An archive of articles on the silent era of world cinema.
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The Quack Quakers
BY MONTANYE PERRY
SCENARIO BY SAMUEL J. TAYLOR PRODUCED BY HARRY MILLARDE
Cast of Characters:
Peter Pinkham . . . . H.L. Davenport Tom . . . . Victor Rottam
Rosie, his daughter . . . . Ethel Teare Uncle Ezra . . . . Gus Leonard
“I TELL you, my booy [sic], this show is going to fall flat! It won’t run a week! I knew when I saw the new moon over my right shoulder last month that I might as wll give up. And last night a dog howled under my window! ‘Peaches and Cream’ is a good title, but how will it look on a tombstone?”
“Cheer up, the show isn’t dead yet,” counselled Tom Perkins, leading man of the “Peaches and Cream” Company. “We got the best looking chorus Broadway has seen since ‘The Moonshine Girl’ left town.”
“Chorus is all right,” growled the manager, biting the end of a cigar fiercely, “but what’s a chorus without a leading lady? I admit we gotta have a chorus, and they’re a big point, but, after all, a comedy just naturally has to have one queen — one girl that stands out above the others so far that there can’t be a question about who the leading lady is. I spent five weeks matchin’ up this chorus to get ’em alike, same height, same weight, same size all over, and every one of ’em pretty. And I got ’em! Every one of ’em peaches — and the same grade of fruit! You can’t put your finger on any one of ’em and say ‘Here’s the best one!’”
“That’s a big drawing card,” argued Tom.
“You bet it is — if we had the queen to lead the bunch. But we haven’t got her. Now, young man, you go out and find her, right off, to-day! Get me?”
“But — but — —” Tom began to stammer.
“Don’t stand there and stutter excuses. Go off and get busy. Find me a girl that’s pretty enough and that can dance like a little tornado. Go on!”
“Where will I look for her?” Tom asked, desperately.
“Where? Use your brains. Where’d you naturally look for a dancing beauty? Ever meet any girls in your young life? Try the Young Women’s Christian Association if you think that’s where they keep the kind we want! But don’t try the shows. I’ve seen every show girl in New York. Don’t stand around any longer with your mouth open. Get out and get busy! What’s the use of being a leading man if you can’t find yourself a leading lady?”
Tom, strolling moodily down the street, reflecting on the probable failure of his mission and the consequent failure of the show for which he had spent eight long weeks in rehearsal, was surprised when a hand fell on his shoulder and a familiar voice said, “Why so downcast, old man?”
“Hello, Fred!” His gloom did not lighten, even at sight of his friend’s smiling face. “Guess you’d be downcast if you was turned loose in this town to look for a beauty — and she’s got to be a dancer, at that!”
He told all his troubles to his friend, dwelling on the dire consequences which would follow his failure to find the desired Peach to lead the “Peaches and Cream” chorus. His friend, viewing the whole thing in the philosophical way in which we are prone to view all troubles except our own, laughed at his gloomy recital.
“Forget it!” he advised. “Come down to the beach and have a swim!”
“Oh, it’s easy enough to say ‘Forget it’! Your job isn’t depending on your finding a queen of beauty before night. I tell you I haven’t time to go to bathing beaches!”
“Well, where are you going? Great Scott, man, there’ll be millions of girls down there this hot day. Where’s a better chance of finding you Peach?”
“By Jove, that might be so, at that!” Tom’s spirits began to rise immediately. “We’ll get the next car.”
Tall girls and short girls, fat girls and thin girls, blondes and brunettes and numerous unclassified types, thronged the beach. But Tom, after two hours of scanning them eagerly, felt his gloom returning.
“There’s no such thing as a pretty, graceful girl!” he growled, throwing himself down on the sand beside his friend. “If they’re tall enough, they’re too fat; if they’re graceful, they’re cross-eyed, or their noses aren’t straight; if they’re petite and cunning at a distance, you get near and see they’ve got three gold teeth in front! If they’re — oh, look at that! Fred, will you look at that!”
