ED (an unsubtle hint): Gosh, with all this talent in one room, we oughta do something.
PETER: You’ve actually got a point. Never mind dis horror crap. Why don’t we do something worthwhile for a change? Like Laughton does with Don Juan in Hell?
BORIS: You mean, something presentational--
PETER: Sure. We read poetry, talk about the great bad guys in literature and history --
BELA: In my stage act, I read a dramatic version of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart.
PETER: See! So did I! Now, dat’s de idea! Rasputin, Jack the Ripper --
BORIS: Maybe Bluebeard, even Sweeney Todd and his meat pies--
JOHN: Don’t forget the classics. Humpback Richard the Third, Iago--
BORIS: We’d need no sets or costumes, just a couple of podiums--
PETER: Exactly why I like it. No heavy lifting.
LON: I could do Of Mice and Men! (in character) “I like beans wif ketchup on ’em!”
BELA: We could show to the audience real acting. No mumbling and torn T-shirts.
LON: I done it on stage, too, y’know, with Wally Ford. (in character again) “Aw, tell me again about the rabbits, George.”
BORIS: Peter, you’ve hit upon an fascinating concept.
BELA: The masters of the macabre-- in an evenink-- of mys--tery…!
LON: “But I petted it too hard and it died, George.”
PETER: Okay, okay, you can do Lennie. Jesus Christ. (Lon grins, his head bobbing happily.)
ED: That’s all well and good, but-- let’s get down to the business at hand--
BELA: Yes, we have to try to pay some bills. (Peter’s enthusiasm instantly cools. It’s too good an idea.)
PETER: Yeah. Right. Some other time… well, back to latrine duty.
JOHN: If I may. (regally takes center stage) My fellow thespians and I are part of a glorious tradition. The mantle we wear is the heritage of Burbidge, Keane, Irving. Our sacred duty is to bring to life the concepts of the great writers. It is our signal privilege down through the ages to be allowed to declaim the dreams and aspirations of mankind. It is an honor that we accept with heartfelt gratitude. Thank you.
PETER: What does that have to do with this script?
JOHN: Nothing. I just felt like giving a speech. (Bela and Boris start to rise, but Ed gestures them to sit down.)
ED: Let’s save the best for last-- that is, we need to set the mood-- some exposition… Mr. Lorre, Mr. Carradine? The sheriff and Boronski…? (Script in hand, Peter ambles over to John’s side.)
PETER: How do you want us to play this?
ED: A mood of prolific tension, underlying undertones of sinister undercurrents, like Orson Welles’ movie The Stranger. (Peter and John look at each other blankly.)
JOHN: Fast. Front Page. Throwaways.
PETER: Overlapping? Fine. You got the first line. (Ed rushes across to fetch a script from the desk. John waves him off.)
ED: Oh, you’ll need a script.
JOHN: Nah, I’ve read the scene.
ED: Oh. All right, then… I guess… action… !
JOHN: “Seen you a lot the past few days, mister. Hear tell you’re askin’ a lot of questions. Writin’ a book or something?”
PETER: “Or something. A bit of a mystery, actually.”
JOHN: “Look here, stranger, we’ve had strange trouble these past few weeks and, well, strangers stand out like strange sore thumbs.”
PETER (out of character): Oh, now come on, is dat really the line?
JOHN (out of character): Word for word what it says in the script.
BORIS: I’m afraid he’s right, Peter. Carry on.
PETER: “Confidentially, I’m not a reporter. My true mission is… rather confidential. I recognize in you the air of the Sureté and Scotland Yard. I’ll bet you’re the local cop?”
JOHN: “Constable Dexter Young at your service. Nothing gets past me”
PETER: “I can see dat native intelligence glimmering in your eyes.” (Lon grins, then whispers in Glenn’s ear. The two big guys start giggling.)
PETER: “Obviously. Den I can confide in you. I’m actually an agent of Interpol, on the trail of -- “ (turns to Lon and Glenn) What the hell is bugging you guys back there?
