4th excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

I also need to explain what “T.Z Buster” means in this snippet. It stands for “Twilight Zone”. The premise of my story is that the prop “time machine” helmet Buster wore in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” actually works and has taken him on a trip back through his life.

In this scene Buster meets Eleanor, the love of his life …

********************

EXT. THE MGM STUDIOS – 1938 – DAY

The gate of the dream factory bustles with people.

INT. BUSTER’S MGM OFFICE

A small room packed with tables, PEOPLE play bridge.

IN THE CORNER

Buster’s erector sets: the three foot tall nutcracker, the two foot tall cigarette lighter, etc.

T.Z. Buster leans over and attempts to set the most complicated cigarette lighter on earth into motion, but someone beats him to it, passing in front of him and sitting just in time for the machine to light his cigarette … it’s Buster (age 42).

He sits, back to the wall, playing bridge with THREE MEN: a Pipe Smoker, a Gum Cracker, and a Cowboy. A RUNNER navigates through the crowd and comes up to Buster.

RUNNER

Mr. Keaton, they want you on the Marx Brothers’ set. They need another bit.

BUSTER

Are all the brothers present?

RUNNER

Two of ‘em.

BUSTER

Well, when they find number three, come get me.

The Runner leaves.

BUSTER

God, I hate goin’ over there.

GUM CRACKER

Did Groucho really call you a has-been?

BUSTER

To my face.

PIPE SMOKER

Buster wouldn’t laugh at his jokes; made him mad.

BUSTER

When he does somethin’ funny, I’ll laugh. He’s gonna end up good ‘n wet, the next gag I put him in.

Gum Cracker and Pipe Smoker share a look. It’s time to egg Buster on.

PIPE SMOKER

They’re the kings of the lot.

BUSTER

That set is nothin’ but chaos. Scenes that should be one minute run on forever so one of ‘em can mug for the script girl. Not that I care what they do.

GUM CRACKER

The director’s a good guy.

BUSTER

He’s why they’re out of control! And he won’t move the damn camera. There’s a reason it’s on wheels, ya know.

PIPE SMOKER

Not that you care.

COWBOY

Dang, I’m late.

The Cowboy leaves his cards on the table and rushes out.

BUSTER

Hey! At least finish the hand.

A ruckus breaks out at a table by the door. A tasty blonde, Eleanor (age 19), throws her cards on the table.

ELEANOR

Call me stupid again, Bastard, and I’ll knock the snot out of ya!

Eleanor and Buster catch each other’s eye.

BUSTER

This table’s bastard free, if you care to sit in.

Eleanor considers it, gets her things, goes to the table.

BUSTER

You can partner with me. Haven’t played much?

She sits across from Buster and plays the cards left by the Cowboy. They finish out the hand as they talk.

ELEANOR

I wanted to learn Bridge. I heard there was always a game goin’ on over here. You all writers?

PIPE SMOKER

Pipe down! You want people losing respect for us?

ELEANOR

Somebody respects you?

(To Buster)

I’ve been to a few writer parties. Never saw you there.

BUSTER

I’m no writer, just a gag-man. Us gag-men go home to mother every night.

GUM CRACKER

And brother and sister and other sundry free-loaders hanging around his house.

BUSTER

Pay attention to the cards.

(to Eleanor)

Your play, kid.

ELEANOR

I’m not your kid, buster! Name’s Eleanor. And you are…?

BUSTER

Buster.

ELEANOR

Hilarious. I don’t need to know who you are. I just want to figure out this dumb game, ’cause it’s not gonna get the best of me.

They play cards. Buster steals a few glances at Eleanor. She does the same at him.

BUSTER

So, what’s your story, ki … Eleanor?

ELEANOR

My dad was a carpenter here for years, ever since the place was Metro Pictures. It paid for dancing lessons, so I dance.

BUSTER

My old man got me started in the business, too.

Eleanor makes a bad play.

BUSTER

Now, that was a mistake. You didn’t sacrifice. Partners have to sacrifice to each other.

ELEANOR

That’s how to win?

BUSTER

Only way I know.

They finish the hand. Eleanor checks her watch.

ELEANOR

Criminey! I gotta get!

She stands, gathers her things.

BUSTER

Don’t be a stranger.

She gives him a smile and heads out. He watches her as she leaves. Pipe Smoker and Gum Cracker glare at Buster. He notices the look.

BUSTER

Aw, she’s half my age for the love of Mike.

They continue to glare.

BUSTER

I avoid all trouble, blonde, brunette, or redhead.

They glare on.

BUSTER

I’m cured! Will ya shut up!

Finally convinced, the men return to their cards.

