“Dear, dear, Doris,” Margaret says, once again trying to break into her daughter’s mood. “Such a long face. And on this, of all mornings!”
Doris looks up from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, lying open on the kitchen table. Tossing and turning for hours last night, overexcited from the performance and the applause and the sheer exhilaration of it all, she finally fell asleep. Now as she picks at a late breakfast, her temper flares. “Did you see this review? I could die! Or perhaps kill.”
“Now, now, dear. Don’t talk like that. You may turn out to be the biggest thing on Broadway, but while you’re in this house you’re still a Kenyon, not a killer.”
“Yes, mother.” This exchange will not help, not one little bit, so she turns back to the paper. She knows all too well that the short reviews, the unsigned ones, can be the most brutal. This is one of them.
The Girl in the Limousine premiered at the Eltinge the night before. Months of preparation, learning her lines, feeling her way despite being the youngest member of the cast—many of whom seemed to hold her recent film successes against her—had all come down to last night, and it had gone well, if three curtain calls from the discerning New York crowd was any measure. And now this review!
The play, Doris admits, poses no threat to Shakespeare. It is what the critics are calling a bedroom farce—a newly popular genre already bounded by a host of foolish conventions. Of course there is always the Girl, who sometimes makes her way into the play’s title. The comic dialogue is bawdy, daring, just this side of scandalous. There is no nudity but the plot somehow always holds out that titillating promise. The second act generally takes place in the Girl’s bedroom, male characters dashing in and out in various stages of overwrought undress, ducking into closets, hiding under the Girl’s four-poster with its all-concealing dust ruffles. In the third act, offenses are forgiven or forgotten as chaste romances blossom.
She has fretted, still frets, that The Girl in the Limousine is a bad career move. In the last two years, she has acted in a far better play, nine films, and a 15-episode serial for Pathe: grueling but lucrative. When the U.S. entered the Great War, Doris, still shy of her 20th birthday, put most of her net worth, a hard-earned $50,000, into war bonds, sold many more bonds in public drives, and volunteered for the Red Cross. The 122nd Company, 70th Engineers, of the U.S. Coast Defenses named her an honorary sergeant, and the movie-going public rewarded the plucky young patriot by buying tickets to see her. Not all planned, of course, but somehow adding up to something, or so it seemed.
And then along came The Girl in the Limousine. Which in fact makes only passing reference to a limousine, in which the Girl never actually sits, Doris grumbles, because the Girl so rarely gets to leave her bedroom. Doris doesn’t much like flouncing around in her negligee—even her character’s prim, unrevealing, and lace-burdened negligee, something like a frilly clown suit—in a midtown theater full of sophisticates. She is a serious performer, as she has had to remind herself these past few years, an opera singer, for several years a protégé of the Met’s Andreas Dippell himself, for goodness sake. She doesn’t want to play, endlessly, the beautiful girl, the wide-eyed ingénue who is only a short step away from the glamorous ditz, the stunning airhead, which she most certainly is not. But her world keeps nudging her in that direction.
On the other hand, on the other hand, she reminds herself. The Girl’s playwright, Avery Hopwood, is the hottest writer on Broadway, and behind him looms the formidable producer and star-maker A. H. Woods. The Eltinge is one of the city’s shiniest venues. And so on, and so on. “Honestly, Doris,” her manager told her, “you just can’t say no to this.” He was aghast at the very idea.
Her parents attended the premiere. James gave up his ministry when he moved his family from Syracuse to Brooklyn several years back to pursue his literary career. Despite his new secular life he is still strait-laced, high-minded, thoroughly respectable. As much as he loves her, Doris knows, he will never attend a second performance of The Girl: frothy fare that puts his daughter on unwholesome display. Margaret, for her part, stowed herself away in Doris’s dressing room for the entire performance, either out of vicarious stage fright or simple embarrassment. Margaret will be back at the Eltinge tonight and tomorrow night and for the run of the show, Doris knows, but she will never actually see this play.
There have been bedroom farces before, she forces herself to read, but this is altogether a bed farce. Nothing else matters, except the underclothes. Dress the actors and make the bed and the play would be over.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Doris fumes, although she silently concedes that the writer has a certain flair. Margaret, washing the dishes, doesn’t look up.
“The Girl in the Limousine” should be of service, however. It should bring to a close the era of “bedridden” farces. It should produce a reaction in favor of cribs and trundle beds, if nothing else.
Witty and all too true. If the bedroom had only a trundle bed—not an elevated four-poster—they might actually have to come up with a limousine and push it out onstage to support all the silly plot twists. She suppresses a smile.
The piece shows all there is to show in a bedroom set. It completely exhausts the possibilities for vulgarity, suggestiveness, and daring in this line.
“Damn this fellow, anyway!”
This time Margaret, still working at the sink, looks over her shoulder. “Language, dear Doris, language.” Wiping her hands dry on a dishtowel, evidently considering an approach to calm her angry daughter, then deciding against it. “Maybe you should just skip the reviews. They only upset you.”
“No, Mother.” She abruptly drops the offending newspaper. It fans out in an untidy pile on the tabletop. Sighing, she shoves and folds it back into roughly its original state, which is how Father will expect to find it when he comes home from work. “You have to know what they’re saying about you. You always have to know that.”
[insert Girl in the Limousine photos here]