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Cinderella of the Airwaves

by Emma Redmer

Disclaimer: Scott, Betty, Pruitt, Gloria, and the WENN staff belong to Rupert Holmes and Howard Meltzer Productions. "Remember WENN" belongs to others. Mrs. Jessica Marthan is my own creation, as is the story.

December 29th, 1940

Betty Roberts sat at the typewriter in the writerís room of radio station WENN, tapping away furiously. Her visit with her folks in Indiana over Christmas put her behind in her scripts. She returned the day before to find that Scott Sherwood, the station manager, signed a new sponsor in her absence. She needed to concoct a script for that sponsorís new show with only an inkling of what the sponsor had in mind.

"Miss Roberts," purred a very unwelcome voice. Betty gritted her teeth and looked up to find Mr. Rollie Pruitt, otherwise known as "The Satanic Santa", the accountant for GLOBE Enterprises, and the company that owned WENN. He held a stack of papers under one arm and a typically sour expression on his bulldog face. "I have a few things that you can do before I go back to Boston."

Betty frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I was told that you handle most of the finances around this," he gazed around as if he found the very room he was in distasteful, "this place." He deposited the stack of paper on her desk. "I would like you to go over WENNís finances for this year."

"But...Mr. Pruitt, I just got back from Indiana, and..." Betty started. Pruitt glared at her. He wasnít used to people talking back to him.

"No buts, Miss Roberts. I want this done, so I know exactly how much this miserable sinkhole earned and how many taxes weíre going to have to pay for no good reason."

Betty grumbled under her breath that there was a perfectly good reason for GLOBE to pay taxes on WENN: the radio station, despite its small size and eccentric staff, ran genuinely good shows. She should know. She wrote them.

Scott Sherwood entered as Pruitt stomped out. Scott was the most exasperating, exciting, confusing individual that Betty ever knew. He was handsome and funny, annoying and obnoxious, thoughtful and dashing, and cunning and conniving. There were also times when he completely, utterly surprised her. Last week was one of those times. He bartered with a sponsor for a plane ride to Indiana, then purchased her bus ticket home. She wondered if his gift represented a tiny change in the man who once turned their shows into fifteen-minute commercials and rigged a game show.

He had the big, plump-cheeked grin that indicated that he had another so-called "brilliant" idea in the works. "Betty, Betty, Betty, could you come in my office for just five minutes? The sponsor wants to hear your idea for her new show!"

Then again, maybe not.

Betty followed Scott down the hall and into the office. The first thing Betty saw when she entered was a very long, elegant set of legs encased in chic silk stockings. The legs led to the most stunning woman Betty ever saw. She wore a pale peach suit and beige fur coat that showed off her long, thick, corn silk-colored curls and high cheekbones. Her eyes were a startling blue. Betty blushed and tried to hide in the other visitorís chair. Compared to her, she was just a mousy little radio writer.

"Betty, this is Mrs. Jessica Marthan, head manager and sole owner of Marthanís Parisian Boutiques. Mrs. Marthan is an old friend of mine."

She nodded and shook Bettyís hand warmly. "Call me Jess. Iím thrilled that we had this opportunity to work with such a wonderful writer." Her voice was deep, almost masculine, like Tallulah Bankhead. She radiated sex appeal, from her high heels to her creamy complexion.

"Thank you, Jess," Betty stammered. "Iím glad you like our programming."

"Itís so imaginative," Jess explained. "I donít know where you come up with some of the plotlines. And your Christmas variety show was just sensational. It must have been like pulling teeth to get Gloria Redmond to appear. I heard she went into seclusion after her husband died."

Betty and Scott cleared their throats at the same time. Neither of them wanted to go into the circumstances that brought Gloria Redmond to their station and finally got her on the air. "And you could be a part of that, Jess," Scott said quickly. "Betty has a wonderful new idea for your show." He quickly turned to the frustrated writer. "Betty?"

She sighed. "WE thought that, since Marthanís Parisian Boutiques are among the most sophisticated and glamorous shops in Pittsburgh, that we would cast our own Hilary Booth and Jeff Singer in a story set in Paris around the turn of the century, among its elite, and perhaps carry it through to the Great War. The story would be romantic and suspenseful, but not as melodramatic as our soap operas."

Jess grinned. "Thatís a lovely suggestion, Miss Roberts. My late husband Pierre would have appreciated it. The stores are named for him." She grinned. "I picked him up on a trip to Europe. I think he thought he picked up me."

Betty coughed as Hilary Booth poked her head into the office. "Scott, Betty, a messenger just..." She noticed Jess and immediately offered her hand to such an elegant woman. "Why, hello! You must be very excited to meet me. Iím Hilary Booth, of course."

