Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: A Star Danced (1945)
Author: Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700891.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2007
Date most recently updated: July 2007

This ebook was produced by: Dr Mark Bear Akrigg canadianebooks@gmail.com

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Star Danced (1945)
Author: Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952)




For Richard




1


"Lunch in London, the day after tomorrow...'

The skipper dropped the words out of one corner of his mouth
without disturbing the cigarette in the other corner. He disposed
of some three thousand miles of atmosphere as nonchalantly as you
would toss a peanut shell over your shoulder.

I blinked. But only once. After all, the past two days had been
so fantastic that this ultimate scene and conversation on the
brilliantly lighted airfield outside a city in one of the
Southern states, beside the big airliner which was to take me to
England in a scheduled thirty-six hours, seemed part and parcel
of the events that had been happening thick and fast ever since
the telephone woke me at seven o'clock one morning.

The telephone had summoned me from a dream in which Richard and I
were running, hand in hand, down our own narrow strip of Cape Cod
beach into the ocean. Sleepily, unwilling to let go of that
dream, I reached for the receiver and held it to my ear. New York
calling. At Dennis, Cape Cod, at seven o'clock of a May morning,
New York seems as far away as London or Timbuktu.

"Are you up?" the voice of my lawyer demanded crisply.

Knowing me as she does, this was purely a rhetorical question
which, I felt, did not rate an answer. She went on: "Get up!
Right away! Get yourself onto the first plane, or the first
train, into New York. I've just had word from the Air Ministry in
Washington that there is space for you on the British Airways
plane leaving at midnight tomorrow. You're on your way."

After weeks of more or less patient waiting, repeated timid,
pleading, urgent, and finally importunate requests to the
authorities who rule such matters in Washington and London, and a
rapid-fire barrage of telegrams, cables, and telephone calls, it
had happened. At last I had permission to do what I had been
wanting desperately to do for four years--go to England and do my
bit on a tour for E.N.S.A. Though no one knew just when, everyone
was aware that the invasion of Europe was imminent. More than
anything in the world I wanted the opportunity to entertain the
British and American troops who would soon be fighting in France.

Basil Dean, founder and director of E.N.S.A.--the British
equivalent of the U.S.O.--had cabled, asking me to come; but
getting a priority to make the crossing and getting a place
aboard a plane had taken a lot of wire-pulling at the American
end. Now, I was really on my way home to London which I had not
seen in six years. I would see my old friends, or at least those
who remained of that gay company after the Battle of
Britain--those who weren't fighting in Italy or the Near and Far
East, or on any one of the seven seas.

And I might see Richard.

That thought brought me out of bed and under the shower in one
swift leap. From then on the next two days were one mad rush,
winding up with the final leap to the airport.

And now here I was, ready to board the big airliner for the hop
to Newfoundland. I caught my breath, and did my best to imitate
the casual-almost-to-the-point-of-boredom air shown by all
members of all the air forces I have ever met when they are about
to take off.

I was assured of passage to Newfoundland, where we were due to
land at 9:00 A.M. the next day. Whether there would be a place
for me in the plane going on from there to Ireland remained
disturbingly uncertain. We all joked about it, standing there
beside the plane. The others were sure of their passage all the
way to England. They were officials or had diplomatic passports
and were bursting with priorities. But I had only a number-three
priority, which guaranteed me nothing much more than leave to
hitch-hike.

Ernest Hemingway was among the favored ones. I met him then for
the first time. There is something about Mr. Hemingway that makes
one think of a small boy--a rather mischievous small boy whose
pockets are full of bits of string, old rusty nails, chewing gum,
and maybe a pet toad or two. A small boy hiding behind a big,
bushy beard. He asked me, grinning:

"Suppose there is no place for you on the plane? What will you
do?"

"Stow away," I retorted, "in your beard!"

This, I found, was Hemingway's first visit to England. How
strange and sad, too, to have one's first glimpse of London in
her grim battle dress.

My first view of Newfoundland, from about five thousand feet, was
of an enormous black-and-brown land splashed with snow, like a
huge chocolate cake with white icing. All around was a calm,
oily, gray sea and, overhead, a beautiful clear, cloudless sky.
We had breakfast in the cabin of the plane before we docked. Then
we went out to breathe the fresh, salty, fishy-smelling air,
stretch our legs, and see the sights. The airport was full of
Canadian, British, and American airmen from the planes which
ferry steadily back and forth across the North Atlantic. You felt
you were getting close to the fighting front, even though several
thousand miles of ocean still stretched between Newfoundland and
Europe. Here, everyone was engaged, in one way or another, in
getting on with the war. The little town was crowded. People
spoke matter-of-factly about hopping from continent to continent.

Recalling letters from England and tales of food shortages over
there, I did some prudent shopping and emerged triumphantly with
a watch, which I had forgotten to get in New York, two pounds of
butter, and a dozen eggs. I tried to buy some lemons, which I
knew were regarded in England as extinct, but they were extinct
that day in Newfoundland also.

The local paper announced that the Germans were retreating in
Italy. Good! The invasion of Europe was believed to be very near
now. And it was reported that Roosevelt would run again. I wished
my chances of holding my seat (in the plane) were as good as his.

After lunch and the arrival of the Pan-American Clipper, bringing
more passengers bound for England, I was assured there was a
place for me on the plane leaving at one-fifteen. I told Ernest
Hemingway:

"Your beard is now safe from British invasion."

For the next eighteen hours, during eight of which I slept
soundly, we flew so high, sometimes at an altitude of eight
thousand feet, that there was nothing to see but clouds. How
strange was the knowledge that far below was the stretch of
tossing gray ocean I had crossed so many times since my first
trip to America in 1924, when I came over with the cast of
_Charlot's Revue_. Strange to think that, far below us, the
American and British navies were patrolling those same waters to
protect the convoys of transports and freighters which were
plying back and forth with men and war matériel.

Just after daylight we had our first glimpse of Ireland--lush
green fields and the heather-colored mountains of Connemara with
the morning mists curling from their crests like ostrich
feathers. Disturbingly peaceful it seemed after the warlike
atmosphere one felt in Newfoundland. Fat white sheep grazed
placidly in the fields that bordered the road by which we motored
from Limerick. Several times our car slowed down to clear the
road for the herds of young beef cattle, bound (as I hoped)
eventually for England. Every letter I had had from friends at
home had spoken wistfully of the past days of plenty. Though none
of the writers complained, you read between the lines the same
longing you see in children's faces pressed against a sweetshop
window.

We took off again late that afternoon and put down at Croydon
about seven o'clock. The skipper, who had promised me lunch in
London that day, was only five hours out on his calculation.

Flying across southern England, I wondered where Richard was and
how soon I might see him. After all, I couldn't expect the
American Navy to adjust its plans to allow one of its lieutenant
commanders to be at Croydon to meet his wife. But, being a woman,
I couldn't help wishing.

In the excitement of actually recognizing the big, familiar field
just below us, I bounced in my seat--and promptly broke two of
the precious eggs in my lap.

"My God, woman," said Hemingway, helping me clean up the mess,
"what are you going to do _now?_"

"Fortunately, I'm the same shape front and back," I told him. I
jerked my tweed skirt around so that the egg stain was behind me,
buttoned my fur coat, and assured myself, as I tripped down the
gangplank, that I was making as neat an entrance as any in my
career.

It was eight o'clock, the dinner hour, when I drove up to the
dear familiar Savoy. It was not yet dark, just the beloved
twilight, yet London's streets were strangely quiet and free of
traffic. There were great gaps in the familiar skyline and piles
of rubble along the streets we drove through. All the way over I
had been steeling myself for this, my first view of bombed
London. I knew it was going to be hard to take. There was bound
to be that wrenching struggle between the impulse to cry out and
the feeling that one simply dared not give way to one's feelings.
London is my home town. I was born there in Kennington Oval. I
grew up within the sound of Bow Bells. I spoke with a cockney
accent until I was eleven or thereabouts, when Miss Italia Conti
scolded and drilled me out of it. In London I have been by turns
poor and rich, hopeful and despondent, successful and down and
out, utterly miserable and ecstatically, dizzily happy. I belong
to London as each of us can belong to only one place on this
earth. And, in the same way, London belongs to me.

The windows of my room at the Savoy looked out over the Thames
Embankment. After a solitary dinner, as I stood there looking
down, I had my first sharp realization of what war had done to my
town. An impenetrable black curtain seemed to have fallen between
me and the city. The enveloping blackness in which the stars
seemed unreally bright and near and the unusual, wary, listening
stillness were more impressive at that moment than the
destruction wrought by the bombs. They filled me with a swift,
blinding fury against the enemy who could muffle the voice and
force of the greatest and most tolerant city in the world.
Suddenly the silence overhead was cut by the whir of flying
planes. They were our bombers starting out for targets across the
Channel. The sound carried me back to World War I, when we used
to be glad of nights such as this, when there was no moon to
guide the Zeppelins up the winding Thames to drop their death
freight on us.

On such a night...

Suddenly, as against a black-velvet backdrop, the past came back
to me, and I saw myself as a little girl, dancing on a sidewalk
in Clapham....


Clapham is not the least desirable of London's many widely
sprawled districts. Clapham is "genteel." Dwellers in other
suburban districts of London speak enviously of their better-off
cousins and in-laws who are privileged to live in Clapham, London
S.W. For them--and they include thousands of tried-and-true
Londoners--Clapham is something to aspire to.

Residents of Clapham speak of these less-favored boroughs with no
more than the faintest tinge of superiority. For if there is one
thing which every true Claphamite knows and will swear to, it is
that employment is full of uncertainties and life is a matter of
ups and downs. His attitude toward the dwellers in the East End
is that of the humble apostle; but for the grace of God, there go I.

Clapham has its own code, its own proper pride, and its own
firmly rooted conventions. For one thing, it is very bad form,
indeed, to ask questions. Of course you can't help being aware of
certain facts about your neighbors: the hours they keep, who is
in or out of work, whose husband spends more of his free time at
the corner pub than he spends with his family, and what they buy
at the butcher's and greengrocer's. Good form, however, demands a
pretense that you know none of these things. If one of your
neighbors suddenly disappears overnight, bag and baggage, you are
properly surprised about it the next morning, even though you did
hear the bailiff's voice in the hall and the stamping made by the
men from the hire-purchase company as they carried out the
furniture.

If you were brought up in Clapham, as I was, you don't have to be
informed of these nice points of etiquette. You grow up knowing
them. "Don't be nosy," Mother would say. And Dad would add: "It
doesn't pay to see everything, my girl."

Mother hadn't always lived in Clapham, and Kennington Oval was a
step down for her. Her father had been a master builder--a man of
substance in his own line, whose fortune, however, had been lost
in "gilt-edged" securities. Granny still lived in the same house
to which she had moved as a young bride, where her children were
born, and where, she stoutly affirmed, she intended, "God
willing, my dear," to die. Mother had taken the step down when
she allowed the unexplained romantic streak in her nature to make
her deaf to the dictates of her class. Following that
will-o'-the-wisp, she married for love with a blind disregard for
economic security--married, of all things, a theatrical! And a
foreigner at that. Even though he had come to England at the age
of two, he was a Dane whose professional name was Arthur
Lawrence. He sang in a deep, rich basso profundo, and with a
dramatic fervor that went down very well with audiences at
smoking concerts and in the smaller music halls. He rendered such
favorites as "Old Black Joe" and "Asleep in the Deep." His
"Drinking Song" was famous throughout Brixton and Shepherd's
Bush. Alas!

Mother had been very carefully brought up. "All the time your
father courted me we never once were out together after ten
o'clock. I'm sure I don't know what your grandfather would have
said if I had not been home and on my way to bed when the clock
struck that hour."

So much decorum must have been a great strain on my father,
accustomed as he was to the hours kept by the profession. Perhaps
something in his Danish nature responded to this strict
middle-class propriety. His family, the Klasens, were a solid,
respectable lot--and he was the only one of them with a taste for
anything so Bohemian as the stage.

Mother's family shook their heads over the future of such a
marriage, and they were quite right about it. My father liked his
glass, and an evening dedicated to bass solos gives a man a
thirst. He was--as I was to learn--one of those whose personality
was completely altered by alcohol. His gaiety, his charm, his
blond good looks disappeared. He became ugly in disposition and
demeanor. Mother left him soon after I was born. I grew up with
no memories and no knowledge of him. But I adored Dad, my
stepfather.

No wonder Granny shook her head over Mother, who just couldn't
seem to learn about men. Mother chose her two husbands for their
charm, not for their ability to provide. Father had always been
able to sing for our supper, but Dad was always promising to
provide handsomely. "Wait," he would say to us. "Just let me back
a winner...." When he did, we would celebrate with a slap-up
feast--boiled salmon, or a bird, toasted cheese, and a side dish
of prawns. And, occasionally, asparagus. The first time we had
this delicacy, I remember, Mother cut off all the green tips and
boiled the white stalks.

Gertrude Alexandra Dagmar Lawrence Klasen--little Gertie Lawrence
to you--was quite satisfied with Kennington Oval. For one thing,
the organ-grinder came there frequently and would pause and grind
out a tune on each side of the Oval, which gave the residents a
fair-sized concert. I never could resist him, nor could I learn
to be a proper child and satisfy myself with opening the window a
crack to let the music come into the room.

"Where is that child?" Mother would ask. One look from the window
was enough. There I was, following the music, holding out my
brief skirts and dancing to what I hoped was the admiration of
the neighbors.

Nobody that I know of had taught me to dance. The steps just
seemed to come to me the minute my ears caught the music. But
Mother loved "musical evenings," and my first song, learned from
a sheet of free music cut from a newspaper, went like this:

   _Oh, it ain't all honey, and it ain't all jam,
   Walking round the 'ouses with a three-wheel pram, 
   All on me lonesome, not a bit to eat, 
   Walking about on me poor old feet. 
   My old man, if I could find 'im, 
   A lesson I would give.
   Poor old me, I 'aven't got a key, 
   And I don't know where I live._
   Boom! Boom!

Whenever we had company, on a Sunday night, I would be made to
oblige with a song. "Gertie's such a funny one!" Dad would puff
out his chest, proud of my accomplishment.

"Fancy! A child her age singing songs like that!"

"Whatever will she do next? She ought to go on the stage. She's
got it in her."

That song brought me the first money I ever earned. The summer I
was six Dad must have had a streak of unusual good luck with the
horses because he took Mother and me to Bognor Regis for the bank
holiday. It was boiling hot, I remember, and the sands were
crowded. I had never been to the sea before; the bathers, the
picnic parties on the sand, the strollers along the Front
fascinated me. A concert party was entertaining, and Dad paid for
us to go in. At the close of the regular bill the "funny man"
came forward and invited anyone in the audience who cared to, to
come up on the stage and entertain the crowd. A push from Mother
and the command: "Go on now, Gertie, and sing your song," was all
the urging I needed. "_It ain't all honey, and it ain't all
jam,_" I caroled lightly, twirling on my toes with my skimpy
pink frock held out as far as it would stretch. The applause and
the cheers were gratifying, even without the large golden
sovereign which the manager presented to me after a little
speech.

I know I must have told this story to Noel Coward. No doubt I
boasted of it when we were both pupils at Miss Conti's dancing
school. The incident may have given him the idea for one of the
scenes in _Cavalcade_. In fact, when I saw the play, there was
something so familiar about that little girl doing her song and
dance on the Brighton sands, the little girl who grew up to be an
actress, that I felt a rush of tears and a choke in my throat.
She made me remember, suddenly, so many things I thought I had
forgotten.

One other thing makes that holiday at Bognor Regis stand out in
my mind. We were living in lodgings, of course. Late one Sunday
afternoon Mother told Dad to take me for a walk along the Front
while she got our supper ready. Dad and I walked about for a bit,
enjoying the crowds; then I noticed that his steps began to drag
and he began to cast longing eyes at the saloon doors from which,
now that they were open again, came the cool, sour smell of beer.
Finally, he could stand it no longer.

"Sit down on that bench, Gertie," he said. "You can have a nice
look at the sea and the people going by. Be a good girl, now, and
don't move until I come back for you."

I watched him disappear in the direction of the nearest bar. I
was not disconcerted. Obediently I sat on the bench, swinging my
legs and enjoying my freedom. Even more than the sea and the
crowd, I was interested in a stand where a sign announced
bicycles for hire. That drew me as inevitably as the saloon had
drawn Dad.

"How much does it cost to hire a bike?" I asked the attendant

"Sixpence an hour, my dear."

I felt around in my coat pocket and produced the coin. The
attendant looked at me a bit doubtfully, but the sixpence was
real enough and there in the rack was a bike just my size. He
took it out and lifted me up on the saddle.

"That will do you a fair treat," he said. "Now be sure you bring
it back in an hour." He turned away to wait on another customer.

I wheeled the machine proudly across the Front and down a street
into a crescent where the railings in front of the houses gave me
something to hold onto. I had never been on a cycle before, but I
had no doubt of my ability to ride one. I leaned it against the
railing, paying no attention to the sign which read, "Fresh
Paint," mounted it, and, holding onto the railing with one hand,
managed to pedal around the crescent. It was thrilling, like
riding a circus horse around the ring, and there was always the
possibility that the people were watching me from the windows of
the houses. I fell off several times, skinned my knee, and got
the front of my frock grubby while the side toward the railings
became ornamented with stripes of green paint, but I kept at it,
getting better with each lap. I had forgotten Dad and Mother,
even the admonition of the attendant at the bicycle stand to be
back within an hour.

It was getting dusk before Dad found me, a frantic, red-faced,
frightened Dad, who had already spent some time running up and
down the Front calling, "Gertie! Gertie!" and demanding of
everyone, "Have you seen my little girl anywhere about?"

His relief at sight of me was immediately transformed into anger
for the fright I had caused him. "Now, then, whatever have you
been up to? You'd ought to be ashamed of yourself running off
like that! Such a fright you've given me! Whatever would I have
said to your mother? She won't half give you a piece of her mind
when she sees what you've done to your frock! And it's your poor
dad will get the worst of it."

He went on, muttering and scolding, all the way back to the
bicycle stand where he paid the attendant for the over-time. And
still clutching me by the hand, as though afraid I would vanish
again, he hurried me back to our lodgings. We were nearly there
when he stopped, removed his hat, and wiped his brow. Giving me a
long look that immediately established a confidence between us,
he remarked tentatively, "I don't know. How would it be if we
were to take your mother a little gin and bitters to have with
her supper?"

I nodded approval.

"Wait here, then. And none of your vanishing acts, my girl!"

He stepped jauntily into the convenient door of a refreshment
bar. After a few minutes he emerged, wiping his mustache and
looking very much more like himself. He patted one bulging
pocket: "Your mother always did fancy a gin and bitters. Your
mother's a wonderful woman, Gertie. Don't you ever forget it!"

No, I promised myself. Somehow or other I felt that I now had two
allies against Mother's anger when she discovered the state of my
dress. Dad, I felt, would be on my side and could be counted on
to bring up the reinforcements--namely the gin and bitters--at
the psychological moment.

Dad's admiration for Mother was unbounded, and his devotion was
as great as his admiration. Whenever they had a tiff, he would
feel moved to tell me solemnly that it was all his fault. He
appreciated Mother's fine qualities, and he would lecture me on
the subject of showing the same appreciation.

"Mind you always do as your mother tells you to, my girl. Your
mother's a wonderful woman. Just you try to be like her, and you
won't go far wrong."

There was nothing sentimental about Mother, nor about her
determination to bring me up according to her standards. She saw
to it that I came straight home from school each day and that I
did the household tasks that were assigned to me. One of these
was blacking the fire grates. As Mother said, there was something
about a well-blacked grate that gave a room an air. It may be
that this helped her morale and compensated for some of the
instability of her life with Dad. Each of us has some sort of pet
fetish, something we cling to which gives us self-confidence and
power to go on. A neat, well-blacked fireplace was Mother's. If
she had blacked the grates herself, she would have missed the
satisfaction of feeling that she was bringing up her daughter in
the proper tradition. So I blacked the grates each day. And on
Saturdays I did the brass and helped in general.

It was not sentimentality but a fierce pride for herself and for
Dad that made Mother put me into ruffled frocks which were a
bother to make and to wash and iron. And what a nuisance they
were for me to keep clean! It seemed as though some mischievous
fate led me into trouble as soon as I was sent out, freshly
bathed and dressed, with strict orders to "walk around the pond
and try to act like a lady." It wasn't that I deliberately tried
to misbehave, but that life would not let me follow Mother's
command. It would hold out some other inducement to me, something
I could not refuse. Before I knew it I would be engaged in
sailing boats on the pond, getting wetter and muddier every
minute, or making friends with some stray mongrel puppy whose
playful paws had no regard for my starched ruffles.

"Why can't you be like your cousin Ruby!" Mother would scold.

My cousin was all that I was not--she was a plump, pretty, neat
child with curls hanging to her waist; my hair was lank and as
straight as a die. My cousin Ruby was always spotless and without
a wrinkle. Her nails were clean. She was the pride of the family,
and she knew it. Her father, my mother's brother, was in charge
of the Royal Stables at Buckingham Palace, which gave Ruby a
prestige. "Just look at your cousin," Mother would say. "She is
such a credit to her parents, it's a pleasure to watch her come
into a room. Here I spend hours on making you look nice and it
lasts until you're out of sight. I declare, Gertie, you've got
the very devil in you."


I think Mother always regretted losing the world in which she had
lived briefly with my father--the world of the theater. In a
slightly discolored mother-of-pearl card case she treasured a
number of visiting cards of actresses she had known in those
days. Sometimes, as a treat, she would let me play with them. I
would pull a card out of the case, read the name aloud, and she
would immediately launch into the story of how she and the owner
of the card met and where, what her specialty was, and Mother's
own opinion of how good she was at it. This parlor game gave me
my first inside information on the theatrical profession. One of
the things I learned was that Friday was "professional night" at
most of the theaters. On Friday night it was usual to admit
members of the profession free. By the time I was eight or nine,
I had learned the trick of writing neatly across the face of any
one of the cards, "Please give my little girl two seats." If
Mother was out that evening, I would take the card, call for one
of my little girl friends, and together we would take the tram to
Brixton or any near-by district where there was a theater. I
would present myself and my card at the box office. The man would
look through the wicket at me a little doubtfully, whereupon I
would put on my most innocent and pleading look. Usually someone
hanging about would say: "Oh, give the kids a couple of seats."
We would skip in and find places in the gallery.

After the show we would take the tram home, hoping desperately to
get there before our mothers found us out. Once, I remember,
either the tram was delayed or Mother came home from Granny's
earlier than usual. She found the other little girl's mother
hammering at our door.

"Your Gertie came and took my Mabel!" she cried. 

"They're not back yet."

Mother did not put off whipping me to ask too many questions.
After the punishment, she began to inquire into our evening. What
shocked her most of all was our riding to and from Brixton on the
tram.

"Did you speak to anyone?" she demanded.

"A gentleman spoke to me."

"How do you know he was a gentleman?" Mother asked suspiciously.

"Because he was wearing a gold watch and chain!" 

Strangely, this seemed to satisfy her as completely as it had
satisfied me.

The rooms on Kennington Oval marked the high tide of our
finances. We lived there only as long as luck was with Dad. Then
we moved, as we frequently did. There was a regular ritual
connected with these movings which varied only as we moved up or
down in the economic scale. If the move was occasioned by good
fortune, Mother added a piano to the furniture she ordered sent
around to the new address. There was something undeniably genteel
about a piano in the house, even if no one could play it.

If the move was in the other direction, a van drove up and men
smelling of sawdust and beer carried away the piano and the rest
of the furniture which we had on the hire-purchase plan. They
were quite impersonal about it; they gave you to understand that
their orders to take away the tables and chairs and the sideboard
with the mirror at the back came from the company. Mother was
always on her dignity with them. She refused to be commiserated
with. In her own way she contrived to imply a disdain for the
household chattels over which there was such an unaccountable
to-do. The impersonal air with which she watched the men from the
Hire Furniture Company stagger down the front steps under the
pseudo-Jacobean fumed-oak dresser was a triumph of dramatic
genius. As the rooms became emptier, you felt that Mother was
merely clearing her decks for bolder action, and that when we had
furniture again, it would be on a nobler, more elegant scale.

Meanwhile Dad would have slipped 'round the corner and entered
into negotiations with the neighborhood greengrocer whose account
had been paid up and whose friendship could therefore be relied
upon. Not until after dark, when there would be no prying eyes,
would Mother take down the window curtains and pack the few
possessions rightfully our own and which remained constant
through all the changes for better or for worse--the bedding,
though not the beds, the kitchen pots and pans, the square black
marble-and-gilt clock with the figure of Britannia resting on her
shield staring pensively at a beast which resembled a poodle more
than a lion, the pair of gaily-flowered Royal Worcester vases
which always flanked the clock above every hearth we gathered
round, and a red glass mug engraved with the date of Queen
Victoria's Jubilee.

Close on to midnight the grocer's boy would arrive with his cart.
Dad would tiptoe down the stairs with the parcels and baskets and
pile them on the cart while the boy leaned against the railing
and kept a lookout for "Nosy Parkers." In all this there was
nothing original; we were merely following a tradition long
recognized in Clapham and in other less-favored districts. This
maneuver was known in the vernacular as a "moonlight flit."
Obviously, it was a move to cheaper lodgings in another district
where we and our straitened circumstances were as yet unknown.
Also, obviously, it was without the landlord's knowledge.

There must have been families whose moonlight flits were sad and
shamefaced. Not ours. There was something daring and whimsical
about this sort of move which challenged all that was adventurous
in our three natures. Each of us responded to the challenge
differently; each in his own way.

Mother always dressed up to the nines for the occasion. She would
skewer her largest birded hat atop her puffs, twine a marabou boa
elegantly about her neck, and draw on a pair of long, worn, but
carefully mended gray gloves. Catching up her skirt with one hand
and carrying the tea-kettle
 in the other, she would sweep down the stairs with a dignity
calculated to overpower any lurking landlord.

In Dad, jauntiness rose over dignity. He would cock his bowler at
an angle, and thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, he would
chaff the grocer's boy, making him a partner in the adventure.

At a signal from Dad the boy would push off with his cart, Dad
would gallantly offer Mother his arm, and they would follow. I
would bring up the rear of the little procession. So we moved
through Clapham's silent streets, pioneers setting forth into the
unknown to start a new home in a new and untried land. The
adventure tingled in my toes. Where the moon or a street lamp
splashed the pavement with light, my feet would begin to
dance....




2


The sun was shining when I opened my eyes on my first morning
glimpse of London. Immediately things began to happen. Phones
rang, flowers arrived, photographers snapped cameras at me, and
the press began asking how it felt to be home again after six
years "in the States."

I could tell them in one word: wonderful.

All that day and through the week that followed, lunching,
teaing, and dining with old friends, applying to the proper
bureaus for ration cards, gas mask, tin hat (quite fetching when
worn at just the right tilt), and a National Service Permit to
enter restricted areas, I was discovering and making acquaintance
with a London that was strange to me.

I thought I knew London in every possible mood--gay and handsome
and smart and ceremonious as she was during the coronation summer
of 1937--I was there for that brilliant high tide of midsummer
pomp. Officially I was "resting" while Rachel Crothers rewrote
and polished _Susan and God_. Actually, I was entertaining
myself and being entertained by the gayest season London had had
in many years and the last she was to see for a long time to
come. During those weeks, when the old city was washed and
brushed and bedecked, like a doting grandmother for the marriage
of a favorite grandson, all of us drank deep of our pleasure.
Perhaps we had a premonition of what lay just ahead. Anyway, that
London of 1937 came the closest to Edwardian London of any other
season since World War I.

Sometime before I was there playing in _Tonight at 8:30_. All
that season there was a hush over England; people spoke softly,
nobody made plans. Everyone waited for the bulletins which gave
us news of the King's condition. You felt the imminent passing of
an era. I had a small radio in my dressing room at the theater
and would turn it on between acts to pick up the news from the
B.B.C. The news, to everyone in England that year, meant one
thing--news of the King.

One night when we knew the King was very low, Douglas Fairbanks,
Jr., was in my dressing room waiting for the final curtain. When
I came off the stage and into the dressing room, the radio was
tuned in and I didn't need to ask questions. Douglas' face told
me that the last bulletin had not held out much hope. Very
quickly I changed, and Douglas and I took a taxi to Buckingham
Palace. It was impossible to get close, because the Mall and all
the wide space in front of the gates were crowded. Thousands of
Londoners and people up from the country were packed shoulder to
shoulder in a silent, motionless mass. We joined the others and
waited.

I remember seeing Claire Luce, in a bright scarlet coat, wedged
into the crowd. She was then playing in _Gay Deceivers_,
 and she had come just as she stepped off the stage, even with
her make-up on.

There was nothing one could do, but somehow there was no other
place one wanted to be at that moment. Every quarter of an hour
or so someone came out of the palace and posted a new bulletin on
the board fastened to the gates. Then the whole crowd moved
forward as one man. The two or three in a position to read the
typewritten notice passed the word back. The message rippled
through the crowd: "The King is sinking." I held on very tight to
Douglas' arm and he to mine. We were rumored as being engaged,
but just then and there personal relationships did not count for
much.

Presently a new notice was put on the board. Again that urgent
sweep forward of the crowd, like the tide pushing its way into a
cove. But this time there was no ripple or whisper. Silently
those in the front rank stepped back and removed their hats; then
from the crowd as from one man there rose a single sigh.

We were wedged too close to turn. I was squeezed between Douglas
and another very tall young man. I saw him sweep off his hat.
There were tears running down his cheeks.

"Well, I guess that's that," he said. His voice told me he was an
American.

The words wrote an end to a chapter.


The big event of my first day was getting in touch with Richard.
He phoned he could get leave and asked me to come down and meet
him at his base the next day, which was Saturday. We arranged
that I would take the nine-thirty train from Waterloo. I arrived
at the station a good half-hour beforehand only to be told the
train had been canceled in the night. As no one seemed to think
this was unusual, I got the impression that train schedules were
pretty uncertain things even though the traffic was described as
normal. I went back to the hotel and filled in time until I
should start for the next train, which was scheduled to leave at
eleven-thirty. However, I allowed myself plenty of time and took
up my stand at gate No. 10 as the station guard had instructed me
to do. There were so few people standing there I thought I was in
luck, but this optimism was immediately shattered by a voice from
the loudspeaker which announced: "Passengers waiting for the
eleven-thirty to Portsmouth will please join the queues by the
boards marked '5' and '6.'" Before these gates stretched two
apparently endless queues, one made up of servicemen--British,
American, Canadian; the other, of civilians. I added myself to
the tail of the latter queue and waited with what patience I
could muster. Slowly the procession shuffled a few steps nearer
the still-distant gate. I kept my eye on my Newfoundland watch
while my hopes of joining Richard that day evaporated. At
eleven-thirty the voice spoke again: "The eleven-thirty is now
full. The twelve forty-five has been canceled. The next train
leaves at one-thirty."

I dropped out of line and set about planning a campaign. I dashed
back to the near-by Savoy, where I changed into my American Red
Cross uniform; then I returned to Waterloo Station and elbowed my
way into the queue with the armed forces. After standing in line
an hour and a half, I found a place on the one-thirty train.

It was quite an experience, but worth it. Richard met me. After
many months of service overseas, he, apparently, was quite
philosophic about trains which do not run and, when they do,
cannot accommodate all of the passengers. We had a lovely day
together and I returned to London the next morning. I was still
wearing my Red Cross uniform and having lunch in the Savoy Grill
when who should come along but Basil Dean. He stared at me.

"What are you doing in that uniform, Gertie?"

I explained. Whereupon he commanded me to go at once and be
fitted for an E.N.S.A. uniform. Having known Basil since I was a
child when he "managed" me, I meekly obeyed.

At first there seemed to be a great deal of hush-hush about the
unit to which I was to be assigned, where we were to go,
and--most important of all--when we were to start. All I could
find out was that we were headed for an eight-weeks tour of Great
Britain, during which we would be called on to give three shows a
day, with a lot of motoring between shows.

Rehearsals were called in one of the underground cellars of Drury
Lane Theatre, which had been bombed during the blitz, but which
was still the E.N.S.A. headquarters.

At the first rehearsal I learned that ours was to be known as The
Gertrude Lawrence Unit, a tremendous honor and one which made me
feel a bit shy and self-conscious, especially as the others in
the unit had all been together since the opening of E.N.S.A. But
the ice was quickly broken over a couple of beers, and soon
everyone was talking shop as pros do when and wherever they get
together.

The only non-professional among us was Mary Barrett, whose
position in the unit was that of shepherd, manager, confidential
adviser, trouble-shooter, and bodyguard. Surely, that should give
her professional rating. Mary had been Gracie Fields'
secretary-companion when Gracie was in England, and consequently
knew the ropes. She could improvise a costume at the last minute
if the wardrobe trunks failed to turn up. With equal skill and
speed, she could contrive to cook a supper over a gas ring out of
whatever the shops or the rations offered. She had the soothing
tact of a career diplomat and the adroitness of a ward
politician. No one ever heard her grouse or complain of
weariness, lack of sleep, or even the temperament of our
performers.

We put on our first show and a big B.B.C. broadcast at a factory
in Ilford on the outskirts of London for twenty-five hundred
workers. The plant turned out radio parts for planes and was
working at full production speed. The show gave me a chance to
try out some of the songs I had brought over from America, but
while I realized that these factory workers were doing a
tremendously important job, nevertheless it was the troops I had
come over to sing to. I was impatient to start our tour of the
camps.

Meanwhile, during the week of waiting, I was discovering more
things about the British people than I had ever thought about
before.

I heard very little talk about the war. In fact, I rather got the
idea no one was expected to talk about it. Perhaps this was
because everyone--men and women--was doing some sort of war
service. Everybody had to do fire watching on the roofs. Nobody
whined about the servant problem, because there weren't any
servants to whine about. A maid might be allowed to a household
in which a certain number of persons were billeted. Otherwise
people were cooking their own meals and making a practice of
eating out whenever possible. Shopping took endless time. I saw
Londoners of every social class queuing up for hours in front of
the fish shops. The streets were full of bicycles. Everyone
cycled to and from his job. The boots that pressed the pedals
were patched on the soles, but they were well polished. This
meant that the wearer had done the polishing himself. That
below-stairs character so dear to Dickens and to the writers and
illustrators of _Punch_--I mean the British "boots"--had joined
up, or was making munitions.

People looked very fit, especially the women, most of whom were
in some sort of uniform--the WRENS, ATS, Red Cross, et cetera.
Everyone was busy all the time, but there was no rush or
excitement. No one was breathless. You felt that without
deliberate effort or any bravado everyone was carrying on the
accustomed pattern of life as consistently as possible.

London was full of American correspondents. They kept popping up
wherever you went. Allan Michie, who was commissioned to cover
the invasion for the _Reader's Digest_, Liebling of the _New
Yorker_, Hemingway on an assignment for _Collier's_, and
several others I ran into, were fuming because word had gone
around that they would not be allowed to go across with the
British forces. General Eisenhower had apparently given
permission, but some liaison officer on the staff said there was
no room for them, so they were muttering and cursing. I was a
sympathetic listener. I heard many accounts of the early days of
the Battle of Britain. For instance, there was the story that
during the early days of home-guard training the men were given
beer bottles--three apiece--filled with some kind of mild
explosive. With these homemade grenades they were expected to
knock out the German tanks as they advanced up the beaches. These
were like the famous "Molotov Cocktails."

Things were different now. Munitions in more formidable
quantities were being turned out by the war plants for the
invasion of Europe. Ernest Byfield, acting as war correspondent
for the Hearst press, told me it took ten thousand pairs of nylon
stockings to make one towrope for a glider plane, and at least a
thousand gliders are needed for an air-borne invasion. "That
should be broadcast to the black-market shoppers in America and
elsewhere."

I agreed.

"When peace comes, instead of beating swords into plowshares, I
suppose we will convert our towropes into stockings."

"And our tin hats into ash trays," I added.

We laughed about it, but, actually, we had learned the British
way of thinking, which is that, no matter how the war is going,
and in spite of the changes it imposes on everybody, the day will
inevitably come when the established, comfortable, peaceful life,
which every British person considers no more than his due, will
return.

I was made aware of this national psychology the evening I went
to dine with Daisy Neame in Eaton Square. On my way there I
passed a sign which read: "Horse Shelter." That is something I am
sure could exist only in Great Britain. I spoke of it at dinner
and was told that the regulations regarding the treatment of
animals during air raids were very strict. When the alert sounds,
horses must be unharnessed immediately from carts and led to
designated places of shelter before the driver takes cover.

Of course horses are valuable, especially during the shortage of
petrol. Somehow one also feels behind those horse shelters the
sporting instincts of the British, as well as the indomitable
humanitarianism of all those tender-hearted ladies who used to
write letters to the _Times_ regarding the treatment of animals.
It would take a lot more than the German blitz to lessen the
British sense of responsibility toward horses, dogs, cats, birds,
and even donkeys.

The war has altered some aspects of British life unbelievably.
Daisy's door was opened by her husband Lionel. Butlers have
become extinct, even in Eaton Square. Everything was as I
remembered it except for three unusual vehicles standing in the
hall. These were the two bicycles on which Lionel and Daisy pedal
to their respective war jobs. The third was the baby's pram which
Daisy told me she wheeled herself, to give the infant an airing,
when she went out to do the marketing. Another innovation in
Mayfair. The British "nannies" in their correct gray uniforms and
caps with flaring streamers have been blitzed out of London's
life.

When we went in to dinner the table looked just as lovely as
usual. The silver had the wonderful blue sheen that comes only
from frequent vigorous polishings. The damask was lustrous, and
the centerpiece of heavy-headed tulips was like a cluster of
glowing jewels. The men, of course, were in uniform. Daisy and I
wore short black dresses. Yes, it was all almost prewar. But one
thing was missing--there were no servants to wait on us.

