Bad Art

Samuel G. Camp

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All-Story Weekly, Apr 6, 1918

I ADMIT all that. It took me six months to break into the movies and I lost my job the next afternoon. The only reason they took me back was because they had to. That's a good reason; good enough for anybody—the now Caesar of Russia, for instance. Profitable Pictures, Inc., was workin' on a serial, an' I had established myself in a scene which was too good to lose. Believe me, there was a punch in that scene, an' I put it there! It might have been by accident; but that didn't make no difference. It was great stuff; an' so—I got my job back.

But just because you haven't had no great amount of actual film experience—that's no reason for a guy's not bein' able to know Bad Art when he sees it. So I was tellin' Mr. Stephen Griswold, the well-known film hero, where him an' Miss Carmen Johnstone had pulled a boner in the big scene where Miss Carmen flops when the villain shows up after everybody thought he had went down for the third time in Reel 2, Scene 34.

“My point is this,” I was tellin' Steve. “The shapely foot, or even a pair of them, is all very well in their place. If you understand me. But they shouldn't never be allowed to dominate the situation. See? Unless maybe they're Charlie Chaplin's. Ordinary feet shouldn't never be emphasized. Get me? They don't need it. They should be suppressed.

“Listen! There ain't nothin' more human than a pair of regular feet; but that ain't the kind o' human interest people is lookin' for. An' if you allow one single pair of feet, no matter how much may be said in their defense—such, of course, as Miss Carmen Johnstone's—if you allow them an inch of prominence they'll take the whole darn screen! Maybe there's murder bein' committed, but the audience won't see nothin' but that pair o' feet!

“That's straight! Now listen! My point is this: When Miss Carmen pulled that faint stuff she had ought to of fell toward the camera instead of away from it; or anyways, if she was bound to register them new fifteen-dollar shoes, she had ought to of fell so's the audience could see somethin' besides just the soles of 'em—an' stickin' straight up! Oh, boy! If I ain't all wrong, as soon as that film is released, right then the great American public will realize for the first time that the Statue o' Liberty is twins!

“An'—now—what you ought to have done,” I was tellin' Steve, though somehow he didn't seem to appreciate just how serious this was, “what you ought to have done.” I says— But just then a guy comes up an' tells me Mr. James A. Mortimer, the famous celluloid impresario, wishes to consult me at once on a matter of supreme importance—whether to close with Rex Beach, or do I think it would do any good for me to talk with Mary Pickford, or somethin' like that, I guess. So I had to beat it!

I find Mr. Mortimer in his office, alone at last. An' it seems I was all wrong. I was somethin' else entirely he wanted to see me about.

“Kid,” he says, “when I took you on, don't I remember your sayin' you used to be a boxer?”

“Lemme think,” I says. “There was bowlin', billiards, bar-tendin', bookkeepin', ballyhooin', box— Sure!” I says.

I was a failure at so many things before I made my big hit in the movies that the only way I can remember all of 'em is to take them up in alphabetical order.

“Sure!” I says.

“What did you ever do at it?” asks Jimmy. I only call him that to myself an' my friends. “What was your record?”

“Why,” I says, “now that you recall it, it went somethin' like this: John L. (Kid) Veeder vs. Battling Wells, three rounds. K. O.”

“Whaddaya mean?” he asks. “K. O.— who? Who was K. O.'d?”

“Me,” I says. “Kid Veeder vs. One-Round Casey, one round, K. O.”

“Who?” he asks.

“Me,” I says. “You never see a more consistent cuss than this guy Casey! Let's see. Kid Veeder vs. Knockout Shubert three rounds, K. O.”

“You,” he says. “Yeh,” I says. “Kid Veeder vs. Kid Beecham, three rounds, K. O.”

“Oh, well, who?” he asks.

“Me,” I says. “I quit then. It began to look like I wasn't gonna be a success.”

“Well,” he says, “I guess nobody wouldn't be warranted in advisin' you to continue. Seems like the third was your fatal round.”

“Yeh,” I says, “somehow about then I began to lose interest.”

“Or consciousness?” suggests Jimmy.

“They kinda went together,” I says. “But, on the level, I wasn't never really interested in anythin' till I broke into this movie game. I was just tellin' Steve—”

“You mean Mr. Griswold?” he asks.

