The Year Everything Important Happened

Page 2 of 64

Finding the Way


On the way to William Macauley’s last home, Rensselaer County, New York, October 2016, photo by the author

I am remembering.  But now I seem to be forgetting as well.  Recent gaps have appeared, holes in the narrative. Or not holes as much as partial truths, incomplete reconstructions. That is why it is so important to write down everything as soon as possible afterward.  Because even as I write, there are times I begin to wonder and to doubt and to second guess.

I can tell you this: I never planned on changing the Past.

Not true.

I did not start out trying to change the Past.

A little bit true.

I did not start out trying to change the Past in any big way. Not like people going back to kill Hitler or trying to stop the assassination of President Kennedy.  Nothing big like that.  Yes of course I knew all about that butterfly, how stepping on it has an Effect, how it will change the way English is spelled and alter the course of events and the outcome of elections.  (Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder,” first published in Collier’s Magazine, June 28, 1952, four months after William Macauley departed this plane of reality).

But then I discovered I could Fall.

And then I found myself in Cairo Illinois in 1904 and I realized a lot of what I thought about the world and the Past was simply wrong, that a great deal of what I’d been taught and led to believe about the way Time worked just wasn’t true.  And more than that I discovered there were powers at work devoted to keeping it that way; forces out there dedicated to protecting our ignorance, intent on maintaining the status quo on all planes, in all realities, times and places.

No wonder Change was so difficult.  No simple back-space-and-delete: real change would require a more complicated process, like the old days with carbon copies, try and correct your mistake on the top layer but you still had two or three layers beneath and how could you fix those other versions?  What you did mattered on multiple levels, Press Hard You Are Making Three Copies.  No wonder Karma worked and History kept repeating itself.  And Reincarnation: coming back over and over again to get it right, to change, to evolve.  You might be able to do it eventually but you had to work at it, it wouldn’t be easy.  It would take Time.

And so, if somehow you stumbled on a way to go back and recalibrate, say, or readjust, or fix the Past, wouldn’t you want to try? Like you, I’d been told all my Life that the Past was Past, Yesterday was Gone, Nothing I could do would ever fix it, I would have to live with my mistakes for the rest of my life, I’d be punished forever, forced to regret until the day I died, Too Late, What’s Done is Done, but now here was a chance to achieve the impossible, to undo, try again, Start Over, and you want to know why I would dare? Really, why?  Given the risks, considering how dangerous, how uncertain, why?  Why would I take that chance?

At the time, the answer seemed perfectly obvious: because I wanted to help you.

Not quite true.

Or perhaps because I thought if I helped you, maybe you would help me.

Finding You


City Directory, Troy, New York, 1887, William Macauley (“Wm. McCauley”) age 17, working as a shirtcutter at 70 Sixth (Avenue), a shirt factory (unidentified); b. (boarding at) 32 Eleventh (Street), Troy (structure still standing though much altered).

In our story, William’s and mine, are to be found the names of ancient cities, sometimes mispronounced.  Cairo.  Troy.

It was cold in Cairo that time (see the previous entries).  Not Indian Summer like it was in Troy.  I forgot to mention that.  I hadn’t dressed for it, hadn’t planned on being there for so long.  Exactly how long is a story for another time, but for the moment know that it was cold in November of 1909, colder still in February of 1904. I learned then that you can Fall and feel the seasons of the past, the weather and climate, along with the more immediate sensations. Fear. Sadness. Regret. Panic. Terror. Love.

I should probably be clear, though. You don’t need Falling to find someone.  There are city directories for that.  The Nineteenth Century loved measuring itself; counting its citizens, its streets and roads and alleys and lanes, its size, bulk, girth and growth, its buildings, businesses, bridges, banks, births, laborers, widows.  Impressive tomes when you line them up on a shelf, the important local enterprise taking over the cover for advertising, the biggest Dry Goods Department Store, for example, and oh the advertising, the things to buy, places to see, go, spend your money, invest, how much like Look At Me the city directories are, brag books of numbers and statistics.  Look At Us, they exclaim, how big we are, how fast we are growing, expanding, how many, how much, how often.  Add the city directories to the national census records, the voter rolls, the passenger ship manifests, check the obituaries and local news in the local papers and it isn’t that hard tracking someone down.  You don’t have to Fall in Time to find a person.

