One of the great joys of Parenthood is tucking in your child, at night, and sharing quality time with them. When Benita puts Juliet to bed, she'll often sing to her; since my singing voice might give her nightmares, I instead tell her stories of noble heroes and fair damsels, both real and imaginary! On this particular night, however, after Juliet finished her prayers and climbed into bed, she had a question for me...
"Daddy, you say you've known Clemmie for years...How did you meet her?"
I chuckled. "Clemmie, again? You never seem to tire of her! Well, it's a long story..."
"Oh, please tell me, Daddy!"
I laughed. "Alright," I agreed. "Well, it begins when I arrived in New York City, from London, back in early 1920...I'd gotten a 'name' on the British stage, and was popular, but England was in something of a Depression, and plays, even theaters, were closing at an alarming rate..."
"But you were in movies, too, right?"
"Indeed I was! But British cinema was very primitive, in those days...and I'll let you in on a secret..."
"I wasn't very good!"
Juliet giggled, and said, "Not you! You're brilliant, Mommy says so!"
"Well, she's a bit prejudiced! Seriously, I felt the theater was the best hope for my future, but England was looking bleak...so I decided to come to America..."
"New York City was the center of American life, a bustling, polluted, vibrant metropolis of nearly six million people, and Broadway, the closest thing America had to the West End...many wonderful stars and legendary shows lit up the nights...but one actor reigned supreme..."
"Jack Barrymore literally set the theater world on it's collective ear with his interpretation of Richard III, and he was the Toast of Broadway..."
"I bet you changed all that, right, Daddy?"
I sighed. "I wish I could say that was true, but honestly, I couldn't even get a job! The city was then, as now, filled with young actors waiting for their 'big break', and I was just another one...with a strange accent, to boot! There were many days spent walking the streets, taking whatever menial work I could get, with many nights freezing on park benches..."
Juliet stared at me. "Poor Daddy!" she whispered. "What happened, next?"
"Well, whenever Barrymore wasn't working, he'd either be carousing with women from all walks of life, or he'd play high-stakes poker at the Plymouth Theater, with some of the most unsavory characters on the Great White Way...on one eventful night, I was hired as a temporary janitor at the Plymouth, when one of the infamous poker matches occurred..."
"I was, I admit, a bit in awe, watching Barrymore consume a prodigious quantity of illegal liquor...after all, Prohibition had just begun...and still beat the socks off the rest of the players...and what a collection of 'celebrities' they were!"
"In addition to Jack, there was Meyer Lansky, the cold-blooded head of the Jewish/Italian Mob, Lucky Luciano, his right-hand man, and as ruthless a killer as ever terrorized New York, and Milo Brannigan, the 'Don' of the Irish Mob, who was rumored to have killed over a dozen men..."
Juliet got pie-eyed, and said, "Daddy, were you scared?"
"Yes," I admitted, "and I was going to be even MORE so!"
"I could see that the evening was winding up, and that this would be the last hand. Jack was winning, big, Lansky and Luciano were about breaking even, but Brannigan was losing, very badly, and was in a foul mood! At least two thousand dollars was in the pot, tempers were short...and Jack's notorious sarcasm wasn't helping matters!"
"This is getting too rich for my blood," Lansky said, with a sigh. "Jack, you're a helluva poker player..."
"The product of an ill-spent youth," Barrymore acknowledged, then belched, loudly. "You really fueled the night, even if the bourbon was second-rate..."
Lansky blinked, then laughed. "I could use you in my gang...you got some world-class balls..."
Luciano tossed down his cards. "I'm folding," he said. "Remind me to never play against you, again, Jack..."
"Tonight's proceeds will go to the 'Barrymore Liquor and Unwed Mothers' Fund'," Barrymore said, stretching. "What about you, Brannigan?"
"Don't rush me, you friggin' ham actor!"
"Sir, I resemble that remark! I come from generations of the finest pork loin in America..."
