A Thousand and Two Nights
A Nova Scotian and the daughter of a clergyman, CONSTANCE TOMKINSON was in her early twenties and eager to see the world. After she studied ballet with Martha Graham in New York City, she went abroad determined to pay her way by dancing. The techniques which she learned from Miss Graham did not altogether prepare her for the requirements of the Folios Bergère, but she “trouped” all over the Continent, and from her experience has come a book of recollection, Les Girls. The following article is adapted from a chapter which describes Miss Tomkinson’s adventures in Germany; next month the Atlantic will present her experiences in Italy.
by CONSTANCE TOMKINSON
HAVING been reassured for the twentieth time that this was the platform for the train to Munich, I sat down carefully on my luggage to wait for Basil and his Beauties. I must have been waiting an hour before Reggie Basil strode onto the platform, laden with cameras and light meters and followed by his wife, daughter, Margo, and five porters. When he reached me, he put out his hand and the procession came to a stop.
“Where are the others?” Reggie asked abruptly.
“They’re not here,” I said rather obviously.
“Late again!” Reggie looked exasperated. “All I ask is that once, just once, they should arrive at the proper time.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I know it’s too much to ask.”
This was the first time I had heard Reggie speak of the girls in other than glowing terms. It was a relief to know that they were not always paragons. The women arranged themselves on the luggage to wait resignedly, but Reggie prowled up and down the platform. He had been in the theater for thirty years and looked every inch a “pro.” Though he was an Australian by birth, any country he happened to be in was home to him. While touring the States with the Reginaldos he had married Mamie from Brooklyn, one of his skating trio, and fathered his daughter, Vivienne. When he grew too old to whirl around on wheels, he turned impresario, but he remained at heart the skater. I watched him go down the platform with a gliding motion, and when he turned he visibly restrained himself from sweeping into a skater’s spin.
The first girls to arrive were Judy, Kit, and Diana, who strolled onto the platform with the studied casualness of mannequins. They were dressed like seasoned travelers in tailored suits and tweed coats with gay scarves knotted under their chins, each with a fur cape over her arm.
“For heaven’s sakes!” Reggie shouted. “Where have you been? And where are the others? They’ll miss the train.”
Two minutes before it was due to leave, Gillian and Charmian sailed up, looking immensely chic. Charmian was in her mink coat, the pride of the company. Reggie, so overwrought that he forgot for a moment that she was his favorite, almost exploded.
“Please don’t raise your voice, Reggie,” drawled Charmian. “I have a hangover.”
Reggie, now utterly beside himself, pleaded for news of the remaining two. “They must be somewhere. Where are they?”
“I really couldn’t say,” said Charmian uncooperatively. Gillian was more helpful. When she left the Casanova at 4 A.M. she had seen them swilling down champagne with a couple of unknown Americans.
Three minutes after the train was scheduled to leave, when Reggie was on the point of nervous collapse, Carol and Babs arrived in evening dress, with their American friends acting as porters. The boys hurriedly threw on the luggage. As Reggie leaped off to drag Babs on board, the train started to move.
Once Reggie regained his breath there were bitter recriminations, which left the delinquents callously unmoved. After venting his feelings he, Mamie, and the stars departed for their first-class compartment, and we settled down in our second.
The girls were heartbroken at leaving Paris — their spiritual home. Here were the things they cared for most, the gay life, smart clothes, myriads of admirers.
“No more champagne for breakfast,” said Babs sadly.
“What’s Germany like?” I asked.
“Everybody’s wildly wholesome,”said Gillian. “It’s positively barbaric!”
They were circumspect with me. I was the “new girl,” not to be accepted into the charmed circle without a probationary period. They were not unkind, merely remote. After they had compared notes on the night before, they went to sleep. I sat studying them. Reggie was right. His girls were beautiful. They had been carefully chosen, each of a different type. These were not the simple young things of the Swedish troupe or the hard-working girls of the Folies. The Basil Beauties were in the social register of chorus-girl society, which has its own kind of snobbery.
