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Memo on Kathy O'Rourke.


Irv, the wife and kids are fine, andthings are as usual again out here in lotus land. I'm happy to hear that Irving, Jr., had no ill effects from the measles. I know how it worried you, because I once went through the same thing with my two boys. A sick kid is terrifying. You feel so helpless. Sometimes, though, a child's sickness is not physical, and that's worse.

Irv, this is going to be the damnedestcommunique I've ever sent to anyone. As my best friend, you get it. After you've read it, destroy it. It concerns l'affaire Kathy O'Rourke, the business that had you guys in the New York office burning up the wires and had everyone out here nutty.

When you get this, Kathy and heraunt will be en route to New York. Take care of Kathy, Irv. Stay close to her. See that she gets to spend some time alone with you and normal people. She'll have a signal. She'll rub the end of her nose. When you see her do this, get her away from the characters, brush off the aunt. Take Kathy any place you like, but get her away from the razzle-dazzle.

Dear Lord! How I would like towrite a book about Kathy O'Rourke. Harry Johnson's swan song. In a life-time a man should do just one decent thing. If I do write that book, it will be the truth about this Machiavellian wonderland they call Hollywood and what it did to Kathy O'Rourke.

I was, as you know, assigned to theproduction unit of Kathy's picture to work up advance publicity. I had never met Kathy O'Rourke. I'd seen her a few times in the commissary, always surrounded by corpulent front-office oafs, screenwriters, producers, and the hatchet-faced aunt. She seemed, from my balcony seat with the hired help, too smart for her small pants, too rich for her seven years, too fussed over.

Kathy's picture was about a weekunder way when I shuffled on the set and grabbed a stool in the back to watch the antics. They were shooting a night-club scene. The character at the bar was supposed to be a Hollywood publicity man. He was handsome, wore a $200 suit, talked loud and fast, and waved a cigar.

He was just like me, Irv. Exceptthat I haven't been to a night club in over a year, my hair is getting gray, my suits are shiny at the elbows--this movie-version flack didn't have two kids to support--and, even after 15 years as a publicity man, I'm still shy around people. Alas, maybe I ought to throw my tripewriter away and hang out in Ciro's, drinking the rich man's mouthwash. The scene depressed me.

Bee, the director, was in his usualgreat form, snarling, sarcastic, sadistic. You remember how he loved to beat some poor ham to death with words in order to satisfy his slimy cruelty and build that ego of his.

Toward the O'Rourke kid, however,he was a regular Vine Street Santa Claus. Each day he became sweeter, more solicitous. He'd stroke her pigtails and purr at her like a great cat.

This was not endearing Kathy tothe other members of the cast, but it was giving Bee a large and wicked whip. He would torment the others with paeans of praise for the kid's artistry and demand why grownups couldn't do what a child of seven "Mr. Bee is so important. I hate him so much. I hate it when he touches me. I hate to have to go everywhere with him and all the other people." could. Remember how Joanie, his script girl, used to say, after one of his pictures clicked, "Well, it couldn't have happened to a nastier man"?

Joanie, incidentally, was throughafter the first O'Rourke picture. Later I found out why. It had to do with a weak stomach.

Visitors on the set thought Bee wasa wonderful man. "How he loves that dear little girl!" some Sadie Blurt would gurgle. Bee would then steer Kathy over to whoever had uttered this type of observation, and while the visitor pawed the kid, Bee would stand by, beaming and gracious.

Vying with Bee for the title of No. 1ghoul was Kathy's aunt, that fugitive from a psychiatrist's dream. No sun ever shone on that warped face in the summers of her youth. The reflected glory of being guardian of a million-dollar-child property is all the world ever gave that emaciated spinster. Irv, you know the garbage we release on how this good, generous woman took the child after the death of its parents and devoted her whole life to its care.

On the tenth day of production, Iwas on my stool in the corner reserved for moles. Kathy was in her chintz-hung mausoleum of a dressing room in the good, hypnotic company of her aunt. Auntie Harriet came out of the cage and crossed the set to talk to a pair of reporters who had been waiting to quiz the kid.

Then the door opened andKathy sneaked out, unnoticed by anyone but me. The kid pussyfooted out of the range of people and lights. She seemed to be headed for no place in particular. She got a couple of feet from my stool before she noticed me. She looked startled, like something helpless in a Disney film. I didn't say a word. I didn't even smile.

"How do you do?" shesaid. "I'm Kathy O'Rourke."

You know that grown-upway she has of talking. It's an act.

"I know," I said. "I'mHarry Johnson."

"Are you one of the reporters?"she asked.

I said I wasn't. A look of reliefcame over her face, and those large, sad, blue eyes of hers seemed to relax.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Don'tyou like reporters?"

She looked at me steadily. She reallygave this old phiz of mine a going-over. I felt as though she were wondering whether she could trust me or had better go on being an actress.

"No," she said finally, "I don'tlike them."

