“Hey --” Don leaned over the sofa where Kathy was sprawled out reading the latest Photoplay, with her head comfortably pillowed in Cosmo's lap. “Hey, Ethel Barrymore.”
Kathy arched her eyebrows, and pointedly turned a page.
“Hey, Sarah Bernhardt,” Don persisted. “Lillie Langtry, listen up.”
“Look, you boor,” said Cosmo, sternly, “Miss Selden is extremely busy with this riveting account of --” He glanced at the page. “-- Marlene Dietrich's dining-room settings? Now that's a bald-faced lie. Marlene Dietrich never owned anything as mundane as a Betty Crocker dinner plate in her sultry German life. You give me that and let me know which columnist I've got to fight --”
“What's your dream, actress Kathy Selden?” Don inquired, while Cosmo grabbed the magazine out of Kathy's hands, and Kathy made a noise of betrayal. “Your great ambition? Kathy Selden as Juliet, Kathy Selden as King Lear --” He produced a screenplay from behind his back, and dangled it over the couch. “Kathy Selden as Viola?”
“What?” Kathy sat straight up, nearly bashing into Cosmo's chin. “Viola? You mean --”
“The powers who run Monumental Pictures, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that the time has come --” He handed her the script, with a flourish. “-- for the very first all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing, all-star cinematic production of the great master of the stage, William Shakespeare, and I've just come from talking R.F. into giving us the leads. You're welcome.”
“Oh, Don –”
“Of course,” Don added, in a more normal voice, “it's even odds whether they'll actually call it Twelfth Night, or something like, I don't know, The Singing Squire or The Boy Who Wasn't! I hope you won't think Monumental's idea of jazzing the thing up will degrade the old classics too much –”
“If music be the food of love,” Cosmo intoned, “play on!” He leaned to peer over Kathy's shoulder as she rifled eagerly through the script. “Give me excess of it, that the appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again!” He launched into a whistle, a tune which rapidly became recognizable as 'Don't Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away', then broke off and flung his arms wide. “Enough, no more! 'Tis not so sweet now as it was –”
“Say, where'd you learn all that?” Don demanded. “Have you been running out on Hollywood for a dalliance with the legitimate theater? Wait 'til I tell R.F. you're stepping out on him.”
“Don, look at this!” Kathy turned one page, then another, her eyes shining. “'I will on with my speech in your praise, I took great pains to study it, and 'tis poetical' – look, I don't care what they do with the title, all I care is they're keeping all Viola's best lines! And it's going to be funny! Really funny!”
She surged up off the couch and kissed him exuberantly, then turned around and planted a kiss on Cosmo for good measure. “We're doing Shakespeare,” she crowed, “and it's going to be a hit!” and danced off in spinning circles across the living room.
When she reached the staircase, she paused, and wrapped her arm around the banister as she leaned back to look at them. “By the way – who's playing Olivia?”
Don shrugged. “Guess we'll find out sooner or later, but the only casting news I've heard so far is you and me.”
“Garbo!” Don stared, in frank astonishment. “He landed Garbo? I don't believe it. You're fooling with us.”
Cosmo slung himself down at the piano in the studio rehearsal room. “MGM's loaning her out, and that's straight from the mouth of a very smug horse named R.F. Simpson. And it's going out in Hollywood Studio Magazine tomorrow, so unless that horse wants to make an ass of himself, it's the real deal.”
“Does Garbo sing?”
“She talks, she laughs –!” Cosmo punctuated the announcements with a couple of chords on the piano, then trailed off up a scale and gave a shrug. “But does she sing? Beats me. I'll tell you one thing Garbo does do, though --” He waggled his eyebrows. “-- and that's kiss the girls. The audiences bought it all right in Queen Christina, I guess R.F. thinks they won't kick up too much of a fuss if she does it again.”
“I'm going to romance Garbo?” Kathy put her hands up to her cheeks, her eyes starry, and then hastily ducked as a stagehand walked by with an oversized plastic candy cane slung over his shoulder, to which he was not paying attention.
“Technically,” Don pointed out, “Orsino's the one who'll be attempting to romance Garbo --”
“While Garbo,” Kathy said, popping back up, “is romancing me. Who says Viola's got to end up with Orsino, again?”
“Shakespeare, that's who,” retorted Don. “The great Bard, remember? Master of the stage? Let's show the man some respect, why don't we?”
“Foolery, sir,” said Cosmo, gravely, “does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”
“Hear, hear,” said a nearby Mrs. Claus pin-up girl.
Kathy caught the quote. “Hey – speaking of, Cosmo, did R.F. drop any word on who'll be playing the Fool?”