When we had finished the first course, "Here we go," said Daisy,
rising and leading the way to the sideboard. She slid back the
shutter of a little window she had had cut in the wall between
the dining room and the service pantry. Daisy went around into
the pantry and received the plates each of us passed to her
through the window; then she handed us plates with the next
course, which we carried back to the table and proceeded to eat
with enjoyment. Daisy had cooked the food herself, and I must say
she had done a very good job.


I found a tremendous interest in America--a genuine curiosity
about what Americans thought, what they were doing, and how they
felt about the British. Everything sent from the U.S.A. had
become extraordinarily valuable and desirable. I don't suppose
that at any time since the reign of James I, when the first
British colonies were established in America, has the world
beyond the Atlantic held out such riches as it does today.

The British are rediscovering America.

Later, thinking over the things I had seen going about London, I
began to ask myself why I took this imperturbability without
surprise. Because I wasn't surprised by it at all. Somehow or
other, deep down in me, was the knowledge that of course these
people would act in exactly this way. What would have surprised
me would have been to find them changing their manner of living,
forsaking their ideals of behavior and their standards of what is
pleasant, enjoyable, and worth while; and doing this at the crack
of Herr Hitler's whip.

Inherently and instinctively I knew these things about the
British people because I had known and loved Granny. Though her
life was lived a very long stone's throw from Mayfair, Granny,
nevertheless, was a perfect personification of the British
character. She represented the backbone of the nation.


"Mark my words, Alice, the child has talent."

Whenever Granny said "mark my words," she became the family
oracle, to be heard and heeded with respect.

She spoke composedly, continuing to rock in her wheel-back
armchair with her feet resting on the brass fender rail, while
her knitting needles clicked without ceasing.

I have no way of knowing just when Granny decided that I was
destined for the theater. She and Grandfather, whom I chiefly
remember because he suffered from a disease called chalky gout,
had strongly disapproved of their daughter Alice's alliance with
the profession. Perhaps they accepted the fact that the offspring
of that unfortunate union was doomed from the moment of
conception, and could not, therefore, be held back from her dark
destiny. At any rate, I never remember Granny putting up any
objections to my frankly expressed ambition to go on the stage.

To tell the truth, she encouraged me. Whenever I stayed with her
we would play theater. The program started with me coming through
the sitting-room door to bow to her as the audience and make my
opening speech which began: "Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to
appear." I would then disappear and get dressed up for the
performance.

During those early years, when our family finances went up and
down with the nervousness of a barometer during a September
equinox, Granny represented security, stability, and assurance,

The stability was to be found in her cozy little sitting room in
Sandmere Road with its crocheted antimacassars on the chairs and
the embroidered lambrequin draped along the mantelshelf. A pair
of china Staffordshire dogs--white with red splotches--stood
guard on either side of the over-mantel mirror.

The large gilt-framed engraving hanging above the horsehair sofa,
showing Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort surrounded by their
progeny, was flanked by a similarly framed engraving of King
Edward and Queen Alexandra. All my life, since those early days
in Granny's sitting room, I have looked upon Queen Victoria as a
most extraordinary woman; one who apparently, without the aid of
hatpins or elastic, could balance a small, teetery crown on top
of her smoothly brushed head at the same time as she dandled an
obese infant on her satin-draped knee.

Granny was a mine of information concerning the Royal Family.
Their births, marriages, coronations, widowings, and deaths
provided her with constant and unlimited romance and drama. The
British Royal Family belonged to her, as if they were a very
superior family of paper dolls. Whenever I went to see Granny, I
would ask her about the different members of the Royal Family,
and she would tell me, confidentially, all the latest goings-on.
I was under the impression that Granny was very much in the know
about whatever happened at Buckingham Palace, Windsor, or
Sandringham which was summed up in the impressive words "at
Court."

A Bible and a worn black leather Book of Common Prayer were
always on the little table beside Granny's bed in her bedroom,
where everything smelled of Pears' Soap and lavender water. These
represented the second article of Granny's faith; for if article
one of her simple creed was her trust in the Crown, article two
was her unquestioned faith in the Church of England.

Granny's respect for these two institutions was founded upon her
equally categorical respect for herself and her class. So long as
she did her duty toward her King on high and toward her King here
below, she had every right to expect State and Church to do their
duty toward her. There was no subservience in Granny's attitude
toward king or bishop. She simply paid them the respect due the
dignity of their positions, and in return she expected the State
to give her security in this life, and the Church to usher her
into a seat on the right hand of the Lord in the next.

Frequently on Sunday evenings I would go to church with her,
carrying her prayerbook and finding the hymns from the numerals
put up on the hymn boards beside the chancel. Granny and I shared
the hymnbook, and our voices--hers still sweet, but a little
husky and sometimes off key, mine higher, steadier, and a
complete imitation of the boys' in the choir--would unite in the
hymns and psalms which we both enjoyed immensely.

Many of the hymns were puzzling to me, and not a few of them
seemed rather nasty with their references to sweat, wounds, and
blood. How amazing that Granny, who had very strict ideas about
what was and what was not nice, could still warble piously:

   _"There is a place where Jesus sheds 
   The oil of gladness on our heads;
   A place than all besides more sweet: 
   It is the blood-bought mercy seat."_

Religion, I thought, was certainly a very rum business. Take the
word "bloody," for instance. What made this word quite proper in
church and unforgivable in ordinary conversation?

Sometimes when Granny's rheumatism got the better of her piety,
she would send me to church as her representative. Then I would
be entrusted with the prayerbook and a sixpence for the
offertory, tucked into the palm of my white cotton glove.

When I returned, Granny would ask expectantly: "Well, my dear,
what was the sermon like? And what was the text?"

Following this lead, I would turn a chair around to form a pulpit
and proceed to deliver a digest of the vicar's remarks for her
appreciation. Of course it was necessary to dress up for this in
Grandfather's coat and one of his collars, both worn back to
front to give me a clerical look. I must say I think I did the
part of the reverend gentleman rather well, though I improved on
his gestures and dramatized his style of delivery. Keeping in
character, I would sing the hymns for Granny--not always those
which we had sung at the service, but others which were my
favorites.

After service Granny and I would have a cup of tea, and then,
feeling relaxed and ready for a bit of amusement after all this
edification, she would encourage me to sing for her songs she had
taught me: "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," "She's
Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage," and "Champagne Charlie Is Me
Name." For this act Grandfather's coat and collar were
readjusted, his bowler hat and walking stick were produced, and
the show was on.

Granny's frankly expressed preference was for little girls who
were plump and rosy-checked. Tall, thin, sallow children looked
half starved to her, and, therefore, she worried over my natural
gawkiness.

"The child needs fattening up, Alice. Look at her. She's all
legs."

"She's growing fast, Mother. I have to keep letting down the
hems of her dresses until there is no more stuff to let out."

Granny sniffed. "It's the Danish blood, I expect. The Danish
princes are all over six feet. And Her Majesty is extremely tall;
though a fine figure of a woman, of course."

I preened to this. "Her Majesty" meant Queen Alexandra. I felt I
had a special share in Her Majesty, who had come from Denmark, my
father's country, and after whom I had been named.

Granny's next remark, however, dashed my self-esteem. "She's
sallow too. I never did like a puny child. Some Scott's Emulsion
would do her good. Mark my words, Alice, you'd do well to get a
bottle and give her a spoonful night and morning."

"Very well, Mother. If you think so."

I loathed Scott's Emulsion, I gagged over each spoonful of the
beastly stuff; but I knew better than to rebel. I had heard
Granny's orders. So I was brought up on Scott's Emulsion to
fatten me up, camphorated oil for my constant chest colds, and
Parrish's Chemical Food, which was supposed to be a tonic. But I
was no advertisement for all or any of these remedies, and Granny
would sigh:

"Well, Gertie, I suppose you are just one of Pharaoh's lean
kine."

Out of love, she made it sound like a compliment. Not to worry
her, I submitted to Mother's habit of pinching my cheeks to make
them look rosy whenever we approached Granny's doorstep. I even
resorted to the trick of pinching my own cheeks when alone on her
doorstep, waiting for her to let me in.

The popular taste was still for buxom beauties. His Majesty King
Edward could 'ave 'is Jersey Lily; the British workingman
preferred a nice generous armful.

The winter I was ten, and at a time when our finances hit rock
bottom, Mother got herself a job in the chorus in a Christmas
production of _Babes in the Wood_ at the Brixton Theatre. The
casting director studied her pleasing curves, listened to her
voice, which was a very good soprano, and for once did not ask
her to lift her long skirts to show her legs. This was fortunate,
for though Mother had pretty ankles, the rest of her below the
waist seemed to have no relation to the part of her above the
waist. However, she had no false notions about her shape, and she
had a very practical mind.

Having signed the contract, she came home with the flesh-colored
tights supplied by the wardrobe mistress. Putting them on, she
instructed me how to pad the legs of this garment with cotton
wool to give her the much-desired and seductively rounded thighs
which she unfortunately lacked. Of course it was possible to buy
tights thus treated. These were called symmetricals. But they
were very expensive, consequently necessity drove us to make ours
at home.

Mother would stand on a chair in front of a mirror and direct me
as I poked the wads of cotton down inside the silk tights. It was
a long and tedious job, because the padding had to be sewn in
smoothly so that it would not be detected.

Though I was only ten, I understood very clearly that her job in
the chorus and the thirty shillings she was to get each week
meant bread and groceries and coal and gaslight for us at home. I
was well aware that it was up to me to make those legs satisfy
the theater patrons and the eagle eye of the manager.

That is how I learned at a still tender age that frequently a
woman's legs (and not her face) are her fortune.




3


Finally, after a week of waiting and rehearsals, our unit got its
orders to leave for Southampton.

There were eighteen of us, and we traveled in three cars--one
large bus, one van for equipment, and a car for Mary, Stanley
Kilbourn, my pianist, and me, with our driver.

Our first concert was aboard H.M.S. _Collingwood_. We had a
great crowd--about thirty-five hundred enlisted personnel, WRENS,
officers, the commodore, and his wife.

During my week of waiting in London I had been required to submit
to the official censor the songs I had brought over from America
to sing to the boys. Two of the songs were rated "not quite
suitable for the B.B.C.," but they were finally passed as O.K.
for the servicemen.

The songs I worked over and which I sang at that first concert
were "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," which was one of Frank
Sinatra's successes; Gertrude Niesen's song "I Wanna Get Married"
from _Follow the Girls_, and "A Guy Named Joe." I also had the
saga of an air-raid-shelter romance, entitled "'E Vanished When
the All-Clear Came." The last two numbers were written especially
for me by two American boys, Bus Davis and Jim Carhart.

The most delightful surprise of the concert aboard H.M.S.
_Collingwood_ was finding Richard seated in the front row. He
had got leave for a couple of hours. There wasn't even time
enough for him to take me back to the hotel in Portsmouth where
Mary Barrett and I had been billeted; he had to return to his
base. But even that glimpse of him was wonderful. It set me up no
end.

I had just got into bed and was feeling terribly grateful for it
after a long, hot, tiring, but exciting day.

"Good night, Mary. Have a nice, long, restful night."

"Good night," came Mary's voice from the other room, and, almost
like a punctuation to that response, the sudden shriek of the
sirens.

They were coming.

I sat up in bed in the dark and waited for the sound of the guns
which would tell us the Germans were overhead. I shivered--not, I
hoped, from fear, but from the suspense of waiting. I was under
no misapprehension as to the amount of damage the raiders had
done and could do to a town like Portsmouth. I had seen it with
my own eyes.

Presently the guns started. It was strange to sit there in bed in
the midst of my first real war experience. Between the enemy
bombs and our own guns Portsmouth was actually the front. Yet in
the street below people were calmly walking to air-raid shelters.
One man went by whistling: "I Dream of Jeanie with the Light
Brown Hair."

The "all clear" came after about an hour, and I dropped off to
sleep. The next thing I knew Mary Barrett was shaking me awake.
The guns were going like mad again. We sat and waited. Nothing
happened; so Mary curled up on the foot of my bed and we dozed
off until all at once the rocket gun on the sea front went off.
We both shot up and out of the bed, grabbed our papers, and
prepared to dash out of the hotel if the hotel people notified us
to do so. We had been told the rocket guns were not fired unless
the enemy was overhead and flying low. They are precision guns
and fire directly on the target; but, although they are very
powerful, they apparently haven't a very long range. The noise
they made was incredible; as if Jerry were dropping blockbusters.
I really thought we had been hit, and my reaction--born of
nerves--was to get the giggles!

Mary had been through it all many times over, on all the war
fronts. She said the thing to do was to stay there in the room
unless someone came and yanked us out. The only one who did turn
up was Stanley, who came running down the corridor to see if we
were all right. Stanley had been bombed out of four different
homes during the blitz, and, as he put it, he was "fed oop with
it all."

They chased Jerry out to sea about 2:30 A.M., then the "all
clear" sounded, and we went back to bed and to sleep.


Next day Richard rang up to find out how I felt about it all. Now
I could speak as a war veteran and I told him rather loftily that
it felt better than being three thousand miles away, getting the
news over the radio, and wondering where and how _he_ was.

I saw some of the night's damage that day and the next, during
which our unit covered the entire Southampton area. There was a
new and very nasty hole in the side of the building next to our
hotel.

Every noon we put on the show at a plane factory or a shipyard or
in a hangar for the workers, and at night we gave concerts at the
camps. At the Civic Theatre in Southampton we played to some
eight thousand men and women, representing all the Allied nations
and all branches of the service, and from there we went on to
give a show under canvas--and in a pouring rain--at camp C. 22
for two thousand American and British Rangers.

The whole area was feeling the suspense of approaching D-Day. No
one, of course, would, or could, say when that would be, but the
bases and the men were being "sealed." Driving home from a secret
concert at Broderick for Americans and British about to leave, we
passed thousands of "ducks" all lined up along the road to
Southampton, ready to pull out at dawn for somewhere.

At the end of the show at C. 22, our manager, Norman Adams,
called me aside and told me orders had just come through that our
unit was to return to London immediately. In fact, he said, our
show that night, which had gone particularly well, had almost
been canceled in the middle of the bill. It seems that word had
come through that the entire post was to be "sealed" and all
E.N.S.A. units would have to evacuate or be sealed in until after
D-Day for security reasons.

After swearing me to secrecy, Adams collected the whole unit and
led us all to the officers' mess for refreshments. The mess was
just a tent with a trestle table, but they put on quite a good
meal for us, and the refreshment was good old bathtub gin with
the kick of a bronco. As we laughed and joked, I wondered whether
the fellows knew that I knew this was to be their last party for
a long, long time. No mention was made of their departure, but as
they crowded around our cars and shouted and waved to us as we
drove away into the darkness back to London, I had the horrid
feeling we were deserting them.

On arriving in London we were immediately re-routed to another
coastal area. It turned out to be Brighton.

My orders came through to be ready to start on the morning of
June 5. After leaving the Savoy, we drove through the districts
of London that were home to me as a child--past Kennington Oval,
past the "Horns Hotel" where my father had sung at smoking
concerts for a guinea a night, past the Brixton Theatre where I
made my stage debut at the age of ten for the magnificent sum of
six shillings per week in that same Christmas play in which
Mother had worn her homemade symmetricals.

The manager wanted a child who could sing and dance with nine
others in a troupe, and one who could be trusted to be on time
for the show and not get into mischief. Mother promised she would
take care of all that, and I was taken on.

We children were little robin redbreasts in the forest ballet
when the "Babes" got lost in the wood. Dressed in brown tights,
very wrinkled at the knees, our skinny bodies clad in musty
feathers and with hats which had beaks in front, we covered the
two unfortunate children with artificial leaves to keep them from
the cold until they were rescued by Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
Mother was one of the Merry Men! I can remember to this day the
song which Robin Hood sang in this scene. The chorus went like
this:

   _There's a little green patch at the top of the hill, 
   Climb, boys, climb.
   And it's there we can rest at our pleasure and will 
   Climb, boys, climb.
   Though the way be dreary and your heart be weary, 
   It will all come right in time.
   There's a little green patch at the top of the hill, 
   So climb, boys, climb.

This was sung with great gusto, accompanied by the marching up
and down and suitable gestures and hearty thigh slappings of
Mother and the seven other Merry Men.

At this time Mother had a friend, who was a friend of the mother
of Ivy Shilling who played Alice when Lewis Carroll's immortal
story was dramatized for a Christmas production. I was taken to
see the play. We sat in a box, which was the first time in my
life I ever enjoyed such prominence. I watched every move, every
gesture of Alice's, and my envy of Ivy Shilling gave me no rest
until I nagged Mother into taking me to Miss Conti's dancing
school, at which she was a pupil.

Miss Italia Conti held a unique place in the world of the British
theater. She had a basement studio just off Great Portland Street
where the boys and girls she accepted as pupils practiced dance
steps, did acrobatic exercises on the horizontal bar, and were
taught elocution and the rudiments of the drama. The studio was a
big room lined with mirrors in which you could see yourself from
every angle, and at one end was a small stage with a piano.

Mother had no money to pay for dancing and singing lessons for
me. Dad had suffered a run of bad luck for months, and we had
moved to cheaper and still cheaper lodgings. My education did not
benefit by these flittings about Clapham and Brixton; whenever we
moved into a new district it usually meant my entering a new
school. It also meant finding myself one of a new group of
children, who stood off and eyed me suspiciously.

The boys and girls at Miss Conti's eyed me too. But their glances
were different. They looked at me appraisingly--not for my
clothes or where I lived, but for what I was able to do. Many of
them had been born into theatrical families. All of them aspired
to stardom.

I sang and danced for Miss Conti, and she thought me sufficiently
talented to offer to give me free lessons. On these terms I was
enrolled one afternoon a week for a six weeks' trial period. If I
showed promise, I had the opportunity of staying on as a
pupil-teacher, thereby repaying my tuition.

I am a little hazy about those weeks at Miss Conti's. It was an
entirely new world to me. I am under the impression that Noel
Coward was already a pupil there when I started. If he was not,
he came very soon after, because Noel figures largely in all my
memories of Miss Conti. Anton Dolin joined the school later to
study Shakespeare.

Noel was a thin, unusually shy boy with a slight lisp. He was
studying elocution, acting, and dancing (or should I say
deportment?) and was one of Miss Conti's star pupils. Noel's
people were in a position to give him educational advantages.
They were "comfortably situated."

Noel wasn't snobbish about this; in fact, he and I, who were
about the same age, entered at once into an alliance.

This doesn't mean that Noel wasn't occasionally condescending to
me, but this condescension sprang from a quite natural masculine
impulse to put in her place an irrepressible and very
plain-looking small girl who had the annoying faculty of getting
herself noticed. I could put up with the condescension. What I
could not have endured was to have Noel ignore me.

However, even at the age of eleven I suffered no illusions as to
what constituted the charm I had for Noel Coward. I was the proud
possessor of a bicycle, bought for me from the boy next door by a
friend of Dad's. The bicycle originally had a bar across the
middle, but Mother, ever practical, paid a man to saw this off so
a girl could ride it. However, even she could not alter the
drooping handlebars which showed it was a boy's model. Noel
pointed this out immediately:

"It's quite unsuitable for a girl."

He could not conceal from me the fact that he wanted a bicycle,
which was something his family would not permit him to have.

But Noel had a possession which I secretly coveted--a phonograph
with a large spreading horn. He also owned a stack of records. So
we made a deal. He could ride my bicycle in return for lending me
his phonograph for the same length of time. I imagine that sort
of lend-lease is as good a basis for a lifelong friendship as any
other.

Noel's records greatly increased my acquaintance with the popular
music of the day. They also brought me the beauty of "The Blue
Danube," the sweet rhythm of "Valse Triste," and the sticky
romance of the "Indian Love Lyrics."

So once a week I packed my small attaché case containing my
toe-dancing slippers, my practice clothes, soap and a towel, and
took the bus to Great Portland Street, always in the hope that
Noel would be there.

Miss Conti had undertaken to teach me to dance and to sing, at
least to the extent of fitting me to appear in one of the
Christmas plays. These are a part of the holiday season in
England, and the theater managers always went to Miss Conti for
child actors to play in them. Miss Conti found no fault either
with my leg work or my vocal efforts. But my accent, which was
pure cockney, caused her to wince. One day she led me to the
piano and, after laying a sheet of paper under the strings, she
struck a chord.

"That, my dear Gertrude," she said, "is what your voice sounds
like to me."

My quick ear recognized the similarity between the tinny
vibrations and my own accent. That was my introduction to
phonetics.

I was not good enough to appear in one of the Christmas plays.
However, I was approved for a part in a fairy play called
_Fifinella_, which was put on at the Repertory Theatre in
Liverpool. We were rehearsed in London, under Miss Conti's
careful eye, and then sent up in the care of a matron and her
husband. Estelle Winwood played the beautiful Fairy Queen, but
she made little impression on me because I had eyes only for the
Prince in his scarlet tights and doublet. This fascinating hero
was played by Eric Blore. I thought him wonderful. And obviously
no one had found it necessary to pad _his_ tights with cotton
wool.

The first time Noel and I appeared together was in a German
morality play, _Hannela_, put on at Manchester, under the
direction of Mr. Basil Dean. Noel and I played angels in white
robes, gilded wings, and sanctimonious smiles. Neither of us, as
I remember, cared for the play or for our parts in it. However,
we touched the heart of Noel's kindly uncle, for he asked
permission to take us for an afternoon's outing.

It was Christmas week, and the shops were full of entrancing
things to buy. By various ruses Noel and I enticed him to one
shopwindow after the other, artfully pointing out what each of us
would like to receive for a Christmas present. But our benefactor
was not in a generous mood that day. Not till the afternoon was
nearly over did he weaken and buy us a large box of peppermint
creams, which he made us promise to divide with the other
children in the cast.

Noel and I managed to forget this admonition and to eat most of
the sweets ourselves in the taxi on the way home. Soon I began to
feel very queer. When we went on in the heaven scene, the other
celestial beings seemed to float and bob dizzily around me. I
stole a glance at Noel. He was positively green. Presently the
audience was permitted an unexpected vision of heaven in which
two small angels were being violently sick.

I couldn't have been a total failure as an angel, because soon
after _Hannela_ I was given a job in _The Miracle_ then being
put on by Reinhardt at the Olympia. The play called for one
hundred children--fifty boys and fifty girls. As we did two shows
a day, and the children came from homes all over London, the
London County Council established a special school for us at
Olympia. We had classes in the mornings, then dinner, after which
it was time to dress and be made up for the daily matinee.
Olympia is out beyond Shepherd's Bush, a wearying, long tram ride
home after the evening performance.

It must have been that summer that Dad took Mother and me on a
Sunday excursion to Brighton. The resort was crowded with
trippers like ourselves; the bands kept up a ceaseless
accompaniment of music, and the Pierrot troupes on the sands
played to enormous business. I watched their performance with a
critical eye; after all, I was now in the profession.

On the pier, among other penny-in-the-slot machines was one
showing a gaudily painted picture of a gypsy. The machine
promised to tell your fortune for a penny. I dropped my copper
piece into the slot and waited anxiously while the machine ground
out a few bars of a popular tune; it then proceeded to stick a
tongue of pink cardboard at me. There were words printed on it. I
tore off the slip and read my penny destiny:

   _A star danced,
   And you were born._

I accepted my fate without hesitation. The gypsy meant to tell me
that I would be a dancer and someday I would be a star.

A few days later I stopped in at the printers in Clapham High
Street and ordered some cards made. I had written out what I
wished the printer to put on these bits of pasteboard:


          LITTLE GERTIE LAWRENCE
          _Child Actress and Danseuse_
          
       BRIXTON THEATRE


I had used the name Lawrence, because that was the stage name
Mother used. I was especially proud of the word "danseuse,"
which, according to the old gentleman on High Street who printed
the cards, meant "dancer" in French. Already I could see my name
in electric lights on Shaftesbury Avenue. I had never been to
that thoroughfare except on a bus, but I had heard about it and
dreamed of it as children today talk and dream about Hollywood.

I did not show the pink slip of paper with my fortune to anyone;
perhaps I was afraid it would not come true if I shared the
secret. But my professional cards were different. I scattered
them like confetti and with complete self-assurance.

The mother of "your cousin Ruby," who up to now had produced the
most promising child in the family, said to Mother: "Do you want
your child in that sort of life, Alice? I wouldn't. Not for my
Ruby."

"Your Ruby hasn't the temperament," Mother countered. "You've got
to have temperament for the stage."

"Temperament! Well, Alice, you can call it that if you like.
Myself, I'd give a plainer name to it. And when it comes to
temperament, anyone would think you'd had enough of that with
Gertie's father. If she was my child and had his blood in her
veins, I wouldn't let her near a theater. That I wouldn't."

Cousin Ruby's mother had maneuvered Mother into an impossible
situation. She could not defend my father without appearing
disloyal to Dad, or without drawing down on her the obvious
retort: "Well, if he was as good as all that, why did you ever
leave him?"

It may have been such conversations as these with my aunt which
unlocked my Mother's reticence. Up until then she had never
mentioned my father to me.

We were out shopping one day when suddenly she stopped to read a
playbill stuck up on a wall. It advertised a minstrel show.
Heading the cast as the star appeared the name: "Arthur
Lawrence."

"That's your father, Gertie," said Mother, pointing.

I stared at the name, trying to accustom myself to the idea of a
relationship between this man and me. No one had ever told me
much about my father. I could not remember having seen him or
heard of his taking the slightest interest in my existence. Dad
was all the father I had known, or needed. This strange man on
the playbill seemed suddenly to trespass on Dad's position. I
slid a questioning glance at Mother. She was still staring at the
poster. Her voice was suddenly wistful--and a little proud:
"Well, now you know. He's a fine singer. You get your talent from
him."

We went on, and no more was said about my father. I would have
liked to have gone to the theater to see him and hear him sing,
but Mother did not suggest it. I only had to look at her to
realize that the subject was closed. But the sudden discovery
that I had a father who was a success in the theater set me
thinking.

I was now nearly thirteen. For several years I had been appearing
in plays from time to time, earning a few shillings a week. The
gypsy had given assurance that my fortune lay in the theater. As
I compared Dad--dear, lovable, but unsuccessful--with my own
father, whose name appeared in big letters on the playbill, a
plan began to develop in my mind. I began to watch the bookings
of the minstrel show starring Arthur Lawrence.

For all that I might not have done anything about it except for
two things which happened simultaneously. We were undergoing one
of our periodic lean periods. These seemed to occur more
frequently and lasted longer as Dad's luck became more and more
elusive. And Mother, irked perhaps by some remark of her
sister-in-law on the proper bringing up of daughters, had become
more strict with me.

One evening several months later, when Mother and Dad were out, I
decided to carry out my plan, and I packed a few belongings in a
small straw portmanteau. I then collected all the empty bottles
and jars in the house, returned them to the grocer's, and got the
money I needed for the journey. Wearing my best coat and a large
mushroom-shaped hat, and carrying the portmanteau, I took the
tram to the theater where I knew my father was appearing. A note
left on the kitchen table for Mother and Dad told them of my
decision to join my father, and that they were not to worry.

The stage doorman looked at me suspiciously. "Now then, what do
you want, youngster?" he demanded.

"I've come to see Mr. Lawrence."

He frowned. "It's not at all likely Mr. Lawrence will see you.
He's dressing now to go on."

"I'll wait," I said, and set down the portmanteau. "It's very
important."

Perhaps something in my tone made the doorman realize that this
was no ordinary occasion. He squinted at me sharply.

"What's your name? I'll tell Mr. Lawrence you're here."

I swallowed. "Just tell him it's Gertie."

The doorman went away, slamming the door to prevent my slipping
in. For a moment I felt an impulse to turn and run. There was
still time to return to Clapham--to seize and destroy the
penciled note I had left letting Mother and Dad know my decision.
But something--my own destiny perhaps--held me there on the bench
inside the stage door. Presently I heard steps coming along the
corridor and a mutter of voices. The door opened...

A man stood there--a very tall man who leaned forward to peer
down at me in the dim, flickering light of the gas bracket in its
wire cage. He was in his shirt sleeves and collarless. One half
of his face was smeared with grease and burnt cork. Out of the
black face a pair of very blue eyes stared at me in utter
incredulity. He spoke in a deep, quiet voice:

"Who are you? What are you doing here?"

I drew my card from my pocket and handed it to him. His eyes took
in the printed words, then came back to me.

"I'm Gertie," I said. "And I've come to stay."




4


Driving down to Brighton on that June day, strangely it was the
memories of the past which were more vivid and more alive in my
mind than the scenes we drove through. That glimpse of Kennington
Oval and Brixton brought back events and persons I had not
thought of in years. For some reason or other, and I suppose only
a psychologist could explain it, this visit home to a fighting
England was like a visit to a psychoanalyst. In _Lady in the
Dark_ I had played the part of a successful businesswoman who
had been psychoanalyzed. Her dreams were reproduced on the stage
in fantastic scenes. In somewhat the same way, recollections of
"Little Gertie Lawrence--child actress and danseuse," began to
form scenes that were scarcely less fantastic than those imagined
by Moss Hart for _Lady in the Dark_.

Suddenly I smelled again the cold, dusty, tremendously exciting
smell of backstage in that Music Hall Theatre when Father, still
holding my card in one hand, reached out the other and caught me
by the wrist. He pulled me over the threshold, past the doorman,
and let the stage door slam behind us.

"Come along to my dressing room. Curtain's going up in five
minutes. I've got to finish dressing. You can wait there. I'll
talk to you later on. Sit down. And for God's sake, don't cry."

I had begun to weep from relief, fear, and the physical reaction
to the whole adventure.

In the dressing room stood a woman holding the coat Father was to
put on. He paid no attention to her, but went on rapidly blacking
the rest of his face before the mirror. After which he put on a
curly black wig and stuck it down with spirit gum.

"She's Gertie," he said out of the grotesque red mouth he had
quickly painted in the middle of the black face. "She's my kid,
Rose."

Rose did not move. She looked at me not unkindly and I stared
back at her. I was not prepared for Rose.

A callboy went along the corridor calling, "Mr. Lawrence,
please!"

Father turned from the mirror, his make-up completed, and thrust
his arms into the evening coat Rose silently held out for him. He
jerked down his waistcoat, twitched his white tie a fraction of
an inch, and was gone.

Only then Rose turned to me, standing there gripping my
portmanteau and staring. "So you're Arthur's little girl," she
said. "How old are you?"

"I'm thirteen," I said.

"You are! Well..." She looked me over appraisingly. "There's not
much of you."

Rose herself was what Granny would have called a fine figure of a
woman, which meant she had plenty of curves. She had also, I
noticed, very pretty ankles. Show girl, I thought.

Rose told me I had better sit down because we would have a long
wait. A minstrel show wasn't like a play in which the actors
frequently left the stage for long periods. Once the curtain was
up, my father would remain on stage until the end of the act.

During that wait Rose and I became acquainted. She had a kind
heart and there was no guile in her. She loved my father and said
so with a disarming frankness. She continued to tidy up the
dressing room. "We've been together six years, Arthur and me.
That's more than a lot of married couples can say. Oh, not but
what we've had our quarrels. And who hasn't, I'd like to know."

I nodded. I found myself liking Rose, who admitted me so
hospitably into the intimacy of her life. But it was clear that
she did not intend to consider me one of the family.

"You can't stay with us," she went on. "You know that, I
suppose?" (I didn't. How could I, when I had never known of the
existence of Rose until that evening?)

Then she said: "Your mother will be here to fetch you back
tonight or in the morning, and there'll be all hell to pay."

I told her I had left a note for Mother and that I couldn't go
back. But immediately Rose dashed my plans by remarking: "Of
course you can't stay on with Arthur and me. We can't travel
you."

Strangely, that possibility had not occurred to me. I began to
wish I had not left the note. Still, I thought, something might
happen to prevent Mother coming. Meanwhile, I had to win Rose
over to my side. I told her about my experience as an actress,
emphasizing the fact that Miss Conti considered I had talent. I
showed Rose my card.

She was obviously impressed.

"How nice! Danseuse looks elegant. Quite West End."

"I think so," I agreed complacently.

When Father came off stage, he found us chatting comfortably.
Perhaps this lifted a worry from his mind.

"The kid's all right, Arthur," Rose said. "She's got a lot of you
in her, I'd say." She repeated to him briefly what I had told her
about my experience in the theater. "She must be good."

Was it Rose's acceptance of me which persuaded my father to keep
me with him? I have sometimes thought so. That, and a curious
pride in the child who had followed his profession, made my
father suddenly laugh and say to me: "You can stay with us for
tonight, anyway. We'll find a place for you somewhere in our
digs. She can sleep on the sofa, can't she, Rose? We'll send a
telegram to your mother this minute and tell her you're all
right. Tomorrow we can talk things over."

Mother did not appear until the next morning. What passed between
my parents I never knew, but an arrangement was made by which I
was to remain with Father as long as I wished to do so and he
would support me. I was to write to Mother once a week and keep
her informed of my whereabouts. If anything went wrong, she was
to be immediately advised of it and was to come and take me back
to live with her.

That is how my life with Father and Rose began. I shared their
lodgings and whatever they had. Whatever I earned, when I had a
job, Father got, under our joint contract, since I was under age.

Although I missed Mother and Dad terribly, I missed Granny even
more. I often thought of her and her tidy little house. I missed
the news of the Royal Family. King Edward VII had died--his
funeral was the first state pageant I had not read about in
history books. Now all the talk was of the coronation of King
George V and Queen Mary. To me, as to millions of children
throughout the Empire, the leading personage at the forthcoming
coronation was the youthful Prince of Wales. Perhaps our
generation derived an immense amount of satisfaction from the
fact that one of us was to occupy a prominent place at the Abbey
ceremony. The newspapers and illustrated weeklies were full of
photographs of H.R.H. Prince Edward and his sister and brothers.
The princess interested me very little, but every photograph of
Prince Edward I came across I cut out and pinned to the wall of
my room. The increasing collection of photographs traveled with
me.

And we were constantly on the move, touring the Midlands,
swinging back to London to look for fresh engagements. When we
were not working, I amused myself in any way that I could. I did
the shopping for Rose and helped her keep our lodgings tidy. We
made our own clothes, trimmed our own hats. I made myself a
hobble skirt out of a remnant of tweed when I was fourteen. Rose
appreciated these efforts of mine. She was not a housekeeper, but
she was neat, and Father's untidiness was a constant annoyance to
her.

Life wasn't all beer and skittles. Not by any means. Father still
liked his glass, and though he would go several months without
drinking, invariably there came a day when he would become
short-tempered, restless, and start going out between the matinee
and the night show. Finally he would crack up. Then he became
ugly, cruel, and impossible to handle. Neither Rose nor I could
do anything with him.

I began to watch for these drinking bouts and to dread them and
the rows that went on at the theater with the manager and other
members of the company and at home with Rose. In between spells
Rose and I formed a conspiracy to keep Father in bounds. One or
the other of us kept watch over him all the time. We would try to
think up schemes for keeping him happy and entertained, but when
our cleverness failed to win over Father's craving, Rose and I
knew we were in for it. Father would go on drinking, growing more
and more sullen, more and more difficult to handle, until the
manager paid us off. Since Father and I were always on a joint
contract, this meant I lost my job when he was fired. When that
happened, he would drink himself into a state in which he was
unable to go out at all. Poor Rose then put him to bed and nursed
him until he sobered. Father would emerge from her hands
chastened, and go out to hunt a new engagement for himself and
for me. We had no agent. We could not afford an agent's
commission. It was our habit to search the "Wanted" ads in the
theatrical newspapers. Sometimes Father heard of something
through hanging around the crowds by the London Hippodrome.

We had been out of work for several weeks and were more than
usually hard up when Father landed a job to play in a touring
revival of André Messager's _The Little Michus_, a comic operetta
for which his voice was perfect. He came home to the dreary back
room in Camberwell where he and I were then living to tell me the
good news. Rose was away on tour with a concert party. That room
which was divided into two private apartments by a curtain
suspended from a sagging wire represented the ebb tide of our
fortunes.

But Father beamed over his good luck. He planked down a couple of
half crowns from the advance he had persuaded the company manager
to give him and said gaily:

"Let's have sausages for supper, Gertie. This calls for a
celebration, my girl."

I pocketed the coins and made ready to go out and do the
shopping. Meanwhile Father ran on about the company and the play.
He was to play M. Michu, the proprietor of a patisserie and the
perplexed parent of twin daughters, Marie Blanche and Blanche
Marie--the "little Michus." Immediately I pricked up my ears.

"Who will play the girls?" I demanded.

"Not a chance of it," Father smiled at me ruefully. "I spoke to
the manager about you. He was interested until he asked me your
age, and I had to tell him fifteen. Then he wouldn't hear of it.
He insists he must have someone older. It's too bad, because you
could do it, I'm sure."

I thought hard. I went to the mirror and studied what I saw
there. What could I do to myself to add three or four years to my
age?

"Are you sure he hasn't filled both parts yet?"

Father said he was. "He has one girl. She's about your height.
But she's nineteen or twenty, I'd say."

My hair was long and hung in curls to my waist. I brushed out the
ringlets and for the first time put my hair up. I rummaged in the
cupboard and brought out my one straw hat. I cut off the brim,
pinned on a bunch of cherries, and contrived a toque which could
be called anything but youthful. In my tweed hobble skirt I
looked at least eighteen.

Thus arrayed, and with Father's encouragement, I presented myself
at the manager's office and asked for the job. He tried my voice
and engaged me on a joint contract with Father, as I was still
under age, no matter how old I looked.

