Why Don't You Give Them Something Real?
From: Jean Of The Lazy A
"Well, you don't seem crazy about it. What's the matter?" Robert Grant
Burns stood in his favorite attitude with his hands on his hips and his
feet far apart, and looked down at Jean with a secret anxiety in his
eyes. Without realizing it in the least, Jean's opinion had come to
have a certain weight with Robert Grant Burns. "What's wrong with
that?" Burns, having sat up until two o'clock to finish that particular
scenario to his liking, plainly resented the expression on Jean's face
while she read it.
"Oh, nothing, only I'm getting awfully sick of these kidnap-and-rescue,
and kiss-in-the-last-scene pictures, and Wild West stuff without a real
Western man in the whole thing. I'd like to do something real for a
Robert Grant Burns grunted and reached for his slighted brain-child.
"What you want? Mother on, knitting. Girl washing dishes. Lover
arrives; they sit on front steps and spoon. Become engaged. Lover
hitches up team, girl climbs into wagon, they drive to town. Ten
scenes of driving to town. Lover gets out, ties team in front of
courthouse. Goes in and gets license. Three scenes of license
business. Goes out. Two scenes of driving to minister and hitching
team to gate. One scene of getting to door. One scene getting inside
the house. One scene preacher calling his wife and hired girl. One
scene 'Do you take this woman,' one scene 'I do.' Fifteen scenes
getting team untied and driving back to ranch. That's about as much
pep as there is in real life in the far West, these days. Something
like that would suit you, maybe. It don't suit the people who pay good
nickels and dimes to get a thrill, though."
"Neither does this sort of junk, if they've got any sense. Think of
paying nickel after nickel to see Lee Milligan rush to the girl's door,
knock, learn the fatal news, stagger back and clap his hand to his brow
and say 'Great Heaven! GONE!'" Jean, stirred to combat by the sarcasm
of Robert Grant Burns, did the stagger and the hand-to-brow and
great-heaven scene with a realism that made Pete Lowry turn his back
suddenly. "They've seen Gil abduct me or Muriel seven times in a
perfectly impossible manner, and they--oh, why don't you give them
something REAL? Things that are thrilling and dangerous and terrible
do happen out here, Mr. Burns. Real adventures and real tragedies--"
She stopped, and Burns turned his eyes involuntarily toward the
kitchen. He had heard all about the history of the Lazy A, though he
had been very careful to hide the fact that he had heard it. Jean's
glance, following that of her director, was a revealing one. She bit
her lip; and in a moment she went on, with her chin held a shade higher
and her pride revolting against subterfuge.
"I didn't mean that," she said quietly. "But--well, up to a certain
point, I don't mind if you put in real things, if it will be good
picture-stuff. You're featuring me, anyway, it seems. Listen."
Jean's face changed. Her eyes took that farseeing look of the dreamer.
She was looking full at Burns, but he knew that she did not see him at
all. She was looking at a mental picture of her own conjuring, he
judged. He stood still and waited curiously, wondering, to use his
manner of speech, what the girl was going to spring now.
"Listen: Instead of all this impossible piffle, let's start a real
"What kind of a real story?" The tone of Robert Grant Burns was
carefully non-committal, but his eyes betrayed his eagerness. The girl
did have some real ideas, sometimes! And Robert Grant Burns was not
the one to refuse a real idea because it did not come from his own
"Well," Jean flushed with an adorable shyness at the apparent egotism
of her idea, "since you seem to want me for the central figure in
everything, suppose we start a story like this: Suppose I am left here
at the Lazy A with my mother to take care of and a ranch and a lot of
cattle; and suppose it's a hard proposition, because there's really a
gang of rustlers that have been running off stock and never getting
caught, and they have a grudge against my family and grab our cattle
every chance they get. Suppose--suppose they killed my brother when he
was about to round them up, and they want to drive me and my mother out
of the country. Scare us out, you know. Well,--" she hesitated and
glanced diffidently at the boys who had edged up to listen,--"that
would leave room for all kinds of feature stuff. Say that I have just
one or two boys that I can depend on, boys that I know are loyal. With
an outfit the size of ours, that keeps me in the saddle every day and
all day; and I would have some narrow escapes, I reckon. You've got
your rustlers all made to order,--only I'd make them up differently, if
I were doing it. Have them look real, you know, instead of stagey."
(Whereat Robert Grant Burns winced.) "Lee could be one of my loyal
cowboys; you'd want some dramatic acting, I reckon, and he could do
that. But I'd want one puncher who can ride and shoot and handle a
rope. For that, to help me do the real work in the picture, I want
Lite Avery. There are things I can do that you have never had me do,
for the simple reason that you don't know the life well enough ever to
think of them. Real stunts, not these made-to-order,
shoot-the-villain-and-run-to-the-arms-of-the-hero stuff. I'd have to
have Lite Avery; I wouldn't start without him."