I did not Fall to find William Macauley.  You could argue that Falling was a way to make the research come alive, or that I was simply imagining the facts into greater reality, but the truth was exactly the opposite.  I didn’t have to imagine.  I already knew the facts anyway, in a fashion.  I didn’t need to study the city directories – which, unlike census records, only list heads of household, not dependents, and not women unless they are widows, and not children unless they are working – I wasn’t perusing the microfiche and scanning the fragile brown disbound pages to find proof or evidence.  Been there, done that, you could say, and literally. The research was great fun, however, like a game, a puzzle, a treasure hunt, and you could not ask for better companions to play with than the archivists and research librarians and historical society staff I met along the way.  Barbara and Cathy and Rose, you are treasures yourself and thank you!  But I wasn’t really looking for something or someone I didn’t know.  I was being guided and directed and reminded of what I had forgotten.

I was remembering.



I don’t know about you but when I find myself somewhere I am not supposed to be, my first impulse is to not be.  To run.  To get the hell out of there.  In this instance, however, where would that be, exactly? And where was I going to go? Based on the way the stranger in the crowd was staring at me, I needed to figure that out because I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And I was not invisible.

We want rules and laws; we seek them out, demand them, would make them up even if they did not exist.  A child bangs a cup on the table to determine the rules of engagement in this world, the laws of solidity, throws food to develop theories of aerodynamics, axioms of weight and mass, grabs and bites toys to test the way the world works, tastes, bends, reacts.  She reaches for your nose and although flexible, it does not come off; she sucks your finger and no milk issues forth.  These are things worth remembering.  This I can move and has potential; that resists my effort and is of lesser importance.  Reality thus achieves dimension, value, certainty.  So what then, if suddenly and without warning, the cup you’re banging so satisfactorily and loudly sinks through the tabletop like a spoon into pudding?  What do you do if the Cheerios tossed in the air remain there obstinate, suspended, defying gravity?  How do you react when the plush lamb thrown from on high stands up and walks away?

I had not been falling all that frequently, you understand; I was a child testing the system, seeking out the limits, searching for the parameters governing the process.  As I’ve said, the trick was falling in the first place; coming back had never been a problem.  Coming to was more like it, not unlike starting awake from the edge of nodding off.  Or like catching your breath, shaking off a daydream.  In truth, mostly what I had experienced, up to this point, was more akin to watching a movie playing on someone else’s laptop, about as vivid as glimpsing an episode of a show you’ve seen before but now on the iPad of the stranger in the seat next to you. As substantial as that, at an inconvenient angle perhaps, distorted yet familiar and real but without depth or substance except for the memory and then you catch yourself and look away.

Except I could not look away, and now the stranger’s hat was not a black bowler but a variation of the cowboy hat the Canadian Mounted Police wear, and his eyes were hidden by the reflecting mirrors of aviator sunglasses and I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I ran.

I don’t recommend it.  If you ever fall, don’t run.  It’s probably one of the most important rules of the process I was to regret not discovering sooner, and yet one more time common sense dictated I do precisely the opposite. I can hardly be blamed; it is not an unnatural desire to deny: ask me if I did something wrong and my first inclination will be to say no.  Likewise, tell me to stop and I’m almost certain to keep right on going.  Hence police pursuits that end badly.

What happens when you take action in an alternate time and place, however, as I would come to understand, is that you mimic the movement of the stream or current you find yourself in; you provoke a comparable energy.  So I broke into a panicked run in Cairo Illinois in February of 1904 and consequently the Time continuum rose up to match that action, or complement it, you might say, and the tabletop turned to pudding, Time became fluid, history rippled, events fell off at my touch.

