“With all due respect, sir,” Jonas emphasized the final word, setting an example of how one should address a fellow man properly, “My 761st Tank Battalion broke through the German lines in Tillet so the rest of you could come strolling in after. One of our tankers, Private Ernest Jenkins, received the Silver Star from General Patton himself for our effort. Kraut bastards got a pounding they won’t soon forget from The Harlem Hellfighters.”
Rose had been about to step in to shield Theo Goetz, who played Papa Bauer. He was a Jew, born in Vienna, Austria. A proud naturalized American, but Jonas’ Kraut slur could still prove offensive to him, when the unnamed actor countered, “Eleanor’s n*g***s is more like it.”
Mrs. Roosevelt’s outspoken efforts to end Jim Crow laws and integrate the military, all of which came to a head when she was photographed personally handing out refreshments inside Washington DC’s first mixed canteen amongst Negro servicemen and white hostesses, earned all colored soldiers the demeaning sobriquet.
Rose had been about to chastise the use of the epithet Kraut. But now she stood frozen in the face of an even worse slander. There was no question it was up to her. When Irna was in Chicago, Rose was the established authority. Except she had no idea what to say.
They had a half-hour until today’s episode went live on the air. They had time for only one rehearsal. In theory, Rose could replace any performer at any time. She could fire the under-5 actor and shift his lines to someone else. She could rewrite the script so that another character said them. She could cut them altogether. She could also hand off the role of Edmund to another actor, either just for today and then begin the casting process all over again or for the long term. It was Edmund’s first appearance. Nobody would know that he didn’t sound the way Rose had fantasized about him sounding. Yet, Edmund was scheduled to be a major player for months. He was critical to the long story. The judicious thing to do was get rid of the less salient actor and make it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated on The Guiding Light set. Yet now they only had 27 minutes until today’s episode went live on the air.
Rose didn’t want to waste the time it would take to exorcise one actor, then rearrange the whole episode to gloss over his absence. At least, that’s what she would say if asked. She knew nobody would ask.
Just like she knew the real reason Rose didn’t want to fire the actor who’d challenged Jonas was because she didn’t know how many of his colleagues felt the same way. And Rose couldn’t risk a mutiny. Not 25 minutes now before airtime.
The entire cast was looking to her. Jonas’ gaze was the only one that felt like a weight pressing down on her breastbone, making it difficult for Rose to breathe.
His face reposed absolutely neutral. Why, then, did Rose feel like he was tracking every thought which flitted through her head the moment she considered it? Why did she feel like he was judging her? And why did she feel like he not only anticipated her verdict, he approved it? Perhaps because she was already rationalizing her decision? To herself most of all.
“I’ll leave you to your rehearsal,” Rose handed off her authority to the director, slinking out of the studio a great deal less confident than she’d originally come in.
She listened to the live show in her office. Jonas sounded exactly as she’d dreamed. He was letter-perfect, even better than in the audition. Before the 15-minute episode was over, Rose was getting reports from Hazel that the CBS switchboard was lighting up with fans calling to demand more Edmund Bard.
If it were any other actor, she would have gone down to the floor to share the news with him, the cast, and the crew. Good news for any one character was good news for the show, which was good news for them all. As Irna always said, “The show must come first.”
But Rose didn’t do that today. Instead, she stood at her window, looking down onto the East 44th Street sidewalk and the building’s exit. She stayed there until she’d witnessed Jonas depart the building, identifying him by the cut of his hat and the breadth of his shoulders beneath. Only then did she dare leave her office and continue with her day.
At the production meeting later that afternoon, she informed the director, “I’m cutting the under-5s from tomorrow’s show. We’re a bit over budget, and I can rewrite the dialogue, so we’ll make do without them.”
“Yes, Miss Janowitz.” He drew a line through that spot in the script. And declined to meet Rose’s eyes.
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!