A tall, bronzed man alighted from The Chief in the railroad station at Los Angeles. The easy, majestic grace of his carriage; his tread, at once silent and bold; his flowing muscles; the dignity of his mien; all suggested the leonine, as though he were, indeed, a personification of Numa, the lion.
A great throng of people crowded about the train. A cordon of good natured policemen held them back, keeping an aisle clear for the alighting passengers and for the great celebrity that all awaited with such eagerness.
Cameras clicked and whirred for local papers, for news syndicates, for news reels; eager reporters, special correspondents, and sob-sisters pressed forward.
At last the crowd glimpsed the celebrity, and a great roar of welcome billowed into the microphones strategically placed by Freeman Lang.
A slip of a girl with green hair had alighted from The Chief; her publicity agent preceded her, while directly behind her were her three secretaries, who were followed by a maid leading a gorilla.
Instantly he was engulfed by the reporters. Freeman forced his way to her side. “Won’t you say just a word to all your friends of the air?” he asked, taking her by the arm., “Right over here, please, dear.”
She stepped to the microphone. “Hello, everybody! I wish you were all here. It’s simply mahveilous. I’m so happy, to be back in Hollywood.”
Freeman Lang took the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “you have just heard the voice of the most beautiful and most popular little lady in motion pictures today. You should see the crowds down here at the station to welcome her back to Hollywood. I’ve seen lots of these home-comings, but honestly, folks, I never saw anything like this before—all Los Angeles has turned out to greet B.O.’s beautiful star the glorious Balza.”
There was a suspicion of a smile in the eyes of the bronzed stranger as he succeeded at last in making his way through the crowd to the street, where he hailed a taxi and asked to be driven to a hotel in Hollywood.
As he was registering at The Roosevelt, a young man leaning against the desk covertly noted his entry, John Clayton, London; and as Clayton followed the bell boy toward the elevator, the young man watched him, noting the tall figure, the broad shoulders, and the free, yet cat-like stride.
From the windows of his room Clayton looked down upon Hollywood Boulevard, upon the interminable cars gliding noiselessly east and west. He caught glimpses of tiny trees and little patches of lawn where the encroachment of shops had not obliterated them, and he sighed.
He saw many people riding in cars or walking on the cement sidewalks and the suggestion of innumerable people in the crowded, close-built shops and residences; and he felt more alone than he ever had before in all his life.
The confining walls of the hotel room oppressed him; and he took the elevator to the lobby, thinking to go into the hills that he had seen billowing so close, to the north.
In the lobby a young man accosted him. “Aren’t you Mr. Clayton?” he asked.
Clayton eyed the stranger closely for a moment before he replied. “Yes, but I do not know you.”
“You have probably forgotten, but I met you in London.”
Clayton shook his head. “I never forget.”
The young man shrugged and smiled. “Pardon me, but nevertheless I recognized you. Here on business?” He was unembarrassed and unabashed.
“Merely to see Hollywood,” replied Clayton. “I have heard so much about it that I wished to see it.”
“Got a lot of friends here, I suppose.”
“No one knows me here.”
“Perhaps I can be of service to you,” suggested the young man. “I am an old timer here—been here two years. Nothing to do—glad to show you around. My name is Reece.”
Clayton considered for a moment. He had come to see Hollywood. A guide might be helpful. Why not this young man as well as some one else? “It is kind of you,” he said
“Well, then, how about a little lunch? I suppose you would like to see some of the motion picture celebrities—they all do.”
“Naturally!” admitted Clayton. “They are the most intetesting denizens of Hollywood.”
“Very well! We’ll go to the Brown Derby. You’ll see a lot of them there.”
As they alighted from a taxi in front of the Brown Derby, Clayton saw a crowd of people lined up on each side of the entrance. It reminded him of the crowds he had seen at the station welcoming the famous Balza.
“They must be expecting a very important personage,” he said to Reece.
“Oh, these boobs are here every day,” replied the young man.
The Brown Derby was crowded—well groomed men, beautifully gowned girls. There was something odd in the apparel, the ornaments, or the hair dressing of each, as though each was trying to out-do the others in attracting attention to himself. There was a great deal of chattering and calling back and forth between tables: “How ah you?” “How mahvellous you look!” “How ah you?” “See you at the Chinese tonight?” “How ah you?”
Reece pointed out the celebrities to Clayton: One or two of the names were familiar to the stranger, but they all looked so much alike and talked so much alike, and said nothing when they did talk, that Clayton was soon bored. He was glad when the meal was over. He paid the check, and they went out.
“Doing anything this evening?” asked Reece.
“I have nothing planned.”
“Suppose we go to the premiere of Balza’s latest picture, Soft Shoulders, at the Chinese. I have a ticket; and I know a fellow who can get you one, but it will probably cost you twenty-five smackers.” He eyed Clayton questioningly.
“Is it something that I ought to see if I am to see Hollywood?”
A glare of lights illuminated the front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the sky above, twenty thousand people milled and pushed and elbowed in Hollywood Boulevard, filling the street from building line to building line, a solid mass of humanity blocking all traffic. Policemen shouldered and sweated. Street cars were at a standstill. Clayton and Reece walked from The Roosevelt through the surging crowd.
As they approached the theater Clayton heard loud speakers broadcasting the arrival of celebrities who had left their cars two or three blocks away and forced their way through the mob to the forecourt of the theater.
The forecourt of the theater was jammed with spectators and autograph seekers. Several of the former had brought chairs; many had been sitting or standing there since morning that they might be assured of choice vantage spots from which to view the great ones of filmdom’s capital.
As Clayton entered the forecourt, the voice of Freeman Lang was filling the boulevard from the loud speakers. “The celebrities are coming thick and fast now. Naomi Madison is just getting out of her car—and there’s her new husband with her, the Prince Mudini. And here comes the sweetest little girl, just coming into the forecourt now. It’s Balza herself! I’ll try to get her to say something to you. Oh, Sweetheart, come over here. My, how gorgeous you’re looking tonight. Won’t you say just a word to all your friends of the air? Right over here, please, dear.”
A dozen autograph pests were poking pencils and books toward Balza, but she quieted them with her most seductive smile and approached the microphone.
“Hello, everybody!” she lisped. “I wish you were all here. It’s simply mahvellous. I’m so happy to be back in Hollywood.”
Clayton smiled enigmatically, the crowd in the street roared its applause, and Freeman turned to greet the next celebrity. “And here comes—well, he can’t get through the crowd. Honestly, folks, this crowd is simply tremendous. We’ve officiated at a lot of premieres, but we’ve never seen anything like this. The police can’t hold ’em back. They’re crowding right up here on top of the microphone. Yes, here he comes! Hello, there, Jimmie! Right over here. The folks want to hear from you. This is Jimmie Stone, second assistant production manager of the B.O. Studio, whose super feature, Soft Shoulders, is being premiered here tonight in Grauman’s Chinese Theater.”
“Hello, efferybody. I wish you was all here. It’s simply marvellous: Hello. Momma!”
“Let’s go inside,” suggested Clayton.
“Well, Clayton, how did you like the picture?” asked Reece.
“The acrobats in the prologue were splendid,” replied the Englishman.
Reece looked a little crestfallen. Presently he brightened. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” he announced. “I’ll get hold of a couple more fellows and well go to a party.”
“At this time of night?”
“Oh, it’s early. There’s Billy Brouke now. Hi, there, Billy! Say, I want you to meet Mr. Clayton, an old friend of mine from London. Mr. Clayton, this is Billy Brouke. How about a little party, Billy?”
“O.K. by me! Well go in my car; it’s parked around the corner.”
On a side street near Franklin they climbed into a flashy roadster. Brouke drove west a few blocks on Franklin and then turned up a narrow street that wound into the hills.
Clayton was troubled. “Perhaps your friends may not be pleased if you bring a stranger,” he suggested.
Reece laughed. “Don’t worry,” he admonished; “they’ll be as glad to see you as they will be to see us.”
That made Brouke laugh, too. “I’ll say they will,” he commented.
Presently they came to the end of the street. “Helll” muttered Brouke and turned the car around. He turned into another street and followed that for a few blocks; then he turned back toward Franklin.
“Forgotten where your friends live?” asked Clayton.
On a side street in an otherwise quiet neighborhood they sighted a brilliantly lighted house in front of which several cars were parked; laughter and the sounds of radio music were coming from an open window.
“This looks like the places” said Reece.
“It is,” said Brouke with a grin, and drew up at the curb.
A Filipino opened the door in answer to their ring. Reece brushed in past him, and the others followed. A man and a girl were sitting on the stairs leading to the upper floor. They were attempting to kiss one another ardently without spilling the contents of the cocktail glasses they held. They succeeded in kissing one another, paying no attention to the newcomers.
To the right of the reception hall was a large living room in which several couples were dancing to the radio music; others were sprawled about on chairs and divans; all were drinking. There was a great deal of laughter.
“The party’s getting good,” commented Brouke, as he led the way into the living room. “Hello, everybody!” he cried. “Where’s the drinks? Come on, boys!” and he started for the back of the house, doing a little dance step on the way.
A middle-aged man, greying at the temples, rose from a divan and approached Reece. There was a puzzled expression on his face. “I don’t believe—” he started, but Brouke interrupted him.
“It’s all right, old man!” he exclaimed. “Sorry to be late. Shake hands with Mr. Reece and Mr. Clayton of London. How about a little drink?” and without waiting for an answer he headed for the kitchen. Reece and the host followed him, but Clayton hesitated. He had failed to note any exuberant enthusiasm in the attitude of the greying man whom he assumed to be the master of the house.
A tall blond, swaying a little, approached him. “Haven’t I met you somewhere before, Mr.—ah—”
“Clayton,” he came to her rescue.
“How about a little dance?” she demanded. “My boy friend,” she confided, as they swung into the rhythm of the music, “passed out, and they had to put him to bed.”
She talked incessantly, but Clayton managed to ask her if she knew Rhonda Terry.
“Know Rhonda Terry! I should say I do. She’s in Samoa now starring in her husband’s new picture.”
“Her husband! Is she married?”
“Yes, she’s married to Tom Orman, the director. Do you know her?”
“I met her once,” replied Clayton.
“She was all broken up over Stanley Obroski’s death, but she finally snapped out of it and married Tom. Obroski sure made a name for himself in Africa. Say, that bunch is still talking about the way he killed lions and gorillas with one, hand tied behind him.”
Clayton smiled politely.
After the dance she drew him over to a sofa on which two men were sitting. “Abe,” she said to one of the men, “here’s a find for you. This is Mr. Potkin, Mr. Clayton, Abe Potkin, you know; and this is Mr. Puant, Dan Puant, the famous scenarist.”
“We’ve been watching Mr. Clayton,” replied Potkin.
“You’d better grab him,” advised the girl; “you’ll never find a better Tarzan.”
“He isn’t exactly the type, but he might answer; I’ve been noticing him,” said Potkin. “What do you think, Dan?”
“He’s not my idea of Tarzan, but he might do.”
“Of course his face doesn’t look like Tarzan; but he’s big, and that’s what I want,” replied Potkin.
“He hasn’t a name; nobody ever heard of him, and you said you wanted a big name,” argued Puant.
“We’ll use that platinum blond, Era Dessent, opposite him; she’s got a lot of sex appeal and a big name.”
“I got an ideal” exclaimed Pliant. “I’ll write the story around Dessent and some good looking juvenile, bring in another fem with ‘It’ and a heavy with a big name; and we can use Clayton in long shots with apes for atmosphere.”
“That’s a swell idea, Dan; get in a lot of sea stuff and a triangle and a ballroom or cabaret scene—a big One With a jazz orchestra. What we want is something different.”
“That ought to fix it so that we can use this fellow,” said Puant, “for it won’t make much difference who takes the part of Tarzan.”
“How about it, Mr. Clayton?” inquired Potkin with an ingratiating smile.
At this juncture Reece and Brouke romped in from the kitchen, each with a bottle. The host was following, expostulating.
“Have a drink, everybody!” cried Brouke. “The party’s goin’ stale.”
They passed about the room filling up glasses with neat bourbon or gin; sometimes they mixed them, They paused occasionally to take a drink themselves. Finally they disappeared into the hallway looking for other empty glass.
“Well,” demanded Potkin, after the interruption had passed, “how about it?”
Clayton eyed him questioningly. “How about what?’
“I’m going to make a jungle picture,” explained Potkin.
“I got a contract for a Tarzan picture, and I want a Tarzan. I’ll make a test of you tomorrow morning.”
“You think I might fill the role of Tarzan of the Apes?” inquired Clayton, as a faint smile touched his lips.
“You ain’t just what i want, but you might do. You see, Puant, here, can write a swell Tarzan story even if we ain’t got no Tarzan at all. And, say! it will make you. You ought almost to pay me for such a chance. But I tell you what I do; I like you, Mr. Clayton; I give you fifty dollars a week and look at a11 the publicity you get that it don’t cost you nothing. You be over at the studio in the morning; and I make a test of you, eh?”
Clayton stood up. “I’ll think it over,” he said and started across the room.