This, I thought, is an extremelyspoiled brat. She just stood there and we looked at each other. For some reason, I couldn't keep a small amount of antagonism out of my eyes. There was something so unhappy, unwholesome, and neurotic in that grown-up little face that it made me feel that way.

"Mr. Johnson," she said suddenly,"you don't like me very well, do you?"

That stopped me. I didn't knowwhat to say. Then I remembered what Helen always says about being truthful with our kids, how you should always give them a straight answer.

"Kathy," I said, "I don't knowyou very well. Maybe it isn't you I don't like, but the way you are."

After I said it, I realized what achump I was. If she repeated this, it might cause a hell of a row or worse.

"I don't like the way I am, either,"she said. Then she said something that must have been stirring in that little body for a long time: "I don't like anybody."

"All right," I said. "Let's sit in thecorner here and not like people."

"You're making fun of me," shesaid.

"I guess I was," I said. "That's afault of grownups."

"I like it here, though," she said. "CanI stay here?"


So she climbed up on a stool besideme and we sat. We sat for about five minutes, neither of us saying anything.

"Mr. Johnson," she finally said,"are you an important person?"

I remembered the wife's instructions. "No,"I said. "I'm not important around here at all. Just another guy knocking out publicity. Do you know what that is?"

"Yes!" she said fiercely. "I hateit!"

"So do I," I said, "but keep that asecret, will you?"

She tilted up her face, looking veryserious. "I'll keep it a secret," she said.

We sat quietly for a few moments. Thenshe said, "I like to tell you things. I have secrets too. I'm glad you're not important. I guess I'm very sick of everybody who is so very important." Her face was working very hard. "Mr. Bee is so important. I hate him so much. I hate it when he touches me. I hate to have to go everywhere with him and all the other people."

The kid began telling me how lifewas with her. Parties at the Bee manse, gatherings at the producer's beach house, special shindings the aunt tosses, tea and cocktail affairs, previews and premieres in the company of stars. Bee, the aunt. The kid was covering more social ground than any aduit. All this came spilling out of her in a voice that was close to hysteria.

Suddenly Aunt Harrietcame swooping down on us like a great bat. From 30 paces away, I could see that we were in for a couple of yards of remonstrative gab. The aunt grabbed the cornered child and turned on me.

"Why didn't you take herback to her dressing room?" she rattled shrilly. "Don't you know she shouldn't be out here? I'll see that you are reported for this!"

The chewing lasted several minutes. Beealso bustled up and tossed me some of his snarling billingsgate. I had to take it. The kid hung her head, then she was tugged away.

Irv, they might have given me thebounce all the way to Sunset Boulevard, but they didn't. We were behind the shooting schedule, and in the hectic rush to catch up, nobody bothered this old, tired head. I sat in my abysmal corner, day after day, and watched Bee working the cast, including Kathy, down to the socks.

The kid never came back to my corneragain. But several times a day she would look back at me in the shadows and smile wistfully. I felt sort of like a helpless ghost, but I always smiled back.

It was Bee who brought Kathy andme together again. I was dozing in my corner when I heard him yell, "Publicity! Get over here!" I got. He was standing in front of Kathy's little canvas-backed chair with her name on it. He explained that it would be fine publicity to get a shot of Kathy sitting in his chair and him trying to sit in hers.

I sent for Bill Hurn, our still man,then hung around in back of his camera, trying to look useful. After Hurn had taken the last shot, Kathy suddenly jumped up and came over to me. She held out her hand, and I could tell she wanted me to take it. We shook hands, and when mine was returned to me, there was a piece of paper in it. Nobody saw what happened. The aunt whisked her back to the dressing room before we could exchange more than a quick hello.

I strolled casually back tomy corner, unrolled the note surreptitiously, and read, "Please, please. I want to see you alone. Oh, please."

It wasn't signed. That wasdeucedly clever, as Rathbone would say. I thought it over and decided to see Kathy. But how? Finally, I gave up, dumping the problem in her lap. I wrote a note saying, "O.K. How can we do it?" I didn't sign mine, either, thinking of the aunt and Bee.

When the set broke forlunch, I followed Kathy and her aunt off the sound stage. I shadowed them like a Perry Mason-Philo Vance-Sam Spade character, very nonchalant, whistling off-key. At the commissary door, I distracted auntie's attention, using a $50 smile and opening the door for her. At the same time my note went into Kathy's hand.

I watched Kathy sitting at a tableacross that glittering room. I was afraid she'd open the note and get caught. She played smart. She didn't. All of a sudden I got a silly feeling that this was a ridiculous game I was playing, making like an espionage agent with a seven-year-old.

That afternoon the aunt sent forme. Kathy's huge, ever present, red-faced nurse opened the dressing-room door. The aunt's face loomed up beside that of the nurse.

"Kathy would like to know whenthe pictures you took this morning will be ready," she said, giving me a frigid, reserved-for-menials smile.

