Cosmo knew that Don would get married before Don did. In fact, he knew it two years before Don and Kathy even met, and not because Cosmo was somehow a mentalist. No, revelation came to Cosmo courtesy of Lina Lamont. She had happened to notice him at a Hollywood party one evening when she wasn’t forced into her version of refined behavior by the presence of some fellow with studio influence.
Even when Lina was feeling frank, she kept some caution. Don was out of easy ear-shot when she told Cosmo, “You sure do spend a lot of time with my Donny.” Pausing for what she considered thought, she pursed her lips before parting them to say, “I don’t like it. People might get the wrong idea with a pansy like you around all the time, and that would be bad for Lamont and Lockwood.”
Just as well she finished up her delivery of these lines by striking a pose with arms akimbo, which jostled Olga Mara into expressing annoyance and thereby prevented Cosmo from possibly slugging a lady. Or from slugging Lina, for that matter.
Instead, Olga paid off all of Cosmo's efforts to act like a regular Hollywood-type fella by drawling in her fake accent, “You tell him, darlink,” while tapping ash off the Molinard-scented cigarette smoldering in its long, jade holder. The ashes somehow landed on the train of Lina’s evening gown. “A pansy. So that's why he traipses after Don, not because of the work he gets and the flappers he mashes by mentioning connections such as Don Lockwood. But what is so common a possibility when compared to Lina's Ouija board?” She rolled her eyes, and the minor players around her tittered dutifully.
Lina’s beautiful brows lowered as she sorted through all the words, and lowered more once she’d decided she’d somehow been insulted. “You...you hot-blooded viper! Whatta ya think I am, an ashtray or somethin’?” Her words screeched like a band-saw biting into an oak burl.
Cosmo, now safely ignored, gritted his teeth as his musician’s ears complained for the thousandth time about Lina’s voice. Then he quickly scooped up his dinner plus the second plate he’d filled for Don and edged away from the conflict building at the buffet. That table was loaded with too many tempting props suitable for fight choreography, and Lina had already scored one bulls-eye this evening even though, being Lina, she likely didn’t know it.
Given his years spent on small-time vaudeville circuits, Cosmo’s hide was even tougher than your average nance’s, which made it practically Bakelite. Lina could say whatever she wanted about him. However, when she had pointed out the threat Cosmo posed to Don’s rising reputation at Monumental Studios, her words were right on target, if not quite hitting another bulls-eye. The real threat posed by their relationship, Cosmo realized later that same night, wasn’t to Don’s fame or Don’s money. It was to Don someday getting the kinds of roles that would finally let others see the performer Cosmo knew that Don could be.
“Lockwood’s something of a light-weight,” one producer had said to another while Cosmo interrupted his progress toward booze to lurk behind a usefully-placed palm tree in its pot. “Too far forward on his toes.”
“Nah. You're confused by all that Lockwood and Lamont publicity crap. Good, strong body moves, there, enough to keep the sheikhs in the seats while herding in the shebas. Lockwood started out stunting, remember?”
“Sure, I remember now.”
“I could cast him in an oater with a fandango scene without ever having to worry, you get me? A dancer, you bet, but still not Haines or Navarro.”
“And thank God for that. Those lavender types give me a pain, right here.”
Cosmo ankled off quietly during the resulting, raucous laughter, grateful not to have seen the triggering gesture.
He thought hard while he drove his aging auto back towards his rat-trap apartment off Gower Street way too early in the morning after the party. If Cosmo stuck around Hollywood much longer, Don would have to try something different. His cheerfully making whoopee with the rare, occasional female player who wasn’t Lena but also wasn’t afraid of Lena wouldn’t balance out both Cosmo and past incidents like the one in Flagstaff, oh, and that one onion farmer in Walla Walla, or, jeez, particularly the time in Dallas when-- Anyhow, Don was too happy spending his spare time creating dance routines which would never be filmed to work at making his distaff affairs memorable by Hollywood’s standards. So, that left marriage. Obviously, fated.
Cosmo caught himself scowling upwards and turned his face away from the weary cop in a traffic tower above him, changing the signals, before the fellow could decide Cosmo’s scowl was directed at the majesty of the law. First, he would have to get Don to quit cheating on their previous agreement, the one about stopping certain shenanigans once Don signed his studio contract, even though Cosmo enjoyed the oopsies as much as Don did and likely more given Certain Feelings…
Anyhow, marriage. Where would Don find the right kind of ingenue? Or where could Cosmo find the right kind of ingenue to make a match with Don? And then there was the fact that Don was terrible at pitching woo, for all that his looks got him the girl anyways when he bothered to try. Would the right kind of ingenue bother to stick around long enough to get to know the real Don?
