Dramatic Texts >> William Saroyan >> Get Away Old Man
Get Away Old Man by William Saroyan
 
A Play in Two Acts
 
THE PEOPLE
 
HARRY BIRD, a writer
PATRICK HAMMER, a moving picture executive
BEN MANHEIM, his assistant
ROSE SCHORNBLOOM, manicurist to Mr. Hammer for 11 years
SAM, an acquaintance of Harry Bird's
MARTHA HARPER, a young woman
BETTY FITCH, a moving picture star
CORRESPONDENT FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, a middle aged man
PIANIST, a small man
MESSENGER, a young man
DOCTOR, a young man

 

 
THE PLACE: California, THE TIME: A day of the week

 

 
ACT ONE, SCENE I

 
A large shabby second floor room, formerly used as a photographic studio, with steps coming up. The center wall is covered with a fresco of a blue sky with white clouds. There is a small dressing room with a drape in the doorway. A circular platform with three steps. An electric box with a switch. A water jar with a container of paper cups. A number of pieces of gaudy furniture. A baby grand, electrically operated player piano. A blackboard on an easel, beside the piano. On the blackboard is printed: Who is Sam?
HARRY BIRDis standing in the middle of the room, throwing darts at a target on the wall, while the pianola is banging away at an old razzle dazzle piece perhaps "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane."
PATRICK HAMMERis seated on a divan with ROSE SCHORNBLOOM, who is manicuring his hands.
After throwing three darts, HARRY BIRD goes to the target, takes out the darts, goes to the pianola, shuts it off, puts the darts in a box on the circular platform, and walks idly to the couple on the divan. He looks at the man, then at the woman, then walks away, and suddenly begins to reach upward as far as he's able to.


 

 
HAMMER
What are you doing that for?

 
HAMMER
Jump?

 
HARRY
That's right. I once jumped over a doctor who tried to tell me I ought to go to a hospital for a month to rest. He was sitting at his desk at the time. I got up on a chair and jumped over him. That was seven years ago, when I was almost twenty. I've never been in a hospital in my life. I intend to live to be as old as you are. How old are you, Mr. Hammer?

 
HAMMER
I'll be sixty three on Christmas Day.

 
HARRY
You mean to tell me you were born on Christmas Day?

 
HAMMER
Yes, I was.

 
HARRY
Amazing.(Pause) Where?

 
HAMMER
Dublin.

 
HARRY
Are you from Dublin, Ireland?

 
HAMMER
I was born there, but my family moved to New York when I was eleven.

 
HARRY
(Pause) How often do you get a manicure?

 
HAMMER
Twice a week.

 
HARRY
(Suddenly) Well, what about it?

 
HAMMER
What about what?

 
HARRY
I think it's wonderful being visited by you and your manicurist, and I like the way our conversations go, but let's make up our minds, one way or the other. I'm tired. I'm bored.

 
HAMMER (Courteously)
Now, Harry, don't get bored. Don't be impatient. I've told you again and again, this is not an everyday matter. I want you to get acquainted with me, and I want to try to get acquainted with you. I've been in this business thirty five years.

 
HARRY
That's too long What do you do? You get your hands manicured. What's the matter with your hands? You don't need a manicure. No offense to you, Miss. I suppose you get a good tip when you manicure the hands of a man like Mr. Hammer. Or maybe you feel proud to do it. Maybe you're satisfied to feel proud and let the tip go.

 
ROSE (Confused)
My name is Rose Schornbloom.

 
HARRY
I'll make a note of that.

 
ROSE
And I'm satisfied to do my work as I'm called upon to do it, and to mind my own business.

 
HARRY (Gently)
Don't be so proud of cleaning the hands of a corrupt man.

 
ROSE (Excited)
Mr. Hammer is not a corrupt man.
( HAMMERsmiles)
 
HARRY (Idly)
You're a mother, not a manicurist. What do you think you're trying to do?

 
HAMMER (Drawing his hand away)
What's the matter with you, Woman?

 
ROSE
I'm sorry, Mr. Hammer. I hope I didn't hurt you, but he makes me nervous.

 
HARRY
That's it, get nervous. Let him clean his own hands. Let him keep them clean.

 
HAMMER
Just a moment, Harry.

 
HARRY
All right, one way or the other. You asked me here, and you can ask me to go. After three weeks, you may as well know I'm ready to go. I want to take a slow drive home, before it's too late.

 
HAMMER
Too late for what?

 
HARRY
Too late for me. You're sixty three years old, born Christmas Day, but remember, I'm twenty seven.

 
HAMMER
Harry, I've told you before, President Roosevelt himself has informed me

 
HARRY
Listen, Mr. Hammer, you don't have to give me that big man stuff. I know you're a big man in this country. That's fine, but it's got nothing to do with me. Now, what's on your mind?

 
HAMMER
I want you to write the greatest story ever written. (Pause)
Ave Maria!

 
HARRY
(Quietly)
What the devil are you talking about?

 
HAMMER
I'm talking about a great story. America needs that story, as only you can write it. I want your great understanding, your sympathy, your compassion for little people, for soldiers, sailors, and marines.

 
HARRY
I never saw a soldier in my life.

 
HAMMER
That's what I mean, Harry. Your understanding for young men dressed like soldiers, sailors, and marines.
(Piously)
Ave Maria! the whole bleeding heart of humanity while beautiful airplanes destroy great cities cities made of human spit and pain, every one of them the holy home of life, destroyed overnight in evil darkness Ave Maria, Harry, while whole nations change or die brotherhood smashed, family torn apart, and the dream of life broken like a cup struck by a hammer

 
HARRY
Yeah, and that's your name Hammer.

 
HAMMER
(Swiftly)
The dream of life broken like an egg dropped from a trembling hand. Ave Maria, Harry, while the mothers of life weep and pray, and the fathers of men rock in silence with shame and grief.
(Pause)
The whole world's gone mad and no man knows who's innocent or guilty. That's the story, Harry, and you've got to write it for me. Ave Maria, while each of us is murdered, while each of us murders his brother. Ave Maria, Harry, while
(Pause. He looks at his hand being manicured)

 
HARRY
(Interrupting) You get your claws trimmed, and I watch, and worry about Rose.
(To ROSE)
Get yourself with child. Mr. Hammer needs him for the great epic he's just written.

