Chapters

Larry Parks

A Royal Visit and Last Days at The Grand

Larry Parks & Betty Garrett are appearing at the Empire this week, and they are staying at the Grand!! Larry is even more handsome in real life, than on film. He's tall and broad and has dark wavy hair, with just a touch of grey at the temples, a nice healthy looking tan and beautiful dark brown eyes, with dark, curly lashes. He is just so good looking I can hardly take my eyes off him!
Although their room is only on the 2nd floor, he uses the lift quite a lot, but he is so impatient, he seems to think that the lift gates are going to open automatically, (I expect they do in America!) and he's always rushing to get out before I have had chance to open them. He came in the lift wearing dark glasses, which I thought was such a shame - hiding those lovely brown eyes! As he stood next to me I tried to catch a glimpse behind the glasses, but he must have sensed me looking up at him, and gave me a strange sort of look. Went to see Larry and Betty at the Empire, unfortunately, the theatre was only about a third full, which was a pity because I thought they were really very good. Because Larry Parks only mimed to the voice of Al Jolson in 'The Jolson Story' and 'Jolson Sings Again', I did not know that he could, in fact, sing. I thought their song and dance routine was excellent, most enjoyable, but this is the era of skiffle, rock'n roll and jive. I suppose to most young people, it's just not 'groovy man'! Perhaps this is why Larry Parks appears to be in such bad humour, he shouted at poor Martin.
Two fingers on my right hand lay testimony to that impatience and ill humour. Impatient to get out of the lift on one occasion, he went to open the gate himself, at the same time that I had my fingers in the gate, ready to open it, with the consequence that my fingers were crushed between the concertinaed gates. He left the lift, apparently unaware of what had happened. Instinctively, I put my rapidly swelling fingers in my mouth, in an attempt to stem the pain. I stood there for a while, trying to hold back the tears, praying no one would suddenly come round the corner and find me there, sniffling like a baby. Later, when he next came in the lift, I purposely held my hand, with the two red, swollen fingers, against the gate, in the hope that he might notice and comment, but he was, as always, lost in his own dark, unhappy thoughts.

