Steve Hauk

About Steve Hauk

Steve Hauk is a playwright, short story writer, and art expert in Pacific Grove, California. Co-curator of This Side of Eden—Images of Steinbeck's California, the inaugural art exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center, he has written on John Steinbeck for Steinbeck Review and is the author of two CINE Golden Eagle award-winning PBS-telecast documentaries narrated by Jack Lemmon, Time Captured in Paintings: The Monterey Legacy and The Roots of California Photography: The Monterey Legacy. His plays include Fortune's Way, or Notes on Art for Catholics (and Others)The Floating Hat, Reflections of an American Mossad, A Mild Concussion, and The Cottages, Scenes from Lives Interrupted. Steinbeck . . . the Untold Stories, a book of stories based on real and imagined moments in John Steinbeck’s life, will be published in 2017. A former reporter for the Monterey County Herald, he has written on art for magazines and museum catalogs.

The Monterey Peninsula and John Steinbeck’s Myna Bird

Image of John Steinbeck sculpture in Monterey

Although I think he eventually changed his mind, in 1972 I was able to empathize with John Steinbeck’s dislike of being interviewed when a writer from National Geographic magazine came to California’s Monterey Peninsula to do a cover piece on the region. His name was Mike Edwards, and he phoned me to set up an interview. I had been a reporter for the Monterey Peninsula Herald, as it was called then, and had left there and was now working over the hill for the Carmel Pine Cone. Interviewing people was the same for both newspapers and I felt at ease with it. Being on the other side of the desk, being interviewed myself instead of doing the interviewing, seemed a natural, so I said yes when Mike called.

National Geographic Captured “Interesting Times” in 1972

Image of hippie near MontereyThese were interesting times in our region. The hippie movement was in full flux and kids were getting in trouble smoking weed and running away from Cleveland or Denver and hiding out from frantic parents on the Monterey Peninsula or down in Big Sur. I did a story for the Herald about a local mayor riding with the police to root out the hippies. The next day I encountered the mayor and, his eyes big, he said, “My God, that story you did on me—people are furious with me!’’ That reflects the way Monterey Peninsula people could be in those days. There was a lot of conservative money, yes, but most of the citizens believed in individual rights. They didn’t want a mayor to be a cop hassling hippies. When an oil company threatened to drill in Monterey Bay, protestors included hippies and others from the left, along with marchers from the right, joining in common cause. The oil company backed off.

When I met with Mike Edwards at my desk at the Pine Cone I was surprised to discover that, while interviewing others was easy, being interviewed made me uncomfortable. Though Mike was a gentleman, polite and professional, I was a nervous wreck. I was used to asking the questions, not answering them, and I was relieved when the November National Geographic appeared and I saw that Mike had been merciful. I was neither quoted nor mentioned in “A Land Apart – The Monterey Peninsula,’’ though I hoped I’d at least provided him with some decent background for his story.

Cover image from November 1972 National Geographic

Mike had come to the Monterey Peninsula deeply interested in the region through reading John Steinbeck. He wrote in his piece that he was drawn to the “derelict sheds – part corrugated metal, part masonry, part rusting clutter – that stand along the seven blocks of Cannery Row’’ by reading Cannery Row. Steinbeck’s friends Bruce and Jean Ariss helped him understand the area even more. The Arisses were on their way to becoming local legendary figures themselves, in part because of their friendship with Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, but also because they were talented artists of great strength and character. Bruce was a painter and writer. Jean was the author of two novels—The Quick Years and The Shattered Glass.

“Being Quotable” About the Title of The Grapes of Wrath

Cover image from "The Grapes of Wrath"“I spent an interesting afternoon in the company of Jean,” Mike wrote, “and her husband, Bruce, a writer, editor, and artist well known for his murals,” explaining that “they saw Steinbeck often in Edward Ricketts’ laboratory on the Row.‘’ After describing Steinbeck as “a large, thickset man, usually wearing jeans and a shabby sheepskin coat,” Jean told Mike about spending a day in 1939 with John Steinbeck, his wife Carol, and Ed Ricketts, going over the manuscript of John’s new novel, not yet titled. “She remembers Ricketts saying to Steinbeck, ‘This is a fine book – your best. It will win you the Nobel Prize.’ . . . The group spent the afternoon trying to think of a title, finally agreeing on ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ “

That’s what you call being quotable. John Steinbeck gave Carol credit for the title, so perhaps it was on the day Jean recalled in her interview with Mike Edwards. I wish Jean had been more specific. If she were, I’m sure Mike would have reported it. He went on to a distinguished career, writing 54 articles from around the world for National Geographic. He was honored by the Foreign Correspondents Association for his writing on the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl—something Steinbeck would have admired, the courage to cover that story—and he retired as a senior editor at National Geographic in 2002. He died last year in Arlington, Virginia.

