Last Fox Trot in San Francisco: Drama Short Fiction
This drama play by Paul Kindlon chronicles the lead-up to a confrontation between Eugene O’Neill and his last wife Carlotta when they came very close to killing each other. O’Neill’s 18 year old daughter Oona had just recently eloped with 53 year old Charlie Chaplin and the playwright disowned her.
O’Neill had a severe Parkinson’s-like tremor which made it impossible for him to write during the last 10 years of his life The infamous violent incident had many causes, but was triggered by O’Neill’s love affair with a VERY young lady.
It is 1943. Eugene O’Neill and his wife Carlotta are living at Huntington Hotel in San Francisco’s Nob Hill district.
Eugene O’Neill who is now 55 years of age and suffering from a neurological disease.
Carlotta Monterey who is a rather imperious woman of aristocratic bearing and looks. A famous actress at one time, she is also 55 years of age
Myrtle Caldwell is a dear old friend to both Eugene and Carlotta. She is about the same age as them.
Jane Caldwell is the very young and beautiful daughter of Myrtle. She will fall hopelessly in love with the great playwright.
Kaye is the loyal house servant who has been with the O’Neill’s for some time.
Act I Scene 1
Hotel room of the O’Neill’s. It is a summer night. A fan is whirling. The telephone rings.
Carlotta: Yes hello? Excuse me. Stop…stop. I’m sorry did you not get instructions that Mr. O’Neill and I are not to be disturbed after ten o’clock? Yes, well it is now ten-thirty is it not?
What? Who? Are you quite certain? …Well how do you know it’s really her and not some prank or some nosey reporter? Indeed…I see. Hmmm… Hold on a moment, I’m not sure.
(she turns to Eugene) Darling…it appears as though your loving daughter Ooona is on the line waiting. She says it is most urgent. Terribly important.
Eugene: Tell her to go to Hell. I’ll pay for the ticket as long as it’s one way.
Carlotta: Gene…what if she’s serious?
Eugene: Serious is not a word that can be associated with that frivolous child in any way. What on earth could she want at this hour? Is she here in town?
Carlotta: For God’s sake Gene. I’m not going to stand here all night holding the telephone. Do you wish to speak to her or not?
Eugene: Absolutely not. Why should I? She’s a lazy, spoiled, vain little brat who doesn’t know what she wants in life. One month a debutante, the next a model..and now I hear she wants to be an actress – not in some reputable theater – but over in Sodom and Gomorrah with all the pedophiles, perverts and drug addicts.
And what disturbs me most of all is that she’s trading on my name and reputation. Daddy – the famous American playwright, winner of the Nobel prize Her name is O’Neill so she must be special. But she’s not accomplished anything on her own.
I worked for my success…I worked hard to build the reputation I have. No one opened doors for me. I had to pry them open with these very hands every single day for years on end. It’s simply not right that she should gain entrance with a free pass.
Carlotta: Good heavens man shut up. You’re raving like a madman again.
Eugene: Don’t tell me to shut up, Carlotta.
Carlotta: Someone has to. (she turns back to the phone) Alright then…yes, sorry for the delay. Mr. O’Neill cannot come to the phone just now, but you may tell Oona that if she wishes to speak with Mrs. O’Neill I am here at her pleasure. Yes, I’ll wait.
Eugene: Did I tell you you could do that?
Carlotta: Since when did I ever need your permission silly Go make yourself a cup of tea and calm down before you have a seizure…yes? Oh, hello Oona. So nice to hear your voice. How are you? …I see. Well, that’s a surprise. Quite unexpected. Of course, yes, (pause) Well I wish you both the best, naturally. No, your father is not feeling well actually. Don’t worry though he’ll be fine in a day or two I’m sure. Yes, yes, certainly I will.
Thank you for notifying us before the papers come out with the news. What is that? Who? Louella you say..well that’s certainly better than Hedda Hopper. Indeed. Well, I really must go. Terribly good to hear from you. Yes, yes…good night. (She look right at Eugene) She’s eloped with Chaplin.
Eugene: (quietly raging, then bursting) Charlie??!! What about Salinger? I don’t understand.
She has gotten married to her father because all her life he showed her no love.
Carlotta: She’s in love you idiot. Don’t try to make sense of it.
