from College Humor
The Eighty-Seven Napoleans
by Ellis Parker Butler
As far as I know, the truth about the eighty-seven Napoleons has not been told up to this time, and I would not say anything about it now if some of the stories that are appearing in the press were not such awful lies, their sole object seeming to be to cause laughter among those who will laugh at anything, no matter how estimable. Mr. Pinner, himself, who is hard boiled, agrees with me that I owe it to my public to give the facts.
"Mr. Pipps," he said to me only this morning, "you ought to write out the full story of the eighty-seven Napoleons. You owe it to yourself. Do you see what they are doing to you?"
He then showed me the disgusting article in this morning's Sunday newspaper entitled, all across the page, "'Pipp! Pipp!' Said the Eagle," in which some poor halfwit who had nothing better to do tried to make me seem ridiculous to the readers of the paper.
"Mr. Pinner," I said, "this is going a little too far. My duty to my public is a sacred trust and I so consider it. I hesitate to stoop to the lowness of newspaper controversy, but no sacrifice is too great for me to make for my public. It is my duty to my public which urges me to write out the whole truth."
"And I can get real money for it; don't forget that, Pippy," said Mr. Pinner, who is, as he often remarks, a hard-boiled egg.
I will say to begin with that for quite a few years before I came to Hollywood I was in the book, stationery and hammock business in Riverbank, Iowa, where I was born, but that I was less and less satisfied each year because I knew I was meant for greater things, and the book, stationery and hammock business in Riverbank would never have satisfied Napoleon Bonaparte.
Although it had been the rude habit of my boyhood companions to call me Runty Pipps or, more simply, Runt or Runty, by the time I was twenty-one almost everyone in Riverbank was calling me Bony, a pleasant recognition of my likeness to the great Emperor of the French, others calling me Nap or Polly in short for Napoleon. Many times at local affairs I would hear the cry, "Hey, Bony! Give us Napoleon!" or, "Say, Polly, do your stuff!" And I would then arise and place my hat on my head in the Napoleonic way, put my hand in my chest and frown, and cries of "Atta-boy, Polly!" and "Hot dog, Bony!" would arise on all sides, many laughing from the pure joy that is the result of observing an exemplification of perfection in art.
Thus my resemblance to the Little Corporal amazed and astonished all, but there was one matter of which I never spoke, keeping it treasured in my own breast as too sacred to be made a matter of common conversation. I refer to the fact that was instantly seen by Princess Elkah-noha when she visited our town.
I was then thirty-eight years old, and although I wore only my plain business suit, Princess Elkah-noha uttered a little cry of delight the moment I had paid her five dollars and she had looked at my palm.
"Mr. Pipps," she said, "nothing is concealed from me, and although what I am going to say may surprise you, it is none the less a fact. You are Napoleon Bonaparte. I do not mean that you resemble him in face, form and feature, although that is true," she said. "I mean you are the great Napoleon Bonaparte, himself."
"Well," I said, "I have been suspecting that for quite some time."
"You would," the princess said, looking at my hand again. "I see a Josephine in your palm, and I beg you to be true to her, for she is your star and the Ego of the Empress of the French has taken its abode in her. She is a blonde -- is that right? Beautiful yellow hair --"
"You might call it hair in a poetical way of speaking," I admitted, "but probably what you mean to say is feathers."
"Yes, of course," she replied, after looking at me steadily for a few moments. "What is she, a chicken?"
"She is a canary bird," I explained.
When I reached home I went at once to Josephine and stood before her cage.
"Josephine," I said, "I will probably have to give up this comfortable room and sell out my book, stationery and hammock business before long, because the world will be calling me and I must seize the opportunity when it comes, but I want you to know that even if for a moment reasons of State make it seem best to part from you, I shall not do so because you are my star."
