WEB EXTRA! (continued)
We were told Del Suplee wanted to see us. Who’s that? “He’s a big school assembly booker from Philadelphia. Books Jack Rank and lots of others.” Mr. Suplee looked to me like a man who knew he was important and was going to offer us our big chance at a career. He certainly was offering something big: a guarantee of five years at twenty shows a week playing school assemblies in the northeastern part of the country. Security and sure death all in the same package. We were still whirling this around in our heads the next day when a small lady with the loveliest wrinkles around her eyes approached us in front of the theater.
“Children, you don’t know me, but I am your fairy godmother. My name is Ricklie Boasberg.”
She was around forty and had large blue-gray eyes in a soft, full face with all those little wrinkles. She spoke to us as if she were our favorite aunt and hadn’t seen us for months.
“You have done very well here. Your performance was well received and you will be receiving many offers. Cliff Menz is here and I’m sure he will be talking to you. Now, children, I want you to listen to me very carefully. I know that Del Suplee has given you an offer of five years in school assemblies. You must say no to him. You are going out for a year now for Harry Byrd Kline and it will be very hard work and you will learn a great deal. But then you must never do it again. Listen to me now . . . You must come to me because you
children are artists.” (She spoke it so gently.) “You must come to me and I will place you in women’s clubs and colleges, where your audience will appreciate you.” She smiled the most winning conspiratorial smile. “Will you do that?”
“Yes, Miss Boasberg.”
“You must call me Ricklie. We are friends now.”
It wasn’t long before we heard from Mr. Suplee. He caught us on the big flight of steps in front of the theater.
“I hear you’ve been talking to Ricklie Boasberg. What about my offer?”
“Mr. Suplee, we want to think it over.”
“What’s there to think about? I’ve offered you five years of work.”
“Yes, sir. And we appreciate it.”
“So what’s to think about?”
“Well, we might not want to stay in school assemblies for five years.”
“Then make it three years.”
“Well. Maybe we’ll just want to do this year with Harry Byrd Kline . . .”
“So after that you’ll be unemployed?”
“We might want to try for the colleges and maybe the women’s clubs . . .”
“So Boasberg’s been giving you some big ideas. You think you’re something, don’t you?”
“No, sir. We just want to try for something better— ”
“Better! It didn’t take you long to get a big head, did it? Just because the audience gave you an easy time of it here, don’t take that to mean you’ve already made it. You need five years on the circuits before you’ll be ready.”
“We’ll think it over, Mr. Suplee.”
“Don’t think too long. My offer can be withdrawn at any time.”
We were young and scared, but not scared enough to take up slavery as an occupation. We hunted up Ricklie and told her what Del Suplee had said to us.
“I will talk to Mr. Suplee. You are coming with me next year. I think Cliff Menz and Phil Pryor will give you some dates, too.”
Cliff Menz and his friend Marv Foster did look us up. Cliff said he and his partner out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Phil Pryor, would get in touch with us. That evening when Cliff and Marv and I started drinking, Ruby escaped to our room, and after I’d taken on enough whiskey to inspire myself, I led them out on the docks of the marina and climbed into the pilothouse of a fifty-foot cruiser, telling them to climb aboard, we were going for a spin on Lake Erie. The owner had, accidentally I hope, left the key in the ignition and when I turned it on, the motor roared into life. Foster jumped on board and restrained me, thank God, from the rash and idiotic act I was about to commit. I knew nothing about boats and would probably have driven it overland into dry dock. Why I chose to go nuts that night I do not know, but these wild, suicidal impulses got hold of me sometimes, even when sober. They were in my genes. I hadn’t much experience with the stealthy grape and we couldn’t afford it, but showing off could be a disturbing flaw in me when it got loose, especially if it was fired up by liquor and I thought I was being funny or daring. This was a warning: the bottle could become an ugly companion.