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Title: An "Extra Turn."
       REAL DRAMAS Part 2
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200711h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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(Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)

No. 2: An "Extra Turn."


Fred M White

The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, 7 August, 1909.

The true story of Audrey Marbowe's dramatic appearance on the variety stage and her subsequent phenomenal success has never been told before so far as the pages of a newspaper are concerned. Giles Gilman gives the facts occasionally, but only to those that he can trust, and even then he has to be in one of his pessimistic moods, when things are going badly and there is no gratitude in the world. As all those whose business is connected with theatrical matters know, Giles Gilman is the Napoleon of Press agents. More than one famous actress of to-day would still be struggling for recognition had it not been for the happy inventiveness of Giles Gilman. Given a certain amount of brains and beauty, Gilman's clients were seldom failures. His ingenious inventiveness did the rest.

Two years ago Audrey Marbowe had not been heard of in England—that is, so far as the stage is concerned. To-day she can command a salary of four hundred pounds a week in London, and more when she goes on a trip to her home in the United States. In New York society, however, she had been a familiar figure as the only daughter of Cyrus P. Marbowe, the Quinine King, and reported to be one of the richest men in America. He possessed a palace on Fifth Avenue, a cottage at Newport, a few lines of railway, and other necessities of the Transatlantic millionaire. It was said that on his daughter's marriage he was prepared to dower her to the extent of twenty million dollars. As she was young and pretty and highly educated, her value in the marriage market stood high. She had refused an English duke, and a German Prince had gone sorrowfully and empty away.

Audrey Marbowe had always been a girl of moods. She was volatile and changeable, but there was one ambition of hers that always glowed clearly and steadily. Her great desire was to be an actress. She possessed histrionic talents beyond doubt; she was the bright star of a fashionable amateur club; the newspapers said pretty things about her. But Audrey was not unduly puffed up by these. She quite understood why the daughter of a millionaire had the primrose path swept and garnished for her. She wanted to appear on the regular stage and make a name for herself. But here Cyrus P. was adamant. Any other extravagant folly he was prepared to pay for. He drew the line at the stage. He had on one occasion speculated in theatres, and, in his own parlance, he knew something.

But when a pretty girl with the command of money sets her heart on a thing, Fate generally conspires to meet her halfway. Fate in this case took the shape of a shrewd, well-dressed, keen-eyed individual, who was known in dramatic circles as Giles Gilman. Amongst other extravagances, Audrey had a little 'bachelor' flat, and there she invited Gilman to tea. She knew beforehand that she was entertaining the most astute Press agent in America.

"Now I want you to help me," she said; "I told you all about myself last night. And you have already seen me in several parts. Will I do?"

"There have been many big reputations built up on a more slender basis," Gilman replied. "There is not the slightest reason why you should not succeed. It will cost money, of course. Personally, I should advise you to go on as you are. And if your father interferes——"

"He's not going to interfere," Audrey smiled. "I guess that the parental battery is spiked. I hope that you can keep a secret, Mr. Gilman."

Gilman protested, with justice, that he was the soul of discretion. Audrey lent towards him and whispered a few words that caused even the imperturbable agent to look surprised.

"That is about the last thing I should have thought of," he said. "Still, from a business point of view, it simplifies matters exceedingly. You would like to appear in London, of course. Say the Majestic. It would be to your advantage to start on the vaudeville stage. As Miss Marbowe in the famous pearls!"

Audrey Marbowe clasped her hands together. Here was fame indeed. And the little man with the alert eyes was promising it as if it had been the easiest matter in the world.

"I hope you are not making fun of me," she asked.

"My dear Madam," Gilman said gravely, "this is business. We stand here as client and agent. I get you this engagement, and you pay me so much money. All I want you to do is exactly what you are told, not forgetting the famous pearls. The 'story' is not yet complete, but I shall get it fixed up in a day or two, when I will write you fully and definitely. To try and get an engagement off-hand at the Majestic would be a mere waste of time. Besides, I never ask favours. I prefer to confer them."

Gilman departed without saying any more, and for the next three weeks Audrey Marbowe saw him no more. Neither did he write her a line. But she noticed that the papers had a good deal to say about her famous pearls, round which something in the nature of a romance had been woven. They were just the kind of paragraphs that the exchanges were after.

