Remembering what's new
THE postman just brought the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Members' Calendar, and with it came a host of old friends, worth remembering. The film ``I'm No Angel'' was listed. ... Wesley Ruggles was the director-producer of this film, and I was his executive secretary and dialogue director on the set. It was a circus story: the heroine, a beautiful, sparkling queen whose daring act kept the audience (and crew) rooted to whatever they could hang on to as she bravely placed her head in the jaws of a wild, ferocious lion. The queen had a handsome leading man whose name was Cary Grant. The largest stage in the studio became an authentic circus tent, because Charlie Cook, former manager of a famous circus, was our technical adviser and production chief. It was off-season for the circus, and Charlie collected his old friends, clowns, little people, trapeze artists, animals - you name it. It was a joyous reunion for all of them. And it was paradise for me! I spent all of my spare time with the group. I really believe these folks are a special breed of simplicity, honesty, and irresistible joy. The studio was new to them, and the whole place was touched by our circus, inviting a childlike wonder as performers mingled with employees and stars became plain people. Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray, George Raft, were regular visitors.
And there was the handsome king of the beasts, Jackie the star lion. He could be seen in the parkway between dressing room row and the executive buildings having his sun bath at noon, wrestling with his adored trainer. He took pleasure in roaring loudly at his appreciative and frightened audiences, and would have gladly followed any of them had he not been loosely roped to his trainer's middle. Jackie was never caged - you see, he didn't know he was a lion....
We always had the same crew on all Ruggles productions, and there was a warm, family atmosphere unknown to other studio units. Each person in this film is worthy of a story, but time and space do not permit. I must, however, include Anna Mae, the gigantic elephant upon whose back the queen made her entrance in an extravagant howdah. We became friends when Anna Mae helped herself to peanuts in the pocket of my chair, then placed her trunk gently in my hand, thus establishing ``blood-brotherhood.'' As a reward for our mutual understanding the management presented me with a permanent pass to the old Los Angeles zoo, where Anna Mae lived. I visited her regularly (my mom was on the verge of a faint every time my big friend marched to meet me.)
I've worked closely with lots of stars, and many have become part of a remembering heart. One special friend was Cary Grant. He was a delight, with his delicious sense of humor. It so happened that the beautiful circus queen had a clause in her contract entitling her to contribute her ideas to the script. As these ``contributions'' became an almost daily occurrence, the leading man's lines became slimmer. ... It was my responsibility to acquaint him with the new words. This was only made easier for me by our little ``private ceremony.'' Elegant and suave, he'd reach my chair, hold out his hand, bow, wink, and in that voice millions have tried to imitate, begin: ``What's new, Miss Boo? Let's get the show on the road.'' He exhibited neither anger nor temperament and won the respect of the whole gang, who nominated him ``the right guy.'' With the preview, Paramount Pictures found themselves with a new star. He is so worth remembering!
Through the years our paths divided. He skyrocketed to fame and I entered a new profession. But Cary Grant did not exchange his own dear self for the person abundant success many times creates. Whenever we'd bump into each other - in a crowd, on posh Rodeo Drive, in a hardware store or parking lot - it was always yesterday. ... Arms outstretched for that big hug, the wink, and ``What's new, Miss Boo?''