The Story (continued)
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
At Penn Station (located on 33rd Street), Tom vainly pursues after her. She persistently vows that she can be resourceful and make it on her own: "I got this far, didn't I?" After persuading an Irish cop (a second one) to stop her husband, she stands by the boarding gate at Track 12 for the Florida Special, glancing nervously up at the clock - it is only five minutes away from departure time at 11:58 am. Gerry has her first encounter with a whole group of aging sportsmen and millionaires - twelve elderly ones, dressed as duck huntsmen in their hunting regalia (with Tyrolean hats, guns, boots, etc.). They have hired a private car on the train bound for Savannah, Georgia. As they board for the riotous train journey, they are already well-known to the train's conductor (Alan Bridge) as a notorious bunch - the unruly Ale and Quail Club.
Their club name belies their two main past-times - getting drunk and shooting up the moving train. Each of them is introduced [five of whom are named in the end credits] as they parade through the ticket gate:
- Mr. Craft (Sheldon Jett)
- Mr. Hilldocker (William Demarest)
- Mr. Hitchcock (Jack Norton)
- Mr. Hotchkiss (Roscoe Ates)
- Dr. Kluck (Torben Meyer)
- Mr. McKeewie (Victor Potel) of the Seventh National Bank
- Mr. Asweld (Jimmy Conlin) of Aswaldocan
- the hiccuping President Mr. Osmond (Arthur Stuart Hull)
- Mr. Hinch (Robert Warwick) of Hinch's Emulsion
- Mr. Hinch's valet (Robert Greig)
- Mr. Jones (Chester Conklin)
- Mr. Featherwax (Dewey Robinson)
Gerry acts the part of a charming lady in distress, exploiting the fact that she doesn't possess a ticket. Although the "rich millionaires" offer gentlemanly assistance ("If there's anything I can do...?"), the frugal men don't generously purchase a ticket for her, to the ticket collector's consternation. Gerry is confident that "everything's going to be all right." After the clannish club members have all passed through, they huddle together on the platform, talk it over, and chivalrously vote to invite her as their guest and mascot, exclaiming ("We have tons of tickets"). Tom stands helplessly at the gate as his wife boards the train bound for the South - the club's howling hunting dogs are crammed into one of the Pullman car's rooms.
En Route to Florida:
Gerry endures a dance with each of the rowdy, loony, hard-drinking millionaires as Mr. Asweld plays the piano. Drinks are served at the bar by a black bartender named George (Fred "Snowflake" Toones) to the raucous brotherhood, as the conductor is given an unending length of tickets. Without baggage, Gerry is lent a pair of striped, oversized pajamas by a sleazy Mr. Hinch, and quickly retires to bed, while the huntsmen sing Swanee River in the distance. She removes her stockings from under the legs of her pajama pants and stuffs them inside her high heels. As she lies down to sleep, she ponders her fate with these men - thinking how distant she is and "far from the old folks at home."
Back in their Park Avenue apartment, Tom is paid a visit from the new tenant - the Wienie King who is looking around to see "that pretty girl with the nice figger that lives here that I seen yesterday." Tom is scolded for not being a good provider, but then generously given money by the charitable old man for airfare (to fly "in an aer-i-o-plane") to Palm Beach to be reconciled to his estranged wife and bring her home. He suggests that Tom carry a bouquet of roses in his hands for her. Back on the train, the club barges into Gerry's room and gathers en masse around her bunk, serenading her with Sweet Adeline, Goodnight, Ladies, and Merrily We Roll Along. Back in the lounge car, Hilldocker grumbles about the members of the gun club who are acting more like a singing society - he calls them a "bunch of sissies" and a "bunch of coeds."
In a classic sequence of slapstick and wild, free-for-all, degenerative action, an inebriated Hilldocker and Hitchcock cause havoc on the train with their callous disregard for property. After delivering a challenge, they rambunctiously skeet shoot in the lounge car at crackers thrown in the air by the fearful bartender, blasting out a few of the Pullman's windows. Gerry, tripping over her lengthy pajama legs, flees in terror from the rowdy gunfire with live shells, and retreats to the public, second-class section of another sleeper car with upper and lower berths. As she steps up and valiantly tries to hoist herself into one of the empty upper berths, she makes the acquaintance of the man in the lower berth after kicking him in the stomach. When he sticks his head out from the curtain and turns to look up at her - from between her legs, she steps on his face and smashes his pince-nez into his eyes. He proffers his face to her, smiling beatifically. She blows off splinters of glass and pleads for his forgiveness.