Eugene: Oh I can make sense of it…even if you can’t. Chaplin is my age. Figure it out. She has gotten married to her father because all her life he showed her no love. As a result she was searching for her father’s love and finally found it in the arms of a genius. And she knows that I know this. That’s what drives me mad.
She’s playing a stupid game to hurt me and also prove that she’s my equal. But she’s played a foolish hand because I have the trump card. As of today I disown her. And she will be disinherited…of that you can be sure. (pause) I’m going for a swim. I need to think.
Carlotta: If that’s how you feel.
Eugene: (leaving, he stops) Is that supposed to be a clever joke?
Carlotta: You tell me genius.
(END OF SCENE)
Act II Scene 1
Hotel room. There is a knock at the door.
Eugene: Coming! (he opens the door) Ah! Just a second (he counts out dollars and gives them to the young man) Thank you.
(As Eugene is looking around the room for a hiding place, Carlotta arrives home)
Carlotta: Well…isn’t this a pleasant surprise! Mr.O’Neill hitting the bottle behind my back. I’m sorry I returned so early and spoiled your little party.
Eugene: Don’t be facetious, Carlotta. Show some kindness, please.
Carlotta: (mimicking an accent) “Is it kindness you’d be wantin, now is it?” Okay Gene…have it your way. You know how it goes, right? “I’ll just have one drink.” One becomes three which then becomes six and then you get so stupid you forget how to count. But who am I to interfere with a grown man’s wants and needs? Just a once famous actress who gave up her career for you. Who sacrificed fame and success for a man who said he loved her.
A man who promised years ago – you remember that don’t you? – promised he would never ever drink again. Are you not that man? Well if you’re not (she takes a gun from her purse) Here…take this. Feel it. It’s fully loaded. So if you are serious…really serious if you really want to commit suicide go ahead. But drinking yourself to death is such a long journey… take a short cut. Blast away!
Eugene: Don’t talk like a fool.
Carlotta: Yes, you’re right. It’s better to act like one Isn’t it..,. Eugene?
Eugene: Eugene??!! Oh no…don’t get crazy now. (she reaches for the gun) Carlotta…have you lost your senses? Please. Carlotta…I haven’t finished my best play.
(She stops momentarily and lowers the gun)
Carlotta: You….what a monster you are. My play! my play…my play! Your whole life consists of nothing more than soaking up all the pain you inflict on others so you may then squeeze it out onto the stage to torment the audience as well. It’s nothing but a sado-masochistic talent masquerading as art, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Tell me!!
Eugene: Carlotta don’t… (She takes aim and then shoots the bottle)
Eugene: What the hell are you doing? This is not a theatrical play! That was very dangerous!
Carlotta: Of course it was. And if you’re not careful you won’t make it to the fourth act. The denouement may come early… What’s wrong?
Eugene: It’s my hand. My arm too.
Your whole life consists of nothing more than soaking up all the pain you inflict on others so you may then squeeze it out onto the stage to torment the audience as well.
Carlotta: Here sit down.. (he does) Gene you have to slow down, take a break…try to enjoy life.
Eugene: You know that’s impossible.
Carlotta: Oh God Gene what am I to do with you. (she cradles his head in her arms) What am I to do?
(END OF SCENE)
Act II Scene 2
Hotel room. Carlotta at the table. Eugene enters clearly in pain.
Eugene: Agh! I can’t even type. My fingers hurt like hell and my arm is so weak.
Carlotta: Perhaps it’s time you got a personal assistant.
Eugene: Damn it all. What the devil is wrong with me? I don’t need this crap! Not now.
Carlotta: Don’t be so stubborn, Gene. If your hand hurts and you cannot type or even write, use a secretary to do it for you.
Eugene: I don’t need some complete stranger hearing my thoughts and feelings as they come out unfiltered. It would make me uncomfortable. Besides…it’s too risky. How could I trust them to remain discreet?
Carlotta: Then we won’t hire a stranger…we’ll hire someone we both know.
Eugene: That might be even worse.
Carlotta: I have an idea actually. Do hear me out. (pause) I need to check, but we could probably obtain the services of Myrtle’s daughter.
Eugene: But she’s only a child!
Carlotta: She may not be a fully grown woman, but she’s hardly a child anymore. Myrtle said that her daughter has completed finishing school and just arrived home yesterday.
Eugene: Little Janie?