MOST of the cast of the show we were to join assembled in the Ludwig restaurant the morning after we arrived in Munich. There was excitement in the air, and after bolting our breakfasts we hurried to rehearsal. Outside the theater the bills were up advertising the show. Though I could not understand the adjectives applied to the long list of acts, I realized they were complimentary and I puffed up with pride.
Inside, the theater was teeming with activity. There was only one week in which to put on a huge show. It was prefabricated; the acts who had been engaged were to do their usual turns, but they had to be linked together to give the effect of having been produced specially for this revue.
An assorted group gathered on stage to hear a speech by our producer, Otto Bergner, who had journeyed all over Europe to collect the company. He had found the Boston Brothers, three American dancers, in Paris; Rosita and Tomás, an English strong-arm act, in Berlin; and the two Czech comedians in Hamburg. The Viennese Ballet, sixteen very young dancers (known to us as the Wiener Schnitzels), had been signed up in Milan and the Italian Quartette in Budapest. I never knew where they unearthed the Arab Tumblers. The whole family — Mother, Father, Ali, Hassan, Edris, Mohammed, and even eight-year-old Fatima — were in the act.
Otto Bergner, bursting with vitality, stood in the center of the stage in his green Tyrolean hat and long fur-lined overcoat. A respectful two paces to the rear drooped the stage manager. Herr Winni Funk, an apologetic little man with two protruding front teeth.
Otto opened his speech to the cast by introducing the stars of the revue. Our hero, George Romanos, born Greek, adopted French (acquired by Otto in Brussels), removed his hat with a flourish, and the leading ladies — Vivienne Basil, Margo, and Lilli, the German actress who had starred in Otto’s previous production — smiled graciously.
Otto’s cherubic countenance shone with enthusiasm as he described in severed languages the revue that was about to be created. It was a new interpretation of the old fairy story A Thousand and One Nights, but Otto’s concoction entitled Ein Tausend und Zwei Nächte was to be bigger and better than the original. He looked for confirmation to Winni Funk, who hastily warmed up a smile of enthusiasm which had somewhat congealed. “Scheherazade,” he said, bowing to Vivienne, “vil not save her life by telling stories to zee Sultan.” He bowed to George Romanos. “She takes him each nights to a different land, where zay have the adventures exciting, extraordinaire, fantastisch. Zay vil not trafel in zat conveyance old-fashioned — a magic carpet —she vil takes him by — ” He snapped his fingers and down came a back cloth. He pointed to a huge Lufthansa plane painted on the canvas, and smiled like a child with pleasure at the effect on the cast of this theatrical device.
The opening scene was to be in the Sultan’s palace, where Vivienne would be carried on in chains by four eunuchs (the Italian Quartette) and placed at the feet of George Romanos, who would be seated stage-center surrounded by his harem of Wiener Schnitzels and his entertainers (the Arab Tumblers).
Otto rushed happily around the stage, his overcoat flapping about his ankles, playing all the parts. He strode to the back cloth and opened the door of the plane (a flap in the canvas) with a flourish and said, “Und now zee Basil Beauties. Zay enter.” He minced down the stage. “ Und zay zing about flying round zee vorld in German.”
“In German, did he say? He’ll be lucky,” said Kit flatly.
From then on Scheherazade and the Sultan were to flash rapidly from country to country. Rosita and Tomás were to appear in Old Madrid (Rosita and Tomás had a Spanish flavor on stage, but they had been born within the sound of Bow Bells) supported by us with our pasadoble number in red satin capes. We were to do our beguine with gaily colored bandanas and large gold earrings in South America. “Digga Digga Doo” in bright yellow feathers was to enliven the African bush.
Otto was not satisfied with covering the world so thoroughly. He had included an underwater scene and one in the upper air. The Basil Beauties were to appear as Birds of the Night in costumes treated with luminous paint.