Cover image from "Conversations with John Steinbeck"Why do I think John Steinbeck eventually changed his mind about being interviewed? Because of a collection of 26 articles, all quoting Steinbeck, titled Conversations with John Steinbeck, edited by Thomas Fensch and published by the University of Mississippi. At times Steinbeck comes across as taciturn and uncooperative. At others he really seems to be enjoying himself. My wife Nancy and I picked up a copy several years ago in a little shop on Lighthouse Avenue in New Monterey, which used to have a half-dozen bookstores specializing in collectible editions. At the time I was working on a play about Steinbeck, setting him in his New York apartment at night, the only other characters a ghost, a talking myna bird, and a whirring tape recorder.

I got the idea for the myna bird from a Steinbeck letter I traded for some years ago, a handwritten missive to Fred Zinnemann, the director of High Noon, From Here to Eternity, and other fine films. In the letter Steinbeck is giving the myna bird to Zinneman, and describes the bird’s character and required care. The tape recorder in the play was, I think (one can never be quite sure about these things) my own invention, perhaps inspired by reading that Steinbeck liked tinkering and “gadgets.”

The Imaginary Myna Bird With the Meaningful Name

Nancy and I took Conversations with John Steinbeck home, sat down on the couch, and opened it. One of the first interviews we read was a 1952 piece by New York Times drama critic Lewis Nichols interviewing Steinbeck in the author’s Manhattan apartment. They seemed to get along well as Steinbeck discussed work on the book that would become East of Eden. Steinbeck proudly mentioned having a writing room, something that—echoing Virginia Woolf—he considered of paramount importance. “This,” Nichols wrote, “is the first room of his own he ever has had.’’ Then: “It is a very quiet room. For companionship, Mr. Steinbeck would like to get a myna bird. With a tape recorder he would teach this to ask questions, never answer, just ask.’’

Representational image of myna birdWhen we read that, Nancy looked at me and we laughed. We felt we were channeling John Steinbeck, though to this day I still haven’t finished the play. Neither have I given up. Someday. And someday I’d like to elaborate on Steinbeck’s charming myna bird letter to Zinnemann. Steinbeck, incidentally, called the myna bird “John L.”

For the fighter John L. Sullivan? Or the labor leader John L. Lewis? Either one would be meaningful.


An Artful Reminder of Japanese American Internment 75 Years Ago

Image of George Matsasaburo Hibbi's painting from Topaz camp

The forced internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor distressed John Steinbeck, who admired Franklin Roosevelt, the president who signed the internment order. Today, exactly 75 years later, the memory of Executive Order 9066 continues to burden American history. An anniversary article on the World War II internment of Japanese Americans in the January 2017 issue of Smithsonian Magazine leads off with a profile of Jane Yanagi Diamond, a vibrant internment survivor I happen to know.

Image of Dorthea Lange's Photograph of young Jane Yanagi and family

The 1942 photograph taken by Steinbeck’s ally and contemporary Dorothea Lange (above) shows Jane as a sorrowing child holding on to her pregnant mother’s hand, moments before the Yanagi family boards a bus on the way to the emergency assembly center hastily set up by the federal government at a California racetrack. The family was then sent to Topaz, an internment camp in Utah that would also house two exceptional California artists, Chiura Obata and George Matsusaburo Hibi. Obata, an art instructor at UC Berkeley, and Hibi, a prolific painter from Hayward, California, founded an art school at Topaz that uncovered hidden talent and helped internees cope until the war ended and they could go home.

Image of George Matsasaburo Hibbi's painting of Topaz camp

Obata eventually returned to his teaching post at Cal and became famous for his Yosemite scenes. Hibi’s paintings included internment camp scenes like the one shown here. He was also magnanimous, donating 50 of his and his family paintings to the Hayward community before being sent to Topaz. Michael Brown, the author of Views from Asian California – 1920-1965, quotes Hibi as saying this about the gift: “There is no boundary in art. This is the only way I can show my appreciation to my many American friends here.’’ Obata died in 1975, Hibi in 1947, two years after his release from Topaz.

Image of Jane Yanagi Diamond at home in Carmel today

How Creating Art Helped Japanese Americans Survive

Obata and Hibi were part of a remarkable art movement in the Japanese American camps, most of which included professional artists who realized the importance of establishing a creative outlet for the internees. The work they produced–both professionals and students–was so moving, so powerful that in 1992 the Japanese American National Museum, the Wight Art Gallery at UCLA, and UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center assembled a landmark traveling exhibition, “The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps 1942-1945.” Hibi’s colorful painting of four Topaz internees seated at easels is testimony to the spirit of the movement he and Obata helped create.

