Eddie Mannix looked across his vast desk at Hobie Doyle. Hobie was a bit fidgety, but Mannix tended to prefer that to the ones who were overly confident, though even they were better than the ones who brought their agents with them every time.
“You can relax, kid, it’s good news. Evening Serenade is killing it at the box office, and everyone wants to see more of you.”
Hobie shook his head slowly, “I know the movie’s doing well. I saw the lines outside the Egyptian, but, Mister Mannix, sir, I also read the review in Variety.”
“No one takes Variety’s words about a performance seriously.”
“And the one in the Los Angeles Times. And the New York Times. And The Saturday Evening Post, and they don’t usually review movies at all. They all said that I was…” He thought for a minute, obviously trying to come up with the right words. Finally he sighed and said, “Well, that I wasn’t very good.”
Mannix waved a dismissive hand. “None of that matters, boy. You’ve got what they used to call ‘It.’ Every teenaged girl in America has seen Evening Serenade -- twice -- and they all want autographed pictures of you. It’s clear that you’ve got the makings of a star, so we’re coming up with the right vehicle for you. That’s what I wanted to let you know. We’re focused on you.”
“That’s very nice of you, Mister Mannix, but I’m not sure all that focus will be good for me.”
Mannix got Hobie out of the chair and wrapped a fatherly arm around his shoulders, “Kid, we won’t let you fail. We’re gonna come up with just the right showcase, and we’ll make sure that you’re not the lead role. Second lead, for now, so that we can build you up and shape your image. Come back and see me next week. I’ll let you know when. We’ll talk.”
“I have some ideas, Mister Mannix,” Hobie began.
“I’m sure you do, kid, but my next meeting’s already here. Next week. Bring those ideas.”
“And the next thing I knew, I was on the other side of that big door of his,” Hobie said into the phone.
“Oh, Hobie, if Mister Mannix says he’s looking after you, you must trust him. All the biggest stars want to work at Capitol because Mister Mannix, he changes the script to suit the actors. Big hits come from Capitol because of this.” Carlotta Valdez sounded so excited for him that Hobie felt a little excitement himself.
“I’m just afraid he’ll forget and I’ll be in a tuxedo at dinner party again and I won’t know anything ‘bout what’s going on, you know.”
“Yes, I know. My biggest fear is that My Fair Lady. It’s such a hit on Broadway and the papers all say Mister Mannix is trying to buy the screen rights and I just don’t think I’d be a good flower girl.”
“Well, I think you’d be right pretty all dressed up at a wedding.”
She giggled and Hobie Doyle grinned at the receiver. He loved it when he made her laugh. She was such a bubbly girl, not like the other starlets Mister Mannix had insisted he show around the town.
“You know that this Miss Eliza sells flowers in London, yes?”
“Yes. But I do think you’d look -- what’s the word Mister Laurentz always used? -- smashing. You’d look smashing as a flower girl. Either kind, I reckon.”
Carlotta said, “In that case, you must let me say that you also look … smashing,” the giggle was back in her voice, “in a tuxedo. I thought you looked very handsome in Evening Serenade.”
“I’m blushing ‘bout now.”
“I know, Hobie. And I can’t wait to get back to Hollywood on Saturday to see you blush for myself, yes.”
Hobie chuckled. “I’ll take you to the Brown Derby Saturday night and you can have that shrimp salad you like.”
“I look forward to it. And next Saturday, I’ll take you to the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. We can dance.”
Hobie said, “You can dance. My feet are both left ones, unless I’m roping something.”
“Then you’ll just have to rope me, and I’ll teach you to dance. Si, my Hobie?”
“Si, Carlotta. You know, I’m glad Mister Mannix put us together. I think… well, I hope it’s not too forward, but I think of you as my sweetheart.”
“I know, querido. You, too, are a sweetheart.”
Hobie smiled at the little lisp on the ‘s’ in sweetheart. “No one could say it prettier.”
“Good night, my Hobie.”
“Good night, my Carlotta.”
The next week Hobie found himself back in Eddie Mannix’s office wondering when Mister Mannix was going to get off the phone. He was surprised when the man hung up without saying goodbye and turned his chair back to face him.
