His memories shifted to his second wife Gerda, a striking woman twenty years his senior, a woman, suffice to say, with “connections” in the industry. Another woman with a great belief in him, another woman who he had loved, but used. Yet, it was different with Gerda, she knew that they were unlikely to remain together but she was satisfied to be with him for however long it would be, and she had used him, too, in her way.

Gerda had been drawn to his virility, arrogance, and faint ironic glimmer, the aspect of him that suggested there was more to him than physique and a handsome face. Their love-making or, rather, just plain animalistic sex had been vibrant and fulfilling at first; she startling him with her mature passion, shocking and satisfying him with her sensual hunger. They had devoured each other but as time passed the vigor departed, and he saw with some dismay that her using had stopped and a deeper love for him had taken over. His career had ignited and he’d begun to ascend from playing faintly dangerous, untrustworthy villains to larger supporting roles to second leads and, finally, to full-blown “hero” status.

While Gerda stayed at home, he had acted, and while acting had meant a young, attractive actress who the studio had renamed Gale Hanson (originally Gale *Hancock* until she’d told them in no uncertain terms what they could do with *that* notion) from the rather more prosaic Dawn Dummler. Gale had been hired as a dancer but, in truth, she was unappealing when hoofing and had soon been cast in comedies and dramas; Β not long after their first meeting Jake had discovered that there was a certain kind of “dancing” that Gale was very good at, and soon they were “dancing” together all the time. If the sex with Gerda had been animalistic and vigorous, that with Gale was even more so and there was none of the seriousness of his relationship with his wife to drag him down. His ego had delighted in this, and Gale, her ego as swollen and unpuncturable in youth as his, had been his mirror image.

Neither marriage nor ecstatic affair had lasted, as he looked back he could savor the memories of pleasure but felt regret at his selfishness, his annoyance with Gerda’s inconvenient love for him, and even his failure to attempt to form a deeper connection with Gale. Although that regret was balanced by the knowledge that she became monstrous with stardom, possessed of a selfishness unleavened by humor or charm.

By the mid-’30s he was a fully-fledged Star, rugged manliness with a flash of wit was his calling card. He had that special charisma that translates on film into a kind of enchantment, while his large head with its powerful features was adored by the camera and by girls big and small. Deanna Durbin had even recorded a song about him, “Oh, Jake!”. Those years were the best for him despite his frequent grousing at studio “maltreatment”. Come to a picture palace and he was bound to be there, in a drama opposite William Powell as estranged brothers or in a comedy with Jean Harlow or in an Klondike-set adventure menaced by a villainous Humphrey Bogart. He seemed to coruscate with charisma on the screen, though his characters could be deliberate as if holding something back before revealing it in an explosion of emotion or action.

He had various relationships or “relationships”, though few in comparison with Coop, and he’d enjoyed himself. And then he had met *her*. Helen Charlton was a beautiful actress and a star. True, Hollywood was hardly lacking in beautiful stars but she was unique. Helen projected both an air of sophistication and a hint of healthy vulgarity, she was tough yet elegant, she could play knockabout comedy and searing drama. And from the moment he met her… He didn’t like her.

They’d met on the set of a comedy, in which each had played half of two opposing couples, he had found her much too flippant and fond of profanities and much preferred the actress he was playing opposite; they’d even had an argument that had only been resolved Β by the exchanging of joke gifts: a broomstick for her (because he thought she was a witch) and a pipe and pair of slippers for him (because she felt he was a fuddy duddy old man). It was therefore a surprise for both of them when a year later on another set they had discovered that they were temperamentally and physically well-matched, her insouciance and wicked sense of humor freed him while his solidity and carefulness grounded her.

It had been astonishing to find how alike they were, and the differences, well, the differences simply seemed to enhance their relationship. Helen wouldn’t stand any nonsense so Jake’s egoism went into a sharp decline, those things that would cause him to rage from others he could gladly take from her; he began to consider his behavior much more and to realize the *anger* that had driven him unconsciously for much of his life, she was a salve for his soul, and he felt a love for her – a deep, strong, *true* love – like nothing he’d ever experienced or believed possible. He cherished her and she cherished him. Their love-making was tender, passionate, sensitive, all-consuming, erotic, and everything in-between. Their conversations both trivial and deep made Jake and Helen feel as if all the other conversations they had had with others were pale imitations. It was no surprise that three months after their relationship began they were married. Jake and Helen seemed even more charismatic before the camera than they had before. Their screen and personal lives were as close to perfect as you could get.