Father and I toured with _The Little Michus_ for many weeks.
When Rose's engagement ran out, she joined us. We were playing to
good business and it looked as though the show would have a long
run. Then Father succumbed to one of his drinking spells. Rose
and I did our best to straighten him out and to cover him up. But
as the drinking went on for days, the manager fired him.

This meant that I, too, was once more out of work.

"I'd like to keep you on, kid," the manager said regretfully.
"You're good. But you're under age, and what can I do?"

Rose took Father in hand once more and I searched the columns of
notices in _The Stage_ for a new job. This time I intended to
lie boldly about my age. Rose agreed with me it was the thing to
do. "It's no life for you, being with Arthur," she said. "He's
hopeless. I know that now. You must go on your own. You've got
something, Gertie. I think you're going to get on. You're not
pretty and you're too thin for everybody's taste, but you've got
class. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if you were up in the
West End one of these days."

"Oh, Rose. Do you really think so?"

Rose nodded solemnly. "Yes, I do. You've got something that goes
down with a certain kind of audience. High-toned. It's just that
you've got to be seen by the right people. And that takes some
doing."

"I'll land something before long," I assured her.

What I landed was a job as chorus girl and understudy in a
traveling revue--one of the first of its kind--entitled _Miss
Plaster of Paris_. I had been forced to lie about my age, but we
needed the money desperately. The man who ran the show and his
wife played the leading parts. I worked in the chorus, played
maids, and in one scene sat on a column. I was selected for this
honor because mine was the smallest posterior in the company.

All week I looked forward to Saturday night when "the ghost
walked" and we were paid. Pay night usually meant a good spree
for the manager followed by a fight with his wife in the course
of which he frequently gave her a black eye, thus paving the way
to my appearance in the leading role the following Monday. For
all this excitement and experience I received fifteen shillings a
week.

I managed very well on this sum. Three or four of us lived
together, sharing room rent and pooling our money for the
catering purse. We took turns doing the marketing each day. It
was a hard-and-fast rule that we count the potatoes before giving
them to the landlady to cook for us. She was under orders to
boil, not to mash them. This enabled us to be sure she had not
helped herself to a couple of them. Sometimes one of us would
forget to give the order, and when the vegetable dish cover was
lifted, a groan would go up:

"Oh, blast! The old bitch has mashed 'em!"

The manager had an old white bull terrier which traveled with the
show. The bulldog had appeared with his master when he played
Bill Sykes. At rehearsal one day, when we were back in London
preparing a second revue called _Miss Lamb o f Canterbury_, I
was playing with the dog when he suddenly growled and sank his
teeth into my right hand, refusing to let go.

I fainted. A doctor was sent for. I was cauterized, bandaged, and
told to go home. I was living in lodgings with Father. Rose had
finally left him, "and this time for good," she had asserted.
"Enough is enough, but too much is a little bit too much, if you
ask me. And that's what I've had with Arthur. Oh, I've walked out
on him before to teach him a lesson. And every time he's come
round within the fortnight and made all sorts of promises, and
I've listened to him and gone back. I can't say I've ever taught
him a thing except what a man like him knows already--that a
woman like me can be an awful fool. This time, though, I don't
care about teaching Arthur anything. It's myself I'm thinking
about. And high time too. Myself and you, Gertie."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. Because, don't you see if I stay on with your father
you probably will too. And what would happen then? I've been
seeing it coming for the last year. You and I would be working
and keeping him. The way it is, if Arthur wants to eat and drink,
he's got to work. And that means he'll keep sober more or less.
Without him, you've got no one but yourself to think about. This
is your chance to get ahead."

There was something in what Rose said. I thought it over and
decided I should stand on my own. Father had been out of work for
some time, but that morning he had told me he had a chance to go
to South Africa. This seemed too good to be true. On the way home
a thought struck me: if he knows what has happened to my hand he
may refuse to go so far away. "He must go. He must," I kept
saying all the way home.

Father was there when I arrived. He was tremendously excited. He
had only to sign his contract next day and he would leave in a
week.

"You will be all right, won't you, Gertie?" he said eagerly. "You
are getting on fine, and this will be a great chance for me to
earn some decent money and see a bit of the world. South Africa
is a great country. A man can start life over again out there."

I assured him I was at the top of my form, and kept my bandaged
hand behind me, saying nothing of the intense pain. When he
finally noticed the bandage I explained I had cut my hand on a
broken glass at rehearsal. Father never knew the truth about my
injury, which took a long time to heal and left a scar which is
still visible. He went off to South Africa and I managed to keep
working. He was gone about a year. He came home well and bronzed
and self-assured. When I met him at the boat, he introduced me to
an enormous, handsome man with whom he had made friends during his
trip. This was Victor McLaglen.

Unfortunately South Africa had not made Father's fortune or
changed his habits. But something had changed in me during the
months he was away. I had learned to stand alone, and by managing
to keep on tour I never lived with Father again. He retired to
Brighton, did an occasional show or a concert, and later on I was
able to help him until his death.

In between jobs I lived at the "Cats' Home" in London so that I
could make the rounds of the theatrical managers' offices. This
was a tall, gaunt house in Charlotte Street which called itself
The Theatrical Girls' Boarding House. Here, for ten shillings a
week, you could luxuriate in a cubicle by yourself. For five
shillings you shared a room with another girl. For half a crown
you could have a cot in a dormitory. I never reached the
ten-shilling private-cubicle stage.

There was a great feeling of camaraderie at the Cats' Home. We
girls loaned each other tram fares and clothes to look our best
when seeking a job. There was a sewing room where we made our own
clothes, and the stars of the London theaters used to send their
discarded gowns to us to be raffled off at sixpence a ticket. I
remember winning a pink net evening gown with a harem skirt and
ornamented with beads. This I sent to Mother as a gift. She wrote
saying it was beautiful and she was going to put it in a raffle!
That pink net confection may still be going the rounds.


These and other memories filled the long, beautiful drive across
Surrey and over the Sussex Downs, which I remembered so well from
the days when I used to drive this way to Brighton to visit
Pamela at her school, Roedean.

Odd to think of Pamela, my daughter, having any connection with
the little girl who ran away to seek her fortune on the stage.
The decade which separated that little girl from Pamela's mother
was crowded with experiences. Four of those years were filled
with World War I, toward the close of which Pamela was born. Long
before I had the responsibility of a child I had entered upon
another responsibility--one which had remained unfulfilled until
I made this trip to England to entertain the Tommies and the G.I.
Joes who were pledged to defend the way of life I want Pamela and
all other children to have. I shall come to the story of that
responsibility and how I entered upon it a little later.

All the gay Regency recklessness was gone from Brighton. Barbed
wire prevented access to the sea front. The old, well-tanned
houses, which always used to remind me of Indian colonels basking
in the sun, with their backs to the protecting downs, showed
plenty of battle scars. But there was still the old, steady,
carrying-on spirit at the Old Ship Hotel where our unit was
billeted. In the old days, when I came to Brighton, I had a suite
at the Albion or the Metropole, but these places had been taken
over by the services, and only the Old Ship remained for
civilians. I was grateful for my billet there--a single bedroom
without a bath.

It was June 5 when we arrived in Brighton, and we did a show that
night at Tilgate Camp, outside Crawley, in a Nissen hut.

The air in the hut, which was packed with soldiers, wedged
shoulder to shoulder, seemed to quiver with anticipation. It was
bound to be very soon now, almost any hour, that the United
Nations would launch their long-prepared-for blow at the
continent. The quivering you felt was like that of a boxer who
draws back a second before lashing out with both fists at his
opponent.

"Oh, it's a lovely way to spend an evening," I sang to the rows
upon rows of faces that, from the stage, looked like spume on a
khaki-colored sea. Silly words, and ironic under the
circumstances. These words were on my lips, but while I sang them
my heart was speaking those marvelous lines from _King Henry V_:

   _Now entertain conjecture of a time
   When creeping murmur and the poring dark 
   Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
   From camp to camp through the foul womb of night 
   The hum of either army stilly sounds, 
   That the fix'd sentinels almost receive 
   The secret whispers of each other's watch: 
   Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames 
   Each battle sees the other's umber'd face; 
   Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs 
   Piercing the night's dull ear; and from the tents 
   The armourers, accomplishing the knights, 
   With busy hammers closing rivets up, 
   Give dreadful note of preparation..._

A country cock crowed, though it was not yet "the third hour of
drowsy morning," when we tumbled out of the cars, before the door
of the Old Ship, and stumbled up the stairs to bed.


How odd to begin a day so momentous as June 6, 1944, with tea and
toast. A warm breeze which smelled like the wind which blows
across the sand dunes at Dennis lifted my bedroom curtains and
set me longing to go out for a bathe. Brighton was very quiet
except for the recurrent waves of planes flying high
overhead--that monotonous accompaniment to life in wartime
England. The newspaper brought the news that Rome had been ours
since the day before. All dwellers in the continental coast towns
had been warned by the army commander in chief to evacuate their
homes at once. A headline announced that His Majesty would speak
on the air that night.

Were we on the eve of the invasion at last?

I went downstairs with my hands full of letters for the post. It
was the old hall porter, in his green baize apron, who told me
that D-Day was at last a reality. Our forces had set sail for the
coast of Normandy at 5:00 A.M. That tremor I had felt the night
before was not imagined. I had caught the "dreadful note of
preparation."

Mary Barrett and I walked out into the sunshine and along the
Front. The people we met were very quiet and looked a little
grim, conscious of what must be taking place only forty-four
miles across the Channel. Whenever a bevy of planes passed
overhead, pointing toward France, all eyes were lifted to them
and, I dare say, all hearts. I know mine was. I wanted
desperately to speak to Richard, but I was told all civilian
telephone calls were canceled. I knew he must be in the midst of
the busiest day for the Navy.

On the evening of D-Day our unit was scheduled to do a show on
the pier at Worthing. The spirits of the men in the audience ran
high, and no wonder, with good news coming in that our invading
army had made an advance of ten miles into France within a few
hours of landing. Worthing is only a few miles east of Bognor,
where I had my first glimpse of the sea and where I earned my
first sovereign. The Victorian poets had a fancy for writing odes
to places "revisited." This tour of the south coast was full of
such places for me.

The next day, Wednesday, the War Department unsealed a camp for
us, and we motored out toward Lewes to Camp Tanner. The men had
rigged up an old barn to serve as a crude theater. When we
arrived there, we found the troops in the process of moving out
for France. Hundreds had already left. From what one could learn,
the invasion was going so well--"going according to plan" as
Churchill announced to the Empire--and the advance into France
was so swift more men could be dispatched immediately.

The troops about to leave were already lined up when we arrived.
They carried all their equipment and were wearing their Mae
Wests. A groan went through the ranks because they thought they
would miss our show.

So we unloaded fast, and the colonel (his name was Bury, and the
outfit was called "Bury's Bashers") let them into the barn
theater where we did our show for them. I sang my songs and then
stood out in the farmyard waving to them as they drove out,
headed for France.

It was all like part of a film. There I stood in the middle of
that once-peaceful farmyard, in the brilliant sunshine, tears
streaming down my face, waving good-by to those men--knowing I
was the last woman to sing them a song for many a weary while.

When the trucks had pulled out, we returned to the barn and did
our show again for the men who were still waiting for orders.
Halfway through the bill we had to stop while the troops were
summoned to muster outside. Again I went out, and kissed them and
waved good-by. Again we struck up "Auld Lang Syne." Above the
rumbling of the lorries rose the sound of men's voices singing
the song which I had just taught them.

By this time Mary Barrett and I were both reduced to pulp. But
the show had to go on; so, with a lumpy throat and an ache in my
heart, I went back to the barn and we did a third show.

There was no one to know that what I was doing there that
afternoon--and what I was to do for many days at many other camps
throughout England--was the long-overdue payment of a debt. Bury's
Bashers and the other boys I sang to could not know what I owed
to half a dozen British Tommies of World War I who, before they
went out to fight in Flanders, gave Gertrude Lawrence her chance
to become a star.




5


Though I was now entirely on my own, without obligation to
Father, I did not go back to Clapham. What held me back from
doing this was bravado. I had left them and Granny to further my
career as an actress. I was still a long way from achieving that
goal and, therefore, I felt hesitant about going back to the
family. Above all, I had no desire to have the virtues of Cousin
Ruby dinned into my ears. Someday, I promised myself, I'll be
doing so well I can afford to go back.

I was determined to make good, and deep inside myself was the
unshaken conviction that I would be a success someday. I was
quite willing to work for that success and to make sacrifices to
attain it. I did work, not forgetting Miss Conti's teaching, and
striving all the time to do better. Many of the girls I met in
the companies in which I played, or at the Cats' Home, admitted,
frankly, that they were content just to be good enough to get by.
They, apparently, did not have that insistent, not-to-be-ignored
inner drive which forced me to practice constantly and to learn
more and always more about the theater.

I cannot take any credit to myself for this determination to
succeed, for it was inherent in my nature. I did have to battle
through periods of despair and frustration. But I am by nature
hopeful. I do not understand defeat. My own psychology in those
years before I was seventeen was quite simple: I believed,
unquestionably, that I was destined to be an actress. The fortune
which the penny-in-the-slot machine on the pier at Brighton had
given me seemed to me to state this quite unequivocally. I saw no
reason to doubt the gypsy's prophecy. It might be. this
season--or the next--that I would emerge from the obscurity of
the chorus of a musical which played the provinces and the
cheaper suburbs of London. But emerge I would. Meanwhile it was
up to me to make myself as good as I could be. Each performance
was a fresh challenge.

One night after the show in Swindon there was a knock on the
chorus's dressing-room door. The callboy handed me a card which
read LEE WHITE AND CLAY SMITH, LONDON AND NEW YORK. I went out
and found an American couple on vacation from their London
season. They were visiting Swindon to see the cathedral and had
dropped in at our show.

They took me out to supper at their hotel and we talked.

"You're good," Lee said to me seriously. "You don't belong in a
show like this. You've got something. Clay and I are going to
keep our eyes on you." She made me promise to keep them informed
of what towns we played, and let them know whenever I changed
shows. "You never can tell," she finished; "we may learn of
something. And, when we do, you'll hear from us."

I rather doubted the validity of this promise, but from time to
time I would send them a picture post card to the address Lee
gave me.

Nearly a year later, while I was playing in Yarmouth, I received
a telegram. It was signed _Lee White and Clay Smith_, and it
said tersely that they had recommended me for a job in a revue
which André Charlot was staging in London. _Can you come at
once?_ the wire ended.

I was all for dashing to the station and leaping aboard the first
London Express, but the other girls, to whom I had shown the
wire, held me back.

"How do you know this is a genuine offer?" they demanded.
"Suppose you leave the show here and go flying up to London only
to find the manager has signed someone else? There you'll be--out
of a job and without a bean."

These suggestions sobered me. "What'll I do? I can't afford to
throw over a chance like this, can I? It's for London!"

The girls agreed wholeheartedly that this was not to be thought
of. We put our heads together and concocted a return message:
_Does your wire constitute a contract?_ I ran down to the
station and sent it off; then I went back to the theater to dress
for that night's show, trying desperately to keep my mind on my
cues and not on the extravagant fancies that kept popping up when
I thought of London.

When I came off stage after the final curtain, the stage doorman
handed me a telegram. I ripped it open. With the other girls
crowding around, peering over my shoulder, I read:


   YES, IF YOU CAN COME AT ONCE, THIS TELEGRAM
   CONSTITUTES A CONTRACT. CLAY SMITH.


Luckily, I had no contract, but if I was to leave I had to do so
without the management getting wind of it. Back in our lodgings,
my roommate, Madge, and I took stock of our resources. It was a
Tuesday night--four days to payday. What money I had plus all
that she could afford to lend me wouldn't pay for a third-class
ticket to London. Neither of us owned anything of value that we
could pawn. We looked at each other, and for the first time in my
life I felt desperate. Here was my chance--a chance for a
contract at a London theater, and for the lack of a few shillings
I couldn't seize it. Madge said slowly:

"I've got a friend in camp here. I'll get word to him. If he has
any money, he'll help us. And, if he hasn't, he'll know how to
raise it."

We didn't sleep much that night. I lay tense, staring into the
dark. Somehow, by some means or other, I must get the money for
that ticket to London. Next morning I was packed and ready to
take off when Madge went out to meet her boy friend. She came
back in a short time, bringing him with her. He was a little,
bright-faced lad from Bristol. Before he enlisted, he'd been a
joiner's apprentice. Now he was drilling with a regiment of
gunners, getting ready to go over to Flanders. Madge showed him
the wire and drew a vivid picture of the importance of this
chance which had come my way. Bristol looked me over with a
speculative eye, as if I were a horse on which someone was
advising him to place his money. I tried to look as promising as
possible. If only he would think me worth betting on. Presently
he nodded. He had, he informed us, eight shillings, which he was
prepared to risk on me. My face fell. Even with his eight
shillings added to our resources, the ticket to London was a long
way off. Madge explained this to him.

"That's all right," said Bristol complacently. "I've a couple of
mates who might be willing to take a flier."

We arranged to meet him and his friends at the railway station
within an hour. Madge and I were standing by the ticket office
when five British Tommies, with Bristol in the lead, bore down on
us.

"There she is," said he, pointing at me. The other five looked me
over. Five heads nodded approbation.

Out of the uniform pockets came half crowns and shillings which
the Tommies handed over to Madge, my self-constituted financial
manager. She counted the money. "Hurray! Enough for a ticket, and
fifteen shillings over to see you through your first week in
London," she said triumphantly.

While she bought my ticket, I turned to Bristol and his five
mates. "Thank you, boys. You'll get your money back. And you
won't be sorry you've done this for me. I promise."

"Oh, that's all right," one of the Tommies replied gallantly.
"It's always a pleasure to help a lady."

"I mean it," I said earnestly. "I won't forget what you've done
for me today. Not ever! And when I'm playing at His Majesty's
Theatre in the Haymarket, it'll be because you boys helped me get
there."

The six Tommies saw me off on the London Express. I hung out of
the window and waved to them, and they all waved back to me.

"Best of luck, Gertie! Mind now, don't let us down."




6


The little revue in which Lee White and Clay Smith found a place
for me was one of the first of a long run of such shows staged by
André Charlot. The revue in which I made my first appearance bore
the innocuous title, _Some_. This was followed in turn by
_Cheep_, _Tabs_, and _Buzz-Buzz_. I did a toe dance and a duet
with Clay Smith, and was also in the chorus. Charlot gave me a
three-year contract at three pounds ten shillings a week the
first year, four pounds ten shillings the second, and six pounds
ten shillings the third. I was made.

The pattern of all these wartime revues was simplicity itself.
They were staged with a minimum of scenery and a maximum of
taste, and they were cast with star names. Charlot's revues
caught on immediately with the British public. Each of them had a
long run, and when it closed, it was almost immediately succeeded
by another, cut to the same successful pattern.

The masculine part of those revue audiences was almost entirely
in khaki. The girls with the young lieutenants in the Gunners and
Sappers wore gay evening frocks. The men themselves were home on
leave from the Western Front, and were desperately in need of
getting the sights and sounds of the battle fronts along the
Somme out of their systems. They wanted terribly to forget. They
dined and danced and went on to the play and then on to supper
clubs, where they danced again and drank, cramming their hours of
leave with all the gaiety they could seize. It was up to us in
_Charlot's Revue_ to offer these men gaiety. It was up to us to
bring laughs to boys whose youthful faces were set in grim lines
and whose eyes never quite lost the wounded look even when their
lips smiled. It was up to us to delude them into believing--if
only for one split second--that death and destruction and terror
and dirt and pain were unreal.

The boys adored Charlot's revues. You would look out into the
house and see a boy sitting in the same seat night after night.
You would smile at him across the footlights, establishing a
comradeship. Then one night, when you looked, there would be
another boy in khaki or navy blue sitting in that seat. The other
had gone back, where and to what you didn't know and didn't want
to guess. Sometimes, after months, suddenly there he would be
again, waiting for you to make him laugh. When he turned up like
that, you felt better yourself and you'd think: "He's all right.
He's come through this time." It never occurred to you, nor did
it matter at all, that you didn't even know his name.

The London of June 1944 in which I had found myself on arriving
from America bore not the slightest resemblance to the London I
remembered during the years 1915 to 1918. The audiences one saw
at the West End theaters in the summer of 1944 were predominantly
in uniform, but there was a noticeable lack of girls in evening
dress, and there was a striking absence of the hectic
let-us-dance-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-die gaiety, which was
the undercurrent of the life I remembered during World War I. The
Londoners of 1944 were quieter and more matter of fact, even
about their pleasures. They laughed at the jokes and the songs
and the comedy skits in the shows, but you felt no desperation in
their amusement. You felt that, not for one minute, though they
laughed, did they forget the immediacy of war and the menace to
all that the British people hold dear. One felt--at least I
did--that between 1917 and 1944 the British people had lost their
youth and regained their wisdom.


Bea Lillie was one of the stars of _Some_, and I was required
to understudy her as well as appear in the chorus. Bea and I
quickly became friends and partners in practical jokes which both
of us adored to play on others in the cast.

I remember the night in 1917 when America entered the war. Lee
and Clay had sat up all the night before writing a song
especially for the occasion, and had rehearsed it all day. The
time came for Clay to step out onto the stage and announce the
new song. This done, the front tabs were drawn, leaving room
downstage for Lee to sing in a spotlight. Bea and I and the rest
of the company were standing back of the drop curtains to hear
the new song. It was a march entitled "America Answers the Call."

As Lee sang, suddenly Bea started to march madly back and forth
back of the curtain just behind Lee. I joined her. The cast began
to laugh, and the more they laughed the more exaggerated our
marching became. Our arms waved until they moved the curtains.
Finally Clay came down upon us.

"My God," he whispered fiercely at Bea, "where do you think you
are?"

"The Ritz," she replied with her own inimitable gesture of the
right hand, and with that distinctive lift of the voice at the
end of the line.

There was a rehearsal call the next day. Although Bea and I lived
at opposite ends of London, by sheer coincidence we both arrived
late. We were both fired.

The star and her understudy went out to lunch together. I knew
Charlot would want to take Bea back, but I was worried about
myself. I had gone too far, and I had seriously offended Lee and
Clay, who had done so much for me.

Bea and I returned humbly to the theater and I sat in the
wardrobe mistress's room waiting to be sent for. Bea was
forgiven, and I was lectured severely and then--at Lee White's
urgent request--given another trial.

Anyone would think I would have learned something by this
experience, but apparently I did not. I was soon up to mischief
again.

In one of the revues Lee sang a song, "Have You Seen the Ducks Go
By?" At the end of the verse a row of obviously artificial ducks
appeared on a wall at the back of the stage and moved across it
in time to the music. The effect was made by us girls walking
behind the wall, with only our duck-like hats showing. That
number was a hopeless temptation to me. I couldn't help making my
duck frisk about and behave as no properly drilled duck would
ever do. Nor could I resist popping my head up over the wall in
the wrong place, winking at the audience, and laughing when they
laughed at me. Naturally Lee did not like this in the least. But
Bea Lillie adored it and would join in with the chorus and pop
her head up--minus the duck headdress. Sometimes she wore a man's
straw hat and a false mustache. The audience would howl with
laughter, but it upset Lee. Finally Clay stopped speaking to me.

I suppose a psychologist could find a reason for the
irrepressible impulse to play pranks which obsessed me for
several seasons after I got started on the London stage. They
were the kind of pranks that usually only school children think
are funny--fake telegrams, keyholes stuffed with soap, coat
sleeves sewed up at the cuffs so that the victim found it
impossible to make a quick change of costume. If it seems strange
that I should have taken such liberties after I had been at pains
to get an opportunity in a London production, I can only explain
these idiosyncrasies of mine on the ground that I must have been
making up for those years when I had been working at a time when
most children my age were playing games. Perhaps it was just
something I had to get out of my system. Perhaps, too, it was the
not abnormal reaction of a girl who suddenly found herself made
much of for the first time in her life. On looking back it seems
to me extraordinary the patience which André Charlot
 had with me during those seasons. I must have been an
unmitigated nuisance--to him and to all the other members of the
company. What I needed was to have someone tick me off.
Ultimately, André Charlot did just that.

During the run of _Some_ I kept more or less within bounds. I
was still the least important member of the cast. I had every
intention of pleasing Mr. Charlot so that he would give me a
place in his next revue. I was determined not to go back to
touring companies.

I had repaid the loan to Bristol and his mates, who had gone off
to Flanders and from whom I received occasional field post
cards--the kind supplied to the soldiers--with such messages as:
"I am well." "I am ill." "All the best. "Write soon."

It may seem strange that I did not go out to Clapham to find
Mother and Dad and let them know that I was now playing in
London. What held me back from this was my own ambition. Whenever
I was tempted to go back to Mother, Dad, and Granny, it seemed as
though something in me would whisper: "Don't go yet. You're not
somebody yet. Wait till you're somebody."

I entertained myself imagining the home-coming scene. I would
make a royal progress through Clapham in an open taxi. When I
arrived at Mother's door there would be a flurry of excitement
among the neighbors and Gertrude Lawrence, now the star of the
London stage, would descend from her chariot to receive the
congratulations of everybody.

Does this seem trivial and selfish? I do not attempt to justify
it, or any of the other impulses which made me think such
thoughts or do the things I did. Most of us, I believe, have or
do still indulge in some such fantasy as this which compensates
for a lot of hard knocks and heartaches. Very few among us are
noble, or even mature, in all parts of our nature at the same
time.

So, though I daydreamed about it, I did not go back to Mother.
Mother, however, discovered me. One evening when I arrived at the
theater, to make up for the show, a woman was standing just
inside the stage door. The doorman whispered she was waiting for
me. It was Mother. We stood there in the drafty little passage,
with people coming and going and pushing past us, and stared at
each other. Suddenly all the years that had passed since the
afternoon when I had suddenly conceived the plan of running away
and throwing in my lot with my own father were swept away. I was
once more a little girl who had done something she knew her
mother would not approve of and who had been caught and was now
wondering what was going to happen to her.

Actually, nothing happened. To my surprise, Mother took me in her
arms. To my question how she had found me, she replied that she
had been passing along the street when the air-raid warning
sounded. She had taken cover in a hotel next to our theater, and
when the all clear came she had stopped out of curiosity to see
what was on at the theater. She had noticed the name "Gertie
Lawrence" among the small-part people.

My dream of impressing the family was shattered, but at least I
had got my mother back, and I realized then how much I had missed
her. Granny, grown much older and quite feeble now, took
particular personal pride in my having a part in a successful
West End production. Though she never said so, I think Granny
felt secretly responsible for having started me on my career.


As I went from revue to revue, in each show I was given more to
do. This, of course, brought more prestige and, on my part, more
self-assurance. I still played pranks, and the more I played, the
more daring I became. Not unnaturally, André Charlot got a little
fed up with me. He said so more than once in no unvarnished
terms.

While I was playing in _Buzz-Buzz_, I came down with a bad
attack of lumbago. The doctor ordered me to bed. I was laid up
for the better part of a week. When Saturday night came, I was
feeling much better than I had felt for several days. The doctor
said I would be able to go back to work on Monday. That evening
Ivor Novello rang me up. He'd heard I had lumbago, and he wanted
to know how I was getting on.

"I'm better," I said. "In fact, I'm working again Monday."

"Wonderful, darling," came Ivor's voice over the wire. 

"Ethel Baird is opening tonight in her new show, _Summer Time_.
Bobbie Andrews and I have got a box. A lot of us are going. Why
not come along, too, darling?"

"How can I?" I said.

"But you're much better, darling," Ivor suggested. "My dear girl,
do ask the doctor to let you come."

I began to get the idea. "Of course I could ring up my doctor and
ask him what he thinks," I wavered.

"Wonderful," Ivor approved. "He's sure to say it would do you no
end of good to get out of that stuffy room and have a bit of
fun."

"I'll see what he says," I promised. "I'll ring up and ask him if
he thinks it would hurt me to go."

The doctor gave, as his opinion, that I would be no worse if I
went to the opening, provided I came straight home and went
directly to bed. "No staying out dancing all night," he
commanded.

"Oh, I wouldn't think of it," I said hastily.

I promptly rang up Ivor and told him to come around and fetch me.

The opening was a very smart one; everybody was there. It was
wonderful sitting in the stage box with Ivor, watching the
celebrities come in. I was sitting in the front of the box, not
to miss a thing, when who should come down the center aisle but
André Charlot and his wife. Before I could slither between Ivor
and Bobbie into obscurity behind them, André Charlot's eyes were
lifted and swept the stage boxes. I felt his gaze halt and fix
itself directly on my face. "That's done it," I thought. "He'll
be furious, of course."

When Monday evening came, I arrived at the stage door, as chipper
as you please. Old George, the doorman, looked at me reprovingly.
He blocked the doorway. "I'm sorry, miss," he said. "I've got my
orders not to let you in."

"Oh, come off it, George," I said.

Old George shook his head. "Sorry, miss, I've had my orders.
Straight from Mr. Charlot himself they came. You're not to be let
in. Not any more. You're fired."

"What about my part?" I demanded.

"Jessie Matthews is going on for you, miss. She's making up now.
Here, I've got a note for you." He produced a sealed envelope and
handed it to me.

The note was from André Charlot himself. He made no bones about
it. He was firing me from _Buzz-Buzz_. I had been absent more
than six performances which, under the terms of my contract,
permitted him to cancel it and to engage someone else to take my
place. "If you are well enough to go to other people's plays, you
are well enough to come to your own," the note ended.

I tried to get him on the telephone, but he was not at his home,
and no one there would tell me where he was. Finally, after
considerable maneuvering, I located him at a hotel in the country
and rang him there. I simply couldn't believe that he would fire
me for such a little thing as staying out one night more than my
illness made necessary. Why, time and again he had forgiven me
much worse offenses than that. But now Charlot was offended and
angry, and firm in his determination to teach me a lesson. He
gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that he had had
enough of my nonsense. "You've been asking for this for a long
time," he snapped. Then he hung up, leaving me gasping.

There was no getting round it. I had been sacked. Already the
story was probably traveling like wildfire through the theaters
of the West End. I could just imagine how some of the wiser ones
would smile over the news that Gertrude Lawrence had been told
off for being too smart. "Played one trick too many, Gertie has."

It was barely a fortnight to Christmas, and I was out of a job.




7


From Camp Tanner on the estate of the Earl of Chichester our
orders were to proceed to Arundel, where a large R.A.F. center
was located. On the short drive we passed close to Bognor, with
its memories of my childhood holiday when I sang on the sands.
Those sands were now barricaded with barbed wire and the sea
front was patrolled by guards and protected by big guns.

That night our unit played for the group at Arundel. After the
show we visited the "Flare Path" and watched the Spitzes and
Mosquitoes coming in from their raids over France. These boys had
actually played a part in the great invasion. They had covered
the armies swarming up the beaches and fighting their way into
the coast towns. And here they were back again....

Two of the boys we talked to in the crew room, where the pilots
await their calls for briefing, had bagged Nazis that day. They
were quiet, modest young men, with bright, clear eyes and ready
smiles. Nothing nervy or high-strung about them that anyone could
see.

Next day we motored along the south coast, one hundred miles to
Canterbury. All Sussex and Kent were a vast armed camp--a sealed
reservoir of men and munitions waiting to be ferried over to
Normandy. In most of the old churches in the villages we drove
through were tombs of Norman knights who had crossed the Channel
with William the Conqueror's invaders.

Canterbury was a shock. The town was badly bombed during the last
blitz, when Hitler seemed to have decided to go after all
England's cathedrals. But here again, as with St. Paul's, he
missed. The beautiful minster still stood, pathetically lovely in
the midst of a surrounding devastation. We did our show under
canvas at Bridge Camp. It was all very primitive, but the boys
gave us a great hand and were touchingly appreciative of our
efforts to entertain them. These men were Commandos and Rangers,
boys from every state in the Union, who yowled with delight when
I sang them songs they recognized as American. They, too, were
awaiting orders to leave for Normandy at any hour.

From Canterbury back to London and a letdown from the high
excitement that prevailed all along the south coast. The
excitement and singing in the barn near Chichester had given me a
sore throat. I gargled sedulously, determined not to be laid up.

This time we headed north into Bedfordshire. The fat farms smiled
at us. British people have always loved the countryside, but now
you felt that that love was less romantic than formerly. You saw
people actually smacking their lips at the sight of rows of broad
beans, or six ducklings waddling in single file down a green bank
to a pond.


We did our show in Bedford's city hall that night to an audience
of twenty-six hundred mixed troops. The mayor and mayoress were
there and there were speeches and photographs and flowers--really
a gala.

I got back late to The Swan, not feeling at all well. Fortunately
we had a quiet night--no air raids. We were all up early the next
morning to motor twenty-three miles back to Luton to put on a
factory show at "Electrolux." Luton, with its wonderful views of
the Chilterns, used to manufacture hats, both felt and straw. The
straw was imported from Japan and from Italy--one reason why the
Luton workers are not turning out straw boaters this season.
Luton still makes its own beer, and very good beer it is,
especially after you've been singing out of doors to a lunch-hour
crowd.

We put on another show that night for the R.A.F. in a
non-operational base. The temperature in the hut was 102 degrees.
I went home after the show and to bed, where I stayed for the
next four days. I kept begging Mary Barrett to dose me and to
cover up the fact that I was ill. I went through anxious hours,
hoping the press wouldn't get hold of the story. If that had
happened, it might have prevented me from getting to the second
front, as I had been promised.

From Bedford we drove more than two hundred miles back to the
busy south coast and the Southampton area. We found everyone
there talking about the new "pilotless planes" which were
beginning to come over and about which there had been rumors.
There were three alerts during our first night in Portsmouth. The
south coast had always been a target for the Luftwaffe, but the
boys along that coast were watching for the "doodlebugs," as the
Americans called them. The things were proving more deadly than
had been expected. As they exploded on contact, or on time, and
without warning, it was almost impossible to find safety if one
were caught within distance of the blast. There were a lot of
casualties in and around Southampton and, we heard, in London.
Our Red Cross nurse at Drury Lane was killed by one of them.

For a week we did shows in tents, hangars, garrison theaters, and
under trees. Each time the men would be gone the next morning. It
gave one a sinking feeling to realize that these men were
actually going into battle with the song in their hearts they had
heard you sing only a few hours before. I had brought a new song
with me when I came back to the big Southampton area, "All's
Well, Mademoiselle." It was written for me on D-Day by Michael
Carr and Tommy Connor. I had thousands of copies printed, and as
I sang it I handed out the autographed copies to the boys and got
them to sing it with me:

_[The quotation which follows of lines from the song has been
omitted from this ebook for reasons of copyright.]_

My diary gives the story of my experience in London when the
robots began to rain down on the city:

...Sunday night. I am in bed at the Savoy. 10:00 P.M. Alert just
gone. Wonder if it's Hitler's dirty flying bugs again? The window
in my bedroom is broken from the blast concussion. But part of
Cherbourg is ours tonight; so who cares?...1:00 A.M. Three of the
bloody things have just fallen outside. You hear the beastly
droning; then it stops; then it explodes. The whole hotel
shudders and my curtains blow into the room from the blast....
1:50 A.M. One more has just blazed over and dropped with a
terrific bang near by. The Strand seems to be the popular target
for tonight! Next door a couple are making love. _Here comes
another!_ And now it's raining hard to make things harder for
the A.R.P. rescue workers. That couple must be fatalists.
Wouldn't Hitler be furious at their complete unconcern?...
There's another. That makes six around here up to now. And our
Combined Air Forces are supposed to have been hammering at the
robot bases every day.... _Seven!_ More rain. Quiet next door
now. _Eight!_ What a night! Haven't heard a shot from our guns,
but I don't see how they can spot them. The projectiles just seem
to come over like fireworks on the fifth of November. _Nine!_ It
is now two-fifteen. Not much lull. The krauts must be having a
gleeful evening across the Channel. This kind of warfare costs
them no pilots. I wonder if Hitler has it all arranged so that he
can sit at home and push a button that fires the wretched things?
_Ten_ and _eleven_. Two at once that time. Now they are coming
in pairs. It's no use trying to sleep in a tin hat, and it looks
pretty silly, especially when one is alone, so I shall just have
to sit up and record this my first real experience of being
blindly blitzed by robots....

It really is a strange and utterly helpless feeling--not one
sound of a plane of ours overhead, or any attempt at gunfire;
just these oncoming, droning, phantom missiles loaded with
destruction. My room is on a small courtyard, so I can see
nothing, but the explosions have been very violent. Much damage
must be being done. Being Sunday, and this a business section,
there may not be many casualties, but the property loss will be
great. It is now 2:45 A.M. It gets light around 5:00 A.M. Soon I
can open my curtains and get some fresh air. Not that the
daylight stops the "doodlebugs."

I was just going to write "guess it's all over for tonight," but
here comes Charlie again, making a round dozen since one o'clock.
The alert has been on since ten--five hours steady. I'm getting
very sleepy.... Here's another one coming--thirteen. I admit I
got out of and under the bed that time. It was too close to be
comfortable, and I don't like odd numbers. But it passed right
overhead and _crumped_ down farther away. Golly! That seemed
like "this is it" for a while.

3:45 A.M. Maybe I should put down the date--Monday, June 26.
Sixteen and seventeen have just landed right outside. I can hear
the A.R.P. at work. Those last two were volcanic. How many more?
I suppose this is reprisal for Cherbourg.

Four o'clock just chimed, and number eighteen has come down with
an awful bump. It must have hit a power station or something.
This is truly a nightmare. The air is full of sudden death,
coming at us from all sides, without cessation. I haven't the
nerve to take this kind of bombing, especially when I'm alone. I
get to thinking...thinking...