"SHUT UP!" Brannigan was clearly sweating, and staring at the pot...
"Look, Barrymore, I'm a little short...I can give you my I.O.U...."
"Look, you Mick, the game is table stakes...if you haven't the money, fold! I'll give your share of the pot a good home..."
"DAMN YOU!" Brannigan's eyes suddenly brightened. "Wait a minute! I foreclosed on a zoo, today...what if I toss the deed in? It should cover your 'raise'..."
Jack shook his head. "Why, perchance, would I want to own a zoo? My nightlife is certainly wild enough, already!"
"Wait just a minute...I'll toss something in with it..."
Brannigan rose, and left the room, returning, moments later, with a small cage. He opened it up, and a tiny visitor jumped on the stack of money!
Brannigan looked at the forlorn creature, and said, "This baby chimp was in the zoo, but when I tried to pet her, she bit me...I'm takin' her home for target practice...this chimp is dead meat..."
"It's not a chimp, it's a Macaque," I muttered, not realizing I'd said it aloud. Everyone turned towards me, suddenly aware of my presence.
"Who the hell are YOU?" Brannigan snapped. "What did you say?"
"The animal is a Macaque...they're smaller than chimps, but are considered far more intelligent..."
"A wiseass monkey, who cares?" Brannigan snapped. "What's with the faggy accent? You go to Harvard, or something?"
"No, I'm British."
"A limey? You know what every self-respecting Irishman does to limeys?"
"Oh, leave him alone, Milo," Meyer snapped. "He's just a janitor, for Chrissake!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah...Well, 'Down the British'!" He suddenly realized that the monkey was crawling all over him. "Get OFF me, you stupid little APE!" he shouted, and slapped it, hard. The poor monkey rolled all the way to Barrymore, and crawled onto his shoulder.
Glancing at his cards, she snorted, then whispered in his ear, *GIGGLE*You got him beat, get the S.O.B.*SNORT*
Barrymore sat, stunned, for a moment...The monkey could talk!...then cleared his throat, and announced, "I'll accept the monkey as your bet..."
Lansky sighed, and said, "I'm happy you see Milo's point of view..."
"Meyer, I can't stick my head far enough up my arse to see his point of view," Barrymore said, drily, which brought a roar of laughter from both Lansky and Luciano...and a deadly stare, from the Irish gangster. "Okay, Mick, I call...what have you got?"
Grinning from ear-to-ear, Brannigan held out his hand...
"Full house, Aces over Kings! Read 'em and weep, asshole!"
Barrymore looked stunned. "A...A full house?" he exclaimed, his voice cracking. "I...I only have two pairs..."
Brannigan shouted in triumph! "You know, moron, I knew I was breaking the rules, when I ran out of cash, but I figured your damned ego would get the best of you...and the better man won!"
With a smirk, he reached out to pull the huge pot towards him...and Barrymore shook his head, and forlornly repeated, "Two pairs...a pair of sevens..."
"and, goodness, another pair of sevens..." He tossed the cards on the table, then glared at Brannigan. "I believe 'Four of a Kind' beats a full house...you lose."
Lansky and Luciano shook their heads in disbelief, then roared in laughter...and Brannigan sat, expressionless, staring at the sevens. Slowly, he rose, and slipped his jacket on...then whipped out a revolver and pointed it at ME!
"YOU AND BARRYMORE TRICKED ME!" he screamed. "You've been 'reading' my cards and passing the info to him ALL NIGHT!"
"No!" I said, shaking. "I don't even know him!"
"He's right, Milo," Lansky agreed. "The guy hasn't been anywhere near you, tonight!"
"Oh, shut up, you Jew!" Milo sputtered. "I'm gonna kill you, limey..."
Then Barrymore whipped out his cane, and went into action!
Smashing Brannigan's wrist, the bullet intended for me tore into the stage curtains, instead...and another blow from the cane flattened the gunman!