“Yeh,” I says, “I was tellin' Steve—”

“Never mind now,” he says. H-m! Three rounds! Oh, well, you must have had somethin' to last even that long. Schubert is a good boy, an' so is Beecham. Maybe you'll do at that, Kid, how about it? Could you stay for—oh, say, one round—with Charlie Black without him making a monkey out of you?”

“Surest thing you know!” I says, “None o' them guys ever got to me till I began to lose interest. I can box with the best of 'em. But somehow I couldn't never seem to get the fight idea. Get me? Somehow I couldn't never seem to get my mad up like you have to if you're gonna win fights. Honest, there was only one guy ever licked me when I was really trying'. An' that was—”

“Kid,” says Mr. James A. Mortimer, “d'you mean—”

“No,” I says, “I don't. I never done a dive in my life—an' I never will! I never laid down to one of 'em! I was out—an' out clean! I—”

“Attaboy!” he says. “Never say dive! Well, I guess you'll do.”

An' so then he tells me how I am to box this Charlie Black for the camera; box accordin' to the scenario. Black has to win— an' so I will have to lay down to him. Oh, well, I don't mind doin' that for the pictures, though, of course, I wouldn't never think of it in real life.

“I'm glad I thought of you,” says James A. “You had ought to be able to do that dive to perfection.”

“Whaddaya mean?” I says.

“Well,” he says, “if experience counts for anythin'—”

“Experience,” I says, “is everything. But, just the same, you don't need a life-time of experience to know Bad Art when you see it. Now, as I was tellin' Steve just now—”

“That 'll do for you, Kid,” he says “Bad Art! Can you beat it? Bad Art! Where d'you get that noise?”

“I read about it in one o' the movie magazines,” I says. “An', believe me, as I was tellin' Steve—”

“Never mind for now, Kid.” he says “I'm busy. We'll be putting the fight on in a few days. In the mean time you might box a little with somebody. The study of Art” he says, “is bad for the wind an' your judgment of distance an'—perspective. That's all—an' tell Mr. Griswold I'd like to see him.”

An' just as I went out somethin' must have struck him funny, because he was laughin' to himself an' mutterin' “Bad Art! Bad Art!”

Believe me, you haven't got no idea of the early struggles of us celebrated guys to gain public recognition. You can take it from me, it's fierce! An' listen! The more stuff you got the harder it is to get that dear old public to recognize it. Get me? You're way over their head. So what are you gonna to do about it?

Well, accordin' to my experience, the best you can do is look round for a little— now— individual recognition, an' let it go at that. The rest is a mere matter o' time. Look at me! An' take it from one who knows, a little individual recognition, of the right kind, helps a lot.

Her name was Mercedes Amory.

Now I had every reason in the world for bein' good an' strong for Miss Carmen Johnstone, Profitable Pictures' leadin' lady. She got me my job in the movies. But in all fairness I gotta say that Mercedes had Miss Carmen shaded forty ways in every department, from the title-flash to the final fadeout. There wasn't a doubt in the world— or I don't know beauty an' talent when I see it—but that one o' these days Mercedes would be a regular headliner. In the mean time she was doin' small parts—French maids an' stuff like that.

But she was ambitious—an' I knew she would go far. An' I had to hand it to Mercedes: she was able to recognize somethin' like the same qualities as her own in others. So I an' her make a mutual hit right from the first.

Anyways, no matter what the future may have in store for her, this Mercedes dame— she says she is of Spanish extraction, though, to me, she looks more like the Bronx—this Mercedes dame is a head-liner with me right now. An'—well, I haven't got a doubt but that Profitable Pictures, Inc., will get wise to me before long an' give me one o' them substantial increases in salary you hear about. Hear about is right. An' then—who knows?

I an' her was meant for each other, all right. It was curious how we seemed to have just the same ideas on everythin' from, Brooklyn to Bad Art. The first real difference of opinion we ever had come up when I was tellin' Mercedes how Jimmy Mortimer has picked me for that set-to with Charlie Black for the camera.

Now this looks to me like I'm slowly forgin' ahead in the movie game. But Mercedes seems to think different.

