A Novel by Robert N. Lawson
Chapter 1--Romeo and Juliet
The morning of June 5, 1975, as they'd agreed, Christine Curtis took her
father out in the boat behind which she'd water skied so gracefully the
day before, for the privacy it gave them to talk about her future.
She stopped across the inlet from their cabin, where they could see it
There she sat, in the other end of the boat--Grendel, now definitely her dog, lying across her feet, as if asleep--a high school graduate. She was truly the image of her mother, Betty Fredricks, when Jack had first met her, then directed her in Shaw's Pygmalion, at the University of Kansas, the summer of 1955. Twenty years ago. The Betty who became Cleopatra in New York. And the Countess Rostovna in the film version of the countess's life among the stars in Hollywood (when she, too, had once been young) for which Jack had written the script. Yes, as beautiful, and as ambitious, as her mother had been.
Christine, looking back up at the cabin, said, "She and Jordan died right here, arguing over me--whether I'd be her Juliet here, or play Miranda to his Prospero in New York first. When, as Uncle Henry told us, Mother left me everything--Shangri La, her interest in these film contracts and the Players Company in New York, her insurance policy . . . everything--then I knew."
"Yes, you're independently wealthy. Much wealthier than I am. You even own that Ferrari parked down there."
"The Players probably own that. Everyone knew it was Jordan's, but he never owned anything. He just drove it. He taught me how to drive in that car, you know . . . and I do love it, too . . . for his sake. I drove it most of the way across the country with him reading Mishima in the passenger's seat."
"But you don't have to do anything. Retire to Shangri La and read Japanese novels yoourself. Go to college . . . even back at Wellington, where you were born. Laura'd like that."
"I want to do what Mother was doing. Be an actress. She never wanted to do anything else, did she? That's my real inheritance from her. First, I want to do the film of Romeo and Juliet. Uncle Henry says Mr. Best is still willing, if you'll support me--as my father and his friend. And will direct the film. The Nurse will have to be re-cast, of course.
|No one will be able to play the
role like Mother." Jack thought she might be going to cry, but she
could already control her tears. "And Capulet." She paused,
as if reflecting on what might have been. "In memory of Mother.
Then do The Tempest on stage in New York . . . as we did
and Juliet . . . in memory of Jordan . . ." Another pause.
"With a different Prospero. Uncle Henry says maybe we can
do that--if you'll direct that, too. I can't . . . direct anything
yet. I know that. But you can. Will you help me . . .
do these things?"
She looked him in the eyes. Did she know what she was asking? But it was as if he were looking into her mother's eyes, and he'd never been able to refuse them anything. So, he'd agreed: first, they'd film Romeo and Juliet, with Randall as producer and him as director. Then they'd see. As Laura pointed out to Jack later that day, "She not only looks like Betty did at that age, but she's becoming more and more like her temperamentally--she wants her way . . . on everything."
"Her mother is not her only model," Jack said. "It's the countess, too. She told me, 'Yes, I want Juliet on film while I'm young, the way the countess did Desdemona in the '30s.' That would've pleased that good old woman." Jack smiled to imagine it, as Laura just shook her head.
Christine was becoming very demanding, but tried to be diplomatic with her father, since he tended to cater to her wishes anyway. She could keep reminding him what her mother, or Jordan, had told her about playing Juliet in New York. And, from the first, he could see that she was a great Juliet, as Betty had been a great Eliza twenty years earlier.
Christine saw it as her responsibility to be in charge now, as part of her inheritance from her mother. Ever since Christine had known her Betty was in charge. That sense of her new self was reinforced by Thomas, who now treated her as his "princess." In his 60s, he'd become used to living
|alone at Shangri La, with Midnight,
and sometimes Grendel, and his garden. He evidently enjoyed just
taking care of things there, "for the young lady." But when she was
there he would do anything she asked him to. He drove her everywhere,
still dressed in his chauffeur's uniform, shopped for her, and cooked most
meals when she was to eat at home-- for her alone, for her family, for
her guests. He was an excellent chef, and took pleasure in teaching
her about wines, and European decorum. Christine loved being
with him, and they would most often speak in French.
When Christine was there, Thomas shared domestic management with Laura, however. He was careful not to infringe upon her sense of taking care of Christine, as she did back in New York--for Thomas never left Southern California. Shangri La was his domain, and Christine was his mistress there. As the countess had been. As Betty had been.