I still hadn't asked him for his autograph, his countenance didn't seem very encouraging! Betty Garrett was completely different, she was very friendly and sweet natured. I was so tempted to show her my bruised fingers and say "Look what your husband has done!" but never found the courage. It was obvious he didn't have a clue, and it would just have embarrassed him. On the day of his departure, Martin was sent upstairs to collect their luggage.
The large leather cases were lined up along the corridor, how little Martin was supposed to get them into the lift, I don't know, being taller than him, I attempted to pick one up, a loud, angry voice bellowed down the corridor "Put that down, you'll damage yourself"! (What a pity I didn't respond with "Too late, you've already done that"!). Dennis was sent for, and he hoisted them into the lift with no little effort, I think the suitcases must have weighed a ton, even when empty! By this time, I was so scared of Larry Parks that I never plucked up courage to ask for a signed photo, which, despite everything, I would have loved. Eventually, I lost the nails on both damaged fingers (Is it too late to sue??) Of course, new nails were already growing; we repair quickly at that age. But they grew back misshapen. (And have caused me problems to this very day - what a legacy to remind me of my 'hero'!)
We get all kinds of people staying at the Grand, most are very nice, but we get the occasional unpleasant guest. One turned on me one day and asked why I didn't get a 'proper' job!! I was so taken aback, he'd gone before I had the chance to list for him, the myriad of tasks that I have to accomplish each day. The trouble is, I'm not really suited to hotel work, I'm just not subservient enough. Despite coming from a very working class background, I see myself as being just as good as the next person, and I hate being talked down to!
Unfortunately, this is my lot, at the Grand, I am the lowest of the low. I utterly loath this attitude, and often find it hard to hold on to my tongue, but one wrong word and I shall be out on my ear, and getting the sack is a fate too dreadful to consider - the shame of it. I would not know how to face anyone, friends, family, parents. Also, I just love meeting people, especially the 'Stars'. So leaving would be a very difficult decision to make.
The hotel seems to be overflowing with famous people at the moment. Ted Heath, Eric Delaney and Ted Ray, are here, as well as champion golfers, here for the Ryder Cup. Also American singer Alan Jones (father of Jack Jones) who had a major hit with 'Donkey Serenade'. The following week (Oct. 13th) Shirley Bassey stays here.
October 21st - This week singer Emund Hockridge, actor James Hayter, and comedians Jack Douglas and Joe Baker are here. Also Yana. One of the nicest people I ever met, was popular singer and actress, Yana. A really beautiful lady - if ever I would have aspired to look like someone, it would have been she. She was so charming, she made me feel like 'someone' rather than just a commodity. She was so stunning, that every pair of eyes followed her, when she walked through the hotel!
Thursday October 24th 1957 - There was great excitement when we heard The Duke of Edinburgh was visiting Sheffield and would spend some time at the Grand. Now the time had come for me to have that new uniform - blue velvet? white satin? More like brown serge! Despite being measured up for this new creation, it was clearly intended to fit just about any type of figure. It was too long and hung like a sack. I would have given anything to have the old uniform back again! Ok. It had shiny gold braid and buttons, but it made me realise that it was time I got out of a uniform once and for all. To add to my discomfort, I was given a pair of hideous white gloves that belonged to Mr. Rendall's wife, and were far too big for my small hands.
Trying on my uniform for the first time, Mr. Fleming, the Head Porter insisted on a minute appraisal. Standing in front of him at the Porter's desk, he brushed imaginary dust from the gold fringes on my shoulders, then, gripping the gold braid that ran down the left and right front of my uniform, from the shoulders to the waist, ran his fingers slowly and insidiously from top to bottom, pausing ever so briefly as the tips of his fingers brushed against my breasts, all the time, smiling that slow sickening smile I had come to despise. I gazed at his large yellow teeth in disgust. His calculating, watery blue eyes behind the square, frameless spectacles gazed back at me. I feel the anger rising up inside, but recognize the futility of it. (The humiliation of that moment has stayed with me, and, as we all do in these situations, have gone over it time and time again, telling myself I should have done this or I should have done that. Perhaps I should have knocked his hands away, leaving him in no doubt that I knew precisely what he was doing, or taken a step back, out of his reach, and fixed him with a cold, haughty glare. Ah, hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Neither reaction would have made my situation there any more tenable. Sometimes it is best to have done nothing - even though it may be far from satisfactory. But this can be achieved with the mind - I take myself back in time, living each moment over again, allowing full reign to my anger I raise my hand, pull back my arm and land a smackeroo of a slap across that leering, lecherous face, the sound echoes around the front hall, bouncing off the walls - the faces of staff and guests alike, turn in our direction! Revenge complete, I storm through the front hall, and stomp my way down stairs to the staff room - terrifying the life out of those small brown creatures who have plagued me for far too long. I rip the uniform from my body, tearing at the gold buttons and braid, finally stamping it into the dank, dusty floor. I throw on my clothes with glee I'm leaving this place for good, as I pass the time keepers office I signal a 'fond' sign of farewell, and the final triumph- I don't clock out! As I climb the iron stairs to the pavement and freedom, I drink in the freshness of the cold air - and then reality hits me, I've just sacked myself, whatever am I going to tell my mum?)
On the day of 'The Visit', all the staff gather in the Front Hall to await the arrival of The Duke of Edinburgh. I was the focus of attention. As we all stood by, people who had never spared me a glance before, were now actually smiling at me, the excitement palpable. Eventually Prince Philip and his equerry arrive, they are lead by Mr Rendall swiftly towards where I am waiting to whisk them up to the 2nd floor. I feel very conscious of having the Duke of Edinburgh just inches away from me - and the formidable presence of Mr. Rendall! The Duke and his equerry both thank me politely, as they leave the lift but Mr. Rendall doesn't spare me a glance. When I return to the ground floor, every one looks towards the lift expectantly - I grin feebly, I really do not care for all this attention - I feel rather silly having everyone staring in my direction, and they stand around probably feeling equally silly, shuffling their feet a bit and not knowing if they dare say a word to each other - such are the constraints under which we work.
After a while, I'm summoned to collect them, The Duke of Edinburgh enters the lift first, then his equerry, too quickly, I close the lift gates and prepare to descend, an imperious rattling on the lift gates had me opening them smartly - to reveal the rather flustered face of Mr. Rendell! Flustered, I think, because his instinct to give me a right old rollicking, had to be controlled in the presence of our illustrious guests. I shot a quick, nervous glance at the Prince, his composure remained intact, but was there the merest tremor at the corners of his mouth? I had been warned not to jolt the lift in any way, I was trembling from head to toe and controlling the lift so that it arrived smoothly at the ground floor, was no mean feat.
Somehow I managed to deposit everyone safely back onto terra ferma, and as Prince Philip left the lift, he acknowledged me with a slight incline of his head, his blue eyes sparkling delightfully. Suddenly I felt good, confident even. I knew only too well what was in store for me, (perhaps Prince Philip did too), but I didn't care - I decided there and then that I was leaving the Grand, no doubt I would still get that flea in my ear, for shutting Mr. Rendell out of the lift. But I was moving on - no more ghastly uniforms, no more being treated like dirt - no more meeting the Stars! (boo hoo!) I was going to break free - I was going to be me!

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