Ruthe Wheeler.

Janet Hardy in Radio City





Chapter One
JANET GETS THE LEAD

Janet Hardy stirred sleepily as the alarm clock sounded its lusty summons and it was only after a real effort that she managed to reach out and shut off the insistent clock.

It was so early that shadows of the night still lurked in the corners and Janet squinted at the clock through sleep-clogged eyes. It was four-forty a.m.

Sitting up in bed she looked across the room where Helen Thorne was deep in sleep, oblivious to the strident summons of the alarm which had echoed through their bedroom.

Janet, now thoroughly awake, tossed her pillow at the slumbering Helen. She scored a perfect hit and Helen, sputtering and wondering what it was all about, popped up in bed.

Come on, sleepy head. Its time to be up and dressing if were going to get to the studio in time for that six oclock call, warned Janet.

Ill beat you to the shower, promised Helen. She jumped out of bed and grabbed the dressing gown on a nearby chair. There was a rush of feet padding down the hall and Helen made good her promise, reaching the shower room two jumps ahead of Janet.

Fifteen minutes later, after brisk showers and thorough towelings, they were dressed. From the kitchen had come waftings of delicious bacon and eggs and they knew that George, the colored cook, was getting breakfast.

When they reached the dining room they were surprised to find Helens father there, a morning paper propped in front of him.

Henry Thorne, world famous as the star director of motion pictures for the Ace Motion Picture Corp., looked up.

An early call? he asked.

Billy Fenstow is starting to shoot his new western, Water Hole, and we dont want to be late the first morning, explained Helen, slipping into her chair while Janet sat down opposite her. George, smiling a greeting, brought in a large platter of bacon and eggs. Then there were tall glasses of cold milk and thin, deliciously buttered toast.

I didnt think youd be up so early, Dad, said Helen, between mouthfuls of bacon.

Guess I went to bed too early, smiled her father. Ive been awake an hour.

You were all tired out after finishing Kings of the Air, went on Helen and her father nodded his agreement.

Janet, on the other side of the table, said nothing, but thought a great deal. She had never quite gotten over the thrill of coming to Hollywood and the manner in which it had been accomplished. It seemed too much like a dream and at times she went around pinching herself to make sure she wasnt asleep.

Classmates back in the medium-sized city of Clarion in the middle west, Janet and Helen had been fast friends and their families had been neighbors for years. Then Henry Thorne had made a success as a director of motion pictures, but Helen and Mrs. Thorne had remained in the family home in Clarion. Back for Helens graduation, he had been impressed by the acting ability of Janet and Helen, as well as their charm, and their graduation presents had been round trip airplane tickets from Clarion to Hollywood.

Mrs. Thorne had come along to chaperon the party and they had taken a comfortable, rambling bungalow on a side street in Hollywood where they could be assured of privacy.

Janet could recall so vividly their first day. Pictures, interviews, attendance at a premiere in gowns designed by the famous designer who created all of the gowns for the stars of the Ace company. Then a chance to work in a western in the production unit headed by rotund little Billy Fenstow and after that small parts in Kings of the Air, which Henry Thorne had directed as one of the outstanding pictures on his companys production program.

What are you mooning about? asked Helen, for Janet, her mind running back over the events of the last crowded weeks, had ceased eating.

Janet flushed. Just thinking of all the wonderful things that have happened since we graduated.

I hope you wont remember the unpleasant ones you experienced while we were making Kings of the Air, said Helens father. He was well-built, with a touch of grey hair at his temples and a smile that inspired confidence and an almost instant feeling of friendliness.

I was pretty scared at the time, confessed Janet, but now that the pictures safely completed, its all over.

What do you think about Kings? Helen asked her father.

He leaned back in his chair and Janet thought she saw a touch of weariness in his face.

I dont know, he said softly. It should be a good picture, but whether it will be a great picture is something else again. We can only wait until its out of the cutting room.

Janet, although in a comparatively minor r?le, had been a key figure in the making of Kings of the Air, for a rival company, attempting to hinder the progress of the picture, had hired an actress in the company, blonde Bertie Jackson, and two renegade airmen, to make every effort to slow up production. Janet had been kidnaped and held prisoner overnight while the ghost town, where the company was located, was burned and a big set on the desert bombed. But the resourcefulness of Curt Newsom, cowboy star who had a r?le in the picture, had helped expose the sabotage and Janet had been speedily released. As a result she had been promoted to Bertie Jacksons r?le and had handled it like a veteran trouper.

Just then George, the cook, looked in to see if more bacon and eggs were needed, and Helens mother, in a dressing gown, joined them.

Someone should have called me, she said.

But you dont have to report on the lot and we do, Helen reminded her mother.

It was 5:30 oclock when they finished breakfast.

Ill drive you over to the lot, said Henry Thorne. Mother, you dress while Im away and well take a long drive into the mountains and stop someplace for lunch. Well sort of have a days vacation for ourselves.

Then they were away, speeding toward the studio in an open car. It was a glorious morning and the cool air was invigorating. Later in the day it would be uncomfortably hot.

Billy Fenstow, director of western pictures, was on stage nine, well to the back of the Ace lot.

There were few around the rambling studio at that hour, for production was past its peak and only two or three of the huge sound stages would be in use that day.

The director, who had only a fringe of hair around his shining pate, greeted them cordially.

Have you read over the script of Water Hole? he asked.

Janet nodded. I like it better than Broad Valley, she smiled.

Billy Fenstow fairly beamed. Good. I wrote it myself. The other was only partly mine.

Helen laughed and turned to Janet. What are you trying to do, compliment Mr. Fenstow so hell give you the leading r?le?

It was the directors turn to chuckle. She doesnt have to, he said. Janet is playing opposite Curt Newsom in the lead right now.

Chapter Two
SHOOTING ON LOCATION

Janet stared hard at the chubby director. It was hard to believe that Billy Fenstow would joke with her now. That would be too cruel.

Dont you believe me, Janet? he asked.

It cant be possible, she murmured. Why, Im an unknown. You wouldnt put me into the leading r?le.

Just then Curt Newsom, the western star arrived.

Hows the new leading lady? he asked.

I I dont know, gasped Janet. Im not sure. Everything seems to be in kind of a whirl. I guess Ill sit down.

Janet dropped into a nearby chair, oblivious of the fact that it was the cherished property of the director.

Its grand, Janet, simply grand, exclaimed Helen. My, but Im proud of you.

Billy Fenstow came over to Janet.

You neednt be so surprised, he said.

Only dont let this go to your head. It doesnt take a whole lot of acting ability to be a leading lady in a western. All youve got to have is a fair amount of beauty, some brains, and the ability to keep on top of a horse.

Janet, recalling her experiences in Broad Valley, the first picture they had appeared in, smiled a little ruefully.

I dont know whether Ill even be able to stay on a horse, she admitted.

Then well glue you into the saddle, smiled the director.

Others in the company came up. Most of them had been in the earlier picture and without exception they congratulated Janet on winning the leading r?le.

The weather was ideal and Billy Fenstow intended to make the most of it by shooting all of the exteriors possible.

Promptly at seven oclock a large bus rolled onto the lot and the entire company, numbering some thirty-three, including the technicians, boarded the big vehicle.

Their destination was a ranch well into the foothills and it was after noon before they arrived. This particular outfit had never before been used for film purposes for it was well away from the usual run of traffic and harder to reach than some of the layouts nearer the studio.

The ranchhouse was large and comfortable and arrangements were made for all of the girls in the company to stay there while the men would be quartered in the bunkhouse with the exception of the director, who planned to drive back and forth from the nearest town.

A truck loaded with camera and sound equipment had preceded the bus and the technicians went to work to assemble their materials. The pole corral was crowded with horses and the assistant director, Skeets Irwin, took over the task of assigning horses to the various members of the company.

Curt Newsom had his own string, which had been brought by truck, but the others were to ride ranch horses. Janet drew a beautiful sorrel while Helen was mounted on a black with only one white foot.

There was a gorgeous sunset and Billy Fenstow, always on the alert for a good background shot, had his cameras catch some typical ranch scenes. They might not fit in with the present picture but he knew some day the footage would come in handy.

After dinner in the ranchhouse that night, Janet and Helen retired to the room they shared and studied the scripts which had been handed out.

Water Hole was a typical Billy Fenstow western with lots of hard riding and plenty of scenery. It was the story of Curt Newsoms defense of his small ranch with its valuable water hole against a larger cattle outfit.

Janet played the r?le of a school teacher while Helen was a waitress in the one restaurant in the little cow town to which the cowboys migrated every Saturday night. The girls were to have an important part in solving the plot to get Curts ranch and all in all they were greatly pleased with their parts.

