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When struggling singer gets first crack at network TV show--with strings attached--how does a guy convince her that her big break did not come from Santa Claus, but from snake-in-the-grass?

"The Trendex Trap"

by John Turner
Modern Man
Vol. 12, No. 9-141,  1963

    ANGRILY, THE GIRL SAT DOWN on the edge of the bed. Keller--from the living room--could see her reflection in the mirror. He stared at her half-dressed profile, absently watching light from the window play over her soft shoulders and the tangle of rich brown hair. Her voice snapped at him through the crack in the door. "Hell. I don't think you'll ever understand this business." Keller answered, "Maybe the trouble is I understand too well." He heard her sigh.
    "You have all the assurance," she said, "of the non-professional."
    "Come down to earth," Keller said quietly. "I don't have to be in something to know how it works. And I'm not talking about television itself. I'm talking about you going out with Hughes tomorrow night." He watched her pause with one nylon halfway up her leg. She saw it had a run and impatiently jerked it off.
    "For the dozenth time," she said, "it doesn't mean anything. It is publicity. I'm going to do the Teddy Hughes show."
    Going out with him is nothing but a routine way of getting pre-show publicity. "I'm the one who benefits from it." Keller threw up his hands. "Look," he said, "he's notorious. This is one of the fringe benefits of being Teddy Hughes and having your own show. He finds girl singers, or dancers, or sword swallowers, for all the difference it makes, and then signs them for a one-shot on his show. This isn't charity, Donna. Young girl gets break from Teddy. Young girl is properly grateful. Make that improperly grateful."
    Donna's voice was flat. "He takes me out, we get our names in the columns. It does the show good, it does me good. He explained it to me himself."
    Keller sighed. He saw Donna stand and fasten her stockings, then reach for her slip. She saw his face in her mirror, tightened her lips, and slammed the door shut.
    Shrugging, Keller roamed the apartment, studying the pale paint on the walls that barely covered ancient cracks in the plaster. She looked at the secondhand furniture, the improvised decorations.
    Donna Sayers. Half-a-hit record. A few so-what club bookings. Even fewer TV spots on the afternoon small shows. Now a shot at the Teddy Hughes show.
    Tell Donna Sayers that Teddy Hughes isn't Santa Claus.
    Keller drew a breath. "Donna, what do you think would happen if you told him you couldn't make that date tomorrow night? If you dodged the date bit altogether?"
    Her door opened and she peeked out. "What?"
    "Think you'd still be doing his show?"
    "Of course," she said. "He wouldn't cancel me out of the show because of...
    "Lets find out," Keller cut in. "Let's test it, Donna. Are you sure enough to test it?"
    She bit off the word. "Yes. You're damn right I am."
    "Swell. Let's test it today. Are you ready for the rehearsal?"
    "Almost." She disappeared behind the door for a moment, then entered the living room and turned her back to Keller. Automatically, she zipped up her dress. "Fine," she said over her shoulder. "We'll just do that."
    Keller picked up her coat. She looked at him. "How much of me," she asked, "did you manage to see?"
    "Nut much," he said. But he recalled watching her move about the bedroom, watching the long legs swing out, watching the hips roll softly, watching how gracefully she slipped into her bra and panties.
    It would be worth the trouble to keep her out of the reach of the likes of Teddy Hughes.
    The Hughes show rehearsed in a tall ceiling, one-time warehouse on New York's West Side. The big,  splashy variety show needed every bit of space. In a given week, the feature act might be half the Ice Capades company or two scenes from a Broadway musical. Only the Ed Sullivan show matched the scope of the weekly spectaculars Hughes puts on.
    Keller saw him almost immediately when they walked into the cavernous hall.
    He stood under a flood of lights in the center of activity, three massive color cameras clustered around him, a mike dangling over his head, stretching from a boom.
