One more time… you really had to be there, but you couldn’t be – just lonesome writer me again, this time writing in an unfamiliar environment.
The lyrics for an attempt at ripping off Shakespeare have just been added to my gumbo website https://georgecomeauxliterarygumbo.com/scripts/henry-mcleary-part-vii/ .
I now add “Act 1” to the title of my original scriptus interruptus, and will explain in the three act drama about to unfold.
ACT 1: Background and Motivation
Facing a six- or eight-week ROTC summer camp between junior and senior years in Massachusetts, I accepted an invitation to stay three weeks with classmate John in Trumbull, Connecticut. While John and his parents were at work, I was planning to use this relative isolation to start another musical. If my memory is correct, that is where I completed Act I of this project, with breaks in the concentration to amble about a mile to a nearby EJ Korvettes and pick up some more Broadway albums.
With my adolescent experiences with “literature” basically centered on adventure (King Arthur) and sports (mostly baseball), I was very much neophyte in my English Major costume. Combined with course requirements of one religion/theology course and one philosophy course each semester, I developed a bit of a sarcastic attitude when it came to grades: Jesus gets an A+, Shakespeare gets an A, and we all scramble for what’s left behind. I had just taken a semester of Shakespeare’s Comedies, and written my term paper, with scene-by-scene charts, on the similarities and differences in characters and plot among Plautus’s Menaechmi Twins, Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, and Rodgers and Hart’s musical, The Boys from Syracuse. (Before this writing interlude, John and I had seen a production of The Boys from Syracuse in New York City.) My very esteemed professor was very complementary, noting that he had never seen a written comparison of the three comedies, and awarded me an A-, a top score for my station in literature. I felt, however, that my analysis was more an engineering report than a literary contribution.
At any rate, with this background, I thought it would be fun to take on the world’s foremost wordsmith, and add in a sprinkling of social and worldwide political commentary, from the viewpoint of a pre-adult who didn’t know much about the world at that time (in other words, my deep southern conservative views on full display, but retained for historical accuracy. I have not revised the original script in an attempt to convey wisdom and maturity.).
ACT 2 – The Writing
Henry McLeary, an inspector at Scotland Yard
Beth, Henry’s fiancée
Gretchen and Gwendolyn, daughter and mother witches, and Brigette, a third witch
Duffy, King of Scotland
William Spearmint, Assassin
Gustav, the new king
Gustav, Jr., Adolf, and Joseph, Gustav’s three sons
Clarence, aka “Hothead”, his father “Headache,” and his son “Headstart”
Watson, an applicant for assistant investigator
Wilhelm, another new king
Bud Miller, newly appointed assistant. (N.B. In my youth, Falstaff was a major beer brand. According to Wikipedia, the Lamp Brewery of St. Louis renamed itself Falstaff Brewing Corporation in 1903 after Shakespeare’s character. Production ceased in 2005, the rights now owned by Pabst Brewing Company. Just in case you’re wondering about the inspiration for “Bud Miller”.)
Sirs Winken, Blinken, Nod, Lotoluck, Dragstrip, Drumstick, Hardly, Placard, and Lyndon, noblemen plotters all.
Malcolm, one more new king
Henry McLeary is an undersized, emaciated inspector at Scotland Yard. He laments his station in life in “Too Little, Too Late,” then faces Beth to explain why he showed up two days late for their wedding. She rejects his re-proposal, saying she wouldn’t marry him if he were the King of Scotland. Henry salvages his pride in “McLeary,” imagining what he would do if he were King of Scotland.