Down the beach, a bit beyond the noisy, rollicking crowd, a girl who had emerged from a bath-house had been walking, accompanied by an elderly man. Now, as the man stopped to speak to a friend, the girl turned, suddenly, facing toward Tom and Fred, her head uplifted, her arms out-thrown, as if to catch the whole freshness of the salt breeze which swept down upon her, turning her flying hair to a halo of burnished gold.
“Look at her!” Tom repeated hoarsely. “There’s the Peach, Fred. Look at the youth and the grace and the freshness of her! Look at those eyes and those teeth and the dimples in the wild-rose cheeks of her!”
“By Jove, I know the old chap who’s with her!” Fred exclaimed. “That’s Peter Pinkham, the steel man. You stand a fat chance of getting his daughter to star in your company! And she must be his daughter.”
“Once in a while a man does go out with a girl who isn’t his daughter,” Tom remarked hopefully.
“Not old Peter Pinkham,” Fred assured him. Then, at sight of Tom’s disappointed face, “Well, anyhow, come on over. I’ll introduce you, and you can talk to the girl a bit, while I keep papa busy.”
The Peach — Tom could call her nothing else in his thoughts — looked the better the nearer they came. Tom, holding the little white hand which she gave him for the merest fraction of a second, registered a mental vow to make her the queen of the “Peaches and Cream” Company or die in the attempt. And, to his amazement, he found that the way was far from being so hard as he had thought. Papa Pinkham proved to be a good sport — the kind of man who would go paddling about with Fred and leave his daughter to be entertained by the good-looking youth quite willingly.
Acquaintance progresses rapidly when life is young and hearts beat high, and blue eyes look into brown ones with glances which need no words to interpret. By the time the setting sun had turned the brown sands to a sea of shifting silver and the blue waters to a pool of molten gold, the girl had confided her life’s ambition to Tom. She wished to be an actress!
To Tom this seemed purely providential — as if nine out of every ten pretty girls were not stage-struck! Almost timidly, he told her of his quest. Her blue eyes grew round with wondering delight.
“Oh, how wonderful for us to meet like this! It’s fate!” she cried.
“But your father wouldn’t allow it, would he?” Tom asked, trembling between hope and doubt.
“Leave that to me!” she laughed. “Daddy never yet said no to me and stuck to it. And he hasn’t a bit of prejudice against the stage. Of course, I’d have to be chaperoned within an inch of my life, and all that sort of thing.”
“And I’ll be right there all the time. I’ll look after you as if I were your own brother,” he assured her earnestly. “Shall we go and ask him right now?”
“Mercy, no! Wait till he knows you a little better. And besides, your manager may not want me. Wait till he has seen me. Then if he really wants to make me an offer, Daddy will think there is something to consider.”
“Of course you can dance?” he said, and she nodded emphatically. “I’ve been dancing since I was three years old,” she declared.
“I'll bring Morris around to see you this very evening!” he promised joyously, and, buoyed up by his hopes for the evening, he was able to see her depart with her father without shedding tears, especially as the father’s parting words were: “Sure, come around and see us, my boy. Welcome any time!”
Isaac Morris, manager of the “Peaches and Cream” Company, looked up in amazement when his leading man whirled into the office, whooping with joy.
“I’ve found her! I’ve found her! She’s young and she can dance, and she’s pretty enough to make any girl in the chorus look like somebody’s aunt from the country!”
“Hm-m!” grunted Morris, skeptically. “Where’s this living wonder to be seen?”
“At her home to-night. Rosalind Pinkham’s her name. Her father call her Rosie. He’s the steel man.”
“Say! You must have had a sunstroke! I suppose you think he’s going to fall for his little Rosie going into the show business?”
“He'll fall for anything she wants. Besides, he’s a good specimen of the well-trained American father. Besides, he’s a good old sport. No prejudice against the stage. Likes his bit of fun himself. Now he has invited me to call to-night, or seconded Rosie’s invitation, which is better. She says I am to bring you with me and she will do a dance, just to entertain us — see? Then if you want her, you can spring it on papa — tell him what a career she can have and all that sort of thing. Do you follow me?”