The opportunity for bigger things came sooner than I expected. Less than a week later I picked up a newspaper and under the heading, Random Reelings, I read these words:
"Glittering Films has bought the rights in James Melton Meevick's best selling novel, Malmaison, and will film it as a two million dollar production under the title, Napoleon's Cutie. Those who remember Glittering Films' great Lincoln masterpiece, The Man from Sangamon, and the dozens of Lincoln films that followed it, will look for a flood of Napoleon films as a result. Doris Delight has been signed to star in the Glittering Films picture, and a man resembling Napoleon is now being sought for the part of the Little Corporal."
Two days later I sold the stock of my book, stationery and hammock store at auction and telegraphed to Glittering Films, "Sign no Napoleon until I arrive. Leaving Riverbank tonight," signing it Arthur J. (Napoleon) Pipps, and took the train for Hollywood.
While I waited at Kansas City for the porter to dispose of my suitcase, I looked to see who was to occupy the compartment with me, and my suspicions were instantly aroused. I do not mean to say that my fellow passenger, who was a sawed-off little man, would have deceived anyone who really knew anything about Napoleon Bonaparte, but I guessed from the way he kept his hand stuck in the breast of his coat, and frowned, that he thought he resembled the hero of October, 1795.
"By the eagles of the Guard!" he exclaimed when he looked up. "Another one!"
"What do you mean by that?" I asked rather haughtily.
"What do I mean by it? You're going to Hollywood, aren't you?"
"Yes," I said, "Hollywood is my destination. What of it?"
"You make eight, that's all," he replied. "Eight Napoleons on this one train, unless some more got on at Kansas City. What have you got in that cage, an eagle?"
"This is Josephine, my canary," I told him.
"Two of them up front have cats," he said, "and another has a lady dog in the baggage car, and the Napoleon in the car behind us has a Josephine cow, but he left her at home. I did not bring my Josephine, either."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well, I'll tell you," he said. "I didn't think it was safe -- she's a goldfish."
I looked at him to see if he was joking, but he seemed quite serious, and I soon discovered that he was a very pleasant companion. His name was Utterbury, and he introduced me to the other Napoleons on the train -- there were twelve when we left El Paso.
As soon as we arrived, I went to the hotel I had been told was desirable, and the clerk handed me a pen.
"Another Napoleon?" he said pleasantly. "Yes, sir. We can give you a nice room on the eleventh floor. We are reserving the eleventh floor for Napoleons. Boy, show Mr. Napoleon to Room 1137. What have you got in the cage, a parrot?"
"It is a canary bird," I told him. "It is a female and does not sing."
"Right! We don't allow parrots, but you can keep Josephine in your room," he said.
As soon as I had tidied myself and given Josephine fresh seed and water, I asked the way to Hollywood and the Glittering Films studios, but on the studio gate I found a placard reading: "Notice to Napoleons: Glittering Films will interview no Napoleons until nine a. m., March sixth. All Napoleons will apply at gate five on that date."
I was turning away, when a snappy little one-seated car pulled up at the curb and a young man hailed me.
"Hello, there, Napoleon!" he called. "Come you here; I want speech with you."
I walked over to him, and he looked me up and down without getting out of his car.
"I've seen worse," he said. "Put your hat on crossways. Stick your paw in your bosom. Look frowny, please. Boy, you're not bad. You might have a chance. Who's handling you?"
"I don't know what you mean," I told him.
"Ye fishes! The Babe in the Woods doubling as N. Bonaparte! I mean, who is your agent? Who is your representative, handler, leader, boss, contract-getter, boomer? But I see you haven't got one. Give me your hand. Now you've got one."
He took a card from his pocket and handed it to me.
"That's your agent's name," he said. "Joseph Pinner, J. G., and the J. G. stands for Job Getter, and believe me! Hop in here and we'll chin-chin. Do you smoke? No matter, I only wanted to borrow a cigarette. What's your name, Nappy?"
I told him my name, and he drove the car very rapidly for two blocks and then stopped it.
