SEE ENTIRE SCREENPLAY “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story:” New and Improved
Scene 7: Havana, May 1898
Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”
Scene Ten: outside Santiago, Cuba June 1898
The Spanish-American War
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. Scene 3: Washington, February 1898
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. Scene 9, Siboney, Cuba June 1898 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!
[see Scene 7, 8 and 9 ]
(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.
[see Scene 4 ]
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 smiles)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. [see Scene 7: Havana ]
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.
[for more on the Philippines see General Elwell Otis, Rochester’s imperial war hero ]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.”]
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.
American troops preparing for the charge up the San Juan Heights outside Santiago