Pat Hobby shook his head in sadness at the news on the radio. The world was at war. His next whisky would be a double. France had fallen. Great Britain was standing alone. Hitler and his Nazi thugs controlled Europe. Pat spared a thought for Jakob Lowenstein, a scriptwriter friend who had married a French woman and moved to Paris ten years ago. Pat and Jakob had shared many a drink and secretary together back in the good old days. They had worked on a number of pictures together too. Lowenstein had been good with dialogue, Hobby good on structure. For the first time in a long time Pat offered up a prayer, to the great barman in the sky, that Jakob would be okay, or that he would get out of France in time.
Suddenly a prayer was answered – which granted had been offered up some time ago – in that Vince Malley, the barman and owner of Malley’s Tavern, poured Pat a free drink. The half-Irish, half-Italian, but wholly American Malley poured himself a large whisky too.
“We need to get into the fight soon,” Malley exclaimed, scrunching his face up in frustration or belligerence.
“It’s not our fight to get into,” replied another barfly, neither frustrated nor belligerent – though a little irked that he had not received a free shot as well.
“It’s everybody’s fight,” Pat Hobby announced, as much to himself as to the bar, quoting a line from a First World War movie that Jakob Lowenstein had worked on, The Doughboys. Pat, more one to concern himself with the gossip on the lot and in Variety, also remembered the news reports about the night of broken glass in Germany a few years back. His face looked even more careworn than usual, his eyes even more red-rimmed.
“It’s everybody’s fight,” the producer Ion Tinder proclaimed, chomping upon a large cigar with more enthusiasm than usual. “This war could be the shot in the arm that the movie business has been waiting for. War pictures sell, as sure as night follows day. Even surer in fact! This war could mean boom time again. But we can’t stand still and hope that it starts raining money. Every director, producer, actor, best boy, screenwriter, publicist and usherette needs to grasp this opportunity with both hands. And I need you to grasp this opportunity I’m about to give you Pat.”
Pat Hobby sat in the producer’s office, half asleep. He would only stir once the subject of money was brought up. Money he was willing to grab with both hands. Opportunities were liable to slip through his fingers.
“It could lead to some good money and even a writing credit. The British actor Nigel Chester is in town. He was a star on the London stage and has recently conquered Broadway. He’s just won an award for acting in some play called The Berry Orchard, penned by some Russian guy. That reminds me, I must get my secretary to get onto this guy’s agent to ask if the author has sold the film rights. Anyway, this Nigel Chester could be the next big thing. He’d be perfect playing an RAF officer. He’s got the clean looks and the right British accent for the movies. He’s like Basil Rathbone but younger and with a moustache. His agent has indicated that he wants to get into film. I want you to take these scripts over to him – we’re putting him up in a condo on the coast – and persuade him that Hollywood beats Broadway. If you convince him to sign up for one of the projects then I’ll give you a credit and you can help out with the script. How does that sound?”
“Forty bucks for the day, which’ll include expenses.”
“I’ll do it for fifty.”
They settled on forty.
“That’s more than any other delivery boy gets paid. And if you deliver Chester, then we can add a zero onto the next cheque.”
The glowing red of dusk induced in Pat a craving for a Bloody Mary as he drove along the winding coastal road. He could taste the salt in the air from the foaming sea. Yet unfortunately the taste of salt would not be followed by lime and a shot of tequila. As consolation for the absence of a Bloody Mary and shot of tequila Pat took out his hip flask containing a fine enough malt whisky.
The condo was large and sat upon an isolated part of the coast. The studio often rented the property to stars or producers who needed to dry out or escape from their wives or mistresses. Chester answered the door himself. The theatre critic for the New York Times had described the actor as “elegant” and “quintessentially British.” Hobby thought he looked thin and pale.
“Come in Mr Hobby, Mr Tinder phoned ahead. Thank you for travelling all this way. Let me help you with that,” Chester remarked, as he unburdened Pat of the box containing the scripts. “Would you like a drink?”
Although the Brits stood alone, Pat Hobby would not allow one of them to drink alone.
Nigel Chester refilled his guest’s glass – and his own – again. Who needs expenses? – Pat happily thought to himself. The forty-nine year old screenwriter was growing to like his host – and not just because of his finest single malt whisky. Chester was genuinely amiable and was fond of conversing, rather than just monologuing (unlike most actors, British or otherwise, Pat had encountered over the years). He was well dressed and well spoken, although as the evening wore on Chester relieved himself of his jacket and tie. His accent also started to slip – and the boy from south London commenced to creep out of the classically-trained thespian.
Hobby, after recounting something of his own background, learned that although the newspapers referred to Chester as being refined, part of the establishment and even aristocratic he was, in reality, the son of a milkman and a charwoman from Eltham. After starring in his first play in London, Chester had stepped out with both a Bowes-Lyon and a Rothschild. He began to make the society pages and continued to play the “English gent”. And America loved the act more than anyone.