"Arthur," he said, "the only way to get a job here is to have an agent, and he's got to be hard boiled. I congratulate you, Artie; I'm so hard boiled I crack the concrete when I fall. Oh, boy, you're lucky!"
"Am I?" I asked.
"To get me, Artie," he said. "I just stung Stupendous Studios to death and got Susannah Sunshine a three year contract, and that's how I'm free. I said to myself, 'Joe, there'll be a line of Napoleons a mile long -- go grab one.' You certainly are in luck. Do you smoke? 'S all right, Art. 'S all right. Lotta men don't."
"Don't mind my talk, Pippy," he said. "It don't mean a word. I think best when my mouth is open. Pip, old boy, if you hadn't met me, you would have been lost in the crowd. This ville is fair reeking with Napoleons. Now, what to do?"
He started his car, and when we stopped he seemed to have come to some decision.
"Art," he said, "I'll have to look around and size things up and make a noise like a press agent. We've got to get Glittering's eagle eye turned toward you -- and there's an idea. Eagle! Have you got an eagle?"
"I have a canary bird," I said.
"'Napoleon Arrives with Canary Bird,'" he said. "Won't do, Nippy. Nev' mind. Joe Pinner will think of something. Are you married? 'Napoleon's Star Is Beautiful Wife.'"
"I am not married," I explained. "My Josephine is my canary bird."
"Ouch!" Mr. Pinner exclaimed. "Ain't that terrible! Listen, Art, you'd better go to your room and lock yourself in until I come for you. Do that for your Joey, will you? And listen, please, Art, don't let the canary bird sing. Keep her quiet. Keep her dark, Art. For my sake."
"Hen canaries don't sing," I said, and he seemed to feel better. He drove me to my hotel, arranging to see me the next day. He came about four in the afternoon and when I told him I had not been out of the room, he seemed much pleased.
"Pippy, my lad," he said, "you sure had luck when you met me. If you had not met Joe Pinner, you would be lost in the crowd, because do you know how many Napoleons there are in the county right now? Seventy-two, Artie. Now, what are you going to do next?"
"I do not know," I told him. "Am I going to send for some cigarettes for you?"
"No, Pippy," he said, lighting a cigarette to show me that he had some. "You are going to organize. You are going to slap yourself on the knee and cry, 'By George! I will organize the Napoleon Protective Union, No. One.'"
I think I only stared at him.
"And the reason you are going to organize the Napoleon Protective Union, No. One, Pipps," he continued, waving the cigarette at me, "is because it has occurred to you that practically every town, city and village in America has one or more men who think they look like Napoleon when they put their hands in their bosoms and stick their hats on their heads crossways. In every six clubs out of seven there are men who at every banquet sit on the edges of their chairs and wait impatiently for someone to yell, 'Hey, Bill, do Napoleon for us!' There are hundreds of U. S. Grants and scores of Abraham Lincolns, to say nothing of three gross of Charlie Chaplins and assorted lots of T. Roosevelts, G. Washingtons and H. Hoovers, and scatterings of James G. Blaines, Henry Ward Beechers and Henry Clays, but the N. Bonapartes are so plenty that the party that gets their vote carries the national election."
"Yes," I said, "they make me tired -- some of them look about as much like Napoleon Bonaparte as Little Lord Fauntleroy did."
"That's the boy!" Mr. Pinner cried enthusiastically. "That's the spirit! So you are going to say to yourself: 'What if all the Napoleons come to Hollywood? Where will Napoleon wages drop to then?'"
"But if I have the job, what will I care?" I asked.
