Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
1. Submit a piece to Times They Were A-Changing . Thanks to help from my critique group–especially Marlene Howard, I got that revised and ready to go in mid-December, almost a month early.
2. I wanted to complete my full-length screen-play, correctly formatted, etc., etc. by December 31, so I could send the ms. to Cynthia Whitcomb. She assured our class that she would critique completed screenplays–as long as they were post-marked no later than January 2. Mine was delivered today at 2:59pm.
Act II of this screenplay is drawn from diaries my father, as a West Point cadet, wrote between May 15, 1936 and February 1, 1938. I read a bit of the first notebook when my sister Barbara found them after Daddy died in 1994. This time I immersed myself and enjoyed three unanticipated enlightenments.
(i) I learned a fair amount of West Point slang, including the fact that, in the mid-1930s, “B.S.” meant “British Science,” in other words, “prolonged discussion.” Coincidentally, my husband was reading a book by an American Air Force officer who, among many other things, was stationed in England in 1962. Gary read aloud the bit where McPeak says that the British “had advanced social skills, elevating conversation as a team sport to Olympic levels.” I love serendipity.
(ii) I became aware of the bizarre juxtaposition of technology that Daddy confronted. In “summer camp”, 1937, preceding his First Class year, he went directly from:
“INT. B-10 BOMBER IN FLIGHT OVER FISHERS ISLAND, NY. DAY.
SUPERIMPOSING: Wednesday, June 17 1937
John, in coveralls and shoes, squats next to the port in the tail of a B-10 during a 3-hour simulated bombing mission. It’s cold at 7500 feet, John shivers as, in awe, he watches bombs drop from the bomb bay of the ‘ship’ he’s in and those of the other planes in the formation.”
EXT. CAVALRY HIKE WEST POINT. DAY.
“It’s still pitch dark and raining hard. John and Dupuy, in ponchos, ride together across a short wooden bridge, just in front of the team of pack horses pulling a machine gun. The pack horses break into a trot when they hit the bridge and the hollow sound of their hooves in the dark terrifies John’s horse. She plunges and twists on the road. John gathers the reins and strokes her neck in an effort to settle her down. She seems a little more calm, then rears straight up and falls over backward onto John.
John slides out of the saddle to the right as the horse rolls to the left, pinching his left thigh. The horse immediately scrambles to her feet and runs off down the road. John stands, rubbing his leg , looking after the horse.”
(iii) I realized that Daddy probably would have been much happier as a journalist. Some parts of his diary are extremely vivid and moving. I knew that he had written for the Pointer, the monthly West Point magazine produced entirely by cadets. But I didn’t know until I read the diary the great sense of accomplishment he felt as his skills in this field were acknowledged by others. He wrote Books, Records, and Movies columns in his Second Class and First Class years.
INT. POINTER OFFICES, WEST POINT. DAY.
SUPERIMPOSING: Thursday, March 25, 1937
That’s exactly what I wanted to hear, since I have two little
surprises for you. First, O’Malley’s writing a piece about the
Catholic Chapel; another in the series that you wrote your piece on
the Old Cadet Chapel for. He can’t do the movie column this time,
can you whip something up?
Sure, I’ll do it, although I don’t know how I’ll fill up
a column with only two shows to write about
instead of the usual four. What else?
Well, ‘Blimp,’ I guess you’re next year’s Managing Editor.
Luper’s convinced me that you’re the man for the job.
Luper and John leave Seedlock’s office and meet O’MALLEY just outside the door.
Glad I ran into you, J.R. Thanks for taking on the movie column
for me—again. In fact, I’m just here to tell Seedlock that
I think you should write the column for a while. It gripes
me to admit it, but you do it so much better than I do.
I’ll be happy to.
O’Malley goes into Seedlock’s office. John and Luper shake hands again and slap each other on the back.
Daddy fancied himself a writer way back then, who knew?
What’s that line… about apples not falling far from the tree?
Oh, yes, what will I do with the screenplay? Use it as an outline for the memoir, I think…