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Cargo Of Show Business

By George Armin Shaftel

 Whenever the Legit Goes Sour and Grand Opera Nosedives, Show Business Just Yells for Vodvil (Vaudeville) 

JUST ten minutes ahead of us a big bomber took off from Reykjavik with a bunch of touring brass hats and State Department officials. I still believe that it was because of them that we later ran into the trouble we had, though I can't prove it.

Here in Iceland it was still dark at 8 in the morning. Across the sky the long colored streamers of an aurora borealis were fluttering like a fan dancer's plumes. Lights shone in the windows of Nissen huts bordering the landing fields. As the engines of my big C-47 warmed up, I signed flight orders and made a final weather check and waited impatiently for my passengers to show up. From Reykjavik we were flying south with a load of morale. Sweetness and light for isolated army posts at the tag end of creation. Entertainers.

My big Army C-47 was assigned to Special Services, ferrying a group of show people to bases where American forces were suffering drudgery and boredom, which cause plenty of casualties if they aren't fought. After leaving La Guardia Field, we'd made a one-night stand at St. Johns, Newfoundland; another at Julianehaab, on the tip of Greenland; and then we'd come on to Iceland. Here we'd stayed four days. Leaving Reykjavik now, we were headed for London—just for a breathing spell before junketing down the west coast of Africa as far south as Brazzaville, then loping eastward to air bases at Khartoum and Asmara and Baghdad. To the boys in the faraway places we were bringing a load of gags, gams and jive. Used to be, when Variety mentioned "the sticks" it meant the whistle stops along the I. C. and the Wabash, the tank towns where you might find deer in the gallery. Nowadays it's ivory, apes and peacocks you find in the back rows. Or polar bears and pandas.

I didn't ask for this chore. But since I'm a decrepit graybeard of a commercial pilot all of 36 years old, the Air Force figured I was best fitted for taxi work of this sort. Good old Joe Blake—he'll bring 'em back alive. Oh, well.

"Here they come," my co-pilot, Sammy Hawes, murmured. "Feet dragging and yawning clear to their belly buttons." He said it fondly. We liked our cargo of show business. They had hearts big enough to feel the homesickness in the kids they entertained, and they gave their best.

Spry old Pop Daly, as usual, was first to the plane. He was 60 but chirpy as a cricket. He was a veteran of vodvil when Jack Benny was sawing a fiddle on the Orpheum circuit. Pop can be a one-man band, spin a rope, tap dance, juggle pool balls, and take a joke about an old maid in Peoria and switch it to fit a top sergeant in Yuma. He's got the raucous voice and breezy manner of a slightly mildewed William Gaxton. He's MC of our troupe.

I said, "Well, Pop, did you like Iceland?"

"Why not? Here I celibated my sixtieth birthday."

He climbed into the plane, and I gave a hand to our opera singer—Madame Roma Fanti. Madame Roma was a slim, quiet woman who didn't seem to have the bigchested vitality you associate with the gals who get three grand for a broadcast—until she started singing, and then she came alive as if 2,000 watts had been turned on.

"You were in good voice here, Madame Roma," I said.

"Not really, Joe. I sang hard because I was afraid. This place is a sort of mild purgatory, where the Valkyries take souls that are only half-dead. So bleak and gray and barren! Joe, darling, take us away from here quick."

I laughed right out; she tickled me with her prima donna ways. She gave me a cute healthy grin, and climbed on into the plane.

OUR two movie starlets came mincing along then: Marice Bryant and Lucia Lane. I didn't christen them, so don't look that way at me. They sang and danced. And though their talent was of the common or garden variety, they were so young and healthy and luscious to behold that they were a double-barreled shot in the arm for the boys. They said hi, tapping back yawns with magenta-colored fingertips.

"How'd you like to settle down in Iceland?" I said.

"I'd rather go to sleep in the Time Capsule!" said Lucia, who can read. But Marice widened her sultry eyes at me and said, as if she were open to suggestion, "With you, Red?"

I gave her a spank as we helped them up the ladder and she squealed delightfully. Both of them wore nylon stockings, up here just under the Arctic Circle; but Lucia had remarked that it was a sheer waste of our scenic resources for her and Marice to wear slacks. She had something there.

"Good morning, Miss Gary. Your migraine better?"

"Oh, much better," Graziella Gary said, lying heroically.

Miss Gary was our dramatic reader. Peace times, she was a lady professor at a women's college. She might have lied herself into the WAC but for her white hair. Since that was impossible, she joined us to read poetry to the boys. It was amazing how the G. I.'s went for her, too. She'd read classics to them, and verse written by service men all over the world about their...

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