"Art," said Mr. Pinner, "that just shows how lucky you are to have me. You are one thing, but I am hard boiled. You are thinking these things so you can get the job. What are you thinking now? You are thinking that as soon as Glittering Films announced a Napoleon picture, every other producer thought of doing a Napoleon picture. You are thinking that there will be a flood of Napoleon pictures with a lot of Napoleons needed, and that the price of Napoleons ought to shoot up like a skyrocket, bull market, brisk demand. So you are thinking, Arthur, that the only way to keep the price high, avoid ruinous competition and grab the plutocratic movie kings by the throat is to organize the Napoleon Protective Union No. One, with union labor cards, a hard boiled walking delegate and every Napoleon in sight signed on the dotted line. Is that what you are thinking?"
"Well --" I said.
"Fine! I thought you were," said Mr. Pinner, putting on his hat. "'Napoleon Pipps Organizes Union of Bonapartes.' I'll have a costumer here at nine thirty tomorrow and a photographer at ten. Ah -- where can you hide Josephine?"
"In the bathroom?" I asked.
"Fair enough," agreed Mr. Pinner. "Keep her dark, Pippy. You know, this is going to be big; this is going to be swell. And see no one else, Arthur."
When Mr. Pinner came the next morning he was in what I believe is called high feather, although I do not know exactly what it means.
Pipps, he said, looking me over as I took a Napoleon pose in the costume I had been furnished, "you're the stuff! If you don't look more like N. Bonaparte than Abe Lincoln ever did, I am a half portion of chile con carne. Everything is going jake, Artie. The morning census of Napoleons shows eighty-seven on the list, and the organization meeting will be held in Room Seven B downstairs at nine p. m. tomorrow night. Already you have received promises from seven Napoleons to be there."
"Through Joe Pinner, your aide, as per your instructions," my lively friend said. "And what are you saying to me now, Napoleon?"
"What am I?" I asked him.
"You are saying: 'Pinner, obey my orders. Get busy and see the rest of the Napoleons. March!' That is what you are saying, Napoleon. Sire, I obey."
With that he rushed off again, and except for a word by telephone every few minutes I heard no more from him until the next evening. About half past eight o'clock he came to my room, interrupting me as I was feeding Josephine a bit of lettuce with my fingers.
We then went out to the elevator where we found a crowd of Napoleons waiting to go down to Room Seven B. They looked at me with frowns, being themselves dressed only in ordinary clothes, but I pushed through them to the elevator door.
"The next car, please, gentlemen," I said. "This is reserved for your Emperor," for that was what Mr. Pinner had told me to say, and no doubt he had instructed the elevator boy, for as soon as I was in the car he slammed the door and started the car downward.
In Room Seven B I found a good number of the eighty-seven Napoleons, and the rest soon arrived. Mr. Pinner immediately took the chair at the table at the head of the room and rapped sharply for order.
"I'm going to ask Mr. Utterbury, one of our most distinguished Napoleons, to act as secretary of this meeting," he said, and Mr. Utterbury arose and went to the table, taking the vacant seat beside Mr. Pinner. It was easy to see he was pleased to be thus honored.
"As for chairman," Mr. Pinner then said, "I will myself retain the chair, being perhaps better acquainted with the Napoleonic situation than anyone present."
This was the cue he had given me, and at the word "present," I walked forward and, pushing in beside him, took the gavel from his hand.
"Fellow Napoleons," I said in a loud voice, "none but the Emperor presides here."
For a moment there was silence and then one or two applauded, and in another moment Room Seven B was resounding with the clapping of hands. Mr. Pinner got up out of the chair and I seated myself.
"To work!" I cried. "Utterbury, read the constitution and by-laws."
"I haven't any, Mr. Pipps," Utterbury said, and I drew the constitution and by-laws from my pocket and handed them to him. He read them just as Mr. Pinner had written them.
"Before we vote on the adoption of the constitution and by-laws as read," a Napoleon in the middle of the room said, "I desire to offer an amendment to Section One, Article One of the Constitution, which provides that the temporary chairman of the organizing meeting shall be permanent president of the Napoleon Protective Union No. One. It is my opinion --"
"You're out of order," I said, bringing down my gavel. "I have already adopted the constitution and by-laws."
