giggle. "'What' is a train to LA. 'When' is starting in two weeks, and I don't know when I'll be back exactly. 'Why' is because the studio's hurting for money with the Depression, and doesn't want to pay me if I'm not working, so I've got to film a movie or two, to get money to build the rockets. But I'll be back in time for the launch in June, so don't you dare launch it without me! In fact, you'd better keep me in the loop for all of this! Don't forget, it's my money in this whole thing, and I want to know everything!"
"Uh, sure," Andy said. "Gee, Lina, it won't be the same without you." He blushed.
Lina kissed him on the cheek, and his blush deepened. "You're so sweet," she said. He rubbed his cheek like he'd never been kissed by a girl. Well, maybe he hadn't; there weren't many girls in most engineering schools, and none at all in the Institute.
That was a shame. She should change that. He was perfectly kissable. She leaned over and laid one on his mouth. Not one like she and Don had shared; this one wasn't for the cameras, it was for Andy, who was maybe the best friend she'd ever had. And a lot cuter than she'd thought when they first met.
When she broke the kiss, he stared at her for a while, mouth opening and closing. "Lina, I, uh, what?"
"Oh, silly, surely you know what a kiss is." Lina giggled.
"But … you're gorgeous," Andy said. "And you're a movie star! You kissed Don Lockwood hundreds of times! Why would you want to kiss me?"
"You're not so bad, Andy," Lina said. She winked at him. "Besides, Donny wasn't that great a kisser. Really good at making it look romantic on screen, but in reality?" She scoffed. "Besides, I'm going to be on the other side of the country for a while. I won't be able to then, so I better get it out of the way now!"
Andy still looked a little bit like a stunned fish. "Lina, would you like to go out to dinner? Like, in a restaurant?"
"Sure," Lina said. "But let's get this finished up first, shall we?"
Lina kept her nose buried in a book most of the time she was on set; it gave her an excuse not to talk to people, most of whom only wanted to laugh at her, anyway.
"Why, Lina, I didn't know you were filming again!" It was Don. Thank Heaven Jimmy hadn't managed to get her in a picture with him again.
Lina looked up from her meal; the canteen food hadn't gotten any better, although it was so much nicer to be eating it in modern dress than trying to do it in some old-fashioned costume like those poor slobs obviously doing some kind of historical piece.
"Donny! I knew you couldn't stay away from me for long," she cooed, batting her eyelashes at him. She smirked at him as he recoiled.
"They must be getting really desperate to call you in," Cosmo said from behind Don.
Lina made a face at him. "Not everything is about singing and dancing, you know. I'm filming a screwball comedy, Miss Madelyn's Manners. And everyone says I have great comic timing!"
"You're funny, all right," Cosmo said.
"Say, you can't be starring," Donny said. "I know Myrna Loy is playing Miss Madelyn. Who are you playing?"
"Her sister," Lina said with dignity. It was a smaller role than she was used to but not actually all that bad; the sister was in all the important scenes, and got the funniest lines.
One of the studio's PR hacks bustled up. "I see you two former lovebirds are catching up! Can we expect to see more of you two together, an on-screen reunion, perhaps?"
"Not if she was the last actress on earth," Don said.
Lina let out the loudest laugh she could and tossed her head as the whole canteen stopped pretending to eat and turned to watch. "Me, work with him again? Honey, you couldn't pay me enough. Besides," she patted her hair, "my new boyfriend Andy is a much better kisser. He really knows how to show a girl a good time!" Or at least he would when she'd finished teaching him.
She picked up her copy of The Logic of Modern Physics, held it so that the title was prominently displayed, and swept out of the room. This was a really neat book; she couldn't wait to talk about it with Andy when she got back home.