Obata and Hibi were part of a remarkable art movement in the Japanese American camps, most of which included professional artists who realized the importance of establishing a creative outlet for the internees.

I was a reporter at the time, and I wrote several articles about the exhibition. My interest was initially stirred when I learned that a Japanese American artist named Miki Hayakawa was taken from my town of Pacific Grove, California, to an internment camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I knew Hayakawa was a superb artist because several of her exquisite paintings had come into the art gallery that my wife Nancy and I owned there. Hayakawa lived in Pacific Grove from 1939 until her removal to the camp and may well have known—or known of—John Steinbeck, who was in Pacific Grove off and on during that period. Hayakawa died in Santa Fe in 1953.

I was a reporter at the time, and I wrote several articles about the exhibition, ‘The World From Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945.’

I met Jane Yanagi Diamond (shown above at home) several years ago when she and her husband Tony came into the gallery. They live in Carmel and had a painting by Hibi that had hung at Topaz and that Hibi gave to Jane’s father when the family was released. Jane wanted to find a good home for the work and together we decided that it should return to Topaz, where a museum had been established to memorialize the internment of Japanese Americans like Jane. The piece was dramatic. Painted on four panels, it depicts three tigers stalking a brave antelope or gazelle, head down, determined to hold its ground in the face of an approaching threat. I wondered at the time if Hibi painted it to give children like Jane the courage they needed to go on.

I met Jane Yanagi Diamond when she and her husband Tony came into the gallery. They live in Carmel and had a painting by Hibi that had hung at the Topaz camp.

Jane developed a love of art, favoring the freedom of California plein air painting—work painted out of doors in an Impressionistic manner—and attending frequent art openings in and around Carmel with her husband. When an exhibition of Nancy’s paintings opened at the Pacific Grove Library several years ago, Tony and Jane were there. She recently shared a story about her father. “After Topaz,” she said, “whenever my father would get angry about something–sometimes something I might have done–I could always redirect his anger by mentioning Franklin Roosevelt because it brought back memories.”

Jane developed a love of art, favoring the freedom of California plein air painting and attending frequent art openings in and around Carmel with Tony. She recently shared a story about her father.

The Yanagi family also had the three tigers and the gazelle to help them hold onto a piece of personal history made less painful by art. But Hibi’s painting has now returned to Topaz, where it will continue to tell the story of artful courage and coping from a troubling episode in American history.

Photograph of Jane Yanagi Diamond by Paul Kitagaki Jr. courtesy Smithsonian Magazine.

John Steinbeck’s Monterey County: On Reading Steve Crouch’s Steinbeck Country

Image of Steve Crouch portrait by Martha Casanave

Photograph of Steve Crouch by Martha Casanave

A few days ago I bought a second copy of Steve Crouch’s 1973 photography book Steinbeck Country from a young man in financial trouble, the only reason I made the purchase. That evening I glanced at several chapters. They were powerful and prescient (“ . . . the seeds of desperation are at hand. They may already have been planted.’’), and I had to keep reminding myself that the book wasn’t written by John Steinbeck. Why I had it in my head that Steve Crouch–a top-tier photographer–shouldn’t be a fine writer as well, I have no idea.

Steve Crouch–a gentleman I knew only slightly–seemed to have absorbed some of John Steinbeck’s style and love for Monterey County. Each of the 20 chapters of his book leads off with a quotation from Steinbeck’s writing, and the chapter titles (“The Farmers,” “The Spanish,” “The River Valley,” “The Mountains”) have Steinbeck’s simplicity. One—“The Mexicans—is especially relevant to the threats made against the nation’s Mexican-American population in the recent presidential campaign.

Cover image from Steinbeck Country by Steve CrouchI met Steve when I was a reporter at the Monterey Herald, where he would occasionally take on freelance assignments. I don’t know whether he was ever a staff member, but I recall seeing him in 1973, not long after Steinbeck Country had been published by American West Publishing Company of Palo Alto.  I recall Steve smiling shyly and scratching the back of his head when someone stopped to compliment him on the book, as if the book’s success had come as a complete surprise to him. I wasn’t into Steinbeck yet, and my interest in the book at the time was simply for its exquisite photography. If I could go back I’d ask him about the people and places he discovered during his travels around Monterey County, his meetings and relations with the people and the land celebrated by John Steinbeck in The Pastures of Heaven, Cannery Row, and East of Eden.

