On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine by Mark Magill & Jill Godmilow

BOMB 13 Fall 1985
013 Fall 1985

In 1907 Pablo Picasso painted what is now a very well known portrait of Gertrude Stein. After completing the painting, Picasso showed it to a friend of Stein. The friend looked at the painting for a while and then turned to the artist. “But she doesn’t look anything like that,” he said. “She will,” Picasso replied.

SCENE 12: PROOF-READING (NOON)

Gertrude and Alice are sitting in the Bilignin garden. They have moved their chairs into the sun and cleared off the work on the table to make room for lunch.

Helene is walking back and forth in the background. She is feeding the baby from a bottle as she walks him.

Gertrude and Alice are sitting in their chairs eating their lunch. Gertrude is glancing through her notebook as they eat. Occasionally she takes up a pencil and makes a note in the book. Alice, for the most part, watches Helene and the baby walking in the distance.

Gertrude looks up from her book at Alice.

GERTRUDE: (trying out the text on Alice)< br /> “A man stood on the sand. The sun was high, his shadow short. It grew shorter still as he stood and watched until he saw it almost disappear. Then he sat and ate his lunch.”

Alice looks at her with a “what-in-the-world-are-you-talking-about” look.

GERTRUDE:
“Not everyone who waits and watches is waiting for a meal. Some wait for someone else to sit and eat.”

Alice continues her lunch.

GERTRUDE:
“But while one waits two kinds of time pass by. One for the man and his shadow and another for those who wait for him to sit and eat.”

Alice lowers her sandwich, waiting for the inevitable explanation.

GERTRUDE: (gesturing to the notebook)
It’s about the time that passes in plays and stories. The time that takes place in War and Peaceand the time it takes to read it.

ALICE: (yawns)
What about the time it takes to proof-read it?

GERTRUDE:
Do I detect veiled criticism?

ALICE:
Oh, no criticism intended. These lazy lunches in the country always make me sleepy. No … You know I always find your writing (yawns) … ah … stimulating.

GERTRUDE:
Why don’t you go water a rose?

ALICE: (shielding her eyes)
Too hot.

Gertrude picks up a pitcher of water from the table, She gets a gleam in her eyes as she looks at Alice.

GERTRUDE:
Perhaps I can cool things off …

Alice realizes she might be in for some trouble. She warily rises. Gertrude rises and begins to move after her.

ALICE:
Not in the bright sun … the heat of evaporation … I read it in a book!

 

SCENE 13: AT THE BEACH

A figure is lying face down on the sand, intently watching an ant as it struggles with a crumb. The figure is Apollinaire, the etymologist-poet. With a small stick he is altering the insect’s course through the sand, not in malice or majesty but from a simple and deep-seated curiosity. In spite of his obscure parentage he speaks with a precise English accent. He has the habit of speaking whether he has an audience or not. In this case his audience is the ant. At least for the moment. As he instructs the insect he puffs delightedly on a fat Gauloise.

APOLLINAIRE:
The problem of navigation is more complex than you might at first realize, my friend. To know where one is, one must also know when one is. The problem of time is essential to the problem of place. Miss by a minute and you’ve missed by a mile. It’s all one can do to keep one’s wits in one place. Don’t you agree? (drags on cigarette) But I’m afraid that alone is not enough to tell the tale. There is place and there is time but neither has meaning without matter. (Stubs out cigarette in sand. He looks about the landscape in a general way as he speaks.) In terms of our tale we call that character—the figure that gives scale to the landscape. (He looks back to the ant) I’m sorry to be so long winded but this problem has been on my mind, I do a appreciate your patience.

Apollinaire looks up from his conversation and to the horizon. He sees a stocky figure trudging across the sand. He lights another cigarette.

APOLLINAIRE:
Why who do we have but the maker of Americans herself. This is precisely the point I was trying to make. A figure that gives scale to the landscape. Nothing like that Roman face and stately stature to set off a scene.

He sits up as she approaches. He looks to the ant and points to the figure in the distance.

APOLLINAIRE:
Let us consider the character from afar. Broad shouldered, of medium height, the afore-mentioned Roman features. Close-cropped hair, steady gaze, a rather stern expression. And a purposeful stride. It’s Gertrude. No doubt about it.

Stein is now within speaking distance and she speaks.

GERTRUDE:
That’s quite a trudge to watch a boat go by.

APOLLINAIRE:
Pardon me. Not a boat. A ship. The last voyage of the Britannica.

GERTRUDE:
It’s still a long walk. Is there something for you in her sailing?

APOLLINAIRE:
Only that it’s her last. She marks an age and one mourns as one would the passing of race horses and old hotels.

GERTRUDE:
You certainly sound like a poet.

APOLLINAIRE:
I lacked the skill to be a thief. I had to settle for second best.

GERTRUDE:
We all have our shortcomings.

APOLLINAIRE:
We were just admiring your lack of them.

GERTRUDE

We?

APOLLINAIRE:
My friend here and I. (He looks about in the sand) He seems to have departed. I suppose he doesn’t share our concern for old ships.

GERTRUDE:
I’m sorry to have missed him.

Mel Kendrick 001

Mel Kendrick, 1984, Bronze/Poplar Burnout and Black and White Bronze with Holes. Courtesy John Weber Gallery.

SCENE 22: THE PLAY

Gertrude, Alice, Hemingway, and five friends are gathered in their salon. At one end of the room a movie projector has been set on a table. At the other end a screen has been placed against the wall. An old victrola sits on a table to one side of the room. Near that is a device for recording sound on phonographic disks, like the early dictaphone.

The guests are all holding copies of a script. Alice is standing by the victrola. A young man, a well dressed young Englishman, is running the projector. The others are standing or seated around the recording room, wearing a look of resignation. Hemingway sits beside her, relaxed and amused, smoking a cigar. Alice looks over at Gertrude from time to time to see how she is taking all this.

When we first enter the scene, the room is darkened and the projector is running. On the movie screen we see in black and white two characters seated in what appears to be a cubist kitchen. All the three-dimensional objects of the kitchen have been re-created in two-dimensional cubist interpretations. A flattened out refrigerator, sink, clock, cabinets, and lamp surround the set, It looks something like the room Picasso painted in Guernica. The two actresses sit in the center of the stage, on either side of the kitchen table, facing straight ahead for the moment.

The projector is running and we see all this on the movie screen. The characters in the salon are silhouetted against the screen as they huddle around the recording device. A small lamp illuminates the device and enables them to read their scripts. In the background Alice is playing some modern music on the victrola.

One of the actresses on the screen begins to move her lips. In the salon someone nudges someone else.

WOMAN’S VOICE:
Ow. “Well you know, Henry’s cousin David married Mary who was a Roberts. An old family but not by any means one of the oldest, but a nice girl.”

The other actress on the screen begins to move her lips.

WOMAN’S VOICE II:
(She reads fast in the first part in an attempt to catch up to the moving lips of the woman on the screen. She is not quite successful) “Yes, of course the old Roberts place is really a corner of the old Johnson place. At one time there … there … there … (sound of a page being flipped) usedtobenothing but Johnsons as far as the eye could see.” Sorry.

ALICE: (Stopping the music)
That’s alright. Its going to take some practice.

GERTRUDE:
That’s for sure. (She mutters under her breath)

HEMINGWAY: (Laughs)
It’s not easy hearing your work out loud.

GERTRUDE: (With a voice of resignation)

You can say that again.

HEMINGWAY: (to Alice)

You sure there’s nothing for me to do?

ALICE:
Just keep the author out of my hair. You may use force if necessary.

The projector stops and begins to run backwards. Back to the point where the scene started.

The projector runs again.

WOMAN I:
“Well, you know, Henry’s cousin David married Mary who was a Roberts. An old family but not by any means one of the oldest, but a nice girl.”

WOMAN II:
“Yes of course the old Roberts place is really nothing more than a corner of the old Johnson place. At one time there used to be nothing but Johnsons as far as the eye could see.”

WOMAN I:
“Certainly Henry knew that and I’m sure David knew that, too. Everyone knew that. When he was David a little boy the Johnsons and the Roberts between them could have filled a country. It got so that even middle names weren’t enough to tell them apart. There were so many Robert Henry Johnsons and Henry Johnson Roberts around you’d need an almanac and a Sunday bible to tell the wheat from the chaff. And there was plenty of chaff in those days, I can tell you.”

WOMAN II:
“I should say. Not that the Johnsons and the Roberts had much to do with one another in the light of day. Why some of those Johnsons, though, not the ones on the hill, mind you, but some of those others, my goodness. What with cousins marrying uncles and sisters marrying cousins, and all of them acting … .”

At this point the victrola begins to skip.

ALICE:
Oh! It was going so well there.

The projector slows to a halt, just as we see another actor entering the stage carrying a tray with a bottle and three glasses.

Picture freezes, then the projector light goes out. Someone switches on the room light in the salon.

GERTRUDE:
Going swimmingly, wouldn’t you say?

HEMINGWAY:
I’d consider another profession, if I were you.

GERTRUDE:
Aww … who asked you?

ALICE:
We’ll get it. Paul, could you play the sound up to the last part?

FROM THE RECORDER:
“… some of those Johnsons, though, not the ones on the hill, mind you …” (the recorder stops)

ALICE:
Yes. Can we start just before that part?

THE RECORDER:
“I should say. Not that the Johnsons …”

ALICE:
Ready with the projector? I’ll start the music and say go. Everybody ready?

(Music starts)

ALICE:
Ready. Go.

Projector starts from just before the entrance of the man carrying the tray.

WOMAN II:
Why some of those Johnsons, though, not the ones on the hill, mind you, but some of those others, my goodness. What with cousins marrying uncles and sisters marrying cousins, and all of them acting as haughty as you please as if they all lived upon the hill when most of them never so much as set foot on it and never hoped to.”

On the screen the man with the tray approaches the table. He holds the tray up while he tries to move a chair closer to the table with his foot. His lips move while he is doing this.

MAN’S VOICE:
“And what about those Henrys and Davidsons over by the Roberts place. Just you take a …”

We hear a crash of plates and dishes. Crash!

On the screen the man’s lips still move. A few moments later as he still moves the chair toward the table, he slips and drops the tray.

ALICE:
I think the crash was a little too soon.

Everyone in the room, except Gertrude, is laughing

ALICE:
Let’s back up a little bit.

GERTRUDE:
I hope you brought enough dishes.

ALICE:
Don’t worry about the dishes. (to the cast) Are you ready?

The projector rolls from the man’s entrance.

MAN:
“And what about those Henrys and Davidsons over by the Roberts place. Just you take a good look some time at young Henrietta Davidson and tell me if she doesn’t look more like David Henry than Henry Davidson.”

Crash!

On the screen, the two women take absolutely no notice of the crash of the tray.

WOMAN I:
“It’s those long winter nights and little ambition. Some people have nothing better to do with their time.”

WOMAN II AND MAN:
“You’re so right.” (Spoken just slightly out of unison)

Music fades up and out.

ALICE:
That was alright. (to Gertrude) Is it alright if we play it back?

GERTRUDE:
Why let posterity have all the fun.

HEMINGWAY: (to Gertrude)
Cigar?

GERTRUDE:
A cigarette will do.

Hemingway hands her one.

PAUL: (to Alice, waiting to roll the projector)
OK?

ALICE: (to Gertrude)

Alright, your majesty?

Gertrude gives an imperious wave of her hand through the cloud of smoke she and Hemingway are now generating.

ALICE: (to Paul)
OK, Paul.

The film and the recorder run together although the lip-synch is less than perfect. When it gets to the crash it is two or three seconds behind the picture. The people in the salon start laughing.

At the last line they all join in.

ALL:
You’re so right!

They are all laughing as the lights come on. Even the glum Gertrude is having trouble repressing a smile. The man goes over to Alice and shakes her hand.

MAN:
Be sure to write from Hollywood. Plan to use the same writer on your next picture? (nods toward Gertrude) I heard she’s good but difficult to work with. No sense of humor.

GERTRUDE:
I can see yours hasn’t suffered much, Robby. (to Hemingway) You can see what I put up with?

HEMINGWAY:
Ah … the burden of being a genius.

She goodnaturedly throws a large napkin at him which he expertly fields.

GERTRUDE:
Got any more of those dishes left?

She gets up and goes over to the dishes. Sid, who has been working the recorder and dropping the dishes, hands her some.

SID:
A few.

The rest of the cast have been chatting with one another. One by one they notice Gertrude with some dishes poised in the air. They all get the same idea.

ALL CHANT TOGETHER:
“… more like David than Henry Davidson.”

CRASH!

 

SCENE 27: A LETTER TO MR. FORD.

Gertrude and Alice are in the salon—Alice at the table with a large “royal” typewriter, Gertrude sitting back in an easy chair, a few feet away. Alice wears a large hat, a “Pariesienne” creation with a large flower on it. Gertrude holds her walking stick, which she uses to punctuate her speech. A cigar burns in the ashtray.

GERTRUDE:
My Dear Mr. Ford. It is with deep regret that I begin this letter. It is my sad duty to inform you that our beloved Priscilla has breathed her last.

ALICE:
Paragraph.

GERTRUDE:
Paragraph. She was a good and faithful friend who served without complaint throughout the long hard years of the War, as well as the pleasant pastoral days that followed.

ALICE:
We knew the end was near and it was difficult to let her go. But her time had come.

GERTRUDE:
Good. Paragraph. You, more than most, can understand how we at 27 rue de Fleurus must feel. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to do us one small favor. Is it possible that you could send us another … just like her. Paragraph.

ALICE:
Paragraph.

GERTRUDE:
Mr. Ford, we understand that this may be too small a matter for a man of your stature, but, Mr. Ford, we have nowhere else to turn. Your attention in this matter would mean so much.

ALICE:
She was a 1920 Model A truck, frame only. We shall be in Paris until June 15th.

GERTRUDE:
Thank you so much for your kind attention. Yours truly, Gertrude Stein (driver) and Alice B. Toklas (navigator). Do you think he’ll go for it?

ALICE:
If the man has any heart at all, he can’t fail to be touched.

GERTRUDE:
Should we send a few snapshots of us with the doughboys? Perhaps he could use them for publicity.

ALICE:
People are trying to forget the War. Besides, Mr. Ford is trying to sell new cars … not old trucks.

GERTRUDE:
What if I offer to write him a testimonial.

ALICE: (performing)
A Ford is a Ford is a Ford … I’m not sure the public’s ready for that.

GERTRUDE:
Perhaps for the more “elite” models?

AlICE:
I don’t think Ford makes “elite” models … only Common Cars for the Common Man.

GERTRUDE:
Do we stand any chance at all?

ALICE:
Let’s mail it and see. What have we to lose? Perhaps the man has a soft spot for modern writers.

GERTRUDE: (with a midwestern twang)
A Ford is a Ford is a Ford. I don’t think it’s so bad.

ALICE:
Just get the stamp.

Two Videotapes by Mark Magill
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Originally published in

BOMB 13, Fall 1985

David Salle, John Huston, Richard Chaves & Vincent Caristi, art by Carroll Dunham, Moira Dryer, and more.

Read the issue
013 Fall 1985