Monday, June 03, 2019

A Knock-back

An Imperfect Life

Chapter 36

A Knock-back.


 “Hi Paula – we’re back!

 “Good – you’ve got a lot of bookings.  Be in the office at 9am tomorrow and I’ll fill
you in.”
No polite conversation with Paula – just get on with the job!  I was in the office bright

and early to hear I had a variety of jobs modelling sweaters, toothpaste, shampoos but

Paula told me she also wanted me to work in films and get ‘spotted’.  To this end she

had put me up for a bridesmaid for Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall in ‘The Constant

Husband’, and as a guest at the ball with Vivien Leigh in ‘The Deep Blue Sea.’

As a film fan I was delighted to be on the same set as these gifted actors.  Rex Harrison was adored by the film crew and behaved like an enfant terrible.  As bridesmaids we stood for hours in a bunch with the stars.  It was obvious that he and Kay were attracted to each other – Rex did however take one of the bridesmaids out to dinner.  Kay teased him about his toupee: at one stage she had to hit him with her bouquet and wondered impishly if this would dislodge the rug.  She was gorgeous and I found her looks extraordinary and tried to get my eyebrows to look like hers until Marta pointed out that the shape of our faces were different and it looked silly on me.
  Rex and Kay became lovers then tragically, Kay was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Legend has it that Rex promised to take care of her for the time she had left and they

married but sadly Kay died in 1959.

  I was very excited at the prospect of seeing the divine Vivien on the set of ‘The Deep Blue Sea’.  She was a wondrous film actor –far better than her husband, Laurence Olivier.  Sadly I didn’t recognise her at first as ill health had taken its toll.  Although she was still beautiful on screen – in the flesh she was a shadow of her former self.  I’ve noticed plain girls sort of grow into their faces with age, and become more attractive, whilst great beauties tend to fade.  Vivien had no illusions about herself and said she felt like a large peach in her beautiful ball gown.

Paula clearly had her spies on the set because afterwards she demanded to know what the director Anatole Litvak – had said to me.  What he said- in his heavy Ukrainian accent to me and my partner was :-

“If I hit your legs with this stick you are going out of shot so GET BACK IN!”

Poor Paula – I think I was a great disappointment to her – not least because I couldn’t blag – talk myself up and be economical with the truth.

  One job I remember fondly was when three girls chosen out of hundreds of glamour girls spent the day in a studio wearing four different glamorous costumes miming a jingle whilst Dorothy Carless provided the vocals three times over.  The voices were then combined and the result looked as if we were a version of the Andrews sisters.  We were miming:-

“Who do you know?  Who do you know?  Who do you know?

Who doesn’t like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes?” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It was such a fun day.  The other girls were Maria - a beautiful Danish model and Celia – a descendant of Mrs Kepple (wonder if she knew the Duchess of Cornwall who is also a descendant.)

A lifetime later whilst staying at our cottage with an old black and white TV set I was amazed to hear the same jingle and the same three girls.  Why on earth would

 they be using an ancient black and white ad for Kellogg’s?  Apparently the advertising agency had been trying to find us to ask permission to use the ad for a 30 year anniversary.  I was happy to give permission, a new contract was negotiated and I got a welcome windfall and a copy of the tape - which amused the family.

  Back to 1955 everything was going well, my bank balance was increasing, studios were booking me on a regular basis- something had to go wrong soon, and it did.

“Pat I know you have two bookings tomorrow but there is an important audition at Illustrated magazine at 3pm sharp.  Make sure you get there looking gorgeous.”

  Illustrated specialised in photo journalism similar to Picture Post.

I wondered if Paula had any flippin’ idea how long it took to get from A to B in London.  Half the time I would be agonising in the back of a taxi as we got stuck in yet another traffic jam.  No wonder I started getting migraines.  The morning was booked for an on going women’s magazine serial – a poor little girl in Paris spotted by this mature couturier and groomed to be his muse.  Such fun – one had to act and wear beautiful clothes but by the end of the session with all the changing, hair and make-up I was usually exhausted.  After that was a straight forward shoot at 2pm which usually lasted an hour.  How the hell could I get over to Illustrated by 3pm?  Of course I couldn’t and when I arrived the auditions were over.  The room was full of gorgeous creatures including –to my amazement – Marta.

“You’re late,” she snapped. I explained I couldn’t help it as my last booking ended at 3pm and I had to cross London.

“Well you’d better tell someone you’re here.  They’ve taken all the names.

