“I tell you, Momma said there’d be days like this . . . but she never, never ever mumbled they’d be so gosh darn messy. Eeeeeyewww! Say — Whatcha gonna do with that extra piece you got there, Bessie?”
“Steamer trunk, headed in the wrong direction when our stage crew heads outta town?”, mused curvaceous Flossie Fairmont, swiftly rolling, tucking and nestling white rayon stocking after white rayon stocking around the nasty little weapon that done in Clarence P. Hardy after the seven o’clock show shut down more than just Saturday night’s hot stage lights in downtown Buffalo.
“Hmmmm, not too bad on shifting the shifty thinkin’ Toots,” nodded Vaudeville sensation Sadie Suzette. Alencon lace caressed apricot cleavage hell bent over sopping up what body fluids gave the backstage floorboards a darker sheen than standard shadows. “How far down the hit parade list are we, anyhow?”
“Just past halfway,” answered flashy Flossie, carefully printing: FOX THEATER, 2211 WOODWARD AVENUE, DETROIT, MICHIGAN upon one of her inventory of purloined production shipping labels. Her rouged cheeks flushed fuller with adrenaline from the kill. Beneath thick Maybelline lashes with no clumps, her dark peepers glistened as she calculated how far they’d come, how many left to fatefully topple. Tapered nails with clean cuticles made a precise side part and expertly pulled raven tresses within the loop of a pastel chiffon ribbon, wrapping once, twice and knotting, tight — very tight. The daring dancer audiences clamored for smiled more than Max Factor’s fresh face, totaling their tally. “Well there’s Ralph and Floyd, Walter and Fred and let’s not forget Lester. Lester Foster Harrigan has more pleasing aspects when dead than ever his ol’ sour puss could push while still ‘live and kickin’ up show biz — “
“So that just leaves — “
“Ernie, Jerome and Cornelius. You’re still in, right Sadie?”
“Ain’t goin’ nowhere, no how. How could it be otherwise, Floss?”
Grown women’s girlish giggles exited Dressing Room B, headed stage left. Heavens to Murgatroyd, undertones of menace wafted hell dowsed in Chanel. Just another night in Buffalo. But oh so far from Kankakee and Kalamazoo.
~ * ~
“Act Too, Wouldn’t You?”
Vaudeville in the 1920’s staged full force from where it played silly circuits of comedic reviews, bawdy Burlesque and slapstick razzamatazz. Song and dance men, dime-a-dozen girls, contortionists, magicians, jugglers, tumblers and stars-in-the-wannabe-making hoofed and hollered so the crowds just kept coming. That’s the thing about crowds. Give ’em something red hot and temptatious and Oh Baby, they’ll come out. With smart hats and wise remarks. Creased fedoras. Creamy poils, as they say backstage. And oh, what backstage whispers have to say.
Temptatious is how this whole caper tendered its way for Opening Night stage girls headed to Bigger Times. The talking picture show was on the horizon and some of the hits of the day were gallivanting their charms into the brighter lights of tomorrows. Nuttin’ but nuttin’ was gettin’ in those determined dames way. Just ask Lester Harrigan. He’d tell you. Ah, but Lester’s not speaking up much anymore.
Time was, he was speaking up and acting out, from the front office of Va-Va-Voom, a successful Midwest production company. Va-Va-Voom spun circles around soft shoe patter when it tantalized hard core. Lester was the advance man and certainly lived up to that career designation. He advanced on new towns and potential backers. He advanced on musicians at auditions and show girls with nothing to show but gashed up flesh when he was through touseling dreams. Lester was rough. Hefty in the girth, with dark, darting eyes that glanced no come-uppance, Lester left a lady pummeled once he’d had her more than once. You’d think they’d resist but his threats scared shows to believe they must go on.
It was that kinda time, lousy Lester’s time. A tempestuous time. A time when passion, betrayal, sidestepping upfront bitter brilliance packed a house and brought in bucks. Who could ask for anything more? Well, Lester did. When wild madcap frenzy held such dapper box office appeal, Lester curved his disgusting upper lip and beckoned with one humongous sleazy finger. And of course, girls who wanted to get out of the chorus answered a man like Lester’s dirty, steenkin’, grimy beckon. Flirty and flared in costumes and then — without, flesh colored stockings unrolled to the floor, legs spread and . . . well, now Lester’s dead.
Kankakee Valley was where it happened. Where Edna and Bessie, pert Gert and tender Thelma were taken for plenty more than a joy ride. Somehow Lester got behind the wheel of a brand spankin’ new 1923 Chandler Royal Dispatch and took Kankakee, Illinois for the ride that matched the meaning of its name — open, exposed. He went down to Bogus Island, a lawless, brutal frontier, south of Lake Village where the show was scheduled to play through the weekend. He had a gang there. Some of those names have been mentioned already. Names that won’t bother no one, no more. Bogus Island sheltered well-dressed counterfeiters, tattered horse thieves and cruel criminals in its twisty river marshland. For one reason or several, all were feared by the local townsfolk. Fear swallowed, puked out and mangled what was left of Edna and Bessie, pert Gert and tender Thelma.
It was originally Myrtle Mae’s and Rosie’s steamed up brainstorm when the showgirls of Va-Va-Voom turned the tables on vile violence. Right after a memorable rendition of “Me and My Shadow” where Myrtle Mae emotionally belted out, “Not a soul to tell our troubles to . . . all alone and feeling blue.” Ain’t no messin’ with tough dames’ emotions. Sadie and Flossie became the brains behind how the operation was made up though. Golly, it was brill!
~ * ~
“Oh Vaudeville Vamp”
Libido liberated Victorian womanhood and spurred on the stirred up Va-Va-Vooms. Bosoms bounced, sheathed bottoms shimmied. Tassels teased and Flappers flapped when roadshow choruses rallied the determined dames’ siren song ~ “Don’t know what’s comin’ tomorrow — Maybe it’s trouble and sorrow — But we’ll travel the road, carrying our load — Through all kinds of weather what if the sky should fall — Just as long as we’re together it doesn’t matter at all — When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted — We’ll be the same as we started — Just travelin’ along — Singin’ our song . . . side by side.”
It was time for pretty nice girls to be gorgeously bad. Glorious bodies draped in transparent glamour gowns stopped off in Dressing Room B before the allure of trysts and shouts. Layers past pale foundation, round apple circles of rouge, the defining bow lip of the times and mysterious kohl eyeshadow were applied.
Dangerous propositions ensued. Resistance fell to the wayside when one by one, men grabbed their partners. And the music played on.
Poisonous lead sulphur and mercury concoctions are killer chemicals brought to the forefront in leading ladies’ makeup applied before safer days of manufacturers Max Factor and Maybelline. Ernie succumbed when songbird Sadie crooned, “Come closer. I can’t give you anything but love, baby.” They say Cornelius nibbled behind Flossie’s ear on a sensual spin around her wicked waltz . . . and Jerome? He died trying to tango.
Must’ve been Kalamazoo. Killer dance band.
“Dream a little while — Scheme a little while . . . “
Sadie? She’s still singing.
~ * ~
~ Musical Credits ~
“Me and My Shadow” ~
Lyrics by Billy Rose; Dave Dreyer composition; 1927
“Side By Side” ~
Harry Woods composition; 1927
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” ~
Lyrics by Andy Razaf; American jazz classic by Jimmy McHugh; 1928
~ * ~
~ Absolutely*Kate . . . Believing in Believers. Presenting THE SHADOWS OF OUR NOIR ~ AT THE BIJOU
~ Harbinger ~ A herald of good things to come.
~ HARBINGER*33 ~ Heralding Greatness to Be.