"Well, go on." Robert Grant Burns still tried to sound non-committal,
but he was plainly eager to hear all that she had to say.
"Well, that's the idea. They're trying to drive us out of the country,
without really hurting me. And I've got my mind set on staying. Not
only that, but I believe they killed my brother, and I'm going to hunt
them down and break up their gang or die in the attempt. There's your
plot. It needn't be overdone in the least, to have thrills enough.
And there would be all kinds of chance for real range-stuff, like the
handling of cattle and all that.
"We can use this ranch just as it is, and have the outlaws down next
the river. I'm glad you haven't taken any scenes that show the ranch
as a whole. You've stuck to your close-up, great-heaven scenes so
much," she went on with merciless frankness, "that you've really not
cheapened the place by showing more than a little bit at a time.
"You might start by making Lee up for my brother, and kill him in the
first reel; show the outlaws when they shoot him and run off with a
bunch of stock they're after. Lite can find him and bring him home.
Lite would know just how to do that sort of thing, and make people see
it's real stuff. I believe he'd show he was a real cow-puncher, even
to the people who never saw one. There's an awful lot of difference
between the real thing and your actors." She was so perfectly sincere
and so matter-of-fact that the men she criticised could do no more than
"You might, for the sake of complications, put a traitor and spy on the
ranch. Oh, I tell you! Have Hepsibah be the mother of one of the
outlaws. She wouldn't need to do any acting; you could show her
sneaking out in the dark to meet her son and tell him what she has
overheard. And show her listening, perhaps, through the crack in a
door. Mrs. Gay would have to be the mother. Gil says that Hepsibah
has the figure of a comedy cook and what he calls a character face. I
believe we could manage her all right, for what little she would have
to do, don't you?"
Jean having poured out her inspiration with a fluency born of her first
enthusiasm, began to feel that she had been somewhat presumptuous in
thus offering advice wholesale to the highest paid director of the
Great Western Film Company. She blushed and laughed a little, and
shrugged her shoulders.
"That's just a suggestion," she said with forced lightness. "I'm
subject to attacks of acute imagination, sometimes. Don't mind me, Mr.
Burns. Your scenario is a very nice scenario, I'm sure. Do you want
me to be a braid-down-the-back girl in this? Or a
Robert Grant Burns stood absent-mindedly tapping his left palm with the
folded scenario which Jean had just damned by calling it a very nice
scenario. Nice was not the adjective one would apply to it in sincere
admiration. Robert Grant Burns himself had mentally called it a
hummer. He did not reply to Jean's tentative apology for her own
plot-idea. He was thinking about the idea itself.
Robert Grant Burns was not what one would call petty. He would not,
for instance, stick to his own story if he considered that Jean's was a
better one. And, after all, Jean was now his leading woman, and it is
not unusual for a leading woman to manufacture her own plots,
especially when she is being featured by her company. There was no
question of hurt pride to be debated within the mind of him, therefore.
He was just weighing the idea itself for what it was worth.
"Seems to me your plot-idea isn't so much tamer than mine, after all."
He tested her shrewdly after a prolonged pause. "You've got a killing
in the first five hundred feet, and outlaws and rustling--"
"Oh, but don't you see, it isn't the skeleton that makes the
difference; it's the kind of meat you put on the bones! Paradise Lost
would be a howling melodrama, if some of you picture-people tried to
make it. You'd take this plot of mine and make it just like these
pictures I've been working in, Mr. Burns: Exciting and all that, but
not the real West after all; spectacular without being probable. What
I mean,--I can't explain it to you, I'm afraid; but I have it in my
head." She looked at him with that lightening of the eyes which was not
a smile, really, but rather the amusement which might grow into
laughter later on.
"You'd better fine me for insubordination," she drawled whimsically,
"and tell me whether it's to be braids or curls, so I can go and make
up." At that moment she saw Gil Huntley beckoning to her with a
frantic kind of furtiveness that was a fair mixture of pinched-together
eyebrows and slight jerkings of the head, and a guarded movement of his
hand that hung at his side. Gil, she thought, was trying to draw her
away before she went too far with her trouble-inviting freedom of
speech. She laughed lazily.
"Braids or curls?" she insisted. "And please, sir, I won't do so no
Robert Grant Burns looked at her from under his eyebrows and made a
sound between his grunt of indignation and his chuckle of amusement.
"Sure you won't?" he queried shortly. "Stay the way you are, if you
want to; chances are you won't go to work right away, anyhow."
Jean flashed him a glance of inquiry. Did that mean that she had at
last gone beyond the limit? Was Robert Grant Burns going to FIRE her?
She looked at Gil, who was sauntering off with the perfectly apparent
expectation that she would follow him; and Mrs. Gay, who was regarding
her with a certain melancholy conviction that Jean's time as leading
woman was short indeed. She pursed her lips with a rueful resignation,
and followed Gil to the spring behind the house.
