Mug Shot of Ronald Frederick Schmidt, June 1921, crime unknown [Source] . Just to get your attention.
Excerpt from Time Fall, A Novel of 1904:
How much can you say in a few words, imply, insinuate, say without saying? Quite a lot, actually, if you know what you’re doing. Take the following news item, from The Oakland Tribune, February 3, 1928:
BOY CONFESSES THEATER ROBBERIES, San Francisco: Following identification, Francis Long, 18, suspected theater burglar, confessed to robbing eight theaters in San Francisco and seven in Los Angeles. William Macauley, actor in the Alcazar theater, declared Long was the man he saw prowling back stage shortly before he missed $40 from his dressing room. John Breeden, Juvenile, son of Mrs. George McNear, millionairess, identified Long as the man disguised as a stage hand, wearing overalls and carrying a screwdriver, whom he talked to back stage shortly before missing $28 from his dressing room. Macauley swore to a warrant charging Long with burglary, the eighth charge he will face.
Never mind for the moment that overalls and a screwdriver hardly constitute a disguise, or that Francis Long is a pretty great name for a porn star, or that John Breeden, who would go on to star in Fox’s Movietone Follies of 1929, was born in 1904 and hardly a juvenile in 1928 but only playing one in the production of “New Brooms” by Frank Craven, then at the Alcazar in San Francisco, or that his mother was married not to George but to Fred McNear, the millionaire son of the arguably more famous George McNear, oil and grain shipping magnate, the second marriage for each.
And never mind that William Macauley, actor, also starring in the production of “New Brooms” (which had already run for 88 performances in New York in 1924 and made into a now lost silent film directed by William deMille in 1925, neither with Macaualey in the cast) is mentioned twice by name in the news item (Be nice to the press, be nice to the press). But more of that later.
“There’s nothing here,” William said to the reporter from the Oakland Trib, a small pinched man with suspicious close-set eyes and nervous hands. Meaning there’s nothing to the story, nothing to be said or be said without saying, not in so many words. And then, with a look and an emphasis he hoped would come across as more warning than pleading: “Don’t.” Simply don’t. Meaning, don’t print it, don’t pursue, don’t make more of this than you know or think you know.
Be nice to the press, William always said, and in the days before PR had become an art he wasn’t wrong. You needed a good front man; you had to have good advance copy, never mind what the critics said afterward, you were never going to be in any town long enough for a bad review to bite you, and that would never have to happen if you played your cards right (Be nice to the press, be nice to the press). Journalists were men who wanted to be read, to be heard; throw in a desire to be seen and you had an actor, so the solution was easy: see them, hear them, have them for a drink. Appeal to their vanity, make them your friend, give them what they wanted. Like the boys who loitered back stage, the writers who covered the theater were drawn by the same secret urges, lured by the same rumors of forbidden pleasures and delights, a peek behind the polite surface of life, a reprieve from the cold reality of the world beyond the stage door, life on the street. Acting was not the world’s oldest profession, but it ran a close second. Why not give them a taste of that, ladies, he would say to the company’s actresses. Let them experience a little magic, a little mystery. There’s a part of you, what you are to them, that scares them, he explained, and he included himself in this respect. You are bigger than they are, biggger than their wives or girlfriends or boyfriends or lovers, you are something More than Life out on that stage; you are what they dream of. So give ‘em a look, love, he’d say. Have a bit o’fun yourself while you’re at it. If he’d learned anything, he learned that. It was part of the job. He’d been at it a long time, over thirty years at this point. Be charming. Be nice.
And yet, you couldn’t please everyone. Or perhaps to be fair, no longer the manager, no longer the one in charge, the one who looked after these things, you’d let down your guard. He wasn’t as young as he’d used to be, after all, no question of that; in his youth he’d employed his talents for persuasion without even thinking about it, in his twenties or thirties he’d have been more fun and more daring, and it would have worked too; he never ceased to be amazed at just how far flattery got you. These boys with paper and pencil, what they wanted to do was write, to be critics of Art but their real ambition was a lot less lofty. They claimed to be after Truth but after a couple of beers they’d settle for quick relief; bashful boys faking bravado but grateful for a helping hand, an embrace, a kiss, release. All you had to do was have their copy written for them, help them in the fumbling with buttons and shirttails, ignore their feeble protestations, assure them their secret was safe. There were worse jobs.
At nearly sixty, however, he had to find other options, rely on less demanding techniques. A new generation had come along, more sophisticated, some of them, certainly less impressionable, not so easily played. William found himself appealing not to prurient interests but to an appreciation of the Dignity of Art. The tables had turned. Now noble, not naughty, he offered respectability and scoffed at scandal. At least until he was sure of his audience and had the fellow’s trust.
“Don’t,” he said to the reporter from the Oakland Trib. “Please.”