How I Threw Big Party for Jane Austen
It was at a petting party in the White House that I first met Jane Austen. The beautiful little Englishwoman had come to our shores in response to an attractive offer from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer people, one of whose officers had spelled out her novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and considered it good material for a seven reel comedy. Syd Chaplin was at that time with this firm and was slated for the title role.
Miss Austen had a few weeks’ time to spare before she was due in Hollywood and it fell to my lot to entertain her. I postponed my engagement with President Pierce, whom I intended to interview in regard to my pension as general in the Spanish war, and placed myself entirely at the disposal of the little authoress. She expressed a desire to see the night life of New York and I organized a party to visit Texas Guinan’s. In the party, besides myself and Miss Austen, or Janey as we called her, were Brinck Thorne, then captain of the Yale football nine, and Harry Wills.*
*Editor’s note: The author evidently means ‘eleven,’ not ‘nine.’
*Author’s note: Other teams would not play against Mr. Thorne unless he limited himself to eight helpers instead of the regulation ten.
After two or three rounds of drinks we decided we had had enough and a water brought us a check for $22.75. The other two men seemed to have paralysis of the arms and as I found on $1.50 in my pocket, I asked Miss Guinan if she would take my check. She said yes and I made out a check on the Great Neck Trust Company, but knowing my balance there was only $7.00, I purposely neglected to affix my signature. Miss Guinana’s sharp eyes noticed the oversight and asked for my autograph. This piqued Miss Austen as she was really more famous than I at that time, so to smooth matters over I suggested that we all give Miss Guinan our autographs and start an album for her.
I next took Miss Austen to Albany to meet Gov. Al (‘Peaches’) Smith. The governor received us with his usual simplicity and said he was a great admirer of Miss Austen’s work.
‘I thought “The Green Hat” was a scream,’ he complimented her.
Miss Austen wanted to go to Hollywood by way of Pittsburgh, but at that time there was a federal law forbidding any railroad to run a train near that city. President Pierce was a born hater of Pittsburgh and remained in that frame of mind to his dying day. ‘Janey’ was obliged to make the journey via Niagara Falls. She eventually reached Hollywood and supervised the screening of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ which made a big success under its new title, ‘The Bath in Champagne.’
It was about a month subsequent to my affair with Jane that the world was startled by Robert Fulton’s invention of the taxicab. The first taxi now would seem a crude vehicle, but at the time it was hailed as a marvel. It was a sidewheeler and was steered from the rear seat, by the passenger, thus insuring at least, its arrival at the point where the passenger wanted to go. The driver sat in front and warned pedestrians out of the way. He generally did this by cupping his hands to his mouth and shouting, almost continuously, ‘Halloa! Halloa!’ For a while the new conveyances were known as ‘Halloa cabs.’*
*Editor’s note: They still are in some cities.
Ring Lardner Jr. (The Story of a Wonder Man: Being the Autobiography of Ring Lardner)