I had never seen a Civil War gun boat before, but I saw them then: half submerged tanks, menacing metal alligators floating in the muddy brown confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.   And then Time shifted again like a blow to the head and I heard and smelled an angry mob headed my way, sweat and rage like kerosene and burning rubber: this was the crowd of men and women who pursued and lynched Will James, a black man accused of murder in Cairo in 1909, tearing his body apart, setting fire to his remains and leaving his severed head on a pole in the town square for days afterward. One of the worst lynchings in the history of America. And I could tell you Cairo is a terrible place that fell into a decline as a result after that, because of the vicious hate-filled stagnant air of the place, or because of the decline of river traffic and years of flooding and the relocation of business and commerce but none of this meant anything to me in the moment, nothing mattered except the fear in my lungs, propelling me away across space and years, heaving, stumbling terrified into the jumbled darkness of the past.

I can tell you this because I survived.  But I can’t tell you how, or how long I was gone because no time elapsed on this side, in this reality.  Perhaps you have dreamed you needed to escape some terrible danger and your legs would not cooperate, you felt like you were trapped in mud up to your waist. Or you were drowning which seemed to take your breath away and seemed to last forever, and then you woke gasping in the thin light before dawn.

It was like that.



Once you discover you can do this, it’s all you want to do. You withdraw, you make excuses, you want to be left alone, you want to do it all the time. It’s like the discoveries of your youth, like being young again and your mother is so exasperated, literally wrings her hands at the dinner table and asks what’s wrong with you these days and your father and older brothers look away in the stillness that falls and in retrospect you see them exchanging looks not quite under the table as if they know or can guess and aren’t going to let you in on the secret but you’ve managed to find out anyway and you have clarity, the world now makes sense.  And you understand why sex is a secret and never discussed and why alcohol is forbidden because if secrets like these ever get out, who will want to do anything else?

And now this.  Falling.  It has arrived late in life, or it has returned because it was something you could do as a child before you had the language to describe it. The trick is not to analyze the process because logic will pull you right out, you can’t look at Amtrak maps, the City of New Orleans’ route from New Orleans to Memphis to Chicago and places in between, the song Arlo Guthrie sings won’t help, Good Morning America how are you, the train doesn’t even stop anymore in the places you are going; the distance from Dyersburg, Tennessee to Cairo, Illiinois is about a hundred miles, an hour and a half by car but this kind of research will bring you out of the Fall.

The hardest part first, however, the part you resist, will be the involuntary reaction to not let go; the nausea if you try to.  More than one woman, several in fact, independently of each other, have told me the same story: as young girls their fathers said to them, “Fall back and I’ll catch you.”  While standing on the edge of a back porch, teetering on the top of a garden wall, on a dock on a small lake; the father below, in the water, in the grass, arms out.  “I’ll catch you,” he promises. The exhilaration as each of them innocently struggles with temptation, fighting the natural impulse, the disinclination to obey.  “I’ll catch you,” he says again. And then they close their eyes and fall back, and he doesn’t.

The shock is worse than the fall.  More memorable not feeling those familiar safe hands, waiting until it is too late for the anticipated grasp of strong arms, a disappointment that lasts forever. “Never trust a man,” he tells her afterward through her tears. “Never trust a man who says he will catch you protect you save you wait for you won’t hurt you.”

Lessons of childhood.  A lesson boys and girls learn in different ways.  No one is going to catch you.  That’s the fear. And you are not wrong.

Cairo, pronounced in a way you’ve never heard before, KAY-row, a train station more like a loading dock or a wharf, or maybe it actually is a wharf, barrels and bales and a cold bright day in February, men laboring, laborers, boys, workers, white and black, sailors of a sort but no salt in the air, this is a river town, the train is the City of New Orleans to Chicago by way of Memphis, sometimes following the Mississippi.

Shiny milk and tar streams, cream and coal black stripes of cheap polished cotton to look like silk pulled up in a bustle trimmed with acid green emerald bows to match the one at her throat, it’s the dress from Act Two. They’re staring, I am, you are saying, of the men the boys the black and white eyes on us, you are saying and I am hearing you, the anxious tone, the wonder and she replies – you see her lips, the beauty mark on the dimple the powder and the rouge on cheeks the wild green of her eyes – that’s the point silly, give me your arm, look at me, laugh like I’ve said something terribly funny, and you / I / we are actors doing our parts we laugh, we see our breath on this cold February morning in 1904, no sleep on the train, a matinee and an evening performance Saturday in Cairo, another town, another theater, here with the actress who loves the one you love or says she does, and she is not afraid of anything and you trust her.