Cosmo heaved a sigh as he stuck his arm out the slid down window to signal a left turn. Even if she could stomach Lockwood's burning passion, this still might take a while.
In retrospect, he should have realized this would take a very long while. In fact, Cosmo would have adored Kathy, even given no other reasons, for ringing down the curtain on much too long an act.
Kathy knew something was a little funny about Cosmo before anyone, including Cosmo himself, could spill the details. Not that she was suddenly qualified to tell fortunes at the State Fair or anything of that sort. But, Kathy also hadn’t spent the seven years after her late mother dragged their family to Hollywood asleep, no matter how many Lockwood and Lamont pictures she had stayed up late to attend. She’d also learned a few things during Ken’s fights with Mother before he gave up and fled town for Manhattan. And, most important, she now worked as a dancer. So, she knew her onions well enough to spot Cosmo as smoky even before he offered her that first tamale.
“Hi,” he greeted her cheerfully, on that set at Monumental's just-converted sound stage, the day they truly met.
In return, she offered him the half-warm, half-distant smile she used on men before she sorted out the wolves and lounge lizards from the good-natured or respectfully interested. When it came to classifying this new fellow, the jury was out. He was dressed studio style rather than as a cast or crew member, but his eyes were as keen as they were friendly. And, he seemed awfully familiar somehow.
He just smiled in his turn, stuffed his hands into the deep pockets of his bag trousers, and went over to slouch against the rehearsal room’s upright piano before the accompanist resumed playing for the next round of choreography drills. When the lunch break was called, and Kathy had time to look for him again, he’d taken over as accompanist. Maybe that explained his first, intense assessment. Kathy was new on the lot but already working as a lead dancer. He might be wondering if she was a canary as well as a hoofer, and, if so, how she’d work with instrumental accompaniment.
With this in mind, she wasn’t surprised when he wandered over once more in a studied fashion. The smile she gave him this second time around was a little warmer. She found she liked the way he kept his weight forward on the balls of his feet and used his arms; seemingly, he was some sort of hoofer as well as an ivory tickler. Also, he was halfway handsome, in a cute kind of way.
“Cosmo Brown, long-time studio pianist and soon-to-be symphony composer,” he said.
“Kathy Selden, brand-new dancer and some-day-soon picture player.” On a whim, she stuck out her hand and he took it to gravely shake before releasing it to press his own hand theatrically over his heart.
“The pleasure is ours. May I interest you in--” He produced a paper bag from a trouser pocket with a flourish “--a share of these fine tamales? I promise they aren’t too chili. Or are you only to be wooed with the glories of canteen cuisine?”
Tamales, Kathy knew, were theater food, often all that had been available on late nights at train stations for the touring companies, vaudevillians, and burlesque players moving between bookings. It was always interesting to talk with a real veteran, and, besides, the contents of the bag smelled heavenly. She full-out smiled as she told him, “I could be persuaded to rough it.”
As they ate, she learned that, for a man who spoke five words to every one said to him, Cosmo could certainly coax out a lot of information. Kathy had to be careful not to mention anything about the job she’d been fired from at the Cocoanut Grove for throwing a pie into Lina Lamont’s face. This was tough since the Grove was also where she’d met the female pal who had pointed out this chance at Monumental Studios. But Cosmo’s jokes were funny and his interest seemed real, if somehow too intense and too neutral all at once. By the time he excused himself and skipped away, whistling, she could be forgiven for hoping he might return soon to ask her to sing.
“Dearie,” said her left-hand partner in the grand promenade, not unkindly, “Cosmo Brown is Head of Music for this studio. Someone must have let him you’d already been moved up to lead, and he must have wondered why.” As well as because of what patronage, she was nice enough not to add.
Kathy squared her shoulders and then relaxed them to smile. “In that case, even better if he comes back to hear me sing.”
Cosmo did return, several times, always with a bag of food and the time to chat. Not knowing yet how well Cosmo had mastered the Southern California art of working hard while seeming to do nothing, Kathy was surprised he wasn’t busier. Instead, it felt as if he was always on set those first three weeks of production, asking questions, cracking wise, and telling stories about the vaudeville times he'd shared with his still unnamed, Terp-team partner. And he did ask her to sing, and dance, asking for both enough times that when Monumental’s Head of Production showed up to conduct something awfully close to an audition for a bigger part in Beautiful Girls, she wasn’t surprised to see Cosmo there to wink at her from behind R. F.’s back.