Jess took her hand. "I saw you three times in ĎThe Rivalsí. You were absolutely phenomenal. I never saw anyone better in that part."

Hilary preened, as she always did when ĎThe Rivalsí came into conversation. "Thank you so much, Miss..."

"Mrs. Jessica Marthan, Jess for short."

Hilary nodded. "Itís wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Marthan." She turned to Scott and Betty. "Scotty, I just heard some of the most fabulous news. Gloria Redmond is having a New Yearís Eve Party. Just a quiet little thing, or so the telegram said, but she was so impressed with the station and with us that she invited the entire staff to her farm!"

Jess seemed impressed. "Wow, thatís terrific! Gloria Redmond hasnít done anything or appeared anywhere in over a year."

She grinned. "I know we were just going to run records on New Yearís anyhow. Jeff and I were thinking of going to Times Square, but this is better, and a lot cheaper. We wonít have to fight for tickets to Grand Central Station." Hilary hurried out, babbling about finding a new dress and someone to do her make-up.

The flashy organist, Maple La Marsh, replaced her. "Hey, guys," Maple exclaimed, "did ya hear about the big to-do at Gloria Redmondís? I canít believe she really invited us to her own home!"

Scott gestured at Jess. "Maple, this is Mrs. Jessica Marthan, an old friend of WENN and mineís newest sponsor."

"Aw, I know her, Scott," Maple laughed. "I window-shop at her joint every day. Itís on the way here from my place."

"Itís nice to know that you admire our displays," Jess admitted. Maple shook her hand vigorously.

"It ainít your display Iím admiring," Maple explained. "Itís that really fancy get-up in your window, the one with the white beads and the lace. Wish I could fit into it, but Iíve got a little too much up here," Maple indicated her very filled out top, "if you know what I mean." She gently elbowed Betty. "Hey, what are you going to wear to this thing? I thought Iíd see if I still had my black velvet gown in the back of my closet somewhere, the one I wore when I was doing the solo spot in the Crimson Follies."

Betty stood a little too quickly. "Iím not going to the party, Maple. Now, if you will all excuse me, I have mountains of scripts to catch up on. It was nice meeting you, Jess." She made as fast an exit as she could, but it wasnít fast enough to avoid Scott Sherwood.

He stopped her in the hallway. "Betty, whatís wrong? Why wonít you go?"

She tried to get around Scott. "Iím not interested."

"Betty, I saw the look on your face when Hilary mentioned the party. You really want to go with the rest of the staff. Why say no?" He grinned. "Iíd be more than happy to accompany you, if youíre worried about not having an escort."

Betty reddened again. She didnít want to admit that she was very jealous of Hilary and Maple. She couldnít remember the last time she went out and just had fun on the town. It sounded wonderful. Scott certainly deserved something after what happened on Christmas Eve. Between the scripts and what Pruitt gave her, though, she would be swamped until the middle of January.

"Scott, Iím just too busy." She headed in the writerís room and shut the door behind her. Scott sighed sadly and walked back down the hall.


Neither Scott nor Betty were aware that they left the office door wide open. Mrs. Jessica Marthan overheard their whole conversation. She and Scott discussed Betty a week before, when they encountered each other at Bellaís Restaurant and he brought up the idea of her sponsoring a show on WENN. Scott deserved all the happiness in the world. He once helped her get back on her feet when they were both struggling in Spain, before he started fixing bullfights. She went onto France and a wealthy marriage, but she never found out what became of him until now.

Scott was always charming with the ladies, but Betty was different. He seemed to have genuine feelings for her, and she was talented, pretty, and smart. She just needed some help. She would chat up the other women, and maybe even some of the men, in the station. Scott mentioned that WENNís staff was like family. They would be perfect allies in a scheme that would take Miss Betty Roberts out of the writer's room and into the ballroom.

December 31st, 1940 - 10:00 PM

"... Tonight, you will enjoy an encore performance of ĎThe Very Best of WENNí, starting with ĎWee Mary MacGregor, Veterinarian.í We will resume regular programming tomorrow at noon. The staff at WENN hope that all of our listeners have a safe and happy 1941. This is WENN, Pittsburgh." Betty rang the chimes that signaled the hour and signed off.

The return of the re-runs was Scottís idea. Most of the staff were going to be at Gloria Redmondís party until well after midnight and she had scripts to catch up on. Eugenia took the week off to visit her family in Altoona and wouldnít be back until January second. Betty did say that theyíd never use his re-run idea again, but she was fresh out of options. There was no way she could do all their shows by herself.