I mumbled something about "tomorrow,"and then Kathy popped out from behind the nurse' skirt.

"Here's that autograph I promisedyou," she said, thrusting a piece of paper past Miss White-gown. I took it, almost losing my hand in the door as the medical-type lady closed it.

After reading the "autograph," Iwent outside. The sound stage seemed to be getting smaller. Kathy's large, scrawly words had given me the chills. "Please," they said, "meet me at the corner of Wilshur and Labraya at 9 p.m."

The sun didn't warm me, and twoturns around the sound stage still left me jittery in the brain and icy in the heart. It began to get me. Maybe I was biting off a chunk of something that was going to choke me in the end.

I had four cups of coffee in thecommissary and decided to call it off. I wrote another note, then went back to the set. Miss O'Rourke had gone home. One of the electricians told me she had complained of a headache! Irv, I'd have traded my head for an overripe avocado.

Helen knew something was wrongwith me at dinner that night. I explained it as office trouble. The kids were whooping it up around the house. You know how two males aged 9 and 11 can sound. By eight o'clock I was strictly strait-jacket material.

Helen kept eyeing me solicitously,and at 8:30 p.m. she suggested that, while she put the kids to bed, I should take a drive to calm my nerves. I got the car out of the garage and started driving. It doesn't take much guessing where I finally stopped. At 9 p.m., as per Kathy's instructions, my tired hack was at the corner of Wilshire and LaBrea. I stood beside it and felt as though the world were watching me.

Ten minutes crept by, and I startedto get into the car. Then around the corner she came. Irv, I don't know what this younger generation is coming to; their ingenuity frightens me. Very few people would have recognized her. She was wearing a little coat, but no hat. The familiar pigtails were covered by a blonde wig--the wig she wears in this picture. Only those working on the picture would have been able to spot her. Her face was drawn and tired.

I helped her into the carand we drove off. In silence, I drove out toward my neighborhood and parked the car in a parking space that's vacant at night, a place behind our grocery store. Then I smiled at her. It must have been a weak smile.

"Oh, Mr. Johnson," shesaid, her lower lip trembling.

"Now, now," I said,"take it easy, Kathy."

"Oh, Mr. Johnson," shesaid. "I'm so miserable. I'll never go back. Never."

There wasn't any determination inthe statement, just a sort of childish, hopeful prayer. I could see that she was holding herself together.

"You go ahead and tell me what'sthe matter," I said.

"I don't know what's the matter,"she said. "I feel awful. Everybody's always telling me I have everything, Mr. Johnson, everything in the world." She sat very quietly, looking straight ahead. "But. . .I don't know. . . ." Her words trailed off. Then, in a small, uncertain voice, "I'm so lonesome."

Irv, you don't know what thosesmall words did to me. And then she started to cry. Did you ever listen to a seven-year-old crying because she's a "property," because she doesn't belong to herself, because she is loved by millions, and not actually loved by anyone?

Since the age of 3-1/2, Kathy haslived the life of a kid eternally kept after school. The martinet of an aunt has always treated the kid like a diamond in the deposit vault. Aunt Harriet got her hands on a good investment and chained it to her. Hearing Kathy tell about life with auntie, I could hear the chains rattle.

The aunt was a frustrated actress. Shehated her sister, Kathy's mother, because the child's mother, as you know, did have a fairly successful stage career. Also, she wouldn't let her elder sister meddle in her life. So, when the child's father and mother were killed in that train accident, the aunt grabbed the child. It was a sweet revenge. All this, naturally, I didn't get from Kathy. I got it, later that week, from Joanie, the script girl.

After that, Kathy was really alone. Shewas more alone than she'd ever been before. She had been given just enough love to know what it meant, and then had it taken away from her.

Kathy told me a lot that dark nightin the car behind the grocery store. It would take a book, a bitter book, to do justice to it all. Auntie dictates to whom Kathy is to be nice, and in what quantities. So much attention for Mr. So-and-So. He's important. Be cute for this person; be distant, but polite, to that one.

"I don't like to kiss her,"Kathy said, her tears coming back. "I don't like to kiss my aunt, Mr. Johnson. I don't like her."

You could see that shethought this was a mortal sin. Also falling in the category of sins was not learning her lines rapidly enough, not sticking to the letter of her schedule, and rebelling when expected to attend parties. That kid was really sinful, Irv.

I guess she summed it all up in oneline that night. "Mr. Johnson," she said, "I guess there's just no place for me to be happy."

At that moment, Irv, I felt like shovingmy fist through the windshield. I felt that way because it seemed so unbeatable. Where in the world could I find a lantern that would throw some light on a place where there would be happiness for this seven-year-old? But you know how we big people are--we also deal in fantasy now and again. What I said to her was fantastic:

"Don't you worry, honey," I said. "Fromnow on, everything is going to be all right."

She straightened her back slightlyand looked at me as though I could make it happen. All I had to do was think of a way that it could.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:part 1; short story
Author:Sher, Jack
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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