Friday, December 4, 2009

TOO MANY CREEPS: Part Four

ACT TWO -- OFFICE - EVENING(Alex lays out a table of hors d'oeuvre, cocktail franks, crackers; Vodka and tomato juice, red wine, Cokes; large bowls filled with ice cubes and red apples. Eddie studies his script, sitting casually at the desk.)

ALEX: I could use some help.

ED: You’re doing fine. Everything’s under control.

ALEX: I’m glad you’re so confident again. (Kenny enters through the front door with a jar of pickles. Alex gestures to a serving tray.)

KENNY: My service garbled your message… something about half of our team not being able to make it, but I expected as much. I tried calling your number--

ALEX: Yes, temporarily out-- just lay those pickles out, there’s a good fellow.

KENNY: Appetizers, good. I figured our guy might not make it. A little sick?

ALEX: Karloff’s in. I spoke to him.

KENNY: Figured. Well, just offhand, what do you think of John Carradine?

ALEX (distracted): Mm? He’s been in some good films.

KENNY: Just checking. I figured he’d be good. (Alex continues to arrange the refreshments. Kenny crosses to Ed at the desk.)

KENNY: Hope you don’t mind if I invited some press people.

ED: Why would I mind publicity? Hope you don’t mind last-minute substitutes.

KENNY: Would I mind? No, in fact, just told Alex--

ED: It’s always darkest before the dawn’s early light. You’ve got to think fast on your feet in show business.

KENNY: I just thought, if you don’t have Karloff and Lugosi, what else was there, so--

ED: You see, you see! Kenny, we are clearly two minds with not a single thought. There I was, sitting in this bar across from CBS, and who walks in-- (Bela enters, greeted effusively by Alex. Kenny looks puzzled.)

BELA: Ah! Splendid! Alex, you know how to make me at home!

ALEX: Appetizers, fruit, cocktail franks, wine!

KENNY: Oh, Mr. Lugosi! I…didn’t think you’d make it.

BELA: I shouldn’t miss this for the world. The evenink should provide some interesting surprises. Eddie… can
we talk about this revision? (They cross downstage to the desk. Alex mixes a Blood Mary for Bela.) There is a line you changed, when he is raving. (flatly) “They stole my life, my work, and now they will pay, through the nose.” We can’t do that, it sounds humorous.

ED: You always said you want to play comedy.

BELA: But a laugh in the wrong place sabotages the drama. You mind?

ED: No. Fine. Fine. Let’s cut the line.

BELA: Did you put this script in the washing machine?

ED: Washing machine…no… I don’t get it…

BELA: Neither do I. My part seems to have shrunk. And I am at an age when I worry, if I look down and I see my part is smaller.

ED: Really? Must be a clerical error… lemme see that. (flips through Bela’s script)

BELA: By the way, I hope Boris will not object to an extra person tonight.

ED: Boy, me too. Probably be okay. (Alex crosses with the Bloody Mary.)

ALEX: In your honor, a Bloody Mary.

BELA: How apropos. However, since I join Alcoholic Anonymous, I give it all up. I only drink… wine.

ALEX: Oh, frightfully sorry. Let me replace that. (Alex makes a U-turn with the Bloody Mary, but Kenny nabs it and takes a big gulp, eyeing Bela. Alex crosses to the table and pours a glass of red wine.)

KENNY: Guess this’ll be… okay…

ALEX: Everything will work out. It’s all set.


ED (to Bela): I thought in AA you had to give up all booze.

BELA: Don’t be absurd. You want me to be a… cold turkey? (Boris enters, script in hand, doffs his hat and coat. Ed sees him-- huh?)

ED: Well, Mr. Karloff, this is-- a total surprise.

BORIS: Shouldn’t be. Script seems satisfactory, but Bela certainly has the better role.

BELA: You think so?

BORIS: Oh, yes, there’s a lot more dialogue for you, which is--


ED: Sorry about that, it can be altered if--

BORIS: -- is far less trouble for me. Perfectly fine.

BELA: I thought my part was smaller.

BORIS: Well, all right, if you like we can switch characters.

BELA: Ah… no. I am up on this one. You really think I have the bigger part? (Boris and Bela discuss the script; Ed moves to the appetizer table and pours himself a drink. Kenny follows, nervously checking his watch.)

ED: Got by the first hurdle. Time to juggle and balance.

KENNY: Let’s start. Before someone else stops by-- (A KNOCK. Ed glances at Kenny, crosses.)

ED: No kidding. You must be psychic. (Ed opens the door. It’s the Cab Driver again. Bela flicks his fingers imperiously.)

CAB DRIVER: Fare from La Brea, four-seventy-five.

ED: Alex, it’s for you. (Alex goes to the door, shooting a look at Ed. The Cab Driver peeks in.)

CAB DRIVER: One of them Hollywood parties, huh? I’m really an actor, y’know. I’ll send you my head shot, just in case. (Alex fishes a five out of his wallet, diplomatically tries to close the door.) I did a week at Republic last year. A serial.

ALEX: Congratulations. (He closes the door. Alex sees Kenny check his watch, glancing at the door.)

KENNY: Well, you, er, never know who might drop by.

BELA: Yes, always expect the unexpected.

ED: Now that we’re making movies, we’ve got the most popular place in Hollywood.

KENNY: Sure, I might open the door and it’s-- (opens door) -- Peter Lorre…!?

(In walks a short, fat man with huge, watery eyes, his pudgy fingers constantly fiddling with a cigarette. This is PETER LORRE, in a seersucker sports suit and Hawaiian shirt. Handshakes all around… as Kenny looks down the hallway.)

BORIS: Peter! Good Lord!

PETER: Hiya, Boris. Bela, nice to see you.

BELA (in Hungarian): Haj vaj, Lazzie?

PETER (Hungarian, instinctively): Yo, haj vaj, Bela-- ah--! (catches himself) Oh, Christ, one of dese days you’ll learn to think in English instead of Hungarian. (Bela scoffs. Boris steps forward, both annoyed and tickled.)