Lying awake in the ghostly half-light alone, listening for the
drone of the buzz bombs as they came over, holding myself tense
through the moment of agonizing suspense, waiting for the crash
of their landing, I found myself living through the air raid that
rocked London the night my daughter Pamela was born.




8


When André Charlot canceled my contract with him, I immediately
went over to the London Hippodrome to see if I could get a part
in the Christmas production, which was due to open there in a few
days. But I was told there was nothing for me. A few more
inquiries made it clear to me that it wasn't going to be easy to
land a job immediately. The news had gone round that I was
impossible to manage.

I needed to get to work right away. I had very little money saved
up, barely enough to keep me if I remained out of work for more
than a fortnight. I have never been thrifty. Goodness knows I
wish I were. From the day I began to work and to earn money, I've
always spent what I earned. I don't think it ever occurred to me
that I would be out of work and unable to earn a living. So, as
the money came in, it went out--for myself and for others, and
for things that seemed to me necessary, or interesting, or worth
while.

Though there were no openings at the theaters, I thought I might
have some success as an entertainer at Murray's Club. Murray's
was London's first night club. It had just been started, and it
was drawing big crowds, especially the young officers on leave. I
went round to see the manager and was auditioned. He engaged me
to start at once. He was glad to get a youngster from _Charlot's
Revue_ who might be expected to draw trade. There I directed and
put on the first floor show in a London night club.

At the same time I understudied Phyllis Dare in the Hippodrome
pantomime.

Murray's was a gay spot in wartime London. It was the smart place
to go for supper and dancing, a place where the music and the
girls and the wine and the cabaret helped people forget the
heartbreaking defeat at Kut-el-Amara and the blow to British
prestige.

It was one of the tensest periods of the war. Everyone felt it.
Everyone was edgy, nervous, overtired, and desperately determined
to keep up a front at any cost, so the theater flourished. One
night André Charlot appeared at Murray's and asked me to join him
at his table. He said he wanted to make up, and I was as glad
about this as he obviously was. I wanted us to be friends, and I
wanted--and said so frankly--to get a place in his next revue.
But, alas, there was nothing for me in it. I've often wondered if
Charlot wasn't just being canny; whether he wasn't determined to
find out, before he re-engaged me, whether I really had settled
down and could be trusted to behave myself.

Meanwhile, I got together a double act with Walter Williams, who
had been in some of Charlot's revues. We opened at the London
Coliseum and toured the circuit of the Moss Empire theaters which
were scattered through the key cities. The act was an enormous
success. We used numbers from old Charlot's revues, and as we
were billed "straight from London," we always topped every bill.
I danced, and Walter's big hit song was "K-K-Katie."

(Poor Walter was killed by a direct-bomb hit during the London
blitz three years ago. When he went I lost a great friend who
helped me when I needed it.)

At that time my own personal life was occupying more and more of
my attention. I was engaged to a boy who was serving in the
balloon barrage which floated over London. Whenever I would look
up and see the big balloons bobbing lazily above the roofs and
spires, like bubbles rising in an enormous glass of champagne, I
had a cozy feeling of protection. My boy was up there looking out
for me and for our city. He had taken me to meet his parents;
he'd given me a ring--a sapphire surrounded by little
diamonds--which I adored and wore proudly. Someday, when the war
was over, we'd get married. Meanwhile, we were together whenever
his hours permitted it. He'd turn up at Murray's, or I'd come off
the stage at one of the London music halls where Walter Williams
and I were playing, and there would be Peter sitting in the
dressing room, waiting for me.

Then all at once something happened--I met Frank Howley. He was
twenty years my senior and I was immensely flattered by his
attention. Moreover, he belonged to my world--the world of the
theater. He spoke my language--that of the theater. He was a
director, and he talked to me of his future plans in which I
figured as his star.

When I went out with Peter, he was not interested in hearing me
talk about the theater. He didn't take the theater seriously, and
he couldn't understand why I did. His plan for us was to get
married and for me to leave the profession at once in order to
turn myself into the conventional type of young wife--the kind of
wife his people would approve of for him. The more I thought of
it, the surer I became that this was no part that I would ever
star in. I could play a lot of roles, but not that of young Mrs.
Peter.

Frank had no family problem. His brothers approved of me, though
they exclaimed with surprise on meeting me: "My God, Frank, she
doesn't wear any make-up!"

The more I thought about Peter and the life he pictured to me,
and to which he, apparently, looked forward as though it was the
most wonderful existence in the world, the more certain I became
that it was not the life for me. So I broke our engagement. Peter
took it hard, but gallantly. He was a romantic, and he refused to
let me give him back his ring. "Keep it," he said, "and wear it
to remember me by. I shall remember you always."

Frank and I were married--quietly and without interrupting my
work. Mother disapproved, but there was nothing she could do
about it, as I was economically independent. She thought Frank
was too old for me, and she reminded me of her own unfortunate
marriage with my father, who was also in the profession.

There's no doubt Mother would have liked me to have been young
Mrs. Peter. It would have justified all her efforts to bring me
up like a lady. Granny, however, had had her misgivings about my
engagement to Peter from the start. Granny liked people who knew
what world they belonged to, and who stayed inside that world.
"You may not be wealthy with Frank," she said to me quietly, "but
money isn't everything. It isn't the most important thing in
life. Not nearly so important as doing what you feel you have to
do as well as you're able to do it."

We went to live in Maida Vale. We had a flat, and Frank's two
brothers stayed with us whenever they were in London. Frank began
looking around for financial backing to start a company of his
own. Meanwhile, I went on with my theater work, doing my job as a
housewife, and understudying Bea Lillie, whom Charlot was
featuring in the current show. I was terribly grateful to Charlot
for taking me on again, and I kept hoping he would find a real
place for me in one of the revues before long. I didn't wish Bea
any bad luck, but I couldn't help longing for a chance to show
Charlot--and the audience--what I could do. In that ambition, and
in the fantasies that I built up around it, I suppose I was just
like every other understudy in the world.

Then I learned I was going to have a child. I was excited and
thrilled.

"You should give up your work," the doctor advised.

"How can I?" I shrugged my shoulders. I couldn't explain that my
husband was not earning anything at the time.

The doctor frowned. "It is usually possible to do whatever it is
necessary to do," he said. "At least I have found this to be
true."

"Oh, I agree with you," I told him.

If my own experience had taught me anything, it was that, if a
thing had to be done, it could be done. Of course it would be
wonderful to be so well off you could coddle yourself. But then I
had never been in that state of financial ease. Doctors, I told
myself, were always telling you to rest and relax and not to
worry. They gave you that sort of advice spontaneously and
freely. It was part of the formula. They must know that an
actress couldn't possibly stop working for months simply because
she was going to have a baby. I had known dozens of girls who had
gone on working until just before their babies were born. I
compromised by promising myself that I would work as long as I
could; then I would stay home and obey the doctor's orders.

Meantime, I had a great deal to keep me occupied. The flat took a
lot of attention. We couldn't afford a servant, not even a daily.
I did all the cooking, and, in addition, I made my baby's
clothes--sewing them by hand with all the dainty stitches Granny
had taken such pains to teach me. There was no money to waste,
but I wanted my baby to have the best I could give it. I bought a
wicker clothes-basket and lined it with padding and covered it
with pink silk to make a bassinet, like the expensive ones I had
seen in the shops in Regent Street.

One evening, when it came time to start for the theater, I felt
very ill. I said to myself, "I can't possibly go to work
tonight." As general understudy I was under contract to report at
the theater for every performance in case I was needed.

Then I thought, "I'll have to call up the theater. That means
I've got to go out to the corner to the telephone. By the time
I've dressed and done that, I might as well hop a bus and go
there, report, and come home again."

It was late when I arrived, which was unusual for me. I should
have checked in at seven-thirty, but it was ten minutes of eight
when I turned into the alley which led to the stage door. There
was the stage manager, walking up and down, muttering and fuming.
There was the callboy, running this way and that. Several heads
stuck out of dressing-room windows. Then the stage manager caught
sight of me.

"For God's sake!" he yelled. "Come on! Where the hell have you
been?"

I started to tell him I was ill, but he paid no attention.
Instead, he caught hold of my elbow, hurried me up the steps and
in through the stage door.

"Lillie's off," he shouted. "Went riding in Hyde Park, and the
horse threw her. Concussion, they say she's got. You've got to go
on. We're holding the curtain for you. Buck up, my girl. Here's
your chance. Remember we're counting on you."

My chance--the chance I'd longed for for years. The chance every
understudy dreams about--the star suddenly ill, or meeting with
an accident, and the little understudy having to step in and take
her place. Now this had happened to me. As I stood there in Bea's
dressing room and her dresser helped me with swift, experienced
fingers, I thought, "The irony of it. It has happened to me just
now when I am feeling ill." The dresser looked at me
encouragingly.

"You'll be all right, miss."

In a couple of songs Bea was doing male impersonations. For these
she wore a white tie and tails. The black broadcloth suit was cut
perfectly and fitted her slim, straight body like a glove. I held
my breath while the dresser laced me up tightly; then I got into
the trousers and white waistcoat. I stood before the long mirror
and looked at myself critically. Yes, I would do.

When my call came, I went on, and for the first time in my life
on the stage I knew anxiety. Bea was a tremendous favorite. Most
of the audience had come on purpose to see her. Could I satisfy
them? If I could hold that audience, if I could make them laugh
and applaud and like Gertrude Lawrence, then the rest of my
career was assured. If I failed, well----My cue came and I went
on.

Standing in the wings, watching with a worried look on his face,
was André Charlot. I flashed him a smile. At eleven-thirty, after
the final curtain, André Charlot kissed me on both cheeks and
said: "Well done, Gertie."

That night, and for many nights thereafter, I sang and danced and
tossed my lines across the footlights with all the gaiety at my
command. I was no longer anxious--that first night had proved to
me that I could hold the audience. I could make them laugh,
applaud, and cheer, and come back for more. I was doing it. I had
succeeded. The worried look was gone from Charlot's face.

The fall from her horse had injured Bea Lillie so badly that she
had to be out of the show for several months. This meant that
Charlot would have to engage another star to replace her--a big
name--unless I, the understudy, could take the place and hold the
public. If I could, then my reputation and prestige were made.

Night after night I bit my lips while the dresser laced me so
tightly it was hard to get breath enough to sing. Each night,
when I came off the stage, Frank would be there, waiting. There
came a night when I was very ill and Frank found a taxi for us. I
sank into the corner of the seat and folded my arms around myself
tightly, trying to stop the pain. Frank was arguing with the
driver, who, as usual in wartime, objected to going so far. He
offered him five shillings extra, and grudgingly the man agreed
to take us. Frank got in beside me and put his arms around my
waist. His tenderness was a comfort, and the warm pressure of his
hands eased the pain. Suddenly the electric light in the back of
the cab was switched on; the driver drew up and swung around in
his seat. "Now then, none of that, you two," he growled. "Not in
my cab you don't."

"What's the matter?" Frank demanded.

"Never mind what's the matter," said the driver. "You know all
right. I seen ya in the mirror, I did."

"Listen," said Frank, his voice steely. "This lady happens to be
my wife."

"Coo," said the driver. "Lady, my word! I've heard that tale
before. Get on with you now, get out of my cab."

"We're not getting out. You've agreed to take us to Maida Vale,
and that is what you are going to do. I've told you, this lady is
my wife. She's going to have a baby, and I've got to get her home
as fast as you can make it."

The driver shot a questioning look at me. I nodded. "If you don't
get me there soon," I said, "I'm afraid I shall faint."

The driver switched off the light, stepped on the accelerator,
and the cab shot out of the Edgeware Road with a jolt that nearly
landed me on the floor. I gasped out loud. "My God, Missus, don't
have it in my cab," the cabby yelled.


The air raids on London were increasing. There was a battery of
anti-aircraft guns in the court outside our windows. The noise
they made prevented anyone from sleeping, and there was always
the danger of shrapnel from our own shells as well as from the
German bombs. I began to get jumpy, especially after a piece of
shrapnel came sailing into our room one night and embedded itself
in the wall.

One day Frank told me he had got word of something in Liverpool
that might be good. At least, it sounded promising. He went off
to look it over. His two brothers were staying with us in Maida
Vale, but both of them were down with influenza. I went to the
theater that night as usual. I did not feel at all well, but some
of that I laid to the fact that I had had a lot to do in the
house that day, getting Frank off and nursing his two brothers.
My urge was to clean everything. I took down the curtains from
the windows, washed them, and hung them up again, wet. I went
over all the things I had prepared for the baby. For several
nights past I had not slept well, as the Zeps had been coming
over. I felt so faint while I was dressing, the dresser became
alarmed. She brought me out a stiff drink of brandy, and insisted
that I take it just before going on. The brandy warmed me and
keyed up my spirits. I gave one of my best performances. I knew
it was my last night because Bea was returning the following
Monday. The house kept applauding and calling me back for an
encore. Twice--three times I went back. I could see the stage
manager standing in the wings, smiling broadly. When I got back
to the dressing room to change, and the excitement began to wear
off, I felt very ill indeed.

"It's good it's a Saturday night," the dresser said. "You can go
home and rest all day tomorrow and Monday."

"That's true," I said gratefully.

When I left the theater, the street was dark and quiet. I stood
there, wishing a taxi would come by, but none came. Every minute
I felt worse and worse. The thought of going out to Maida Vale,
going in a bus if no taxi was to be found, was more than I could
endure. I thought, "I'd better go home to Mother. She'll look out
for me until Frank gets back from Liverpool." A bus came by,
going toward Piccadilly, and I hopped aboard. I would have to
change at Piccadilly Circus for Clapham. I got out there and
joined the crowd at the curb, praying I wouldn't have to wait
long. Minutes passed. Busses for Richmond and Shepherd's Bush and
Peckham, busses for the Elephant and Castle, busses for Hounslow
and Ealing and Wormwood Scrubs came lumbering down on us, stopped
to let off and take on passengers, and went lumbering on again.
Every minute I waited increased the agony of physical pain and
terror. The bobby kept looking at me anxiously.

"Where do you want to go, miss?" he inquired.

"Clapham." Then I added, "I'm ill. I'm going to have a baby."

"Then you shouldn't go there by bus," said the bobby practically.

"I know," I said, "but the taxis don't want to go so far." 

The law blew its whistle. A cruising taxi came obediently to the
curb. The bobby opened the door and helped me in. He gave the
driver the address, and then out of respect to a lady's feelings
he whispered something, confidentially, in the driver's ear.

We started, and the man spoke over his shoulder to me: "I'll get
you there, lady. I'm a married man myself."

Mother was home when I got there, and Dad let me in. Mother took
one look at me, and not waiting for me to say anything, she
called Dad to make haste and hold the taxi. "You'll go right to
the nursing home," she said to me, "tonight."

"But," I objected, "the baby isn't due for nearly two months."

"Nonsense," said Mother; "you can't tell a thing about a first
baby." She bustled me out and into the taxi again and on to a
nursing home, where I was immediately put to bed.

That night, and through the next, the Germans treated London to
one of the worst air raids of the war. On Monday night, while the
raid was at its height, my daughter was born. The sound she heard
on coming into this world was the crash of bombs. All her life
she has loathed the sound of planes.

No one, apparently, had thought to notify André Charlot that I was
in a nursing home. On Sunday and Monday I had been much too ill
to think of anything. On Tuesday morning I received a card from
the stage manager to remind Miss Lawrence that a rehearsal had
been called for Monday, at which she had failed to appear. The
doctor sent a letter in reply, saying that Miss Lawrence was
otherwise engaged on Monday!

On Tuesday Frank came to see me, bringing a bunch of poppies. Of
course he was pleased about the baby, but he was terribly worried
too. He sat by my bed, looking very downcast. The prospect in
Liverpool had turned out to be another disappointment.

"How long will you have to stay here?" he asked.

"Ten days," I told him. The doctor had said, "Three weeks," but I
knew I must get back to work before that.

Frank's face grew longer. He hadn't a bean, and we were behind
with the rent. His brothers were still laid up, and they had no
money either. "I don't know which way to turn," he said.

I was unable to suggest anything. All I wanted was to be allowed
to stay there in that cool, clean bed--and rest. I was so tired.
My hands, lying on the coverlet, seemed too heavy to lift. On the
left hand, next to my wedding ring, was the sapphire ring Peter
had given me. Silently I drew it off and held it out to my
husband. There was no need to say anything. Frank dropped the
sapphire into his waistcoat pocket and the anxiety lifted from
his face. He bent, kissed my cheek, and went away.

I never saw Peter's ring again.




9


We named the baby Pamela. It was a beautiful, romantic name. She
was to have two others--Barbara after her father's sister who was
a nun, and May because she had arrived in that proverbially merry
month.

Just then the name Pamela did not seem at all suitable for the
tiny bluish little scrap of humanity which I held to my breast so
proudly.

Premature babies, I was informed, were difficult to rear. They
had to have special care, special food, and constant
surveillance. Dr. Ambrose said bluntly that the reason Pamela was
a seven-months baby was because I had worked so hard, coupled
with the strain of the air raids.

During the fortnight I was in the nursing home I had time to take
stock of a great many things. First, my responsibility toward my
child. Pam required expert, expensive care, and this meant I
would have to get back to work as soon as possible. I had brought
her into the world; she belonged to me as no one and nothing else
in my life ever had belonged. I would fight to keep her alive and
to help her grow up strong and beautiful.

André and Madame Charlot were real friends. Though they never
mentioned it, they were aware of my predicament. Charlot let me
go back to work as understudy, and I had reason to believe he
meant to give me a real part of my own in the new show. I was
still pretty weak, naturally, but overjoyed at the slim
silhouette the mirror now presented.

To meet the new expenses connected with Pamela, the flat in Maida
Vale would have to be given up. We could live with Mother and Dad
for a time and the baby could stay in the nursing home. This, I
thought, would set Frank's mind at rest, and he would be free to
take on the direction of companies on tour.

By the time I was ready to leave the nursing home I had it all
worked out, but Frank objected. Therefore I left the nursing home
with Pamela, returned to the flat, and tried for several weeks to
carry on. I bathed, fed, and walked the baby until midday. Then
Mother would come over and take care of the baby while I went to
work. After a while it became obvious we couldn't continue in
this way, so we gave up the flat and went to live with Mother and
Dad. Her dining room on the ground floor was turned into a
bedroom for us. After a few more weeks we decided to put the baby
back in the nursing home, where she would get expert care. I went
on with my work with an easier mind.

On my free days I would go to the nursing home to visit Pamela.
The matron didn't encourage visitors. The home was understaffed,
owing to the war, and the nurses were overworked. That was the
year of the influenza epidemic, and visitors in hospitals and
nursing homes, who might carry the infection to patients, were
not encouraged. Either Mother or I called around at the nursing
home to inquire about the baby every few days. Between those
times we satisfied our curiosity by means of telephone calls.

Frank had not been successful in finding something he wanted to
do. Finally the break came.

"It's no good going on like this," he said. "We're not getting
anywhere."

I could see he was hurt, but I had all I could do just then to
take care of myself and to pay the bills for Pamela at the
nursing home. Frank finally left. He said we wouldn't hear from
him again in a hurry. A few days later I caught the flu and
didn't dare visit my baby.

It was several days later that Mother went round in my behalf to
the nursing home to pay the bill and to inquire about Pam's
progress.

"The baby's not here," the matron said. 

"Not here?"

"Certainly not. You didn't expect to find her here, did you?"

"What's become of her?" Mother demanded.

"The child's father came the day before yesterday and took her
away."

Mother hurried back to the house to tell me what the matron had
said.

"It can't be true!" I objected. "I'm paying for the baby's care.
How could Frank--or anyone--take her away?"

I got up out of bed and Mother and I went to see the matron.
"Where did he take the baby?" I demanded.

She told me briskly: "To Liverpool. I understand the child's
father's parents live there."

Somehow I felt Frank wouldn't do a thing like that. The matron
was very short with me--suspiciously so. When I demanded more
definite information, she finally confessed that the baby was
still in the home, but she was under strict orders from the
child's father not to allow me to see her.

When there was nothing to be done with the matron, I went to the
police station. There I was told that, under the law, a father
could exercise complete jurisdiction over his child. The fact
that I had paid the bills at the nursing home did not alter the
law. However, the court granted me permission to see my child.
Mother and I returned to the nursing home and brandished the
court order in the face of the matron and I demanded my rights.
She was a tall, bony, equine woman, and she obviously found us a
great nuisance. She said stonily: "That baby is no longer here."

"You told me that before," I reminded her. "Later, you said the
child was here. Surely you don't expect me to believe you now."

"No," she said justly. "I can quite see why you wouldn't, but you
can come with me and see for yourself."

We went through the nursery but there was no sign of Pamela.

I went back to the police station. Surely, I said, something
could be done to help me find my child, but again I was brought
face to face with the British law, which has its roots in the
patriarchal age--because Frank was Pamela's father, he was
legally allowed to dispose of her as he wished without consulting
me.

I went posthaste to the lodgings where I thought Frank had been
living since we broke up. He was no longer there. Both his
brothers were away on tour. I wrote Frank in care of his mother,
the only address I knew where he might be reached. There was no
answer to my letter.

Weeks passed. No word from Frank. I went through my routine at
the theater night after night like a robot.

Each day I told myself that there would surely be a message from
Frank before that night. But none came. Every evening when I went
to the theater I fortified myself with the thought that when I
came off the stage at the end of the performance I would find
Frank waiting for me in my dressing room as he used to wait in
the old days.

Then one afternoon when I came off stage old George was waiting
for me with a telegram. I read it in a glance:


   CHILD DESPERATELY ILL NEEDS YOU MEET ME
   USUAL PLACE FRANK.


I knew he meant Lyons' Corner House in Piccadilly, where he and I
used to meet and in which we had planned our wedding.

I tossed out the contents of my purse and counted the money. It
amounted to very little. I knew the pawnshop which was situated
conveniently close to the stage door would still be open. We
girls often took our trinkets there and thus raised a little
much-needed cash.

I laid a chain purse and my watch on the counter and asked the
man what he would let me have on them. There was no need for him
to inspect the pieces; he knew them well. They had been in and
out of his vault times without number. He automatically counted
out thirty shillings.

It was all he usually allowed on the things, but in this case it
was not enough for my purposes. If Pamela were desperately ill,
as the wire stated, she would need doctors, a nurse, special
medicines. All those things spelled money. I would need more than
thirty shillings.

"Can't you give me more on them just this once?" I pleaded.

He shook his head at me. "You know better than that, young lady."

"But I need the money desperately. Thirty shillings isn't enough.
I've got to have a fiver at least. Come on, be a sport."

Without a word he slid the things back across the counter.

"You mean you won't?"

"Not me," he said. Then, unable to resist the impulse to scold
those who have committed the sin of being in need of money, he
said severely, "I've got ter teach you girls a lesson, I 'ave.
The management pays you, don't it? Of course it do. What does a
girl like you do with her money? Throws it around. You'd ought to
be ashamed of yourself, you ought. You'd ought to have a tidy
little sum put by in the savings bank, and not come round
expecting me to give you fancy prices on stuff that's not worth
the half of it."

He was working himself up into a fine state of righteous
indignation. Meanwhile time was passing. And I had to have the
money.

I laid my little bits of jewelry back on the counter and put my
problem to him unashamedly.

"I'll tell you what I do with my money," I said. "I have a baby.
She's only a few months old. She's ill. Desperately ill. If you
don't believe me, here's the wire from my husband to prove it."

I pulled the crumpled telegram out of my pocket and held it out
to him. "Go on, read it."

Deliberately he adjusted his spectacles and read Frank's message.

"I've got to go to her, don't you see. I've got to have the
money. That's why I've come to you."

Without a word he turned and unlocked his money drawer. He took
out five dirty pound notes and put them in my hand. Then he
gathered up the jewelry and handed it over.

I started to thank him, but he cut me off.

"Take this stuff along with you. You can pay me back later."


It was a white-faced, thoroughly frightened Frank who rose from
the table to meet me when I arrived at the tea-shop. Neither of
us spoke for a while. There was too much to say. Finally I asked,
"Where's my baby, Frank? Where is she?"

He replied, "She's still in the nursing home. She's been there
all the time."

I stared at him, unable to believe my ears. He then confessed
that he had hoped, by taking the child, to bring me back to him.
Now he had found out that he could not keep up the payments in
the nursing home. Also the baby was ailing and he had promised
the matron to send for me.

Once again, and for the last time, he put it up to me:

"If you can lend me some money, I can go away and open an academy
in the Midlands," he said. "And I won't trouble you and Pamela
any more."

I gave him all I had--the contents of my purse. And then our life
together ended in the same spot where we had planned our
marriage.




10


Truly, a marvelous play could be written after the pattern of
_Grand Hotel_, about the characters one finds in the hostels on
the south coast of England during these days of war. Members of
all the services come in at all times and in all sorts of dress.
Many of them are straight from the invasion front. Tired, dirty,
hungry, thirsty, the men line up at the desk, asking for beds and
baths. The invariable reply is: "Sorry. No rooms."

But though there are no rooms, and never a sufficient number of
beds for the war weary, by some sort of juggling process that
borders on the miraculous places are made for the newcomers. War
has turned the old Box and Cox situation, which was the basis of
so many farces, into an everyday reality. One man drags himself,
yawning, out of bed to make place for another whose only claim is
that he is, if possible, even wearier than the earlier comer.

The bar opens at twelve noon. By one-thirty the stock on the
shelves is completely sold out. And still the men keep coming,
pathetically hopeful of rest and refreshment. The hotel lobby is
strewn with duffel bags and other gear, which everyone stumbles
over. The swing doors revolve ceaselessly.

At all hours of the day and night a queue waits with varying
degrees of patience before the door marked _Bath_. Standing in
line, waiting my turn at the tub, I thought: It's like the Cats'
Home. We girls used to queue up like this before the one bath to
a floor. How often I've stood on the cold, linoleum-covered
passage, warming one foot against the other, and sighed: "Shall I
ever be rich enough to have a bath of my own?"

It was good to get back to work after being laid up with a froggy
throat, and thrilling to be back in the south coast area, which
was now part of the second front. One morning I was told that
arrangements had been made for us to go out to H.M.S. _Tyns_.
The admiral's barge was sent to fetch us and we gave our first
show at sea. Three hundred and fifty jolly jack-tars and their
officers crammed the little theater-chapel-lecture cabin.

Motoring back to London, one saw evidences on all sides of the
destruction wrought by the robot planes. The crowded districts of
London were again hard hit. We passed squares in which all the
little houses and shops were ruined. Though the bombs had fallen
hours earlier, they were still carrying the dead from the ruins.
But what broke my heart were the little homes, roofless, and
exposed to the elements. It had been raining for forty-eight
hours. Somehow there was something cruelly indecent about the
exposure of those rooms with their pathetic furnishings. You knew
that each of these wrecked homes had cost its owner all his life
and his savings to acquire.

In the bombed-out districts neighbors were helping each other,
sharing the misfortune, the anxiety, and the tragedy of death.
The robots had broken the reserve which has always been a
characteristic of British life. "Keep yourself to yourself,"
Mother used to say.

It is one more evidence of the enormity of the disaster which
London has undergone in this war that these people of Clapham and
Wandsworth and Tooting no longer keep themselves to themselves.
Everyone's misfortune now is shared by everyone.

Though the rain poured pitilessly, children dug in the rubble
seeking clothing and toys. One man, after working for hours, had
just found his dog buried under a heap of timbers. The poor
creature was terribly injured. The man mercifully wrung its neck
while he cursed the Nazis.

I put in another sleepless night at the Savoy. The alert sounded
at 1:00 A.M., and the bombs came over with clock-like precision
every few minutes, until noon. Bush House was hit, and other
buildings in the Strand. Still the rain kept up.

It was still pouring when our unit left London at two in the
afternoon, headed for Leeds and then for Catterick Camp, the
great military center in Yorkshire.

When I woke next morning in the Queen's Hotel in Leeds, the sun
was shining. I felt happy as a lizard when he comes out of a
clammy crack in a wall and feels the sun's warmth on his body.

Mary Barrett tapped on my door and called: "Happy birthday!" I
had quite forgotten.

It was July Fourth, my birthday and the birthday of the American
nation. It was also the anniversary of my marriage to Richard.
All day I looked and hoped for some message from him. There were
cables from my daughter Pamela and from many friends in America.
Also a letter from Jack Potter, manager of _Lady in the Dark_.
But none from Richard. I knew what that meant--he was at sea. But
I also knew, wherever he was, and whatever his duties, he was
remembering the day and keeping it in his heart. As I was.

Poor Richard, I thought. He hasn't had much of a marriage with me
up to now. We had only a short time together before Pearl Harbor.
Since that day the war has occupied him. We have been like
thousands of other couples, living on letters, building all our
plans on the words: "after the war."

Mary gave me my first birthday present that day--a silver
five-shilling piece, very rare. The news leaked out that it was
my birthday, and some of the men serenaded me and gave me
flowers. There was one red, white, and blue bouquet which
reminded me of the floral American flag which Archie Selwyn sent
me on the Fourth of July before I made my first trip to America.

At Catterick I ran into Major Peter Mather, who was Helen Hayes's
touring manager in _Victoria Regina_. He was eager to talk and
ask about America and his friends there--Gilbert and Kitty
Miller, Ruth Gordon, and a lot more. We discussed the great
amount of good Helen had done for England by touring America with
_Victoria Regina_. There is no doubt that an honest,
well-conceived play, which really represents the psychology of a
nation, does more to reveal the spirit of that nation to the
people of other countries than all the painfully and artfully
built-up propaganda put out by government bureaus. The American
audiences who saw _Victoria Regina_ were in a much better
position to understand Britain. It is tragic that no play to date
has been written which honestly reveals the American spirit. I
hope with all my heart that not one but many plays will be
written and produced which, by revealing the American character
and what goes on inside American minds and hearts, will make
America more understandable to the British people.

Thinking along these lines, after my talk with Peter Mather, it
occurred to me suddenly: "I wonder if people thought this way
during and just after the last war. Or were we so cocksure the
tragedy couldn't happen again that we forgot about the need of
understanding between our two nations?"

During that winter which followed the armistice and before the
unemployment crisis threatened England, London, as I remember,
was full of Americans. Many of these were on leave before going
home. Behind them, as behind the British men one met, were the
horror, filth, and weariness of war. They wanted, above all, to
forget. They wanted to be gay....




11


November 11, 1918. The war was over. Everyone wanted to forget
what war was like and the sorrows it had brought. Everyone was
determined not to be downhearted, not to worry about the state of
the postwar world, or the future. It was true most of the men one
met at parties were either definitely middle-aged or obviously
too young to have been in the war, and for every man, at every
party, there were half-a-dozen girls. No one complained about
this--it was one of the things you had to take, one of the things
four years of war had done to British life. But this lack of men
and the superabundance of women had the effect of making the
women vie with one another to attract the attention of the men
even more than women had done in other periods. This keen
competition made society more brilliant, put an edge on parties.
People did things and amused themselves in ways that would have
seemed incredible five or six years before. Many of the old
social barriers were down and the field was open to all riders.

I reveled in the gaiety, which meant all the more to me because
of the strain I had been living under after the baby was born. I
had taken a little flat on the fringe of Mayfair. Pam was still
with Mother, and Granny was thrilled to have her.

The newspapers and illustrated weeklies were making a great to-do
over Princess Mary's forthcoming marriage to Lord Lascelles. It
was exactly the kind of event calculated to fill Granny with
delight and to interest her for weeks on end. H.R.H., the Prince
of Wales, was the leader of the young set in London which had by
now opened its doors to me.

P.W., as his intimates referred to him, had fulfilled all the
promise I had found in those early photographs of him which I
used to pin up beside my mirror. He was debonair, amusing,
charming. He and his favorite younger brother, the Duke of Kent,
went about in London's night life, enjoying themselves and
spreading pleasure wherever they went.

My dressing room at the theater had two entrances--one from the
passage leading to the stage; the other, an emergency exit, which
opened directly from the alley. Many evenings the Prince of Wales
and the Duke of Kent would come up the alley, and old George, the
doorman, would let them in. I'll never forget dashing into my
dressing room one night between scenes to find the Duke of Kent
seated before my mirror, trying on a wig of long, false curls.
The other members of his party were bedeviling poor Florrie, my
dresser. I had been presented to the Prince of Wales by Captain
Philip Astley, whom I had met at Mrs. Walter Guinness', and I can
still see the long music room, with its gleaming parquet floor,
and Elsa Maxwell at the piano, as I walked across it that night
with Beatrice Guinness, who whispered, "Gertrude, I want you to
meet the handsomest man in London."

Philip was in the Guards. He was everything a knight in armor
should be, as dreamed of by a young romantic girl. He was born at
Chequers, which is now the official country home of all British
prime ministers. He was christened in the robes of Oliver
Cromwell, and educated at Eton and the Royal Military College,
added to which he was desperately good-looking, and had
unparalleled charm. We had to fall in love with each other. It
was as natural and instinctive to us both as it was for us to
breathe. There could be no thought of marriage for us. I was
still married, and any question of involvement in divorce
proceedings would have ruined Philip's career. So, although in
love, we could only be good, stanch companions. He brought the
first touch of true romance into my life.

Some nights after the play Philip would come and fetch me and we
would join a private party over at Roule's, the famous little
restaurant in Maiden Lane, which plays such an interesting part
in the theatrical history of London, just as the Cheshire Cheese
in Fleet Street has always been associated with the literary and
legal gentlemen of the city. The walls of Roule's were lined with
signed photographs of actors and actresses, boxing champions,
cabinet ministers, and racing figures, and the furnishings were
still the same red-plush, gold-gilt chairs, china-globed
chandeliers, and marble busts of Shakespeare and Sir Beerbohm
Tree. The waiters were like "family retainers." They had served
generations of British men of note, and while considering the
wine list, it was quite the thing for them to advise: "Your
father was always very partial to the Chateau Haut Brion, 1893,
sir." The place was just the same as when Edward VII, then Prince
of Wales, had given supper parties to Lily Langtry in the private
room upstairs. This was the room in which we had our parties, and
our young prince sat where his grandfather had sat, enjoying our
gay chatter and the music, which came from the same old
phonograph with its cylindrical records which stood on a marble
pedestal in the corner.

One of the first things I did when I reached London in the summer
of 1944 was to walk through Maiden Lane to see if Roule's was
still standing. It was, and my heart bounded with joy that the
Germans had not blasted that little bit of my past into dust and
ashes. Roule's was closed and carefully shuttered. One hoped that
its well-stocked cellar was carefully sandbagged, or that the
precious bottles had been sent away into a less vulnerable part
of England until the war was over. But the building was intact.
It waited, as so many places in London seemed to wait, for
England's youth and laughter to come back again. Meanwhile,
Roule's kept guard over the memories of the many gay suppers we
had had there.

I was often invited to the parties which the Prince of Wales gave
in his apartment in St. James's Palace, at which everyone sang
and danced and did stunts. These parties were always informal and
entertaining. You met people of all sorts and from every walk of
life and profession at the Prince's parties, but never anyone who
was dull or stuffy. He invited international tennis champions,
the newest blues singer, a guitarist who was all the rage in
Paris, as well as his own intimate set. It was amusing that all
this fun went on late at night inside the solemn old pile, with
the sentries keeping up their march along the pavement just
outside.

Whenever Philip came round to the theater to take me to one of
the Prince's parties and our motor drove in at the gatehouse with
the royal coat of arms over its portal, I always experienced a
thrill. An unpretentious entrance led into the portion of the
palace known as York House, which was occupied by the Prince just
as it had been by his father when he was Duke of York. There was
nothing elegant or stately about the Prince's private rooms--they
were those of any well-off young bachelor who was interested in
sports and in music. The Prince's bedroom might have belonged to
any British schoolboy or an officer living in barracks. There was
just a narrow, single iron bed with a table beside it on which
there was always a glass of milk and an apple.

The Prince once took me on a tour of the state apartments in the
palace. We paused at the window from which, according to the
centuries-old tradition, every new sovereign is acclaimed on his
accession to the throne. Each of us was thinking silently that
someday the King's herald would proclaim from the balcony outside
that very window: "The King is dead. Long live the King--Edward
VIII." But I am sure neither of us suspected then how soon that
was to happen, nor the cataclysmic events which were to bring
about the abdication of Edward VIII. At that time, during the
early twenties, no one in London had even heard of Mrs. Wallis
Warfield Simpson.

In having his fling before settling down to the serious business
which faced him ultimately, the Prince was giving England what
the English people have always loved since the days of Prince
Hal. As old George, the stage doorman at the theater, remarked
with approbation: "Myself, I don't 'old with princes making
parsons of theirselves. No, nor parsons and harchbishops setting
theirselves up for lords." George was Labor and definitely
anticlerical. He had a newspaper photograph of Ramsay MacDonald
pasted on the wall above the backless old chair where he sat
beside the stage door. But his political views in no way
interfered with old George's truly British devotion to his King
and the Royal Family. His feeling for them, if less reverent than
Granny's, was no less loyal.

"Wot I say is, 'e's _'uman_. Even if Queen Victoria was his
great-grandma."


With the coming of the summer I rented a small riverside cottage
near Staines on the road to Windsor, and here I finally persuaded
Mother, Dad, and Granny to take up residence with Pamela and me.
It was near enough to London for me to get there every week end
by train, and after a while Philip, who was stationed at Windsor,
used to pick me up and take me home by car on his way back to
barracks. Among our gay companions at that time was Lord Latham,
and several times he and Philip and the others would stop at
Buck's Club, pick up a hamper of chicken, fruit, champagne, et
cetera, and we would all roar down to the cottage and get Mother
out of bed to act as hostess. We would spread our feast al fresco
over the dining-room table under the lamp with the silk fringe
that hung from the ceiling.

