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Chapter Three

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  1. CHAPTER 1
  2. Chapter 1
  3. CHAPTER 1
  4. CHAPTER 1
  5. CHAPTER 10
  6. CHAPTER 10
  7. Chapter 10
  8. CHAPTER 10
  9. Chapter 11
  10. CHAPTER 11

"WHOSE apartment did you say, sir?" the elevator operator asked as he slowly shut the door and the elevator began to move upward.

Johnny finished lighting his cigarette. He hadn't mentioned any names, just the floor he wanted. He thought to himself that these fancy houses didn't miss a trick. Their tenants weren't going to be disturbed unnecessarily. "Mr. Kessler's," he answered. It was a long way from Rochester—where all you had to do was look upstairs over the store—to Riverside Drive.

His mind flashed back to his conversation with Joe that morning. What Joe had said still troubled him. They hadn't spoken very much, and soon after breakfast Joe went out. True, Joe had asked him if he wanted to come along and see May and Flo, but he had said that he was going up to Peter's that afternoon.

The elevator stopped and the door slid open silently. "Just down the hall to your right. Apartment 9 C, sir," the operator said politely.

Johnny thanked him and walked down the hall to the door and pressed the buzzer.

The maid answered the door. Johnny stepped in and handed her his hat. "Is Mr. Kessler in?" he asked.

Before the maid could answer, Doris came sweeping into the hall. "Uncle Johnny!" she cried. "I heard your voice!"

He picked her up and hugged her. "Hello, sweetheart."

She looked into his face. "I was hoping you'd come today. You don't come to see us very often."

His face reddened. "I haven't much time, sweetheart. Your lather keeps me pretty busy."



He felt a tugging at his trousers. He looked down.

Mark was pulling at them. "Swing me, Uncle Johnny," he cried.

Johnny put Doris down and swung him up in the air and then onto his shoulders. Mark yelled with glee and dug his fingers into Johnny's hair as Esther came into the hall.

"Why, Johnny," she smiled, "come in, come in."

With Mark still on his shoulders, he followed her into the living-room. Peter was there, reading his papers. His shirt was off and with some surprise Johnny noticed he had developed a little paunch. He looked at Johnny and smiled.

"Look at him," Esther said to Johnny, a smile deep in her eyes. "With a maid in the house, he sits around all day in his underwear. Mr. Fancy of Riverside Drive."

Peter grunted. He spoke in Yiddish. "So what? I know the village she comes from in Germany. There, if they got shirts, it's a miracle."

Johnny looked blank and they both laughed at him.

"Go put on a shirt," Esther said.

"All right, all right," Peter grumbled as he moved toward the bedroom.

Peter came back into the doorway as Johnny put Mark down. He stood there buttoning his shirt. "What brings you up here?"

Johnny looked at him quickly and smiled to himself. Peter didn't miss much. This was the first time in weeks that Johnny had come to visit them. "I wanted to see how the other half lives," he laughed.

"You been here before," Peter pointed out with a complete lack of humor.

Johnny laughed aloud. "Not since you had a maid."

"And that should make such a big difference?" Peter asked.

"Sometimes," Johnny said, still smiling.

"Never by me." Peter spoke seriously. "I should have a houseful of servants and still I would act the same."

"Sure," Esther added. "He would still sit around the house in his underwear."

"That proves what I say," Peter came back triumphantly. "Servants or no servants, Peter Kessler is always the same."

Johnny had to admit to himself that Peter was right. Peter hadn't changed in the past few years, but he had. Peter was



content with things the way they were, but Johnny wasn't satisfied. There was something more he wanted, something more he had to have, and what it was he didn't really know. Only the sense of dissatisfaction was real. He remembered again what Joe had said that morning. Peter had come a long way from the little hardware store in Rochester; he had gained a measure of security and was content with it. What right did he have to ask Peter to risk all this for an idea? But on the other hand, he reasoned, Peter would not have had even this if it hadn't been for the fact that he had pushed him. Whether this gave him the right to push Peter further, Johnny did not know. He only knew that he could not stop now. The future, no matter how nebulous it seemed, was too much a part of him to give up.

He looked at Peter quizzically. "You mean you're not too big to listen to a good idea?"

"That's what I mean," Peter said. "Always I'm willing to take good advice."

Johnny heaved a mock sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear that. Some people say you're getting very high-hat since you lived on Riverside Drive."

"Who could say such a thing?" Peter cried indignantly. He turned to Esther and held out his hands. "The minute a man does a little all right, people start knocking him."

