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“The Perfect Picture, or What Never Happened” by Wallace Irwin

Published: July 18, 2017

CHARACTERS

 

SHAKSPERE, an author.

REMBRANDT, an artist.

MICHAEL ANGELO, a sculptor.

SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN, an architect.

SIR HENRY M. STANLEY, a location hunter.

CRŒSUS, a financial backer.

NAPOLEON, a soldier.

WILL H. HAYS, a dictator.

ANGELIC VISITORS, to be revealed in the plot.

Nearly all the residents of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA in costume.

$197,432,621.04 worth of actors.

And ARCHIE DE SMITH, motion-picture director and the greatest man on earth.

 

SCENE

A glacier on Mt. Rainier. The location has nothing to do with the story, but MR. DE SMITH loves to photograph mountains; he is getting ready to produce a motion-picture version of Candida, formerly by George Bernard Shaw. 

In the foreground the inhabitants of Southern California in fancy dress are reading New Thought literature or playing poker, according to personal tastes; they have been waiting a month, on salary, for something to happen.

 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIANS (pianissimo):

We know not what he’s after

Or why he lingers now.

Let not unseemly laughter

Disturb that marble brow.

(Basso run) That marble brow.

In yonder gold pavilions

Ingeniously he sinks

Another flock of millions—

He thinks! Our Leader thinks!

(Sobbing close harmony) He thinks! Ow-ow — our Leader thinks!

 

ANGELIC VISITORS (heard in mid-air):

We’re watching this rehearsal;

Be careful what you do,

Or else our heavy curse’ll

Fall suddenly on you.

 

(General nervousness. Several Spanish señoritas wrap their shawls around their decolletage. Enter SIR HENRY M. STANLEY. He removes his pith helmet to gaze aloft.)

 

SIR HENRY to a SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN:

Sir, in my day vast jungles I have crossed,

But as location hunter I am lost.

Tell me, what are those vocal joy dispensers

Chanting on high?

 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN:

Dunno. I guess they’re censors.

 

ALL (frightened):

Oh, can it be? Oh, can it be the censors?

 

(Enter SHAKSPERE and REMBRANDT, arm in arm.)

 

SHAKSPERE (depressed):

Now is the winter of our discontent.

No more, methinks, I’ll be a monument,

But one like Hector on his chariot wheel

By money chained to make a movie reel.

 

REMBRANDT:

You’ve said a mouthful, bard. And look at me!

They call me art director here, pardie.

Yet here I stand, so far below the brute

I have to climb a ladder to salute

An angleworm.

 

(Enter CRŒSUS in a golden chariot with a cashier’s window in front.)

 

CRŒSUS:

Good morning, famous pair!

Kicking already? Well, that’s only fair.

In this here movie game to which I’m sticking

The high-priced talent’s nearly always

kicking.

 

Duet (SHAKSPERE and REMBRANDT):

Why are we here, buddy?

Just to stand ’round?

Give us a steer, buddy—

You’re on the ground.

Sketch us out a diagram—

What’s the ideer?

Why are we, why are we,

Why are we here?

 

(Salvo of trumpets. Heralds, boy scouts, electricians, cameramen, animal trainers, knife throwers, sheriffs, laundrymen, rajahs and cafeteria managers approach in solemn procession.)

 

FIRST HERALD:

Oyez! Oyez!

Stop all this noyez!

The champion thinker of the earth.

From out his brain of granite,

Has just this instant given birth

To quite a handsome planet!

 

(The flap of a golden tent opens and MR. DE SMITH. deep in thought, strides forth. A golden chair bearing his name precedes him. Diplomatists follow with office supplies.)

 

MR. DE SMITH(glaring at Mt. Rainier):

This scene offends our august sight.

Yon mountain’s too much to the right—

Who put it there?

(No answer.) 

Dolts, are ye dead?

I think I said,

Who put it there?

 

SIR HENRY M. STANLEY (apologetically):

The Indians say their own Great Spirit

Tumbled it there and planted near it —

 

DE SMITH:

Bunk! Now to our scenario.

Where’s that new English writer? Ho!

(SHAKSPERE bows bashfully.) 

I’ve read your script and think it’s rotten—

What is your name, please? I’ve forgotten.

 

SHAKSPERE:

As Shakspere I am known to fame.

 

DE SMITH:

You hate yourself, and who’s to blame?

So you’re the man I gave the script

Of Candida, and asked it whipped

Into some shape to suit the screen.

(Pointing to SHAKSPERE’S version) 

The darndest hash I’ve ever seen!

You’ve made it read, in spite of me,

Just like a parlor comedy.

 

SHAKSPERE (blushing):

But, good my lord, it looked that way,

And thus the playwright wrote the play.

 

DE SMITH:

You poor Elizabethan pote,

What care I what the playwright wrote?

Know you not that De Smith—that’s me—

Deals only in Sublimity,

In cyclones, battles, Cain and Abel,

Creation and the Tower of Babel?

Go back to Avon, fly your kite;

And if you can, please, learn to write.

 

(Stammering, SHAKSPERE totters to the cashier’s window where CRŒSUS writes him a check for $1,000,000.) 

 

CRŒSUS (with a worried look at DE SMITH):

Don’t you suppose we’d better start?

