In my dating days I employed the habit of acting the way my dates expected. There I said it. I submerged my identity for a guy. Now if you are reading this post thinking “what a bimbo,” take a moment to recall your own dating history. We lose weight, we drink less, we put makeup on for an evening of television, we attempt to be funny and charming–we wear a mask. You know, the Bridget Jones school of dating.
I’m not absolute about this, but I think Helen always remained Helen in her single years. Back reading for River of January I got the sense that she didn’t play any coquettish games to land an evening out. My observation of this girl was that men saw what they wanted in her, attached their own sense of who she was. And their frustration trying to put a ring on her finger stemmed from a deep misunderstanding of Helen Thompson.
Aside from the reality that her mother called the shots in Helen’s life, three men attempted to win her heart, and take her for their own. And I suppose we could start by looking first at the last, Mont Chumbley.
The young pilot became infatuated with Helen nearly from the first time he laid eyes on her. Those spotlights hitting the stage, in hues of blue, pink, yellow, and white can intensify an already dazzling girl. Once he decided he loved her, he posted himself every night at the club until her contract ended. If any drunk (or sober) patron made advances, Chum intervened assuring her safety. And that is how he saw himself, her protector until she could leave show business. It never seemed to occur to him that she loved performing and had no intentions of giving up her art. That caused big problems later.
Her middle admirer, the boy who courted her the longest, across continents, was Elie Galeki. Now Elie was a person who lived life systematically and deliberately. He worked hard to establish his own photography business, caring for his mother and sisters in Brussels. His suits were pressed, his appointment book organized, his expectations orderly. However, with Helen he had his hands full. To is way of thinking, once he met “the one” she would naturally love him back, and they would marry. Elie, too, expected Helen would give up the stage and settle down as his dutiful wife. That wasn’t actually Helen’s style, and she knew he wasn’t the right guy.
Her earliest boyfriend, and vaudeville partner, Grant Garrett, was an entirely different sort of character. He was a comedy writer, dancer, and singer, and Helen did respond to his charms. Grant was ready with a zinger, usually targeted at Helen’s intransigent mother. He was smooth in style and rough in attitude. He liked to fight for money around bonfires in hobo camps, and he drank hard. Of all three blokes, he may have been temperamentally the best suited to Helen. He treated her as an equal, and understood her drive and ambition for the stage. She was a professional, and so was Grant. They shared their love of performing.
I don’t believe Helen submerged her personality for any of these three suitors. But Grant was the one her understood her the best. Mostly they saw what they wanted in her beauty, grace, and bubbly sense of fun. I suppose that if any of these gentlemen became frustrated with the girl, they only had their illusions to blame.