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“I’d ask what a nice girl like you is doing in a place like this, but that would imply that you’re a nice girl.” Cosmo slides onto the bar stool next to Lina’s and waves a hand at the bartender.

“It’s good you think you’re funny.” Even when she’s not trying to emote for the camera, Lina’s voice has the grating quality of nails on a chalkboard. “But pretty soon you’ll be laughing like me.”

“No. Anything but that.” Cosmo presses his hand to his chest. “If both of us sounded like that, they’d think elephants were mating on the studio lot.”

Lina shakes her head and takes a drink from her glass. Most starlets do their drinking in private or out of champagne glasses, but Cosmo recognizes whiskey when it hits him with a 2×4. “You both think I’m stupid, don’cha?”

“Well, Cinderella, if the shoe fits…”

“Right, right. Dumb ol’ Lina. A pretty face and a pair of tits.” She takes another drink, draining her glass. “Just remember, if they’re talkin’, they don’t need an orchestra, and if the band ain’t playin’, they sure as heck don’t need no second fiddle.”

“That was almost profound, Lina. Who writes your material? Oh…wait. That’d be me and Don.”

Lina throws down a few bills she pulls from her handbag and weaves out of the bar between tables. She looks like a poodle getting ready for a dog show, all pomp and airs.

“Gimme another, Joe.” Cosmo finishes his first drink then traces the ring of perspiration it leaves on the top of the bar. Lina might be lacking a few things in the brains department, but she’s not completely stupid. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Things have been great with Kathy on the set. She’s got Don working at a creative peak, and Cosmo doesn’t need eyes in the back of his head to know that work’s not all she’s got Don thinking about. Which means that the three of them might spend the night working on dialogue or plot or songs, but at the end of the picture, it’s a duet, not an ensemble.

Great. Now he’s listening to Lina.

“Joe? Let’s make this one a double.”

**

The hairbrush misses the mirror, bounces off the wall, and spins to a stop at Lina’s feet. “Well…well…well…damn.” She stomps her foot then kicks the brush, sending it skittering off under her dressing table. She can hear the little canary, Kathy, out there, and she wants to scream.

Lina’s worked hard to get where she is, learning how to walk and act and swoon at Don like he hasn’t stepped on her feet and his breath doesn’t smell like tuna salad every day. She’s a movie star. She’s who little upstarts like Kathy Selden want to be when they grow up, not Homespun Hattie out there. Lina’s good at what she does, even if she ain’t good at talking. Movies weren’t made to talk. They were made to be larger than life. People go to the movies to shut out the world, not to listen to it drone on.

And on. And on about the goddamned rain. Lina wants to scream at them to shut up. That little songbird’s got nothing on her. She’s a chorus girl, not an actress. Lina’s an actress. They think they know her, but the truth is they don’t know anything at all.

Kathy comes into the dressing room, her face flushed and her eyes bright. “Oh. Lina. I mean, Miss Lamont.”

“Yeah. It is Miss Lamont. You should remember that. Whose it is that’s got the star on the door.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, Miss Lamont. You just startled me.”

“I was you once, you know.” Lina doesn’t look at Kathy, focusing instead on her own reflection. “I know how it all works.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It don’t just take talent. Talent and looks. That ain’t enough. Not for Hollywood.”

“I’m prepared to work hard.”

Lina laughs. “The nice guys ain’t always so nice. Not always gentlemens. You got a pretty face and a pretty voice, so that got you in, but you wanna stay out of the chorus lines, you’re gonna spend a lot of time on your back.”

“Don’s not like that.”

“Oh sure. Sure he ain’t. He’s a regular saint. Just look how he’s treating me. And we been partners for years.”

“Not like he and I are.”

Lina smiles at the sheer indignation in Kathy’s voice, but she just shrugs. “No, not anymore. He got annoyed when I had better luck than he did picking up the chorus girls.”

Kathy gasps and Lina laughs again. “Dolly, you ain’t gonna last a week in this town.”

**

After ‘The Dancing Cavalier’ comes out, Don and Kathy are stars like nobody’s ever seen before. Lina refuses to do any press after the debacle of opening night, and Cosmo feels a little guilty for his part in the whole expose. The film becomes a novelty, the public going to laugh at Lina, like watching a star fall out of the sky and burn up in the atmosphere.

