Read Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky Online

Authors: Johm Howard Reid

Merryll Manning Is Dead Lucky (4 page)

    I waited for the laugh. Sure enough, it came. Another gale, though not quite as strong as the first.

    “And you’re glad to be shot of that line of work?”

    Not just your ordinary Jovian laughter, but an Olympiad of applause, cheers and stamping feet. I don’t think anyone heard my “Yes, I am.”

    “Catch any bank robbers? Any big shots?”

    This sally produced such an eruption of truly gigantic pandemonium, I thought the walls of the whole tatty set would come crashing down. Now I wasn’t so glad I was on first. I needed to block my ears, snap my brain back into shape. 

    Nobody heard my “Yes.”

    “Welcome to
Strike a Fortune in Fifty-One States and Worldwide Districts
, Merryll Manning! And what part of our wonderful states or worldwide districts are we going to have a shot at tonight?”

    “Hollywood.”

    Cheers! Applause! Feet stamping! It was amazing.

    “Mr. Merryll Manning!” Sedge extended his arm in a sweeping motion and turned to face the cheering throng. That wasn’t what we’d rehearsed. Obviously anxious to share my applause, he shook my hand. “Whereabouts in these United States are we going to have a shot at tonight?” he repeated.

    The crowd went wild. Again, nobody heard my reply – not even Sedge. But he pretended to, anyway. “Hollywood!” he chirruped. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Merryll Manning – Hollywood! Classic movies – stars, thrills and history!” Under cover of the renewed bravos from the crowd, he whispered, “Table number one.”

    “I’d better sit at number six,” I whispered back. (It was furthest from the din).

    “What?”

    “Number six. I can see better from there – view the whole stage!”

    “You can’t do that.”

    “Why not?”

    “We’ve got you all set up at table one. Name-plate and all.”

    “If that’s all that’s stopping us, I’ll switch the name-plates around when the camera’s not looking.”

    The applause had died. Sedge was forced to co-operate. “Do it now!” he hissed. “I’ll cover you with the commercial.” Even a second of silence is anathema on TV. Turning quickly into the camera, Sedge smiled his widest. “As all you good folks know by now,
Strike a Fortune in Fifty-One States
et cetera, is brought to you by Tunning’s Totally Tempting Travel Tour Tickets, which you can use at no less than 183 locations, including Mount Placid Fulsome Falls Holiday Home Reserve, Idaho! For neat, well contained comfort at an amazingly low price, you can’t beat Mount Placid Fulsome Falls… ” 

 

4

 

It’s usually not until we actually come on stage that we contestants know what each other’s areas of expertise may be. Of course there was nothing to prevent us getting together beforehand, but why would we do that? If your rivals don’t know what your subject is, they can’t very well prepare themselves, can they?

    It’s a pity Hollywood wasn’t more abstruse. I just hoped my five fellow experts had specializations equally within the mainstream of general knowledge. Nothing esoteric, please!

    Admittedly, Professor Dune-Harrigan’s Ancient Egypt could be a gift. It was a subject I knew something about, and the quiz show’s home audiences would be expecting at least two or three familiar questions such as who was Moses and what pharaoh built the Great Pyramid.

    I clasped my hands in fervent prayer to whatever saint had charge of quiz shows.

    Contestant number two, Bruce Brunsdon, was a retired beekeeper from Manitoba. His hobby involved collecting medieval weapons. He’d even brought an assortment with him: an axe, a dagger and a crossbow. I expected the usual riotous jokes about his honey of a job and getting stung, but these were mercifully curtailed in favor of a brisk discussion on the medieval art of killing, including a demonstration on how to fire the crossbow. I really pricked up my ears at this stage. Maybe the threats on the little 2x3 cards were real after all?

    As it happened, our collector had brought along no arrows or bolts – so that solved that alarm.

    Far more importantly, what was his subject? We were just coming to it.