“Don, who else?” said Cosmo immediately, and added a bum-bum-BUM of a punchline on the piano.
“Ha ha,” said Don.
“No, I mean it. Let Don play every fool in the show – why not? Get some range in your repertoire. Don Lockwood as Orsino, Feste, Sir Andrew, and Malvolio --”
“I mean it,” persisted Kathy. “Why don't you see if R.F. will give you Feste? You're better at clowning than anybody in this town, you ought to have a chance to show what you can do on camera --”
“Now that's a fool notion if ever I heard it,” said Cosmo, and pitched his voice louder, over Don's incipient protest. “Which is to say, it's not bad at all, except that it'll never happen. Cosmo Brown was never destined for fame; it is only his fortune to attend –” He bowed elaborately towards Don, then towards Kathy. “-- upon great ones.”
Straightening again, he began to bellow out, in his richest Don-Lockwood-imitation voice, “Hey, ho, the wind and rain; hey, ho, the wind and rain --” By deeply tormenting the scansion, Shakespeare's doggerel rhyme could just about be squeezed into the tune of 'Singin' in the Rain.' “For the ra-ain it ra-aineth eeeeeevery day...”
He grabbed Kathy's hand to tug her up into a dance; Kathy laughed and let herself be tugged. They skipped side-by-side, mirroring each other's steps with the ease of long playful practice as they pulled increasingly dramatic romantic-hero-Don-Lockwood faces at each other. A small circle of leggy toyshop elves and Santa dancers began to gather around them to watch the show.
Both of them, after a few bars, were struggling not to be the first to break the rhythm by laughing. The front of a reindeer made a quiet bet with the fellow who served as its rear. Kathy looked like she was about to lose the contest when a great roar came from the doorway: “Stop right there!”
The reindeer broke apart, and the Santa dancers scattered. Kathy froze, teetering on her high heels; Cosmo catapulted into her, rebounded, and ended up in a heap on the studio floor. They both stared up at Don, who was standing in the doorway, with his arms folded, radiating smugness.
The smugness probably had something to do with the fact that R.F. was standing next to him. “Cosmo!” he bellowed. “You're hired!”
“What?” said Cosmo, struggling up from the floor.
“For Feste?” said Kathy, face lighting up.
“Of course not for Feste,” said R.F. “Why would we hire Cosmo for Feste when we already got Buster Keaton? For Sebastian, Cosmo's hired for Sebastian! Now, Kathy, don't you say a word against it --”
“I wasn't going to –!”
“And Cosmo, don't you say you can't do it --”
“I wasn't going to!”
“-- because I've made up my mind, and that's final!” concluded R.F., and swept out the door again, satisfied that he had conquered a vehement opposition.
Cosmo and Kathy converged in his wake. “Don! What did you do, how did you manage it?”
“Don Lockwood, I swear, I won't crack a joke on you for a solid twenty-four hours --”
“Don't make promises you can't keep,” said Don, to Cosmo, and, to Kathy, “It was easy – it was obvious. Come on, kid, you'd have to go a long way to find people who look more in lockstep when you're dancing than the two of you – if you rule me out, that is, and I've already got a part.” He wrapped one arm around each of them. “All I had to say to RF was that you might as well be twins.”
“I hear what you're saying, Don,” said RF, “but you've got to get the modern sequence in there somehow, audiences expect a little bit of something modern, so what are you going to do?”
Don surveyed the set doubtfully. Cosmo and Kathy were off on a side stage shooting their flashback number, “Though It Was Said She Much Resembled Me.” Meanwhile, he was left to cope with the leftover Gold Diggers of 1933. “I'm just saying, if we kick off with these girls in a modern number, it's going to look awful lot like the opening of The Dancing Cavalier. Sooner or later folks really are going to start saying that if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all.”
“It's been five years since The Dancing Cavalier --”
“Yeah, and every period musical film we've made since has started with the same darn modern number! I'm just saying.”
“Look, Don,” said R.F., kindly, “I've got twelve other flicks yelling at me for the budget I'm giving you to play around with. I like the Shakespeare. I think the Shakespeare's great. It's just that the Shakespeare has also got to sell great. And you know what sells?”
“Lockwood and Selden,” said Don, promptly.
“Absolutely. Lockwood and Selden sell, you sell great, you're my cinema royalty. You're my shining stars. But also, legs. Legs sell. You know what I like best about Kathy, Don? She doesn't throw a fit about having a lot of other legs in a picture.”
“You know what I like best about Kathy,” said Don, “is she's a great actress, a fantastic singer, an amazing dancer, a true and loyal companion – you know what, there's a lot of things I like about Kathy. The legs of other women don't really enter into it.”
