"It was a dark and stormy night..."
Isn't that how every ghost story begins? At least the bad ones? Well, good or bad, the story I'm about to share is, indeed, a ghost story, which has taken place at my own San Ysidro home!
The story actually begins the night of our dinner party for Erich von Stroheim. After a long, taxing evening, Benita and I retired, and soon were deep in slumber. We hadn't realized, however, that John Barrymore's randy monkey, Clementine, was still in the house, unattended. She found our bedroom, crawled under the covers between us, and fell asleep. Early the next morning, Benita awoke to a furry bedmate, and shrieked, waking me up! We quickly dressed, and returned the monkey to the Barrymore home.
Within hours, the simian began posting gossip about a night of passion with me (How can she write? Don't ask...this IS Myspace!), and despite my repeated pleas of innocence, she continued the campaign. Then, to top things off, she announced she was with child, my child! While she admitted that she really can't remember the evening, she insisted that the child was conceived in my home, indeed, in my bed!
Medically, it would have been impossible for me to have fathered her unborn baby, but this raises a question...Who, then, is the father? I considered all the logical possibilities, but none made any sense. So I delved into more farfetched theories...and came up with a really bizarre one; our house was, according to the locals (including my ancient gardener, Pancho), actually haunted before I purchased it, by the spirit of the Cisco Kid (the REAL one, not the colorful character portrayed by Duncan Renaldo). Could Clemmie's condition be the result of a supernatural encounter?
I decided to hold a seance, tonight, to get an answer. I contacted Harry Houdini, the world's most eminent expert of the occult, Orson Welles and Vincent Price, both world-class practitioners of magic, Erich, Europe's foremost authority on ghosts, John Barrymore, and, of course, Clemmie, to come to our home at 8, for a seance. I also invited Pancho, who claims to have seen the spirit, to attend...and I held the hand of my lovely Benita, who was extremely uncomfortable about the evening!
The weather was, indeed, wild, with dark clouds, a gusty wind, and an occasional bolt of heat lightning arcing across the skies, when John and Clemmie arrived.
"COLMAN!" Barrymore snapped, a smile barely hiding his distain, "This had better be worth it! Pulling me out in the dead of winter..."
"Jack, it's May..."
"...facing a frozen wilderness..."
"It's nearly 80, and we're in the suburbs of L.A...."
"...without any form of sustanance..."
"Dewars or Jack Daniels?"
"Dewars...Save the Jack for after the farce!"
Clemmie blew me a kiss, rubbed her belly, and pointed a finger at me, with a smile!
"Now cut that out!" I shouted. "I...AM...NOT...THE...FATHER!"
She shrugged, and the pair left for my study, to deplete my liquor supply. As I started to close the door, I heard a familiar drawling voice call, "Ron!"
It was my old friend, Vincent Price, arriving with Orson Welles! "Sorry we're late, old friend," Vincent laughed, "but the boy genius, here, was boning up on his hocus-pocus!"
Gravely, Welles took my hand. "Good to see you, Ronald," he said. "I see you've recovered from the yacht race."
I laughed. "Yes, although I think you've seen the last of them! How are you and Rita Hayworth coming along?"
"Very well," he acknowledged. "I expect her to marry me, you know."
"So I heard, after the race!" I brought the pair into the alcove, where Welles removed his unnecessary topcoat. The doorbell chimed. Benita called that she'd get the door, so we joined Barrymore and Clemmie, and Pancho, the gardener, in the study.
Benita entered, with the legendary Houdini. "Ronald, my dear friend!" he said, "Thank you for inviting me! Your home REEKS with psychic energy!"
"Ronnie?" Benita asked, nervously looking around.
"It's alright, darling," I replied, reassuringly. "We're perfectly safe!"
An ominous knock at the door made everybody jump!
"I'll get it," I said, regaining my composure. Walking to the door, I opened it, slowly...to find Erich von Stroheim, carrying flowers for Benita. "Erich," I exhaled, "I'm certainly glad it's YOU!"