It’s not on purpose that it becomes their bar. Cosmo just goes back and Lina’s there time and again. They mostly just drink, but sometimes they talk about everything that isn’t Don and Kathy, stardom and success. Monument buys Lina out of her contract, and suddenly talking about ‘Lockwood and Lamont’ is like talking about the Scottish play in a theater.

Cosmo’s contract gets renewed on the heels of ‘The Dancing Cavalier,’ which is why he stays with the studio. There are plenty of parts for him – best friends and coaches, clueless boyfriends who get dumped for the star. He’s comic relief, which he’s good at, but he’s beginning to think the joke’s on him.

“What do you think about that new script they’re pitching to Warren?”

Don turns his head, earning him a slap on the shoulder from the seamstress. “Hold still, Mr. Lockwood.”

“You think it’s right for me?” Don doesn’t move again. “Seems a little too broad. Not my style.”

“No. Not for you.”

“For Warren? Yeah, he’ll do all right. Might get stuck in those sorts of roles though if he does. Regular Joe with the heart of gold. Not the romantic heartthrob.”

Cosmo twists his mouth in a grin, even though the situation isn’t even slightly funny. “Well, we can’t all be Don Lockwood.”

“Thank goodness, or I’d be out of a job. Everyone else can probably be me for much cheaper.” Don tilts his head and looks at himself in the mirror as the seamstress steps back. He looks like every woman’s dream. Cosmo glances down at his yellow vest, gray pants, and pale green shirt. Not exactly a million bucks, but not too shabby either. “Why are you looking at Warren’s scripts?”

“I’m not. I’m looking at scripts. For me, maybe.”

“You want to be a leading man? I didn’t know you wanted that. Looking to be my competition, huh?”

“Lots of room for pretty faces.” Cosmo gets to his feet and shrugs. “Besides, Regular Joe isn’t really your field of expertise. You’re Don Lockwood.”

“Like you said, Cosmo. Somebody’s got to be.”

**

Hollywood’s hottest couple – Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden – are finding that ‘Love on the High Seas’ is landing them in choppy water as rumors fly that things aren’t shipshape on the set.

Lina knows everyone in town. Most of them owe her a favor or two, and if there’s anything Hollywood is better at than putting out movies, it’s spreading rumors about whoever might be doing better than you are. That’s where Lina finds her niche, where her star really shines, where she’s bigger than Lockwood and Lamont ever were.

Lina the Hyena is what they call her, and she’s laughing her way to the bank. She never says anything that can be proven for sure, and she never reveals a source. There are enough knives ready to backstab in Hollywood that she never goes hungry for items to put in her column, and she doesn’t have to focus on Don and Kathy that much at all. A few digs now and then, just so they don’t forget that she won’t forget.

She sees Cosmo at least once a week, sitting on the same bar stool he’s been at since before he helped R.F. and Don unmask her. She’s not stupid enough to spurn a potential source, so they’re cordial at least, but she knows at some point he’s going to crack under the pressure. Cosmo’s not made for the kind of ego it takes to be a star. He’s a nice guy. She figures that’ll be his undoing.

Is it true that love is sneaking around the set of ‘The Grand Escape’? Little birdies are saying that the lovely star, Robin Fontaine, has been found in her co-star’s dressing room more than she has in hers. Or should we call it the undressing room?

Stars don’t last of course. Neither do looks. Oh, sure, Don stays handsome. No one ever thought that wouldn’t be the case. But he’s waning while Kathy’s star keeps rising, so he moves to the director’s chair before he gets forced there, claiming it was his idea all along. It’s easier, Lina supposes, than admitting that the Gables and the Stewarts and the Powells are sneaking up on you. Guys don’t know how to handle the competition like dames do.

His first two movies are hits, but the musical is on the decline. No one believes in the chorus girls and dreams of stardom anymore. The Kathy Seldens still climb off the bus, a dime a dozen, but they’re more likely to end up in the paper looking for the help wanted for secretaries than they are in the ad for the newest film from RKO or Warner Bros. or Paramount.

Lina follows Don’s career with the same kind of diligence she had when she was paired with him. He transitions to the dramas, but it’s not the way he’s made. He needs the flair and romance of the melodrama, the over-the top emotion of the musical. Lina sees it before he probably does, and she gets a sort of perverse pleasure out of it all. She’s still golden. As long as she dishes the dirt, the public’s always going to love her. Or love to hate her. She really doesn’t see much difference between them anymore.