EXT. TRAIN STATION – 1940 – DAY

Buster (age 44) and Eleanor board a diesel train. Bride and groom sport simple bouquet, boutonniere, and 1940s style.

The few well-wishers include Pipe Smoker and Gum Cracker. Their hands are behind their backs. They share a dubious look.

Rice showers down on the newlyweds. An old shoe comes flying at Buster’s head. He catches it. A second shoe. He catches it, too. He is miffed at the practical jokers. The train pulls out.

Gum Cracker and Pipe Smoker laugh and shake hands. The shoes come flying back, one hits Gum Cracker in the head, the other catches Pipe Smoker in the stomach.

 

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3rd excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

In the summer of 1918, Buster leaves his new life in film to become a soldier.

********

SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT

From “The Butcher Boy”: Roscoe shoves Buster; he falls and does a head spin.

From “His Wedding Night”: Buster, in a wedding dress, laughs and winks.

From “The Bell Boy”: “Bell Boy” Buster and “Guest” Joe Keaton tussle in a hotel lobby with a mop and pail.

From “The Cook”: “Waiter” Buster and “Cook” Roscoe dance as if they belong in a harem.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s slinky dance …

END SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT

INT. ROSCOE’S EDITING ROOM – 1918 – DAY

… pull back to reveal Buster’s slinky dance is on film running through a moviola. Roscoe sits in front of the machine editing “The Cook.”

Standing behind Roscoe, Buster (age 22) examines a reel of film up to the light. He is not happy.

BUSTER

Where’s my bit with the tablecloth?

Roscoe pulls a coil of film from a garbage can, drops it back in.

BUSTER

You liked it. You laughed.

ROSCOE

I liked it, I laughed, I can’t have thirty seconds of subtle in a twenty minute short.

BUSTER

So we keep on givin’ ‘em the same tired routines.

ROSCOE

Buster, your pa did nothin’ but throw you across a stage two shows a day, and folks ate it up for nineteen years.

BUSTER

And when I joined this crew I thought it was about tryin’ for something different, something better.

ROSCOE

Everybody sittin’ out there is twelve years old. They want to see us plastered with pies and knocked on our asses in as many ways as we can figure out.

BUSTER

You’re wrong.

ROSCOE

And who is the boss here?

BUSTER

You are, Chief.

ROSCOE

Correct. Now splice the reaction shots into this first reel.

Roscoe returns to his work on the moviola.

BUSTER

No.

ROSCOE

Aw, get over it ya touchy little girl.

BUSTER

No. I quit. I got an offer; I’m takin’ it.

Angry, Roscoe turns and bellows at his employee.

ROSCOE

You ungrateful weasel. I teach you everything I know. Give you more say than anybody around here, and I don’t even get in the bidding?

BUSTER

(hint of a smile)

You can’t top Uncle Sam.

Confusion then shock replaces the anger on Roscoe’s face.

ROSCOE

What? You got drafted? You’re goin’ to France!

BUSTER

That’s where the war is. I gotta report tomorrow. I was gonna head out early to start packin’, if the boss don’t mind.

ROSCOE

No, go on … it’s … Jesus!

At a loss, Roscoe gets up and goes to Buster. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his wallet, takes all the money out and offers it to Buster who is astonished and pushes it away. Roscoe presses the cash into Buster’s hand and folds his hand over it.

ROSCOE

You might want something better than dog chow once in a while.

Roscoe’s eyes well with tears. 

ROSCOE

You got a job here, see, so you better not ….

Roscoe chokes on his words, hugs Buster. Unable to deal with deep emotion, Buster pulls away after a moment, keeping it light.

BUSTER

No worries, Chief. I’m the Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged, remember?

With a smile, Buster pockets the money, grabs his coat, and departs. A devastated Roscoe sinks back on his chair.

EXT. ARMY RECRUITING OFFICE – DAY

Buster gets out of Natalie’s Packard and grabs his bag from the rumble seat. Natalie slides over from the driver’s seat to the passenger door and gets up on her knees to face him.

She is Awkward Incarnate as she fumbles a ring from her pocket. It slips. Buster catches it in mid-air. She puts it on his finger, it won’t slide down. He helps. She fondles the ring on his hand.

NATALIE

Remember me.

She pecks him on the cheek, pushes away, hops back to the driver’s seat and drives off. Buster watches, unreadable.

He hefts his bag and joins one of the two lines of MEN at the Recruitment Center. An army SERGEANT with a clipboard comes out of the building, walks to the line Buster is in.

SERGEANT

All you men with draft notices stay in this line. If you’re enlisting get in the other one.

Buster picks up his bag and moves to the other line.