"And who else would it be?" he answered, matter-of-factly. Placing the flowers in a vase near the door, we walked down the short hallway to the study.
"Ronald," Erich whispered, "Are you prepared for the dangers this night may bring?"
I smiled. "If I'm not," I replied, "you'll be the first to know!"
After 'hellos' and a few moments of trival banter, Houdini asked for our attention.
"We shall be holding a seance, to call on spirits departed to another plane of existence..."
Downing a shot glass, Barrymore mumbled, "If you see Louie the Lilac, he still owes me on the 1919 World Series..."
"Quiet, please!" Houdini snapped. "Our seance circle will be a perfect seven...Benita, you and the elderly gentleman move back to the door, please."
From a bag, Houdini removed a large crystal ball, and brass stand, which he set upon my conference table. "This is the 'Crystal of Constantinople', one of the three most powerful 'Eyes' in the world..."
"I've heard of it," Welles said, with a touch of admiration. "Lovecraft has written about it...I thought it was lost, when the city was sacked, in 1453..."
"And so it was," Houdini replied. "I spent many years, and countless funds, tracking it down...I have only just received it."
"Are you certain it's genuine?" Price asked.
"Quite certain," Houdini replied, drily. "Please, could everyone be seated? Clementine, I want you near me..."
We sat, staring at the ancient crystal ball. "Now, each of you, take the hand of the person next to you..."
"Colman," Barrymore slurred, "this does NOT mean we're engaged!"
"Sober up, Jack," I suggested.
"Now, Benita," Houdini continued, "please turn out the light."
She hit the switch, and the room was plunged into darkness. "I want each of you to concentrate on the crystal ball," Houdini said. "Let your thoughts flow around it, and into it..."
I focused on where I knew the ball was, in the darkness...everything else seemed to evaporate from my mind...the ball...the ball...
...and the crystal ball began to glow, and leviatate above the table!
"Ronnie!" Benita gasped.
"Quiet, Benita," Erich hissed. "We must keep our concentration focused!"
The French doors began swinging back and forth, and cold gusts of wind whipped around the room.
"Oh, Guide of the Spirit World," Houdini intoned. "We ask your benevolence! We seek information...information...information..."
The wind grew wilder. A low, growling voice rose out of it. "What do you seek, mortal?"
"The spirit that dwells in this home...The father of Clementine's unborn child..."
The wind rose to a roar, sounding like an insane laughter. Our hands were drenched in cold sweat, fear was choking our hearts...
...and then, in the rear of the room, a mist appeared, slowly taking shape...and the image stunned ALL of us!
"A penny saved is a penny earned...early to bed, early to rise..."
"BEN FRANKLIN??? YOU'RE the ONE???" I gasped.
"Well, why not? I cut quite a figure with the ladies of Paris! Of course, these days, a monkey is about the best I can do..."
Clemmie hissed...but Franklin suddenly drifted out of focus, to be replaced by another!
"Yeah, wanna make something of it? It's tough bein' buried in the endzone of the Meadowlands, that's no place for Hoffa to be! So I see that sweet young hairy thing, and I think, badda-boom, badda-bang, y'know? Aw, fogedaboutit!" Then he drifted, replaced by...
"ABRAHAM LINCOLN??" Price exclaimed. "But you were my HERO!"
"Have you seen Mary Todd?" Lincoln said, gravely. "Even Clemmie was an improvement!"
Clemmie hissed, again, and Barrymore whispered, "Colman, your home is Spook Central!"
Lincoln dissolved before our eyes, replaced by...
"Not YOU!" Barrymore groaned, and even Clemmie let out a howl!
"I am not a crook...oh, WRONG SEANCE!" and he faded from view...replaced by...
"Hi, everybody, want to be my friend?"
