Herbert slips his hand into Ramon’s. They share drinks in the corner table that’s been reserved for them, while Alice sits at the bar in conversation with one of the old vaudeville queens.
There’s something desperate about the old vaudeville players, Ramon thinks, but Alice finds them charming. This one has promised her a recipe for cornbread.
Best you’ve ever eaten, he swears.
Don’t you like cornbread? says Herbert, and squeezes Ramon’s hand.
My mother makes cornbread.
Ramon’s mother would like for him to marry a nice girl, or become a priest and leave the movies.
You’d be happier, she thinks.
|Ramon Navarro and friend|
Alice peeks over at Herbert and Ramon, and waves. Her husband is a movie director. He’s always pushing her to lose weight, but he doesn’t mind if she takes Ramon out, or George, or William. Ramon calls her husband Mr. Ingram, or, sometimes, 'my inspiration'.
You’re not in love with him, are you? Herbert wonders.
It’s not love, says Ramon.
Good, says Herbert, and quickly lifts Ramon’s hand to his lips and kisses the knuckles. Good.
Alice comes sliding up to their table.
One of the gossip columnists just came in, she says. You’d better come dance with me, Ramon.
He takes her hand and they dance on the floor together. The dance floor is suddenly full of men and women, Alice and Ramon lost among them. He puts his arms round her. Alice is plump and soft. Her husband would disapprove.
Have you been eating cookies? says Ramon.
Maybe a few, Alice admits, and lets him spin her round.
When Ramon looks, he sees Herbert has gone — slipped out the side door, probably — and the corner table is empty. He pulls Alice close to his chest for the gossip columnist’s benefit (we’re friends, they’ll both say later, just friends).
After he’s dropped Alice off at home, Ramon will go to Herbert’s apartment. In the dark and quiet there, they’ll dance together like this, close and slow.
Cathy S. Ulrich loves silent movies and silent movie stars. If she invented a time machine, she would absolutely use it to visit old Hollywood and probably stalk Buster Keaton. Her humor writing can be found on her blog Hollywood Hates Me.
(Here's a note on Ramon Novarro, from the (excellent) blog Band of Thebes: "When rival movie studios wanted their own Valentino, their solution was to promote Ramón Novarro, Hollywood's first Mexican star, as the original "Latin Lover." Born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico in 1899 his family fled the Mexican Revolution and settled in Los Angeles, where by the time Ramón was eighteen he was appearing in silent films. In 1923 he became a leading actor in Scaramouche, and when he was twenty-six he played the title role in Ben Hur, which created a sensation with its very short tunics. (Watch this clip to see him like a geek at a Roman circuit party, suddenly reunited with a friend who has become buff: He can't keep his hands off the guy's arms.) Novarro went on to star opposite Joan Crawford (Across to Singapore), Norma Shearer, Myrna Loy (The Barbarian), and Greta Garbo (Mata Hari), but he only dated men and he refused to enter a sham marriage just for publicity's sake. One of his dashing boyfriends was the adventurer Richard Haliburton, who built his famous house in Laurel Canyon to be near Novarro. At his peak in the 1920s and 30s, Novarro earned $100,000 per movie. When he was no longer young enough to play the boyish lover, MGM opted not to renew his contract, and he lived comfortably off his savvy real estate investments. In 1968, when he was sixty-nine, he hired two brothers, Tom and Paul Ferguson, to have sex with him but they only went to his house in hopes of robbing him of a giant stash of cash. Upon realizing there was no hidden fortune, they killed him and left with twenty dollars.")