That was the first time that anyone ever called her an actress--
June 1st, 1922, Bethel's sixth birthday. There was no spotlight,
no incidental music, and her only audience were her mother and a
small dog looking regretfully through the window of a boarding-
house. But she was sensational.
Her mother and she were on their way to the A. & P. Store, and as
usual Bethel had with the greatest violence been running in
circles. She was slight and small and entirely feminine, but she
was the best runner in her neighbourhood.
She stopped, then moved with a queer slow hitching. In front of
them an old lady was scraping along, sunk forward from her
shoulders as though she had given up all hope of ease and love.
Her whole life seemed to be in her painfully sliding feet. Bethel
tried to recreate that dejected walk, and she went at it so
earnestly that the back of her neck ached with the weight of
sagging shoulders, and every step was a frightened effort.
Her mother interrupted.
'Good gracious, don't copy folks that way, Bethel. You'll hurt
The small, black-eyed child halted, in protest.
'Oh! I'm not copying her. I'm trying to be her. I can be a lot
of different people.'
'My, aren't we grown-up! I'm afraid that you like to show off,
dear--the way you always say your text so loud in Sunday school.'
'I love to say texts! "I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole
heart. I will show forth all thy marvellous works".'
'It all sounds like maybe you're going to be an actress. I guess
that wouldn't be a bad text for an actress.'
'Look how the poor old lady's heels are run down,' said Bethel, too
busy with her career for prophecies of glory.
Bethel was born in 1916, on the day after the Battle of Jutland.
Her father, kneeling by the bed, had prayed, 'Dear Lord, please
make this baby a child of peace and justice--yes, and happiness,
Five months after the six-year-old Bethel gave her imitation of the
old lady, the Black Shirts marched bravely into the maws of the
movie cameras in Rome; and five months after that, Hitler bounded
out of a Munich beer garden. But perhaps it was as important that
at this time John Barrymore was playing Hamlet and Pauline Lord
Anna Christie and the Theatre Guild producing Back to Methuselah.
They were so much less stagy.
Herbert Merriday, Bethel's father, was a dealer in furniture, to
which, later, he was importantly to add electric refrigerators and
radios. They lived in Sladesbury, a city of 127,000, in central
Connecticut, a fount of brassware, hardware, arms, precision
instruments, clocks. Here is the renowned establishment of
Lilydale & Duck, makers of machine-guns for killing policemen and
revolvers for killing gangsters and the Duck Typewriter for
joyfully chronicling both brands of killing.