“Huh! Boxin'!” she sniffs. “Why, Kid, that ain't goin' ahead—it's goin' back. Boxin' ain't art—it's a crime! It's the lowest form of amusement what is! Nobody but a brute would have anythin' to do with it! Of course, you're doin' this for the pictures—an' that makes some difference. But just the same—say, whaddaya know about boxin', anyway? How come Jimmy to pick you for this job, anyway? D'you mean to tell me, Kid, that you—”

Yeh, I meant to tell her, all right; though now that I'm wise to how she feels about it, maybe it would be just as well if I didn't. Still, I an' she understands each other, an' people in that condition hadn't ought to have no secrets from each other, an' so I guess it's the wise thing to reveal this chapter of my past right now. That's the idea I'm workin' on: revealin' things little by little so's the effects will kinda wear off between chapters. It ain't a bad idea.

So I don't make no bones about tellin' her how I was a boxer at one time until I seen the error of my ways.

She took it fairly easy, better than you might expect, considerin' her—now—extreme views on boxin'.

Like a lot of other people that hasn't got no use for the fightin' game, she doesn't display no sort of interest. All she wants to know is every man I ever fought.

So I tell her some of 'em, an'—well, nobody is obliged to incriminate himself, and I'm not under no oath nor nothin', an' so, under the circumstances, I don't give myself none the worst of it. Of course, I was tellin' the truth when I give Mr. James A Mortimer my record. But I guessed it would be just as well if I told Mercedes somethin' a little different. It was a case kinda like when your wife is down on gamblin'—it's bad enough to have to own up to winnin'.

“I should think you would of kept on fightin',” says Mercedes. “seein' you were winnin' all the while. I bet Mr. Freddie Welsh give three rousin' cheers when he heard you had went into the movies! My, what a lotta money you must have made! What you done with all of it?”

“Oh, easy come, easy go,” I says.

“Yeh,” says Mercedes, “I'm that way myself—I can't never remember what I have dreamed about. Next mornin' it's all gone from me. Now some people—”

She appears kinda skeptical. I guess maybe I made that record a little too strong.

“I wonder,” she asks, “did you ever fight Willie Beecham?”

Kid Beecham!

Now, why should Mercedes ask me that? What does she— Maybe you remember what I told Jimmy Mortimer about my fight with Kid Beecham: Kid Veeder vs. Kid Beecham, three rounds, K. O. An' I guess you know which win. Anyways, it was my last fight. An', on the level, I guess this Beecham bird was the only guy I ever really fit—I was boxin' with the best of 'em. But him an' I had had a difference about a blonde or a brunette, I forget which, an' this here was a regular grudge fight. An', believe me, I haven't got over that grudge even yet! Her face has went from my memory—but I still got it in for Kid Beecham! That's human nature, I guess. An' as for that fight, I would of win hands-down if he hadn't dropped me with a lucky punch. There wasn't nothin' to it—the lucky stiff! Why in another second I would of—

“What d'you know about Willie Beecham?” I asks Mercedes.

“Oh—oh, nothin'.” She hesitates. “I—I just heard about him. They say he's a wonderful boxer. I guess you was lucky you never ran up against him. You didn't, did you?”

Say, how much does this dame know, anyway? An', if so, why? Believe me—safety first!

“No,” I says. “I never did. But where d'you get that lucky stuff—Kid Beecham? Take it from me, I can lick every pill in his body! Why, if I an' him had ever fit, I would of licked him with punch! Kid Beecham! Huh! Why that bird ain't got nothin'! Why, they wouldn't of allowed me to fight him! It would of been murder! Believe me, if anybody was lucky it was him! I could beat Kid Beecham the best day he ever had!”

“I don't believe it!” she fires at me, bridlin' right up.

Well, of course, we didn't come to blows, but I guess maybe we would have if I hadn't see where we was driftin' an' called it off. What difference does it make anyway? I'm all through with boxin', an' seein' what she thinks about it, she had ought to be glad of that. An' she is-of course.

An' then—you might know. That old last word!

“Just the same.” says Mercedes, “you can't make me believe—”

“No,” I says, “I know I can't. An' you can't make me believe, neither! You can't make me believe there ain't somethin' funny about this!”

But you can search me what it is! An' maybe I'm all wrong. I dunno. That is, all I know is that I got a hunch no bigger than Madison Square Garden that Miss Mercedes Amory hasn't been entirely frank with me— like I have with her.