    He was short, with a noticeably thickening middle He wore a tight gray sweatshirt over the bulge, doing nothing to hide it. Wardrobe would have to worry about that when the red light of the camera came on. Hughes had red hair, bright enough to seem dyed. It was long and carefully combed. His face was small, sharp-featured, dominated by fast-moving eyes and a stringy mustache.
    His voice echoed in the hall. "Get that goddam mike off my head!" One arm was raised, his head was thrown back, and Keller thought he looked like a politician winding up a hell-raising campaign speech.
    Hughes was roaring on. "That mike shows up in one more shot and somebody's ass is in a permanent sling!"
    Donna walked straight toward him and Keller trailed her slightly. He knew she was still annoyed. Her heels hammered on the floor and she walked like someone in an angry hurry.
    They reached the fringe of the circle of activity around Hughes. He paused for a moment in the barrage of instructions to the crew and Donna raised her voice to him.
    "Mr. Hughes? Teddy? Can I see you?" Hughes squinted, then shielded his eyes against the sidelights placed on the floor just off-camera. He leaned forward to see who was calling, then recognized Donna.
    "Hiya," he said, moving his full mouth into a smile. "We'll be set for your number in about five minutes--ah, oh...
    Keller said, "Donna Sayers."
    Hughes glanced at Keller. "Sure. What, don't I know her name?" He let the smile grow a little.
    "I wasn't sure," Keller said.
    Hughes moved closer to him. "Who you, pal?"
    "Pal of Donna's," Keller told him.
    And then she spoke, waiting until Hughes was exactly in front of her.
    "About tomorrow night, Teddy. I don't think I can make it. Our date, I mean."
    Hughes smiled. "Oh, sure you can, honey."
    Donna's lips pressed together. "I'm afraid not."
    The clatter of the rehearsal hall filled the silence between them.
    Hughes' eyes were steady on Donna's face. "Sure you can," he said again. "It's all set."
    Keller saw Donna force a smile. It looked tight and nervous and maybe frightened. "Well, it can't be that important."
    Hughes' voice was cooling. "I had it all planned."
    "Well, I'm sorry," Donna said, working on the smile.
    Hughes blinked once, twice. His voice was impatient. "Look, honey, can we make a short story out of this? Tomorrow night, okay?"
    Donna said nothing.
    "I said it was all planned. Just like it's all planned for you to dance on my show. I mean, we don't go around changing plans at the last...
    Donna said, slowly, "I'm a singer, Teddy."
    He was flustered only a moment. "What'd I say, dancer? Sure, singer. I know." There was a short silence, and then Hughes voice snapped into irritation. "Look, f'crissakes, let's get with it. There's a lot to be done." He turned his head and waved his hand at the assembled cameras, lights, personnel. "Are you ready for the rehearsal?"
    Quietly, Donna said, "The rehearsal's not the problem."
    His eyes riveted her. "Baby, it's the only problem I've got. If there are other problems, they're all your problems."
    "Teddy," Donna began.
    "I mean, you're makin' problems, honey."
    "I'm not making any "You sure as hell are," Hughes snapped.
    "C'mere, I'll show you."
    He reached out and grabbed Donna's hand, then turned back to the rehearsal area. He pushed his way through a knot of three technicians, each one wearing a headset that tied them in with the control room.
    "Turn that camera around here," Hughes ordered and the triple turrets of the color camera swung toward him soundlessly. He led Donna to the camera and placed her feet on an "X" mark chalked onto the bare floor of the rehearsal hall.
    "Line up a shot on her," Hughes snapped over his shoulder. "And move that monitor over here where she can see it. Stand right there," he said to Donna.
    She stood, mouth partly open, eyes blinking in the glare of the massive spots pouring light down on her.
    Hughes stepped back, out of the circle of light, still talking. "All right, pal, change the lens on that goddam thing. I want a medium close shot. Get her from the knobs up. Don't leave anything out. Come on," he called to the two men pushing the studio monitor into place, "get that thing over here. Put it where she can see it. Hurry up."
    Keller craned his neck to see the monitor. A picture of Donna swam up on the big color screen of the monitor. The fidelity of the colors was perfect. There was her rich, dark hair, there the soft, white skin, there the brown of her eyes, the red of her mouth.