The witches are brewing a “Revolutionary Stew” to make them eternally young. (Herein the sophomoric social and political lyrics.) King Duffy wanders into the scene to ask about a dream he had of being stabbed in the back, at which point an assassin sneaks in and stabs him in the back. Chaos and chases ensue as the witches chase the assassin into the woods, where he trips over Inspector McLeary sleeping at a tree trunk, and falls on his own knife, mortally wounded, except for a few last words. McLeary attempts to surrender to the assassin until he realizes he is dying, then moves to arrest him. The assassin introduces himself as William Spearmint, a former Inspector, who had learned while browsing Holyhead’s Book of Royalties that although he was a common bastard he was actually eighty-eighth in line of succession, and was determined to do something about it. He explains his methodology to McLeary, “You Can Get Away with Murder if You Try” (for some reason, one of my favorite, evil-twin-brother lyrics: “You can get away with murder if you try; You can climb a few steps higher making other people die; There’s nothing quite absurder than a bloody perfect murder; You can get away with murder if you try!”) McLeary takes notes, Spearmint shows him the book, and they discover McLeary is in the book at ninety-seven, and, after subtracting Spearmint’s accomplishments, plus Spearmint’s death, will be eighty-seventh. So McLeary stabs Spearmint to accelerate his demise, and starts out on his new career path. He envisions the opportunity his wedding next week presents, and imagines taking out at least fifteen royalty. A recurring “Pop Goes the Weasel” strain plays, and McLeary counts, “I’m eighty-seventh in line for the throne, I won’t even waste a minute – I’ll kill fifteen at the wedding next week, POP! —> Seventy-second!”
Now Chief McLeary re-connects with Beth, who explains “All I Want Is Love.” Beth wants a big wedding, with royalty invited. Henry brews up two batches of wine, one for royalty, the other for everyone else. As the “Death Waltz” plays, guests dance around and drink around, and all royalty present, including Hothead and Headache, but not Headstart, fall to the royal punch. McLeary celebrates, “POP! —> Seventy-second!” (Note that not all executions will be dramatized!).
In a forested ghostly setting, King Gustav’s Ghost sings “My Three Sons,” forecasting vengeance for his murder. Gustav Jr., Adolf, and Joseph take over the scene, argue about who should succeed, call in their royal friends, and they all kill each other. McLeary arrives on the scene, counts the bodies, and “POP! —> Fifty-seventh!”
McLeary is appointed head of Scotland yard, interviewing job applicants: Watson, Headstart, and, in disguise, Wilhelm, the new king with a heart problem, investigating the investigator. Beth appears with important news but McLeary sends her away. He interviews Bud Miller, an inexperienced five-foot two-inch two-twenty pound sloth and hires him instantly. An explosion occurs from a chemistry set McLeary gave Headstart to share with his twelve royal nephews, all blown away by the experiment. “POP! —> Forty-fifth!” McLeary leaves with his new assistant Headstart, and Beth laments, “Where’s the Man I Married?” She’ll have to tell McLeary about the pregnancy later.
Nine noblemen meet on a hillside for a council of war: Sir Winken, Sir Blinken, Sir Nod, Sir Lotoluck, Sir Dragstrip, Sir Drumstick, Sir Hardly, Sir Placard, and Sir Lyndon. The leader sings: “I say something is rotten in Scotland. You can’t trust nobody, no more. So we’re looking for some strong noble man, To be king for a day – or two, three, or four!” Several of the nobles present their case, after which McDuffy’s Ghost coaxes each into the woods. “POP! Goes the Noble!” Each perishes. McLeary removes his Ghost mask. “POP! —> Thirty-fourth!” After he leaves, Bud Miller arrives with sword drawn, notices the corpses, smears his sword with blood, and rushes to report his exploits to McLeary.