Haven't I told her the truth about everything?

“Realism,” I was telling Steve Griswold, “is the only real art. Everythin' else is bad. Take it from me! An' realism is right where the movies wins. In the movies everythin' happens just like in real life—if such things ever happened. Train wrecks is train wrecks, an' battles is somethin' more than a bunch o' stage hands shootin' off toy pistols behind the scenes. Everythin' you see in the movies is so, as they say in this mornin's paper.

“Moreover,” I says, “the public isn't asked to use it's imagination—which is the reason most stage plays fails. Why? After usin' it all day payin' their bills next month most peoples' imagination ceases to exist by 8:20 P.M. You've got to show 'em! An' that's what we do in the movies! An' that ain't all of it. We put it over so it sticks. We convince 'em. That's the word—convince!”

“An' now here's what I'm gettin' at,” I says to Steve, “when the picture fails to convince, it's Bad Art. If it don't convince, it ain't realism. Get me? An' if—”

But just then I'm interrupted with the information that everythin' is all set for my go with Charlie Black, an' so I have to leave Steve flat. An', anyways, somehow he don't seem to take me seriously. Oh, well, Steve is a good scout; but I never seen one o' these leads yet that wasn't stuck on himself. They think other peoples' ideas ain't worth listenin' to.

As to this little mêlée with Charlie Black, I know I can give a good account of myself— an' I'll have to. Profitable Pictures' entire force will be in the fight crowd, besides a hunch of extras an'—Mercedes. But I'm not worryin'. Charlie Black is good, but I know I can come through with credit. My only regret is that I gotta do that dive—but I'm willin' to do it for the sake of Art.

As for Kid Beecham, I'm still at sea! I an' Mercedes hasn't mentioned the subject since. But I haven't forgot. An' some time I'll—

But, anyways, when I got round to the fight-set, as us movie folks say, they was waitin' for me. The other guy was already in the ring.

“All right, Kid,” says Mr. Mortimer, the great director. “All right, get into the ring then.”

So I climb into the ring, an' as I'm doin' it this other bird turns round, so I get my first good look at him—Kid Beecham!

Kid Beecham! Well, of course, I see how it was. Black had reported sick or somethin' an' they had went out an' got this duck Beecham. An' in the jam Jimmy had forgot to tell me about it.

I got that far with it, an' I'm just gettin' round to some o' the other questions which occurs to me in quantities—as I guess you can imagine what they was—for instance: What am I gonna do about it?—I'm just gettin' round to a few triflin' matters like that when Jimmy sings out:

“All right everybody! Right in the game now! You boys, we're only showin' what's supposed to be the fatal round—no seconds. No slow stuff! Go to it when I give the word! Action right from the camera! Kill him Beecham, if you can! Kid, stay with him till I say when. If you're still alive, then fake your fall! You know how! Now then! Ready! Action!”

Action! That's for me! No more time to study this thing out. Action! Well, believe me, I acted—on impulse!

That impulse took me clean across the ring an' right up on top of Kid Beecham, so I hung over his shoulder like one o' them doily things hangs over a chair! The first blow I hit him was an ingrowin' uppercut in the spine! I guess I was the first to discover that blow.

Action, hey? Some! That first charge o' mine had them professional spectators standin' up in their chair an' yellin' their heads off! An' they meant every word of it! The referee tore us open an' I come right back at Mr. Beecham just like I was hitched to him by a rubber-band; an' the farther you pulled me away from him I'd snap back just that much faster an' harder. This backs him to the ropes, where I hit him three times in the same eye. I had the jump on him! I had him goin'!

I had 'em all goin'! Beecham tried to fall into a clinch, an' I staved him off with a straight left that set him back on his heels. Jimmy is hollerin' somethin' at me, but I can't hear it. Action, hey? The Kid's rockin'! Now! Nobody on first! Take a wind-up! Bam! It done the business! It done slightly more than that. Speakin' concisely, as Mr. Wilson says,

that good old right-hand swing hoisted Mr. Kid Beecham over the ropes an' into the audience. Action, hey? Well, I should sa-a-y so!

Boy!

“So,” I was tellin' Steve, “the acid-test of Art is whether you are convinced. Am I right? If you fail to convince, its Bad Art. Listen!” I says, an' then I go on to give him a few choice examples.

