By H. P. Oliver
2014 HPO Productions
All Rights Reserved
A.M. - Friday - September 10, 1926
"DeMille Barn" - Lasky Paramount Studios - Hollywood
Bill gave his notes a final look to see if he had overlooked any salient
points. Apparently he had not because he then said, "Okay, that's
the plan as it stands right now. If you have any production questions,
see Charlie Barton. For questions or problems with the travel arrangements,
stop by my office and talk with my secretary, Alice. And that's it,
except to say see you all Tuesday morning at eight sharp and I'm counting
on every one of you to help make Wings the best damned motion picture
this studio ever produced!"
The assemblage erupted into enthusiastic applause and Bill Wellman gave
us an acknowledging wave. The meeting over, some of the attendees left
the barn in an apparent hurry to get on with whatever their assignments
might be. The rest of us gathered into small groups and engaged in conversations
that may or may not have had anything to do with our reason for being
there. In my case, I was promptly approached by the man Bill had introduced
as his right hand man.
With a smile, he offered his hand for a shake and said, "Hi, Mister
Markham, I'm Charlie Barton."
Shaking the offered hand, I said, "Hello, Charlie, good to meet
you. Call me Eddie."
"Okay, Eddie. I just wanted to introduce myself, as I suspect our
paths will cross frequently during the coming weeks. From what Bill
tells me, we're lucky to have you with us. If you have any questions
or need anything, just let me know."
"Thanks, Charlie. I'm sure I'll have many questions about the production
end of things. These are uncharted waters for me."
He grinned. "Don't let that worry you. Even if you were an old
hand at filmmaking, you'd have to forget most of what you know. Bill
does things his own way and . . . ."
Charlie Barton was interrupted by the booming voice of Bill Wellman.
It came from somewhere across the room and said, "Charlie! Where
are you? I need you here."
Barton gave me his ready smile again. "Oops, that's my master's
voice. I'd better see what he wants." Offering his hand again,
he said, "Just remember, whatever you need, let me know."
"Will do, Charlie. Thanks."
He trotted off to see what Wellman needed and, figuring it was time
for me to get on with my day, I turned around and nearly ran over America's
number one sex symbol. She looked up at me with large brown eyes and
a mischievous grin, said, "Hiya, Mista Markham, I'm Clara. I jus
wanna intraduse myself an meet the guy whoz s'posed to keep us honest."
Hoping I was translating her strong Brooklyn accent correctly, I said,
"Hello, Clara. Please call me Eddie, and as for keeping anyone
honest, that only applies to the authenticity of the film. Beyond that
you're on your own."
"Well, dats good to hear 'cuz keepin' dis bunch a shmucks honest
would be a tweny-foaw-ouwa a day job! Anyways, like I was sayin' . .
Clara was looking beyond me toward the door, and whatever she saw there
abruptly changed her expression to irritation. In a soft, almost inaudible
voice she said, "Oh hell."
Before I could turn around to see what sight brought about this sudden
change in her demeanor, the rudest, most obnoxious man I have ever had
the misfortune to encounter marched up and said harshly, "Clara,
you and I need to talk."
"Sure, B. P. Jus lemme . . . ."
The man's hand shot out like a snake and grabbed her by the wrist in
a grip that made Clara wince. He said, "Now!" and marched
away, literally dragging her along behind him. Before they disappeared
through the door, she looked back at me over her shoulder. Clara gave
me a forced smile and rolled her eyes, as if to say, "The things
I put up with!"
I shook my head in amazement at the rudeness I'd just witnessed and
a hand gripped my shoulder from behind. Bill Wellman's voice said, "I
see you've met our leading lady."
Turning, I said, "Yeah, and the most annoying character I've ever
run into. Who the hell was that obnoxious so-and-so?"
Glancing toward the door, Bill said, "That, my friend, was Mister
B. P. Schulberg."
Still angry, I spit back, "Wonderful. Just who the hell is B. P.
Schulberg and what right does he have to treat a woman that way?"
Bill's grimaced as if what he was about to say caused him physical pain.
"Unfortunately, Mister Schulberg is one of my bosses. Technically,
he is the associate producer of Wings, and he can treat Miss Bow just
about anyway he wants because he owns her."
Astonished, I said, "He owns her? Nobody can own someone else!"
"Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he owns her contract,
but in this case it amounts to the same thing. He's made her the box
office draw she's become, and she pretty much does what he says or else."
Shaking my head, I said, "I don't care what contracts he owns,
he is a rude, inconsiderate jerk! What the hell does B. P. stand for,
Bill almost grinned. "The initials stand for Benjamin Percival."
I muttered, "That figures."
The woman who had interrupted Bill's speech during the meeting came
through the door in a hurry and made a beeline for Wellman. Seeing her,
Bill said, "Looks like Alice has a problem, Eddie. See you Tuesday."
Wellman huddled with his secretary and I walked out to my automobile.
On the way I looked around for Clara Bow and Schulberg, but they were
nowhere to be seen. I climbed into the Stutz's leather driving seat
and shook my head again. The movie business was a strange world, a world
in which I was going to be immersed up to my neck for the next few weeks.
I did not know whether to laugh or cry at that prospect, but whatever
happened, it was not likely to be dull.