Chapter 21: A Wedding, a Honeymoon, and a Telegram

Aggie and Frank young couple
Agnes Christine Johnston Dazey and Frank Mitchell Dazey

Summary: Aggie and Frank return to Stony Brook for their wedding, and then head to the Catskill Mountains for their honeymoon. A telegram from the Selznicks interrupts their vacation, and the offer is too good to pass up.

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Now all Frank and I could think about was getting married as soon as possible. I stormed into Ince’s office and told him that as soon as I’d finished the script I was working on, he’d have to give me a three-month honeymoon vacation.

“Wouldn’t dare stop you,” Ince grinned. “But when you come back you’ll have to work out the rest of your contract. And at the same salary.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Ince! Thank you!”

And then, as I was leaving the office, he added, “Aggie, if you get a hustle on with your script, you’ll be in time to be a June bride.”

Mama, when I told her, was forced cheerfulness. “I want my little Aggie to be happy,” she said. “Don’t worry about Izzy and me. We’ll get along somehow.”

But I didn’t want Mama to ‘get along somehow.’

Frank had a smart lawyer friend in New York named Greene. I wrote this attorney and described how Papa had deserted us, but that Mama would never, never give him a divorce. Still, wasn’t there some way Papa could be forced to give a little toward Mama’s support? Mr. Greene wrote back: “I have interviewed your father. He has a good position, and is well able to pay your mother around forty a week. However, he is bitter about not getting a divorce. To compel him to make any payments at all, it may be necessary to get out a court order and have him jailed.”

I wrote back that if Papa refused to pay Mama any money, I didn’t care if he went to the hoosegow. Greene sent on a sheaf of papers, but Mama always had some excuse for not signing them.

Of course, I babbled all over the studio lot that I was going to get married. The news brought that publicity genius, Hunt Stromberg, galloping up to my office.

“Gosh, Aggie, I can do things with this!” he said, his voice vibrant with inspiration. “You’ll have your wedding on one of the studio stages. Louise Glaum Doris May, and Enid Bennett can be your bridesmaids. Charley Ray will be best man. And, of course, we’ll have the cameras shoot the whole ceremony. It’ll make the news reels and…”

“Wait, Hunt, “ I interrupted firmly. “If I’m going to get married, it won’t be in a studio but in a church. And back at Stony Brook with the friends I grew up with.” He looked at me with sad hurt.

Frank left for the East three weeks before the wedding so he could stop off in Quincy and spend some time with his family. His father’s famous “In Old Kentucky” was about to be released as a picture starring Anita Stewart. Frank had seen it in the projection room, and was certain it would be an astounding success. (Editor’s note: This 1919 version is not to be confused with the 1927 version or the 1935 version starring Will Rogers, all of which credit Charles T. Dazey as the writer.)

By some utterly unimaginable stroke of salesmanship, Mr. Dazey had wangled Mr. Mayer into a royalty deal, one of the first made in pictures. Mr. Mayer had protected himself by stipulating that royalties could only begin after the picture had grossed some half a million dollars, an almost unheard of figure. But between the time the contracts were drawn and the picture produced, the full post-war business boom was on. Frank was certain this novel royalty agreement would, in time, net his father over $100,000.

Always before, when a golden rain had fallen on the Dazey family, it had seeped away in the morass of worthless stocks and unlucky speculations. As soon as Frank reached Quincy, he launched into an argument with his father. His mother (Lucy Harding) battled by his side. It took three days of wrangling, but finally the whole Dazey family marched down to the town’s leading bank where an agreement was drawn up with the town’s leading banker. All “Kentucky” royalties were to be paid directly to the bank, the money to be invested in tried and sound securities approved jointly by Frank’s father and mother and that eminent banker. Of this plan and this banker, more later.

Izzy finished her “Peaceful Valley” script for Charles Ray, and, as Charles said he didn’t want to start another picture until the fall, she took Mama east with her to get the Holly Tree House ready for the wedding.

I hurried my Ince script, but I couldn’t get it finished until just ten days before the ceremony. The train trip across the continent took four full days and four full night. I slept most of the way so I would be rested for my wedding.

I found Stony Brook lovely with the magic of mid-June upon it. Everywhere I went I was met with warm words of friendship. I knew that everybody had thought that little Aggie Johnston with all her troubles and adrift in that crazy movie business would come to some dreadful end. But now, with success and marriage, they saw nothing but happiness ahead for me. And, in all those beaming faces, I detected not one sour note of envy. I tacked up a sign in the post office, inviting the whole village to the wedding. I also wrote and asked Papa. Mama insisted on this, but I was equally firm that she be the one to give me away.

One of the first of my friends to call me up was Mrs. Perry, the dressmaker who had whipped up those beau-catching organdies for Frank.

“Aggie, dear,” she said. “What are you planning for your wedding gown?”

I’d had my mind on a rather expensive creation from the Fifth Avenue bridal shop, but I couldn’t be disloyal to Stony Brook, could I? So I told Mrs. Perry that she was to make my gown. As time was short, she had to work day and night, and, for the simple white satin, she charged me exactly five dollars.

Of course, Frank was late for the wedding. And, of course he had what seemed to him a valid excuse. In those early Prohibition days, it was never occurred to anybody to have liquor for the guests. But Frank’s best man, Newt Stillwell, a handsome, hulking college football player, said he couldn’t get through the ceremony without a drink. So Frank took our honeymoon car and went careening through the country to get a pint of bootleg whiskey.

All the Stony Brookians accepted my post office invitation, and there was also a trainload of friends from New York. The little wooden church was crowded and overflowing. Latecomers had to stand outside and look in the windows. As I went through the door, I saw, amid a blur of faces in the rear pews, Papa, rounder than ever and red-cheeked. He smiled and waved his hand. I smiled back as best I could.

Walking up the aisle in my virginal white, with demurely lowered eyelashes, I envisioned myself as the ethereal young bride. Frank told me afterwards, “Your face was red as a beet.”

The wedding reception was another blur. Izzy, who had made all the arrangements for the refreshments, was scampering around much upset. Because she never took cream in her coffee, she’d forgotten to order any for the guests. Everyone was beaming, though, except for that taut moment when Papa came up the receiving line. I could hear Mama’s sharp intake of breath and Papa’s coldly formal greeting to her. When he got to me, he gave me a warm, too-possessive kiss.

Later, I discovered him wandering through the house. With a speculative glint in his eye, he remarked that the improvements Mama had made must have cost a pretty dollar. Was he thinking that with the money I’d been making, he could get out of paying her anything?

Quick as a wink, I got hold of Mama. Taking Frank’s lawyer friend, Mr. Greene, along, I hurried them off to an upstairs bedroom. We brought out the separation papers, and I told Mama she just had to sign them.

“But, poor Parry…” she started to demur.

“He didn’t even bring a present for his daughter’s wedding,” I put in. “Now hurry. The punch is getting low. You’ve got to see about having more made.” Mama signed, wiped her eyes, and went down to the kitchen to help squeeze more lemons and oranges for the fruit punch. I went to my own room to put on my going-away suit. I didn’t give a darn about the refreshments. I just wanted to get away with Frank.

Finally, we were off in the Buick, its back seat crammed full of suitcases and hatboxes. We were hardly five miles out of Stony Brook when a black depression fell on me. I felt I’d make a mistake in getting married, and even more of a mistake in marrying Frank. I looked at him. He was scowling. He snapped at me. I snapped at him. All my past fears and inhibitions about marriage crowded over me.

Then, suddenly, rounding a curve, we saw a sign, “Drake’s Duck Dinners.” Frank stopped the car, pulled me into the roadhouse and ordered two full-course dinners. We gorged on them. Our spirits rose. We looked at each other, laughed, and compared notes. Yes, Frank had felt as depressed as I. In the excitement of our wedding, we’d hardly touched breakfast, had forgotten about lunch, and had skipped refreshments at the reception. We didn’t hate each other at all. Our marriage wasn’t a mistake. We’d just been hungry.

The first night we spent at the The Plaza Hotel in New York. My suitcases and hatboxes were carried to the bridal suite by two bellboys. Frank’s mother had given him his “trousseau”: heavy silk monogrammed pajamas and dressing gown, in an initialed, custom traveling case. But where was it? What with all my baggage to be put in the car, Frank’s had been left out. He came to bed in his shorts and a yellow, silk embroidered Japanese kimono of mine. Along about 3:00 a.m, there was a knock at the door, and a hand thrust in Frank’s case. Whose, I never knew.

One thing I’ll say for Frank. He planned a perfect honeymoon. It has been a long time since we’d had that first Baked Alaska a together. In all this time neither of us had had a real worry-free vacation. Frank had been in the service twice, on the Mexican border and in the front line in France. Starting as a typist at age 16, I had experienced perhaps all the best and the worst that movies can do to a writer. Now we planned to “get away from it all” for two whole months.

