As seen in “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”; 24 scenes and a modest appraisal, a few years ago we serialized a screenplay based upon research for my dissertation The Rhetorical war: Class, race and redemption in Spanish-American War fiction: Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Richared Harding Davis and Sutton Griggs.
The thesis focuses on novelists Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Richard Harding Davis, and Theodore Roosevelt — all in Cuba in 1898 — as well as African-American Sutton Griggs’ novel Imperium in Imperio (1899), read as an alternative history.
Over time, we realized the serialized version was cumbersome for readers. So now here is the combined screenplay with redundant pictures and links removed and some additional historical background added.
The form is admittedly hybrid — with accompanying perils and pitfalls — as the text is punctuated with pictorial, historical and literary background. The promise is to take what can be a dry subject on the academic page and breath into it life. (War, love, sex, art. All that stuff.)
As for the modest appraisal, I am all too aware of Mr. Crane’s limitations; the current iteration still lacks much of the scaffolding of a finished product.
As such, I gladly welcome all feedback: good, bad or indifferent, and would pay for editorial advice. A few years ago, my friend Stephen Shapiro kindly gave me a screenwriter’s guide. While still unused to my discredit, it may become a bible if the project progresses.
As for the origins of Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story, after reflecting on Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester and the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day, I retrieved the first 8 scenes written about 15 years ago in Rhode Island, and somehow summoned the will to complete. It’s never to late. So dust of your own unfinished novel and send it to Talker.
As will quickly be seen, while the major figures are historically-based, the work is fiction.
Finally, dear readers, one modest request. Please don’t read it on your phone. Just doesn’t work well on that tiny screen.
Scene 1 Havana Harbor, February 15th, 1898
[In 1895, the Cuban War of Independence began, the third of the liberation movements to free Cuba from Spanish colonial rule. The sympathy of the American public was mostly on the side of the rebellion. On February 15th, the USS Maine, docked in Havana Harbor, mysteriously exploded. While future investigations determined it was likely an internal explosion in the boiler room, Spain was blaimed in the popular press. A few months later, the United States declared war on Spain.]
Havana Harbor, February 15th, 1898. Steamy Caribbean evening. The battleship USS Maine is moored offshore. The American officers are dining with the Spanish civilian elite. The harbor is lit up; there is dancing, music, frivolity, etc. The ship is close enough that toasts are made back and forth. The best families of Havana are entertaining Captain Sigsbey, captain of the of the Maine. All are white.
Mayor DeLome: Welcome to Havana, Captain Sigsbee (greeting him heartily)
Sigsbee: I am very appreciative of your hospitality, your Excellency. I must admit I was not sure what reception we would receive.
DeLome: Ah, dear Captain I fear you have been reading too many newspapers. If I read your yellow press I would think we Spaniards were bloodthirsty barbarians left over from The Inquisition. Not at all, sir. That is why we welcome the Maine.
(Three cheers to the USS Maine. Toasts go out to ship and are returned)
DeLome: You will see yourself that Havana has no quarrel with the United States. Quite the contrary. Are we not from the same race after all?
(A flash as photographers take a shot)
DeLome: Has not America blessed us with the “Kodak?” (toasts Sigsbee)
Sigsbee: Very kind of you, sir. And has not Spain (Sigsbee looks about) blessed us with pictures worth taking.
DeLome: Ah, there I must agree. 400 years ago, God sank the Armada but in return he gave us the Cuban Woman. One question, what exactly is a Kodak?
Sigsbee: Why nothing at all. George Eastman wanted a word that was in no language.
DeLome: Bravo! The new word for the next century!
Sigsbee: (glancing at the frivolity) I must say that you Havanians know how to enjoy life. Except for that couple (pointed to two isolated, grim looking figures).
DeLome: Why they are the Quesadas, the parents of Margharita. (Sigsbee looks puzzled). Have you not heard of Margharita Quesadas?
Sigsbee: I’m afraid I spend too much time on that old boat of mine.
DeLome: Margharita betrayed her parents by joining the rebel cause. She has broken their hearts. (Sigsbee seems to be holding back his thought)
DeLome: Ah, sir I sense what you are thinking. Victory for the rebels against the Spanish king. It is those newspapers again. Portraying an outlaw band of thieves and terrorists as if they were George Washington and the Minutemen.
I assure you, these rebels are not what they seem. I have seen their pictures in their newspapers. Strange indeed sir. Your yellow press has turned black men into white. If the American people knew that the great Cuban patriots were as dark as tonight’s sky, they would not be chanting Cuba Libre.
[Most of the Cuban rebels were black; while the white peninsulars of Spanish descent support Madrid’s rule. Given the racism of its time, the rebels were often depicted as white in the American press.]
Sigsbee: (musing) Hmm, actually I do recall the story of Margharita. Isn’t she called (by those papers) the beautiful brown-skinned Cuban Joan de Arc? I wouldn’t have guessed from her parents.
DeLome: She got that from that from her grandfather. He was in the last revolution 25 years ago. Quite the utopian. It is said that he once visited Karl Marx and that he gave Margharita a signed copy of the Communist Manifesto. Long Live the Proletariat! (facetious toast)
Sigsgbee: Still, I heard she’s having a rough time of it prison.
DeLome: Yes this is true. Unfortunately, the Casa de Recogidas is the home of every prostitute in Havana. We will let her out soon. After she has learnt her lesson.
Scene 2 Pawtucket, Rhode Island February, 1898
A Barnum and Bailey-like circus in a New England town. The usual 19th century appeals, Siamese twins, strongmen, etc
Barker #1: Hey, Charlie, howz bizz?
Charlie: Like an elevator in Man-hatt-an, my friend. Up and down.
Barker #1: Say, aint that Chang and Chang, the Siamese Twins. And whatta crowd!
Charlie: Cast your eyes yonder and behold the Miracle of the Orient. The Linked Chinks.
Barker#1: So what’s the problem.
Charlie: It’s this damn Vitagraph; I’m going broke.
I thought these wops would take to it. You shoudda seen the first time. They filled the place up like the Pope was gonna wash their damned feet. The machine starts up (pointing to projector).
The fellow takes a swipe (gesture). And the whole damn front row heads for cover. They wouldn’t come back until they could touch the screen with their own hands, like the damned Shroud of Turin. But now the place is as emptier than a bottle of whiskey at a mic’s wake. Moving pictures, my arse!
A newsboy runs past: “Extra, Extra, Maine Blown Up in Cuba. Hundreds Dead. To Hell with Spain!”
Barker #1: What the devil? Charlie, whatz it mean?
Charlie: (meditatively) I’ll tell you, my friend. This means war for sure. And you know what were gonna do? Before I just chuck these damned Veet-o-graphs, we are loaden’ them up and headen’ straight for Cuba. When we get back, this crowd will pay a silver dollar to see their boys kill some Spaniards!
Scene 3 Washington, D.C, February 1898
(Theodore Roosevelt in his Navy War Office. The phone rings. He fumbles with the receiver, cursing and muttering)
Voice: Mrs. Penelope Davis of Richmond, Virginia to see you. Back from her year in Paris.
Roosevelt: Send her in.
Penelope: (excited) Teddy, Teddy, ce’st moi! How is my dear Teddy, mon petite Teddy! (touching Roosevelt’s large frame).
Roosevelt: Mrs. Penelope Davis, I presume. No doubt bearing pate, truffles, and bon bons.
Penelope: You are such the mind reader! You must be a marvel at phrenology! (She hands him a package as she holds her hand on her head.)
Roosevelt: And how was gay Paree?
Penelope: Absolutely wretched. They made us sleep on feather beds; there wasn’t a stitch of buffalo meat to be had, and the only wild Indians I saw were selling postcards of the Eifel Tower. You would have despised it.
Roosevelt: Well, perhaps shooting Frogs on the River Seine would have been good sport. Although, it’s hard to aim while holding your nose. (he holds his nose)
(The phone rings. Again Roosevelt fumbles and curses.)
Roosevelt: What? Dear God. How bad is it? Get back to me as soon as you know.
Penelope: What is it? Teddy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.
Roosevelt: More like 250 of them. The Maine has blown up in Havana Harbor.
Penelope: Oh, my! (she appears faint) I don’t understand. Why was the Maine there? I’ve been abroad so long . . .
Roosevelt: The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect American citizens. While you’ve been gone things have heated up. (He goes to the War Department map)
Here’s Cuba, you see. Not more than two day’s sail from Florida. Cuba is Spain’s last colony in the New World. The Bourbon monarchy has been running the island into the ground for years. The Cuba people have revolted. They’re tired of the Old World and I can’t blame them.
Penelope: But to blow up the Maine. All those innocent boys!
Roosevelt: We don’t know yet what happened. But I wouldn’t put it past those syphilitic bastards.
Roosevelt: I feel as bad about those boys as you do. But this means war for sure and I’m glad of it. If the Navy has anything to say about it, America is about to become a world power. Maybe the world power. Cuba is in our backyard and we can’t stand for this.
Penelope: But to be glad for war . . .
Roosevelt: Listen, Penelope. War is a bloody business but we need a bloody business. Look at us. We are a nation gone soft. We eat canned foods and take nerve tonic . . .
Penelope: (interrupting) And talk on the telephone.
Roosevelt: (continuing) Nowadays we can’t go two miles without an automobile. It’s a generation of Nancy Boys. Men who should be building their bodies spend all their time looking at stock ticker tapes. Buying, selling, buying, selling. This war will revitalize us; cleanse us of that morbid love of self which serves no higher purpose than to parade down Fifth Avenue in a top hat.
Look at Richmond. It’s no different. It’s been over thirty years since the south heard the rebel yell. I may be a Northerner but it’ll be like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee come to life!
Penelope: Teddy, I’m swooning!
Roosevelt: (taking a pointer to the map). He we are (pointing to Washington) and (moving the pointer) here’s Havana. It’ll be war for sure and I’ll be damned if Teddy Roosevelt isn’t the first one there!
(the phone rings. Roosevelt jumps up, fumbles and mutters)
Penelope: (on her way out). Oh, Teddy come back in one piece and a hero. (Roosevelt is distracted and gestures goodbye). (Penelope gives one final glance). I never use that contraption. Now I see what the telephone is good for. It rings and you’all jump!
Scene 4 Montana US Military Encampment, February 1898
The black Buffalo Soldiers are on horseback, deftly carrying out precision drills to the command of their white officer, General Miles.
General Miles: At ease!
(A currier arrives. He delivers an animated message.)
Young Trooper: Hey, Sutton, whassup wit dat? Do you think them Injuns is on the warpath agin’?
Veteran Trooper #1: Boy, you are raw. There haven’t been any Injuns to kill since Sitting Bull and Wounded Knee. And that was almost ten years ago. Last I heard that Apache Gee-ron-neemo was selling auto-mo-biles on his Reservation. Boy, it’d be more likely we was invadin’ Canada.
Veteran Trooper #2: The days of the Injuns and the Wild West are gone. I don’ know why they keep us out here, ‘cept the white folks back home don’t want alot of niggers with guns around.
General Miles: Men, I have just been alerted that the USS Maine has blow up in Havana Harbor. We think it was a Spanish torpedo. 268 American sailors are dead. I might add that 28 of them were colored boys. This is sure to be war. You Buffalo Soldiers are the bravest, toughest cavalrymen in the United States Army and I am proud to have served with you. If it is war, I expect and know that every man will do his duty.
(cheers): Hurrah for General Miles! To hell with Spain!
Raw Trooper: Dis is even better dan Injuns. Nows I’m gonna see myself some real fighten’.
Veteran Trooper #1: I’m with you there, boy. I’ll be glad to get out of this backwater fort. Maybe they’ll make me a commissioned officer.
Veteran #2: Man, don’t you ever learn? All this time and aint one of us has been made an officer. You think it’ll be any different after we kill some Spaniards? Why are we going to Cuba to fight the white man’s war, anyway?
Veteran #3: I’ll go further. The black man oughtta have his own Army. No. He oughtta have his own country. His own Empire!
(The troops break up into small groups.)
Veteran # 1 to Raw Trooper: Boy, don’t listen to them. And don’t get too close to them. Theys gonna be trouble for sure. Somethings eatin’ at them so bad they can’t see nothing good. Listen to what the Gen’ral said about the Buffalo Soldiers. And our duty. Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!
Scene 5 The Cuban Countryside, February 1898
[During the Cuban War of Independence, the rebels gained control over large parts of the country side, while the Spanish troops were holed up in their garrisons. In 1896 – 97, the Spanish adopted a Reconcentrado policy through which the government moved civilians into “concentration camps.”]
The Cuban rebels — gaunt and tired — are impassively hunched around their tents. Several men play Cuban music on guitars.
A currier approaches, excitedly: “Hombre, hombre. I have news that will wake you. The Maine has been blown up in Havana. The Americans blame the Spanish. War is sure to come and with it a great army to make Cuba free.”
A sudden rise of interest: The men give great hurrahs. “Long live America! Cuba Libre!”
The guitar players change their tune, soon all are chanting “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Several men go to a tent and bring forth a great sword. They hold it aloft and pass it among themselves.
[In 1898, William Randolph Hearst commissioned a $2500, gold-plated and diamond-encrusted sword inscribed “Viva Cuba Libre” and “To Máximo Gómez, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Republic of Cuba.” It is unclear if the sword was delivered.]
Soldier #1: Finally, our prayers are answered. Uncle Sam will now make good upon his word.
Soldier # 2: The Americans will bring us guns just as they brought us the sword. For every Spaniard we killed with a machete, two will face hot lead.
Soldier # 3: Look. Why is General Garcia quiet? Does he not rejoice?
Garcia (approaches the men): Soldiers, you have fought well and buried many of your brothers. But beware. Once the Americans come, they will not leave. They will kill the Spaniards but then we will have to kill them.
Soldier #1: But, sir, our people are suffering so. Our men have left their farms to fight the Spanish, armed only with the machetes that should be cutting the sugar cane which feeds their families.
Garcia: Our people suffer because Spain has sent them to concentration camps. The Spaniard believes our will is no stronger than our stomachs.
Soldier #2: But the Americans will liberate the camps. Think of that great sword (pointing to the celebration) that the American Hearst sent us — all the way from New York — to inspire our great cause.
Garcia: Swords cut both ways. Soldiers, when the Americans come, we will greet them as men. And let them treat us as men. (Garcia walks away.)
Soldier # 3: I suppose the General is right. We must always keep our guard up. But I wonder . . . Margharita, his beloved, the Cuban Joan de Arc, is sure to be freed? Must that not fill him with joy?
Soldier # 1: My friend, General Garcia is a great soldier. He has won many battles. But he is also a man. Margharita is the great martyr of our cause. But it was our general — when he took to the field himself — who opened the door for her capture.
Soldier # 2: Yes. While Margharita is in held hostage in Havana, she is still his martyr. But when she is free — she will be like Cuba — and a free woman knows no bounds.
Soldier # 3: Perhaps. But at the same time, a woman has no place in a revolution once it is over. A woman will stand at the side of the victor. She will stand by the strongest sword. And, Garcia has let her go once . . .
Soldier #1: But enough of this. Let the Americans come. It is the end of Spain! “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, I’m a Yankee do or die!”
Scene 6 New York, February 1898
[In 1898, Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was a well-established and highly successful journalist and fiction writer at only 27. During the Cuban Campaign, Crane was a correspondent for New York newspapers and wrote many short stories, later compiled as Wounds in the Rain. Crane’s health suffered in Cuba, contributing to his death two years later.]
Stephen Crane is at his writing table in his Greenwich Village apartment, decorated in the Bohemian style of New York in the 1890s.
Cora (his wife) enters the room: Stevie, it’s the reporters from the Times. They want to interview you.
Crane: I wish they would go away. It will be nothing but The Red Badge of Courage ad nauseum and ad absurdum.
Cora: But Stevie, they pay well.
Crane: (grinning) Ah, filthy lucre. As far as I can tell, money is nothing but almost entirely useless scraps of paper. My mother always taught me to eat plenty of greens. So one day I swallowed a five-dollar bill. It gave me a fit of diarrhea. Next time I will use a ten-dollar bill to wipe my arse
The reporters enter.
Reporter: Mr. Crane, we are here to congratulate you on the latest printing of The Red Badge of Courage. It is now the best selling novel of our time.
Crane: That’s fine with me. As long as school marms don’t get hold of it and teach it to their prisoners. That will be the end of my good name.
Reporter: Critics have marveled at how vividly you captured the reality of war in your novel. But how could you write about war if you’d never experienced it? How could you know it was true?
Crane: I can safely say that fielding endless questions from the critics is equivalent to being on the very front of the firing-lines. Only worse. There is no chance you will be killed and put out of your misery. To answer your question. I have read your paper every day for ten years. Doing so has taught me how to perfect the art of fabrication.
Reporter: They are now calling you the American Tolstoy? What do you think of that?
Crane: I had heard that in Moscow they are now calling Tolstoy the Russian Crane.
Reporter: What will be your next novel?
Crane: I don’t know. I suppose I will have to have an experience. (softly) Yet I am not yet thirty and feel as if I have lived a thousand men’s lives . . .
Suddenly a newsboy bursts into the room.
Boy: (winded) Sirs, the Times sent me directly over here. The Maine has been blown up in Havana harbor. Over 250 are dead. Many think it was a Spanish mine!
Reporters: Good God! (They get up to leave). Crane, what is your comment?
Crane: It is sure to be war. We haven’t had a good one in a long time.
The Reporters leave.
Crane: Gentlemen, haven’t you forgotten something?
Reporter: The check will be in the mail . . .
Crane stands silent for a moment then goes to the telephone.
Crane (after dialing): Hello Pulitzer. Its Crane. The Margharita Quesados case, the one you have been bleating about for weeks. What about it? I am going to Cuba to rescue her and write her story. So save space on the front page. And from there I am going to see the war. What’s that? Yes, yes. That old Red Badge of Courage thing. I want to know, once and for all, if I got it all right.