One night we gave her a real surprise. We all arrived without
warning, as usual, and routed her out of bed. Down she came, and
we had supper. Suddenly she realized there was a stranger in our
midst and that we were calling him "sir." Her gaze shot down the
table, past his face, and fixed itself on my delighted grin; I
nodded. I knew she had recognized the Prince of Wales. She then
switched her gaze to Philip, and he smiled broadly. She was a
triumph in her attempt to carry everything off without comment,
and when the party was over, and as we stood at the gate saying
good night, the Prince stretched out his hand to her. She
curtsied and said, "Good night, Your Highness." I thought of
those earlier days in Clapham: of how she always soared above
debt and constant orders to dispossess. I put my arm around her
as we went upstairs to peek at Pamela, and as I slipped into bed
I grinned at her and said, "What about my cousin Ruby now,
darling?"


André Charlot was planning a new revue to be called _A to Z_, in
which Beatrice Lillie was to star with Jack Buchanan, Teddy
Gerrard, and the Trix Sisters. I went down to the cottage to be
with my baby and the family until something new should come along
for me. Suddenly I got a telegram from Charlot saying that
Beatrice Lillie was ill and that they had to open on a certain
date. I went up to the theater, read the various sketches, heard
the music, and signed up. Once more Beatrice Lillie's misfortune
was the cause of my good fortune. From the opening night the
revue was an enormous success. I sang "Limehouse Blues" for the
first time; the orchestra was directed by Philip (Pa) Braham, who
wrote the song with Douglas Furber. Jack Buchanan and I had
wonderful material together, and Teddy Gerrard was a sensation.

_A to Z_ was followed by another revue, _London Calling_, in
which I was starred. The show was written by Noel Coward, who had
been cutting his teeth as a dramatist and actor. Noel floated
back into my life exactly as if nothing had intervened between
the days we were at Miss Conti's and the present. Noel is like
that. He can disappear completely for three years and then ring
you up and continue the conversation you were having the last
time you saw him.

The outstanding success of all Charlot's revues had brought him
many offers from America. During the season of 1924 Archie Selwyn
came to London, saw the revue, and arranged with Charlot to bring
us to Broadway that winter. For the American edition Charlot made
a conglomeration of popular numbers from all his revues. He
signed on Bea Lillie, who had been doing a play of her own. She
and I were to be featured as co-stars with Jack Buchanan and
Herbert (Tommy) Mundin.

We sailed from Southampton on the last ship before Christmas,
which meant that we traveled with a lot of. Americans hurrying to
get home for the holiday, as well as a number of British people
who were going to be entertained at New York and at Palm Beach.
We had a riotous trip. The instigator of most of the fun was Max
Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook. Alastair McIntosh, who later
married Constance Talmadge and who was the glamor boy of that
year, was going home. Early in the trip Bea and Jack and I had
confided to Allie our anxiety about where we were to stay in New
York. It was the first time any of us had been there.

"Leave it to me, I'll fix the whole thing," said Allie with a
grand gesture. "I'll send a radiogram to my friend William
Rhinelander Stewart. He practically owns the Ambassador. He'll
fix you up."

"Wonderful," Bea and I chorused. We left it at that.

Our ship docked on Christmas Eve. The long pier was a bedlam of
porters, customs officials, reporters, and Americans welcoming
home their friends and relatives. Suddenly Bea and I began to
feel very lonely and strange. But Will Stewart was waiting at the
gangplank. Jack, Bea, and I were finally driven to the Ambassador
Hotel, where we were given two enormous suites--one for Jack and
one for Bea and myself.

"So this is America!" I exclaimed. "Look at that bath, will you?
Feel that delicious warmth. Central heating, my girl. No wonder
they call this the most luxurious country on earth."

Bea stretched herself on her bed and sighed ecstatically: "God
bless Allie McIntosh."

Next morning New York from our windows was wonderful. In the
clear, sparkling air the tall white buildings were tremendously
exciting. The view and the air made both of us ravenous. We
ordered breakfast sent up. Presently there was a rap at the door.
"Come in," Bea called. At that a procession of waiters, each
pushing a little cart, advanced through the door in military
formation. They wheeled the breakfast in to us, and such a
breakfast--grapefruit, which we had never seen before, enthroned
on shaved ice in silver bowls the size of washbasins; flagons of
coffee and hot milk and cream; huge silver dishes under covers
which the waiters whisked off with a flourish to reveal enormous
slices of ham, toasted muffins, and God knows what all. "Take no
notice," said Bea. "It's all done with mirrors." It was like a
musical-comedy sketch only, as we discovered when the chief
waiter ceremoniously presented us with the bill, the comic
element was lacking. The bill was very real indeed, and for an
amount that staggered us.

We were both still very hazy about the value of American money. I
wasn't too sure of the value of the dollar in relation to the
English pound. Bea lay back on her bed, pretended to be
completely bored by the whole business, and said loftily, "Sign
the check, darling, and give all the waiters a nice fat tip.
Don't forget, it's Christmas."

This was no joke to me. "Come on, Bea," I said, "we've got to
work this out and see how much we each owe, and how much we've
got with which to pay it." We got out our purses and poured the
contents onto the bed as soon as the waiters had gone.

Bea said, "It's perfectly simple. We each owe three dollars and
fifty cents."

So we started to try to work it out, not knowing one piece of
American money from another, until we laughed so hard that we
were exhausted. When our laughter finally subsided, however, the
seriousness of our position dawned upon us, and I said, "Let's
call Jack and see if he's had breakfast."

A faint voice answered the telephone. "Yes, I've had breakfast,
have you?"

"How much was yours?" I asked, and Jack replied, "It looks like
three hundred and fifty shillings."

I relayed this to Bea and she said, "Tell him to come up here at
once." He arrived, and we explained that he owed only three
dollars and fifty cents, but that we were of the opinion that we
were all in the wrong surroundings. After all, we were only in
the rehearsal stage for the show--we might not be a success when
we did open, and we had to have some money to get around with
until then. "We'll have to get out of here at once," said Jack.
Bea and I agreed. "But we must be dignified about it. Think of
Will and Allie. They recommended us. How can we get out?"

Jack did some quick telephoning, got hold of Archie Selwyn, and
explained our problem. We were recommended to Frank Case, who
owns the Algonquin Hotel. Archie added: "And for God's sake,
Jack, if you want to keep out of jail, don't let those dames sign
any more blank checks."

As we were driving across town to our new hotel I suddenly saw
what I took to be an enormous wild animal ambling down Fifth
Avenue where we were stopped by a traffic light. I clutched Bea's
arm.

"Look at that. What do you think it is?"

Bea peered out the window and began to laugh. She was born in
Toronto and therefore not unaccustomed to the extraordinary sight
of a six-foot man wearing a raccoon coat.

The light changed and the taxi shot across the Avenue and into
Forty-fourth Street. Halfway along the block I exclaimed:

"There's that raccoon man again! How did he get here so quickly?"

Bea laughed again and explained.

"Do you actually mean there could be two of them in New York at
once?" I demanded, awe-struck.

Within the next two days I was to learn that every undergraduate
in town for the holidays was going about draped to the heels in
shaggy skins, as though made up to play the lion in _Androcles
and the Lion_.

At the Algonquin Bea and I were given a room such as we might
have had in the Midlands at home. The minute we looked around at
the rather dark-figured wallpaper, the old-fashioned
electric-light fixtures, the Brussels carpet, and the two brass
beds with their crimson down-filled comforters, we said to each
other: "This is more like it."

Before our New York opening, Bea and I were taken to see all the
shows on Broadway. The boys rallied round to show us the
town--Eddie Goulding, Billy Reardon, Allie, and Will Stewart. We
soon lost that stranger-in-our-midst feeling that had come over
us on the dock when our ship's companions flitted away and left
Bea, Jack, and me sitting there with our luggage. We began to
love New York.




12


   Lillie and Lawrence, 
   Lawrence and Lillie,
   If you haven't seen them, 
   You're perfectly silly.

One of the newspaper boys started singing that at a party one
night to a tune of his own improvisation. This little ditty ran
through our winter in New York with the persistence of a highly
plugged theme song. But it was very complimentary, even if it
wasn't good poetry, and it expressed some of the feeling--the
gaiety, the nonsense, the lighthearted fun--which made _Charlot's
Revue_ unusual and memorable.

At least these were some of the things the New York critics said
of the show when it opened at the Selwyn Theatre on New Year's
Eve after a week's tryout in Atlantic City. "People" (and that
included ourselves) who thought American audiences would never be
amused by the English brand of humor were forced to think again
when the Revue, which came originally for a six weeks'
engagement, was held on for nine months. The critics--Heywood
Broun, George Jean Nathan, Percy Hammond, Burns Mantle, Ring
Lardner, with Alexander Woollcott in the lead--gave their
approval without qualification. These nabobs of the press were
pleased with the potpourri Charlot had put together for them.
They called each of us names--nice names. Their judgment had such
a powerful influence on the American public that the show
immediately became the outstanding smash hit of the season on
Broadway and a "must" on everybody's list.

What seemed to impress the majority of critics was that the
_Revue_ was completely unlike any entertainment of its type ever
given in New York heretofore. It is not difficult to explain the
difference between _Charlot's Revue of 1924_ and other musical
shows, such as Ziegfeld's _Follies_ and George White's
_Scandals_, with which New Yorkers were familiar. Charlot's
revues were characterized by an exquisite economy, a camaraderie
between all the players and the audience such as had not been
known in America up to this time. It was not a rough-and-ready
intimacy, and never a jocular ad-libbing, but a mental closeness
hard to define, and immediate in its appeal. His revues did not
depend upon spectacular lighting and scenic effects for success.
Most of the sketches were played against drapes, which were
beautiful in themselves but not breath-taking. There was no
spectacular electrical display. And no tremendous chorus, such as
Ziegfeld and Earl Carroll featured in their productions. But
every girl in the line had been selected to give an intimate
individuality to the production.

"I do not engage an artist and then find a place for her,"
Charlot used to say. "First, I have the place; then I find the
artist to fit it. I never buy names. What I pay for is
personality, charm, talent." He certainly hadn't bought my
name--he made it for me.

In place of the magical big names, gorgeous costumes advertised
as costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, extraordinary
mechanical effects, and much-featured show girls, the _Revue_
depended for its success upon four principals backed by a
well-picked small company, which gave a series of sketches,
songs, and dances.

There was nothing bordering on the salacious in any of the acts.
I think this proves conclusively that Americans and British alike
welcome and will always support theatrical entertainment which is
neither coarse, indecent, nor ribald.

As one American reviewer expressed it: "You don't have to be
broad-minded to enjoy _Cbarlot's Revue_."

One of the high spots in the Revue was Bea Lillie's "March with
Me" number, in which, dressed as Britannia, she led the line of
girls, maintaining a very dignified and stiff demeanor while
getting all tangled up with her feet and her props. Bea is one of
those artists who are never any good at a rehearsal. She is a
spontaneous comedienne. She needs the exhilaration of having an
audience in front of her. Everyone who has ever worked with her
knows this and knows that, though she is shy at rehearsals, she
can be trusted to put her numbers over magnificently, and in her
own inimitable way, when the moment comes.

But Archie Selwyn didn't know this when we were rehearsing
for our New York opening. When he saw the "March with Me" number
he shook his head over it. "When is she going to show me
something?" he kept asking Charlot. And when Bea remained quiet
and unresponsive, Archie declared the "March with Me" number,
which had been a tremendous hit in London, would fall flat on
Broadway. He tried to get Charlot to cut it from the show.

But Charlot knew his star. He refused to be budged an inch by
Archie, and merely smiled blandly at all the gloomy prophecies;
at even the two most direful words in theatrical parlance--"It
stinks!"

And of course Charlot was right, as the opening night and every
performance thereafter proved. Bea Lillie, as Britannia in "March
with Me," was the outstanding hit of the _Revue_.

I had a number of sketches with Jack and Bea and Herbert Mundin,
and I sang "Limehouse Blues" with Fred Leslie and Robert Hobbs. I
also had a quiet little song called "I Don't Know" which caught
on at once.

"Limehouse Blues" immediately became popular. We heard it in
every night club in New York. In England we never plugged songs
as they do in the United States, and I was surprised and
extremely flattered to find everyone singing and playing
"Limehouse" wherever I went. As a matter of fact they still do,
after all these years.

I had a lot of things to learn about America and the American way
of doing things; especially about the relative values of British
and American expressions. I learned about these by the
trial-and-error method.

Bea had been in America for a holiday when she married Robert
Peel in 1922, but, like me, she knew nothing of the American
theater or the reactions of American audiences. From the minute
we landed until the night of our opening in New York I had gone
around feeling as though someone had shot a hole through my
middle; then, when we knew the show was a success and made the
wonderful, exciting discovery that New Yorkers liked us, I felt
suddenly like a colt in a pasture. My heels kicked up
instinctively. I no longer walked, I pranced.

Determined to find out all we could about America, we went to all
the plays we could crowd in, and on Sundays to the pictures.

Bea and I took a duplex apartment together in a converted house
on West Fifty-fourth Street and this soon became a rendezvous for
a gay crowd. Many of those who came there were connected, in one
way or another, with the theater. There were composers, writers
of lyrics, playwrights, and newspapermen. They would drop in at
all hours, and it seemed to make no difference to them at all
whether Bea or I was there. If we weren't, they would immediately
make themselves comfortable and wait for one or the other of us
to turn up.

We gave a lot of parties there. For one reason, it was such an
easy thing to do. Whenever we gave parties, our friends would
send us flowers, sometimes superb food from swanky restaurants
and clubs, and a more-than-adequate supply of wines and spirits.
William Rhinelander Stewart still hovered, and when spring came
he sent a florist with orders to plant and maintain the garden at
the rear of our apartment. And with the warm, sunny weather our
parties moved out there. Our steady salonites included such grand
people as Neysa McMein, Dorothy Parker, Jeanne Eagels, Bob
Sherwood, Richard Barthelmess, Laurette Taylor, Will Stewart,
Eddie McIlwain, Allie McIntosh, George Ross, Charles Dillingham,
Jimmie Walker, Aarons and Freedley, Ohman and Arden, Oscar
Hammerstein, Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz, Jerome Kern, Irene
Castle, Fanny Brice, June Walker, Estelle Winwood, Lenore Ulric,
Billy Reardon, Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans, Zez Confrey,
Kallmer and Ruby, Rogers and Hart, George and Ira Gershwin,
Irving Berlin, Jules Glaenzer, Clifton Webb, Prince Dmitri,
Schuyler Parsons, Jascha Heifetz, Alexander Woollcott, and Eddie
Goulding.

Alexander Woollcott quickly became one of our best friends. He
used to frown and shake his big head and wiggle his fat
forefinger in my face, like a schoolmaster.

"Young female, do you realize that you two girls have been feted
over here as no visitors from overseas have been in the last
twenty years?"

"I know!" I would look and feel very impressed. "But, Uncle
Alexander, Americans are so enthusiastic. What's the Statue of
Liberty for?"

Though I loved to tease Uncle Aleck and never could resist the
temptation to do so, I valued his criticism and his praise
whenever he saw fit to bestow either. He had--what is not at all
rare in big, rather untidy men--unerring taste, and a sense of
the delicacy of a situation. It pleased me no end when he said to
me one day: "With no more than a pout, a twist of your shoulders,
and two or three lines, you make me feel that I understand
exactly how the wheels go round at the back of a girl's mind."

That, I knew, was a real tribute to Gertrude Lawrence the
actress. Meanwhile, Gertrude Lawrence the woman savored the
flattery of Percy Hammond's remark in his column: "It has been
said of Miss Lawrence that every man in New York is, or was, in
love with her."

So, without setting out to do it, Bea Lillie and I achieved the
fame of being written up by the columnists, one of whom said,
"Among the famous places to be visited in New York is the
apartment of Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence. _If you can
get in._"

As I look back over those mad, crowded months in New York, I
cannot remember that Bea or I ever went to bed. Perhaps neither
of us wanted to miss any of the fun, the laughter, and the music.
People were always around. Scarcely a day went by that we weren't
looked up by someone just over from London, who had dropped
around the first thing to see us. During that summer the Prince
of Wales came over for a visit to America before going on to his
ranch in Canada. In his party, or following in its train, were a
number of old friends of Bea's or mine, and they made our
apartment their informal headquarters in New York.

The piano in our apartment went all the time. Vincent Youmans was
trying out new compositions. It never seemed to make any
difference to him, or George Gershwin, that the conversation and
laughter went on around him all the time and that no one paid the
slightest attention to what he was doing. One might have thought
this a most unfavorable atmosphere for the composition of musical
scores, but as a matter of record Vincent Youmans and Irving
Caesar wrote most of the score of _No, No, Nanette_ in our
living room, including "Tea for Two."

My friendship with George Gershwin and his brother Ira, which
began that winter, was to develop into a wonderfully successful
partnership when the brothers wrote the score and the lyrics of
_Oh, Kay!_ for me a year later. Gershwin was an assiduous worker
and never spared himself. I remember going to hear his first
performance of the "Rhapsody in Blue" at Aeolian Hall, and we met
at a cocktail party at Condé Nast's afterward. George arrived late
with every finger of both hands bandaged from the strain the
"Rhapsody" had demanded. He was a great man.

Of all the friends Bea and I made that winter, Jules Glaenzer was
the most fabulous. He was the New York head of Cartier's and was
famous for giving magical parties. He called us the Big
Three--Lillie, Buchanan, and Lawrence.

Jules Glaenzer loved the theater and the theater folk loved him.
Whenever I think of the parties at his house I always hear two or
three pianos going at once. I think it can safely be said that
more talent has been discovered in Jules Glaenzer's drawing room
than anywhere else in New York, especially during the years of
the middle twenties. Jules is one of those wonderful people, rare
in any country and any society, who have great discrimination and
who--though not artists themselves--are creative in their ability
to encourage and develop artists of every sort. When he discovers
a musician or a dancer or a painter, he is as thrilled over his
find as if he had turned up a new and priceless gem.

I found American men extremely likable and flatteringly
appreciative. Perhaps you have to be born an Englishwoman to
realize how much attention American men shower on women and how
tremendously considerate all the nice ones among them are of a
woman's wishes.

It had been a surprise for us in the cast of _Charlot's Revue_
to discover that the season on Broadway usually closed on June
first, with a few shows running through the summer months. This,
of course, was the exact reverse of things in London, where the
season in the theater coincided with the "season" at Court and in
society, which commences in May and continues until August bank
holiday. So none of us had expected to stay on in New York
through the summer. It was more or less generally understood that
the _Revue_ would close shortly before Easter and that we would
sail for home to open in London when everyone would be in town.
However, business on Broadway was so good that Archie Selwyn
arranged with Charlot not only to hold the _Revue_ over but to move
to a larger theater, the Times Square, next door. At the end of
September we would start on a twenty weeks' tour, playing four
weeks in Boston, two weeks in Philadelphia, four weeks in
Chicago, and the major stands west of the Mississippi.

Our last night on Broadway was a fitting climax to the whole
amazing nine months. The two front rows of the orchestra seats
were taken by the columnists, critics, and celebrities of the
theater. In fact, hardly anyone who was in the house that night
was seeing the _Revue_ for the first time. The majority of those
in the audience knew our songs and sketches almost as well as we
did, and their laughter and applause were not for the song or the
sketch, but a personal and affectionate tribute to the actors.
Bea's banjo voice and her famous index finger, which, as one
reviewer put it, "was as elegant and uplifted as ever," were
cheered as enthusiastically as if both were new to Broadway.

In one of Bea's numbers it was her custom to jump off the stage
in fleeing from an Apache lover, and regain it again only after
scrambling across the auditorium between the knees of those
seated in the front row and the orchestra rail. At each
performance Bea would drop unexpectedly into some man's lap. On
closing night the lap she selected was Alexander Woollcott's very
commodious one. We thought we should never get back onto the
stage that night.

People were always telling us how surprised they were to find
that the two women stars in the same show were good friends even
to the point of living together. When we went into the Times
Square Theatre, we found ourselves in adjoining dressing rooms,
both of them small and stuffy. We asked to have the door removed
between the two rooms. This allowed us to use one to dress in and
the other for our visitors. It seemed to us a perfectly
intelligent and not at all unusual way of arranging things, but
we soon found that people were amazed by it, especially the
manager of the show which was scheduled to follow us at that
theater.

"Listen," he said, "the two dames in our show haven't spoken
since we opened. That door will have to be closed up between them
rooms or there'll be murder."

On our closing night, after the finale, the whole house stood up
and cheered us. They pelted us with flowers. When the orchestra
struck up "Auld Lang Syne" the audience and company joined in the
singing. Everyone took hold of the hand of the person next to
him. The chain of friendly handclasps stretched across the stage,
across the footlights, and continued through the house.

When the audience was finally pushed out of the theater several
hundred of them merely adjourned to the stage door, where they
formed such an imposing mob scene that traffic was clogged in
Forty-second Street.

When Bea and I came out, laden with flowers, to get into our
waiting taxi, we found the roof of the vehicle packed with the
more ardent revelers, who escorted us through the streets of New
York singing our own songs to us.




13


When we closed in New York we went to play Boston. I very nearly
said to play Harvard College, because the house was sold out
night after night to Harvard boys, many of whom had already seen
the show in New York several times over, and had come backstage
and were friends of the cast. Johnny Green was one of them.

Johnny came round to my dressing room the night before we closed
in Boston to take me out to supper.

"I can't go," I told him. "I'm ill. I have a terrible cold."

It was true. I had been fending off a cold for several weeks, and
as soon as we reached Boston the climate there had overcome all
my efforts. I was feverish and hoarse and shivering miserably.
Johnny looked me over critically.

"By rights, you should be home and in bed," he said.

"That's exactly where I'm going," I told him. "I'd like to crawl
into bed and stay there for a week." The thought of having to
play two shows the next day made me feel limp.

"Oh, I'll get you over it," Johnny offered. "Do you know the best
way to cure a cold instantly?"

"No. How?"

"Castor oil."

"I'd rather die, thank you."

"I'll show you a way so you'll never taste it." And when I looked
at him doubtfully, he added, "All the fellows take it that way.
It is one of the things you learn at Harvard."

I agreed to let Johnny dose me, and he took me home to the hotel
and ordered up a terrifying quantity of castor oil and half a
dozen bottles of sarsaparilla. "What's the sarsaparilla for?" I
demanded suspiciously.

"You'll find out," said Johnny, and began, with a bartender's
gestures, to shake up a fizz of oil and sarsaparilla.

"Now, toss that off!"

I downed the nauseating mixture and made a face.

"You British are decidedly effete," said Johnny patronizingly.
"Undoubtedly the best blood of England came over on the
_Mayflower_. The ones the Pilgrim Fathers left behind simply
didn't have the stamina."

"Oh! Didn't we!" Between the kidding and the castor oil my temper
was rising. My eye lighted on the bulky case on top of one of my
trunks. In it was the saxophone Johnny was teaching me to play. I
took the sax out of its case and blew a wailing note.

"My God, it sounds like a French taxicab," he cried.

(I found out in 1929 that those discordant notes on the saxophone
were the inspiration for one of Johnny's greatest song hits,
"Body and Soul." I took the song to England with me and later I
gave it to Libby Holman.)

I glared at him and put all my efforts into what I hoped would be
a rousing rendition of "God Save the King." I sounded most of the
notes, but a few were squeaky and others trailed off forlornly.
The more Johnny grinned, the more determined I was to play my
national anthem, so I kept at it.

"Ah yes," said Johnny reminiscently, "'America.' I know that
number too." And to my accompaniment he began to sing unfamiliar
words that had to do with the scenery of the United States. I
tried to drown out his singing with the sax. All at once I began
to feel very peculiar.

   "_Let music swell the breeze, 
   And ring from all the trees 
   Sweet freedom's song..._"

thundered Johnny.

"S-Q-A-A-A-K," went the saxophone. It dropped between my knees
and I tumbled over it. Johnny gathered me up and carried me into
the bathroom, where I proceeded to be thoroughly and
embarrassingly sick.

He had the effrontery to look pleased with the whole proceeding,
and when he had helped me back into my bed and covered me up with
all the blankets available the wretch congratulated me on my fine
performance. "You'll wake up in the morning and never know you
had a cold," he assured me. "That's the way we do things at
Harvard."

Maybe that drastic treatment works wonders on the students at
Harvard College. It failed with me. I was ill and miserable all
next day, though I managed to drag myself through the two
performances. When the company left for Toronto, I felt like
something the cat had dragged home, and whenever Charlot looked
at me there was a little worried frown between his eyes. My voice
was hoarser than ever, and I was definitely lightheaded.

Toronto was Bea's home town and welcomed us with open arms. The
house was sold out right through our stay there, and parties were
scheduled for every night. I didn't want to seem a spoilsport, so
I kept going though I alternately shivered and burned with fever.

On Thursday evening Bea Lillie said to me: "There's a man here I
used to be engaged to as a kid. He's giving a party for us
tonight at his house."

I said I thought I wouldn't go.

"Oh, darling, you mustn't miss it," said Bea. "It's sure to be
lots of fun. They are coming for us in a car. We needn't stay
long."

"Very well," I replied.

After the performance we motored to our host's house outside the
city where about twenty people were waiting for us in a big
living room. My head was throbbing, and I was cold all over. I
got into a big chair as close to the fire as I could and basked
in its warmth. I had taken several aspirins before I left the
theater. I was aware that my chest hurt, but for some
unexplainable reason these things no longer mattered. They were
happening to someone who was no longer I. Presently we all went
into the dining room to supper. Out of the mist that surrounded
me appeared a short, slight elderly man who smiled and whispered:

"I've been to see your play tonight. My dear, you have the heart
of a bullock, but you are riding for a fall. Take care."

I tried to toss off some light rejoinder. "Silly little old man,"
I thought. "He looks like 'Mr. Pim Passes By!'"

As though in response to my thought, he floated away again into
the mist and was replaced by other figures. There were so many I
began to feel dizzy. "I don't feel well," I said suddenly.
"Please, won't someone take me home?" Someone apparently did,
though I was past being aware of who it was. All I knew was that
presently I was in my bed--and drifting off to sleep.

Suddenly I woke. I switched on the light. Four o'clock. I looked
around my room. Everything in it was familiar, but everything was
about four times the size it should have been. I felt like Alice
in Wonderland. I crawled out of bed and looked into Bea's room,
which adjoined mine. Bea had not come in yet.

I found the thermometer that I carried in my dressing case and
tried to find out if I had a temperature. The figures on the
little glass stick read 104 degrees. "That can't be right," I
thought. "No one can have a temperature of 104 degrees." I crept
back into bed and closed my throbbing eyes.

I must have dozed again, for when I woke it was five o'clock.
Again I took my temperature--104 degrees. "What a silly
thermometer." I got up and went into Bea's room. She was in bed,
sleeping peacefully, but I woke her.

"Bea," I mumbled, and my voice came from miles away, "do you know
how to take a temperature?"

Bea yawned while I held the tube under my tongue for a minute;
then she blinked at the figures. "One hundred and four!" she said
in an awed tone.

"That's what it said before," I told her. "Bea, what happens when
you have a temperature of 104 degrees?"

"You die," said Bea. "Get back into bed, darling. I'm going to
call a doctor."

Meekly I obeyed. Everything became even more out of proportion. I
felt I was living in a dream, and this seemed all the more
credible when suddenly there appeared at my bedside the same
kindly old gentleman I had met that evening at the party. "Didn't
I tell you so?" he remarked, but not crossly. Then he proceeded
to give orders to the nurses who appeared as if by magic, and I
was rolled in blankets and carried downstairs, stuffed into an
ambulance, and motored away to Wellesley Hospital. I heard
someone say, "Double pneumonia." Another voice said, "Pleurisy."
Someone else said, "Dr. Ross is in charge of the case."

I did not know when the _Revue_ closed in Toronto and the
company went on to its next date, leaving me behind. I didn't
know that there were stories in all the newspapers, telling that
Gertrude Lawrence was desperately ill. Or that a photograph of me
in a hospital bed, and looking as though I already had one foot
in the grave, appeared in a London paper where Mother saw it and
nearly died of shock. I didn't know anything at all until one day
I opened my eyes and found myself lying, literally embowered in
flowers. Bewildering sprays of forsythia, dogwood, and lilac
covered the walls. Baskets of roses and lilies were banked
against these, and there was an enchanting, fully trimmed
Christmas tree in the corner. The last words I remembered hearing
Bea Lillie say flashed through my mind:

"When you have a temperature of 104 degrees, you die."

"So I'm dead," I thought. "It's not bad at all. I feel like _La
Dame aux Camellias_."

It was while I lay in Wellesley Hospital in Toronto that I first
realized there was something wonderful in being somebody. There
in the hospital, with no member of my family or even an old
friend near me, I made the discovery that, through caring about
my work, people had come to care about me when I was ill, and
this was deeply satisfying. All the telegrams, cablegrams, and
letters which poured into the hospital from people in the United
States and at home, all the flowers and messages and other gifts
from people who were complete strangers to me and who knew me
only as an actress who had entertained them, and even the
stupendous floral offerings of Mr. Ziegfeld which arrived from
New York packed in ice and at regular intervals--all these were
proof positive. They were a beautiful way of saying "thank you"
for the gift of laughter. They were the rewards for hours of
rehearsal and hard work, and the schooling of André Charlot.

I had apparently been very ill--had had transfusions--and missed
Christmas, hence the tree.

I was ill for fourteen weeks. Toward the end of that time Philip
Astley came over from England and stayed in Toronto so he could
visit me. As soon as Dr. Ross said I could be moved, a nurse was
engaged and Philip took us to New York and right aboard ship. Dr.
Ross had ordered me to take a long rest in the sun and approved
Philip's suggestion of taking me to stay with mutual friends who
had a villa on the Riviera.

As soon as I was able, we motored about the Riviera and over the
border into Italy and far into Sicily. We went sight-seeing in
mellow old temples, and we lived where the garden walls were hung
with wistaria and amid lemon and orange and olive blossoms--the
most romantic stage drop I ever played against. How lucky I was
to have seen all that beauty before its destruction by this war.

Charlot cabled us that the company was scheduled to sail from New
York. Philip motored me from Italy up to Cherbourg to meet the
ship, and there I rejoined Bea, Jack, Tommy, Charlot, and the
company, and went on with them to England to be ready to open at
the Prince of Wales Theatre in the "Triumphant return from
America of _Charlot's Revue_."




14


From Catterick our E.N.S.A. caravan took the road to the north
with Glasgow as our ultimate destination, but when we arrived in
Newcastle the first night, we found orders to drive back forty
miles along the way we had come to put on a concert at Barnard
Castle for the Tank Corps. We were all pretty ratty by then, as
we had had no rest, no food, and we were faced with the
forty-mile ride back to Newcastle after the show. Eighty miles to
give one half-hour show. It was lucky all of us were veteran
troupers, experienced in playing one-night stands. There is no
room for a prima donna and no field for the prima-donna
temperament on a camp tour.

When I first joined up with the others I was aware that they
watched me narrowly. They wondered if I could take it. That made
me smile. Hadn't I been a trouper myself for years? I knew all
the discomforts of being on the road--at least I thought I did. I
was to find that playing the camps in wartime is quite different
from playing theaters--even small ones--during peace.

But those furtive, wary glances reminded me of the time I made a
film at Paramount's Long Island studio. I had just finished
starring in _Candle-Light_. I hadn't been working at the studio
for more than a few days before I realized everyone was waiting
for me to blow up and be temperamental. When I did not, I got the
feeling I had failed to live up to expectations; failed to behave
as a star was popularly supposed to behave.

Our unit was one of the lucky ones, with no personality to sound
a sour note. After weeks of touring together, we had settled down
into a good working company. Each of us could appreciate, through
experience, the qualities of all the others.

Big, blonde Zoë Monte, who sang sentimental ballads in a high,
astonishingly true soprano, and her husband, Basil Melford, were
our double act. Zoë and Basil had been married for twenty-five
years and were devoted to each other. She looked after him and
mothered him, which he pretended to rebel against, but obviously
couldn't have done without.

Clarence Myerscough's orchestra was one of our attractions.
Clarence is a Lancashireman, but from studying and appearing for
years abroad he has lost his Lancashire burr and now owns an
accent which has become so perfect I thought he could have come
only from Vienna. The Viennese note suited Clarence amazingly. In
fact, it suited him so perfectly that I think even he, as well as
everyone else, had forgotten it was not real. Later on we were to
be very grateful for his knowledge of French--especially the
patois.

A third act was supplied by Wilfred Hubbard and his "fifty-two
assistants"--a pack of cards. Wilfred's tricks were a
never-ending amazement to us in the unit as well as to the
audiences.

Our accompanist, May, was Irish--innocent, vague, and a darling.
Stanley Kilburn was our pianist, and a very brilliant one.
Stanley had ulcers of the stomach which Mary Barrett, who
shepherded all of us, undertook to cure. I think Mary's chief
concern during our tour was to keep me happy and at the top of my
form and to return Stanley to London headquarters minus his
ulcers. Mary's real boss was Gracie Fields, about whom she had a
ceaseless fund of stories. Fortunately, she and all the other
members of the unit were endowed with that priceless ingredient
for making an adventure go over--a sense of humor. We were often
able to laugh about things that happened to us en route, which,
in different company, would have been annoying and infuriating.

I was thinking of this during the short stay we made in
Edinburgh. I hadn't been in the hotel five minutes when a
dour-looking man, whom I noticed standing in the lobby, came over
to our group and addressed himself to me. "Do ye ken are there
any E.N.S.A. shows in Edinburgh the noo?"

I said I didn't know of any. "Why?"

He drew down his overlong upper lip with great seriousness. His
voice dropped confidentially. "Did you no' hear aboot the trouble
over at Ballycraig?"

"No," I replied.

"The wee bairns threw stones at the actors."

"Why did they do that?" I asked.

"Happen they didna like them." He smacked his lips. "We Scots are
vurra particular."

"So I've heard," I said pacifically. "As a matter of fact, our
E.N.S.A. troupe has played to a good many Scottish soldiers. And
I've played in Edinburgh myself. Nothing like that has happened
to me."

"Nay," he said. "But ye can neverrr tell when it might, lassie.
So take this wee pamphlet." He handed me a tract with the
alarming title: TAKE HEED, FOR THE END DRAWETH NIGH. And with
that walked away.

Though we weren't stoned anywhere by the particular Scots, we had
encountered a sufficient number of difficulties before we landed
in Edinburgh. For instance, when we arrived at Dundonald, outside
Glasgow, to put on our show, we found that the coach with all the
costumes and the musicians' dress suits and instruments was
missing. We postponed the show for an hour. When that passed and
still no coach had arrived, Stanley, the pianist, Clarence--who
always carried his violin in his lap while traveling--and I
started a sort of impromptu show of our own and kept things going
until the costumes did arrive and the others were ready. Around
10:00 P.M. our real show opened. We rang down at eleven
forty-five, dog-tired, but knowing we hadn't failed the boys, and
happy in their applause. We were invited to go to the mess for a
drink, which we did and were glad of--no food though. Then we
motored back the thirty-five miles to Glasgow, only to find that
the hotel had fed our suppers to some hungry sailors and had
bedded down a number of the jack-tars in our bedrooms. By
doubling up, however, we managed to get some sleep.

When we set out from London for the north, it was with the
definite promise that, having played the camps en route, our unit
would then be sent on to the Orkneys. As everyone knew, though
the censorship jealously guarded news from that terrifically
important naval base, the Fleet put in and out of Scapa Flow.
Since that censorship still holds, I am constrained to tell only
briefly the story of our tour of this advanced post.

We left our motorized equipment in Edinburgh to fly over the
Highlands and the narrow but tempestuous Pentland Firth which
divides the Orkneys from John o' Groats. The Firth is only six to
eight miles across, but it has a bad reputation for its dangerous
currents, and I was more than glad that we were to fly over it.
The flight north from Edinburgh was wonderful, though we ran
through alternate rainstorms, sunshine, and mists. This, of
course, was the country to which, in happier days, Philip and his
friends went regularly every twelfth of August for the grouse
shooting. Nothing short of a broken back could have caused Philip
not to keep his annual August engagement with the Scotch grouse.

We were driven to our billets in Kirkwall, which is the largest
town in the islands, just a mile or two from Scapa. The place had
been built as a hotel for anglers and vacationists; then came the
war, and the Navy took it over for billets. I had my first bath
in three days, then dropped into bed and slept like a child.

The place was like a barracks, and full of WRENS, WAAFS,
soldiers, sailors, marines, and their wives and children. At 6:00
A.M. the sergeant in charge tramped down the corridor and banged
on the door of every room with an iron ladle, of all things,
until the occupant replied, thereby giving evidence he or she was
awake. I was up and out early, relishing the brisk salt breeze.

We were invited to lunch with Admiral Sir Henry Moore aboard the
flagship H.M.S. _Duke of York_. Afterward his launch took us to
our permanent billets on the island of Flotta. Here E.N.S.A. had
its own hut, just like an army Nissen hut, except it was made of
wood. The eighteen members of our unit crowded the hut almost to
bursting. The girls shared three rooms, and the boys had one
large one at the end of the hut, with me in a single in the
middle. The nights were cold, with high winds. We used to collect
driftwood to burn in the coke stove while we got ready for bed.
All our journeys had to be made by "drifter." It was fun going
out, but the return trips were uncomfortable, long, and cold.

It was amazing on this isolated, bleak, treeless reef, with its
entanglements of barbed wire, to find a fine theater--good stage,
dressing rooms, and excellent acoustics. And of course the most
appreciative audiences in the world. The men were either
stationed here for the duration and sealed in or they had come in
from the sea, veterans of many tough battles.