“Zay float out into zee audience,” he cried, running along the narrow ramp which surrounded the orchestra and flapping his arms. “In zee black night zeeze beautiful shining birds. Can you not see it? It will be fabelhaft!”
“Did he say daft? He’s dead right,” Carol muttered.
“You mean he expects us to walk out on that in the pitch black?” asked Diana. “Will someone tell him we’re not a trapeze act?”
The underwater scene was to be a daring halfnude number. Lilli was to appear as a mermaid behind a gauze curtain with the respectably covered Wiener Schnitzels as deep-sea fish. Otto winked appreciatively at the naughtiness of this number, but it seemed a little tame after the Folies.
OTTO was noted for his business acumen as well as his artistic ability. Acquiring Lilli seemed to us to be a tactical error, but no doubt he could see in her potentialities which were to us obscure. The best that could be said was that her gifts had not yet reached maturity. Otto surpassed himself in ingenuity by using a leading lady who could not act, sing, or dance. There was great skill in the build-up for her every entrance, but the way in which Otto contrived to provide a dramatic exit a second before her deficiencies could show bore the mark of genius. Lilli seemed to feel no gratitude and produced histrionics off stage as well as on. One moment she would be stroking his hair and calling him her kleines Buüchen; the next she would be stamping her foot with rage, hissing “Schweinhund!” and throwing anything she could lay her hands on. Otto was not inarticulate and was quite capable of taking care of himself. For us these sparring matches provided restful interludes in the rehearsals.
The orchestra found it difficult to fade out of Scheherazade and into Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” for the Boston Brothers; no sooner were they back into Rimski-Korsakov than they had to swing into the “Marseillaise” for the French scene. The score was a terrifying assortment of music — classical, modern, and jazz — and an unbelievable cacophony of sound emerged from the pit when half the instruments stayed with Rimski and half switched.
Kapellmeister Pusca nearly lost his mind patching up the orchestration and wrestling with the orchestra. He would stand on the rostrum tearing the hair which curled over his ears and rolling his large expressive eyes in anguish.
I was another soul in anguish. I had tried hard to damp down the won’t-you-play-with-me look I had worn at the Folies and assume the arrogant air of the Basil Beauties, but I was not sure of the numbers. After rehearsing on stage with the others, I had to retire to a corner with Margo and grapple with the steps I had not mastered. Every inch of the stage was in use. Stage-center would be given to the number rehearsing with the orchestra. In the four corners people were running through bits of their acts singing their own music against the orchestra — the Italian Quartette practicing their scales, Rosie warming up, and the Arab Tumblers bouncing and rolling like rubber balls wherever there was an empty space.
Otto was devoted to theatrical effects not always soothing to the nerves. I disliked the windup in the opium den. After a deafening round of shots, which nearly made me jump out of my practice shoes, the Papa Tumbler did a back somersault down a steep flight of steps and writhed in agony near the edge of my kimono in a pool of gore. The spectacle made me queasy, even though I knew his life’s blood came from a pouch under his shirt. Each time Scheherazade dived off the ship’s deck into the sea in search of pearls I waited for Vivienne to overshoot the net in the orchestra pit.
It was fine for the others to be fearless, but I was taking no unnecessary chances. I gave the Sultan and his scimitar a wide berth. George brandished this deadly weapon with more enthusiasm than skill, and at one rehearsal in a burst of realism thrust it through a painted tree trunk, nearly removing an ear of one of the stagehands, who was standing on the other side.
We rehearsed all day and half the night. As the week wore on, our nerves became increasingly frayed. By the time we reached the final dress rehearsal we were at each other’s throats. That rehearsal continued all night, through the following day, and on to a half-hour before the curtain was to rise, when the customers were beginning to crowd into the foyer. During that time most of us did not leave the theater. Bread, cheese, and beer were sent in to sustain us. Waiting for our cues, we took cat naps in the boxes or slept wrapped in our coats on the side of the stage.
