Billie Carleton, 1916 Cover Girl

Long before there was a cover design forĀ Like Any Other Monday, I put together for myself a binder of photo images to help me along with Billy Pascoe and Lucinda Hart, the two main characters in my novel who comprise the vaudeville musical comedy duo, Pascoe & Hart. The title page for the binder looks something like this:

Like Any Other Monday

Images, ideas, atmosphere

~ 1916-17 ~

Vaudeville

~ Pascoe & Hart ~

(The Three Keatons)

It was easy enough to find images of Billy Pascoe’s archetype, Buster Keaton. I’d seen many during my research trip to the Margaret Herrick Library, and my favourites among them turned up (in much lower resolution) here and there on the Internet.

Within the binder I assembledĀ some great photos of Buster the child vaudevillian, taken around 1900 when he was five or six years old, as well as one of the Three Keatons’ one-sheet that helped me to find my toe-hold with the story in its very early stages. There is a letter written by Buster’s father, Joe, to his former business partner Harry Houdini, who, according to Keaton family legend, gave little Joseph Frank Keaton the nickname “Buster.” And there are some publicity photos of Buster taken around 1917, just as he was making his way at 21 years of age – exactly Billy Pascoe’s age – in the motion picture industry, apprenticing with Roscoe Arbuckle.

One of my favourites is of Buster posing with a broom, a favourite prop of his during his vaudeville years and in his early movies (and which features prominently in my novel). In the photograph he is sweeping the floor and facing the camera with a quizzical expression as though to say, “Er, may I help you?”

It was one thing to come up with images reminiscent of Billy, but Lucinda was another matter altogether. There was no character sketch, no archetype; I had made her up. Entirely. I came to know Lucinda through my imagination and through Billy’s eyes, and when I came across this 1916 photo of the British musical comedy actress Billie Carleton, I instantly recognized something in her of Lucinda.

Billie Carleton (Bassano 1916_s)

When the time came to start thinking about the book’s cover design, my editor at Gaspereau Press was interested in any thoughts or images I had, so I sent along some ideas and included this photo and the Buster Broom photo, and left it at that.

Some months later when I saw the preliminary sketches of the cover, I nearly fell out of my chair. Wesley Bates, the artist commissioned to do the cover engraving, had done a stunning job of incorporating these images in his rendering of the view from the wings in a vaudeville playhouse. He took both Buster and Billie and turned them around, facing away from the viewer and toward the audience, and with his own magic involving light and shadow and lines, he turned them into Billy and Lucinda. It’s a striking piece of art. There’s no question that it is a story about the theatre and its off-stage workings, and the suggestion of connection between the two players and their audience comes across vividly.

Billie Carleton died tragically young, which quite chokes me up when I think about it, but it makes me happy to know that nearly 100 years later there is an essence of her on the cover of my novel.

(A few more links here and here)

Categories: General and My Books.