HOME   

 


LITERARY ENTERTAINMENTS
Script Excerpts

LINKS TO:
Murder and Madness and Poe

Mark Twain: Telling Tales
Great Scott and Zelda
Lillie Alone
The Ghost of Dorothy Parker
Jazz Baby Joan
Abe Lincoln in the 21st Century

MURDER AND MADNESS AND POE

(MUSIC CUE 2) — POE’S ENTRANCE — ESTABLISH, THEN DOWN

POE

(enters carrying a large black portfolio, several small books, and an hourglass. He walks
toward the chair — glances at his surroundings — waits to be invited to sit; it doesn’t happen;
tries to get the attention of four unseen men who are assumed to be in the direction of the audience.)

 

Gentlemen.  Please, gentlemen.  I’m sorry to interrupt, but my time is very — I don’t have all — well, yes, I suppose I do have all day. Gentlemen, your appointment has arrived.  I am Edgar Poe. 

(evidently they look up and speak; POE smiles)  

Thank you. Yes, thank you, I would prefer to sit. 

(POE sits, rests hourglass [top chamber is empty] on table
by his chair; he touches the wine decanter) 

That’s kind of you; but I’ll abstain. A little water, perhaps. 

(pours water from ornate pitcher [actor takes sips
when needed]; then realizes he has lost them again)
 

Gentlemen, I am loath to interrupt, but you did, after all, ask me to come.  I am therefore here, although I am not altogether sure why you — am I to understand that your purpose is to audition me?  But surely you know, at least know of me.  I am author of “The Raven.” 

MUSIC GRADUALLY OUT

I see.  It is not the reputation of the poetry you question,  but that of the poet. I see. I’m sorry: I just realized you called me Eddy. I’d prefer that you didn’t — certainly not in publicity. Edgar A. Poe, please. Eddy is — (amused)  I beg your pardon? Informally? Well I suppose you may, if you must.  My friends do use Eddy. I am not certain thus far that you four gentlemen will qualify. (courteously)  I see. I do see. Yes, gentlemen, I admit I was ill on the occasion of that particular lecture last year— 

(they interrupt) 

Inebriated, then, if you insist. The indiscretion haunts me. A fleeting perverseness. Hasn’t everyone, now and again, found himself committing a stupid act for no reason except because he knows he should not do it?  And no, I was not arrested — merely questioned by the police. Please consider, instead, my earlier lecture that year on American Poets and Poetry, which drew an enthusiastic audience of eighteen hundred in Providence!  (more calmly) And recall my most recent lecture, "The Universe," presented at the prestigious Society Library in New York. It was hailed as — as — 

(hastily opens portfolio and extracts two clippings, reads from them)

“a nobler effort than any other Mr. Poe has yet given the world” and another critic said “it demonstrates a degree of logical acumen that has not been equaled since the days of Sir Isaac Newton.” It was just this past February, on the third. My most important contribution was to explain a theory of planet formation out of swirling and hardening gasses —

(they interrupt; POE is delighted)

Oh yes that’s true! I did claim to prove the existence of a transcendental soul and a higher Being.  But I must tell you candidly that my whole nature utterly revolts at the idea that there is any Being superior to myself!  The audience? Vastly enthusiastic; but only about sixty people, I’m afraid. There was, unfortunately, a snow storm that evening.

(frantically, then dreamily)

Gentlemen I assure you I have not touched a drop of alcohol or a dram of laudanum since January, and here it is October. Nowadays I rise early, eat moderately, drink nothing but water, and take regular and abundant exercise in the open air.  My earlier — lapses — I attribute to sad fortunes. It seems at times that I am plagued by death on all sides. I lost my mother, whose memory I worship, and my wife who gave the world grace and meaning. Sickness haunts me.  I live with spirits on the printed page. In reveries. In dreams. In waking dreams. 

(MUSIC CUE 3)

(drifts off, distracted by a waking dream)

I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

(addresses the hourglass)

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream? 

(slowly turns hourglass over, so that it begins to
measure time; his unseen interviewers interrupt) 

I beg your pardon? I’m sorry; I was just — remembering. 

(recovers from vagueness, rises energetically)

Since January, I assure you, I have not allowed a day to pass without writing one to three pages. Just yesterday I wrote five, and the day before I composed a poem I believe will rival “The Raven” in popularity.  I call it “The Bells.” 

                   

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

In retaliation, Thomas English published in the New York Mirror a vicious attack charging that I was duplicitous, impotent, and a cowardly drunk!  Making matters more incendiary, The Mirror also published his novel in which I was parodied as the author of a stupid poem called “The Black Crow.” I had no recourse but to sue him and his publisher for libel. Judge and jury awarded me $226.06 plus court costs. Most of that has gone to pay debts incurred during my late wife’s illness.    

(amused)

Revenge? Oh, yes. A few reviewers even guessed that I used Mr. Thomas English as a model for the pompous Fortunato in “The Cask of Amontillado” whom I murdered most imaginatively.

(opens book he brought with him; reads)  

(MUSIC CUE 4)

 I called myself Montresor in the story.

(narrates with histrionic glee,
Italian accent for the frantic Fortunato)

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged — this was a point definitively settled — but I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. It must be understood that neither by word or deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now  was at the thought of his immolation.

(looks up with an evil attitude) 

I accomplish my revenge, you see, and escape without capture or punishment or guilt. In the final moment, after I have chained the petty and pretentious man to a granite wall in the catacombs:

(turns to the end of the story; back in character)

"Fortunato, still believing my actions to be a joke, cries out, “But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo? Let us be gone! Yes, I said, Let us be gone. For the love of God, Montresor!! Yes, I said, For the love of God. I grew impatient. I called aloud, Fortunato!  No answer. I called again, Fortunato!  No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. My heart grew sick — on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. For half a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!"

(puts book aside) 

Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas Dunn English! Buried alive, a favorite resolution of mine!  

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

. . . consider. In Paris, "Rue Morgue" was published by one newspaper from which it was stolen and re-printed in another. The first paper sued the second for copyright infringement and lost when the French court revealed that the story sprang originally from the mind of — I can quote this verbatim: “an extraordinarily imaginative American, a Mr. E. Poe.” So consequently the story was not legally protected in France at all! 

(conspiratorially)

You know, I anticipate an even more nefarious plagiarism in England — the theft of the very type of story introduced by “Rue Morgue.” London’s professional police force has been in existence for over a decade now, and consequently an interest in crime stories over there seems limitless. Consider. Dupin, the protagonist of my mysteries, is a brilliant eccentric who relishes music and rare books – a thinker who is oft seen settling into a comfortable chair with a generous pipe of tobacco to facilitate his concentration as he solves crimes that baffle the police! He shares lodgings with an educated companion who chronicles the adventures of his amazing friend for the world to read. Mark my words; some day, some Englishman will take my formula and claim it as his own! 

(they speak; POE is reluctant to answer) 

What? I’m sorry, I — well, no, I am not responsible to a wife or family at present. My dear wife, as you may know, died last year of a lingering illness. 

(POE wanders into tearful reverie, touches the wine decanter,
as if wishing he could permit himself a sip; he doesn’t.)
 

She was my life. My child bride. Only 24 when . . . after our 10 years together, she . . . they all thought I would die with her. Once, I confess, I tried . . .  with an over-draught of laudanum. I would steal out at nights, sometimes in my stockinged feet so not to wake the house, even in the snow, to lie with her for hours at her burial vault. I was a child.

MUSIC CUE 6 -- GRADUAL RISE IN VOLUME FROM ZERO

And she was a child – in a – in our kingdom by the sea.

 (POE quotes entire poem, in reverie,
matter-of-factly, stares into the distance)
 

But we loved with a love that was more than love — I and my ANNABEL LEE;

With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago, in this kingdom by the sea,

That a wind came out of a cloud by night, Chilling and killing my ANNABEL LEE;

So that her high-born kinsman came and bore her away from me,

To shut her up in a sepulcher in this kingdom by the sea.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love of those who were older than we  . . . .

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

 

(the old man enters slowly, notices his audience with surprise, speaks to them)

Well, yes, good people, I am Mark Twain. And as folks here there and yon persistent in calling me a story teller, I’m going to talk to you this day (evening) about how that peculiar calling commenced. How it grew. How it made me incorrigible. In the process, I’ll show you how to tell a funny story. Or at least I’ll show you how I do it.

I suppose right off I should mention my memory. It comes and goes. But as most every noun and verb I ever let fall is still somewhere on a printed page, I don’t have all that much need for recollections—anymore. Sometimes what I’ve written is as surprising to me as it will be to you.

 (picks up book; starts to read; interrupts himself)

I used to remember my brother Henry walking into a fire outdoors when he was a week old.  

(interrupts himself again)

It was remarkable of me to remember a thing like that and still more remarkable that I should cling to the delusion for 30 years—for of course it never happened: he would not have been able to walk at that age.  

When I was first beginning to gain some national reputation, this gentleman here proposed to learn all about me, and then to write it up and give it out to dozens of the curious. I don’t remember whether he ever got it published. But I did. And I called it “An Encounter with an Interviewer.”

(interviewer’s voice is pinched and hyper, pretentious)

A nervous, dapper, pert young man took the chair I offered him, said he was connected with the Daily Thunderstorm, and then he said:

"Hoping it’s no harm, I’ve come to interview you."

"Come to what?"

"Interview you."

I was not feeling bright that morning. I went to the bookcase, and when I had been looking 6 or 7 minutes I said:

“How do you spell it?”

"Spell what?”

“Interview.”

"Oh, my goodness! What do you want to spell it for?”