And then it happens, just at that moment that you / I / we realize where we are, where I am rather, at the same moment I become aware of someone else.  An intruder.  No more than a glance in passing, a bowler hat that shadows a profile, a brushing of black and white stripes as he goes by, a stirring in the air that catches my attention but not hers and he looks back and I know that he knows I should not be there.  He sees me.  Not you, not William, not our leading lady.  Me. And I know with a sinking feeling as the nausea rises up, the dread, the sudden cold stab of fear, that I am not invisible, and I am not alone, that he is also from my time and place. And he can see me, and knows my secret.

Things to Worry About


Tamara de Lempicka, Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, 1929, oil on panel, Private Collection, Switzerland

I think of Blyth Daly and I think of Nick Carraway’s friend Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby: Jordan the cynical, self-centered golfing friend of Daisy’s who’s based on another athletic young woman Fitzgerald knew but sometimes types become types because everyone knows one. Iris Storm, driving her Hispano-Suiza in The Green Hat in 1924; Tamara de Lempicka the Art Deco artist painting herself behind the wheel of a green Bugati in 1929; Nick telling Jordan she’s a bad driver in The Great Gatsby, but that’s the point, the modern emancipated woman, the woman without a man, the careless girl at the wheel.

William and I are in L.A. at the same age.  At different times, but that’s not the point, we are here. William, me, and you. Whoever you are. This is about you or you wouldn’t keep reading, this is about the you who wonders if you should worry about the Past or the Future and where you were or might have been, then, now. Where am I? you ask. What part of this is mine? Who’s driving? Who is the Villain of the piece? We fall back to find out.

Is Time the Villain?  1933 and that Art Deco ivory Bakelite clock is ticking, little bronze beauty on top, striding in silhouette in her evening gown, being dragged by Borzoi hounds into tomorrow.  Or is 1904 the year everything happened? No, you want a flesh and blood bad guy in a black hat, a naughty femme fatale behind the wheel, easy to identify with the bobbed hair and Kohl eyes.  Sheilah Graham, born in 1904, grows up to be a showgirl, has an affair with F. Scott, becomes a gossip columnist who can make and break careers in Hollywood. I wonder if she was a bad driver.

In 1933 Bridal Wise has a run at El Capitan in Hollywood and F. Scott’s Tender is the Night is published and it’s a flop, it’s a different time and place, Gatsby is the Past, Zelda has been institutionalized, Fitzgerald has seven more years to live before he drinks himself to death, in 1933 he writes a letter to his daughter at summer camp telling her all the things she’s not to worry about, like the future, and things she should worry about instead like being good but it’s a laundry list for himself of things he is struggling with that he’s pawning off as fatherly advice on an eleven year old child, if there’s anything you want to go back to the Past to do it’s to tell children not to listen to their parents, don’t take on their misery, don’t let them project their fears or hopes onto you, don’t take on their neediness, worry about your own future, not theirs.

I wonder if that’s what happened to Blyth? Daughter of an artist, did she ever get a letter from Daddy who told her how to live her life? Is that what fathers do? In 1933 William is a man without children, not a father, I am the same age, another man without children, how would either of us know what to do with a child?  In 1933 my father is 16 years old and still a child, an only child, and it will be years before I come along to take on his list of things to worry about, years before I assume his struggles, his unhappiness, his regrets, and when the time comes I will do it before I even possess the language to refuse, before I am even able to say, this is not mine, this is your list, not mine.

Blyth Daly


“Blyth Daly is the one who really seems to have made out,” Rose observes.

“How do you figure that?” I ask.

“According to the Internet Broadway Data Base Bridal Wise opened May 30, 1932, and ran for 128 performances. 16 weeks. It closed in September. And this at a time when Broadway theaters were not air conditioned. ‘Biggest hit of the season?’ Oh yes, it must have been a rousing success. The theater season in 1932 did not correspond to the season as now understood on Broadway but it wasn’t limited to a 16 week summer engagement, even in the depths of the Depression when there weren’t as many people summering on Long Island or at Saratoga as there had been, just a few years earlier.”

“I only report what I find, Rose,” I reply, a little defensively.  “I let the facts speak for themselves…”

“You mean the press releases.  And your ghosts.”

But I too can use the Internet Broadway Data Base and quickly do so, rifling the metaphoric pages of entries with a flourish of authority. “Look,” I say, “there were nearly 200 productions on Broadway in 1932, including revivals, and Shakespeare, and variety shows, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Show Boat, and okay, Gay Divorce which opened in November and ran until July of ’33 for 248 performances which is a very nice run but into the next year so it doesn’t really count, and oh look Ruth Draper, and The Boyfriend which I’m guessing didn’t star Tommy Tune or Twiggy – hahaha – but seriously most of these shows closed after a few performances, oh here’s one, If Booth Had Missed now there’s a title for you, 21 performances at Maxine Elliott’s Theatre and… wait, Whispering in the Dark ran for 265 performances? 265? Definitely more than Bridal Wise except wait, it moved from the Barrymore to the Waldorf Theatre, does that count as two productions, or – can even they do that?”

“Press agents,” Rose begins and pauses for effect, “lie.  Trust me,” she adds.  “I speak from experience.”

“You need a good Front Man,” I say, agreeing but trying to shift the focus.  “William knew that, it’s how you promoted yourself, it’s how – “

“They all lie,” Rose repeats. “It was not the biggest hit of whatever you want to call a Broadway season and I rest my case. But back to Blyth, or sometimes Blythe with an ‘e.’  Think about it.  She books a Broadway lead for the summer, followed by having her holidays off, followed by getting the hell out of NYC as the winter turns hard, followed by headlining again in sunny Los Angeles. Luck? Or a clever agent? They are both good to have, my darling. Both good to have.”

“A step-father who’s a playwright and producer might help too,” I add and Rose nudges the air with her shoulder and an eyebrow as if to say, it couldn’t hurt.

To recap: Blyth Daly arrived in L.A. from New York in January of 1933 to reprise her role from the Broadway cast of Bridal Wise which had been stage managed by her step-father the actor/playwright/producer Frank Craven, author of New Brooms, in which Blyth had appeared on Broadway in 1924 (and in which William appeared in the San Francisco production in 1928).  Blyth (sometimes Blythe), was born in 1901 in London, the only child of actors Arnold Daly and Mary Blyth.  A few years younger than William Macauley, Arnold Daly had been born in Brooklyn to Irish parents (yet another Irishman) and found his way to the stage as a teenager, went on to write and act and direct and manage his own repertory company, took his wife and child with him touring the country (as William had done) at the turn of the century. The marriage did not survive (Mary divorced him, twice, then married Frank Craven in 1915), and by 1914 Arnold had turned to silent film, acting, and also directing and producing a number of films between 1914 and 1926. He died, under suspicious circumstances, in 1927.

It seemed inevitable, with parents and a helpful step-father in the business, that Blyth would find her way on stage. She certainly found notoriety. In New York she became associated with the Algonquin Round Table set; she and her friends Tallulah Bankhead, Estelle Winwood and Eva Le Gallienne, were dubbed the Four Riders of the Algonquin, possibly because they all liked riding (not writing) and horses or because they were also rumored to like other girls and a wit like Dorothy Parker could see the connection. Once Blyth arrived on the west coast she became a “lively character among the Hollywood elite,” tanned and athletic, riding horses and playing tennis and golf and getting into car accidents and other people’s scandals.  Famous for being famous, a few promising roles, a few minor film roles… and then obscurity.

She could have been William’s daughter, he might have thought, shuddered to think, when he met her backstage at El Capitan, the boyish girl (but over thirty, no longer a girl), a flapper with shingled hair and a pout and a reputation and a way that said, I’m not like other girls.  And despite the father-daughter difference in age, she and William had a few things in common: some of the same shows, same theaters in the same towns where trains stopped and actors and their companies and families got out for a one night stand or a one week run, back and forth across the country before the War, the same uncertainty, being on the move, season to season, town to town. William had known fellow actors with children, had thanked the Fates he’d never had to bear that burden, never struggled with what to do with a wife and a kid and a show to do and another mouth to feed and oh if he had, if he’d married, if there had been children…  But that had not been his path, had not been an option. Avery Hopwood the famous playwright might pretend, a flurry of press releases about his pending marriage that never happened.  There were others and they did lie, maybe not all but plenty tried to. And had good agents, good press, good luck or bad luck, depending on how you looked at it.   Biggest show of the season, one of the biggest, a decent run, a respectable marriage, a child, a career that might take off but didn’t.  Still, it wasn’t over until it was over.  Even if a sense of being over hung over certain people, the way a feeling of vague pending doom could cling to an era, a time and place, a person. Nothing lasted forever but sometimes, William thought, you couldn’t help feeling it was over before it began.  Especially in those brief precious moments when you wished it would never end.