Esther smiled sympathetically. Johnny was leading up to something, she was sure of it. She was curious about what he wanted and she felt that it wouldn't be long in forthcoming. "People can't help misunderstandings," she said. "Maybe somebody you gave a reason?"

"Never," Peter protested indignantly. "I'm friendly to everybody like always."

"So then don't worry," she told him reassuringly. She turned to Johnny. "You would like, maybe, some coffee and cake?"

They followed her into the kitchen. When Johnny had fin­ished his second piece of cake he asked Peter casually: "Did you read the World today?"

A sixth sense made Esther turn around and look at him. The question was casual, almost too casual, she thought. There was nething in the way he asked it that made her feel this was only the beginning. "Now it comes out," she thought.

"Yeanh," Peter answered.



"Did you read about Bernhardt making a four-reeler? And about Quo Vadis?"

"Sure," Peter replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Remember what I said about bigger pictures?"

"Sure, I remember," Peter answered. "I also remember the serial you cut down."

"That was something else," Johnny said. "I was trying to work something out. But this is different, this proves what I said about making a picture out of The Bandit was right."

"How does it?" Peter asked. "Things are still the same."

"Are they?" Johnny said. "When you get the greatest actress of the time to make a motion picture, when you make a motion picture out of a great novel, are things still the same? Can't you see that moving pictures are growing up? That the two-reel short pants the combine is making them wear is beginning to chafe?"

Peter stood up. "This is nonsense you're talking. Once in a blue moon somebody will make a long picture. You happen to read in the paper about two being made at once and right away you're right.

"Maybe if Sarah Bernhardt would make a picture for Peter Kessler, I would make a long picture, but otherwise who would go to see an hour-long movie without any famous actors in it?"

Johnny looked at him. Peter was right. Without names that were known, it would be difficult to attract people to a picture. When he had been with the carnival, certain acts had been featured by name because it was known that they would attract customers. The stage, too, featured certain actors and actresses for the same reason, but the movies never credited any players. The combine objected to it because it feared that if the players knew of their value they would demand more money.

Yet people were recognizing certain players, and whenever they heard one of their pictures were playing, they would flock to the theater and plunk down their nickels and dimes and pay to see their favorites. Like that little funny-looking tramp who had just made some comedies. What was his name again? Johnny had heard it once, but he had to think twice before he could call it to mind—Chaplin. And that girl who was known as the Biograph girl. Johnny couldn't even remember her name. Still, the customers remembered and would turn out



to see the pictures they appeared in even if they didn't particularly want to go to the movies.

He made a mental note to have Joe feature the name of the players on the title card of the picture. It would make it easier for the patron to identify the player he liked and would prove of help to the exhibitor in publicizing his attractions.

Peter looked at Johnny strangely. Johnny had been silent for so long that Peter thought he had stumped him. "Stopped you, hah?" he asked triumphantly.

Johnny shook himself out of his reverie. He reached for a cigarette and lit it and looked at Peter through the smoke. "No," he answered, "you didn't. But you just supplied the one thing I needed to guarantee the success of a big picture. A big name. A name that everybody knows. If you get the right actor, you can't object to making a big picture."

"With a big name I could see it," Peter admitted. "But who are you going to get?"

"The actor that plays The Bandit on the stage, now," Johnny answered, "Warren Craig."

"Warren Craig?" Peter cried incredulously. "And why not John Drew while you're at it?" He looked at Johnny sarcastically.

"Warren Craig is good enough," Johnny answered seriously.

Peter lapsed into Yiddish: "Zehr nicht a nahr!" he said. He noted the blank look on Johnny's face and he repeated: "Don't be a fool! You know they all look down on the movies. You can't get them."

"Maybe now that Bernhardt is making a picture, they won't be so hard to get," Johnny said.

"Maybe you could get me John Jacob Astor's money to pay I hem while you're at it," Peter said sarcastically.

Johnny paid no attention to Peter's last remark. He got to his feet excitedly, his cigarette forgotten in his hand. "I can see it now as it comes on the screen. 'Peter Kessler presents . . . Warren Craig ... in the famous Broadway stage success . . . The Bandit ... a Magnum Picture.' " He stopped, his hand pointing dramatically toward Peter.

Peter looked at him. Unconsciously he had been leaning forward in his chair as Johnny spoke, trying to visualize what Johnny was saying. Now the spell was broken and he leaned back. "And I can see it now," he said, trying to cover his previous



display of interest, " 'Peter Kessler files petition in bankruptcy!' "

Esther watched the two of them. First one, then the other, a vague surprise running through her mind. "Peter really wants to do it," she thought.

Peter got to his feet and faced Johnny. He spoke with final­ity. "Nothing doing, Johnny, we can't take a chance like that. There are too many risks involved. The combine won't like it, and if they take away our license, we're out of business. We haven't enough money to take a chance like that."

Johnny eyed him speculatively, a tiny pulse hammering in his temple. He looked at Esther, she was watching Peter. He looked through the door into the living-room. Mark was playing on the floor with some blocks. As he watched, Mark scattered them over the floor with one hand, and Doris put down the book she was reading and went to help him pick them up.

Slowly Johnny turned back to Peter. The words came out evenly; no trace of inner struggle showed in his voice. His mind was made up.

"You producers are all alike! You're all afraid of the com­bine! You bellyache all the time, you cry they're not letting you live, they're starving you out. But what are you doing about it? Nothing! You're all willing to hang around the edges of their table and feed on the crumbs and scraps they throw you. And crumbs is what you get. Nothing more. Do you know how much money they made last year? Twenty million dollars! Do you know how much all you independents made last year? Four hundred thousand dollars between forty of you. That's about ten thousand apiece on an average. Yet during that time you independents paid the combine more than eight million dollars to stay in business. Eight million dollars! Money you made and couldn't keep! Twenty times as much as you kept for yourselves. And there's only one reason for it! You're all afraid to buck the combine!"

His cigarette burned his fingers. He put it out in the tray on the table and went on without paying any attention to it. His voice had grown hard and intense. It was dramatic; the emotion he called on came into his voice as it was needed, and quickly was supplanted by another when its time had gone.

"Why don't you guys get wise to yourselves? This is your business as well as theirs. You made the money. Why don't you keep it? Sooner or later you'll have to fight 'em; why don't you fight 'em now?



Fight 'em with better pictures. They know you can make 'em, that's why they limit what you can do. They run the business that way because they're afraid of what you will do if you ever move out on your own. Get together. Maybe you can fight them in the courts. Maybe what they're doing is against the new anti-trust laws. I don't know. But the stakes are worth the fight.

"Back in Rochester I wanted you to get into this business, remember? I had a reason then, a good one. I could have gone to work for Borden or maybe one of the others, but I wanted you. Because I felt you were the man, the only man with courage enough to fight when the time came. There were times since that I've been offered jobs elsewhere, but I stuck with you. For the same reason. And now I got to know whether I was right or wrong. Because now is the time. You either fight now, or soon the combine will put you all out of business!"

He stood there looking at Peter, trying to gauge the effect of his words. Peter's face told him nothing, but there were other things Johnny saw that made him feel the fight was won. Peter's hands were clenched like a man's about to go into battle.

Peter was silent for a long while. He didn't argue with Johnny. He couldn't. He had long felt that what Johnny had said was right. In the last year he had paid the combine one hundred and forty thousand dollars while keeping about eight for himself. But Johnny was young and too ready to tilt at the windmill. Maybe when he was a little older he would realize that sometimes a man had to have patience.

He turned away from Johnny, walked over to the sink, and drew a glass of water. He sipped it slowly. Still, there was something in what Johnny had said. If all the independents got together, they could fight the combine and maybe they would win the fight. Sometimes fighting was better than wait­ing; maybe Johnny was right. Maybe this was the time. He put the tumbler back on the sink and turned to Johnny.

"How much did you say it would cost to make a picture like that?" he asked.

"About twenty-five thousand dollars," Johnny replied. "That is, if you wanted Warren Craig to play the lead."

Peter nodded his head. Twenty-five thousand dollars—a lot



of money for one moving picture. Still, if it went over, there was a fortune to be made. "If we made a picture like that," he said, "we must have Warren Craig to play the lead. We can't afford to take any extra chances."

Johnny pounced on his opportunity. "You won't actually need twenty-five thousand of your own," he said eagerly. "Joe and I can put up five thousand between us, you put up eight, and we can borrow the rest. I was thinking some of the ex­hibitors would take a chance on a thing like that. They're always crying for something different. If we can give it to them, maybe we can get the dough from them."

"But we got to get Warren Craig," Peter said.

"Leave that to me," Johnny answered confidently. "I'll get him."

'Then I can put up ten thousand," Peter said.

"You mean you're going to do it?" Johnny asked, the pulse now hammering wildly in his forehead.

Peter hesitated a moment. He turned to Esther and looked at her. The words came out very slowly. "I'm not saying I'm going to do it and I'm not saying I ain't. What I'm saying is that I'll think about it."



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