Chapter One

Cedar Rapids, Iowa
August 7, 1926

Boring, Mary thought. This is boring.

It was another long, hot summer day. School wouldn't be back in session for a few weeks yet, all of her friends were away or at home, and the play she had taken a part in had finished last week. Only Nadia was around, but she was perfectly content to sit and read all day, and only wanted to go into town once in a while. There was nothing to do.

At least the fair was in town. That was something. She and Nadia were going in the evening, after the temperature cooled down a little. But until then, there was nothing to do.

Mary sat up from where she had been lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to think of something to do. I could read a play, she thought, glancing at her bookcase. No, I've already done that, and I know most of them by heart anyway. I could play the phonograph, but I'm tired of that. Maybe I could walk into town and go shopping, look for a new dress or maybe a new record. Maybe, if I'm lucky, the bookstore will have something new, but I doubt it. This town is so slow to get new things!

She paced over to her mirror, patting her short red curls admiringly. Not everything was that bad. Her father had finally let her get her hair bobbed in the latest style, and even he had to admit that she looked good. Unfortunately, at least as far as her father was concerned, the boys thought she looked good too, and had been flocking around her even more than before.

Maybe I can go find Russell, she thought, her expression brightening. It faded when she remembered that he had to spend most of his time working in his father's grocery store. A long summer day, with no school, and she couldn't find a thing to do!

Mary wandered downstairs, passing Nadia, who was stretched out on the couch reading. She looked longingly at the telephone, wishing that more of her friends had telephones. But only two of them did, and one was away on a vacation with her family, while the other had gone to riding camp for the week. Maybe she could call Grandma or Aunt Rose, but they were probably both at work. She might be able to reach Christopher, but who wanted to talk to a little thirteen-year-old who liked to turn anything she said into a dirty joke?

In desperation, Mary flopped down on Nadia's feet. Nadia yelped and sat up, glaring at her sister.

"What?" she asked, setting the book aside.

Mary sighed. "I'm bored."

"So find something to do."

"Wanna go into town?"

"You know Dad doesn't like us going into town alone when he isn't home."

"There's nothing else to do."

"You could try reading a book."

Mary rolled her eyes. Nadia had no understanding of her need for excitement. Her sister was content to just let the days pass by, but Mary wanted more.

"Dad won't be home until six o'clock. We'll be home before then."

"Mrs. Pierce is coming to clean house today. She'll tell Dad if we aren't home when she gets here."

"So we'll leave her a note saying that we went to visit friends. Dad lets us do that. And it wouldn't be a complete lie," she added. "We could stop and see Russell Fuller."

"Russell Fuller is a moron. He'll never get out of this town, or away from his father's grocery store. You'd better be careful what boys you chase, Mary. You have big dreams, and he's not going to give you what you want. You'll wind up living in this town forever."

"You want to stay here."

"Not forever. I want to go to college and do something with my life."

"So do I. Except for the college part. School is boring."

"That's your opinion." Nadia reached for her book.

Mary gave her a pleading look. "Come on. Let's get out of here for a while."

"No. Dad told us to stay home."

"You are such a goody two-shoes!"

"I'm the one who gets to go out on Saturday nights. You keep getting grounded."

"You and Dad are so alike. No sense of adventure at all. It's amazing that you're not really related to him."

Nadia opened her book again, waving her sister off. Exasperated, Mary stalked out of the parlor, her mind still going over ways to entertain herself.

XXXXX

"It's about time Dad let us leave!" Mary exclaimed, striding down the road beside Nadia. "I thought we wouldn't get out until the fair was over."

"We have four hours until it closes for the night, and it's only a mile there," Nadia reminded her, not at all perturbed by her sister's aggravation.

"Four hours! That's not very long! We won't have time to do much of anything."

"You could have asked Dad if we could go during the day, instead of complaining about how bored you were. Then we would have had plenty of time."

"There's only little kids at the fair during the day. I like it better at night. That's when the interesting people are there."

Nadia rolled her eyes. "You just want to chase boys."

"I like boys."

"Me, too, but you don't see me making a fool of myself."

"You just don't know how to have fun."

Nadia raised an eyebrow at her. "Don't have too much fun." She smirked.

Mary hit her on the arm. "You're as bad as Christopher." She ran ahead a few feet. "Race you there!"

Nadia took off after her sister, the two sixteen-year-old girls giggling uncontrollably as they headed toward the lights and crowds of the fair.

XXXXX

Mary and Nadia roamed around the fair for a couple of hours, stopping to buy snacks and play a few games. Mary tried to be blasé about everything, considering Nadia's enthusiasm childish, but even she couldn't resist the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round. Nadia teased her about it.

"You're so grown up," she commented as Mary sat on one of the merry-go-round horses, her delight in the ride unmistakable.

Mary just stuck her tongue out at her, waving to a boy from school as the ride went around. Nadia laughed at her, but Mary ignored her sister.

