Disclaimer is on the introduction page.
October 2nd, 1942
Radio station WENN head writer and station manager Betty Roberts Sherwood was feeling extremely harried. There was the sponsor for "Big Joe Loves Little Jo" sitting in the lobby, scripts that needed to be written, an account that needed to be balanced, a group of Armed Forces officers in the green room who were beginning to get rowdy, and a pair of bickering Singers standing in the hall. All in all, it was a typical day. What she wouldn't do to have Scott here, instead of doing cryptology somewhere in Pittsburgh! Oh, well, it was his duty. Betty was lucky that he was in America at all. He could be in Europe, or the Philippines like Doug, or Africa like Victor...
Mr. Eldridge poked his head in the writer's room. "Betty," he said, "Scott is here to see you."
Betty frowned. "Scott should be at work, decoding Axis messages. What's he doing here at this time of the day?"
"He says that it has something to do with the government's orders," Mr. Eldridge told her. "Or something to that effect."
Scott was, indeed, sitting in the lobby, chatting with the kindly southern belle Josephine Harnell, the owner of Harnell Furnishings and the sponsor of "Big Joe Loves Little Jo". Betty was surprised, to say the least. She rarely saw Scott during the day, except during his short lunch break, and they were both often dead tired at nights. "Scott," she exclaimed, "what are you doing here?"
"I got new orders from the War Department this morning, Betty. They want me to be co-station manager of both WENN and the W.E.N.N with you."
Betty was flabbergasted. "But I thought Victor left me in charge!"
Scott shook his head. "They decided that the challenge of two stations running simultaneously was too much for one person to handle."
Betty knew when and when not to believe him. Now fell into the latter category. "Is that the only reason you're here or is there something else?"
Scott looked at his watch and Betty knew what was coming. "Oh, would you look at the time? Betty," he said, "I was just talking with Mrs. Harnell here and I found out something that completely amazes me."
"I didn't know that there was anything left in this world that could amaze you, Scott."
"Well, Mrs. Sherwood," Mrs. Harnell said in her honeyed Louisiana drawl, "it just so happens that I have been longing to sponsor a country music-themed special on your station. It would remind me of home. I do so miss New Orleans. It also happens that my nephew will be in town for a few days and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity for him to perform at your lovely little station."
"Tell her who your nephew is, Mrs. Harnell," Scott said excitedly.
"His name is Jack Rawlings. Have you heard of him, Mrs. Sherwood? He sings some truly darling ditties in Western movies for Democratic Pictures."
Betty's jaw dropped. "Your nephew is Jack Rawlings, The Melody Minstrel of the Wild West! Well, of course, I've heard of him. Scott and I saw his latest movie, 'Melody of the West', two days ago. He's coming here, to Pittsburgh?"
Mrs. Harnell nodded. "Just for a week to see me. He's on a bond drive right now. My husband died two weeks ago in France and Jack is all the family I have left." She burst into tears.
"When will he be arriving in Pittsburgh?" Betty asked as Scott handed the sobbing woman a handkerchief.
Mrs. Harnell acknowledged Scott's offer and blew her nose long and loudly. "My Jack'll be here in just a few hours. I was going to go pick him up from the airport right after I left this station."
Scott offered her his arm. "I'll go with you, Mrs. Harnell, and make sure that you don't get trampled by the mobs. I'm sure that there will be tons of people there, him being a famous cowboy and all."
Mrs. Harnell graciously took Scott's arm as she made for the front door of WENN. "Why, how kind of you, Mr. Sherwood. I think I'll just go and do that. I can't hurt for a woman to have a little protection now and then."
"Scott," Betty shouted as Scott opened the door for Mrs. Harnell, "you do realize that I only have a week to do this!"
He flashed Betty his famous cockeyed grin as the older woman headed out the door. "You're brilliant, Betty. Piece of cake."
"What if I'm not feeling brilliant this week?"
"Oh, would you look at the time..."
It only took two hours for the normal hum of activity at WENN to rise to a fever pitch. Mackie announced Jack's appearance every other commercial break. The officers and the WACs and WAVEs who hung out in the Pittsburgh Canteen could talk of nothing else but the handsome, popular, athletic, and well-voiced star of countless musical westerns.