“I don’t want to spell it; I want to see what it means.”

“Well, this is astonishing, I must say. That is, I can tell you what it means, if you—if you—if you— My dear sir, I beg your pardon, I mean no harm in the world, but you do not look as—as—intelligent as I had expected you would! No harm—I mean no harm at all. You know it is the custom, now, to interview any man who has become notorious.”

“Indeed, I had not heard of it before. It must be very interesting. What do you do with it?”

“Ah, well—well—well—this is disheartening. Customarily it consists in the interviewer asking questions and the interviewed answering them. It is all the rage now. Will you let me ask you questions calculated to bring out the salient points of your public and private history?”

“Oh, with pleasure—with pleasure.”

“Are you ready to begin?”

"Ready.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen, in June.”

"Indeed? I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six. When did you begin to write?”

“In 1836.”

“Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?”

“I don’t know. It does seem curious, somehow.”

“It does, indeed. Whom do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?”

“Aaron Burr.”

“But, but you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen—”

“Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?”

“It was only a suggestion. How did you happen to meet Burr?”

“Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day, and he asked me to make less noise . . . .”

           

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

              

. . . Do you like my button-hole? Whatever a man’s age, you know, he can reduce it by several years by putting a flower at his lapel. I watched Charles Dickens read from his stories in New York, at Steinway Hall in the winter of 1867. He wore a bright red flower against his black coat . . . and it made him young. He read with great force and animation, and it made a life-long impression on me. That was also the day I made my fortune.

 I am not speaking of money but of happiness. On that very day I was introduced to Livy, the bright flower of my life. I attended that Dickens performance with her and her family. I first saw her in the form of an ivory miniature in her brother Charley Langdon’s stateroom in the steamer “Quaker City” in the Bay of Smyrna, in the summer of 1867, when she was in her 22nd year. And I met her in the flesh when I called upon Charley at the St. Nicholas Hotel that December day. She had the heart-free laugh of a girl. It came seldom, but when it broke upon the ear, it was as inspiring as music. I heard it for the last time when she had been occupying her sick-bed for more than a year.  After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning. It is better to live outside the Garden with her, than inside it without her.

(secretly wipes an eye)

You know, that interviewer chap way back there might also have asked just a single pertinent question, just one if it was the right one—and thereby caused me to do all of his work for him. Such a question was asked me, once upon a time, by no less a publication than The Bazaar, and I answered it at length. The Bazaar considered my answer completely irrelevant to their question. Said my mind tended to wander. But they printed it anyhow, crazy or not. Of course, no man is entirely in his right mind at any time. Often it does seem a pity that Noah didn’t miss the boat.  The editors at The Bazaar asked what was the turning point of my life. The Bazaar considered my answer completely irrelevant to their question, but they printed it anyway. Here it is:

(selects magazine, reads)

"The turning-point of my life. It means: the change in my life’s course which introduced the most important condition of my career. I know we have a fashion of saying “such and such an event was the turning-point in my life,” but we shouldn’t say it. We should merely grant that its place as last link in the chain makes it the most conspicuous link. In real importance it has no advantage over any of its predecessors. There have been many turn­ing-points in my life, but as factors in making me literary they are all of one size. But I know how I came to be literary, and I will now tell the steps that brought it about. . . .

        

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

. . . to this day, I tell stories. One tale in particular drew heavily on my boyhood and the schoolmates of my boyhood and the adventures of my boyhood , “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I wrote the book especially for boys and girls, but I always hoped it would not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan was to remind adults of what they once were themselves, how they felt and talked, and what amazing enterprises they sometimes engaged in.

(picks up book)

People think I just made it up; but this book, I promise you, is as true as the gospels. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . . . Chapter Two.

(the old man reads with youthful exuberance, humorously varying voices)

Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high.

Sighing he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; he compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of un-whitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged. Jim came skipping out at the gate with a tin pail and singing “Buffalo Gals.” Bringing water from the town pump had always been hateful work in Tom's eyes, before, but now it did not strike him so.

He remembered that there was company at the pump. White, mulatto, and Negro boys and girls were always there waiting their turns, resting, trading playthings, quarreling, fighting, skylarking. Tom said: “Say, Jim, I'll fetch the water if you'll whitewash some.”

Jim shook his head and said:

“Can't, Mars Tom. Ole missis Polly, she say she spec' Mars Tom gwine to ax me to whitewash, an' so she tole me go 'long an' 'tend to my own business.”

“Never you mind what she said, Jim. That's the way she always talks. Gimme the bucket. She won't ever know.”

Oh, I dasn't Mars Tom. Ole missis she'd take an' tear de head off’n me. 'Deed she would.”

She! She never licks anybody—whacks 'em over the head with her thimble and who cares for that I'd like to know. She talks awful, but talk don't hurt. Jim, I'll give you a marvel! I'11 give you a white alley!”

Jim began to waver.

“White alley, Jim! And it's a bully taw.”

“My! Dat's a mighty gay marvel, I tell you! But Mars Tom, I's powerful 'fraid ole missis—”

“And besides, if you will I'll show you my sore toe.”

Jim was only human—this attraction was too much for him. He put down his pail, took the white alley, and bent over the toe with absorbing interest while the bandage was being unwound.

In another moment he was flying down the street with his pail and a tingling rear end; Tom was whitewashing with vigor; and Aunt Polly was retiring from the field with a slipper in her hand and triumph in her eye. . . .

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

. . . but the publisher thought the book had enough in it, so he gave the story to the Saturday Press with the title “Jim Smiley and His Frog”—and it killed that paper with a suddenness that was beyond praise. At least the paper died with that issue, and none but envious people have ever tried to rob me of the honor and credit of killing it. A year or two later it was translated into French and published in Revue des Deux Mondesbut the result was not what should have been expected; for the Revue struggled along and pulled through. It’s alive to this day. I ask you now to hear the story. As you listen, see how our various principles of story-telling apply—the rambling narrative, the absurdities, the innocence, the pauses, and so on. Now pay attention. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

(head slowly for chair right; begin reading, sit)

In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler and inquired after my friend’s friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as re­quested to do, and I hereunto append the result.

I have a suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a person; and that he only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me to death with some exasperating reminiscence of him as long and as tedious as it should be useless to me.

If that was the design, it succeeded.

I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the bar-room stove of a dilapidated tavern in the decayed mining camp of Angel’s; and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up, and gave me good day.

I told him that a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished com­panion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley—Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley, a young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of Angel’s Camp. I added that if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel un­der many obligations to him.

Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat down and reeled off the monotonous narra­tive which follows. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive sincerity, which showed me plainly that he regarded it as a really important matter, and ad­mired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse. I let him go on in his own way, never interrupted him once:

(Twain's “Simon” leans forward to grab his listener’s
attention; with a “Pa Kettle” monotone voice)

Reverend Leonidas W. Hmmm, Reverend Le—well, there was a feller here once by the name ‘a Jim Smiley, in the winter of ’49—or maybe ‘twas spring of ‘50—I don’t recollect exactly, somehow though what makes me think it was one or tother is because I remember the big flume warn’t finished when he first come to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiousest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldn’t he’d change sides. Any way that suited the other man would suit him—just so’s he got a bet, he was satisfied.

But still he was uncommon lucky; he most always come out a winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldn’t be no solit’ry thing mentioned but that feller’d offer to bet on it, and take any side you please, as I was just telling you. If there was a horse race, you’d find him flush or you’d find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he’d bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he’d bet on it; why, if there was two birds settin’ on a fence, he’d bet which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meetin’, he would be there to bet on Parson Walker.

Parson Walker’s wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn’t going to save her; but one mornin’ he come in, and Smiley up and asked him how she was, and he said she was considerable better—thank the Lord for his inf’nite mercy—and coming on so smart that with the blessing of Prov’dence she’d get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, ‘Well, I’ll resk two-and-a-half she don’t, anyway . . . .

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

GREAT SCOTT AND ZELDA

 

SETTING: May, 1924. The sitting room of the modest 1910 mansion the Fitzgeralds have rented on the north shore of Long Island. It’s clean (they have a maid) but messy, cluttered with books, magazines, newspapers. There’s a sofa or love seat, a chair and a side table; a folding screen masks an entrance/exit and an implied offstage bar; and two doors, right and left (real or implied). Perhaps a vase with a spray of peacock feathers.

 

AT RISE: It is pleasantly cool at 4:00 a.m. Scott and Zelda enter animatedly from outside.

SCOTT

(sullen, irritated;
he wears white slacks and shirt, dark tie, blazer)

Tedious party.

ZELDA

(annoyed;
she wears a “flapper” dress with cape or sweater)

Thanks heaps.

SCOTT

(removes and hands her his blazer)

You didn’t have to go.

ZELDA

(takes blazer, wonders what to do with it;
removes her own wrap
)

Tedious, thanks to you. Embarrassing, thanks to you.

SCOTT
(sits on settee, slouches, kicks off shoes)

You’re entirely welcome.

ZELDA
(tosses wraps on the floor back toward the entrance)

Your insufferable insulting remarks

SCOTT

They weren’t deserved?

ZELDA

That’s beside the point! What got into you?

SCOTT

Max.

ZELDA

Perkins or Gerlach? Perkins? Dear Max Perkins? Dear dear Max? What’s he done now?

SCOTT

He hates the novel. High Bouncing Lover. He hates —

(takes a long crumpled telegram from his pocket,
hands it to her)

ZELDA

How could he hate it? You haven’t written it.

SCOTT

I sent him the sketches you read last week, and a new outline.

ZELDA

(skims telegram)

Why on earth?

SCOTT

My esteemed editor feels it’s overdue. Like a library book. 