Barrymore looked in distain at the fallen Brannigan, and said, "If there is going to be any drama on MY stage, I'll provide it, thank you!" He looked at Lansky and Luciano, and growled, "Splash some water on him, and get him OUT of here! He's stinking the place up..."
After a dose of water in the face, Brannigan came to, groggily...then he saw Barrymore and the cane, and he snapped to full consciousness!
"You're dead, Barrymore!!! Dead, DEAD, DEAD!!!! I'm gonna kill you, kill your brother and sister, kill everybody you ever loved! You say your goodbyes, 'cause you're history!!!"
Barrymore lifted his glass, and said, "Normally, when a man loses, I'd say 'Unlucky at cards, lucky at love'...but with your looks, the only way you'd get laid is at the morgue..." Downing his drink, he smashed the glass on the floor. "Oh, to hell with it!" he yelled. "Give me his gun, I'll just kill the S.O.B. now, and get it over with!"
Lansky jumped in. "Calm down Jack," he whispered, "You got friends here you don't even know! Let us handle things...it's what we do..."
He waved to Luciano. "Give Milo a hand, and help him out to the car...we gotta get out of here."
The trio of gangsters left through the stage door, leaving me alone with Barrymore and the monkey.
"Let this be a lesson to you, chum," Barrymore said, coldly. "Never stick your nose in somebody else's business!"
I shuddered, and nodded. "One question," I asked, as I slipped on my jacket. "How did you know you could beat Brannigan's hand? I mean, a 'Four of a Kind' is hard to beat, but he could have had a Royal Flush..."
He looked at me with a straight face, and said, "The monkey told me."
I sat, and slowly lit a cigarette. "The monkey...talks?"
"Why not? There are stranger things in this universe than you or I can imagine!" Grabbing another glass, he poured himself another drink. "What's your name?"
"And you're a janitor?"
"Actually, I'm an actor..."
Barrymore rolled his eyes. "God, yet another unemployed thespian!" Pulling a piece of paper and pencil from the table, he scribbled a couple of lines, and handed it to me. "This will get you in the door at the Astoria Theater...where you go from there is up to you..."
"Look, I'm not asking for favors..."
"Then you'll be a janitor until your early demise! I don't do favors...I just don't want you to come up to me in twenty years or so, saying I owe you one..."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Barrymore..."
"Call me Jack...after tonight, you've earned the right..."
The stage door opened, and New York City's most infamous gangster, Bugsy Siegel, walked in!
"Hey, Jack!" he bellowed, amiably, looking more a stage star than killer.
"Siegel, old man!" Barrymore said. "Tonight's performance is finished...Care to join me for a drink?"
"Actually, I'm here to give you some good news...Brannigan has been permanently retired."
"An accident, I'm certain."
"In fact, he was hit by a automobile, leaving here. Five times, to be exact. Then by a milk wagon. Then by a garbage truck. I'm afraid he was knocked all the way into the river, where he's now with the fishes."
Siegel couldn't keep from laughing. "Actually, it all worked out for the best, as we've 'inherited' his territory...and I have more good news..."
"Prohibition has been repealed?"
"Not THAT good! I bought your I.O.U. from Meyer..."
"I didn't have an I.O.U...."
"When we bumped off Milo, we did you a favor...and now you just owe me a favor, instead of the Mob..."
"Oh, goody. Just stand in line with all my other creditors..."
"Don't be an ass, Jack. I don't want anything, right now! But someday, I may need a favor from you...just remember that."
Jack nodded, and Siegel looked at me. "I hear you have moxie," he said, grinning.
"No," I replied. "Just a habit of opening my mouth at the wrong time."
"Well, you got lucky, this time."
He turned back to Jack. "Look, things are going to be a bit...hot, here for a little while, and you might want to consider a change of scenery..."
Jack thought for a moment, then smiled. "I think I'll have a 'nervous breakdown' and go out to Hollywood to recouperate....they've got a movie lined up for me, there, 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'..."
