For background, see: (from War, Literature and the Arts)
Scene Twenty: New York, early winter 1898
During the Cuban Campaign, about 500 correspondents and photographers, were sent to cover the war. Among the most prominent were Crane, Norris, Davis, Jimmy Hare, Stephen Bonsal, Edward Marshal, and the novelist John Fox Jr. (Crittenden: A Kentucky Story of Love and War)
Also, in Cuba was William Randolph Hearst in the role of publisher/reporter.
At Pete’s Tavern, Crane has gathered a few dozen of the writers for a private screening of the premier of Black and Blue on San Juan Hill.
Crane enters as the men are mingling. Crane first approaches two younger men.
Crane: Hello, Sherwood and Carl, glad you could you be here.
Anderson and Sandburg: Thanks for having us. We hardly qualify as literary dignitaries.
Crane: We only met briefly in Cuba, but I can tell. I hope I live to see what you men write about the 20th century.
[Sherwood Anderson 1876 – 1941) and Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) served in Cuba, arriving after the Spanish surrender at Santiago. Anderson was best known for his short story cycle, Winesburg, Ohio. Sandburg wrote extensively about his war experience in Always the Young Strangers (1953)
The group take their seats in a back room and are addressed by Crane.
Crane: Gentleman, thank you for coming. First let us thank Mr. Hearst for picking up the tab for dinner and drinks. Our Splendid Little War made him enough money. He can afford it. (clapping)
Each of you have agreed not to write anything about the film until it is shown publically. A book is being passed around. Please sign your name as testament of your word. This is a solemn promise.
Norris: And the penalty for breaking it?
Crane: You will become the female character in my next short story, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” Frank, you will look wonderful in a corset. Enjoy.
(As the movie progresses, the men are clapping enthusiastically. During the San Juan Hill scenes, the group is largely silent. At the end, the clapping is of mixed intensity. After, Crane speaks to some of the men as they are leaving
Crane: Mr. Hearst, any thoughts?
Hearst: Wait till this gets out! (Crane looks at him sternly). I know, I know. I’ve sworn on a Cross of Gold not to say a peep.
But when our faithful see Roosevelt fall off his horse, we’ll get the Great Commoner himself [William Jennings Bryan] elected this time.
[Hearst was twice elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York in 1905 and 1909, for Governor of New York in 1906, and for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1910.
Bryan was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1896 and 1900, losing twice to McKinley with Roosevelt as vice president in 1900. Roosevelt became President when McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Bryan lost again in 1908 to William Howard Taft.]
Hearst: I did say of Cuba, “You provide the pictures, and I’ll provide the war.” Crane, you’ve given me moving pictures!
[from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Kane was modeled after Hearst. In this scene, he makes the statement during the run up to the Spanish-American War]
Crane: (turning to Edward Marshall) So Marshall, what did you think?
Marshall: Really, Crane, I just paid attention to the scene where I was shot in the spine, yet beat death as I dictated my stirring account. Love how you had yourself filming me dictating. Did I tell you Cosmopolitan has given me an advance for “What it Feels Like to be Shot?”
Crane: As long as you don’t mention you saw Black and Blue. Otherwise, you’ll get a knife in the back you won’t survive, says Brutus.
Crane: (to Frank Norris) Frank, what’s your post mordem?
Norris: Dammit, Crane, where am I and the dead Spaniard’s glass eyeball? (takes several balls out of his pocket and begins juggling them). I know, it’s a bit of a fetish. (sheepishly)
Dammit, Crane, it was mostly bully. Once my next book, Octopus is done, I’ll offer you first filming rights. Same for McTeague as soon as it’s done. There’s even a scene where McTeague half swallows a billiard ball!
[In his 1909 film, A Corner in Wheat, D.W. Griffith would incorporate a major scene from The Octopus. In 1924, Eric Von Stroheim would adapt McTeague into his classic Greed]
And as for Roosevelt falling off his horse, I’ve been known to throw in a few absurd leit motifs myself. You’ve topped Dr. Bangs. [the Red Cross surgeon who in Comida: An Experience in Famine nightly takes out his glass eyeball and polishes in front of the aghast journalists.]
Crane: (to Richard Harding Davis) Dick? I wish I had given you a more prominent role. Sorry.
Davis: You know what I think. The Roosevelt part was pure rubbish. It was disgraceful and slander.