ZELDA

(reading)

Scott, he doesn’t . . . hate it.

SCOTT

He hates it.

ZELDA

My darling Goofo, dear dear dear Max thinks it’s “potentially the finest contemporary American novel”!

SCOTT

Potentially.

ZELDA

(reading more, slowly)

Why, he only questions the title. And the middle. Stop. The end. Stop. The main character. Stop. He’s afraid they might be “weak or vague” he says. I suppose he means boring.

(suddenly cheery)

Did you ever see champagne shells like those tonight? Like fingerbowls with stems! Was that Gloria Swanson everybody was swooning over? I only caught a glimpse.

SCOTT

Umhum. I spoke to her.

ZELDA

Insulted her too I suppose?

SCOTT

Now what’s got into you?

ZELDA

Dearest, whatever gets into you gets into me.

(a thought; waves telegram at him)

So fix it! We mustn’t leave for the Continent with this, this malaise malingering over our heads!

SCOTT

(looks up, as if to spot the malaise)

I don’t see any—

ZELDA

Shore up the shaky story before we leave Long Island and abandon the setting and source of it all forever! For Heaven‘s sake, fix it now. I couldn’t survive this mood of yours all across the Atlantic. I’d jump in the ocean.

  

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

       

 ZELDA

I feel obliged to remind you that you predicted “The Vegetable” would make us rich because it was the funniest play ever written.

SCOTT

I thought it was! Until I saw it. You swore to me it was hilarious!

ZELDA

As it turned out, the only thing funny was its box-office bottom line. You’re blaming me!?

SCOTT

Of course not. But some people who should have known better encouraged me. Bunny Wilson said it was my best work.

ZELDA

H.L. Mencken liked it because you took the title from that famous remark of his —

SCOTT

The producers were probably right about the title, too. It didn’t make much sense out of Mencken’s context about American businessmen being like vegetables.

ZELDA

Darling heart, it flopped flatter than one of Aunt Jemima’s pancakes. Lover, a play that ridicules every red-blooded American’s all-American desire to be President was ahead of its time. Just wait. Some day someone will take it to Broadway; and it will finance our old age.

SCOTT

After the first act, I wanted to stop the show and tell the audience it was all a mistake. But the actors trudged nobly on. They were good, too. The idea of it was what failed. There’s nothing there worth fixing.

ZELDA

But that was months ago! We’ve survived it! It’s over!

 (grabs UKULELE, strums, does a little Charleston step, sings “Ain’t We Got Fun”)

 EVERY MORNING, EVERY EVENING,

 AIN’T WE GOT FUN?

SCOTT

We’d better have fun. Or my stories will turn dark, and they’ll stop taking pictures of you and me for the New York Times.

ZELDA

NOT MUCH MONEY, OH BUT HONEY,

AIN’T WE GOT FUN

SCOTT

They’ll stop painting theater curtains of you jumping into the Union Square fountain

 (takes UKULELE and accompanies her)

ZELDA

THE RENT’S UNPAID, DEAR,

WE HAVEN’T A CAR,

BUT JUST THE SAME, DEAR

WE’LL STAY AS WE ARE 

(hums and Charlestons while SCOTT strums and talks)

SCOTT

No more headlines when I’m arrested for brawling at the Plaza: “FITZGERALD KNOCKS OFFICER THIS SIDE OF PARADISE.” That was clever, I thought.

ZELDA

THERE’S NOTHING SURER:

THE RICH GET RICH,

AND THE POOR GET POORER.

SCOTT

(stops playing, places UKE out of the way)

So do the Fitzgeralds.

ZELDA

If we’re not downright diligent, our reputations as madcap mavens of the Jazz Age will . . . will dry up like autumn leaves and rattle away in the wind.

SCOTT

Nice imagery, darling apprentice. True: New York City won’t be the same without us.

ZELDA

Long Island, either. But there are plenty of fountains in Rome to be photographed in. Are there fountains in Paris? I honestly don’t remember.

SCOTT

Plenty. And tables to dance on, taxicabs to ride on, revolving doors to get stuck in.

ZELDA

It shouldn’t take us all that long to get established.

  

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

SCOTT

I mean if I don’t follow the Church any more, how can I think it would matter to Gatsby?

ZELDA

You apparently still believe in the celibacy part.

SCOTT

(defensive, touchy)

I believe in concentration! Total immersion in the art of the project!

(ZELDA regrets mentioning it, starts to speak)

No, don’t challenge me on this! I don’t care to explain it. I — I really can’t explain it. I’m sorry.

ZELDA

I’ve wondered if maybe your drinking — I mean when you’re passed out cold, I can’t expect you to —

SCOTT

I went on the wagon and got ten short stories written! The stories that are financing your trip across the sea, incidentally.

ZELDA

Our trip.

SCOTT

I’ll stop drinking for the new novel — for as long as it takes. You weren’t around, but I wrote This Side of Paradise without a drop of alcohol, or even coffee. I got through it on Coca Cola. The fizz is enough to keep me awake. Do they have Coca Cola in France?

ZELDA
(quietly)

When you go on the wagon to write — to me you might as well be drunk.

SCOTT
(missing her meaning)

As a matter of fact, I have never written a line of any kind while under the glow of so much as a single cocktail. You should talk. You drink me under the table.

ZELDA
(abruptly no longer serious)

You’re under it, darling; I’m usually on top of it. Who’d have imagined it would be cheaper to live on the Riviera than Long Island? They say we can hire a nurse for Scottie for twenty-five a month.

SCOTT

All I’ll need there is a prison cell with paper and pencils.

ZELDA

That’s easy. Punch somebody like you did Frank Morgan. That’ll get you a prison cell, even in France. Did you know the Olympic Games are going to Paris in July. All those big gorgeous muscles. Shall we attend the Games, do you think?

(SHE does a little happy pirouette)

SCOTT

No need, dearest love.  When they hear we’re in France, the Olympians will circle you like hunters. And the gendarmes. And the French Navy. And the Flyboys.

ZELDA

Do you really think so?

SCOTT

I think I’d better count on it.

ZELDA

You’re such an old dear, old darling. I love it when you’re jealous. I actually do love it.

(looks at telegram again)

Max says he can’t “see” the main character. I can’t either. He needs freckles or something now that he’s lost his faith.  Tell me about Jay Gatsby. Does he have a moustache?

 SCOTT

I have no idea. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

ZELDA

I would, yes.

SCOTT

I didn’t even know you then, and I was jealous.

ZELDA

You still don’t understand, Goofo. I really did kiss that flyboy just because he had a moustache. To see what it felt like.

SCOTT

How was it?

ZELDA

It tickled deliciously. He was a bronze god. I could feel he was naked under his uniform. You must remind yourself, dear, that this was back when I entertained myself by picking out the handsomest boy and yawning in his face while trying not to laugh. I collected the military badges and metals they gave me in a little chest. One of yours is in there.

SCOTT

Just idle curiosity? The moustache?

ZELDA

That, and the girls had just told me he was the flyboy from Taylor Field who flew low over my house that afternoon and — what do they call it? — made the engine burp.

SCOTT

Blip. I stood very still and watched your hands move on his back when you danced.

ZELDA

Weren’t you sweet? At the Montgomery Alabama Country Club Dance.

(waltzes with an imaginary partner)

Jay Gatsby needs, oh, I don’t know, a limp from a war wound. Something to make him special. Vivid, doncha know, he needs to be more visible, old sport.

SCOTT

A limp? I don’t think so; I’m not sure why. Well, yes, it’s because Gatsby can’t be a genuine war hero. Old sport?

ZELDA
(stops dancing
)

Isn’t that the expression? Gerlach says it all the time. “Coming along, old sport?”

SCOTT

That’s the expression, but it’s not Gerlach’s anymore! It’s Mr. Jay Gatsby’s. There’s more! Gerlach was a decorated soldier.

(grabs notebook and writes)

He has the medal for proof, and doesn’t hesitate to show it. Didn’t he get in trouble for bootlegging?

 ZELDA

Did Gatsby go to Princeton, do you think? Can you use your experiences there? Make him a writer of varsity musicals. Let him fail math and chemistry and get suspended.

SCOTT

Hardly. Gatsby’s athletic, not a fop like me. But sure, he could go to Princeton.

ZELDA

You’re not a fop!

SCOTT

I doubt Joseph Conrad would agree. Gatsby might be a romantic like I am, but he’s more of a man’s man. He’s in business, a gambler, high stakes — Wait a minute! “Old Sport” sounds British. So! Gatsby went to Oxford, not Princeton. Remember the campus at Oxford? You were pregnant with Scottie then and we said it was the most beautiful place on earth. But I mustn’t tell the reader too much. I want Gatsby to remain a — an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. He’s a hero who makes you uncomfortable because you don’t know how he’s going to use the strength you feel he has.

ZELDA

But you’ve got to give the reader something trustworthy. Jay Gatsby has to have a history, even a history with holes in it. How did he meet Daisy in the first place?

 SCOTT
(with a grin and a shrug: what else could it be?)

They met—

ZELDA

At a country-club dance!

SCOTT

When he was a soldier stationed in her home town.

ZELDA

Down South, of course. He was —

SCOTT

In uniform, and she wore a —

(he’s about to say “sexy dress”)

ZELDA

A tacky and cheap bit of hillbilly fluff.

SCOTT

She was the most beautiful creature on earth, and he was hopelessly —

(he’s about to say “in love”)

ZELDA

Jealous! And terribly, terribly —

(she’s about to say “handsome”)

SCOTT

Shy and out of place.