Betty sighed. She was trying to work on tomorrow's script for a new show she had created, "The Lady and the Drifter", about a young best-selling authoress who wed a handsome, mysterious drifter over the objections of her father and a rich, talented suitor who also loved her. She just couldn't concentrate. She figured it was time to take a break when she realized that she'd given the drifter the line "Oh, would you look at the time?"
Giselle burst in at that moment. "Ooh la la, Betty, did you hear? Monsieur Jack Rawlings, the famous movie star, is going to appear right here at WENN! I cannot believe it! I have seen all of his films! He is the greatest and most handsome cowboy in the history of the films!" She shyly held up a glossy photo of Jack Rawlings. "Do you think he would autograph my picture of him, Betty?"
"If you can get through the onslaught of adoring fans."
Giselle sat down in the opposite chair. "I am feeling light-headed. I have always been shy. I never liked to go out dancing with boys, or to bombs - French for parties - or on dates. I did not have many friends at all. I was afraid that I would be made fun of, because I was different. I liked art, and opera, and things that others did not understand."
Betty patted Giselle's arm. "That's all right, Giselle. You're a wonderful actress, and a really fine person, too. It's ok to be different. This world would be very dull if everyone looked and acted alike."
All of the sudden, there was a commotion in the hall. Giselle leaped out of her seat. "Betty, he is here! I'm sure of it! It is Jack Rawlings!" Betty followed the ecstatic French actress into the hallway.
Scott Sherwood and Jack Rawlings sat in the office. They were supposed to be discussing Jack's forthcoming appearances on "The Masked Man", "Rance Shiloh, US Marshal", and several other western-themed programs on WENN and the W.E.N.N, as well as the variety show he and Betty were creating especially for him. What they were really doing was just shooting the breeze.
"So, Jack, old buddy, how've you been all these years? I haven't seen you since you were wailing tunes about heartbreak and beer in that dive in Boston. When was that, anyway, 1935?"
"It was 1934," Jack corrected him. He took off his ten-gallon hat and set it on the desk and unbuttoned the collar of his fancy western-style shirt. The younger man ran a hand through his thick, golden hair. "When I left home at fourteen, Scotty, I promised myself that I would become a famous singing star, no matter how I had to do it," Jack explained, dropping the Western drawl that he affected in public. "I headed out west when that Boston dive went bust in '37. Democratic Pictures had openings for singers out in Hollywood, but by the time I'd waited enough tables and hopped enough train cars to get out there, the musical parts had all been filled. I was desperate. I had sold everything but the shirt on my back just to get to California. So, I took a part as an extra in a B-western. They liked my one line and my good looks so much that the studio heads put their brains together and decided to advertise me as the next Gene Autry."
"Well, they sure did a good job," Scott admitted. "I never thought of you as a Gary Cooper type, though. Didn't you used to hate the outdoors? You didn't like animals, either. And weren't you the guy who claimed that he couldn't understand how a man could love a horse more than a woman?"
Jack squirmed in his seat and looked uncomfortable. Luckily for him, Betty entered at that moment. She handed Jack several scripts and shook his hand. "Hello, Mr. Rawlings, and welcome to our humble studio. I'm Betty Sherwood, the head writer, and I believe you're already well acquainted with my husband, Scott. We really didn't have a chance to talk before, seeing how it got so crazy in the hall. I hope those overly enthusiastic teenagers didn't bruise you too badly, Mr. Rawlings."
Betty's poise and beauty most defiantly impressed Jack. He picked up the accent again. "Why, I'm charmed, Mrs. Sherwood. Scott and I have just been discussing old times. And you can call me Jack." He kissed her hand. Betty blushed and Scott gave him a look that clearly indicated that he didn't approve.
Betty indicated the scripts. "I wrote you characters in several Western shows, Jack. You'll play a wandering singer in 'The Masked Man', and a bank robber gone straight in 'Rance Shiloh, US Marshall', and..."