 
ROSE
(Softly but with terrible rage)
I don't know who you are, but whoever you are I think you ought to know I am a mother. I have four children. I have a son almost as old as you are, in the Army.

 
HARRY
(Gently)
Then you married the wrong man. Who did you marry?

 
ROSE
You go to hell. If you can be vulgar, so can I. You go to hell, you you

 
HARRY
I'm sorry you married the wrong man. I'm sorry you had the wrong children.

 
ROSE
The wrong children?

 
HARRY
You never saw your kids the way they are. You won't mind at all if the soldier's killed, because he was a mistake in the first place. The whole thing was a mistake. Your children, as well as the war.

 
ROSE
(Standing, to HAMMER)
Every mother feels her children aren't the right ones the ones she really wanted, the ones she always loved, even before they were born. It's only evil rudeness to tell a mother such a thing.

 
(She turns and runs down the steps, out of the office)

 
HARRY
I'm disgusted with myself.

 
HAMMER
No, Harry! That's what I want. That's exactly what I want. Ave Maria! The story of women all women the story of mother. We'll give the human race a new birth.

 
HARRY
You've been talking to Ben Manheim. Well, he doesn't know the war's over. He's a great man, one of the few people I've met out here who doesn't make me sick to my stomach, but he's a fool, too. He's been trying for twenty years to be a Saint, and you won't let him. Why don't you let the man be a Saint? You'll make more money than ever. He's so backward and noble he doesn't know the war's over.

 
HAMMER
But the war isn't over.

 
HARRY
Don't be a dreamer, the war's over.

 
HAMMER
Well, sometimes I can't follow you, Harry, but I know your heart's in the right place, I know you can write, and I know you're a genius.

 
HARRY
That's a lot of hooey. I didn't need to hurt that poor woman. Give me her address and I'll send her some flowers.

 
HAMMER
I'll send her some.

 
HARRY
(Earnestly)
Will you? Thanks. I'll pay for them, but put your name on the card. You mean a lot to her. Send her some candy, too, and some books. Don't send her any of my books. She'll buy those herself and read them secretly. She'll love them, too. When are you going to read a book?

 
HAMMER
Now, Harry, I haven't time to read. But I promise you this if you write Ave Maria for me, I'll read it.

 
HARRY
Thanks. That's a mighty tempting offer.
(Pause)
I wouldn't work for anybody.

 
HAMMER
But if you come into this organization, you've got to work for somebody.

 
HARRY
Who, for instance?

 
HAMMER
Me. I'm not so bad. I think I understand you. I believe I even like you. I've heard not many people do, but I believe I am telling you the truth when I tell you I like you. I know this business, and I know when I've run into a real writer. Write Ave Maria for me. I'll pay you anything you like anything at all.

 
HARRY
What the hell's happened to you, anyway? Why do those words mean so much to you? What are you driving at?

 
HAMMER
I admit I've not lived a blameless life, or that I live a blameless life now, but I would like to live a blameless life.

 
HARRY
Then do it. Why don't you do it?
(Pause)
Because you're a crook.

 
HAMMER
I know, I know. If you insist, I'll admit I'm a crook. Or what you call a crook. But who isn't? You can't survive in this world and live like a decent human being, that's all. You can't! I'll go to my knees like this, reverently, to any man who can do it. It's too easy to say I'm a crook, because I'm more than that a damn sight more. You don't want to write Ave Maria because you know it means a lot to me personally and you're right. Sure it means a lot to me.

 
HARRY
Why?

 
HAMMER
(Confused)
Why? I'll tell you why.
(Suddenly angry)
I've got a lot of respect for you, young man, but I can be tough too, and I can tell you to your face that I think you're a gutter boy and you'll never leave the God damn gutter, because it made you. You only looked up and found the stars, you didn't put them there.
(Pause, gently)
I wouldn't talk this way to my own sons three great big halfwits, breaking their necks trying to be big men. Big men! You told the poor manicurist the truth, and you told me the truth, too. My sons are the sons of some idiot I don't know, and if any man in the world is truly my son, it's you, Harry, and I tell you you're a tough gutter boy who would knife me in two minutes if you could.

 
HARRY
You're a great actor.

 
HAMMER
The greatest in this business, but I'm not acting now. You haven't seen me act. I'm not laughing in my heart the way I do when I'm teaching some fatheaded actor or actress a thing or two. I've gotten old. I've never known until now how old I've gotten. It makes me cry all the time. Write the story for me. You're my son, and I'm an old man.
(Pause)
Now, how about it?

 
HARRY
Get away, old man! (He goes to the stairway)

 
HAMMER
(Leaping) You're a guttersnipe! You're a common guttersnipe!

 
HARRY
When you're ready to be honest with me, pay me another visit. (He goes. HAMMERlifts the telephone receiver, dials a number)

 
HAMMER
Ben? Come right over to Harry Bird's office, will you? (He hangs up, and for a moment studies his left hand and three unmanicured fingers. He starts the pianola. After a moment or two BEN MANHEIM, a man almost as old as HAMMER, comes up the stairs. There is something shy and great about this man, who is nothing but a plain happy man with a home, a library, an expensive phonograph, many albums of music, a wife, and two children. There is even something youthful about him, a kind of concern and eagerness about all sorts of unimportant things, a generosity for them, and a humor concerning the surprises people get from one another. He scarcely glances at his old friend, and yet he knows HAMMERis both surprised and irritated, perhaps shocked. He remains standing, waiting for HAMMERto acknowledge his presence. HAMMERturns off the pianola. Suddenly) Ben, what about this son of a bitch? The more I get to know him the less I understand him. A few minutes ago I thought he and I were going to be great friends father and son almost and do you know what he told me?