Crane is rowed ashore in a small boat. He walks to Havana. The city is full of activity. The piazzas are filled. Spanish soldiers are everywhere. Crane skulks through the city, keeping his cap low on his forehead. Finally, he reaches the boarding house of an Irishwoman, Sarah Clancy.
Clancy: Well, if it arn’t little Stevie Crane. The last time I saw ye, ye was runnin’ around like a banshee on the baseball diamond!
Crane: The last time I saw ye, Mrs. Clancy you was me baby sitter. Thrashing me every time I wanted to play ball before chores were done!
Clancy: You was never much for chores. And how was college?
(She looks closely at Crane). No, let me guess. One year?
Crane: Try one semester. At two different colleges.
(More seriously) Now, Mrs. Clancy . . .
Clancy: Call me Sarah; you’re a grown man now.
Crane: Sarah, I remembered that when you left us in New Jersey you married a Spanish sea captain and moved here to Cuba . . .
Sarah: God bless his soul. (She genuflects) (As does Crane)
Crane: So you know the plan. I am to take Margharita from the Casa de Recogidas remained and bring her here temporarily. We have a French yacht waiting to take her out of Havana.
Sarah: But Stevie. It’s so dangerous. War has officially been declared between the United States and Spain. And, already the Americans are blockading us. (She gestures to the ocean. Ships can be seen dimly in the distance.)
(Crane reaches into his pocket and puts several gold pieces upon the table.)
Sarah: Stevie, I hate to take your money. But I am a widow and the tenants have nothing to pay me. And food is so dear.
Crane: Speaking of which, I’m hungry! What can you feed me, baby sitter!
[Note: some of the dialogue is from This Majestic Lie in Crane’s Wounds in the Rain collection]
Sarah: How about Miss Clancy’s famous Irish codfish soup for you, a growing boy?
Crane: Codfish soup! I had a zest for fried eggs and bacon!
Sarah: Eggs and bacon . . . I can offer you the best Spanish wine . . . But eggs and bacon are hard to be found in Havana.
Crane: (reaching into his pocket for more gold). Thanks for the kind offer. But I am a nice secret agent of the United States. And when I am a secret agent, I don’t drink wine, Spanish or otherwise. I am off to the Casa de Recogidas. When I return, it is eggs and bacon!
(Crane enters the Casa de Recogidas. He approaches the guards)
Crane: Top of the morning. Jolly good day.
Guard: And you, sir, are?
Crane: Churchill, of the London Times. Here to interview Margharita Quesados. My card. Certain unreliable newspapers have reported on her mistreatment. We, at The Times, reserve judgment until all the facts are in.
Guard: (sifting through papers) I find no Mr. Churchill on the list.
Crane: My good fellow, There are enough papers on that desk to blind any man. Perhaps this (Crane hands him several gold pieces) will help you see.
(Crane is let in)
Crane approaches Margharita’s cell. The prison is dank and poorly lit. The cells are overflowing with wailing and decrepit prostitutes, mostly black.
Crane: (stilted) Miss Quesados. You don’t know me. My name is Stephen Crane and I have been sent by The New York Times to help you escape from this villainous prison. The New York Times, believes that you — the Cuban Joan de Arc — have been falsely accused and horribly mistreated by the tyrannical King of Spain.
Margharita: Mr. Stephen Crane. . . You are wrong on one account. I know who you are. I have read your book The Red Badge of Courage. I would never have expected such a disappointing introduction from its author. So, why are you really here, Mr. Crane?
Crane: (chagrined then rousing himself) Very well. Because they are paying me handsomely. Why does anyone do anything? But for the money.
(Pause) Or that was what I thought until now.
Margharita: And now.
(Crane gestures to the collection of disheveled prostitutes).
Margharita: And now.
Crane: I think now — as I look into your eyes — when I was writing about Maggie I was writing about you. I have seen those eyes before. Here is what I said about Maggie:
“The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud-puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl. None of the dirt of Rum Alley seemed to be in her veins. The philosophers, upstairs, downstairs, and on the same floor, puzzled over it.”
Margharita: (blushing slightly) But I am not ruined nor have I sold my body.
Crane: Not yet.
Margharita: (ironically) This book, this Maggie of the streets, was it another of your great best sellers?
Crane: At first not a soul read it. I had to burn almost all the manuscripts to keep warm that winter (Crane shivers). Now I wish I had burned them all. Maggie became ugly and it pained me to watch.
Margharita: Then why did you write it that way?
Crane: (pausing) When I write your story do you want me to make you beautiful or ugly?
Crane: Say, is it true that you are a follower of ze wunderbar Herr Karl Marx himself?
Margharita: Why wouldn’t I be? Look at this whole charade. The “crusade” to “free” Cuba is for one thing and one thing only. To protect American investment in our sugar cane. A few months ago, Wall Street thought war would bring down prices. Now they think war will bring them up. So it is war.
Crane: I guess it’s lucky for me I own no stocks. The price always stays the same that way.
Margharita: You laugh. But people in your country know. Two years ago, during the Presidential Election, it was the Populist William Jennings Bryan who said:
“Do not press down upon labor this cross of thorns. Do not crucify mankind upon this cross of gold.”
Crane: As I recall he lost that election.
Margharita: And whom did you vote for?
Crane: I don’t vote and I don’t labor. Say, are you one of those New Women who believes in the vote?
Margharita: Don’t you support the suffragettes?
Crane: The way I see it if women could vote, they’d vote men right out existence. I wouldn’t be surprised if you drink gin and smoke cigarettes.
Margharita: I could go for both at this moment.
Crane: (moving closer) So you think the Victorian moral code is lot of rot. Free love and all that . . .
Margharita: Is your wife a New Woman?
(Crane moves back)
Margharita: So, Mr. Crane, the non-voting, non-laboring poet. How do you plan to rescue this damsel in distress?
Crane: I have arranged to have a French yacht pick you up and take you to Mexico. Neither the Spanish nor the Americans will interfere.
Margharita: But how will you get Gwendolyn out of this tower of ill repute, Sir Crane?
Crane: (pausing) I haven’t written that scene yet.
Margharita: When you write that scene, I will let you free me. On one condition. You do so because you believe it is wrong that I am here. And you believe it is wrong for my reasons. Take my handkerchief. At the strike of every hour, for the next two days, I will look out my window. If I see you waving the handkerchief, I will be ready.
Scene 8: Havana, May 1898
Crane returns to Sarah’s house which is across the piazza from the prison.
Sarah: Stevie, you are back in one piece. Did you get the eggs?
Crane: Eggs? . . . (pausing) The eggs have to cook a little longer. I like my eggs hardboiled.
(Crane and Sarah stand on the deck, looking across to the prison)
Crane: That place is locked up pretty tight. I think there are more soldiers than whores. Although it is not always easy to tell the difference.
(Crane gestures to a man speaking from the government palace)
Crane: Say, Sarah. My Spanish is muchos nada. What is he telling the crowd?
[Note: some of the dialogue is from This Majestic Lie in Crane’s Wounds in the Rain collection]
Sarah: He is giving them news of the war:
“The inhabitants of Philadelphia have fled to the forests because of a Spanish bombardment and also Boston was besieged by the Apaches who have totally infested the town. The Apache artillery has proven singularly effective and an American garrison has been unable to face it. In Chicago millionaires were giving away their palaces for two or three loaves of bread.”
Crane: (laughing) The more he speaks the more they drink. (pointing to the raucous crowd) And, look at the guards; they are almost tottering (pointing to the prison)
Sarah: I told you food is scarce in Havana but wine is plentiful.
Crane: Now what.
Sarah: “The Spanish Navy has sunk every one of Admiral Dewey’s ships in Manila Bay.”
Crane: What a lot of fools. Don’t they know that Dewey sunk every single Spanish ship?
Sarah: They believe what they read in the newspapers.
Crane: And what are those two gibbering about? (pointing to two loud men)
Sarah: One says, “How unfortunate it is that we have to buy meat in Havana when so much pork is floating in Manila Bay.” The other says “Ah, wait until our soldiers get with the wives of the Americans and there will be many little Yankees to serve hot on our tables. The men of the Maine simply made our appetites good. Never mind the pork in Manila. There will be plenty.”
Crane: Ye, god. They are cackling and chuckling and insulting their own dead men. If there are poor green corpses floating in Manila Bay, they are not American corpses. Say, Sarah where are they getting this “news?” The American blockade seems to be keeping out food but not lies.
Sarah: A cable runs from Cuba to Bermuda. News is brought to Bermuda and then telegraphed to Havana.
Crane: (musing) Take me to one of those telegraph booths down on the piazza. I have a message to send.
(Crane and Sarah enter a Western Union-like telegraph office)
Crane: Tell him I want to send a telegram to the government palace. Ask him how much it costs.
Sarah: (returning) (shows Crane three fingers) Three gold pieces a word! It’s a good thing Stephen Crane is known for his pithy sentences.
(Crane and Sarah enter a booth. Crane writes out a paragraph and has Sarah translate it.)
Crane: (looking at his watch) Four minutes of two o’clock. Perfect. Let her rip, Miss Clancy.
(Sarah sends the message. Almost instantaneously a speaker addresses the crowd)
Speaker: People of Havana. Joyous news! The United States has surrendered. The war is over. Florida has been ceded to Spain!
(The crowd explodes in enthusiasm. More and more wine is drunk. Dancing erupts. The prison guards begin to join the celebration.)
(Crane looks at his watch. He takes out the handkerchief and waves it in the direction of the prison. He leaves Sarah and makes his way through the crowd. By the time he reaches the prison, the guards are drunk and swooning. He easily makes it inside and to Margharita’s cell.)
Margharita: Mr. Crane, I presume! I will say this for you Americans, very punctual. (taking a key out from inside her corset) I managed to steal this a few weeks ago. Now it is coming in handy. Mr. Crane, why are you here?
Crane: (takes out handkerchief, waves it and hands it to Margharita) I offer my unconditional surrender. Women should have the right to vote. More so, I give you my own vote for safekeeping.
Margharita: Not that you’ve ever made much use of it.
(Crane winces in mock pain and takes her by the hand. They rush through the crowd to Sarah’s boarding house.)
(They make it to Crane’s room, panting and sweating.)
Crane: (winded) Oh, what good sport! What a lark! I haven’t gone that fast since I ran the bases for the Syracuse Nine!
Margharita: (glowing) Oh, what a lark! What a lark! It was like being a schoolgirl on holiday again. No more nuns!
(She goes to Crane, takes out the handkerchief and begins to wipe the sweat from his forehead)
Margharita: Is this where Sir Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone? And offers it to his fair damsel?
Crane: (retreating slightly) (suddenly nervous) I came here to write your story not . . .not to make love to you. (Regaining his composure) Whenever I make love to a woman, she becomes alive to me but dead to the world. I don’t like writing about dead people.
Margharita: (backing off but smiling as if she had won something). Seeing as I am still alive, what is next?
Crane: We’ve got to get to the wharf as quickly as possible. You can’t go there as you are. Here (reaching for a package) is a disguise, a sailor’s costume.
(Margharita partially undresses in front of Crane, putting on the outfit and a waxed mustache)
Crane: Good god. As a man you are almost as handsome as Mr. Stephen Crane himself.
Margharita: Perhaps I am one of those men who ruined Maggie in that book of yours.
(The make their way to the wharf where the yacht is waiting)
Crane: The yacht will take you to Mexico and from there you can sail for New York.
Margharita: Goodbye, Mr. Crane. (she extends her hand). It will take a while for the Americans to get to Cuba. What will you do until then?
Crane: Start my next novel, of course.
(Margharita boards the yacht. As it sets sail, she removes the disguise, freeing her hair which blows in the wind. She waves. Crane waves back.)
Scene 9: Siboney, Cuba June 1898
[After the United States Congress declared war with Spain on April 25th, 1898, American forces gathered in training facilities in Florida in preparation for an invasion of Cuba, blockaded by the American Atlantic Fleet.
Roosevelt had raised his all volunteer regiment nicknamed the “Rough Riders,” also training in Florida. Prior to the invasion, during the so-called “Rocking Chair” period, journalists including famed novelists the “real” Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Frank Norris gathered at the Tampa Bay Hotel.
On May 30th commanding General William Shafter received orders to take a force of 25,000 to Santiago and support the blockade. Transports could only be found for 17,000, but they went to make a clumsy landing on June 22, which the Spaniards could have cut to bits had they opposed it. Real landing craft were unknown, and horses were thrown into the water to swim for the beach. Many did not make it.]
(June 22, 1898. Roosevelt and his Rough Riders have left Tampa Bay and are approaching Siboney Beach in Cuba. On board are Albert Smith and Jim Blackton of the Vitograph Company.)
Roosevelt (looking through binoculars at Siboney Beach): Well, I’ll be damned. There’s no sight of a single Spanish soldier. No trenches, no breastworks. Nothing but palm trees.
Second officer: (taking binoculars): What does it mean?
Roosevelt: It means, well I’ll be damned, that Shafter was right. He asked Garcia [the leader of the Cuban rebel army] to pin down the Spaniards and take pressure off our landing. And it worked.
Officer: Colonel, I do see one man on the beach. He’s waving something – looks like signal flags.
Roosevelt: Maybe it’s a bloody Spaniard surrendering. Tell him we’ll take Madrid and call it a game. What’s he signaling?
Officer: B – U – L – L – Y
Roosevelt: What the devil? But we’ll find out when we get there.
(Nearby on the ship are two men from the Vitograph Company holding a camera box.)
Roosevelt: Good day, sirs. I see you are ready for action.
Vitographers: Thanks for letting us aboard.
Roosevelt: We had space enough for all these horses. (On board the ship are all the Rough Riders horses.) Room for two more asses, I suppose.
(the men laugh)
Anyway, what’s a war without a moving picture show! Is it true what I heard that you fellows sleep every night in bed with your camera?
Vitographers: Yes, Colonel, for safekeeping. “Film is our mistress.”
Roosevelt: When I was out west I saw lonely cowboys sleep with cattle but this is taking Rough Riding to a new extreme. Don’t develop whatever pictures you take!
(The ships land. The scene is at first chaotic. The two horses chosen by Roosevelt for the invasion are brought up from below deck and hoisted ashore. The process is slow and dangerous. At one point, Roosevelt bellows, “Stop that goddamned animal torture!” Eventually, order is restored on the beach.)
(Once order is restored on the beach, Roosevelt approaches the man who was signaling the ship. It is Crane. Now sitting in a beach chair holding a reporter’s pad and a beer.)
Roosevelt: What the devil! Crane, it’s you. Ah, I see now B-U-L-L-Y. [phrase often used by Roosevelt] What a great sport you are, Sir Steven!
[Crane and Roosevelt had become friends in New York when Roosevelt was Commissioner of Police.]
(Crane rises and bows)
Roosevelt: Still, what’s with wig-wagging? Are you writing a story for Pulitzer or Hearst? [Used during the Cuban Campaign, wig-wagging was a method of sending signals by waving an arm, flag, light, or other object.]
Crane: Teddy, you know how I work. First I write the story, then I live it. Like Red Badge. That’s why I came to Cuba. To see if I got war all right.
The story I just wrote is “Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo.” And now that I’ve taken up wig-wagging myself, I see I’ve gotten it all right.
(Crane picks up the signal flags and waves them, jerkily, back and forth)
Roosevelt: (laughing) Glad to see you but surprised. Everyone said after you rescued Margharita Quesadas from the Casa de Recogidas in Havana, you had taken her to a love nest in Bermuda.
Crane: Colonel, I am a married man.
Crane: Anyway, Hearst is paying me top dollar to be here. Remember last year when he told Davis and Remington, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” He’s expecting vivid copy from Mr. Stephen Crane.
[SCENE FROM Citizen Kane when Kane (based on William Randolph Hearst) says the probably apocryphal line]
Crane: Teddy, I am glad to see you in high spirits. Thought you were still mad at me after I testified in court against one of your police officers. I wrote in the papers that the officer had harassed and falsely arrested a so-called “lady of the evening.”
[In 1896, Crane had testified on behalf of Dora Clark who had pressed charges against Office Charles Becker for wrongful arrest on prostitution charges. Supposedly, at the scene of the arrest, Crane tried to save Clark by claiming she was his wife. Roosevelt was noticeably absent at trial, excusing himself from presiding, ostensibly to stump for Republican presidential candidate, William McKinley.]
Roosevelt: It was a tad embarrassing. As the Commissioner of Police, officially I had to support my officer. But as a man, I admired your courage. I admire a man with the courage to tell the truth.
I always did wonder how that “lady of the evening” paid you for your services in court.
Crane: (softly and to himself) She let me use her name, Maggie, in my book. . .
(Roosevelt’s glance catches the Vitograph men stumbling in the surf with their camera.)
Roosevelt: Speaking of damsels in distress . . .
(Roosevelt helps the men, picks up and carries the camera on his back, placing it safely on the beach.)
Crane (laughing): Teddy, the STEVEdor!
Roosevelt: Back to work, Crane. See you in camp after we get inland. Just don’t get shot in that thick head of yours. The fun is just beginning.
Scene 10: outside Santiago, Cuba June 1898
[When the American Congress declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, there were two main enemy forces to be met. In the Philippines, a native rebellion was going, but the Spanish squadron there remained a threat. On May 1, the United States Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey found and destroyed it in Manila Bay. In Cuba, there was a Spanish army as well as a fleet. The American Asiatic Fleet blockaded the Spanish ships in Santiago Harbor. To deal with the land forces, America had a regular army of 30,000 men, and President McKinley called for 200,000 volunteers to bolster its efforts.