Carlotta: Yes, Jane. Myrtle is very proud of her. She tells me her daughter is terribly bright and quite diligent.
Eugene: Eh! Never mind. It’s a bad idea…bad idea.
Carlotta: Don’t be so categorical and listen to me. I will call Myrtle and have her stop by the day after tomorrow with her daughter.. You can interview her and test her typing skills. If you do not like her for some reason- for any reason whatsoever – then we will put aside my idea and think of something else.
We will find a solution. Don’t worry. Meanwhile…let’s try this. Who knows..you may find her both agreeable and helpful. If you don’t do this for yourself at least do it for me so I don’t have to listen to your moaning hour after hour.
Eugene: Okay, but the final decision is mine.
Carlotta: Of course, my love. It always is.
(END OF SCENE)
Act III Scene 1
Living room table with teapot and cups. Myrtle, Carlotta and Jane are seated. The radio is broadcasting news of the war. This goes on for a few minutes until Carlotta turns off the radio.
Myrtle: I don’t think I can stand any more of this war business. It is so distressing.
Carlotta: I suppose we are lucky to be so far away from the brutal violence, but you have relatives in England. My heart goes out to you.
Myrtle: I worry constantly, it’s true. I only wish it would come to an end quickly – and victoriously – for our boys.
Jane: Does anyone really win a war I wonder?
Carlotta: Yes, I can see your point.
Jane: Do you share your husband’s position on Ireland remaining neutral, Mrs. O’Neill?
Myrtle: Jane dear, let’s steer clear of politics shall we, please, and just enjoy this momentary respite from the madness. This tea is glorious is it not?
Jane: I was just wondering…it seems to me that the Irish are neutral because after hundreds of years of being oppressed and beaten down by the English they may be wondering if Ireland might not fair better under German governance.
Myrtle: Good heavens Jane!
Eugene: Myrtle Caldwell how good to see you! This must be my little collaborator.
Carlotta: Yes, Gene…this is Jane who is ready and able I am told.
Eugene: My wife has explained to you your sacred duties, I suppose?
Jane: Yes, yes she has. I’m looking forward to assisting you.
Eugene: Good! We will begin the day after tomorrow. I start at nine A.M. and work until I get hungry. After that there is no set schedule as I work whenever the spirit moves me. Do you accept?
Jane: Aren’t you going to test my skills?
Eugene: I almost forgot. (He goes to the player piano and music begins – Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Louis Armstrong) Do you fox trot?
Jane: (Getting up enthusiastically) Just watch me!
(The two dance rather well together until the song ends)
(Carlotta begins to applaud, followed by a hesitant Myrtle)
Myrtle: Well…wasn’t that lovely?
Eugene: Excellent. I will see you in two days, Jane. Darling… I am going for a swim. Do enjoy your tea ladies…I had it shipped all the way from China. Myrtle…Miss Caldwell…till we meet again.
Myrtle: My my… he hasn’t changed…That man lives to swim.
Carlotta: Yes, sometimes I wonder if he’s human.
Jane: Me too. (pause) I’m sorry. I can’t believe I just met the great genius playwright!
Carlotta: Why are you so surprised? He lives here. With me.
Same day. At the Caldwell residence.
Myrtle (entering the door): That was much too bold, Jane, much too bold. And what a performance you gave.
Jane: I was only enjoying myself. I was not acting mother.
Myrtle: I would rather hear that you were. Otherwise you are treading on very thin ice.
Jane: Oh come mother…how could I not be charmed by such a man – he’s an extraordinary artist…so kind, sincere and sensitive.
Myrtle: And married to a fine woman whom I’ve known for a long time. You have a number of suitors, Jane, why not give one of them a try?
Jane: Ugh! They are pygmies compared to Gene.
Myrtle Gene??!! Don’t be so presumptuous. Is this the girl I raised?
Jane: I feel a connection to him somehow.
Myrtle: You hardly know him. For God’s sake don’t do anything foolish. That would be a tragedy…for everyone concerned. Consider my position Jane. Carlotta is already cross with me I’m afraid for not having prepared you properly. You are to type his manuscript and that is all. We do not need a scandal. (pause) Will you promise me that you will not use your feminine charms to entice him?
Jane: Mother…I promise I will not entice him, but I cannot predict what will happen if he entices me.
Myrtle: Your father will hear about this.