But this new sense of herself put her in conflict with Ben Winston, her Romeo. He was not only proud of his own performance, but of his years on stage. He had been with the Players Company since it was founded. "Then here comes this totally inexperienced high-school girl." In New York, he'd been somewhat condescending to her--an actress with that single high-school performance, as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, behind her.
He had been quite close to Jordan. He played Octavius to his Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, Achates to his Aeneas in Jack's adaptation of the Dido episode in the Aeneid--and (where Jack had come to realize just how close they were) the Student to Jordan's Mishima in Jack's modern Noh play, Mishima. That was in the summer of 1973, while Betty was getting to know Christine by exploring Paris with her.
When they'd done Romeo and Juliet in New York, Christine had been surrounded by advice, a lot from Jordan,
|as Capulet, but more from Betty,
playing the Nurse, on stage with her half the time. But Ben
still expected her to accept his advice, too. She had in many things
in their scenes. Now, however, it was as if Christine had indeed
become Betty, insisting that her judgment prevail.
She was just learning about camera angles and lighting, and wanted the important close-ups to be on her, show her at her best. She argued with Ben over the pacing of the delivery of the parts of the sonnet they exchange in their first meeting in the film, and just when, and how, they should kiss for best camera effect. In the death scene at the end, she wanted Juliet's death, coming last, to top Romeo's. Ben resented this, knowing Christine usually got her way with her father.
But Ben honored Jack, for his experience in the movie business, and because he knew Mishima so well, since Ben, like Jordan, had become enamored of the Japanese author. Jack, for his part, told Christine not to antagonize Ben too much. "We'll be working with him back in New York on The Tempest, where he'd probably be your Ferdinand . . . and then on other things.
"Oh?" Christine responded. "If I'm getting too old for Juliet, he's certainly too old for Romeo . . . or Ferdinand."
Jack smiled, to himself. "Well, he is a good actor--and may be a useful liaison with the other members of the Players Company. So be nice to him. About Ferdinand, we'll see."
She tried to be friendly, but it wasn't easy. People liked to think they were each other's Romeo and Juliet in real life. But, wherever they were they were arguing, not just about the interpretation of their roles, but about everything--who'd pull whom water skiing, where they were going to have dinner . . . everything. Neither was much attracted to the other as a date, in fact--but for different reasons. Betty had been happy to be bringing Ben out from New York--to be keeping
|the same Romeo and Juliet team.
And Ben was happy to be getting his first chance as a movie star, in a
tested vehicle, where he'd already received good reviews. But he
remained condescending--to everyone--and was characteristically sardonic
in wit and comment. While Jack encouraged him, along with other cast
members, to come up to the cabin to fish, swim, hike in the woods, perhaps
water ski, he had no particular fondness for Ben, either. He tried
to avoid him off the set as much as he could--without making it too obvious.
Ben had not been the only actor Betty had invited out from New York, though some who'd intended to come changed their minds once Betty and Jordan were dead. They were not sure the Players Company could continue to exist in New York without them, let alone this film without Betty.
But Ralph Reed, who'd played Montague in New York and hadn't planned to come out for that, had agreed to play Capulet. Now in his late 40s, Ralph had known Betty and Henry ever since they'd come to New York together in 1957, and Jordan before that, for they'd lived together in London. He, too, had been with the Players from the beginning, off and on, but wasn't as assertive as Ben in claiming this seniority. He was Jack's friend as well--from playing Saigo Takamori in Jack's Mishima-- and they got along comfortably. But his closer friends were Henry and Laura, with whom he had worked a lot over the years, and they convinced him Capulet in the film version was a role worth coming to California for.
They also had Arthur Cane, the Tybalt of the stage version, who thought of himself as Ben's best friend, now Jordan was dead. He was more sociable, but something of a braggart--always talking about himself and his conquests--though few took him seriously. He said he'd rather play Mercutio, but Christine told Jack he'd be better as Tybalt, a role he already knew, and which suited him better.
Most of the cast were California actors, however. Many were
recommended by Randall Best, Jack and Laura's friend since they'd first
come to California, with two-year-old Christine, in 1958. He'd found
both film opportunities, Laura as actress in television soap operas he
produced, Jack as scriptwriter, for TV and Western movies. He'd also
been instrumental in introducing Jack, then Betty, to the countess.
Randall had recommended Marjorie Salem, one of the stars on his longest-running soap opera, Orange County, whom Laura had known, and admired, for years, for the part of the Nurse. She was a much more grandmotherly Nurse than Betty had been, which required Christine to adapt, but, a true professional, Marjorie did most of the adapting.