********

I realize having a moviola in this scene is historically inaccurate since the editing device was not in production for this purpose until 1924, but it ties in with the previous scene and works better as a transition. Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie ….

2nd excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film, here’s another excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but readable.

Buster Keaton and his first wife, Natalie Talmadge, were married on May 31st, 1921. This is my interpretation of their wedding. Natalie narrates from her letter to Buster over silent action.

**********

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – DAY

Buster is in bed with a broken leg. Near the window, his staff: Eddie, Fred and Clyde argue and point at Buster’s leg. Buster watches them apathetically. A tray of half eaten food is in front of him.

 A NURSE clears plates from the tray. Buster’s father, Pop Keaton, enters. He throws a letter on the tray, and joins the fracas at the window. The letter is from Natalie. Buster opens it. Reads.

NATALIE (Voice Over Action)

Buster, how are you dearest? I was

horrified to learn of your accident,

but knew it was only a matter of

time; you take such dangerous

risks. I wish I was there to

nurse you and ease your pain.

Buster puts Natalie’s letter on the tray, grabs a deck of playing cards from the night stand and lays out a game of Solitaire.

NATALIE (V.O.)

I think mother has finally given up

on me being an actress, since I

didn’t get very kind reviews in the

film I did with Norma. I keep busy

answering Constance’s fan mail.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Queen of Spades.

 

EXT. POP AND MYRA’S HOUSE – LOS ANGELES – NIGHT

Installed on the front porch, Buster is a shadow backlit in front of the picture window. His cast is propped up on a pillow. He draws deeply on a cigarette. He’s restless, fidgety.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Owen has been coming in from

Chicago more often, neglecting his

business terribly, I’m afraid.

He reaches into his shirt pocket and takes out Natalie’s letter. It’s tightly folded, several times over. He manipulates the letter through his fingers as he watches traffic go by.

NATALIE (V.O.)

He’s taken me to the theater

several times. We’re practically

regulars at the Club DeLuxe.

Buster’s mother, Myra, deposits coffee and a sandwich on a table beside her son. He stuffs the letter back in his shirt pocket. Myra exits. In the dim light from the window, Buster takes a sip of coffee and continues a game of Solitaire laid out on the table.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Mother thinks Owen will soon

propose to me.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the King of Diamonds. He lays it beside the Queen of Spades.

 

EXT. POP AND MYRA’S HOUSE – BACK YARD – DAY

Buster is on his feet. The cast on his leg is smaller. Using crutches, he shuffles to a wicker chair. The strain of idleness lines his face. He takes Natalie’s crumpled letter from his pocket and smooths it out on his leg.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Joe and Norma finally returned

from Europe to start her new

picture.

Buster’s sister, Louise, approaches with a tray. Buster re-crumples the letter and stashes it under the chair cushion. Louise sets the tray on Buster’s lap and tosses a box of playing cards on it. Ubiquitous Solitaire.

Buster’s brother, Jingles, and Louise start a game of catch near him. The THUD of the baseball in their gloves grows louder and louder.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Joe says if you and I were to wed,

our family would be more important

in the movie business than

Pickford and Fairbanks.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Ace of Diamonds. He lays it above the Queen of Spades and King of Diamonds.

The SOUND of the baseball abruptly ends.

 

INT. TRAIN COMPARTMENT – DAY

In a smart suit and tie, Buster sits near the door of the compartment. A gold handled cane is beside him. His Solitaire is laid out on a valise on his lap. He is calm.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Buster, if you still care for me,

all you have to do is send for me.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Jack of Hearts. He hesitates then lays it below the Queen of Spades.

RETURN TO SCENE

Buster looks toward the other end of the seat. Natalie, in a white, tea-length dress, is curled up with a magazine, a bridal bouquet beside her. She looks up at Buster and smiles.

 He puts the cards and valise away and holds out his hand to her. She slides over to him and rests her head on his shoulder as he wraps his arm around her. Buster stares out the window. The lush scenery streams by, turning from vivid color to…

BLACK AND WHITE

EXT. TRAIN

The engine steams through the landscape toward the setting sun. It races over a high trestle——DERAILS off of it.

TITLE CARD: “Many a honeymoon express has ended thusly.”

CLOSE ON: A toy train derails off a bridge.

END BLACK AND WHITE SEQUENCE

 

INT. BUSTER’S SCREENING ROOM – DAY

Buster along with his staff: Eddie, Clyde, Elgin, and Fred watch a screening of the toy train derailment from Buster’s comedy short “The Blacksmith”.

 

Too Smart Dog

IMG_2804

To begin with, four criteria were non-negotiable: female, short hair, no chance it would grow over twenty pounds, and No Lip Droops (the dreaded lip droop, renowned for its saliva dispersing capabilities).