GLENN: It ain’t nothin’-- just-- Lon said--(The big galoot tries to keep a straight face. Lon nudges him in the ribs and they both collapse in giggles again.)
JOHN: Well? Wanna let us in on the joke?
LON: I jus’ said, you two -- side by side--standin’ together, y’ look like the number 10! (They guffaw. Peter and John look at each other… (he’s right)… and move apart.)
PETER: How very observant.
ED: We cut to our juvenile delinquents, but since we don’t have an actor for the hero--
BELA: What about Angelo? He can read.
ED: Okay… and I can do the girl’s part…
ANGIE: Aww, nuts to that.
LON: Wait, what about Bubble Butt here? (He nudges the Reporter to her feet. With trepidation, she follows Angelo as he waddles front and center with a script. She reads off his copy of the script.)
ANGIE: “Hey, baby, gimme another one of those rock’n’roll kisses, the kind men like!” (He offers his cheek for her. As she bends down to kiss it, he turns his face and gives her a full kiss right on the lips-- and holds on for dear life.)
LON: Hey, what is this, a French picture?
REPORTER (dazed): “I bet the boys in the locker room would love to do that.”
JOHN: Do what, kiss a midget? What kind of locker room is it, the YMCA?
ANGIE: “That’s for my lips and your ears only, Shirley. It’s you and me against the square world from here on, now that we’ve eloped.” Hubba-hubba. Man, I like this part!
ED: Remember, you’re in a car. Miss, scooch down a bit. Angie, one arm around her. (Script in hand, Angie pretends he’s driving, reading the script as his “steering arm” moves back and forth. The Reporter squats uncomfortably.)
REPORTER: “This shortcut seems like a long cut. It’s so dark. Better use two hands.”
ANGIE: “I need one to drive!”
REPORTER: “Oh, you’re always kidding. That must be why I love you, that and your leather jacket. Oh, what’s that in the road? A head?” Eeuuw, really? A head?!
ED: No, that’s a mis-print. It should be “What’s that in the road ahead?”
REPORTER: Oh, sorry, I see. “In the road ahead.”
ANGIE: “I saw it too, but I don’t believe my own eyes or yours! Uh-oh, look out!”
ED: And they crash and tumble over each other. (Enthusiastically, Angie tackles the Reporter, who falls unceremoniously on her butt. The little guy is crawling all over her. She scrambles to her feet.)
ANGIE: Hey, I never get a chance at this stuff. Can we get Debra Paget as my girl?
REPORTER: Better her than me!
KENNY: That’s not a half-bad idea. Debra Paget--!
PETER: Oh, who gives a shit about Debra Paget?
ALEX: She’s in all the movie magazines.
PETER: People who read that stuff think it’s the epitome of glamour to wear lipstick and a dress. Nothing personal, Mr. Wood.
ED: Nothing wrong with lipstick and a dress. Okay, they come across the deformed Karloff, who leads them to the old, dark house of Dr. Varno, who he’s been looking for all these years. Bela, Boris, page fifteen? (Boris rises gamely, moves to center-stage with Bela.)
BORIS: Here comes the heavy… ! (He and Bela stand side by side, both with their glasses, professional and serious.)
ED: Okay, you haven’t seen in each other in years.
BORIS: I think we’ve got the idea, Mr. Wood.
ED: Guess so. And-- Action!
BELA: “Lobo, close the door. Now I shall open the cranium, and insert the radioactive isotope. Bring me a scalpel and the Gigli saw.”
BORIS: “There’s no Lobo here, Dr. Varno. Just me!”
ED: He turns on the lights-- and-- the big reveal!
BELA: “Wha--! Bateman! And your face… so gloriously grotesque!”
BORIS: “Your handiwork, doctor. All those years, with this face… people starin’ atcha’, thinkin’ you’re different… little kids seein’ you and screaming… what d’ya think that does to a man’s soul, doctor? And all ’cause of you.”
BELA: “Yes, Bateman. But wait! I can change that. By combining voodoo black magic with the power of the atom, I can do anything…!”
