It is 1959.
“I miss my limousine,” Helena grumbles as she and Myka get into their car to go to the party for Steve and Claudia. They are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Jinks/Donovan Talent Agency (the name will flip to Donovan/Jinks after ten years, by mutual agreement), and all their clients, not to mention several prominent figures they would like to become their clients, have been invited. Myka promised them that she would get Helena to leave the house that evening for the occasion.
“I miss being able to get into a car without hearing you say you miss your limousine,” Myka says. “Do you have any idea how much limousines cost these days? Even to rent?”
Helena just looks at her.
“You don’t even know how much a gallon of gasoline costs. Find that out and get back to me, then we’ll see about limousines.”
“I can’t drive. You do the driving. Why would I need to know how much a gallon of gasoline costs?”
“First, you can drive. You just don’t like to. And second, I’m not actually your driver. It would be nice if you would pay attention to the car situation sometimes.”
“I pay attention!”
“Fine. Close your eyes.”
“Close your eyes.”
Helena closes her eyes. Myka can’t help herself; she leans over and quickly kisses her cheek.
“That was very nice,” Helena says, “but I don’t see what it has to do with the car.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the car. But keep your eyes closed, and tell me: what kind of car is this?”
“The kind that has an internal combustion engine.”
“The sort that has four doors rather than two.”
“All right, fine. It’s a Packard.”
“This is a DeSoto!”
“Was the previous one a Packard?”
“That was a Cadillac! We have never had a Packard!”
“I don’t see why you’re getting so upset,” Helena says mildly.
“Oh, I will show you what upset looks like, Helena Wells, because trust me, this is nowhere near—”
“You sound exactly like your sister. And wasn’t that the turn we should have taken to get to Pete’s house?”
Myka reflects that she should have asked Pete to pick them up, rather than the other way around.
When Myka pulls into Pete’s driveway, she doesn’t even have to stop the car. He runs out and leaps into the back seat.
“Where’s Kelly?” Myka asks.
“She decided she was too tired to go out. We already had the babysitter lined up, though, so Kelly’s just gonna put her feet up for a while.”
“Someone who gets to stay home simply because she wants to,” Helena says. “What an idea.”
“Kelly just had a baby six months ago. And Kelly is not a client for whom Steve and Claudia have gone out of their way for years,” Myka tells her. “You could be a little more willing to show your support.”
“I believe I showed, or we showed, our support when we wrote them a check to help establish their agency in the first place.”
Myka says, “That was just a down payment on what we owe them for still putting up with you.”
“Putting up with me? I have done absolutely nothing to make their lives difficult in recent years. I attempt to live exceptionally quietly. You are the one who carouses on a regular basis.”
“I do not carouse!”
“I beg your pardon. Was that not you who received a traffic ticket two weeks ago for driving her Packard far too rapidly on the highway?”
“This is not a Packard! It is a DeSoto!”
“You know,” Pete pipes up from the back seat, “it’s nice to see that with all the changes that happen in life, or through the years, or whatever, one thing stays the same: the way you two yell at each other.”
“We are not yelling at each other,” Myka says.
“And the fact that you say that every single time. It’s really comforting, like a soft blanket of old, familiar words.”
Myka says, “Thanks for the gratuitous ‘old.’ You both are older than I am, anyway.”
“With age comes wisdom,” Helena says.
“Pete,” Myka says, “I’m busy driving, but would you be so kind as to tell Helena that if she could use her extensive wisdom to know when to keep her opinions to herself, I’d appreciate it.”
Pete leans forward and says, “H.G., Myka says something about appreciating your wisdom.”
“Tell Myka that I appreciate her appreciation.”
Pete says, “Myka, H.G. says something that I’m pretty sure has to do with you two ending up in the back seat of this Packard.”
Now Myka reflects that it might in fact have been a better idea to stay home.
Later, Myka thinks that it would have been a terrible shame to have stayed home. She is having a fine time, here in this lovely nightclub, catching up with some old friends, meeting younger people for the first time… stardom was so much more straightforward in the past, she thinks: the studio decided who would be promoted and how, and that was that. Now practically everyone is a free agent, and they seem to spend so much time and energy jockeying for position. Myka is perfectly happy to be taking gradual steps out of the spotlight now. She suspects that Helena is more ambivalent about her own stardom having passed, but she is, mostly, tolerating the situation. She actually seems to like her occasional forays into television roles.
Claudia has decided to attach herself to Helena this evening; she does this sometimes, much to Myka’s amusement. Tonight, Myka supposes, it is probably less a personal decision than a professional one: Claudia is using Helena’s still-palpable glamour to cloak herself in industry longevity. Even though Claudia has just passed forty, she still looks so young… and she is a woman. Being underestimated, particularly at first glance, is all too common.
She watches as Claudia drags Helena along, bringing them nearer to Myka, in order to tap Rock Hudson on the arm. Steve has been trying to get him to leave his agent and sign with Jinks/Donovan for just about the entire year.
“I don’t know why he won’t just jump. He would never have had to marry Phyllis if he’d been working with us, that’s for sure,” Steve had said to Myka.
Myka reminded Steve, “I had to marry Pete.”
“Well, right. But we weren’t Jinks/Donovan then, were we? I mean, that was just me.”
And Myka had conceded the point.
Now she hears Claudia say to Rock, “You know why I’m talking to you, big man.”
Rock laughs. “And you know I’m willing to listen. That’s why I’m here, Claudia. Where’s Steve?”