We shoved off about 1:00 P.M. in a drifter for the garden spot of
the Orkneys, which is a little island called South Ronaldsay. Its
port has the lovely name of St. Margaret's Hope. We went aboard
to a stiff breeze, a good swell, and a strong smell of frying
fish. Mary Barrett immediately nosed out the galley and saw to it
that a half kipper was passed out to all of us. As we had an
hour's trip ahead of us to St. Margaret's Hope, the smell of the
crew's mess and the sample we had of it were maddening. How do
men live for days and days at sea without food and water? Then,
as if in answer to my hunger pangs, a head popped up the galley
steps from below and a voice said: "Yer tea's ready."

We girls--Zoë, Joan, May, Mary, and I--went below and had the most
wonderful meal with the skipper and his three mates. Great mugs
of ship's tea, huge slices of bread thickly spread with butter
and jam, and a dish of kippers _cooked in butter!_ After we had
eaten our fill, the men of our unit were invited down to be fed.

The drifter's crew did this for us voluntarily, and the only way
we could show our appreciation was to see that they were all
invited to the show we put on that night. One of our most,
appreciative observers was the Bishop of Edinburgh, who was
visiting the flagship and sat in the front row and laughed louder
than any of the sailors, although I think he had his gentle
doubts about the merits of "I Wanna Get Married."

This life is certainly one of ups and downs--one day tea and
kippers with the drifter's crew, the next, dinner at Malsetta
House with Sir Robert and Lady Harwood, which is the Government
House of the Orkneys. The first intimation I had of being
introduced into this atmosphere of gold braid and good breeding
was the message that Sir Robert and Lady Harwood would like to
meet me, and please would I call at Malsetta House on my way to
the show. I thought this a bit odd, as I had known Sir Robert
when he was on the _Exeter_ and before he was knighted for
sinking the _Graf Spee_. However, the Malsetta House car met us
at the pier at Hoy and drove Mary and me ten miles to be greeted
by a house party of twelve people. Lady Harwood said: "Hello, my
dear. Would you like to go straight to your room or will I just
send your bag up?"

I said that I was going to dress at the theater, at which Sir
Robert cut in: "But you're dining and staying the night with us,
as your shows are on this side tomorrow."

I stood dumfounded in my trench coat and khaki uniform. Mary
coughed. We were an hour's boat journey away from headquarters
and our bags.

"I have a lovely fire in your bedroom. We shall be so
disappointed if you don't stay."

The thought of a bedroom with a fire in it, even just to look at,
was bliss, so I accepted the invitation to dinner. However, Mary
and I used the Malsetta bathroom, sat by the fire in the bedroom,
and then went downstairs.

We went in to dinner--all very grand, with menservants to wait on
us, and we had delicious fresh-caught salmon. It was getting
late, and I began to look questioningly at Mary. We had to drive
ten miles to the show and I had to make up. My mind was
wandering, and in my abstraction I refused the port. The steward
filled my wineglass with water; then I realized too late we were
about to toast the King!

I stood with the commander of the Fleet and drank the toast to
His Majesty _in water_, and felt like some miserable figure in a
Bateman drawing!


For upward of ten days we did the Orkneys, putting on shows
aboard ships like H.M.S. _Dundas Castle_, which was a ghost ship
of the good old days of pleasure cruises. The _Dundas Castle_
used to sail to Africa with tourists and passé actors making
farewell tours. She was about to be broken up for scrap in 1938
when the Navy took her over and remodeled her into the
maid-of-all-work to the Fleet.

Her engineers repair the ships that put in for repairs. Her
dentist, Dr. Gamble, fills all the aching cavities that come his
way. Officers awaiting leave, or returning from leave, are
quartered aboard her until they can rejoin their own ships. She
handles all the mail for the Fleet in Scapa Flow. Her theater,
down in her bowels, far below sea level, has to be seen to be
believed. You go down a million stairs and suddenly come upon an
auditorium with red plush tip-up seats, a real stage, and good
dressing rooms. All these were part of the cinema which was the
attraction of B deck when the _Castle_ was a pleasure-cruise
ship.

On our last day at work in the Orkneys we left by drifter for the
island of Shapinsay to do our last show for the Navy. There were
only about three hundred men and two officers in the camp, and
most of them had been there without leave for a long time.
Shapinsay is much too small and too remote--though terribly
important in the chain of defenses--to be on the list for
E.N.S.A. shows to visit. Ours was the first star unit to go
there. All the villagers and their children were admitted to the
show.

When we left Shapinsay around five-thirty in the afternoon, we
cajoled the skipper into giving us a long-way-round trip home to
our billets in Kirkwall. None of us looked forward with any
eagerness to another night on a NAAFI cot, such as we had been
sleeping on in the hostels. The prevailing knobbiness of the thin
mattresses made one feel one was curled up on a sack of coals.

We had been invited to spend our last evening in the sergeants'
mess at Kirkwall, and we all looked forward to a rousing good
time. On the way there I was asked to drop in to see the new Arts
Club, which had been opened in the town. When we drove round,
there was a group of people waiting by the door. A naval officer
detached himself from the group to greet us and escort us inside,
where I found myself suddenly standing beside a grand piano and
heard the officer announce: "And now it gives me great pleasure
to present Miss Gertrude Lawrence, the celebrated stage and film
star."

To my horror, I saw a room vaguely filled with elderly women,
young girls, and a few shy naval officers. One very
mannish-looking female had a hearing device placed on the table
before her, connected by a long cord to her ear which,
presumably, wired her for sound.

I stood there in the midst of this truly Noel Coward setting and
said: "Thank you so much," and was about to sit down when the
Navy man whispered, "What shall I announce you are going to
sing?"

I was trapped. I had not suspected the reason of our visit to the
Arts Club, and my pianist had no music with him. However, he went
to the piano and played a few chords and I sang "I Wanna Get
Married." This drew repressed giggles from the girls and frozen
silence from the older listeners. The female who reminded me of a
Helen Hokinson drawing, however, seemed delirious with joy. This
led me to wonder if she was the only human being in the club or
if her ear gadget had not been tuned in and she was merely trying
to be polite, not having heard a naughty word.

After the song I sat down, feeling that I was awaiting sentence.
Then Stanley was invited to play. He was very angry, but his
humor rose above his wrath, so he played with a great deal of
bravado and many sour notes.

After the tepid applause, someone said: "Let's have some
choruses." Stanley obliged again, and our audience sang them in a
refined, having-a-hell-of-a-time, let's-all-be-devils sort of
way.

After this we left, but not until the three naval officers had
come up and apologized because the club had no bar. We said it
was quite all right and that the club was charming and that we
didn't drink anyway, so we left.

Well, the sergeants' mess, when we arrived there, liberally made
up for this deficiency. We had an impromptu show which ended in a
supper of large plates of fresh shellfish and beer.

When the barkeep showed signs of wearying, I offered to take his
place.

"This is a ticklish sort of job," he said, trying to put me off.

"Let me show you how well I can do it," I begged him. 

He agreed to this, and let me draw a couple of mugs. 

"I must sye, you do very well for a hamachoor." 

"Amateur nothing, Sergeant! I was a barmaid myself once. Earned
my keep at it, too, for several weeks. And built up custom too."

The barkeep gave me a look which could be interpreted as "The
hell you were!" But he said with an effort toward politeness,
"Maybe in a play, in the theayter."

"Not in a theater; at the Red Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury."

To him I was a star, and, like most simple folk, he probably
thought I always had been.

It was quite true, that bit about my having been a barmaid. It
came about in this way: One of the touring companies I was
playing in, before I had my chance in _André Charlot's Revue_,
played Shrewsbury. Three of us girls put up at the Red Lion,
which gave special rates to theatricals. Shrewsbury is a busy
county town, and the Shropshire farmers who drove in on market
day had a way of dropping into the Lion for a glass of Shrewsbury
ale. They were not amiss to getting a glimpse of a pretty face, a
mass of curves, and a winning smile along with their drinks.

Our company manager at the time was a little man with a
strawberry nose and very thick lenses. We all called him "Old
Four Eyes."

Anything could happen in such tacky little shows in those days,
but we were not prepared for what was in store for us this time.
Saturday came and we played the matinee and waited for the
manager to appear with the salaries. But "Old Four Eyes" had
flown the coop with the takings.

We three girls returned gloomily to the Red Lion and discussed
what was to be done. As usual, we had very little money between
us. I had not enough to pay my week's lodging at the inn. As I
thought of my wardrobe, which consisted chiefly of props, I put
far from me the idea that I could pawn any of it for sufficient
money to take me back to London to hunt a new job.

The other girls were more solvent than I. They were able to pay
what they owed at the Lion. One of them had enough money to take
her to London. The other, Myrtle, had a sister married to a
stationer in Birmingham and near enough to be a refuge during
this emergency.

"Not that I shall be welcome," Myrtle said. "Her old man never
did cotton to me. It was one of those marriages. Percy's family
are highly respectable, I'd have you know, and what _they_ think
of theatricals isn't fit for any girl's ears."

"How are you going to explain to them when you arrive?" I wanted
to know.

Myrtle gave me a wink over her plump, bare shoulder. "Trust Sis
and me. We'll think of something to tell Percy. Later I'll get to
London somehow."

As far as I could see, I would have to remain in
Shrewsbury--alone and on my own. At least until something turned
up for me somewhere. The Theatre Royal in Shrewsbury was a place
on the regular route of many of the companies which played the
provinces and, not infrequently, as I knew, a company on tour
counted on picking up someone to fill a minor part in each town
they played. This arrangement was usually cheaper than carrying a
regular performer for the part, and it brought business, because
all the girl's family and friends would come to see her. Perhaps
some such stroke of luck would come my way if I waited long
enough. But, in the meanwhile, there were my expenses at the inn.
I was puzzling over a way of meeting these when Myrtle turned
around from her mirror.

"I don't like leaving you here, kiddo," she said.

"Oh, I'll be all right," I hastened to assure her. "I have a
plan."

And I had. The idea had come to me as an inspiration. I refused
to tell Myrtle, but my repeated assurance that I was not
altogether without resources cheered her tremendously.

I went downstairs next morning and asked to see the proprietor of
the Red Lion. I was under no necessity to explain to him what had
happened to our company, for he knew. To him I appealed with
disarming candor. I was stony, and I was not denying it. I owed
his inn in the neighborhood of twenty-seven shillings; but, I
hastened to assure him, I would welcome the chance to pay the
indebtedness by working.

"What can you do?"

"I could work in the bar."

His eye went over my head in the direction of the tap-room where
his regular barmaid, a large, blowzy girl,
named--ironically--Tina, was lazily polishing glasses. From Tina
the landlord's eye came back to rest on me.

"I could do with another girl in the bar," he said thoughtfully.
"The only difficulty is..."

"I know," I said quickly. "Tina."

He nodded. "Tina's a good girl. She's been with me three years.
She's a cousin of my wife's. Knows all the steady customers and
what each one of them likes. Can give 'em back as good as they
give her too."

"Suppose you leave Tina to me," I suggested. "She'll understand
I'm not here to take her job away from her--only to help her
through the busy season."

That bit about the busy season was carefully planted. It was
August, and the annual Shrewsbury Floral and Musical Fete was
scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of the following week.

In the end, the landlord took me on. He led me up to Tina and
announced with bluff good humor that, in view of the warm weather
and the increased customers which the fete was sure to bring, he
had engaged me as her assistant. I ran upstairs and broke the
news to the girls. They came down and drank a glass of port on
the house. Then they left for their trains. I was now a barmaid.

At first Tina was inclined to be suspicious of me and my
intentions. It was a decided novelty for a chorus girl to turn
barmaid, and Tina could not believe that I was doing this without
ulterior motives. I made a clean breast to her of my situation,
and because she was kindhearted she laid aside her original
suspicions. Generously she lent me a dozen kid curlers and showed
me how to put up my hair on them so I should have the mop of
curls which used to be considered part of a barmaid's make-up.

When I entertained her with tales of my experiences and anecdotes
of other actors and actresses--some of whom she had seen--she
became my friend. She even approved of my way of polishing the
glasses and shining the pewter beer taps. After two days she let
me do all of it. In return, she taught me how to draw a full, yet
not overflowing, glass of beer. This, as the barkeep at the
sergeants' mess at Kirkwall was to tell me many years later, is
something no amateur can do. Thanks to Tina--and the busy season
in Shrewsbury--I am a professional at it.

I was a success as a barmaid, if I do say it. The regular
customers--the commercial travelers, farmers, and tradesmen from
the shops--seemed to welcome the novelty of a new barmaid who
sang as she drew them a drop of what they fancied. Business at
the Red Lion was brisk. What with my wages and tips I paid off my
debt to the landlord and managed to set aside something to stand
me in good stead when my opportunity came. It came, ultimately,
with a company which opened at the Shrewsbury Theatre in a
dramatic play called _The Rosary_. The management wanted a local
girl and, thanks to my success in the bar at the Lion, the
manager had not been in town an hour before he was told by
someone to stop round at our place, have a glass of dark and
bitter, and look me over. I was engaged to dress as a nun and
sing the song "My Rosary" as a prologue to the play to give it
"atmosphere"!

My return to the profession was celebrated in the tap-room of the
Lion, and the manager was congratulated on his choice. Though the
annual fete was over, our customers did not fall off, for the
simple reason that a number of citizens and quite a few of the
masters and boys from Shrewsbury's celebrated public school came
there on the chance of being served by the girl they had just
seen in the play at the theater. This might have turned the tide
of my fortunes in such a direction that I would have remained
behind bars all my life, but fortunately for me the publicity
worked as well in the opposite direction. People came to the
theater in order to see the nun who was barmaid at the Red Lion.

When the company left Shrewsbury for its next stand, I paid my
bill at the Red Lion and returned to London, the Cats' Home, and
the casting offices. It is a matter of pride to me that the
landlord remarked on our parting, "Gertie, you can have a job
here in my bar any time."




15


I think everyone felt a little sad when it came time to fly away
from the Orkneys.

We arrived at Donnibristle in time for tea--three planes
full--including trunks, drums, double basses, and Zoë May was
scared during the flight, which we made in wonderful weather, but
everyone came through without mishap until just before landing,
when Harry, the saxophone player, was suddenly sick from sheer
relief that the flight was over.

We put on a show for the Fleet Air Arm at seven-thirty, then
caught the ten-thirty ferry across the Forth and slept that night
at Hawes's Inn, under the shadow of the famous bridge and the
eagle eyes of the M.P.s. As a rule, no one was allowed to break a
journey at this point, either going in or out of Edinburgh, as
one attempt was made by the Germans to destroy the bridge, and
the area was under heavy guard. Since we were traveling under
military orders, an exception was made for us.

Our next stop was in a small Cumberland village, and was
occasioned by no less a demand than our hunger for the fish and
chips we smelled frying in a little shop. Four of us sat on the
running board of the truck and ate that greatest of all English
delicacies out of newspaper. It was the first time I had had that
treat of my childhood in many years and I found my appetite for
it undiminished.

Mary told us a true story of a five-months-old baby who was
brought into one of the London day nurseries. The family had not
had a drop of milk for many weeks. Asked how they had managed to
feed the baby, the mother replied: "We gave her a little bit of
whatever we had."

What they had was principally fish and chips, washed down by
strong tea. The fact that the baby had survived this diet would
seem to prove that forty-eight million Britishers can't be wrong.

Our first job in Manchester, at nine-thirty next morning, was to
rehearse for a monster broadcast from Belle Vue, the amusement
park. I worked all day, broke long enough to have my picture
taken riding Lil, the elephant, and another
 in a hair-raising roundabout known as the Caterpillar. The last
time I did that stunt was in 1937 with Douglas, now Lieutenant
Commander, Fairbanks.

The crowd at the broadcast was enormous--eight thousand
servicemen present, and very thrilling.

Basil Dean came down from London for the show, recalling to me
the fact that the first time I ever played in Manchester was
under his direction. He introduced me with words that gave me a
shock: "Miss Gertrude Lawrence, who is now on her way to
Normandy."

Basil had just returned from Bayeux, where he had been making
plans to send the first E.N.S.A. units into France.

This was my first official notice that I was to be allowed to go
across to the invasion front, for which we had seen so many men
set out. It was what I had hoped for, begged for, worked for--the
opportunity to entertain the fighting men at the actual front.

At that moment I was glad of every springless, lumpy camp bed I
had stretched my weary bones upon. It had all been our basic
training.

We signed our papers before we left Manchester and received our
orders to proceed to London for inoculations as soon as our tour
ended--in less than a week.

During the next six days we literally raced across England, doing
shows for the Navy and the Air Force and the WAAFS. At St.
Nathan's Camp, near Cardiff, twenty-four hundred airmen and WAAFS
packed themselves into a theater only big enough to hold fourteen
hundred. The audience was, literally, two deep. St. Nathan's, I
was told, was the largest air-training camp in the world, with a
personnel of forty thousand. Our unit would have had to stay
there a week and give two shows a day to entertain that audience.

We ran on south into the invasion area and all the bustle and
turmoil again. The sky above us was full of planes, bearing other
glider planes with air-borne troops, towed by the famous
nylon-stocking line. The roads were jammed with trucks and tanks
and soldiers of all the services--literally millions of men and
mountains of ammunition--all headed one way-to France.

So we came at last to Salisbury in the shadow of the famous
cathedral, which was still intact and strangely serene in the
martial atmosphere that filled the old town. We did a show for
the Army at Lark Hill Camp. Our last two shows in this area,
under canvas at Bustard Camp and for the R.A.F. at Keevil, gave
me a taste of what I was told I could expect across the Channel.
Our stage was improvised out of kitchen tables, and the lighting
was done with hastily rigged kerosene lamps. Afterward, in the
mess where we were given supper, the rats came out and eyed us
hungrily as we gobbled our Spam and salad before they could get
it away from us. At Keevil, though the theater was very much
better and the mess had a well-stocked bar, the mess table
swarmed with earwigs. In France, I was told, we would have dust
and mosquitoes as well as all the forms of vermin known to man.

In Salisbury, Richard was able to join me for a few hours' leave.
After all, he was then based only forty minutes away. We had so
much to talk over, so many things to tell each other, as we
strolled about the cathedral close. It was my last chance to see
him before going to Normandy.

From the window of one of the ATS billets sounded a concertina,
evidently being played by someone new to the art. "I'm dreaming
of a white Christmas," wheezed the concertina. And four or five
American G.I.s who were walking about, viewing the cathedral,
grinned and started to whistle the song to help the concertina
player. An elderly clergyman in a violet cassock, passing along a
path to choir practice, looked first distressed at this invasion
of the sanctity of the cloisters, then smiled benignly.

A lot of things were changing. Much of the England I had known
and loved and had belonged to was gone. I had thought so many
times, in the course of those five thousand miles which had taken
me from Portsmouth to John o' Groats and back again. There was a
house which once had been mine, a blackened mass of rubble with
the wild grasses already claiming it for a ruin. There were the
towns I had known and played in when they were thriving and
intact, now maimed and disfigured. There were friends one asked
about only to be told quietly, "Killed."

But all the changes were not sorrowful ones like these. Some,
like the look on the priest's face when he smiled at the G.I.s,
promised well for the future.

I said a little of this to Richard, and he agreed with me. Then
we went on to talk of some of the many things which meant so much
to both of us. Like so many husbands and wives in these wartimes,
we had so little time. There was no knowing when or where--or
even if--we would meet again.

After Richard left to return to duty and I packed up for the trip
back to London to get ready for my trip to Normandy, my mind was
full of the changes I could feel as well as see taking place on
every side. I remembered how, as a child, I had thought of the
world as very stable. Even boringly so. All the adventures, so I
thought, had been had by others long ago. The grown-up people I
observed seemed to live in a cut-and-dried world. They were
already settled in life. In my heart of hearts I dreaded the time
when this would happen to me. Yet people used to talk about
"settling down" as though this were something every nice girl
should wish to do.

Well, perhaps I'm not a nice girl. One reason why I have always
loved the theater and why I'm still stage struck is that this
sort of life offers variety, constant change, even dangerous and
thrilling "ups" and "downs."

At heart I have always been an adventurer. The Danish strain in
my blood makes me restless. I am a seeker, not a holder. I am
filled with urgent curiosity about what may lie just around the
corner.

During my illness in the hospital in Toronto and then throughout
my prolonged convalescence, when it was bliss just to be alive
with Philip in the sunshine, sometimes, even in the midst of my
happiness, a chilling thought would strike me. Suppose this is
the climax. The ultimate high moment. This is perfection. What
more can life give me?

And even in the sunshine I would shiver slightly.

Philip was not given to introspection. He believed in taking life
and people as he found them. And he found them good and fair to
see. I never felt that he understood me particularly. Maybe I was
too young to be very convincing. He had certain ideas about me
which, put together, composed a personality, and he was in love
with that. We never talked about our feelings. If I ever felt
moved to tell him how I felt about life, the impulse withered
immediately when I thought how Philip, with his social
background, would receive such revelations. I knew it would have
embarrassed him.

We were having lunch in the dark and dreary dining room of one of
Cherbourg's small hotels while waiting for word that the
_Aquitania_ was coming into port. Our holiday was over. I was
both sad and glad--sad because Philip and I had had such a happy
time together. It could never be quite the same again. And I was
glad, too, as Philip said, "Because you are going back to your
job, Dormouse. I believe the theater means more to you than I
do."

"Really?"

I said it, mimicking his accent, to make him smile. And he did.
But inwardly I was wondering--as I did at times--if Philip was
right about this. Perhaps he did know me better than I then knew
myself.




16


The popularity of _Charlot's Revue_ in America increased the
excitement and the warmth of our reception when we reopened in
London in the early spring of 1925. There was so great a demand
for seats for the première that Charlot adopted the unique and
daring plan of giving two performances--one at 8:00 P.M., the
other at midnight.

Never was such an audience assembled in the theater as at that
second performance. Celebrities of society and stage crowded the
building from stall and dress circle to the boxes, and even the
gallery and pit.

It was the same show in general that we had played in New York,
and many of the numbers had been seen many times in London, but
it seemed as though everybody wanted to see the familiar acts all
over again.

Perhaps there was some curiosity as to whether playing to
American audiences for so long a run had changed Bea Lillie's or
my style. Bea was very much in the news because her husband,
Bobby Peel, whom she had married in 1922, had just succeeded to
the baronetcy. As Lady Peel, Bea was an even greater hit than
ever simply because she remained the same unspoiled Bea Lillie.

The Guv'nor, as we used to call Charlot, was always warning us
that no artist can afford to rest on his laurels until he is
dead. He kept reminding us that he had not brought the company
back to London merely to ride along indefinitely on the successes
it had piled up in New York. He was determined to make the return
of his revue the high spot of the season.

Bea and I injected into the Revue our joint impressions of the
typical "sister act" which we had seen in America. This included
a burlesque by Bea of Fanny Brice, and I did an imitation of
Sophie Tucker, who was then enormously popular in London. For
this act, Bea and I dressed alike, we played ukuleles, and of
course we did close harmony. We were known as the Sisters
Apple--Seedy and Cora.

One June night that season the after-theater crowds passing along
Regent Street noticed a large car stop in front of a "His
Master's Voice" gramophone shop. The driver emerged from the car.
After entering the shop, he returned with a porter in a green
felt apron. The two men approached the car and the passers-by
stopped and stared in horrified amazement to see the porter reach
into the back seat of the car and, after a considerable struggle,
bring out the body of a woman whose quaint crooked smile
advertised her as Miss Beatrice Lillie of _Charlot's Revue!_ As
her gold-clad feet hung limp at one end and her arms were
outstretched at the other, she did not seem in any condition to
resist her captor. Her smile remained unperturbed and sweet as it
faced the public over his brawny shoulder. He gently but
hurriedly carried her into the shop. The crowd increased as word
ran up and down the street that some queer happenings were going
on. Once more the porter emerged. Again he dived into the car and
came out with still another woman thrown carelessly across his
shoulder. Someone said, "My God, it looks like Gertrude
Lawrence!" The woman's legs kicked and her hands beat a helpless
tattoo on his back, but the porter's powerful arms were folded
tight across her rump. So finally he carried the two figures in
and they stood side by side in all their gold-sequined glory as
an advertisement for gramophone records.

"Blimey," someone in the crowd said. "They're dummies!"

"Not a bit of it. It's them."

The crowd argued and increased. Charlot had learned the power of
advertising methods in the U.S.A.

_Charlot's Revue_ ran for many months and then closed. Several
months later Charlot had an offer to prepare another revue for
New York, so he gathered his original company around him--Jack,
Bea, and me.

Again we set sail for America--on the _Caronia_. Bea was
accompanied by her husband, Bobby Peel, who was immediately
surrounded by the press and was hard put to explain: first, that
he was not a member of the company; second, that he was not
connected with the London police force--the "Peelers," as they
are nicknamed for Bobby's grandfather, who organized them; third,
that he was no relation to "Do Ye Ken John Peel?"

When we opened in New York, Noel Coward was playing there in _The
Vortex_. Our first night was very heartwarming--all the crowd
turned up and Uncle Aleck Woollcott wrote in his column the next
day, "It was not a performance--it was a reunion."

We had a good show. Bea sang "There's Life in the Old Girl Yet."
Gertrude Ederle had just swum the Channel, and Bea did a
burlesque of that muscular lady which was hilarious. We did our
"Fallen Babies" song dressed as one-year-olds, in huge baby
carriages--ending up with getting tipsy from the gin in the
feeding bottles belonging to our absent nursemaids. I sang
"Carrie Was a Careful Girl" and "Parisienne Pierrot," both
written by Noel. Jack, as always, was excellent, but for some
reason the gilt was missing from the gingerbread. We ran only six
months in New York and after a short tour we arrived in
Hollywood. For three weeks the town was ours.

On the closing night we gradually noticed that all the Hollywood
male stars in the orchestra seats were leaving before the finale.
This worried us terribly; we couldn't understand such behavior!
Well, Jack went on in his full Highland costume and sang the
opening of the last song; I followed dressed as Flora MacDonald;
and then came Bea as Bonnie Prince Charlie. By this time there
wasn't a single Hollywood male star left out front. We all sang
bravely and laughed gaily, trying to carry off our dismay, when
suddenly one by one onto the stage came the missing males.

They all had their trousers rolled up to their knees; Valentino
had on a Scotch headdress borrowed from the chorus girls; Charlie
Chaplin had his dinner coat tied round his waist like a kilt;
Richard Barthelmess had a tam o' shanter on; the Marx Brothers
wore red beards; Jack Gilbert carried a ladder, for what reason
no one knew. They took over the whole finale with us; they made
speeches; and Chaplin, who at that time was refusing to make
"talkies," made his speech in dumb show. Oh, what a night!

Bea stayed on in Hollywood for a while; she had signed on to
appear in New York in September in a musical farce which Jerome
Kern wrote for her. I, too, had made my decision to leave
Charlot's management and accept a New York contract. That was to
be _Oh, Kay!_ produced by Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley.
George Gershwin was writing the music especially for me; and his
brother, Ira, the lyrics. The book was by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy
Bolton. Rehearsals were to begin in New York early in October, so
I had time for only a brief holiday in England.

I caused some consternation when the press photographers caught
me going aboard the _Mauretania_ on a blistering August day with
bare legs. I had experimented going stockingless in California
and found it comfortable and economical.

As soon as it was reported that Gertrude Lawrence was going about
barelegged, the papers began to interview fashion experts and
other actresses to get their opinion of the fad I had started.
Marilyn Miller, when interviewed, expressed ladylike disapproval
of the innovation, and announced that she had brought back from
Paris two hundred pairs of silk stockings which she had every
intention of wearing. Miss Carmel Snow, fashion editor of
_Vogue_, was quoted as exclaiming with horror: "The idea is
disgusting. It will never be done by nice people."

Pam came back with me when I returned to New York from England.
My little daughter was a surprise to the American press, as I had
never allowed her to be publicized or photographed for the
illustrated papers. I wanted to keep Pam's life simple and
sheltered, with no searchlights turned on her. I wanted her to
grow up a normal, wholesome little girl and without contact with
the theater. If she wanted to go on the stage later on, and
showed an aptitude for it, that would be time enough to introduce
her to the world in which I spent so much of my life.

_Oh, Kay!_ opened in November and was a tremendous success.
Gershwin's score was Gershwin at his sprightliest. The piece had
lots of humor and that indefinable something which can only be
described as spirit. Oscar Shaw played the lead, and Victor Moore
provided most of the uproarious comedy.

It was that winter, my third in New York and during the run of
Oh, Kay! that I met Bert Taylor, and immediately my life changed.
This tall, dark-haired, stunning-looking American was like
someone one only reads about. With a snap of his fingers, a
glance, a quiet word, he had the power to bring about miracles.
Bert had been born with a gold spoon in his mouth. His father was
president of the New York Stock Exchange, and Bert had rolled up
an enormous fortune of his own during those years when Wall
Street was holding carnival.

Bert Taylor figuratively knocked me off my feet. From the moment
of his entry into my life I began to live in a storybook world.
While New York streets were glazed with ice and the sky sent down
showers of sleet, my apartment was abloom with spring and the
fragrance of American beauties.

A banker in Bert Taylor's position could, and not infrequently
did, make a profit of fifty thousand dollars in a day's trading
on the Stock Exchange; and, exhilarated by this achievement, on
his way uptown to his club he would drop in at Cartier's and
spend a part of the day's bag on a gorgeous bauble to please the
lady of his heart.

Is it any wonder that Bert Taylor, who moved habitually in this
fantastically luxurious world, should have swept me off my feet?
Philip and I were extraordinarily companionable. His devotion and
attention to me had brought me great happiness. But from the
start of our friendship both of us had known, and had admitted
frankly, that we had no future together. Circumstances to which
we both had to submit kept us apart. For several years I was
content with half a loaf, but, as inevitably happens, the
disappointment ultimately bred a restlessness. That, I really
believe, was one reason why I wanted to stay on in America; and
why I did stay on. It was no longer happiness enough just to be
with Philip knowing that we could never marry and have a life
together. I carried back with me to America a loneliness.
Undoubtedly this made me even more susceptible than I would
otherwise have been to Bert's great charm and to the attention he
paid me.

I wrote Philip that I was seeing a lot of this young American.
Philip and I had always been honest with each other. We were
really and truly friends. Sooner or later he would have heard
about Bert Taylor and me anyway. There were Americans constantly
going over to London and to the Riviera and to St. Moritz for the
winter sports, and many of Philip's friends came to New York.
Bert's sister, the Countess de Frasso, was a well-known figure in
the international set whose members floated from Santa Barbara to
Côte d'Azur, from New York to the Lido, and from Salzburg to Palm
Beach.

When it was evident that _Oh, Kay!_ was destined to stay on
Broadway for many months, Philip cabled me that he was coming
over to New York for a visit. And he did. In New York that winter
for the first time he asked me to marry him. If he had only done
so two years before I am sure I would have said "yes," and would
have immediately gone about the business of getting a divorce
from Frank.

Oh, I did not blame him. His career was as important as mine, and
it would have been wrecked had he married a divorced woman.
Though I was his wife, he could not have brought me to Court,
since etiquette forbade this. He could not have entered the royal
enclosure at Ascot--something which may seem petty to Americans
but which is extremely important to English people of Philip's
position, not merely for what it is, but for what it represents.

If I had been only an actress, we might have overcome some of the
opposition, especially if I had abandoned my career and retired
to Philip's house in the country. But I was not prepared to do
this--not now. I belonged to the theater. My life, since I was
ten, had been lived in it. The public had been kind to me and I
owed them loyalty in return. Philip's income was not sufficient
to pay the heavy expenses of his clubs, his uniforms, and all the
obligations connected with his career in court circles and to
support me and a growing daughter.

No, from whatever angle you considered it, marriage with Philip
Astley was impossible.

So I said, "No, darling," when Philip asked me to marry him.
Philip took the next boat back to England, and I went on with my
job.

I sent for Mother. She arrived after "a beastly crossing, the
worst in forty years. Even the captain was sick."

I had a beautiful apartment on Park Avenue with everything to
give Mother a taste of American comfort and luxury. But she
refused to approve of any of it. She complained that Pam had
become too American.

From the beginning the idea was a mistake. Mother liked the
apartment but it was too high up--it frightened her. She liked
Bert, but she kept talking about Philip; she hated the cold
weather, but she couldn't stand the steam heat. She liked her new
clothes, but she couldn't understand Americans, and she never
went out because the traffic all went the wrong way!

However, after a while she got more settled. Then she missed and
worried about Dad. So when the good weather came, she went back
to England. We hadn't discussed anything!

Once back home, people wrote me that she never stopped comparing
the living conditions of London with New York; and the moment
anything went wrong she would say, "Of course over in America
everything is so different, and the central heating is
_marvelous!_"

That summer I played _Oh, Kay!_ in London and continued the
fantastic existence I had entered upon in New York. Several
Indian princes from Hyderabad with their entourages were at the
Savoy and came to see our play. They adored it. The Gershwin
score and the English company were excellent. The princes
proceeded to show their enthusiasm by taking a box for the
season. Occasionally the box would be occupied by several ladies
in Indian dress, with their caste marks on their foreheads,
precious stones on the sides of their nostrils, and beautiful
long saris draped over their heads, swinging gracefully from
their bejeweled shoulder pins.

The youngest prince took a fancy to me. We called him "Baby"
because his own names were so many and so difficult to remember.
Baby was enraptured by every sort of mechanical gadget and
presented me with a cigarette lighter shaped like an airplane,
and a miniature cannon which fired a lighted cigar. He bought
dozens of such things to take home with him to adorn the palace
at Hyderabad, where he invited me to visit him. He presented me
with a very large photograph of himself on a very small polo
pony. Before going back to India the princes gave a banquet at
the Savoy. It was all very sumptuous, and at every lady's place
was a small gold kidskin bag.

I picked up mine. My fingers told me that inside were several
small, round hard objects. "Ah!" I thought. "This is it! Nothing
less than emeralds. Or pigeon-blood rubies." I shot Baby a
questioning glance. He was beaming, confident of the great
pleasure he was giving me.

"It is something you ladies like very much," he said. "I hope you
like--"

I pulled the drawstring. Out into my expectant palm tumbled a
handful of the betel nuts Indian women chew to blacken their
teeth and gums.

I then and there decided not to visit Hyderabad.

George Gershwin was in London for the opening of _Oh, Kay!_ and
was lionized by English society. He gave concerts, he raised
money for charities, he visited every famous "stately home of
England," yet he remained the same serious, hard-working young
man. He bought suits in Savile Row and took me along to the
fittings and to select his shirts and ties at Hawes and Curtis's,
and hats at Scott's. But he never lost his head size.

His one interest in life was his music. Before he returned to New
York he visited France and wrote his famous "American in Paris"
concerto.

I had leased a flat in Portland Place from the Marquis de Casa
Maury and intended to make it my permanent home. Pam entered
school at Roedean in Sussex. The flat was beautiful and I loved
it. Sybil Colfax redecorated it for me. I had one of the first
rooms in London to be done in mirrors, and a white drawing room
with silver sequin curtains. I had gradually collected some fine
old Bristol glass and some pictures, including a Gauguin. Also
many photographs and bibelots. Among these was a charcoal drawing
of an animal which was intended to be a pig, though it looked
slightly like a rhino, and from another angle like a badger. It
might have passed for one of Thurber's creations, but it was the
work of the Prince of Wales, who drew it blindfolded, as a stunt
at a charity bazaar, and presented it to me.

I didn't _buy_ a Bentley car. I had one built. I took the
Bentley to America with me when I returned late in the summer, on
the same boat with George and Ira Gershwin, to start rehearsals
for their new musical, _Treasure Girl_. I also took the very
smallest baby Austin I could buy. I remember driving the Austin
up Fifth Avenue one day and being stopped by a red light. The cop
left his post in the center of traffic to come over and lean his
elbows on the radiator.

"Say, lady," he remarked confidentially, "what do you do with it
at night? Keep it under the bed?"

Clifton Webb and Walter Catlett played in _Treasure Girl_ with
me, but the show was not the success _Oh, Kay!_ had been. I had
one song which went over big, "Where's the Boy?"

All that winter and through the summer after _Treasure Girl_
closed and I stayed on in New York to make a picture at
Paramount's Long Island studios, I continued to see a great deal
of Bert Taylor. Before coming to America, I had applied for my
divorce, and the court had granted it, though under the British
law the decree did not become absolute until six months had
passed. Bert and I were engaged. He had come to London to see me
while I was playing in _Oh, Kay!_, had proposed, and I had
accepted him.

I was deeply happy; everything seemed to be coming my way. I was
riding on the crest of the wave.

Gilbert Miller had signed me to co-star in _Candle-Light_ with
Leslie Howard and Reginald Owen. We were to open at the Empire
Theatre in New York in the autumn of 1929. The play was a
Viennese comedy by Siegfried Geyer, and had been adapted by P. G.
Wodehouse, who had done so much toward the success of _Oh, Kay!_
_Candle-Light_ had been produced in London with Yvonne Arnaud in
the leading role. It was one of the first of many plays--tragic
and comic--written around the romantic figure of the Austrian
Archduke Rudolf. Everyone predicted it would be a huge success on
Broadway.

_Candle-Light_ marked my first appearance in America in a
legitimate play, and I was both excited and terrified. On the
first night I had a cable from Noel, who was, as usual, going
around the world on a tramp steamer.


   LEGITIMATE AT LAST, DARLING. WON'T MOTHER BE
   PLEASED?


My pride knew no bounds when Gilbert Miller hung my portrait in
the Empire Theatre with those of Doris Keane, Helen Hayes, and
Ina Claire.

No one apparently, not even Bert, had any inkling that the autumn
of 1929 was to be the end of an era.