When the ride ended, the two girls joined a group of kids from their high school and walked through the fair some more, cheering the boys on as they vied to see who could eat the most hot dogs at once. Nadia looked at them with a distasteful expression as they crammed food into their mouths, but it didn't stop her from giggling and egging the boys on.

One boy emerged the winner, while the other two staggered around, looking a little ill. The winner pumped his hands in the air and offered to buy soda pop for the losers, but the vendor had been watching them and refused to sell to the teenagers.

Mary and Nadia left the group shortly thereafter and resumed walking around.

"Those boys are so immature," Mary told her sister, casting a backward glance at the group they had left.

Nadia looked at her skeptically. "You were just chasing Joe last month."

"That was last month. I've outgrown him."

"Whatever you say. I bet you'll be flirting with him again when school starts."

"No way. I saw Jim Peterson while we were on the Ferris wheel."

"So?"

"So did you see how good he looks? He's really filled out."

"You would notice that."

"He's the one I want for my boyfriend."

"Until you see someone better looking."

Mary shook her head. "How can anyone be better looking? Except for some of those movie stars."

They were interrupted by a man in a neat, three-piece suit. "Excuse me, ladies. I couldn't help but hear you talking about movie stars. Have you ever met any in person?"

"Yes," Nadia responded, a little rudely. "Our Aunt Rose is a movie star." Something about the man's expression made her wary. He had the look of someone trying a little too hard to win confidence.

"Nadia!" Mary elbowed her in the ribs. "Our aunt is Rose Dawson. I'm going to be an actress someday, too." The man's expression didn't bother Mary at all.

"Are you? Have you ever been on the stage?"

"Yes. Lots of times."

"I see. And you?" He looked at Nadia, trying to win her confidence again.

"No." Nadia's voice was even more rude. He reminded her of the carnie folks, the ones who ran games that no one could win. Untrustworthy.

"Nadia's shy," Mary explained. "I'm not."

"I can see that." His smile grew wider as he looked her over. "I'm sure you'll be a big success. You're certainly pretty enough."

Mary smiled, delighted at such praise from a perfect stranger.

"In fact..." He reached into his pocket, pulling out a business card. "I'm in the business myself. Richard Ross, director."

"Really?" Mary's face lit up. "Have you ever met Rose Dawson?"

"I haven't had the pleasure of working with her, but she is an excellent actress. I have a feeling you could be even better."

Nadia rolled her eyes in disgust. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she told Mary, heading in the direction of a drink stand.

Mary waved her off, then turned back to Ross, taking the card he offered. "I'll be out of high school in another couple of years," she told him. "When I get to Hollywood, I'll look you up."

"You could go to Hollywood right now," he replied, giving her a friendly smile. "In fact, that's what I'm here for. I'm looking for the next big star."

"Really?" Mary's pulse jumped, hoping that he was considering her.

"Yes. Are you familiar with Mabel Love?"

Mary shook her head, wishing that she had heard of her. She didn't want to appear ignorant in front of this man.

"She's one of the fastest rising stars today, and I discovered her. She's still new," he added, "which may be why you haven't heard of her. I think you share her talent. How would you like to go to Hollywood and become a star?"

"I'd love to," Mary responded, "but I'm kind of stuck here right now..."

"I'll pay your way there. You can pay me back when you start working. You have the looks and the talent. All you need is someone to promote you."

"I'll have to think about it..." Mary hesitated, a little suspicious as to why a Hollywood director would be recruiting actresses in Iowa. She quickly pushed the thought from her head. He was perfectly legitimate. He was just looking for new talent, was all. She looked at his business card. "I'd like to..."

"Well, make up your mind. I've got places to be. I'll be leaving on the 12:30 train tonight."

"Tonight?" Mary was a little alarmed. She didn't have much time to think.

"I have to find the perfect actress to star in my next picture," he explained, smiling smoothly at her, "and I haven't much time."

Mary thought quickly. She might never get such an opportunity again. How many girls from Midwestern towns were discovered by Hollywood directors? It wasn't something she could pass up.

"I'll be at the train station at 12:15," she told him, tucking the card into her pocket. "What time is it now?"

"It's almost 10:30. Better hurry, if you want to make the train." He smiled at her. "Oh, and by the way, it's best not to let anyone know where you're going. Your family might not let you go. I've seen too many talented young actresses lose their chance because their families didn't think they were ready to be on their own."

"I won't say anything," Mary assured him. Inside, she was a little worried about leaving without telling her father or Nadia, but she reasoned that she could call once she got to Hollywood. Certainly, Aunt Rose would welcome her. Her father would understand how much it meant to her once she got there, and he would let her stay with Aunt Rose until she was on her own. She could even go to school while she was there.

"I'll see you later," she told him, smiling brightly and hurrying after her sister.