“Now then, Doyle, I must say I’m pleased that you keep taking out Carlotta Valdez. It’s good publicity for both of you. It’s good that you have a head for the business.”
“I don’t know, sir, not about business. I take out Carlo… Miss Valdez because I like her. A lot. She says she’s gonna teach me to dance next Saturday.”
Mannix nodded and said, “Well, that sounds fine. You kids do what comes naturally, and I’ll make sure one of the Thackers is there to catch it. Where’s she going to teach you to dance?”
“Well, she said there was a festival coming up.”
“This Saturday? Gotta be the Virgin of Guadalupe. Hmm. I’ll have to see if the writers can come up with a film for that. Song of Bernadette killed at the box office. Dancing at an exotic festival, I think that’s more Thessaly’s style. She does colorful and sweet -- well, what she thinks is sweet -- better than Thora.”
Hobie said, “I’d rather I didn’t see either of them, Mister Mannix. Miss Valdez just wants to show me her neighborhood.”
“Will her family be there? It would be good publicity for both of you.”
Hobie took a deep breath and said, “I thought we were supposed to talk about a new movie.”
“Of course, kid. It’s good to know you’re treating Carlotta like a lady.” He leaned back in his chair. “I’ve talked to the writers. At first we thought another sword and sandal picture to show your versatility, but everyone knows those have to be rationed or we have too many and the public loses interest. Instead we thought of a western, not like the ones you used to do, but something more like Ford or Hughes would do. Serious themes, but lots of scenery, good, strong American values against good, strong American land.”
“I could do a western. I think I’d be good.”
Mannix said, “No need to worry, kid, you can ride a horse in your sleep. Now, I told you before that you’ll be the second lead. That way the whole picture isn’t riding on your shoulders. And if we’re going to film on location, we need a big budget. And at Capitol Pictures, big budget drama means Baird Whitlock. He’ll play your father. There’s a cattle drive, too. We’re calling it Devil’s River and most of the filming will be in Texas, but don’t think I can’t keep an eye on your career -- and on you, kid -- from here. We haven’t figured out the girl yet. We thought a sweet rancher’s daughter.”
Hobie looked thoughtful. “You said we’d be filming in Texas?”
“Yeah, kid, got a problem with that?”
“No, Mister Mannix, sir, but I was thinking that maybe it could be a sweet Mexican girl. Miss Valdez hasn’t done any drama, yet, but I’m sure she’d be right good at it.”
“Kid, you’re a genius. We may still need a rancher’s daughter -- no, a rancher’s wife. That way Baird can look at her longingly, but doesn’t have to film any love scenes. And Carlotta, yes. I’ll take it to the writers. You’re smart, Doyle. Can’t get better publicity than to put you two kids in a film together. Sweethearts playing sweethearts is a sure winner.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“Of course not, kid, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good angle.” He did the arm across the shoulder escort and said, “We’ll meet again next month when I have the script.”
“And the next thing I knew, I was on the other side of that big door of his,” Hobie said as they walked around the festival. There were stalls selling food and little souvenirs. She introduced him to pork tamales and champurrado, and he bought her a wreath of roses to wear in her hair.
“It’s easier than fruit,” Carlotta said with a big smile. The sound of mariachi music led them through the market to a large stage. “Look, they are going to do the jarabe!”
A group of girls, about twelve years old by Hobie’s reckoning, came up on the stage in wide skirts and began dancing.
Carlotta whispered, “This dance was considered scandalous, so girls danced it together. There will be grown-up dancers later, doing the version with men for partners.”
They watched together as the girls managed to go through the entire dance without a mistake. The girls were so happy to have made it to the end that they grinned all the way through their bows.
“How long does this go on for, Carlotta?”
“In Mexico, it would be all night, and the vigil at the church will still be all night, but the stalls and music will end long before midnight.” She smiled up at him. “They are playing La Bamba, please dance with me.”
Hobie bit his lip and finally said, “If you’re willing to risk it, but you’d do better with someone who knows it.”
She winked. “I’ll risk it.”
Two minutes later, she pulled him off the dance floor, both of them laughing over his difficulty with the footwork.
“I told you I was no good,” Hobie said.
“Then I will teach you and at the next fiesta, you will be perfect, yes?”
“I’d like to learn anything you teach me.”
Carlotta’s eyebrow went up, but she could tell he meant it sincerely.
They went back to wander around the stalls and Carlotta helped him pick out an embroidered shawl to send to his mother. They ate a few little things from vendors before they meandered back to the dance floor. It was early evening with a green twilight casting the palm trees into dark shadows and a gentle breeze making them sway.
There was a dance band playing now, and Hobie tugged Carlotta to him and began to move them around the floor in a slow waltz.
“My ma always said that waltzing was a gentleman’s accomplishment.”
“Then you are definitely a gentleman,” Carlotta smiled at him and began to sing into his ear, “* Two sleepy people with nothing to say, but too much in love to break away...”
“Are we Carlotta? In love? I mean, I know how I feel about you, but…” He spun her out and back, clasping her firmly when she returned.
“Yes, my Hobie, I love you, too.”
The song ended and they stayed on the dance floor gazing into each other’s eyes. When the next song started, Carlotta showed him how to do a very basic move that would let her sway against him while her cheek rested against his chest. As the music took them closer to the edge of the floor, Hobie took her hand and led them down the street. He pulled her into a darkened doorway and kissed her.
“What next? We could drive to Nevada and get married. I’d like that.”
Carlotta smiled and rested a hand on his cheek. “You are not Catholic, I think?”
“No. I wasn’t thinking. You’ll want a big church wedding and all.”
She stood on her tiptoes to brush a light kiss against his lips. “I will go to the vigil tonight and talk to my priest afterward. I don’t need a big wedding, but I must know that we do the right thing.”
“And if it is the right thing?”
“Then we’re both between pictures. We should be able to drive to Nevada -- or Tijuana -- Monday night, si?”
“Why not tomorrow?”
Carlotta touched his nose. “I will need a new dress for the wedding.” She took his hand. “Walk me to the church?”
He leaned in and kissed her again. “I love you, Carlotta.”
She rested her head on his shoulder and they walked to the church.
“Good morning, Hobie.”
His hair was sleep mussed and he checked the clock next to the telephone. It wasn’t even seven in the morning. “Carlotta?”
“I woke you. I’m sorry, but I’m so happy. My priest, he understood about young love. He wants to meet you tomorrow, but if he thinks you’re a good man, he’ll give his approval, even if you’re not a Catholic.”
“That’s wonderful, Carlotta. Guess your vigil is over, then.”
“Yes, it is. I’ve even gone to Mass. I’m going home to sleep now.”
“No,” Hobie said, “I mean, Canter’s Deli isn’t far from your church. Maybe we could have breakfast together? I’ll drive you home.”
“That sounds nice. We’ve never had breakfast together before.”
“No, we haven’t.” He blinked a couple of times and said, “It’ll take me ten minutes to get dressed and half an hour to drive there. I’ll see you then, sweetheart.”
They sat next to each other at the counter, smiling into each other’s eyes. Over corned beef hash, Hobie, and a cheese omelette, Carlotta, they talked. Mostly, it was about movies and roles and Mister Mannix, but they also covered the important things, like meeting each other’s family.
“I thought so.” A copy of The Examiner was thrown down next to Hobie and it was all he could do not to jump.
Thora Thacker was glaring at them both, her eyes narrowed. “My sister reported on you two at the festival yesterday as if it were something sweet and innocent, and what do I find? You’re breakfasting together. Miss Carlotta Valdez, you are nothing but a floozy.”
Hobie stood and said, “Miss Thacker, if you weren’t a lady, I’d be asking you to step outside ‘bout now.”
“Really? Defending your hot-blooded, Latin… woman is admirable, I suppose, but she’s still no better than she should be.”
“But Miss Thacker, Hobie and I have done nothing,” Carlotta said.
The manager of the deli came over, wiping his hands on a towel. “If you’re going to bother our guests, Miss Thacker, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“I can’t believe you would condone loose women at a respectable establishment.”
The manager said, “Miss Valdez came in after the annual Guadalupe vigil and had coffee while Father Freitas had his breakfast. She even paid for it. Mister Doyle here didn’t show up until about forty minutes later. So you can stop your insinuations and either order breakfast or leave.”
“Well, I never!” Thora Thacker said.
“I can believe that,” said the manager, mildly.
She turned on her heel and began to stalk out, only coming back to snatch the newspaper she’d left on the counter. “No one will come to Canter’s after they hear about this,” was her Parthian shot.
“Sir, I hope we didn’t,” Hobie began.
“No fear, son. As long as most of the executives are Jewish and the writers are from New York, we’ll stay open.” He nodded at Carlotta, “Always good to see you, Miss Valdez.”
“Thank you, Joe,” she said.
He poured them both another cup of coffee and wandered back to his post.
“I should get you home,” Hobie said.
“Do you think we should tell Mister Mannix?”
“If there’s a Miss Thacker involved, I’m sure he’d want to know.” She yawned and giggled at the same time.
“You’ve been up all night.” Hobie pulled out his money and paid for them, leaving a generous tip.
He woke her when they pulled up in front of her place, and she gave him a quick kiss. “I’ll call you when I’m really awake. And you’ll…”
“Let Mister Mannix know as soon as I get back home.”
Monday found him back in Mister Mannix’s office listening to him talk into the telephone. This time he was less surprised to find that Mister Mannix had already hung up and was looking at him.
“You did the right thing, kid, calling me. I was able to get Thessaly Thacker on your side and that effectively quieted Thora. Canter’s has become the most popular deli in Hollywood again, too. Of course, that silly picture helped.”
Hobie had finally picked up his paper when he’d gotten home yesterday and read Thessaly Thacker’s column. The photograph showed him and Carlotta laughing over his awkward dancing at the fiesta.
“Honestly, Mister Mannix, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
“If it keeps you and Carlotta on the up and up with the fans, then I don’t care if it makes you look like Mickey Mouse.”
“Yes, Mister Mannix.”
Mannix handed him a script. “Now this is just the first draft, but I don’t think it will need too many revisions. I gave a copy to Baird yesterday and I’m having one delivered to Carlotta even as we speak. Call me by Friday if you have suggestions, otherwise, I’m looking to start filming in two weeks. We’ll charter a special train to get you all to Texas. It’s good publicity. Of course, I’ll make certain the men and the women are in separate sleeping cars. I don’t want the Legion of Decency down on us before the picture even starts filming. You’ll have costume calls on Wednesday and two days next week. Take Carlotta out on the weekend so we can exploit that angle.”
“Mister Mannix, if we’re going to Texas, could the train stop in Oklahoma for a bit? I want to take Miss Valdez to meet my Ma.”
Mannix focused on him for a minute then smiled a little. “It’s a good angle. It’ll help play down the rumors Thora Thacker’s trying to start and give the picture good publicity. Is the town in your official bio really the town you grew up in?”
“The nearest big town, Mister Mannix. Ma is about an hour outside of town. Of course she lost Pa in the war, but my aunts and uncles help her run the place.”
Mannix shook his head. “A war widow. It couldn’t be more perfect. We’ll do a night train from Los Angeles, stop for twelve hours near your Ma’s place and then take another night into Texas.” He pulled Hobie up from the chair and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Now, I want you to know, this is a prestige picture. That’s why we’ve got Baird Whitlock and he was very excited when I told him Laurence Laurentz was directing.”
“But Mister Mannix…”
“And the next thing I knew, I was on the other side of that big door of his,” Hobie said to Carlotta as she got comfortable in his car.
They drove to Santa Monica and got onto the Pacific Coast Highway.
“Did you remember your passport, querido?”
“And two copies of my birth certificate and everything else we need. Your Ma and Pa will meet us there?”
“Oh, yes. And they have a guest house for our wedding night prepared. They wish it would be a Catholic wedding, but they are happy for me.”
“And in two weeks, I get to introduce my Ma to my bride.” They drove down the coast toward Tijuana. “Do you think Mister Mannix is going to mind?”
Carlotta smiled at him. “Maybe we wait to tell him, si?”
“That sounds about right, sweetheart.”