I think of Blyth and I think of Nick Carraway’s friend Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. Jordan the cynical, self-centered golfing friend of Daisy’s was based on another athletic young woman Fitzgerald knew but sometimes types become types because everyone knows one.  The all-American beauty, the stalwart leading man, the dangerous guy with sex appeal, the terribly funny old bachelor, the boyish girl who likes horses, the actress who seems destined for fame that will never be.

Tom Moore


Tom Moore

Thirteen years younger than William Macauley, Tom Moore was also Irish born (County Meath in 1883) and had come to America with his family, a sister and three brothers, in 1896.  Unlike William, however, Tom turned to the camera instead of the stage, appearing in his first film, a short written and directed by D.W. Griffith, in 1908.  From that beginning Tom – along with his brothers Matt and Owen – would go on to have a significant career as a leading man of the “stalwart variety” (Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars). He would also turn to directing in 1914 and 1915.  Tom married three times, to the silent film star Alice Joyce (1914), French actress Renée Adorée (1921) and the actress Eleanor Merry (1931); his brother Owen would marry and divorce Mary Pickford before she was famous (disastrous match: his drinking, her youthful innocence and rise to fame).

Whether because of the toll the Depression had taken on the industry, or because he was getting older and stalwart leading man roles were harder to find, by the time Tom Moore starred in Bridal Wise, he’d more or less retired from film, would appear in only two more, in Trouble for Two (1936) with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, and Ten Laps to Go (1938) but would return after the War to work in television or in small and often uncredited film roles: as the ‘office clerk’ in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) starring Betty Grable, the ‘foreman’ in Road House starring Ida Lupino and Cornel Wilde (1948), and ‘tavern keeper’ in The Fighting O’Flynn (1949) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  He would die in 1955 in Santa Monica.

In January of 1933, however, FDR had just been elected, the New Deal was in the future, Hitler had only just been named Chancellor, the War was years away, and William Macauley and Tom Moore were two Irishmen riding out the Great Depression, surviving, on stage together, both brought to America as boys in the hope of finding better lives, both drawn to acting… and worlds apart, in ways that must have been obvious and in other ways, perhaps less so. One with a career on stage and the other in front of a camera, with more than a decade separating them, Tom with family in the business where William had none and had created his own by becoming a Henry Duffy Player. Not that having family necessarily helped, any more than being Irish got you anywhere, or being married or the leading man type, but you worked with what you had.

Five days after Bridal Wise opened, She Done Him Wrong premiered, starring Mae West, Cary Grant, and Tom’s brother Owen Moore (January 27, 1933).  Long divorced from Mary Pickford and an alcoholic, Owen was not the stalwart variety of leading man like Tom but Owen was the brother with sex appeal. He was also the dangerous one. The one you’d be careful to avoid at the cast party, no matter how much you’d had to drink yourself, the one who would turn on you because you were another Irishman, because you knew his brother, because of the way you looked at him. Hollywood was a small town and still is; keeping your private life separate from common knowledge isn’t easy.

And that was the beauty of the world of acting: you went on stage with people whose biographical details you knew (who thought they knew yours) and you made yourself forget, substituting their characters’ lives for the real lives you’d glimpsed in the dressing room, backstage, after rehearsal, read about in Variety and the Sunday photogravure pages, caught in glances and overheard conversations, in awkward introductions and misinterpreted remarks, sotto voce exchanges with directors, stage hands, brothers, and then you played your part.  You stepped out of yourself, you became someone else.  You made a point of replacing the genuine with the fictional, yours as well as theirs, until you could see and understand these people not as they were but as the characters they played, as they found their marks, their motivations, spoke their lines, made their entrances and exits.