All Kathy was left wondering about was why Cosmo hadn’t tried to collect on the huge debt she was running up with him or why he hadn’t instead made it clear this was all for future favor or friendship. At least, she wondered until the day when Cosmo went dashing off as the hoofers were actually being filmed for once, only to return with a red-hot Don Lockwood by his side.
Maybe, given what happened afterwards, she should have stayed madder for longer at Cosmo than she did. Lina was just awful, and Don turned out to be a terrible ham while he courted, enough of a performer that the tiny, cynical part of Kathy not busy being desperately in love might eventually have won the day. But then Don, too, brought her tamales before honestly forgetting she was eating and couldn’t reply when he proposed a rehearsal schedule for Singin’ in the Rain that would have impressed Adele Astaire. There was something about his enthusiastic confidence that she could keep up with him which made her want to try. And when she did struggle or complain now and then during the following months, he coached, listened, and used her occasional suggestions often enough to prove he was paying attention. Everything turned out okay. She was his partner, not just his girl; since Ken had left home, she had forgotten how good it felt.
How could she blame Cosmo for showing her such a Don? So Cosmo might be Machiavelli's little brother, and likely musical to boot, but he was now her friend. And he was still funny, to boot. Also, still cute.
Don could read people well enough to know when he was being buffaloed. Not that this meant he was qualified to don glasses and a beard while playing Sigmund Freud in a Viennese operetta, or anything. But he did get that he’d been directed for almost every scene in his recent flaming romance.
Honestly? He didn’t much care. Why should Don complain when someone else did the hard work needed to dig out and polish up Don’s amazing find, only to leave the treasure with him afterwards? Such petty carping was for ingrates and loafers with plenty of time to waste.
I mean, look at the results, Don told himself, as he waited for the first drink to arrive at his ring-side table in Club Louisa, down on South-Central. One Kathy, genuine sweetheart and promising partner, check. One Cosmo, finally relaxed and with enough money to get rid of that rattletrap flivver, check. One Lina, sulking her way through a comedy project over at Everest and now her director, Doris Arhamm’s, problem rather than Don’s, check and mate. There were only a couple of tiny items left to cross off the list before everything would be swell. Don absently patted the lump of the ring box in his breast pocket.
Buoyed up as always by this action, he accepted his drink from the waitress with a smile and a healthy tip, and then settled back into his seat before poking cautiously at the depths of his gimlet with a swizzle-stick. You were always risking coffin varnish in any speakeasy where you didn’t know the barkeep personally, and Don only got down here when a first-rate hoofer was in town. But, given the quality of the jazz bands, Cosmo spent more time than Don did in this venue, enough to have a friend or two in the neighborhood.
Reminded of his surroundings, Don turned toward the door to see if his guests had arrived yet, and then turned back toward the stage, only to be surprised he recognized the fella now sitting down at the table to his left. “Hey. Billy! Billy Brown, right?”
Looking just as startled as Don felt, Billy blinked and then responded, “Don Lockwood?”
“I thought that was you,” Don said, pleased by this feat of memory. “How’s life treating you after Toby time?” T.O.B.A., the lead vaudevillian circuit for Negro performers, had collapsed a few months back due to the Slump, truly a shame.
Billy’s response was cool. “Still tough on this black artist.” Thawing a little, he added, “But I’m okay, thank you. Just now playing licorice-stick and doing some hoofing across the street at the Final Word.” Then, having warmed up to Don, it was his turn to ask, “And how’s your fella, Cosmo?”
“Great. He’s music director at Monumental, now.”
“I heard something about that. Is he still dancing?”
“Just playing around these days, to keep trim. Mostly he’s behind the ivories or a desk.”
“Glad to hear he hasn’t entirely given it up. The two of you looked great, the last time I saw you together. Back in Dallas, that was.” Quirking an eyebrow, he added, “Good times.”
“Oh, yeah!” Don started out enthusiastically before all of the details of Dallas came back to him at once. His reply petered out into, “You said it, great. Just...great.”
Billy’s lips twitched, once, and Don was trying to decide between a glower and a reluctant grin in response as Cosmo and Kathy finally arrived. Once she spotted Don, Kathy lit up like a klieg light and promptly towed Cosmo between the tight-packed tables toward him, offering smiling apologies the entire way.
