|Raymond Chandler, 1888-1959|
author of the Philip Marlowe detective novels
As I wrote yesterday,I gradually became a fanatical reader of mystery/thriller novels over the past few decades, a passion ignited by Raymond Chandler, whose novels featuring private eye Philip Marlowe are such "standards" now that they've merited two volumes in The Library of America (LOA Chandler listing). And--as I wrote yesterday--that Chandler-passion led me in the spring of 1976 to begin writing a play with and for my middle school students.
Twice a week, a group of eighth graders and I would gather forty-five minutes before the school day began to think and laugh and write. We met over the summer, too. And then--when the 1976-1977 school year began, we met every Saturday for several hours to complete the script. We finished it over Christmas vacation that year. And on April 15-16, 1977, we mounted our production at Harmon Middle School.
My dear colleagues Andy Kmetz (choreography) and Ted Clawson (musical arrangements) made everything look and sound much better than if Yours Truly had been in charge of all.
But ... I have gone to the basement. Have opened one of the myriads of boxes. Have found the precious (?) script. And read the opening scene--Marlowe's soliloquy: My name is Philip Marlowe, Private Eye. It began on one of those hot summer Los Angeles nights--the kind of night when your beer glass sweats as much as you do, and pulling your shirt off at night is like peeling off an old band-aid.
Get the picture? And I remember, as I read on, that we used some actual lines from Chandler novels--like this one: Now she's the kind of gal that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.
And our characters? Lt. O'Really. Det. Littlekopp. Lawrence Shyster (guess his profession?). Jacques De Ripper (kind of like that one). Dr. Ima Shrink. Mrs. Prudence Periwinkle and Percy Periwinkle. We had a Head Ubby Dubby, too, in case you were wondering. And ... the Voice of God (recorded--and performed not by the Deity but by John Mlinek, who'd been in the first Aurora play I'd ever done in the spring of 1967; John remains a friend--had dinner last summer!).
And did I say that ours was a musical comedy? With those great hits "That Old Urge to Beat up Philip Marlowe" (to the tune of "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle"), "That Old Lady's Crazy, Just as Crazy Can Be" ("In the Mood"), "They Get a Kick Out of Me" ("I Get No Kick") ... Oh, we had an indulgent audience!
A sample of our deathless lyrics:
That old urge to beat up Philip Marlowe
Is an urge that I try not to resist.
Want to splurge while mashing Philip Marlowe
And to be a plastic surgeon with my fist.
We had a chorus line, too--seventh & eighth grade girls. And--as I recall--we had a full house, both nights, of wildly appreciative fans. This I choose to believe. (And pretty much think is true.)
And I just remembered: Closing night we had a dinner theater! A full meal in the cafeteria after the show. Such ambition--something about which Macbeth knew a little (Act 1, Scene 7):
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
Well, we actually did pull the whole thing off, had a great time. And I have peopled my memory with all-too-evanescent memories of the whole thing.
But one thing I do remember: My obsession with Chandler ended at the dinner theater. But my detective-novel mania raged on--as you will see on the morrow ...
TO BE CONTINUED