A good-looking young woman came running in from the reception hall. Brouke was pursuing her. “Leave me alone, you cad!” she cried.
The greying host was close behind Brouke. “Leave my wife alone,” he shouted, “and get out of here!”
Brouke gave the man a push that sent him staggering back against a chair, over which he fell in a heap next to the wall; then he seized the woman, lifted her in his arms, ran out into the hall.
Clayton looked on in amazement. He turned and saw the girl, Maya, at his elbow. “Your friend is getting a little rough,” she said.
“He is not my friend,” replied Clayton. “I just met him this evening. He invited me to come to this party that is being given by a friend of his.”
The girl laughed. “Friend of his!” she mimicked. “Joe never saw any of you guys before. You—” she looked at him closely—“you don’t mean to say you didn’t know you were crashing a party in a strangers house!”
Clayton looked bewildered. “They were not friends of these people?” he demanded. “Why didn’t they order us out? Why didn’t they call the police?”
“And have the police find a kitchen full of booze? Quit your kidding, Big Boy.”
A woman’s scream was wafted down from the upper floor. The host was staggering to his feet. “My God, my wife!” he cried.
Claytan sprang into the hall and leaped up the stairs. He heard cries coming from behind a closed door; it was locked; he put his shoulder to it, and it flew open with a crash.
Inside the room a woman was strugglng in the clutches of a drunken Brouke. Clayton seized the man by the scruff of the neck and tore him away. Brouke voiced a scream of pain and rage; then he turned upon Clayton, but he was helpless in the giant grip of those mighty muscles.
A police siren wailed in the distance., That seemed to sober Brouke. “Drop me, you damn fool,” he cried; “here come the police!”
Clayton carried the struggling man to the head of the stairs and pitched him down; then he turned back to the room where the woman lay on the floor where she had fallen. He raised her to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
“No, just frightened. He was trying to make me tell him where I kept my jewels.”
The police siren sounded again, much closer now. “You better get out. Joe’s awful sore. He’ll have all three of you arrested.”
Clayton glanced toward an open window, near which the branches of a great oak shone in the light from the street lamps in front of the house. He placed a foot upon the sill and leaped into the darkness. The woman screamed.
In the morning Clayton found Reece waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel. “Great little party, eh, what?” demanded the young man.
“I thought you would be in jail,” said Clayton.
“Not a chance. Billy Brouke has a courtesy card from one of the big shots. Say, I see you’re going to work for Abe Potkin, doing Tarzan.”
“Who told you that?”
“It’s in Louella Parsons’ column in the Examiner.”
“You’re wise. But I’ll tell you a good bet, if you.are thinking of getting into the movies. Prominent Pictures is casting a new Tarzan picture, and—”
A bell boy approached them. “Telephone call for you, Mr. Clayton,” he said.
Clayton stepped to the booth and picked up the receiver.
“This is Clayton,” he said.
“This is the casting office of Prominent Pictures. Can you come right over for an interview?”
“I’ll think about it,” replied Clayton, and hung up.
“That was Prominent Pictures calling me,” he said as he rejoined Reece. “They want me to came over for an interview.”
“You’d better go; if you get in with Prominent, you’re made.”
“It might be interesting.”
“Think you could do Tarzan?”
“Dangerous part. I wouldn’t want any of it in mine.”
“I think I’ll go over.” He turned toward the street.
“Say, old man,” said Reece, “could you let me have ten till Saturday?”
The casting director sized Clayton up. “You look all right me; I’l take you up to Mr. Goldeen; he’s production manager. Had any experience?”
The casting director laughed. “I mean in pictures.”
“Well, you might be all right at that. You don’t have to be Barrymore to play Tarzan. Come on, we’ll go up to Mr. Goldeen’s office.”
They had to wait a few minutes in the outer office, and then secretary ushered them in.
“Hello, Ben!” the casting director greeted Goldeen. “I’ve got just the man for you. This is Mr. Clayton, Mr. Goldeen.”
Goldeen’s eyes surveyed Clayton critically for an instant; then the production manager made a gesture with his palm as though waving them away. He shook his head. “Not the type,” he snapped. “Not the type, at all.”
As Clayton followed the casting director from the room the shadow of a smile touched his lips.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the casting director; “there may be a minor part in it for you; I’ll keep you in mind. If anything turns up, I’ll give you a ring. Good-bye!”
