THIS IS PART 2 OF THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY THAT JACK GILBERT WROTE FOR PHOTOPLAY IN 1928:
On the night of the Fourth of July, the beach from Santa Monica to Venice was a blaze of fireworks. I was alone in my room, and lonesome. I didn’t go about much at night, but the fireworks and the voices of people passing my window made me long for companionship.
With the few dollars I had saved stuffed in my pocket, I hopped a jitney bus for Venice. The pier was jammed; still I felt alone. I swung in with the mob and drifted along the midway. From the open, screened doors of each cabaret came the sounds of music and laughter and the tinkling of ice against glass. As I passed the old Ship Cafe, I heard my name called. Langdon Gillette, with two girls, was standing in the entrance, waiting to be seated. Would I join them and make a foursome?
“You know Effie?”
“Yes.” Effie was of the bushwa.
“And Miss _____.” (I’ve forgotten her name.)
At last a table. Four glasses. A bottle of Scotch. The usual self-consciousness displayed when strangers are thrown together. Little quips and sallies, and light laughter. A clash of cymbals. A wail from a saxophone. Boom! Boom! Everybody loves a baby, that’s why I’m in love with you–Pretty baby, pretty baby.
“Let’s dance.” Effie led me to the floor.
She hummed an accompaniment in my ear. I made no attempt at conversation. Effie was small and fresh and feminine. I was supremely happy.
The music stopped. Thunderous applause. “That was grand.”
“I hope they won’t quit.”
A silver dollar from somewhere clanged against a brass megaphone. Tick–tick. Boom! Boom! “Here they go.”
Everybody loves a baby, that’s why I’m in love with you–
Effie looked at me and smiled. I grinned back.
“You’re nice,” she said.
I held her closer. “You’re glorious.”
Effie’s smile reminded me of sixteen babies all in a row. I told her, and she giggled. “You’re not as I expected.”
I was curious. What had she expected?
“You’re not timid now, are you?” Effie’s eyes were eager–eager with friendliness. My lips brushed her cheek. “No, I’m not timid now.”
Something had happened to us. Sympathy of mood and desire. Strings had been played upon, and a chord struck.
Boom! Boom!f Pretty baby of mine.
“That will be a-all–”
Sighs of regret. feet shuffling toward tables. Handkerchiefs dripping with perspiration from flushed faces; body smells; and then the cool trickle of iced Scotch and white-rock. Beneath the tablecloth I pressed Effie’s hand, and then–
Johnny Weaver understands:
“Now, while life is raw and new,
Drink it straight–drink it deep.
Let the moonlight’s lunacy–
Tear away your cautions. Be
Proud, and mad, and young, and free!
Grasp a comet, kick at stars
Laughingly! fight! Dare!
Arms are soft, breasts are white–
Magic’s in the April night . . .”
There was magic that night for Effie and for me, and magic filled the months that followed.
Nestling at the feet of the palisades, low on the Santa Monica beach, was Effie’s cottage. A geranium bordered path led from a tiny gate past whitewashed stones to the threshold.
Three little rooms annexed from Heaven. Pert Cretonne subdued the glare from the faceted, sapphire sea. Grass mats cooled the floors for blue wicker furniture, and in the sun two bamboo oblongs framed Fujiyama, and an indignant slant-eyed lady, her skirts blown high by a Nipponese wind.
All of these, and–Effie.
Carefree days at Inceville played as obbligato to love-filled nights.
Long walks beneath a million stars; songs of the day in soft duet.
A whirl about the nickel dancehall. Laughter for the hysterical shrieks from women in the roller coaster.
An occasional soiree at the Ship–with understanding smiles each time the orchestra played “Pretty Baby.”
Then home–to poetry, and low conversation, and–Effie. All this was ours.
Effie had said: “Let’s keep it secret.” So no one knew.
One night we quarreled, stupidly and foolishly, like children. I sulked for two days.
Then we made up. Reconciliation was so sweet.
I was given my first bit to play in Hell’s Hinges with William S. Hart. While the cameras were grinding, I glanced off and saw Effie looking at me.
Her eyes seemed filled with criticism of my work. When the scene was finished, I rushed to her.
“Please don’t stare at me when I’m working.”
Her lip trembled. “Why, dear, I was proud of you.”