Steve’s intimate familiarity with Monterey County is evident in a chapter called “The Wind.” No one can write about the Salinas Valley convincingly without writing about the wind, and Steve experienced its harshness when he photographed farm laborers: “The people who work in the fields come prepared against the wind, muffled to the eyes, for the wind can cut to the bone. Men riding the tractors resemble Bedouins of the desert.’’ I experienced the same winds, though less painfully, in my job as a reporter. For instance, while covering a high school baseball game in the valley one day, I witnessed a player throw his cap in anger. The afternoon wind blew the cap high up onto the backstop and, roaring, held it there for the entire game, several hours. It ripped pages from my reporter’s notebook. Imagine what it could do to stoop laborers, men and women, cutting lettuce heads.

The people who work in the fields come prepared against the wind, muffled to the eyes, for the wind can cut to the bone. Men riding the tractors resemble Bedouins of the desert.

In “The Mexicans” Steve quotes To a God Unknown, then tells the story of the legendary bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, a kind of Latin Robin Hood who died in 1875 at the end of a rope. Though honored in memory by many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Vasquez may not have been Mexican at all: “[I]n those days of ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian,’ it was also said that ’the only good Mexican is a dead Mexican.’” Of mixed blood, Tiburcio Vasquez “was too dark ever to be taken for Anglo-Saxon,” and Anglo migrants from the East were moving in on Monterey County’s Mexican-Americans. “That his cause was hopeless did not matter,” Steve writes. “[W]hat was important was that he provided a champion for the Mexicans when they needed one.’’

Tiburcio Vasquez, a Latin Robin Hood who died in 1875 at the end of a rope, was a champion for the Mexicans when they needed one.

Moving on to the field worker strikes of the 1960s and 70s, Steve points to another form of Mexican-American displacement: “Mexicans who live on the farms are moving away, displaced by machines. Most of them have become permanent residents of the valley towns . . . . When they do work, the pay is good, particularly when a complete family works—and Mexican families often muster as many as eight or ten to work.” Reporting from Salinas, I saw instances where this ethic could be detrimental. For instance, there was a basketball coach at Alisal High named Jim Rear. Season after season he brilliantly coached a group of short (for basketball) Mexican-American players into smart, winning teams. When labor was needed some parents pulled their sons from the team to work in the fields, perhaps costing their children academic advancement or college scholarships in return for not much, but necessary, family money. Several players, some of them fine students, told me that their parents failed to see the need for extra school activities—including sports—when the boys could be earning money in the fields.

When they do work, the pay is good, particularly when a complete family works—and Mexican families often muster as many as eight or ten to work

After Steve died in 1984, the late photographer Al Weber saved his work from a trip to the dump. Steve’s book has become a classic, and his photos of John Steinbeck’s Monterey County are now part of the special collection at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The second copy of Steinbeck Country I bought was inscribed by a woman named Rosalind to a man named Larry, who “introduced me not only to Steinbeck, but to so many of the beauties within the pages of this book. May `Steinbeck Country’ bring you some of the pleasure and joy you have brought me.‘’

Steve Crouch must have liked that. I think Steinbeck would too.

Photograph of Steve Crouch @Martha Casanave.

Passed On: John Steinbeck’s Affinity for the Visual Arts

Image of Thom and John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck not only liked being painted, he liked artists and had a deep affinity for the visual arts. For much of his life he counted artists among his most trusted friends. His appreciation for the visual arts, and the needs of working artists, started on the Monterey Peninsula and continued in New York. As suggested by this undated photograph of Steinbeck with his son Thom, he passed this appreciation on to his children. As a result, of the great American writers of the 20th century perhaps none has been captured in portraits and drawings as often as John Steinbeck.

Cover image of Monterey Peninsula art colony history

I think there are two main reasons for Steinbeck’s attraction to artists and being a subject of their work. The place where Steinbeck lived for much of his first 40 years, California’s Monterey Peninsula, was thick with gifted artists when Steinbeck was growing up and beginning his career. And because what Steinbeck was writing in the 1930s and 40s did not make him particularly popular with the local establishment, even endangering him, his circle of friends was necessarily limited, and included artists. This connection with artists carried over when Steinbeck moved to New York and eventually extended to Europe as well. I have a 2001 letter from the late Thomas Steinbeck in which he wrote, “By the time I showed up on the scene, my father had already sat for a number of notable painters.’’ Thom “showed up’’ in New York City, where he was born to John Steinbeck and Gwyndolyn Conger in 1944.