Later in the day as Clayton was looking through an after noon paper he saw a banner spread across the top of the theatrical page: CYRIL WAYNE TO DO TARZAN. FAMOUS ADAGIO DANCER SIGNED BY PROMINENT PICTURES FOR STELLAR ROLE IN FORTHCOMING PRODUCTION.
A week passed. Clayton was preparing to leave California and return home. The telephone in his room rang. It was the casting director at Prominent Pictures: “Got a bit for you in the Tarzan picture,” he announced. “Be at the studio at seven-thirty tomorrow morning.”
Clayton thought a moment: “All right,” he said; “seven-thirty.”
He felt that it might be an interesting experience that would round out his stay in Hollywood.
“Say, you,” shouted the assistant director, “what’s your name?”
“Oh, you’re the guy that takes the part of the white hunter that Tarzan rescues from the lion.”
Cyril Wayne, garbed in a loin cloth, his body covered with brown make-up, was eyeing Clayton and whispering to the director, who now also turned and looked.
“Geeze!” exclaimed the director. “He’ll steal the picture. What dumb-egg ever cast him?”
“Can’t you fake it?” asked Wayne.
“Sure, just a flash of him. We won’t show his face at all. Let’s get busy and rehearse the scene. Here, you, come over here. What’s your name?”
“Listen, Clayton: You’re supposed to be comin’ straight toward the camera through this jungle in the first shot. You’re scared stiff; you keep lookin’ behind you. You’re about all in, too; you stagger like you was about ready to fall down. You see, you’re lost in the jungle. There’s a lion stalkin’ you. We’ll cut the lion shots in. Then in the last scene the lion is right behind you—and the lion’s really in this scene with you, but you needn’t be scared; he won’t hurt you. He’s perfectly tame and gentle. You scream. You draw your knife. Your knees shake. Tarzan hears you and comes swinging thrugh the trees, Say, is that double here that’s goin’ to swing through the trees for Cyril?” he interrupted himself to address his assistant. Assured that the double was on the set, he continued, “The lion charges; Tarzan swings down between you and the lion. We get a close up of you there; keep your back to the camera. Then Tarzan leaps on the lion and kills it. Say, Eddie, has that lion tamer that’s doublin’ for Cyril in the kill got his make-up on even? He looked lousy in the rushes yesterday.”
“Everything’s all O.K., Chief,” replied the assistant.
“All ready then—everybody!” yelled the director. “Get in there, Clayton, and remember there’s a lion behind you and you’re scared stiff.”
The rehearsal was satisfactory and the first shots pleased the director; then came the big scene in which Wayne and Clayton and the lion appeared. The lion was large and handsome. Clayton admired him. The trainer cautioned them all that if anything went wrong they were to stand perfectly still, and under no circumstances was any one to touch Leo.
The cameras were grinding; Clayton staggered and half fell. He looked fearfully behind him and uttered a scream of terror. Cyril Wayne dropped from the branch of a low tree just as the lion emerged from the jungle behind Clayton. And then something went wrong.
The lion voiced an ugly roar and crouched. Wayne, sensing danger and losing his head, bolted past Clayton; the lion charged. Leo would have passed Clayton, who had remained perfectiy still, and pursued the fleeing Wayne; but then something else happened.
Clayton, realizing more than any of the others the danger that menaced the actor, sprang for the beast and leaped upon its back. A powerful arm encircled the lion’s neck. The beast wheeled and struck at the man-thing clinging to it, but the terribie talons missed their mark. Clayton locked his legs beneath the sunken belly of the carnivore. The lion threw itself to the ground and lashed about in a frenzy of rage.
With his hideous growls mingled equally bestial growls from the throat of the man. The lion regained its feet and reared upon its hind legs. The knife that they had given Clayton flashed in the air. Once, twice, three times it was driven deep into the side of the frenzied beast; then Leo slumped to the ground, shuddered convulsively and lay still.
Clayton leaped erect; he placed one foot upon his kill and raised his face to the heavens; then he checked himself and that same slow smile touched his lips.
An excited man rushed onto the set. It was Benny Goldeen, the production manager.
“My God!” he cried: “You’ve killed our best lion: He was worth ten thousand dollars if he was worth a cent. You’re fired!”
The clerk at The Roosevelt looked up. “Leaving us, Mr. Clayton?” he asked politely. “I hope you have enjoyed, Hollywood.”
“Very much indeed,” replied Clayton; “but I wonder if you could give me some information?”
“Certainly; what is it?”
“What is the shortest route to Africa?”