It was a good quote, thought Ada, as she dawdled her way back towards the studio gates. Esme was quite right that every married person would likely nod in sympathy at her words (or so Ada assumed, never having been married herself), but the fact remained that they didn’t confirm or deny a thing.
Ada had failed to secure a scoop that would make the front page, she admitted with a sigh as she idly watched a fight break out amongst actors draped in furs for an Alaska gold rush picture. No wonder they were so grouchy in this heat, Ada thought. In just a light jacket she herself was looking forward to a cool bath before changing for the evening.
Even as the sun began to set and many productions shut down for the evening, the lot remained a hive of activity. Ada had to jump aside as a crew of overalled workers carried a gigantic backdrop of what looked like the Versailles Hall of Mirrors towards a wooden frame.
‘Careful! The paint isn’t dry yet!’ called their supervisor, an elderly woman whose dress hadn’t gotten the message it was the 20th century. Her Victorian bustled skirt in forest green was caked in dust and mud at the bottom as she scurried after her precious painting.
Ada couldn’t help feeling a tiny, ridiculous thrill as she caught sight of Jack McCann being hurried towards a gloomy gothic set by a harassed assistant director. Archie Tanner might be the more established heart-interest, but Jack McCann’s mop of tousled dark hair and puppyish brown eyes had Ada’s heart.
Not that she would ever dream of expecting him to notice her — and she had been reliably informed in any case by many girlfriends in the picture business that romances with actors were more trouble than they were worth — but she would enjoy the little glimpse of him all the same.
Checking that no one was paying any particular attention to her, Ada casually followed and watched as Jack performed a few graceful leaps and tumbles to warm up while the director and cameraman conferred over the composition of the shot.
At the director’s command, Jack nimbly pulled himself up into a gnarled, wizened tree — or at least, a beautifully rendered effigy of one — and proceeded to hang precariously from it, pleading passionately with some unseen adversary as the director shouted encouragement and the cameraman carefully cranked the film at an even speed to ensure a smooth picture.
Ada sidled a little closer so as to hear over the cacophony of the lot — somewhere in the distance a brass band clanged and crashed, closer by a violinist played a jaunty quickstep and from every corner people shouted, roared and laughed.
‘Sausages!’ called Jack with an expression of heart rendering sorrow. ‘Custard and mashed potatoes! Rabbit stew, treacle pudding and four or five slices of buttered bread. Good lord I’m hungry.’
‘Everybody can see hearts fluttering from your eyes,’ whispered a smooth western drawl right beside her and Ada jumped. She furiously tried to hide her blush as her brother Fred, carrying a huge saddle effortlessly over his shoulder chuckled.
‘What would you know about anything Fred Watson? she demanded.
‘I know better than to get on the wrong side of Archie Tanner, for a start.’
Ada stared at him in alarm. ‘How could you possibly —’
‘This is Hollywood, little sister. If you sneeze on Wiltshire someone will sell you cold medicine by Sunset Boulevard.’
‘I’ll write a glowing review of Flowers in the Morning,’ she shrugged, affecting a confidence she didn’t feel. ‘He’ll be fine.’
It was then that Ada noticed Caspar Gabor standing at the edge of the Jack McCann set, watching intently. An enormous bear of a man with a shattered nose and cauliflower ears. Gabor was ostensibly head of production at RLP Studios, but everyone knew that his true role was as studio head Wallace H Macmillan’s eyes and years. His position — and rumoured extremely generous salary — was in view of the fact that — so it was said — he had saved Macmillan’s life in a brawl in New York many years previously. They had been a team ever since and had travelled out west together in 1909, amongst the first film pioneers to flee Thomas Edison’s draconian patents and establish a sleepy ranching community in California as the centre of the picture industry.
Realising she was going to be hopelessly late for Lillian’s party, Ada headed towards the gates where she had parked her car, but something about Gabor’s expression gave her pause. Maybe the picture was running way over budget and Macmillan had dispatched him to supervise and ensure that the director wasn’t wasting time. That must be it. She reached her car, but couldn’t resist turning to glance back one more time.
Jack, apparently done for the day, shook hands with the director, waved to the crew and headed off towards his dressing room. As Ada watched, Gabor followed him.