BORIS: “Doctor, I am your past… and your past has just caught up with you.”
BELA: “All these years, I waited, knowing you would hunt me, laying a trap for you!”
BORIS: “No, I haven’t. I have remained alive.”
BELA: “Alone… in secret… waiting…”
BORIS: “You wouldn’t dare, not now!” (out of character) I don’t think this is making a great deal of sense, do you? (They look at each other, then huddle together, looking at each other’s scripts.)
BELA: You must be on the wrong page. My line is “Alone, in secret, waiting.”
BORIS: That’s the next page… all right. (reading) “Now, through the war-torn world, I crawled through the slime to avenge myself upon the instrument of my destiny.” Whew.
BELA: “Without a doubt. Now we shall see who shall live and who shall die.”
BORIS: “In Europe, Asia, wherever there was a battlefield, wherever there was death!”
BELA: “Never. I shall always keep it.”
BORIS: “Under a rock, or outside your front door.”
BELA: “And when did you expect it?”
BORIS: “She screamed-- and ran. That was the last.”
BELA: You have the wrong script.
BORIS: One of us does, at any rate. (Ed dashes over, checks the scripts, and substitutes his for Bela’s.)
ED: Sorry. Page seventeen.
KENNY: That was one of your scenes, Ed?
ED: Yes. From the top of the page, please.
BORIS: “You… could give me my life back…?”
BELA: “Yes, and I will… but you must help me. Only then shall I reward you.”
BORIS: “I don’t like it… I hate it! But… I’ll help…”
ED: Great. Mr. Lorre, you’re up. Page twenty. (As Peter approaches Bela:)
PETER: “Oh, good evening, Dr. Varno. Lovely place you have here, I made myself at home. Perhaps you don’t recall me… Boronski?”
BELA: “Of the secret police. How could I forget my old colleague… who betrayed me, who would rather save his own career than help a friend.”
PETER: “Forgive dat slight indiscretion. Dere’s not much time and much to discuss.”
BELA: “Eight years in a frozen prison camp… my life’s work stolen… and now, exile. Oh, yes, we have much to discuss.”
PETER: “Yes, but now, we have the possibility of realizing your dream… our dream.”
BELA: “But here, Boronski, I am not without friends.” (Boris creeps up behind Peter and puts him in an arm lock.)
BORIS: “Gotcha! Do you want me to kill ’im? Twist his neck til the head snaps off?”
PETER: “Hey! Let me go! My God--- this son of a bitch looks like Boris Karloff!” (The spectators laugh. Ed seems a little flustered.)
ED: Okay, Boronski turns out to be a Commie spy, and they’re going to take over the world, but the monster’s escaped the castle again. (He gestures to Peter and Bela, who assume their positions.)
BELA: “Tell me where the monster is.” (Peter rises, walking down-stage, he script hanging at his side. He puffs on his cigarette absently. Has he heard his cue? It’s hard to say.)
BELA (prompting): “Tell me where the monster is.”
PETER: Better you should ask, who is the monster? (darkly) Oh, the killer, sure… he’s a monster because he does bad things… but he’s just a tool… who’s de real monster? (Alex looks at Eddie, who flips his script pages, points at the script, and shrugs.) The one who conceives the evil, profits from it, then sleeps like a baby. (Kenny Hyman sits up, mesmerized by Peter. Boris sighs.)
BELA (insistently): “Tell me where the monster is.”
PETER: Not far. He is never far away, is he? He’s with us every moment-- ready to spring. Or just look de other way when someone needs our help.
BORIS: Peter, we need to get back to the script.
PETER: Hm? You want me to do the script, old boy? (shrugs, glances at his script)
BORIS: Yes, just say the lines and let’s get on with it.
BELA (one more time): “Tell me where the monster is.”
PETER (reads, disinterested): “Oh, he’s out on the moor. Hunting.”
BELA: “Hun-tink! Ex--cellent!” (Bela sits down. Peter goes to the refreshment table, joined by Kenny.)
KENNY: I really liked that improvisation.
PETER: We did a lot of dat in Berlin in the old days.
KENNY: We ought to think about adding it.
ED: Well, that role is-- I mean, this is -- Bela and Boris-- they’re the stars--
KENNY: Sure, but if we’ve got Mr. Lorre, you ought to maximum his abilities.
ED: I’ll… contemplate a rewritten revision… Okay, the boy and girl end up out in the woods, they see a distorted shadow, and hear a terrifying noise! (Lon belches loudly.) Pretty close. Mr. Strange, could I get a monster growl?
GLENN (growls): How’s that?
LON: Hell, I can do better’n’ that. (growls louder)
ED: Good. We need somebody to scream--
LON: Here y’go! (Lon lifts the Reporter by the waist and hauls her front & center. She squeals. While Ed “directs” her; Lon grabs his Wolf Man mask and slips it over his head.)
ED: You’re terrified beyond all possible circumstance, surrounded by monsters! (She screams-- it’s half-hearted to say the least. Behind her, Lon gooses her with a GROWL-- she “screams” again-- but it’s still pretty lame.)
REPORTER: Sorry… I’m not really an actress. (John sweeps downstage--blocking her, his back to audience-- and whips open his overcoat like a flasher. She belts out a shocked shriek and runs out the door.)
JOHN (returns to his chair, satisfied.): Gets ’em every time.
ED: Okay, Bela, Boris, Mr. Lorre, page eighty-one.
PETER: I thought Boris killed me off already.
ED: No, no, he just scared you. You’ve thrown in with him, lurking in the background.
PETER (sighs): Okay. Lurking is so complicated. (They stand where they are, delivering the lines.)
BELA: “My conception is almost achieved! A new super-science that surpasses all predecessors! This puny town-- then the whole world-- shall transform into soulless, mindless automatons, obeying every suggestion I send to their minds!”
PETER: Republicans, huh?
BELA: “I can accomplish this atomic miracle-- but I need more time!”
PETER: “We need a diversion. I have an idea. Continue your experiment, Dr. Varno. I’ll be gone for a few hours… laying a trail…”
BORIS: “What’re you gonna do? There’ve been too many innocent people hurt already -- and that poor girl… she was nice to me…”
BELA: “That is none of your concern. Get back to the control! I warn you-- go!”(Excitedly, Ed runs to the desk to fetch a script for John.)
ED: Page eighty-eight, the constable, Boronski, and Willie the handyman-- (He runs over to John with the script, who waves him away again.)
JOHN: I read it, let’s just do it. “I’d never believe it, but it must be actual fact.” (Ed makes a U-turn, reading along through the script as they perform:)
PETER: “It’s your duty. Facts don’t lie, do they, Constable?”
JOHN: “No, sir. It all points to Willie, plain as day.”
PETER: “You don’t expect any difficulty, do you?”
JOHN: “Naw, he’s just like a big overgrown kid.” (Lon limps--in character--up to join them.)
LON: “Oh, hiya, Constable. What’sa matter?”
JOHN: “You been bad, Willie. You done those murders, no use denyin’ it.”
LON: “Aw, no, I didn’t do those things, Constable. I told ya, I never done nuthin’ bad.”
JOHN: “Willie, you done it and you’re goin’ to jail.”
LON: “No! That ain’t fair! It’s a lie!”
JOHN: “Come on. I’m lockin’ you where you belong--“
LON: “No! You ain’t puttin’ me in there again!”
(Lon brutally grabs John by the collar really throttles him. John flails flamboyantly-- then panics, realizing Lon is serious. Peter starts to swat Lon, but gets swiped to the floor, back-armed by the out-of-control Lon. Peter, in turn, knocks little Angie back, behind the desk. Bela goes to Angie. The group reacts, concerned. Glenn lurches into the fray and jerks Lon’s hands off John’s throat. Lon turns his fury to Glenn, pounding his chest, face twisted in fury. Lon’s cries become whimpers. His fingers curl into impotent fists.)