Janet sat down and wrote a long letter home, telling of their good fortune and of her own in particular. She paused a moment and closed her eyes. Perhaps her mother would show the letter to Pete Benda, the city editor of the Clarion Times. And Pete, of course, would make a story. Perhaps he would put it in the front page under a heading, Clarion Girl Gets Leading R?le in Western Picture. She smiled a little. That would be rather nice.

Then she awoke from her reverie and finished the letter. After that it was bedtime for there was an early call.

They were out the next morning shortly after dawn for Billy Fenstow worked his companies long and hard.

Janet was in several shots that day riding to and from the ranch to the schoolhouse and in the afternoon they went to the schoolhouse where a dozen youngsters had been gathered. Most of them were actual pupils of the little school and the cameras ground away as Janet dismissed them from a make-believe class and watched them hurry away from school toward their homes, some of them afoot and others on sturdy little cow ponies.

Helen had little to do that day, but followed every action of the company with interest.

What do you think of it? she asked Janet that night as they lounged on the broad verandah of the ranchhouse.

I like it a lot, said Janet whole-heartedly. Of course I realize Im no actress, but the pictures good and clean and its a consolation to be in something like that.

Helen was silent for a time.

What do you think about our future in the movies? she asked.

Janet pondered the question before answering, for she, too, had been wondering that very thing.

If you want to know the truth, I think were just about where we belong. I know Im not a real actress. I can get by in a picture like this or in some minor r?le, but Id never make a really top-notch actress and it would be rather heart-breaking to stay here and do this year in and year out.

Then that means youll go back to Clarion when summers over? Helen asked the question with a touch of desperate anxiety in her voice.

I suppose so, replied Janet slowly, for I know that I wont be especially happy here. Its been glorious fun and it still is, but it cant last forever and Im not fooling myself about that for a minute.

They were silent for a time, wondering if the coming fall would bring an end to their close companionship. If Janet went back to Clarion, it would be only logical that Helen would stay on in Hollywood with her father and mother. The thought of parting was not a pleasant prospect to either girl.

They went to bed later without discussing the matter further, but as the shooting of Water Hole progressed and August drew to a close, it was constantly in their minds.

Helens father and mother came out to visit them on location several times, but neither one of them mentioned any plans for Helen.

Two more days of work and well have the picture in the can, Billy Fenstow told the company one morning. Were right on schedule and I want to finish that way, but weve got some hard riding scenes to get out of the way.

The director turned to Janet.

Weve got to shoot that scene of your ride from town to the ranch to warn Curt that his enemies are riding to wipe out his ranch, he said. Are you ready?

Janet nodded and swung into the saddle of the rangy sorrel.

Billy Fenstow climbed onto the light truck which carried the cameras and Janets horse trotted along behind as the vehicle rolled away across the valley in which the ranch was located. They went for perhaps two miles through the hills to a hamlet along a branch line railroad which had served as the cow town for the pictures locale. It was here that Janet began her ride, but before she started she looked to the cinches.

She remounted and sat easily in the saddle, waiting for the signal to start.

Billy Fenstow waved his hand and the truck started swiftly away, Janet riding hard after it. She rode with a natural lithesomeness of her body. The light felt hat which had been crushed over her brown hair came off. She clutched at it instinctively, but missed, and kept on riding, her golden hair streaming away from her shoulders. Janet smiled to herself. At least that would give a realistic effect.

She watched the director covertly and when he motioned again she sent the sorrel racing away from the camera truck at an angle so the cameras could get a side shot. Then the truck moved ahead of her.

It was hot and dry, and anything but an easy task to ride a horse pounding along as hard as the big sorrel. Finally they topped the last hill and swept down into the valley and Janet braced herself for the last bit of action.

Curt, near the water hole, looked up when he heard the pounding hoofs and Janet hurled herself from the saddle and ran to him.

Quick, Curt, theyre riding hard behind me. Youve got to get out of here. Ill stay and watch the ranch.

But Curt refused and the action was cut there.

Janet was dusty and sweaty and she walked to the pump and drank deeply of the cool, sweet water.

I can imagine there might have been a fight over this ranch in the early days, she said.

There was, grinned Curt, but it wasnt nearly as big a one as were putting into the picture.

Janets hardest scene for the day was over and Helen was in only one or two minor shots so they passed part of the afternoon packing up their things in preparation for the departure the next afternoon.