    “Could you please welcome Bruce Brunsdon… Bruce, your port of call?”

    “Avignon.”

    I groaned. “Avignon. Medieval History.” That $80,000 was not looking good.

    Contestant number three was even worse: Denis Arnett, a mine geologist from Illinois. His favorite city was Chicago, of course – the home of famous crimes and criminals. Not a subject that an ex-policeman knows too much about.

    Number four was no better: Sally Wilmot. An ex-missionary from Hawaii, she was making a living of sorts by writing and selling her own books of poetry, based on Hawaiian legends. I groaned inwardly. But to my surprise, she’d not selected Hawaii as her quiz subject. Instead she homed in on London – English Literature.

    Number five, Ex-Professor Carmichael Dune-Harrigan, whom I’d displaced from table one. During his brief intro with Sedge Cornbeck, Dune-Harrigan described himself as “an archaeologist who
lived
to dig!” He homed in on Thebes, of course, the capital of Ancient Egypt. 

    Doctor Zaraka Konstanos, a marriage counselor working mainly with the Greek community, completed our fascinating line-up. Her port of call was Delphi – unsolved riddles. Oh, boy! What I knew about riddles – solved or unsolved – I could write on the cuticle of my little toe.

    “You all know the rules,” smirked Sedge. “First to ring his or her buzzer answers the question. Get it right, win one point. Guess wrong, lose two points. Are all buzzers in order?

    “The first fifteen questions have to do with Bruce Brunsdon’s category, Avignon – Medieval history. So what exactly is Avignon? Is it – ”

    I pressed my buzzer so fast, Sedge didn’t get a chance to finish the question. “Avignon is a town in France where the Popes were forced to take temporary residence in the fourteenth century.”

    The good Christian Brothers at Saint Pat’s used to force a boy to earn no less than 45 credits for religious studies. There’s always got to be a first time when such esoteric knowledge comes in handy!

    “That is correct!”

    The spectators were cheering like mad! “Merryll Manning, one point up!”

    Old Dune-Harrigan glanced around at me. If looks could kill, I’d be lying dead on the floor! He wasn’t going to be caught napping again, that’s for sure! But he needn’t have worried. I didn’t have any other answers, and neither did anyone else except Bruce Brunsdon. He knew them all. The TV monitor read: BRUNSDON, 14… MANNING, 1.

    I was beginning to feel sick.

    On to Chicago – Famous crimes and criminals. “Chicago…” began Sedge.

    I buzzed, “Al Capone.”

    “That is correct.” More cheers! Once again I’d successfully guessed the question. A calculated risk, but that was the only way to beat Dune-Harrigan, the only way I could win!

    Sedge smacked his lips. “The murder of Hollywood film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 has never been officially solved. But a recent book accuses…”

    “Mary Miles Minter’s mother!” I buzzed.

    “Correct!”

    The crowd was really going wild now. They needed no coaching. And I bet Dune-Harrigan was cursing. He hated movies. Always derided them as a piffling entertainment for idiots.

    “The Taylor case occurred right in the middle of what other famous…”

    Two buzzers rang at the same time. I think mine had a slight edge.

    “…Hollywood scandal? I’ll give the question to Denis Arnett. I think his buzzer was slightly ahead there.”

    A few boos from the crowd. They knew I was first.

    “Fatty Arbuckle.”

    “That is correct. And what name did Arbuckle…”

    I pressed my buzzer like mad. “Will B. Good.” No mine geologist from Illinois was going to do me out of any jackpot. When it came to anything relating to classic movies – be they famous crimes, scandals or divorces – I was the man with the answers. The Results Board was beginning to look really great. I could count that $8,000 already.

    “… use later on in his career, when he was forced to turn from acting to directing? Will B. Good is correct.”

    Again the crowd went wild: BRUNSDON, 14… MANNING, 4… ARNETT, 1.