As Bud Miller tells McLeary how he slayed the dead, McLeary reveals they were all noblemen. Bud Miller confesses ignorance, then falls asleep. McLeary pores through his list of remaining targets, and discovers a Duffy he has overlooked. He wakes up Bud Miller and sends him to find out who E. Duffy is. As he leaves, Beth returns, McLeary tells her he has about thirty-three things on his mind, barely hears the word “pregnant,” on review catches on, immiediately shifts to forgiveness mode, and accepts her forgiveness. Bud Miller returns, rather than interrupting just points at Beth, “She’s the one!” Perplexed, McLeary confesses to Beth he forgot her anniversary. She responds “All men do.” He further confesses he forgot her maiden name, Elizabeth Duffy. Perplexed, he sends her away and re-examines his situation. Humanitarian that he is, he concludes his ambitions must yield to new life, family comes first, and throws Holyhead’s Book of Royalty into the trash. After he leaves, Bud Miller returns, trips over the waste basket and the book falls out. He discovers “Miller” in the listing, at one-hundred-sixty-four, then notices cross outs and concludes he’s about one-hundredth in line of succession, leading to his fantasy, “Bud Miller!” (Another favorite line: “But they haven’t defeated BUD MILLER! – Let ‘em laugh ‘til their larynx’s burst!”)
New King Malcolm finds McLeary asleep at his desk. McLeary says he heard King Wilhelm died a natural death and asks if Malcolm is the new king. Malcolm asks what is McLeary doing about the twenty in his family who recently perished, and King Elroy, King Charm, and King George? McLeary hears “POP” —> “Just eleventh!”, then confesses he has been in a stupor since Beth died birthing his son Half three months ago. Malcolm warns him that he and Half may be on the list, and relieves him of his office. McLeary clears his office and leaves, wondering what’s wrong with his country, twenty-three new murders he knew nothing about. Bud Miller, wielding a blooded knife, enters his new office: “POP” —> “eight-first!”
End of Act I!
ACT 3 – The Script Dies A’Borning
I had no idea how Bud Miller was going to play this game of thrones in Act II, but the chariots crashed when my Father read Act I and responded, “I don’t like any of the characters.” (He had previously laughed out loud while reading some of my high school themes.) It was his honest response, but I had never taken courses in rejection, and it felt like an instant THUD! Maybe behind it the ghost of Shakespeare was morphing Jim Croce’s “You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Will.”
(I have to acknowledge two successful playing-with-Shakespeare plays I have seen, mainly because my nephew Jamie was one of the principal performers: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, David Singer, and Jess Winfield in 1987; and I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick in 1991. Both were appropriately scholarly, non-farcical, with likable characters.)
I’m not sure where my engineer Father’s insights came from, and I appreciated the analytical genes he blessed me with, but sometimes he would come out with some spot-on literary gem, or sentimental observation of nature. I remember especially a couple of his personal observations about Time being our most precious Treasure; and about live cut roses, though their presence is quickly vanished, bringing far more joy than the imitation versions; and one particularly personal reference directed to me, a bit of a disturbing honor: “more skilled to raise the wretched than to rise” (from Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village,” 1770) – that comment after witnessing my first and only basketball refereeing gig as an emergency fill-in in an elementary school game when I was but a mere teenager. What did that mean? And where did it come from? Whenever I have been in a sub-position trying to exercise authority, that prophecy echoes, and the results seem to confirm his insight, and I have to admit feeling comfortable in support roles.
In my recent efforts to corral previous literary attempts onto an internet cloud, and enable downsizing my treasured clutter, I found my original typed version, circa 1964, of Henry McLeary, and re-discovered my Father’s handwritten notes. Some were actually very complementary: an actual “guffaw,” a few “ha’s” and a “clever,” one “GREAT!,” a sentimental “the song is so tender and sad…”. Then there was an occasional cliché criticism, and a counterbalance to the previous exclamation point, “UGH,” at one of the baser emotions at the end of Act I, probably the lead-in to the “no likable characters” comment. Not that they should have been likable, but maybe endearing? Maybe it was a blessing to kill the project there, and maybe I would have had no bullets left to get through another hundred pops of the weasel.
But, the lyric’ing was the fun part, and merging the wiseassing reactionary feelings with the evil-twin-brother imaginings kept me energized and passed the time waiting for my remote ROTC training summer.
And the next time my subject matter is assassination and murder, I’ll try to add in some “endearing” qualities to my characters, maybe channeling… Tony Soprano?