Image of Judith Deim, Ellwood Graham, and children

Three major portraits of Steinbeck that we know of were made before he left California for New York. One was by James Fitzgerald. The other two were by the husband-and-wife artists Ellwood Graham and Judith Deim, shown here with their children in an unattributed photograph from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Image of John Steinbeck portrait by James FitzgeraldFitzgerald was born in Milton, Massachusetts and arrived in 1928 as a seaman aboard a freighter. Once he settled in Monterey, he became a part of the group of writers and artists who gathered at Ed Ricketts’s legendary lab on Cannery Row. In 1935, the year Tortilla Flat was published, Fitzgerald did this charcoal study of a young, gaunt Steinbeck, his face half in shadow, that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Reportedly Steinbeck and Fitzgerald had their disagreements, but their friendship endured. There is a photograph of Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Ricketts standing on Cannery Row with improvised musical instruments in their hands, including pots and pans. Fitzgerald left Monterey in 1943 for Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine; several years ago the Monhegan Museum established the James Fitzgerald Legacy in honor of his standing as one of America’s greatest watercolorists.

Graham and Deim were both born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1911. Sometime in 1936 or 1937 they met Steinbeck and Ricketts–who were on their way to Mexico–while working on a WPA mural project at the Ventura Post Office in Southern California. The fiction writer and the marine biologist from Pacific Grove were impressed by the work and invited the young couple to visit the Monterey Peninsula, where Deim and Graham eventually settled. Steinbeck was generous, paying their way to Mexico to learn to “paint out loud,’’ advising them, Deim later wrote, to “go to Patzcuaro and not to Tasco where all the tourists go.’’

Image of John Steinbeck portrait by Judith Deim

In 2000 Deim wrote that when Steinbeck and Ricketts returned from their expedition to the Sea of Cortez in 1940 “there was much rejoicing, partying, storytelling at the Lab. After a few days of this . . . John felt it was time to get to work. He said, ‘Why don’t you kids paint my portrait and I shall be forced to concentrate and get on with my book.’” Deim’s modern, compact portrait of Steinbeck in the act of writing, shown here, now hangs at the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies in San Jose.

Image of John Steinbeck portrait by Ellwood Graham

Ellwood Graham’s psychological study of John Steinbeck (above) has been missing for decades. One story says that Steinbeck’s friend, the film director John Huston coveted the painting, another that it was won or lost in a poker game. Its discovery, if it still exists, would be a major find.

Image of self-portrait by Henry Varnum PoorOne of the first artists Steinbeck became friendly with in New York was Henry Varnum Poor, shown in this self-portrait. In the early 1940s Poor was, like Steinbeck, a resident of Rockland County, and he agreed to be a character witness for Steinbeck in 1942 when the writer applied for a New York State pistol license. This took some courage because Poor had executed a major mural in the Department of Justice building in Washington, and Steinbeck was controversial.

In 1944 John and Gwyn commissioned Poor to do a Steinbeck family portrait, with Gwyn holding a crying infant Thomas. It’s a stark painting. Thom, who disparaged his depiction by Poor in the 2001 letter, added that “My mother loved this painting above all others, which only lends credence to Mr. Poor’s interpretive skills.’’ Whatever he thought of Poor’s painting—which now belongs to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas—John Steinbeck continued the family-portrait habit. Thom, again in his 2001 letter, noted that “before I could tear myself from the ancestral grasp, my portrait had been painted three times.’’

By maintaining his relationship with artists in New York, it’s possible that Steinbeck wanted to help keep them employed, as he had for Graham and Deim back on the Monterey Peninsula. Thom writes about his father’s close friendship in New York with “that singular genius William Ward Beecher.’’ Thom and his brother Johnnie were fascinated by Beecher’s work but were “pole-axed’’ when their father told them Beecher would paint their portrait, which they realized meant lengthy sittings, away from mischief-making. Thom later recalled that when he and John misbehaved their father took out his frustration by “shaking his fist’’ at his sons’ portraits rather than at them.

Image of Bo BeskowAnother Steinbeck portraitist was the handsome Swedish artist Bo Beskow (left), who painted or drew the writer at least three times. Beskow remained a trusted confidant during a three-decade relationship in which the two friends exchanged letters, notes, and encouragement, sometimes under trying circumstances. Beskow’s informal 1946 portrait of a smiling John Steinbeck illustrates the fall 2012 issue of Steinbeck Review. A Beskow drawing of Steinbeck with the notation “Copenhagen, Dec. 8, 1962’’—two days before Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize speech—came to auction several years ago.

Of course artists didn’t depict Steinbeck only in portraiture. Judith Deim’s late-1930s painting “Beach Picnic’’ shows Steinbeck, Ricketts, and other members of the lab group gathered on an unidentified Monterey Peninsula or Big Sur beach. Deim said the painting, which has a pensive quality, was done when threats were being made against Steinbeck and his friends gathered around him protectively, as the composition suggests.

Cover image of Cannery Row sketches by Bruce Ariss

Bruce Ariss, another prominent Monterey Peninsula artist from the lab group, did an arresting drawing of Steinbeck sitting under a cypress tree watching as the characters he created parade by on a busy Cannery Row. Ariss’s spontaneous drawings of Steinbeck and Ricketts and the others populate his book Inside Cannery Row: Sketches from the Steinbeck Era. Some of Ariss’s images can be seen today on the colorful banners that dot Cannery Row.

Not all of Steinbeck’s artist friends drew or painted him. Armin Hansen and Howard Everett Smith were leading artists on the Monterey Peninsula with close relationships to Steinbeck, but I know of no portrait of the writer by either one. Hansen wasn’t really a portraitist, so it’s unlikely he painted Steinbeck. Smith did do portraits: perhaps his most famous subject was the poet Robinson Jeffers, after John Steinbeck the Monterey Peninsula’s greatest literary figure.

Image of Tortilla Flat book illustration by Peggy Worthington Best

And then there were the illustrators of Steinbeck’s books. Mahlon Blaine, an artist Steinbeck met in 1925 while traveling to New York for work, created the cover art for Cup of Gold, Steinbeck’s first novel. Steinbeck was unsatisfied with the image, and he continued to be involved in selecting illustrators for many of the works that followed. To create the cover art and illustrations for the deluxe edition of Tortilla Flat like the one shown here, he helped choose Peggy Worthington (later Peggy Worthington Best), the wife of a poet and editor at Viking Press, his publisher. Thomas Hart Benton, the Missouri populist painter, was a natural choice to illustrate Viking’s deluxe edition of The Grapes of Wrath.

I’m uncertain whether Steinbeck knew Elmer Hader, the California artist who created the dust jacket for the first edition of the novel in 1939. Both Steinbeck and Hader were from Monterey County, Hader born in 1889 in the little town of Pajaro, not far from Salinas. If Hader wasn’t personally acquainted with the author, he certainly understood The Grapes of Wrath. His inspired image of the Oklahoma Joads seeing California for the first time has become almost as iconic as the characters themselves.

Cover image of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"

Some years ago I was contacted by the auction house that was putting the original watercolor for Hader’s Grapes of Wrath cover up for auction. They asked what I thought it should sell for. Guessing, I said $30,000-$35,000. That seemed high, they replied, since no Hader painting had ever sold for more than a tenth of that amount. Looking back today it’s obvious the eventual purchaser got a bargain . . . for $65,000.

I think Steinbeck would have smiled at that result. He liked artists and he wanted them to receive their due, preferably while they were alive. He passed on his affinity for the visual arts, and he did what he could to help the artists he knew.

This is the 300th post published by since the site launched three years ago. View the related video—Steinbeck’s Storied Artists, with commentary by Steve Hauk—from the site’s YouTube channel.—Ed.

Paul Newman’s Of Mice and Men: Steve Hauk’s True Story

Image of Paul Newman

Now and then I wonder what Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men would have looked like staged by Paul Newman, how it would have felt. Would George have taken on a swagger? Would Curley’s wife have been even sexier? Newman after all had a way with exotic characters, whether Ben Quick or Brick or Cool Hand Luke or Fast Eddie Felson.

Paul Newman had a way with exotic characters, whether Ben Quick or Brick or Cool Hand Luke or Fast Eddie Felson.

Before assuming Newman might have exaggerated or distorted Steinbeck’s earthier Lennie or Slim, it’s good to remember the Westport Country Playhouse production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Newman’s folksy Stage Manager couldn’t have been more sagely understated. That was in 2003.

Image of Westport Country Playhouse

By 2007 Newman was dying and knew he didn’t have much work left in him. The fact that he chose to direct Of Mice and Men at Westport–in what would have been his theater directing debut at age 81–was certainly a deep bow to Steinbeck. The play was to open in mid-2008, but Newman’s health worsened precipitously. He stepped down from the production on May 23.

The fact that he chose to direct ‘Of Mice and Men’ at Westport–in what would have been his theater directing debut at age 81–was certainly a deep bow to Steinbeck.

I was disappointed–I wanted to see what he would have done with it. While I knew I couldn’t make it to Westport to see the production, I figured it would be filmed, as Our Town had been for public television showing. Newman died several months later, in September 2008.

Newman’s Challenge: “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?”

I’d met Paul Newman two decades earlier. It was 1987. I was writing sports for the Monterey Herald, and he had come to Monterey to race at the Laguna Seca racetrack. We talked cars and speed, then the conversation turned to theater and film. He mentioned he would soon be editing a film version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie starring his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I’d met Newman two decades earlier. I was writing for the Monterey Herald, and he had come to Monterey to race at the Laguna Seca racetrack.

I have no idea why, but I said, ”Well, it’s a great play but don’t you think it’s been done too often?’’

He stared at me and said slowly and clearly, as if I was standing there talking to Chance Wayne throwing back another shot of bourbon, “It’ll knock your socks off–and I’ll bet ya’ a dime.’’

About then other reporters moved in and I said goodbye. I’d only gone a short way when Newman called after: “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’’

I’d only gone a short way when Newman called after: ‘Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’

The reporters stepped aside as he jotted his address on a scrap of paper. My wife Nancy and I saw the film several months later. Knocked our socks off. I wanted to send him the dime but couldn’t find the scrap of paper with his address–and have not come across it to this day.

The reporters stepped aside as he jotted his address on a scrap of paper.

I’ve never felt so guilty over nonpayment of anything. I knew he expected some kind of reply and just about the worse kind of reply to anything is silence. Years later I got an address for him and mailed him a dollar. I didn’t receive an answer but by then he was fighting the cancer and I didn’t expect one. Still, I hoped he’d read my apologetic letter and smile as he pocketed the dollar.

Paul Newman and Steinbeck: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

paul-newman-racingOf Mice and Men would to my knowledge have been Newman’s first artistic encounter with Steinbeck. But that day in 1987 at the racetrack in Monterey, when the conversation turned to literature, he acknowledged he was in Steinbeck country in classic Newman style. His blue eyes scanning the surrounding hills close by Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven, he said, “No wonder Steinbeck loved it here–sure is pretty.’’

Paul Newman was famous for the way he could throw a line. But the one that will always haunt me is “Where ya’ gonna send the dime?’’ 

Another true story by Steve Hauk will appear next week, the 300th blog post published since launched three years ago. Meanwhile, here is a sample of Paul Newman’s “folksy Stage Manager” in the 2003 Westport Country Playhouse production of Our Town.–Ed.

The Day I Met Muhammad Ali: A Surreal Experience

Photo of Muhammad Ali by Ralph Starkweather

Photo and copyright by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

In the fall of 1962 I was at Los Angeles City College writing for the school newspaper. In an article I predicted that a young boxer named Cassius Clay, eventually to be known as Muhammad Ali, would lose his upcoming fight to the crafty Archie Moore. I said the brash, youthful Clay would hobble across the ring at the end of the fight to congratulate the grandfatherly Moore. That led to a surreal encounter with Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion who died on June 3 after battling Parkinson Disease for three decades.

I predicted that a young boxer named Cassius Clay, eventually to be known as Muhammad Ali, would lose his upcoming fight to the crafty Archie Moore.

Los Angeles was a hotbed of prize fighting in the 1960s. The heavyweight division in particular was crowded with talented fighters, many of whose lives would end prematurely. Though Parkinson Disease had a name, chronic traumatic encephalopathy was unfamiliar. Fighters ended up suffering from CTE anyway, and Ali eventually contracted Parkinson Disease, a degenerative condition with multiple causes and no cure.

Los Angeles was a hotbed of prize fighting in the 1960s. The heavyweight division in particular was crowded with talented fighters, many of whose lives would end prematurely.

Few fighters were able to hit Ali in 1962, but head trauma was already, or was becoming, an issue for boxers such as Joey Orbillo, Jerry Quarry, and Eddie Machen. Quarry, saddled with the Great White Hope label, would eventually die of what was described at the time as dementia pugilistica. He became helpless and required round-the-clock care. Machen, a fighter of ballet-like grace, took terrible beatings toward the end of his career, spent time in a psychiatric ward, and fell to his death from an apartment window at age 40.

Few fighters were able to hit Ali in 1962, but head trauma was already, or was becoming, an issue for boxers such as Joey Orbillo, Jerry Quarry, and Eddie Machen.

Orbillo, who fought Quarry while on leave from service in Vietnam, courageously walked point during combat missions–an extremely dangerous duty which he volunteered for because, he reasoned, he was single and his comrades had families. He took such a severe beating from Quarry that he was held back from combat, and another soldier was killed taking the point in his place. Mourning the loss, Orbillo credited Quarry with saving his life.