I began to get the idea that money flowed in without restrictions
or with very little effort on my part. When I remembered how hard
I had worked to earn fifteen shillings a week just ten years
back, it seemed incredible that I should be earning thirty-five
hundred dollars a week in the theater. Not to mention my paper
profits in the market. Of course I had no idea of it at the time,
but I was to be one of the victims of the boom years. It was to
be a long, hard time before I was to acquire a realistic attitude
toward money.

Sometimes, when I had gambled successfully in the, Street, I
would remember poor Dad and his pathetic, ever-hopeful efforts to
back a winner. He was still playing the horses. Mother shook her
head over it, but whenever I was in England Dad and I would get
together. He would confide to me his choice for the next Derby or
the Manchester Handicap, and prove to me that his horse was sure
to win. We were partners. He still considered Mother the most
remarkable woman in the world. He would tell me so and would
impress the same on Pamela:

"Your grandmother's a fine woman. And don't you go forgetting it,
my girl!"

We opened in _Candle-Light_ on the last night of September.
Leslie Howard was excellent as Joseph. I shall never forget his
way of replying to my question to the supposed archduke: "Do you,
Prince Rudolf, have many mistresses?"

"Ah, Baroness, they do pile up."

In the supper scene Leslie and I were supposed to drink rather
freely of the wine poured for us by the real archduke in the
livery of a servant. According to theatrical custom this was
really weak, cold tea and extremely nasty. It isn't easy to
appear to enjoy drinking the kind of concoction the property man
supplies for a rare vintage. One night I saw to it that the
contents of the decanter were emptied and the bottle refilled
with some excellent dry sherry.

After his first drink, Leslie threw me a look of delighted
surprise. His acting took on added richness and flavor. And he
tossed off his wine instead of toying with his glass as he
usually did.

As for myself, I felt that I was giving the best performance I
had ever given. I began to enjoy the supper scene. The archduke
had to fill and refill our glasses. There was more realism than
acting in the close of the scene in which Leslie and I became
slightly spiffy.

Inevitably _Candle-Light_ felt the impact of the crash that
shattered the bubble of prosperity which Americans--and New
Yorkers especially--had been playing with. But the play continued
to run with more than fair success. Perhaps people wanted
amusement that offered them an escape from their financial
worries. They still did not want to face the grim reality.

Bert was up to his ears in worries and responsibilities. In the
circumstances it seemed impractical for us to marry. At least
Bert said it was. I was free to marry him and I wanted to, just
to prove that I loved him and not his money.

But he said, "No, Peaches. I must fight this thing alone. I can't
afford to marry now."

He had called me "Peaches" since soon after we met, which was at
a time when the romance of a middle-aged gentleman named Daddy
Browning and an outsize young girl called Peaches figured in the
news. Bert was amused by the contrast my slim figure presented to
the plump Peaches', and he enjoyed my fury whenever he called me
the absurd name.

But now I did not retort, "Don't call me that." I protested I was
willing to go on working to help things along financially. That
only hurt his pride more deeply. We were at a deadlock.

When _Candle-Light_ closed I went into Lew Leslie's
_International Revue_, which had lyrics and music by Dorothy
Fields and Jimmy McHugh. The cast included Harry Richman, Jack
Pearl, and Anton Dolin, and, as the title implies, many
continental and foreign performers. They all dropped out,
however, after a few weeks, and only Jack, Pat Dolin, Harry, and
I remained. You can imagine the sort of life those three madmen
led me backstage.

I had two excellent numbers in the revue, "Exactly Like You," and
"On the Sunny Side of the Street," that I sang with Harry
Richman. But though a lot of money had been spent on the show it
did only fair business. We closed in May. André Charlot had
offered me a contract to star in a new revue he was staging. The
offer tempted me; I was fond of the Guv'nor and owed him a great
deal of my success.

It was always inspiring to work under the direction of this man
of whom Sir James Barrie once said: "There goes the whole
theatrical profession in a nutshell."

I signed the contract Charlot offered me. My plans for the next
season seemed set. Then two men who had figured prominently in
childhood years in the theater came back into my life.




17


The two men were Charles B. Cochran and Noel Coward. They had a
play which Noel had written. It was called _Private Lives_.

Noel had written it in Burma or Peiping or somewhere in the
course of his travels in the Far East. But there was nothing
oriental about _Private Lives_. It was modern, British, and
suavely sophisticated.

When Noel's manager, Jack Wilson, brought me the script to read I
fell in love with it. I was determined that I--and only I--should
play Amanda, whose "heart was jagged with sophistication." Noel
was to play the male lead, of course.

Noel wrote _Private Lives_ especially for me. It was his
fulfillment of a promise he had made to me and to himself when
_Bitter Sweet_ was produced and I was unable to play it because
of my contract for _Candle-Light_. The part was given to Peggy
Wood instead of to me, and Noel had said:

"Never mind, darling. I'll write another play, especially for us,
that will be even better."

Now he had done it. But again I was under contract and did not
know whether I could get out of my agreement with Charlot.

I dashed off a cable to Noel to tell him how thrilled I was about
the new play. I am usually reckless about cables and send
terribly long, expensive ones. But for once I was having an
economical streak, so I worded the message briefly:


   PLAY DELIGHTFUL STOP NOTHING WRONG THAT
   CAN'T BE FIXED


What I meant was that the only hindrance was my contract with
André Charlot and that I was trying to get free of it, which I
finally succeeded in doing. But Noel took it to mean that his pet
play needed revisions. He was furious. The sputter of his wrath
lighted up the Pacific as he journeyed, and he scorched the cable
wires with scathing comments on my ability as critic and
playwright.

We were right back at Miss Conti's squabbling over who should
ride the bicycle and who should play the phonograph.

He was still indignant when he caught up with me at Captain
Molyneux's villa at Cap d'Ail near Monte Carlo, which I and my
friend Helen Downes had rented for the summer. Noel never has
entirely forgiven me for that cable, and I don't think he has
ever really believed even to this day that I was not making an
adverse comment on his play.

We went over the play and rehearsed our scenes at the villa.
Every evening we arranged and rearranged the furniture in the
drawing room for a rehearsal. My other guests--among them G. B.
Stern and William Powell--wandered in and out, amused themselves
as they wished, and looked on Noel and me as on two quite
pleasant but quite mad creatures.

Noel, Charles Cochran, and I decided to go into partnership on
the play, so when we opened at the Phoenix Theatre it was:


             _C. C. L. Present
     Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence
                     in_
                PRIVATE LIVES
            _An Intimate Comedy
                     by_
                 NOEL COWARD


Noel had imbued me with the character of Amanda. In the cast with
us were Everley Gregg, Laurence Olivier, and Adrianne Allen (then
Mrs. Raymond Massey), and on the first night Noel gave me a
specially bound and initialed set of all his plays, including
_Private Lives_, which bore the dedication, "For Gertie, with my
undying gratitude for her exquisite, polished, and sensitive
performance of Amanda. Noel, 1930."

Everyone remembers the success of Noel's _Private Lives_, but we
had our baby pains even with that for a brief moment. We have a
very strict censorship guiding the destiny of all plays presented
in England, and _Private Lives_ had to pass the Lord
Chamberlain's critical eye. So in due course the play was sent to
Lord Cromer at St. James's Palace, and it came back with some
criticism in regard to the scene on the sofa!

Of course without that scene _Private Lives_ would have been
like beef without mustard. We were all suddenly cast into the
depths of despair. So Noel betook himself to Lord Cromer with
permission to _read_ the play.

Lord Cromer proved himself to be a man of great judgment in
regard to what can be delivered to the public and in taking into
consideration the manner in which the fare is served to them. So
having enjoyed his afternoon with Noel and the delicate and
charming treatment of the play, he gave us the green light, and
not a word of Noel's script was censored.

So we opened in Edinburgh for the tryout, and Charles Cochran
wrote me

   _...If there is another actress on the English stage who could
   give the performance you did on Monday night in Edinburgh, l
   don't know her. I am proud. I am happy--and I am grateful.

   With affectionate regards, believe me, my Miracle Child, 

   Yours very sincerely,_

   CHARLES B. COCHRAN

Dear Charles Cochran. What a long time it was since I had been
one of his children in _The Miracle!_

When we opened in London three weeks later, at the brand-new
Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road, _Private Lives_ was
already a huge success. The press made much of Noel. Lines from
the play were quoted by smart people. When I, as Amanda, observed
of myself: "I don't think I'm particularly complex, but I know
I'm unreliable," hundreds of women snatched the line as referring
to themselves.

I also stored up future trouble for myself. Ever since I played
_Private Lives_ people have been confusing me with the heroine
of Noel's play. They think I must be brittle, irresponsible, and
have the emotional stability of a shuttlecock.

_Private Lives_ ran three months in London, even though it could
have run much longer. Noel does not like long runs. We sailed on
New Year's Eve to open at the Times Square Theatre in New York
early in January 1931.

My clothes in the play were all made for me by Molyneux. He made
me beautiful things, and Amanda did justice to them.

When we came to New York I brought along a sufficient number of
dresses for use in the play to last six weeks. At the end of that
period Molyneux sent me an entirely new set which I wore during
the next six weeks. In this way my clothes were always fresh. And
even though they were copied, we never changed their design. They
were part and parcel of Amanda.

One of my properties was an extra-long cigarette holder, and this
Edgar Wallace supplied. He kept me in holders, all marked E.W.,
for the run of the play.

I had expected Bert would meet me when we docked. But he did not.
A radiogram to the ship told me he was at Palm Beach. In a few
days he returned. When he did, I found him strangely different
from the Bert who had seen me off to England the previous spring.
He was distrait. He admitted he was terribly worried about the
financial situation, which had grown worse instead of better.
America was tobogganing into a depression, and no one,
apparently, knew how to stop it. Like everyone else, I had lost
my paper profits and a lot more. But I still had my work.
_Private Lives_ was repeating the success it had had in London.


One day I was lunching with Bert and some friends on Long Island.
When we left the table I went into the powder room. I was seated
in front of the mirror, putting on my lipstick, when I became
aware of women's voices in the adjoining room.

"Did you see? That was Gertrude Lawrence." 

"Really?"

"Yes, she's back. She's with Bert Taylor."

There was a little ripple of laughter.

"I wonder what the other one will do, now that Gertrude's back."

"It will be interesting to see..."

The voices floated off. A door slammed. Silence.

I sat and stared at my reflection, which stared back at me. Who
was this "other one"? Was she the reason for the change I had
found in Bert? I had to know.

I waited until I could stroll out nonchalantly and join Bert
outside. We got into the car and headed for New York. I made
conversation--gay, inconsequential. All the time I wondered how
to introduce the subject which lay heavy on my heart.

We were nearly at our destination when Bert said something about
the many changes which were taking place in America due to the
financial depression. This gave me an opening. I asked him
directly if his feeling for me had not changed. "I feel that it
has, Bert."

He did not reply at once. His silence told me more than words
could have told. So I went on desperately:

"Perhaps there is someone else now?"

"Well...I ought to have told you, darling. There is a girl I've
been seeing a lot of..."

"I know," I said flatly.

He went on then to tell me about her. A pang shot through me when
he said: "I noticed her first because, in a way, she reminded me
of you."

"Have you known her long?"

"No. Only quite recently. You were away, Peaches. You were gone
so long. I missed you."

That brought another pang. And the memory of Philip. Philip had
waited too long, and had lost me. Now I had stayed away too long
and had lost Bert. I thought: people write plays about things
like this. Poets write poems about it. And it's true. It really
happens. If I had not stayed on in London to play _Private
Lives_, if I had come back to America in the fall, Bert would
not have found this girl whose first charm for him was that she
made him think of me.

"You don't know how it is, Gertrude. When I come uptown in the
afternoon, I'm tired. I want to relax, have dinner, play a little
bridge or something, and then get to bed at a decent hour. I
don't want to sit around alone all evening until your show is
over to take you out to supper, and then sit up half the night. I
have to be downtown early in the morning. I know it's too much to
ask you to give up the theater for me," he ended.

Many women, I know, would have answered that wistful half
question differently from the way I had to answer it. Between a
young, handsome, charming millionaire and a career in the theater
they would have found nothing to choose. In a sense, my own
choice was made for me. It was made by that something in my blood
which had made me spend two precious shillings to have cards
printed:


          LITTLE GERTIE LAWRENCE
          _Child Actress and Danseuse_
          

which had pressed me to run away from home to seek my fortune
with my father. That same compelling force had given me
determination to stick it out with him through the distressing
ups and downs.

Give up the theater? I couldn't. The theater was my world. I
belonged to it. To ask me to abandon it was like asking a
musician never to touch a piano or a violin again. Everything
that has value has its price. Nothing worth having is ever handed
to you gratis. A career in the theater is no exception to this
hard-and-fast rule.

The price of my career, I thought bitterly in the moment before I
gave Bert his answer, has always been my personal happiness.
Would this always be true? Would there never come a time when I
could have a career and a happy marriage--as other women I knew?

"I offered to give it up once before, Bert, and you refused. Now
I just can't. Not even for you. Also you aren't in love with me
any more, are you?"

"I don't know," he said. "But I'm terribly fond of you, Peaches.
I always shall be."

"I understand," I said. "It's for you to make the decision. You
know now how I feel about you."

We left it like that. But it was the end, and I knew it. Sooner
or later--and I suspected it would be sooner--the news that Bert
Taylor and Gertrude Lawrence were "no longer that way about each
other" would be a pointed paragraph for the gossip writers. If
those two women I had overheard knew that Bert was interested in
another girl, then others knew it. Or soon would. New York, like
London, is in many respects a small town.

I told no one except Helen Downes, who often traveled with me
and, out of friendship, acted as my secretary. No one ever had a
more loyal friend, and I knew I could count on her discretion.
Noel was wonderfully understanding. He asked me lots of questions
and gave me lots of good advice. One evening he said to me
suddenly out of the blue, "I want to talk to you," and he
followed me into my dressing room.

"You think your heart is broken. But it isn't. It's only your
pride that is hurt."

I did not answer. My nerves were unsteady, and at this sign of
friendship I felt the tears rise. I must not cry. Not over a man
who had decided he did not want me. Yes, my pride was hurt. And I
had woven dreams around Bert, dreams of a life together which Pam
and his boy and girl could share. At least one part of me had
wanted this from the earliest days. But there was another side to
my nature which would not be denied--the side that was satisfied
only by the theater and which could not give this up.

Philip had not understood this about me. Nor had Bert. Both had
offered me security, and Bert great wealth with the security. But
in each case at the price of my career.

I tried to get hold of myself, to steady my nerves. But I had
lost weight and I could not sleep. I jumped when anyone spoke to
me. One day I went to the doctor about my throat. He took one
look at me and made his decision. I was put to bed in a private
hospital. Noel was sent for and told I was too ill to go on that
night. I would have to have at least a fortnight's rest.

Noel did a wonderful thing. He refused to play _Private Lives_
with anyone else as Amanda. Instead, he took the unprecedented
step of closing the show for two weeks. He and the others of the
company ran down to Nassau for a holiday, and I meekly obeyed the
doctor's orders.

When Noel came back he popped in to see me. I crowed at him:

"Look at me--I've gained ten pounds. I feel fit as a fiddle."

"You and your ten pounds," he snorted. "Look at me, my girl. Look
at that tan." He pulled open his shirt to show me what the Nassau
sun had done for his midriff. Then we came back to _Private
Lives_. We agreed to reopen on the Monday after Easter.

Everyone said it simply could not be done. You couldn't reopen a
popular play after a fortnight, and make it a success again. But
we did. The last two months of the run of _Private Lives_ were
even more successful than the play had been at first. When Noel
and I left the play early in June, my part was taken by Madge
Kennedy and Noel's by Otto Kruger, and _Private Lives_ continued
its run on tour.

I was eager to go home. On the crossing I kept saying to myself:
"I'm going home. Home. This time I shall stay." I had cabled my
friends, including Philip, that I was coming, and their welcomes
made me feel glad. Philip cabled he would meet me at Southampton.
I looked forward to seeing him again. When I had played _Private
Lives_ in London I had seen him several times.

On the day before we were to get in I had a radiogram from him
saying he could not meet me, as he had to go to the country, but
would see me soon in London. I was disappointed, but could
understand. Philip's father had died and he had more
responsibilities now than formerly.

Mother was at the dock to meet me. She had brought Pam. We took
the boat train up to London and I went to the Savoy. In those
familiar surroundings I began to feel really at home.

The Savoy has always been a happy place for me. It was the first
of London's big hotels I ever went into. I'll never forget, I ate
my first oyster there. Lee White and Clay Smith had taken me
there to lunch to celebrate my contract with André Charlot. They
ordered oysters, which I had never eaten. I looked a bit
fearfully at the things lying in their shells. I'd often heard it
said: "You have to watch out for oysters."

Clay whispered to me: "They're alive. Or they're supposed to be."

I whispered back: "What happens if they aren't?"

"If you eat one you get ptomaine."

"Oh." I laid down my oyster fork. I was taking no risks about
getting sick and losing that contract.

"Squirt a bit of lemon on them," Clay advised confidentially.
"And watch. If the oyster squirms, that shows he's alive and you
can eat him."

I squirted the lemon painstakingly on each of the creatures and
scrutinized its reactions. Not a single oyster shuddered in its
shell. All dead, I thought. Lor', suppose I'd eaten one. I
watched Lee and Clay putting theirs away with no regard for the
oysters' activity. All the rest of the day I expected one or both
of my new friends to die of ptomaine. When nothing happened my
cockney suspicions were roused and I asked someone else about
oysters and their habits.

I put it down to pay Clay back for pulling my leg.


The six months I had spent in America seemed no more than six
days. Each time the telephone rang, I thought it would be Philip,
but it was not. On impulse I rang his house in Herefordshire,
only to be told he was in London.

What did that mean?

He said he would be in the country and couldn't meet the boat.

I called his town house. Presently I heard his voice. 

"Philip darling, is someone with you?" 

"Yes."

"That means you can't talk freely now?" 

"Yes. That's it."

"Very well. I understand. But I want you to know I'm at the
Savoy."

"I'll come and take you out to dinner," he said. "It will be
late. After eight-thirty."

"I'll wait," I promised.

When Philip arrived he brought me orchids. He gave them to me
with the formal courtesy which was one of the things about him I
always loved. He had a wonderful way at times of making even
quite a small thing seem like an occasion. He kissed me and said
how glad he was to see me. Then, as I opened the florist's box
and took out the flowers, he stood by the mantel, looking not at
me, but at the hearth, apparently engrossed in his own thoughts.

"Where would you like to dine?" he asked presently.

"What about downstairs?"

"No, no. The Ritz. It's quieter there."

We had dinner. He asked me about New York, and how the play had
gone. I told him about Bert, and that we were no longer engaged.
He said he was sorry and hoped I wasn't too unhappy about it.
Then he asked about my plans for next season. We were like two
people who had just been introduced. We were like strangers.
There was something on his mind which he did not know how to tell
me. I could see that.

When it got to be about eleven, Philip said abruptly: "I've got
to be pushing off, Dormouse. I have to meet someone."

"Meeting someone?" I inquired. "Where?"

"Yes. At a theater."

"Oh."

Philip said slowly, "Madeleine Carroll. She's in a play at the
Phoenix with Marie Tempest. I promised to stop for her and take
her to a party."

"Oh."

It must have been my tone, for he said, as though he found it
hard to get the words out: "I've asked her to marry me. We
announced our engagement day before yesterday."

The day before yesterday! While I was still at sea. What a
home-coming.

There was something more I had to know. I asked him how long he
had been in love with Madeleine. He said, just a little while.

"Perhaps if you had come back sooner, Dormouse. You were away so
long."

That was what Bert had said. And now Philip. Would I always be
too late for happiness? I thought desperately.




18


In the course of the next few weeks I learned that though your
chosen work may cost you heavily it comforts you in times of
stress. Above all, if you are a woman and therefore apt to be
emotional and personal, it compels you to be impersonal. It pulls
you up by the bootstraps out of the bog of self-pity.

That is your reward.

And the reward is worth the price you pay for it. No matter how
great. I found it so.

I held to my intention to remain in England for a number of
years, and turned down several American offers. I felt I must
re-identify myself with my own people and with the British
theater.

I was working at top speed, and work was good. I played in _Take
Two from One_, which had been translated from the Spanish of
Martínez Sierra. The play was only fair, and the audience did not
like me in a role which was so foreign to the parts I had played.

I had better luck with _Can the Leopard...?_ with Ian Hunter, at
the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket that winter. I was the leopard
of the title, an irresponsible, untidy, but fascinating lady
whose husband tried, unsuccessfully, to reform her. The play, by
Ronald Jeans, got good notices.

In that role I innovated a new fashion--an interesting white lock
swept away from the forehead. It caught on immediately. Women
began flocking to the hairdresser's for a "Riviera bleach." If I
couldn't change my spots, I could make the other girls wear my
stripe.

I spent several weeks lazing in the hot sunshine at the Monte
Carlo Beach Hotel reading John van Druten's new play. John called
it _Behold We Live_, from the verse in St. Paul's epistle, "as
dying, and, behold, we live." Gilbert Miller had arranged to
produce it at the St. James's Theatre in August, with Sir Gerald
du Maurier, Dame May Whitty, and me. Auriol Lee was to direct it.

The play unfolded the story of Sarah, a young lady with a past,
who had attempted to commit suicide. Her case was turned over to
an eminent K.C., who fell in love with her. His arguments made
Sarah see that suicide is cowardly; that it is a bigger thing to
live than to resort to firearms.

Marriage between Sarah and the K.C. was impossible, as he was
already married. She became his mistress--a relationship which
the man's mother understood and forgave. However, their happiness
was blasted by the K.C.'s sudden illness. He was forced to
undergo an operation, and died as a result. Sarah, unable to be
with him at the last, was left alone to be comforted by, and to
comfort, his mother.

It was a sad play, of course, but deeply moving and uplifting.
Sir Gerald played the K.C. magnificently. The critics commented
approvingly on my "restraint," which pleased me no end. Those
same gentlemen of the press had written previously of my need to
develop that quality.

At the première Lady du Maurier and two of her daughters, Daphne
and Angela, were in the stage box, and came backstage to
congratulate us all. But that was the only time Lady du Maurier
came to the play, which was strange, because she loved the
theater. I often wondered about it. A few years later, when Sir
Gerald died, I learned the reason. Sir Gerald suffered from the
same incurable disease as the K.C. in our play. I do not think he
knew this, but Lady du Maurier either knew it or suspected the
truth. Naturally, she could not go to Behold We Live night after
night to watch her husband portray his own destiny.

I felt that with _Behold We Live_ I had reached a high spot in
my career. I, who had begun in light musical comedy and revues,
was now starring as a dramatic actress in a serious role with
other truly great actors. I stopped in at Cartier's one day and
ordered a pin for Auriol, to whom I was immensely grateful. I had
it engraved with her name and "Behold We Live," and my initials.
She wore it almost constantly until her death. In her will she
bequeathed it back to me.

_This Inconstancy_, with Nigel Bruce and Leslie Banks, followed
_Behold We Live_, at Wyndham's Theatre. When I went into my
dressing room I experienced one of the high moments in my life.
My name was on the door in gold letters, added to a long list of
very famous stars who had been there in the past. Ellen Terry's
name was there. And Marie Tempest's. And Irene Vanbrugh's.

While I was playing in _This Inconstancy_ something happened
which seemed unimportant at the time--just one of those things
which happen every day, which are pleasant, but not momentous.
One evening some friends came backstage to see me and brought
with them a very tall, quiet young American whom they introduced
as Richard Aldrich. Little did I know that he was to enter my
life later on.

I was working terribly hard. I needed to. For one thing, I was in
debt. I had never recovered from the bad habit of spending
lavishly. I know I am foolish about money. Some women are. I do
not have a true sense of its value. Either I value it too much,
so that I am actually stingy about a few funny things, or I spend
a great deal too much.

I was pressed by creditors in England and in America. I was
worried. I did all the work I could, including a film _No Funny
Business_, which I made with Owen Nares. I went into business
with two friends, Lady Diana Manners and Felicity Tree (Mrs. Cory
Wright), and we opened a flower shop in Berkeley Square.

When I was a child the family used to discuss possible
occupations for me. One of these was to be a young lady in a
flower shop. This seemed to Mother a genteel vocation. And one
which might lead to something. She reminded me that Cousin Ruby
had risen from being a model at Harrod's to being a model for
Raffel Kirchner. Cousin Ruby, through Kirchner's famous drawings,
was the leading pin-up girl of World War I. Her pretty face
smiled at Tommies from the walls of dugouts and trenches. From
there to the Gaiety Theatre and marriage to Sir Henry Grayson's
son had been but a few easy steps.

"Why can't _you_ be like your Cousin Ruby?"

Our flower shop was lovely with flower frescoes on the walls by
Oliver Messel, the clever stage designer, and gay striped
awnings. And it was popular. But it was also a lot of work, and I
was busy with many things. I don't think it made me any money,
though it was fun while it lasted. We called it "Fresh Flowers,
Limited," and our friends called it "Faded Flowers,
Incorporated."

Another way I took to increase my earnings was to write some
articles for the _Daily Mirror_. The paper said women readers
would like to know my views on all sorts of things, so I gave
them, freely. One day a feature writer discovered Pam at Roedean
and asked her to give an interview on her mother. Pam was no more
reluctant to do this than any normal schoolgirl would be. She
gave the journalist a good story--about how her mother really
disliked her work and would prefer to stay at home and live a
quiet, retired life away from the stage, of which she was tired.

The paper printed it. It was rather awful. It took some living
down and it took some explaining to make my daughter realize that
publicity can be a two-edged sword and needs careful handling.

Meanwhile the bills and the dunning letters mounted. I had put
some of my affairs into the hands of Fanny Holtzmann, the lawyer
in New York to whom Noel Coward and Clifton Webb had recommended
me. Fanny understood the theater and its people. She had helped
me out of some difficulties when I was playing _Private Lives_
in New York. But now she was in America. I thought, she'll be
coming to London soon. She comes over often. I'll get hold of her
then and get her to help me out of the muddle of my tax
complications and bills.

That autumn Charles Cochran put on a play called _Nymph Errant_
which was made from the novel of the same name by James Laver. It
was the story of an English schoolgirl on her way home from
school in Switzerland who met a Frenchman and set out with him on
a series of adventures. These carried her ultimately into the
most fantastic places. Incredibly, she came back at the end still
wide-eyed, and quite unaware of what she had seen and escaped
from. One of the amazing things about this story was that it was
the work of a quiet, middle-aged scholar, who was head curator at
the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I adored _Nymph Errant_. It has remained one of my favorite
plays. Cole Porter wrote the music for it and Agnes de Mille
arranged the ballets. I wanted to play it in America, and we
would have done so but for the problem of financing such an
elaborate production at a time when America was still in the
throes of the depression.

_Nymph Errant_ was a tremendous success in London. Nonetheless,
I was worried. Not over the play or my future, but about my
financial affairs; it seemed that the more money I made, the more
I spent. I didn't seem able to get ahead, and my affairs were in
a bewildering tangle.

Then the ax fell. The British Government came down on me for
unpaid income taxes on my American earnings dating from some
years back. As a British subject and resident I had not known
that I was liable to taxation in both countries.

The news of my tax problems which appeared in the press opened
the eyes of my creditors. All at once they descended on me. The
straw that broke the camel's back was a laundry bill for fifty
pounds. I could not pay it, and as a consequence I was forced
into bankruptcy.

I understand that the British law which covers bankruptcies is
much more severe than the law in America. I only know it was
exceedingly stern with me. When I came out of Carey Street Court
I had nothing, literally, but the clothes I stood in. Nothing
else. My cars, my apartment, my jewels, even most of my clothes
had been seized.

Fortunately the disaster did not affect Pam. Thanks to that trust
fund I had established for her long before. I never ceased to be
glad of that.

There came a day when Dorothy, my faithful maid, Mack, my dog,
and I stood on the pavement outside the house in Portland Place.
We had literally not a roof to crawl under. No money and no
credit. This was all the more extraordinary because I was
appearing in a successful play--and on the surface was a
successful actress.

Bill Linnett and Bill O'Bryen, who were my managers, came to our
rescue. Bill Linnett offered me his flat in the Albany while he
went to stay with Bill O'Bryen. It was a warm, friendly,
encouraging gesture, and I shall never forget them for it.

It was up to me to start all over again, this time with a load of
debts to pay off.

I did pay them off, all of them. It took me two years. I could
have borrowed from friends, even from Noel, but something held me
back. It was not just pride. It was a sincere desire to force
myself to undergo the discipline which could be learned only by
stern self-denial.

With the play still running, I started a film, which meant that
at five-thirty every morning I was up and caught the workman's
tram to Denham to act in _Rembrandt_ with Charles Laughton.
After working all day at the studio I hurried back to the theater
to go on in _Tonight at 8.30_. When the film was completed, I
accepted an engagement at the Café de Paris, where I sang nightly
after the theater.

Two years of work at that pace, and I was free of debt.

Noel brought _Tonight at 8.30_ to New York. Immediately I landed
in New York, I found myself faced by a new array of debts. It
seems that under the British law I could be cleared of bankruptcy
in that country while my debts in America remained unpaid. I had
not known this. I thought I was done with it all, but I was not.
I had to go through it all again--the unpleasant publicity, the
prying into my affairs, the court proceedings. Again I turned to
Fanny Holtzmann, but she was in Hollywood. Her brother David took
over my affairs until she returned.

Between us we worked out an arrangement which left me free to do
my own work, to finish the run of _Tonight at 8:30_, and then to
go into Rachel Crothers' play _Susan and God_, while my
financial and legal problems were taken over by the Holtzmann
office.

Noel read the play and remarked: "The only good thing about it is
the title." But I had been impressed by it when Rachel Crothers
first read it to me. We talked it over. She agreed that several
scenes had to be rewritten, and while she was doing this I ran
home to England for the Coronation. I went with a peaceful mind.
I was really free of debt at last, on both sides of the Atlantic.
My affairs were in order.

I thought, that summer, holidaying in England: I'm a very lucky
woman.

I have Pam. I have my work. I have friends, hopes for the future.
I have lived a full, busy, active, and on the whole happy life.


I shall always be glad I saw London during the Coronation summer.
It was wonderful--a last burst of splendor before the storm
burst.

I came back to America to open in _Susan and God_, which played
successfully on Broadway for two seasons. After its run, in 1939,
I remember Samson Raphaelson trying to read me the script of his
play _Skylark_ while the radio in my living room gave forth the
news of Munich. My heart was full of forebodings.

It was not long before those forebodings were justified. While I
played in _Skylark_ my country was plunged into war.

It made me restless and uneasy.

I was asked to play at the summer theater at Dennis on Cape Cod.
The offer sounded delightful and I said I would go. I remember my
trip by train. There was something exciting about it. I knew
suddenly that I was embarking upon an adventure.

John Golden had recommended my going to play _Skylark_ on the
Cape. True to form and his love of showmanship he sent a
fantastic story ahead of me, about the kind of woman I was. It
gave the impression that I was an exotic creature who drank only
champagne, demanded specially heated cars, and refused to sleep
in any but her own extra-fine sheets.

I have since been told that when Richard Aldrich, who was the
producer for the Cape Playhouse, read this he exclaimed: "Oh,
nuts."

I have never blamed him.

I got off the Cape Codder about half-past ten in the pitch dark.
The man who led me to a car was noncommittal when I asked about
my luggage and not very enthusiastic. This was the same Richard
Aldrich whom I had met in London several years before. Though he
was passably polite, I got the impression he was not
overimpressed by me.

He told me he was driving me to the cottage which was to be mine
for my stay. I could not see it, for there were no lights in the
windows when we drove up. I began to feel that Cape Cod was a
very standoffish place.

Mr. Aldrich guided me up the path-and into the door.

"Wait there and I'll switch on the lights."

I waited. The lights came on, and before my eyes grew used to
them, people suddenly began popping out from under the tables,
out of doors, from everywhere. Voices cried welcomes and
"Surprise! Surprise!" It was a party to welcome me, and the
leader of it was Jules Glaenzer, who had been my friend since my
first winter in America. Among the guests were all the members of
the Playhouse cast and Radie Harris, who was covering the opening
for her radio program and her column in _Variety_.

I played at Dennis through that summer season. That winter, when
I went about town, I had a new beau--Richard Aldrich. And a new
happiness in my heart.

Richard and I took our time. We both wanted to be very, very
sure. I had made one mistake in marriage. I did not want to make
another. It was curious about Richard--it was as though he
combined in one person the different things I had found and
admired in Philip Astley and in Bert Taylor. He was Boston and
Harvard, and had been a banker, but above all he loved the
theater. He was the first man in my life who understood what my
career in the theater meant to me--the first man who really
understood me.

And so we were married. On the Fourth of July 1940. We chose this
date because it had special significance for both of us. For
Richard it was his country's birthday and for me it was my own.

For years I had said to myself: when I marry it is going to be a
country wedding. I pictured myself being married in the evening
in black lace and by candlelight.

We were married in the evening on the Cape. But in the pouring
rain--Richard in white flannels and I in a gray sports suit. We
ran through the sopping grass down to his cottage and were
married there, with two friends and my maid Dorothy as witnesses.

Then, hand in hand, under one umbrella, we ran back up the path
to the house of the Fran Harts, where friends were gathered to
greet us.

So we were married....

"And we will live happily ever after," I said to Richard. 

"If the war does not separate us."

"I know." My fingers tightened around his. The war was getting
closer to America every week. At all times the thought of what
was happening to London every night kept me grim company. "But if
it comes, we'll take it together."

The next day I received a telegram from Noel Coward which said:

   _[Noel Coward's short poem of congratulation has been omitted
   from this ebook for reasons of copyright.]_

To which I replied:

   _Dear Mr. C.,
   You know me.
   My parts I overact 'em. 
   As for the flowers, 
   I've searched for hours.
   Dorothy must have packed 'em._

After we returned to New York I had to go into rehearsals for
_Lady in the Dark_. Following this I went to Boston for the tryout.
Richard was busy with his own productions. After _Lady in the
Dark_ had been successfully launched in New York, Richard and I
moved into our new apartment and looked forward to our life
together.

Then came Pearl Harbor, and Richard, like millions of other
husbands, volunteered to serve his country. He joined the Navy
and went to war. I began to dream and plan how to get to the
front too.




19


Thursday, August 19, 1944. We are off at last. I am writing this
by the roadside, where our convoy has halted by a clearing camp
for the night. We are parked like all the invasion convoys we saw
last June. We are over fifty trucks, jeeps, et cetera, and one
hundred and ten artistes--the largest E.N.S.A. outfit to sail for
Normandy.

We include Diana Wynyard, Jessie Matthews, Bobbie Andrews,
Margaret Rutherford, Ivor Novello, and many others whose names I
don't know yet, but who all seem in great form. Each unit or
company has its own van, which includes beds and cook's galley.
Part of my old unit is with me and we are conspicuous for the
three fattest people in the convoy: Leslie, our pianist, two
hundred and fifty pounds; Joe, the drummer, at almost that; and
Zoë who weighs in at just under two hundred and has comfortably
given up worrying about it. These three, plus Zoë's husband,
Basil, Clarence, the violinist, and I share one sleeping coach.
The four men are in the tail end in bunks, then comes the
lavatory; and the front portion and the galley are occupied by
Zoë and me, with beds slung over the dining table like uppers in a
Pullman. The officer and the corporal driver are sleeping in the
camp by the side of the road. But it's pretty close quarters, and
there are a lot of advantages in being slender. Mary Barrett
cried this morning when we left E.N.S.A. headquarters at
Hindhead. We all wished she could have come with us, but from now
on we are on our own. We are now really and truly in the Army and
subject to rigid Army rules. Our escorting officer's name is
Stokes, so of course he is now known as "Pogis."

I have just been up the road and vamped some cup hooks out of the
local builder so we can hang things up in our sleeper.

I have made up Zoë's bunk and my own, swept the floor, and put
everything I shall need under my pillow, as it will be dark when
we are called, and no lights must be shown here or at the dock. I
must remember not to sit bolt upright suddenly in my bunk. The
clearance is exactly two feet.


We were called at 3: 30 A.M., rose, dressed in the dark, and went
to mess at the camp, carrying our own mess kits and stumbling the
half-mile down the road by torchlight.

Three E.N.S.A. units left for the port of embarkation around 4:
30 A.M. We returned to the convoy until nine-thirty. When we got
going, everybody was excited. We rolled into Portsmouth at ten
o'clock; our passports were examined and we were issued "Geneva
Cards," in which we are rated as lieutenants in the British Army.
This in case we are taken prisoners. Before embarking on our LST,
she filled up with tanks and our own equipment, and we had the
dubious pleasure of seeing several hundred German prisoners come
ashore. Dubious, because they were a sorry, disillusioned-looking
lot. Among them was a small boy, nine years old, in German
uniform, said to be the son of a conscripted Russian, who had
refused to work for the enemy without his boy. The mother had
been killed. The British authorities were being kind to him, and
he seemed very able to take care of himself, although he could
not speak English or German, but kept saying "Merci."

We are now actually "away" on our trip to France. It is a
beautiful day, the crossing should be a good one, and it is good
to get out of the coaches. We have had "muster," "Mae West"
drill, and are now in the wardroom having tea while we clear the
port--this for security reasons. The crossing is due to take
about eighteen hours. So we sleep aboard, and are scheduled to
arrive in Normandy "sometime Saturday."


A good night and a good breakfast at 7:00 A.M.

We have been joined by an enormous convoy and by mine sweepers,
as we are now in the "mine path." The beaches are almost in
sight.