Betty sighed and walked to the Writerís Room, where she planned to spend the rest of the night. She would have liked to go to Gloriaís party. It was all anyone at WENN could talk about when they werenít performing. It would be nice to get dressed in a fashionable gown instead of one of her old skirts. Sheíd love to look elegant and glamorous, like Hilary, if only for one night. She closed her eyes and waltzed to imaginary music. She laughed and smiled and giggled.

"Miss Roberts, what are you doing?" A loud, annoyed voice ended her daydream. Betty stopped and saw Rollie Pruitt standing over her.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Pruitt. I was just..."

"You were just wasting precious time," Pruitt growled, "which wonít get your work done. I expect the finances for this station done by tomorrow night." He glared at her. "And I donít approve of lateness." He stormed out of the station, slamming the door on his way out.

Betty stuck her tongue at the closing door. Why did that man have to be such a miser? She knew from talking to Gloria on Christmas Eve that he was good at his job. He was one of the top financial advisors in the country. That still didnít give him the right to act like HE was the stationĎs owner! If she didnít know that Pruitt detested radio, sheíd think that he wanted to be WENNís manager. Betty shuddered at the thought. Heíd run us straight into the ground at the first opportunity! At least Scott, despite all his backfired schemes, cared a little about the station.

Betty shook her head and went to the writerís room to get going, before Pruitt the bulldog came back to bark at her some more. She noticed that the light was on in the small room. That was odd. She hadnít left it on. Cautiously, she went to take a look.

"SURPRISE!!" Maple, Hilary, Mackie, and Jess Marthan stood in the room. Hilary carried a large, shiny box. Maple held a heavy fur. Jess toted a long, white form under one arm. All three women were dressed for dancing, in fine gowns and long gloves.

"Wha...whatís this all about?" Betty stammered.

Jess smiled and handed the form to her. "You deserve to go to the party. No one should work on a holiday!"

"Especially this one," Mackie added. He jingled his car keys. "I think my Ford is rusted enough to at least be the same color as a pumpkin."

Jess rushed Betty into the womenís bathroom. "Iíll help you get dressed. We donít have much time!"

It wasnít until they were both in the bathroom and Betty climbed out of her skirt, blouse, and plain shoes, that she gathered her wits. "Jess, whatís going on?"

"Just what I said," she insisted. "No one should be shut up with a typewriter and an adding machine on New Yearís Eve. You and Scott should have a good time."

"Me and Scott?" Jess handed her the gown.

"Yes. Mackieís leaving a little early. Heís told me that he has the first show tomorrow." Jess smiled. "Scott's crazy about you, Betty."

"How can you tell?" Betty easily slid into the creamy silk dress.

"You and this station are all he talks about. I donít think heís ever known so many people who care about him. Itís a new sensation for him."

Betty pulled up one strap. "How long have you known Scott?"

Jess shrugged. "We met each other in Spain. We were both broke then, so we became partners in several money making ideas before I made enough to go to France. He stayed to work on one of his projects." Jess didnít want to go into their relationship. It ended well, but it was over ages ago. She had no feelings left for Scott except for those of friendship. "He helped me out of jam, so I want to repay the favor."

"What kind of a jam?" Betty pulled on the matching heels that Jess slid under the stall. She handed Jess her old shoes.

"Scott basically hauled me off of the streets. Iíd been in Europe for a few years. I wanted to become a famous fashion designer, but none of the fashion couriers wanted any help after the Depression started. I couldnít even get modeling jobs." She laughed. "I married a rich minor womenís dress designer instead and persuaded him to open several high-class dress shops on the East Coast. Marthanís Parisian Boutiques is one."

"I need help with the buttons. I canít reach the bottom ones." Betty walked out of the stall.

Jess gasped. Even without make-up, the transformation was breathtaking. The long, cream silk gown swished across the floor. The straps were gossamer ruffles bordered by sparkling crystal beads. The skirt was simple, shiny silk whirled and twirled. Betty took one look at herself in the mirror and blushed.

"Betty, you look fantastic. You donít look like the same person."

Betty went up to the mirror and touched her reflection. Was this glowing beauty in the expensive dress really her? Jess finished the buttons as she gawked. Maple and Hilary joined them.

"Wow, Betty, you look amazing!" Maple commented.

"That dress works wonders for you," Hilary added. "Now, step aside, and let a master take charge. Hilary Booth is going to produce her greatest masterpiece since she appeared as Juliet in íHilary Boothís Romeo and Julietí." She and Maple dropped two wood stools on the floor.

"Donít take forever, Hilary," Maple admonished. "I wanna do her hair, and itís almost eleven."

Betty blushed again as Hilary smeared cold cream across her face. "Sit still, dear. This may take a bit of time."

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