At the same time, the Press had a certain amount to say as to one Lola Cortez, a Spanish-American, who seemed to be making a considerable name for herself in San Francisco. A week ago nobody had heard of her. Now she began to be talked about everywhere. She appeared to be one of those fortunate persons who 'arrive' in the course of a single night. It would be an interesting study to work up the psychology of these artistic and literary cuckoos.

There were alert managers on the lookout for new talent who would write to California asking questions and suggesting terms. But, apparently, they were too late. It was understood that Lola Cortez had accepted an engagement to appear in London in two months' time. Audrey Marbowe read all this with a certain interested jealousy. How lucky some people were, and how easily they seemed to get their chance! She was still speculating over this philosophy when a bulky letter from Gilman reached her. She was urged to read it again and again, until she had it practically by heart. After that, she was to destroy the letter, and do just as she was told therein.

Two days later the New York papers came out scarred and striped with scare-heads. Old man Marbowe had gone down. There had been a sharp financial crisis, and the house of Marbowe had gone under. The Quinine King, instead of being worth millions, was worth nothing. On the contrary, there was a deficit of many millions. The air was heavy with sinister rumours. Marbowe would be lucky if he escaped an indictment for forgery and fraud. He was at present lying on a sick-bed in a state of utter prostration.

All this appeared in double columns.

In parallel double columns, Miss Audrey Marbowe figured with equal prominence. She had for ever turned her back on the delights and frivolities of society for the fascinations of the stage. That would be definitely her career in the future, She was on the eve of sailing in the 'Pacific' for England to fulfill an engagement at a leading theatre. The fact that Signora Lola Cortez was travelling to Europe on the same boat was merely mentioned in a curt paragraph on the leader page. It was rather hard upon Miss Cortez, but circumstances were against her. As her Press agent, Giles Gilman openly deplored the fact.

He stepped on board the 'Pacific' with the object of offering a few well-chosen words of condolence to Miss Marbowe. She came forward, her grief chastened by a certain joy, a bundle of papers under her arm. There was a gleam in her eye that Gilman did not fail to notice.

"Say, isn't it fine?" she whispered. "I guess you understand how to work things. Miss Cortez——"

Gilman was going to say good-bye to Miss Cortez also. She had gone down to her cabin a little time before. But Miss Cortez took so much finding that Gilman found himself the victim of a great annoyance. The 'Pacific' started whilst he was still aboard. Much against his will, he was destined to remain where he was until the boat reached Liverpool. No doubt he could manage to borrow a wardrobe, and assuredly he was very fortunate in that direction. He turned out so smartly and so immaculately that he might have had a portmanteau smuggled on board. One never can tell.

It was next day that the tragic discovery was made. Miss Marbowe was nowhere to be found! The boat was ransacked from one end to the other; the painful tragedy ran from lip to lip. And nobody could throw any light on the mystery. Miss Marbowe had come on board without a maid; she had engaged one to meet her in Liverpool. She had not appeared at dinner the first night, alleging that the motion of the boat had given her a headache. As she did not show up at breakfast, the door of her cabin was forced and found to be empty! Long before the boat reached Liverpool the distressing story of Miss Marbowe's suicide was told by Marconi-gram. On the arrival of the 'Pacific', the passengers were confronted with the whole story.

In a sorrowful frame of mind, Gilman accompanied his second client to London. Now that the bright particular star had fallen from the sky, he was fain to be content with the minor planet. He would do great things for her, of course, but nothing like he had anticipated in the case of Miss Marbowe.

The management of the Majestic had not been idle. They were prepared to give Miss Cortez a good run for her money, and they had billed her extensively. She appeared in due course, and, on the whole, had no occasion to be disappointed with her reception. According to the papers, she was an actress of far more than the average merit. Her dresses were exquisite and jewels superb. The lady writers were quite enthusiastic over her pearls.

A moment later the manager, pale and agitated, came forward to explain. "A most unfortunate thing has happened," he said. "An extraordinary mistake on the fart of the police. They allege that Signora Cortez's pearls are actually the property of the late Miss Marbowe, the famous American beauty who disappeared from the 'Pacific' some days ago."