Jane: I have no doubt.
Myrtle: Such impudence. Go to your room please. And don’t play those Jazz records so loudly. You know I’m not fond of that savage Negro music.
Jane: That is because you are not Dionysian. Like Eugene and I are.
Same living room table as first scene. Myrtle, Jane and Carlotta are seated. The house servant Kaye is pouring tea.
Carlotta: (to Kaye) Is Mr. O’Neill coming to join us?
Kaye: No Ma’am. He asked me to tell you he is quite anxious to get started with Miss Caldwell. And to send her into his office.
Carlotta: Right away?
Kaye: It seems so.
Myrtle: Well then Jane…it is time to get started. Remember what I told you. Keep quiet and do not interrupt Mr. O’Neill. Speak only when you are spoken to.
Carlotta: Good advice my dear. (to Jane) If my husband becomes annoyed don’t take it personally. He can become quite fierce when it comes to social interaction. He is so used to working alone. Writing is such a solitary enterprise so it might be jarring for him at first, but I trust he will get accustomed to your presence.
Jane: I do hope so. (she rises and walks to the office) And I will do my utmost to please him I assure you. (she closes the door behind her) (Kaye looks somewhat shocked)
Carlotta: Bring us some more cakes and… (pause)
Kaye: Yes Ma’am?
Carlotta: Oh, nothing. Just the cakes thank you.
Kaye: Certainly Ma’am.
Carlotta: (looking up) Now how on earth did a fly get in here?
Myrtle: Oh Kaye!
Carlotta: Don’t bother…I’ll get it.
(she takes a nearby newspaper, smashes the offending insect and sits back down. There is an uneasy silence for a awhile)
Myrtle: So what sort of play has your husband produced this time?
Carlotta: It is a very sad tragedy.
(Jane can be heard giggling in the office. This continues for some time…)
One month later. At the Caldwell residence. Jane is at her make-up desk admiring a jade handle mirror that Eugene has given her. She sings a popular song entitled “Dearly Beloved”
“Tell me that it’s true, tell me you agree I was meant for you, you were meant for me Dearly beloved, how clearly I see Somewhere in Heaven you were fashioned for me Angel eyes knew you, angel voices led me to you Nothing could save me, fate gave me a sign I know that I’ll be yours come shower or shine So I say merely, dearly beloved be mine You were meant for me, I was meant for you Tell me you agree, tell me that it’s true.”
She then recites a poem he wrote to her…
“The magic of love was there. For me and you. Standing there. Blue coat, buttoned up to your chin. So beautiful there with the sea and sky in your eyes. And the sun and wind in your hair.”
(she laughs contentedly and looks in the mirror responding to imaginary reporters)
“Mrs. O’Neill…where do you and your husband plan on going for your honeymoon?”
I’m afraid that’s a secret gentlemen. I suppose we will put out a press release at some time.
“Mrs. O’Neill…where did Eugene propose to you?”
He proposed to me on our favorite stretch of beach as the sun was going down. Gene is such a romantic, really.
“Mrs. O’Neill…Jane if I may…some people are intrigued by the age difference between you and Mr. O’Neill. What would you like to say to those people?”
Well…like daughter like father I suppose. I’m sorry gentlemen, but I really do have a plane to catch. Eugene is waiting for my arrival. A few more photos? Very well, then, click away!
At the Hotel room of the O’Neills. The Radio is broadcasting news of the war. Carlotta, Myrtle and Jane sit quietly listening. Carlotta gets up and turns the radio off.
Myrtle: How much more of this can we bear? On and on. It’s endless. The death and suffering. It’s hard to believe…here we are in the middle of the Twentieth century and we are still behaving like savages.
(Carlotta is lost in thought)
Myrtle (continues…to Carlotta) Are you not tired of the conflict? (pause) Carlotta are you alright my dear?
Carlotta: Oh, sorry.
Myrtle: I said aren’t you tired of the conflict?
Carlotta: (pause) Yes. Yes I am.
Myrtle I see well…Jane and I must be on our way. We have a golf tournament to attend. Our dear friend Helmsly will be there.
Jane: Hemsly….His name is Hemsly.
Myrtle: So it is. Well, thank you my dear for your kind hospitality once again. I do hope we will see each other soon.
Carlotta: Indeed. (To Myrtle) Dearest friend…allow me a moment with your beautiful daughter won’t you?