Jack found himself particularly attracted to another cast member Randall had recommended, young Charlie Morgan, whom they cast as Mercutio. Randall had known Charlie's parents for years, both actors, and had been cultivating Charlie, in three different TV series, since he was thirteen. He told Jack he thought Charlie was ready to reach out, could use some live stage experience. Jack had him read with Ben and Arthur in his audition, and, though a somewhat muted Mercutio in that reading, Jack and Christine liked him well enough to cast him. They were happy they had when he began to pull out all the stops in rehearsal, though Arthur resented Charlie's having been given the role he'd wanted.
What most attracted Jack to Charlie, however, was that Charlie had graduated from the same high school Jack had, Hoover High, in Glendale, California--though Jack graduated in 1946, Charlie in 1974, almost thirty years apart. And Charlie was currently enrolled at Glendale College, where Jack had received an AA degree in 1950 (before Charlie was born). Then Jack had gone to UCLA to major in accounting for half a semester--before dropping out to head North.
"You must have been a better student than I was," Jack said. "In
my senior year I'd spend a day a week at the race tracks when Santa Anita
or Hollywood Park was running."
Charlie laughed. "Well, I didn't do that," he said. "And got pretty good grades. But I'm not doing too well in French right now. Christine makes fun of me about that. Her French is really good. But I may drop out of school--if I can go to New York with you." Jack liked Charlie well enough that he was even inclined to encourage a closer relationship with Christine, telling Charlie, "She might be willing to help you with your French," thinking that might be good for her, too.
Charlie didn't ask her to help on his French. But he did take her advice, which she gave freely, as she watched his scenes, coaching him on pronouncing Shakespeare's lines, as Jordan had her--which pleased Jack. For a while Charlie began to teach Christine gin rummy when they had time to kill on the set--but she was soon beating him, and lost interest. Then they began inviting Charlie, too, up to the lake. Jack might even go fishing with him, or just sit and talk about Glendale.
Charlie more often went out in the boat with Henry, however. But seldom to fish. He'd read to him, or they might play chess, at which Henry was quite good. They might also play chess on the picnic table near the cabin, or even when Henry was visiting them during filming, with a special chess set Henry carried with him, modified for the blind.
When Henry had first asked Charlie if he knew how to play chess, Charlie had said, "Well, I suppose I do. I know how to move the various pieces, and the object of the game is to checkmate your opponent's king, isn't it?" But, after Henry showed him how to play on his board, the first game indicated that he didn't know much more than that. Charlie said, "I don't see how you can play this game blind--and beat me! If I closed my eyes, I wouldn't know what to do."
Henry laughed. "Well now, that's my problem for almost everything
I want to do, isn't it? I had played chess for years before the accident
that blinded me, and was competitive. Now chess provides another
clean, well-lighted place for a blind man. Soon after I learned I
wasn't getting my sight back, I started to learn to play blind, and prepared
this set. It's a standard portable board, but I had holes drilled
to receive the pegs I had attached to the bottom of the pieces, so they
have stability, won't slide off the board if it's jostled, like out
in the boat. They're clearly distinguished from one another by size
and feel--the pawns the smallest, the bishops, knights, and rooks different
on top, and different kinds of crowns for the king and queen. Then
the black pieces are distinguished with these little metal pieces. Hand
me a piece and I'll tell you what it is."
Charlie did, and Henry said, "That's a white pawn. Another." Charlie handed him what he thought would be the hardest, but Henry said, "A black bishop. You might ask, 'for the black or white squares?' It wouldn't matter, but I notched them for that, too--this is black on black. I played a lot of chess against myself at first. And Shoko played with me, or gave me problems from a chess book--on moving a knight to every square on the board, for example. You know how to identify a square by rank and file, I suppose."
"I think I do, but you can refresh my memory."
"That'll make it easier for you to tell me your moves. I see the board in my mind, and should be following the game well enough to anticipate what you're going to do in most cases. But I may touch pieces to remind myself where they are."
Henry began to teach Charlie a strategy for the three phases of a chess game, telling him he should see it as a metaphor for approaching any problem in life--or life itself.
Charlie said, "I once read an essay by Benjamin Franklin arguing that."
Henry said, "Well, yes, but, as everywhere in Franklin, he sees it as teaching
moral virtues--perseverance, foresight, caution--where I see it as teaching
intellectual virtues--as a kind of mathematics. Take this board,
which I can't see, so it doesn't make any difference whether the squares
are alternately white and black--or even that they alternate. The
first thing to understand is that the 64 squares on the chessboard, the
square of 8, is a kind of magic number--you could identify them with the
64 hexagrams of the I Ching."