Childish pleading would not dissuade me on these points.

If I was sentencing myself to thirteen dog-years of inconvenient labor, those unhappy years had to be endurable. Cleaning up after a hairy, slobbering behemoth that danced with everyone’s shins would have put me in a foul mood, necessitating the exclusion of my photo from all future family scrapbooks. I could not compromise the four criteria.

One would think I’d have a better opinion of our “best friends” since my parents always maintained a panting flea-bus or two when I was a kid. I like dogs.

As an adult, I took in my Grandmother’s toy poodle, Pepper, after Gram decided the six pound yipper was too much trouble. When the poodle passed on to the dog park in the sky, I found myself dogless for the first time in my life and experienced an epiphany. It was pleasant not having a dog.

I could go to work, or sojourn from home whenever I wanted, unfettered from feeding and toilet routines. No longer wondering whether the old thing cried at my absence. No more trips to the vet or groomer, no more flea treatments or kibble to buy—I had extra money! Besides, I was married, with my first child on the way—which meant goodbye extra money, but all in all, well worth the effort. Why replace old Pepper-poodle? I would proceed through life sans pet.

A year-and-a-half later, with a little further help from hubby, our son was joined by a daughter. We had successfully reproduced ourselves. The circle of life was complete. Who needed additional species to look after? Eventually, my beautiful babies became happy, inquisitive children.

Children who started begging for a dog.

Resistance was futile once my son and daughter discovered I’d had a dog when I was growing up. Damn you, logic and fair play! Assurances were pledged. The children would handle all care and feeding, without question or cajoling. Hearts were crossed. A triple promise made. With ironclad guarantees like this, how could I hesitate? We struck the bargain.

To avoid the expensive prices and genetic disorders of purebreds, I telephoned the local Humane Society and asked if they had any puppies available. Unfortunately, they did, but not at their location. They gave me an address thirty minutes away.

In an era before Google Maps and Garmins made travel possible, the kids and I set off along the gravel, rollercoaster backroads of Carroll County. Three wrong turns and two threats to turn back home if “we couldn’t find this idiotic dog mill” later, we spied our destination. Under the shade of a gnarly silver maple sat a chicken-wire coop full of yapping puppies. Near it stood, not the ramshackle trailer of a dog hoarder, but a neat, well-kept mobile home surrounded by a floral landscape to rival Versailles.

The children sprinted to the canine-coop while the lady of the manor greeted me. Still concerned regarding future poop-size, I inquired about the pups’ parentage. The owner promptly led the way inside the trailer and introduced me to the father, a Taco Bell brown Chihuahua. He had escaped one day for a romantic encounter with the woman’s outdoor dog, a friendly tan and white beagle, a bit over twenty pounds.

Hair, short… size, acceptable… lip droops, none…. Check.

As the lady and I strolled to the dog-coop, she informed me that out of a litter of ten, one had already been taken. The nine remaining pups displayed the extremes of doggie temperament: from gyrating excitement, barking against the chicken wire to shy, furtive, and shivering in the corner.

Except for one.

In the middle ground between chaos and fear stood a calm little soul in the center of the straw, swaying its tail in greeting. Not afraid, not nutsy. A sleek, smart-looking black and tan which stood out amongst its rough-coated, Taco Bell siblings. It was unclaimed—and it was female. Checklist complete.

Steering the children to my choice was no trouble; all they wanted was four legs and a tail. Suggesting the name I liked proved simple, too. All I said was, “She’s cute as a pixie,” and they seized on it. Though, whether she’s Pixie Dust or Pixie Stix is debated to this day.

Had I realized at the time, the little orange cat hanging around our house would soon force itself into the role of family pet, the presence of an additional “Pixie” would have been moot, but that’s another story.

Seven-pound Pixie began her tenure in our home by teething on my new dining room chairs. Her hacksaw fangs nearly chewed through one of the cross supports. Amazing! She tested her choppers on the cat next and received a lesson in respect.

Since we have no fence (and because Alzheimer’s Disease begins in childhood), I was drafted into taking our new addition to the ivy bed several times a day for her toilet. Now, a quick warning to the wary, when the four ingredients of: residing on a hillside, a dewy morning, worn down sneakers, and a doggy leash combine, the result is three broken middle toes. Remarkably, the snap-snap-snap and hard fall truly do seem to happen in slow motion.

After my toes healed, I deemed, for my health and the dog’s, it behooved us to take a daily walk on level ground. Imagine my surprise when our jaunts revealed the sturdy, no-problem mongrel I had counted on turned out to be a cripple with bad knees. Two operations and sixteen hundred dollars later, we resumed our exercise.