I became petulant.
“But, Effie–you make me nervous. Damn it, don’t watch me.”
The assistant director called: “Gilbert. Front and center!”
I fled to the camera. Now came a close-up with Hart. My blood raced with excitement. All the bushwa watched to see if I would fail. The camera started. Once more I felt Effie’s eyes upon me.
I went to pieces. The scene was stopped, and Mr. Hart, with saintly patience, told me where I had gone wrong.
I glared furiously at Effie and waved her away. She disappeared through the crowd. I laid the scene to its end. Cliff Smith, the director, was warm in his praise.
I did not seek Effie that night, nor for a week thereafter.
Then I became lonely.
No! I was through with Effie!
Solitude is sweet; but how much sweeter to have someone to whom you may say: Solitude is sweet.
The bare walls of my two-dollar-a-week room howled at my vain efforts to find sleep. I tossed about for hours.
I dressed and sought Effie.
Her cottage was dark, but the bedroom window was open. I softly called her name.
Rudely awakened, Effie inquired: “Who’s there?”
A light flashed. The front door opened, and I flew into her arms. Effie pressed her cheek to mine and stroked my head. “You poor, sweet baby,” she said. “You poor, sweet baby.”
What is this madness which seizes men, this prowling instinct, this cancerous discontent, which causes them to flee from and abuse that which they love most? I became satiated. Effie’s eyes grew large and troubled as she sensed my mood. She was older than I, and wiser, and saw the end approaching. She tried in every way to make things right, but every effort became an annoyance to me. I wanted to be free. For several days I stayed away.
One morning on the way to Inceville, I sat beside her in the streetcar. I quietly and dispassionately explained that I was through. She smiled and looked away. When we arrived at Long Wharf, she pressed my hand very tightly and left. I did not join her in the tally-ho.
That day the bushwa were all sent to the top of a hill overlooking Inceville. The set was a replica of the German Kaiser’s palace at Potsdam. The picture was Civilization, Ince’s grand gesture, our first great, special production for the newly formed Triangle Corporation. Hundreds of mounted soldiers, of which I was one, lined the courtyard before the palace, and on the steps and balconies, civilians were grouped, eager to thunder: “Hoch!” to the war-god.
Several long shots were taken, and the great scene was about to be filmed when, from one of the balconies came a wild, terror-filled scream. The sound was fraught with horror. Every face blanched, and every eye sought the source of the cry.
An appalling sight was there.
One wall of the palace was falling. Agonized shrieks, rearing horses, dust, curses, shouts, bedlam, hell!
I rushed with others to lend assistance. Timbers and plaster were torn away to gain passage to the injured. A woman was dragged from the wreckage and borne in the arms of two men toward a waiting bus.
The woman was Effie. Her eyes were closed and her face was chalken. Two drops of blood were on her cheek. Something froze within me.
“Effie!” I screamed and leaped forward.
Two cowboys shoved me back. The bus roared down the hill.
“Effie!” I stood transfixed.
The horror of the calamity was everywhere. No attempt was made to work. In our dressing room, each witness described what he had seen.
As we climbed into the tally-ho, a bus drove through the gate. We plied the driver with questions. He switched off his engine–unrolled his greasy gloves–flipped a cigarette, then said: “Effie Stuart died on the way to the hospital.”
The silence that followed seemed an eternity.
I wish I had not lived beyond that moment. The tally-ho slowly left the studio.
That night my naked walls receded, and I sat afraid.
I fled to the street.
The noises drove me mad.
I roamed the darkness, past the hospital where I knew Effie lay.
I was drawn to her cottage and stood dry-eyed, gazing at the little house, ready now for a new tenant.
I had expressed a desire to be free. I fell sobbing upon the sand.
I did not go to Effie’s funeral. The bushwa took up a collection for flowers. No one offered me sympathy.
I went to work. Cliff Smith came to my dressing room with some old clothes under his arm.
“Make up for a test, kid. I think you can play Hart’s brother in our next picture.”
I threw the grease paint on my face. “O God–let me make good.”
A part! A part!
NOTE: The fact that my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER features a John Gilbert look-alike whose love interest is “Effie” is purely coincidental. I named the heroine Effie after my grandmother, Effie Belle Butler, not Effie Stuart. –Sheryl Wright Stinchcum