1904

The Year Everything Important Happened

Telling Your Story

Cemetery

Macauley family marker and grave of William Macauley, Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, NY, photo by Rose

Does a biographer ever tell anyone’s story but his own?  For that matter, does anyone?  Can you ever, really, tell a story that isn’t yours to begin with?

You think you can, of course, and you do all the time: what you saw, what you heard, what the kids got up to while you were out, what your mother was like when she was a little girl, what obviously went down in your friend’s marriage over the last few years, what must have happened to that poor child, that old man you sat next to and so on and so forth but I wonder if you can honestly give an account of another life that doesn’t bear a striking resemblance to your own. I doubt it, frankly. Which is probably bad news for Hitler’s biographer but there you are. There you are.  Not to mention fiction which is worse; fiction is just telling your story with the names changed. At least with biography you can try and pass off your personal version of history as someone else’s.

The truth, however, is you can’t: you can’t get out of you. You can’t stand outside your own atmosphere; you can never remove yourself from your own planet of self and its orbit and be somewhere beyond it, looking back at the rest of us and you and the universe from an external and therefore purely imaginary, unobstructed, viewpoint.  You can’t see you (or me) from outside you.  And no, a mirror doesn’t really count; there’s the factor of reversal first of all which you’ve surely noticed, and a time lag as well which you may not have taken into account.  The world is a mirror that reflects what you know, what you are today and also some of what you were and used to be. You may not be quite as awful these days, true, or as shameless or unkind as you used to be, or whoever it is your self-righteous indignation is focused on in the mirror of the world around you at the moment; you may have moved on, evolved, realized, become more conscious.  But oh my dear Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle, you’ve been looking at yourself even if you want to pretend you don’t recognize the face looking back at you. It’s through a glass darkly you’re seeing the rest of us but the darkness is yours.  You are a prisoner of your own narration. Your casa is indeed mine and vice versa, and that goes for your loves and desires and fears and hopes and dreams.

So why bother?  Why try breaking out, why try to escape?  Because we are so caught up in the dream of who we think we are, the tale we’ve constructed out of the past and the fantasy and the pain and the fear, that we don’t know how to stop.  We’ve become so attached to this old rhyme we keep telling everyone, to total strangers just so we can hear it again, that we don’t even realize what we’re doing, convincing others of a history that isn’t even true. Looking for witnesses to corroborate and validate our flawed version of ourselves, seeking an audience to applaud our account, to weep for our maudlin melodrama or cheer our noble, tragic efforts.

And then, once in a while, we begin to suspect we might have it wrong, or more likely we find ourselves falling into someone else’s dream, someone else’s made-up story, and suddenly we think, wait, that doesn’t sound quite true, that isn’t the way it was at all, I don’t believe what you’re saying, let me tell you how it was, let me tell you your story, for you.  Sure, it will be filtered through me, I don’t live in your world, I live in mine but I’m willing to give it a try. I’m willing to try and see you. And maybe in the process there’s a chance you’ll see me.

Sometimes I listen to people who are in so much pain from their stories I just want to stop them talking. Stop telling the old lies, I want to tell them. Let me tell you about you instead, I want to say; let me tell you my version of you, the truth I see of you, of how great and smart and beautiful you really are if you would simply wake up, stop beating that dead horse, let go of that old albatross around your neck, stop dwelling in that old dream, stop living in that made-up past, wake up.

A Pretty View

ShermanOaks

William Macauley residence, 1935 – 1940s, today.

It’s difficult getting a good view; the sun’s at the wrong angle, there’s a car parked at the curb, a child’s playhouse in the front yard and a bird bath and of course the picket fence and arbor, and several ornamental trees.  Still you can see the bones of the 1935 bungalow, or what was left after the Hollywood Regency additions were made, a second floor above the garage with French windows and Juliet balconies, and a curious but rather dramatic stair tower, not quite octagonal, rising next to an even taller chimney. Was that William’s idea?  A little Paris meets Georgian country house meets Paramount Studio backlot meets San Fernando Valley? Possibly.

In any case, it is here, at _____ Avenue, in Sherman Oaks, above Valley Vista, south of Ventura Blvd, that William Macauley (Head of Household, 70, actor, retired, place of birth Ireland) and Roger Edward (Lodger, 23, unemployed, place of birth Pennsylvania) were living in 1940 and had been living, according to the census, for the last five years since, checking property records, the house had been built or Roger turned 18, take your pick. The view has certainly changed over the years; the lush and mature growth seemingly unaffected by the current drought, the neighboring properties aggrandized and modernized and the daylights renovated out of them in a variety of stucco Mediterranean or Post-Modern Clapboard Colonial styles, so it is not very easy to see what William and Roger might have seen coming out the front door, from the French windows, on a meandering walk up to Mulholland or down to Ventura 76 years ago. Did William have a car?  He was 70 after all, but he got around.

“I’ll say he got around,” observes Rose. “70 years old and a live-in boy toy a third his age. Not bad, darling. Not bad at all.”

I don’t have the courage to go to the front door, knock, disturb the occupants.  What would I say?  “A ghost and I are telling the story of his life and he lived here, would you mind if we just took a quick peek around?”  I’m not sure the answers to the questions I have will be found inside anyway. What happened to Roger? What happened to the boy sunning himself in the chaise lounge on the other side of that picket fence?  I stand in the street and try to will my eyes to see it all the way it was, to hear something, to feel something, to fall back into time and be there. I only manage to make myself dizzy.

This isn’t the only place William lived in Los Angeles but the other residences, one in Hollywood on Selma, and another closer to Ventura Boulevard, down the hillside from here, are gone now.  I was parking my car to go to the Egyptian for a silent film festival a couple months ago.  As I got out and started walking away I looked across the lot at a rather shabby old Craftsman cottage, one of those turn of the last century shingled affairs circa 1904 with a dark furrowed brow of a front porch and down at the mouth stoop and the thought that came to me was, oh look, they pulled off all the morning glory vines, how sad, it made a pretty view.  And for an instant I am standing at a bathroom window, shaving brush in hand instead of car keys.  And before I realize what’s happened, the moment is gone.

Census

FullSizeRender (2)

In the beginning 1904 wasn’t a year but a number, a series of numbers; a code, a password perhaps, a combination, four digits jotted drunkenly on a matchbook, maybe a partial address, part of a phone number. One Nine Oh Four what, for what?

And isn’t that the way everything starts?  In the digital world certainly, zeros and ones, one repeated nine times and zero times four, building that way, creating the pattern, endlessly.

Numbers.  A Year.  A census always gave him pause, and there had been several he could remember, in different cities.  It was not the census, however, as much as the census taker, or rather what he represented: government, law, the recording of one’s life, deeds, misdemeanors, open to interpretation, consequences.  The War especially, he thought, had brought so much into focus, this War even more so than the last, boys who’d never been off a farm before had seen the world and what they’d seen they liked and wanted more of; it had happened in the last one as well but that had been another time, more forgiving at any rate, and he’d been younger.  Gravitas of an elder statesman, now it worked in his favor, thank heaven. Just a few years earlier, height of conflict, soldiers everywhere, fit young men in uniform and a misunderstanding in the bus station lavatory in Sherman, a nowhere part of town really, down from the Sunset Strip, home to chorus boys and girls and boys in wardrobe and set design, Dorothy Parker and that husband, Adrian and that ghastly wife, oh the parties…