Otto, drinking endless cups of coffee, staggered up and down the aisles lamenting. “Mein vunderfool idea is now kaputt!”
“The idea was no bloody good in the first place,”Reggie said with venom. “I’m ashamed to have my girls seen in such a shocking spectacle.” Reggie had long since removed his kid gloves in dealing with Otto. “Never in all my experience in show business —”
“I do not expect you should appreciate it,” Otto interrupted coldly. “You have no soul.”
Relations between Lilli and Otto were now completely severed. He directed rehearsals with a scratch the full length of his face, and she had a purple patch under her eye which even heavy make-up could not conceal. She no longer called him Bübchen. She refused to speak to him; communications had to pass through an intermediary, Herr Funk.
As the minutes ticked by, tension mounted and temperament broke out in unexpected quarters. Reggie, slightly demented, exploded once too often. “Tommie! What the devil are you doing?”
I amazed Reggie, the cast, and myself by shouting into the darkened theater, “Who the hell do you think you’re bellowing at?”
I held up the rehearsal for three quarters of a minute while I incoherently attempted to tell Reggie what I thought of him. I was stopped only by Otto’s falling on his knees and pleading with tears in his eyes for an armistice. With arms outstretched, he cried dramatically, “Please. Please. In eine Stunde, one hour only, goes up the curtain.”
When the curtain did go up, Ein Tausend und Zwei Nächte went without a hitch. What appeared in rehearsal to be a hotchpotch of acts emerged as a smooth entity. Even the score seemed the creation of one brain, and the orchestra followed Pusca through the musical labyrinth with hardly a false turning. We were dead on our feet when we took our calls, but the cheers of the audience revived us. Ein Tausend und Zwei Nächte was another triumph for Otto. He and Reggie embraced as the curtain fell, and told each other they had always known it would be a success.
Otto thought it would be intriguing for the English girls to sing their opening number in German. It might have been had the girls been prepared to coöperate. I sang out in a loud clear voice, “ Wir fliegen um die Welt, something, something, blauen und, Himmel.” The girls accompanied me with a mumbled, “Scump, scump, ski, scump, ski, scump.”I had no idea what I was singing, but it was a spirited rendering. Otto was inspired to write in a speaking part for me.
I was to appear in the Egyptian scene playing the part of an English tourist, the Germans’ conception of which was not flattering. I was ecstatic over being an actress, if only for a few minutes each night. I had not been chosen because of my outstanding histrionic ability. But that did not matter; I had a part. I was intended to be a comic character with only a few lines which I kept repeating: “ Links ist Wüste. Rechts ist Wüste. Alles ist Wüste, Wüste, Wüste.” I translated it as “Sand to the left of us. Sand to the right of us. All is sand, sand, sand.”This obscure echo of the “Charge of the Light Brigade" did not seem rich in comic content, but Otto assured me it would be hilarious.
I could not reinforce the lines with facial expressions as I was muffled up in a gnu wig, a topee which sank over my ears, and an enveloping trench coat which covered my costume for the next number. Clutching my lorgnette, I did what I could to give reality and power to my characterization.
In my dramatic school, which hoped to turn out actresses of great emotional depth, I had been a disappointment. They used to say sadly, “Constance is doomed to be a comedienne.” Apparently they were right. I brought the house down in Munich every night. “Talent will tell,”I told myself. I had a rude awakening. It was not my powerful technique that was effective, but the lorgnette. When I tilted my topee back and peered through the lorgnette, the audience was convulsed with laughter. The applause was gratifying but. the experience disillusioning.
In the theater the Basil Beauties shared one large dressing room, centrally heated and spotlessly clean. We were not cramped together with costumes tickling the backs of our necks as at the Folies. There was plenty of room to spread out. We could even do our washing in the intervals and hang out our “smalls — the abbreviated panties which were our professional underwear.
