THE FULL SCREENPLAY Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story: New and Improved
On early war films Filming, faking and propaganda: The origins of the war film, 1897-1902
“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”
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.