Stephen Rourke paced with anticipation as he waited in the long hall outside of the dressing rooms. The walls of the old theater were lined with photographs of actors and actresses who had once walked the stage beyond, but they held no interest for the 18 year old. His only thoughts were of the woman whose name was written in gold on the decades old wood.
His heartbeat raced in anticipation at the thought that he was actually going to get the chance to talk to her. To have a conversation with a living legend.
It had only been a month since the blond haired young man had finally managed to work up the courage to write her a letter. No, that wasn't really true. Stephen had written many letters over the last few months. This was the first time he'd had the nerve to mail one of them.
The film history major had told how he'd discovered one of her old movies on AMC late one night last year and had been totally captivated by her. So much so that he made it a point to find a copy of each of her films. No easy feat since aside for a few cameo roles, the most recent of her movies was twenty-five years old.
His bookcase back home contained six books on her career, including two unauthorized biographies. With his letter, Stephen had also sent a copy of his freshman paper, which of course had been all about her life and times.
The most Stephen had hoped for when he mailed that letter was a personally autographed photograph. Maybe a little note of thanks for his interest.
Instead, when he'd opened the return letter, two front row tickets to her current Broadway show had fallen out. Along with a handwritten invitation to come backstage and meet her after the show.
The day after classes ended for the semester, Stephen took what money he had managed to save during the year and boarded a Greyhound bus to New York. It was a sixteen-hour trip from Greenwood Falls, but that was a small price to pay to live out a dream.
Reaching out to knock on the door, Stephen gulped as it suddenly swung open and a large black woman stepped out. She stood at least two inches shorter than his five foot six but seemed at least twice his hundred and thirty five pounds.
"Can I help you, young man?" She said, her voice carrying a tone of annoyance.
"I ... I'm hear to see Miss Thomas." He managed to stammer out.
"Miss Thomas doesn't see people in her dressing room," the woman said in a cold, hard voice. "If you call her office..."
"But she invited me..." Stephen quickly offered. "She sent me a ticket to the show and said I should come backstage afterward."
"Yeah, right..." the large, somewhat angry, woman answered as she moved to close the door.
"Is there a problem, Katie?" came a voice from within the room. A voice so familiar that it was like music to Stephen's ears.
"Just some kid looking for an autograph. Even claims you invited him." Katie said laughingly. "I was just getting rid of him."
"Please," Stephen implored as the door began to close in his face. "She really did send me a letter. I sent her a copy of the paper I did on her film career."
"Oh Lord!" the voice that had graced a hundred stages yelled. "I'd forgotten all about it, I did send him a ticket to the show!"
Stephen smiled at her words and gave Katie a 'told you so' look of satisfaction. In return she gave him a cold, hostile stare.
"Please let the young man in." continued the actress.
At that, Katie stopped the door in mid-motion and slowly reopened it. Somewhat reluctantly, she stepped aside to let Stephen enter. As he walked by her, she shook her head in disbelief.
Once inside the dressing room, Stephen took in his surrounding. The room was large, as befitting someone of her status. On the walls were photos of her in many roles, both in film and on the stage. A small kitchenette occupied one corner, and a pullout couch in another. It resembled more a small apartment than a dressing room.
"I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding," came the voice from behind a changing partition. "I totally forgot about sending that invitation."
"Will you be needing anything else, Miss Thomas?" Katie said.
"No, I'm done for the evening, thank you, Katie."
"I've no problem staying around until your visitor is ready to leave." Katie said as she stood her ground by the open door.
"No, I don't think that'll be necessary, Kate dear," the object of Stephen's admiration called out. "I'm sure Mister ... err ... Mister..."
"Rourke." Stephen interjected.
"Thank you," she said. "I'm sure Mister Rourke and I can manage a quiet chat between ourselves quite well. After all, I did invite him."
With that the black woman turned and left, leaving Stephen an even harder stare as she exited.