"Don't we vote?" a Napoleon asked. "Usually at these meetings the --"
"I am the meeting. If I want a vote, I will vote," I said, frowning to right and left. "Is there any other business to come before the meeting?"
There did not seem to be. The dues had been stipulated by the by-laws, the constitution provided that no Napoleon should sign a contract with any motion picture concern until the contract had been approved by the permanent president. As a matter of fact, no Napoleon could do much of anything but brush his teeth without permission of the permanent president. No one seemed to be able to think of anything else for the meeting to do and, as Mr. Pinner had instructed me, I now motioned him to come to me and he did. We stepped far enough aside to be beyond Mr. Utterbury's hearing.
"Pippy," he said, "this was great stuff and you will get two columns in tomorrow morning's papers, or I'm a wooden nutmeg. 'This Napoleon Real Autocrat -- Pipps Rules with Iron Rod.' That is where little Joe Pinner knows his psychology; any bunch of anything of one sort is a bunch of sheep, and the one that is different can boss them. A room full of imitation Julius Caesars would sit thinking, 'I must not forget to look like Julius Caesar,' and a rabbit could walk away with them. Am I right?" Then he bowed low and said so all could hear, "Yes, sire, I will tell them."
With these words, Mr. Pinner walked in front of the table and raised his hand.
"Gentlemen Napoleons of Napoleon Protective Union No. One," he announced in a loud voice, "I have been commissioned by your permanent president to declare in his name an event which you will all welcome with delight. In honor of his announcement of his promulgation of the constitution and by-laws, and the creation of the Napoleon Protective Union No. One, your president has decreed that the staunch yacht, Orange Blossom, be chartered to start on an excursion to Catalina Island, March fourth at nine a. m. The day will be spent in pleasure, visiting the beauties of sea and shore, observing the bathing beauties disporting in the waves, and so on, but important business meetings will be held going and coming, the yacht being less accessible to prying ears than this room."
"The meeting is adjourned," I said as soon as the cheers had died down, and Mr. Pinner shouted, "Keep your places until the president leaves the room!" And with Mr. Pinner before me, I walked out of Room Seven B.
"Well, Pippy," Mr. Pinner said when we were back in the room, "I'll say that went off fine. You behaved like a good little boy, and I think the yachting party is going to be a great success."
"Who is going to pay for it?" I asked.
"The Napoleon Protective Union No. One, of course," said Mr. Pinner. "That is provided in the constitution, anything decreed by the permanent president being paid for out of the treasury. What is the use of being a Napoleon if you can't be one once in awhile? Of course, there will be some kicking when they land on St. Helena."
"My little joke, Pippy," Mr. Pinner laughed. "I must have my fun and I never had a chance to maroon eighty-six Napoleons at one time before. Of course, you saw what I was up to."
"I don't know what you are up to even now," I told him.
"What you don't know won't hurt you," he informed me, "but you need not do much packing for the trip to Catalina, because you are not going. And if the eighty-six Napoleons want to change linen, they had better take some along because it may be quite a few days before they get back to Los Angeles."
"You are going to kidnap them!" I exclaimed.
"No, no! Not I, Pippy, you are going to kidnap them. The Orange Blossom is going to break her rudder chain or something, that's all, and they will not get back until after March sixth, the day all the Napoleons are to be interviewed. You will be the only one there, Artie."
"Mr. Pinner," I said, "you may think this is a very clever scheme, but it will not work and I will tell you why. Glittering Films knows there are eighty-seven Napoleons in Los Angeles, and if I appear alone, they will simply say the date has been postponed."
"Pippy," said Mr. Pinner, "sometimes when you express your opinions, I can almost understand why you had a Waterloo when you were here before. Have you ever heard of anything mightier than the sword?"
"The pen is mightier than the sword," I quoted.
"If you make that, 'The headline is mightier than the sword', I may believe you," Mr. Pinner grinned, and it proved that he was right.