Romance is as dead as Don Lockwood’s new picture at Monument. His signature songbird, Kathy Selden, has flown the coop, leaving Don high and dry. Sources say that Selden’s no longer interested in the shine of Hollywood since there’s some question as to who the baker of the bun in her oven is. Iowa’s in for a treat when it’s lullaby time. As for Lockwood, he’s going to have to find a new star or a new studio, because Monument’s counting on his success to keep them from crumbling.

**

“Cosmo! C’mon. Places!”

Cosmo moves onto his mark and waits for the clap of the film slate. The rumbling voices slow and quiet and then the director calls action. Cosmo’s playing the same role he’s played a hundred times now. Sidekicks and comic relief, because now that there’s sound, he can make ‘em laugh as much as he wants so long as he’s got a decent script. The problem is that they don’t like him improvising, and most of what he gets to say is pure dreck.

On top of that, he’s being phased out by better-looking guys who can joke, dance, and romance. He’s been writing his own scripts and his own songs under a different name because he’s tired of everyone thinking all he can do is the same old thing. Everyone wants another ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ – a guaranteed smash – but they don’t want it to look or sound the same at all.

“Cosmo! C’mon! That’s your cue. Roll it back. Slate!”

Cosmo makes himself focus, getting through scene after scene, driving the story forward with the sheer force of will. By the time they call it a day, Cosmo never wants to see his co-stars, the shaggy mutt they’ve got him paired with, or a fake police uniform ever again. He changes into his street clothes and heads to the bar down from the studio.

It’s changed owners since the first time he’d come, and he sits in a booth tonight because his usual stool is taken by someone he’s pretty sure is starring in MGM’s new detective series. He hunkers down and takes a drink from his glass before braving the package on the table in front of him.

He slits the envelope open and his photo and a copy of the script fall out. He knows better than to look, but he turns them both face up. There’s a letter clipped onto the front of his photo. It’s Monument studios letterhead, and Cosmo recognizes the handwriting, the sideways-slanted scrawl of Don Lockwood.

Sorry, Cosmo. Just don’t think this is the part for you. Looking for someone a little more serious. Had you in mind for Homer Edifice, but someone sent us a young guy who wowed us. I know you understand. – Don

“Hey, Joe.” The bar’s not too busy, so he assumes the bartender can hear him. “I need a refill.”

“With that long face, you need a bottle.” Lina sits opposite him at the table, sliding a bottle of bourbon in front of him. “Course, you can’t blame a man for how he looks.”

“No more than you can blame a lady for how she sounds.” He pours his glass full then glances at her, filling the glass she holds out. “What brings you out, Lina? I thought your kind only went looking for fresh blood.”

She taps her long, vermilion fingernail against the letter on top of his headshot. “Oh, I smelled blood.”

“No blood here.”

“No?” She turns the photo so she can read the words. “I know I was never a genius like you and Don was, but let’s see if I can give this a go.” She scrunches her nose, making her voice more nasal. She’s learned a lot in the intervening years, including the fact that sometimes acting means being who people expect you to be rather than who you are. “Dear Cosmo, I used you for what I needed you for and now I’m doin’ just fine on my own, and I don’t need no hangers-on. Love Don.” She smiles, sharp and wicked. “That sound about right?”

“I don’t get it, Lina. You’re a bigger star now than you ever were as Lockwood and Lamont.”

“No.” She sips her drink and shakes her head. Her eyes are as sharp as her smile, but he sees a flash of something there. “Back then I was a star. Now I’m a shark. And you respect sharks, but you don’t love ‘em.”

“I’m the sidekick,” he reminds her. “Nobody falls in love with me.”

“That’s not what the rumors say.” She finishes her drink and sets her glass down on the table. “Not that I put stock in rumors.”

“What? I’m not big enough news?”

“Honey, nobody’s too small when it comes to my job.” She shrugs and stands up. “You just gotta give me somethin’ to work with.”

**

It’s the history books for Monument Studios, closing their doors before someone else does it for them. Where does that leave their once-illustrious stable of writers, directors, actors, and actresses? Except for a chosen few, the answer is out of work and on the streets. Keep an eye out, faithful readers. As of today, the guy driving your cab could be Don Lockwood.

Hollywood is changing. Lina’s not worried about herself. She lives within her means, and dirt is always for sale. The papers are asking for things a little more salacious, so she tries to spice things up a little. Less business and more personal. Fortunately there are always people willing to part with juicy little secrets, so long as they’re not their own.