A rush of excitement filled Stephen as he looked at the many images of the star on the wall. They covered a career spanning more than four decades, all the way back to her first role in 1953 when she was 17. He remembered the movie well, having seen it more than a half dozen times.
"All right, here I come, ready or not," the voice behind the barrier finally said.
Stephen felt his heart skip a beat as she stepped into view. In his mind he knew that Cynthia Thomas had just passed her sixty-first birthday, but his eyes couldn't believe she was older than her late forties.
Short silver gray hair rested atop a blue silk dressing robe. From what he could see of her body beneath it, it was obvious that she took serious care of it. Her smile, he thought, was infectious — exactly as it had been in the first of her films he had seen. One made so many years before.
"Can I offer you something to drink?" She asked as she stepped into the center of the room and the full light. "Juice, soda, or maybe something a little stronger?"
"Err ... soda would be fine." He said.
"Coming right up." Cynthia smiled as she moved to the small wet bar. "You must forgive Katie," she said as she poured a soda for Stephen and a scotch for herself. "I'm not in the habit of receiving visitors after a show, and she does tend to be somewhat protective."
"That's ok," Stephen said as he accepted the drink, hoping she didn't notice the slight tremor in his hand. "I still can't believe you invited me here."
"Well..." Cynthia said as she sat down in a large chair and motioned for Stephen to take a seat on the couch. "It's been a long time since I've gotten a letter like yours — in fact what fan mail I do get these days is usually from "old" men or someone wanting me to endorse something or other. To be honest, I was intrigued by your letter — all twelve pages of it."
"I really didn't mean for it to go on and on like that Miss Thomas," Stephen said, a little embarrassed. "But once I started, it was hard to stop."
"Hold on now..." Cynthia said as she held up her hand, "This 'Miss Thomas' stuff ends right here, you make me sound old enough to be your mother. My friends call me Cynthia ... and if you really must ... Cindy."
Stephen's face beamed at this granting of intimacy. Never mind that Cynthia Thomas was only four years younger than his grandmother, never mind his mother.
"So tell me a little more about yourself Stephen." She said.
Fighting back his nervousness, the college freshman told pretty much the story of his life. It took all of ten minutes.
"I have to say again how impressed by that paper you wrote about me." Cynthia said. "I thought it was a lot better written than some of the crap some of those Hollywood hacks put out."
"Really?" Stephen said. "You liked it?"
"Yes I did," Cynthia replied. "In fact, reading it got me thinking again about actually writing my autobiography. My agent and a few of the publishing houses have been after me to do it for years. My chance to tell my side of the story so to speak."
"I'd love to read that," Stephen said. "I bet it would be a really interesting book."
"You have no idea how interesting," Cynthia grinned as she took another sip of her drink. "You're looking at one babe who knows where all the bodies were buried." she laughed. "And more important to book sales, who was sleeping in whose bed."
"Really?" Stephen said, trying not to sound too curious.
"Really." Cynthia repeated. "And the real story, not the stuff that finds its way into all the papers."
"Like what?" Stephen asked, unable to totally stifle his curiosity.
"Well..." Cynthia pondered as she ran her manicured fingers across her lips. "I guess a fan like you deserves a little reward."
Cynthia stood up to her full five foot five height and stepped over to the pictures on the wall. She pointed to the photo that Stephen had been admiring before.
"I assume you recognize the other woman in the picture." she said.
"Of course," Stephen said as he looked at the late thirtyish blonde in the photograph. "That's Pamela Ryan."
"That's right, Pamela Ryan, the darling of the silver and later television screen." Cynthia went on. "Miss Sugar and Spice of the 1940's."
Although not one of his favorites, Stephen was familiar enough with Pamela Ryan. After a long movie career playing the girl next door, she became everyone's favorite TV mom in the series 'Our Little Family'. It was one of the first big sitcom hits of the 1950's.
"What would you think if I told you that Pamela Ryan was a prime contender for Queen Dyke of Hollywood back then." Cynthia said.
"No shit!" Stephen said in surprise.
.... There is more of this story ...