There was a continual buzz of chatter in our dressing room. In matters of clothes, Charmian took the chair. She was the Voice of Vogue. In reminiscing, each had a particular field. Gillian and Carol, ex-Cochran Young Ladies, could retail anecdotes of “Cocky” and his shows. Judy and Babs produced backstage stories of West End shows, and Diana and Kit, who were “old girls,” told fabulous tales of the past history of the Basil Beauties.
In Paris we had disappeared into the city after the show. Here we lived in each other’s pockets and knew the details of everyone’s private life. Intrigue flourished; romance flowered. We set the Hotel Ludwig by its ears.
THE social life of the Basil Beauties took place outside the theater and in more select spots than the Ludwig. The girls had contacts in every city. No sooner had we arrived in Munich than a man they had met in Budapest turned up, and was promptly sent off to find seven friends. They proved to be business associates of various nationalities, Italian, Austrian, Yugoslavian, and German, who spent their time mysteriously crossing and recrossing the German border. The head office appeared to be the downstairs restaurant of the Regina Palast, and they conducted business from midnight to & A.M. No office equipment was necessary; they were careful to keep no records.
During supper one or two would wander to another table, hold a serious conversation with some stranger, and return to confer in a low voice with a confederate. We made a convenient cover for their activities, but we were less simple than they imagined. It took us only one evening to realize that they were members of an international ring involved in smuggling or illegal currency transactions, and we debated whether or not to continue eating at their expense. Once the show opened we could pick and choose, but until then we were unlikely to meet many people. We decided to prolong the association until something better turned up.
“Nothing can happen if we stick together,”Gillian said. She was undoubtedly right, but Kit and I were rash enough to disregard this rule.
A new member of the gang, recently arrived from Prague, offered to take me on to a night club. When we pulled up in front of a large gray-stucco building, it was two in the morning. He rang for a porter, who was surprisingly dressed in pajamas. After a short dismission, my companion slipped him a note and we started up the stairs. He opened a door and we entered a dingy bedroom. When I turned on him furiously, his face went hard. I decided that this was no time to argue, and made for the door. He lunged and grabbed me, but I kicked myself free and ran down the stairs and into the deserted street. I did not stop or look back until I reached the hotel, breathless, my coat torn, and without my handbag.
Kit, in a similar situation, showed more enterprise. She dealt her attacker a surprise blow over the head with a lamp and knocked him out. She arrived at the hotel annoyed but unruffled.
Tom, of the partnership of Rosita and Tomás, was furious at these outrages to British womanhood. A character straight out of Kipling, he was an ex-Sergeant Major of the British Army in India, who treated the girls like mem-sahibs and the Germans like troublesome natives. My escort from Prague turned up a week later at the Silbursaal (the restaurant attached to the Deutsches Theater) and was rash enough to invite me to go out with him again. I signaled to Tom, who was having a drink at the bar, and he cheerfully hurried that six-foot Lothario out as if he were a rag doll. In the distance I heard a heavy thud. Tom returned nonchalantly dusting off his hands.
“Tom,” I asked anxiously, “what have you done?”
“Tossed him over the balcony.”
“Is his neck broken?”
“No fear! He landed on his backside.”
“He’ll call the police.”
“Not him. He’s not anxious to get mixed up with the coppers. It’s the last we’ll see of that gent.”
FOR THE next couple of weeks Tom inspected a wide assortment of cavaliers. It was not until my meeting with Karl that he relaxed his vigilance. This was the end of a chain of events which started with a small white card handed to me one night by the dresser with a certain amount of awe. It read: “Requesting Madam should pose for the undersigned artist. I await below stairs for reply. I beg to be, Wolfgang von C.” The signature was the cause of the awe.
I put on a dressing gown and went down to the stage door to tell the Von I could not pose for him. I found a correctly dressed gentleman with a rather prim young woman, whom he introduced as his fiancée. When I told him I did not pose for artists, his face lengthened.
“Is it that you have fear? My fiancée will come to the sittings.”
“Oh, no. I’m not afraid.”