LON: Please. I don’t wanna go…!
GLENN (pats Lon’s head): It’s okay now, pardner. C’mon. Goin’ home.
LON (back to earth): Home … yeah… (covering) That was some real acting, huh? (Glenn helps the shaking Chaney out the door. The Photographer follows them.)
PHOTOGRAPHER: Oh, man, this is a picture I gotta get! (He exits, with Kenny Hyman in pursuit. Nonplused, Carradine pours a drink and slides into a chair, mostly unconscious.)
JOHN: Drunken lummox can’t hold his liquor. Cut him off. Never laid a hand on me. (Not noticing the exits of Hyman and the newspaper people, Alex and Ed attend little Angie, who waves them off.)
ANGIE: Lemme alone. I been in bigger fights.
BORIS: Well, is there anything further?
ED: I’d like to hear the last scene. (points to a page in Karloff’s script) The atomic ray starts turning the town into zombies-- that’s special effects stuff, we’ve got some great ideas-- you guys are in the lab-- (Boris nods, he and Bela move center stage. There is a silent moment.)
BORIS: How do you want to do this? Big?
BELA: Why not. Our last scene together. Maybe make it memorable.
BORIS: Over the top we go. You first.
BELA: “Triumph is within my grasp! I am avenged!”
BORIS: “No… ! It’s not right. They never hurt you, none of them.”
BELA: “What do I care of them? They are insects who will bow down to my genius!”
BORIS: “No, I-- I can’t let you… it’s not right…!”
BELA: “Be quiet, or you remain a hideous monster the rest of your life.”
BORIS: “Maybe it’s better that way-- it’s this switch, isn’t it, doctor? The red one?“
BELA: “Get away from there! Don’t touch that!”
BORIS: “Yes, maybe you and me do belong together!” (At the door, Ed flicks the overhead light off and on.)
ED: And… kaboom. The place blows up and… fade out. (Bela and Boris hand their scripts to Alex. John is slouched in a chair, “napping.”)
BELA: It went well, I guess, for a cold reading…
PETER: Cold? What are you saying? It stinks on ice!
BORIS: The dialogue could use a little work.
PETER: Work? It reads like it was translated by an illiterate Serbian fisherman! Never mind the phony civility. Not only does the Emperor have no new clothes, he’s got a little dick and hasn’t bothered wiped his ass!
ALEX: Perhaps if we gave your character more lines-- or a neat little death scene.
PETER: Yeah, in the first shot, so I can kill myself and get it over with. Boris, how can you lend yourself to dis-- dis cinematic abortion? You worked with Howard Hawks, for Christ’ sakes, Cecil B. De Mille!
JOHN (apropos of nothing): De Mille gave me my start. I was a sculptor.
PETER (continuing, to Boris): Douglas Sirk, John Ford! (Boris nods. John Carradine’s eyes open, but he’s still off in his own world.)
JOHN: I’ve done eight pictures for Ford, some of the best films ever made. Prisoner of Shark Island. Stagecoach. Grapes of Wrath…
BORIS: Peter, I try never to turn down work-- and there are other factors--
JOHN: Mary of Scotland. Drums Along the Mohawk.
PETER: Ah! Goddamned polite Englishmen.
JOHN: Four Men and a Prayer. Submarine Patrol…
PETER (to Bela): You played romantic leads-- Shakespeare, Molnar. Is dis what it’s come to? Making faces for some no-talent cross-dressing bum?
BELA: Lazzie, now I just try to make a living.
PETER: You want to be taken seriously-- but you surround yourself with gorillas and transvestites and Munchkins-- oh, nothing personal.
ANGIE: Sez you.
ED: Mr. Lorre, I recognize with impunity that you may have qualms with the scenario--
PETER: Qualms, impunity? Where did you learn English? What the hell is he saying? (Alex shrugs hopelessly, palms up. Beats the hell out of him.)