A second time, he insists on helping her - after placing a second pair of pince-nez on his nose (from a supply of spares). As he helps her climb up a second time, he advises her about where to gingerly step on his berth. At first while following his directions, she clumsily stands on his hand, asking: "Is that right?" He gallantly replies, without discomfiture: "Well, you're standing on my hand, but otherwise it's perfect." She gets down again to apologize. And then he adds good-naturedly: "Don't mention it, you're as light as a feather." Half-way up on a second attempt, she gets stuck and requests: "Would you mind giving my foot a little push?" As he sticks his head out, looks up, and gives her ankle a slight boost with both hands, her dainty foot suspensefully rests just inches above his face - and then grinds his glasses into his eyes a second time. But he is unperturbed as he picks crunched shards of glass out of his eyes: "Everything is fine, thank you."
The club forms a posse with hunting dogs ("you can't have a posse without the dogs") to locate their missing mascot, singing A Hunting We Will Go! as they maraud through the train's corridors. The animals smell her scent in the public carriage and scramble into bed with the man with pince-nez glasses. After they are ordered out by the conductor for their misdemeanor, the man is left with a massive dog bone - and irritating fleas. When she asks: "Are you all right?" he politely pretends that things are fine. After the club is ordered back to their private carriage, the conductor arranges for it to be uncoupled and left behind at a siding at Rockingham Hamlet. The hunters emerge from the abandoned and deserted car, shooting into the air to register their indignation. The left-behind bartender jumps down off the derailed car onto the tracks and runs after the departing train.
The next morning, the black porter tells Gerry that her clothes and few possessions ("my ticket, my handbag, my lipstick and everything") have been "set out." She is flabbergasted when told that the millionaire's Ale and Quail car ("full of drunks") has been disconnected from the rest of the train: "What do I go around in - a blanket like an Indian?" She scolds and insults him, even dismissing his suggestion of wearing his "brown overcoat." The man from the lower berth offers to purchase some clothes for her during the next town's stop, admitting: "Oh, I have money." He also proposes gathering odd pieces of clothing from other lady passengers. When odds and ends of donations are dumped in her room and Gerry has tried on ludicrous combinations, Gerry can't decide what to do, and is unresponsive to her black maid's suggestion: "I could lend you my earring(s)."
In the next scene, Gerry sashays into the dining car, attired in her striped pajamas (with matching turban), white earrings!, and a wrap-around blanket - advertising Pullman on her backside. As she sits down at breakfast with the bookish, pliable passenger she has met in the train berth, he expresses his instant infatuation for her domestic, "homely virtues":
Man: If there's one thing I admire, it's a woman who can whip up something out of nothing.
Gerry: You should taste my pop-overs.
Man: I'd love to. The homely virtues are so hard to find these days. A woman who can sew and cook and bake, even if she doesn't have to. And knit -
Gerry: And weave!
Man: You're joking, but I mean seriously, that is a woman.
Gerry: Were you going to buy me some breakfast, or would you like me to bake you something right here at the table?
Man: I like a witty woman, too.
The naive, daffy, circumspect, Victorian-minded gentleman has a few peculiar habits that he practices with much pomp: he adjusts his pince-nez, and records notes in a small notebook. He appears to be a tight-wad anti-consumer, studying the breakfast menu and comparing the 35, 55, and 75 cent breakfasts for the best "solid value." Apologizing for his "upbringing," he insists, in a serious tone, that they buy the 75 cent breakfast. Both of them order a prairie oyster a la carte - he orders it prepared "on the half-shell." Instead of buying her a rail ticket to Palm Beach for the journey beyond his destination of Jacksonville, Florida, he proposes to go "to a little store...and buy you the few little things you need, and then you come the rest of the way with me by boat."
