The Lockwood and Lamont breakup was the single biggest gossip-rag firestorm of 1927. When The Dancing Cavalier was duly released - which it had to be, as Monumental Pictures still couldn't afford to scrap an entire costume extravaganza - the extra publicity boosted its box-office take by something like five hundred per cent over The Royal Rascal's box-office.
So when Don Lockwood and his new leading lady Kathy Selden started making plans to get married, of course R. F. Simpson et alia wanted to blow the wedding up into the biggest gossip-rag special event of 1928.
It therefore made complete and utter sense, from a non-publicist's point of view, that on this particular sunny Saturday morning in early April 1928, Kathy Selden was wearing a white dress - she'd insisted on the white dress - and sitting in the front office of the Bakersfield justice of the peace, trying not to look conspicuous. Cosmo Brown was sitting next to her, looking very definitely conspicuous in a check suit, but he always looked conspicuous and nobody ever cared. Don Lockwood was nowhere to be seen.
* * * * *
"Cosmo, you don't suppose he changed his mind, do you?" Kathy hissed, after checking her wristwatch for the umpteenth time.
Cosmo Brown stretched lazily, like a cat. "Well, he went back to change his hat, his socks, and his tie before I left. His mind might have been next, I don't know."
"Oh, you..." Kathy laughed. "I'm sorry, Cosmo. I'm just worrying about everything today, aren't I?"
Cosmo shrugged. He was easily the most laid-back person Kathy had ever met in Hollywood.
"Cosmo," Kathy said, "will you tell me one thing honestly and without joking around?"
"Honestly? Always - for you, darling," Cosmo said in a rrromantic German accent. Then, flipping back to his more normal comedy Noo Yawker voice, "Without joking? Never."
"At least I know what I'm getting into," Kathy muttered, half to herself. "Okay, but really, Cosmo, do you... does it bother you that I'm marrying Don and kind of taking him away from you?"
Cosmo snorted. "Miss Selden - while you still are Miss Selden - let me ask you one thing first."
"Sure," Kathy said, wondering what it was.
"Do you honestly think, knowing Don as well as you do and all... do you honestly think you're ever going to get rid of me?"
Kathy laughed again. "All right, I walked straight into that one."
"Yes, you did," Cosmo agreed solemnly.
"So, for better or worse..."
"For richer or poorer, most likely richer if Singing in the Rain does anywhere near as well as The Dancing Cavalier did..."
"In sickness, in health, and in one-in-the-morning brainstorms and in terribly bad jokes," Kathy said, "until death do us part, I'm apparently marrying you by proxy. Is that why you came along to sit here with me instead of helping Don find whatever it is he's lost now?"
"Curses! You have uncovered my secret plan!" Cosmo declaimed. The other people in the office looked at them oddly; that never happened in Hollywood, but maybe they were outside the sphere of magical movie-making coincidences here. "Well, I figured Don can take care of himself, whereas--"
Kathy scooped up her handbag and threatened him with it.
"Not," Cosmo amended, "not in any way to impugn your ability to take care of yourself! I mean, by all accounts, you fended off the amorous Don Lockwood very ably when you first encountered one in the wild. I just... thought... you might like to have a second-string knight in shining armor to back you up in case anyone noticed the great Kathy Selden looking about as newlywed as it's possible to look before the actual wedding."
Kathy put the handbag down again. "You do realize it looks almost exactly like we're eloping right now, don't you?" she asked.
Cosmo raised his eyebrows and smirked. "Are you suggesting we should?"
"If Don doesn't show up some time in this next half hour," Kathy growled, "I might consider it." She checked her wristwatch again, then straightened her little pillbox hat.
"We'd have to leave him a note," Cosmo said, apparently to the far corner of the ceiling. He pulled an exaggeratedly thoughtful face.
Kathy fished around in her handbag, pulled out her powder compact, and began powdering her nose. "Dear Don, I have run away with your best friend because he knows how to treat a lady... no, no, that's terribly dime-novel. Dear Don... no, I know. Some reporter's going to find the note before Don ever gets here; they're like fleas, even in Bakersfield."
"So you're saying..." Cosmo's blue eyes danced with glee. "We need to write that reporter's headline for him?"
"Or her," Kathy agreed. "That's what I love about you, Cosmo darling - you understand me. Perfectly." She leaned over and kissed him soundly on the cheek.
Cosmo bugged out his eyes, kicked his legs straight out in front of him, grabbed his throat with both hands, and generally did a very good impression of cartoonish over-flusteration; he finished up by toppling sideways off his chair. By the time Kathy managed to finish laughing and catch her breath, Cosmo was up on his feet again, fixing his rather mashed bow tie and looking more angelically innocent than it should have been possible for any two people to look. "Have you settled on that headline yet?" he asked cheerfully.
"If he hasn't gotten run over by a trolley-bus or something I really am going to murder him," Kathy said, checking her wristwatch one more time. "Or no... I really am going to elope with you, if you don't mind. I can always marry Don later."
"Kathy Selden's Shocking Secret Harem? I approve," Cosmo said, sitting down next to her again. "It'll make a good follow-up to... what are we saying in the note? Up-and-Coming Starlet Dumps Don Lockwood, Marries Piano Player?"
"Hmm... let's see," Kathy said. She pulled her memo book out of her handbag and scribbled for a moment. "We want it to be completely unmistakable if it's going to make the front page. How about this? Dear Don Lockwood: I'm sorry. I can't marry a man who can't even be on time to his own wedding. I'm running away with your best friend and piano player, Cosmo Brown..." She paused, frowning.
"--Cosmo Brown, who has been self-sacrificingly suffering in your shadow all these years. Now he finally gets the girl. Love and kisses from both of us, signed, Kathy Brown née Selden and Cosmo Brown," Cosmo suggested.
"Write your own note," Kathy told him, smiling.
* * * * *
Don Lockwood sprinted in the door two minutes later. "Hi, Kathy. Hi, Cos. Sorry I'm late. Did I miss anything important?"
He never did learn why Cosmo and Kathy looked at each other and burst out laughing.