Jut then a woman with a clip board came in and I explained what had happened.  I said Paula Day had sent me and she told me to wait and disappeared into the interview room.

“Mr B has finished seeing people but you can pop in briefly.”  I grimaced at Marta and followed the secretary into the room.

The man behind the desk cut short my apologies.

“Hang on a minute.  You could be just what we’re looking for.”

He made a phone call and shortly two younger men appeared.

“Sit down and tell us something about yourself.”  I sat down and started babbling on, apologising at the same time and feeling my cheeks getting pink.

“Right!  What we’re looking for is the ‘girl next door’.    This is Ben the journalist and Phil the photographer, who you would be working with.  The job involves going up to Morecambe next week-end and being photographed with a famous person.  If we decide to use you would you be available?

My week-ends were usually spent pottering round the garden in scruffy clothes but this sounded interesting so I said yes.  He asked me to wait outside and I joined Marta.

“How did you get on?”

“Well they seemed quite interested.”

“Listen Pat- we haven’t had a chance to talk for ages.  When this is over come round to my house – my mother would like to meet you and we can have a good gossip.”

Of course I agreed- I couldn’t say no to Marta after all she had done for me; taking me under her wing and introducing me to Paula, although I was longing to get home to Epsom and relax.  The girl with the clip board came in and thanked everyone for coming and asked me to stay behind.

“I’ll see you in the foyer,” Marta hissed.

Back in the interview room the man behind the desk was smiling.

“Congratulations Pat.  We’ve decided you are the right girl for us.  You’ll be travelling up with Ben and Phil.  Sally will give you all the details.  Is there anything you want to ask?”

Er - I should think so!

“May I ask who is the famous person?”  My imagination was running riot.

“It’s Wilfred.  Wilfred Pickles.”

During the war Wilfred was the first BBC announcer to have a regional accent; he was a Yorkshire man and used to end his broadcasts with “and to all the people in the north- good neet!”

Some people, accustomed to the mellifluous tones of such as Alvar Lidell complained.  He was sacked and became a radio celebrity and host of a BBC programme ‘Have a go!’ which ran from 1946-1967.  His wife Mabel was his partner on the show and one of the many catch phrases was ‘Give ‘im the money Mabel!’

I adjusted my expectations and went to meet Marta.

  It was good to meet her parents; they were such opposites - her Italian father sitting quietly like a somnolent Picasso, and her mother- bright as a button, full of Irish charm, as she made the tea.  She and I had a scatty conversation about the joys of living in the southeast with its ready access to that wonderful place – Brighton.  After both of us had exhausted the charms of the old Prince Regent’s love nest, we discovered that neither of us had ever set foot in Brighton and dissolved into giggles.

It was obvious that Marta wanted to talk and I was whisked off to her room clutching my tea.  She studied me carefully and then fired a barrage of questions about my hair, makeup, clothes – every possible detail about my personal appearance.  Then the penny dropped: she couldn’t understand why I had got the audition instead of her, or indeed any of the other lovelies.  What was so ironic- just over a year ago- she had instructed me on all these details, and I had blindly followed her instructions.  It took some time to convince her I had been chosen for my very ordinariness.

  Marta had changed since I first met her.  She was burning the candle at both ends – she had the sophistication of a 30yr old but was still barely 20.  She was mixing with a very fast set and it wasn’t really benefiting her or her career.  I realised racing home to Epsom every night saved me from a lot of inappropriate behaviour.

  It was late when I got home and William was in bed asleep.  In the morning when I told him about the Morecambe job, he was pleased for me and laughed like a drain when I told him who the famous person was, and a Yorkshire man to boot.

On the way up to Morecambe, Phil and Ben told me about the job;  Wilfred was going to make the dream of an ordinary girl (me) come true and be photographed doing it-rather in the style of an early ‘Jim’ll fix it!’   This would be a feature in the magazine.  It sounded fun - it was always preferable to use ones imagination - or even a few brain cells rather than just exercising one’s facial muscles.  I liked the boys, as I called them – both older than me; Ben bespectacled and studious and Phil an attractive family man.  I loved the hotel – right beside the sea and built in 1933 in the style of my favourite art-deco.

“Pat settle yourself in and we’ll go and arrange a schedule with Wilfred.”  I unpacked, wandered round the hotel and was just wondering if I had time to walk along the beach, when the boys returned.  As soon as I saw their faces I knew something was wrong.

“Pat lets go and have some tea.”