 
MANHEIM
If you'll tell me what you told him, I think I can guess what he told you.

 
HAMMER
Do you really think you know him?

 
MANHEIM
Well, maybe not. What did you tell him?

 
HAMMER
I told him to write my story and I'd pay him anything he liked. I told him well I told him he was my son, if any man in the world was.
 
MANHEIM
He knew you weren't telling the truth, boss.

 
HAMMER
(Swiftly, with anger) Just a moment, Ben. You know things I don't know and you understand things I don't understand. But don't be so sure of yourself all the time. How do you know I wasn't telling the truth? It so happens I was.

 
MANHEIM
I'm sorry, boss.

 
HAMMER
And never mind calling me boss all the time. You've known me long enough to call me by my name.

 
MANHEIM
It's been a long time since you've wanted me to call you by your name, but I'll do it until you ask me not to.

 
HAMMER
(Gently) From now on, Ben, when we're alone please be good enough to call me by my name.

 
MANHEIM
(Smiling)
All right, Patrick. ( HAMMERlooks at MANHEIM)

 
HAMMER
Now, tell me about this maniac. Why can't I get along with him?

 
MANHEIM
I'm afraid he doesn't trust you.

 
HAMMER
So what? What if he doesn't trust me? He's a crook himself, I'm an amateur beside him. I don't say he can't write, but besides being able to write, the son of a bitch understands things. He's from the streets. Writers ought to come from good homes. From pleasant people who respect one another, who believe in the things everybody else believes in. For three weeks I've dropped everything for him, but it just doesn't seem to work. (Pause) Ben, do you think I ought to forget the whole thing?

 
MANHEIM
Yes, Patrick, I honestly think you should.

 
HAMMER
Why?

 
MANHEIM
Because he'll make trouble.

 
HAMMER
(Reflecting) Yes, I think you're right. I'll forget the whole thing. It's too much for me. I'm too old, and he's too young. And too swift. What makes him so swift?

 
MANHEIM
Being right, I suppose.

 
HAMMER
Am I slow?

 
MANHEIM
No, Patrick, you're still swifter than anybody else I know.

 
HAMMER
Am I wrong?

 
MANHEIM
No.

 
HAMMER
I'm right?

 
MANHEIM
Not quite, but not wrong, either. He's just right.

 
HAMMER
(Furious) How the hell do you know?

 
MANHEIM
Well, Patrick, if he isn't right, whoever writes his books is. He has a way of throwing you off, misleading you, confusing you he does it to get everything more deeply right than it would be otherwise. And I guess he does it to be amusing.

 
HAMMER
Amusing to who? He's not amusing to me. He's vulgar, he's unkind, he talks around in circles, he jumps from one thing to another. I don't find him amusing at all. Who's he amusing to?

 
MANHEIM
To a number of people who move around with him.

 
HAMMER
What people? I've never seen him, except he was alone. He's got no business manager, no agent, no friend. What people?

 
MANHEIM
Mostly dead people.

 
HAMMER
Ben, what the hell are you talking about?

 
MANHEIM
Well, to begin with, you'll remember I urged you not to get him to come here. I didn't want him to come here for his sake as well as for yours. And mine, too, for that matter. But you insisted. I knew he'd make trouble. The son of a bitch, as you call him, has made trouble everywhere he's gone. I was pretty sure he'd be the way he is, and that way isn't comfortable for any of us. Two weeks ago I handed him the story we bought from Joe Rogers for fifty thousand dollars and asked him to read it and let me know what he thought of it. Twenty minutes later he put the manuscript on my desk and said, Forget it. I told him we'd paid fifty thousand dollars for that story. Even so, he said, forget it, the story's no good. It's dead. Yes, and it is dead.

 
HAMMER
He should have read the story before we bought it.

 
MANHEIM
We bought it two years ago. We've spent another fifty thousand on it, trying to fix it up. Finally, we went back to the story Rogers sold us, but it's no use, it's just naturally dead, that's all.

 
HAMMER
Who was it liked the story, when we bought it?

 
MANHEIM
Paul Cohan, and he's dead.

 
HAMMER
That son of a bitch. Where's Rogers? Let's get him here at a thousand a week, keep him for ten weeks ten thousand dollars make him write another story get us even.

 
MANHEIM
He's dead, too.

 
HAMMER
I didn't know that. Wasn't Rogers a young man?

 
MANHEIM
He was thirty nine. Heart attack.

 
HAMMER
That son of a bitch well, junk the God damn story and forget it. Just forget it. I'm getting old, that's all. Find out where that guttersnipe is and get him back here. He's around some place. In the Commissary, asking some waitress a lot of questions, or maybe in some star's dressing room, asking her all kinds of questions. ( MANHEIMlifts the telephone receiver, HAMMERslaps his hand) Get away from that! I could do that myself. Go out and find him, talk to him, bring him back to his office.

 
MANHEIM
I'm sorry, Patrick. (Pause)

 
HAMMER
I'm sorry too, Ben. (He sighs) I'm old. Any time anybody does a thing like that to you, you ought to bust him in the mouth, the way you used to do when you were a kid.

 
MANHEIM
It's all right, Patrick. I understand. And I'm not a kid any more.

 
HAMMER
(After a pause) You do remember, then?

 
MANHEIM
I remember.

 
HAMMER
It's a long, long time since we started out together in New York. (Rubbing his mouth with his left hand) I thought you'd forgotten, Ben. I hadn't, but I thought you had.

 
MANHEIM
Well, Patrick, I hadn't remembered, either. I'll go see if I can find him.

 
HAMMER
Wait wait a"minute, Ben, I don't know what to tell him. Let me think a moment. (He thinks) What people?

 
MANHEIM
What's that?

 
HAMMER

 
You said he has people with him all the time. What people?

 
MANHEIM
Well, they're all kinds poets, downs, gamblers, fortune tellers, saints, eccentrics.

 
HAMMER
You believe all that?

 
MANHEIM
Yes, I do.

