ON A SHOW BOAT TO BROADWAY
“Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!”
American Broadway impresario, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. was born March 21, 1867 (died July 22, 1932). The theater bug came to Ziegfeld early; while still in his teens, he was already running variety shows. In 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Flo returned with the Von Bulow Military Band — and Eugene Sandow, “the world’s strongest man.”
Ziegfeld was particularly noted for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris – spectacular extravaganzas, full of beautiful women, talented performers, and the best popular songs of the time – and was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”.
“Let us grant that a girl qualifies for one of my productions. It is interesting to note what follows. First, it is clearly outlined to her what she is expected to do. She may be impressed at the outset that the impossible is required, but honest application and heroic perseverance on her part plus skillful and encouraging direction by experts very seldom fail to achieve the desired results. But it is only through constant, faithful endeavor by the girl herself that the goal eventually is reached.”
He also produced musicals in his own newly built Ziegfeld Theatre – Rio Rita, which ran for nearly 500 performances, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Whoopee! and Show Boat. Several of his musicals hit the movie screens, including three different versions of Show Boat. William Powell played Flo in the 1932 biopic, The Great Ziegfeld, and a 1946 film recreated the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies.
Yellow Bird, Part III: Parrot Lust
The English ornithologist did not wear tweed; he wore casual island attire and was tan, not pasty. Rachel, Antoine noted, was doing her level best to hide her beauty. Prim shirt and slacks hid beaux nichons; dowdy glasses framed dark eyes; and her hair was pulled up into one of those buns that so titillate the English. She was attired for her fellow ornithologist, not Antoine. They sat at a table near the edge of the patio looking out at the tamarind tree.
Antoine brought a bottle of wine to the table and placed it between them. “Compliments of the house.”
“Please,” said Rachel with a disarming smile that softened the severity of the glasses and bun, “sit with us.”
“Thank you,” said Antoine. “But only for a moment. The lunch patrons will be arriving shortly and I must prepare.”
“Antoine,” said Rachel, “this is Arnold Covington. Arnold, this is my friend Antoine.” The two men nodded at each other, as Antoine sat and poured wine for his guests. He filled Rachel’s glass, then turned to Covington, but Covington stretched his hand over the top of the glass and said: “None for me, thank you. I don’t drink.”
Antoine clucked as he pulled Covington’s glass back and filled it for himself. “You are from Martinique, I am told. A lovely place.”
“Do you think so?” said Covington. “I’m afraid I find it wanting.”
“There’s the parrot,” said Rachel. She pointed toward the top of the tamarind tree. “See? Up there.”
Covington looked up at the tree and hummed. On those rare occasions when the English mind works, thought Antoine, it’s noisy. Antoine stared at the staring Covington without attempting to hide his disgust, but then he felt Rachel’s hand resting on his knee. He turned to her and her smile at once melted his anger, and it said to him: “I know this man’s a complete ass. He’s a bore and I’m sorry I brought him. He’s a colleague and nothing more. He’s not half the man you are. But that’s to be expected isn’t it.” And Antoine felt better.
Covington continued to stare at the tree.
“Do you think he’ll fly down here, Antoine?” asked Rachel. “He did yesterday.”
Antoine shrugged. “Who’s to say? The bird has a mind of its own.” But he was now satisfied that the bird had no intention of cooperating with the English ornithologist. Undaunted, Covington pulled a small pair of binoculars from his pocket, put them to his eyes, and continued to study the bird.
“Psittacus antilles vulgaria,” said Covington after a few minutes. “The pronounced yellowness of the head, the squareness of the tail – no question about it, it’s an Antilles Parrot.”
“Voila!” said Antoine, raising hands and eyes skyward. “I always thought it was a parrot.” Rachel giggled, but Covington just glowered at him. “I told the silly bird he was a parrot. He thought he was an eagle; but he’s merely a sittingwhatsis with delusions of grandeur.”
“He’s not merely anything,” Covington said with a sniff. “That’s a very rare bird. Very rare. They’re virtually extinct. We have four females in captivity on Martinique. But no males. Of course, I must take him to Martinique.” Rachel and Covington both stared at Antoine who looked out between them at the tamarind tree.