United States regulars and volunteers assembled near Tampa, Florida, and on May 30th, their general, 300-pound William Shafter, received orders to take a force of 25,000 to Santiago and support the blockade. Transports could be found for only 17,000, but off they went to make a clumsy landing on June 22, which the Spaniards could have cut to bits had they opposed it. The army marched inland. After skirmishes at Las Guaimas and El Caney, the troops headed for Santiago. — from American Heritage Illustrated (Volume 12, A World Power, 1963)
Following the battles at Las Guaimas and El Caney, the American army is a camped in the hills below Santiago preparing to storm the San Juan Heights.]
Roosevelt is his command tent talking with journalists/novelists Richard Harding Davis and Frank Norris. Crane enters.
[For the full story of Davis, Norris and Crane during the Cuban Campaign see “The Spanish-American War as a Bourgeois Testing Ground: Richard Harding Davis, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane”War, Literature and the Arts ]
Crane enters the tent. Waiting for a moment for the conversation to end.
Davis: Hello, it’s Mr. Stephen Crane. Where’s your wig-wagging kit, old sport. Left in your love nest in Bermuda?
Norris: No doubt those sticks came in handy when trying to corral that hot blooded Cuba girl. Let me guess, she ran you off the field like back in Syracuse, the college boy with his tail between his legs!
(Crane rolls his eyes)
Crane: I’ve come to interview Colonel Roosevelt.
Roosevelt: Fire way.
Crane: Now about that balloon . . .
Roosevelt: Damn it. Enough with that goddamned balloon. The press is blowing it all out of proportion. Anyway we are done with the damn nuisance.
Crane: Done with it! It was a positive stroke of airborne genius. Colonel, I’ve come to ask if I may fly in it tomorrow for a better view of the battle. I’ve been told Mr. Stephen Crane is full of hot gas so I thought I’d be in good company.
(Norris and Davis laugh).
Roosevelt: Only if you take those Vitagraph asses with you. No, Crane, you may not. I might need your thick head for something else.
Crane: Now about Shafter’s cart . . .
Roosevelt: You damn infuriating idiot. Yes, the answer is that General Shafter actually weighs 500 pounds and that cart was specially made by Henry Ford himself.
Crane: As for that cart, another favor. Might I ride in it tomorrow? You know I like to experience things first hand. Like when I dressed as a tramp and smoked hashish for those Bowery sketches.
Roosevelt: Or visited a “lady of the evening” for another.”(Crane winces) Yes, by all means. Be there at revile and I’ll see to it that Shafter himself pulls the cart! Crane, if you weren’t such a damned good writer, I’d have you court martialed.
(Davis and Norris laugh)
Crane to Norris: Frank, how are you making out? Found any good material.
Norris: Actually I have. Yesterday, Roosevelt’s men shot a Spaniard hiding in a tree top. When the bastard fell dead to the ground hard, out of his eye socket popped a glass eye which I recovered.
(Norris takes the glass eyeball from his tosses it to Crane)
Crane: (snatching it from the air) Ever yet the catcher for the Syracuse Nine!
Norris: I think I will use it as metaphor in my account for Hearst. The half-blind, tottering Bourbon empire knocked down by an American Paul Bunyan in army khakis.
(The men nod approvingly)
Crane: But seriously Colonel, your men did a fine job at Las Guasimas. Got a little tight with that ambush. Hell, I even noticed those colored boys of the 24th held there own. Maybe more than held there own.
Davis: Rest assured that was the work of their white officers.
Roosevelt: Those Buffalo Soldiers fought like demons. After Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and the Apaches, those Spaniards were like a Sunday afternoon playing croquet for those boys. But, Dick, you are right on one point. They are peculiarly dependent on their white officers.
[Roosevelt would use the phrase “peculiarly dependent” in The Rough Riders (1899)]
As Davis and Norris talk, Roosevelt takes Crane aside.
Roosevelt: Listen, Stephen, there’s something I wanted to ask you.
Crane: Fire away.
Roosevelt: You know those Vitagraph fools. Well, I’ve let them shoot us in action. But they are bunch of bumbling amateurs. They are such damn cowards all they do is stay in the rear with their damn machine filming the men from behind.
Crane: (laughing) Sounds like they’ve got it ass backwards!
Roosevelt: Plus they have absolutely no artistic sense. I am sure you can imagine. I’d like to ask you to take charge of the Vitagraph crew. What do you say, will you?
Crane: Hmm, after what I heard you just say, its hard for me to imagine. Didn’t you just tell Davis and Norris, on the record: “I did not see any sign among the fighting men, whether wounded or unwounded, of the very complicated emotions assigned to their kind by some of the realistic modern novelists who have written about battles.” I assume you were referring to me and Red Badge.
[Roosevelt made the comment in The Rough Riders (1899)]
Roosevelt: Crane, that’s what a commander has to say, to keep up the men’s morale. You know how much I admire Red Badge and everything else.
Crane: Why not ask Davis?
Roosevelt: Dick’s a good man and a talented writer. But he’s too mainline Philadelphia, too much the “Gibson Boy.” Too “bourgeoise” as your crowd would say.
[see “Infirm Soldiers in the Cuban War of Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Harding Davis” (War, Literature and the Arts)]
Crane: I think Dick might surprise you by what he writes about our Splendid Little War. But, yes, I know what you mean. Why not Norris?
Roosevelt: Frank is a very gifted writer but needs some literary seasoning. I sense his best work is still ahead of him.
Crane: I’ll bet he’ll do something grand with the Spaniard’s eyeball. But I see what you mean about his best work ahead. Though soon enough he’ll be the American Zola [the French naturalist author].
But what do I know about moving pictures? I am a writer. Mr. Crane’s vivid stories. This might be more than I can handle.
Roosevelt: More than you can handle! Crane the uncategorizable Crane. Is he a realistic, an impressionist, a naturalist, a modernist or something entirely different?
Stevie, can’t you see that film is going to be the medium of the twentieth century? Can’t you see how it will be reaching millions. The millions who don’t read novels. Haven’t you been fretting about what to do after Red Badge? This is it.
Crane: Teddy, you are a persuasive man. I can see the Republicans running you in ’00 if McKinley steps away. You know, you are onto something. Film is a medium without words. Pure sight. It’s pure action. The pure collision of atoms. Chaos.
But let me guess, this movie will be all about you, all about Teddy Roosevelt sinking Cerveza’s fleet with his bare hands.
Roosevelt: Yes, it will be about me. But it will really be about you.
Roosevelt: Yes, you. It will be about you making the first American movie. Mr. Stephen Crane, the first American film maker.
Crane: But Teddy, why are you so hell bent on this movie?
Roosevelt: I know you don’t follow politics, but listen up.
Crane: (softly to himself) So I’ve been told.
Roosevelt: Our little Cuban hunting trip is not just a lark. It the start of what’s going to be the American Century. Cuba is just the beginning. South America might be next. With Dewey destroying the Spanish fleet in Manila, we’ve got the Philippines. China is not too far away.
Crane: So we won’t be giving Cuba its independence anytime soon I guess?
Roosevelt: (nodding) Crane that’s just the way destiny is working. Whether its right or wrong, only God knows. The white man gave the red man the short stick to be sure. But that’s how it went. And for the colored man, its not yet his time. It was a black man, W.E.B. DuBois who said, “the problem of the twentieth century will the problem of the color-line.” And DuBois couldn’t be more right. But its the white man who will come out on top. And America on top of all.
[Du Bois engaged the questions of race, racial domination and racial exploitation with the well-known proposition that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” Although this proposition gains prominence in the forethought of the Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois had already introduced the concept in a lecture at the third annual meeting of the American Negro Academy in 1900 titled “The Present Outlook for the Dark Races of Mankind.”]
Crane: But is Cuba just leftover table scraps. Haven’t the European powers pretty much gobbled up all the beach front property?
Roosevelt: Crane, here’s what I see. Europe has had peace since the Franco-Prussian War. It can’t last. In fifteen years, mark my words, Europe will be at each other’s throats. And once it gets going, it’ll be murder. See those Gattling guns we brought. They can kill a whole platoon of Spaniards without missing a beat. And that’s just the beginning.
Crane: Fifteen years. I’ll be dead by then. (coughs) No doubt you’ll bring back the Rough Riders and plant the American flag on the Eifel Tower.
Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.
Roosevelt: Not everything Crane. What the hell should be the title of our moving picture!
Crane: (musing) Ok, I’m in. ‘Night Colonel.
Scene Eleven: outside Santiago, Cuba
[For the full story of Davis, Norris and Crane during the Cuban Campaign see The Spanish-American War as Bourgeois Testing Ground: Richard Harding Davis, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane and “Infirm Soldiers in the Cuban War of Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Harding Davis” War, Literature and the Arts ]
The morning of July 1st, 1898. The American troops are preparing to storm the Spanish fortifications atop San Juan Hill.
Theodore Roosevelt and novelists/journalists Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Frank Norris are gathered just behind the front line.
Roosevelt to Crane: Crane, have you got that Vitograph crew ready to go?
Crane: Yes, sir. And I brought along my wig-wagging kit for good measure.
(to all the men)
Gentleman, not all of us may return alive today. Assuming there are survivors, let us make a pact to personally call upon the loved ones of the fallen.
Davis: Yourself, Teddy?
Roosevelt: Alice [his wife] has been gone now for 14 years. Please leave a wreath with my love at her grave. Dick?
Davis: Go to Rebecca, my mother. My inspiration. [Rebecca Harding Davis was also a novelist, author of Life in Iron Mills (1861)] Frank?
Norris: Go to Blix. The girl who inspired Blix. Au revoir, Blixlix! Stevie? Let me guess, Maggie.
Crane: Maggie is a made up woman. Go to my wife Cora, of course.
Crane: (pausing) No. Go to Cora. Cora, forever.
Roosevelt: Very well then. But I’ll bet all these spectacles and more (taking off his hat and showing it the others) that we make it back in one piece. Unless Crane proves to be a damn fool! [Roosevelt had embedded his hat with about a dozen spare eyeglasses.]
It might get a little hot out there. The Spaniards are using smokeless Mauser rifles. We won’t be able to see from where they are firing. But it will get pretty smoky on our side. But we have the Gattlings.
Crane: And the reconnaissance balloon. A perfect view from up there.
Roosevelt: Crane, you damn fool! There go the Gattlings. We’re off. Good luck, gentlemen.
(During the battle, Crane and his vitagraph crew zigzag across the field, recklessly and with abandon, filming all they can see. Sometimes Crane is filming, sometimes giving direction to the men. The field is filled with smoke and noise: the bellowing of orders from the officers, the cries of men hit. A continuous cycle of chaos, then a stretch of order, then disorder.)
Vitograph man #1: Good god, I’m shaking like an Irishman on the wagon for two days.
Man # 2: I’m so scared shitless I crapped in my pants. Its terrible that we can’t see the damn Spaniards. All I hear is pzzzzzzt, pzzzzzzt, pzzzzzzzt
Mr. Crane, aren’t you afraid?
Crane: Its odd, the fact that the Spaniards are invisible to us is exhilarating. Strange, I should feel terror, but don’t. I feel desire. A visceral, physical thing. Like lust. Compelled. Drawn in. Just want to be in the action. Inside. Inside the action. Like an attraction to . . . a woman.
(Suddenly a nearby trooper is hit and falls. Near the trooper lies a dead comrade.)
Man # 1: Oh, he’s gone down!
Crane: (mumbling to himself) The men dropped here and there like bundles. The captain of the youth’s company had been killed in an early part of the action. His body lay stretched out in the position of a tired man resting, but upon his face there was an astonished and sorrowful look, as if he thought some friend had done him an ill turn. The babbling man was grazed by a shot that made the blood stream widely down his face. He clapped both hands to his head. “Oh!” he said, and ran. Another grunted suddenly as if he had been struck by a club in the stomach. He sat down and gazed ruefully. In his eyes there was mute, indefinite reproach. Farther up the line a man, standing behind a tree, had had his knee joint splintered by a ball. Immediately he had dropped his rifle and gripped the tree with both arms. And there he remained, clinging desperately and crying for assistance that he might withdraw his hold upon the tree.
Man # 2: What are saying, Mr. Crane?
Crane: Nothing, nothing. Just some lines from my novel. (To himself) I think I did get it right.
(The crew continue continues to weave in and out of the battle. The trio encounter a wounded man).
[During the battle, reporter Edward Marshall of the New York Journal was hit by a Spanish bullet in the spine and nearly paralyzed, was nonetheless able to dictate a stirring account of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Taken to the rear and his condition deemed hopeless, Marshall somehow survived his agony and after a long convalescence was restored to health. Marshall would later capitalize on his now national fame by penning such testimonials as “What It Feels Like To Be Shot.”]
Crane: Marshall, old boy, get to the rear!
Marshall: Not till my dispatch is finished and wired to New York. Death won’t make Edward Marshall miss a deadline. But, Crane, my hand is busted. I can’t write.
Crane: (thinking) But you can still speak. Men, film Marshall talking. When we get home, we’ll have a deaf person read his lips. (The men film Marshall).
(to himself) By God, I’m making history. The first battlefield interview. Hmm, even better if Marshall dies . . .
(The three return to the fray. Slowly, the U.S. troops are inching up San Juan Hill. Crane continues to film.)
Crane: (to himself) There was a singular absence of heroic poses. The men bending and surging in their haste and rage were in every impossible attitude. The steel ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din as the men pounded them furiously into the hot rifle barrels. The flaps of the cartridge boxes were all unfastened, and bobbed idiotically with each movement. The rifles, once loaded, were jerked to the shoulder and fired without apparent aim into the smoke or at one of the blurred and shifting forms which upon the field before the regiment had been growing larger and larger like puppets under a magician’s hand.
The officers, at their intervals, rearward, neglected to stand in picturesque attitudes. They were bobbing to and fro roaring directions and encouragements. The dimensions of their howls were extraordinary. They expended their lungs with prodigal wills. And often they nearly stood upon their heads in their anxiety to observe the enemy on the other side of the tumbling smoke.
Crane (to himself): Good god, Red Badge did get it right. And its all right here in this movie camera.
(At this point in the battle the black 10th Cavalry and Roosevelt’s Rough Riders begin to intermingle. In the tumult of battle, the two units find themselves partially fighting side by side. Crane and his crew are in the middle of the action.)
Alongside the Rough Riders is Richard Harding Davis. Davis comes across a wounded black trooper. In The Cuban and Porto Rican Campaign (1898), Davis would write of his encounter:
I came across Lieutenant Roberts, of the Tenth Cavalry, lying under the roots of a tree beside the stream with three of his colored troopers stretched around him. He was shot through the intestines, and each of the three men with him was shot in the arm or leg. They had been overlooked or forgotten, and we stumbled upon them only by the accident of losing our way. They had no knowledge as to how the battle was going or where their comrades were or where the enemy was. At any moment, for all they knew, the Spaniards might break through the bushes about them. It was a most lonely picture, the young lieutenant, half naked, and wet with his own blood, sitting upright beside the empty stream, and his three followers crouching at his feet like three faithful watch-dogs, each wearing his red badge of courage, with his black skin tanned to a haggard gray, and with his eyes fixed patiently on the white lips of his officer. When the white soldiers with me offered to carry him back to the dressing-station, the negroes resented it stiffly. “If the Lieutenant had been able to move, we would have carried him away long ago,” said the sergeant, quite overlooking the fact that his arm was shattered.
“Oh, don’t bother the surgeons about me,” Roberts added, cheerfully. “They must be very busy. I can wait.”
(The white and black soldiers are fighting side by side as the crew films.)
Man # 1: (peering into the camera): Mr. Crane, look at this. It’s Roosevelt on horseback. Oh, my, he’s down!
Man #: His horse has been shot from under him. And he’s hit in the head . . . his hat is off . . . No, he’s only dazed . . . His glasses broken . . . Wait . . . a colored trooper is helping him get up . . . he’s pointing to his hat . . . the trooper is finding another set of spectacles . . . he’s all right! . . . They are bringing him another horse!
Crane: Teddy, old boy. God bless. So I don’t have to bring that wreath to Alice after all.
[In The Rough Riders, published in May 1899 and an immediate best seller, Roosevelt would write of his encounter with the black troopers:
None of the white regulars or Rough Riders showed the slightest sign of weakening; but under the strain the colored infantrymen (who had none of their officers) began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear, either helping wounded men, or saying that they wished to find their own regiments. This I could not allow, as it was depleting my line, so I jumped up, and walking a few yards to the rear, drew my revolver, halted the retreating soldiers, and called out to them that I appreciated the gallantry with which they had fought and would be sorry to hurt them, but that I should shoot the first man who, on any pretence whatever, went to the rear. My own men had all sat up and were watching my movements with utmost interest; so was Captain Howze. I ended my statement to the colored soldiers by saying: “Now, I shall be very sorry to hurt you, and you don’t know whether or not I will keep my word, but my men can tell you that I always do;” whereupon my cow-punchers, hunters, and miners solemnly nodded their heads and commented in chorus, exactly as if in a comic opera, “He always does; he always does!”
This was the end of the trouble, for the “smoked Yankees”–as the Spaniards called the colored soldiers–flashed their white teeth at one another, as they broke into broad grins, and I had no more trouble with them, they seeming to accept me as one of their own officers.
(The U.S. soldiers continue to push their way up the hill. Crane drifts off from the crew. Roosevelt and Davis are surveying the action.)
Roosevelt: The Spaniards are fighting like hell. Dammit, if we don’t take the hill now they’ll bring in reinforcements.
Davis: (looking through binoculars) Sir, there’s a man way up the hill. He’s waving at us. Sending us a signal. By God,
On the slopes of the hill, Crane is wig-wagging and muttering to himself) The youth kept the bright colors to the front. He was waving his free arm in furious circles, the while shrieking mad calls and appeals, urging on those that did not need to be urged, for it seemed that the mob of blue men hurling themselves on the dangerous group of rifles were again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness.
Roosevelt: Crane! What is he signaling?
Roosevelt: Damned fool!
Davis: Wait, there’s more. He’s waving, now’s the time, bring up the Gattlings!
Roosevelt: The Gattlings it is! All forward!
(The Americans surge and capture San Juan Hill. At the top, after the Spanish have surrendered or retreated, Roosevelt finds Crane:
Roosevelt: Crane, you wig-wagging madman! Well, hell, here we are!
Crane: (panting) Colonel, I’ve never felt so exhilarated in my life. Never so alive. So . . . vivid.
Roosevelt: Listen up, Stevie. From here on out, I won’t be seeing you. Wheeler and Shafter are having me join their command headquarters. And you’ll be going back to New York. I’ve placed more than adequate funds in a bank account at your disposable. I want you to get right to work. See what’s in that camera.
Crane: I hope you pay as well as Hearst. Will do. Film . . . the medium of the 20th century.
Scene Twelve: The Spanish surrender, Santiago, Cuba, July 1898
[On July 3, two days after the attack on San Juan Hill, Admiral Cerveza’s Spanish fleet in Santiago Harbor attempted to escape and was demolished by the waiting Americans. On July 17th, the commander of Santiago surrendered his 24,000 men, and the Cuban Campaign was over.]
At a victory ceremony, Cuban General Calixto Garcia and several of soldiers watch the proceedings from the rear.
Garica speaks with a U.S. diplomatic representative.
Garcia: Sir, why was I not invited to speak? Without my army, you Americans would have been thrown back into the Caribbean.
Representative: Yes, General, yes. You see, this ceremony was just for the Americans. There will be another, we promise.
Garica: You know we are grateful for the help of the Americans. But we would have defeated the Spanish ourselves soon enough. The Bourbon monarchy is weak and its people do not stomach war. There is no way they could maintain Cuba as a colony. And when will you Americans be leaving?
Representative: And, yes General, we are also grateful for your efforts. As for when we will leave, very soon I assure you. Right now we just want to help with the famine spreading and to help Cuba recover from the damage of the war. We certainly harbor no territorial ambitions.
[Frank Norris’ quasi-fictional Comida: An Experience in Famine describes the famine faced by the people of Santiago.]
Garcia: But already in the Philippines you are fighting against the Filipino heroes who also fought to liberate their nation from Spanish colonial rule.
Representative: I assure you the Philippines is entirely different. Anyway, at the most all we want there are some coaling stations for our Asiatic Fleet.
Garcia: I pray everything you say is true. And that your nation truly believes in Cuba Libre as you so proclaim.
[In 1901 the U.S. Congress passed the Platt Amendment, sharply limiting Cuban sovereignty and autonomy. From 1906 to 1909, there would be a Second Occupation of Cuba by the United States.
In The Clan of No-Name, Crane tells the story of a young Cuban soldier who was living in Florida but returns to fight the Spanish before the American intervention. Manolo Prat is ignominiously beheaded by a machete and also loses his paramour, Margharita, to an American businessman. Critics, myself included, see the story as Crane’s prediction for the fate of Cuba.]
One of Garca’s men arrives and hands Garcia a letter. The letter is from New York and by Margharita Quesadas.
Garcia reads the letter.
My pepito, I am enduring during our separation only barely. My love for Cuba and our people burns in absence.
I am well in New York. As you know, Mr. Stephen Crane of the Times helped me get here. What a foolish fellow he is. During our escape in Havana, I was only thinking of our own escape from the prison in Madrid. And what it felt like when we were finally alone.
Now that Spain is defeated, I know you fear the Americans will be no different. But Por La Paz, always Por La Paz. One day Cuba will be free.
Garcia becomes quiet.
Cuban soldier # 1: From who is the letter?
Cuban soldier #2: I forgot, Pedro, you are new to the cause.
Margharita Quesadas is the most beautiful girl in all Cuba. She is called the “Jewel of the Antilles.” And ever since she joined the cause of Cuba Libre, we call her the “Cuban Joan of Arc.”
Soldier # 1: Joined our cause?
Soldier # 2: Margharita is from a wealthy aristocratic Peninsular family [term used to describe Spanish settlers in Cuba]. Margharita was attending school in Madrid when Garcia was imprisoned there. She visited him often. The story is that Garcia inspired her to disavow her family and throw herself in with the revolution. In 1895, she helped him escape and came with him back to Cuba. She even joined our troops in the jungle.
Soldier # 1: (smiling) So are Garcia and Margharita lovers? But he is 40 years older than she.
Soldier # 2: Garcia may be 62 but I assure you he has the machismo of men half his age. (chuckling) The soldiers like to call him the “grande cubano cigaro.” But, of course, he and Margharita are not open about their relationship, whatever it is. It remains a mystery.
Soldier #1: Why does he look worried reading her letter? Is he not happy to hear from her?
Soldier # 2: Because Margharita is now in New York. Garcia knows that the great publisher William Randolph Hearst paid a handsome sum in bribery money and expenses to free Margharita and bring her to New York. Margharita is a young and naïve woman. Garcia is worried that Hearst may try to be her protector. No matter what, Garcia is fearful that Margharita will never come back to Cuba.
The soldiers look over at Garcia, still sitting pensively on his horse.
Scene Thirteen: Crane’s studio, New York, August 1898
Crane has converted an apartment into a small studio. He is tinkering with various film developing equipment. Against the wall is the camera from Cuba. The phone rings.
Roosevelt: Hello, Stephen. Its Roosevelt. Back in Washington
Crane: Colonel! It grand to hear your voice. Even when you are cursing Crane as a damned fool. So all Four Musketeers [Crane, Roosevelt, Frank Norris and Richard Harding Davis] arrived home sans casket.
No bad tidings after all for Alice, Rebecca, Blix or Cora.
Roosevelt: Nor Margharita Quesados.
(Crane is silent)
Anyway Crane, how is the camera and the film going?
Crane: Teddy, I’ve never felt so alive. Rejuvenated. Reborn.
You see, when I write I envision words as the sharpest of the sharpest cut tip of a dart. That pierces reality — the dartboard.
Now, in film, my gaze looks at the dart stuck in the board. As a wordless picture. And I see the dart now in motion. Leaving my hand. In wordless motion.
Roosevelt: Bully, I guess. Stevie, your cinematic genius is too abstract for me. But as long as you get the story right.
And have you found ample funds in your bank account? Money should be no object. How about the footage you and the Vitagraph men took?
Crane: Alas that damned Cuban humidity. Much of it is ruined. We’ll be able to use some. But it doesn’t really matter. I have bigger plans.
[The extent and condition and quality of the actual footage has always been uncertain. In Two Wheels and a Crank, Smith is evasive on the question. In Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction film, Eric Barnouw explains:
When Albert E. Smith returned to New York for Cuba with his San Juan Hill footage, he was worried: in spite of
Roosevelt’s posturings, it looked like a dull uphill walk in no way fitting the “charge up San Juan Hill” trumpeted by newspapers.
Meanwhile, theaters clamored for the Cuban material, already publicized. So Vitograph held off its distribution until Smith and his partner J. Stuart Blackton had shot a table top “battle of Santiago Bay” complete with prolific cigarette and cigar smoke, explosions, and cardboard ships going down in the inch-deep water. Combined with the shots brought from Cuba, it became the hit of the war coverage. The public apparently did not suspect its true nature.]
Crane: Yes, ample funds indeed. Edison no doubt appreciates your munificence. His men have built me a mini-studio right here in Greenwich Village. And the equipment, stunning. It was amateur hour with those Vitograph fellows.
And the technology is going leaps and bounds. The Edison men say soon enough films can have sound right along with the pictures. The pzzzzzzzzzzt of the bullet. And one day those pictures will be in color. The crimson red of the wound.
Roosevelt: Yes, yes, think big Crane. Think big.
Crane: I’ll rescue a little of the San Juan footage. But mostly it will actors. We’ll use Edison’s Black Maria Studio in West Orange, New Jersey.
We”ll recreate the whole Rough Riding gang. Cowboys and Indians. I want Bisbell, the half-Cherokee, to play himself. As for that Jewish trooper, I’ll personally find the best looking Israelite in vaudeville. And as for your college men from Harvard and Princeton, I’ll round up my chums from Syracuse and Lafayette.
Roosevelt: And who will play me?
Crane: I’ll get the finest actor on Broadway. A man who has played, hmm, Marc Anthony! How’s that sound?
Roosevelt: Excellent. But I’ll need a Cleopatra in my tent. And who will be Mr. Stephen Crane?
Crane: And you call me risqué! Why, Crane will be Crane. Didn’t you yourself say the film was also about me? Crane, America’s first real movie director, playing Crane.
Roosevelt: You are sounding absolutely Faustian. Also, I am sending along the manuscript of The Rough Riders I am now composing. And two pictures I am including. Also, Dick’s [Richard Harding Davis] manuscript. They should give you the right material to form the story. And I do think the title should be The Rough Riders.
Crane: (distracted and only half listening) Yes, yes, by all means. That’s fine. Anyway its back to work, old boy.
Crane hangs up the phone. Then picks it up again and dials.
Crane: Is this Mr. Hearst’s secretary. Its Stephen Crane. Why, thank you sir. I am delighted the account of my daring escape with Margarita Quesdas went through a dozen printings.
Speaking of Miss Quesedas, how can I reach her now that she is here in New York? Might do a follow up. You don’t have an address but know where she can be found, you say. Recently joined the Anti-Imperialism League. And they are having a rally tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. And William Jennings Bryan is speaking. Thanks much, old sport. Give Mr. Hearst my greetings.
[The Anti-Imperialist League was first organized
in June 1898 to advocate against American overseas colonial ambitions. Prominent literary members were Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Henry and James, as well as his brother William James.
Williams Jennings Bryan was not an official member of the League. In 1896, as the Democrat/Populist candidate, Bryan had lost to McKinley. In 1898, he supported intervention in Cuba, serving himself as Colonel in the so-called, “Silver Regiment” of Nebraska that never saw action in Cuba during the war. In 1900, Bryan ran again against McKinley (with Roosevelt as his running mate), this time on an anti-imperialist platform, and again lost.
In 1905, William Dean Howell wrote the widely-read “Editha,” an anti-war short story.
Although Twain supported the intervention in Cuba, he quickly became an anti-imperialist. In 1901, he wrote, To the Person Sitting in Darkness, a vitriolic attack on American imperial pretensions.]
Scene Fourteen: New York, late summer 1898
The scene is Madison Square Garden at an Anti-Imperialist League rally. William Jennings Bryan is giving his “Cross of Gold” speech from the 1896 Democrat presidential convention (also at the Garden). Margharita is already seated when Crane arrives.
Margharita: Mr. Stephen Crane, what brings you to an Anti-Imperialist Meeting?
Crane: Simply to return the handkerchief you left in Havana. (gives her the handkerchief)
(listening to Bryan) Is he doing the old “Cross of Gold” thing? Didn’t help him in ’96.
Margharita: Bryan is a great man. Just as he denounced Wall Street, he shows the lies of the jingoes who would have the United States occupy Cuba and the Philippines. What do you have against him?
Crane: I’ve no beef with the “Great Commoner.” I am also a man of the people. Who else writes about tramps in the Bowery the way I do? But all that Christian piety. He’s just too milquetoast. Reminds me of a cowardly lion. [In Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (1900), the Cowardly Lion is likely modeled after Bryan.)
Margharita: We’ll see how much courage you have, Mr. Lion.
Crane: And all those Populist hayseeds are crackpots. And that rot about Free Silver. (peering at Margharita) A little like Free Cuba.
Margharita: If you bothered to vote, I suppose it would be for that warmonger Roosevelt. [In 1896 when Roosevelt was commissioner of the NYPD he reportedly suggested the best solution to the Populist threat was to line the Populists “against a wall to be shot.”]
(Crane is quiet)
Crane: Listen, Miss Quesadas, I made quite a pretty penny from both Hearst and Pulitzer writing about Sir Crane Launcelot saving his damsel in distress. The least I owe you is dinner and drinks — as I recall you like gin — at Pete’s Tavern. After the rally?
Margharita: Very well. And its gin straight.
(Later that evening at Pete’s Tavern. As the two are sitting down, Crane is greeted by a patron.)
William Sydney Porter: Crane! Last time I saw you here you were burning manuscripts of Maggie to stay warm in your cold water flat.
Crane: Oh, Henry. Good to see you.
(softly, winking at Porter who glances at Margharita)
Luckily the good sales of Red Badge have earned me some new fans.
(loudly) Waiter, Gilbeys and Porterhouse for myself and the lady.
So Porter, what are you writing in your gloomy cubby hole?
Porter: (addressing Crane and Margharita) It’s a story about two lovers who each give the other their prized possession.
Crane: (taking a butter knife and pretending to cut his hair) Gwendolyn, a lock of the starving poet’s hair for you.
Margharita: (tittering) And here is my handkerchief for you to wipe away your crocodile tears.
(Crane takes the handkerchief and stuffs it in his mouth, pretending he can’t speak).
Margharita: Much better! Hearst will make that a headline: “Crane rendered mute. Oh, and war declared on Germany.”
(sipping her Gilbeys) Mr. Crane, why have you invited me here?
Crane (removing the handerchief) : As you may know, senorita Quesadas, I am making a moving picture. And I need you as an actress. Starring the “Pearl of the Antilles.”
Margharita: (blushing) Me, an actress?
Crane: Yes, indeed. Our daring flight from the Casa de Recogidas is at the very heart of the story.
Margharita: Haven’t you gotten enough glory from that escapade?
Crane: Hardly. Anyway only you and I know the real story.
Margharita: The real story?
Crane: Of course. As only you and I know, it was I who was jailed with the prostitutes and you who freed me.
Margharita: You with the prostitutes?
Crane: Well, Crane has been known to sell his soul for a handsome advance on a novel.
Anyway, you will again dress as a man—fake mustache and all—as you did in the cabana before departing on the French yacht. And I will be dressed as the woman.
Margharita: (lauging) You the senorita?
Crane: I’m told I can be a bit of a dandy. (stroking his hair). I think I make a cute girl.
Margharita: And what will happen in the cabana?
Crane: Shant give away the plot. But anyway film audiences today are crazy for that kind of stuff.
Margharita: While you would make a fine cherub, I will not be your actress. Why else did you invite me?
Crane: I come as a representative of the press to interview you. First question. Are you General Calixto Garcia’s mistress?
Margharita: You are an upfront boy. Garica is one of the greatest heroes in all Cuban history. He has been imprisoned twice and tortured for our cause. He is the father of our revolution.
And yes, we have made love. Or, as you Greenwich Village bohemians are saying, had sex. But I am not his mistress.
Crane: (blushing) My, my, you are a New Woman. But Garcia is 62 and you not yet 22.
Margharita: Mr. Crane, how little you know of women . . . or sex.
Calixto has the machismo of men half is age. And when he takes me bareback riding in the jungle on his horse, Libre, . . . oh, Mr. Crane, oh, Mr. Crane.
And if I choose I close my eyes and think of the many photographs I have when he was a young soldier. Leading his men into battle, his machete raised above his head.
But, understand Mr. Crane, I am not his mistress.
And what of your wife Cora?
Crane: (blushing and stammering) Well you see . . . Cora and I . . . well we’ve know each other for every. Back when we were growing up in New Jersey . . . we are like pals. Really like brother and sister . . .we have an understanding.
Margharita: Mr. Crane, have you ever been in love?
Crane: (startled) Yes, once. Her name was Nellie Crouse. I only met her twice, but I wrote her seven letters.
Dear me, how much I getting to admire graveyards—the calm unfretting unhopeing [sic] end of things –serene absence of passion—obliviousness to sin—ignorant of the accursed golden hopes that flame at night and make a man run his legs off and then in the daylight of experience turn out to be ingenious traps for the imagination. If there is a joy of living I cant find it. The future? The fuure is blue with obligations—new trials—conflicts. It was a rare old wine the gods brewed for mortals. Flagons of despair –
And the last one.
Really by this time I should have recovered enough to be able to write you a sane letter, but I cannot—my pen is dead. I am simply struggling with a life that is more than a mouthful of dust to him. Yours sincerely, Stephen Crane
Margharita: Quite histrionic. Did she write back?
(Crane wincing. Nods no)
Margharita: A pity. And what become of your Beatrice [Dante’s muse who he only saw once or twice]
Crane: She inspired Maggie, Margharita. Its really a book about love.
Margharita: With not a bit of sex. Stephen, I’ve noticed you never write about sex. Or is that your style again. First you write about something, then you live it.
Crane: Very perceptive senorita. I suppose my next novel—I mean movie—will have to be only about making love.
You remind me of Cleopatra.
Margharita: Why Cleopatra?
Crane: Besides her beauty, her self possession. And her mightiness.
Margharita: And I suppose you fancy yourself Marc Antony?
Crane: (musing) Only because I like that he trumped Julius Caesar. When will I see you next?
Margharita: Call me. (giving him her number). You know, since I’ve been in New York I am just about addicted to talking on the telephone.
Crane: Ha. So the New Woman is not much different from the old.
Scene Fifteen: Chicago Auditorium, October 16th 1898
In October, Booker T. Washington was asked by President William R. Harper of the University of Chicago to deliver one of the addresses at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago celebrating the victory over Spain. Along with an overflow crowd of 16,000, in the audience was President William McKinley, the members of his cabinet, foreign ministers and a large number of army and navy officers.
Discussing the black troopers who had fought in Cuba, Washington would say:
When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War — heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionists and ex-masters — then decide for yourself whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live in its country.
For the full text of the speech and for Washington’s account of its reception, see this excerpt from his Story of My Life and Work
Below is an excerpt from “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” describing the aftermath of the war and the consequences for the black soldiers and African-Americans in general.
Just once the convention lost complete control of itself. A tall slender youth had spoken some moments in a vein so modest that the chairman interrupted: “Gentlemen,” said he, “the speaker hasn’t much to say for himself, so I’m going to put in a word of my own. I can’t help it. That man, gentlemen—that man there was in the front of the charge at San Juan!” At that the air seemed suddenly to be composed of equally active parts of handkerchiefs, hats and hilarious cheers. The slender youth bowed acknowledgements and said his speech ought to take a military turn, but that he hesitated to say the thing he had in mind. “It was not a pleasant thing.”
“Say it out!” Yelled twenty voices.
So he said it out. He was disappointed in Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, said he, had slandered the Negro soldier; and there was really no braver soldier in the world. The Negro never flinched, never retreated. “Why, gentleman, way back in the old there was a Negro in the fight. And as for what Col. Roosevelt says about Negro soldiers being dependent upon white officers, I’ll tell you the truth. There wasn’t any officer in control on San Juan Hill—or rather every Negro private was a Negro captain!”
— Henry J. Barrymore’s account in the Boston Transcript of Sergant-Major Frank Pullen’s speech at the August 1900 Meeting of the Negro Business League from Booker T. Washington’s The Story of My Life and Work
In October 1898, Booker T. Washington was invited to speak at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago. Several weeks earlier, the black troopers of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry had returned to the United States following victory in the Cuban Campaign. Washington had strongly supported the American intervention in Cuba, claiming that, if asked, he could enlist 100,000 enthusiastic African-American soldiers.
Before an overflow crowd of 16,000 including President McKinley, Washington celebrated the triumphs of the African-American soldiers:
When you have gotten the full story of the heroic conduct of the Negro in the Spanish-American War—heard it from the lips of Northern soldier and Southern soldier, from ex-abolitionists and ex-masters—then decide for yourself whether a race that is thus willing to die for its country should not be given the highest opportunity to live in its country.
Washington’s rhetoric highlights the hopes shared by many African-Americans that black participation in the Spanish-American War would win respect from whites and improve black status at home. Before the war, Edward Cooper, the conservative editor of the Washington Colored American urged African-Americans to respond to McKinley’s call for volunteers so that “the Negro’s manhood [can be] placed directly in evidence.” Furthermore, in his address, Washington depicts the war as a vehicle for defusing and ameliorating racial antagonism: “recognition [of black heroism in Cuba] had done more to blot out sectional and racial lines than any event since the dawn of our freedom.” Cooper echoed Washington’s sentiments when he proclaimed to his readership: “Our soldierly qualities have been proven . . . The asperities of sectional and race hatred have been wonderfully softened.” Washington’s Peace Jubilee address was warmly received and widely reprinted in the national press.
Within the African-American community, the black troopers became immediate folk heroes:
In Negro homes pictures and plaques depicting the charge at San Juan occupied places of honor. Books, which celebrated the deeds of black soldiers in Cuba, found a ready market. Hundreds of poems ranging from the polished verse of Paul Laurence Dunbar to the crude rhymes of unknown poets extolled the exploits of Negro troops.
In Cooper’s terms, the soldiers were direct evidence of black manhood tested and proved. Furthermore, for a brief short-lived moment, even the white press championed the black soldiers. In October 1898, after the 10th cavalry marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the cheers of the citizens and a review by McKinley and his Cabinet, the Army and Navy Journal commented, “Never in history has the Negro advanced so rapidly in public estimation as in this war.”
Ultimately, the hopes of the African-American community would be disappointed. Almost immediately, attention given to African-American heroism dwindled. As Amy Kaplan has shown:
While African-American newspapers repeatedly lambasted the white press for never mentioning the names of individual black soldiers and for ignoring their contributions, Roosevelt’s account [the subject of Pullen’s tirade] raised special outrage for its blatant distortions of those accomplishments which has entered the public light.
In James Roberts Payne study of poetry written by black soldiers—as well as Dunbar’s “The Conquerors: The Black Troops in Cuba” and James Weldon Johnson’s short lyric “The Color Sergeant: On an Incident at the Battle of San Juan Hill”—Payne points to a progressive sense of disappointment, as the poems oscillate between “themes of extreme idealism and embittered disillusionment.” In late October 1898, only two weeks after the Peace Jubilee, Charles Knox of the Indianapolis Freeman lamented, “The millennium that is to be has not dawned. Caney and Santiago may as well not have been.”8. Sergeant-Major Pullens’s outburst in the form of his speech to the Negro Business League shows that this anger remained two years after the event.
Instead of the war leading to Washington’s vision of racial lines blotted out or Cooper’s image of racial hatred softened, the war precipitated a wave of mob violence against African-Americans. To many Southern whites, the victory over Spain—rekindling the martial spirit of the old Confederacy—was proof of Anglo- Saxon superiority. Returning black soldiers, often encamped in the south, were targets of white attack. Nowhere was the connection between the triumph in Cuba and assertions of white supremacy clearer than in the infamous November 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina white race riot. There, self-appointed vigilance committees created top quell black assertion, referred to themselves as “Rough Riders.” By late 1898, Dunbar, dismayed by post-war events, feared that he detected, “a new attitude produced by the war which was anything but favorable for black citizens.” By 1900, W.E.B Du Bois confirmed indeed that Knox’s millennium had not come. In his customary tone of distanced irony, Du Bois remarked that “the Spanish War and its various sequels have greatly increased some of our difficulties in dealing with the Negro problems.”
Scene Sixteen: Thomas Edison’s outdoor film studio in West Orange, New Jersey, Fall 1898
An outdoor film set is being constructed at Edison’s facility in West Orange, New Jersey. The scene is somewhat chaotic. Some men are building replica Spanish blockhouses. Extras and some original members of the Rough Riders are milling around. Film and military equipment is strewn about. Some men are practicing the charge up the hill, cursing the muddy ground. Crane is moving about, giving orders and taking his own turn behind the camera. He is approached by three men.
Crane: Frank [Norris], Dick [Richard Harding Davis], and Teddy[Roosevelt]! The Four Musketeers reunited.
(looking at Davis) Dick, you look a little piqued. Partied a bit too much in Havana after the surrender?
Davis: (slightly trembling) Yes, that must be it. You know how hot blooded those Cuban girls are.
[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 suffering from the strain of war goes on a debilitating drinking binge.]
Crane: Frank, you look a little tired yourself. I thought McClure’s had given you a paid vacation. Expected you to be spending it in a ‘Frisco love nest with Blix.
[Upon his return, Norris was suffering from Cuban malaria. McClure’s, who sent him to Cuba, provided him with free transportation from San Francisco to New York and back, and a paid leave of absence while he recovered.]
Anyway, Crane, we’ve come to help with the film. I have brought some of my Cuban sketches. To give you a flavor with which to work. This is from “Untold Thrilling Account of Santiago’s Surrender” [retitled by his editor as “The Surrender of Santiago”]
And the great names come to mind again: Lexington, Trenton, Yorktown, 1812, Chapultepec, Mexico, Shiloh, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Appomattox, and now—Guisimas, San Juan, El Caney, Santiago.
Here it gets going:
Santiago was ours—ours, ours by the sword we had acquired, we, Americans, with no one to help—and the Anglo-Saxon blood of us, the blood of the race that fought its way out of a swamp in Friesland, conquering and conquering and conquering, on to the westward, the race whose blood instinct is in the acquiring of land . . . the fine brutal instinct of the Anglo-Saxon. . . triumphant, arrogant, conquerors.
Crane: Bully, as Theodore would say (glancing at Roosevelt). Can I count on you, Harold Harefoot, [Anglo-Saxon King, 1035 – 1040] to be an extra during our fine brutal ride up San Juan Hill.
Norris: Too bad I told McClure’s I wouldn’t accept any outside employment.
[Interestingly, Norris’s next novel, The Octopus (1899) seems to make an ironic twist of his Spanish War experiences. I argue one of the central characters, the blustering Annixter, is almost surely modeled after Roosevelt—the Annexor—who Norris had praised in “The Surrender of Santiago.” If so, Annixter’s fate is ironic. In The Octopus, Norris casts Annixter as the doomed leader of a rancher men’s League, killed in a pitched but hopeless battle against agents of a powerful railroad corporation. see “The Spanish-American War as a Bourgeois Testing Ground: Richard Harding Davis, Frank Norris and Stephen Crane” ]
Roosevelt: (to Crane): Stephen, you look positively vital. You’ve been a New Jersey dynamo. Michelangelo on his back in the Sistine Chapel.
Crane: (bowing) Film will be the cathedral of the 20th century
Roosevelt (taking Crane aside): Now on the movie. Gattlings. Lot of Gattlings. And American flags like the 4th of July. And plenty of dead Spaniards. With all due respect to Davis and his Cuban and Porto Rican Campaign, remember its title. The Rough Riders.
Crane: (half smiling) And the reconnaissance balloon? And Shafter’s cart? I’ve even got a man to pull it.
(Crane points to one of the huge bronco busters hired as an extra trying to dislodge a huge camera caught in the mud using a lasso).
Roosevelt: C-R-A-N-E! It’s your movie. Do as you please.
Now, I’ve also brought along some reading material for your inspiration. It’s from the first draft of you know what.
It’s the wounding of Tom Bisbell, the half Cherokee who as you recall was hit seven times:
The first wound was received by him two minutes after he had fired his first shot, the bullet going through his neck. The second hit him in the left thumb. The third struck near his right hip, passing entirely through the body. The fourth bullet (which was apparently from a Remington and not from a Mauser) went into his neck and lodged against the bone, being afterward cut out. The fifth bullet again hit the left hand. The sixth scraped his head and the seventh his neck. He did not receive all of the wounds at the same time, over half an hour elapsing between the first and last. Up to receiving the last wound he had declined to leave the firing-line, but by the same he had lost so much blood that he had to be sent to the rear.
How’s that for modern realism?
Crane: Let’s ask the victim of your prose himself. (Crane calls to Bisbell who has been hired as an extra). Chief Tom, we have a visitor.
(Bisbell joins the men)
Roosevelt. Bisbell! How’s my Archibald Scraper!? [Cherokee Chief during the Trail of Tears]. Good to see in one chunk after the Spanish made Swiss cheese out of you.
Crane: So, is the Colonel’s poem accurate?
Bisbell: (nodding no) I was hit eight times. Once here. (touching his groin)
Crane: A pity for your squaws! Shant put that in the film.
Roosevelt: So Crane, how will you treat the death of Bucky O’Neil? That poker playing, six shooting god damned sheriff of Prescott, Arizona Territory. You know, O’Neil reminded me a little of you. Well, not the sheriff part. And not yet the dead part.
Crane: How so?
Roosevelt: In Tampa, Bucky and I got to know each other pretty well. Here’s my “eulogy:”
Bucky O’Neil, the iron-nerved, iron-willed fighter from Arizona, the Sheriff whose name was a by-word of terror to every wrong-doer, white or red, the gambler who with unmoved face would stake and lose every dollar he had in the world. He alone among his comrade was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist. At night, when we leaned onthe railing [during the voyage from Tampa to Cuba] to look at the Southern Cross, he was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage and fear and love, behind animal hatred, and animal lust for the pleasures that have tangible shape. He had keenly enjoyed his life. But down deep what seemed to interest him was the philosophy of life itself, of our understanding of it, and of the limitations set to that understanding. He had taken so many chances when death lay on the hazard, that he felt, “Who would not risk his life for a star?” [medal earned in battle] Had he lived, and had the war lasted, he would have surely won the eagle, if not the star.
That’s how I saw you when you charged up that hill alone–and dammit–wig-wagged us to bring up the Gattlings. Charging into the mysteries behind courage and fear and love.
What were you looking for? Not a gold medal. Though Crane would risk his life for a star. Maybe another novel. Maybe another Red Badge of Courage. Only you know.
Crane: (pensive) And O’Neil’s death?
As O’Neil moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.” O’Neil took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.” A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on hisheel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone into the darkness.
So how will you tell his story. A hero or a reckless fool.
Crane: (quietly) I don’t know.
Roosevelt: If a fool, have one Spanish bullet knock the cigarette out of his mouth. Then when he turns–splat–another one straight in the face. If a hero, maybe he had moved forward to help a man down. You decide.
Anyway, Crane, before we leave, let me try out that camera.
(Crane picks up the original Vitagraph camera lying near him. He wobbles about, making facetious grins. He takes the camera in his arms and kisses it.)
Roosevelt: (laughing) You damn fool!
Crane: (quietly) Film is my mistress.
Roosevelt (more seriously): The power of this new medium is profound. Film will change everything. The way people imagine the world. They will see themselves in it as they do in novels and plays. Only much more so. Film will make Presidents win and lose. Empires rise and fall. The revolution will be filmed. Crane, are you listening?
Crane: (distracted) Um, Gattlings, presidents, empires, Gattlings.
Roosevelt: God help us Stephen. I hope mankind uses this (pointing to the camera) not for evil but for good.
Anyway, Crane we are off. Keep up the good work
(Several hours later, the filming is winding down and the crew is beginning to pack up for the day. Crane is approached by two black men, Frank Pullen and Major Charles Young)
Crane: Hello, there. Why its Pullen and Major Young from Cuba! Where have you been and what brings you to the wilds of West Orange, good sirs?
Young: We are just back from Booker T. Washington’s Peace Jubilee Speech in Chicago. And we heard you were making a moving picture.
Crane: My my, word gets out even to Harlem. Yes, yes. Washington, good man I’ve heard. Not like that fire brand DuBois.
Pullen: Mr. Crane, we come to talk about Colonel Roosevelt and some of dem things he’s been saying. Some things about the Negro troopers in Cuba.
Crane: Why, gentleman. Roosevelt was only recently at a rally in Harlem praising the black troopers [Roosevelt had made a campaign stop in Harlem when running for New York Governor].
Young: He just wanted our votes. He knows no black man would vote for a Democrat. [Roosevelt was a Republican.]
Crane: True enough. Only for the party of Lincoln. Not even for William Jennings Bryan himself.
Young: But we know what Roosevelt said. He said under the strain the colored infantrymen began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear. He said we retreated and that he threatened us with his revolver if we kept retreating. He called us “smoked Yankees” — just like the Spaniards did. Like it was a minstrel show, he said we flashed our white teeth at each other and broke into broad grins. He said after that we caused him no more trouble
Crane: What would you have me do about it?
Young: We want you to make a movie about what really happened.
Crane: A movie featuring the black soldiers? Why I might as well make a movie about Imperium in Imperio.
Pullen: Now dat would be a mo-ving pee-icture show every Negro in America would pay his last cent to watch.¹
Young: Mr. Crane, you were there. You saw it was us who really took the hill. We didn’t help Roosevelt take the hill. We took the hill. You saw how disorganized the Rough Rides had become. You even saw Roosevelt shot off his horse. The Spaniards were beginning a counterattack. They would have cut the Rough Riders to bits. We swooped in and demolished them.
(Pullen takes out of his pocket a light blue Spanish cap, red-stained with two bullet holes)
Pullen: My sou-ven-eer.
Crane: (hesitating) Look, if its a movie you want to be in, I’m happy to hire you as extras. I pay better than in Harlem.
Young: That’s not want we. We want you to tell the truth.
Pullen: Dat’s the trut, the whole trut and aint notin’ but de trut.
Young: (groaning) You can see Frank has spent some time in front of judges.
Mr. Crane, you will make history. You will make artistic history. You will be the first to make cinematic history. Tell your vivid story.
Crane: (stands silently for a moment) Gentlemen, thank you for coming. I heard what you say. I’ll think about it. Now I must help the crew finish packing.
¹Written in the aftermath of the betrayal of the black Cuban War soldier and the upsurge of Negrophobia in the wake of the Spanish-American War, in 1899 Sutton Griggs, a Nashville Baptist minister originally from Texas, published his first novel, Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Problem. The novel tells the story of the Imperium, an underground government founded in Waco, Texas to protect and enfranchise black Americans and to “unite all Negroes in a body.”
The Imperium, numbering several million members, has established its own Army and a Congress that gathers in a hidden compound in Waco. After the Imperium learns of the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Bay, it seizes the moment and declares war — not against Spain — but against the United States. In the end, the Imperium’s government collapses and the war never materializes. see “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898”
Scene 17: New York, late Fall 1898
(Crane is working in his studio. He is looking over the original footage from San Juan. Since they last saw each other at Pete’s Tavern, Crane and Margharita have been talking daily on the telephone. A boy delivers Crane a telegram.)
Boy: Mr. Stephen Crane. Telegram from Margharita Quesadas.
Crane: Thanks, boy. (looking for money in his pocket). Out of dough. Take this. It will make your heirs rich. (Crane grabs a first edition of Maggie off the shelf, signs it and give it to the boy).
Crane reads the note. “Stephen, Calixto is dead. Please come to my apartment on Grove Street. Maggie”
(Crane goes to Margharita’s apartment. Margharita is crying.)
Crane: (holding her) Dear, Maggie. I am so sorry. What happened?
Margharita: Calixto was found dead in his Siboney beach house. At his side was a machete.
Crane: A machete! Assassinated. Villains! It must have been an embittered cowardly Penisular [the white upper class Spanish who settled in Cuba]. Oh, Maggie, I am so sorry.
Margharita: (sobbing) Stephen, it gets worse. The police are claiming it was self-inflicted. There was no sign of a break in or a struggle. And it was in a hidden room that only a few family members knew existed. And they are saying family, friends and even his soldiers said Calixto had been acting despondent. Saying strange and desperate things.
Crane: But how can a man kill himself with a machete?
(Margharita gives a pained, horrified look)
Crane: My dear, I shouldn’t have said that. Margharita, I am thankful you asked me to be here. These weeks when he have been talking so much on the telephone, it feels like we have grown close. We talk about everything. Books, ideas, life. We write down our dreams and nightmares and retell them in the morning. And you have almost made me an anarchist if not a Bryanite Democrat.
Margharita (nodding): But hardly anything about Cora.
Crane: Nor much really about Calixto.
Margharita: (composing herself) You know I love Calixto with all my heart. He is the father of our revolution. Without him, Cuba would still be in total bondage. Calixto and I have been lovers but I was never his mistress. Calixto taught me to be my own woman. Independent like one day Cuba will be. Our cause will go on and our lives will go on.
Crane: I know you did and I know you are.
Margharita: Stephen, I have an idea and something I will hope you will do for me.
Crane: If I can.
Margharita: I want you to use your cinematic genius to help our cause. I want you to make a movie about the real story of the war. About how it was the Cuban freedom fighters who defeated the Spanish. And how the world must let Cuba be free.
Crane: (suppressing an inward astonished laugh) But Maggie, I am already working on one film. We can do yours next. Hmm, we’ll call it Birth of a Nation. Birth of the Cuban Nation.
[Birth of a Nation (1915) by W.D. Griffiths is considered the first full length film. Under President Woodrow Wilson, it was the first American motion picture to be screened at the White House. The film depicts its black characters as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women. The Klu Klux Klan is portrayed as a heroic force.]
Margharita: I have often doubted if you are sincere in your love for Cuba. Why, in your writings you have called our soldiers “tatterdemalions.” And you were once quoted in an interview saying, “The Cubans themselves are the worst thing possible for the cause of an independent Cuba that could possibly exist.” [from newspaper interview “The Red Badge of Courage Was His Wig-Wag Flag”]
Crane: (trying to be light) Oh, that tatterdemalion was just a poetic device. I needed something to rhyme with “medallion.” And that reporter completely mangled what I said.
Anyway, what do I know about politics? And that was before I met you. Listen, I promise we’ll do Birth of a Nation later. And, didn’t I show compassion for the Cuban cause in The Clan of No-Name ?
Margharita: (crying again) Yes, but Manolo had his head cut off with a machete.
Crane: Ah, stupid me again for mentioning “Clan.”
Maggie, you see, a strange, unexpected and now coincidental thing happened today. Two black troopers I knew from Cuba, Pullen and Young, came to the set today. The oddest thing. Came right out of the blue. They want me to radically alter The Rough Riders. They want the movie to be about how it was the Buffalo Soldiers who really captured San Juan. And saved Roosevelt’s Anglo-Saxon ass.
Margarita: Are you going to do it?
Crane: How can I? Its unthinkable. The movie is nearing completion. It would simply be impossible.
But then I looked at old Vitagraph footage. We actually caught Roosevelt falling off his horse and breaking his glasses. And when the black troopers devastated the Spanish counterattack. But I couldn’t decide.
But when I got that telegram and on the walk over here, I decided. I am doing it. If you want me to.
Margharita (glowing): Mr. Crane, are you only doing this so you can make love to me?
Margharita: (startled) Yes? But why.
Crane: Because when I walked into that jail in Havana, I saw you. A kindred spirit. A true artist like myself. And true artists must tell the truth.
And because when I charged up San Juan by myself, I was thinking of you. I was thinking I wanted you to read about in the Times and be proud. Who would not risk his life for a star? [quoting Roosevelt]
Margharita: (glowing and laughing). I did read those reports and thought to myself, what a reckless fool is Mr. Stephen Crane. But I am glad my star was not shot down.
Crane: (taking her around the waist and whispering in her ear): I
Crane: You. I. I want.
Margharita: I? You want?
Crane: You. I want to.
Margharita: You? I. You want to?
Crane: I want to be.
Margharita: To be?
Crane: To be inside you.
Margharita: To be inside me.
(Margharita steps to the light switch and turns it off.)
Scene Eighteen: New York, early winter 1898
Over the weeks since their last encounter, Margharita and Crane and have spoken on the phone daily and been together many times. Crane has been working non stop changing the movie. After a brief hiatus, he tells Margharita to come to the studio.
Margharita: (entering the studio and clutching him tightly) Stevie, it’s been three days. I am about to explode. You know how hot blooded we Cuban girls are!
Crane: (feeling her forehead) Perhaps just a touch of Cuban malaria.
Margharita: Three days too long. (touching him below the belt). Mr. Stephen Crane certainly knows how to use his wig-wag.
Crane: (groaning slightly) Coqui [a species of small, jewel-like Caribbean frog], all of the sudden you are bringing back my report for Hearst: “The Raising of the American Flag at Santiago.”
Margharita: (blushing) And I am brought back to blushing like a Madrid school girl!
Crane: (feeling her forehead) Maybe its not Cuban malaria after all.
Margharita: (looking him in the eyes) How does it feel to be Crane in love?
Crane: Coqui, it’s strange. When I walk around the streets, I am on a celestial high. And I look about wondering how many others are too. Maybe one in five hundred are at that moment also being transported to our completely different universe. But I can’t say who they are by just looking. It’s a Clan of No Name. How does it feel? It’s delicious and delirious just like you.
Also, I’ve been looking so differently at my work. The Open Boat is very good, maybe excellent. But, to coin a phrase, it’s just too existential. And there is too much war. The Red Badge and the poem, “War is kind.” You were right back at Pete’s Tavern. It’s the feminine mystique I’ve been lacking.
Coqui, I’ve penned a few lines about you.
Margharita, light of my life,
Fire of my loins.
My sin, my soul. Mar-ghar-ita:
The tip of the tongue
Taking a trip of three steps
Down the palate
To tap, at three,
On the teeth.
Mar. Ghar. Ita.
Margharita: (presses the tip of her tongue against Crane’s throat) It’s so lyrical. And penetrating . . . let me be your Maggie. Your open book. Your open boat.
Crane: First, very quickly, I want to show you the new scenes I’ve spliced together. Its not all finished, but it can be seen. Hope so much you like it.
Margharita: Right now?! You exasperating boy! When you have the Pearl of the Antilles in front of you glistening and tingling like the phosphorescent lagoon at Aricebo. And not even wearing her corset!
Crane: Maggie, we were apart for the whole damn Cuban Campaign. Wig-wagging can wait just fifteen minutes, I swear.
(The start watching the new scenes Crane has added. He has mixed actual footage of the war together with the acted scenes. He went to a shooting range and made a phonographic impression of the sounds of the bullets firing. As they watch the movies, the phonograph plays in the background.)
Margharita: (mesmerized) Stephen, it’s brilliant. Overwhelming. The masses of men colliding. Intermingling. Teeming. Like ants. No. Taken as a whole, like one animal. An octopus. With humans as tendrils.
Stevie, oh, god. That man’s been hit! His arm is blown off. Its rolling on the ground . . . oh god. . . Stephen, is that real? Or an actor.
Crane: Does it matter?
Margharita: And the sounds of the bullets. They roar like trumpets from heaven. And the colors. The Negros and the whites. Chessmen strewn upon a board.
Crane: I wish I could show the blue of the uniforms. By the way, that’s the movie’s new title. No more Rough Riders. It’s Black and Blue on San Juan Hill.
Margharita: And that man. He’s hit. Not once twice. And a third time! Stephen, I can see the blood gush!
Crane: Try seven, I mean eight times, that’s Bisbell the half-Cherokee. I actually found those shots in the original footage.
Margharita: That man with the cigarette. He’s walking ahead into the smoke. I can’t see him. What happens?
Crane: Its Bucky O’Neil. He’s killed. But the smoke is too heavy. We’ll never know about his last seconds.
Margharita: Look it’s Roosevelt. He’s dazed. Lying on the ground.
Crane: Now watch this angle. I’ve made the camera lens looked broken like Teddy’s spectacles. And the angle is what he would see. Lying on his back looking up at the sky. Wondering if he’ll die.
Margharita: And yourself? Where is my grand wig-wagger? My brilliant first American film maker wig-wagger.
Crane: As I said, it’s not quite finished. That scene is not yet done. (Crane turns off the projector.)
Remember at the Bryan rally when you wondered if I was the cowardly lion. Not so cowardly after all.
Margharita: No. All courage. You are my lion. My Marc Antony.
Crane: You remember when you said that too. When I said you reminded me of Cleopatra.
Margharita: I know about Cleopatra more than you think. As a child, we took the grand tour of Egypt and the Pyramids. (Crane looks impressed) Remember, I am from a family of very wealthy Penisulars [the white upper class Spanish who settled in Cuba]. I have sacrificed much for the revolution.
I am fascinated with all things Epypt. A bit of what they call an Egyptomaniac. I even have learned the secrets of ancient Egytptian sensuality.
Crane: Not the only kind of maniac you are my dear.
Margharita: I’m going into the other room for a moment. While I am gone, set up that camera of yours. Can it take pictures by itself.
Crane: It can be set up that way. Why?
Margharita: Just wait. Now it is you that must be patient.
Crane: (expectant) My goodness, you are a New Woman. Who I would never dare to predict or contravene.
(Margharita goes into the changing room while Crane sets up the camera.)
(Margharita returns dressed as Cleopatra.)
Crane: (his eyes gleaming) My, darling. Oh, Egypt I am dying!
Margharita: And for you, Marc Antony, is a Roman toga. (She throws him a bed sheet) Now, my not so eunuch, disrobe.
Crane: I am your obedient slave, my Queen of the Nile.
Why exactly the camera?
Margharita: You are making your movie. Cleo shall make hers. Set it going, Pharoah.
(Crane sets the camera. Margharita turns off the lights and brings out an ancient Egyptian candle holder shaped as a cobra)
Crane: The candle light it’s so . . .
Margharita: Vivid. I told you Cleopatra was privy to the secrets of the goddesses.
Margharita: Your toga does seems to be too tight fitting around the groin. Is that a cobra in your pants?
Crane (panting) Why, Eve, it is a snake. The snake of knowledge.
Margharita: Of a carnal kind.
(Crane, almost trembling drops the toga to the ground).
Margharita: Not yet my musketeer. We are only on the first step of the Pyramid. We won’t reach the summit until daybreak. Hope you have an extra reel for that camera.
(Daybreak comes. In the morning, the lovers are satiated and exhausted. They sit quietly at the breakfast table.)
Margharita: Stephen, I have something to tell you. This evening I am leaving for Spain.
Crane: What, what are you talking about? Spain!? Spain!? Why are telling me this now?
Margharita: I didn’t want to dampen my Pharoah’s ardor. And miss the wig-wagging of a millennium. But, wait hold on.
I want you to come. When you can.
Crane: Tell me more. This is so sudden.
Margharita: I know. But this trip has been planned for months. Before we met again.
Crane: But why Spain?
Margharita: I don’t want to go back to Cuba. Especially now that Calixto is dead. And I can do more for the universal cause of freedom in Spain.
Things are changing rapidly in Spain. For the better. In Madrid, they actually thought they would win the war. And reclaim Florida as Spanish colony.
Crane: Just like those fools in Havana.
Margharita: Now that Spain has lost so completely, there is a whole literary and political movement taking place. There is group of men and women who call themselves “the Generation of ’98”.
They have thrown away colonialism and imperialism. Stephen, they may well be the vanguard of the 20th century.
There is one man in particular who is a member of the circle. He is young painter. His name is Pablo Picasso. We knew each other when I was in school in Madrid. He is a brilliant man. He lives by a single credo: “Paradise is to love many things with a passion.”
[ During this period, Picasso had returned to Barcelona in June 1898, ill with scarlet fever. Here, Picasso was reunited with the primary roots of the country and a return to nature, more in line with the modernist ideology, which was one of the first ‘ primitivist ‘ episodes of his career. In this environment Picasso came into contact with anarchist thought. The prevailing poverty in the slums of Barcelona, the sick and wounded soldiers returning to Spain after the disastrous War of Cuba , created a hotbed of social violence ]
He has sent me this. (She goings into the alcove.)
It is portrait he did of me.
(Crane looks at the sketch without saying anything.)
Margharita: Stephen, join me there.
Crane: You will do great things in Spain. You will write. You will protest. You might even make a movie. (Speaking of which, perhaps your “virgin” production from last night best belongs in a time capsule.)
I have some courage. But you are the most fearless woman I have ever met.
But how can I can I go? What about Cora?
Margharita: Invite her. She sounds too like a New Woman in her own way. Stephen, I may be your lover, but just like with Calixto, I am not your mistress. And I would not be your mistress in Spain. Nor Picasso’s.
Crane: How many decisions does a man have to make? I will try. With the last measure of devotion.
(leaving) Margharita: Goodbye, Marc Antony. Until we meet again.
Crane: Goodbye, Cleopatra.
Scene Nineteen: New York, early winter 1898
(In the week after Margharita has left for Spain, Crane works in his studio non stop to finished the movie. Finally, he is done. That afternoon, he calls Cora in their Greenwich Village apartment.)
Crane: Cora, let you be the first—and hardly the last—to know that Mr. Stephen Crane has finished the first American moving picture. Introducing Black and Blue on San Juan Hill. I’ll be back for dinner and a movie.
Cora: Oh, Stephen, may I be the first—and hardly the last—to congratulate America’s first film maker. What shall I make?
Crane: How about:
The variety of dishes was of course related to the markets of Havana, but the abundance and general profligacy was related only to Johnnie’s imagination. Our fancies fled in confusion before this puzzling luxury. And if the dinner itself put me to open-eyed amazement, the names of the wines finished everything. Seeing my fixed stare, he spoke with affected languor: “I wish peacocks’ brains and melted pearls were to be had here in Havana
And Spanish wine.
Cora: That sounds suspiciously lifted from “This Majestic Lie”
Crane: Life imitating art.
Cora: That’s assuming Johnnie wasn’t fantasizing that he ate that meal.
Crane: Let the critics decide.
(Crane arrives at home. Before dinner, he opens a bottle of Spanish wine and they sit on the couch.)
Crane: I now we haven’t seen much of each other since I’ve been working on the film. I’m sorry.
Cora: You had no choice. I remember when you were writing Red Badge and we could barely get you to leave your study. Even how you bought all those tin toy soldiers and set them up on your writing table pretending it was Chancellorsville.
(Cora goes to a desk and takes out an old box containing the toy soldiers)
Crane: You still have them!
Cora: Someday they will be collector’s items. They will pay for our children to go to Syracuse.
Crane: Hope they stay longer than my single semester.
I’ve realized there’s a lot I haven’t yet told you about Cuba.
Do you know who I ran into? Sarah Clancy, my old babysitter in New Jersey. She actually runs a boarding house in Havana. Remember her?
Cora: How could I forget? You drove poor Sarah mad with your pranks. Always coming home from your games with bandages and hobbling on crutches. How is she?
Crane: Not so good when I saw her. She’s a widow now without much money. And food was very scarce because of the American blockade. All she had was codfish salad. And I wanted scrambled eggs. I gave her all I could with the funds Hearst gave me.
Cora: Always the gentleman, Stephen.
Crane: Yes, but later I went out to order eggs at a restaurant. I paid fifty dollars gold. And didn’t even get my eggs. Those treacherous Spaniards.
Cora: Wait, isn’t that what happened to Johnnie in “This Majestic Lie” ?
Crane: Alas, it happened in real life too.
Cora: Just like Crane to pay a king’s ransom and have nothing to show for it.
(Crane shrugs wistfully)
Crane: Cora, before the San Juan battle, Teddy, Norris, Davis and myself made a pact that the others would personally contact the loved ones of anyone who didn’t make. I told them, of course, to go to you.
Cora: What about the others?
Crane: Well, Teddy said his deceased wife Alice. Dick said his mother Rebecca. And Frank said Blix.
Crane: What so funny about a death pact?
Cora: Oh, Stephen. Norris and Blix? He met that girl through a matchmaking ad in the San Francisco Examiner. They had one date at Fisherman’s Wharf. She dumped him as she would throw a smelly codfish into the San Francisco Bay. She told me he’s weird. He has a strange fetish for collecting glass eyeballs.
Crane: Hmm, how did I miss that about him? What about Davis?
Cora: Stevie, his mother? His mother the better novelist than he’ll ever be. Why exactly is Dick unmarried? And dresses like a dandy. My goodness, he’s been the model for the “Gibson Man.”
Crane: Hmm, well, Dick did keep his toilet impeccably well in his tent. What about Teddy?
Cora: God rest her soul, but Alice died 14 years ago. It’s time for Theodore to move on. Yet he seems to spend all his free time “roughing it” with his cowboy friends on ranches out west. Not quite so alone on the range.
Crane: I thought I am the great novelist. Seems you are the perceptive one.
Cora, um, what’s it like being married to me? I mean I can be unconventional and eccentric.
Cora: I’d think you should know by now. We began dating in high school.
Crane: Yes, remember our first kiss at the Asbury Park Beach amusement park? And how I won you that prize in the baseball throwing game. That big, uh, teddy bear.
Cora: It wasn’t a teddy bear.
Crane: No, you’re right. That, um, stuffed Chesire cat.(Cora nods no) That cute pug dog?
Cora: It was a candle holder shaped like a cobra.
Crane: err, how could I have forgotten?
Cora: When I signed on to be Mr. Stephen Crane’s wife I knew what I was buying. And I am not exactly so conventional myself. Remember last year when I accompanied you to Greece for the Greco-Turkish War. And even wrote some accounts myself. Didn’t the newspapers call me the world’s first female war correspondent?
Crane: They did indeed. And remember that midnight at the Acropolis?
Cora: You were my very Zeus that night under the moon.
Crane: Indeed my lightning struck Daphne.
Cora: I know you live most of your life in your imagination. And always wanting to experience. To experience and experience. Your paradise is to love many things with a passion. But as platitudinous as it sounds, I am also your strength. Your reality. Remember, before you struck it rich with Red Badge, when Maggie didn’t sell and we had to burn the manuscripts to keep warm in winter in our cold water flat. You wanted to quit. To lay down your pen.
Crane: But you wouldn’t let me. Cora, when I charged up that damn San Juan Hill by myself, I was thinking about you. I guess I wanted to make you proud.
Cora: I know you were thinking about many things on that hill. And I know I was one of them. And you did make me proud, you reckless fool.
Crane: (coughing) Cora, I am worried about my health. It’s never been good and it seems to be worse since I got back from Cuba. I hope it’s nothing serious.
I always thought I wouldn’t make it to 35. Now I am worried I won’t make it to 30.
Hah, you may need a new husband . . . (brightening up) But you’ll never find someone as fun and charming as Mr. Stephen Crane.