 
HAMMER
Are those people with you, too?

 
MANHEIM
Not many of them any more. There used to be a Lot of them with me, but some I got rid of, and others just wandered away. They got tired of me. They're all with him, though.

 
HAMMER
You really think he's a great man, don't you?

 
MANHEIM
No, but he's trying. If you believe in people, you've got to believe in anybody who's trying. He can write. The best I can do is read.

 
HAMMER
Well, I can't write and I sure as hell won't read, but I've built up this great organization, so who the hell is he? They tell me pictures have had a greater influence on the human race than any other art in practically no time at all, too. And I make more pictures than any other outfit in the world, and better ones. I'm not trusting you alone, Ben. I believe everything you say about him, but he's said the same things himself in his own way, without saying anything at all most of the time, or talking about something else about me getting my hands manicured. He got Rose the manicurist so excited, she couldn't finish her work. These three fingers aren't manicured. Go out and find him, talk to him, bring him back get him to write Ave Maria for me.

 
MANHEIM
(Amused)
It's not as serious as all that, Patrick. You're just a little tired. Maybe you ought to take a rest. Go away for a month or two. Come back fresh. (HAMMER stands suddenly. He begins to reach very high, as HARRY had done) What are you doing that for?

 
HAMMER
I don't need a rest.

 
(He stands on the platform)

 
MANHEIM
What's the matter?

 
HAMMER
I don't need a rest understand?
(He jumps off the platform, lands heavily, looks at BEN)
Go get that son of a bitch.

 
(The curtain begins to come down)

 
He knows me, and I know him. I go around with a few people myself.

 

 

 
ACT ONE, SCENE II
An Hour Later
HARRY BIRD is seated at a small desk in his office, tapping at a typewriter. The pianola is going strong. Up the steps comes SAM.
 
SAM is a red faced young man, probably Irish, who is always more than half drunk, outwardly calm but in reality tense and nervous. He goes to the blackboard, erases the words, Who is Sam, stretches out on the divan. When the telephone rings SAM reaches over, lifts the receiver and very softly says, "Yeah?" He listens a moment, then turns to HARRY.
 
SAM
Shut it off, will you? I can't hear. (HARRY shuts off the pianola) Yeah he's here.
(Pause)
Tell him to come right up. (He hangs up) It's the New York Times correspondent. He wants an interview.

 
HARRY
What did you tell him?

 
SAM
I told him to come right up.

 
HARRY (Turns on the pianola)
Who told you to say that?

 
SAM
A little more publicity won't do you any harm. Especially in New York. Besides, I get lonely. I like to see people.
(The telephone rings again. SAM answers it, listens a moment)
Who? Betty Fitch?(Very calmly). It's a player piano.
(Pause)
I don't like it myself, Miss Fitch, but he likes it.
(Pause)
Yes, I know who you are.
(He listens)
Harry Bird yes, ma'am. No, he's not an actor, he's a writer. My name is Sam just Sam.
(Pause)
I'll tell him. (He turns to HARRY) Harry, Betty Fitch doesn't want you to play the piano any more. She's trying to study a part. She's a star, Harry turn it off, will you?

 
HARRY
Hang up, Sam just hang up.
(SAM hangs up, and stretches out. HARRY goes back to his typewriter. The telephone rings again. SAM reaches for it, but HARRY stops him. He lets the telephone ring three times, shuts off the piano, and then lifts the receiver)
Madam Hammer's laundry. Good afternoon.
(He listens a moment, holds the receiver at arm's length while an excited female voice screams along. When there is silence, HARRY speaks)
Excuse me, ma'am, could you repeat that? I didn't quite get it.
(He holds the telephone at arm's length and again the screaming is heard. When there is silence, he speaks again)
I'm sorry, ma'am, but I just don't seem to be able to understand what it is you want. Now, if it's money you want, I'm afraid you're talking to the wrong man. This is Harry Bird. If you want romance, champagne, bright lights, and stuff like that, you're still talking to the wrong man. But if it's immortality you want, you're talking to the right man.
(The New York Times CORRESPONDENT comes in and stands by)

 
SAM
Ah, come on now, don't make her sore. What did she ever do to you?

 
HARRY
(With his hand over the mouthpiece) She married that phoney from Bulgaria a year ago, didn't she? What's his name?

 
SAM
You mean Polikey Vitrolin?

 
HARRY
Yeah that's the guy. Comes to this country with his polite manners, and marries one of our sweetest high school girls for six months. (Into the telephone) Miss Fitch, you should never ought to have married that bad man from Bulgaria a young innocent American girl from Cincinnati like you. (He hangs up)

 
CORRESPONDENT
Excuse me, Mr. Bird. I'm the correspondent of the New York Times.
(He extends his hand to SAM)

 
SAM
Wait a minute

 
HARRY
Mr. Bird is a little tired. Even so, I'm sure he'll be glad to answer your questions. But please don't ask him to get up.

 
CORRESPONDENT (To SAM)
I can come back some other day, Mr. Bird, if you're not feeling well.

 
SAM (Taking a swallow from a bottle)
I feel fine.

 
HARRY
Just draw up a chair, and make yourself at home.
(CORRESPONDENT sits) Mr. Bird, would you like some pianola music perhaps?

 
SAM
No, Sam if it's all the same to you, I'd like some real piano music.

 
HARRY
You shall have real piano music. (To the CORRESPONDENT)
Mr. Birdsometimes prefers pianola music for its pathos and comedy, for its humble American majesty and then again he sometimes prefers straight piano music.
(He dials a number)
Music Department? This is Harry Bird's office. Mr. Bird would be deeply grateful if you would send your finest pianist to his office immediately, to play a little Brahms, Mozart, Chopin. Yes immediately, please. An old pianist or a young one it doesn't matter, but don't send a dwarf or a Hindu just somebody plain and skillful no personality stuff. Yes thank you.
(He hangs up) Go ahead. Mr. Bird is ready for you.

 
CORRESPONDENT(To SAM)
Well, Mr. Bird, it wasn't easy to find your office, and I must say I didn't expect it to be quite so well, shall we say, interesting?

 
SAM
Sure let's say interesting.

 
CORRESPONDENT
What are all these things around here for atmosphere?

 
SAM
This room used to be where the studio photographed its stars.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. Well, it's an unusual office for a writer, but I suppose it's what you want.

 
SAM
It's comfortable.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. (Pause) Well, Mr. Bird, first, just what are your plans in the moving picture business?

 
SAM
(Wearily, dead pan) I intend to revolutionize the industry.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. How do you intend to do it?

 
SAM
By thinking clearly. Right now I'm biding my time, but I study pictures every day.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. What sort of pictures do you study?

 
SAM
Old, silent pictures.

 
CORRESPONDENT
Why are you studying them?

 
SAM
Because I missed some of them when they came out.

 
CORRESPONDENT (Making notes)
I see. (Pause) But the rumor around town is that you are going to write a story which has long been a favorite of Mr. Hammer's. Is that true?

 
SAM (Stumped)
Ask Sam.

 
CORRESPONDENT (Looking at HARRY)
And who is Sam, Mr. Bird? Your agent?

 
HARRY
No, I'm Mr. Bird's occasional drinking companion. We met at Tia Juana two years ago, and Mr. Bird was kind enough to remember me.

 
SAM
You were kind enough to remember me. I should find it very lonely here without a level headed, comic, imaginative young man like you to keep me company now and then not too often, though. Even brilliance can become tiresome. But tell the man about the rumor.

 
HARRY
Briefly, Mr. Bird feels that any favorite story of Mr. Hammer's will have to be written by Mr. Hammer himself.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. But only this morning The Daily Reporter ran a story to the effect that Mr. Bird, after three weeks of motion picture study, was now ready to go to work on an untitled story based on some themes and ideas of Mr. Hammer's.

 
HARRY
Mr. Hammer owns and operates The Daily Reporter. (At the window) There goes Mark Spencer again! (Shouting) Hiya, Mark! (He turns) You'd think a big man like Mark Spencer would be humble enough to greet somebody unimportant, wouldn't you?

 
CORRESPONDENT
Have you met Mr. Spencer?

 
HARRY
No, I haven't met him in person, but I've seen him in a lot of pictures at neighborhood theaters. If I was famous and somebody I didn't know hollered out to me, Hiya, Sam, I think I'd holler back. Wouldn't you?

 
CORRESPONDENT
Yes, I believe I would, although I'm not sure. I'm not famous. Perhaps Mr. Bird can answer your question, Sam.

 
HARRY
How about it, Mr. Bird? Would you holler back?

 
SAM
If I was famous, I'd cut my throat.

 
CORRESPONDENT
But, Mr. Bird, you are famous.

 
SAM
Don't be silly. Interview Sam he can answer your questions as well as I can.

 
CORRESPONDENT
Interview Sam, Mr. Bird?

 
SAM
Sure sure. He's not a writer, but he's got an opinion or two about anything the same as anybody else. Go ahead, ask him something. He'll give you a good answer.

 
CORRESPONDENT
(Unsure) I see. Well, Sam, how long have you known Mr. Bird?

 
HARRY
As I said, the first time I met him was about two years ago at Tia Juana just after the fifth race. He'd won three hundred dollars on a long shot named Blackrock, I believe, and he asked if I could use twenty dollars. I could, but I wouldn't. He then asked if I had a good horse in the next race, and I didn't. We've been friends ever since. When I say we've been friends I mean if he's down here we hang around together until I get bored or he gets bored. I get bored, too, you know.

 
CORRESPONDENT
I see. I'll put that down. Well, Sam, how does it feel to have a famous writer for a friend?

 
HARRY (Taking bottle from SAM for a swig)
The same as having anybody else for a friend. Go ahead, Mr. Bird, take a sip.

 
SAM
Thank you, Sam. (SAM takes a swig)
 
CORRESPONDENT
Well, Mr. Bird, how does it feel to have Sam for a friend?

 
SAM
I have never pushed the matter to the point of friendship. A friend is taken to mean somebody who will do something for you. I don't want anybody to do anything for me, and I know Sam wouldn't let anybody do anything for him.
 
HARRY (At the window)
Wait a minute here comes somebody who looks like somebody. Come on, take a look at her.
(The CORRESPONDENT goes to the window)
Come on, Mr. Bird, take a look it'll do you good.
(SAM gets up and goes to the window)
Who is that girl?

 
CORRESPONDENT
Nobody, most likely looks like an extra.

 
HARRY
You mean a girl that beautiful is only an extra?

 
SAM
If she's that beautiful, she's an extra.

 
HARRY
Well, look at that, will you? Probably from Cincinnati.

 
SAM
They don't all come from Cincinnati.

 
HARRY
Most of them do.
(Suddenly, loudly, leaning out of the window)
Hey! You!

 
GIRL'S VOICE
Who me?

 
HARRY
Yes you. You're from Cincinnati, aren't you?

 
GIRL'S VOICE
No, I'm from Montana. Great Falls.

 
HARRY
(To the PIANIST, a small man, who has just come up the stairs) She's from Great Falls. (Shouting, to the girl) What's your name?
 
GIRL'S VOICE
Martha Harper.

 
HARRY (To PIANIST)
Martha Harper you never know who they are till you ask them.
(Out the window, to the girl)
Well, Martha, good luck. You're going to be great.
(He waves)

 
GIRL'S VOICE
Are you a producer? I want to meet a producer.
(HARRY points to the piano. The PIANIST goes to the piano, sits down, adjusts some music before him, and begins to play Brahms: the "Double Concerto."The telephone rings. SAM goes over and answers it. HARRY leans out the window)

 
SAM (On telephone)
Yeah.
(He listens)
I'm sorry, Miss Fitch but what you are now hearing is Brahms. It is positively not a machine. There is a small man here seated at the piano, and it's him.
(He hangs up)

 
GIRL'S VOICE
I want to know a producer. I'd like him to be a young producer, but if I can't meet a young one, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with an old one.
 
HARRY
Come on up, will you? For the love of God, come on up.

 
CORRESPONDENT (To SAM)
But, Mr. Bird, don't you think Sam ought to be a little more

 
SAM
No, no Sam's all right.

 
HARRY
(Looking down the stairs) Here she comes. Look at her.
(With delight) There you are. Come right up now. One step at a time. Up you go! Come on, Martha Harper.
(The girl comes up the stairs. HARRY stands back, admiring her. She's in a classic costume, and very pretty. HARRY puts his arms around her and kisses her)

 
MARTHA
You are a producer! What's your name?

 
HARRY
My name is Harry Bird.
(The CORRESPONDENT looks from HARRY to SAM, confused)
I don't generally tell my name to young girls from Great Falls, Montana, who want to be in pictures but I'm afraid I must tell you.
(Very seriously suddenly) Don't you know any better than to go around looking for producers?

 
MARTHA
Oh, I'm ready for them. If that's the way to get in pictures, I'm going to do it. I've made up my mind.

 
HARRY (Swiftly)
The interview is over. Sam! Herr Brahms!
(The man at the piano stops playing)
If you don't mind, I'd like to have a few minutes with Miss Harper alone.
(He points to the steps going down)

 
MARTHA
But I like music. Can't he go on playing?
(SAM takes the CORRESPONDENT by the arm to the head of the stairway. They are met by MISS FITCHcoming up)

 
BETTY
Oh, there you are you, you!

 
SAM
He's not Harry Bird. This is the correspondent of the New York Times.

 
BETTY
Oh, so you're Mr. Bird?

 
SAM
Now, wait a minute.

 
BETTY
Well, listen to me, Mr. Bird, you've got to stop that God damn piano, do you hear?

 
SAM
This is my office, and Mr. Hammer himself told me to listen to the piano as much as I like to inspire me.

 
BETTY
Inspire you? What about me? Inspire you to do what?

 
SAM
To write philosophical things.

 
BETTY
Philosophical?

 
SAM
That's right. Have you ever stopped to think, Miss Fitch, how wonderful the human body is just from the point of view of plumbing?

 
BETTY
Plumbing? What are you trying to do, kid me?

 
SAM
I wouldn't think of it. Mr. Hammer wants me to get inspired and write him a great story. I'm doing my best. A piano helps me.

 
BETTY
Well, it doesn't help me all day long. All day long. I'm going crazy.

 
MARTHA
Excuse me, Miss Fitch, could I have your autograph?

 
BETTY (Graciously, but phoney)
Of course. May I have a pen, please?

 
SAM
Won't a pencil do?
(The CORRESPONDENT hands her a fountain pen)

 
BETTY (Angry and impatient, to SAM and the CORRESPONDENT)
All right, give me a piece of paper to autograph on, will you? What are you waiting for?

 
MARTHA
Excuse me, Miss Fitch. Could you autograph on me instead of on a piece of paper?

 
BETTY
On you?

 
MARTHA (Lowering her waist)
Yes. Right here. Over my heart. I'll put some scotch tape over it when I take a bath so it won't come off. Please, Miss Fitch, I've worshiped you from afar.
 
BETTY
Well all right. (She begins to write her name on MARTHA, but the pen is bad and she has to shake it several times)
 
HARRY
Easy there, Miss Fitch, if you please. Don't hurt her. She's flesh and blood just like anybody else.

 
BETTY
I'm not hurting her. (Writing) Autographs, autographs you'd think people would have a little consideration for the thoughts and moods of others.

 
SAM
Thoughts and moods?

 
BETTY (Shouting)
Yes, thoughts and moods!

 
SAM
Oh.

 
HARRY (To MARTHA, who is showing him BETTY FITCH'S autograph)
It's very pretty, Martha.
(The PIANIST is eager to see)
Here, show it to him, too.
(The PIANIST looks)
Pretty, isn't it?

 
PIANIST
Prettiest I ever saw.
(He goes right on playing)

 
MARTHA
I'll never wash it off.

 
BETTY (To SAM)
For one moment at least, will you be good enough to ask that man at the piano to stop?

 
SAM
But, Miss Fitch, I'm trying to become inspired, so I can think philosophical thoughts. What kind of thoughts do you think?

 
BETTY (Seriously)
I think philosophical thoughts, too.

 
SAM
You do?

 
BETTY
Like, Who am I? Why did it have to be me? Where did I come from?

 
SAM
You're from Cincinnati, aren't you?

 
BETTY (With contempt)
Cincinnati? (Proudly) I'm from New York.

 
SAM
Then you do know where you're from.

 
BETTY
I don't mean like that, from cities. I mean, from what have I come, to what am I going? You know what I mean, don't you?

 
SAM
Yes, I sure do. A man like me who's paid a lot of money to get inspired and write philosophical things has got to understand a girl like you, Miss Fitch, or get out of the business.
( BEN MANHEIMcomes up the stairs. He stands a moment, looking around)

 
BETTY (Bitterly, swiftly)
I've got to talk to you, Mr. Manheim, about this lousy part they're trying to push down my throat in Danger Street.

 
MANHEIM (Gently)
Some other time, please.

 
BETTY (Furious, almost screaming)
Well, I don't like the part, see? And I won't do it, that's all. I'll break my contract.

 
SAM (Taking her by the arm, and going down the steps)
Ah, what do you want to get sore at the man for? What difference does it make what part you get? You're a great actress.

 
CORRESPONDENT (Following them)
But, Mr. Bird, what about our interview? What am I going to tell the New York Times?

 
MANHEIM
Harry, if you don't mind, I'd like to have a little of your time alone.

 
HARRY
I don't mind. We're alone enough. (Of the PIANIST) Let him play. (To the PIANIST) Play a lot of things. She likes it. What else have you brought along?

 
PIANIST
I've got some Chopin.

 
HARRY
Play some of that. (To MANHEIM) Sit down. This girl's from Great Falls, Montana. She's looking for a young producer. Her name's Martha Harper.