ZELDA

Honestly? Shy? I took your serenity for —

SCOTT

I wanted you desperately. Nothing else mattered.

ZELDA

That much I knew.

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

LILLIE ALONE

 

LILLIE
(enters speaking to an unseen character in the hall behind her)

Emma, don’t fuss; I’ll be fine.  Oh, there is one more thing you can do.  There’s a man waiting at the stage door, a Mr. Winter.  He’s with The New York Times, and I’ve avoided him so often I can’t send him away again.  But please tell him I must rest before I see him.  The performance tonight was especially tiring.  (to herself) Perhaps he’ll grow impatient and just leave. (low-class British.) Not bloody likely—as we’d say back home. Thank you, Emma; what would I do without you?

(sits at dressing table, examines her face in the mirror)

Eye of the beholder, indeed.  One beholds one way one day and another the next. And beauty, like time, stands not still. True, Oscar?  You told me that.  

(looks away from mirror) 

What did I just say to those people out there?  Were you listening, Mr. Wilde?  Listening, editing me, still putting words into my mouth?  I told them, Oscar, that you died today at l’Alsace in Paris, that you were far, far too young to leave us, that you wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and that I would miss you. “Remember November thirty, 1900,” I said, “when the world lost its comic genius.”  Did I say more?  I don’t remember. 

(tearfully amused)

Wasn’t that enough?  They told me you died of a fevered brain; how in-character of you, Oscar. I was quite good tonight; you’d have been proud of me. The play here in New York is Mr. Grove’s As In a Looking Glass.  How in-character of me?  Don’t shout, Oscar; I can hear you. You’d approve: I play a domineering woman who uses her beauty to tyrannize men. 

(raising a finger as if to seal his lips)  

Not a word, Oscar.  We were completely sold out, of course.  Packed to the rafters.  And why, pray tell, should Mr. Winter need to know more about me than that? I draw a crowd. That is my accomplishment and my pride. I’ve opened a dozen London seasons, sailed through three tours of Europe, four conquests of America, some of them coast to coast, with only blizzards and floods accounting for less than full houses, and not even Bernhardt boasts more standing ovations. Yes, but what do I enjoy for breakfast? (coquettish) Why, Mr. Winter, you do flatter me so! Men, Mr. Winter.  Men for breakfast.  Didn’t you know?  It’s what everyone assumes. It’s what even my stage appearances tell them, isn’t it?  From my first stage sensation, Kate in She Stoops to Conquer so very long ago.  I forgot; you missed that one.  

(studies her costume in full-length mirror) 

Only a single performance, but it was attended by the cream of London society – all there to see me: the “Jersey Lily,” (takes the single flower from a bud vase on dressing table) the quiet sensation of drawing rooms and stately balls, the mysterious married lady seen now and again on the arm of the Prince of Wales.  Ah, but I wasn’t on Bertie’s arm on that occasion because I was on stage and he was in the royal box with Princess Alexandra, attending my amateur performance . . . in a minor theatrical event . . . at a matinee.  The producer said “Never before was a theatre more besieged for seats!” And I had never before acted a day in my life.  I knew I was pitiful, they doubtless knew it, too; but when my father in the play spoke of the man he’d chosen for me, and I opened my mouth to answer him, they no longer saw Kate; she vaporized and they saw Lillie, and they laughed. Papa said:

[Character names and stage directions in vignettes are not spoken by Lillie,
who delineates strictly with voice characterizations.]

HARDCASTLE. (pompous, persuasive) The gentleman has been bred a scholar, Kate.  He’s a man of excellent understanding.

KATE. (bored) Is he?

HARDCASTLE. Very generous.

KATE. (brightening) I believe I shall like him.

HARDCASTLE. Young and brave.

KATE. I’m sure I shall like him.

HARDCASTLE. And very handsome.

KATE. My dear Papa, say no more, he’s mine!

HARDCASTLE. And to crown it all, Kate, he’s one of the most reserved young fellows in all the world!

KATE. Oh! You have frozen me to death again!  That one word “reserved” has undone all the rest of his accomplishments! (aside) This news of Papa’s puts me all in a flutter. “Young, handsome,” these he put last, and I put them foremost. But then “reserved” – that’s much against him.  Yet, can’t he be cured of his timidity by being taught to be proud of his wife?  Yes; and can’t I . . . oh, but I’m disposing of the husband before I have secured the lover!

 

I was exactly like that, wasn’t I?  (laughing) Perhaps I still am. To tell you the truth, Mr. Winter – which I have no intention of doing – I always choose the wrong men: married royalty, abusive millionaires, timid husbands.  It’s no wonder the audience saw Lillie Langtry and not the character she played even in that very first stage debut, that matinee. Before we go on, may I ask a few questions of you, Mr. Winter?  

(directing questions to her chair)  

Tell me about your bathing habits, please, your unpublicized sources of income, your mistresses and ladies of easy virtue, the secret homes and hideaways given you by admirers . . . oh, yes, and your illegitimate child, of course.  Tell me all about her, won’t you?  Does the child know her real parents?  Does your new spouse know the truth?  You won’t say!?  Then what, pray tell, can we find to discuss?  Certainly not your talent, your adventurous sense of enterprise, your love of life: of what possible interest are those?  Please leave. . . . 

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Now when Mr. Winter asks about the Prince, do I simply smile enigmatically once again?  Won’t he find that tiresome? Well of course he’ll ask! He has to: Bertie will be King when Victoria dies, and rumor has it her health is failing. What do you hear about our world of the living from your new confidants on the other side, Oscar? Will my old love soon be King of England?

(takes pose and selects Egyptian prop or costume piece)

I know what I’ll tell the busybody from the Times! Or rather what I’ll let Cleopatra confess to him. It takes very little adaptation from the Shakespeare—merely substituting my Prince for Antony. Mr. Winter saw my Cleopatra; and if he was listening, really listening, and seeing past my exotic makeup and seductive costume, he already knows . . . .

CLEOPATRA.  (Sad, haughty, regal, young and beautiful.) I dreamt there was an emperor.  His face was as the heavens, and therein stuck a sun and moon which kept their course and lighted the little earth.  His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear’d arm crested the world.  For his bounty, there was no winter in’t; an autumn t’was that grew the more by reaping.  His delights were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above the element they liv’d in.  Realms and islands were as silver coins dropp’d from his pocket.

Of course I loved the Prince, Mr. Winter! A part of me still does.  So what?  The miracle was that it lasted for two whole, lovely, years.  The only Prince Charming one can live with is the Prince Charming one can live without.  But Mr. Winter, you’ll not hear of it from my lips, but from those of the maligned, magnificent Queen of Egypt, who also was a victim of the daily press and the gossips of her day.  She predicted their fall from grace:

CLEOPATRA.  They will catch at us, like strumpets; and rhymers will ballad us out of tune!The quick comedians will stage us and present our revels. Antony shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see some squeaking Cleopatra boy, my greatness in the posture of a whore.

That neatly sums up my reputation, don’t you think? Ah, but what shall I say to you if you ask whether I was with the Prince when I was still married to Mr. Langtry? When you ask who is really the father of my daughter? Why, Mr. Winter, you surely don’t wish to sully your own reputation by letting it be known you’d ask such scandalous questions! No!

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      

(looking slightly heavenward, angry)  

. . . how could you think for a single moment, my own vanity aside, that I could subject Jeanne Marie to your . . . your . . . the drama that you borrowed from our very lives! 

(to reflection in standing mirror.)  

Dearest Jeanne Marie, I’ll never know if I did my best as your mother. Or if the truth might have served you better.  But how could I have trusted you with such a secret?  In those days, we could not have survived the scandal if you’d spoken of it – to anyone, even in girlish innocence?

(pause, a little laugh; then tearfully, missing him) 

I finally read it, Oscar – though I have no intention to play it. Ever. My belated gift to you is to tell you – and hope that you can hear me – that I learned from it.  Your damned perceptiveness!  I’ve even wondered if your play might be a way, now, to tell Jeanne Marie the truth about her father – to let her suspect it first from hearing the wisdom of Mrs. Erlynne as she speaks to her secret daughter, Lady Windermere.

(performs, perhaps reading from a script.)

MRS ERLYNNE. (mature, cautious) You are devoted to your mother’s memory, Lady Windermere, your husband tells me.

LADY WINDERMERE. (girlish, innocent) We all have ideals in life, Mrs. Erlynne.  At least we all should have; mine is my mother.

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Ideals are dangerous things.  Realities are better.  They wound, but they’re better.

LADY WINDERMERE. If I lost my ideals, I should lose everything.

LILLIE. Oscar . . . you understood the reasons I had for keeping the truth from Jeanne Marie.  You slandered me, though, when you had Mrs. Erlynne tell Lord Windermere:

MRS. ERLYNNE.  (coldly) I have no ambition to play the part of a mother. Only once in my life have I known a mother’s feelings. Last night. They were terrible; they made me suffer too much. I have lived childless for twenty years; I want to live childless still.