"GET OUT OF HERE!" we all shouted, and he disappeared...moments later, to be replaced by...
"Hey, amigos, it's me, the Cisco Kid! Don't listen to the others, they are just funning...I'm the baby's papa! I was lonely, and she's cuter than a Tijuana hooker!"
"Why are you haunting my home?" I asked.
"My gang and me, we robbed the Santa Fe Railroad, three million in gold! We hide it, and I leave my number one guy to guard it! Is it safe, Pancho?"
The wizened old garderner spoke up. "Oh, si, Cisco! It is still buried in the stable, where you left it, sixty years ago! Oh, Cisco!"
Suddenly, all the lights came on in the room, and Cisco was revealed to be no ghost, but a rather untidy-looking man in a truly hideous suit!
Police quickly arrested Pancho, still stunned, and ushered him away!
"What's going on?" Barrymore demanded. "We've been hoodwinked!"
Erich, Vincent, Harry, Orson, and I all burst into laughter!
"Jack, dear Jack," I replied, "the police have suspected Pancho as a member of the Cisco Kid's gang for years, and that the train robbery loot was stashed here, somewhere, but no one has ever been able to prove it...We came up with this...scam, if you will...to draw Pancho out, and reveal where the money was hidden...I brought in everybody to make it look convincing, but I couldn't depend on you and Clemmie to keep the secret!"
"But who were those 'spirits'?"
"Los Angeles policemen," Welles replied. "It appears that nearly every cop in town is a frustrated actor!"
"And the levitating Crystal Ball?"
"A trick," Houdini answered. "It's how I make my living, remember?"
"Mirrors," Erich said, with a slight smile. "Smoke and mirrors."
Benita giggled. "Drinks and sandwiches for everybody in the kitchen!" she exclaimed.
"A feast awaits!" Price laughed. "Lead on, sweet lady!"
Soon, only Barrymore, Clemmie, and I were left in the study. "What about Clemmie?", he snapped. "Of all the cruel pranks to play on her, THIS is the cruelest! We'll NEVER know who the father is!"
From behind us, a small voice replied, quietly, "I'm the father...sort of."
We turned, to find...
"You MUST be joking," Barrymore croaked. Clemmie slapped her hand to her head.
"The performance is over," I said, testily. "Take off that sheet!"
"It's no sheet," he replied, and did a quick flight around the room to prove he was, indeed, a ghost.
"CASPER??? But you're a friendly ghost!"
"Maybe too friendly," Barrymore snapped.
"I was lonely," Casper explained, "and everybody was having such a good time...I thought, what I need is a girlfriend, and Clemmie, here, is just so cute..."
Clemmie shrugged, and Barrymore growled, "So you had your way!"
"Not really," Casper answered. He pointed between his legs. "No equipment."
That was obviously true! "So how did she..." I asked.
"Magic, silly!" Casper replied. "It took a lot, to create the illusion of her being, you know..."
"You mean she's not pregnant?" Barrymore asked.
"Well, only if she wants to be. The only real magic is when two people both want the same thing! If she doesn't, the illusion will end, since she knows the truth...I never had a baby, and I thought, if she liked me..."
Clemmie strode up to the little ghost, and I could see tears of joy in his eyes...then she urinated on him!
"I guess this means she doesn't," Casper said, looking at the wall her 'product' had struck, passing through him.
"That's a pretty fair assessment," Barrymore agreed. "I need a drink...or ten. Come along, Clemmie." The pair left the room, leaving Casper and me, alone.
"Sorry it didn't work out," I said, still not quite believing who I was talking to.
Casper shrugged. "You learn to roll with the punches, when you're a friendly ghost! Say, you have a daughter..."
"NO!" I said, firmly. "No ghostly tomfoolery with my Juliet! I want her to have a wonderful, happy childhood, and I hope to be there with her, every step of the way."
"You will be." And with those words, the little ghost soared away.
And that, dear friends, is what happened tonight!
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!