 

DE SMITH:

Where is Napoleon Bonaparte?

 

NAPOLEON (saluting):

I’m here to serve, sir.

 

DE SMITH:

What you deserve, sir,

Is a kick in the pants.

(NAPOLEON cringes.) 

Now gimme a chance

To tell what you’re here for, you fella from France.

This Bernard Shaw comedy’s lacking in punch;

So now we’ll begin

Putting it in

With a big battle scene which we’ll shoot before lunch.

I’ve got you an army on yonder high bluff.

Go put them in action at once. Do your stuff.

 

NAPOLEON:

Thanks, very kindly, your highness, but it —

 

DE SMITH:

Do as I tell you, you insect, or quit.

(NAPOLEON shuffles away, hat in hand.) 

I’ll have trouble yet with that mean little tike.

(Claps hands. Slave appears.) 

Where’s that Italian the sculptors call Mike?

 

SLAVE:

You mean Michael Angelo, highness? He’s here.

 

MICHAEL ANGELO (kneeling):

By contract, I think, I am booked to appear.

 

DE SMITH:

Well, don’t brag about it or play to the gallery.

I’m fully aware

Of the honor you bear

In playing with me.

It will double your salary.

Now I’m looking for statues, and out for the best.

Have you got any samples that you can suggest?

 

MICHAEL ANGELO:

If you’ll pardon my gloom,

Might I venture to say

That my Medici Tomb

Isn’t bad in its way?

 

DE SMITH:

What, may I ask, does the thing represent?

 

MICHAEL ANGELO:

Not very much. Just a lady and gent.

They are wearing—ahem —

(Blushes) Oh, I really can’t say.

 

ANGELIC VISITORS (heard distantly):

Beware the temptation now forninst you!

All that you say will be used aginst you!

 

DE SMITH (annoyed at interruption):

Go on, Mr. Michael. Speak candidly, pray.

 

MICHAEL ANGELO:

Well, an ounce or two less than a light negligee.

 

DE SMITH (pleased):

We’ll try it!

(To CRŒSUS.) We’ll buy it!

(CRŒSUS, with automatic melancholy, dashes off another $1,000,000 check.)

 

MICHAEL ANGELO:

But, sir, I’m afraid that it isn’t for sale.

 

DE SMITH:

Don’t bore me with trifles like that. Here’s the kale.

The statues you mention will photograph well

For the big murder scene. We can work it up swell.

 

(Sudden clamor in the air. Innumerable STATE CENSORS with white wings flapping, come swooping down.)

 

Hymn of the CENSORS:

Though temptation’s voice be sweet,

Think of what you mustn’t do!

Photographic sin’s defeat

Comes in Statutes One and Two.

All suggestive scenes avoid—

Think of some we have escaped!

Truth can only be enjoyed

When her limbs are thickly draped.

 

(Consternation. Hoof beats without. Enter WILL H. HAYS, riding furiously on a snowwhite charger. He throws himself at the feet of the DIRECTOR and presents a petition or something tied with a pink ribbon.)

 

WILL H. HAYS:

Oh, mercy! Oh, goodness! Oh, sugar! Oh, scat!

Whatever your plans are, please, do not do that!

I ask in the name of my Presidencee

Of Producers and Distributors of Amerikee.

 

How often and often I’ve had a close shave

With naughty directors who will not behave.

But I scold ’em and hold ’em to shame if they won’t—

For the censors will get them, by jing, if I don’t.

 

By nature I’m simply a kind-hearted man;

I strive to be gentle and sweet when I can,

And teach my producers, by methods so smooth,

To cut out the rough stuff and keep in the smooth.

 

You must not forget how in me you invest

The power not to order, but merely suggest;

But if you don’t listen, I fear you will get

The ax where they tickled Marie Antoinette.

 

(At this point SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN, who has been hired as consulting architect and has had nothing to do since the show commenced, leads away MR. HAYS weeping bitterly.)

 

DE SMITH (annoyed):

My mood is changed. My day is spoiled.

For several hours in vain I’ve toiled.

I do not care for this location.

I have another inspiration.

(With a sweeping gesture of the hand he wipes out Mt. Rainier and everybody on it. Nobody survives, save SHAKSPERENAPOLEON, REMBRANDT and the other illustrious employes who, being immortal, cannot bejunked, even by a great producer). 

This mountain lacks in pep and passion—

I want volcanoes spouting lava.

Smith will set another fashion—

Come on. Let’s shoot a scene in Java.

 

(Led by SIR HENRY STANLEY, the little expedition starts south, leaving CRŒSUS behind. He has spent his last million paying off NAPOLEON’S army and has lost interest in the production):

 

Duet (SHAKSPERE and NAPOLEON):

The movie’s a wondrous invention;

We wonder just how it is made.

With wonderful magic, both comic and tragic,

It puts the black arts in the shade.

In the wonderful progress of science,

Such wonderful pictures it shows,

With armies in motion and storms on the ocean

And airships cavorting like crows.

 

Oh, wonderful, wonderful wonder!

We wonder such wonders exist.

We out-of-date sages of rather dark ages

Repine for the things we have missed.

And after we’ve watched a rehearsal,

With its wonderful energy tall,

We wonder a scene ever gets on the screen—

For that’s the big wonder of all!

 

CURTAIN

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