LILLIE. I never told you Oscar, dear, but I admire your dialog in Lady Windermere. Witty, but not so flip as in The Importance of Being Earnest. More meaningful. Especially that difficult passage when Mrs. Erlynne reveals all to Lord Windermere:

MRS. ERLYNNE.  Besides, Lord Windermere, how on earth could I pose as a mother with a grown-up daughter?  Margaret is twenty-one, and I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at the most.  (suddenly more serious) So you see what difficulties it would involve.  No, as far as I am concerned, let your wife cherish the memory of this dead, stainless mother.  Why should I interfere with her illusions?  I find it hard enough to keep my own.  I lost one illusion tonight.  I thought I had no heart.  I find that I have, and a heart doesn’t suit me.  Somehow it doesn’t go with modern dress. I suppose, Lord Windermere, you would like me to retire into a convent, or become a hospital nurse, or something of that kind, as people do in silly modern novels.  No, what consoles one nowadays is not repentance but pleasure.  And besides, if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker; otherwise no one believes her.  No, I am going to pass entirely out of your lives.  My coming into them has been a mistake.  You propose to tell her that I am her mother?  If you do, I will make my name so infamous that it will mar every moment of her life.  You shall not tell her.  I forbid you.  Why?  If I said to you that I cared for her, perhaps even loved her, you would sneer at me, wouldn’t you?  As for telling my daughter who I am, that I do not allow.  It is my secret, not yours.

LILLIE.  Can I say that to you, Mr. Winter? “It is my secret, not yours?” Will you be satisfied? Perhaps if I say it smiling.

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

THE GHOST OF DOROTHY PARKER

AT RISE, DOROTHY sits at desk, typing on an ancient typewriter, a waste-basket nearby. DOROTHY never acknowledges her actual audience; she speaks to people we can’t see – some of whom can be vaguely downstage, in the direction of the audience. SHE wears horn-rimmed eyeglasses – which are soon removed but can be used as reading glasses, as the actress wishes, comfortable stylish clothes, flat-heeled shoes.  When she reads poetry, her diction is a bit stilted; chats with unseen friends are freely conversational. 

DOROTHY
(after typing a line, removes the paper, reads "Coda”)

Oh hard is the struggle, and sparse is

The gain of the one at the top,

For art is a form of catharsis,

And love is a permanent flop,

And work is the province of cattle,

And rest’s for the clam in a shell,

So I’m thinking of throwing the battle—

Would you kindly direct me to hell?

 (considers the meaning; wads paper, tosses it into waste basket; sits, loads fresh paper,
types a single word; suddenly startled, removes her eyeglasses as if ashamed of them,
speaks to an unseen presence)

Oh!  Well, as long as you’re back, pull up a chair, why don’t you?  Did you like my inspirational poem, Mr. Benchley?

 (“watches” him sit opposite her desk, as the imaginary Mr. Benchley “speaks” to her)

Yes, you have heard it before.  I try, but I can’t write anything new; this typewriter won’t permit it.  I don’t do anything.  I used to bite my nails, but I don’t even do that anymore.  I’m still here waiting, God knows why – but you know that: you’re looking right at me, disapproval in your animated eyebrows.   

(rips blank paper from typewriter, wads it, tosses it into waste basket, loads a fresh sheet)

It’s not my fault.  I expected to wink out at about age 30.  In 1965, when I was 70, an interviewer asked about my plans.  I didn’t have any; I said, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead.”   

(rifles through papers beside the typewriter, yanks out a page, reads “Sanctuary”)

My land is bare of chattering folk;

The clouds are low along the ridges;

And sweet's the air with curly smoke;

From all my burning bridges.

 (stands, lets poem drift into waste basket)

One afternoon, Bench, when Noël Coward was a guest at the Round Table – he wasn’t Sir Noel yet – he said an extraordinary thing, rather loudly I thought; he said: “You know, darlings, anything quotable said by a woman in the early 20th Century will be attributed to Dorothy Parker.”  

(Benchley speaks)

Sweet of you to agree, Mr. Benchley; but what’s my fame all boiled down to by now?  One silly little poem titled “News Item”:

Men seldom make passes

At girls who wear glasses. 

I’m surprised they didn’t put that on my grave. 

(loads more paper)

Hmm?  Oh, the NAACP finally buried my long-languishing ashes in a Baltimore garden in 1988.  They inherited what little remained of my estate; I’d left everything to Martin Luther King. There’s a plaque there with an epitaph, “Excuse my dust.”  I must have suggested it in a drunken stupor. They tacked on something about my advocacy of civil rights. Here’s what my resting place should say.  (quickly types, reads) “Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(lifts phone off hook, reluctantly puts it back, speaks to God above, herself and the telephone as
she acts a monolog from “A Telephone Call” as a love-struck young lady)

If I don’t think about it, maybe the telephone will ring.  Sometimes it does that.  Maybe if I count five hundred by fives, it might ring by that time.  I’ll count slowly; I won’t cheat.  And if it rings when I get to three hundred, I won’t stop; I won’t answer it until I get to five hundred.  Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty . . . .  Oh, please ring.  Please.

This is the last time I’ll look at the clock.  It’s ten minutes past seven.  He said he would telephone at five o’clock.  “I’ll call you at five, darling.”  I think that’s where he said “darling.”  I’m almost sure it was there.  I know he called me “darling” twice, and the other time was when he said good-bye.  “Goodbye, darling.”  He was busy, and he can’t say much in the office, but he called me “darling” twice. 

He couldn’t have minded my calling him up.  I know you shouldn’t keep telephoning them; I know they don’t like that.  When you do that, they know you are thinking about them and wanting them; and that makes them hate you.  But he couldn’t have minded; he couldn’t have thought I was bothering him.  “No, of course you’re not,” he said.  “I’ll call you at five, darling.”  “Good-bye, darling.”  He was busy, and he was in a hurry, and there were people around him, but he called me “darling” twice. That isn’t enough if I never see him again. 

God, please don’t let my prayer seem too little to you.  You sit up there with all the angels about you and the stars slipping by; and I come to you with a prayer about a telephone call.  Don’t laugh.  You don’t know how it feels.  Nothing can touch you; no-one can twist your heart in his hands.  This is suffering, God, bad, bad suffering. 

Maybe he is coming here without calling me up.  Maybe he’s on his way.  Maybe he went home to call me from there, and somebody came in.  He doesn’t like to telephone me in front of people.  He might even hope that I would call him.  I could do that.  I could telephone him.  I mustn’t, I mustn’t, I mustn’t. 

Oh God, please don’t let me telephone him!  I don’t ask you to make it easy for me – you can’t do that, for all that you could make a world; only God, don’t let me go on hoping. 

I won’t telephone him.  I’ll never telephone him again as long as I live.  He’ll rot in hell before I’ll call him up.  I wonder why they hate you as soon as they are sure of you.  I should think it would be so sweet to be sure.

Oh, God, keep me away from the telephone.  Keep me away.  Let me still have just a little bit of pride.  I think I’m going to need it.  Oh, what does pride matter when I can’t stand it if I don’t talk to him?  Pride is such a shabby little thing.  I’m not saying that just because I want to call him.  I am not.

I may have misunderstood him.  Maybe he said for me to call him up at five.  “Call me at five, darling.”  He could have said that, perfectly well.  “Call me at five, darling.”  I’m almost sure that’s what he said. 

Aren’t you really going to let me call him?  Are you sure?  Couldn’t you relent?  I’ll count five hundred by fives.  I’ll do it so slowly and so fairly.  If he hasn’t telephoned by then, I’ll call him.  I will.  Oh, please dear God, dear kind God, my blessed Father in Heaven, let him call before then.

Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty . . . .

(her back to the phone, she rests her hand on it; abruptly changes subject, tone;
turns toward Benchley, stands, restores costume)

 Certainly I was that crazy in love, Mr. Benchley. You know I was.  How often did you tell me “I told you so”?

 (takes page from stack, reads from “Love Song”)

 My own dear love, he is strong and bold

And he cares not what comes after.

His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,

And his eyes are lit with laughter.

He is jubilant as a flag unfurled –

Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him.

My own dear love, he is all my world –

And I wish I’d never met him.

     

My love runs by like a day in June,

And he makes no friends of sorrows.

He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon

In the pathway of the morrows.

He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,

Nor could storm or wind uproot him.

My own dear love, he is all my heart –

And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

That also covers men numbers 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11.  But mainly Eddie Parker.  Sure, there were others.  You knew most of them; I think you kept a list.  Charlie MacArthur, Seward Collins, Evan, John, Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner briefly, whoever was handy, apparently.  Until Alan Campbell came along . . . .

     ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

. . . Maybe I ached for Eddie during the war because I sensed we were finished – and not because I missed him.  He drank constantly after he returned. I told him “Eddie, you don’t want to be known as the town drunk, not in Manhattan.” What? Oh.  Mr. Benchley – see who’s at the door, would you? . . . . .

 

(stands, “sees” people entering; ushers them to imaginary chairs)

 

Aleck!  Edna!  George!  Tallulah, is that you?  Harpo?  What on earth are you all doing here?  Oh, my God – the rest of you, too?  Well come in.  There are an infinite number of chairsTo what do I own this –

(stops suddenly, puzzled, singles out one of them who is not yet seated)   

I thought I knew everyone.  But I don’t know you.  . . . . What do you mean, “I ought to know your work”?  Oh, you can’t be – not possibly – 

(faces her “friends” [and her audience])

 

Dears, this over-dressed Englishman is A.A. Milne – the daddy of Winnie the Pooh – here to extract an apology, no doubt. 

(responds to Milne)

 

My mistake, not entirely English, he was born in Scotland; anyway he pronounces schedule shedule, making him full of skit. 