You reacted, not to Tom Moore an Irishman exiled like yourself from a country you’d barely known, a child in a strange land, part of the diaspora, a man who loved and lost and loved again, surviving as you were surviving the best either of you knew how, who succeeded where you’d failed (but you kept on trying), a man with brothers and sisters he loved, with a family prone like all families, like your own, to competition and violence and drink and love and hate, yes, this was the gift the world of theater gave you, to alter your perspective on cue, to see the world differently, to see Tom Moore as Alan Burroughs, a stalwart sort of man, a well-off respectable married gentleman of means, untouched by the Depression, house on Long Island, member of the right clubs, probably Episcopalian, a man who loves horses and pretty girls who love to ride.

Lois Wilson



Lois Wilson (source)

1933 was a good year for William Macauley.  He was in his sixties now and working with some of the most famous actors in his long career.  At the top of the bill of Bridal Wise were two prolific Hollywood silent film stars: Lois Wilson (150 films) and Tom Moore (at least 186 films).  Lois, born in Pittsburgh in 1894 and no relation to another Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was in the first group of young actresses selected by WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) to be “Baby Stars” in 1922.  One of her most remembered roles would be her portrayal of Daisy Buchanan in Paramount Pictures’ 1926 silent film version (now lost) of The Great Gatsby which had been published in 1925. Credited by critics with a typical all-American kind of beauty, Lois Wilson worked with such leading men of her day as Rudolph Valentino (She described him as “Perfectly delightful with a great sense of humor”) and John Gilbert.

When William Macauley met Lois Wilson he was 63 and she was not yet 40, she had successfully made the transition to sound, but had become increasingly disappointed in the film roles she was being offered. Like actresses then and now, getting old wasn’t easy.  So she turned to the stage and found it more forgiving than the camera, except that even the theater had its limits, unless you were Sarah Bernhardt or Bellasco’s star Mrs Leslie Carter, “The American Bernhardt,” who went so far as to play Madame Du Barry when she was in her fifties (the film was not a hit).

There were those who could get away with anything, of course, and those who couldn’t. William knew that.  He’d played a West Point cadet when he was nearly 40.  Granted, getting old for men was different; nevertheless, the magic of acting only went so far.  And the world wasn’t sitting still either, everything was changing, the medium was changing, there were new forms of entertainment as old forms faded away, you needed to change with the times, you couldn’t play young forever. In later years Lois would find work in television, appearing on the soap operas The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night.  Her last film would be The Girl from Jones Beach, in 1949, playing the mother of Ronald Reagan’s love interest, Virginia Mayo. She would live to be 93 and die in Reno in 1988.

The past is in the present, not some separate distant long ago time. It is here then and now, silent film stars in the black and white soap operas your grandmother loved, Lois Wilson who’d once played Daisy Buchanan now a character on The Guiding Light and The Edge of Night, playing the mother of the girlfriend of the President of the United States.  Daisy Buchanan, the classic all-American beauty, Gatsby’s unattainable love, in Reno, older than the 20th century.

Bridal Wise, El Capitan


El Capitan Theatre (source)

“When Bridal Wise opens next Sunday matinee [January 22, 1933] at El Capitan theater, it will not only bring to Hollywood the only play which ran the entire season in New York last year, but will bring Lois Wilson and Tom Moore as attractions in the large cast, [and] Blythe Daly who will play the role she created in the original production. Another member of the cast is Marion Shockley, one of this year’s WAMPAS Baby stars. Others in the company are Grace Hampton, Jay Ward, juvenile, who played recently with Pauline Frederick in “As Husbands Go”; Ben Erway, William Macauley, “Hambone” Johnson, Cleo Desmond, John Ray and Walter Clyde.” (Arcadia Tribune, Arcadia, California – January 20, 1933)

Bridal Wise concerns itself with the tale of a horsey husband and his non-horsey wife whose marriage runs on the rocks because of their antipodal interests. After the divorce, Alan Burroughs marries a sort of female centaur. Joyce Burroughs mates with the family lawyer. As in Private Lives, fate brings the quartet together on their honeymoons.” (Time, June 13, 1932)

Bridal Wise had been one of the biggest Broadway hits of the previous season.  It was the show that brought its writers, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, to Hollywood: their film credits would one day include the first three Thin Man films, The Virginian, Father of the Bride, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; they would also be two of the many writers on Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Bridal Wise opened at El Capitan January 22, 1933, two days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.  In 1956 Goodrich and Hackett would win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their script adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank which also won the Tony for Best Play. In 1959 they would write the screen adaptation of their play.