"Hollywood..." Siegel said, wistfully. "Someday I plan to move West...Well, I have to run...can I drop you somewhere, uh, what's your name?"
I shook my head. "No, thanks..." I replied. "I'm just staying a few blocks from here..."
"Well, see you later, guys..." With a wave, Siegel left.
Barrymore looked at me, curiously. "Where are you staying?" he asked.
"Well, nowhere, at present...but I don't want to owe him any favors!"
"Hmmm...I have a leased place near Central Park...Since I'm leaving for Hollywood, you can move in there...and pay me back when you get some steady work."
"But no MORE favors!"
Barrymore looked at his new monkey. "What's your name, kiddo?"
It sounded like gibberish to me, but she replied, *SNORT* I don't have one!*SNIFF*...
"Hmmm...I had a nurse, as a child, who introduced me to the joys of sex...her name was Clementine...think I'll name you that..."
*WINK*Clementine...I like that! What's Sex?*SNORT*
"Oh, the fun we're going to have, Clem!"
"And that's how I met Clemmie and Jack Barrymore, Juliet...Jack took Clemmie to California, where they stayed for two years...then Jack returned to Broadway, for his brilliant portrayal of 'Hamlet'...and by then, I'd become a star, as well, in the successful production of 'La Tendresse'...the three of us shared some good times together, but he was soon off to London to do 'Hamlet', and I was on my way to Hollywood..."
"But I'm confused, Daddy...Gladys Cooper says she was Clemmie's owner, and that Mr. Barrymore stole her..."
I laughed. "Gladys Cooper, eh? Dear Gladys is a sweet and charming lady, but her story is...well, kind of a fib!"
I sighed. "When Jack arrived in London to do 'Hamlet', he had a lot of trouble finding accomodations, as no one wanted a simian in their homes! Gladys and John had been, uh...really good friends, at an earlier time, so Jack asked if she'd take care of Clemmie, during the play's run...Gladys agreed, then fell in love with Clem, renamed her, and announced it had always been her monkey...well, Clem could only put up with so much of that, and begged Jack to get her out of there, as soon as the show ended...which he did. Gladys was heartbroken, and told the press her version of the Clemmie origin story...and Jack, who's never given a damn what people think, never bothered to deny it."
"I see," Juliet said, nodding.
"Well, it's getting late," I said, rising, "and tomorrow is a school day..."
"Pre-school," Juliet corrected me.
"My mistake," I acknowledged. "Sweet dreams, my beautiful angel!"
"Are you or Mr. Barrymore afraid that Mr. Siegel might ask to return his 'favor'?"
"Well, Jack is the one who would have to deal with that...but that was years and years ago! I'm sure Siegel has forgotten, by now!"
"Sweet dreams, Princess!"
NEXT: A LONG MEMORY!
THE RONALD COLMAN SAGA
"The Dinner Party for Erich von Stroheim"
"The Misadventures of John Barrymore's Cheeky Monkey, Clementine"
"The All-Star Surprise Party for Laine"
"The Classic Hollywood Long Beach-Catalina Yacht Race"
"The Ronald Colman Seance"
"My "Lost Horizon" Surprise!"
"A Night at the Hollywood Canteen!"
"But I Thought You Were..."
"The People vs. Ronald Colman"
"The Epic Hearst Costume Party..."
"The Monkey on Ronald Colman's Back Saga" (A 9-Part Adventure):
"A MAN, A MONKEY, the MOB, and RONALD COLMAN!" (A 5-Part Adventure):
"Introduction: Broadway, 1920..."
"Chapter 1: A LONG Memory..."
"Chapter 2: Barrymore's Reply..."
"Chapter 3: Barrymore in Cement!"
"Chapter 4: A Desert Grave..."
"SURPRISE PARTY for RONALD COLMAN!"
"The RONALD COLMAN Banner Collection"
Finally, if you'd like to 'go to the source', with over 200 photos of Ronald Colman's life and career, please visit Myspace.com/Ronald Colman...the page that started it all!