(singles out a “chair,” responds to it)

 

Apology?  Don’t you remember my review of Mr. Milne’s Pooh for 1928.  I was writing a New Yorker book column that I signed Constant Reader; and after quoting Milne’s verbal syrup, in particular his cutesy word “hummy” – meaning a tune was hum-able I suppose – I wrote, quote: “And it was that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.” No apology, A.A., but you’re welcome to sit with our stellar group; permit me to introduce a Roaring Twenties literati luncheon club – the Algonquin Round Table.  In the front row we have –

 

(indicates each “chair” in turn)

 

Robert Benchley – war correspondent, columnist, humorist, actor, my closest friend for most of my years, except when he disgusted me.  We shared our very first tiny office.  When Vanity Fair fired me, dear Mr. Benchley quit in protest.  When people all around were wailing over my bloody attempt to kill myself, Bench just said, “You want to go easy on this suicide stuff.  First thing you know, you’ll ruin your health.”  Here’s an irony for you: it was a wobbly F. Scott Fitzgerald who told him, “Don’t you know that drinking is slow death?”  Benchley replied: “So who’s in a hurry?”  He was, apparently, alcohol killed Robert Benchley at 56.   

That’s Aleck.  Alexander Woollcott, popular eccentric columnist, mediocre author, but an essential friend and adversary. I named his East River apartment “Wit’s End” and said it was “far enough east to plant tea”; and he called me “an odd blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth.” Harpo Marx said he looked like a balloon from the Macy’s Parade. Aleck’s fame lives on: they named the Brandy Alexander for him. 

When we first lunched with Robert Sherwood, there, he’d been gassed in World War I and coughed constantly.  Didn’t like him at first, but he grew on us. Sherwood was a movie critic – which helped him get a job writing The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Later, he won his first of four Pulitzers, nominations for the screen­plays of Rebecca and Waterloo Bridge, and an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives.   

Edna, dear old Edna. Ferber. When she came to the Table in ‘23, she was known mainly for stories about a traveling saleswoman. But then we champagne’d her Pulitzer for So Big a year later and helped her celebrate Show Boat soon after that. She and Aleck were always at each other. She dubbed him “the New Jersey Nero who mistakes his pinafore for a toga.”  She just kept winning Oscars and things for those movies and plays she wrote with George Kaufman – Dinner at Eight, Stage Door – that’s George sitting next to her, avuncularly patting her hand.  George S. Kaufman – Broadway playwright, producer and director, won two Pulitzers with Moss Hart – for Of Thee I Sing with music by the Gershwin boys, and You Can’t Take it With You.  Also won all sorts of things for The Man Who Came To Dinner – which blatantly patterned its title character, Sheridan Whiteside, on our very own bombastic Aleck Woollcott! 

(begins adding bright red ribbons to wrists)

 

When he came to see me in the hospital, I asked George to tell me the best way to commit suicide, he said, “With kindness.” Razors hurt.  Dull ones, anyway.   

 

(indicates "blood" ribbons, now in place; quotes “Epitaph”)  

 

The first time I died, I walked my ways;

I followed the file of limping days.

I held me tall, with my head flung up,

But I dared not look on the full moon’s cup.

I dared not look on the sweet young rain,

And between my ribs was a gleaming pain.

The next time I died, they laid me deep.

They spoke worn words to hallow my sleep.

They tossed me petals, they wreathed me fern,

They weighed me down with a marble urn.

And I lie here warm, and I lie here dry,

And I watch the worms slip by, slip by 

 (abrupt return to the Algonquin crowd; indicates her red ribbon)

This will disturb the ladies of my bridge club when I leave the hospital; I’ll enjoy that.  They consider death and dying unnatural.  Can you believe it?  George Kaufman there suggested his own epitaph – which they declined to use.  He said his stone should say “Over my dead body.”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

  

(accuses the whole seated group; responds quickly to their imaginary remarks)

 

. . . Now tell me why you’re here. Unless I miss my guess, you’re all sober as judges; now that’s a first. Why? . . . Oh.  Neither can I.  Martinis go through me like air. . . . What do you mean you are judges?  What, who are you planning to – me? You’re welcome to try.  I’ve never been able to . . . .  Happiness?  It’s scattered all through my outpourings. No, really, it is. Below the surface, maybe.

 

(grabs page, reads “The Flaw in Paganism”)

 

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,

Love the reeling midnight through,

For tomorrow we shall die!

But alas, we never do.

 

Poor example.

(grabs another, reads “Resume”)

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

 

Now how much more life-affirming can a poet be?

(wads, discards)

 

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

(angry, tense, determined, offended)

 

. . . I want you all out of here!  It seems you expect to help me to my resting place, but you don’t know best. Your help is not needed. I tried a couple of times, but I didn’t kill myself. I tolerated life till I was a withered 73.  That ought to be good enough!  Get out of here!  I almost said, “Get out of my life” but it’s a little late for that.  I outlived all of you.  Maybe I’m still alive – lying somewhere in a coma.

 

(calmer as she “watches” them leave)

 

You, too, Mr. Milne.  I am sorry if I offended you.  I was just a little New York Jewish girl from New Jersey trying to be cute.  Mr. Benchley nicknamed me Dorothy the Pooh, and a publisher once advertised me as America’s A.A. Milne – so you see: you have been more than adequately avenged. Wait Mr. Benchley!  Don’t you leave.  Perhaps we can work this out.  Sit.

(ushers him to his chair, speaks to him)

 

The legendary Algonquin Round Table.  What a crock.  Hypocrites and show-offs who came together to be applauded by each other.  Yes, you too!  Me too.  Famous for being famous.  When the Table dissolved after a decade it left us all rich and famous and miserable.  With a lot of life to muddle through on our own.

 

(idly loads a sheet of paper)

 

I lived two lives, really. Maybe three.  The first petered out when the Round Table petered out. The second was Alan Campbell and Hollywood. I was reasonably happy with Alan. Sometimes.  I must have been: I married him twice. But I hated Hollywood.  Sam Goldwyn in particular. I thought screenwriting would make us rich – solvent anyway. The writing team of Parker and Campbell. 

 

(quotes as SHE types a few words, reads “The Passionate Screen
Writer to his Love” as if she's just written it
)

 

 

Oh come, my love, and join with me

The oldest infant industry.

Come seek the borne of palm and pearl,

The lovely land of Boy Meets Girl,

Come grace this lotus-laden shore,

This isle of Do What’s Been Done Before.

Come, curb the new, and watch the old win

Out where the streets are paved with Goldwyn.

  

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

JAZZ BABY JOAN

NOTE: Telephone voices can be either pre-recorded or performed live from off-stage.


TELEPHONE rings repeatedly
. JOAN enters slowly in a smoldering mood,

stares at phone; decides against answering it; turns away;
then sits
by still-ringing phone; slowly lifts receiver; speaks regally, sweetly)

  

JOAN

Miss Crawford. 

MALINE
(star-struck TELEPHONE voice)

Oh Miss Crawford!  I really didn’t think you’d be there. 

JOAN
(amused, condescending)

Didn’t you?

MALINE
(TLEPHONE voice)

I’m sooo sorry.  They made me call.  You were scheduled for makeup at five a.m., and, well, we waited. 

JOAN

Maline [pronounced Maleen], darling, I decided to do my own face this time.  You see I had advice from my cameraman, and I always listen to Ritchie.  I’m sure you understand.  How’s your little boy?  Errol, isn’t it?  Whooping Cough, they told me.

MALINE
(TLEPHONE voice)

Oh!  Thank you!  He’s better.  Of course, Miss Crawford, I understand.  But when you weren’t on the set at nine, they – I  thought –  

JOAN

Did you?  Tell them you tried.

(hangs up phone; speaks her thoughts aloud)

Noticed I was missing; that’s nice. Had little Maline do their dirty work; that’s not nice. Contemptuous? -- or smart enough to be afraid of me?

(amused by her phrase, picks up phone)

OPERATOR
(TLEPHONE voice)

Yes, Miss Crawford?

JOAN

Pearl, dear, tell me who’s there before you put a call through, won’t you?

OPERATOR
(TLEPHONE voice)

Certainly, Miss Crawford. I was, uh, just about to. I have Mr. Carlyle for you, from the sound stage.

JOAN
(angrily)

Tell him . . . !

(with a sigh and a stiffening of the spine)

Put him through.

(sweetness and light)

Hello, Warren. How are things there in the mansions of old Virginny?

CARLYLE
(TLEPHONE voice;
angry but trying to be polite)

Joan. I’m lonely. And it’s hot under the Klieg lights. Everybody’s waiting.  Where are you?

JOAN

That’s hard to say, Warren.  Where are you?

CARLYLE
(TLEPHONE voice)

Where? I'm . . . oh. On your side, of course.

JOAN

I’m glad you are, Warren. Why isn’t great-director Deems himself calling me?

CARLYLE
(TLEPHONE voice)

He’s on his way to the infirmary. He has hives. 

JOAN

Good. Have we decided I'll play young Constance my way?

CARLYLE
(TLEPHONE voice)

He – well, no, he still insists on his “Taming of the Shrew” thing.

JOAN

And I’m the unmitigated bitch.

CARLYLE
(TLEPHONE voice)

Sure, but when you grow up, you get tamed. Become all soft and feminine –

JOAN

And worthless. Southern accent, to boot. I can’t do it, Warren. I’m sure you understand.

(hangs up)

I’m sure you don’t. The first writer on the picture might have. His little girl wasn’t a cartoon shrew; she was lonely and grimly independent. Why didn’t they just write about me?! Hell, my life’s Lillian Gish on ice. A father I never met, a stupid mother who scurried from man to man.

(slips into reverie,
becomes calm and innocent as she begins to visualize
 her past, and "write" her "screenplay"
)

We could take my character all the way back to Daddy Cassin’s Air Dome Theatre across from the Lawton Oklahoma courthouse . . . .  FADE IN. Nine-year-old girl sits on oak stump watching them pull scenery off horse-drawn wagons from the train station. There’s wind, dust, leaves in the air. Costumes flap on racks.  Girl wants to help, struggles to carry hat boxes to stage door. Girl wears a phantasmagorical gypsy dress, a rainbow creation she keeps adding to so it can grow with her and she’ll have it forever. Children in front of the courthouse point at her and laugh. Motor car chugs up and the stars get out, wrapped in furs . . . . 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

   

JOAN
(picks up phone
)

Pearl, get me L.B Mayer. In person this time, not one of his flunkies. Say it’s life or death.  Ring me back when you have him on the line.

