The Film Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve
XIII. Marilyn Loring
The magic of Manton's name admitted us to the studio courtyard, and at once I was struck by the change since the day before. Now the tank was a dry, empty, shallow depression of concrete. The scenery, all the paraphernalia assembled for the taking of water stuff, was gone. Except for the parked automobiles in one corner and a few loitering figures here and there the big quadrangle seemed absolutely deserted.
In the general reception room Kennedy asked for Millard, but was told he had not been out since the previous day. That was to be expected. But Manton, it developed, was away also. He had telephoned in that he would be detained until late afternoon on important business. I know that I, for one, wondered if it were connected with Fortune Features.
"It's just as well," Kennedy remarked, after convincing the boy at the desk it was Manton's wish that we have the run of the place. "My real object in coming was to watch the cast at work."
We found our way to the small studio, called so in comparison with the larger one where the huge ballroom and banquet sets were being built. In reality it possessed a tremendous floor space. Now all the other companies had been forced to make room for "The Black Terror" on account of the emergency created by the death of Stella Lamar, and there were any number of sets put up hastily for the retakes of the scenes in which Stella had appeared. The effect of the whole upon a strange beholder was weird. It was as though a cyclone had swept through a town and had gathered up and deposited slices and corners and sections of rooms and hallways and upper chambers, each complete with furniture and ornaments, curtains, rugs, and hangings. Except for the artistic harmony of things within the narrow lines of the camera's view, nothing in this great armory-like place had any apparent relation to anything else. Some of the sets were lighted, with actors and technical crews at work. Others were dark, standing ready for use. Still others were in varying states of construction or demolition. Rising above every other impression was the noise. It was pandemonium.
We saw Werner at work in a distant corner and strolled over. The director was bustling about feverishly. I do not doubt that the grim necessity of preparing the picture for a release date which was already announced had resulted in this haste, without even a day of idleness in respect for the memory of the dead star, yet it seemed cold-blooded and mercenary to me. I thought that success was not deserved by an enterprise so callous of human life, so unappreciative of human effort.
Most of the cast were standing about, waiting. The scenes were being taken in a small room, fitted as an office or private den, but furnished luxuriously. Later I learned it was in the home of the millionaire, Remsen, close off the library for which the actual room in Phelps's home was photographed.
Shirley and Gordon, I noticed, kept as far apart as possible. It was quite intentional and I again caught belligerent glances between them. On the other hand, both Enid and Marilyn Loring were calm and self-possessed. Yet between these two I caught a coolness, a sort of armed truce, in which each felt it would be a sign of weakness to admit consciously even the near presence of the other.
Werner was irascible, swearing roundly at the slightest provocation, raging up and down at every little error.
"Come now," he shouted, as we approached, "let's get this scene now--number one twenty-six. Loring--Gordon! Shake a leg--here, I'll read it again. 'Daring enters. He is scarcely seated at the desk, examining papers, when Zelda enters in a filmy negligee. Daring looks up amazed and Zelda pretends great agitation. Daring is not unkind to her. He tells her he has not discovered the will as yet. Spoken title: "I am sure that I can find a will and that you are provided for." Continuing scene, Daring speaks the above. Zelda thanks him and undulates toward the door with the well- known swaying walk of the vampire. Daring turns to his papers and does not watch her further. She looks over her shoulder, then exits, registering that she will get him yet.'" Werner dropped his copy of the script. "Understand?" he barked. "Make it fast now. We shouldn't do this over, but you were lousy before, both of you!" Gordon extinguished a cigarette and entered the set with a scowl. Marilyn rose and slipped out of a dressing gown spotted with make-up and dark from its long service in the studios. Underneath the wrapper the finest of silken draperies clung to her, infinitely more intimate here in actuality and in the bright studio lights than it would be upon the screen. I noticed the slim trimness of her figure--could not help myself, in fact. And I saw also that she shrank back just the least little bit before stepping to her place at the door. It was modesty, a genuine girlish diffidence. In a moment I revised my conception of her. Before, I had not been able to decide whether Marilyn Loring was a woman with a gift for looking young, or a flapper with the baffling sophistication affected these days by so many of them. Now I knew somehow that she was just all girl, probably in her early twenties. The brief instant of shyness had betrayed her.
In the scene she changed. Marilyn Loring was an actress. The moment she caught the click of the camera's turn there was a hardness about her mouth, a faint dishonest touch to the play of her eye, a shameless boldness to her movements concealed without concealment. In the flash of a second she was Marilyn no longer, but Zelda, the ward of old Remsen, an unscrupulous and willing ally of the "Black Terror."
Werner damned the amount of footage used in the scene, then turned to the next, with Enid and Gordon, in the same set, one of the necessary retakes for which the room had been put up again.
Enid had not noticed me and I somehow failed to shake off the feeling of fear that the glance of Millard had given me. Faint heart I was, and the answer was that I had yet to win the fair lady. To excuse myself I pretended she was different under the lights. It was really true that, as Zelda Remsen, Enid was not the fascinating creature I had met in Werner's office. There was too much Mascaro on her lashes, too great an amount of red and blue and even bright yellow in her make-up. In striking contrast was the little coloring used by Stella Lamar, or even Marilyn Loring.
Enid's scene was a close-up in which the beginning of the love interest in the story was shown. I noticed that as the cameras turned upon the action the girl inch by inch shifted her position, almost imperceptibly, until she was practically facing the lens. The consequence was that Gordon, playing the lover, was forced to move also in order to follow her face, and so was brought with his back toward the camera. It was the pleasant little film trick known as "taking the picture away" from a fellow actor. Enid was a "lens hog."
The moment the scene was over Gordon rushed to Werner to protest. The director, irritated and in a hurry, gave him small satisfaction. Both players were called back under the lights for the next "take." As Werner's back was turned Enid favored Gordon with a mischievous, malicious glance. The leading man possessed very few friends, from what I had heard. The new star evidently did not propose to become one of them.
"Let's pay our respects, socially," suggested Kennedy, at my elbow.
I followed his glance and saw that Marilyn was seated alone, away from the others, apparently forlorn. As we approached she drew her dressing robe about her, smiling. With the smile her face lighted. It was in the rare moments, just as her smile broke and spread, that she was pretty, strikingly so.
"Professor Kennedy," she exclaimed. "And Mr. Jameson, too! Sit down and watch our new star."
"What do you think of her?" Kennedy asked.
"Enid?" Marilyn's expression became quizzical. "I think she's a clever girl."
"You mean something by that, don't you?" prompted Kennedy.
She sobered. "No! Honestly!" For an instant she studied him with a directness of gaze which I would have found disconcerting. "Don't tell me"--she teased, again allowing the flash of a smile to illuminate her features--"don't tell me the renowned and celebrated Professor Kennedy suspects Enid Faye of murdering poor Stella to get her position."
Kennedy laughed, turning to me. "There's the woman," he remarked. "We may deduce and analyze and catalogue all the facts of science, but"--he spread his palms wide, expressly--"it is as nothing against a woman's intuition." Facing Marilyn again, he became frank. "You caught my thought exactly, although it was not as bad as all that. I simply wondered if Miss Faye might not have had something to do with the case."
"Why?" I realized now that this Miss Loring, in addition to considerable skill as an actress, in addition to rare beauty on the screen, possessed a brain and the power to use it. She followed Kennedy with greater ease than I, who knew him.
"Why?" she repeated.
"Perhaps it's the intuition of the male," he began, hesitatingly.
She shook her head. "A man's intuition is not dependable. You see, a woman gets her intuition first and fits her facts to it, while a man takes a fact and then has an intuitive burst of inspiration as a result. The woman puts her facts last and so is not thrown out when they're wrong, as they usually are. But the man--I think, Professor Kennedy, that you have some facts about Enid stored away and that that's why you put a double meaning in my remark. Am I right?"
He smiled. "I surrender, Miss Loring. You are right."
"What is the little fact? Perhaps I can help you."
"Miss Faye and Lawrence Millard seem to be old friends."
"Oh! Maybe you wonder at the contents of the sealed testimony in the case of Millard vs. Millard?"
"Do you want to know what I think?" she asked.
"Well, I've worked with Stella nearly a year. It's my opinion she divorced Millard because he asked her to do so."
"No, no!" I balked at that, interrupting. "He could have obtained the divorce himself if he had wanted it. Stella Lamar and Manton--"
"That's talk!" she rejoined, with a show of feeling. "That's the thing I hate about pictures. It's always talk, talk, talk! I'm not saying Stella and old Papa Lloyd, as we used to call him, never were mixed up with each other, but it's one thing to repeat a bit of gossip and quite another thing to prove it. I'm not one to help give currency to any rumor of immoral relationship until I'm pretty dog-gone sure it's true."
"You think Miss Lamar wasn't as bad as painted?" asked Kennedy.
"I'm sure of it, Mr. Kennedy. I've known Stella and I've known others of her type. Fundamentally they're the kindest, truest, biggest-hearted people on earth. When Stella and I shared a dressing room I often caught her giving away this or that-- frequently things she needed herself. I've known her to draw against her salary to lend money to some actor or actress whom she well knew would never repay her. Stella's biggest fault was an overbalancing quality of sympathy. If she ever did get mixed up with anyone you may bet it was because that person played upon her feelings."
"Have you any theory as to who killed her?" It was a direct question.
"No!" The answer was quick, but then an amazing thing happened. Marilyn suddenly colored, a flush which gathered up around her eyes above the make-up and made me think of a country girl. She started to say something else and then bit her tongue. Her confusion was surprising, due, probably, to the unexpectedness of Kennedy's query.
Kennedy seemed to wish to spare her. Undoubtedly her prompt negative had been the truth. Some afterthought had robbed her of her self-control. "Tell me why you said Miss Faye was a clever girl," he directed.
"Just because she puts her ambition above everything else and works hard and honestly and sincerely, and will get there. That's what people call being clever."
Werner's voice, roaring through a megaphone, announced an interval for lunch. Marilyn rose, laughing now, but still in a high color, conscious perhaps that she had revealed some strong undercurrent of feeling.
"If you'll escort me to my dressing room," she said, coaxingly, "and wait until I slip into a skirt and waist, I'll initiate both of you to McCann's across the street. We all eat there, players, stage hands, chauffeurs--all but the stars, who have machines to take them elsewhere."
Kennedy glanced at me. "Delighted!" said I.
"We haven't much time," she went on, leading the way. "Werner's on a rampage to-day."
"He isn't usually that way?"
"It's Stella's death, I guess." She opened one of the steel fire doors. "He's always that way, though, when he's been out the night before."
I flashed a look at Kennedy. Could Werner have been at Tarrytown?
In the long hallway of dressing rooms Marilyn stopped, grasping the knob of her door. "It'll only take me--" she began.
Then her face went white as the concrete of the floor, and that was immaculate. An expression which might have been fear, or horror, or hate--or all three, spread over her features, transforming her.
Following the direction of her stare, I saw Shirley down the hall, just as he stopped at his own door. He caught her glance suddenly, and his own face went red. I thought that his hands trembled.
Marilyn wheeled about, lips pressed tightly together. Throwing open the door, she dashed into her room, slamming it with a bang which echoed and re-echoed up and down the little hall. She had forgotten our presence altogether.