Cora: Hmm, you are probably right. I guess it will have to be Norris.
Crane: Norris! You just said he was weird!
Cora: A glass eye ball fetish is rather intriguing. Wonder in what places he puts that eyeball.
Crane: Not Davis then?
Cora: Well, Dick is very rich. And very successful. And a very pretty boy. And dresses so dapper and keeps such an impeccable toilet. I’ll just keep a Cuban cabano boy on the side.
Cora: I was just saying that about him to be nice to you. He’s really quite an impressive, strong man. I think he will be President someday.
Crane: (coughing) But what about children? We haven’t talked enough about that?
Cora: There’s time for that if it’s what we both want. If you just take care of yourself. You are not even 29 yet and I am only 25. Don’t worry about the future yet.
Crane: Yes, yes. You are right. I don’t know exactly what kind of father I’d make. But we’ll bring back Sarah from Cuba to help. If she could corral this Crane, she could do the same for his sons.
Cora: Let’s eat our feast and our drink our Spanish wine. And watch your movie.
(Crane set up the projector and begins the movie.)
Cora: I like the first scene. The Rough Riders training in Tampa Bay before crossing to Cuba. Stephen, you’ve captured the bucking movement of the horses. Their wildness. Being tamed by wild men themselves. Hmm, but that one shot seems a bit off. The lasso maybe too far in the background. A deep focus angle might be better.
Crane: You mind reader. I agonized over that shot. We did it over a dozen times. I just couldn’t get it right. I had to accept imperfection.
(They continue watching until the parts where Crane has interspliced the acted scene with real footage of the black troopers)
Cora: The cinematography is stunning. And the mixing of the real and the “fake” is mesmerizing. And the black and blue clashing. And it’s emotionally powerful. But I am not sure yet. I just can’t judge. I don’t yet know what to think.
Crane: Neither do I. Tomorrow night I’ve invited all the writers and newspapermen who were down in Cuba. Norris, Davis, Bonsal, Marshall and the others. I’ve rented out the back area at Pete’s Tavern. I want to see what they think.
Cora: What about Roosevelt?
Crane: He’s in Washington. I have two copies and I’ve sent him one. McKinley’s travelling and I guess Roosevelt has access to the White House. He’s going to watch it there.
Cora: There’s one more thing I wanted to say. I am also worried about your health. Let’s get away from New York. Let’s go to Europe. First the countryside of England. The quiet will do you good. Then to a sanitorium in Baden Baden or Ravensbrook, Germany. Maybe to Spain where the weather is so good.
Crane: To Spain?
Cora: Or Portugal. Or the Canary Islands.
Crane: I am glad you brought it up. Yes, yes, it is something we must consider. (coughing)
Cora: Time to get you to bed.
Crane: Yes, ma’m. I mean, yes, Mrs. Sarah Clancy.
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!
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.
Crane: Well, um, in the movie it is never explicitly clear that soldier is me.
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.
Crane: Good luck, Davis.¹
(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.
¹Ten or so years later — as the Great War approached in Europe — Davis would visit the old Cuban battlefields and write The Notes of a War Correspondent. (1912)
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.
Scene 21: Brede Place, England, December 1898
After the Cuban War, Crane and Cora moved to the English countryside where they rented Brede Manor or Brede Place, an ancient demense in Sussex, an enormous house, with high stone walls and Gothic windows. There they befriended major English literary figures of the day (some of whom Crane had already known): Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) Ford Maddox Ford (1873 – 1939) Henry James (1843 – 1916) H.G. Wells (1866 – 1943)
Crane is his in office. He is reading over two letters received from Margharita in Spain.
Dear Stevie, my obedient slave!
I received your letter. Yes, yes, yes. I also miss you terribly. Your Queen needs her Pharoah’ s Hopesh. I shouldn’t tell you this but I’ve looked at the film we made in secret. In my bed. I become as wet as the Nile.
I can barely wait for you to come to Spain. Together we will make Birth of Nation. You will love Madrid. The “the Generation of ’98” are visionaries and revolutionaries.
Your Maggie, Your Coqui, Your Cleo
I received your latest letter. It was wonderful, but letters are such dry substitutes for the flesh. I know you are “giving your last measure of devotion” to come to Spain.
As I wrote last letter, it is so grand here. Oh, I met up again with Pablo Picasso. Stephen, he’s still young but will be the artistic genius of the 20th century. Don’t mind this, but I showed him just a portion of my film. He saw in it, “compressed eros.” He even did a few sketches he said the film inspired. They remind me of you.
Please come when you can. We will give birth to Birth. And as I told you before, yes, by all means invite Cora. I’ve told you I am not your mistress. Oh, letters are such dry substitutes for the flesh.
ps I am also including a brief note. If anyone should ever ask about Picasso’s sketches, show them this:
Dear Mr. Stephen Crane,
I hope you have returned safely to New York. After I left Havana, I went directly to Spain, where I am now.
I never had the chance to properly thank you and Mr. Hearst for arranging my escape. As a token of my appreciation, I am sending you sketches done here in Barcelona. They were done by a very promising young painter named Pablo Picasso. His work already sells well. He has also signed them. In the future, they may become very valuable.
Senorita Margharita Quesadas
(Cora knocks. Crane puts the letter away.)
Crane: (coughing) Cora, it’s so grand to be here. To be with all our friends. And my creative juices are spouting again. But my cough. And my health. The doctors think it might be tuberculosis.
(Cora is quiet)
But, also, I can’t get out of my mind what Davis said about Black and Blue. Too much pageantry, too much fife and drum, too many banners unfurling, too many Gattlings. I did let Teddy talk me into doing many of those scenes his way. I knew that his backing would make the movie a smash hit.
It’s missing just what Teddy implied he didn’t like about Red Badge: “I did not see [in Cuba] any sign among the fighting men, whether wounded or unwounded, of the very complicated emotions assigned to their kind by some of the realistic modern novelists who have written about battles.” [from The Rough Riders]
And, as for the black troopers, do I really care about them or was I just using them?
And when I had myself charging up the Hill. As implausible as Johnnie’s stunts in “This Majestic Lie” As if I was Johnnie. I am worried it will all end up like what the correspondent says of Johnnie: “If Johnnie was to end his life and leave a little book about it no one cared–least of all Johnnie and the admiral.”
Cora: Stephen, stop being so self pitying. Your little books have been read by millions.
As for Black and Blue, it has all the defects and grandeur of its creator. The Roosevelt parts are your fawning for literary fame at the expense of your art. On San Juan Hill is you the absurd and flimsy egoist.
And the parts with the black troopers, your daring, your genius your newnesss. What was that strange term, Teddy said, your postmodernness. And that part of you compelled to tell the truth.
Crane: As usual you are right. And I’ve written another good one Spitzbergen Tales. I rake imperialism over the coals.
Crane: And also “Upturned Face” Here’s part of it:
“O, Father, our friend has sunk in the deep waters of death, but his spirit has leaped toward Thee as the bubble arises from the lips of the drowning. Perceive, we beseech, O, Father, the little flying bubble and — “
Lean, although husky and ashamed, had suffered no hesitation up to this point, but he stopped with a hopeless feeling and looked at the corpse.
The adjutant moved uneasily. “And from Thy superb heights — “ he began, and then he, too, came to an end.
“And from Thy superb heights,” said Lean.
The adjutant suddenly remembered a phrase in the back part of the Spitzbergen burial service, and he exploited it with the triumphant manner of a man who has recalled everything and can go on.
“Oh, God, have mercy — “
“Oh, God, have mercy — “ said Lean.
“‘Mercy,'” repeated the adjutant, in a quick failure.
“‘Mercy,'” said Lean. And then he was moved by some violence of feeling,
for he turned suddenly upon his two men and tigerishly said: “Throw the dirt in.”
(Cora is quiet for a moment.)
Cora: Stevie, I will be at your side no matter what.
(cheerfully) I’ve been re-reading some of your Spanish War stories. I know you don’t think of yourself as political but you’ve really caught some of the zeitgeist, as the Viennese say.
I know you don’t like Bryan. But in “Virtue in War” you’ve dramatized populism. Lige, that farmer, joins the army and goes down to Cuba. His Major Gates is a former manager at Standard Oil Corporation — as immovable and impersonal as an obelisk in Central Park. And Lige’s story is usurped.
Just like when Bryan was forced to spend the war in Tampa with his Silver Regiment. It’s political allegory. As the populist Tom Watson said in ’98: “The Spanish War finished us. The blare of the bugle drowned out the voice of the Reformer. The privileged classes all profit by this war.”
Crane: Well, Bryan’s not so bad. Just a cowardly lion.
Cora: And you are downright prescient in The Clan of No-Name. When Monola the Cuban rebel boy both loses his head in the jungle and the hand of Margharita who drops him for a rich American businessman. Margharita sells her Cuban sugar cane to the highest bidder. It’s the failure of the Cuban revolution.
Crane: Yes, that machete. And the hand of Margharita. . .
Cora: And The Second Generation (from the original Saturday Evening Post with illustrations) is better than you think. When that dandy socialite Caspar Cadogan goes down to Cuba to please his Senator father, “the Skowmulligan war-horse.”
Crane: Let me guess, you think Caspar is supposed to be “queer” as they say.
Cora: No I don’t. But I think he’s a hero. Why, Caspar sees through all the war rot. He refuses to re-enlist. He doesn’t like the army.
Crane: Hmm, Caspar as a pacifist hero. More courageous than the unnamed youth in Red Badge.I’ve been thinking, Cora. You know, you’ve probably read every word I’ve written. It’s a term I’d hate to impose upon you, but are you my muse?
Cora: Well, of course, silly boy. It’s been my pleasure reading every vowel and syllable – -and watching some film scenes — of the inimitable, and infuriating, Mr. Stephen Crane. Writing is how you express your love and I’ve felt it with every word.
I remember when you were a shy and awkward cadet back at Claverack Academy. And you thought the only way you could win the hearts of the girls (and maybe more) was by sending them verse. Especially me. The same way you tried to impress me with your baseball playing at Syracuse.
Crane: Ugh, only one semester.
Cora: But understand, you foolish artists have it all wrong about muses.
Crane: We do?
Cora: You think you cast some enchanting spell over us. But of course it is we who hold all the power. It’s like Yeats’ poem, Leda and the Swan You think you are the swan and we Leda. But it’s quite the reverse. We are sending you our thoughts telephatically and you are merely dictating. Our scribes.
Crane: So it was you who wrote Maggie. And Red Badge.
Cora: Precisely, Bartelby [Melville’s notoriously idle scrivener]
Crane: They are masterpieces.
Cora: Yes, I am your muse. Of course, I know and accept that you’ve had other muses. I am not the only muse in the world. Paradise is to love many things with a passion.
(Cora shows Crane Picasso’s sketches)
Cora: Stephen. These were lying downstairs. What exactly are they?
Crane: Oh, uh, they are nothing. Quite odd that girl sent them. Here, read the accompanying letter.
(Cora reads the letter)
They are from Margarita Quesadas. That Cuba girl who Hearst paid me to free from jail in Havana. I guess she went straight to Spain and met some chap, Pablo Icasso or Picasso or something. Quite frankly, I think the sketches are quite pedestrian. Oh my, that girl was insufferable. The whole time in jail talking my ear off about Cuba Libre.
Cora: Remember when I said I want us to go to Spain together. I still do.
Crane: Yes, yes, I remember.
Cora: I want to meet Picasso. Word is already spreading he will be the genius of the 20th century. And I very much want to meet Margharita. The most beautiful girl in Iberia, I’ve heard. Fiery and rebellious. You know, when it comes to Margharita, there’s a certain side of me you don’t know that much about.
Crane: (coughing) If my health allows . . .
Cora: Yes, let’s go. And you shall make a movie about our adventure. This time starring Cora-patra.
Crane: My darling Cora. Who has been at my side the whole time. And read every word. Promise me one thing, if I can’t go, you will go to Spain without me. And bring me in your heart.
Cora: I will. And bring you in my heart. My red badge of courage.
Scene 22: Brede Place, England, Christmas 1898
On December 27th, 1899, the Cranes threw a three day party at Brede Place, as a Christmas tribute to the townspeople of Brede. On the 29th a ball was held in the hall (which ran the length of the house). The goings on included dancing till two or three in the morning; breakfast on beer, bacon, and eggs; and continual games of poker. Guests included H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Ford Maddox Ford and Henry James.
The night of the 29th of December. Crane is mingling through the gathering.
Conrad: Stephen, so fine of you to have me. Like the rest of the world, I was captured by Red Badge. In ’97, I said: “Why is he [Crane] immensely popular? With his strength, with his rapidity of action, and with that amazing faculty of vision – why is he not? He has outline, he has colour, he has movement, with that he ought to go very far.”
I fancy Crane the filmmaker may best Crane the novelist.
(Crane nods in appreciation)
(as a group gathers around Crane) Wells: Crane, when we will see Black and Blue on San Juan Hill? Hope you aren’t giving short shrift to your English fans?
Crane: Hardly. Only Henry (pointing to James) tops me as an Anglophiliac. You see, right now Hearst and I are wrangling over a selling price. Worse, he wants me to rename the film, Citizen Hearst.
Wells: I can only speak for myself, but I hope you turn my novels into film. A movie could do wonders with The Time Machine (1895) a play never could. Actually, film will revolutionize science fiction. Zipping ahead to the future. Time capsules. Things like that.
And, Crane do give a go with The War of The Worlds (1898). I must say it’s selling almost as well as Red Badge. Have Roosevelt and his Rough Riders send the Martians scurrying back to the red planet.
Conrad: I am just finishing the Heart of Darkness. Stephen, can you cast Roosevelt as Kurtz and yourself as Marlowe going into the Congo jungle?
Crane: I’ll make the movie but not going into the jungle myself after a Colonel who thinks he’s god. I’ll send Norris and tell him there are real eyeballs a plenty to be found.
Ford: My book, The Good Soldier, is still in its infancy. It’s a complicated love story about two couples. Adultery and all that. Not unlike my own messy life. Crane, be a good soldier and also give it a go when it’s finished. If it’s finished. No doubt you would have something to say on the subject.
James: Well, it’s the Golden Bowl (1904). It’s just getting going. Like Ford, I don’t yet know how it turns out. One female character is named Maggie, you’ll like that. Two lovers have had a long and passionate affair, separated and then reunited at a wedding (his). As I say, haven’t figured out which way the screw will turn. [reference to James’s “The Turn of the Scew” (October 1898]
Crane: Henry, for a lifelong bachelor you know a lot about love.
(Crane leaves for moment. Returning with his film camera, smoking a pipe and wearing the India rubber rain coat he wore on San Juan Hill.)
Wells: Hallo, it’s the ghost of Cubas past.
Crane: Gentlemen, you know I have written a play “The Ghost” with contributions from each. Tonight, we will do more than perform it. We will film. My dear wife Cora, the world’s first woman war correspondent — as they said of her in Greece — will do the filming honors.
Ford: Hope you pay us handsomely for our performances after taking all our money, just like in your story, “The Poker Game”
Crane: Art imitating life.
[In The Double Life of Stephen Crane: A Biography (1992), Christopher Benfey describes the performance:
“I remember the party as an extraordinary lark,” H.G. Wells recalled, “but shot, at the close with red intimations of a coming tragedy.” The invitations were lighthearted. Crane asked each of his guests to contribute a word or a line to the farcical play he had drafted, called “The Ghost.” The idea was to bill the play as the collaboration of an imposing list of authors, and so it was with James, Conrad, Wells and other participating (“This is a jolly cold world” was Conrad’s appropriate contribution). The play itself was silly enough, judging from the text and testimony that have survived. It concerned the divided ghost of Goddard Oxenbridge, who appeared at the stroke of midnight to a group of skeptical tourists. As the local newspaper described it:
At midnight the company was paralysed by the sudden appearance of the ghost from apparently nowhere, and he commences his weird history, but reminds himself that he can relate it better with soft musical accompaniment, and this is accorded him. He states that in the year 1531 he was sitting in that very room, consuming six little Brede boys, and washed down his meal with an appropriate quantity of beer. This overcame him, and whilst in a stupor four courageous Brede men enter, and saw him asunder . . .
(The play concludes. The players shout “Bravo” to each other and toast Crane and Cora.)
Wells: Bravo, Cranes! But best put that film in a time machine.
(The party returns to mingling. James is talking with Cora, munching on a doughnut.) [According to Benfrey, photographs of a garden party at Brede show Crane looking hungry in a boater and Henry James, appearing slightly embarrassed, nibbling on one of Cora’s doughnuts.]
Crane: Henry, old boy, Cora’s doughnuts are irresistible. But she’ll make you the even fatter Master. [the portly and prolific James was often referred to as The Master] Cora, I am going outside to the bonfire to rest for a bit.
Cora: Stephen, its too cold for you out there.
Crane: Not really at all. I have a blanket and the bonfire makes it hot as Hades. Besides the moon is so extraordinarily red tonight.
James: Cora, I have a small favor to ask you. Could you come outside with me and Stephen with your camera. I have a small idea.
Cora: I can.
James: Also, I know that you are planning a trip to Spain for Stephen’s health.
Cora: Yes, the Mediterranean climate should do him wonders.
James: Listen, when you are in Spain you may hear some talk about a movie, The Birth of a Nation. I guess the Generation of ’98 is getting something going. It is supposed to be “political” and important. (Unlike what some critics say about my novels.) Hmm. I’d almost go myself.
Anyway, I am not sure how well Stephen’s heath will hold up in Spain. But I think you should get involved, Cora. I’ve always found you to be an extraordinary woman in your own right. With many talents. One of those people “on whom nothing is lost.” [from James’ “The Art of Fiction”]
Stephen would not be here at all without you. So, if you’d like, I think you should get involved. But don’t mention what I just said to Stephen.
Cora: I shant. But I know he would be pleased to hear your kind words.
