By the time the senior prom approached in late April I was feeling more like my old self again. My self-confidence had taken such a beating, however, that I could not bring myself to ask one of the popular girls to go to the prom. Elaine and I had continued to be very good friends. She was fun to be with and had invited me to a party at her house.
“Hey, Elaine,” I said one afternoon, “how would you like to go to the senior prom with me? Don’t know of any law that says I can’t take a junior.”
“Of course I would like to go to the prom,” she said brightly. “I went to the junior prom with Ernie Hoff last year when I was a sophomore, didn’t I? I can tell you now, though, that I am NOT going to ride on the handlebars of our bicycle!”
(the story of Elain’s having gone to the Junior Prom in 1938 was well-known around school. She had gotten all gussied up in a beautiful long dress then Ernie had shown up to pick her up on his bicycle. Elaine was a good sport and, indeed, had ridden up Main Street in her formal on the handlebars of Ernie’s bicycle.)
“No way,” I said. “We have a car now (the old 1928 Chevrolet) and I have already asked Dad to use it for the dance.”
When, resplendent in a new grey suit acquired with my pay from the Columbia Riding Academy, I showed up at the grey stone house on Thirteenth Street, Elaine was all dressed up in a new long pink formal. In spite of her glasses, she looked very pretty and was as bubbly as usual. We had a fine time at the dance. Afterward, I bought her a soda or something at the Holland on Main then had to take her straight home as she was not allowed to stay out late.
Meanwhile, my bitter disappointment about being rejected by the Navy was abating—accelerated by the fact that we were in rehearsal for the senior class play. I did not belong to the honor dramatic society and fail entirely to recollect why, but I had been selected to play the male lead in the play.
The play was “The Seven Keys to Baldpate”, a murder mystery, and I was to play William McGee. The leading lady was Ruth McNary, a very pretty little brunette who was quite shy. The female “heavy” (and murder victim) was Norma Howard, a tall and beautiful brunette for whom I could have developed a good crush except that I felt that she was “out of my league”.
I do not recall much about the story line now but there was a large cast and much coming and going of different people in a deserted hunting lodge in winter. [Now you can Google the play] Actually, “Seven Key” is a play within a play. McGee, a writer, retires to a deserted mountain lodge to write a murder story. The story he writes is the play.
At the end of the prologue, McGee goes into an upstairs room and the sound of a typewriter could be heard as the curtain fell and again as the curtain rose for Act I. Since I could only hunt and peck on a typewriter, it was (you guess it) my dear little friend Elaine sitting behind the scenery rattling away on the typewriter for me.
One problem we had with the play was that the climax called for me to sweep the leading lady into my arms and give her a big kiss. Neither Ruth McNary no I was prone to do that in front of an audience. We really were not sure about how to go about it during rehearsals. Finally, Miss Ruth Hall, our faculty advisor for the play, took the two of us aside in a room by ourselves and showed us how to do a stage kiss that looked good form the audience but really was no kiss at all.
It did not work that way the night of the play. It went off so beautifully, with no one missing a cue or forgetting a line, that by the close of Act II we were all elated and probably hamming it up a bit—which was all right because it really was a farce. When we got to the final scene, I swept Ruth into my arms and planted a real kiss smack on her surprised mouth. The curtain came down to a satisfying ovation and I think we took three curtain calls.
After the final curtain and while we were celebrating our “hit” backstage, Ruth came around and belligerently stated that she had heard I had made a bet that I would really kiss her and demanded a share of the profits. I had a hard time convincing her that was not true.
(I believe I may have misjudged Ruth as being shy. At our 50th reunion of the class of ’39, “shy” little Ruth McNary showed up with her fourth or fifth husband.)