Don Westenhaver, Missing Star

Missing Star, Chapter One

“John Barrymore? You kissed the handsomest man in the world?”

Olivia, sweet and stout, was on Household Staff, so she was allowed more freedom than Customer Service ladies like Joyce. The six housekeepers cleaned the rooms of the main house, cooked meals, trimmed plants in the gardens, and washed the voluminous laundry. They slept in a guest house on the estate grounds and enjoyed heavily supervised outings in the real world.

Olivia had bonded with Joyce because of their mutual Hispanic blood, quickly discovering that Joyce Rothman’s real name was Villareal and that she spoke passable Spanish. The “Palace Guards”, as Joyce called the prison’s Security Staff, had not yet discovered their friendship.

“Yes, many times. It’s not as enjoyable as you might think. You have to really concentrate when doing romantic scenes because the camera sees a man and a woman kissing differently from real life. John and I would kiss, but then the director would yell “Cut!” and order us to try again. Over and over! After a while, it’s as exciting as shaking hands.”

“What is the director looking for?”

“Hard to say. One time he explained that kissing pushes your lips into odd, ugly shapes.” Olivia giggled at that, and that started both women laughing at the visual image.

“The novella of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was too difficult for me to understand, at least in English. I tried to read it years ago.”

“Robert Louis Stevenson’s story is one of the most popular books of all time. We had to read it in high school and I certainly struggled with it. So much violence and psychological discussion! For the last thirty years it has been performed in theaters, but this movie version will be a huge hit. Movie theater audiences are in the tens of thousands, whereas stage theater audiences are only in the hundreds.”

“What’s the film about?”

“It’s set in London in the Eighties, so the actors wear old-fashioned clothes, ride in horse-drawn carriages instead of automobiles and use gas lanterns instead of electricity.”

“You went to London!” exclaimed Olivia, mouth agape in astonishment.

Joyce laughed. “No. We filmed my scenes at Paramount’s location in Santa Barbara, though most of the movie is now being made in New York. I would have loved going to New York, but I was kidnapped before the cast and crew moved there. An Italian actress named Nita Naldi took over my character.”

Olivia was quiet. Mention of kidnapping often brought the Customer Service ladies to tears and fury.

Joyce breathed deeply to calm herself. Out of the blue she imagined her guardian angel hug her. It was such a lovely feeling, but probably just a myth, like so much of what she’d been told in church.

“The basic idea of the story is that we all have two natures – one good and one evil. John Barrymore plays the main character, Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is a really decent man, a living saint in fact. He’s quite wealthy and spends his days treating poor people of their illnesses free of charge in a place called the Human Repair Shop. One of Jekyll’s acquaintances, George Carew, is just the opposite, a heavy drinker, philanderer, and liar. Carew tries to convince Jekyll to acknowledge his own evil side, telling him ‘the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’”

“And which character do you play?”

“I am the temptation, a dance hall girl named Gina. Carew takes the good doctor to the dance hall, where I perform a sensuous dance. Carew has my boss pull me off the stage and introduce me to Jekyll. My character needs no encouragement because Jekyll is so attractive. It was easy for me to play the role of Gina because I was in fact quite attracted to John Barrymore.”

“I’m sure!”

“But in the script, he rebuffs me at first – kindly but firmly. I walk away disappointed. However, Jekyll’s expression makes it clear that Gina has started him thinking – what if? Jekyll finds he cannot get Gina off his mind. He desperately wants to participate in the wild life, but also wants to continue being virtuous. Quite the scientist, he invents a potion that transforms him into another man, Edward Hyde. As Hyde, he can do whatever he wants and afterwards takes an antidote to be changed back into Dr. Jekyll. He believes Hyde can have all sorts of fun and Jekyll can keep his soul intact. He can have his cake and eat it too. Also, Hyde looks so repulsive that no one recognizes him as Jekyll.”

“Then who plays Hyde?”

“That is what is so amazing! Barrymore plays that role also. He is such a good actor that he somehow converts his handsome face into an ugly one.” “Did you have to kiss the ugly Barrymore?”

“Oh yes, but I closed my eyes. Anyway, Jekyll’s potion is not perfect. Each time he becomes Hyde, the Hyde man gets more hideous, animal-like, and meaner. Hyde takes opium, eats curtains…”

“Dios mio!”

“…drools and walks with a limp. His hands turn into claws. Finally, he starts murdering people. He has become a monster! Jekyll starts out controlling Hyde, but with time, Hyde takes over.”

After Olivia left to clean the next bedroom suite, Joyce read her diary, longing for her prior life. The initial filming of Dr. Jekyll was the most exhilarating time of her life, even more so than the filming of Daddy Long Legs. There she had worked closely with Mary Pickford, one of the best-known actresses in the world, but as a supporting actress. In Jekyll she worked with the equally famous actor John Barrymore, but in a starring role.

The movie’s plot – the tension between a man’s good and evil sides – had hit her like a lightning bolt. That theme had dominated her childhood Religion classes at St. Anthony’s. The nuns had constantly reminded the students that they would be pulled towards Evil by Satan and towards Good by God. “God gave you free will,” said the nuns, “and this freedom will be tested every day of your life.”

During Mass she had the freedom of praying or daydreaming. On the playground she could share with the other kids or be selfish and mean. In class she could copy work from a classmate or do her work honestly. The biggest temptations toward Evil came later, with Danny. Sitting alone with him in the back of a dark movie theater, kissing, her body would melt languorously like it did in warm bath water. She and Danny frequently talked about sin, especially mortal sin, and both vowed to avoid “the occasions of sin,” as their priests called temptation in the confessional box.

Graduation from St. Anthony’s was the last time she saw the nuns, and almost the last time she saw Danny. She stopped going to Mass and the contrast of Good and Evil faded over the years. There was only Good, now defined as drinking, parties, romance, and the beginnings of fame and fortune. She’d felt guilt over it all, but it helped that all her new friends were doing the same things, seemingly without regret. The years went by and she no longer gave a thought to the tension between Good and Evil. Until Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came along to remind her.

Her transformation from up-and-coming actress to sex slave had reinforced her suspicion that each person was part Jekyll and part Hyde. Many of her clients seemed to be virtuous men, maybe not living saints like the good Doctor Jekyll, but hard-working, church-going family men. Yet they cheated on their wives with her, a mortal sin that would condemn them to an eternity of hell. The nuns were right, and so was Robert Louis Stevenson.

The words on the page of the diary blurred as her eyes filled with tears. She felt like the Prodigal Son in the Bible. She’d left her father, who had given her everything, selfishly going her own way in Hollywood. Now she was trapped in hell, and she wanted desperately to return to her father and be the good girl she used to be. Could she escape? If she did, would he take her back? She knew God would forgive her, but would her father? Then she answered her own doubt. Of course, he would, just like the father in the Bible story.

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