by Kaye George
Swinging on a Star was first published on Jack Bates’ blog, written to a WWII theme.
I was swinging on a star in the summer of 1948. I was in Hollywood, greatest city on the planet. I was engaged to Tyrone Rivers, the handsomest rising star of the silver screen there ever was. And we had an appointment in a few days to look at a little bungalow we might want to rent after we got hitched. His father was a politico in Washington, and his mother made the keenest paintings. She gave them away to other politician’s families. I hoped I’d get one someday.
The next afternoon, that world caved in on me.
As soon as I got off work at the drug store, I hurried to the set to watch Tyrone do his scenes. The place looked dead. Mike, the new camera man, drooped beside his dolly, and the director’s chair was empty.
“What’s buzzin’ cousin,” said Mike. He was an easy guy to talk to.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” I said. “Where’s everybody? Where’s Tyrone?”
“He didn’t show up, doll. We were scheduled to shoot his big scenes today. Acton only called a couple other actors in. We haven’t done much of anything. If your lover boy shows up, he’d better duck when he sees Acton coming.” For some reason, Mike didn’t seem to like Ty very much.
One actor stood on the set, a mock up of a swanky hotel room. He must have just finished a scene. He was a tall, thin, distinguished gentleman with a dark pencil mustache. The man walked off the set wiping greasepaint from his face with a towel.
“What’s eating you, dollface?” he said.
“Aw gee, Uncle Connie. Tyrone hasn’t shown up today. Something must be wrong. We’re supposed to go dancing tonight at the Palladium. Ty would never miss that.” My words sounded confident, but inside, I wasn’t so cocky. Every day I expected him to leave me for swell dame, someone richer and better looking. Every broad around carried a torch for him. I honestly didn’t know why he stayed with me. He was a hep cat. But we did have that date to look at the bungalow. Had that been too much? Had I scared him off?
No, he wouldn’t miss his shoot just to dump me. Something was very wrong.
“Will you come with me to his place, Connie?”
“He hasn’t been hitting the sauce nearly so regular lately.”
Connie nodded. “You’re right. We should check on him. Give me a chance to get changed and I’ll come with you.”
I sat in the director’s chair while he went to his dressing room, to the rear of the set. Behind me, I could hear the drone of three children reciting the grammar rule, “I before E, except after C, or when sounded as A as in neighbor or weigh.”
Mildred Morning was drilling two of the children of the film company workers, and one child star, Dora Darling. Dora was an impossibly cute, smart, curly-headed moppet who could sing and tap dance and act. She was hotsy-totsy this year. She had starred in three hit films so far, and was making another one. Mildred was hired by the studio to tutor the kids that missed school when they were on the set.
Mildred was also Connie’s latest girlfriend. I hadn’t gotten to know her very well yet, but liked her.
Connie didn’t really like me to call him Connie, and especially not Uncle Connie. His name was Conrad Edgington III, and it suited him, but I didn’t like to use it. Too formal. When my parents both died in the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Connie took me in. I was a young teenager and I guess it might have seemed odd to some people. Luckily, we were then in Hollywood, where Connie settled after the tragedy.
My parents and Conrad had been on the stage together for years. They toured with their three-person routine ten months out of twelve. I used to be one of those kids getting my schooling at studios wherever we were. Connie got into films soon after their death. He told me he couldn’t work closely on the stage with anyone else. Besides, he wanted to settle down in Hollywood, so I would have a stable place to live. Uncle Connie was the best.
Acton, the director, appeared from the shadows and stalked toward me. I didn’t realize, until he was within a few feet of me, that his scowl was because I was in his chair. I jumped up and greeted him. He ignored me and dusted off the seat before he sat. What a flat tire!
I knew Tyrone hated working with the greeby guy, but there was almost no one left. The last three directors, and two of the best cameramen, had gotten fired when their names were turned into the House Un-America Activities Committee. Who could have guess there were so many Commies in Hollywood?
Tyrone never got upset about any of them, but I knew that Jimmy, the last cameraman, was a good guy through and through, no matter what anyone said about him. I’d tried to explain to Tyrone that I thought they were all getting a bum rap, but he thought they all got what they deserved.
Acton, the fat head, had always given me the heebie-jeebies. I wanted to tell him not to snap his cap, but he got up and started to scuttle off before I could screw up the courage to open my mouth.
“Hey, hang on!” I yelled.
He turned, looking at the floor in front of my size sixes.
“Have you heard from Tyrone?” I asked.
His eyes widened in…fear? Just for a second. “He never called. Never showed up.”
“Are you taking him off the film?”
Another frightened expression ran across his face, fast as a single frame on the movie reel. “Of course not. We need him on this picture.”