The people at the Majestic were perfectly satisfied. A great house had gathered on the third night to see the new 'star' from South America. Miss Cortez had sung her first song and had come forward with the intention of giving an encore, when she was suddenly drawn aside and the curtain fell. London audiences are not accustomed to be treated in this fashion, and they signified their disapproval vigorously. A moment later the manager, pale and agitated, came forward to explain.

"A most unfortunate thing has happened," he said. "An extraordinary mistake on the part of the police. They allege that Signora Cortez's pearls are actually the property of the late Miss Marbowe, the famous American beauty who disappeared from the 'Pacific' some days ago. The Signora is accused stealing the pearls, if nothing worse. The thing is a hideous blunder, of course, but in the circumstances, ladies and gentlemen; you will see why Signora Cortez cannot sing again to-night. I am quite sanguine that she will appear before you again to-morrow."

Here was a sensation the like of which the theatrical world had never seen before. The morning papers were devoted to very little else. The afternoon edition came out with fresh details with nothing in them. The Signora had been charged at Bow Street, and finally remanded on bail. The next day the 'Daily Mail' had solved the problem. Possibly, a long interview with Giles Gilman, and the interchange of a pink slip of paper, had something to do with it.

It really was an astounding story. To begin with, the lady known as Lola Cortez had been charged with stealing her own properly. As a matter of fact, there was no such person as the Cortez. She had existed merely in the imagination of the agent who was acting Miss Marbowe. The paragraphs from San Francisco were mere fakes, invented so as to get at the management of the Majestic. Directly the engagement had been entered into Lola Cortez vanished into the air. Somebody in her name had taken a cabin in the 'Majestic' and some luggage followed. Miss Marbowe had not vanished overboard—she had simply disguised herself and taken possession of Lola Cortez's cabin. From that moment she was Lola Cortez, and Miss Marbowe ceased to exist. She had done this partly to get her on the London stage, and partly because she found that at the last moment her father's creditors might seize the pearls. She had always intended, of course, to disclose her real identity after her reputation was made. Where she had made the mistake, of course, was to wear her pearls.

The effect of all this can easily be imagined. The 'Majestic' was packed from floor to ceiling for weeks afterwards, and Miss Marbowe, nee Cortez, was earning her own salary. In any case she was worth her money, for there was no question as to her abilities and talent. At the same time there was no disguising the fact that luck was all on her side. Undoubtedly she was born to success, but in ordinary circumstances she would never have found herself at the outset on the crest of a wave. On the whole, she accepted the situation with modesty and humour. But she would have nothing further to do with Gilman. He had been paid handsomely, and there was an end of the matter. It was this base ingratitude that caused him to tell the story to discreet ears in moments of expansion.

"Of course, I worked the whole thing," he was wont to explain. "Directly she told me that her father was on the verge of a smash I began to see my way. I invented Lola Cortez, and got all those pars in the papers about her. Then I settled the other details after I managed to get 'Lola' on the 'Majestic.' It was easy for her to slip away in the confusion of sailing. Everything was ready for Audrey Marbowe there. She had only to change cabins and disguise herself—it was especially simple as nobody on the boat knew either of them. The real touch of genius came in over the pearls. It was I who dropped an anonymous letter to the police over the pearls, and I laid my plans to get the arrest made at the proper dramatic moment. The father's creditors business was all bosh. And naturally the manager of the 'Majestic' saw his chance. And I'm bound to say that he was not ungrateful. The story slipped out so naturally that the English public never saw that it had been gulled. Everybody wanted to see Audrey Marbowe, and she, to do her justice, was quite equal to the occasion. If she hadn't got the right stuff in her I should never have taken a hand. I've done very well out of it, but hang it, I hate ingratitude and I told her so. And now there is nothing more for me than a cold bow when we meet. Says it is necessary to be discreet."

"She'll marry you in the end, my boy," one of the listeners said prophetically. "When women treat a man like that they always end by marrying him."

Gilman shook his head as he took a fresh cigarette.

"I shall never marry," he said firmly. "I shall never play the game again. If I did so there is a little girl in a company up North that fairly—what are you fellows laughing at now?"


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