“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.