Cosmo’s own grin froze when he spotted Billy. But that was covered over nicely by Kathy’s reacting to Don’s introduction with a bright, “Hello!” while starting to extend her hand, converting this extension into a cheery wave, and then, after the briefest of pauses, firmly offering her hand again. Bill shook it with a worn-down version of a tolerant smile and then they all settled back into their respective seats to watch the show. But, as the show started, Billy glanced back and forth between Cosmo and Don a few times, with Kathy as a side destination, as if he was trying to sort out something inside his head. Don told himself such behavior was only to be expected from a fellow who hadn’t seen you in a while.
This was the first time Kathy had seen the Berry Brothers soft-shoe dance, and she was absolutely rapt. The low stage at Club Louisa put the performances right into your lap when you sat ringside. And, as usual, the kids knocked ‘em dead.
Don was pretty wowed, too, but he’d seen the Brothers at Hollywood parties before, so he had just enough attention to spare for noticing when Cosmo and Bill started doing some sort of eye routine annoyingly reminiscent of the Amazing Mysterioso, Mentalist for the Ages, working with an accomplice plucked from the theater audiences of Wichita. At one point, Kathy suddenly turned her attention back to the table from the stage, and the pair of them went completely straight-faced until she asked Cosmo a good question about side-stepping. Maybe that was why Cosmo missed Kathy catching the cues.
To be fair to Cosmo, Don thought Kathy was oblivious, too. It wasn’t until they were in Don’s car and on the way back to Beverly Hills, that Kathy twisted sideways in her seat so she could address both of them. Then she asked, “So Mr. Brown knew the two of you when you were on circuit?”
"Yep," said Cosmo, oblivious to the oncoming streetcar, and "First-rate buck-and-wing man..." Don stared to add, relieved matters weren't worse.
But they were. Worse. "Knew him well?" Kathy interrupted, terrifyingly cheerful and kind, "Or, you know, well-well? Say, more-tango-than-waltz well?"
“Umm,” said Don – weak, but he was driving, after all – and, “It's, ah, kind of a funny story--” Cosmo had started, when Kathy broke in to say, “Okay, I thought it might be something like that,” accompanied by a firm nod. Silence fell.
It was a pity, Don thought irrelevantly, that you couldn’t use this long a silence as a dramatic business in the talkies. Quiet was a lot more suspenseful than he ever would have thought it could be.
At last, Kathy opened up again to say, “I think, once I’ve had the travel time to consider matters, we should all sit down and talk. Like adults.”
Don wondered if he appeared as appalled as Cosmo’s expression looked to be in the rear-view mirror.
They ended up at Don’s house for the impending conversation, all parked side-by-side on the familiar leather couch in the downstairs living room. Kathy sat between Don and Cosmo, frowning down at her intertwined fingers as if they held the secrets of a truly fine routine and were refusing to fork them over. Cosmo want to take her hands to still their fretting, but this really wasn’t the time for that. Or for whistling, or even for a joke.
“Were you going to come clean before you proposed?” Kathy asked Don. "I mean, about you two, and funny stories, and all?"
“Kath!” Don protested, sounding earnestly Don-like enough for Kathy to smile down at her fingers.
“It’s a fair question,” Cosmo couldn’t resist pointing out.
“Are you going to help answer it?” Don inquired sweetly.
Hearing these words, Kathy looked interested, so Cosmo directed his reply to her. “If Don could have danced and sung this out, he would have told you months ago.”
She considered, and then smiled again in not-even-reluctant agreement.
“I think he was hoping for a prop. Or a cue. Or maybe a miracle.”
Don, who had his moments, put in dryly, “I don’t think Billy Brown is interested in being my miracle.”
“I don’t think so either, but maybe you should offer him some introductions just in case it works better the other way around. I don’t know. Anyhow,” Cosmo continued firmly, “I’m the one who's almost entirely that way.” He paused briefly to see if Kathy understood him, and she nodded. “Don’s just--” He paused again, confounded.
“Don?” Kathy suggested innocently, and “Hey!” Don put in indignantly.
“Don,” Cosmo said brightly. “Right. And so there’s history, mostly not too recent, even here.” He pointed back and forth between Don and himself.
Don snorted. “Not for lack of willingness in either direction,” he said, “Hollywood is in the way.”
Cosmo winced at a truth too far. But Kathy raised both eyebrows at him, so Cosmo settled for shrugging before he soldiered on by saying, "And nothing at all since you showed up on that sound stage." He did not add, "those many, many months ago," because that would sound ungrateful when Cosmo was not ungrateful. Or unfriendly, when Cosmo was feeling surprisingly friendly. It had merely been...many, many months.