“It is money? Also, I would be proud to pay whatsoever you are usually getting.”
“I’m not usually getting anything.”
He pleaded his case. “You are not to comprehend how difficult it is to find models here. In all Bavaria,” he said earnestly, “is not one jolly, upstanding model.”
I was so moved that I agreed to pose.
Next morning at ten o’clock he and his fiancée appeared at the hotel with a car to take me to the atelier of a friend in Schwabing. The fellow artist greeted us warmly and led us into a smart studio apartment. He combined painting with hunting, and overlooking his canvases were the trophies. They were a sad sight, but even more depressing were his canvases. He did a brisk trade in almost identical pictures of snow-capped mountains pink with the setting sun. In another period he would have been grinding out pictures of The Stag at Bay, if he could have resisted shooting the stag before painting him.
Before I could take my hat off they dashed to their palettes. I was wearing my Parisian black velvet beret, and the huntsman saw me as a medieval page; Wolfgang’s approach was more realistic. I found posing tiring and lonely. No one spoke and the artists seemed miles away. I began to feel as if someone had shot and stuffed me, like the unhappy deer surveying me with a glassy eye from the opposite wall.
In the rests, I examined their work. The huntsman was delighted with his romantic vision. He had contrived to give me the rosy look of a snowcapped peak at dawn. Wolfgang was in despair. “You are here just now only pretty girl,” he said. “It is the something behind the face I am not reaching.”
I was about to leave when a tall young sculptor burst into the room. The news of a jolly, upstanding model, bust thirty-four, waist twenty-one, hips thirty-five, had just reached him.
“Madam,” he bowed. “Here is Karl Mandl. I am wishing to sculpt you. Are you willing?”
I was, even though he looked too attractive to have any talent.
“You will come now?” he asked eagerly.
“No,” I said firmly, “I have to eat. ” He would not let me out of his sight and took me to the Bratwurstglockl, an old restaurant near the Frauenkirche, where we had Bratwurst and Sauerkraut on pewter dishes. Karl gazed raptly at me, but his eyes were slightly out of focus. He was analyzing my bone structure and hardly spoke a word.
He took me to his atelier on the top floor of a group of studios next door to one of the best hotels in Munich, the Kaiserhof, which was owned by his father. It looked as an artist’s studio should, large with very little furniture. The sloping glass roof had a north light, and the room was heated by an antiquated iron stove. The atelier was gemütlich and smelled of clay.
My life in Munich became very busy. My nights were spent in the Deutsches Theater, my mornings with Karl, and two hours every afternoon in Schwabing among the boars and chamois. In between I sandwiched a full program of sightseeing.
I gave the galleries particular attention, as I was having an advanced course in painting and sculpture from Karl. I accepted his judgment without argument. Raphael was the greatest painter, Michelangelo the greatest sculptor, Leonardo the genius of all time. Karl sent me back and back again to the Alte Pinakothek to study the masters. He taught me to see them through the eyes of the artist, but every now and then I could not help feeling concerned about the model. My reaction to a Rembrandt was “However did she hold that position? Must have been agony!” Admiring a Rubens, I wondered how much he paid his models, who had obviously been eating well. I was in the right century for my build. If a beanpole like myself had appeared at Rubens’s studio asking for work, he would have laughed in my face.
Every day I became more and more attached to Raphael, Leonardo, and Karl. Karl was an elusive personality, and once he got behind a hunk of clay, I lost all contact with him. When I first came to pose he would be waiting impatiently in his sculptor’s smock and would greet me with an abrupt. “Gut morning, madam.” But when his passion for the clay figure became so great that it spilled over and included me, I was greeted with “Darling madam,” a warm smile, and an invitation to lunch.
We always had goulash for lunch. It was the only dish Karl could cook. It would be simmering on the stove when I arrived. As I held my pose all through the morning, appetizing smells filled the atelier. From time to time Karl interrupted his work to stir it absent-mindedly with any tool he happened to be holding. Before we ate, he would go to the window and pull up a bottle of Liebfraumilch which was cooling outside at the end of a string.
