I haven't been at MGM long, but I've been here long enough to know that I'm not making the kind of money Clark Gable is, or even the hundred and twelve thousand that Deana Durbin, just about my age, is pulling in. I get fifty dollars a week, and, courtesy of a little firecracker embedded in my contract, the studio has the right to impose an annual twelve-week layoff period during which my pay drops to thirty-five dollars.
Clearly, on money like this Bappie and I have left the Plaza. The desk clerk there helped us find an apartment on nearby Wilcox Avenue: one room with a pull-down bed, a two-ring cooker, and a microscopic bathroom. Nothing classy, but we can afford it, especially after Bappie used an introduction from her New York boss to get a job at I. Magnin.
That same clerk worked out my bus route to the studio. Let me tell you, honey, you want to be a film star, you've got to be an early riser. I am stepping out into the cold dawn of Hollywood at 5A.M. I walk to the bus terminal about three blocks away and take the first bus out of there to Wilshire Boulevard. A second bus takes me close to Culver City and a third one drops me off in front of the studio.
The nice men on the gate, who have obviously seen a thousand white-faced kids go through in their time, told me the way to makeup. That was my first destination. I held a piece of paper giving me my orders -- the call sheet -- which informed me that I had to report to a stage where I'd be an extra dancing in a ballroom scene. It sounded very pleasant. But the first makeup department. I was terrified.
As soon as I walked in through the white coats and the bustle and announced shyly, "I'm Avuh Gardnuh. I was told to come here," I realized that my statement did not electrify anybody. Nobody had ever heard of Avuh Gardnuh. Nobody cared if they ever saw Avuh Gardnuh again. Oh, they were busy all right, but evenutally Jack Dawn, who is head of makeup, was told of my arrival, and he came out to see why I was lost. He was very brusque. "You are in the wrong department. You should be down in the extras' makeup department." His tone indicated that the extras' makeup department was a sort of leper colony reserved for juveniles like me.
Confused, I held out my piece of paper and said plaintively, "But they told me to come here!"
"Wrong place," insisted Jack. "Extras' makeup." Of course, I have since learned that I should have told him I was under contract, that magic little word that makes all the difference between officer class and the lesser ranks.
I think Jack decided to be nice, for he pulled out a piece of paper and went on, "Now here's a list of the makeup you'll need down there," making it sound like the last circle of Hell. And, as my eyes popped out, he went on: "Pancake makeup." What the hell is that? "Mascara." I've never heard of it; it sounds like a disease. "False eyelashes." I need artifical eyelashes like I need another head. Plus a lot of other things. I stood looking down at the list thinking, "How am I going to afford this on thirty-five bucks a week, plus fares, plus rent, plus food..."
Well, I went to the drug store and used up all my money, except for the three bus fares home. Bappie looked at my purchases very suspiciously and made rude noises. Especially about the pancake makeup. She is right. It's terrible stuff, a bright-yellowy-colored cream. You dab it on with a sponge. When you smile everything cracks. Even Garbo looks like Frankenstein, I'm sure.
As a matter of fact I don't use any of it. Somewhere in makeup they've finally got the message that this kid is a contract player, not an extra. The cosmestics are on the house, paid for my Louis B. Mayer. And this last time I went in I was passed to Charlie Schamm, who is a sweetheart.