Jack suddenly jumped up and threw the scripts on the desk. "I can't take this subterfuge any more!" He turned to Scott and Betty. "The truth is, I'm a singer, not a cowboy. Scotty, you were right. I don't know anything about the west or about cowboys. The sight of cattle being branded makes me queasy. I can't stand being outside all the time. I prefer fast cars and lovely ladies, not horses and Indians. Saddles make my behind sore and it took me years to figure out which side of my horse Trotter to sit on! I hate hay and farms and I couldn't shoot a gun to save my life. I'm not noble and frankly, I'm a very big coward. In short, I don't know how I'm going to pull these broadcasts off without the aid of the Democratic Pictures publicists. I don't want to hurt my fans."
Betty looked at Scott and sighed. "I don't suppose you've told your aunt this, either, Jack."
He shook his head. Tears sprang up in his blue eyes. "It would break her heart. She thinks that I've been learning all about the west all this time. Frankly, I've learned more about parties and the studio system than I have about horses and bandits. I have tons of stunt doubles. They do all the shooting and the branding. I just do the acting and the loving."
Betty picked up the scripts. "Jack, I think we can help you keep your precious illusion alive in front of your aunt and your fans..."
October 8th, 1942
Scott sat at his office, doing paperwork for the W.E.N.N. He hadn't given Betty the whole story when he'd told her why they were to be co-station managers. He wished with every last bit of his heart that he could, but he feared for her safety as it was. The Nazis were probably aware of what had happened at WENN last September. He wasn't one of the Nazis' favorite people. He had twice uncovered their codes and helped to break up their spy rings. Betty had also aided in breaking the spy ring. They were possibly in great danger.
Jeff stormed into the office, followed by Hilary. Neither of them looked very happy. "I know that Jack Rawners is a star and that he is Mr. Perfect to every person in America who ever listened to a country ballad, but could you please explain to him that 'Rance Shiloh, US Marshall' is intended to be a serious western action drama of the highest magnitude and not some drippy B-western musical where the hero sings to everyone and everything including the kitchen sink?" snapped Hilary.
"What seems to be the problem?" Scott asked innocently. Hilary threw her script at him. He expertly ducked it as it hit the back of his chair.
"Roughly translated, Jack Rawlings refuses to stick to the script. He breaks into song every time there's a reference to horses, outlaws, farms, or anything that has to do with the west. Just listen!" Jeff flipped on the radio and tuned it to WENN. Sure enough, there was the sound of Jack's clear tenor pouring his heart into his newest hit, "The Pink Gardenia of Oklahoma".
Scott shrugged. "So? It sounds good, and ratings for his guest appearances on 'The Masked Man', 'The Glint Grab-Bag', and 'Riflefire' went through the roof!"
"But the song is a romantic ballad, and he's performing it just as he's supposed to rescue Marshall Shiloh from the dreaded Jake Grott's band of notorious outlaws! He's done that in every show! He even ruined the Glint Grab-Bag skit by singing 'Wild Montana Skies' when the script called for him to be in a bar in Kansas City!"
Giselle nearly fell through the door at that moment. The young actress had ascended seventh heaven earlier that week when Jack Rawlings had signed her photo of him and later when he said that he had admired her performance of Caroline, Rance Shiloh's young female deputy, and had yet to come down. She'd been missing lines and bumping into people all week. "We will be starting the country show soon, Scott. Hilary and Jeff have to get into Old West costume for the photographers."
Scott stood up. "No, Giselle, don't bother with the costumes, and if you see Jack, tell him not to bother, either. Where's Betty?"
"In the writer's room. Why?"
Scott put his arms around Hilary and Jeff. "Have you two ever wanted to be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers?"
"Scott, this will never work!" Betty exclaimed.
Gertie looked up from her switchboard. "What's going on, Betty? I've gotten a whole bunch of calls about today's 'Rance Shiloh' episode. Everyone is asking for more singing and more music."
"Exactly! We're in a war, people! People want music, the music of America! They want dancing and laughter and nonsense to come home to after a hard day in the munitions plants and the Red Cross. Betty here is going to turn tonight's show into a full-blown musical fantasy!"
"How did you convince Hilary to do that?" Gertie asked. "Remember what happened the last time she performed in a musical program? Betty ended up having to dub her singing!"
