[A video of a full reading of this play is online on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWSul9Y23vU ]
a one-act play
For Tek Borkowski, Bambi Everson, Carol and Steve Nelson, Terry Talley, Bonnie Young,
and the other members of the Fourth “E” Company, for whom it was written.
1837 N. Alexandria Ave.
L.A. CA 90027
Cell: (323) 661-4737
NOTE: THIS PLAY IS ENTIRELY FICTIOUS AND FANCIFUL AND BEARS NO RESEMBLANCE TO ACTUAL INDIVIDUALS OR EVENTS.
“Only 5% of the world speaks English, so why should I lose 95% of my audience?”—D.W. Griffith, 1921
FRANZ – The Perfect Butler
GLORIA – Dazzlingly lovely young silent movie star.
BILL – Older, has-been star.
MARY – Older, has-been star.
ERICH- Magnificently masculine, a film director.
MAE – delicately pretty, very fragile, a star.
DOROTHY – Pert and pretty, a New York writer.
NOEL – Suave and handsome, a British writer (Must play the piano and sing).
VALENTINO – Romantically handsome young movie star.
POLA – Darkly gorgeous, gypsy-like, a fading star.
RAMON – A lookalike for Valentino, a young star.
JACK – Paternal, businesslike, a studio head.
HANS – His chauffeur (no lines, may be substituted by having FRANZ perform his tasks.).
AL — a great and famous singer. (Appears only as a voice)
SERVANTS (silent roles, may be dispensed with and their functions served by FRANZ)
MUSICIANS (May be dispensed with by using recorded music.)
The palatial main hall of a Hollywood mansion. There is space for dancing, dining, and a stairway for entrances. There are statues and paintings of gods of several faiths, a piano, and potted plants large enough to hide behind. Other areas must represent a small library with a bronze statuette of a mounted cowboy, the bank of a swimming-pool with colored lanterns, and a tiny bar with a Polynesian motif.
A summer night in 1929.
At rise, FRANZ, the perfect butler, stands in the middle of the floor, holding a stopwatch.
FRANZ: Enough. Everything is in place. The hour approaches. The minute approaches. Away with all of you. Now!
He waves a hand. MUSIC begins, glorious music. Franz looks up the staircase
GLORIA descends, in stunning diamond jewelry, a white feather fan nearly as big as she, a very abbreviated dress of silver sequins, perfect legs.
GLORIA: It is time, Franz?
FRANZ: It is time, Madame.
GLORIA: Everything is perfect?
FRANZ: Everything is perfect, Madame.
GLORIA: Everything must be perfect. The most important event in human history will take place here tonight. What are the climatic conditions?
FRANZ: Madame will be pleased to observe?
Franz leads Gloria to imagined windows of a “terrace” downstage.
GLORIA: Franz, the night is radiant!
FRANZ: Thank you, Madame.
GLORIA: Nothing that we see is natural, Franz. Los Angeles was built by human will, human imagination, upon a deadly desert. And do you know why? Because the climate here is suitable for stars! Stars grow here, the first new stars in a trillion years. Oh, Moon! Wait till you see the stars I have gathered here tonight!
DOORBELL RINGS. Franz speeds away up the stairs to answer it. Gloria basks for a moment in the spotlight of the moon, then wheels decisively and enters the ballroom.
Down the stairs behind Franz come BILL, an older man, lean and taciturn, who wears a Stetson hat, a western-cut tuxedo, and many honorary medals and chains, and MARY, an older woman, very pretty and vivacious, in a matronly gown bedecked with somewhat out-of-date jewelry, her gray hair in a fashionable, very short marcelled cut.
GLORIA: (Curtseys) Bill! Mary! The king and queen of Hollywood! You honor my humble home.
BILL: Now get up, Glory, you’re the royalty here.
GLORIA: (Rising, laughs) No, I divorced him. But with you here, I do feel at least a princess of moving pictures.
Gloria takes Bill’s and Mary’s arms and leads them into the ballroom.
MARY: Oh, dear, Gloria, don’t talk that way. My poor dear Doug used to talk that way toward the end.
GLORIA: And he was right. We are royalty!
MARY: Oh, Doug went ‘way past that! When Doug Junior played one of his father’s old roles, Doug didn’t call it treason.
MARY: No. He called it heresy!
ALL laugh. Mary shakes her head vivaciously.
BILL: What kind of reviews did young Doug get?
MARY: Well, appropriately enough—he was crucified!
ALL laugh again. Mary shakes her head again.
MARY: Oh, I must stop doing that. I don’t have those long golden curls anymore.
BILL: (In awe of the ballroom) Lord God, Glory. You young stars build like them pharaohs in Egypt. How big is this place?
GLORIA: Big enough that Mister Griffith could have filmed his spectacles here. Big enough to swallow Intolerance. Ha! Yes! Big enough for The Birth of a Nation!
MARY: Gloria, dear, you seem a little feverish.
GLORIA: I have a great announcement to make later, that’s all. Please, enjoy the house. I hear a car approaching.
Gloria leaves Bill and Mary.
BILL: Darn, I wish she hadn’t brought up ol’ D.W. Griffith.
MARY: I know. That poor thing. Stuck in the east, making those tiny little movies. I wonder if Gloria realizes how fast a star can fall? (Brightly) Say, Bill, why is a director like a blind man?
BILL: I dunno, Mary. Why?
MARY: Because he’s lost without his spectacles!
They laugh, Mary shaking her head, then stopping
MARY: I’ve got to stop doing that.
Gloria waits at the foot of the stairs. Down them come ERICH, a ferociously dignified and aristocratic man in flawless evening-wear—and MAE, an absurdly pretty blond in a feathered headdress, concealing some voluminous costume under a great black cloak.
GLORIA: Erich, you are the only man on Earth more dignified than my butler.
ERICH: (Kisses her hand) Always your servant, Gloria.
GLORIA: How was I clever enough to persuade you to leave the set of The Merry Widow?
ERICH: The Merry Widow has, unfortunately, come to a halt.
MAE: (Screeching voice) Hello, Gloria!
ERICH: A screeching halt. You know Mae.
GLORIA: Of course. Mae and I and Pola, we were all bathing beauties together.
MAE: I came in costume.
Franz takes Mae’s cape, revealing her near-nude beauty decorated extravagantly in white egret feathers. Combined with her chalk-white make-up, bouquet-like mound of platinum curls, and her dangling diamond jewelry, her eternal agitation makes her look delicate, fragile, a moth, however she sounds.
GLORIA: (Surveying Mae) Erich, The Merry Widow must be amazing.
ERICH: “Amazed” originally meant “paralyzed.” In that sense, The Merry Widow is amazed. Mae, do you hear the music?
ERICH: Do you hear the champagne bubbling?
ERICH: Of course you do. Go find the music and the champagne. Imagine that you are in Vienna.
MAE: I keep telling you, I’ve never been to Vienna!
ERICH: Then think of the simulated Vienna on Sound Stage Twenty-Three where we have kept a thousand extras working overtime for weeks. Go in there and imagine that you are The Merry Widow.
MAE: I’ve been trying to!
Erich gives her a look that would quiet a mad bull.
MAE: I’ll try.
Mae exits toward the ballroom.
GLORIA: Erich—you and Mae?
ERICH: What is left of me. What is left of Mae. Come, let me look at you. My little tomboy starlet has become a supernova!
GLORIA: Has anyone ever actually seen a supernova?
ERICH: Nineteen hundred years ago, I and two other wise men, in Bethlehem.
Bill and Mary stroll, examining the colossal décor.
BILL: I wonder why poor little Gloria’s so het up? This here house is too new to be haunted.
MARY: Maybe it’s living here alone since she took her prince back to Europe.
BILL: These kids spend ever’thing. They think they’ll be makin’ them big salaries forever.
MARY: Oh, be quiet with your pessimism. Here comes that poor Mae Murray.
Mae enters the ballroom, clutching herself as if cold and frightened. She looks up at Bill and Mary. They raise their glasses to her. She shivers.
GLORIA: Erich, I need everything to be perfect. Tell me what’s wrong.
ERICH: Ah, nothing actually. Only The Merry Widow, which does not yet exist.
GLORIA: Is that why Mae…?
ERICH: Why Mae? Why me? The studio gave me a marshmallow to direct. I am filling their sugar-cake with venom.
GLORIA: They say it’s already the most expensive picture ever made.
ERICH: Absurd to concern themselves with that when our work plays on every continent.
GLORIA: Yes! Yes!…But something is wrong.
ERICH: Yes. At the heart of my poisonous confection is—a tart.
ERICH: It should have been you.
GLORIA: Alas, the studio reserves me for lovelorn-princess pictures.
ERICH: Yes. So it has become necessary to transform Mae.
GLORIA: Well, if anyone can do it surely you—
ERICH: I hate what I am having to do to her. No one ever asked the pumpkin if it wished to become a golden coach.
Mae stands in the trembling shadows of a great potted plant. Mary and Bill approach her.
MARY: Little Mae. My, don’t you look all grown-up!
BILL: What you doin’ hidin’ there?
MAE: Wild Bill. You’re Wild Bill.
BILL: I ain’t my stand-in.
MARY: Whatever is wrong, dear?
MAE: I’ve—been working—been being worked–very hard. Erich—wants so much of me. More than anyone has ever wanted before.
BILL: Yeah, it’s getting’ harder an’ harder to figure out what the people want.
MAE: No one could be—all that he wants of me. It’s horrible. He—he peels you like an onion. He removes what you—pretend to be, what you think you really are, he even removes what you really are, and then promises to turn you into—something else. Something only he knows—if he knows it. I’m half-dead, half-completed. I’ve disappeared. It’s a horrible way to be.
BILL: Well, I always say, an honest day’s work for an honest ten thousand dollars.
Suddenly the entire mansion shakes with a small earthquake.
Mae screams. Franz catches her glass just in time. Gloria and Erich come running in. All laugh (Mae tries).
MARY: Erich, darling. I have the cutest joke. Why is a director like a blind man?
ERICH: Because he cannot see the mere real world, Mary. Only the dream he must make others see.
MARY: Oh, that’s not funny.
ERICH: It is the greatest joke in the world—because the world then sees what the director dreamed—and believes that it is real—and stumble around in the real world as if in darkness!
MARY: You sound too much like Doug. He thought he was more important than priests and politicians.
ERICH: Easily. What do priests and politicians have? Words, mere words. But we, thank God—
Gloria reacts to the word, “God,” and listens attentively to Erich’s speech.
ERICH: (Continued) We do not need words. We present a living, moving world. The real world imitates it. When you, Mary, skipped and dimpled across the screen, mothers turned to their daughters and asked “Why can’t you be like that?” When you, Bill, rode across the desert, boys in the towns built over that desert saw the possibility of heroism. America is a creation of the wordless screen.
MARY: Oh, Erich, I don’t know.
ERICH: I know. You were happy if the people liked you and the studio paid you. I will show the people their world as it really is, a masterpiece of greed and corruption.
MARY: But, Erich, if people really imitate the pictures, won’t pictures like that only make them worse?
ERICH: Nothing could make them worse than they are—apes who swallow the studio’s patriotic pap and run to war.
BILL: But if you make Americans cynical, they’ll get beat by other countries.
ERICH: There are no other countries. Film has made the whole world depend on me for its dreams. I have humbled the kings. Now I shall humble the true rulers of the world—the studio bosses.
A middling earthquake shakes the room. Mae screeches in her hideaway. Erich roars with laughter.
ERICH: That was the earth, settling into its new orbit.
After a tense pause, Gloria laughs in delight and applauds Erich. Bill and Mary join her. The Musicians strike up a new TRIUMPHANT TUNE.
GLORIA: Champagne! Champagne for the King of the New World!
ERICH: And its ravishing queen.
GLORIA: No offense, Erich. You see, I have already been royalty. I’m aiming higher now.
Erich looks for a moment as if he is actually offended, then he shrugs.
ERICH: You were, after all, merely a princess.
General laughter again. Bill and Mary dance. Erich and Gloria stroll.
ERICH: You were never difficult to direct before, Gloria.
GLORIA: Forgive my treason, sire. I have—loftier ambitions.
ERICH: To marry another nobleman from dear old doddering Europe?
GLORIA: Europe may not be doddering anymore, Erich.
ERICH: If it showed any signs of life when you were there, Gloria, it was only a second childhood.
GLORIA: A second childhood—or rebirth?
ERICH: Is this a puzzle? I am puzzled already. This is such a small party for the Queen of Cinema to throw. By now there should be limousines drowning in the swimming pool, starlets swinging from chandeliers—or vice versa.
GLORIA: I am not intimidated because you remember my childhood games, your majesty. I was, after all, merely imitating your films.
ERICH: (Indicating the statues) You brought back more from Europe than your prince.
GLORIA: I went there thinking that I could find culture.
ERICH: And instead you found rot?
GLORIA: NO! I found Heaven.
ERICH: I’m glad you enjoyed your prince, of course.
GLORIA: Oh, you fool. Erich, wherever I went in Europe, do you know what they were talking about?
ERICH: Their next war to end all wars to end wars to end wars?
GLORIA: No! No. Wherever I went, the people cried, “Gloria! Gloria!” They cried it in museums, temples. “Gloria!” They cried it in cathedrals.
ERICH: It is charming to see you discovering your fame and flowering into an egotist. You must insist on a raise.
GLORIA: Is that all that you think has happened to me?
ERICH: The studio hid from you the extent of your popularity. Of course you are loved. You were made for love. Remember, I made you.
GLORIA: Oh, Erich, only listen. You said Bill and Mary reached all of America. But, Erich, that’s barely the beginning.
ERICH: You are feverish, darling.
GLORIA: Oh, Erich, how can I make you hear? Out there are millions of people. They call themselves French, Moroccan, English, Eskimo. Ten thousand years ago they spoke one language and assembled to build a great tower to heaven. And God grew jealous and struck them with the curse of languages. And they misunderstood one another and went to war. In the beginning was the word, and the word was war.
ERICH: Rest, Gloria, rest.
GLORIA: But something new came into the warring world. We have been given the greatest force to come into that world since the warlike babble of sound—the universal, wordless, silent screen. We have the power to unite the world, make the world one.
ERICH: As anyone who was bombed in the late war can tell you, airplanes have already made the world one. That is one of the two great facts of our time.
GLORIA: Ah! And the other?
ERICH: It takes only one generation to destroy the culture of a thousand years.
GLORIA: Or build a new one? A new one?
ERICH: If Mae could see your face right now, she could play my Widow tomorrow.
GLORIA: Yes! My face! My instrument! My instrument with which I play on the hearts of humanity!
ERICH: You look as you did when we were lovers, back at the dawn of time. Come and dance with me.
Erich takes Gloria’s hand.
GLORIA: Oh, yes, yes! I want to dance with you!
Gloria leads Erich to dance.
GLORIA: Franz! Tell the orchestra to begin the tango!
Franz, surprised, raises an eyebrow.
GLORIA: Yes, now!
Franz clicks his heel and gestures to Musicians.
GLORIA: (To Erich) You do tango?
ERICH: The tango is an ancient dance of conquest and seduction.
GLORIA: It is new to Hollywood.
ERICH: Everything is new to you ignorant American children.
He laughs. Music begins, an exquisite tango, and they dance. Bill and Mary can’t tango, and wander to the library.
The dance is choreographed to express Gloria’s growing seductiveness and Erich’s increasing fascination with her idea.
Franz answers a telephone. He unplugs the phone and brings it into the ballroom.
FRANZ: Madame, it is the studio head, for you.
GLORIA: Oh, I thought he was at a premiere.
Gloria starts to leave the floor. Erich whirls her back into his arms.
ERICH: No. The hearts of the world are wailing, “Gloria! Gloria!” Make your master wait.
They stand poised, Gloria almost on the floor in a classic tango dip.
GLORIA: (Finally) Tell him–I am unavailable.
FRANZ: Yes, Madam. (Into phone) Madam is unavailable.
Franz walks away with the phone.
ERICH: You see? You may dismiss your master. He is in fact your slave. As all men are, my darling.
GLORIA: Do you like the tango?
ERICH: Don’t use foolish words.
GLORIA: No, I mean this particular piece of music. Do you like it?
ERICH: It is beautiful, ravishing.
GLORIA: I had it composed just for tonight.
Erich stops their dance.
ERICH: I see. In honor of some young and handsome guest who has yet to come?
GLORIA: In honor of the man who has made the tango the heartbeat of the world.
ERICH: You mean that Rudolph Valentino boy. I begin to see. So we are all dolls to decorate your seduction?
GLORIA: You understand nothing.
ERICH: Aren’t you beyond flirtations with actors?
GLORIA: You were an actor once. Have you forgotten?
ERICH: I have forgotten — nothing.
They dance, swept up a spell of remembrance of a romance that must have been intense.
GLORIA: That Valentino boy —
ERICH: Oh, Gloria, don’t fawn over the latest Adonis.
GLORIA: That Valentino boy, that latest Adonis, danced a tango in a film. The next day the world broke out in tango music. He has suddenly become a star, the greatest male star.
ERICH: They come and go. I remain forever.
GLORIA: He became a star sooner than I expected, I have had to rush my plan.
ERICH: Your plan.
GLORIA: Erich, listen to me.
ERICH: Gloria, speak to me.
GLORIA: His film glorified war.
ERICH: The French call war “la gloire,” “the glory,” “Gloria.”
GLORIA: He tangos. They tango. He glorifies war. They war.
ERICH: He died in the film disillusioned about war.
GLORIA: They will be disillusioned. They will die. They will imitate him.
ERICH: Boys always die in war. He will make them at least feel romantic about it. Gloria, this is great tango!
GLORIA: Erich, come with me. Listen to me.
She takes his hand and leads him onto a downstage “terrace.”
GLORIA: Erich, you talk of priests and politicians and employers. You say we have replaced them.
ERICH: I have replaced them.
GLORIA: Oh, you can’t do without stars! Astrologers say the stars command humanity!
ERICH: Another ancient art, unworthy of you.
GLORIA: Then what do you say to science? Science, too, says the stars command us. “Every particle of matter in the universe attracts and is attracted by every other particle with a force directly proportionate to their mass and inversely proportionate to the distance between them.”
ERICH: Elementary physics.
GLORIA: But it confirms the astrologers. Bodies alter one another’s courses. And the greater and nearer they are, the greater their force.
GLORIA: Well, we are the stars nearest to the human race!
ERICH: You have gone beyond a fever into a storm.
GLORIA: Ride the storm with me! Erich, we dance and the next day the world dances. We war and the world wars. Think if we only knew what we were doing!
ERICH: Anyone who knew what he was doing would die of shame.
GLORIA: We can make of them anything we will! You want only to defeat the masters, beat them at their game, make the mobs as cynical as you! You think so small!
ERICH: Tell that to the studio bookkeepers!
GLORIA: You want to be a king. We are kings already. We stand here on our balcony, like royalty reviewing the troops!
ERICH: (Points down) But no troops, Gloria, no forces below.
GLORIA: (Points up) Above, Erich, above. We can command the very stars in their courses.
ERICH: Gloria —
GLORIA: Leave behind the quest to be a king! Aim for something more!
ERICH: What more?
GLORIA: Erich, we can be — and I say this with all gravity — we can be gods.
The MUSIC stops.
ERICH: The tango has ended.
GLORIA: The world imitates us. They dance as we dance, dress as we dress, kill as we kill. They even imitate us when we kiss.
She kisses him. New MUSIC plays within. The kiss is long.
ERICH: Gloria, this is insane.
GLORIA: It would be insane if it weren’t true. How are we different from gods?
ERICH: We don’t live forever.
GLORIA: Film is light! Light lives forever! When idols of stone and gold have cracked and melted, our shadows will teach humanity how to live! Forever!
ERICH: Gloria, what are you up to? Something revolutionary?
GLORIA: No, not merely revolutionary! Evolutionary! I want to announce the greatest of all human actions. I want — I want to perform “Camille.”
ERICH: (Disappointed) “Camille?” That tired old sentimental war-horse? “Camille” has been done to death.
GLORIA: Never! It has never been done! Who is Camille? A mere whore who is reformed? No! She is the human soul which climbs from the lowest love to the highest. It is the story every religion has tried to tell. If you tell it with words, it is trite and sentimental. Film is the way! No language! No lies! We can show the souls of the world how to rise! And they will imitate us! We have the means! We have the mission! We have the audience! We have, God knows, the star!
ERICH: Then what are you waiting for?
GLORIA: The studio will never let me do it. I need backing. I need a great director. And to make this myth of love absolute, I need the perfect object. I need Valentino!
ERICH: Reach out and take him, then. Who cares?
GLORIA: He has become a star. He must be persuaded.
ERICH: Make him an offer.
GLORIA: I must offer him everything.
ERICH: So? Do.
GLORIA: Do you understand what I am asking?
ERICH: I will direct, of course.
GLORIA: Oh, Erich!
ERICH: It will be the greatest picture ever made. Of course it must come from me. Shall we rejoin your guests?
GLORIA: Then I may use your name to secure backing?
ERICH: You have only to tell them that it will be great. They will assume my participation.
GLORIA: It will be more than great, Erich. It will be the new testament.
ERICH: You are quite mad.
GLORIA: Then why don’t you reject me?
ERICH: Madwomen make the most radiant stars. That is why I am driving Mae mad. When will you approach this Valentino?
GLORIA: He will be here — tonight.
ERICH: I will take a look at him to see if he will do for my masterpiece.
Gloria, shocked and amused by Erich’s colossal gall, watches him walk away and despite herself, laughs. She wanders through the room to spy on Bill and Mary in the library.
Bill is admiring a Frederick Remington sculpture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco.
BILL: Now, that’s what I call art.
MARY: Shame they don’t make Westerns anymore.
BILL: They will. ‘Course it’ll be too late for me. I s’pose they’ll be makin’ charmin’ little girl pictures again, too.
MARY: Way too late for me. Oh, Bill, where does it go, all that wild, youthful clawing for fame and attention?
BILL: For money, y’mean.
MARY: Money is just what you’re left with. If you’re lucky.
BILL: Well, you been plenty lucky.
MARY: So have you, you old coot. You fairly jangle with it.
BILL: (Indicating his medals and chains) Hell, I jangle without it.
MARY: And of course I have my charities.
BILL: Oh, yeah, me, too. Charities.
MARY: I can never decide if the charities bore me because I hate to let go of the money —
BILL: — or because you know all the money in the world won’t soak up half the misery.
MARY: If only there was something a person could do that would save the world –
A beat as they consider it.
BILL & MARY: — and make a whoppin’ profit!
They laugh uproariously.
GLORIA: (Pops through French doors) Won’t you ask me in? A vampire can’t enter a house unless he’s invited.
BILL: Hell, Gloria, you ain’t no vampire.
MARY: You’re a princess.
BILL: Pola was ze vamp!
MARY: Now, don’t mention Pola, Bill. You know she and Gloria don’t speak.
GLORIA: Nonsense, Pola and I were always the best of friends.
BILL: Who? The princess and the vamp?
MARY & BILL: Keessss me, my fool!
GLORIA: (Laughs good-naturedly) Hey, you two kids should act! But seriously, I am a vampire tonight. I’m here to do what vampires do — suck your life’s blood — and make you immortal. Sit down, won’t you? And let me tell you my plan.
Intrigued, Bill and Mary sit to hear Gloria’s sales-talk.
A DOORBELL RINGS.
Franz looks at his watch and frowns. Clearly no one is yet expected. He goes to the foot of the stairway. Down it come DOROTHY, a petite, pretty brunette, carrying an Art Deco cocktail shaker, and NOEL, a suave Englishman carrying nothing but his genius. They are in considerably more casual clothes than the stars.
DOROTHY: Now, don’t break out any Sunday weapons for us. We’re just folks.
NOEL: (To Franz) Miss Swanson, you grow lovelier with the years.
With complete aplomb, Noel and Dorothy descend to the floor, followed after a stunned pause by Franz. Erich enters idly and observes them.
NOEL: Why do we find ourselves descending into Paradise, Dorothy?
DOROTHY: It’s that earthquake. Everything’s topsy-turvy.
ERICH: Dear Franz, relax yourself. It is only two poets come to sing for their suppers. Miss Parker. Mister Coward. I am Erich Von Stroheim.
Dorothy flourishes the cocktail shaker.
DOROTHY: Can you spare a summer neighbor a cup of cocktails?
ERICH: Franz, champagne.
Franz snatches away the rather tacky cocktail shaker and provides Dorothy and Noel with champagne.
NOEL: (To Erich) Admirably done! I heard your whip crack!
DOROTHY: (Of champagne) Is this what Miss Swanson bathes in or is it just the kitchen champagne?
NOEL: It’s rude to ask. (Toasting Erich) Your health — and don’t I wish I had it.
DOROTHY: We’ve rented the tourist attraction next door.
NOEL: We felt the earth shake and dropped in to complain.
DOROTHY: The truth is we’re both supposed to be writing movies.
NOEL: But all we’ve done is to play anagrams with the producer’s names.
DOROTHY: I’ve been hired to write a film version of “Hamlet.” In three weeks I’ve only convinced them not to call it The Great Dane.
NOEL: I’m here to approve a film of one of my plays. They’ve replaced all my epigrams with sight-gags and are retaining only one preposition from my title. Will you give us refuge?
ERICH: Miss Swanson is to make a great announcement tonight. She will be elated to have such distinguished witnesses. Do come in.
Noel and Dorothy follow Erich.
DOROTHY (Whispers) It was my quiet dignity that got us past the guards.
NOEL: Nonsense. He thought I was the Queen of England.
In the ballroom, Erich leaves Dorothy and Noel at the buffet.
ERICH: Please refresh yourselves, I will seek out our hostess.
NOEL: Human beings do not require this much space now that we walk upright. How do they pay for these auditoria?
DOROTHY: How do you think? She rents out skates.
Erich approaches the library and eavesdrops on the conversation in progress.
Gloria is talking to a fairly rapt Mary and Bill.
GLORIA: And so you see, this is the next step in artistic, even in human, evolution. I shall star, Erich will direct, and you two will supply the backing.
BILL: Whew! I feel like I done seen the picture! You should of been a poet!
GLORIA: I am — we all are.
MARY: Darling, it’s a magnificent conception. But what about the studio? Won’t it blackball us?
GLORIA: They’ll lay their studio at our feet when they see how we outdo them!
BILL: I dunno. Sometimes people’d rather fail alone than succeed in double harness.
MARY: Gloria, dear, I have to ask — since you so clearly believe so — passionately in this — colossal project — why don’t you back it yourself?
GLORIA: (Laughs) Alas, all my money went into investing in this castle, and divesting myself of the prince. I’d pawn my jewels like Queen Isabella to discover this new world, but I’ll need them for Camille! I’m offering you the chance to do what you long to do: save the world — alter history—make fortunes.
BILL: Hmmm. It’s real temptin’. Get back at them studio crooks.
MARY: Be associated with an epic.
BILL & MARY: And make a mother-lode mint!
GLORIA: So it’s all sealed!
MARY: But just one tiny, little, single, niggling thing, Gloria, darling: “Camille” has two leads. Who do you see playing her lover Armand?
GLORIA: The only man who can: Rudolph Valentino.
There is a pause. Bill whistles in awe.
MARY: And Erich has agreed?
GLORIA: Yes, absolutely! He – well, he –
BILL: He what, honey?
GLORIA: He is not familiar with the sublime Valentino. He wants to examine him. And so he shall. In only moments the Great Lover will arrive.
MARY: (With a glance at Bill) Bill….?
BILL (With a glance at Mary) Mary….?
MARY: (Tactfully, to Gloria)Gloria, darling, it’s a visionary dream, really it is, and it’s so captivating. And if at the end of the evening, Valentino agrees and Erich still feels like it’s a good idea, well, then, Bill…?
BILL: Right, Mary.
GLORIA: I see. Yes, of course, you want security. And you shall have it. Come. I see I have unexpected guests. Let’s go and enjoy ourselves – like the gods on High Olympus!
Gloria graciously ushers them ahead of her to the library door.
GLORIA: Oh, fool that I am, I forgot!
MARY & BILL: What?
GLORIA: The most fun of all! There are two marvelous roles for you two in Camille: Camille’s benevolent protectress, and her handsome rich lover, the Baron [Bah-RONE].
Mary and Bill are fascinated by this. With a sly smile and a wave of her fan, Gloria whisks past them to leave the library.
Erich at the door applauds Gloria silently and takes her arm.
GLORIA: But enough boring business. Come, enjoy the party. (Whispers to Erich) I will get their backing. I will have your services. I will acquire Valentino. I am not mad!
ERICH: It is possible. It is not impossible.
Mary and Bill follow Gloria and Erich into the ballroom.
Dorothy and Noel have walked near to Mae, who stands among fronds listening to music.
DOROTHY: How does she stay that white in this ceaseless sun?
NOEL: Are we sure she’s white? They may have filmed a Negress and shipped us the negative.
DOROTHY: Is she actually trembling like a Pekinese or is she just doing a very restrained shimmy?
NOEL: She is doing whatever she likes, dear. She is the millionaire idol of idle millions.
DOROTHY: How do these women make so much money?
NOEL: By keeping silent, dear.
DOROTHY: Cheezit. Here comes our hostess. (Of Gloria’s jewels) Looks like they imported her from Europe stone by stone.
GLORIA: Miss Parker. Mister Coward. Unexpected delights. Won’t you come down and join us?
DOROTHY: (Whispers to Noel as they walk) Put back any ashtrays you’ve pocketed. One mustn’t clank.
NOEL: (Whispers to Dorothy) I’d put a stake in your heart if men had left you one. (Kisses Gloria’s hand) Princess! (Kisses Mary’s hand) And the little princess.
Mary does the silly head-shake.
MARY: Oh, damn!
Noel reaches for Bill’s hand. Bill withdraws it worriedly. Noel takes it and shakes it heartily.
NOEL: Howdy, pardner! Words cannot tell how pleased I am to be among my film favorites. Not even my words.
MARY: Tosh and piddle, Mister Coward. I bet you ain’t never seen a movie.
NOEL: Half true. I exerienced a cinema once. I spent the first half begging a matron in front of me to remove her hat, and the second half begging her to put it back on. (Bows to Gloria) My head is yours for the taking, dear lady.
DOROTHY: And that goes double for me, having two heads. Miss Swanson, we shouldn’t have crashed your court like this —
GLORIA: But no, no, you couldn’t be more welcome. I know your work. And I agree with you about all of the films that have been made so far.
BILL: Hell, I never see movies, neither.
DOROTHY: It’s that hat.
Bill embarrassedly and belatedly removes his hat.
NOEL: (Of Mae) Will no one introduce me to this enchanting and apparently enchanted creature?
GLORIA: Forgive me. Mae, darling, this is the distinguished playwright, Noel Coward.
NOEL: (Kissing Mae’s hand) I am dazzled.
MAE: You, too?
GLORIA: And the esteemed wit, Miss Parker.
DOROTHY: Mrs. Not that it matters. Much.
MARY: And where is your husband, dear?
DOROTHY: Husband Dear is in New York. Never trust a man who’s three hours ahead of you.
GLORIA: I feel so inadequate. I’ve arranged no entertainment.
ERICH: I’ve no doubt Mister Coward will fill that gap.
NOEL: Certainly, Captain, if it will pay for my passage.
GLORIA: How delightful, (To Franz) Franz, have we time?
Franz checks his watch and nods. He places chairs for all but Noel.
BILL: (Whispers to Gloria as he sits by her) Hope I understand this.
NOEL: (Plays and sings)
This world has grown degenerate.
From every towering minaret
“Time’s passed us by
And Darwin said, “Ontogeny
Just imitates phylogeny,”
Which dear Papa
Thought put it ra-
Our efforts to revitalize
The gods we used to idolize
Do not impress this idle, wise
Terrestrial speck a dent.
And the most polite librarian
Says every single Aryan
Tradition is barbarian
But admitting that we don’t intend to suicide,
How shall we spend
Time to the end?
Regardless of what you decide,
I wanna be a major star of the movies.
I wanna play all day among the swaying palms.
I’ll spend the morning fighting duels
For Greta Garbo’s jewels,
Then by the pool at noon
I’ll burn a bright maroon
Which will drive photographers to frenzies.
Afternoon will find me
Leaving peace behind me
Earning my union dues
And then I’ll face the choice
Of which Rolls-Royce.
Might match my evening shoes.
Then in the night like a polite star of the movies
I shall appear at a premiere despite my qualms
And due to understaffing
Do my own autographing
Like a pragmatic, democratic movie star!
Noel deftly signals the pianist to take over and rises and moves from guest to guest, praising them.
I’ve gotta be where people are of the movies
And rule the cinema in a miraculous smell of ham.
I wanna go to hearty parties
Where that masculine Bill Hart is
And favor I’ll curry
With sweet Mae Murray
In a house by William Cam
Driving a slick Ford?
I’ll lure Mary Pickford
To one of my myriad yachts.
All of us stars have lots.
And the press will express
In scandalous candid shots.
But there is no par-tic-u-lar of the movies
Who doesn’t fawn on Herr Von Stroheim night and day.
And it would take great Samuel Johnson
To define the divine Miss Gloria Swanson
And my delight to be right where you are.
The way I’m overpowered
Would give the greatest coward
To see a
And be a
GLORIA: Bravo! Bravo!
ERICH: Very clever.
BILL: I got it. Dawgone, Noel, that was swell. I didn’t think no playwright could ever be such a reg’lar feller.
ERICH: Oh, I believe Oscar Wilde drank the cowboys under the table.
DOROTHY: Drank and ate.
NOEL: Now, none of that.
GLORIA: Mister Coward, what lovely compliments. And what accurate humor. It was all true. That is what movies up until now have been. Something to laugh at. Something to make fun of. But not after tonight, eh, Erich? From tonight we shall elevate them beyond the highest art.
ERICH: Yes, beauty. (Wryly to Dorothy and Noel) But, alas, after tonight there will be no use for our charming writer friends.
GLORIA: (Taps him with her fan) Erich! They won’t know you’re joking.
NOEL: (Aside to Dorothy) That earthquake was a ruse to bring us to justice.
DOROTHY: Justice long as we eat.
The DOORBELL RINGS. Gloria stiffens and drops her fan. Erich clutches her shoulders as if to keep her from falling.
DOROTHY & NOEL: The firing squad.
Franz rushes to the top of the stairs, out of sight, as Gloria and guests stroll to the foot of the stairs. Franz descends the stairs backwards, all but bowing to RUDOLPH VALENTINO, a breathtakingly handsome brunet in a flamboyant cape over the world’s best tuxedo.
GLORIA: It’s he.
BILL: Must be someone, the way ol’ Franz whipped up them stairs.
MAE: Erich, what’s happening?
GLORIA: Please, please, everyone—
NOEL: Inevitably, Rudolph Valentino.
DOROTHY: Do you think he’ll autograph my sidewalk?
Gloria, a model of romantic elegance, mounts the bottom step to greet Valentino. He kisses her hand.
GLORIA: Signore Valentino. Welcome. You honor my poor house.
Erich raises a monocle to his eye.
Gloria takes Valentino’s hand and all go to a table lavishly decorated and set for dinner.
DOROTHY: (To Noel) Wanna bet what we get for dinner?
NOEL & DOROTHY: –roast peasant.
To shimmering MUSIC, which drowns out the party’s chatter, the party sits to dinner. Spirits are high. Even Mae seems to relax.
The party is seated thusly: Gloria at the head of the table. To her right, Bill. To her left, Valentino, At the foot of the table, Erich. On his left, Mae. On his right, Mary. Dorothy is between Mary and Valentino, Noel is between Bill and Mae. Erich from here on out, whatever else he does, is watching Valentino scrupulously.
MARY: (In the middle of a story) …So Pola—Have you met Pola, Mister Valentino?—No?—Well, Pola just hated her leading man, and during the big love-scene close-up, she put a beautiful expression on her face but whispered in his ear that he could do something physiologically impossible to himself–and when the movie opened, deaf-mute lip-readers all over the country got her condemned by the Legion of Decency!
GLORIA: Oh, Mary, tell, tell! What did Pola say?
MARY: Oh, I can’t tell you. I’ll tell Erich and he can tell you .
She whispers into Erich’s ear. Erich guffaws and whispers to Mae. Mae laughs and turns to whisper to Dorothy, who slides quickly down in her seat to avoid the confidence. Mae whispers to Bill instead, who laughs and whispers to Gloria. Gloria laughs and turns to whisper to Valentino, who slides his chair back and offers her Noel. Noel, dying to hear, is disappointed when Gloria sits back in her chair with a sour face. Noel turns to Mary, who hides her face and says:
MARY: No, no, I can’t. (She tosses her head, stops) Damn!
BILL: Well, Mister Valentino, you shore have made yourself a hit. You never do know what the public’s gonna go for next. Who would ever have thought they’d want a man decked-out in wigs and costumes? And painted up?
MARY: Oh, Bill. You were decked-out in those Western costumes until you could hardly walk.
BILL: Now, Mary, that’s American costumes I was in.
MARY: —and as for paint, my, you looked so pretty in your lipstick and face-powder!
BILL: Now, we had to wear that back in the early days just to have any faces at all —
MARY: —and besides, even though you didn’t ever kiss the girl, we all knew that you were secretly in love with your horse!
Mary laughs at Bill’s discomfort.
BILL:(Kidding along) Mary, not in front of the younger set.
MARY: Why, you were darn near as decadent as one of Erich’s orgies that make the preachers so mad!
Erich is casually chatting with Mae.
ERICH: The producer objected to my spending ten thousand dollars to buy silk and lace lingerie for all the women. “Erich,” he said, “It will not show on the screen!” And I responded, “Only in my home version. Shall I send you a print?”
Erich notices that attention is focused on him.
ERICH: A toast to our honored guest. Mister Valentino, I salute you.
VALENTINO: Thank you. I am unaccustomed to such — august attention.
BILL: Aw, come on, Rudy. Can I call you Rudy? You can’t say you ain’t been gettin’ the press! Why, I never seen such press since back when Pola was big!
MARY: In fact, Rudy, the way they photograph you, I have to confess that sometimes I think you are Pola!
BILL: (After laughter) But now don’t be offended, Rudy. We all know a actor has got to sell a gimmick if he can. All this slick-backed hair and fancy costumes and powder and paint, don’t worry, we all know you’re a regular feller at heart.
ERICH: At heart…Mister Valentino, I am sure that long before you were a star, you were accustomed to attention?
VALENTINO: …People have — always been kind to me.
ERICH: Oh, I am sure they have. Let us be frank, the world is what it is. Surely a young man of your beauty has always excited the hearts of those who appreciate a fair face?
VALENTINO: It is true that one has not been — without admirers.
ERICH: Yet you seem strangely modest. Most usually a person blessed with beauty becomes insolent, romantic, exciting. I find none of these deplorable qualities in your personality.
Gloria looks sharply at Erich. What is he up to?
VALENTINO: There are — reasons for that.
ERICH: A stern father, a saintly mother?
There is so snide a tone in Erich’s voice that not only Gloria, but even Bill and Mary look a bit baffled.
VALENTINO: I scarcely remember anything that long ago. Life has been so — overwhelming.
ERICH: Ah, but do tell us about it, dear boy. (With cutting purpose) There must be so much that you long to express. To someone…
Mae looks startled. She has heard this before.
VALENTINO: (With a shy look around) It is so hard to say. I know you all so briefly,
ERICH: Nonsense, my man. Here on Olympus among gods, you may tell us anything. You may tell me everything.
MAE: (To herself) Oh, don’t.
VALENTINO: It is — very difficult. I am so much admired. It is embarrassing to one of any modesty.
ERICH: Oh, come now. Surely it goes with the territory?
BILL: You have to put up with the fans.
MARY: I miss it even now.
VALENTINO: Yes, of course, one endures the attention of the fans. One adopts — the role that they desire, because one knows it is, after all, the role that they are –
ERICH: In love with?
VALENTINO: Yes. They think they are. They think you are the hero in the last movie that they saw you in.
ERICH: Adored you in?
MARY: They do just adore us.
VALENTINO: Adored one in.
ERICH: Worshiped one in?
VALENTINO: Yes. Adored. It seems. Worshiped, it seems.
Gloria is watching, wondering. Mae is watching, terrified, as Erich works his charm on Valentino.
ERICH: Hard on such a simple lad.
VALENTINO: It is — disorienting.
ERICH: And surely rife with temptations? What does one do in the face of such demands, such temptations?
VALENTINO: (Rapt on Erich) One — laughs at first. It seems so — almost silly — what people — see in one.
ERICH: You refer to the romantic roles the studio casts you in? Or —
VALENTINO: Yes, yes, of course, the roles seem — rather silly, yes, of course that is what I meant, the roles.
ERICH: But is that all? Do you mean something more?
Mae shakes her head in protest and whispers, “No, no.”
VALENTINO: Sometimes, yes, yes, there is something more.
ERICH: Something more?
Bill and Mary watch in fascination, Gloria warily.
VALENTINO: There is something more that people seem to see.
MAE: No, don’t do it to him.
Erich brushes Mae away like a fly.
ERICH: That people seem to see — where?
VALENTINO: (With a magnificent shrug) Where? In one. Surrounding one. Or perhaps it is not in oneself that they see it. Perhaps it is in some dark —
ERICH: Auditorium? Theatre?
VALENTINO: Yes, some dark auditorium or theatre in their own souls. People seem to see one as something quite apart from one’s self. It is absurd — sometimes.
VALENTINO: Yes, it is absurd sometimes, but at other times it is —
VALENTINO: Yes, obscurely different.
VALENTINO: No, not obscurely. Mysteriously! Maddeningly, secretly different! Sometimes when one is alone with someone, they seem to see someone completely different from oneself.
ERICH: They seem to see — ?
VALENTINO: I don’t know. In those most private, intimate moments, when one has — surrendered oneself — I speak too freely?
ERICH: Oh, my dear young man, we have all entered bedrooms and found ourselves crucified upon our own images. You may speak freely.
Mae whispers, “No, no.”
VALENTINO: (Again magnificent) Oh, it is all right when one knows what they want! When all they want are the roles one already knows how to portray. It is a game, probably no more ridiculous than the games that are played in the most ordinary bedrooms by the merest —
VALENTINO: What a word! By ordinary people.
GLORIA: (Trying to take control) Who have learned those games from us!
VALENTINO: (Blushes) Yes, pardon me, I see you do understand, you must forgive me, I am not accustomed to such frank talk on such intimate subjects, but, yes, the games we play for the cameras, which people learn from us and then long to play themselves, it is silly, it is harmless, it is nothing, nothing, nothing!
ERICH: But then what troubles you?
Valentino looks about at the assembly. He is flustered, embarrassed, unsure. Obviously he has never broached this subject before.
VALENTINO: There are things sometimes that people seem to —
ERICH: To want from you?
VALENTINO: No! Not only to want! That would not be horrifying. What is horrifying is – they seem to find them.
Mae leans back, terrified.
VALENTINO: There is a thing that seems to happen in the dark, when the person one is with seems to receive — to experience something that is terrifying, something that — that —
ERICH: Transforms them?
GLORIA: Elevates them!
VALENTINO: Transfigures them! Because of some absurd accident that has given one the appearance, the face of —
ERICH: — something godlike?
VALENTINO: Yes! No! Shameful! Yes, yes, something almost godlike has happened to them. One looks into their eyes and sees oneself reflected there, but one has disappeared and been replaced by something, someone, something else! They have seen —
ERICH: (Looking at Gloria) A god?
VALENTINO: Oh, it is obscene, but yes, yes, that is almost what seems to have occurred. I have lain in so many dark rooms, comforting strangers who are weeping with joy for the world that they have entered through me, and I know nothing of that world. I have stood before my mirror, looking for what they find there, and I have felt nothing, nothing.
ERICH: And do you want to go into those dark, flickering rooms and be that god, that deity, do you love to give to others that experience of being in the presence of a god?
VALENTINO: No! No! I want to know it myself. I want to feel what I make others feel. I want to worship as I am worshiped. I want to love, once, as I am loved!
He throws his head on the table and weeps. Mary comforts him, Bill looks about, truly embarrassed, Mae is weeping, too.
Gloria looks to Erich. Erich removes his monocle and polishes it, gives Gloria a contemptuous stare, and shakes his head firmly, mouthing, “No, no, no.”
Bill and Mary also, with regret, shake their heads, “No.” Gloria is stunned.
DOROTHY: What is going on?
NOEL: God knows.
DROTHY: There is no God.
NOEL: Oh, dear.
Franz appears by Gloria, with phone.
FRANZ: Madam —
GLORIA: I told you, no calls!
VALENTINO: (Rises and recovers himself) You will excuse me. I shall — if I may — go to your terrace and — smoke a cigarette.
He bows formally and exits to the terrace. Gloria turns from looking after him to find everyone staring at her.
ERICH: (With a shrug) I am sorry, Gloria. A beautiful boy, to be sure, sure to be very popular, but – for what you want of him —
Bill and Mary also shrug. Noel and Dorothy are bewildered.
GLORIA: But you could do it. You of all people.
ERICH: He can project longing, obviously. I think love is beyond him.
GLORIA: (Rises) Give me an hour. Give me half an hour. I will show you. This is meant to be. He is inadequate? I will make him adequate,
GLORIA: (To Noel and Dorothy) You will excuse me? My home is yours. Make free.
Gloria exits to the terrace.
NOEL: I must say, that was intense. What shall we play now?
DOROTHY: (Rising) Noel, you should really learn: “Never Never Land” is not a commandment.
Dorothy leaves the table and storms away, not to the terrace.
BILL: Poor Glory. She had her heart set on this.
MARY: They could make the movie, anyway.
ERICH: It does not suit their commercial images. The studio would not cooperate.
BILL: Things should oughta be different.
MARY: Oh, Bill, come show me some rope-tricks .
Bill and Mary exit, not to the terrace. Noel and Erich are left sitting alone at the table. Noel looks blankly about, then at Erich’s icy face.
NOEL: You can spare me, can’t you? I long to go inventory the artifacts.
Noel rises and wanders away. Erich is left alone at the table, smoking, as Servants begin to clear the dinner things.
The Pool. Valentino stands by the pool, amidst a romantic arrangement of paper lanterns. Gloria carefully approaches.
GLORIA: Signore Valentino —
GLORIA: I hope that you are well.
VALENTINO: I have embarrassed you before your guests. I will go.
GLORIA: No, don’t. You mustn’t let the jocularity of my friends upset you. They want to be your friends, too.
VALENTINO: I am not – so good with friends.
GLORIA: You don’t understand our American way of teasing. I was the same in your country.
VALENTINO: And so was I!
(They laugh together)
VALENTINO: I have never been one for the social life. I prefer to be doing something always.
GLORIA: Oh, I’ve been so thoughtless. Why don’t we swim? Let’s swim!
VALENTINO: Oh, that would be wonderful. But — your guests?
GLORIA: Everyone fends for himself here. Come, there are bathing costumes in there.
VALENTINO: It would be lovely.
GLORIA: Then that’s what we’ll do. Come, what do they know? I understand you, perhaps, a little. I, too, if it would not be immodest of me to say so —
VALENTINO: Yes, please, speak.
GLORIA: I, too, have known something of what it is to feel worshiped, adored, idolized – if you can believe that…
VALENTINO: But of course all the world knows your beauty.
GLORIA: …and yet to feel lonely, empty, uncompleted.
VALENTINO: Yes, of course you would know. You are not like the others.
GLORIA: Perhaps not. But I think, perhaps, I might, possibly, be, in some small ways, like you?
VALENTINO: Oh, you make my heart leap. To be understood.
GLORIA: To be understood. Yes, that would be everything.
VALENTINO: Oh, yes, come, let us swim. Let us be like two innocent children, forgetting all this, this —
GLORIA: Meaningless formality?
VALENTINO: Yes, come, let’s go. Where, where?
GLORIA: Here! Here! Follow me!
She takes his hand and they run like children to the bath-house.
The Polynesian Bar. Dorothy sits on a stool at a bar in a room decorated like a South Seas saloon, drinking. Noel appears at the door.
NOEL: This is the seventeenth bar I’ve found in this historical exhibit. How many bars does it take to make a prison?
DOROTHY: One, if you work it right.
NOEL: May I come in and acquire some local color? I’m writing a book called “Around the World by Tramp Steamer.”
DOROTHY: Come right in, Mister Steamer. May I call you “Tramp?”
NOEL: (Saunters in and takes a stool) All the best people do. Well, the Austrian director is meditating in the Florentine ballroom. ‘The Man of the West is demonstrating rope tricks to America’s Sweetheart in a Japanese pavilion. The Merry Widow is having a nervous breakdown in the French formal gardens. And the god and goddess of love are romping in a Pompeian swimming pool. What’s playing in the Honolulu Room?
DOROTHY: (Pours him a drink) Hamlet contemplates suicide.
NOEL: You’re very quiet.
DOROTHY: I’m not speaking to myself. ( Toasts him) Hamlet toasts the ghost and downs the hatch.
NOEL: You’re all talk. How can they turn a book of yours into a film?
DOROTHY: How does one turn anything into a film? By spreading it very, very thin.
NOEL: They do seem to squeak by without us, don’t they?
DOROTHY: In Hollywood, to coin a phrase, the word is out. They get paid for not talking — like blackmailers.
NOEL: I know I should resent that, but I can’t help thinking —
DOROTHY: That doesn’t pay any better than writing.
NOEL: —that there is a certain poetry in their shadow-shows. There are, after all, very few things that people actually do. We stand, sit, and lie, walk, run, and crawl —
DOROTHY: And drink more than is good for us, if we know what’s good for us.
NOEL: —and the silent cinema reduces all the complexities of life to those few rudimentary reflexes: kiss, kill, coddle —
DOROTHY: Rape, pillage and foreclose.
NOEL: —and yet, even as we writers sink here in the West, I find I pity a generation brought up purely on pantomime. Those few things people do are so repetitious, so boring —
DOROTHY: Rape and pillage never pall.
NOEL: — and it is only the style of the great poets, Shakespeare, Homer, Milton, Moses —
DOROTHY: Irving Berlin, God, I love that man!
NOEL: — that give poor little life any meaning at all. I weep not only for us as they bar us from Paradise, but for them in a world of gestures, without any meaning at all.
DOROTHY: Not that I don’t relish our burgeoning camaraderie, but why are you here? Why aren’t they filming you in Britain?
NOEL: Only Americans can make movies. The British cannot distinguish between a film and a fog.
DOROTHY: Speaking of fogs, I told my producer that Hamlet had an Oedipus Complex. He said, “A boy is always smart to get into real estate.”
NOEL: I told mine he should do a film about Socrates, and he asked me, “What are Socrates?”
DOROTHY: So do you think the Princess from Pittsburgh will succeed in making Rudolph Vaselino?
NOEL: There’s no forecasting Americans in love. You celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day with a massacre.
DOROTHY: Love should be so simple. A loves B. B loves A. They roll around on each other and spell AB, BA, ABBA, BABA. But there are all those other letters waiting in line and the thing turns into alphabet soup. I envy the Babylonians. They had no vowels.
NOEL: How you do go on.
DOROTHY: Well, if you can be Peter Pan, I can be Wendy.
NOEL: What are we doing in this illiterate Eden?
DOROTHY: I’m trying to present a moving target to the little boy with the arrows. No, on the train coming out here I wrote a hateful movie about Broadway. On the train back, I’ll write a hateful play about Hollywood. It’s a living. Your turn.
NOEL: I’m running from bigger boys with bigger arrows. No, I wish to understand this curious beast, America, and Hollywood seems to be its heart.
DOROTHY: Or some part bloody and beating.
NOEL: If I could comprehend the film industry, I think I should have a grip on the U.S.A.
DOROTHY: Fate has sent me to you. It’s simple. The film industry consists of Jewish producers in California trying to convince Catholic bankers in New York that they know which fantasies will sell to Protestant farmers in Nebraska.
NOEL: The only great religion omitted is the Muslims.
DOROTHY: They have something better.
They toast one another and toss down another drink.
Gloria and Valentino, in flattering swimwear, are lying breathless by the pool.
VALENTINO: That was wonderful. The world seems so far away. As far as that moon.
GLORIA: Yes, we do seem truly to be the only man and woman in the world, don’t we?
VALENTINO: No, the only two children.
GLORIA: Yes, I forgot.
VALENTINO: Wouldn’t that be beautiful.
GLORIA: If we grew up, we could found a very good-looking new race.
VALENTINO: No, I would not wish on anyone the curse of beauty. We must stay children forever and never know the agony of love.
GLORIA: Would you really rather you had never known it?
VALENTINO: I never have known it. Only the reflection of it in other’s eyes, like something reflected backwards in a mirror.
GLORIA: I’ve never known it either.
VALENTINO: You? Surely you have had all the men in the world longing for you.
GLORIA: Isn’t it strange? You are the only one who could understand me, and you, too, would turn me into an image.
VALENTINO: Oh, no, I am sorry.