“I’ve come a long way you could say Pat. Too far. I’m now six thousand miles away from ‘ome. My country’s at war and the only uniform I’m looking to put on is one provided by a costume department. My mates in Eltham are signing up to enlist and I’m out ‘ere looking to sign a film deal,” the actor remarked with self-censure.
Shortly afterwards Chester excused himself and said he was heading off to bed, but yet he wasn’t sleeping well and would try to look over a few of the scripts. He insisted that Pat stay the night however and showed him to a guest bedroom.
Shortly after the actor departed Hobby filled his hip flask up with his host’s finest malt whisky and turned in too.
Sunlight glinted upon the churning ocean the following morning as Pat Hobby looked outside of his window. His stomach churned too, from his bout of drinking the previous night. Unused to the sea air – the fresh air – he had a headache. When Pat finally showered and dressed it was approaching midday. He found his host in the kitchen, a number of scripts splayed out upon the table before him, with a mug of coffee in his hand.
“Morning Pat. Hope you slept well. I’ve been looking over these scripts. There’s one that shows promise and that I’d like to talk to Mr Tinder about. It still needs some work though – and I was told you’re good on structure. There’s a scene I think that could use some work that I’d like you to take a look at. Of course if things come to fruition I’ll arrange for you to come on board with the picture.”
Pat Hobby first poured himself some coffee and then duly poured over the script. The scene concerned the protagonist’s decision to give up his teaching position at Oxford, to enlist in the RAF. Chester asked the screenwriter to fill out the speech made by the hero, to make it more poignant or inspiring. Hobby replied that he would do his best, but that he asked to be able to work in private. The screenwriter took a pen, some paper, a mug of coffee and his hip flask out onto the condominium’s balcony. Half an hour went by and the sheet of paper was still only marked by a squiggly line that Pat had made to check that the pen was working. He dozed off during the second half an hour he spent working out on the balcony. Yet soon after he woke up Hobby had an inspired idea. He would re-write a speech written by Jakob Lowenstein for the movie The Doughboys.
“There’s no peace to be had with the Germans. There’s no pact to be made with the Devil. It’s fight, or be slain. Their enemy isn’t just a country or even a nationality. The enemy for them is civil society as we know it. Their enemies are love and freedom… You say to me that it’s not my fight, or that other men should take my place and stand in the line. No. You ask me whose fight this is? It’s everybody’s fight!”
“This is great Pat. You’re great Pat,” the actor announced upon reading over the scene. He then read over the words again and gulped, as if choking back tears or about to break down. He recovered however to remark, “I’m going to tell Tinder that I want to go ahead with the project – and I want you on board too.”
No sooner did Chester finish that sentence than he was on the telephone to Ion Tinder to tell him the good news. He also sung Pat’s praises and spoke with a manic enthusiasm about wishing to proceed with the project immediately. When the actor finally passed the phone over to the screenwriter the producer mentioned how Hobby could expect him to add a zero to the cheque he was due to collect.
The warm, massaging rays of the afternoon sun and a few swigs of whisky from his hip flask brought the colour back into his cheeks as Pat Hobby drove back to Hollywood. He stopped off at Malley’s Tavern – and bought Vince Malley a drink – on his triumphant return, before heading over to the studio to collect his cheque. He thought of what he might spend the money on. He would buy a new suit. He would also book a table at the Malabar or Sapphire Sea and finally pluck up the courage to ask out Alice Rowe, from the secretarial pool. He was back, he thought.
Pat was half-expecting to be given a cigar when he walked into Ion Tinder’s office, in congratulations for delivering the actor. Instead the screenwriter received a face full of cigar smoke, as the producer spat out across his desk,
“You’ve been, quite literally, the author of your own demise this time Hobby.”
“I, I don’t understand,” Pat replied, spluttering from the cigar smoke and confusion.
“I’ve just got off the phone from the bastard. He won’t be signing up for any war picture, as he’s decided to enlist and take part in the war for real. He’ll be signing his own death sentence rather than any film deal now. Bastard actors!” Tinder shouted, chomping down so hard upon his cigar that it broke and nearly fell from his mouth. “And you’re to blame. It seems you wrote something and he took it to heart so much that he wants to join the army. Chester said to tell you “it’s everybody’s fight” – that you’d understand. I bet you’re regretting your dumb ass call to arms, no? – seeing as you won’t now be getting a credit or that bonus.”
Hobby tilted his head slightly and his eyes looked skyward, in reflection. He remembered again Jakob Lowenstein and the newspaper reports after Kristallnacht.
“No, I’m not,” Pat replied.
This story is from the collection, The Complete Pat Hobby, by Richard Foreman.