“No! I know something is wrong.  Please tell me what it is.”  Phil insisted we sat down and gradually I discovered what had happened.  Mabel had been present and straight away told them that they’d have to think again and no way was this ‘London glamour girl going to horn in on the act.'  Wilfred was – they said drinking beer with whisky chasers.  It was a nasty shock for them and they assured Mabel that I wasn’t a glamour girl and indeed, came from the north – Lancashire in fact.  Mabel was immovable so finally they left and returned to the hotel.  I could feel myself getting really upset, so I excused myself and fled to my room.  I had a jolly good cry and then rinsed my face in cold water and tried to repair the damage.  The phone went – it was Phil; he had phoned head office and they said that Phil and Ben should insist that Wilfred should at least meet me and that is what they would arrange, if I were agreeable.  I said yes because at least it wasn’t personal- how could it be when the Pickles hadn’t even met me.  Inside I was pretty angry but for everybody’s sake, I wanted to do the job.

  When we got there it was just Wilfred for which I was grateful.  He had aged somewhat and was puffy around the eyes, but at least was civil and when I told him where I was born and bred, he said he remembered the Morris Dancing there.  I wondered if he was confusing it with somewhere else.  He tried to be kind and pleasant but there was no way he was going to go against what Mabel wanted.

  After this, head office said we should lie low, and I should leave the next day. They were desperately sorry about my treatment but they would try to salvage the project after I had left.  Talk about feeling like a pariah.  I went to my room and tried to phone William.  He said all the right things and told me not to worry – just put it down to experience.  When I went down to rejoin the boys, they were looking wretched and asked if there was anything they could do to make it up to me,  It would be some time before I got over this knock- back but I felt cheered after speaking to William and with the resilience of youth, looked on the bright side.  Here I was in a delightful place with a free evening and two charming men, so I suggested we had a drink followed by dinner, followed by dancing.  They laughed and drew the line at dancing but we had a really good evening and I felt lucky I wasn’t the one who would have to pick up the pieces the next day.  I certainly planned to do a lot of thinking about my future.



Ms Scarlet said...

Wow, Pat! I hope you don't still see this incident as a knock-back? It would have happened to any woman who turned up for the part.
I used to love watching those films on TV. So glamorous. Kay Kendall and Vivian Leigh! Wow.

Pat said...

Scarlet: One can be surrounded by affirmation in what one is doing but it is difficult not to take a rejection personally and one's self belief turns out to be built on shifting sands. Of course you are right it really had nothing to do with me. My carapace was not really up to the career Paula envisaged for me.
Yes they were really great gals weren't they?

angryparsnip said...

Oh My Goodness... You London glamor girl. What a huge mess.
I think @ Ms Scarlet was right. No one would be "right".
How exciting to be in a movie with actors that you knew about and liked.
parsnip x

Pat said...

Parnsip: all part of life's rich tapestry - as they say. People just hear- 'She's been sacked!' I wondered how Paula was going to react. Her top model given the boot.

Kim Ayres said...

Sometimes people take against us for no reason we've given them. I remember once meeting someone who was really off with me and I had no idea what I could have done. I later found out I looked a bit like a teacher he'd had a hard time with at school.
Nothing more than a coincidental bit of bone structure.

But when someone takes against you before they've even met you, that has to be their problem, not yours. I hope it wasn't held against you.

Looking forward to the next installment! :)

Pat said...

Kim:-I think the villain of the piece was Mabel who had a reputation for being a tartar and Wilfred was weak and putty in her hands. To be honest I had never been a fan so maybe I deserved it.
You were completely blameless.
I have had the odd experience - not professionally - where people have been cold and distant at first meeting and ended up firm friends.

AndrewM said...

Oh well. Looking forward to 'three go mad in Morecambe!'

Pat said...

AndrewM: sorry to disappoint you but that's Morecambe done and dusted,

Exile on Pain Street said...

In Richard Burton's diaries (Which you should read. They're fantastic.) he said Rex Harrison was insufferable to work with. Cheap gossip. I love that stuff.

Can your younger self be seen in any of these films/commercials? The miracle of the internet, where nothing dies, might help.

Pat said...

Exile: I've read a couple of books about them both but not his diaries. Will look out for it. Rex would NOT have ben his cup of tea at all.

neena maiya said...

I was expecting to read that you'd done something terribly wrong. It was only Mabel's prejudice after all. You didn't 'lose' the job, there's no way anyone could be upset with you. In fact, why wasn't this sorted out before you and the boys had gone?

Pat said...

Neena: the boys were in thrall to their employers - the magazine and the magazine were in thrall to the Pickles. I was a woman of no importance.