“Follow you? I rather think I’m ahead of you,” Morris answered, shaking his head dubiously. “I see myself being kicked down Peter Pinkham’s front doorsteps, with you following close behind. But I’m desperate enough to make a try.”
It was precisely nine o'clock when Morris met Tom on the corner below the Pinkham home. It was noticeable that the manager had gained in confidence and enthusiasm.
“I’ve been asking a few questions ’round here,” he confided. “I guess you got the right hunch all right. They all say the girl’s a beauty and the old man a good sport.”
“I told you so!” Tom remarked calmly, thus proving that women have no monopoly of that classic remark. “Here’s the house.”
They were admitted by rather a flurried-looking butler.
“The young lady was expecting you, sir,” he said, “but — but — well, you might as well go in.”
He ushered them to the door of a large drawing-room and announced loudly: “Mr. Leonard and Mr. Morris!” They stepped into the room and saw standing in the full glare of a great chandelier, a demure, gray-gowned, white-kerchiefed Quaker maiden, who cast her eyelids down, folded her hands in an attitude of meekness and dropped them a demure courtesy.
“Father, I think these worldly men must wish to see thee,” she said sweetly.
The man who stood beside her turned and fixed inquiring eyes on the newcomers. He wore the plain garb of a Quaker. His face was a model of placid innocence and unworldliness.
“What is thy business here?” he asked; “my brother Ezra,” indicating a tall, spare man in Quaker garb who stood near him, “has come to pay a visit to our peaceful Quaker home and we would fain talk of matters pertaining to the faith, unless thou hast an important mission.”
“For the love of Mike!” gasped Morris, peering up into Brother Ezra’s placid countenance. “Excuse me! I see I’m in wrong. I wasn’t planning on attending a Quaker meeting.”
He grasped Tom by the arm and fled, dragging that dazed and wondering youth with him. Outside, he stood in the glare of the arc lights, surveying Tom with an expressionof bewildered disgust.
“Say,” he said, “are you crazy? Or did we have the wrong number? And if that’s the right house, where’s old Pinkham and his daughter?”
“It’s the right number. That’s their house — and that’s them!” gasped poor Tom dazedly.
“That’s them! Quakers! You thought a Quaker maid was going on the stage? That’s your Peach? Tom, my boy, the heat has gone to your head. You lead me up here on a wild goose chase to meet a family of Quakers!”
“But they weren’t Quakers this afternoon,” Tom protested, “they were regular folks, just as I told you.”
Morris surveyed his leading man once more with a look of real concern. “Does the Quaker church have a Billy Sunday?” he asked. “If they do, that explains it. They run into him on the way home from the beach and hit the Quaker trail. Otherwise, my boy, you’re either crazy now or you were drunk this afternoon.”
Tom was too overcome for further argument. In silence he listened to Morris’ reproaches, interspersed with advice to see a doctor about his head. At last he had a flash of inspiration.
“They were dressed up like that for some purpose,” he suggested. “Rosie was just pretending to be a Quaker.”
“Well, if she was, she’s some little actor!” snapped Morris. “Nothing to that theory, my boy. She’d have giggled and given the whole thing away.”
But Tom was following his own line of thought. “Say,” he demanded, “did you notice that all the pictures were covered, and the statuary, too?”
“What of that? Lots of folks cover their stuff in summer; keeps off the dust!”
Tom said no more. But the next morning, very early, he made a study of the telephone-book and finally called the residence of Peter Pinkham. His heart gave a great jump as a familiar voice came over the wire, “Hello. Who is this, please?”
“Good morning, Miss Rosie. This is Tom Leonard — the fellow you met as the beach yesterday.”
As he had expected, his words were answered by a peal of laughter.
“I’m so glad you called me up. Now I can explain, for daddy has taken Uncle Ezra out to see the Woolworth Building and other innocent things. You see, when we got home yesterday, there was a letter here from Uncle Ezra, saying he would be here on a train that was due in just half an hour. He’s the strictest kind of Quaker, and he thinks daddy is the same. He never visited us before; he only knew us these last 20 years by our letters.”
“I see!” Tom was beginning to understand now.