(hangs up phone)

Son of a bitch.  Condescending son of a bitch.

(sits, takes off right shoe, massages foot;
phone rings
; JOAN stares at it puzzled, answers)

That was fast.

OPERATOR(TLEPHONE voice)

No, Miss Crawford.  It’s your mother.  She says it’s urgent.

JOAN

Keep trying to get Mayer. OK, put her through. Mother?

ANNA
(TLEPHONE voice)

You simply have to help Hal. You have to talk to him.

JOAN

(pause) I’m having a difficult day, actually. How are you?

ANNA
(TLEPHONE voice)

He has an important screen test. He needs just a little money, and you won’t even take his calls. There’s a depression going on, haven’t you heard? He hasn’t had your luck, Lucille; you know that. You own him.

JOAN

He’s a lazy drunk.  You can owe him if you want to.    

ANNA
(TLEPHONE voice)

He loves you deeply.

JOAN

He’s never given a damn about me.  Mother, I don’t have time to talk to you. 

(depresses phone cradle, holds a second, lifts)

Pearl, no more calls, nobody – until I speak to Mr. Mayer.

OPERATOR
(TLEPHONE voice;
awed by the great man)

I was about to interrupt, Miss Crawford! I have him for you on the other line!

MAYER
(TLEPHONE voice;
pleasant, fatherly)

Yes, Joanie, what is it?

JOAN
(a dutiful daughter)

Hello, Mr. Mayer. I have a great favor to ask of you. Have you seen the footage of Great Morning we’ve shot so far?

MAYER
(TLEPHONE voice)

‘Fraid not. Sorry. Are you brilliant?

JOAN

I’m terrible. I’m miscast. The direction is terrible. The script is terrible. Can’t you get Scott to do a rewrite?

MAYER
(TLEPHONE voice)

Scott?  Fitzgerald?  No, Joan.  I know you like his work, but he can’t work on deadline.  I just don’t trust the man. 

JOAN

I can’t speak those lines, with a Southern accent yet. You’ve got to get me out of it.

MAYER
(TLEPHONE voice)

Can’t do that, love. Budget’s half a million. In 1934’s inflated dollars that’s our biggest picture of the year.   

JOAN

Will you look at the rushes anyhow? Right away? I’ll go on with it somehow if you still insist after seeing the film. 

(pause; almost in tears)

Justin is threatening to fire me, to ruin me.

MAYER
(TLEPHONE voice;
pause; sounds doubtful)

I’ve got a few minutes. I’ll look at it. No promises, now. 

JOAN

Thank you, Mr. Mayer.

(hangs up phone, drifts back into memory,
becomes a screenwriters again)

I’ll be expelled again. I know it; I know it; I know it. SCENE: Public School in Kansas City. The old witch of a principal is saying “Hal shows promise; we’ll advance him to the seventh. His sister is behind; I’m afraid Oklahoma is more primitive than Missouri; she’ll repeat third grade.” Daddy Cassin says, “I can’t have that.” SCENE: Mother Superior talks to Daddy Cassin and Little Billie: “The girl will live and work and study under our care. Her duties at St. Agnes include laundry, assisting in the kitchen, serving at table.  She may attend classes at no cost.” Daddy Cassin says to his baby, “You’ll learn strict discipline, Billie, but you won’t be put back a grade. And I won’t worry if anything should happen. Understand?” “I think so,” says Billie, but she doesn’t, not until she sneaks down the fire escape a month later, runs home, and finds that his clothes aren’t there. Mother says “He’s gone for good and good riddance.”  Billie walks back to St. Agnes, bawling, feeling she understands why Cassin ran off, and maybe why her real father left, too.

TITLE: "FOUR YEARS LATER." Billie in early teens runs in echoing hall clutching an oil-cloth bag tied shut at the top. She stands over a stair well, holds the dripping thing out, drops it. It strikes marble three floors below and water drenches students and nuns and splatters the statue of St. Agnes. SCENE: Mother Superior’s office. Nun says – and these are her exact words – “Lucille Cassin, we have extended to you every opportunity and every kindness, and you seem determined to ignore them.”  Expelled.  Rejected and expelled.

(back to reality; stares at phone, touches it, caresses it)

“Rrring, rrring, rrring,” Garbo said in Grand Hotel, “rrring, rrring, rrring” – willing the phone to talk to her.

(keeps eyes on phone, pours herself a drink; drinks;
rubs foot again; back to screenplay)

So.  Back home to work in a laundry. School half finished. Childhood half finished. Person half finished. Expelled, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

MONTAGE:  Billie waits on tables in the lunchroom. Then Billie tries to study. Then Billie’s at another dance, at a frat house – and this time Ray Sterling is her date. He watches with prim disapproval as boys whirl her back and forth like a dodge-ball and tear her skimpy clothes. They lift her onto a mammoth mantel over a raging fire, and she dances up there, stomping till soot rumbles down the chimney and boils into the room where the kids cough and laugh and catch Billie when she dives into them. Poor Ray shakes his head as they carry her over their heads out into the snow.  CUT-AWAY: drapery near the fireplace catches fire from a cinder. SOUND: fire engines. NEXT DAY, WIDE SHOT: the stately frat house with streaks of soot ruining its white façade. People milling, looking at it . . . .

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

JOAN

. . . Now we’ll show one of those whirling newspaper things; the KC Star shows a headline about gang wars and Prohibition; wind blows the paper open to where it says KANSAS CITY NOW THE WETTEST TOWN IN AMERICA. And right into a whirling CHARLESTON MONTAGE of Billie and Kansas City night life – on the arm of a man wearing a shoulder holster, dancing the night away at one speakeasy then another, running and laughing as police raid a bar. Throw in a shot of a birthday cake showing she’s 18, celebrating with shady types at a cabaret. She arrives home at dawn, angry Anna Cassin in a dumpy robe lets her in. More dances; then horrible Harry Hough, bleary and weary, in wrinkled underwear growls: “We can’t have this, Billie; bad for business. Come home after midnight again and you’ll find the door locked.” Stupid little girl tries defiance: “This is my life; you can’t stop me.” And off she goes again. 

(sings a-capella)

RUNNIN’ WILD, LOST CONTROL

RUNNIN’ WILD, MIGHTY BOLD

Then some juvenile tough brings her home late and she runs for the door. Locked. She pounds. No one comes. She tells the tough guy, “Take me back to the party!” He does, but he won’t go in. “Gotta get home,” he says, “or my Dad might lock me out!” 

Sign on the door says it’s the Edward Hotel; drunken swells stagger out as she stumbles in, alone. MAJOR SCENE, now, a turning point; Billie’s never the same after this. It’s elegant in the Edward Ballroom. Orchestra plays, and two young girls sing together:

(sings, sweetly, imitating the girls from memory, a little bit pouty
Helen Kane, a little bit sensual Helen Morgan)
 

I NEVER KNEW, I COULD LOVE ANYBODY

HONEY LIKE I’M LOVIN’ YOU

I COULDN’T REALIZE – WHAT A PAIR OF EYES

AND A BABY SMILE – COULD DO

I CAN’T SLEEP; I CAN’T EAT

I NEVER KNEW A SINGLE SOUL COULD BE SO SWEET

I NEVER KNEW, I COULD LOVE ANYBODY

HONEY LIKE I’M LOVIN’ YOU

Billie stares at the pretty singers. These girls are making money singing with a band!  A boy deserts his date and asks Billie to dance.

(sings and Charlestons) 

COME ON ‘N HEAR, COME ON ‘N HEAR

ALEXANDER’S RAG TIME BAND.

‘Nother boy cuts in, another and another, and Billie dances till waiters put chairs on tables; with no way to go home, she runs to hide while the girls sing their close:

(sings)

THE STARS SHINE – ABOVE YOU –

YET LINGER – A WHILE

THEY WHISPER – “I LOVE YOU”

SO LINGER A WHILE –  

The singers spy our lonely youngster in the ladies’ room, huddled in a corner, afraid of being kicked out by the cleaning crew. They get her to tell about horrible Harry. “You can come home with us,” they say. They tell her they are the Cook sisters, and that their mother Daisy won’t mind. . . .  

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]

ABE LINCOLN IN THE 21ST CENTURY

MUSIC 1—ESTABLISH, THEN DOWN—3:07
GOULD: “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming”

ABE
(enters, removes top hat to coat tree, steps to podium)

Abraham Lincoln is my name

And with my pen I wrote the same

I wrote in both haste and speed

And left it here for fools to read.

I didn’t mean you of course. I wrote that poem when I was 14, when I also wrote:

Abraham Lincoln, his hand and pen,

He will be good, but God knows when.

Well certainly, I’m a poet, and how well I know it. It’s a row I’ve hoed since . . . well, always.

I was born February 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families—second families, perhaps I should say. My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky about 1782, where a year later he was killed by Indians—not in battle but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest.

His two young sons, Mordecai and younger brother Thomas—who would one day be my father—were with Grandfather Lincoln when he was shot. 15-year-old Mordecai ran to a neighboring cabin, shot the culprit as he was carrying off little Thomas.

Grandfather having left no will, his estate went to an eldest son, leaving Thomas penniless. He grew up a wandering, laboring boy, literally without education. He never did more in the way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name, which is why, I suppose, I know so little of my family history.