But my mind ain't exactly on my subject The facts is, it's about an hour after I handed Kid Beecham his sincerely, an' I'm torn, as they say, with some o' those conflictin' emotions. I have proved up right under Mercedes's eyes an' good an' squared myself with Kid Beecham. I certainly have! But I know that I got somethin' comin' to me from Mr. James A. Mortimer, Profitable Pictures' sensational director. And I have a hunch that it ain't so long before I'm takin' my foot in my hand an' lookin' for another job. Believe me, impulses is an expensive luxury! No ordinary person can't afford to act on them.

But I have certainly made good with Mercedes!

“Now take the case of I an' Kid Beecham to-day,” I was tellin' Steve. “The very minute I laid eyes on him I knew—”

But just then I see Mercedes comin' toward us—I an' Steve was standin' near the main entrance to the lot—an' so I waited for her to come up. I would of liked to ride home with her a ways, like I was in the habit of doin', but just now I want to stick round so maybe if Jimmy sends for me we can get this thing over with here an' now. No matter how it comes out—I'll sleep better.

Still, I must see Mercedes for just a minute. “Hello, kid,” I says to her, leavin' Steve to think over what I had told him, an' startin' to walk along with her, “How about it? Was I right? I guess maybe now—”

She give me a look that stopped me dead in my tracks! “You—brute! “ she scorns at me, an' brushes by, walkin' very straight, her head a mile high in the air.

“Gee!” I says, turnin' back to Steve. “What d'you know—”

An' just then a guy comes up an' gives me the office to report to Mr. James A. Mortimer at once! Oh, very well! I have lost my girl— an' here goes my job! Things is certainly comin' my way. But what's the difference? What's the use, anyhow?” Somehow I can't never seem to get the breaks, Everything I tackle I get throwed for a lost. No sort o' luck—never!

An' now on top of everythin'—this trouble with Mercedes. Believe me, I don't get her atall! Where does she get that brute stuff? What—

“Kid,” says Mr. James A. Mortimer, “haven't you worked for this company long enough to know that orders are orders? I'm sorry, Kid, but—”

“Listen, Mr. Mortimer,” I says, “I ain't got no alibi. I just got a little piece I wanna speak. Can I?”

“Well—shoot!” he says.

“It's like this,” I says. “It's just as I was tellin' Steve—Mr. Griswold—just a minute ago. I an' him was discussin' Art. An' I says to Steve, I says, 'Steve.' I says 'Bad Art is when you fail to convince.' That's what I says to him. An' ain't it the truth?”

I don't get no answer; but I can see where I have gained his attention. His eyes is still frownin', but his mouth is twitchin' like he was either gonna laugh or burst into tears. I don't know which.

“Now take the case of I an' Kid Beecham to-day,” I goes on. “You musta forgot to tell me you was gonna switch this bird Beecham onto me, because I didn't know that it was him I was goin' up against till I see him in the ring. An' the minute I laid eyes on him I knowed I couldn't never lay down to him!

D'you get me? It would of been Bad Art! Take it from me, Mr. Mortimer, I got it on that guy in every department—I can lick him the best day he ever lived—an' I couldn't lay down to him so's it would convince a child. I couldn't! An' so what was I gonna do? Well, you know what I done! Say, Mr. Mortimer, didn't we make some picture? Didn't I get some action? Didn't I convince 'em?”

“You certainly did, Kid!” he says, “you certainly did!”

So I leave it to you if it don't look like I got Mr. James A. Mortimer, the demon director, comin' my way. An' so now is the time to cut loose with the big idea. I have always been a quick thinker; but I consider this my masterpiece. It comes to me in a flash the minute I laid eyes on Kid Beecham—just like that—without no effort atall.

“Sure I did!” I says. “An', believe me, you got a fight-film there that's a knock-out any way you look at it! There's more action in a foot o' that film than there is in a thousand-foot reel of any fight-picture you ever seen! But—just because I couldn't bring myself to lower my artistic standard an' lay down to this guy Beecham—it's all off! You can't make use of it.”