She doesn’t see Cosmo at the bar much anymore. She hasn’t heard much either, but what she does hear tells her he’s putting his talent with a snappy turn of phrase to work for him, writing and sending out script after script to all the studios. It’s probably a little much to think she’s his inspiration, but the thought does go down well with her bourbon.

Rumors are flying that the hottest new script in ages is making the rounds at the studios, bringing about a bidding war like no one’s seen before. All of the biggies are trying to get their hands on this humdinger, and Hollywood’s about to see wining and dining done right. Who says it doesn’t pay to be behind the scenes?

She gets a copy of the script through means she would never discuss with anyone. She still has a lot of friends in high places, even if that’s not where she met them. Reading it is like seeing the movie already. It’s crystal clear and made for the screen. Even better, she can see the people as clear as day, though she suspects the others won’t have a clue. It’s got everything. Love, adventure, betrayal, redemption. It’s the kind of thing the town loves and hates in equal measure.

She leaves a note with Cosmo’s name on it at the bar, not sure if he’ll actually get it. Habits are hard to break, so she thinks he probably stops in from time to time. She gives him the name of an actress perfect for one of the parts, a shrewd gal who plays stupid like nobody’s business. She owes Lina a favor, and Lina’s already gotten what she wanted, so she’s happy to pass it on to Cosmo if he wants it.

It’s a regular reunion show at Paramount, where Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown are back and up to their old hi jinx. Lockwood’s slated to direct Brown’s new masterpiece. The lines are already forming at Grauman’s for the premiere, and the cameras haven’t even started rolling yet! Keep your eyes on the cast of up-and-comers. Looks like movie audiences aren’t going to know what hit them – in more ways than one!

 

Lina gets invites to every movie premiere there is. Good movies, bad movies, movies that fall somewhere in between. Mostly they want her there because she’s publicity, and people wonder what scandals she’ll uncover in the darkened movie houses. There are a lot she doesn’t go to, because a lot of them aren’t worth her time and effort. People say they want to hear about Clark Gable, but now that he’s with Carole Lombard, he’s not news. They want gossip, not true love.

She’s already got plans and an invite to the new movie, but when she gets to the bar, there’s a smooth white envelope with her name on it. She picks it up and turns it over then looks around. Cosmo’s in the back booth, his hand raised in a wave. She orders her drink and carries it over with her, sliding into the booth opposite him.

“Well, well. What have we here? Hollywood’s hottest writer, Cosmo Brown, at this dump?”

“I don’t want to forget the little people.” He waggles his eyebrows and clinks his glass with hers. “After all, it was their backs I had to climb on to reach this lofty height.”

“And you’re still shorter than me.” She taps his glass back and bows her head slightly, taking a drink. “So what’s this?” She turns the envelope over again. “Invitation to your wedding? Did you finally get Don to say yes?”

“Even better.”

She opens the envelope and reads the calligraphy script. “I’m already invited, Cosmo. I’m Lina the Hyena, remember?”

“I’m not inviting you to the press corps, Lina.” Cosmo shrugs and sips his drink. “I’d like you to come as my guest.”

“You know you’re not exactly my type, don’cha?”

Cosmo laughs and nods. “My guest, Lina. Not my date. No man in his right mind would date you.”

“You ain’t worried that I’ll spend the whole night fawning over Don Lockwood?” She bats her lashes and clasps her hands under her chin, faking a swoon. “He’s ever so dreamy.” She laughs, that braying laugh she works hard to keep under wraps. Some wounds still sting. “I wanted to be in love, you know? Wanted him to be in love with me. Everyone did.”

“I’ll drink to that.” He laughs. “Don’s in love with Hollywood. The magic. The dreams. But this time it’s my dream.” He sets his drink down and looks at her seriously. “What do you say, Lina? Let me take you to the movies?”

“There are worse things a girl could do.”

**

Lights! Camera! Action! The debut of the new Don Lockwood picture - ‘Street of Dreams’ - has set records all across the boards, and the talk isn’t cheap when it comes to contracts for writer, Cosmo Brown. Looks like Hollywood’s come a’courting for the scribe and all the stars he looked up to on his rise to the top are now bowing at his feet. That’s right, kiddies. Sometimes in tinsel town, dreams do come true.