In his 28th year, Thomas married Nancy Hanks, my mother, in the year 1806. They settled on a plot about 3-½ miles southwest of Atherton’s ferry.

I remember our old home very well. Our farm was composed of three fields. It lay in the valley surrounded by high hills and deep gorges. There I grew up.

When first my father settled here

‘Twas then the frontier line:

The panther’s scream filled night with fear

And bears preyed on the swine.

I remember a Sunday morning when there came a big rain in the hills. It did not rain a drop in our valley, but the water coming down through the gorges washed the ground—corn, pumpkin seeds and all—clear off the field.

My childhood home I see again,

And gladden with the view;

And still as mem’ries crowd my brain,

There’s sadness in it, too.

O memory! thou midway world

‘Twixt Earth and Paradise,

Where things decayed, and loved ones lost

In dreamy shadows rise.

There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher—beyond readin’ writin’ an’ cipherin’. I was sent to one such ABC school for a year or two; but there was absolutely nothing to excite an ambition for education.

Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still, somehow, I could read and write and cipher, but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education I have picked up from time to time under pressure of necessity.

As a child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand. I don’t think I ever got angry at anything else. I couldn’t sleep when I got on a hunt after an idea. And when I thought I’d caught it, I wasn’t satisfied until I had repeated it over and over and put it in a language plain enough, or so I thought, for anyone I knew to comprehend.

This was a kind of passion with me, and it has stuck by me to this day; for I am never easy when I am handling a thought until I have bounded it north, south, east and west.

I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false is guilty of falsehood. And the accidental truth of his assertion does not justify or excuse him.

If I have one vice, and I can call it nothing else, it is not to be able to say no! Thank God for not making me a woman. But then, I suppose, if he did, he would have made me just as ugly as he did, and no one would ever have tempted me.

[laugh] I was once accosted by a stranger who said:

[educated stranger] “Excuse me sir, but I have an article in my possession that belongs to you”

“How is that?” I asked, considerably astonished. The stranger took a jackknife from his pocket.

[stranger] “This knife was placed in my hands some years ago with the injunction that I was to keep it until I found a man uglier than myself. I have carried it from that time to this. Allow me to say, sir, that I think you are fairly entitled to the property.”

I felt like the ugly man riding through a wood who met a woman, also on horseback, who stopped him and said,

[country woman] “Well, for landsake, you are the homeliest man I ever saw!”

“Yes, madam, but I can’t help it,” the man replied.

[country woman] “No, I suppose not,” she observed; “but you might at least stay at home.”

As fate determined it, my physical appearance seems to have had little to do with my successes and failures.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

MUSIC 5—THE LADIES—2:28
GOULD #14 “Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair"
 

. . . approaching my 30th year I thought about taking a wife. With such an objective in mind, I wrote to Mary Owens, the sister of a neighbor in Kentucky. I’m afraid I offered her too simple a means of refusing me. I wrote: “This thing of living in Springfield is rather a dull business after all; at least it is to me. I am quite as lonesome here as ever anywhere in my life. I am often thinking about what we said of your coming to live in Springfield. I am afraid you would not be happy here. You would have to be poor without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently?”

I then presented my own case: “Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothing I can imagine that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I am, provided I saw no signs of discontent in you.”

As one might anticipate, she rejected my offer of poverty and happiness. She told a confidant, and it was reported to me, that she felt I was beneath her in intellect; though publically she avowed that we merely suffered a “personality conflict.” And I told a friend, who passed it along, that I thought she was a great fool for not marrying me. And it got back to me that she replied: [snooty] “How characteristic of the man.”

Then came the debacle of my engagement to Eliza Caldwell- Browning of Vandalia. Making no apology for being egotistical, I shall sketch that history:

A married lady who was a great friend of mine proposed to introduce me a sister of hers, on the condition that I would engage to become her brother-in-law with all convenient dispatch.

I accepted the proposal feeling I could not do otherwise; but privately, between you and me, I was confoundedly well pleased with the prospect.

You see I’d met this sister three years before and thought her intelligent and agreeable. Now came time for our interview, and she did not look as my imagination had pictured her. I knew she was over-sized, but now she appeared a fair match for Falstaff.

I knew she was called an “old maid,” and I felt no doubt of at least half of that appellation. I could not for the life of me avoid thinking of my mother.

From her want of teeth, weather-beaten appearance, and from a kind of notion that ran through my head that nothing could have commenced at the size of infancy and reached her present bulk in less than 35 or 40 years.

In short, I was not at all pleased with her. But what could I do? I had told her sister that I would take her for better or for worse.

I was convinced that no other man on earth would have her; and hence my conclusion that her family were bent on holding me to my bargain . . . .

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I came to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, for this reason: I could never be satisfied with anyone who would be block-head enough to have me!

 MUSIC 7—MARY TODD—ESTABLISH, THEN DOWN—03:44

As you might imagine, I could not maintain such a position for very long, lonely as I continued to be.

Her name was Mary Todd, the daughter of Eliza and Robert Todd of Lexington. Her grandfather, Major General Levi Todd, helped wrest Kentucky from the Indians; and her great-grandfather was a general in the Revolutionary War. The combat implicit in her family tree ought to have given me pause, I suppose, but I only saw an exciting and excitable creature, intelligent, with blue eyes and hair that glinted with a touch of bronze . . . .

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


In addition to our three boys, whom she has permitted to accompany me on such speaking tours as this, she has ever shared her intellect and support and family responsibilities; and, in a very real way, has made it possible for me to address you today. I deeply appreciate your invitation, but your kind words require me to begin with confessions, else I stand before you guilty of false pretenses. You praised my facility for extemporaneous talks, and I must confess that I write many of them down and read from notes.

In one of our debates, Judge Douglas informed our audience that my speech was probably carefully prepared. I admitted that it was. I am not a master of language; I am not capable of entering into a disquisition upon dialectics, as I believe you call it, without preparation.

And in your invitation, you referred to my entertaining wit. What wit? I do generally remember a good story when I hear it, and I tell tolerably well other people’s stories; but I’ve never invented anything original. I am only a retail dealer. They say I tell a great many stories. I reckon I do, but I have found in the course of long experience that people are more easily informed through the medium of broad illustration. As to what the hypercritical may think of me . . . I don’t care.

Here’s a story for you: When quite young, at school, Daniel Webster was one day guilty of a gross violation of the rules. He was called up by the teacher for punishment. This was to be the old-fashioned ruler slapped to the palm. Daniel’s hands happened to be very dirty. Aware of this, on his way to the teacher’s desk he spit upon the palm of his right hand and wiped it on the side of his pantaloons.

[stern teacher] “Give me your hand, sir,” said the teacher sternly.

Out went the right hand, partly cleansed. The teacher looked at it a moment, then said, “Daniel, if you can find another hand in this classroom as filthy as that, I will let you off, this time.”

Instantly, from behind his back, came the left hand.

[youngster] “Here it is, sir,” was the boy’s ready reply.

The teacher said, “That will do; for this time, you can take your seat.”

Amusing story? I think so. Of my own devising? I’m afraid not.

But with the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die. Laughter is the joyous, beautiful, universal evergreen of life.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

MUSIC 10—ESTABLISH, THEN DOWN, OUT—2:28
Gould: Lincoln Portrait

My politics, ladies and gentlemen, are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. Simply stated: “A man who denies to other men equality of rights is hardly worthy of freedom; but I would give even to him all the rights which I claim for myself.” My chief concern, and my chief remedy for the ills plaguing our United States of America today, is the urgent necessity for preserving and perpetuating our political institutions.

Allow me a few minutes to explain:

In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find ourselves in possession of the fairest portion of the earth—as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, salubrity of climate.

We find ourselves governed by a system of political institutions—leading more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us.

We find ourselves the inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or estab­lishment of them—they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a hardy, brave, and patriotic, race of ancestors.

Theirs was the task—and nobly they performed it—to raise up upon our hills and its valleys a political edifice of liberty and equal rights. 'Tis our task only to transmit these to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know.

This task—of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general—we are imperatively required faithfully to perform.

How shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against danger? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio!

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.

As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die—by suicide.

But, it may be asked, why suppose danger to our political institutions? We hope there is no sufficient reason; but to conclude that no danger may arise, would itself be extremely dangerous. That our Government should have been maintained in its original form from its es­tablishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it. Props that now are decayed and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now it is understood to be a successful one.

Then, all that sought celebrity and fame and distinction, expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it. Their destiny inseparably linked with it.

Their ambi­tion aspired to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the simple, single, truth of a proposition, namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves . . . .

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

12—NIAGARA—ESTABLISH, THEN DOWN—7:21
America
The Beautiful—Morton Gould, Naxos #2

As distant mountains please the eye,

When twilight chases day—

As bugle-tones that, passing by,

In distance die away.

As leaving some grand water-fall

We ling’ring list its roar,

So memory will hallow all

We’ve known, but know no more.

Niagara-Falls! Have you seen it? By what mysterious power is it that millions and millions, are drawn from all parts of the world, to gaze upon Niagara Falls?

There is no mystery about the thing itself. Every effect is just such as any intelligent man, knowing the causes, would anticipate:

If water moving onward in a great river, reaches a point where there is a perpendicular jog, of a hundred feet in descent, it is plain that the water will have a violent and contin­uous plunge at that point.

It is also plain that the water, thus plunging, will foam, and roar, and send up a mist, continu­ously, in which during sunshine there will be perpetual rainbows . . . .

 

[RETURN TO TOP OF THIS PAGE]             [RETURN TO HOME PAGE]