Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the memoirs of Neel S. Yent, born Oct. 7, 1896 near Whiskey George. Yent recorded his life memories at the request of his children and grandchildren.
Our Chasing Shadows question for this week: What Ethel Barrymore film is likely described in this story? If you can answer, please contact the Times at 653-8868 or Lois Swoboda at email@example.com.
A Different World
The journey to Jacksonville was by boat (The Crescent City) from Apalachicola to Carrabelle, then to Jacksonville by train. On the morning for my departure everyone was up early as I had to be aboard the Crescent City by 7:15. Before boarding, the “good-byes” at dockside were somewhat emotional and standing on the upper deck as the boat ‘sidled’ away from the dock I could see Mama dabbling her eyes with her handkerchief. My visit with Captain Andy Wing in the pilot house listening to his kind words of encouragement helped somewhat to relieve my mental trauma of leaving home.
The day after I arrived in Jacksonville and after having been instructed by my sister how to get to town and back home by street car, I started to hunt a job, hopefully in an automobile repair shop. I got off the street car at Bay and Main Streets. I didn’t know the location of any repair shops but surmised that the most likely place for one would be on Main Street so I began walking north on Main Street.
Believe me that first step I took in that direction that day I know I was directed by the Hand of God for at the corner of Main and Beaver Streets stood the garage I had hoped to find. I went in and introduced myself to the owner, Mr. Rollison and asked him for a job. He hired me as a mechanic’s helper at nine dollars a week, six days per week. I was introduced to the shop foreman, Bill Jones. Little did I know that I had met the man who would be solely responsible for launching me into a successful, lifetime, business career. I was highly elated at having found a job at the “first stop,” and the nine dollars a week was divided three ways – three to sister Lena for room and board, three to apply as payment on the bank note and three for my incidentals and out of my share I did save enough to buy a second-hand, double-breasted brown suit from Old Abe Abronovitz who had a second hand store next to the garage.
Bill Jones was the most skillful mechanic I have ever known and he soon took quite an interest in me because often he’d work until midnight (there was no 40-hour week nor overtime then) and I would stay and help him for I was learning fast by his tutelage. There were several customers who wouldn’t let anyone but Bill Jones work on their cars. Mr. George Moredock, District Manager for International Harvester Company, who owned a Cadillac, was one of them.
I shall divert here, because I want to tell about the most stupid thing I’ve ever done that could have gotten me fired and this through uncontrolled curiosity. One morning as I got off the street car a crowd of about 100 people came running by headed for the ferry at the foot of Main Street. Without asking any questions, and to this day I don’t know why, I joined the crowd. We boarded the ferry and headed down the river. I was then told that we were a group of ‘extras’ to be involved in making a movie they were filming out in the woods. I was bewildered but there was no turning back for me.
When we landed the director explained the plot and what we were to do. I think whoever wrote the thing must have just recovered from an orgy. THE PLOT: Ethel Barrymore was then one of America’s leading actresses. She was in love with this gypsy character who her father resented, so they were going to elope on horseback. We were instructed to each get a stick and at a signal the mob was to start running after the gypsy who was riding a horse. Can you imagine how fast a horse can run when he sees a mob coming after him, each with a stick in his hand?
Anyway, after running a marathon all day the plot ended as they all usually do. The ‘lovers’ won out and with Ethel in the saddle and her gypsy mounted behind her –on the same horse- they rode off into the sunset. When we returned by ferry we ‘peons’ were instructed where to go to collect our day’s pay. I had great expectations for a sizeable stipend for I’d heard that people in the movie business were well paid.
I was almost thrown into a complete molt, however, when I presented my ticket at the pay window and was given a one dollar bill. This for running all day with a piece of pine limb in my hand trying to catch a horse. This episode did provide me with a valuable lesson that I’ve retained through my years: Never succumb to morbid curiosity. I dreaded facing my boss the next morning for fear of being fired, but when I told him about the episode and when he ceased laughing he told me: “Now let this be a good lesson for you. Get back there and get to work.”