Five hundred hopeful feminine eyes looked into his. He felt his own power. He saw himself as some kind of god. He knew that in the brains above those searching eyes were prayers asking for his approval. This moment was what he had striven for, hoped, cheated and schemed. The success of his shows meant nothing to him. It was only in these moments when almost divine silence filled a threatre, when he was the audience approving and condemning that he felt the joy of living. Love, money, even fame could not lift his soul to such exstacy as this. What other man could gather so many pretty faces and such shapely legs by inserting a four line advertisement in a newspaper?

 

It was a span of experience since he had been a delivery boy carrying groceries to bored wives, who had looked him over with disdain. Now he could cause New York's loveliest creatures to wilt under his stare. It was sport seeing a woman lose her confidence. Before he couldn't even get one sweetheart, now he could have a hundred mistresses. He laughed to himself, laughed at those expectant faces herded together on the stage. He saw his "yes men" peering at him, waiting for some kind of an order. He deliberately let five minutes hang in anticipation, then he raised his pudgy hand in command.

 

The nervously watching stage manager leaped as a trained dog jumps in response to his master's gesture. The assistant manager started in imitation after him. The girls sent forth an audible sigh of relief. Shabby and new pocketbooks were opened by trembling fingers. Gold and silver tubes were drawn forth, and reddened lips were painted even brighter. Round puffs of various colors were patted on noses that showed no shine. Short and long pencils retraced lines under and over mascared lashes. The stage manager pushed his way to the center of the stage where he stopped and cried, "O.K. girls, form into lines of twelve. Come on, no crowding! Everybody will be looked at. Show girls first! The dancers stand off in the wings until we are ready for you. No talking please and don't smoke. Hurry up! J.K. doesn't like to be kept waiting!"

 

There was a rush and sound of wooden high heels. Soon six lines with twelve bathing beauties were standing in military order before the glaring footlights. Off in the wings could be heard the whispers of the impatient chorines. A few curled heads impertinently peered out to see if J.K. was ready.

 

J.K. beamed approval. He enjoyed selecting the show girls. He liked their long slender legs -- bodies like goddesses. He had always wished he had been tall. People always kidded him about his running around with six-footers. He wondered which one out of this company he would select for his favored companion. Last year it had been -- well, she'd have to get over it. He'd give her a few extra lines to say.

 

He could hear at the stage door the assistant stage manager shouting to new arrivals, "You'll have to wait, girls, the theatre is jammed." Life sure could be wonderful. He wondered if there were any police reserves.

 

The whispers of the posing girls grew louder. Pale legs shifted in impatience. Bathing suits were jerked back into position. He looked about the almost deserted orchestra. He resented the old fool sitting two seats away. Need the old blighter look so pleased with himself? God, backers of shows were a nuisance. Two rows behind he heard the suppressed giggles of his "chosen five." They were smart girls. It was only the smart ones that lasted from show to show. He glared in disgust at the silly-faced debutante who was the friend of the president of the bank which held the mortgage on the theatre. Oh well, he'd have to find a walk-on for her. Heaven knows with a skinny figure like that he couldn't put her in the line-up. And who in hell invited that fat-headed handsome comedian sprawling in the first row? Just because he had a contract did he think he owned the theatre? Yes, he'd have to make his annual speech to the male members of this troop. Anyone caught running around with the girls will be fired out into the alley. That stage manager could use some of this advice. Good God, does that manager have to keep standing up there repeating, "O.K., J.K., O.K. -- they're all set" ...So what! This was a thing that shouldn't be rushed.

 

J.K. finally rested his eyes on the frozen smiles of the twelve scantily-clad figures standing at attention in the first line. He said, "Step a little closer to the footlights, girls." He liked the sound of his voice when he talked to women. The tones were more gentle, cajoling. He knew that it was easier to throw over a woman in mild accents than in harsh ones. He sat forward in the soft-cushioned seat, squinted his small blue eyes which almost disappeared beneath the pockets of dissipated flesh.

 

He studied the first girl. Not bad, he noted. In fact, damn pretty. Her face looked familiar. Funny he'd never forgotten a face, especially a feminine one. Oh yes, she had married a chorus boy in his last show. No, she wouldn't do. No box office appeal. Musn't have brains either.

 

Oh well, the second one might pass . . . Lovely red hair -- looked natural, too -- but Lord, what a shabby bathing suit. Her clothes were probably in the same condition. No.

 

The third, a blonde, oh, she's the one that goes with Tommy Mankens. She's not so hot, but he's got plenty of dough. She'll do. Aloud J.K. said, "Number three step out."

 

Blonde number three stepped out gingerly, glanced in triumph at the rest of the line and smiled in appreciation at J.K. Girl number two lowered her head so that no one might see the tears of disappointment and despondency that had filled her eyes.

 

J.K. smiled in return at girl number three, but quickly turned his scrutinizing glance on the fourth aspirant. He studied appreciatively her tapered figure. Lovely legs, he thought, like a race horse. Nice hips too, just right. But her face. It's a little old. Perfect features though -- but no, I don't want anyone saying I'm hiring old war horses.

 

Five, hmm, he'd never seen that face around before. She must be new to the game. Looks about sixteen. Fresh -- "Five step out please."

 

Hell, there's Manners. Well, no matter what she had on him she wouldn't get into this show. After seven years, too. God, women are brazen.

 

Ah -- seven's O.K. She has a pretty smile. Not forced either. A slender waist too, gives her plenty of curves. "All right, seven, you can step out."

 

Ugh, the next two. What a nerve they had coming to his call. Must be a couple of shop girls. It sure is funny how every girl thinks she's beautiful.

 

"Eight step out" -- can't do without the little stool pigeon. Wonder if anybody ever suspected her. No, not with that innocent face.

 

Nine -- she is beautiful -- looks like Madeline Carroll -- but wait -- is that a wedding ring on her finger? It's good he noticed. No, she has no sex appeal.

 

That blonde, ten, looks pretty slick. A bit fat and her legs could be straighter, but that's a hell of a diamond bracelet on her arm . . . "Ten, you're O.K., come forward."

 

Eleven's pretty but she looks too independent. Does she know who I am? he asked himself.

 

"Twelve step out please" . . . She's got IT, oomph and sex appeal rolled up into one. He'd have to get to know her better.

 

J.K. leaned back in his seat in exhaustion. He opened the button of his tight coat and wished he hadn't put on that blasted corset this morning. The stage manager rose hurriedly from his perch on the edge of the footlights and ordered in his most apologetic but insincere manner, "Those who were told to step out, remain and give your names to the assistant stage manager. The rest of the line get dressed immediately, leave the theatre as quickly as possible. Don't linger." He looked down at J.K. and thought, God, that guy has lousy taste.

 

The six lucky ones looked down at J.K.'s long beak nose and thought, Isn't he marvelous.

 

The dismissed applicants slunk off the stage, trying not to show their faces to the eager eyes of the curious chorus girls. Fear of recognition by old friends made them huddle together in a group. They received courage from the thought that tomorrow there was to be a call at the Adelphi. Perhaps they should have worn their hair fluffier. Maybe the other bathing suit would have been more flattering.

 

J.K smiled to himself and gazed at the upturned palms of those pudgy hands. He reflected: God, I'm important. I hold fates in these fingers that once held eggs.

 

Circa 1939

 

 

The Housekeeper's Lover