I know I can’t hold my liquor. Never could.
Not a good thing when you’re editor of the Burbank Rumormonger. And I wore the green shade at the Burbank magazine back in the Jazz Age – those glorious years of the 1920s when flappers corrupted many a young journalist.
I was proud of my time spent at the Rumormonger. I claimed some nifty scoops in the Roaring Twenties, exposed a few illicit Hollywood love affairs. Only one really bad prediction – talkies would revolutionize the movie industry when they debuted in the 1940s. I made that atrocious forecast when I was drunk on way too many strawberry daiquiris. I’m life of the party – before I pass out.
Which bring me to December 31, 1925, and yet another potentially notorious New Year’s Eve party at actor Emil Jannings’ gold-gilded mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Just a year earlier, the locale had been the site of a binge that saw me and actress Mary Philbin make headlines in the Motion Picture Classic magazine – the kind that give Hollywood executives heartburn.
I had no intention of a repeat performance – until the phone rang in my newsroom office. Reaching over my typewriter, I picked up the receiver and heard a weak, hoarse voice. “Diamonique? You sound awful.” Diamonique Craig was our foremost gossip columnist – and she had a nasty case of ‘lay-in-bed-and-moan’ flu.
“I’m so sorry, Timmikins. You got to find someone else for Jannings’ party. I’m sicker than a dog. Oh, crap! I’m going to throw up. Bye.”
Everyone else had their assignments. I was the only one free, and only because I embarrassed myself at Jannings’ New Year’s Eve party back in 1924. No one trusted me when a strawberry daiquiri, gin rickey, manhattan, French 75 or a tuxedo No. 2 was within reach. Prohibition might be in effect, but you’d never know it at a Hollywood party. I try not to think of that 1924 party when I danced naked with Belle Bennett of Stella Dallas fame.
I tried to talk the copywriters into covering the party – promised them three days off later in January – but not one took my bait. It turned out one of the copywriters had a friend who agreed to go as my date – and keep me from making an ass of myself. She turned out to be a bit actress who was desperate to go to Jannings’ party.
With her name and address on a piece of paper, I went to her apartment building on New Year’s Eve. The door knocker echoed down the hallway on the seventh floor, and soon her door squeaked open.
A blonde in high heels and a black flapper dress greeted me. She wore her hair in a shingle cut, a bob haircut with a tapered back. It was the rage in Hollywood, the favored style of Anna May Wong.
“Tim Shook?” She held out her hand for a shake. Baubles adorned two of her fingers.
“Yes, and nice to meet you, Dorothy.” The rings felt cool to the touch. The skin? Hot. This could turn out to be a pleasurable night, I decided.
She stepped forward, grabbed my shoulders, and kissed me on both cheeks. “Thank you. I’ve dreamed of partying inside Emil Jannings’ mansion. And don’t worry. I promised my friend to keep you on the straight and narrow.”
I knew what she insinuated. She’d watch my alcohol intake. So kind not to come right out and say it: “I won’t let you drink yourself into a stupor and do something stupid that will make headlines in rival magazines.” I rolled my eyes as she snatched a small purse off a side table, stepped into the hallway, and shut the door behind her.
I had expected her to invite me into her place for some chitchat before heading off to the party. Maybe it wouldn’t be a pleasurable night after all.
If Dorothy thought I’d drive her to Jannings’ mansion in a Packard or Duesenberg convertible, she found out otherwise when I flagged down a taxicab. “Not romantic, I concede,” I told her. “But I don’t have to worry about driving drunk if I overindulge. I know… you promised to keep me straight and narrow.” I patted the taxi’s roof. “Always good to have a backup plan.”
Jannings and his wife Gussy greeted us in the foyer beneath a crystal chandelier with dozens of electric lights. Before Jannings could finish his chatter, cowboy legend William S. Hart scooped up Dorothy, and after planting an unexpected smooch on the lips, led her to his table. On the way, Hart whirled around and hollered, “Come on, Shook! I’ve just the lady for you. She loves seeing her name in your magazine. Tonight, the stars are aligned for you two.”
After we sat, Hart plied us with Manhattons. I couldn’t object, could I? It was a New Year’s Eve party after all. I just had to pace myself. That’s why I brought along Dorothy. I glanced at her, watched her down her second manhattan between makeout sessions with Hart.
“Drink, Tim,” Hart insisted as he rested his hand on the décolletage of Dorothy’s dress. She playfully slapped it away and giggled. “We must properly drink in 1926. It’s going to be a great year for the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth.”
