June 30, 1952, was the day The Guiding Light premiered on television. It was also the day that Find Your Light, starring Jonas Cain, debuted in the time slot immediately following its ongoing radio version. In the minutes it took Procter & Gamble to advise that “best costs less than all the rest” when it comes to Ivory soap, the nefarious Edmund Bard magically relocated from Selby Flats, CA, setting of The Guiding Light, to New York City, where he could continue wreaking havoc, this time on a much greater (female) population.
It had been Rose’s idea to set the show in New York, as opposed to the fictional small towns that Irna preferred. She’d suggested they could mention real locations like restaurants and stores in order to add a sense of authenticity — and generate publicity. She’d also pointed out that, in a cosmopolitan metropolis like NYC, Edmund’s provincial villany wouldn’t seem nearly as awful. They didn’t want to build a show around a thoroughly bad guy. Edmund needed redeemable qualities, and what better place than the Big Apple for him — and their listeners — to encounter more malevolent threats?
Irna let Rose have her way. She turned absolute control of the new show over to Rose. Except Irna still reviewed Rose’s long story proposals, read all of Rose’s scripts, listened to every episode — and gave copious notes on each. It was the most power she’d ever ceded to anyone. Lucy Rittenberg, one of Guiding Light’s television producers, couldn’t believe it. She said, “Irna’s always telling me: I’m very fond of you, Lucy, but I can’t work with women. And here she is handing over the keys to the castle to you, Rose!”
Rose thought it was simpler than that. Irna wasn’t handing over the keys to the castle. She was merely allowing Rose to house-sit. Because Irna’s hands were currently too full with the television broadcast. Not a week went by that Rose didn’t hear about some mishap during the live broadcast, whether it was needing to make actors in their twenties look like they were in their thirties by adding white tufts to their foreheads which they dubbed “little gray wings” — and were constantly inadvertently loosening when they ran their fingers dramatically through their hair, or the Thanksgiving episode when, not only did the prop man forget to put a turkey in the oven, leaving actress Charita Baur to peek inside, slam it shut quickly and announce, “I think it needs a few more minutes!” but an actor’s head kept getting in the way whenever the camera would track around the festive holiday meal, so that, with every circuit, elderly Theo Goetz was forced to duck under the table. Irna wasn’t giving Rose power. She was giving her an opportunity to play scapegoat if anything went wrong with Find Your Light, while Irna was focused on the more important parent show.
Not that Rose would ever say so in public. In public, Rose played the good soldier, taking blame and punishment both deserved — she wasn’t perfect — and not — the buck did stop with her, though, just like it did with President Truman — smiling, insisting everything was going perfectly, she was fine, thank you, why do you ask?
Most people believed her.
Jonas did not.
Jonas, Rose suspected, hadn’t believed her in a while. But, like Rose, he was very good at pretending. Since their night at the restaurant, their night outside of the park, Jonas had been pretending like it never happened. If he passed her in the hallway, he would tip his hat and say, “Good day, Miss Janowitz.” If she came down to the studio floor to give notes, he kept as much of a distance from her as the other actors, only speaking when spoken too, rarely making eye contact. If they should bump into each other when leaving the building — well, that would never happen. Rose still knew his schedule. And she still knew better.
Rose also should have known better than to take anything Irna said or did personally. “The show must come first.” This wasn’t about individuals, it was about the greater good, a sentiment Rose embraced more than anyone. Nevertheless, it was difficult to keep a stiff upper lip when, for five days in a row, Rose’s Find Your Light scripts came back with notes scrawled across the top reading, Lose this, In the dark, and Quite dim. Irna seemed to be enjoying her puns a bit more than mere constructive criticism called for.
Rose was walking down the street, leafing through the marked-up script, trying to think of a way to implement the changes Irna demanded without feeling like Rose was a glorified — albeit well-paid — stenographer, that she had something to contribute beyond rubber-stamping Irna’s vision, and telling herself the tears running down her cheeks were wind chill and unprecedented November hayfever when Rose heard a voice to her left inquiring, “Everything all right, Miss Janowitz?”
Dozens of people called Rose Miss Janowitz. Only one said it in a way to make her knees feel like they’d been kicked out from the back.
“Fine,” she replied automatically, as she would have to anyone.
Rose wiped her face with the back of her palm, wondering if the gesture smeared her blush, if her eyeliner had dripped, if her lipstick matched the scarf she’d tossed on at the last minute. As she wouldn’t have with just anyone.
Jonas glanced over Rose’s shoulder at the script before she had a chance to stuff it into her purse. He was looking particularly dapper in a gray, three-quarter length, double-breasted winter coat with patch pockets. “Are all of Miss Phillips’s comments like this?”
“No,” Rose reassured, “sometimes they’re harsh.”
Jonas smiled. She couldn’t help smiling back, and the mere, instinctive mirror gesture of turning up her lips made Rose feel better. She indicated that they were only a block away from the studio. “What are you doing here so early?” Then realized the query suggested she was familiar with his daily schedule. Well, she had every right to be. She was his boss. Rose had made that rather clear a few months ago, had she not?
“I was asked to come in early,” Jonas said, falling into step beside Rose, “record a few commercials they could run during other shows. Seems Edmund Bard is an expert at flinging mud — then illuminating how it might best be wrung out of clothes.”
Rose didn’t expect the jealousy that retched through her. There was no reason for it. Of course, Procter & Gamble would want to take advantage of their new sensation to sell a cross-section of products. And, of course, they didn’t need to ask Rose’s permission. Jonas’ contract wasn’t with her. It was with P&G. Rose hadn’t realized how much pride she took in being the only one to put words in his mouth until learning she wasn’t. Some Madison Avenue hack was exploiting that glorious voice to shill detergent. Detergent whose sales paid all their salaries….
“Oh,” Rose said, hoping she was the only one who heard the crack. “I see.”
Rose entered the studio lobby. She assumed Jonas would head off his way, and she would head off hers. It didn’t happen that way. Jonas followed Rose to her office, said good morning to Hazel at her desk, then closed the door behind them. He asked, “Do you know how heroes in movies manage to remain so brave and strong?”
“What? No. How?” Rose was simultaneously distracted from her woes and intrigued to hear the answer.
“They only have to do it for 90 minutes.” Jonas rested a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Even the long-suffering ones only have to grin and bear it for two hours.”
“I’m not suffering.” She wanted to pull away, to dart behind her desk. To protect herself. Instead, she stayed where she was. She dug in her heels. “This is nothing.” That part was the truth. Especially compared to what she’d been through prior to setting foot in Irna’s queendom.
“I understand,” Jonas said. For a moment, Rose allowed herself to fantasize that he actually did, that he actually might. But she knew that was impossible. Nobody did. Nobody could. Especially not now, when the world was so different from when she’d committed her folly. When Jonas so much as knowing about it would put his own future in jeopardy.
To start Go On Pretending at the beginning, click here.
Alina Adams is the New York Times best-selling author of the As the World Turns tie-ins, Oakdale Confidential and The Man From Oakdale, and Guiding Light’s Jonathan’s Story. Check out her new historical fiction, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region, out now!