A misunderstanding or understanding too well, his blood still ran cold at the memory. Young lad in uniform, wagging himself, catching his eye with more than his guard down and then that heart stopping moment on the ride to the Sheriff’s Station and the realization, now stone cold sober, that this would have to be his greatest performance or there would never be another.  Consequences too terrible to think of, his record stamped in red, pervert, undesirable, deportation, prison, shudder, “In High Dudgeon” the only way to go, “Take umbrage” taking on new meaning as he would tell his friends at the Fox and Hound on Ventura later, every good officious line of threat and innuendo he’d ever had to deliver, with gusto, panache, heartfelt, he’d used them all. “Outrageous,” he exclaimed with a sputter and in an Oxbridge stutter, “P-p-p-preposterous, extraordinary miscarriage of justice, I shall raise a question in the House, as a loyal subject of His Majesty, I demand an audience with the ambassador, the constable, the magistrate, this will reach ears in the Palace it is only fair to warn you…” and so on, and so forth until he’d worn them down with his best lord of the manor, master of the hunt, peer of the realm, Belgravia gentleman in a grand mal fit of pique.  Until he was left alone and heard the chief in the hallway dressing down his subordinate with a dismissive, “For Gawdssake Charlie he’s not a faggot he’s a Brit, git ‘im outta heer.”  And Scene and Exit with a threatening look from a pissed off Charlie, and finding himself back on Santa Monica boulevard in a cold sweat on a cold dawn, but free.  One more time.

He’d moved to the other side of the hills, Sherman Oaks, sister city to Sherman if you would, although city was hardly the word for it in those days, a collection of shacks, a general store, a couple saloons, the wild west only slightly tamed, a cluster of sound stages, Mack Sennett first, and a blooming of cottages on the hillside, bungalows in the American version of the Raj but here in the San Fernando Valley, not Kashmir.  As far as the eye could see a dusty grid of orange groves and country roads, a trolley line, a railroad spur.  Some mornings looking out his front door, past the picket fence (oh yes, my darlings, a bloody picket fence and a bloody rose arbor too) down over the hill to Ventura Blvd below he thought not of India but of Australia, the Great Outback, those six months of touring Melbourne to Ayers Rock, no young constable waving his business at you in front of the trough, more than likely if you were lucky a cowboy with more experience in sheep than girls or other boys, hungry but as liable to leave you with a black eye later, skip the trip to jail.  There were always risks.

We will call you my lodger, he said to 23 year old Roger, and so he was listed on the Census, Roger the lodger and William chuckled at his joke. A lodger in England was always Roger after all.  Or had been, once upon a time.  William was 77 years old now, he reminded himself, and he hadn’t been in England or Ireland or the Irish Free State for that matter in how many years, since the last war, customs changed, he supposed, and language, and …more memories.  Roger was in the backyard sunning himself; William stood in the knotty pine breakfast nook at the “Ye Olde England” style diamond-paned casement window looking out, the sun beading up and down the boy’s body multiplied in lovely wavy diamonds and William, lost in thought, adjusted his breath to the slow rise and fall of the boy’s stomach glistening in the sun. There were advantages to a lodger, a memento mori of his very own.  “Ah youth, youth,” the doctor exclaims in Chekhov’s Sea Gull, “when there is nothing left to say, people always say, ‘ah youth, youth…’”

Cast of Characters

RosePainting

Ratislav Racoff (Russian 1904-1982) A Pink Rose and Shell, 1960, oil on masonite, 10.75″ x 8.75″

“I hear you’re writing the story of an actress named Rose,” a friend I ran into recently told me.

“I’m actually ghost writing the memoir of an actor named William Macauley,” I explained.

“Oh yes,” my friend replied.  “I’d heard there was a ghost involved.”

In pretty much any good story someone does something to someone else and we find out why.  Rose gave me a book because she thought it would help, and we find out why.  The book belonged to William Macauley who partnered with a fellow named W.B. Patton, and they went on tour in 1904 and we find out why.  And what happened.  And what didn’t happen, and why.  And why it matters.

I’m going away for a few days, and you’ll find out why; some of you already know or have heard, but there are still questions to be answered and matters to be resolved, researched, revealed.  Meanwhile, William is getting impatient.  “I’m right here,” he says, “looking over your shoulder.  Waiting.”

Not Who But What

deadhorse

Boys with a dead horse, New York, circa 1904 [link to source]

“You’re asking the wrong question,” comes the voice.  “Not Who but What.  What did I love, what did I give my life to, in the pursuit of, all that I had, from the very beginning.  Then ask why, where, how, and the answers will follow, will compel, will reveal and unravel the tale.  But Who isn’t always the key, and you must understand that.  The living seldom do, the young almost never, and as a result it is often their downfall.  Who can be a terrible distraction, in fact.  The ones you love will always come and go…”

“You’re not going to tell me,” I reply.  I feel the hesitation.  Not yet at any rate.

“We started early,” my muse/subject/co-writer continues in another vein.  “Children are the greatest thespians, they don’t know how to be anything else.  They are joyful liars, uninhibited pretenders.  David Belasco was on the stage at five years old, was encouraged in his interests, he was one of the lucky ones but in truth there were  always children loitering at the back stage door, sneaking in, inquisitive, looking for work, for food, not like the five-year-olds in your world chauffeured about in prams, riding like invalids with vacant stares in shopping carts at Ralphs, oh don’t balk, don’t act surprised, I’ve been with you, I’ve seen, I know what I’m talking about.”

Sometimes I have thoughts that are not my own.  I wonder where they come from.  Someone else slips in and sees my world.  I’m surprised but not surprised.

“Grown children whining and bored,” my co-author adds, warming to his subject.  “We were working at their age if we wanted to eat.  And speaking of eating, you need to start doing so properly; all that sugar-coated, chemically-enhanced stuff in those boxes and wrappers is killing you.  I’m afraid I must insist on a healthy regimen.  I need you alive on your side, for the time being.”  A pause for me to process this admonition before he continues.  Then:

“We were kids, you see.  There was a world to be explored and it was all immensely interesting but much of it carried the urgency of danger and smelled of struggle and pain and trouble and so by contrast the theater was a magic place, out in front as well as back stage, another world, not like the street, or home, if we had one.  Genteel, fancy with a thick sweet aroma you could taste, better than a pub or saloon or stable any day, and they gave us things to do, if we looked sharp and they liked how we looked, if we behaved and were earnest.  They paid attention to us, you see, which you can appreciate. ‘Find a boy to do that,’ a stage manager would say with half a glance down at you while he swiped the stogey from one side of his mouth to the other.  Or an actress would sigh an octave and a gentleman would spy you out.  ‘Give ‘im a nickel, if he goes and is fast about it,’ they’d say, and the ladies would wink big eyes made bigger with Kohl and belladona ’til you fell into them for looking and they’d laugh, and the men would flash pocketwatches of gold at you and snap their lids with promise and face powder.  Not real gold but gold enough.”  The chuckle of an old man like an air conditioner kicking on.

“What I’m saying is that’s what I loved. The world of the stage.  Back then we were young and curious and wanted to know things.  Kids like me, kids like Belasco whose parents were Jewish of course and so recognized the value of the arts, of culture and language and learning – did you know that after he got to be famous Belasco wore black shirts and white collars like a priest? A Jew dressed like a priest, they’d say but he was an actor first, he understood what the theater does, how it transforms, how you make it work for you and fall in love with it and in the process you become someone else.  Boys like him, like me, curious about the world, about everything, about being alive.  You can use that curiosity, learn to use it, even the poorest ones, hanging out on the curb and spotting the stranger.  Or desperate, making nests for themselves at night on the hay barges in the river, lying curled up together with the others in alleys, in fear and wonder at what the next day will bring.”

Nemesis

strongheart

Non-circulating items, Los Angeles Public Library, Central Branch.

“Strongheart” was the play William C. de Mille was working on in 1904 [see previous post] for the actor Robert Edeson; the play premiered in 1905 and ran for several seasons on Broadway.  Edeson, who would go on to star in silent films in Hollywood, named his house on Long Island Strongheart (recently sold for $65 million by Richard Gere, go here for the excellent entry at ‘Old Long Island’) after the play, and the tie-in novel by Frederick R. Burton, based on de Mille’s play, was published in 1908.

“Strongheart” was a big hit, and so too was de Mille’s “Classmates” which also starred Edeson.  And like de Mille’s other popular offering “The Warrens of Virginia” (novelized by George Cary Eggleston), in each of these dramas the hero, an outsider, faces nearly insurmountable obstacles in achieving his heart’s desire.  In “Strongheart” the impediment to love is race and culture: our hero is a noble American Indian sent East to be educated at Yale and in the process of being civilized falls in love with the sister of a classmate.  In “The Warrens of Virginia” a Yankee soldier falls in love with a Southern belle, and in “Classmates” social class barriers and vicious slander from a rich and jealous upperclassman keep a poor but courageous West Point cadet from being with the girl he loves.

“Well, there’s our story,” I say to my co-author with a hint of triumph because, well, triumph of Love against all odds, that sort of thing.  “Now tell me who you loved, and we’re off and running.”

Silence.

The trouble with

One of the challenges of working with

Having a writing partner who’s dead is like dancing in the dark; you’re not sure where you’re going.  Half the time you can’t even tell who’s leading.

It should have been me, I hear him say / whisper in my head.  Not the answer I was looking for but oddly enough I find I understand.

“You mean it should have been you, not Robert Edeson who got these roles,” I reply. “Well of course.  And that’s why you bought the sets and costumes for “Classmates” after Edeson’s hit run, and you went on tour. You did the next best thing: you took the show on the road.  Or rail, as the case may be.  Edeson was your competition, he was your worthy opponent…”

More silence.

Robert Edeson (born in 1868 in New Orleans), was the son of a theater stage manager and producer and like William de Mille (born 1878 in Washington, North Carolina) whose father was a playwright and friend of the famous theater impressario David Belasco, both men were sons of the South.  Southern boys.  With the word ‘boy’ comes an echo of one-of-the-boys, old-boy-network, boy’s-club,  which is to say a closed system, an exclusive fraternity, a manly elite, and let’s not forget how both Edeson and de Mille would benefit from their associations with William’s younger and much more celebrated brother Cecil B.  I consider my writing partner’s background, a poor Irish kid who has no connections, has to make it on his own, hustle and struggle, start from scratch, make his own way, no family connections.  Talk about an outsider.  I identify completely.

“I know just what you mean,” I say.   “Never fitting in, never feeling like you belong, having to make it on your own…” But there’s more to it, I think.

“Who did you love?” I ask, trying to bring us back to the matter at hand.  Against all odds, battling the establishment, who were you doing it for?  Who did you love?”

I hear an ominous hesitation.  A profound stillness in the shadows.

Research

research

Film Scenario by Josephine Lovett of the William C. de Mille play “Classmates” for the 1924 film version starring Richard Barthelmess.

You can know a man by the stories he tells, even if he doesn’t want you to or says you can’t.  Pay attention and look closely, however, and you will learn his dreams and his fears, who his heroes are and what keeps him awake at night.  A writer reveals himself through his material, the good and the bad, what he decides is interesting or rejects as boring, the details he focuses on and the parts he leaves out; the characters he casts as villains and those you can pretty well guess he’d most like to sleep with, even if he never does.  I’ve worked for a writer or two and trust me, I know.

According to The Theatre (Vol. 4, #45, November 1904) William C. de Mille, older brother of the famous Cecil B., was working in 1904 on his play “Strongheart” for the actor Robert Edeson which opened in January of 1905 at the Hudson Theatre in New York; his play “Classmates” also starring Edeson would follow in 1907.  William Macauley, actor and producer, would take “Classmates” on the road in 1909 [see previous posts].  There would be more than one film version.

About these plays and others and what they reveal of the author, however, there will be more to come later.  For now, let’s widen the focus.  Let’s consider the context of the body of work left behind by this writer who also directed, did Hollywood as well as Broadway.  Let’s look at the bigger picture, the time, the world, the other players.

Which means another trip to another library.  And roses.  You should always have roses when you’re doing research.

Entr’acte

Program (2)

“That was very, actor-ly,” I think/type.  I feel a fluttering as flattery hits its mark.  “Stella would be impressed.”

“Stella?” William replies in my head.

“An acting teacher.  My friend Rose’s teacher Stella Adler.  She was also an actress.  So is this how we’re going to work?” I ask, shifting the conversation to the matter at hand.  “You soliloquize, I type?” [see previous post].  I sense surprise at the question.  A perplexed tingling, a ruffle in the air.  “I’m asking,” I explain, “because I’m not sure where the story is headed.  Or, well, perhaps not headed.  What it’s about,” I hasten to add, “besides you.”