I sipped the manhattan, and enjoyed the taste as it made its way into my belly. “You’ll probably right, Two-Gun Bill. I think Ruth will break his homerun record in ’26.”
My mind wandered. Back at the ’24 party, after my naked dance with Belle Bennett, Two-Gun Bill found us frolicking in Jannings’ backyard greenhouse. “Look at this, folks!” he’d shouted as if he’d found a gold vein. “Belle and Tim’s about to do it.” Hart had exaggerated. We were knitted together in an embrace… passed out.
The cowboy star pointed toward Mary Philbin, who wove between dancing couples toward Hart’s table. “Mary wants to meet you, the star of Jannings’ 1924 party.” He tickled Dorothy’s earlobe.
The brunette, who hadn’t surrendered to the flapper look and still favored long hair with soft curls, took my hand when I stood, then leaned closer and kissed me on the cheek. She let her lips wander until they found the edge of my mouth. “So here’s the editor Belle bedeviled a year ago on this very night. She bragged you were so innocent.” Seating herself in the chair next to mine, she scooted closer so that her legs nuzzled against my knees. “I don’t like that woman. I hope you don’t feel guilty for what happened. It was a lark for her.” Mary tickled my inner thigh. “She simply loved mortifying the editor of the infamous Rumormonger. Were you in on it, Two-Gun Bill?”
Hart had been caressing Dorothy’s back. The dress’s design left much of her back bare. “I knew nothing,” Hart claimed, dropping the lusting look aimed at Dorothy for an innocent mien reserved for me and Mary. “I just figured it was love at first sight for our editor and Belle… helped on by copious amounts of liquor, the beverage of the gods.”
Dorothy giggled again. “I’m not doing a very good job of protecting you, am I?” Unexpectedly, she leaned against me and bit my ear. “These manhattans are way too good not to drink as many as possible before midnight. Sorry, Timmy.”
“Hey, girlie!” Mary protested, the jealousy knifing from her eyes way too theatrical to be genuine. “He’s mine!” She promptly plopped on my lap, rubbed her boobs against my chest and kissed me fiercely.
That night was a losing cause for me. With actors and actresses determined to indulge in Roman-style debauchery, I was doomed. I lost count of the manhattans I drank – or the feverish kisses and caresses Mary and I shared. It all blurred together into one inglorious orgy.
I do recall Jelly Roll Morton’s jazz band playing tunes as Mary and I groped each other in my chair. At midnight, partygoers did the 1926 countdown. I guess we did rise from the chair to join in. I don’t remember.
Consciousness returned slowly, discombobulated thoughts seemingly floating before me, like cartoon bubbles. Mary straddling me on the chair – and the chair tumbling over. Other chairs falling over as couples decided to follow our so-called passionate example. Making-out sounds –moans, groans, flesh smacking flesh – were almost as loud as Jelly Roll’s fingers tickling piano keys. Oh, no… just like ’24, I thought, rubbing my eyes.
I disentangled myself from Mary, whose snore made me smile. I grimaced… her Elsa Schiaparelli dress had been stripped from her shoulders. Standing, I cleared a table of empty bottles and glasses, and draped a tablecloth across her bosom. Near me, I heard a woman’s grunt, and turned toward the sound.
Shaking her head, Dorothy shoved Two Gun Bill aside and rose to her knees. Realizing her little black dress no longer covered her chest, she pressed her hands against her small breasts. “God, I failed us, Tim,” she said, voice weary.
“You had fun, didn’t you?” I helped Rose to her feet.
She grinned. “Damn right!” She scanned the room full of passed-out men and women draped across one another. “Looks like they had fun too. Maybe too much. Tonight will cause a few divorces.” Dorothy ran her fingers through her hair. “Two Gun Bill promised to put me in his next movie. Think he will?” She leaned against me for support. “I’m feeling a bit woozy.”
“I have no idea. Let me call a cab. Time to get you home.”
“Ahhh, aren’t you the gentleman, Tim Shook.”
“Thank you, Miss Dorothy Kurtz.”
Once in the taxi and on the way to her apartment, I decided I’d ask her out later in January, perhaps for dinner and a movie. Wings would soon premiere. The way she snuggled against me during the ride… and the sweet goodnight kiss told me she’d say yes.
# # #
This Staton fellow has a fantasy trilogy to his credit. The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin, and Assassins’ Lair are published by Wings ePress. They can be purchased through the websites of Barnes & Noble and Amazon. He’s currently writing a Civil War novel.