But that was Cosmo's problem, so he fell silent.
After a moment, Kathy asked them, “Anything else I should know about?”
“There's a person in this very room who hates pastrami,” Cosmo told her. "Shocking, I know." Don scowled fiercely at him.
“Make that two people,” Kathy said, “so you’re soloing at Greenblatt's when you want some.” Feeling hopeful at this detailed a future, Cosmo grinned, right as Kathy added, “Now, I guess, it's my turn. I have a couple of questions.”
It was Don who said, “Shoot,” somehow managing not to look as if he was facing the lively part of the pistol in question.
“I understand history. I can discuss what should or should not stay history. But would there be others?”
Don considered, frowning, until he replied, “I don’t think so? That sounds kind of busy.” His nose wrinkled, as if he was contemplating a dubiously choreographed routine.
“If it turned out to matter, no other women of course,” Cosmo said, a little surprised he’d even phrased it that way. In fact, he was a little surprised he was volunteering information right alongside Don, hygiene or no hygiene, emotional complications or no emotional complications. “Otherwise, I could be careful. I mean, even more especially very careful than I already am. Have been.” He threw up both hands in exasperation; although some specifics were still too much for this talk, not having them available made discussion hard.
“I guess yours is a fair offer,” Kathy said, sounding a little sad. “Maybe more than fair since you'd never get a ring or even an anniversary photo in a silver frame." But her voice went earnest when she continued, "All right. There's more talking to do, that's obvious. But I have one more requirement, other than the big one you made not matter."
Firming her chin -- and how did she make it appear so cute yet terrifying? -- she took a deep breath before saying, "I want a proper proposal of marriage when you finally produce that ring. I want a proper proposal on some other evening, and--” she said, glaring at Don, “--a romantic one. Not an adult one with even more talking.” Don gestured his understanding, and she shifted the glare to Cosmo, “A proposal with a proper musical accompaniment,” she finished up, "since you've been in on the rest of this anyways and likely to stay there".
Cosmo was already nodding agreement. Even if this wasn't turning out better he had even hoped for, it was one formidable job of glaring Kathy was doing.
With Cosmo’s fervent agreement added to Don's, the deal seemed to be done. Silence fell. It was a pretty comfortable quiet, all things considered.
Don broke it after a minute or two by asking “Kath?”
“How come you’re handling all the off-center stuff so well? Not that I’m complaining, of course,” he added hastily.
“Well, when it comes to knowing about the other kind of musical, a brother really musical in all sorts of ways is the best intro--” she started, and then stopped when Don and Cosmo reacted. She was obviously trying again when she asked them, “My brother Ken? Kenneth? I thought I'd mentioned him by name." At the looks of incomprehension, she added, "Oh, after the fights with my folks, he didn't keep Selden. Kenneth Sinclair?”
“Wait, are we talking about Kenneth Sinclair, the crooner?” Don asked her, as she said, almost simultaneously, “Neither of you knew? But nobody gets to work at the Cocoanut Grove, let alone starts right off as a lead at Monumental, who doesn’t know someone in entertainment. Someones. Ken stays friends afterwards,” she finished, not a cryptic statement to someone with Cosmo's background.
Realization had him slapping a hand to his forehead, “Too much plotting, too little paying attention. Just as well Ken's East Coast; no more awkward coincidences for Don and Cosmo." He cleared his throat. "So tell me--”
Don interrupted with, “But Kathy,” said in a tone of such utter bewilderment that both Cosmo and Kathy broke off to turn and stare at him.
After a beat, Kathy asked, a little warily, “What, Don?”
“Sibling dance teams are the best. The very best of the best. Everyone knows that. So, I don’t understand why, with your brother being in the business and all--” Don made a complicated gesture with both hands that somehow conveyed two people dancing together.
“Oh,” Kathy said, and bit her lip for a moment. Then she continued, her voice even sadder than it had been at the prospect of Cosmo being the only one without official souvenirs of a promising, if odd, relationship, “Don, Kenneth can’t dance. Mother made him try for years, poor lamb, and still not a step.”
Without another word, Don reached out and took her hand in his, holding it tight. She let him, leaning into his shoulder for comfort.
This was the first moment when Cosmo truly believed, all the way down to the toes of his argyle socks, that this marriage he had plotted for so long might work out for all three of them and not just for Don's career. He patted Kathy's shoulder consolingly.