Death where is thy sting?” comes the reply, delivered with a certain huff and melodramatic flourish in the ether.

“Yes, that of course,” I answer.  “but people think I’m imagining things.  Imagining you.  We need more than that.  We need conflict.  A villain.”

The answer comes back so quickly I’m surprised.  “Really?” I say out loud, and before I can add, “You must be joking,” I have the distinct impression of the ghostly equivalent of ‘duh.’  Or, (sorry, I find I am being told to correct myself), the sense of a ‘I should have thought that much was already obvious.’  Then as if for emphasis, a book abruptly falls off the desk.  It is Jeanine Basinger’s Silent Stars, (Knopf, 1999) inscribed to me affectionately by the author in red ink because it was the only pen I had with me at the book signing in the lobby of the old CAA building but I digress and no, I didn’t bump it accidentally and no it was not balanced precariously and no, it could not just have slipped on its own; I’m almost getting used to these psychic signals.  I reach down and look at the page the volume has landed open to.

“Mary Pickford?” I ask. “Well, she was many things my dear but she was hardly a villain.”  There’s a shuddering of impatience in the air and I look again.  Slowly it dawns on me.

“Oh,” I say.  “Oh I see.  And in 1904 too,” I add, impressed.

I feel a satisfied nodding in the wings.  I have my work cut out for me now; I can see that.

And the story begins to take shape.

To be continued.

A Disembodied Voice

tomb

Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York, November 17, 2015.  Photo by Rose

1904 was a year of communication.  The Brazilian priest and scientist Landell de Moura obtained three patents for wireless technology: “The Wave Transmitter” (October 11, 1904), “The Wireless Telephone”, and the “Wireless Telegraph” (both dated November 22, 1904).  Jagadis Chunder Bose patented the coherer detector (semiconductor) on March 29, 1904, and the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company was awarded the patent for a four-circuit wireless radio apparatus on June 28, 1904.  There were others,  of course, all contributing pieces of the system, parts of the communication/information highway.  In 1904 the world could speak at great distances, without wires, across oceans.

In 1904 William Macauley, actor, was touring the opera houses of the American Midwest.  Which is where I thought we would start this story.  Communication, however, involves at least two parties, and when at least one of those parties is an actor (an opinionated one, impatient) and the other is a writer (an uncertain one, possibly lazy), the process can become a little complicated.  Especially if one is speaking from another realm.  Or looking over the shoulder of the other, typing. Or not, apparently.

“Actors act,” (William ‘says’ and I type). “It’s that simple. Start there. That’s your story, no need to embellish.  You see us, hear us, inhabiting the bright other world beyond the blazing flames of the foot lights, the other world of luminous brightness, of breath, of life, of music and real language, up here on the stage, framed by a proscenium arch swagged by curtains that lift and reveal a world more real than the meaningless fumbling shapes and mumbling in the dark below.  Look at me, look at this more vivid creation parallel to your pale reality.   Now tables turned, the roles reversed, how do you like that, which is the fiction, which is the fact?  Tell me, I’ll play my part, of course.  It’s what actors do.

“Because that was my life, acting, my real life, what I did with those years.  Or if you insist, begin before that, fine, put in the part about hiding my face in my mother’s skirts on the dock if you will, 1876, a child, salt and fish in the air, tears, brine, fear, adventure (the images are coming too fast to keep up).  The shiny sheer slick black wall of the ship rising up mammoth overhead, impossible future, bidding adieu, forbidding on the other side of a swelling gulley of oily water waiting to churn and widen, the crowd around us men mostly, a few women, a rude dull crowd in black, in wool, me small with my face in mother’s skirts, pulling the thick cloth to me, the rich reassuring scent of vinegar and roses, wood smoke, bread, heartbreak, life.  Times would come when I stood on a stage in a strange town and remembered and could have embraced, did embrace the curtain between the real and the imagined, hanging velvet of sweat and sweet dust, buried my face, wrapped the heavy familiar folds around me, giant mother.  Lifted up by a boy in the wings, pulled up by a heavy rope hand, let the stars through the coy fringed swoop to the rich applause beyond, beckoning in the smoky light, the fluttering of hands and joy, the humanity and hope on the other side of the dream.