Gerry doesn't realize that this unassuming man is a wealthy, yacht-owning billionaire named John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) - she asks: "I don't have to row, do I?" The camera pans down Mr. Hackensacker's notebook where he fastidiously keeps a record of Gerry's purchases in a fashionable Jacksonville department store:
- 2 Breakfasts $1.50
- 2 Prairie Oysters .50
- Tip .10, Taxi .60
- 12 Pairs of Stockings 19.98
- 12 Pairs of Shoes 104.65
- 1 Shoe trunk 49.00
- 4 Suitcases 168.50
- 8 Handbags 212.50
- 6 Slips 96.00 (over)
- 8 Hats 146.65
- Assorted Perfumery 196.00
- Toothpaste .20
- 1 Tooth Brush .35
- 2 Doz. Handkerchiefs 36.00
- 1 Bathrobe 49.95
- 6 Nightgowns 150.00
- 1 Doz. Pants (fancy) 60.00
- 3 Brassieres (fancy) 24.60
She suggests a loan to buy just a few items, but he remarks that he pleasurably enjoys making extravagant expenditures:
Gerry: Oh. You're really sure it's all right?
Hackensacker: Oh, certainly.
Gerry: You're not a burglar or something?
Hackensacker: Oh no, that was my grandfather - at least that's what they called him.
More items are added to a third page in the notebook - the camera pans down the long list: 1 Dress 212.50, 1 Dress 165.65, 1 Dress 179.50, 1 More Dress 68.95, 1 Dress 290.00, 1 Coat 285.75, 1 Coat (sport) 90.00, 1 Jacket 49.95, Another Dress 310.00, 1 Belt 1.00. The generous Hackensacker is overjoyed by the purchases of an entire trousseau for Gerry. He is particularly proud of a gorgeous ruby bracelet, encouraged by the pleasure-loving, French-accented saleswoman. Gerry is astounded by his largesse and wealth, thinking him crazy and wondering if "two men with butterfly nets are going to creep up" behind him and take him away. Her fears are compounded when she learns that he is normally parsimonious with his funds and travels around in a lower berth instead of hiring a stateroom because "staterooms are un-American." As the well-heeled customer leaves, the store's proprietor (Julius Tannen) stutters in disbelief at the name of the man: "Mister Ha-ha-ha-ha."
On Hackensacker's yacht (named The ERL KING - pronounced "oil"), enroute from Jacksonville to Palm Beach along the Florida coast, the billionaire admits that he normally doesn't believe in tipping either - the taxi driver from the store to the yacht is given only a dime because: "Tipping is un-American." Gerry gulps when she first learns his name, John D. the IIIrd - he is the grandson of an oil billionaire and "one of the richest men in the world." [The character is a parody of tycoon mogul John D. Rockefeller. His name is an amalgum of Rockefeller and Hackensack, New Jersey.]
He complains about the peripheral nuisances, "inconveniences" and drawbacks of yachting - the wind blows everything about: "There are a lot of inconveniences to yachting that most people don't know anything about...Give me the peaceful train." The marriageable bachelor hopes to have an heir ("the IVth will be my son when I marry"). He has inherited his wealth from his father and grandfather. From them, he picked up the penny-pinching habit of entering hundreds of dollars of purchases into a notebook, but he never computes the totals.
She tells him that she is bound for Palm Beach to acquire her first divorce - that produces a "sour" look on his face as Hackensacker assumes that Gerry's husband was brutal and abusive and caused their break-up. He resides in Palm Beach at the mansion of his sister, the five-time-married Princess Centimillia who was divorced three times: "She was annulled twice." His own views of marriage are more traditional: "I see marriage as a sort of permanent welding, a growing together of two trees, in spite of anything my sister can demonstrate to the contrary, into a sort of permanent messmasse, like a permanent grafting of two trees into a permanent graft." Gerry gushes about her "idea" to husband-hunt for a rich suitor/provider from whom she could secure $99,000 dollars in cash to 'pay off' her husband, who demands the payment before granting a divorce. The normally mild-mannered Hackensacker states: "Chivalry is not only dead. It's decomposed." He is angered by the exploitative treatment of her verminous, reptilian, and scoundrel husband and promises to "thrash" him if they ever meet:
That's one of the tragedies of this life, that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous.