In the days following the unparalleled disaster of The Hound of the Baskervilles and his impulsive dismissal of the entire acting staff, Johnson C. DuBois had been at a loss as to how to get back on his feet and recover his theater’s reputation. Sleepless nights beneath satin sheets in his elegant East Side penthouse and monotonous, empty days as salvage crews worked to restore the Royale to her former glory had done little to improve the sense of hopelessness that enveloped him.
He knew he had to start fresh. Simply resuscitating his theater to perform the same old tricks just wouldn’t do on a street where cutthroat managers would try anything to get a leg up on the competition. He had to turn over a new leaf and prove that what had happened had not laid him low, but instead had made him stronger than ever.
The trouble was that he hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to go about it.
Sitting in his office that morning, the dead silence in the once mobbed building nearly driving him crazy, DuBois puzzled over the problem until he felt that he might as well knock his head against the wall. He was about to get up and check his precious combination-locked safe for what must have been the fortieth time–which never succeeded in cheering him up anyway due to the distressing lack of currency to run his greedy fingers through–when there came a timid knock at his door.
“What do you want?” he growled, wondering who had the nerve to disturb him in the midst of his depression.
“Beg pardon, sir,” said a voice nervously from behind him, “but are you the manager here?”
DuBois turned his chair toward the door, but as he critically appraised the man—no, the boy–before him, he concluded that he had wasted his effort.
The young man, with a clear but insecure gaze and a slack-jawed expression, was the picture of a rank amateur. Attired in a faded pair of slacks that had seen better days, a patched and almost comical tweed coat, a wrinkled shirt, a run-down pair of brown loafers, and with a rumpled head of hair that hadn’t seen a brush in days, the man’s presentation was a dead giveaway to his green and unprofessional nature.
Quite contrary to the facts of his current situation, the manager instantly decided that he didn’t have time for this.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you, sir,” the man continued, oblivious to these unkind thoughts. “I’m looking for an acting job in town, and I was just wondering if…”
“If I had a job for you?” DuBois interrupted. “The answer, my fine friend, is no. Not now, and more than likely, not ever. I don’t hire wet-behind-the-ears kids who come waltzing into my theater like I owe them something. No one on this street takes in complete amateurs without a damn good reason, and nothing about you makes me want to stick my neck out. So get lost. And tell the rest of your lazy, no-account buddies that my office is right here if they need me. Johnson C. DuBois. Knock three times and stay out!”
With this charming parting remark, DuBois huffed in disgust and turned back to his desk, waving an arm at the hurt and thoroughly confused young man. Without another word, the aspiring actor cast his eyes down and made to shuffle out of the theater, wondering what in the world he could have done to so displease the gentleman.
Fortunately for the young hopeful, right at that moment, a light bulb winked on in the manager’s somewhat scantily furnished brain.
No one on Broadway would take amateurs. That was what he had said.
Of course! How could he have been so blind? That was it!
Grandiose visions of prosperity unmatched since the days of ancient Rome filled DuBois’s mind. The idea was stupendous. Colossal. Unprecedented. If he played his cards right, he could be swimming in revenue by this time next week.
No matter what else could be said about his character–or lack thereof–the manager was smart enough to know that there was a sucker born every minute.
DuBois jumped up from his chair and hurried, as much as he was able, out of his office and down the hallway.
“Hello! You there, young man! Stop!”
“Something else, sir?” squeaked the boy, halfway out the door, and braced himself for another shower of abuse.
Instead of a further tongue-lashing, however, DuBois cracked a strained smile and wrapped an arm around his bony shoulders.
“Listen,” said the manager, inwardly loathing every minute of this charade. “Forget what I said. It was hasty and rude, and I apologize. How would you like a job here at the Royale?”
“Don’t you doubt it, my boy. What’s your name, again?”
“Adamson, sir. Joe Adamson.”
“Yes, of course,” said DuBois, rolling his eyes. “I was sure I knew you from somewhere. We’re going to go places, you and I.”
The two men strolled down the hall toward the auditorium doors.
“So,” said DuBois, “do you really want to work for me?”
“Oh yes, sir,” the young man gushed. “Absolutely. Being on Broadway’s been my dream since…God, I don’t know. I have talent, sir. I swear I do. And if you’ll just give me a chance…”
“Yes, yes, of course. Well, Henderson…”
“I’m going to give you the chance of a lifetime.”
DuBois paused for a moment of dramatic effect.
“How would you like to get on my stage? Starting…oh, I don’t know…tomorrow?”
“On stage? Tomorrow?” Adamson was stunned.
“That’s the beauty of it, my boy,” DuBois crowed, wondering why he had never thought of getting into the acting business. With the show he was putting on, it was hard to resist the urge to applaud himself. “You’ll be in action from day one, and learning the tricks of the trade from me: Johnson C. DuBois, the best theater manager east of the Mississippi.”
With his newfound power, DuBois felt magnificent. He was a colossus, a giant among men: a regular Paul Bunyan of the stage. And now he had the most tantalizing and novel act in town. He felt quite sure that nothing could stop him.
Adamson stared at the manager with a newfound admiration. He decided then and there that this was the kind of man he had always dreamed of being: cool, confident, and totally in command of his own destiny. He would make everyone around him do just what he wanted them to do.
“Maybe I’ll start with the girls,” he murmured.
Then DuBois pushed open the intricately carved oak doors, and the young man’s mouth opened wide in rapturous awe.
The refurbished auditorium was a little piece of heaven on Earth. New paneling made from the most rare and expensive of woods covered the walls, giving off a vibrant and healthy glow. The red velvet curtain had been mended so carefully that it looked like new, and an extravagant gold and silver chandelier had replaced its ruined predecessor.
DuBois’s heart raced with excitement and anticipation, not least of which was due to the reasonable–what people outside the business would likely refer to as criminally extortionate–amounts of money he planned to squeeze out of every pocket and change purse that passed through his doors.
“Yes, sir, my boy,” he said. “You may be an amateur now, but I’m going to take you under my wing. I’m going to make you a star.”
And that is the tale of how Johnson DuBois, manager of the prestigious Royale Theater, overcame the carnage of the Showstopper and created the first amateur-only acting company in Broadway’s history.
And it was thanks to this that about a week later, our friendly neighborhood janitor and part-time caped crusader Tom Wilkins barged carelessly into a dressing room and proceeded to encounter the love of his life.
But that’s getting a bit ahead. Let’s just wait and see for ourselves, shall we?
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.