The morning after the organization meeting, Mr. Pinner came for me in a superb open car of a light rose color with pale moss colored upholstery, and, wearing my uniform, I was seen in that car every day until March fourth. On that day I was not seen at all, and the Orange Blossom was forced to sail without me, nor was I seen on the fifth. On the sixth, I appeared at gate five at the exact moment when Napoleons were welcome, and I was the only one to appear. Mr. Pinner, of course, was with me, and we were told to see Mr. Hoskins, the casting director for Napoleon's Cutie.
Mr. Hoskins looked up when we entered, and greeted Mr. Pinner with: "Hello, Joe. Have a seat over there till some of the other Naps get here -- I'll run them off in bunches." He went on with his work, but almost immediately a beautiful young lady entered and Mr. Pinner was on his feet instantly.
"Hello, Doris," he said. "I want you to meet the man I have picked to do your Napoleon. Mr. Pipps, this is Doris Delight."
The superb creature looked at me.
"He's not so poisonous at that," she said, and went to speak to Mr. Hoskins.
"Hot dog!" Mr. Pinner said in a whisper. "Did you hear that? Artie, things are coming our way! She fell for you at the first peek."
"She didn't seem so very enthusiastic," I said, but Mr. Pinner grinned.
"She was enthusiastic enough to cost Glittering Films an extra twenty thousand dollars," he said. "And now wait until you hear Hoskins."
With that he went over to Mr. Hoskins' desk and stood beside Miss Delight. She gave him what I thought was a crushing look, but Mr. Hoskins asked him, "Well, what now?"
"I just thought perhaps Miss Delight was waiting to look over the other Napoleons, Hosky," Mr. Pinner said, "and that I could save her some time, because none of the other eighty-six Napoleons will be here today."
"What does that mean?" Mr. Hoskins asked.
"My Napoleon here just tells me," said Mr. Pinner, giving Mr. Hoskins a wink, "that he hired the Orange Blossom and put the whole gang on board and sent them somewhere day before yesterday. They won't be back for a day or two. Regular Napoleon stuff, hey, Hosky? 'Kidnaps Eighty-Six Rivals.' Can you see the headlines? 'He Got the Job.' When eighty-six sore Napoleons get back to town, will there be noise?"
"How does he photograph, Pinny?" Mr. Hoskins asked, looking at me.
"Like Douglas Fairbanks," Mr. Pinner boasted, "only better."
"We've got to give these other Napoleons the once over, Pinny," Mr. Hoskins said. "We've sort of promised that. How much is your man going to sting us for?"
Mr. Pinner whispered in Mr. Hoskins' ear, and Mr. Hoskins made a sour face before he grinned.
"What do you think of him, Doris?" he asked Miss Delight, and she looked at me again.
"Not so venomous, Hosky," she said, and Mr. Hoskins took the contract Mr. Pinner had evidently prepared.
"It's like I tell you, Pinny," he said. "I can't sign anything till we look at the other goops. The old man wouldn't let me. But I've had an eye on your boy. He gets the publicity. He knows the Napoleon job. Or if he don't, somebody does."
When the eighty-six Napoleons returned from their voyage on the Orange Blossom, the headlines in the newspapers were all that Mr. Pinner could have wished, if not more, and if there were any newspapers in America that did not receive the story from their own correspondents or press associations, the Glittering Films saw that they were supplied with the full details as soon as my contract was signed.
In justice to Mr. Pinner, I will say that it was the Glittering Films' young man who sent out the article saying I made a pet of a golden eagle I had captured with my own hands on a mountain cliff, and that he did this without my knowledge, but since I have been held up to ridicule in a vile piece of so-called humor that pretended to discover that the eagle was only a female canary bird, I have written this so that all may know the truth about it. I never claimed that Josephine was an eagle. The story that I did was the work of a jealous member of the eighty-six Napoleons, all of whom I am now free to say are mere imitations.