BORIS: How did you --? Oh, of course! How much would I charge to haunt a house?

PETER: No, actually, he said, “Tell ’em Groucho sent you.” He thought maybe I can scare up some work. So what is dis, a creeps convention?

BELA: Yes, and now, the odds are even: two Hungarian and two English.

ED: Plus a couple of old fashioned Americans.

PETER: I wouldn’t brag about dat. We get a chance to work together, is zat it? (Alex pulls Ed by the lapels down-stage. Kenny follows them.)

ALEX: Is this your idea?

ED: Him-- actually, no. He’s as much of a surprise to me as you, I swear.

ALEX: Karloff’s here under strict conditions. And he may walk at any time.

ED: I was surprised they’re both here at all.

KENNY: Me, too. I think maybe I misunderstood.

ALEX: Seems to be a lot of that going around…(Ed shrugs, going to the desk. Alex returns to the table, mixing a drink for Peter. Kenny fidgets, glancing around, checking his watch.)

BELA: I haven’t seen you since --

PETER: Since I got fat as a pig, I know. I’m sick, and I can’t take it off. (Kenny and Ed join the trio of actors.)

KENNY: I apologize, sir, I hadn’t realized somebody’d invited Mr. Lorre--

BORIS: The three of us get on just fine, not to worry.

KENNY: I get a kick out of those Spike Jones records. Your voice is unmistakable.

PETER: Except that you are mistaken. Dat’s a guy named Paul Frees. Does a good Bogie, too.

BORIS: How is Bogie? I heard he was--

PETER: Not good. He’s dying. (eyes his cigarette) I don’t remember nine out of ten doctors mentioning dese things were fatal.


BELA: Doctors! “Don’t worry, take this, it will make your pain disappear.”

PETER: Den dey have the gall to try to wean me from morphine. Dey should make up dere minds. How else could I get through dose Mr. Moto pictures?

ED: But now, those Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Looney Tunes, they’re obviously--

PETER: Obviously not. Dat’s Mel Blanc. I’m at Warners seven years, do dey ask me? Ha. (pinches his nose) I’m going to scare you to death. Boo. Heh-heh, heh-heh. (normal voice) Everybody does Peter Lorre better than me. It’s a wonder I work at all. (Kenny tries the phone, hears no dial tone, and looks around anxiously.)

PETER: It’s no fun now. What de hell are we, anyway? Bunch of face-makers.

BELA: As long as they pay us to make the faces.

KENNY: It’s good to see villains getting along so well.

BORIS: We keep our atrocities strictly professional.

KENNY: So, you get along okay with the other heavies?

ED: Yeah, like, uh… maybe… Lon Chaney Jr.?

PETER: Oh, I did a Bob Hope film with him. I was the villain and Lon was an idiot. He asked if I wanted to go fishing. The only fishing I do is for the olive in a Martini.

BORIS: Well, his father was a very good actor.

KENNY: Unh-huh… and um… what about John Carradine…?

PETER: Huh. Carradine. Dat guy is de biggest goddamned liar I ever met.

BORIS: Well, John’s a bit eccentric. Phenomenal memory, however.

PETER: Yes, but he tells dese bald-face untruths, as if he’s daring you to call his bluff.

KENNY: He’s been in some excellent pictures--

BELA: Yes, and quite a few stinkers-- mostly with me.

PETER: He’s off on his own planet, the Carradine planet, I think. Even when he tells the truth, he’s full of shit. Psychiatrists call it confabulation. Fascinating syndrome. (Kenny moves to Alex and edges to the door.)

KENNY: I’ve really got to go make a phone call.

ALEX: We’ll stall until you get back. The pharmacy down the street has a -- (Kenny nods and slips out.)

PETER: It does look like I got a Fred Astaire picture. I even get to dance and sing. I haven’t done that since Three-Penny Opera. A musical version of Ninotchka at MGM.

BELA: Well! I played the commissar in the original Garbo picture, for Ernst Lubitsch.

PETER: Yeah, er-- delightful picture (evading) Well, let’s take a look at dis script.

ED: I’ll get you my copy …

BELA: It would be interestink publicity of an actor in two films of the same story.

PETER: Oh, but I don’t think dey want people to compare the two, Bela. I mean, Cyd Charise is not exactly Greta Garbo, is she?

BELA: Maybe not, but I think I could do the part, if it is open.

PETER: I think dey’ve cast the role. In fact, I’m sure.

BELA: Oh. I see. (Disheartened, Bela sits by the desk. Peter puts a hand on his shoulder. Eddie thrusts his script at Peter, who flips the pages with sublime disinterest.)

ED: We’re about to read the script, Mr. Lorre, I’d be proud as punch if you’d join us. You could read the part of the Interpol agent--

PETER: Me playing a good guy? You must be kidding.

ED: Well, still currents run steady and deep. About page 17, “Inspector Boronski.” (Peter casually flips through the pages of the script, shaking his head.)

ALEX: You three haven’t worked together since You’ll Find Out, RKO, 1940.

BELA: Yes, with Kay Kyser and his band. Ginny Simms was the singer. Cute.

ED: Not to mention Ish Kabibble!

PETER (indicating Eddie): Who is dis guy? He keeps kibitzing.

BORIS: Allow me to present Mr. Wood, the director. (Peter offers a pudgy hand and barely clasps Eddie’s hand.)

ED: I want you to express myself greatly in your honor, Mr. Lorre. You’re my biggest fan. And I mean that heartfelt from my very bottom.

PETER: Bet you wrote dis script, too, huh?

ED: It was my proudest moment of achievement.

PETER (sotto): I’m surprised it took that long. (Peter pats his coat for a pack of cigarettes, moves away from the group, flipping incredulously through the script. Ed follows.)

ED: Do you want to go take some time to read it?

PETER: No, thank you. When someone asks you to jump in a barrel of shit, you don’t ask if they want it feet-first or head first.

ED (blithe): Oh, of course not.

PETER: Sharp as a whip, aren’t you? I grew up speaking Hungarian and German, I had to learn English later… but you have a unique patois. Where did you learn the language?

ED: Poughkeepsie, New York, born and raised.

PETER: What a coincidence. I read in the paper de other day that dey took a census and found that Poughkeepsie was one idiot short.

ED: Well, sure, that’s my home of birth.

PETER: Remarkable. Got a light? (Ed pulls out his lighter-- and out drops an ear ring. Bemused, Peter picks it up, holds it up to his earlobe, then offers it to Ed.)

PETER: You dropped your change.

ED (pockets the ear ring, glancing around nervously): That’s… for a friend…

PETER: Nice color. It matches your eyes.

ED: Thank you. When I-- (gulps) Uh… I, er… hope you’re not too shocked…

PETER: Don’t flatter yourself. I lived in Berlin. (He returns to Bela, holding court with Alex.)

BELA: Oh, I would like something different, but I don’t get the chance. I stay a week with Paul Lukas in New York when I was on tour. He and I go back a long time. I said he how good he was in Watch on the Rhine, and I would like that kind of part myself.

PETER: Don’t count on Paul Lukas doing you any favors. On dat submarine picture we made, he said you give all Hungarian actors a bad name. (turns from Bela) Let’s see, acting technique anchored in the nineteenth century, lousy choice in material…(Peter turns, doesn’t notice Bela visibly deflating. This is an arch betrayal.)

PETER: -- and an infuriating penchant for morbid publicity.

BELA: I have-- had a family to support.

PETER: He was particularly appalled at the House of Wax premiere, when you arrived with a man dressed in a grizzly bear costume. I thought dat was rather imaginative.

BELA: It wasn’t a grizzly bear… it was a gorilla. (Ed’s eyes snap closed and his head lolls to the side. He’s asleep. Alex examines the comatose Ed; Boris reacts, concerned. Not noticing this, Peter looks at Bela and realizes he’s really hurt his feelings. Mollifying:)

PETER: But den who gives a shit about Paul Lukas?

BELA: Well… if I still had the big house, and still gave the big parties, I guess I should now remove his name off the invitation list.

PETER: I’d consider it. On the bright side, Zsa Zsa Gabor speaks highly of you.

BELA: Really?! I met her only in passing, with her sisters and their mother…

PETER: Apparently dey were all quite taken with you. Dat old world charm still works.

BELA: Then all I need is to again make a lot of money, and they would all marry me.

PETER: Most probably all at the same time.

BELA: Then as you say, who gives a shit about Paul Lukas?

ALEX: Er-- Bela? (They go to the comatose Ed.)

ALEX: He just dropped off. Totally in a trance.

PETER: How can you tell? (to Bela) This is your idea, huh?

BELA: For publicity, yes.

BORIS: Like on Black Friday! I remember. I was on the set. You were terrifying under hypnosis, suffocating in a closet, locked in!

BELA: Thank you, but I was going along with the gag, not really in a trance.

PETER: Pretending is the first step toward total suggestibility. A fugue state.

BORIS: I’ll take you at your word -- but I’ve worked with you often, and I never saw you play an entire scene with your back to the camera as you did that day.

BELA: Nevertheless. Eddie. Wake up! (snaps his fingers)

ED (eyes pop open): Hey! Let’s get this show on the open road!

BORIS: Remarkable. Mr. Wood, do you remember being asleep?

ED: Sure. Last night. I dreamed I was in school in Poughkeepsie, with no clothes on.

BORIS: Yes, yes, never mind. (At the table, Bela and Peter refresh their wine glasses. Boris joins them.)

PETER: I went bankrupt, I had to sell de house and move to New York where dey do television, so what happens? Dey start shooting here on film, like little movies. At least that means residual payments. I got a check today. Seventeen dollars and ten cents.

BORIS: Don’t remind me. Reagan and those fools on the board sold us out.

ALEX (joining them): Is this the Screen Actors Guild?

PETER: Little Ronnie Reagan was SAG president. We were so lucky.

BELA: We insisted that actors be paid for running the old pictures on television. A subversive idea-- actors getting paid for acting. Imagine that!

ALEX: But you got something out of it-- didn’t you?

BORIS: A few dollars thrown at the pension fund. They’ll play those old films for the next hundred years. None of us will see a penny.

BELA: You know now Reagan revealed his colors. He divorced Jane Wyman, got a new wife, and decided he was Republican like her. (Peter chuckles. Boris glares.)

BORIS: What’s so funny about that?

PETER: Oh, I was just visualizing little Ronnie Reagan as Charlie McCarthy, sitting in the president’s chair, with his wife’s hand up his ass.

ED: But Ronald Reagan served in uniform. He’s a veteran!

PETER: He was at Fort Hal Roach making Army training films about VD. Big war hero, fighting all the Japs and Nazis in Culver City. Such a phony.

BORIS: His testimony to the Un-American Activities committee was reprehensible.

BELA: During the war, I raised a million dollars for freedom fighters in Hungary, to fight Fascists. Later, the committee said the relief fund was all Communist. Nonsense.

PETER: Dose FBI idiots asked if I ever met suspicious people. I said, yes, and dey got excited. Can I write down the names? I gave ’em a list of everyone I’d met since I got here-- including Walt Disney, John Wayne, Jack Warner, and Adolph Menjou.

BORIS: Oh, full marks, old boy, full marks!

PETER: Well, they were suspicious, and I think rather un-American. When I went back to Germany, I had dinner with Brecht, who--

ALEX: Bertold Brecht? My God, you know him?

PETER: Sure, I’ve known him since I was (indicates his own height) dis high. He left the country rather than talk to dose finks.

ED: Certain people in this country are dedicated to rooting out the evils of Communism.

PETER: Mr. Wood, it’s no crime to be na├»ve, but don’t wave your ignorance like a flag. (Ed is about to respond; Alex guides him upstage to calm him down, pantomiming).

BORIS: You said you were in Germany? Acting?

PETER: After the war, I went to direct a picture I wrote, Der Verlornen-- The Lost One. Very taxing to direct and act -- challenging. Did it lead to jobs? Fat chance. (shrugs) Anyway, what would I end up directing here? Episodes of My Little Margie. (He sits onto the couch heavily. Kenny enters, nervous. Alex crosses to him.)

ALEX: You make your call?

KENNY: Yes-- I was too late. I tried to cancel a-- well, I guess it’ll be fine…

ALEX: Oh, no, Ken, let me guess. Did you ask --?

KENNY: I know you already-- see, I tried to call earlier, but your phone didn’t-- (The door opens and JOHN CARRADINE enters with a flourish; wears a Trilby hat, overcoat draped over his shoulders like a cloak.)


JOHN: Never fear, One-Take Carradine is here. Hello, Peter. Who’s Lymon?

KENNY: That’s Hyman, Ken Hyman. Actually, we--

JOHN: Don’t worry about it. I’m always there for fellow thespians. Oh! Bela, I heard you were sick. Boris, greetings.

KENNY: No, actually, everyone’s here, and I tried to call you to--

JOHN: Y’know, I passed up a paying engagement on Pantomime Quiz to be here tonight. (sees the buffet) Passed up dinner, too. Hmmm… (He pours wine with one hand, nibbling hors d'oeuvre with the other. Boris takes Ed aside, and Bela follows.)

BORIS: What’s the idea, Mr. Wood? (Boris and Bela silently berate Ed; Alex crosses to Kenny, who shrugs.)

ALEX: I’m sure you meant well, Kenny, but--

KENNY: Well, when you called to say Lugosi was out--

ALEX: No, I meant Karloff was out-- but he came back in-- but anyway--

KENNY: I scrambled for a substitute. I tried to call but your phone was kaput. (At the table, Peter plucks at the hors d'oeuvre. John tries to snatch a slice of cheese from him Peter slaps his hand. Kenny comes over to play nice-nice.)

KENNY: So… you two worked together back at Fox, right?

JOHN: Yeah, years ago. But Peter and I just did a sailboat picture with Jon Hall.

PETER: It wasn’t a picture, just a television episode.

JOHN: Picture for television, same thing. Just a job. (sees photo of Lugosi and the old drag queen.) What’s this? Good God, Bela, you look embalmed. Who’s the old bag?

BELA: I make a film where the comedian was a man called Old Mother Riley. (John steps back to the table, grabs an apple from the fruit bowl.)

JOHN: Some old queen, huh?

BORIS: Oh, now, John, drag acts are a tradition as old as the music hall itself.

JOHN: True! At the old Globe Theater, young boys played all of Shakespeare’s female roles, with apples for breasts. (takes a lascivious bite)

BORIS: Did it myself at an Arsenic and Old Lace cast party. Lot of English actors do it.

PETER: Heh. Why doesn’t dat surprise me?

BORIS: By the way, Peter, you were delightful in the film. I regret not getting the chance to play it with you. We ought to do it together sometime.

PETER: On television, maybe? Dat might be fun. Dat might actually be fun. (Bela overhears this and reacts sullenly. Ed goes to him.)

ED: You okay? You need some medicine?

BELA: No, I-- just want -- to work, that’s all.

KENNY: I was thinking, it’d be great to have a theme song.

ALEX: Ooh, like Laura? Or High Noon?

KENNY: And every time they sing it on Your Hit Parade or the radio, we get publicity.

JOHN: Theme song? I could sing it for you.

KENNY: Oh. Yeah, that, that would be… interesting.

JOHN: I’m opera-trained. I’m a Basso Profundo.

PETER (sotto): Hammo Supremo is more like it. (The door bursts open-- THE WOLF MAN and FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER lurch in. The Wolf Man’s belly hangs over the edge of his work shirt and pants.)


ALEX: Good Lord! Eddie! What the hell is this?

ED: This is what I planned! It’s an event right out of my childhood movies! (The Monster -- GLENN STRANGE-- stalks over to Boris, pats his shoulder.)

BORIS: There’s a familiar walk. Glenn Strange?

GLENN: Friend…! Master… ! (Boris looks embarrassed by all this nonsense. Peter shakes his head-- and lights yet another cigarette. The Wolf Man HOWLS, grabbing at Peter.)

PETER: Oh, good evening, Lon. Make yourself at home, kick somebody in the shins. (The Wolf Man lumbers over to Bela, growling-- then laughs lustily.)

LON/WOLF MAN: Hiya, Pop. Scared the crap out of ya, I bet!

BELA: Hello. Eddie, what is all of this?

ED: I saw them at the bar across from CBS and I had a brain stroke. A monster rally! (Alex pulls Ed aside-- but Ed wants to get back to the party.)

ED: It’s great, like those films with Dracula, Wolf Man, mad doctor, Frankenstein --

ALEX: Yes, but those pictures were terrible. And Mr. Karloff is not amused!

LON/WOLF MAN (to Ed & Alex): Like this mask? They made it special for the TV show we done with Abbott and Costello. I could use it in your picture, huh?

ALEX: Except there’s no werewolf in our script.

ED: Typographical error. I can rewrite it. (The Wolf Man pulls his mask off, revealing LON CHANEY, 40, booze-bloated and beefy.)

LON: Hell, I don’t hafta play a werewolf, I can do any sort of character. Whaddya got?

ALEX: Mr. Chaney, there aren’t a lot of supporting roles left worthy of an actor of your caliber. And our film has a rather small budget.

LON: Aww, it’s just fun to act. And if you’re hurtin’ for dough, heck, I’ll whup up a batch of my chili for ya and you can save on catering.

Lon wraps a paw around Ed’s shoulder and leads him away from the group, which is marveling at the intricate Frankenstein make-up and costume. Ed blanches.)

ED: Mr. Chaney, I hope you didn’t get the wrong idea when we met at the bar, ’cause--

LON: Why, ’cause you were wearin’ a dress? I figured you was just queer or somethin’.

ED: Oh, no, I’m one hundred percent sexually male. Not even ambidextrous.

LON: You just like wearin’ girly things. It don’t matter to me, I seen everything. Now, lemme tell ya, chummy, if we work, make sure you get it all in the morning--

ED: What… at high noon you turn into a wolf?

LON: I drink a little … an’ after lunch, I might not be right on top of things, y’know?

ED: Oh. Gee, it’s already almost eight o’clock, lucky we’re not rolling film, huh?

LON: Good, ’cause to be honest, the Wolf Man’s already got ’bout half a load on. As long’s we unnerstand each
other.

Lon laughs, slaps Ed’s back, and lurches over to the refreshment table.


ED: I don’t understand. (Bela moves toward Ed, not very happy. )

BELA: Eddie, the room is getting very crowded.

ED: This could be an all-star production for you!

BELA: Not for me, Eddie, for you. I said nothing when I was told Karloff was essential. Now, I find myself one element of a growing ensemble. (The door opens--- and Little Angie struts in. Bela greets him effusively.)

BELA: Ah! But now we can begin! We have a mascot! Angelo, my little friend!

ANGIE: Hey-yah, boss!

BELA: There is food, drink… have a little something! (Bela pushes a chair to the table to give Angie access. Upstage, sotto:)

BORIS: Jesus Christ, now this has become a circus!

PETER: Well, it’s nice to have someone shorter than me. (goes to Angie at the table) So you’re in pictures, too?

ANGIE: Sure, I been an actor since silent movies. An’ I was in the movie Freaks.

PETER: Freaks, really? What sort of part did you play?

ANGIE: I was-- hey, you’re givin’ me the needle. Pull the other leg, it plays Jingle Bells.

PETER: I would, but it’s so far to reach down there.

ANGIE: An’ if you do, I’ll punch ya right in the kneecap.

PETER: Bela, he’s a little wise guy. I like dat. (Meanwhile, Lon is chugging a tall drink.)

LON: I played all the monsters, but the Wolf Man’s my baby. Except that Pee Wee here stole it from me in some cheap B-picture.

GLENN: Aww, c’mon, Lon, there ain’t but one way to do that kinda part --

ALEX: The Mad Monster, PRC, 1942! You played George Zucco’s half-wit werewolf!

GLENN: I just done it best I knew how, an’ Lon seen it--

LON: Yeah, y’sonofabitch, you was doin’ the Wolf Man, and doin’ Lennie, too!

GLENN: Well, sure, he was just a big duh-duh-duh!

Lon kicks him in the shins and laughs. He pulls on the Wolf Man mask.

GLENN: Oww! You bastard, that hurt!

LON: Yeah? What’re ya gonna do about it? (Glenn’s Frankenstein boot connects with Lon’s knee-- hard. Lon roars happily.)

LON: Ow! That was a good one! OK, my turn. (He prepares to kick Glenn again, and Peter steps between them.)

PETER: Boys, save dis for de playground after school. (The door swings open again and a pert, buxom REPORTER enters, followed by a PHOTOGRAPHER with an old fashioned Speed-Graphic camera.)

PHOTOGRAPHER: Hey, caught the monsters in the act! There’s one for "Confidential"! (Kenny goes to her to diffuse any situation; Lon and John hungrily descend on the lovely Reporter. Angie looks up her dress. Alex grabs Ed by the elbow.)

ALEX: Is this your idea, too, Ed? Because it’s--

ED: No, I think it was Ken’s-- great, huh? We’ll get publicity for the picture!

ALEX: Except that Karloff’s half-way out the door. (Boris joins them, quietly ruffled, flanked by a grinning Bela, wearing his glasses).

BORIS: Mr. Gordon, we haven’t signed any contracts. Publicity at this stage isn’t--

BELA: Oh, Boris, it’s all the same old racket. All publicity is good publicity.

BORIS: I don’t agree. I was told this was to be a private reading. Now we’ve got an audience, not to mention a cast of thousands. (Boris heads for the door, and his coat. Alex follows, silently pleading with him.)
BELA: Eddie, this was supposed to be business. Acting business.

ED: Okay-- she’s a lady. Act charming! She’ll love ya!

BELA (brightens, removes his glasses): Point me in the right direction.

ED: Just turn around. (Bela turns to face the Reporter, who has her notepad ready.)

REPORTER: So, does Bella Lugosi really sleep in a coffin?

BELA: Only professionally. I of course prefer a warm, comfortable bed… but allow me to correct you, if I may. “Bella” is a female name, in Czech--

ANGIE: And in Italian!

BELA: Even so. It means “beautiful.” Que bella. (strokes her cheek) But “Bay-la” is a man’s name. My name. BAY-lah LOO-go-she.

REPORTER: I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Lugo-- Bay-la. (Lon puts his Wolf Man mask on Angie and cowers in mock terror from the mini-werewolf, clowning for the Photographer.)

PHOTOGRAPHER: Dynamite. Thanks, Mr. Chaney-- and, er-- Chaney Junior! (looks around) Hey, what’s the name of the skinny guy in the coat?

LON: That’s John Carradine. Does Hamlet and stuff.

ANGIE: We call him the Bard of the Boulevard. I see him walkin’ down Hollywood Boulevard, spouting at the top of his lungs. “To be, or not to be, that is the question!”

LON: Yeah, ol’ Long John gives people culture whether they want it or not! Stridin’ along drunk as a skunk with a cape
flappin’ over his shoulders!

JOHN: Absolutely untrue, that’s Hollywood myth. I’ve never worn a cape offstage in my life. It’s an overcoat. (Boris seems to have been temporarily allayed. Kenny surveys the room.)

BORIS: So the press was your idea, Mr. Hyman?

KENNY: My apologies, sir, I should’ve let you know. But we have every intention of backing this picture. I hope it’s as exciting as this.

ED (joining them): Imagine them ALL in the same movie!

KENNY: Sorting out the billing is going to be tough.

ED (announces): Well, alphabetical! How about that?

BELA: Eddie--

LON: Sounds okay by me.

JOHN: I like it even better. A couple days’ work and I end up with top billing.

BELA: Eddie--

BORIS: It’s fine with me, whatever is fair.