On the days when I was not performing, Karl took me and his dachshund, Albrecht, in his small Opel up into the mountains to visit enchanting villages nestled in while drifts — squat houses of dark brown wood, covered with Huffy eiderdowns of snow, clustered around little churches with onionshaped steeples. We ate in small inns and talked to the proprietors, whom Karl knew. I preferred the country people to the solid citizens of Munich — the men in gray and green suits with lined brown faces and the plump smiling women in embroidered blouses and gay aprons.
In one tiny Wirtshaus we were asked to join in celebrating a wedding. It was a full-blooded, bawdy affair, held in a long room with cows in their stalls at one end looking tolerantly over half doors contemplating the revelry and placidly chewing their cud.
Looking at the bride, I whispered to Karl, “This wedding is not before if was needed.”
“ Natürlich!” Karl said composedly. “The peasants are not to marry until with child, and other times not until after with child.”
They interrupted their drinking of vast quantities of Rotwein to sing and dance the Sehuhplättler. The bride’s vigorous participation in the festivities made me hope that there was a midwife near.
In the atelier we never mentioned politics, but safely out in the country Karl told me that old employees of the Kaiserhof had been bribed to spy on his father, who was not a member of the Party and suspected of being anti-Nazi. At first it was hard to believe that such sinister things were possible in fairylike Bavaria. Once my eyes were sharpened, I registered things that at first had gone unobserved: laughter in the streets or in a Bierkeller suddenly being checked when the shadow of a uniformed, truncheon-swinging thug passed by; the notice in small lettering; outside restaurants and hotels: Juden unerwünscht.
A distant cousin of Karl’s arrived on a motorbike from Vienna and stayed to share our goulash. Full of bounce and energy, he seemed to have nothing in common with Karl except the same great-grandmother. Karl was half Austrian and loved the country; his cousin, wholly Austrian, admired Germany. His eyes were alight with a mission, and his voice had a crusading quality. He was a member of the underground Nazi organization in Austria, and told us he was convinced that soon his country would be where she belonged — part of Greater Germany. Everyone was, naturally, pleased about this, he said, though there might be a little trouble. Karl asked why, since everyone was so pleased. The cousin explained that even in Austria there were unenlightened people. From this point the conversation became too heated for me to understand.
After lunch Karl drove me to Schwabing, and in the car he spoke to me for the first time of the danger of war.
“My cousin, he is Dummkopf, but he is right. Austria will be sucked in. I have had two days past a letter from a Jewish friend who was fellow student with me at the University of Innsbruck. He is already so sure he is leaving Austria. There is no doubt. War will come.”
“But nobody wants a war, Karl,” I said tritely.
“That is so. But it comes. Vielleicht this year. Vielleicht next. We have little time, Liebling, little time. The sand is running out.”
I knew he was right, but I was too young and lighthearted to sustain a feeling of gloom.
ONE night the manager of the theater came to Reggie in high excitement. He had been approached by an important Party member asking that the Basil Beauties appear at a Nazi ball to be given at the Regina Palast for Goering and other highranking Nazis.
“How much are they prepared to pay?” asked Reggie Calmly.
“Ach! That I am not to know.” The manager brushed aside such mercenary thought. “It is great honor, Herr Basil.”
“The honor is theirs,” said Reggie coldly. “Two numbers only, and find out their top figure.”
The manager had not anticipated having to negotiate for what he regarded as a Command Performance, but he returned to say they would pay anything Herr Basil cared to ask.
We were taken by car from the theater in costume. The scene as we made our entrance was magnificent — the beautifully proportioned ballroom with its mirrored walls and crystal chandeliers, the women’s evening dresses, the spectacular uniforms, shining medals, and glittering jewels. The guests looked like the descendants of the court of Kaiser Wilhelm.