Having owned a hound for several years now, I can confirm their reputation for laziness is not a cliché, as it concerns my half-beagle, anyway. Though Pixie enjoys her daily constitutional—so much so I can’t put my shoes on without a display of excitement, nor say the word walk, nor even spell it without her zipping for the door—describing her as an active dog would be false. When not walking, begging for food, eating, or relieving herself of the prior action, Pixie is sleeping. Twenty-two hours a day on average. One tummy rub and she’s out. Sunbeams lull her into a coma. No one dares flop onto a couch or chair without checking behind pillows or under throws first as she may be nesting beneath them. Moving her risks an indignant grunt or resentful stare.

Of course, lazy is one thing. I was not prepared for the true, pernicious nature of this subversive canine.

Pixie is too smart.

I’m not talking learning-to-roll-over smart; she mastered that in a day, as well as “bang, play dead” “sit up and beg” “speak” and “wait for the treat on your nose.” Oh, no! This dog can roll herself in a blankie and go nite-nite! Whisper sweet-nothings. High-Five. And, not just dance, but exhibit two kinds of dancing. One, a hip-hop jump, the other, well, Deedle-deedle-dee the first notes of Turkey in The Straw and she performs ballet—all for rewards no bigger than a fiber of chicken or single nugget of cat chow.

Pixie is the hungriest hound in Northeast Ohio. Never was a dog so motivated by treats! If the animal realized one intelligible word would garner a slice of bacon, she’d recite the Oxford English Dictionary.

She covets food with criminal intent. Pushing chairs tightly against the dinner table is law in our house; unguarded plates are soon emptied. We elevated the cat’s litter box to prevent Pixie snacking there. The four-legged Grinch stole a bag of beef jerky from my son’s Christmas basket. She dug up a mole and shook it like a tambourine for tenderizing. Only the quick action of my fearless daughter saved the poor critter’s life. Mouse parts, discarded outside by the cat, are gobbled down in seconds if we lack vigilance.

Bad enough, but the maniacal part is Pixie creates elaborate schemes to get food. And I’m not talking ordinary dog methods like stalking toddlers, waiting for a cookie to drop. Oh, no. This benign-looking beagle works up sinister triangulations to steal snacks.

It’s unsettling to be outwitted by a pet.

Once, I put my feet up to savor some cheese and crackers in front of the TV. Pixie trotted to the sliding door and voiced her three-syllable grunt. She needed to go outside. I put my plate on the end table and got up to get her leash by the door. When I got there, she was gone. In the two seconds it took me to walk from couch to door, the dog raced around through the kitchen, back to the living room, climbed onto the arm of the couch, and scarfed down the last of my cheddar and Ritz.

I’m ashamed to admit she tricked me the same way the very next night! Fool me twice, so the saying goes. From then on, my plate traveled with me. Pixie was not discouraged, hatching an even more elaborate plot.

To keep the dog out of unattended wastebaskets, we installed a gate at the bottom of the steps when she was a pup so she couldn’t forage through the house. One evening, not long after the previous theft, Pixie again asked to go outside. My mistake was not securing her to the leash before opening the sliding door. She bolted into the night.

Normally, once she realizes she’s free, not even rattling her treat jar will bring her back (the promise of feasting on tasty garbage throughout the neighborhood is too great), but not this night. As I called for her, I suddenly heard her barking at the front door of the house. I went back inside, climbed the steps up to our front door, and looked out the glass. There she was, crying and scratching to enter, so I obliged. SWOOSH! In she careened because she knew—she was on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GATE.

She scrambled to my son and daughter’s rooms as if her tail were on fire. My children (having long since left the enforced neatness of childhood) maintained at the time two teenage wastelands, which they called bedrooms, where anything from moldering cake to cement pizza crusts littered the floor. Nothing escaped Pixie’s mouth. A navy SEAL team could not have been more thorough, or fast. She was uncatchable.

To this day, Pixie and I engage in a contest of wit and wills. Will her patience and my tendency to spill cereal win the day? Will I be driven out of my wits trying to outthink this dog?

One might be concerned, and rightly so, that Pixie’s endless stomach capacity and Einstein level I.Q., poses a threat to human dominance over the planet. But, allow me to quench all fears. A responsible, low cost spaying and neutering program rendered this Machiavellian mutt incapable of breeding at four months old, saving us from a race of super-canines.

Yet, as Pixie snoozes beside me enjoying her daily neck rub, a question remains. Were her siblings also geniuses? Did they get the thirty-dollar snip? And if not, can humanity survive? One can only wonder… where are those nine other Bea-huahuas now?

Where Are They Now!

 

 

Excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film, here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

This is the day in 1917 that Buster changed trajectory from stage to screen.

*****

VOICE (Off Screen)

Buster!

Buster turns. The VOICE belongs to a squat little man in his fifties, LOU ANGER. He’s dressed in a heavy overcoat and derby hat circa 1917. Lou walks toward Buster, reaching out to shake hands.

Buster shivers. Staring at Lou in disbelief, he extends his hand. Lou approaches … closer … closer …

EXT. TIMES SQUARE – NEW YORK CITY – 1917 – DAY

Buster (age 21) shakes Lou’s hand. Falling snow speckles their coats.

LOU

Well, if it ain’t free, white … and twenty-one?

BUSTER

Hey, Lou.

LOU

Good to see ya, kid. I heard the Three Keatons broke up.

BUSTER

Yeah.

LOU

Finally got tired of Joe kickin’ the crap out of ya, huh?

BUSTER

You can shut up about my old man! He made me!

LOU

Aw, don’t get in a snit. Got a job?

BUSTER

At the Winter Garden.

LOU

So, it’s Broadway Buster, now.

BUSTER

Guess so. You look prosperous. Where ya playin’?

LOU

I gave it up. I manage a moving picture studio for Joe Schenck.

BUSTER

I don’t go to the flickers. Pop says nobody legit would ever appear on a bed sheet for a dime.

LOU

My boy, it’s taking over. I’m on my way there now. Come have a look.

BUSTER

I dunno, I been rehearsin’ all morning.

LOU

Roscoe Arbuckle’s on the set – –

BUSTER

That fat slob! He stole two of the Keatons’ best gags in that last picture of his!

LOU

I thought you never went to the movies. Besides, there ain’t no Three Keatons no more.

Buster thinks a moment then motions for Lou to lead on.

EXT. COLONY STUDIO

The studio on 48th street is a warehouse three stories high.

INT. COLONY STUDIO – GROUND FLOOR

Buster and Lou enter, shaking snow off their coats. A sign in artistic script signifies that this level of the building houses the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation. Several stage sets indicate a film under production.

NORMA TALMADGE, age 22, and her husband, JOE SCHENCK, age 37, are together on the set. He rants. She ignores him.

LOU

That’s the boss, Joe Schenck, and Norma Talmadge, you know, the actress. He married her six months ago.

(Lou nudges Buster)

Can you believe a beauty like her wakin’ up next to that ugly mug every morning? What money can’t buy! The Talmadge girls have the first two floors—the two talented ones anyway.

They head for a staircase.

COLONY STUDIO – SECOND FLOOR

CONSTANCE TALMADGE, age 18, is in the middle of a scene. PEG TALMADGE, mid-50’s, sits like a queen off to one side.

LOU

Constance Talmadge, a real up-and-comer. That’s the mother, Peg. Watch yourself around her and those three girls of hers. She’ll make you a eunuch with a look.

Lou hurries up the next flight of stairs. Buster moves a bit slower as he takes it all in.

BUSTER

Three girls?

He climbs the stairs.

COLONY STUDIO – THIRD FLOOR

A messy chalkboard heralds Comique Film Productions.

CREW members work on tasks. Behind Buster, Lou waves to get the attention of ROSCOE “FATTY” ARBUCKLE, age 30. He’s dressed for a comedy scene: high-water pants, checked shirt, and “way too small” bowler hat.

Roscoe spots Lou and Buster. Lou points to Buster, mouths “Keaton” then gives a thumbs up; Roscoe acknowledges it. Buster catches the signal and Lou returns a sheepish grin. Buster’s expression shows he realizes this is a set-up. Roscoe walks over, grabs Buster’s hand, and gives it a vigorous shake.

LOU

Hey, Roscoe, this is – –

ROSCOE

Buster Keaton! I’ve been a fan of your family for years. We’re just getting ready to shoot a scene … care to wet your feet?

The handshake turns into a tug toward the set, but Buster let’s go and puts his hands in his pockets.

BUSTER

No thanks.

ROSCOE

Stick around and watch. I’ll show you the place when we’re through.

Roscoe parks Buster by the cameraman then steps onto the set, a two story interior of a general store, complete with trolley ladder, barrels, canned goods, and a bulldog.

A chalkboard with scene and take numbers, titled: “The Butcher Boy” rests against the camera. Buster picks it up. A crew member yanks it from his hands and holds it in front of the camera lens.

The lights come up, the cameraman grinds, the chalkboard is taken away, Roscoe and company do their thing. The ensuing knock-about comedy holds little interest for Buster, but …

THE CAMERA.

Buster’s gaze fixes on the CLACKING Bell and Howell. Strips of film litter the area. Buster kneels and picks a long curling piece off the dusty floor. He eyes it closely, takes a sniff. He holds the film up to the light. The negative images dance as he slides it between his fingers.

If there is love at first sight – this is it.

Roscoe’s scene ends. He comes up to Buster who stands.

BUSTER

Think I’ll try it after all.

Roscoe smiles and slaps him on the back. Buster lets the film slip through fingers.

*****

Before the end of this day in 1917, I show Buster meeting his future wife, Natalie Talmadge, at the studio, but that’s a bit more than I wanted to put here.

I realize my poor old screenplay will never be an actual film, but, more than anything, I’d love to hear a dramatic reading of it, with real actors, just once. Oh, well ….

The Stray

 

Maow border

I never grew up with cats. Never cared for cats. Never wanted to own one.

So, let me tell you about our cat.

Just before my children were introduced to puberty, I finally succumbed to the constant harangue for a pet. I received guarantees and solemn oaths they would take charge of all care, feeding, and cleaning. Realizing the law does not enforce contracts made with citizens below the age of eighteen, I reserved veto power over any potential critter itching to shed fur in my house. After settling my mind to inevitability, we contacted the Humane Society and picked out—a puppy.

The black and tan, Chihuahua-beagle mix suited my requirements: female, short hair, and an adult weight of not more than twenty pounds for ease of yard clean up—yet not too delicate to take for a walk. Said dog worked out well even though she is the laziest, hungriest hound in Northeast Ohio. But that’s another story.

Now, about the cat.

An old saw declares: you don’t pick a cat, a cat picks you. Well, I never thought it would happen to me.

About the same time I was harnessed to a dog, we took note of a kitten in the neighborhood. An orange-striped tabby that shied away when anyone came near and never stayed for long. The southern end of our property borders a lake. We often spotted the little cat meandering along the breakwall, gazing at the sparkling water.

Turning aside pleas to give the poor kitty a home, I assured my tender-hearted children that the cat looked well fed and no doubt had an owner. I cautioned them regarding police involvement, and arrest, if we stole someone’s cat. To cut off further argument, I reminded my progeny of the dog we already possessed. A dog daily leaving broken promises all over the yard.

With that, I put the expensive cat-tempting can of tuna back in the cupboard and assumed the matter was over. What a fool’s paradise.

Eight years later, the orange cat pussyfoots through her domain—our former home—dander and hair whirling off of her as she goes. My daughter likes to remind me how rare the cat is since only twenty percent of orange tabbies are female. I remind my daughter that twenty percent of her DNA is Neanderthal and she might want to check her brow ridges.

The cat became ours because one day she just wouldn’t leave. Nobody ever came looking for her. Imagine that. She maneuvered in on us so gradually, we never got around to naming her. She named herself with the only sound she ever makes: Maow, pronounced like Chairman Mao. Despite the name, there is no indication she holds Communist sympathies.

I warned the children that at the first bite, scratch, or use of our floor as a toilet, out she would go. To her credit, Maow intuited my bottom line on these subjects and never sank below them. Cats are smarter than they look.

Aside from intellect, there are other cat qualities I have discovered from my association with Maow.

First off, I never realized cats were boneless. With a body the consistency of muffin mix, Maow has the uncanny ability to “ooze” through a person’s hands making her hard to hold let alone train. A laughable idea, but remember, I had never been owned by a cat before.

Second, I was shocked to discover “Morris” lied. Cats are not finicky about food. The orange sleep-stealer comes to my bedroom door at five-thirty every morning, wailing, “Mom. Mahhmm. Maahhhmmmm!” She will not stop until I get on my weary feet and feed her. Our trek to the food bowl is fraught with danger. She takes the lead going downstairs, but freeze-frames every third step in an effort to trip me. The cat has not considered the sketchy prospect that, once I’m dead, she will have to rely on the children to feed her.

Third, aren’t cats supposed to be lithe, agile creatures? Maow was fifteen pounds at her last weigh-in. She resembles, in body and attitude, a certain lasagna-loving cartoon cat. One friend suggested we name her Basketball. How is this possible on a half-cup of cat food a day? And no ordinary food will do. It has to be a pricey “sensitive-stomach” brand for this porky puss. Low-cost alternatives are quickly redeposited on the floor.

The obesity must result from her dietary supplements: mice, chipmunks, baby rabbits, and inattentive birds. Maow isn’t greedy. She shares the fruits of her hunt with us poor humans, bringing them to the front door … all headless. Who knew heads were so fattening? And why just heads? Is she some kind of zombie?