 
MANHEIM
How do you do?

 
MARTHA (Moving toward MANHEIM)
Are you a producer?

 
HARRY
Here, Martha. Stretch out on this divan, and listen to the music. (MARTHA stretches out. HARRY stands back and admires her, while BEN MANHEIMwatches) She just had Miss Fitch autograph her body. Want to see it?

 
MANHEIM
No, I don't believe I do.

 
HARRY
It's very pretty.

 
MARTHA
Is it really pretty? (She pushes down her shirt. The PIANIST turns to watch) It's upside down for me. (She spells the name) B-e-t-t-y, Betty. F-i-t-c-h, Fitch. Betty Fitch!

 
HARRY (Over to one side, while MARTHA listens to the music) Oh, thou most beautiful among women

 
MANHEIM (Softly)
You shouldn't be cruel, Harry.

 
HARRY
I'm not being cruel.

 
MANHEIM
It's not easy to believe you'd make fun of an unfortunate girl.

 
HARRY
I'm not making fun of her. I don't think you understand.

 
MANHEIM
If there's anything to understand, I'm afraid I don't.

 
HARRY
Well, briefly, there's the story.

 
MANHEIM
Ave Maria?

 
HARRY
Yes.

 
MANHEIM
But who is she?

 
HARRY
She's nobody. She's a kid from Great Falls, Montana. I met her five minutes ago. She was walking down the company street. I'm going to write the story but only for her.

 
MANHEIM
But Mr. Hammer wants Margaret Corrigan for the girl.

 
HARRY
Margaret Corrigan? Who's she?

 
MANHEIM
One of our actresses. Mr. Hammer wants to introduce her to the public in Ave Maria.

 
HARRY (Shaking his head)
No nothing doing

 
MANHEIM
You mean you'll write the story if this girl gets the part?

 
HARRY
That's exactly what I mean.

 
MANHEIM
Have you got a story?

 
HARRY
I have. (He looks at the girl) Now.

 
MANHEIM (Looking at the girl, then at HARRY) Harry, you're not?

 
HARRY
No, no don't offend me. I don't want anything from her. But there she is for everybody. She's no whore yet, but she's about to become one. You can be sure it won't be from anything but beautiful, idiotic innocence and love, though.

 
MANHEIM
But Mr. Hammer expects the story to be inspirational religious, even.

 
HARRY
The story is going to be inspirational, as you say and religious, too. Not because Mr. Hammer expects it to be, but because there's no other way to look at anything. What could you do but love her? Could you mock her? Make little of her spirit's littleness? Laugh at her fool's blessed heart?

 
MANHEIM
Are you sure, Harry, you're not having fun from being bored?

 
HARRY
I am having fun, but not from being bored. For the first time since I've been out here, I'm delighted. I've found a woman who's innocent.

 
MANHEIM
I can't believe you're not serious, and I can't believe you are.

 
HARRY
I am serious.

 
MANHEIM
But this poor girl. Let's be honest. She's ordinary. She's a common, everyday (Pause)

 
HARRY
You needn't hesitate, Ben. She's a woman. If we call her names, it's still herself we mean.

 
MANHEIM
There's a million girls like this girl, Harry.

 
HARRY
There's more than a million like her. There's none unlike her, and she is like the others most. She is their best beauty, their awfulest inconsequence, their most gathered glory.

 
MANHEIM
Aren't you giving her just a little too much importance?

 
HARRY
I am not, even though it is the function of art to give all things more importance than it would seem they deserve at first. She cannot be given too much importance. She is the mother of everybody.

 
PIANIST
What'll I play now?

 
HARRY
Try "Ave Maria."

 
PIANIST
Schubert or Gounod?

 
HARRY
Schubert first, then Gounod.

 
PIANIST
O.K. (He begins to play Schubert "Ave Maria")

 
HARRY (Slowly, moving toward MARTHA)
Hail Mary. Full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

 
MARTHA
What did you say?

 
HARRY
I said, How do you like it out here in California?

 
MARTHA
Oh, I like it fine.

 
HARRY
How old are you, Martha?

 
MARTHA
Nineteen.

 
HARRY
When did you first go with a man? Do you understand?

 
MARTHA
Oh, I understand all right.

 
MANHEIM (Objecting sincerely)
Harry, you've got no right

 
HARRY (Stopping him)
Wait a minute, Ben.

 
MARTHA
If I tell you, will you give me a job in pictures?

 
HARRY
Yes, I promise.

 
MARTHA
Will I be a star?
 
HARRY
Yes, you will.

 
MARTHA
You're not fooling me, are you? I thought producers wanted more than answers to questions. But I don't care what they want. I'll give it to them, just so I can be a star.

 
HARRY
I'm not fooling you.

 
MARTHA
I guess I was almost eleven.

 
MANHEIM (Angry) Harry, I think this has gone far enough.

 
HARRY (Swiftly, turning)
I'm sorry, Ben. But you don't understand.

 
MARTHA
What's the matter?

 
HARRY
Martha, I ask you humbly to forgive me.

 
MARTHA
Oh, it's all right. It was so long ago. But I didn't know anything, then.

 
MANHEIM (Bitterly) You're lying! You're lying!

 
MARTHA (To HARRY)
I'm not lying. I was eleven. Will you put me in pictures?

 
MANHEIM (Deeply hurt)
I don't believe you. I don't believe a word you've said. You're a mischievous, ambitious young girl. (He brings all the currency out of his wallet) I want you to go home. Here's money. Take it and go home.

 
MARTHA
You mean to my room at the Studio Club?

 
MANHEIM
I mean to Great Falls, Montana. Here, take the money.

 
MARTHA
I have no home in Great Falls.

 
MANHEIM (Almost irritated)
Well, go somewhere. Don't stay here.

 
MARTHA
But I want to be in pictures.

 
MANHEIM (Turning to HARRY)
You're not going to be taken in by this girl's incredible performance, are you? Look at her. Anybody can see no man in the world has touched her yet. And it would make me most unhappy if anyone I knew touched her.

 
MARTHA
What's the matter with me? I went to a doctor last week

 
HARRY (Swiftly)
Did he make love to you?

 
MANHEIM (Almost insane with rage)
You've got to stop asking these ugly and unkind questions. I won't allow it. You know very well the girl is not telling the truth. I'm not a young man and it's a long time since I raised a hand against another, but if you ask this girl another question I swear

 
HARRY
Take it easy, Ben. I know. You've got a daughter of your own about her age.
( MANHEIMtakes a swipe at HARRY. HARRY moves with it, so that he is not touched. MANHEIMloses his balance and falls. HARRY helps him up. MANHEIMis terribly shaken and embarrassed)

 
MARTHA
What's the matter?

 
HARRY
I'm sorry, Ben.

 
MANHEIM
(Almost unable to speak) It's all right. I think I'd better go now.

 
HARRY
No wait. (Pause, earnestly) I want to write the story. (Pause) Even so, I'll not tell Mr. Hammer.

 
MANHEIM
I understand. Thanks very much. (Pause) I'll tell him. Will you be here awhile? Mr. Hammer may want to have another talk with you.

 
HARRY
I'll wait till I hear from you.
( MANHEIMgoes. There is a long pause, during which HARRY looks at MARTHA, almost embarrassed, and she at him)

 
MARTHA (With effort)
Who was that man?

 
HARRY (His voice hushed)
Ben Manheim. He's the First Assistant to Mr. Hammer.

 
MARTHA
Who's he?

 
HARRY
He's the man who started this institution.

 
MARTHA
Oh. (Pause) Am I really going to be in pictures?

 
HARRY
Yes, you are.

 
MARTHA
Then, I sure would like to meet a famous actor.

 
HARRY
(He walks around, troubled. He looks at her strangely. He speaks swiftly and terribly) Now! Why did you lie to me?

 
MARTHA (Swiftly, defensively)
I didn't lie.

 
HARRY (Touching the PIANIST'S shoulder)
O.K., that's all. Thanks a lot. (He waits for the PIANIST to go) You can stop acting now. Why did you lie?

 
MARTHA (Embarrassed)
I don't know.

 
HARRY
Why did you ask Miss Fitch to autograph you, instead of a piece of paper?

 
MARTHA
Because I knew she'd do it, out of ridiculous and pathetic pride. Because she's been made inhuman and vulgar by her cheap fame.

 
HARRY
Why did you pretend to be stupid?

 
MARTHA
You wanted me to be stupid, shouting at me from a window. But even if I were stupid, you had no right to be, too. I had to be stupid because ...
(Pause)
 
HARRY
Yes?

 
MARTHA
Because I was so eager for you to know me. (Pause) I know from your writing that you ought to know me.

 
HARRY
You know my writing?

 
MARTHA
Yes, I do. You're not a bad writer. You oughtn't to be cruel.

 
HARRY
I'm not always cruel.

 
MARTHA
You were cruel to me. I suppose almost everybody you meet is cruel, but that's no excuse for you. You're still young enough to have fun, but you're never so young you can have the kind of fun that hurts others. (Pause) You ought to be ashamed.

 
HARRY (Quietly, seriously)
I am. Is there anything I can do?

 
MARTHA
Nothing. Now. (She prepares to go) But I am sorry about Mr. Manheim.

 
HARRY
Then why didn't you tell him the truth?

 
MARTHA
How could I? He was right, but he didn't really believe he was right. If I told him the truth, he would despise me even more than her.

 
HARRY
Her? Who?

 
MARTHA
The Woman. Oh, I could be her. I could play that part. (Pause) It's a pity I'm not going to.

 
HARRY
Why not?

 
MARTHA
I'm not going to play the part because I don't think you can write it. I'm sorry if you're hurt. Goodby. (She begins to go)

 
HARRY (Almost shouting)
Hurt? What the hell are you talking about? Nothing can hurt me. Wait a minute what do you mean I can't write it? (He stands at the head of the steps) I can write anything, and better than anybody else in the world. (The downstairs door closes, HARRY hurries to the window) Now, listen, you I admit I was a fool. But that's finished. (He begins to shout) I'm warning you, I'm not going to try to find you. But I'm asking you to come back (Pause) O.K. So long. (Softly) And go to hell. (He turns away from the window, troubled and amazed. He starts the pianola. The telephone rings, but he refuses to answer it. At last he sits down wearily, and after a moment buries his face in his hands. HAMMERand MANHEIMcome into the room. He doesn't look up until HAMMERspeaks)
 
HAMMER
My boy my boy! Ben's told me the good news. Let me shake your hand.

 
HARRY
O.K., shake it. (He thrusts out his hand, but does not get up. HAMMER refuses to take his hand)
 
HAMMER
What's the matter? (He shuts off the pianola) Now, what's the matter, Harry? You can tell me.

 
HARRY (Wearily) I want to write the story

 
HAMMER
Yes Ben told me and I'm going to see that you have everything you want. Everything

 
HARRY (Stands)
Thanks I want to write the story, but I know I can't.

 
HAMMER
Why not?

 
HARRY (Angry)
I just don't understand things well enough. I need more time. Later, maybe.

 
HAMMER
You mean a week?

 
HARRY
I mean five years maybe ten. (He begins to throw darts idly, while HAMMERand MANHEIM watch)

 
HAMMER (Whispering)
In ten years I'll be seventy three years old.
( HAMMERthrows a dart. Then MANHEIMthrows one. MARTHA comes in. HARRY turns, sees her, and without a word goes to her. He stands about three paces from her, looking at her, amazed and delighted. MANHEIM turns and watches, too. MANHEIMand HAMMERlook at one another. MARTHA moves to HARRY. She stands very close to him, then leans forward and very slowly kisses him. HARRY puts his arms around her, and the curtain begins to come down) Is that one of our stars, or an extra? Who is that girl?

 
CURTAIN

 

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