"Say, you mustn't hand out things like that, Jean!" he protested, when
they were quite out of sight and hearing of the others. "Let me give
you a tip, girl. If you've got any photo-play ideas that are worth
talking about, don't go spreading them out like that for Bobby to pick
"Pick to pieces, you mean," Jean corrected.
"You're going to tell me I'm in bad. But I can't help it; he's putting on
some awfully stagey plots, and they cost just as much to produce as--"
"Listen here. You've got me wrong. That plot of yours could be worked
up into a dandy series; the idea of a story running through a lot of
pictures is great. What I mean is, it's worth something. You don't
have to give stuff like that away, make him a present of it, you know.
I just want to put you wise. If you've got anything that's worth
using, make 'em pay for it. Put 'er into scenario form and sell it to
'em. You're in this game to make money, so why overlook a bet like
"Oh, Gil! Could I?"
"Sure, you could! No reason why you shouldn't, if you can deliver the
goods. Burns has been writing his own plays to fit his company; but
aside from the features you've been putting into it, it's old stuff.
He's a darned good director, and all that, but he hasn't got the knack
of building real stories. You see what I mean. If you have, why--"
"I wonder," said Jean with a sudden small doubt of her literary
talents, "if I have!"
"Sure, you have!" Gil's faith in Jean was of the kind that scorns
proof. "You see, you've got the dope on the West, and he knows it.
Why, I've been watching how he takes the cue from you right along for
his features. Ever since you told Lee Milligan how to lay a saddle on
the ground, Burns has been getting tips; and half the time you didn't
even know you were giving them. Get into this game right, Jean. Make
'em pay for that kind of thing."
Jean regarded him thoughtfully, tempted to yield. "Mrs. Gay says a
hundred dollars a week--"
"It's good pay for a beginner. She's right, and she's wrong. They're
featuring you in stuff that nobody else can do. Who would they put in
your place, to do the stunts you've been doing? Muriel Gay was a good
actress, and as good a Western lead as they could produce; and you know
how she stacked up alongside you. You're in a class by yourself, Jean.
You want to keep that in mind. They aren't just trying to be nice to
you; it's hard-boiled business with the Great Western. You're going
awfully strong with the public. Why, my chum writes me that you're
announced ahead on the screen at one of the best theaters on Broadway!
'Coming: Jean Douglas in So-and-so.' Do you know what that means? No,
you don't; of course not. But let me tell you that it means a whole
lot! I wish I'd had a chance to tip you off to a little business
caution before you signed that contract. That salary clause should
have been doctored to make a sliding scale of it. As it is, you're
stuck for a year at a hundred dollars a week, unless you spring
something the contract does not cover. Don't give away any more dope.
You've got an idea there, if Burns will let you work up to it. Make 'em
pay for it."
"O-h-h, Gil!" came the throaty call of Burns; and Gil, with a last,
earnest warning, left her hurriedly.
Jean sat down on a rock and meditated, her chin in her palms, and her
elbows on her knees. Vague shadows; of thoughts clouded her mind and
then slowly clarified into definite ideas. Unconsciously she had been
growing away from her first formulated plans. She was gradually laying
aside the idea of reaching wealth and fame by way of the story-trail.
She was almost at the point of admitting to herself that her story, as
far as she had gone with it, could never be taken seriously by any one
with any pretense of intelligence. It was too unreal, too fantastic.
It was almost funny, in the most tragic parts. She was ready now to
dismiss the book as she had dismissed her earlier ambitions to become a
But if she and Lite together could really act a story that had the
stamp of realism which she instinctively longed for, surely it would be
worth while. And if she herself could build the picture story they
would later enact before the camera,--that would be better, much better
than writing silly things about an impossible heroine in the hope of
later selling the stuff!
Automatically her thoughts swung over to the actual building of the
scenes that would make for continuity of her lately-conceived plot.
Because she knew every turn and every crook of that coulee and every
board in the buildings snuggled within it, she began to plan her scenes
to fit the Lazy A, and her action to fit the spirit of the country and
those countless small details of life which go to make what we call the
local color of the place.
There never had been an organized gang of outlaws just here in this
part of the country, but--there might have been. Her dad could
remember when Sid Cummings and his bunch hung out in the Bad Lands
fifty miles to the east of there. Neither had she ever had a brother,
for that matter; and of her mother she had no more than the indistinct
memory of a time when there had been a long, black box in the middle of
the living-room, and a lot of people, and tears which fell upon her
face and tickled her nose when her father held her tightly in his arms.
But she had the country, and she had Lite Avery, and to her it was
very, very easy to visualize a story that had no foundation in fact.
It was what she had done ever since she could remember--the
day-dreaming that had protected her from the keen edge of her
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