James: You know Cora, what ever does happen, I’ll be here for you.
Cora: Of course I know that Henry.
(the two join Crane at the bonfire with the camera. Crane is shivering a little under his blanket)
James: Mr. and Mrs Crane, I’d like you to do a favor for an older man. Just for myself, I’d like to have a short film of the two of you together. My one regret is that I never married (well a sort of regret), but I like to see two people happy.
Crane: It will be our pleasure. (Cora sits on Crane’s lap)
Crane: I’ll read part of poem, a little changed. Henry, catch my lips so later a deaf person can transcribe what I am saying. It’s from “War is Kind.”
Do not weep, maiden, for Cora is kind.Because your lover threw wild hands toward the skyAnd the affrighted steed ran on alone,Do not weep. Cora is kind.
(Cora is silent)
James: Crane, that is terribly morbid. Won’t do at all. Now start touching and teasing each other as if you were newlyweds.
(They start touching and teasing and laughing.)
James: Much better. Play with each other as if you were on the wings of a dove. Now say something. Smile and look in the camera.
Crane: I love you, Cora.
Cora: I love you, Stephen.
(James stops the camera.)
Cora: I am going in now (shivering). I’ll leave you two masters to yourselves.
Crane: Henry, you really do know more about love than I. I have a problem. I think I am in love with two women. It must be a madonna/whore complex. The maternal being and the brazen harlot.
James: How platitudinous! This from the man who wrote Red Badge. I assure you Cora is no selfless madonna and Margharita is hardly a brazen harlot.
Crane: Yes, Henry, if only life were that simple. You say Margharita. You know something?
James: I only know you freed her from jail in Havana. And that she was in New York for a while.
Crane: But I don’t know what to do. Cora wants us to go with Spain. But I think she knows something about Margharita. And when we get there, Margharita will probably be Picasso’s lover. But not his mistress as I am sure she would tell me.
James: Hmm, you are presented with quite a writerly problem (or screenwriterly problem as the case may be). The whole affair really sound like one of my novels. Fin de siecle decadence under the shadow of the Moors.
In Spain you have the young American filmmaker ready to capture the 20th century. In Picasso the painter ready to transform the way the world sees. In Margharita the woman ready to lead a revolution.
Crane: And Cora?
James: (mumbling to himself) Maybe she will make the movie.
James: Nothing. Cora’s doughnut caught in my throat.
Hmm, in Spain Margharita has thrown herself at Picasso. But the egoist will not sleep with her. Only draw her form in abstract, fractured images. And when Cora arrives, Picasso wants her but she is true to her wedding vows. As for you three, a pivoting love triangle. With always Cora at the center. The muse of the quartet.
Crane: That’s too much for me. It was easier writing about a man charging up a hill.
James: It would be too much for any man. Stephen, you have found your place. Its a place I wish I had found. Besides your work will live on. Red Badge will be force fed into millions of high school students who will then write plagiarized five paragraph essays. Graduate students will comb your archives in search of the “political unconscious” or something.
And critics will wonder, what would Stephen Crane have done had he not died?
(Crane is silent)
(James gets up to go inside)
James: Come in soon. The party is winding down and the guests are ready to say goodbye.
Crane begins to shiver, slowly and then more uncontrollably. He reaches into a satchel and takes out his copy of Black and Blue on San Juan Hill. He stops for a moment, looking into the bonfire and up at the red moon. He throws the film into the fire where it is quickly consumed, burning a bright orange. He begins to shudder now. His body is shaking. His breath labored. He looks up at the moon:
Crane: The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer. [the last line of chapter 9, The Red Badge of Courage]
On December 29th, 1899, shortly after the musicians had packed up their instruments, Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) had a severe hemorrhage of the lungs. Wells bicycled the seven cold miles to fetch a doctor, the first of a series of “specialists” whose conflicting diagnoses kept Cora guessing, though Stephen knew the truth. He held out for another four months, dividing the time between his bed and his desk in the red room above the porch. When the worst hemorrhages came, in early April, Cora had to be called home from Paris; in a fit of optimism she’d gone there on a shopping spree. On April 21 Crane composed his will, leaving everything to Cora.
from The Double Life of Stephen Crane
Scene 23 the White House, 1901
On 16 October 1901, shortly after moving into the White House, Theodore Roosevelt invited his advisor, the African American spokesman Booker T. Washington, to dine with him and his family, and provoked an outpouring of condemnation from southern politicians and press. This reaction affected subsequent White House practice, and no other African American was invited to dinner for almost thirty years.
(Washington enters the White House for a late afternoon luncheon)
Roosevelt: Greetings, Mr. Washington.
Washington: Greetings, Mr. President
Roosevelt: In Atlanta in ’95 , you said; “In all things that are purely social we [blacks and whites] can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” I heartily offer my full hand to shake your full hand.
(They shake hands.)
Roosevelt: Notice I did not call you Professor Washington as they did in ’95 in Atlanta. Mr. Washington, I hope, strikes the correct gravitas for a man of your stature.
Washington: Thank you so kindly. Notice I called you Mr. President and not Colonel Roosevelt.
Roosevelt: Now let us enjoy our purely social luncheon.
(The men sit to luncheon. After a few pleasantries, the conversation begins in earnest.)
Roosevelt: I don’t know yet if I have personally said what a fine speech you gave at the Peace Jubilee in Chicago back in ’98. President McKinley (may he rest in peace) found it most admirable.
Washington: Even with what I said about racial prejudice. That it is a cancer.
the effort to conquer ourselves in the blotting out of racial prejudice. … Until we thus conquer ourselves, I make no empty statement when I say that we shall have, especially in the Southern part of our country, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the Republic, that shall one day prove as dangerous as an attack from an army without or within.
Roosevelt: It is a cancer. A blot. It is a sin. It’s America’s original sin. I only wish I knew how to conquer it myself. But I coming to Tuskegee soon.
Washington nods quietly.
Roosevelt: Listen, let’s just clear the air. I’ve read what you wrote in A New Negro for a New Century (1900). You didn’t like how I praised the black troopers in October ’98 at the Lennox Lyceum in Saratoga, and then, according to you, I changed the story in The Rough Riders (1899).¹
You said I should write a correction of the Rough Rider’s statement. As I will explain, believe it or not, that correction may happen yet.
For now, I hope we can put whatever happened in Cuba behind us. Mr. Washington, I think we see eye to eye on the race question. You never wrote truer words in Up From Slavery about what you say to your own race: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
That’s a much finer sentiment than when DuBois pits black man against white by saying the story of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line. Mr. Washington, can we agree that America, unhyphenated, will be the story of the 2oth Century.
Washington: I know why you changed the story. I can accept it. We have made some progress. You will be surely welcomed at Tuskegee. But I wish you would use the bully pulpit to condemn lynchings. They are the cancer rising to the surface. Still, I am here sitting beside you and appreciate your invitation deeply.
Roosevelt: (nodding) And one day, believe it or not, a worthy black man will be sitting where I am. It will take over a century I am guessing. But it will happen. In a different time period, it could have been you. I do hope it’s a Republican!
That’s also what I wanted talk with you about.
(Roosevelt takes out the film and a letter from the closet. He explains Crane’s wishes to Washington. The letter gives some background and tells the future president to dispose of the film as he or she sees fit.)
Washington: But why are giving this to me?
Roosevelt: Frankly, I don’t trust my heirs to not forget about it or lose it. Your heirs–your people–will have more reason to see that it is kept safetly. (laughing) If I gave it to DuBois, he’d say he made it himself and show the damned thing at the Lennox Lyceum next week.
Washington: How do you know I won’t show it at the Lennox Lyceum?
Roosevelt: I don’t. I think you know there’s a good chance the outcry against that film might spread faster than cancer. It would be a contagion. If there are too many lynchings now, just wait. It’s a risk I don’t think you want to take.
Washington: You may be right. You may be wrong. But, yes, it would be a risk. Why didn’t Crane reshoot the film or even release it publically as it is?
Roosevelt: I don’t know. I am not sure if he knows. You could ask him yourself. But he’s dead.
Washingtom: Hmm, Mr. President, I have what might be an even better idea. This film is not in the greatest condition. And time — a century? — will take a perhaps fatal toll. I very much doubt my heirs will know how to preserve it.
Very soon I am visiting George Eastman in Rochester. You know, he’s given to Tuskegee and I want to thank him. Coincidentally, I may even dine with him also. I will give him the film to hold. His men know all about preservation and proper storage.
Roosevelt: Bully idea! I know George. He’ll keep the secret to his grave and make sure those after him do also.
Washington: Speaking of secrets, this visit is not yet known. Nor may ever be. So another secret for you to keep.
Roosevelt: On my word. Give Mr. Kodak my greetings, Mr. Washington.
(The two men shake hands and Washington leave.)
¹Below is an extended excerpt from “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” . The excerpt is an analysis of Washington’s commentary in A New Negro for a New Century (1900) in which Washington criticizes Roosevelt for his depiction of the black troopers in The Rough Riders in contrast to his speech at the Lennox Lyceum.
The first two paragraph describe the contrast between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B DuBois as dramatized in Sutton Griggs’ Imperium in Imperio (1899)
Introducing Booker T. Washington
Several critics have noted similarities between Booker T. Washington and Griggs’s characterization of Belton Piedmont. Arlene Elder says Belton, given his rise from poverty, intellectual achievements and his position as college president, is almost surely modeled after Washington.. Hannah Wallinger claims that Belton is “the fictional representative of the real-life controversy between the conciliatory Washington and the more radical Du Bois.”
Elder and Wallinger reiterate the argument that Washington stood for pacifism, compromise and cooperation while Du Bois’s more militant views on black resistance contemplated various forms of black nationalism and separatism. At the same time, while Belton’s foil, Bernard Belgrave, speaks against conciliation, it does not seem that Belgrave is modeled after Du Bois. In “‘The Sweetness of his Strength’: Du Bois, Teddy Roosevelt and the Back Soldier,” Mark Braley has shown that despite his militant reputation, Du Bois was “generally opposed to war, and while he never failed to support the black soldier, his soldier was a reluctant one.” As Braley wrote, “over against Roosevelt’s ‘big stick,’ Du Bois poses the peaceful assertiveness of Alexander Crummell”— an approach generally shared by Washington.
In 1900, Washington, along with Reverend N.B. Woods and Mrs. Fannie Barrier Williams, published A New Negro for a New Century. Washington devoted his section to an extensive tribute to the black trooper in Cuba, framed as a response to Roosevelt’s accounts of the Cuban Campaign.
First, Washington cites an October 1898 address given by Roosevelt at the New York Lennox Lyceum following Roosevelt’s return from Cuba. At the Lyceum, Roosevelt praised the heroics of the black trooper:
As I [Roosevelt] heard one of The Rough Riders say after the charge at San Juan: ‘Well, the Ninth and Tenth men are all right. They can drink out of our canteens.’ They and we went up absolutely intermingled, so that no one could tell whether it was the Riders or the men of the Ninth who came forward with the greater courage to offer lives in the service of their country . . .
When you have been in fire with a man and fought side by side with him, and eaten with him when you had anything to eat, and hungered with him when you hadn’t, you feel a sort of comradeship that you don’t feel for any man that you have been associated with in other ways, and I don’t think any of the Rough Riders will ever forget the tie that binds us to the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry.
Given the prevailing codes that enforced racial segregation and white supremacy, Roosevelt’s recognition of the courageous black troopers and the vivid tableaux of intermingled black and white soldiers are indeed remarkable.
Here, Roosevelt’s rhetoric contains highly charged images of bodily affinity and identification: shared canteens, physical merging, common hungering and psychic bonding—images that Washington admires.
Washington’s pleasure with Roosevelt’s story of the Cuban War is, however, short-lived. Washington says, “In view of this pronouncement [Roosevelt’s at the Lyceum] there was a very great deal of surprise when, in his story The Rough Riders, Colonel Roosevelt published the following.” Now, Washington inserts one of Roosevelt’s passages in which Roosevelt claims that without white officers the black soldiers were inert or hesitant:
None of the white regulars or Rough Riders showed the slightest sign of weakening; but under the strain the colored infantrymen (who had none of their officers) began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear, either helping wounded men, or saying they wished to find their own regiments. This I could not now allow, as it was depleting my line, so I jumped up, and walking a few yards to the rear, drew my revolver, halted the retreating soldiers, and called out to them that I appreciated the gallantry with which they had fought and would be sorry to hurt them, but that I should shoot the first man who, out of any pretense whatever, went to the rear . . .
I ended my statement to the colored soldiers by saying: “Now, I shall be sorry to hurt you, and you don’t know whether or not I keep my word, but my men can tell you that I always do;” whereupon my cow-punchers, hunters, and miners solemnly nodded their heads and commented in chorus, exactly as if in a comic opera, “He always does; he always does.”
This ended the trouble.
To which Washington responds:
This makes very nice reading, but it is not history, in which it is always hazardous to sacrifice truth “to make the period round.” It is therefore fortunate that one of the Afro-Americans who was with Colonel Roosevelt at the time and knows all about the scandalous incident he relates should write a correction of the Rough Rider’s statements.
The “scandalous incident” is not just that Roosevelt says that the black soldiers drifted to the rear or, at another point, that, “they [the black troopers] were, of course, peculiarly dependent on their white officers.” It is as much what Roosevelt has written in The Rough Riders but what has been discarded from the October speech. In The Rough Riders, bodily bonds have disappeared. Shared canteens have been replaced with Roosevelt’s menacing pistol; comradeship is displaced as the power to hurt; the Lennox Lyceum has given way to a comic opera.
In the Lyceum Speech, Roosevelt seemed to have granted the black troopers a kind of equivalent martial manhood via idealized images of black cavalrymen and white Rough Riders as one. In The Rough Riders that grant has been rescinded. Washington follows with the strongly worded rebuttal by the black trooper Presley Holliday first printed in , one similar to that voiced by Sergeant-Major Pullen before the Negro Business League:
I could give many other incidents of our men’s devotion to duty, of their determination to stay until the death, but what’s the use? Colonel Roosevelt said they shirked, and the reading public will take the Colonel at his word and go on thinking they shirked. His statement was uncalled for and uncharitable and. . . altogether ungrateful, and has done us an immeasurable lot of harm. I will say that when our soldiers who can and will write history, they [the white reading public] will see in print held up for public gaze, much to their chagrin, tales of those Cuban battles that have never been told outside the tent and the barrack room, tales that it will not be agreeable for some of them to hear.
Washington concludes, “So much for Roosevelt’s statements.”
In Holliday’s speech are the echoes of Washington’s sense of betrayal resulting from words uncalled for, uncharitable and ungrateful. More so, when Holliday tells the black soldier to make public untold and disagreeable tales, he seems to be repudiating not just Roosevelt’s words but also Roosevelt’s white authority. In a way, Holliday’s call for a black history anticipates Bernard’s secessionist speech before the Imperium.
In contrast, while Washington uses Holliday’s narrative to bolster his critique of Roosevelt’s reversal, Washington’s rhetoric does not speak out against Roosevelt’s authority to tell the story of the Cuban Campaign. Fundamentally, Washington’s critique itself relies upon his initial endorsement and praise for Roosevelt’s Lyceum address. If Roosevelt had not reversed himself, Holliday’s call for a new history would be both muted and mute. Finally, when Washington preserves the Lyceum speech, he preserves images of black soldiers on San Juan Hill whose manhood is inextricably bound and defined by the relationship to their white counterparts and Roosevelt’s authority.
Scene Twenty Four: The White House, January 2009
It is about a week into Barack Obama’s presidency. The last meeting of the day is over and Obama is headed for dinner with his family.
Aide: Mr. President. Very briefly. This package marked URGENT just arrived.
Obama: From where?
Aide: From the George Eastman International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York.
Obama opens the package, quickly reads the enclosed letter and raises his eyebrows.
After dinner, Barack and Michelle are sitting on a couch.
Barack: The kids are in bed and we have the place to ourselves. Ah, I still can’t believe an African-American boy born in Kenya made it all the way to the White House. And in the front door no less. Miss First Lady, what’s your pleasure? (putting his arm around her)
Michelle: I’ve stocked up on old West Wings. You know much I like carefully crafted and trenchant political drama.
Barack: If you want to see the West Wing, just walk down the hall. Can’t we watch old re-runs of The Jeffersons? Movin’ on up, Weesy!
(Michelle rolls her eyes)
Michelle: And they said he wasn’t black enough to be President.
(the phone rings)
Barack: Hello, Hillary. Yes, yes, your trip to China then to Russia then to India. Right, right, then peace in the Middle East. Yes, yes, you’ll do fine. You’re nice enough. Can we talk about this in morning?
(holding his ears and hanging up the phone)
One week in and she’s already going on about her legacy.
Michelle: She has her sights on ’16.
Barack: Bill right back here on this couch. As First Lad. Stock up on saltpeter. Do you think they still have sex?
Michelle: People probably ask that about us.
Barack: Hey, I’ve told you that campaigning for a year straight takes its toll. Don’t worry, O-Bama-rama is back. Commander-in-Mis-chief.
(Michelle starts the West Wing tape)
You enjoy your trenchant soap opera. Actually, I am going back to the Oval Office. There’s something I want to watch.
(on his way out, he turns to Michelle)
Aren’t you forgetting something?
Michelle: Shh, I can’t hear. What?
Obama: You are supposed to salute me.
(Michelle rolls her eyes)
In the Oval Office, Obama opens the packaged, looking at an enclosed CD and more closely reading the letter. He starts the CD.
About two hours later. Obama has finished watching the CD and sits quietly for a moment. He then picks up the phone:
Obama: Hello, Oliver, this is Barack. President Barack. No, I haven’t yet seen JFK. I told you that movie gives me the creeps. Anyway, I am hoping there’s something you can do for me. Now it has to be handled very sensitively. None of your usual grandstanding or sensationalizing. But have I got a vivid story for you. Mr. Stone, you are going to make a little bit of history.