GLORIA: To think I once wanted this, this prison, this isolation, this fame.
She weeps. He takes her tenderly in his arms.
VALENTINO: In my country, people are very poor. Often there is not enough to eat. When the children cry because their stomachs are empty, their mothers go to the riverbed and dig fresh, clean clay. They feed this clay to their children. There is no nourishment in it, but it fools the emptiness within them and they sleep. This fame is like that. It feels like love, it looks like love, it fills for a moment the emptiness, but there is no nourishment in it, it is false, it is a lie, it is not love.
GLORIA: No it is not love. Somehow one knows it, though one has never known love.
VALENTINO: Yes, it feels like the love one dreams of, the love one sees others enjoying. But it is not. It is nothing. It is worse than nothing. It is heavy, it is worthless, and it is not even clean.
GLORIA: (Slowly turning it into a speech of passion, embracing him gradually) We have suffered so much, you and I. We have given so much to other people and received nothing in return. We understand one another so well, so very well. No one else could understand me, no one else could understand you. No one else could understand the terrible need we feel, no one else could ever satisfy it. Oh, my darling, why shouldn’t we give each other —
VALENTINO: (Recoils from her embrace) Please, no.
GLORIA: Oh, don’t be afraid. I want you. I need you. I am yours.
VALENTINO: No, please, you have misunderstood.
GLORIA: I can give, I can show, I can bring that true love to you. I can bring that light of love into your eyes.
VALENTINO: I beg you, do not humiliate yourself.
GLORIA: For you I would risk any humiliation. I would do anything. Oh, let me worship you — Oh!
Too late, she realizes she has said the wrong thing.
VALENTINO: No! Not again! Everywhere I go! The same madness! The same longing! The same evil mystery! No! No! No!
He flees, grabbing his clothes and runs up the stairs to the terrace and into the house.
GLORIA: (Simultaneously) No, please, I need you, I must have you, you don’t understand, what have I done, stay, please, please, please!
She weeps by the pool, hysterical.
Mae lies on the piano. Erich sits smoking. Valentino, clutching his clothes, runs in from the terrace across the stage and off. Mae tremblingly finds a hiding place among the plants. Now Gloria enters in bathing costume, trailing her towel, gives Erich the glance of death, exits.
Mary and Bill enter from one direction, just as Dorothy and Noel emerge from another entrance.
Bill, Mary, Noel, and Dorothy look back and forth to each other for explanations. None is forthcoming. They all look to Erich. He shrugs monumentally.
Gloria reenters in a stunning hostess gown and a turban to cover her wet hair. She looks like an angry, shimmering priestess.
GLORIA: Forgive me. I’m afraid I’ve neglected my guests. (She accepts champagne from Franz, makes a toast.) To runaway-princess movies and great hopes drowned like starlets in the pool!
All toast and laugh.
Franz approaches Gloria.
GLORIA: I said no calls and I meant it. No. Wait. Yes. Why not. I’ll take the call.
FRANZ: It is not a call, Madame, but callers. Madam has other guests.
GLORIA: What other guests?
FRANZ: It is miss Pola Negri, Madame, and a friend.
MARY: (Shocked and pleased) Pola!
BILL: (To Gloria) Thought you two was feudin’.
GLORIA: (Striding away) I can’t believe this!
Gloria stalks to the foot of the stairway, followed by Bill and Mary, and, a bit behind, Noel and Dorothy.
DOROTHY: What on Earth is wrong with these beautiful people?
NOEL: (Dragging her with him) We are being filmed for psychiatric research.
POLA descends the stairs. She is perhaps older, less coldly beautiful than Gloria. She is the image of a passionate Gypsy, a truly frightening apparition who would look foolish were she less arrogant and regal. A figure walks behind her, concealed.
Bill and Mary join Gloria at the foot of the stairs. Pola continues to descend. Noel and Dorothy hang back.
Pola reaches the foot of the stairs, her companion still concealed behind her. Gloria and Pola both open their mouths to speak.
Erich steps in front of Gloria.
ERICH: Pola! Surely the world is moaning in sorrow when all its gods have deserted it to gather here!
He kisses her hand. Gloria’s face freezes. Erich smiles at her.
GLORIA: Pola. Darling.
She steps forward to take Pola’s hand. Bill and Mary visibly relax.
GLORIA: How wonderful to see you. Won’t you come into the Great Hall and have champagne with us? I fear our little — celebration has ended–is over.
Erich raises an eyebrow. Franz steps to the entrance of the ballroom, beckoning Pola in. Mae sees Franz in doorway, and flees outside.
GLORIA: We shall drink to memories and —to what might have been. Won’t you come?
Pola stands resolute and enigmatic on the stairs, above the increasingly irritated Gloria, her companion still hidden.
DOROTHY: She looks like a Gypsy.
NOEL: Want your palm read?
DOROTHY: If I wanted my palm red, I’d run it through her hair.
GLORIA: I hope I do not seem inhospitable, but you see — one of my guests has become somewhat indisposed, and —
Unexpectedly, Valentino emerges, flawlessly re-tuxedoed and in complete control of himself.
VALENTINO: Not at all, Madame. I regret to have caused you concern. I am so pleased on an already memorable evening to encounter yet another compatriot of such distinction.
POLA: Signore Valentino. Hmmm. I have done better work than I knew.
This puzzling remark causes some blinks in the party.
POLA: It is marvelous that you are here. For I have someone with me who longs to know you. Mesdames and Messieurs, allow me to introduce my protégé, —
Pola steps aside to reveal RAMON, a startling clone of Valentino.
POLA: — Ramon Navarro —
Startled GASPS from the party,
POLA: — recently signed by the studio, under my protection.
Pola gloats. Gloria gapes. Erich suppresses laughter. Bill and Mary are awestruck.
Valentino stands staring at his double. Ramon stands a step above Pola, shyly smiling. Ramon and Valentino gaze at one another. Pola smiles.
VALENTINO: Signore Navarro. It is so good to meet you.
RAMON: It is an honor I could not have hoped for.
VALENTINO: They taught you to speak like that at the studio.
RAMON: Pola Negri taught me.
VALENTINO: And very well, very well. But you need not concern yourself with correctness here. We are all equals, all friends here. Please speak as you feel.
RAMON: Well, golly, if I was going to do that, I’d just be tongue-tied. In all my wildest dreams I never dared to dream that I’d ever actually meet you.
VALENTINO: Is that true?
RAMON: Well, no. No, in my wildest dreams that’s just what I did dream.
VALENTINO: You see how easy it is? Once one realizes one can speak? How easy it is to say just what one feels?
During this exchange between Ramon and Valentino, Erich raises his monocle into place, a gesture not lost on Gloria.
RAMON: But just a few months ago, I was running a gas-pump.
VALENTINO: I was a gardener once.
RAMON: I delivered packages.
VALENTINO: I was a carpenter.
RAMON: I — entertained at parties.
VALENTINO: I was a gigolo.
RAMON: Like in the song?
VALENTINO: Like in the song. We have so much in common. So much to tell each other.
Valentino takes Ramon’s hand and begins to lead him away. The party clears for them. Without the least self-consciousness, utterly easily and naturally, Valentino and Ramon stroll away, into the ballroom, then off.
Gloria turns on Pola.
GLORIA: You fiend! Why have you done this?
POLA: Done what? What have I done? I have introduced another star into the firmament. This is an act of merit, to be admired. What star is so unselfish? Where is my champagne?
She reaches over the banister and champagne appears from a Servant.
GLORIA: You abuse all the privileges of a guest. You flout the precepts of our profession. You are an abomination.
POLA: To so berate a guest. If there were members of the press here, what a raw headline.
GLORIA: You expect me to exercise good taste in the face of your offense? What do you want here?
POLA: Want? Respect. Companionship. Relaxation. Admiration. Perhaps congratulations for my good fortune.
GLORIA: What good fortune?
POLA: Why, Gloria, I am to have a dream come true. One of those girlish dreams we shared when we were Bathing Beauties.
GLORIA: What dream? Which dream?
POLA: Our greatest dream, Gloria.
GLORIA: You wouldn’t. You couldn’t.
DOROTHY (to Noel) I’m going bats.
NOEL: It does you credit.
POLA: We confuse and bewilder our friends.
ERICH: Your friends know all your dreams, Pola.
GLORIA: Everyone here knows our dreams, and that my dreams are greater than yours. You cannot do this thing.
POLA: Either of us can do it, Gloria. And it will be me.
GLORIA: It will not.
POLA: It will! I start tomorrow! Everything is prepared And I have my leading man!
Gloria starts forward, murder in her eyes.
ERICH: Is this war in Heaven, Gloria? Is this what the world will imitate?
Gloria stands, a statue of icy rage. Then she relaxes. There is now a calm certainty in her manner.
GLORIA: You will not do this thing, Pola, because you cannot. You will not make “Camille.”
Pola drops her jaw in surprise.