I have been helping the Navy Red Cross to peel potatoes. They
tell me that once on the other side these LSTs become hospital
ships and are used to evacuate our own and German wounded
prisoners. Most of the captured German officers are very arrogant
and refuse medical treatment, injections, and even food, for fear
of being poisoned. They have been taught to believe this. One
wounded German aviator spat at our medical officers and kept
asking, "How far England?" He was in great need of attention in
general but refused to be treated. Finally one of the medical
corpsmen said, "Now look 'ere, if you don't be'ave yerself, we'll
send the lot of ye to London where the flying bombs are!" That
did it! The sick bay is always down in the tank deck in a
converted LST. They said you could hear that German's scream
right up to the captain's bridge. Another member of the master
race wanted to know how far the Germans had advanced into Sussex.

Our LST came across like a bird, and we dropped anchor at
twelve-thirty yesterday, nineteenth, at Corselles, which was one
of our first beachheads on D-Day. It all looked very quiet and
far from warlike except for hundreds of ships of all sizes and
shapes doing every kind of different job and the dreadful
shambles made by the destruction of the German
 beach fortifications. We were a tank carrier, so we had to
unload by opening the bulkheads, letting down the ramp, et
cetera. It's frightening at first to see the crew deliberately
open the entire bow of the ship; one is sure the sea will rush in
and sink the clumsy, heavily laden craft. We had to stand by
until the tide was low enough for the tanks to take to the sands.

Some of the crew went over the side for a swim, and I wanted to.
Perhaps I looked wistful, because the sailors aboard the U.S.LCT
(6) 767, which was standing by, called across the water:

"Say, sister, why don't you go in?"

"I would," I called back, "if I had some trunks."

"We'll fix you up. Wait a sec."

Several pairs of hands were laid on a huge sailor. He was pushed,
protestingly, behind a group which shielded him, and his yowls
told that his capacious trunks had been pulled from him. The
trunks, decidedly outsize, were tossed over to our deck.

The Yanks had dared me to come on in.

There was nothing for it but to find a secluded corner where I
could slip out of my uniform and into the trunks. They hung
limply around me fore and aft. Zoë supplied a bra--one of her own
and on the same scale as the trunks. I was safely pinned into it,
a cap was produced from somewhere, and to the delighted shrieks
of our E.N.S.A. members I was pushed forward to the rail.

With cheers from the Yanks I dived off the ramp and swam ashore
to set foot on French soil for the first time since 1937. It was
glorious.

I must stop here to tell the sequel to my swimming ashore on the
Normandy beachhead. An account of it appeared in _Life_
magazine. Shortly afterward the editors received a letter from
Ensign J. W. Wray of the U.S.LCT (6) 767 of which the final
paragraph read:

"The trunks which she borrowed from my 210-pound Mo.M.M. were
most becomingly draped. We hope Miss Lawrence did not jettison
the trunks during her tour of France, as we would like to have
them back to suspend from the yardarm in memoriam."

The trunks were jettisoned, of course. Instead, I sent off to the
crew of U.S.LCT (6) 767 a pair of my own pink silk lace-trimmed
panties with the message:

   _Keep 'em flying until I can fill 'em._

As we beached we heard the news that the British had made another
advance, which brought them to within three miles of Paris.

"Ssh!" said Bobbie Andrews. "I think I can hear Alice Delysia
singing the 'Marseillaise' even from here."

Alice had gone across for E.N.S.A. a week ahead of us, and much
had been made in the press about her picking up a handful of
French soil and saying: "I shall not go back until I have thrown
this over the Arc de Triomphe."

She has a fine record for her work with E.N.S.A. and, being
French, she was naturally longing to get to Paris. We drove in
convoy from the beach to Masefield, which is a clearing depot.
There we met Colonel Haggarth, our C.O., and were sent on to St.
Aubin for four days. Ivor and the others have gone south to
Bayeux. But we feel very superior because we're going "up the
line."

On arriving at the village "estaminet," where our unit is in
billet, two of my bags were missing. I motored back to Bayeux,
hoping to retrieve them before the convoy split up. I went in a
tiny jeep-sort of car known as a "Tilly" over twenty-two miles of
invasion-made craters filled with oily mud. Captain Stokes
Roberts drove, and we finally got there just as the convoy was
pulling out for somewhere else. No halting is allowed on the
roads, which are packed with stuff coming to and from the front
line and the beaches. So we tacked onto the end of the convoy.
After about three miles the line slowed down a bit and I jumped
out of our Tilly and made a dash in search of the coach in which
I had slept on the way from Hindhead. I scrambled aboard, flung
open the cupboard, and there were my bags! I grabbed them, jumped
off, and waited for my chance to dash back along the line. Then
Captain Stokes Roberts reached out and yanked me and my baggage
aboard. We pulled out of the convoy and returned--this time in
pitch darkness--to St. Aubin.

That journey was terrific. Tracer bullets filled the sky. We met
convoys coming from the beaches--all kinds of mysterious guns,
cranes, stores, vanloads of German prisoners, and miles of Red
Cross cars creeping along slowly in the dark so as not to jolt
the wounded on the bad roads. We got back to the billet by
midnight. No food, no light, and no water. But I had the bags,
and a little brandy in a flask, and oh! boy, it was a lifesaver!

When I started to pin up my hair for the next day's show, I
dropped a bobby pin. It sounds like a small thing, but in these
circumstances they are as priceless as pearls. So I got out my
flashlight, and there in its beam was my bobby pin and the sabot
from a doll's foot--I shall keep it always for luck. I wonder
what became of the child whose toy it was. But one learns not to
ask questions.

We have been here at St. Aubin since we arrived in France, but we
are doing two shows a day about eight kilos along the coast at
Lion-sur-Mer. The place was occupied only a week ago and is a
complete mess of mine craters, barbed wire, bombed and shelled
houses, and each day the sea brings in its dead.

Our theater was once the Casino-sur-Mer, very gay and
chocolate-boxy, but now it is all _Mer_ and no Casino. The
building is full of holes; no windows, no roof, no doors, and
yet, somehow or other, we manage to put on a show. The men come
in in hundreds. We are the first entertainers they've seen since
D-Day.

This new life is going to be very strenuous. The food, when
fresh, is often flyblown, and the canned food is always the same
old Spam or bully beef à la something. Everyone has a touch of
dysentery--very painful and most inconvenient. How I would love
to lie down in a dark, quiet room somewhere with a hot-water
bottle. I clean my own shoes, bring up my own water for my bath,
and do my own laundry, when there is water. I never seem to quite
catch up with myself or get any rest. But this is war as it
really is, and I feel good and glad to be here.

The attitude of these Norman French is a little puzzling at
times, but quite understandable in a way. At first these people
(those who did not perish in the bombardment) were not at all
sure that we could liberate them from the enemy. They felt that
our landings would not be permanent, and that all this killing,
loss of homes, and general chaos would be in vain; that the
Germans would push us back again. Now that they know they are
really free, they are more friendly to us. But even my Madame
Martin said at _déjeuner_ yesterday, "Mademoiselle, there were
only forty Germans here in St. Aubin. All this destruction was
not necessary." She was not a collaborationist--she has been
evacuated from three different homes, but this was what she had
been told, and she believed it.

Obviously, her informants were lying. I have been along the
beaches and have seen the German defenses--the mines, the guns,
and the famous West Wall. It took thousands of Germans to man all
these. I have also seen our ships lying on the beaches with their
sides blown out and their backs broken. And piles of knocked-out
tanks whose occupants never even landed. The Norman Mesdames
Martin are merely repeating, parrot-like, what the enemy told
them. It is very dangerous around here; several people were
killed yesterday when a mine was washed up on the shore. Nobody
drives or walks anywhere unless in another's tracks.

I hope to go to Caen on Sunday. In preparation I shall wash my
hair at the officers' mess unit at Lion-sur-Mer today. They have
electricity there, so I can get it dry.

Today is again Sunday and I have been in "Liberated France"
exactly one week. If I thought I was in the Army before, I
certainly know it now. We were to move farther up the line today,
but the advance has been so rapid it is impossible to get to a
place in time to catch up with the Army. So we are staying on in
the Casino for one more week, and the men are to be brought back
to us in trucks and lorries.

This morning we were put into an Army camp with the ATS and the
NAAFI and R.A.S.C. I am writing this after curfew, by torchlight,
in a room with plaster walls, bare boards, no bathroom of any
sort, and my few belongings doing their best to give the place
"the woman's touch"! I have put up some nails. It would seem the
Army hangs everything up on the floor. We are "out of bounds for
officers and troops," meals are eaten in mess, but we manage to
have a lot of sort of school-dormitory fun.

There is another E.N.S.A. unit in this camp: Forsyth, Seaman, and
Farrell. They are Americans but have been with E.N.S.A. for three
or four years. They do a lot of outdoor shows and played only
yesterday to seven thousand men!

It has been a most impressive day. The Doc and Captain John
Bradshaw called for me at two-thirty in a jeep, and we set off to
"do some shopping." We went to Cobourg--where only four days ago
the Germans had been holding out. It was a dangerous and
thrilling ride; we were all armed in case we ran into snipers.
The roads are still mined on both sides, so no car could risk
passing another, and along the way were many huge craters filled
with the blood of human beings and cattle. There was no other car
on the road going either way. I saw three French people on
bicycles, pedaling back to see if they could find their homes or
friends.

The little town was completely dead, no sign of life, not a shop
standing, not a soul about, but everywhere the many German
skull-and-crossbones signs saying "_Minen_." And fields full of
the glider planes which had landed our air-borne troops.

We drove on cautiously to the main street. Here the atmosphere
was so eerie that I felt I had to speak in a whisper. The shops
still stood there, although very much damaged. Captain Bradshaw
had been in the town the day before and found two shops to which
the people had returned, and he had brought chocolate and
cigarettes for them. We parked the jeep, kept our hands on our
guns, and stole quietly along the deserted street, keeping an eye
open for any stray snipers.

At the door of a wine shop we stopped, and a dog barked from
within. We spoke quietly in French and in English, and presently
an iron grille in the door was opened by a young woman. She was
alone, her husband a prisoner in Germany and her child and mother
évacuées. We gave her chocolate and cigarettes and told her the
news and we bought some wine from her.

We went next to the _farmacie_. Here we found mother, father,
daughter, and young son. All had stayed hidden during the siege.
The shop was a complete wreck. However, in the cellar in an old
brown leather bag we found perfume, powder, lipstick, and rouge,
and we bought all they had. Each one of the family got something
he wanted: the boy got chocolate; Papa got tobacco; Maman got
cigarettes, and daughter got conversation. She spoke good
English, having been to Farnborough near Aldershot for her
holidays every summer in peacetime.

We gave them wine and then helped them bring back some of their
furniture, which they had hidden in the cellar of a near-by house
when the Germans first came. We left finally and promised to
return when we could with white bread and marmalade. These people
are still numb and cannot quite believe that they are free. On
the way back we passed a few more stragglers returning, hoping to
find something left. In one completely wrecked house I saw an old
woman standing among all the rubble, with a _duster_ in her
hand! God only knows what she thought she could do, but her
woman's instinct told her she should get started on something.
She was, in a way, a symbol, and one I shall never forget.

Five years of war today. Our Army is eleven miles from the German
frontier, across the Moselle, and the Gertrude Lawrence Unit has
arrived in Deauville.

The ride here was torture--through Cobourg and its bomb craters
(by misdirection), back again via Caen, trapped in a
four-mile-long R.A.F. convoy--through miles of utter devastation.
Bodies of dead Germans, looking like inflated rubber dolls, lie
face down in the waters of the Orne.

Deauville is not badly damaged--it is just a dead seaside resort.
The Hotel Normandie is prewar in its French atmosphere with good
carpets, smart windows, and a wide brass bed and all its
trimmings. However, it is all like a movie set--nothing works.
Fancy fittings in the bathroom, but no water. Elaborate lamps and
switches, but no electricity. Not even candles. A phantom hotel
in a ghost town. As there are no blackout curtains and we are
forbidden to use even a flashlight after dark, we decided to go
to bed while it was still light enough to unpack. I went to
sleep. Suddenly I was startled by a distant banging and sat bolt
upright in the dark. The knowledge that the enemy had been here
only four days before made me think "Gestapo"! The banging
continued, and I realized that it was no time to disobey. I
grabbed my flashlight from under the pillow and stumbled to the
door. Without opening it, I said, "_Qui est là?_" A deep voice
replied, "Open up. It's Hunt here."

I didn't know who Hunt was, but the voice was obviously British,
so I opened the door a crack and said, "What time is it, and what
do you want?"

"I'm Lieutenant Hunt. You are to get dressed at once and come
with me!"

Definitely of the Gestapo species, I thought, but what was the
fuss about? Was I about to be court-martialed?

I turned on my flashlight, and there stood a very tired-looking
but determined R.A.S.C. officer who presented me with our orders.

I realized instantly that this was an incident not to be
dismissed or handled alone, so in the murky darkness I said,
"Follow me, Lieutenant," and I took him along the corridor to
Basil and Zoë's room. Zoë was already in bed and Basil was in the
bathroom with a tiny bit of candle trying to shave in a teacup of
water which he had smuggled from the dining room. We all pointed
out to Lieutenant Hunt that it was impossible for us to leave.
Leslie and Joe were still out somewhere.

It was then 10:45 P.M., and the order was for us to drive by
truck to the Seine, get across at 6:00 A.M., drive forty-five
kilos to Amiens, and do a show on arrival.

The lieutenant looked us over, and Basil said, "Well, I don't
know about anybody else's opinion. I have just washed my teeth
and myself with half a cup of water. I'm going to finish shaving
with the other half and then I'm going to bed."

Lieutenant Hunt saw our predicament, said he would return to
Major Jamieson and make his report, and we all went back to bed
to await court-martial! Next morning we hung about the hotel, not
daring to leave and waiting for the summons to come.

We packed up and were ready for the worst. At 10:30 A.M. our new
orders came and we started off with Captain Bayliss for St.
Valery to join the column we'd missed the night before.

To reach St. Valery, we had to find a bridge or a ferry to take
us across the Seine. We rattled along through the Breton Forest,
past thousands of dead horses shot during the German retreat. We
stopped at Quillebeuf, but the bridge had been blasted away and
we were sent on. A Frenchwoman came running out, grasped my hand,
and asked me to find her son in America and tell him she was safe
and to please write to her. From there we moved on along the
winding shore of the Seine which almost completes a circle at
this point. No bridge remained intact and no ferry was running
nearer than Rouen, a good ten hours away. We decided to go on to
Grey's Ferry at Hauteville which our own R.E.s had built.

We paused at one-thirty in Pont-Audemer to eat and, as we were
leaving, having given cigarettes to M. le patron and chocolate to
the children, we saw a sign written on the wall of the café which
read, "This establishment catered to the enemy during the war."
We had been entertained and been fed by German collaborationists!

We shoved on again and finally reached Hauteville at about three
o'clock. Here again was a sight I shall never forget--all the
signs of utter chaos and frustrated flight which the enemy had
left behind him. The stench was sickening.

We were told the ferry was not working, but "ducks" were crossing
both ways with impertinent ease. It was decided that Captain
Bayliss and I should thumb a ride over and find our what help we
could get from the other side. So over we went, and found the
ferry on the opposite bank in charge of Lieutenant Doug Allen and
his company of Royal Canadian Engineers. He said the ferry was
out of action but there was a pontoon raft which he was sending
over for supplies. If we talked to Corporal Pete he would know if
it would take our extra weight.

We found Corporal Pete having his dinner on the grass by the mess
wagon. He was an enormous man.

He paused with his mouth full and stared at me.

"Don't I know you? I've seen you before, darned if I ain't."

"I've been in Canada," I said. "Several times."

Corporal Pete's face cleared. "Got it. It was at the Mount Royal.
I can tell you the year. It was I938. You was there lunching with
Air Marshal Billy Bishop. You drank tomato juice. I remember
that. And you did as well on it as lots of them do on scotch.
You're Gertrude Lawrence. Shake." He held out a huge paw.

We shook, and--to show what tomato juice can accomplish--on the
strength of it Corporal Pete agreed to ferry us across the Seine.

We sent word back across the river to the others that we were
coming for them and hoped to get them and the vehicle across. The
raft was floated by six pontoons and driven by four motors. She
looked all right to us, until we saw the gang start to man the
pumps! They pumped and pottered for two hours. "They always take
in a little water after a while," said one of the R.E.s. Finally
the raft was brought alongside, a duck was hitched to it by a
tow-rope, and we were taken across. The party cheered as we
arrived, and ramps were laid on the beach and we started to load
up. Our coach got on first, then a jeep, then a supply lorry,
then another jeep.

It was 7:00 P.M. as we cast off to cross the Seine. The current
was running fast and strong away from where we wanted to go.
However, it had been easy for the ducks, and the span wasn't very
wide at this point. This time, to my silent dismay, we had no
duck to aid us, and five minutes after casting off one of our
four engines conked out. We started to drift with the heavy
current. Three engines were going like mad, but we were making no
headway whatever. A duck came alongside and threw us a line, but
the tide was too strong and the towrope broke. We continued to
lose ground, and finally Corporal Pete ordered the gang to throw
out the anchor, saying we would ride where we were till help
came.

By this time it was getting dark, a breeze was coming up, and I
knew two things which I had not told the others. Each day the
Seine is flooded by a bore which sweeps in from the Channel and
causes a tidal wave twelve feet high. All light craft are cleared
from the water at this time. The night before sixty-three persons
had been drowned. The bore was due to come at midnight, and it
was now nine o'clock and we were at anchor in midstream.

My heart was pounding and my senses alert to the danger.

Finally Corporal Pete decided to lift anchor and drift over to
_any_ part of the shore we could make and try to unload the raft
before it got any later. I knew he meant before it got _too_
late. He hoped to unload us all before the bore came down. We
made the shore about a mile below where we should have landed,
and wooden tracks were laid down. One jeep got off and away. Next
came the lorry with supplies, but the bank was too steep and it
got stuck. Just then, in the blackness, we heard the throb of
motors, and dimly out of the darkness there loomed the shapes of
two ducks. They came alongside, and it was decided to leave the
lorry and get it by road the next morning. We put out into
midstream again, the ducks were placed one in front towing and
one at back pushing, and our own engines were running. It was now
very, very cold and windy, but our spirits rose. We made a little
headway, then the pontoons began to splash over. It was too dark
to bale and we couldn't spare the men. It was now ten-thirty. All
methods were used to get us moving, but the river was a raging
torrent by this time, and the ducks were going round in circles,
taking us with them.

Allen and Pete ordered, "Abandon ship and take to the ducks." The
vehicles were lashed down, we grabbed our valuables, and all
personnel took to the ducks and went hell for leather for the
landing.

It's very strange, under stress, what one regards as valuable. I
luckily was in battle dress (trousers, shirt, and short jacket),
so I was sure of being able to swim. But my mind concentrated on
the fact that, no matter if all was lost, my job was still to
look glamorous, so I grabbed my make-up kit. After all, I can
always do a show if I've got my false eyelashes. Clarence had
saved his precious violin. Leslie had the music. But all
else--including Joe Nicholls' five drums, our costumes and
personal clothing--had to be abandoned. We finally reached the
landing amid the cheers of the Canadian Engineer Corps who had
been waiting for us, and we went ashore fifteen minutes before we
heard the whine and rush of the bore.

We had to stay somewhere for the night and would have been
content in the fields, but the bore had brought rain with it, so
we were packed into trucks and taken to a deserted château which
the enemy had taken over. Here were housed the refugees from the
battle areas, and here we slept that night, huddled together on
the bare boards, in our clothes; tired, dirty, but lucky to be
alive. I wondered where Richard was.

Next morning we were awakened at seven by our Captain Bayliss to
be told to "look outside." We did, and there in the courtyard
stood our coach. The raft had ridden the bore and the Canadians
had gone up at dawn with salvage ducks and brought the whole
thing back to shore intact. We washed in the stables with the
men, went to breakfast at the field kitchen, and then got under
way on the road to St. Valery. We were all very tired, and I
ached all over from the boards and the cold and the long hours on
the crater roads, but now we were really arriving as ordered by
H.Q.

We reached St. Valery only to find a completely dead and deserted
town. Not a soldier or a civilian in sight. The water front was
barricaded and marked "_Minen_," so we inquired of a sort of
gendarme. He sent us to the mayor, who told us that the 51st
Highland Division had left that morning for Le Havre to help with
the siege. As we were supposed to be joining our E.N.S.A. column,
which was entertaining the 52d Highland Division, we supposed
we'd better follow on to Le Havre. Captain Bayliss said he didn't
like the idea of taking us two women--Zoë and me--into that area
without some confirmation from H.Q., so he and the corporal and
two of our unit went off in our wagon to find the Army, while Zoë,
Basil, Clarence, and I stayed behind at St. Valery. Clarence, who
speaks French, went scrounging around and found an old couple who
had just come back to their home. They boiled some water for us,
and Zoë and I had our first decent wash since leaving Lion-sur-Mer
almost a week ago! We left our bags with the old couple and went
for a walk. Everywhere was to be seen destruction and the signs
of the fierce street fighting before the enemy was driven out. We
had no food with us, but we were again lucky and found the people
at the Hôtel de la Gare willing to share a meal with us. We paid
them, of course, and they were _très content_ to have the British
instead of the enemy. At three o'clock an aged gendarme rode into
the square on a bicycle, dismounted, and rang a bell. Half a
dozen bedraggled women, four children, and three old folks, and
ourselves gathered round. With great ceremony he produced a dirty
sheet of paper and began to read a proclamation that citizens
should not go into the fields or touch anything because of mines;
and that their claims for damage to property should be in at the
mayor's office by Wednesday. He then rode slowly away, and the
people drifted back out of sight again, back to the task of
trying to make something out of nothing.

We hung about feeling very conspicuous and helpless. At five
Captain Bayliss returned. They had been to Fécamp, but the 52d
Highland Division was not there. From there they were sent to
Etretat and finally caught up with it. But no sign of E.N.S.A.
However, after he explained our plight, the C.O. agreed to send
word down the line saying where we were and suggested that we
join them at Etretat and give a show.


Without meaning to be, we are now the most advanced E.N.S.A.
Unit. Basil, Zoë, and I are billeted over a plumber's shop. The
others are at a hotel. Last night we gave two shows, one for the
men just out of the line, and one for those going into battle at
Le Havre, and then we were given supper at the mess and the
pipers played and danced for us.

Today, September the seventh, we were to join our E.N.S.A. column
and do an outdoor show, but a storm has come. It is dark and
raining hard, so we are lying around awaiting orders. The
visibility is bad and the men cannot fly.

These men of the 52d Highland Division are magnificent soldiers.
They were at El Alamein, Sicily, Dunkirk, and have been in again
since D-Day. They are having one swell time taking back the
ground they were forced to lose in the early campaign. They swore
they would come back again, and they have kept their word.

We shoved off again at 10:00 A.M. yesterday--got here at Bolbec
at twelve-thirty. The enemy held the town only six days ago. I
went over to the theater to see what it was like, and as usual
found no lights, no water, and everything soaking wet. We had
three bulbs connected on a cord which had been given to us at
Lion-sur-Mer by the R.E.M.E. So I got them out of the truck,
connected them to one empty socket in the ceiling, and oh, wonder
of wonders, they worked!

I then swept out the room, found an awful old carpet up on the
stage and put it down amid clouds of dust and fleas. But at least
Zoë and I had some sort of a room to dress in. We have no manager
or stage manager with us. Leslie has to tune the piano always and
often has to go out and _find_ one. We all do everything for
ourselves, and I'm the one who does the scrounging.

I found an old Frenchwoman on the way to the theater who was
ironing in her window. So I went in, offered her some soap flakes
which I had, and she promised to do some laundry for us. It is
getting colder.

We are giving two shows a day, at three o'clock and at
six-thirty, and the place is _jammed_. They come in direct from
the line, some all bound up, dirty, tired, but all in great
spirits, and they sing as though their lungs must burst. It's
great to be with them, and all grouses disappear once the show is
on. If they can take it, we most surely can. I have only a little
more time over here before returning to London and to the U.S.A.
to fulfill my contract. But hardships all considered, I am
beginning to wish I could stay, and hang my panties on the
Siegfried Line.

I wish somebody--anybody--could come and see what our little unit
can do. Three in the orchestra--piano, violin, and drums. And
three others--Basil, Zoë, and me. No bally-hoo, no fuss, no
publicity. In the daytime we share our rations of white bread,
chocolate, and cigarettes with the village children. They have
had no white bread since the German occupation--some have never
before tasted chocolate. The eternal cry is "Cigarettes for
Papa." The évacuées still are coming in on foot from Le Havre. I
got my new ration of chocolate, sweets, and biscuits today, and
took them down to the street outside our hotel. The children
appeared from everywhere like London sparrows, and the ration is
now _fini!_

Last night we had supper at the château now occupied by the Royal
Artillery Anti-Tank Corps. It was exciting because several of the
officers had just come back from Le Havre where they saw the
surrender of the German general.

There was a wood fire blazing in the great fireplace of the
château and I practically sat in it. The cold, penetrating
dampness is becoming worse each day. I have no warm pajamas or
cardigan and can't get any. Today I lined my shoes with newspaper
to keep my feet warm. I dare not risk catching a cold or even the
sniffles. My job is to sing and look glamorous. Not too easy in
the conditions we are living and traveling under.

When I heard they had a real bath with hot water at the château I
immediately set about making myself as charming and popular as
possible to soften up the territory preparatory to making a
request for a half-hour in the tub.

_Later:_ Alas, for my hopes of a bath. The heavy tanks coming
from Le Havre have broken the water mains.

This business of being without water is worse than all other
discomforts. We all have _l'estomac de Normandie_ again, and the
sanitary facilities are practically nonexistent.

I discovered a row of three evil-smelling, ramshackle outhouses,
all open at the top, behind the theater where we are doing our
show. These were used by troops and civilians. The arrangement is
decidedly primitive--no seat, just a hole in the ground and two
places for your feet. You simply crouch and let nature take its
course.

Humiliating as it was to have to resort to these measures, I
could have borne that had I not suddenly become aware that I was
not alone. The cubicle beside mine was also occupied. There I
stood, undecided whether to make a dash for it or to wait until
the man left. If I dashed, I might run into him. I could only
pray that when I made my entrance on the line: "Here she comes,
our own glamorous Gertrude Lawrence," my neighbor would not
recognize me from our last informal meeting!

So I stayed. Hours, it seemed. Men came and went. Dysentery is no
respecter of persons. Finally, with only fifteen minutes to show
time, I bolted from my cubicle, like the mechanical hare at a
greyhound race, and sprinted over the uneven ground to the back
door of the theater. I was safe.

Yesterday at Foreshon the stage was twelve feet from the floor.
No one had fixed the lights and everything was filthy. Zoë and I
wanted to get our things into the dressing room but could do
nothing in the dark. While waiting for an electrician to turn up,
we pulled off our coats and pushed the seats closer to the stage.
We were only six entertainers in that vast place. Even if the
"mike" could be made to work, we had to have the men nearer to
us.

Still no one showed up to fix the lights.

"Let's see what we can do," said Zoë.

Armed with flashlights, she and I went below and poked about in
the debris until we discovered a small room with a sink and one
electric-light socket. We attached to this our three bulbs on
their flexible cord. Those emergency lights and my make-up kit
were the most important part of my baggage. We tied the cord to a
pipe running round the room and hoped the bulbs would work
if--and when--the juice was turned on.

By this time the men were already lining up for the show. The
first comers lifted the piano onto the stage for us. Meanwhile,
Basil arrived and put up two posters so the men would know what
they were going to see.

At this moment the electrician showed up. He informed us that the
lighting system was controlled from Bolbec, six miles away. He
had to go there to get permission to turn it on, _if it would
turn on_.

He left, and we sat down to wait, dirty, tired, and frayed at the
nerve ends. No one was in a welcoming mood when the Public
Relations officer put in an appearance and said, reproachfully,
he had the cameraman in tow and they had been chasing us all over
France. And would we please come out at once and have the
pictures done. You don't say "I won't" to a three-pipper, so we
posed with the boys. I tried to look glamorous, though most of my
make-up was gone, and the dust of the cellar had not improved my
appearance.

Finally the lights came on, and we all rushed below to dress. The
men poured into the theater, and once again the spirit of the
trouper rose to its usual heights.

Just as we were about to begin, our driver discovered that the
"mike" was not working again. It was too late to do anything
about it, the show had to go on. So we started, but one by one we
died at our posts. Not a sound could be heard from any of us in
that huge place. The men became restless, and no wonder.

We got it over, and then I struck. "No show tonight unless the
mike is fixed." After all, as someone pointed out, there were
some six hundred technicians within call, who could easily fix
the mike for us.

We were drinking welcome cups of real tea--our first since
leaving England--when suddenly a voice boomed out above us:
"Hello, testing. Hello, testing."

A sergeant had changed a valve in the mike outfit and it worked.

So we put on another show at once for the newly arrived audience.

This time everything started beautifully. The overture was O.K.
We heard Clarence announce: "Joe Nicholls, the well-known London
drummer." At this every light in the place went off.

Zoë and I sat in our dressing room in stunned silence, knowing
that the switch was controlled from Bolbec, six miles away.

We could hear Joe drumming in the dark. How did he do it? We
found out later--he stood close to the mike and played on his big
strong teeth! And he kept it up until the lights came on again.
We finished the show.

The E.N.S.A. shows are supposed to be only for the troops. Now
and then you see a civilian seated among the boys. There was one
little old lady in the audience at Etretat. She had billeted our
unit and had helped us greatly. During the four years of German
occupation she had refused to see a show. Now she sat in the
front row, smiling broadly and trying to join in the singing of
"Tipperary," while the tears rolled down her cheeks.


Driving north toward Belgium, we made a triumphal progress
through towns which had been in German hands only a few days
before.

As we made our way slowly down the main street, avoiding a few
shell holes, men, women, and children turned out to greet us. We
all bowed and smiled.

"I know now how the Queen feels at the opening of Parliament,"
said Zoë.

Our destination was Brussels. Other than that we knew nothing.
But it was enough. Brussels had just been liberated, the front
was very close, we would be entertaining men straight from the
fighting line. At Lille, where we put up for the night, no
billets had been arranged for us, as the enemy had withdrawn too
short a time before. However, Clarence knew the city and was able
to guide us to a hotel where they made room for us. Everywhere
people were breathless at the speed with which the Allies were
advancing.

Just before the outskirts of Brussels Bayliss said: "There's
Major Jamieson." He had just passed us in his jeep and honked for
us to stop. Our spirits were in good shape but our stomachs were
empty. This seemed a happy chance, and Captain Bayliss got out.
While he and Jamieson met in private conference, we sat like good
children in a school bus and waited.

Then Jamieson came to the door of our car and said, "Everything
all right?" I suppose we nodded, and he went on gaily: "Wonderful
hotel for you all laid on in Brussels. Glorious new theater.
There's hot and cold water. And light. Mrs. Herbert is there."

We stared at him. It sounded too good to be true--_hot and cold
water!_

He then dashed off and we crashed into a flood of questions to
Bayliss: "Where are we staying? For how long?"

"I don't know. My orders are to deliver you to Colonel Haggarth
on arrival, and the show is at seven-thirty tonight."

We had by now come two hundred and sixty miles, had started off
that morning without even a warm drink. It was already
one-fifteen and we had to report to the colonel even before going
to our hotel. On top of this, we were expected to give a
performance at night in clothes that had been packed up for two
days. Everybody in the coach vowed that there could not possibly
be a show that night.

Brussels was holding carnival with flags, crowds, and the White
Brigade patrolling the streets, rounding up collaborationists.

As our truck came to a standstill in the Grand' Place, people
gathered around, demanding to know the meaning of E.N.S.A. on our
shoulders. None of us could tell them, so we got out, did a few
dance steps, and said "Cabaret."

They understood that all right. To make it all clear I added:

"_Cabaret pour le soldat._"

A cheer went up. Then immediately a clamor began: "_Cigarettes?
Chocolat? Savon?_" Hundreds of hands stretched out.

_Savon_--soap--was what I wanted too. That and gallons of hot
water, and a bed to stretch my aching body on. Captain Bayliss
had gone in search of the colonel to report us and there were no
signs of his return. Basil was in a towering rage,
Zoë fidgeted--she wanted to go to the lavatory and nobody could
find one. Clarence and Joe and Leslie philosophically went to
sleep.

Presently Bayliss came back and said the colonel was at lunch,
but a corporal had told him we were all billeted at the Hotel
Metropole, which turned out to be a vast place but completely
deserted. The proprietor looked uneasy and said a room had been
booked for Miss Lawrence, but none for the rest of the party.
This was strange and a bit terrifying when I found out--as I soon
did--that the hotel was being boycotted by the Belgians as the
proprietors were said to be collaborationists.

I did not at all like the idea of staying there by myself.

However, I was famished, and the Metropole had food--soup, salmon
with mayonnaise, and dessert. Price per person, one hundred
francs. We were just beginning on this ruinously expensive meal
when in walked Lieutenant Charles Rogers, whom we'd last seen in
the Orkneys. He said the others had been billeted at the Royal
Nord, and I said quickly:

"Then I'll go there. They'll have to find a place for me there. I
won't stay anywhere without my unit."

He agreed to take me, and then we got out all our money to pay
our lunch bill. There was a fuss over this, as neither Bayliss
nor I nor Charles Rogers had any Belgian money, and the
proprietor at first refused to accept French money.

We were impatient to get going and to unpack because Charles had
told us we had to give a show that night. Fourteen thousand
troops were in the city. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was
also there to celebrate the landing of British air-borne troops
in Holland.

"I came here to entertain the troops, not to entertain royalty,"
I said snappily. "But if it's an Army order----"

"It is," said Charles.

Finally we got away from the horrible Metropole and I was given a
room at the Royal Nord with the gang.

Brussels had a curfew. We were warned that a lot of shootings
took place at night. Our soldiers went about with rifles. The
city had no tea, no coffee, no butter, no bread. But it had water
and lights. And real, clean beds. Breakfast next morning was
doubtful. I made a glass of tea in my room and drank it with a
German field-ration biscuit which we had found at Lion-sur-Mer
and which I had brought along as a souvenir. The tea--one
teaspoonful of the real commodity--was given me by Zoë I made a
tea bag of make-up muslin and heated the water in my field mess
can on a German stove.

The performance that night was in a theater about the size of the
Radio City Music Hall in New York. So long as the Germans
occupied Brussels, Belgians were not allowed there, so, since we
took over, the colonel had decided civilians should be admitted
to shows. A van with a loudspeaker announcing the show had gone
through the streets, so the house was filled. _But_ no troops.
And no Prince Bernhard. Just a few R.A.F. on the side aisles.

Of course we did the show in English. It didn't matter when we
sang. But Basil, who is a patter comedian, was up against it. He
solved this by raising his opera hat when he came on and saying
politely, "_Vive la Belgique._"

That brought enormous applause, and after that whatever Basil
said was received enthusiastically by the audience who could not
have understood a single word of it.

At seven-thirty last night--in the theater, while I was waiting
to go on--none other than Colonel Haggarth _himself_ came to me
with an urgent plea that I stay for another three days and go
into Antwerp! Three thousand Canadians have just come in from the
front line, and even though the enemy was only three miles
outside the city they wanted a show and had asked for the
Gertrude Lawrence Unit.

I quickly wrote out two cables to be sent through the War Office
in London: one to Gilbert Miller, who was expecting me daily to
start rehearsals on a new play, and the other to Richard, telling
of the colonel's request.

We drove the forty-five kilometers from Brussels to Antwerp and
put on our shows at the E.N.S.A. Music Hall. It was my farewell
performance on the Western Front, and it was played to the
accompaniment of gunfire. British tanks of the Guards' armored
division had captured the city proper just twenty days before,
but the Germans were still in command of the suburb of Merxem.
This put Von Rundstedt approximately three thousand yards from
the theater.

The hall was packed with Canadians and a dash of British and
Yanks. I made my entrance to the last eight bars of "Some Day
I'll Find You," and swung immediately into "A Lovely Way to Spend
an Evening."

"Isn't it," I thought, as a shell burst close by. I asked over
the footlights: "Is there a Joe in the house? Anybody here named
Joe?"

Of course there was; there always is. He was sitting in the
second row, which made it easy to sing directly to him: "A Guy
Named Joe." He slumped down in his seat and I could see his neck
and ears get red, but the other fellows enjoyed his discomfiture
as much as the song itself and joined in the chorus. Then an
E.N.S.A. corporal unrolled a placard with the words of the song
on it.

I called on six soldiers from the front row to help hold the
placard. They leaped the footlights, among them Joe from the
second row. We put on an impromptu skirmish, to the delight of
the rest of the house, and the six went back to their seats with
an imprint of my best lipstick on their cheeks.

I used up a lot of lipstick on my tour of the Western Front. In
camps where we played two shows in quick succession I decorated
more soldiers than General Eisenhower had to date.

The program ended with a singsong, including "Irish Eyes," "You
Made Me Love You," "Wee Doch-an-Dorris," and "Tipperary." Finally
we sang "I'll See You Again," and I thought to myself: it's a
promise and a prayer.


I am writing this in the plane on my way back to America.

My service on the Western Front is over. I hope I have repaid
some of what I owed to those British Tommies of World War I who
dug into their breeches pockets and brought forth the half crowns
and shillings that paid my fare to London and my first real
chance in _Charlot's Revue_.

England is my country, but I am married to an American. Now that
I have done my bit for E.N.S.A., I hope the U.S.O. will send me
out with a show to entertain the American boys. I would like to
serve both countries that I love and belong to.

The Atlantic, which seems not nearly so wide now as it once was,
is below me at this minute. Our plane purrs softly through banks
of cloud. Its shining nose is pointed westward.

The skipper has just paused beside my seat and whispered
confidentially: "Lunch in New York tomorrow."



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia