Editor’s note: The original manuscript included three pages of notes summarizing what was to come in two more chapters. Shortly after I took possession of the manuscript, my father, Mitchell Dazey, answered several questions in a letter dated October 27, 1980. I have added (in italics) a few of the memories he shared.
Chapter 36: “Here I Go Again”
Aggie meets a great director whom we’ll call “Lord Horatio Nelson Two” because, like Nelson, he is a genius in his line of work and, also like Nelson, his ideas as to conjugal fealty are sketchy, to say the least. He takes Aggie away from her mad director, but says he wants to work on the script on his yacht. Aggie has a pretty good idea what this weekend jaunt to Catalina Island will mean, but with her ego all muddled up and anxious to get away from the mad director, she accepts. The first night on the yacht, there is a great storm, the two-man crew gets drunk, and the director shows himself to be an incompetent sea dog—which is why he is distinctly “Nelson Number Two.”
The next day, as they are basking on the deck in Catalina’s Isthmus Harbor, Frank suddenly appears in a large speedboat, accoutered with cook, nurse, three children, and incredibly enough, a mansion. (Editor’s note: Probably a reference to the Banning House.) Amorous “Lord Nelson Number Two” is not so much scared as baffled. Such ingenuity in a husband is novel to him. Romance wanes, and Aggie is fired off Lord Nelson’s script. Another black mark in a black year.
Mitchell: “The King Vidor bit was when he lured Aggie onto his yacht saying they had to go over some story ideas on a trip to Catalina. Frank rented a house, I think it was the Banning House, and hauled all three of us kids and a maid over to that house, and greeted Aggie and King Vidor out in the harbor with the whole bunch—that kind of took the wind out of his sails—and it all became a buddy-buddy friendship system for the rest of the adventure, even to the point of inviting all of us on his yacht for the return trip. I remember trolling and catching a horribly big fish on the return trip, which had to be let go with some difficulty.”
Aggie has always longed to bring her picture friends and her polo friends together. A bad fire in her house brings this about. Marion Davies, hearing of the fire and that Aggie intended to have thirty polo friends to dinner that night, insists on her bringing all thirty—at half hour’s notice—down to the “beach shack” for dinner. Some thirty picture stars are there too. Some of the polo crowd gets drunk and Frank has to tip the butler heavily to replace “souvenirs” the drunks have taken away.
Mitchell: “I can remember parties in the Santa Monica house with a 5-piece band, the backyard decorated with large colored lights; we had a butler, chauffeur, and cook. We had an apartment at the back of the garage, and the cook and the butler were usually married and lived there, although when hard times arrived, the salaries went down and the man worked elsewhere. They got into polo ponies, which is just like getting into boats; your overhead really goes up if you plan to win. Naturally, I didn’t like horses, and this was always a great thorn in their side. I think a problem was that nobody ever explained to me how you stay on a horse; i.e., balance with your thighs against his back—I just made sure there was always a pommel . . . us kids were there when the Santa Monica House partially burned, and the party was transferred to Marion Davies’ house.”
When the third MGM contract comes to an end, Irving Thalberg is in Europe. In charge is a friend of Jim Tully’s who does not like Aggie. He offers her a punk contract. She bravely refuses—knowing she has a job with Corinne Griffith waiting, and at more money.
Aggie works on pictures for Corinne Griffith and Billie Dove. She never gets to the $2,000 a week class; her highest salary was $1850 a week. She has a disagreement with Corinne Griffith’s director and leaves the assignment. For the first time in years, Aggie has no studio job, and has time to look over the house. She finds five servants have shrugged off their duties. In daughter Ruth Margaret’s room, Aggie finds the start of a little play the child has written, entitled, “The Mother Who Thought Business Was More Important Than Children.” Aggie has a little cry and determines to be a better mother. To get to know the children, she take them away from the servants for trips—sometimes to the grandeur of hotels like Furnace Creek Inn and Arrowhead Hot Springs Hotel, sometimes camping out in public parks where snow drifts down and bold deer nibble at any provisions left outside the tent.
John Van Druten’s play, “Young Woodley,” is finally chosen for Glenn Hunter instead of Frank’s “The Gentleman.” It’s the start of a wonderful career for Van Druten, but a blow to Frank. Aggie realizes that Frank has not only been playing too much polo, but also has been drinking too much. Has she been a rotten wife as well as a rotten mother? To restore Frank’s ego, she says she’ll write a play with him. This play is produced in Los Angeles with fine cast, to good notices, and opening night the theatre is thronged with important picture people. But nothing happens further. Even though the play would make a wonderful picture, there is not one offer.
Aggie’s agent puts it to her straight: one studio head has turned her down, saying, “I don’t want a writer who any weekend might break her neck playing polo or steeple-chasing.” Another has decreed: “Oh, that Agnes Christine Johnston—she’s just a social butterfly.” Aggie thinks a little ruefully about all the thousands and thousands she’s spent on her parties. But she is not sorry. She had fun.
At any rate, just as when she was under 20 years old and came bouncing back from Professor Baker’s course, she is “out.” This phenomenon of being “out” in pictures, just when you feel you were never more competent to do better work is familiar to her, but it still hurts.
Chapter 37: “Goodbye to Hollywood”
Aggie has to take a job at Universal at a reduced salary. From this job comes the wildest, most incredible, most heartbreaking and, incidentally, the most unreasonable episode that has ever happened to her and Frank. When the debacle finally becomes clear to her, Aggie tells Frank, “I think we ought to get away from Hollywood. He says gruffly, “It’s taken you rather a long time to get around to that.”
In a very short time, the whole family is off for New York to “hole in” at Holly Tree House, not on an extra-fare train this time, but on a slow, crawling one, and with only a single drawing room for the whole family. After passing San Bernardino, the children are put to bed. As there is no observation car, Frank and Aggie go to the head of the train where they find a dusty, smoky day coach, almost deserted. There they talk over the crazy wild life they have left behind them.
Editor’s note: Handwritten at the end is “To be continued.”
Mitchell: “…they were working on that book as long as I can remember . . . You have the only known copy of the (auto)biography. I am still trying to get one from someone who remembers galleys, but I don’t think there were galleys. I don’t think it ever got that far.”
Stay tuned for an epilogue about their later years. I also plan to write more about the experience of editing the manuscript, plus essays about my own relationship with Aggie and Frank during their last (and my formative) years of 1968 to 1978.
~Susanna Dazey Sayre