ED: But I assure you, whatever mistaken qualifications I may not have as a writer, I can more than maintain that as a director.
PETER: Director? Huh! Has anyone here except me even seen dis man’s pictures? Director? Dis guy couldn’t direct a lion to eat meat!
JOHN (from Mars): Daryl Zanuck used to say, “That Carradine’s got the goddamnest face I’ve ever seen.” Never knew what he meant by that.
PETER (to John): Three guesses. Be still! (Peter grabs his coat and shakes hands with Boris and Bela.) Well, it’s been an interesting debacle. Is it “de-BAHK--le” or “DEB-ackle?” I could never figure it out. English is so strange.
BELA (Hungarian): Remelen talakozunk, Lazzie.
PETER: Oh, we’ll work together on something.
ALEX: I assume this means you wouldn’t consider being in the picture.
PETER: Huh? Are you kiddin’? Imagine having this much fun for six weeks? I couldn’t keep myself away. I might even say some of his deathless dialogue. (Ed smiles-- wait. Was that a wisecrack? Karloff slips his overcoat on.)
PETER: If you’ll excuse me, I have go rehearse. (Peter does a lithe soft-shoe toward the door. John looks up, notices Peter dancing out… and meanders after him.)
JOHN: Hmmm? Is that a wrap? What time’s my call?
ALEX: I don’t know… thanks for coming… we’ll call… if we … make a picture…(John shrugs, walks to the door, grabbing a final sandwich and pocketing it.)
JOHN: Huh. I don’t get it. The whole point of this project was “Carradine Sings.” (He exits. Boris shakes Bela’s hand.)
BORIS: We’ll see each other again, Bela.
BELA: Of that I am sure. Thank you for this. (With a wave, Boris exits. Alex tidies up; Bela writes notes on his script.) Eddie, spell for me the name “Carradine”?
ED: C-A-double-R… A… D-I-N-E.
BELA: Thank you. What about “Chaney”?
ED: C-H-A-I… nope! C-H-A, N-E-Y.
BELA: Good. And now… “Karloff.”
BELA: Can you please for me spell the name “Lorre”?
ED: Oh. L-O-R-R-I-E. No, no. R-double-E. No, L-O-double-R-E. That’s it. Lorre.
BELA: Correct. And last… alphabetical… “Lugosi.”
ED: I got that memorized. L-U-G-- Oh. I (dawns on him) Oh, gee. I -- Oh, oh, Bela!
BELA: Yesterday, I am the only horse on the track-- and now, I am running fifth place out of five, and the race has not even begun! However, I insist on having the giant cowboy Strange in our picture--
ED: Oh, that’s awfully nice, considering --
BELA: -- since I want at least one actor who is not billed ahead of me! Alpha-betical! (Exiting, Bela exits, slams the door. Alex and Ed look at each other-- then little Angie appears from behind the desk and jogs to the door, with a parting shot:)
ANGIE: Alpha-betical-- phooey! (He exits with a slam. Alex gathers script pages from the floor-- then-- what’s the use. He tosses them on the couch.)
ALEX: I’m going. Did you notice when Hyman left?
ED: Somewhere between the dwarf and the strangling.
ALEX: Well, I think we killed any chance that we’ll make this picture. Or any. Ever. (heads for back door) Just put the lights out when you leave. (He exits. Ed opens the desk drawer and pulls out the angora sweater, caressing his face with it as he crosses to the door. He turns the knob -- nothing. Again-- locked tight.)
ED: Oh, hey, Alex. Hey. Hey! HEY! (He reaches into his pocket-- no key. He runs to the desk, plowing through the papers. Nothing! He grabs the rotary telephone and dials “O.”) Hello, Operator, I’m-- hello? Hello!?! (The phone’s dead, of course. He slams it down and runs to the door, pounding.)
ED: Alex! I’m stuck in here! It’s locked! Come back! I can’t get out! (runs to the window in growing panic, opens it and yells) Karloff! You swiped my goddamn key!!!
BLACK-OUT AND CURTAIN