    "All right," Hughes said, "that's fine. Hold that shot." He walkeD out in front of the silent, steady color camera and spoke to Donna. "Minute ago, I told you that you were makin' problems, honey, remember?"
    Donna nodded her head, still blinking in the blinding light.
    "Now you see that monitor there. A little make-up, a costume, that's the general idea of how you look on this show this week. That's how you look all over the country. Now sing."
    Donna was perplexed. "What?"
    "I said sing, Baby. You know how, sing!"
    Nervously, Donna opened her mouth. The voice came out in a mingle of fear and uncertainty as her words echoed lightly in the gigantic Hall, sounding hollow without the accompaniment of an orchestra.
    "You got the idea?" Hughes said. Donna faltered, stopped. Hughes fluttered his hand at her. "Keep singing, honey, don't stop. But keep listening to me..."
    Donna picked up the tune again. Hughes leered at her, not paying attention, to the sound of her voice, but rather where the voice came from. "Remember I told you I had it all planned? Had everything all planned? But now you're talking about making changes on me, aren't you? And that makes problems. Keep watching your self on that monitor."
    He turned his back to the color camera. "Now I'm gonna show you the problems you make if things get changed around. That's you, on the monitor there, that's you on my show. But if we start having changes, here's what happens. Here's my problem."
    Hughes raised his right hand. Deliberately, he placed his palm over the lens of the camera. On the monitor, where--a moment before--Donna's image had been, there was sudden darkness. Donna stopped singing.
    "And that's my problems," Hughes said. "All of a sudden there's nothing there. And I have to find something else to fill up that nothing for the show. See what I mean?"
    Donna swung her eyes slowly back to him, then to the monitor, then to him. She saw how he was mentally undressing her. So was half the production crew. It wasn't her voice at all that interested them.
    "Now, honey," Hughes said, "would you us step aside? I've got this work to do.'' Woodenly, Donna walked out of the circle of light, over to where Keller was standing. She looked up at him. "I thought you were wrong," she said, "I really did."
    "I'm sorry," Keller said. "It's like that sometimes, Donna. But not all the time."
    She turned around and walked toward the square metal-plated door through which they'd entered the hall. Keller followed her.
    "Listen," he said to her when they were outside, ''tomorrow night we'll go out and do things up, small-scale, okay? Dinner, show, that bit?"
    Donna sounded tired. "Give me a ring later. Call me. I'm going home now."
    Keller wanted to go with her, but knew better "I'll give you a ring," he said and pressed her arm.
    Keller shook his head, wanting to do something knowing nothing to do. Later, perhaps, when the humiliation was behind her, when the disappointment was gone, maybe then he could .
    Donna had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. And then she turned and her shoulders straightened. She began to walk back towards him, and now her legs swung out and she walked with purpose, briskly.
    Keller looked into her face as she neared him. Her mouth was a tight line.
    And suddenly he understood. She was about to march back in there and start chewing out Teddy Hughes!
    He had to smile. And, of course, he had to stop her. She'd only make a fool of herself Hughes would laugh in her face.
    Now she was in front of him. "Don't try to, stop me," she said.
    Keller couldn't help laughing at the determination in her voice. "Come on, honey. What for? You'll be better off throwing dishes at the wall at home. Let it go. It was a cheap education. Forget about it."
    She looked at him steadily, unsmiling.
    "Don," he said, "what can you do--brain him with the mike boom? Come on. Honey, I know how you feel, but--well, let it go for now. Listen, I was thinking, tomorrow night, we can go on over..."
    "No," she cut in, "not tomorrow night. I'm busy tomorrow night."
    "I told you about it,'' she said evenly. "There's this date with Teddy Hughes, remember? I cant talk now, darling. I'm already late for rehearsal. Call me in a couple of days?"
    And she brushed past Keller, tugged on the door to the rehearsal hall and disappeared into the light inside.

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