And then she died.

Jake couldn’t bear to think of the circumstances of her death but as he looked into the mirror he still felt as if his heart was bleeding. The light went out of his life, and his brightness on-screen dimmed. He had gone on living, acting, marrying etc. but he felt empty, he allowed little things to consume him, and age descended upon him. By 1962 he was tired but then came epiphany. He simply awoke one morning with Helen in his mind, he opened his eyes, saw his wife’s face and felt an intense love for her. It was as if Helen’s memory had finally revealed to him his descent into his worse nature. Suddenly he’d felt alive, possessed by the urge to face his mortality, his flaws, his vulnerability. He’d looked into a metaphorical mirror and had come to terms, as he now gazed into a real one and came to terms. If this was the final fade out he was determined to make it a good one.


  1. Interesting how the gluttony of opportunity was in no way satisfying for Jake and the real journey in his psyche took place with someone who challenged him. Great story, George!

  2. George, this was just gorgeous. Upon seeing the photo, I took an intake of breathe, remembering yesterday but also thinking to where I am in the midst of “The Museum of Innocence” by Orhan Pamuk, a novel which is like watching a train wreck of a love story in slow motion and yet you can’t look away…

    • George Kaplan

      Heather, I am so grateful for your lovely comment. “Just gorgeous”? You humble me!
      I think I shall have to hunt down “The Museum of Innocence. Ah, the photograph, yet another perfect choice from the sublime Ms Lester…
      Warm regards,

  3. I think you missed your calling, George, that goes for Vickie, as well. The two of you have a gift for reading people accurately, to the point that a career shift into the world of psychology would be seamless. When you couple that innate understanding with your incredible gift for writing, well, I think you have something that they call ‘genius.’ (…and I don’t throw that word around casually, just so you know.)

    This is a very timely sort of post for me. It brings to question the notion that another person can stir our pot in just the right way to bring forth our greatest potential. Do you suppose that’s true or do you think that it comes from deep within us and matters not as to who is in our life at the time? Is it just a matter of timing or do we need certain people in our lives at points of transition so that we can move to the next level? I know, so many questions… That’s my specialty. πŸ˜‰

    Anyway, Bravo!! I loved every morsel of this.

    • George Kaplan

      Oh, Lisa, your comment was so beautiful it moved me to tears. You are a wonderful woman, I trust you know that?! “Genius”? I am all but speechless at your dizzyingly kind words. I couldn’t possibly claim any innate understanding, I just try my best to have empathy for my characters, to feel as they do, and see through their eyes. I draw on what I observe in other people and on my own emotions and experiences; as well as employing what I hope is an empathic imagination (he says, pretentiously!)
      I entirely agree about Vickie’s acute perceptions and transcendent heart and soul. πŸ™‚
      To your questions, there’s no need to apologize, kind and gracious lady. I do believe that some people require some one to “stir the pot”, they may appear as if from nowhere and throw light upon the dark. (more in a moment)

    • George Kaplan

      Having said that, it’s also quite possible that it can come from deep within us, without outside agency. For some people it just *happens*, and timing is always, *always* important, just because it has not happened yet or doesn’t seem likely to means nothing. Once you reach that point of transition you will know it with or without someone to provide the spark at that precise moment. Well, I guess I was of no use to you with that garble Ms Lisa!
      I thank you with all my heart for your belief and your touching words,
      All good wishes,

      • Garble? Hardly. More like a thoughtful and sensible response to a puzzling question. I do agree with you. It’s never black and white, is it? It can come from another person or it can be that moment in time when we’re ready, when the stars align. Yes, I do believe we’ll know it. These transitions are difficult and often painful. I do wish it wasn’t so.
        Mia Farrow references a poem, “The Waking,” by Theodore Roethke, in her book, “What Falls Away.” I love this poem. “What falls away” sounds to me like overly ripe or bad fruit falling from a tree. Throughout our lives so much really does fall away — hopefully, at the end, we’re left with our own beautiful truth.
        Thanks for stirring my pot, George.

    • George Kaplan

      And you are absolutely *darling* Teamgloria! I’m afraid that’s the end of Fade Out, it’s up to the reader to imagine what happens to Mr Toper! However, as the divine Ms Vickie says, The Date Part IV should be up later in the week, I pray it does not disappoint… πŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: