Contentious Minds: The Mary
McCarthy/Lillian Hellman Affair.
By Ben Pleasants &
WRITER’S COPY FOR TECH RUN THRU
Act one: Scene Two
Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace. Waldorf Astoria March 27, 1949. Ladies’ room. Mary enters.
(Mary is seated before the mirror putting down a large umbrella, she begins to fix her hair. Laughs.) All this for what? (Looks at the lines around her eyes.) Spring? It never comes until April.
Lillian rushes in tipsy with cigarette smoked all the way down, hair is wild and makeup smeared.)
Goddamn snake. There you are.
(Sees her through the mirror.) You followed me in here, Miss Hellman? Lillian! (Halfway between a question and an exclamation.)
Miss Hellman will do fine. (Grabs her in the chair and spins her around.) You bet your sweet ass I did. (Puts down drink, holds up umbrella.) Who the hell have you and your hoards the idea of banging these fucking elephant umbrellas up and down at the end of the sessions? Dwight McDonald?
(Rises calmly.) I’m afraid I don’t name names. (Continues primping.) We did have something important to say. The Partisan Review crowd! (Smiles in mirror.) Poor Louis Untermeyer. He was taken aback. (Turns to face her grasping umbrella.) He’s not used to thumping. (She strikes umbrella on the floor close to Hellman’s feet.) But if it’s names you want, here are a few: Osip Mandelstam, disappeared poet, Isaac Babel, murdered novelist, then there’s Boris Pilnyak, Andrey Platonov. All guilty of (Beat) potential crimes…Stalin simply (Gestures) erased them…
(Her drunkenness makes her wobbly.) I suppose that’s that critics do. Make things up to suit their politics. Then smack down umbrellas on the floor to make sure they are heard. Is that what they taught you at (Not sure) Wellesley? I thought I recognized the mannered sneer.
Vassar. No. They taught me to stand on my own feet without a sneer. To have an opinion. I should think that an educated woman like yourself who attended…
NYU…Just two years…(Incompletion bothers her and she can’t understand why she blurted it out.)
…Would take the contrary view when hearing that exsanguinate, Harvard Professor Mathiesen, extolling poor Thoreau as a potential supporter of Henry Wallace.
(Turns to face her.) The war against Germany is over. What happened to our truce?
(Methodically and without passion.) Yes, the war with Germany is over and Hitler is dead. Stalin is not. He continues to imprison and murder poets and playwrights and novelists and actors and painters and composers and workers for their beliefs, while you and Hammet and VJ Jerome speak of him as though he were Jesus Christ instead of the gangster…
You sooooooo miss the point. What was the purpose here today? A cultural and scientific conference for world peace! Between East and West! America and Soviet Union! The two great powers. Allies. We’re here today so there can be no more World Wars… Not to smack down umbrellas. (Does so – then grabs her.) Have we learned nothing after fifty million deaths?
(Pushing her off, but calmly.) Whenever Stalin’s name comes up, you change the subject. Don’t break my umbrella; it’s raining… (Aside.) It belonged to Edmund.
You heard Dmitri Shostakovich address the conference. The world’s greatest living composer. Did he appear to you to be a pawn of Stalin? Did he look oily to you?
(Enters and looks around.)
No. He didn’t look too comfortable to me, Miss Hellman. But then, he’s Russian! Where are the Poles, the Czechs, and Hungarians at the WORLD conference on culture and science? Too busy jumping out windows, like Jan Masaryk?
Haven’t you heard? It’s in all the papers. The poor man was depressed. Over a failed love affair with an American novelist. Not you, for a change.
From what I’ve read, he landed feet first three yards out from the window he jumped from his underwear. Masaryk was a formal man. He never would have jumped out the window without a suit and tie.
Poor Masaryk. Poor, conflicted man. Poor Czechoslovakia!
(to herself.) Poor Poland.
Here in America among the intelligentsia, there is hardly a sound about Eastern Europe.
Really. Out there in the streets are two thousand protestors with signs reading REDS BACK TO MOSCOW, PUSH SHOSTAKOVICH OUT THE WINDOW, and STAMP OUT HARVARD! I can’t be responsible for Eastern Europe, but if you have ANY evidence that writers here in America are being persecuted by anyone, by the government, especially by communists, I’d like to hear about it. Miss McCarthy!
Jan Valtin. OUT OF THE NIGHT. The US Government tried to deport him. You never said a word.
He should have been deported. His book was all lies. He was never part of the Comintern. The 1 Soviet Police Force!
And then there’s Hollywood. The list of writers they won’t touch. Erased for their politics. All anti-Stalinists. Koestler and Farrel and John Dos Passos.
(Laughs.) Hollywood is not guilty of censorship, Miss McCarthy. Just goot taste. (beat.) As if book like “Darkness at Noon” could ever be a commercially successful picture.
But I have written proof. From Commissar Trumbo of the Screen Writier’s Guild when he assured the public in print that Hollywood had no plans to do Koestler or Valtin or Farrell or John Dos Passos. Or that book by Krevchankop… called… (Can’t recall it.)
I CHOSE FREEDOM…. (Turns to them both.)
Thank you. I CHOSE FREEDOM. And he was murdered right here in the USA!
Not by the Screen Writers Guild. (beat as she calms down._ I believe he died a suicide.
Like Masaryk, while you, Miss Hellman, would hurry back to Hollywood at the height of the Depression with the other Stalinist playwrights of the New York to gather up your $500 a week for Louis B. Mayer.
Samuel Goldwyn, or do all Jews look alike to you? (beat)
… Renting mansions in the pacific Pallisades, drinking cognac at the Ambassador Hotel, while writing screen plays for the Proletariat. Fred and Ginger as they danced on an ocean liner off Bora Bora!
I never wrote for Fred and Ginger. I was, a dedicated Marxist. I was in Spain when you were on your train to Reno. I was on the Russian Front when you were pulling weeds at Wellfleet. You and your thumping umbrella. Our truce is finished! Eastern Europe should be thankful it has a friend like Comrade Stalin.
Hollywood too. For all the dead in Eastern Europe killed by silence, I thumped my umbrella! And I’ve been told you all had wine cellars and underpaid your Negroes!
(Collapses into a chair and begins to restore her make-up.) How would you know? You’ve never seen a Negro (Beat) close up.
I hope your next play will be a comedy, Miss Hellman, I really do. Your recent morality dramas are more of less moral-less. (Exits.)
GODDAM FUCKING BLUEBLOODS. The first time I heard that woman speak I should have strangled her! (to audience).
Almost in the audience’s lap on both sides of a mirror slips:
(Between Acts I & II Hellman adds the lines on her cheeks that show age. She works hard to add colour to her cheeks, but her lips get no lipstick. McCarthy adds colour to her lips and cheeks, and just a little powder to her nose. Her hair is pulled back in a bun. Mary is in a troubled state thinking of Clem, who repulsed but may have gotten her pregnant. Lillian is mournful over the abortion of the child she could have had with Hammett. We should see in their faces the fact that the childbearing years are over and their bridges have been burned. Hellman here is the melody, while McCarthy is the angry base. She allows anger only in private.)
Mary and Lillian are alone in their dressings rooms, dressing for the theatre. Mary is in a troubled state.
Mary & Lily
The thought of it
We shared a disease together.
I look hard…
Fathers maybe. (Pause.)
As if it were feces
To be flushed away.
Was just right.
Fetus, not feces
What VD didn’t he have…
It might have been Clem’s
Just the thought of it
It was ours
Suckling an infant
And I had to look…
With that leer of his…
That snicker and his sarcasm…
With hooded eyes
His features and mine combined…
Half resembling Clem
Not my only chance
(Pause) with Philip…
I’ve flushed others away…
Men know nothing about women…
He never would have wanted any…
With him it would have been a thing of
I looked at the face
Maybe I was close to driving off the
road that night…
The aloneness of being
Between two men…
To hell with babies…
Here I am at 52…
I gave birth to books… (To mirror)
Who would have been
Not so bad
I could ever be a mother…
It’s bad enough just to be a lover…