COMPLETE SCREENPLAY:Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story; New and Improved
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