The Catskill mountain lodge where Frank took me, with its mighty oak beams and great rough-stone fireplace, was as romantic as a stage setting. In the mornings, a very dignified housekeeper would appear to cook our breakfast and put the cottage in order. We would have lunch at the nearby inn, served by a gnome-like little waitress who couldn’t do enough for “the honeymoon couple.” I’ve never been so hungry before—or since. We were always served two helpings of dessert, and sometimes three. In the evening, I played the wife and aired my pretty trousseau aprons as I cooked my husband’s dinner over two blue-flamed chafing dishes. At night, I’d look out of the window next to our bed, out across the vast black chasm of the Kaaterskill Valley to the shadowy hulks of North Mountain and Sugar Loaf. Often fierce, bright shafts of lightening cut into the dark, and sent me shivering close to Frank’s protecting body.

During the day, we fished for trout in noisy mountain streams. We played in a tennis tournament and were soundly trounced by a very inept couple. And we walked—miles and miles—over mountainsides covered with heavy forests, ferns waving everywhere. Once we found a little waterfall deep in the wild and took off our clothes to bathe in the chilly, dancing waters. We had just eight days of this. Then came the telegram. The fatal telegram!

Frank and I were wrestling around in one of those mock fights honeymooners go in for—on the roof of all places—when a bellboy from the inn appeared. Frank scampered down. I followed and saw the bellboy hand him a telegram. Could something be wrong with one of our families? Frank glanced through the message, an odd expression on his face, handed the boy a quarter, and said there would be no answer.

“Frank, for gosh sakes!” I cried. “Something wrong?”

He tossed me the telegram. It was from his old friend, Harry Rapf. “Selznicks like your story ‘Shadows of the Sea. Want you and Aggie start script immediately. Offer three thousand dollars.”

Shadows of the Sea” was a story Frank had sent Harry some time back and, what with marriage on his mind, had almost forgotten about. I don’t think I’d even read it myself.

“Well,” Frank said slowly. “I’m glad the Selznicks like my story, but I’m darned if I’ll let you work on a script. Not on our honeymoon. Come on. Let’s go down to the Inn. I’ll phone Harry.”

As we walked down the stone steps from our lodge, I asked, “Frank, just how much money have you left after the wedding and everything?”

“Oh, a couple of thousand smackers,” he said, “and the five hundred you owe me.”

Yes, I must confess that, though the wedding was not extravagant and I’d been very, very careful about everything, I’d still managed to spend up all I’d saved from my time at Ince and, when it came to church decorations and the reception expenses, I’d had to have help from Frank. I simply can’t imagine how I always managed to run through money. I’m just not the saving type, I guess.

I listened at Frank’s shoulder as he argued with Harry over the phone. Finally he offered to sell the story for a thousand if they’d let us alone on our honeymoon. But no! The Selznicks had to have us on the script and right away. For a moment I thought Frank was about to hang up on Harry, but I got his attention and nodded my head violently. With a great sigh, Frank accepted the $3,000.

Work in the honeymoon cottage! Oh, the agony of it! There didn’t seem to be a single idea in either of us. For hours we’d sit before that great stone fireplace and stare glumly at each other, neither of us saying a word or making a suggestion. I thought Frank was deliberately loafing, and I guess he had the same idea about me. Once I snapped crossly at him, and he threw a pencil at me, missing as he’d intended, but to a romantic young bride it seemed deliberate mayhem. Tears gushed.

After days of torture, the old work habits asserted themselves. Slowly the script began to take form. But the honeymoon was over. There were long hot railroad trips to New York for conferences with Harry, who was a honey, and the director, who definitely wasn’t. To make matters worse, when we were doing the final polish on the script, both our families came up for a visit at the same time since it was their last chance to be with us before we left for the coast. It quickly became clear that Frank’s family didn’t like mine and vice versa. Nothing was ever said. They were studiously polite to one another, but that only made the strain worse.

And then, the last night, before we left our honeymoon cottage, Mama and Izzy told me they had another reason for coming up besides just wanting to see me. In “Peaceful Valley,” Charles Ray had played the simple country boy as he had at Ince. Now at last he was determined to go “sophisticated.” He’d hired an old worldly-wise director, and this director had a favorite writer.

Bernard McConville,” Mama put in. “The same man who got your Mary Pickford job. Isn’t that funny?”

Not to me it wasn’t.

Then Mama brought up her problem. The papers had been served on Papa. He’d written that he’d go to jail before paying a cent. “I just can’t put my husband in jail,” said Mama.

“But, Mama, with Izzy out of job,” I said, “I’m afraid you’ll have to make him cough up. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to help out anymore. You see, I’m pretty darn sure I’m pregnant.”

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