It was nearly dinner time when a dust covered car rolled into the valley and approached the ranchhouse.

Janet and Helen, sitting on the front steps, watched it with interest which deepened as they saw an Iowa license plate on the front of the car.

That almost looks like home, said Helen. Why, the numbers from our home county. Maybe its someone we know.

But the sun was flashing off the windshield, effectively shielding the passengers in the car.

The machine swung to a stop a few feet away and Janet and Helen, when they saw the passengers, recognized them with mixed emotions.

Chapter Three
SURPRISE CALLERS

The newcomers were Cora Dean and Margie Blake, classmates from Clarion, who had been Janet and Helens chief rivals for almost every honor during their last four years in school.

What under the sun do you suppose they want here? asked Helen under her breath.

Well soon find out, retorted Janet, rising and advancing to greet Cora and Margie.

Cora was dark like Helen, while Margies hair was almost as golden blonde as Janets, the difference being that Margie used drug store coloring, and Janet depended on the natural shade.

Hello Cora, hello Margie. This is a surprise, said Janet as she greeted them and Helen echoed the sentiment a minute later.

Weve been touring through the west. When we learned a company was shooting a picture out here we came on over. We didnt know until we stopped in the village that it was the company youre with. It was Cora, her tongue as sharp as ever, making the explanation.

Margie was taking in everything and fairly gaping at the cowboys who in their picturesque garb, were lounging nearby waiting for the gong to call them to supper.

Billy Fenstow came by and Janet called to him, introducing Cora and Margie.

Have them stay for dinner and meet the company, said the director, who, with the film on schedule, felt particularly hospitable.

Oh, wed love that, gurgled Cora. Weve always wanted to see a picture being taken.

Billy Fenstow scratched his head.

Well, were all through for today, but if Janet and Helen could bunk double and give you one of the beds in their room, you could stay over and see the final shooting tomorrow.

Why, that would be grand, put in Margie, and Im sure Janet and Helen wont mind doubling up.

There was little Janet or Helen could say, except to agree, and they helped Cora and Margie get their bags out of the car and escorted them up to the room which they occupied.

At dinner that night they introduced the girls to all of the members of the company who ate at the ranchhouse and Janet noted that Cora could hardly keep her eyes off tall, handsome Curt Newsom. Curt was nice to them, as he was to everybody, explaining carefully all of the questions they asked.

That night Cora asked a question that had kept her on edge all evening.

Do you suppose we could get in one of the scenes tomorrow? she asked Janet. Surely you or Helen could get the director to use us just a little bit.

Janet was dubious. It was the last day at the ranch and there would be much to be done. Billy Fenstow would be in no mood for trifles such as working friends into scenes.

If it wasnt the last day I think it could be arranged, put in Helen, but Id hate to ask Mr. Fenstow to do it under the circumstances.

Margie pouted visibly and Cora, always arrogant, flared up.

Oh, of course you wont. Just because your fathers a director and they have to put you in pictures you wont say a good word for anyone else. How do we know youre even in this company?

Youll have to take our word for it until you see the picture on the screen, retorted Helen.

Janet could understand the tremendous desire of Cora and Margie to appear in a scene. It was the most natural thing in the world and she felt just a little sorry for them.

Ill speak to Mr. Fenstow in the morning, she promised. If hes in a good mood he may find a spot for you, but if hes grouchy hell probably order you away from the place.

How do you know when hes grouchy? asked Margie.

You dont until after youve asked him, replied Janet, with a thin smile.

Cora and Margie exhibited a tremendous curiosity, asking questions about everything and from almost everyone, Cora especially plaguing Curt Newsom, until the tall cowboy star finally found an excuse to escape from her constant barrage.

It was late when they went to bed and Janet and Helen, sleeping in a narrow, single bed, did not rest well. They were awake at dawn, both of them feeling tired and worn.

Cora and Margie, imbued with the excitement of actually being with a movie company, appeared as vivacious as ever.

At breakfast Billy Fenstow outlined plans for the final days shooting.

Weve got one more scene to take in the village, he explained. Its a shot of a group of townspeople watching the arrival of Curt and the rustlers he has captured.

Impetuous Cora Dean broke in.

May Margie and I get in the crowd scene? she asked eagerly.

A frown appeared on Billy Fenstows usually bland face, for he disliked greatly being interrupted when he was outlining his plans to his company.





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