“Or start in Ireland in 1870, another century entirely, another between it and you in your present; not mine, I barely know it.  The place of my birth is an unknown land conjured by those who were doomed to remember it, their memories borrowed and stolen, a troubled tortured loyalty passed on to me as inheritance to be treasured, squandered, regretted: a curse, a legacy, a gift.  Northern Ireland is a poor woman crying out in pain in childbirth in the night, Ballymoney a dim dream of low life and low ceilings and damp stone, of moss and smoke in dark corners, straw, and a gut deep ache which is forever something that will feel like homesick or hunger or both.  County Antrim where the giant’s causeway of cobblestones spreads out in wet wind-whipped octagonal piles, reaching toward another shore, a place a father who frightened would take you, unnatural, your Disneyland can’t compete, blocks of stone spilled into the sea, begin there, or the pony cart to the train, the train itself, the dock, the departure, mother and sisters and brother and me, the youngest four, Da and the two older boys gone over ahead of us.

“They were strangers to me always afterward, the older family men in America, the ones who went before, you should understand that, Thomas the oldest and the first with a job in the mill, making a place for the rest of us to land, to leave, to come back to at the end.  I was the baby, a position with privileges but it came with duty too, people forget that, what the youngest child is for, the responsibility.  She was everything to me, Mother, and after her my dear Sister, less than a year between us, virtually twins.   Then Jane, five years older than us, Little Mother we called her, and tougher, more of a threat.  And John, older by a couple years, John the brother I loved the most, and then the strangers, my father and the older ones, Alex and Tom.

You type fast,” (he ‘observes,’ and I type).  “Start there.”

And so we begin.

Ghost Writer

Research

Research

Actors act but they also tell stories. Trust me, I’ve known a few actors; some of the stories they tell you are even true. The Greeks saw the stage as a place where ideas could be explored but as soon as you had a stage you had an audience, and once you had an audience it didn’t take long for actors to realize that a stage was a place where dreams could be made and reality improved upon.  Ideas and dreams, a tricky combination from then on.  No wonder Plato said we should ban artists.  He meant actors, but writers too.

So you start out in this world, in any endeavor, as anyone would, working with a ghost, by sticking to the facts.  Your actor William Macauley starred in a touring company production of “The Minister’s Son” (see previous posts) in 1904.  At different dates he did different shows, lived at different addresses in different cities.  Check the newspapers, the census records, refine your Google searches, be a sleuth.  If you’re lucky you have a dear friend like Rose to help.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 3, 1912: “Among the passengers of the steamship Lapland which docked this morning from Liverpool was Frederick Macauley, a brother of William Macauley of the Greenpoint Players.  The brothers had not seen each other for fourteen years and immediately upon landing and passing baggage inspection Frederick journeyed to Brooklyn to see his brother William play the part of Suffers Thorne in ‘The Spendthrift.’

“This is a great find,” I tell Rose. “Except William didn’t have a brother Frederick.  Do you suppose it’s a mistake, or was it someone else and William just said it was his brother, or…”

“Look at the date,” Rose says abruptly, brushing aside my objections.  “1912.  Make it April not September and make it the Carpathia instead of the Lapland, bringing in the survivors from the Titanic.  William fights his way through the throng on the Brooklyn Bridge to be at the dock on 14th Street when his long lost sister disembarks and collapses in his arms.”

“Oh Rose,” I say.

“A little dramatic license can propel the narrative,” counters Rose, who is a trained actress after all with stories of her own, including a colorful period as a performer in a traveling Mexican circus (seriously, I’m not making that up).

“William said I should not embellish the truth or try and be scandalous, I’m supposed to just stick to the facts.”

“Oh please,” Rose retorts.  “You’ve handled actors before. Television actors. Tell him that. Besides, he’s not even here.”

“Well, he sort of is,” I explain.  “I hear him grumbling in the shadows.”

“Trust me,” says Rose.  “All actors lie.  Go with the Titanic-Sister angle.”

« Older posts

© 2016 1904

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