“Now, listen, Mr. Mortimer,” I says, “Art is Art, but so is business business— an' you can take it from me, I'm some business guy! An' I got a proposition I'm gonna make to you. I'm gonna make you an offer for that film—but don't let's have no bickerin'! Such things is distasteful between gentlemen such as I an' you. I stand willin' here an' now to take that film offen your hands at a reasonable figure. All you gotta do is say the word! An', take it from me, I'll do the rest! D'you get me, Mr. Mortimer? Every man, woman, an' child in this here city which has the price of a movie show—I'm gonna show 'em how I put it over this celebrated stiff, Kid Beecham, in one round—one round! An' I'm gonna make my everlastin' fortune while I'm doin' it! I'm gonna get famous! I'm gonna get—”

Out!” says Mr. James A. Mortimer. “Kid,” he says, lookin' sad an' reproachful “I don't mind sayin' that you had me goin' a little with that Bad Art stuff. A director's life is a sad one. We appreciate—but never mind. But this commercial spirit— No! This taint of the busy marts of trade—a thousand times no! I'm sorry, Kid, but I guess that lets you out— quietly, please, and—you'll find your check waiting for you at the office of our very efficient treasurer.”

“An', Kid,” he says, “as we part more in sorrow than otherwise, take this with you: there wasn't any film—it was only a rehearsal!”

No film! No job! And—no girl! It might of been a minute that I stood there starin' at Mr. James A. Mortimer like a fish in a trance! An' then, as we say in the U-23, I submerged.

I stayed down for two good solid days— only I hope I don't never have any more good days like them. I kept dark. I didn't want nobody to see or speak to me. All I wanted was to be left alone—to figure out some new way to die! Somehow, none o' the old ways didn't seem to appeal to me; every one o' them seemed to have some drawback; an', besides, none o' them seemed suited to beginners. You would have to be careful or you might hurt yourself.

Well, it come noon of the third day after the end of the world! Now you wouldn't think that a man in my frame o' mind would notice a little thing like that, but—so I snuck out for some lunch. I ate pretty good for a man that has finally decided that, after all, maybe turnin' on the gas is the best way! An' then, right outside the grub-joint, I run onto him— Steve Griswold!

“Kid,” he says, “for Heaven's sake, where you been keepin' yourself? Jimmy Mortimer has had a search-warrant out for you for two days!”

“Whaddaya mean search-warrant?” I says. “I ain't done nothin'! Whaddaya mean? He fires me an' I quit! Thassall there is to it! Where d'you get that warrant noise? I ain't no crook! Believe me, Steve, there ain't another guy in the world with a more brilliant future behind him than I! My career is entirely ruined! An' now—”

“You're ravin', Kid!” he says. “You don't get me. Jimmy wants you to report to the studio right away. That scrap of yours with Kid Beecham is great stuff, an' Jimmy wants you to finish the picture.

“Steve,” I says, “my knees is kinda weak. Let's sit right down here on the sidewalk an' talk this thing over!”

But, anyways, then Steve goes on to tell me how the camera-twister had a hunch how that rehearsal might turn out better than the real thing; an' so, without sayin' nothin' to Mr. James A. Mortimer, he strings up the box an' proceeds to shoot it—an' makes a killin'! An', provided I am willin' to continue with Profitable Pictures, Inc., Steve says, the minor detail of my polishin' off Kid Beecham instead of layin' down to him like a dog—that can be arranged by simply changin' a few titles which hasn't been photographed yet anyway.

“How about it, Kid?” Steve asts. “Would you consider it?”

“Yeh,” I says. “I would. I'd consider it settled!”

“Fine!” says Steve. “An' another little thing: The little Amory girl—Mercedes. You got her worried, Kid! She told me somethin' to tell you, if I ran across you. She says she's sorry for treatin' you like she did, an' she wouldn't have done it if you had owned up when you had a chance that Kid Beecham had trimmed you first— that would have made it a fifty-fifty proposition—an' saved the family pride!”

“Much—much obliged!” I says “But say, where does the family pride come in?”

“Kid,” says Steve, “keep it dark! I gather your little friend ain't so strong the fight stuff! But blood will tell—Kid Beecham's her brother!”

I didn't have nothin' to say to that—just then. It would of interfered with lettin' it sink in.

An' so then Mr. Stephen Griswold suggests that if I haven't any previous engagements maybe I might walk along with him to the studio.

“Nothin' like that!” I says. “Here comes a taxi! Home, James!”