"What's the I Ching?" Charlie asked. "Or a hexagram?"
Henry laughed. "Well maybe that's not the first thing to understand. Let's start with a good opening move. In the opening game, you try to position yourself to command the center of the board (make friends with Jack and Christine). The middle game involves combat--you try to take pieces worth more than those you lose--to gain an advantage (do well in parts you can get through Christine on stage in New York and Jack and Randall in film out here). Then, in the end game, you move to checkmate your opponent (beat Ben out of the part of Hamlet both places, say). That much you can understand without the I Ching, I think."
Charlie liked Henry's attitude, and his game got enough better that he might have beat Jack, or one of the women, if they'd play with him--or Thomas (who did, and may have let him win). But he was in no danger of beating Henry.
Henry and Jack were good friends, though theirs had been an uneven relationship over the years. He and Marge French had been Jack and Betty's first friends when Jack came to Wellington College as Theatre Director in the fall of 1956, with his new M.A. in Theatre from the University of Kansas, just weeks before Christine was born. Henry had been there for two years, having come with his own new Ph.D. in Psychology from Cornell. He and Jack became de
|facto office mates, spending
their free time discussing everything--from Kant, to Freud, to Stanislavski.
They often included Laura, who was the Theatre department secretary (and
the brightest girl in school), in their discussions.
Then, after they did Ibsen's A Doll's House as the spring play, Henry had run off to New York with Betty, leaving Jack with Laura and Christine, then only a few months old. Henry became Betty's agent in New York, and, later, negotiated the film version Betty did of the countess's Hollywood years with Randall Best. In California during the filming, Henry was water skiing with Laura and Christine. Diving into the lake to help Christine get untangled from the towing rope, he had hit his head on a rock and was blinded. Laura then went back to New York with him, to help him much as Shoko did now. By the time he was able to operate pretty well blind, largely on the telephone, she had, with his help, become a New York agent herself.
Henry was always Betty's man, and had returned to California to negotiate a series of movie versions of plays they were doing in New York with Randall Best. The first set was to be four double suicide plays, two by Shakespeare--Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra--which the Players Company had established in their repertoire, and two by Chikamatsu, the famous Japanese playwright who lived roughly 100 years after Shakespeare and wrote largely for the puppet theatre--The Love Suicides at Sonezaki and The Love Suicides at Amijima. One was early in the career of each author and one late, a parallel that appealed to Betty.
Jordan wanted to do Shakespeare on stage in New York, not on film in Hollywood, and the Japanese plays had been all Betty's idea. She, too, had begun studying Japanese literature under the influence of the countess. Jordan had only agreed to do them after he got involved with Jack in Mishima. He also wanted to do Mishima's Modern Noh Plays--on stage.
When Henry had come to California to negotiate this film deal, he and Shoko
had settled at the cabin at the lake--where the confrontation between Betty
and Jordan had occurred.
Shoko still took care of Henry, though he knew his way around the cabin, and down to the car on one side, to the boat on the other. He could even get to Shangri La and back by bus alone if necessary. Shoko still helped a lot with the mail, and read to Henry--if not quite as often since Hajime was born. He was a healthy baby with whom they were both delighted. They decided they didn't want to go back to New York, in fact, but to stay at the lake. Perhaps they would begin work on their joint biography of Jordan and Betty, the kind of job they could best do together.
Two weeks after the last scenes of Romeo and Juliet were shot the cast viewed the first full showing. Jack asked Christine, "Well, seeing yourself on film, what do you think?"
"It's amazing. Like I was watching someone else. We shot these scenes out of order, a few several times--but there the story is! I'm surprised by scenes I saw shot, at how different people look in close up, or framed by the screen. I'd seen some of my scenes before, and what you were doing with lights, but I'm still impressed. You did a remarkable job."
"Nothing compared to what you've done, my dear. I can't imagine there's ever been a betterJuliet. I'm proud of you. And, in spite of all, Ben's a great Romeo."
She laughed. "Probably the greatest acting in the film."
"And Marjorie was perfect as the nurse. I didn't see your mother--so now will always imagine Marjorie in the role. It's a film you'll be happy to have opened your career with."
"What now? Back to New York to do The Tempest?"
"I was thinking of taking about three weeks off first, and going to Japan. What would you think of that?"
"Let's do that!" she said. And that's what they did.