Chapter 1: A LONG MEMORY...
It was one of those glorious California mornings that the travel brochures rave about...sunny, warm, a light breeze carrying the scent of orange blossoms...if it weren't for the War, I'd have quoted, "All's Well with the World", as I looked out my study window. Benita had left at the crack of dawn with the Hollywood Women's Club to speak to migrant workers, Juliet was at Pre-School, and, other than the household staff, I was alone in my San Ysidro ranch...but not lonely! I had a romantic script set at the close of WWI to peruse, my latest Lux radio script on my desk, and a week's worth of correspondence to catch up on...plus a round of golf with Bing Crosby and Phil Harris planned for the afternoon...another full day, to be sure!
I was still daydreaming when I heard the knock at the door. Wishing to postpone my 'chores' a bit longer, I called out that I'd get it, and skipped down the steps.
I wasn't quite prepared for my visitor...
Without preamble, the 'gentleman' growled, "The boss wants to see you."
I stared at him, and replied, "I believe you're at the wrong address; this is the Colman residence."
"I know...the boss wants to see you."
"Do I have a choice?"
He smiled, coldly. "Sure! We can do this the nice way, or the not-so-nice way...Your choice."
"Hmmm...I believe I'd prefer the nice way."
We climbed into his black sedan, where another thug waited, with a rather unfriendly-looking revolver in his hand. I swallowed, and settled into the back seat, confused and more than a bit frightened.
Surprisingly, we didn't go downtown, as I expected, but into Beverly Hills, and pulled into one of the most incredible mansions I'd ever seen...
The pair escorted me inside, and down two long hallways lined with, I realized, priceless art. "Your boss has good taste," I said, but the thugs ignored my comment. At the end of the second hall, they knocked on the door, opened it, and pushed me inside, leaving me with the mysterious 'boss'...
"Hey, Colman, thanks for coming on such short notice," the gentleman said, his back to me, as he lit a cigar. He then turned, and I recognized BUGSY SIEGEL!
I exhaled, reached for my cigarettes, and replied, "I actually didn't have much choice, Mr. Siegel."
"Please, call me Ben," he said, with a smile. "Yeah, 'Knuckles' can be pretty persuasive!"
"Forgive me if I seem a bit...direct, Ben, but why am I here?"
Siegel's smile got even bigger. "Who would have guessed that starving British janitor back at the Plymouth Theater would turn out to be such a big movie star!"
My heart sank, as he continued, "Not me, that's for sure! There I was, pulling Barrymore's 'bacon' out of the fire, and I got another star right in front of me!"
"That was a long time ago..." I whispered.
Siegel nodded. "It sure was," he agreed. "You know, I'd never have put the pieces together, if my girlfriend, Virginia, hadn't made me go with her to see 'A Tale of Two Cities'. I hate that historical crap, but even without your mustache, I recognized you. Not a bad movie...'It's a far, far better thing I do'..."
I'm really beginning to hate that line! "Okay," I said, "so we had a past together...I still don't know why I'm here! I don't owe you any favors..."
"But Jack Barrymore does...we eliminated Brannigan, and I took on his marker..."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"I'm coming to that, be patient! A few years back, I moved my operations to the West Coast, where I've always wanted to be...You may not believe it, but I really want to go legit, mostly. Oh, I still work for the Mob, but I'd like to get my hand into the movie business, in some way. You know, Virginia is an actress...Virginia Hill, ever hear of her?"
"Well, she's just getting started! Anyway, I thought Jack might repay his debt by helping her get started in pictures...He has connections..."
I was curious, now! "Did he?" I asked.
Siegel's jaw tightened. "Oh, he did...He even bragged her very first film would make a star, she'd get top billing...but this was not the kind of film either Virginia or I wanted to see her in!"
"'THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN RETURNS'???!!!!" Siegel spat out. "Most of the film wrapped up like a mummy, then looking like a freak when the bandages are yanked off! What kind of garbage was this?"
I tried not to smile. "Not very glamorous, I agree! Jack is known for a twisted sense of humor!"
Siegel nodded, vigorously. "I'd soon find out! It took a while to calm Virginia down, then I gave Barrymore another chance...nine major Mob bosses from around the country were coming to L.A., and I asked Jack to set us up with ten big-name Hollywood actresses for a little 'fun' while the guys were in town...I sent Virginia off to New York, and was expecting a few days in the sack with Ann Sheridan or Lana Turner, myself..."
"Uh...I assume something went wrong..."
"Oh, Jack got some BIG stars, alright..."
"How the HELL was I supposed to tell the MOB guys, that they'd be sharing a bed with MARJORIE MAIN???? Or making it with AUNT PITTYPAT??? Or getting it on with THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST??? Hell, I thought one of them was J. Edgar Hoover, in drag, until I realized it was MARIE DRESSLER!"
I tried, but I couldn't help myself, and I burst into laughter!
"Think it's funny, Colman???" The absurdity suddenly struck him, and Siegel began laughing, as well!
"Okay, it was funny! But these were guys you don't play jokes on! I barely had time to come up with hookers to replace them!"
"One question, Ben...Which of Jack's 'girls' was yours?"
"Beulah Bondi...and if you ever tell anybody, I'll kill you!"
I gradually regained my composure, and said, "I see a pattern, here...I take it Jack wasn't going to repay his debt in the manner you wanted..."
"You're quick, Colman. When I sent the boys over to talk to Barrymore, he had a whiskey bottle in one hand, a shotgun in the other, and he said he had fulfilled his end...and to leave him alone!"
"That's Jack, alright."
"Well, nobody pushes my guys around! I decided to send four of my toughest ones over to pay a little visit to that monkey, Clementine, to rough her up a little, and show Jack I meant business...She's got a penthouse apartment, did you know that? A monkey in a penthouse!"
"I know," I said. "I'm still getting grief for missing the Housewarming..."
"Well, the damned maonkey didn't even blink an eye when they burst in..."
"But when they got back to my place, they were all walking bow-legged, they all had hickies, scratches, and lipstick all over them, their clothes were ripped up, and they brought me a note...'THANKS FOR THE ROUGH STUFF...SEND MORE GUYS! XXX CLEMMIE'..."
"Um, Clem is a bit...randy..."
"RANDY??? She's a SEX MANIAC!!!!"
I shook my head. "You do seem to have a problem...but it's none of my concern! Can I go home?"
"Oh, I'll take you home...but this is your problem, too..."
"Why? I never crossed you, and I certainly don't owe you any favors..."
All the charm and humor left Siegel, and he suddenly seemed cold-blooded, and frightening... "You're Jack's friend, and I know you. What he's doing makes me look impotent, makes me a laughingstock...and I've killed men for less..."
"But Jack and I aren't that close...why don't you get Bill Fields or Errol Flynn..."
"The three of us have a past, together...Who better to deliver an ultimatum?"
"I won't do it!"
"You have a really great wife, and a cute kid...I hate using them as leverage, but..."
My heart sank...I couldn't allow Benita or Juliet to be placed in danger...What else could I do?
"What do you need me to do?"
"Simply tell that ham actor that he has seven days to come up with an acceptable repayment...or he, that monkey, and you, will all be found dead..."
I was nearly paralyzed in fear, but I nodded my head.
Siegel smiled. "See, Colman, I'm not hard to get along with, if you do things my way..."
Next: BARRYMORE'S REPLY...
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!