“Well, we just scurried around to get ready. We hid all the cards, and covered the pool table, and screened the pictures and draped the statuary, and dressed ourselves up and got it all done just in time. You see, he’s an old man and daddy couldn’t bear to hurt his feelings. Besides, he’s awfully rich!”
“And that little scene was all acting!” Tom exploded. “Well, believe me, when I tell Morris that, he’ll be crazy to get you. Why, you never flickered an eyelash. You looked like the real article, all right.”
“I’m of Quaker blood, you know,” she answered, demurely. “Well, come on over right now, with your manager, before daddy and Uncle Ezra get back.”
“But they might return unexpectedly,” he reminded her. “I don’t want to do anything to get in bad with your father, or spoil your chance at Uncle Ezra’s fortune, you know.”
“Let me think a minute . . . Oh, I know! You dress up like a Quaker. Then if they should come in, you could invent some reason for having Mr. Morris with you. You can say he is a sinner who wants to be taught the ways of our peaceful sect!”
Tom roared his appreciation, and hurried off to find Morris. That gentleman was at first incredulous, but when he was convinced that the Quakerism had been a clever bit of acting he was both highly amused and genuinely excited.
“If that’s so, she’s one of the smartest I ever saw!” he declared. “Stood there as meek and demure as any real Quaker ever was! Lead me to her! If only she can dance, she’ll be too good to be true.”
Rosie herself met them at the door, roses of excitement on her cheeks, mischievous lights dancing in her eyes. She pirouetted lightly on the toes of her dainty slippers and Morris stared at her.
“Say, you don’t look like the same girl in that gown. But suppose the old gent should come in.”
“I’d be sure to hear the door open, and I could run upstairs before Uncle Ezra saw me. I put this fancy gown right on over the Quaker one. O-oh! How funny Mr. Leonard looks in that suit!”
Tom, acting on her suggestion, had arrayed himself in a Quaker suit of the most precise cut, covering it with his long raincoat. Now, as he threw aside the coat, Morris roared with appreciation.
“I’ll get up a Quaker act for you two!” he declared. “But now will you dance for me, little girl?”
“Wait a moment. I must have music.” She slipped a record into the Victrola, and stood for an instant, bright head tilted, eyes sparkling, silken flounces a-quiver with the swaying of her lithe young body. Then as the music swelled into its full volume she began to dance.
Demure and quiet as Rosie had been a Quakeress, as a dancer she was a veritable whirlwind. It was a wild gypsy dance she had chosen, and after the first moment she lost herself entirely in the spell of the music, and became a child of nature, of fire and ice and flame, of gay October forests and howling prairie gales, of wild birds calling across the marshes and wild beasts howling through tropical jungles. Morris whistled under his breath as he watched through narrowed eyes. Once he turned his gaze, for an instant only, to Tom’s face, and gave the slow nod which meant approval.
“She’s a regular Class A, twelve-cylinder, self-starting human cyclone!” he said, as she finished. “Young lady, I’ll give you three hundred a week, straight, and your costumes!”
“O-o-oh, goody!” she cried, and was breaking into another dance to express her joy, when a startled exclamation behind them made all turn suddenly, to behold — Papa Pinkham and Uncle Ezra!
It was Tom who rallied his senses first and stepped forward, unsmiling and dignified in his Quaker garb.
“Friend Pinkham,” he said, “I have been remonstrating with thy daughter on her lack of decorum. I trust that with patience and training she may become more like thee. We must remember she is yet young!”
Peter Pinkham gazed at the audacious youth, coughed, choked, and buried his face in his handkerchief. Morris turned his back, his shoulders shook suspiciously. Rosie stood silent, a picture of innocent, meek maidenhood. But Uncle Ezra, Quaker though he was, had journeyed to New York from the State of Missouri.
“I will wish thee good day and good bye,” he said, turning toward the door. “I have no desire to see more of thy city nor thy friends, Brother Peter.”
This article originally appeared in Moving Picture Stories, July 28, 1916, Volume VIII, Number 187, pages 5-9.
The Progressive Silent Film List : The Quack Quakers (1916)