ED: Well, that was easy.

KENNY: Good call. Alphabetical. Good thinking.

PETER: Assuming we want our names on dis at all. (Bela glowers, burying himself in his script. The Reporter goes to him innocently.)

REPORTER: When was the last time you and Mr. Karloff worked together? (Karloff approaches, with Alex in tow.)

BELA: I don’t know. We did five or six pictures…

ALEX: They last teamed up in The Body Snatcher, RKO, 1945, produced by Val Lewton. I must say I was disappointed Bela had such a small part.

BORIS; You know what they say. There are no small parts, only small actors.

ANGELO: Hey, what kinda crack is that?

PHOTOGRAPHER: Let’s get a shot of all the monsters with Karloff in the middle. (He gestures to Glenn; Boris moves to the center. Lon slips his wolf mask on.) No, I mean the monster-man. Karloff. Frankenstein.

BORIS: That is Mr. Glenn Strange. I’m Boris Karloff.

LON: Aww, hell, all of us done it, even Pops here, in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. (He slaps Bela in the belly. Bela’s uncomfortable with roughhouse.)

PETER: “Pops,” huh? How Freudian. (Lon growls, grabbing Bela from behind, lifting him in mock-battle.)

BELA: Put me down! Don’t do that! Please! (Lon drops Bela to his feet. The elderly actor holds his side in pain.)

BELA: Oh. My back… I am not a well man…

ANGIE: Watch it, ya big dummy! He’s my pal!

HYMAN: Mr. Lugosi-- are you okay?

BELA (sees it’s Hyman): Oh-- of course! Fine! We just make a rough house. (Angie stomps on Lon’s foot. He howls, lunges-- but Angie ducks. Lon laughs.)

LON: I didn’t hurt him, that’s jus’ the way that picture was, real hard-scrabble!

BORIS: You ended up playing the Monster after all? I’d forgotten.

BELA: Because they gave me dialogue. Then the studio cut it out and made again a dumb part.

PETER: Yeah, well, you were probably speaking in Hungarian.

BELA: I played the part as blind, and they cut that out, too, so in the film I walk around like a big jerk (stretches his arms stiffly).

PHOTOGRAPHER: I can’t get you all in the shot--

ANGIE: Hey! What about me? (Angie waves. Lon and Glenn lift him between them for the photo.)

PHOTOGRAPHER: Squeeze closer, everybody. You’re all old friends.

PETER: You’re so perceptive. (The Photographer poses them in a series of gag pictures with Frankenstein, as:)

REPORTER: So you’re all in the Frankenstein family.

PETER: I managed to avoid it. I got cast as the son of Frankenstein with Boris and Bela, but luckily I got sick and dey got Basil Rathbone.

KENNY: I remember. Lugosi was the hunchback.

BELA: Ygor! He was very cute.

PHOTOGRAPHER: I saw Frankenstein Meets Wolf Man just before I shipped out.

LON (removes mask): I was gonna do both parts, like Dad woulda done, but it was cheaper to have Pops do it. Now Pee-Wee here, he done the Monster even more than Karloff.

PETER: Pee Wee?

GLENN: That’s my rodeo nickname. My brother, they called him Puny, he’s bigger ’n me. Puny and Pee-Wee!

PETER: I thought irony was illegal in Texas.

GLENN: Nah. But if I was ever any good as the Monster, it was because of one fella, just about the nicest guy in show business-- (Boris edges away. Glenn clomps after him, puts his arm around Boris.) ’Cause we did this picture where he played the doctor, and I wanted to do it just as good as he done, and he stayed late at night after they all cleared out--

BORIS: No, no, don’t. Please. It wasn’t any--

GLENN: -- and he coached me on the walk ’n’ the moves and everything that makes the Monster so scary, so I always tell people if you liked me in the part at all --

BORIS: Really, Glenn, I’d rather you not--

GLENN: -- it’s all due to Boris Karloff.


REPORTER: It must be fun to play a monster who’s so big and powerful.

BELA: Oh, yes. Let me show you how much fun. Allow me? (Bela elegantly takes the Reporter’s hand and slips it deep into the ice bowl.)

BELA: In the picture I make, Lon finds me frozen, like a Popsicle. They put on for three hours this make-up, then pack me in this ice, like a herring. Then they go to lunch.

REPORTER: My fingers are numb already.

BELA: They make camera changes, and it is now seven hours in the same position, packed in ice. My spine was frozen, I collapsed. I was sixty-two years old, and they said, maybe now we get a stunt man. And how! (Bela holds the Reporter’s hand to warm it, then kisses it seductively.)

GLENN: First picture I did with Boris, they near to set us on fire. I’m walkin’ through the back lot with Boris tucked under my arm and they set fire to tumbleweeds and woom! Went up like an ol’ dried up Christmas tree! Then comes House of Dracula! I laid all day in the mud with the skeleton that’s supposed to be Boris, and boy, that stuff was cold! I got a chill and got really sick, and Lon comes down there with a fifth--

LON: An’ you got most of it.

GLENN: Pret’ near saved my life. Took that booze and down it went! I was looped. (Lon and Glenn head for the booze, followed by the Reporter.)

REPORTER: A drunken Frankenstein! That’s pretty scary!

GLENN: An’ I busted my ankle on the Abbott and Costello job, throwin’ the girl through the window, and Lon heard about it and come in --

LON: Hell, Pee Wee, anybody woulda done it, I just wasn’t workin’ that day--

GLENN: No, no. I was gonna be down for two, three days, and Lon come in, put on the make-up on and done the scene for me. (Peter leads Boris aside, downstage, for:)

PETER: You’re responsible for the big guy’s interpretation, huh?

BORIS: Oh, I told him I hoped the part did as much for him as it did for me…

PETER: How gracious. And you’re so embarrassed at him giving you credit… or maybe you just didn’t want people to see a big shuffling moron and think it was you, huh? There is method to your modesty, Boris. (Peter chuckles. Boris looks at him, the picture of innocence. Good actor. Alex takes Ed over to the desk. Sotto:)

ALEX: This is a script reading, not a press conference.