“Trying to sweet-talk Cyd Charisse into bailing on the studio. I swear, we’re going to have to pry her out of that place with a crowbar. Hey, you know H.G. Wells, right?”
Helena extends a hand, and Rock takes it in quite gentlemanly fashion. He says, “We met just last year, at that benefit for the V.F.W. It was a pleasure then, and it’s a pleasure now. How are you, Miss Wells?”
“I’m quite fine,” Helena says. He had been just this polite, at the benefit, and Helena had pronounced him charming. “And you, Mr. Hudson?”
Myka almost laughs. The two should be sitting at the bar together, smoking cigars, vying to see which one could tell the most outrageous stories. Helena is becoming so much more staid—at least publicly—as she gets older.
“Yeah, yeah,” Claudia says, “everybody’s fine. But the important part, Rock my boy, is that she’s here. And guess who else is here? That’s right: Myka Bering’s here. Get it?”
Rock laughs. “I get it,” he says. “But I think my situation might be a little different, Claudia. I mean, Miss Wells, you and Miss Bering, that’s… I mean it’s…”
“Of long standing,” Helena says. “Almost twenty-five years.”
“Congratulations,” Rock tells her. “That’s really lovely.”
Helena smiles. “It is.”
Myka smiles too, even though Helena can’t see her.
Claudia says, “You know what else is lovely? Good P.R. Look, your last picture was no smash, right? Just give me a piece of the action on this next one, Pillow Talk, and I’ll show you what this agency can do.”
“Eunice!” Rock roars at Doris Day, who is across the room. “Come here and talk to Claudia! She wants a piece of the action! Tell Marty that if he’ll let you jump, I’ll go too!”
“Why does he call her Eunice?” Helena asks Claudia quietly.
“I dunno, H.G. Why does Myka call you ‘Snookums’?”
“Myka has never called me—”
“You seriously cannot take a joke to save your life, can you? You can’t even recognize a joke to save your life.”
Doris Day—who is always as bright and as beautiful as her name suggests she should be—exclaims, “Hi, Claudia! And H.G.! It’s so wonderful to see you!” Then she grabs Rock’s arm and shakes it. “Don’t yell at me across the room, Ernie. It isn’t polite.”
Myka thinks that if the palpable chemistry between them translates to the screen, this Pillow Talk film will do just fine, regardless of anything that Claudia, Steve, or anyone else manages on the publicity front. They practically twinkle at each other.
“Okay, this time, I do give,” Claudia says. “Ernie?”
“He just doesn’t look like his name is Rock,” she explains.
“My name isn’t Rock,” he says. “Or it wasn’t. It was Roy.”
“Mayer wanted to change mine,” Helena says. “I could not imagine myself as Emily Lake.”
“You really don’t look like an Emily,” Rock agrees.
“As for me,” Doris says, “they figured ‘Day’ was easier to spell than ‘Kappelhoff.’ But this lug wanted to call me Eunice, and years ago Billy de Wolfe decided I should be Clara. Enough people call me Clara now, I should answer the telephone that way.”
Myka decides to join in. She moves to stand beside Helena, touches her hand briefly. Helena looks at her and smiles. Myka says, “The studio thought nobody would know how to pronounce ‘Myka Bering.’”
“Well,” Claudia says, “thanks to the publicity might of one skinny guy named Steve Jinks, they know how to say it now, don’t they?”
“Quit selling, Claudia,” Rock tells her. “We’ll give it a shot, okay? Call next week.”
Claudia moves as if to shake his hand, but at the last moment she throws her arms around him. “This is gonna be great,” she says, looking for all the world like some tiny forest creature clinging to a tree.
“Fingers crossed,” Doris says. “We both need this picture to do well.”
Helena leans over to Myka and says, “All right. I may miss my limousine, but I don’t miss that.”
“The ups and downs. The fear that one flop could end it all.”
“But you still miss your limousine.”
“Yes. You drive quite competently—most of the time—but the Pierce-Arrow! No Packard can measure up.”
“Then I’m even more happy that we have never had a Packard.”
Myka looks up to find Claudia, Rock, and Doris smiling at them.
“Twenty-five years, huh?” Rock says.
They don’t stay too late at the party; Pete has to get home to Kelly and the baby, and Myka doesn’t want to have to deal with Helena complaining tomorrow about how tired she is.
Instead, as Myka is preparing for bed, Helena, who is already in bed, is complaining about Claudia: “She accused me of being unable to take a joke.”
“That’s because you can’t take a joke,” Myka says as she hangs her toothbrush in its appointed spot.
“Well,” Helena says, clearly stung, “neither can you.”
Myka sits down on her side of the bed and takes off her slippers. “Of course I can take a joke.” She turns around to see Helena sitting up
Now Helena’s eyes glint. “I will demonstrate to you that you cannot take a joke.”
“This should be fun.” Myka sits back against the headboard and folds her arms. “All right. Try it.”
“Do you know what I want, for our twenty-fifth anniversary?”
“No,” Myka says. “I honestly have no idea.”
Myka raises a hand to her face. She tries… she tries so hard… but she can’t help herself: she bursts out laughing.
“Not the response I expected,” Helena says. She sounds almost disappointed.
“I don’t know whether I can take a joke,” Myka gasps out between chortles, “but I definitely can’t take you.”
“Well,” Helena says, “I don’t actually want a Packard.”
“What do you want, then?”
“If I were trying to make you laugh, I’d say I want a Pierce-Arrow.”
“Mm-hm,” Myka says. “And if you weren’t, what would you say?”
“I’d say I want you.”