“A Criminal Star” by Bram Stoker

‘Of course, you all remember Wolseley Gartside -‘

‘Rather!’ This was from the Tragedian. ‘I remember when he took that name. Indeed, I was not pleased with him about it; it clashed with the name I had taken myself – or, rather – ahem! – which my sponsors took for me at my christening. I consoled myself with the reflection that Wolseley was a later name historically than Wellesley.’ The Advance Agent went on:

‘Gartside, like many others who have risen from the ranks – the ranks of his profession – was, well, a wee, tiny bit over-sensitive in matters of public esteem. In fact, he did not like to be neglected -‘

Here the Second Heavies interrupted with a rapidity and acerbity which left an impression that indignation was founded on aggrievement:

‘”Over-sensitive in matters of public esteem!” I like that. He had got the swelled head bad, if that be what you mean. He wanted the earth, he did! The way he hustled other people off the posters was indecent! And the size of type he clamoured for was an inducement to blindness and an affront to the common sense of an educated community.’ The Advance Agent went on calmly:

‘- did not like to be neglected. This was all bad enough when he was engaged by someone else; but when he was out on his own with nothing to check him except the reports of his treasurer, he became a holy terror. There wasn’t any crowding of names off the bill then; there were simply no names at all. Names of other people, I mean; his name was all right so long as the paper was up to the biggest stands, and the types were the largest to be had in the town. Later on he went even further and had all his printing done in London or New York from types cut special.’ The Second Heavies cut in again:

‘No! Mr Wolseley Gartside didn’t mean to get neglected so long as there was a public Press to be influenced or a hoarding to be covered.’

‘Exactly!’ said the Advance Agent drily. He was beginning to fear that his pitch would be queered by the outpouring of the grievances of the Second Heavies. The professional instinct of the audience made for peace. They were all trained to listen. Mr Alphage seized the opportunity, and went on:

‘When he was arranging his first American tour he wanted to get someone who, as a persona grata, could command the Press; who understood human nature to the core; who had the instinct of a diplomatist, the experience of a field-marshall, the tact of an Attorney-General; the -‘

‘All right, old man. We know you took him in tow.’

‘Thank you, Bones! I understand. Gartside was a tragedian, too, and of course wanted the whole stage. They’re all the same.’

‘Well, of all the -‘ began Dovercourt; but there he stopped. There was a readiness of repartee about the Advance Agent that disturbed his self-serenity.

‘So I took him in tow, as Bones calls it. I thought my work was piloting. But Bones knows; he, too, belongs to the hungry, egotist lot who have to be dragged into publicity – like Wolseley Gartside!

‘Well, before I started out, which he insisted should be a full week ahead of him, he began to teach me my business. At first I pointed out to him that the whole mechanism of advance publicity wasn’t wrong because he hadn’t done it. But he took me up short, and expressed his opinions pretty freely, I admit. He gave me quite a dissertation on publicity, telling me that to hit the public you must tell them plenty. They wanted to know all about a man; they didn’t care much whether it was good or bad; but on the whole they preferred bad. Then he went on to give me what he called my instructions. That I was to have paragraphs about him every day. “Make me out,” he said, “a sort of Don Juan, with a fierce, revengeful nature. A man from whose hate no man is safe; no woman from his love. Never mind moral character. The public don’t want it – nor no more do I. Say whatever you please about me so long as you make people talk. Now I don’t want argument with you. Do you just carry out my instructions, and all will be well. But if you don’t, you’ll get the order of the chuck.” I didn’t want to argue with him. To begin with, a man like that isn’t worth argument – especially about instructions. Instructions! Just fancy an Advance Agent who knows his business being instructed by a Star that he has got to boom, and to whose vanity – no, sensitiveness – he has to minister. Why, compared with even a duffer at my work the biggest and brightest star in the theatrical firmament don’t know enough to come in out of the rain! I was very angry with him, I admit; but in a flash there came to me out of his own very instructions an idea which put anger out of my mind. The top dog isn’t angry – though he may bite! “Very well, Mr Wolseley Gartside,” said I to myself, said I, “I’ll carry out your instructions with exactness. They’re yours, not mine; so if anything comes out wrong you are the responsible party.” Before I went to bed I wrote out a mem of my “instructions.”

‘”The public want to know everything about a man. Tell them plenty – all they want. They don’t care whether it’s good or bad. On the whole, they prefer bad. Give them paragraphs every day. Make me a Don Juan, fierce, revengeful, passionate. No man safe from my hate; no woman from my love. Don’t aim at moral character; the public don’t want it; no more do I. Say whatever you please about me so long as you make people talk. Make things lively before I come!”

To read the rest of this story visit:
A Criminal Star at bramstoker.org

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About bramstokerdotorg

I am the managing editor www.bramstoker.org a website dedicated to Bram Stoker the author of Dracula. View all posts by bramstokerdotorg

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