Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page





Volume One



“Sorry, young man, but I can’t give you even a walk-on part in this new show of mine. For you’re the spitting image of John Wilkes Booth—you know who he is, or rather was, don’t you?—and the audience, seeing you, would start to scratch its collective head—and lose track of the plot of my play. And then—”

And the big loudly-checker-suited man, with the completely bald head and the voluminous blond mustache, seated in the intricately-carved mahogany armchair in front of the huge pine table-desk, impatiently waved the pudgy hand that bore the 3-carat diamond ring, tossing, in the so doing, a beam of the bright April morning sunlight across the small room.

Jarrow Gauntlett, seated in the plain pine armchair facing the Philadelphia theatrical producer, and still buttoned in his light green tweed overcoat, though his black felt hat lay on an armless wooden chair nearby, frowned painedly.

“It—it doesn’t seem fair to me,” he expostulated, almost bitterly, “to get barred out of a mere super’s job—one that I badly, badly, badly want—no, by godfrey, need!—though for reasons I won’t try to explain—to get barred out just because I slightly resemble somebody else—”

“Slightly!” echoed the theatrical producer, shaking his head. “Peas in a pod—you and John Wilkes Booth, who—but here!—I’ll see if, in my ‘gallery of immortals’—as I call it!—I haven’t a photo of him to show you, and—”

And T. McConico Bulger, who was always reputed to look more like a character in one of his own-produced plays than any of the characters themselves, rose from the carved mahogany armchair that formed the single highspot of the “old-fashioned” office that had been used by his father before him, and which he had always claimed he loved, therefore, more than any “fool modern new-fangled” office. Turning, he crossed the soft-wood floor, past the two tall squarish windows, with their grey-painted frames, looking out on Pennsylvania Avenue, and hemming in between them the ticking octagonal-faced wall clock with hands now at 9:30 A.M. On he continued, clear to the furthest corner between the two white calcomined walls, and there lifted the cover of a long squarish wooden box standing atop two tall unpainted stools like a sort of coffin. Holding the lid aloft a foot or so, with the hand that bore the 3-carat diamond ring, he filtered through its contents as one who roughly knew all those contents. And finally extracted what appeared to be a large, though also somewhat faded, cabinet photo, all of one foot high and eight inches across.

Lowering the long lid of the box into place, he brought the big photo back to the table desk. But, seating himself, drew first out the drawer thereof, and from that drawer fished forth a silverbacked handmirror. Extended both now towards Jarrow Gauntlett who, for those reasons known thus far only to himself, sought a job—any kind of a job!—on any kind of a stage—in front—of footlights!

“Here, take a look!” Bulger was saying, but downright challengingly. “And dish yourself up a dish of—of wonderment! For—but wait!” He drew back his two proffered objects like one who proposes now to make a small, a very small “even-exchange”!

“You say,” he demanded, “that you—without any stage ex-perience whatsoever—so much have to have this berth that—that you’ll work for nothing?”

“That’s right,” nodded Gauntlett darkly. But adding: “Or a berth—like it.”

“But why—why?” demanded Bulger plaintively. “A momentary appearance of yourself, for a few minutes, in that big second-act mob scene of mine, wouldn’t pay you, per night, more than—but you say you don’t want money—all right—well that mere appearance wouldn’t give you a smidgeon of acting experience whatsoever, nor—so why do—you want on?”

Jarrow Gauntlett’s face was immobile. Though pained, ex-ceedingly pained.

“You’d be surprised!” was all he said.

“I’ll bet ex—actly one million dollars I would,” conceded the producer who no doubt in his day had confronted many strange motives for people wanting to be “on the stage”. “For even supers usually want—money! And—but as for you, my boy—and this production of mine now under way—yes, Russia Strikes—I just can’t—no, can’t!—have, in a mob of modern characters milling about in front of the footlights, one who—so help me godfrey!—is so much the spitting image of John Wilkes Booth, Shakespearean actor and—yeah, and—” The producer scowled. Changed the angle of his words. “—so much the spitting image thereof that—ah me!—if only now I were producing a play about—well, about J. Wilkes Booth himself!—his hectic life and all, you know?—oh, the name of the play would have to be ‘Ego’—yes, ‘Ego’!—and you had some acting experience—ah me—ah me!”

He shook his head regretfully.

“You—you don’t actually know,” he asked, almost pleadingly, “that you’re not maybe—a natural? As an actor, I mean?”

Jarrow Gauntlett smiled mirthlessly.

“How could I know?” he retorted. “Not ever having had the slightest stage experience whatsoever. And people who have productions where I could at least step onto the boards, and maybe find out, not being willing to even give me a chance, just because I presumably—yes, presumably—resemble one, J. W. Booth, who—”

“Presumably!” almost groaned the producer. Shook his head helplessly. “Presumably—is good! Oh, man!”

“Yes, presumably, I said,” repeated Jarrow Gauntlett with dignity. “For after all, I’m Jarrow G. Gauntlett. And John Wilkes Booth—why did you ask the question you just asked, Mr. Bulger?”

The producer, still holding on to his objects, grimaced.

“Oh—the weird, nebulous idea swirling about a young dramatist—he has an office on Broadway, New York—who can throw together a play—in three days and nights. On—on any subject, I mean. And if—if I had a natural actor who looked exactly like John Wilkes Booth—and could learn some simple lines in a week—and the play had only half a dozen characters or so, and—and one setting—ah, it’s insane. My idea, I mean. Forget it.”

And now, grimly, he extended the two objects he had been withholding all the while. Sighing again deeply as one who had conceived a tantalizing theatrical idea, but one not even remotely realizable—because greenhorns can’t act. Plus—other things.

“Here,” he was saying, almost grumpily, “take a look. And catch yourself—a jolt!”


Return to Ramble House Page

Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page