R.F. patted Don's shoulder. “You'll think of something to do with the girls. I have great faith in you.”
“Why can't we just put them in that number with Viola and Olivia? She's supposed to have all those handmaidens anyway, so you dress them in black veils and have them all do a tearaway when Viola starts demanding to know who's who –
“Sounds great, except we'd need Garbo on set for that one, and Busby Berkeley needs the girls back next Tuesday for Roman Scandals – which starts,” R.F. added, triumphantly, “with a modern number! Now excuse me, Don, I gotta check in with the publicity department.”
Don glowered after him; then he turned to glower at the dancing girls, who were all very pleasant and talented young women who did not deserve to be glowered at just because he hadn't had a brilliant idea yet about what to do with them; then he decided to stop glowering and do something productive, like complaining to Cosmo.
Cosmo and Kathy were just wrapping up their number when he wandered onto Sound Stage 6. The fresh-faced newcomer playing Antonio waltzed dreamily with a cross-dressed Kathy through billowing veils; somewhere in the middle of the last bar, Cosmo cut seamlessly in to dance with Antonio and Kathy slipped away. The number ended with Kathy sitting on a column, looking woeful and alone in her breeches, while Antonio and Cosmo sat back down together on the beach set at the other side of the sound stage.
Noticing Don in the doorway, Cosmo winked at him, then jumped up and declared, “Well, I am bound to the Count Orsino's; farewell!” He bounded up and skipped away across the pasteboard beach, completely bowling Antonio over as he left. The camera zoomed in towards Antonio's face as he lay back in the sand and stared after Cosmo with a look of gobsmacked longing.
“Cut!” The assistant director smacked his hands together. “That was a fine fall, Cary, fine! Next time, we'll add in that new fog effect. Everyone, take five!”
“That's getting a little racy, isn't it?” said Don, eyebrows raised, as Cosmo and Kathy came towards him.
Cosmo glanced back at Antonio, then grinned at Don. “Who, Cary? Came recommended by Mae West – she says he's a doll. You know Mae! There's a lady who's not afraid to wear a little lavender. The censors can't touch her, they're not going to worry his fussy little heads about us.” He turned suddenly to address an imaginary member of the Catholic Legion of Decency, his voice rising a pompous Sir Toby bellow. “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there will be no more cakes and ale? Ah, they'll be revenged upon the whole pack of us! – but not today, pal, not today, and certainly not before this picture makes a million. Well, I've spent all day being adored – Don, you rascal, you've been holding out on me, you never told me how nice it was to be adored professionally –”
“I did,” said Don. “I told you all the time, but you didn't seem to like it so much.”
“I was adored once,” Kathy put in sadly.
Don and Cosmo each draped an arm around her one of her shoulders, as Cosmo went on, “How was your morning?”
“Frankly,” said Don, “I've had better. We're running out of script – if Garbo doesn't show up on set soon, shooting's going to come to a standstill. Where the hell is she?”
“Nobody ever knows where Garbo is,” Cosmo informed them. “It's part of her mysterious allure.”
“Well, she has to show up on set sometime,” said Kathy, reasonably, “or she'd never have made all those films. Don, if R.F.'s not going to do anything about fixing her schedule, why don't you try and see if you can go talk to her? You're the biggest name of any of us, she might give you a minute.”
“There's a thought,” said Cosmo. “Give her some of the old Don Lockwood charm. Maybe you've still got a chance to be adored today.”
“Hey! Cosmo!” the assistant director yelled. “You leave those lovebirds alone and come back to shoot the end of the number again.”
“Well,” said Cosmo, disentangling himself, “duty calls. Lovebird --” He nodded gravely to Don. “Lovebird --” He nodded gravely to Kathy.
“You're cute,” said Kathy, and patted his cheek. “So's that Cary kid. Don't forget,” she added, while Don and Cosmo traded grins at the notion of Kathy calling some other young starlet 'kid,' “you've got some folks at home waiting to adore you too.”
R.F. spent the next few days dodging Don's questions about the mysterious Garbo in an increasingly infuriating fashion, so the next Monday, while Kathy and Cosmo shot their duel with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Don finally did make his own attempt at tracking her down. He tried the secretary of the head of MGM, who sent him to the secretary of the head of American Musical Academy of Arts Association, who sent him to John Gilbert, who finally sent him to a United Artists backlot, where the first person he met at the studio door was –
“Hello, Don,” said Lina. She was wearing white pancake makeup straight out of a Mary Pickford melo, a straight-cut white dress that gave the impression that the person who designed it might have once seen a Regency gown glancingly through a distant window, and a headband bedecked with foot-tall ostrich feathers.“What can it be that brings you here? And whatever it is, make it snappy, because some of us are busy.”