GLORIA: When she is portrayed, I will portray her, and not you. We were ruthless girls, but we dreamed of becoming something better And we almost succeeded. And that “almost” became imprinted on your face, and you became the greatest tragic player of the screen. Your failure was your success, while I — ? I learned to hide my failure and became the image of success. That success was my failure. But in our hearts we held the dream of those two savage, animal girls: the dream of portraying the dream, the slut who becomes a saint. But, Pola, what we wanted was not only to portray it, but to make it true. You know that you could not bear to see it falsely done. Look at our faces. Which do you want to see up there shining in the dark as the savior? Your true tragic face that cannot tell a lie? Or my perfect false face that is capable of anything?
Erich turns his monocle onto Gloria
GLORIA: Anything, I tell you! Anything!
Pola sits on the stairs, her face awash with tears. She allows Mary to dry her eyes.
POLA: Oh, take it. No one but you could have known what stones to move to uncover my poor heart. You, you have no heart.
GLORIA: At least no one knows how to uncover it. Least of all I.
Gloria sits beside Pola.
GLORIA: But, Pola, dear and only friend. You have no reason to be sad. You have not failed, darling; you have become the goddess of failure.
Pola is looking at Gloria. Pola’s face becomes ennobled.
Gloria walks down the stairs through the aghast Bill and Mary to take Erich’s arm.
GLORIA: Now come, dear friends, come all of us and let me at last make my great announcement.
All enter the ballroom.
Mae enters from the terrace and is swept up in the revelry.
Gloria laughs and toasts with each guest in turn. She is merry, dances a little jig, picks up a feather fan and parades.
GLORIA: Ladies and Gentlemen. Deities and mortals. Olympians and others! Hear me. I have tonight the direst announcement to make! There is forthcoming, out of the womb of time, out of the awesome immensities of space, out of the charred ruins of human history, there is forthcoming the greatest masterwork, the finest achievement, the most majestic message, the new testament. I will undertake the greatest role, under the aegis of the only director —
Erich is distraught. He shakes his head, “No.” Bill and Mary are worried. Pola is mesmerized.
GLORIA: —but, alas, I will not play it yet. For the womb of time has not quite kept its promise. It will come, but it has not come yet. I must freeze my face forever, in hopes that time will deliver at last my co-star. And in the meantime, I must beg forgiveness with all humility of one whom I have treated wretchedly –
Pola looks up, expecting that she is the one Gloria speaks of. But Gloria is looking out through the terrace window, where there approaches a silhouetted, slim, tuxedoed figure.
GLORIA: Before you all, I beg his forgiveness for having placed too heavy a burden on the mortal shoulders of –
She grasps the arm of the entering tuxedoed figure
GLORIA: —the luminescent Rudolph Valentino.
RAMON: Madam. Forgive me. I am the other one.
VALENTINO: (entering) Oh, no, Ramon. We are one. We must be one. We are forever one.
Gloria is thunderstruck as she observes Valentino and Ramon gazing at one another as at a mirror.
Erich, struck as if by lightning, gazes at Valentino, his face transfigured by love.
Valentino starts to turn to Erich.
ERICH: No! Do not look at me. Look at Ramon. Hold that expression on your face and — Ramon, step away. Gloria, approach him.
They do as Erich says. Gloria replaces Ramon. Gloria and Valentino face each other. Erich slips the monocle into place.
ERICH: Yes. Yes. Yes, Gloria. It is possible. It is inevitable.
A strange madness seizes everyone. The music swells, the guests toast and laugh and embrace and dance, even Pola is swept up in the inexplicable glee.
Gloria and Valentino parade, shaking everyone’s hands.
ERICH: Camille and Armand in their happiness.
GLORIA: (To Pola) You have your revenge, dear sister. I shall have only the dream, not the reality. Heaven is Hell. I shall play Camille and the world will be saved. But I will not be victorious. I will only be — forever — the mere goddess of Victory.
ERICH: Gloria, it is possible. It is possible. Everything you have predicted for the world is possible. It is even possible that you are not mad.
Gloria falls upon Erich’s bosom, a child in the arms of her father.
Mary and Bill, then Mae, come to congratulate Gloria. Ramon joins them. It looks very like a wedding party.
Noel and Dorothy hang out in a corner, understandably perplexed.
The doorbell RINGS. All faces look about, shocked from their magic spell. Franz leaves the room.
DOROTHY: (Watching Franz go up the stairs) Now, who on Earth?
NOEL: (Correcting her) Who in Heaven.
NOEL & DOROTHY: (Leaning on each other in weariness) Who the Hell?
Franz appears in the doorway.
FRANZ: Madame. The head of the studio.
Shock and consternation.
JACK, dignified, paternal, in a business suit, enters. He is followed by a CHAUFFEUR carrying equipment to screen a film.
Even as Gloria and her party rush forth to greet Jack, the Chauffeur is shoving past Franz to set up this equipment, directing the dispersal of the potted palms and the band and arranging chairs for the party and Jack to watch a film. [NOTE: It might be nice to have the “movie” out in the audience, so we may see the faces of the cast as they watch – and listen.]
GLORIA: Jack! Jack! What an unqualified blessing to have you here. Oh, here, wine for our father!
Jack shoves aside wine offered by Franz.
GLORIA: Come, sit down! A throne for our lord and master.
Jack ignores the offered throne.
GLORIA: Jack, I don’t believe you know Dorothy and Noel.
NOEL: Court jesters.
DOROTHY: No one courts jesters.
JACK: Writers, are you?
GLORIA: Jack, I — we — have been making a present for you. The most wonderful present you have ever been offered. Oh, I don’t know which of us should tell you.
JACK: Good evening, children. Gloria, I phoned several times. I took the liberty of coming over because I have something of the utmost importance to tell you all. Erich, Mae, Bill, Mary, Rudy, Ramon, Pola, this will affect all of you.
GLORIA: You’ve something for us? This is a conjunction of wonders. Shall we draw lots to see who gives their present first?
JACK: All right, I don’t want to divert your party for long. Hans, are we ready?
The chauffeur, Hans, signals, “yes.”
JACK: All right, then, if you’ll be so polite as to take your seats, we’ll begin.
All sit, worriedly. At a signal from Hans, lights dim.
Out of the darkness comes a picture on the screen, and
A sequence from “The Jazz Singer,” about 0:17:20 in — Jolson finishing “Sonny Boy” and saying, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute, I tell you, you ain’t heard nothin’. You wanna hear ‘Toot, Toot, Toottsie?’ All right, all right, hold on.”
As lights come up and the film ends, the party members sit like stunned animals. Hans dismantles and removes the film equipment.
JACK: I see sound has left you speechless. Tremendous, isn’t it? It’s grossing millions nationwide. It’s revolutionary! I want everyone in my office tomorrow. We have to talk. Oh, and Erich. I’ve called your company. All current productions are suspended. We have to talk about “The Merry Widow.”
Unnoticed by the preoccupied people around her, Mae stands, trembling.
JACK: (To Noel and Dorothy) You writers. Hm. Have your agents call me. We should talk. Now I want you all to get some sleep tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow. We have to talk.
There is a rumble of earthquake which grows out of the echo of Jack’s words. Mae staggers up out of her chair and goes to the terrace and offstage, unnoticed by the quiet, brooding party.
Jack exits with Hans. WE HEAR his car start and leave.
Franz is the first to move. He exits and returns with cloaks, coats, hats. The guests depart. They greet Gloria one by one, if “greet” is quite the word for their stunned, silent confrontations. Franz hands them their wraps.
The parade of guests out of the Great Hall and up stairs should resemble the slow death march of the dinosaurs in Disney’s “Fantasia.”
Except for the faces of Noel and Dorothy, which beam. They are the last to come to Gloria.
NOEL: (Kissing Gloria’s hand) Goodnight, dear lady. I enjoyed it more than I dare say.
DOROTHY: Words fail us.
Dorothy and Noel rush to catch the departing crowd.
Erich is the last to go. He pauses as if remembering that he had something with him, then shrugs and starts up the stairs. Franz is left with Mae’s wrap.
Gloria sits alone. Franz, carrying Mae’s wrap, wanders about looking for her. He exits to the terrace and off.
Gloria, alone, raises her head. Franz re-enters, carrying poor dead Mae’s body, her feathers wet and dripping.
Gloria wanders downstage to the “terrace,” barely noticing Franz’s exit with the body. She finds a glass of champagne and stares at it as we begin to hear SIRENS off.
Franz appears beside her.
GLORIA: Everything was quite perfect, Franz?
FRANZ: Quite perfect. Madame.
GLORIA: Everything was perfect. Everything was possible.
FRANZ: Instructions for tomorrow. Madam?
GLORIA: Tomorrow? Tomorrow the world will start to fall apart, all possibility of peace destroyed. Language, which can lie, will again become the coin of the realm. A hundred different languages. A thousand different lies.
Gloria looks up.
GLORIA: A million ancient stars. A million billion more years like the trillion years before. We had our chance. We failed. The tower of truth will fall before a filthy flood of sound.
Gloria leaves the stage.
Franz makes gestures which cause the lights to go out as SIRENS howl.