Crane: But in The Cuban and Porto Rican Campaign you praised the Negro trooper. You even used the phrase, red badge of courage.
Davis: I said the black troopers helped Roosevelt. I didn’t say they saved his ass.
But, really Stephen, here’s how I see the movie. The cinematography is brilliant. You are a genius.
It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly . . . but there’s too much pageantry, too much fife and drum, too many banners unfurling, too many Gattlings. What’s missing is reality, really. We don’t feel the war. You had that in Red Badge. You should have just made a movie about Red Badge.
You don’t have it in Rough Riders or Black and Blue on San Juan Hill whatever you want to call it. I am sorry, I know you wanted to, but in your own words, “you didn’t get it right.”
Davis: As for you charging up the Hill and wig-wagging. You know what I wrote about that charge and you:
At the turn of the road I found Colonel Leonard Wood and a group of Rough Riders, who were busily intrenching. At the same moment Stephen Crane came up with “Jimmy” Hare, the man who has made the Russian-Japanese War famous. Crane walked to the crest and stood there as sharply outlined as a semaphore, observing the enemy’s lines, and instantly bringing upon himself and us the fire of many Mausers. With every one else, Wood was crouched below the crest and shouted to Crane to lie down. Crane, still standing, as though to get out of ear-shot, moved away, and Wood again ordered him to lie down. “You’re drawing the fire on these men,” Wood commanded. Although the heat–it was the 1st of July in the tropics–was terrific, Crane wore a long India rubber rain-coat and was smoking a pipe. He appeared as cool as though he were looking down from a box at a theatre. I knew that to Crane, anything that savored of a pose was hateful, so, as I did not want to see him killed, I called, “You’re not impressing any one by doing that, Crane.” As I hoped he would, he instantly dropped to his knees. When he crawled over to where we lay, I explained, “I knew that would fetch you,” and he grinned, and said, “Oh, was that it?”
Davis: What you portrayed in that movie was absurd. You nearing the summit, wig-wagging to bring up the Gattlings.
Davis: Well, it certainly looked like you in a long India rubber rain-coat and smoking a pipe.
What you portrayed was beyond absurd. Worse, it was absolute nothing.
Your imaginary charge was really just from “This Majestic Lie”. That absurd character Johnnie who thinks he’s an American spy, spends his time wig-wagging to ships that aren’t there, gets fleeced out of 50 dollars for no eggs, and then fantasizes that he’s eating a sumptuous meal when there are no luxuries to be found in Havana.
It’s what the correspondent says about Johnnie: “He had suffered and laboured for about as complete a bit of absolute nothing as one could invent.”
Crane, to my mind, you are Johnnie. You were writing about yourself.
Crane: (silently) Maybe you’re right, Dick.
Davis: There’s another thing. You know, this war wasn’t really what I expected. I guess I didn’t know what war was. War is terrible, Stevie.
And Cuba was almost just a sightseeing trip. If Roosevelt is right that in 15 years there will be the real thing in Europe, god bless. Good luck, Crane.
[After the war, Davis would write perhaps his most problematic short story “On the Fever Ship,” about a psychologically traumatized and hallucinating Lieutenant. I argue Davis uses “fever” as a thinly veiled mask for “shellshock” or PTSD Davis frequently uses the trope of fever in his Cuban War stories. In “A Man with One Talent,” a fevered soldier has flashbacks to battlefield horrors. In a “Derelict,” fever propels the character modeled after Crane on a manic writing spree. In the same, story, a newspaperman In “A Man with One Talent,” a fevered soldier has flashbacks to battlefield horrors. In a “Derelict,” fever propels the character modeled after Crane on a manic writing spree. In the same, story, a newspaperman suffering from the strain of war goes on a debilitating drinking binge.]
On his trip, he met Cubans embittered by the U.S. reoccupation of 1907 and 1908. The Cubans repeatedly told Davis about 1898: “Had the Americans left us alone a few weeks longer, we would have ended the war.”
Reflecting back on the Cuban Campaign, Davis opens the chapter, “The Passing of San Juan Hill:”
When I was a boy I thought battles were fought in waste places selected for the purpose. I argued from the fact that when our school nine wished to play ball it was forced into the suburbs to search for a vacant lot. I thought opposing armies also marched out of town until they reached some desolate spot where there were no window panes, and where their cannon-balls would hurt no one but themselves. Even later, when I saw battles fought among villages, artillery galloping through a cornfield, garden walls breached for rifle fire, and farm-houses in flames, it always seemed as though the generals had elected to fight in such surroundings through an inexcusable striving after theatrical effect–as though they wished to furnish the war correspondents with a chance for descriptive writing. With the horrors of war as horrible as they are without any aid from these contrasts, their presence always seemed not only sinful but bad art; as unnecessary as turning a red light on the dying gladiator.
(All are leaving Pete’s. On his way out, Crane is approached by two men.)
Frank Pullen and Charles Young: Hello, Mr. Crane!
Crane: Major Young and Pullen, gentlemen, greetings! So surprised to see you. Word does get out quickly to Harlem. Why didn’t you come in?
(the men glance around at the neighborhood) Well, yes, of course . . .
Young: We just came to offer our deepest appreciation. You’ve made history. You’ll go down in history, Mr. Crane. You got it all right.
(Crane nods and walks away)
(Later in the Crane’s apartment in Greenwich Village. Crane enters)
Cora: Stephen, you didn’t walk back in the snow? America needs you alive for the sequel.
Crane: The film is an aesthetic failure. You know, Dick Davis will always be a second-tier writer, but some things he says make sense.
(Crane retells the evening)
Cora: Now, now Stephen. The movie is a great achievement. Why, it’s the first ever full length film. And the cinematography is complex and ambitious. The mixture of real footage and the acted scenes is daring. As for the totality, give it some time. See what happens. It’s all so new. Give people a chance to reflect and digest,
(Crane is silent. The phone rings. It is Roosevelt.)
Roosevelt: It’s Roosevelt in Washington. Just finished the movie. I owe Mr. Stephen Crane a year of dinners at Pete’s Tavern.
Crane: You do?
Roosevelt: Absolutely. Once we re-title it—back to the The Rough Riders—and the country sees it . . . it will make me President (when it’s my turn). By a landslide. I’ll even take Bryan’s Nebraska.
Stephen, it’s gorgeous. It’s epic. The struggle, the triumph, the glory. Stars and Stripes on San Juan Hill. I saw the American Century before my eyes.
Crane: But what . . . what about the parts I re-did? With the black troopers.
Roosevelt: First, it was a very good idea to include some black troopers. They vote Republican after all. (Hah, I told you all it was a good thing I put spare eyeglasses in my hat.)
Now, here’s how I see it. I know this fellow, D.W. Griffiths, who’s just a whiz with film. We’ll keep those black troopers, but just do some editing and massaging.
But, Stephen, what you’ve done in those scenes, the mixing of genres, the multiple perspectives, is stunning. It’s modernist. Modern. No, really, it’s postmodern.
Look, everyone signed on that they would not write about the film until it’s shown publically. And damned if Teddy Roosevelt won’t keep them to their word.
Crane: I thought you would rake me over the coals for my depiction of the black troopers besting the blue.
Roosevelt: But it’s the truth. Or better, part of a larger truth. Remember when I told you I agreed with W.E.B DuBois that the story of the 20th century will be the story of the color line. He’s right and you’ve touched a little on that.
But now is not yet the time for the black man. Stephen, I know how these things work. You show that movie and they’ll be a backlash you never saw coming.
If you thought the Wilmington Race riots or the attacks on the black troopers when they got back from Cuba were bad, this would be far worse.
I am sorry, Stephen, but the time is not right for those scenes.
Crane: Maybe you are right.
Roosevelt: Listen up. I don’t know if we’ll ever redo the movie. I can still demolish Bryan without it. Just maybe not win Nebraska.
Here’s what I am going to do. I know I have one of the only two copies. I am going to seal it up and put it in my safe. When I die, I’ll have an heir put it in his safe. And the same with his heir. I’ll put a date on it when it can be unsealed. What date do you want?
Roosevelt: Just pick something.
Crane: Teddy, your future heir can reseal it when . . . when a black man is elected President of the United States.
Roosevelt: Done. I do hope he is a Republican. Let me know what you decide to do.
(Crane hangs up the phone and goes to Cora)
Crane: (coughing) Let’s go to sleep. I’ll tell you what Teddy said in bed. Cora, dear, you are right. Let’s go to Europe. First to the English countryside.
Cora: Yes, dear, let’s. Then maybe to Spain.
Crane: yes, maybe to Spain.