Myrtle: Certainly.(she gets up to go)
Carlotta: Press my hands…dear. I will see you soon. God bless you. (they kiss. She turns to Jane) Just because my husband calls you Janie now do not be misled. No doubt you are harboring some romantic hope, but I assure you it is just an illusion. How do you see yourself Jane with regard to my husband?
Jane: The way I see it you are his Athena and he wishes for me to be his Aphrodite.
Carlotta: (laughing) You are a Janie come-lately. That’s all you are.
Jane: Mrs. O’Neill. I understand my place. I know full well that you are and will always be his devoted wife.
Carlotta: Wife? If only…I am his nurse and his doctor, his protector and safe refuge, his solitary strength and soul.
Jane: But he does care for me.
Carlotta: Does he? Really? You are merely a palliative for a very sick man. Can’t you see that?
Jane: I only see a genius.
Carlotta: And what do you ultimately want from this genius? That he will create a character based upon you? I suppose you keep a diary filled with all the words Eugene has uttered in your presence and that you’ve made note of every look and touch so that one day you too will become known. You can even get the diary published and make some good money…wouldn’t that be nice?
Jane: I only want to be of service to the man who seems to need me now.
Carlotta: You don’t understand. Not one bit. Eugene is in the final act of his life and you only serve as comic relief. Nothing more. It is the comedy of Oedipus meeting Electra and falling in love. How funny is that? At the end of the day you will be a fleeting moment of no significance. When biographers chronicle his extraordinary life I will fill up half the chapters whereas you will appear as a tiny footnote. Don’t let that beautiful Geisha mirror fool you. Yes I know all about it. It was a birthday gift.
Jane: He also wrote me a poem.
Carlotta: (incredulous) A poem?
Jane: Yes…a love poem.
Carlotta: Unless you want to be pulverized and permanently disfigured I suggest you leave now. (she opens the door for her to leave) Oh…and if you ever show that poem to anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason… I will make sure that you will never want to look into that mirror ever again. Good night, dear.
(she does so reluctantly)
Huntington Hotel. The Suite of the O’Neill’s.
Carlotta: (entering soaking wet) Look what you’ve done to me! Is this what you wanted? I tried to drown myself Gene! And wouldn’t that be ironic? The only reason I didn’t go through with it is because I realized you would win. After all, you thrive on the sufferings of those around you. You steal their pain for your plays and thus become famous by being a thief. Damn you!
Eugene: Let me start a fire…
Carlotta: This ends now. Do you hear me?
Eugene: I’m not sure I can comply with your desire.
Carlotta: I am not asking you a favor. I’m giving you an order.
Eugene: You know how well I respond to that sort of behavior.
Carlotta: You owe me your life you bastard. I’ve kept you sober for years. Not to mention my support and encouragement coaxing you onwards to create your finest works. That gives me the right to make demands.
Eugene: It simply grates. I have an anarchist heart and soul. Let us discuss this some other time…I’m not feeling well.
Carlotta: We are both suffering Gene. I’m exhausted as well. Do think of me just this once if you can.
Eugene: I try my love.
Carlotta: Not enough! Not as much as you should. Fire that girl now and I will shut up completely.
Eugene: I do not wish to do that.
Carlotta: I don’t care! I’m going mad I tell you. You know how I am. There is a rising vortex of rage inside of me that I cannot suppress.
Eugene: Janie is good for me.
Carlotta: Well she is bad for me! Don’t force me to do terrible things Eugene. You know I will.
Eugene: Don’t threaten me.
Carlotta: I will threaten you until you come to your senses.
Eugene: You are going to drive me to drink again.
Carlotta: How dare you! You infuriate me! (She grabs a butcher knife. He quickly retrieves a pistol )
Eugene: It’s loaded…don’t move an inch.
Carlotta: Go ahead you misfit. You wouldn’t survive a week without me. Damn you!
(As she lunges he flings the gun away and takes her by the neck. She digs into his hands with her nails. They are both screaming horribly.)
Eugene pulls away and begins shuddering, his right hand shakes uncontrollably as he begins to cry. Carlotta embraces him in a motherly fashion)
Carlotta: I think you should rest now.
Eugene: Yes…I think I will. (He moves away still very much in pain) And what will you do?
Carlotta: Love you, of course.
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