    “Turning now to the strange case of Michael Malloy…”

    I’d never heard of Michael Malloy. But Arnett had. In fact, the next eight questions were complete mysteries to me. But Arnett answered every one of them. And the crowd was cheering him now, though a score of nine was hardly anything to get excited about.

    But I was about to change all that.

    I sweated through a brace of commercials.

    “On to Hollywood now, with Merryll Manning and the movies. What was Humphrey Bogart’s last feature film?”

    “
The Harder They Fall
.”

    “Correct.”

    I was in luck. Another three Bogart questions, for which I took my time buzzing the answers. I figured no-one could beat me on Bogie. I was right. An easy query on Mae West evoked no competition either. I basked in the cheers, but even more so in the seeming security of the scoreboard: BRUNSDON, 14… MANNING, 9… ARNETT, 9.

    “On now to another Hollywood superstar, Marilyn Monroe. What was her real – ”

   
Buzz!
But it wasn’t me! I stared at my own buzzer in dismay. Some thief had got in ahead of me!

    “Norma Jean Baker.” Arnett!

    “That is correct. Her last movie wasn’t completed…”

    Arnett couldn’t best me on that one. “
Something’s Got To Give
.”

    “Correct.” BRUNSDON, 14… MANNING, 10… ARNETT, 10.

    “Robert Mitchum’s first movie was…?”

    No-one answered. Sedge looked at me appealingly. Silence is anything but golden on TV!

    “Do you want the first film Mitch made?” I asked. “Or the first one that was released?”

    Sedge glanced down at his notes. Of course, they didn’t come anywhere near answering the question. But Sedge wasn’t fazed. He was an experienced presenter – hadn’t been on TV for ten years simply because the viewers liked his face. Keep the show moving was the motto of the game. No silence at any cost! “Suppose you tell us?” he asked.

    “Mitchum’s first movie was
Border Patrol
, but it was actually released second.
Hoppy Serves a Writ
was the first to be shown.”

    “I’ll buy that.”

    The crowd cheered.

    MANNING, 11.

    “
Till the Clouds Roll By
was the life story of…?”

    “Jerome Kern.”

    “Correct. Other American songwriters have had their life stories filmed too. Numerous movies have homed in on Stephen Foster, while Cole Porter had his
Night and Day
, DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, their
Best Things In Life Are Free
, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, their
Three Little Words
, Sigmund Romberg, his posthumous
Deep In My Heart
, Gus Kahn:
I’ll See You In My Dreams
. Aside from Stephen Foster and Cole Porter, these are hardly household names. Yet one life story, Hollywood has never filmed. He’s probably the most enduringly popular songwriter of all time.”

    “Irving Berlin.”

    “Correct!”

    The audience was going wild. MANNING, 13. Just one more point and I’d tie with Brunsdon, and the game – except for a challenge from Dune-Harrigan – was in the bag!

    “We all know the Greek film star, Melina Mercouri, and her smash hit,
Never On Sunday
. What was her first film?”

    Not fair! Who knows the ins and outs of Greek film stars – even if they did make occasional American successes? My home town was Hollywood, not Athens! While I was pondering whether to object or simply make a wild guess, someone pressed the buzzer ahead of me.

    “Yes, Doctor Konstanos?”

    “
Stella
.”

    “That is absolutely correct, doctor!”

    The crowd cheered. No need to make such a song and dance about it. She was Greek. Of course she’d know. A lucky fluke. That board was still looking good, and that was all that really mattered: BRUNSDON, 14… MANNING, 13… ARNETT, 10… KONSTANOS, 1.

    “
Stella
was directed by Michael Cacoyannis and starred the very popular Greek actor…?”

    “Georges Foundas.”

    “Absolutely correct, doctor!”

    The crowd went wild. You’d think she’d won the grand prize. It wasn’t fair. Hollywood – that’s where the questions were supposed to be about! I was being robbed blind! My temper rising, my face burning hot, I had to grip hard to the sides of my tatty table to keep control.

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