1933 was a good year for William Macauley.  He was working with some of the biggest stars of his career.

Everything is connected.

Being There


London, July 1, 2016, photograph by the author

I thought falling back into Time would be easy in London, unavoidable even.  I’d taken a break from writing the book for a trip there, but I felt certain my sensitivity to the Past would be even stronger in an old place, Los Angeles or San Francisco being so new, comparatively speaking.  I suppose I expected to feel more in a city where so many more people had lived and died. Some parts of the earth are simply more ancient than others, I reasoned; London was a thriving metropolis teeming with Romans, after all, long before California had even been invented.

In Hollywood, however, you can find yourself face to face without warning with a bloody gladiator smoking a cigarette or an eighteenth century girl in powdered wig on her iPhone; the centuries blur in this town where people come to lose their personal Past and create another, so I was no stranger to historical incongruity, and when we emerged from the Green Park Underground station on the morning of the 1st of July and met up with a troop of young men in uniforms of soldiers from the first World War, I didn’t blink.  Once I realized I wasn’t the only one who could see them, that is.  And no, I was not alone and they were quite real, in a surreal fashion, not blending in at all with the other pedestrians.  Film shoot, I quickly surmised.  Or perhaps, like a Civil War Re-enactment back home, they were members of a costume drama club for young men who loved dressing up and pretending to settle old disputes.

We followed the troups, these youthful Doughboys, through the arcade of the Ritz on Piccadilly, headed toward Fortnum and Mason, when I noticed another group moving in the same direction on the other side of the street, by the Burlington Arcade.  We stopped at the traffic light and one of the boys – truly a boy, he might have been no more than sixteen or seventeen – turned to stare back at me, passively, almost a little expectantly.

“Where are you going?” I asked.  He didn’t answer but continued looking at me mutely, and then handed me a card.  On it was written: “Private George Smith, 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, Died at the Somme on 1st July 1916” and at the bottom, something I noticed later, a hashtag, #wearehere.

Private George Smith couldn’t speak, of course, because he had died on this day a hundred years before.  For the past few months I’d been working on the story of a dead man but it hadn’t prepared me to meet one so young and so alive and so far from home.

Later I would learn the details, the identity of the organizer, the scope and extent of this tribute to the fallen.  Later I would wonder where my actor William had been on the 1st of July in 1916.  I knew he had not been a young man and he had not been in France when 19,000 men died on the the first day of that terrible battle.  He had not been there.  I don’t think I had been there either, until that moment, looking into the eyes of a young actor on a street in London a hundred years later.

The Past does not register until you find a human connection to it.  It doesn’t have to be DNA, or a common language or heritage or the right setting, although I suppose that would all help.  So does being old. But too much life, too many people in the present can be a hindrance, a roaring white noise that disrupts, drowns out the old. History is the hardest thing to teach to the young, because they have so many distractions and so little material to work with, so little Time.  By itself, however, Time, even in ancient surroundings, will not help you conjure another era or another life.

There were moments later, walking in Russell Square, in Bloomsbury, a place I know better than other parts of London, when slipping into the Past felt easier, or possible.  Virginia Woolf’s father died in 1904, her life changed then, she walked here.  I once owned a note written by Lytton Strachey to her that year that mentions her brother Thoby Stephen, describing him as looking like a young Theseus (he would die two years later on a trip to Greece); I bought it at auction and sold it again a few years later because I was poor and had no business spending money on ephemera of people I’d never known, but the connection lingered: a tingling in the touch, like a startled recognition prompted by a look exchanged by accident on the street with another boy who died too young; a feeling of being part of something much greater and older and richer and sadder than ever seemed possible.  A sense of being connected, of being there.

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