“Well, that settles it. I’m gonna go to his place and roust him. He’ll be here tomorrow.”
Connie emerged, dressed in his street clothes and scrubbed free of grease paint. We skedaddled.
It was starting to get dark out. You could tell because the lights blazed brighter at night on the strip. We drove with the windows cranked down in Connie’s Hudson Commodore. That was one swanky car. The air was sweet and soft. Summer was winding down, and we’d have to ride with the windows up soon. I trailed my hand out the window and let my palm ride the wind.
I saw something and jerked my head around. “Stop,” I said.
Connie obliged and pulled to the curb. “What’s the matter? Are you sick?”
I shoved the door open and ran back to the middle of the block. A derelict with a shock of carrot-red hair huddled in the doorway of a closed tobacco shop. His head rested on his drawn-up knees and his right hand clutched an empty pint bottle. I reached down and touched his shoulder. I recognized that hair.
“My God.” Connie had come up behind me. “It’s Jimmy, isn’t it?”
The odor of hooch about knocked me over. Jimmy raised his bleary-eyed face and squinted, trying to focus on us. “Applesauce,” he mumbled, and dropped his head back to his knees.
Connie took my hand and led me away. “There’s nothing you can do for him, sweetie.”
“This happened because he lost his job. He was the best. Can you talk to Acton, try to get him his job back?”
“He’s blacklisted. He’s a Commie. What could I do?”
“As Jimmy said, applesauce! If he’s a Commie, where’s his cell? Aren’t they supposed to be Socialists? All take care of each other?”
“Let’s go see what’s happened to Tyrone. I’m worried about him.”
I hated to leave Jimmy in that condition, but I was worried about Ty. We piled into the Commodore and drove to Tyrone’s apartment. He lived on the second floor. Connie and I hurried up the outside staircase to find his door open.
Ty, strangely still, lay on the floor. His head was an odd shape.
I stood paralyzed for a few seconds, my body prickling all over.
Then I noticed the dark, red liquid pool beneath his head and the frying pan lying next to him on the floor, bits of hair, and…something else… sticking to it. I dropped to my knees beside him. “Ty? Ty?” I whispered his name again and again, but didn’t dare touch him.
Connie raised me up by my armpits and sat me on the sofa, then went to Tyrone’s telephone to dial the police.
The next day, I couldn’t work, but Connie had to finish some shooting. Acton said he wouldn’t delay the schedule for the death of one two-bit, replaceable actor. So I sat huddled on an extra chair in the studio, watching people parade through scenes, acting, moving, talking, without really seeing any of it. I knew it was too good to be true. A dame like me, hitched to a swell guy like Tyrone. The fates hadn’t liked the arrangement.
Mildred Morning, who had been putting the kids through their paces, released them and came to sit beside me.
“What do they know about Tyrone’s death?” she asked, her voice gentle and her crinkly blue eyes kind.
“The cops told Connie, I mean Conrad, that Ty was bumped off, but they don’t know who did it. Who would kill Tyrone? Everybody loved him.” I was going to start blubbering again.
“Not everyone, dear.”
“I guess you’re right. Not the person who killed him. But why? Why would someone dislike him?”
“I can think of a few reasons,” she said, looking away, into the shadows of the unlit parts of the huge studio cavern.
That stopped me. “You can?” I blinked. “Like what?”
“Do you know how many people in this studio have been blackballed since Tyrone Rivers started working here?”
I knotted up my forehead and thought. “A lot have been blackballed everywhere.”
“But none here, until Mr. Rivers showed up.”
“Golly. I wonder why…” Tyrone’s father was a Washington big wig and had been at the forefront of the HUAC hearings when they started up last year. I never thought anything about it until Mildred put two and two together. “You think Ty had something to do with the blacklist?”
She gave me a sideways glance and pressed her lips together. Uncle Connie called over to us. “Done for the day. Can I take my two favorite dames out tonight?” He looked so buoyant right then.
Tyrone’s killer was never found. Connie dated Mildred until he had his heart attack, ten years later. After his funeral, Mildred invited me out for coffee. I told my husband to go home to relieve the babysitter, and I’d be home in an hour or so. I’d gotten to know the woman much better in the last decade.
“I’m so glad Conrad had you to take care of him, Mildred. He was a lucky guy.”
“We were such a good fit for each other. I’ll sure miss that man.”
We sipped our coffee in silence for a few moments.
“Are you happy with your husband?” she asked me. “Your children are so beautiful.”
“Do you ever miss Tyrone Rivers?”
I hadn’t thought about him in years. “I guess not.”
“Good. We did the right thing then.”
I wondered what she meant by that.
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