ED: Just a couple minutes. Besides, they’ll run out of things to say pretty soon.

ALEX: Eddie, they’re actors talking about themselves! We’ll be here till November! (Glenn clomps over to Boris, who is clearly growing impatient.)

GLENN: ’scuse me, Boris, I can’t hardly see in this get-up… where’s the toilet?

BORIS: Oh, the whole place is a toilet.

ALEX: Down the hall, I’ll show you. (Alex leads Glenn to the door; Kenny assures Boris that all is well. Meanwhile:)

REPORTER: With all those pictures you’ve done with Humphrey Bogart, you must know what’s going on with him. I heard a rumor that he--

PETER: Oh, he’s doing a film for Columbia, then a comedy with Betty Bacall.

REPORTER: Yes, but has he really got throat cancer?

PETER: I talked to Bogie today, he sounded fine.

LON: Throat cancer’s a bad way to go. That’s how Dad died.

PETER (deflecting): His father did all his own make-ups, y’know, Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Man of a Thousand Faces.

REPORTER: That’s right-- Lon Chaney, Senior.

LON: There’s no Senior, really. The studios starved me into bein’ “Junior.” (absently) Dad was only 47, old as I am now…he was a real actor. Me, I’m just a mugger.

JOHN: On stage, you still do your own. I was playing Abraham Lincoln-- the director sent a make-up girl and her assistant up to help me. I told him that I always lay ’em myself, one at a time.

REPORTER: Who, the make-up artists? (Peter quickly whispers into Angie’s ear. Angie nods and grabs script pages, holding them like a stack of newspapers. John, of course, doesn’t notice.)

JOHN: The hairs--the crepe hairs. My beard! I always lay my own beard. It’s a lost art. Not many people do it anymore, very time-consuming.

ANGIE: Extra! Extra! Man lays his own beard! Police dragnet for Onan the Contortionist! Extra! Hairy Sex Maniac at Large!

PETER: I’ll take one of dose, please. (He pantomimes paying for a paper, and offers it to Karloff, who rolls his eyes.)


REPORTER: But in those old movies, those monster faces were made by --

BORIS: Jack Pierce! Brilliant artist. Best make-up man in the business!

LON: Yeah, best goddamn sadist in the world. That stuff stank, and itched, and hurt-- he didn’t care. Yak hair ’n’ seaweed ’n’ glue ’n’ God knows what kinda chemicals. It took eight goddamned hours to change me into the Wolf Man, and you can’t move a muscle. I won’t even mention the bathroom!

BORIS: And taking it off at the end of the day entailed a great deal of foul language!

BELA: Before Dracula, Pierce says to me, “We make a make-up of Count Dracula a most monstrosses man of any that’s always seen.” (chuckles) I ask, “What do you mean, ‘monstrosses man’? I don’t know this word, monstrosses.”

LON: Yeah, he was a little Greek. That accent.

BELA: Stubborn. Opinionated. He was a failed actor in silent pictures, bit parts, but he had not the voice nor the size to be an actor. Very short.

PETER: I beg your pardon.

ANGIE: That goes double from down here!

BELA: To be a leading man. So he says, “We make a monstrosses man even bigger than Lon Chaney.” I said, “Easy enough, Chaney is now dead since six months.” But Dracula must be seductive, like on stage. It isn’t so much a make-up; rather, expression.

LON: Yeah, my dad did a vampire in silent pictures. Had a mouth fulla shark teeth, and he screwed wire rings into his eyes to make ’em bug right out.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Must be weird, having a real monster for a father. Do you scare your kids to make ’em behave?

LON: Naw. In the old days-- I mean-- well, you never oughta hit a kid, ever.

PETER: Our baby is two. I leave the parental sadism to her mother. I get to be cuddly.

LON: That’s fine. I got two, Lonnie and Ronnie, by my first wife, and a grandkid comin’. Patsy an’ I tried to adopt one but… it fell apart.

JOHN: I’ve got five boys. Different mothers.

REPORTER: And I’ll bet they all want to be actors like you.

JOHN: I never encouraged them. It’s tough to follow in the footsteps of a successful father. Look at Lon, or poor John Drew Barrymore. Great burden.

BELA: I told my boy you must be a professional. An engineer, lawyer.

LON: But still, kids always wanna be like their dad.

JOHN: Ah. I saw my eldest boy in an amateur theatrical once. Backstage I told him how proud I was -- but that he did it all wrong. (softer) He got stuck in an orphanage when he was four. Legal problems, alimony… irritating.

LON: How could you do that to your kid? Leave him in an orphan asylum all alone?

JOHN: He wasn’t alone, his brother was with him. They needed discipline. The nuns gave it to ’em, boy. Best teachers in the world. (beat) Showed a film and the kids screamed it was Daddy on the screen, they weren’t orphans. Nobody believed ’em.

LON: But you can’t do that! Put ’em away like that--

JOHN: My touring company was completely booked--

LON: It don’t matter, you coulda taken ’em with you! They’d wanna be with their dad!

JOHN: My troupe hit thirty towns in six months. Kids? No, they belonged in school.

LON: They belonged with their dad! He shouldn’t-- you shouldn’t ought to have left ’em like that!

JOHN: I got ’em back. I’d never let it happen again. That’s why I take any job that’s offered. My boys’ll be fine. It’s
none of your business. (Near the desk, the Photographer shoots Bela and Boris looming over Ed.)

PHOTOGRAPHER: OK, now one with just the Dracula stance…(Boris steps aside; Bela poses with his hands outstretched. Angie clambers over, mounts the desk by way of the chair, his head nearly even with Bela’s.)

ANGIE: Hey, I can do that one, too! He taught me! (He poses like Bela, with both arms up, a parody of Bela’s menace.)

PHOTOGRAPHER: Yeah, the finger wiggle is great.

JOHN: Mmmm!!! Little sausages!!! (They turn: Sampling the hors d'oeuvre, John nabs a cocktail weenie and eats it. Angie waddles over to him, watching the gaunt actor stuffing himself. A script in his fist, Lon ambles over to Ed and Kenny.)


LON: Hey, why dontcha lemme read the gangster part? I could do that fine.

ED: Well, this isn’t precisely an audition.

KENNY: See, Karloff and Lugosi are playing the leads. (Lon glares at Boris and Bela. Ed tries to guide him away.)
ED: I was thinking, maybe you could create something special about your role, maybe a characteristic character walk… like you did with the Mummy… (Lon crumples the script in his fist, jabs a thumb toward Boris as Glenn re-enters.)

LON: Audition. What a gyp. That guy ain’t one bit better than me. Ain’t nothin’ he can do that I couldn’t do. Nor Pops, neither. I did Dracula good, in Son of Dracula.

BELA: Yes, good, if one can visualize the king of the undead as a truck driver.

LON: You still sore over that?

BORIS: Let’s not disparage truck drivers. I drove a lorry for two years-- cement truck, no less.

BELA: I don’t mean a real truck driver. I mean a man who looks like he drives trucks.

ED (desperately): But the Mummy. Three movies! I loved that!

LON (puts an unfriendly arm around Ed): You loved it. Tell ya what, chummy, wrap yourself in dirty bandages and a stinkin’ rubber mask in the San Fernando Valley every summer for three years then tell me you love that.

GLENN (defusing): Hey, Lon, why don’tcha pour me another, eh? (Lon gruffly moves to the refreshment table to pour Glenn and himself another big drink. Angie watches John stuffing food in his pockets.)

ANGIE: What’s the idea? Packin’ lunch for tomorrow?

JOHN: No, I just like to feed the birds.

ANGIE: Unh-huh. The birds like pickles?

JOHN: They love ’em. (Peter crosses to Bela, near the desk.)

PETER: He calls you Pops, took your role as vampire king, yet remains jealous…

BELA: You think, maybe a slight hint of Oedipus Rex?

PETER: Obviously. If we’re lucky, maybe later he’ll gouge out his own eyes. (John regales the Reporter; meanwhile, Bela gets closer, listening….)

JOHN: Oh, I did Dracula two or three times at Universal, and on stage. The studio didn’t want Bela, who was getting long in the tooth. A fine pair of eyes, though. (Boris joins Bela, who cups his ear, straining to hear-- and bristles.)

BELA: Bombastic ignoramus! I was the same year playing the vampire for Columbia, in a star part. I was not too old for them!

BORIS: Steady. Any publicity is good publicity, remember?

JOHN: But I insisted on playing it the way Bram Stoker described him in his original play, as an old man. We compromised and I wore a little white mustache. I also wore little white socks, but that was the fashion. Roosevelt’s son had died from blood poisoning in his feet, so everybody wore white socks.

BELA (cupping his ear): What on earth -- ? I can’t hear what he is saying.

BORIS: Be grateful for small mercies.

JOHN: I almost did Frankenstein, too. The studio said, go out to the make-up department. I saw this fellow stirring up plaster of Paris. I knew what he was up to, since I’m a sculptor myself, gonna make a life mask. (It’s Boris’s turn to bristle. It’s all rather too much.)

JOHN: I asked, what do you think you’re doing? He was going to make me up as a great awful monster. Oh, no, not on me, I’m an actor! Get Karloff, he needs the work. (Bela clasps Boris’s shoulder and wags a finger. Boris sighs heavily.)

JOHN: So Boris played it and got type-cast. He’s resented it ever since. (Boris grabs Bela’s arm and they cross to John. Peter, Lon and Glenn follow suit.)

JOHN: Unlike Boris and Bela, I’ve only done about three so-called horror pictures.

PETER: You mean dis month?

BORIS: Yes… Bride of Frankenstein with me, then later on, House of Frankenstein--

BELA: And the two we make together at Monogram.

LON: In the Mummy film where you played my priest, I got to throw you out the tower.

BELA: And when I leave Monogram, you then played a doctor in two more pictures, making Nazi zombies.

PETER: And dat Invisible Man film with Jon Hall where you played a scientist--

JOHN: You see, exactly my point. Those weren’t horror pictures, because I played a doctor. That’s a character part. And appropriate for me, since my mother was the first female brain surgeon in the United States.

REPORTER: The first! Really! So you learned real surgery!

JOHN: Absolutely. I insisted that the medical science in the scripts be authentic.

GLENN: Yeah, like that one where he transplants an ape brain into a woman and she turns into a horny gorilla every time she gets hot to trot. Pretty authentic!

ALEX: Oh, yes! Acquanetta in Captive Wild Woman, Universal, 1943!

JOHN: Never did a picture called Captive Wild Woman. (Kenny takes Ed aside. Sotto:)

KENNY: Frankenstein’s Monster just said “gorilla.” Don’t you feel… sleepy?

ED: No. Do you?

KENNY: No. But… maybe it’s just when… skip it. Let’s start, we don’t have all night. (The actors gather around the Reporter.)

REPORTER: What about method acting? Ever feel the urge to really murder people?

PETER: Only each other, and the occasional producer.

REPORTER: I mean, the styles of acting are changing-- Brando, Monty Clift, all the Actors Studio graduates-- it’s all more realistic now, isn’t it?

BELA: Those techniques began at the Moscow Art Theater-- back when Maria Ouspenskaya was young and pretty, if you can imagine.

PETER: It goes back to Stanislawiski and Boleslawski and all the other Slawskis.

JOHN: It’s all fustian. Best thing is to memorize Shakespeare. Otherwise, just say the lines and don’t bump into the furniture.

REPORTER: Yes, the famous line… who said that?

JOHN: I did. Just now.

2 comments:

Pierre Fournier said...

Great character sketches. Pitch perfect. Great anecdotes, too!

teenybuffalo said...

OK, this was hilarious. You do a very good Peter Lorre; he strikes exactly this tone of voice in all the interviews with him I've read.

I've no idea what Lon Chaney Jr. was like offscreen, but I can believe this interpretation all the way. Altogether, a very fun read.

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