"I told Jeff and Hilary that they could do a duet together, one that Betty here," Scott placed his arm around his wife's shoulders, "wrote especially for them."
"But, Scott, I can't write songs!"
"Betty, Betty, Betty, relax! I have a whole crate of unpublished songs that a song plugger buddy of mine gave to me, and Jack has his own material. You just have to fit the songs into the skits."
She quickly glanced at her watch. "I only have an hour to write everything!" She gave Scott a fast kiss on his cheek. "I hope this works, Mr. Sherwood."
He grinned. "Very exciting, Mrs. Sherwood."
Jack and his aunt came in, followed by his usual entourage of reporters and photographers. Scott answered all the questions he could about the broadcast and his and Jack's friendship. One particularly zealous lady reporter pushed her way through to the front of the crowd. "Is it true that you're planning something special tonight, Mr. Rawlings? Something that you've never done before?"
Jack gave Scott and anxious look. "You'll see tonight," Scott told the woman.
Jack shook Scott's hand when the reporters and the photographers joined the officers in the Pittsburgh Canteen and Mrs. Harnell went to the ladies room to powder her nose. "Scott, I owe you one for doing this last minute change for me. Music and singing is what I know best, not horses and shoot-outs. Where's Betty? I want to apologize to her for ruining her programs. I didn't know how else to make myself sound real." He looked his friend straight in the eye. "The fact is, Scott, I'm thinking about giving up the movies."
Scott raised his eyebrows. "I thought you loved Hollywood."
"Yeah, but I kind of like this world that you work in, Scott. It has a certain kind of magic that movies don't have. I don't have to shoot a gun or ride a horse here. I can sing all I want and I don't have to worry about which end of the saddle I'm sitting on or whether or not I looked like I really hit that thug. It doesn't matter what you look like, as long as your voice and your manner fit the role."
Mrs. Harnell came out of the ladies' room at that moment, with Giselle close behind her. "Oh, Jack, sugar, I met this darling little creature in the ladies' bathroom and I found that she's one of your biggest fans! We just talking about how handsome you look when you ride with the wind on Trotter in that movie you made last Christmas, 'Rawlings Rides Again'.
"That was my very favorite!" added Giselle, who gazed adoringly at Jack. Jack put his arms around both women and asked them to sit down. Scott started to leave, but Jack shook his head no.
"Scott, I want you to hear this, too." He turned to his aunt. "Aunt Jo, Giselle, I have something to tell you. I've made a very important decision. I don't want to live Democratic Picture's lies anymore."
Mrs. Harnell took her nephew's hands in hers, and Giselle looked on, bewildered. "I knew something was troubling you. You just haven't been yourself lately."
"No, I haven't," Jack sighed ironically. "I'm thinking about giving up the movies."
Mrs. Harnell gasped and Giselle's jaw dropped. "Oh, no, you must not!" wailed Giselle. "You are wonderful! Who will I watch between the newsreel and the main feature?"
"Someone who's more qualified for the job," Jack said softly. "I'm not a Gene Autry, I'm a Gene Kelly."
Mrs. Harnell gave her nephew a hug. "You're giving up a lot, Jack. If it's what you want, I'm not going to tell you no." She grinned. "I'll miss seeing you up there on Trotter, too."
"But now you'll be able to hear me every day on the radio. I'll be in your home, not just in your local movie theater."
"And I will be able to hear you, too." Giselle leaned over and shyly gave Jack a kiss on his forehead. The small woman blushed to the roots of her blonde hair and ran into Studio A. Jack laughed.
"Scotty, I think I'm going to like being Gene Kelly." He put his arms on his aunt's and his friend's shoulders. "Let's go see my debut as a musical leading man to rival Fred Astaire and Nelson Eddy, shall we?" The three happily walked into the Pittsburgh Canteen as one career ended and another began.
This war won't last forever...
Why did the government re-assign Scott to the W.E.N.N? Why does he fear for his and Betty's safety? Does this have anything to do with his work decoding Nazi messages? How are Maple and Victor weathering their marriage? Is Russia that cold in the winter? How much longer can WENN and the W.E.N.N remain free of Nazi menace?
On the Edge of the Precipice Series
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