Fourth, cats don’t like being alone. While Maow can only tolerate a few seconds of petting and holding, she detests an empty room. When proximity to a human is accomplished, she’ll sleep ten hours, wake for a wash, then roll over for another solid eight. A pillow is essential. Maow’s favorite is the dog, but this takes effort. Pixie is a blanket-burrower by nature. To find her, the cat checks quilts and throws the children leave bunched on couches and chairs. Poking each one as if she were testing bread dough. Once Pixie is detected, Maow climbs on top of the lump and spreads her bulk over it in an attempt to suffocate her rival. The dog thwarts Maow’s evil intentions by surviving—leastwise, at the time of this writing.

Lastly, I never subscribed to the mythology that cats have nine lives. Until Maow used one.

One deceptively sunny afternoon last winter, with the thermometer just above zero, the cat scratched at the glass on the sliding door to go out. I warned about the chill, but she insisted.

Now, the precise feelings of a cat are difficult to interpret from its expression. Expression being a relative term since a cat’s face never changes, only the geometry of the pupils: slits to round, the former signifying annoyance, the latter, bewilderment.

The moment Maow stepped onto the icy deck she looked back at me accusingly, like I had turned the furnace down. I opened the door to let her in. Dithering kept her outside. I reasoned, in ten minutes she would regret her indecision and scratch to reclaim her comforts.

I was wrong.

After an hour of puttering around the house, I remembered the cat and went to the sliding door. She wasn’t there. I opened the door and called her name … no cat. I checked with my husband in his office upstairs. No, he hadn’t let her in and she didn’t accompany him to the garage when he went out for a smoke. I inspected the garage myself in case she’d snuck inside. No cat. I let it go. The bright sun was probably keeping her fur warm enough while she trailed some future headless creature. My feet were numb, so I hurried back to the house.

The kids arrived home at suppertime and I mentioned the cat had been outside all afternoon. I was loath to call her “missing” since that term carries panicky implications. My daughter ran to the sliding door with the one thing that might temp Maow back to the house: her plastic food container. She shook the noise-maker and yelled Maow’s name over and over. Still no cat.

Fresh snow from the previous night showed paw prints stretching away from the house, down to the frozen lake. Though daylight was waning, my son bundled up and followed Maow’s path. He lost her trail a couple of houses over where the neighbor’s dogs had trod.

Then it was dark.

We left the outside lights on as a beacon for our wayward feline, but she didn’t come back.

Periodically that evening, my husband, my kids, or I went outside to circuit the house, rattle her food, call her name, or meow in sympathy to beg her return. I sent out an APB on Facebook and included a photo. It received numerous “Likes” and encouraging “Comments”, but again—no cat.

After midnight, the temperature was ten degrees below zero. Maow had spent nights outdoors before, but that was in summer. I stayed downstairs on the couch in case there was a scratch at the sliding door. The dog and I curled up under a blanket. Before settling in, I had tried to put Pixie out for a few minutes, but she refused. It was too cold.

Two strands of thought pulled at my mind as I dozed in front of late night TV. In one, Maow was hunkered in a temporary shelter with an unfortunate companion, awaiting the sun to warm her before strolling home. The other vision was of spring thaw and the muddy remnants of a cat-shaped piece of fur on the side of the road.

Hopeful that dawn would reveal her pathetic face at the sliding door, I drifted off to sleep.

As dusk descended on a second frigid cat-less day, hubby remained certain Maow would wander home. The children swore a stranger must have picked her up and was caring for her, because she was such a nice cat. I agreed with them, to keep up appearances, but logic and probability pointed to only one conclusion: Maow was gone for good.

Thinking back, it can be argued that my husband was right. Or my children were right. Or there is a glimmer of truth in feline folklore. But my own belief is, occasionally, God grants orange miracles.

Just after seven o’clock on that second sub-zero night, I heard a familiar scratch.

Maow sauntered in, jumped up on her table, sat by her food dish, and stared at me—irritated at my lack of preparedness to provide for her empty, sensitive stomach.

Later that evening, in an uncharacteristic display of affection, Maow padded onto my lap, reposed facing me, like the Sphinx, and permitted me to rub her chin.

Kitty was home … and welcome.

She has never spent a night away since.

Tracy S. Wolfe

First Post

Since I have no idea what I’m doing, I’m going to forge ahead and just start typing. As my mind is now a shapeless void, I will attempt to insert a picture for inspiration …

buster valentine's day

I always find Buster inspiring and lovely, but I will attempt to corral my devotion to my favorite dead man to Tumblr.

Boy, there were a lot of “to’s” in that last sentence, two too many, in fact. I have to work on that … I shall work on that.

I also have a terrible tendency towards alliteration. I love alliteration.

To sum up: this blog–I actually typed “bog” which might be a more appropriate term–this blog will feature my thoughts and opinions whether anyone wants them or not.

Who knows what the future holds.