We were greeted with polite applause and after our second number we were asked to stay for the cold buffet. Dressed in our “Cocktails for Two” costumes (slinky white décolleté evening dresses), we gracefully wormed our way towards the cold chicken and champagne. When we came closer to the faces above the uniforms and the Frauen behind the jewels, our audience was no longer elegant. These were not aristocrats, but hoi polloi with a thin veneer of polish. Most of the women looked like frumpish dairymaids, their faces unsullied by make-up. The features of the men varied. Some were hard and chiseled, others so pink and round they looked like pigs wearing glasses. They stood around us openly staring, the men with appraising eyes, the women coldly disapproving.
Carrying my plate heaped high with nourishment, I left the buffet to search for some of the Nazi hierarchy. The only one I found was Goering, whom it would have been impossible to miss. The Luftmarschall and his wife, a handsome Brünnhilde, were surrounded by a respectful group. In a fancy uniform covered with row upon row of medals, he looked even bigger than his pictures. His voice boomed like a foghorn. When he laughed, the glasses tinkled and the cutlery rattled. I took a good look at him. He took a good look at me. I marveled that anyone could be so big. No doubt he was marveling that anyone who ate so much could be so small.
The atmosphere of Nazi fervor and arrogance made us feel that billed as English Girls we could not let the Empire down. Outnumbered by a potential enemy, it seemed important to create the right effect: a proper mixture of aloofness and civility. We would accept another chicken leg, but we did not intend to enjoy it. By the time we were ready to leave, patriotic zeal had got the better of us. We sailed across the empty dance door, heads held high, with Kit’s instructions ringing in our ears: “Cut them dead, the bastards!”
On New Year’s Eve the show closed to make way for the Fasching. The Deutsches Theater was a center for this winter carnival, and various balls were to be held there. When Ein Tausend und Zwei Sächte left Munich to do an extended tour it was to shrink in size. Takings from smaller German theaters could not pay for such a large cast. The Boston Brothers were returning to Paris to join the new Folies Bergère show. We were leaving in a few days for Italy. Karl and I were seeing in the New Year quietly in the atelier. In the candlelight Karl’s statue (now completed) looming up on the stand appeared almost alive. On the stroke of twelve we wished each other “Glückliches Neujahr.” As we raised our glasses in a toast to 1938, Karl looked sardonic, but my eyes turned brightly towards unexplored countries, fresh experiences, new people; Karl’s thoughts were directed grimly towards a future which, though we did not know it, held the Anschluss and Chamberlain’s umbrella.
When we left Munich Karl appeared at the station with bottles of Liebfraumilch and a hamper provisioned from the Kaiserhof house ball. We wandered away from the crowd to say good-by. Thrilled as I was at the prospect of seeing Italy, I was unhappy over leaving Karl. He comforted me with promises of visiting me in Italy.
“But Karl, you can’t get any money out of Germany.”
“Not to worry, Liehchen. It will be ultimately simple. I go and stay in the best hotel where you are playing. The manager he is sure to be friends with my father.” He took my arm and led me down the platform. “I have for you a parting present. It belonged to my Viennese grandmother.” He took out of his pocket a small box, and opening it he showed me an emerald ring in an old-fashioned setting.
“Oh, Karl! You can’t give that away. It’s an heirloom.”
“I want you should have it.” He put it on my finger and led me back to the train.
Reggie, running around like a cat on hot bricks, hustled me on board. As our friends waved us off, shouting “Auf Wiedersehen!” I gazed at Karl standing soberly apart, his hands in his pockets.
I was near tears through Germany and most of Austria. I did not recover my spirits till I heard the cries of the Italian customs men heralding our arrival in a very different land. They were not interested in our luggage. They were interested in us, and did not pretend to hide it. They clapped their hands, threw kisses, and cried joyously, “Bella! Bella! Biondina!” This was the background music that was to follow us throughout our stay in Italy — a mounting “Bella! Bella! Belltssima!“
(To be concluded)