“I doubt that the bird would want to go to Martinique,” said Antoine, emphasizing each word. “I think he likes it here. I think he finds Martinique wanting.” Antoine’s remarks were lost on Covington who once again stared at the parrot through his binoculars. Rachel shook her head, and Antoine shrugged in return. Then, spotting a young couple sitting down at a table behind them, he jumped up and excused himself.
During the next two hours, diners came, diners dined and diners departed, singing the praises of Antoine and Bistro Francaise. The proprietor himself bustled here and there, keeping himself far busier than normal, never admitting to himself that he was avoiding the odious Covington and his parrot lust. Finally, only one table remained occupied, and Antoine was delighted to see that it was occupied by only one person – Rachel. They didn’t discuss Covington or the parrot again until later that afternoon when they had departed the cafe in favor of a pretty, black-sand beach – a secluded stretch of paradise where, Antoine pointed out, one could take the sun in the French manner if one chose to. Rachel took freely to the French manner, and now Antoine sat admiring the subtle movements of her body as she talked.
“He’s not that bad,” she said. “A little short on manners, perhaps, but so are some others.” Her dark eyes flashed at Antoine who just grinned. “And he is very intelligent. He’s right about the parrot. If they aren’t bred, they’ll disappear forever.” She leaned back to let the sun and Antoine’s steady gaze caress her.
“Do you have a relationship?” asked Antoine.
“Do you care?”
“I asked, did I not?”
“You have rebuffed him?”
“There hasn’t been any need to. He’s never attempted to move the relationship beyond professional.”
“He is a fool.”
Rachel leaned toward him and let the deep dark eyes do their thing. “Thank you,” she said. “At least I think that was a compliment.”
“A statement of fact. The man must be nearly dead to ignore such a companion to study a wretched bird in a tree.”
“A Frenchman, however, would ignore the bird, lure her to a romantic beach, coax her out of her clothes . . .”
“But of course,” said Antoine, clapping his hands.
“And?” said Rachel, letting her dark eyes drop downward in mock innocence.
“Beaches are for lovemaking,” said Antoine.
“Are they now?” said Rachel, looking at him again. “You’re a forward fellow, aren’t you?”
“Life is short. So is your holiday. It leaves little time for a cat-and-mouse courtship.”
“So we skip right to the seduction?”
“Seduction is such a harsh word. I find you amazingly attractive. I think that you perhaps do not find me distasteful. Given those circumstances, I believe a liaison is appropriate. Do you disagree?”
“What about your bird?” asked Rachel, pulling back.
“I do not find my bird that attractive.”
Rachel laughed and said: “No, I mean what about your bird going to Martinique?”
“Am I to assume that our liaison depends on it?”
“Of course not,” said Rachel, riveting her dark eyes on him.
“I must think about it,” said Antoine. “It is a difficult decision.”
“That’s all I ask,” said Rachel, leaning into him until their warm skin touched and their liaison on the black-sand beach enveloped them.
Antoine was working at his papers when the bird made its usual showy entrance, once more sending a flurry of papers into the air.
“Damn you,” said Antoine.
“Damn you,” said the bird.
Antoine looked up at the bird and smiled an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid I have betrayed you, mon ami.”
The bird cocked its head and looked back at Antoine. “You’re a frog.”
“Hurl your insults, little feathered friend. I deserve them. I am a beast. Base sexual desire has led me to cruel infidelity. Like a drug addict that will do anything to satisfy his craving. Willing to pay any price for a moment’s pleasure.”
“Beaux nichons,” said the parrot.
“I’m afraid so,” said Antoine. “I’m afraid so.” He stared at the parrot, then broke into a grin. “But why do I say such things. It is not so. I have done you a great favor.” He clapped his hands, and the parrot lifted its wings and stepped backward as though about to retreat to the tamarind tree. “My selfless liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons has created for you a grand opportunity. You, lucky bird, are going to Martinique – a beautiful place – for a liaison with, not one, but four yellow birds with deep dark eyes and beaux nichons. “What do you say to that, ungrateful bird?”
“God save the Queen.”
This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.