“I'm looking for Greta Garbo,” said Don, setting his jaw grimly. “A little birdie told me she might be here. What are you up to, Lina?”
“As you can see,” said Lina, with great hauteur, “we are filming a picture.”
Lina's eyes widened in manufactured shock. “Haven't you seen today's paper?” She brandished a copy of The Hollywood Reporter at him. Midway down the page, in block letters, read the headline: GARBO, LAMONT TO STAR IN GOTHIC THRILLER CARMILLA.
“Sure, but she can't shoot your picture now! She's supposed to be shooting Twelfth Night with us this week!”
“You're behind the times, Don,” said Lina, sweetly. “But that's to be expected. You're merely an actor. I, on the other hand, am an actress-producer and partner in United Artists, and I have made MGM – and my dear, dear Greta – a very generous offer which it was simply im-pos-sible for them to refuse.”
Don stared at Lina, dark suspicions clicking into place. “You stole her! From our production! You heard she was going to be in our picture and you stole her from under our nose, you – you marble-breasted tyrant, you thin-faced knave –"
Lina drew herself up to her full height, ostrich feathers teetering overhead. "We are persons of dignity, Mr. Lockwood," she informed him, with grand serenity. "Jealousy don't become us.”
“I don't care how much you beg, Lockwood and Lamont is through!” Lina concluded, and slammed the door in his face.
As Don stomped away, he caught sight through the window of a tall, cool person with a Swedish profile, sweeping Lina up in a distinctly warm embrace.
“Made her an offer she couldn't refuse, all right!” he muttered, and resisted the extremely undignified urge to kick the door behind him.
“I can't believe Lina stole my chance to make love to Garbo,” mourned Kathy.
“I can't believe Lina stole my chance to make love to Garbo,” sighed Cosmo.
Both of them were wearing their stage costumes – matching sets of breeches and doublets, with androgynous stage makeup designed to make them appear as near-identical as possible – and Don surveyed them darkly. “You know, I'm getting more cheerful about a total lack of Garbo by the minute. Who needs her, anyway?”
“You're just saying that because Orsino doesn't have practically any scenes with her anyway,” said Kathy, accurately.
“Buck up,” said Don, ignoring her, “and stop being greedy. You two already live with a world-famous star.”
“So do you!” said Kathy, with mock indignation.
Cosmo added, righteously, “And so do the both of you – well, wait, I guess we covered that already.”
Kathy heaved a sigh, sobering. “Really, though, Don – what are we going to do without Garbo? The plot doesn't exactly hold together unless Viola goes and makes love to somebody – and there's no way you'll get another star on such short notice – and you've still got to figure out what to do with all those chorus girls – by tomorrow! – ”
“Really, though, Kathy,” said Don, and tapped her smartly on the nose. “We've got a hell of a lot of talent sitting right here in this room, not to mention fame. You could get a tree stump to play Olivia and this flick would be a hit.”
“I hope you're right, Don,” said Cosmo, unusually serious for a moment. “This is just one more flick for you two, but I've maybe got one or two eggs rolling around in this basket.”
“Cheer up, Viola --” Don slung his right arm around Kathy. “And cheer up, Sebastian --” His left arm went around Cosmo. “And stop worrying about any other stars, all right? Between the three of us, we'll figure it out.”
“Sure,” said Cosmo. “Who needs Olivia, anyway?”
The test audience let out an enormous cheer as the film's musical finale – a modern number set to a winking, risqué variation on Cole Porter's “Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love” – went into its second reprise. Giant-sized Don and Kathy and Cosmo whirled each other around on the silver screen against a background of twirling androgynous chorus girls, half of them in extremely short skirts and the other half in extremely tight suits.
“Mae West!” said Kathy dreamily, hanging over the balcony from the box where they watched the premiere. “I still can't believe I got to make love to Mae West! I can't believe we got Mae West to do Shakespeare!”
“Bless you, Cary,” said Cosmo, with gentle reverence.
“Bless you, Cosmo,” said Don. Cosmo was the one who'd convinced young Cary Grant to call in the favor, though that rapidly rising young gentleman was already off to play the Mock Turtle in Paramount's Alice in Wonderland.
Cosmo looked beatific. “And bless me, too.”
Don surveyed the screen, with an assessing eye. “The only thing is, it's a shame we couldn't line up Mae in time for her to be in the final number.”
“I don't know,” said Kathy. “I think the number's all right with just the three of us – don't you?”
“Yeah,” said Don. He leaned back in his seat and beamed at them, basking in the sound of applause and contented with all the world. “Yeah, it's pretty all right.”