Life at Los Angeles City College in 1962

These tragic stories–and there were many in the heavyweight division–had yet to be told when I wrote about the Ali-Moore fight for the Los Angeles City College paper. Thinking back, I have no idea why I even wrote the column. Ali was of course famous, but there were few signs of his future greatness. And Los Angeles was full of celebrities, some of whom—David Jansen and James Coburn, for instance—could be seen walking across campus or sitting in coffee houses along Vermont Avenue.

These tragic stories had yet to be told when I wrote about the Ali-Moore fight for the Los Angeles City College paper.

Clint Eastwood, Donna Reed, Paul Winfield–a superb Othello–and Morgan Freeman had taken classes at Los Angeles City College. So had the poet Charles Bukowski, as well as musicians Charles Mingus, John Williams, and Leonard Slatkin. While working at the newspaper I covered a lecture given in the stadium by writer Aldous Huxley. It was one of his last. During my interview with Huxley I realized how terribly ill he was.

The Day Muhammad Ali Walked through the Door

Many of the buildings at Los Angeles City College were relatively new at the time, but the newspaper office was located in a long, narrow prefab with tiny windows. The day my piece on the Ali-Moore fight appeared, I was working on another story when I heard someone chanting “I want Hauk! I want Hauk!” in the distance. The voice was familiar. I stepped outside and saw Ali approaching the building, surrounded by excited students and waving a copy of the paper.

The newspaper office was located in a long, narrow prefab with tiny windows. I heard someone chanting ‘I want Hauk!’ in the distance. The voice was familiar.

“Are you Hauk?” Ali said. “Now don’t lie to me–I can see you are! How could you write this–me lose to Archie Moore? Don’t you know I’m the greatest? Can’t you see I’m pretty? Don’t you know I’m going to give that old man Archie Moore the spanking of his life?”

‘Are you Hauk?’ Ali said. ‘Now don’t lie to me. I can see that you are!’

I replied that it was a columnist’s job to have an opinion. Ali laughed and said that was fine, but he’d prove me wrong. Then he led the students back across the campus. Later he returned to the newsroom alone, sat down, and introduced himself. He was soft-spoken, a bit shy, and quick to smile.

I replied that it was a columnist’s job to have an opinion. Ali laughed and said that was fine, but he’d prove me wrong.

He went on to beat Archie Moore in four rounds, just as he had promised. At the end of the fight I was happy to hear he walked–not hobbled–across the ring to embrace the older man. It bothered me that he shrugged off the win by saying he had beaten “an old man.” Moore deserved better. Ali in those days could be a touch cruel, a quality he wrung from himself and turned into amazing compassion.

Parkinson Disease, Gentleness, and Death

As the years passed Ali began to take the kind of punches that so damaged other fighters, some of them heavyweight champions. Those magnificent heavyweights were killing each other. Then Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease, and one can’t help from feeling it had been hurried along by all of those punches.

As the years passed Ali began to take the kind of punches that had so damaged the other heavyweights, some of them champions.

That he held on for three decades was a testament to Muhammad Ali’s will and resolve, which he called on for causes far beyond the parameters of boxing–and an instinctive gentleness, humor, and kindness, which I had been fortunate enough to experience.

Photo of Muhammad Ali by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

Photo and copyright by Ralph Elliott Starkweather

The Photography of Ralph Elliott Starkweather

In a distinguished career ranging the world, Ralph Elliott Starkweather has taken photographs for Life, National Geographic, Gourmet, Smithsonian, and many other magazines. He also had a close relationship with Muhammad Ali, traveling with the late fighter and even recording him moving into a new home.

Ralph explains how the lead photo, published here for the first time, was taken: “I went to his home to document his moving into a place called Rossmore in Los Angeles. It was exclusive at the time–guard-gated. My favorite photo because for 10 minutes he was on his own left to his thoughts. In a way like a Black Buddha deep in meditation.”

The other photo is of Ali hoisting Starkweather’s nephew, Chris English, 37 years ago at Los Angeles International Airport. Ali would have been about 37 or 38 at the time, halfway through his life.

“Bill”: Monterey, California Short Story by Steve Hauk

Portrait image of Bill of Monterey, California by the artist CKline (Caroline)



Bill has swept back blond hair, lazy blue eyes, sucked in cheeks, a gaunt, leathery look from years of house painting. He spent decades balancing on ladders braced by collapsing gutters or rotting sideboard, but never fell far or broke a bone. Other than part-time bartending in a place called Segovia’s in Monterey, California, Bill’s retired now. He still drives the paint-smeared pickup truck he used in his work. Though he’s working less, he’s still gaunt.

Bill’s from Philadelphia and grew up hearing stories about an uncle he never met, Philly fighter Eddie Cool. Eddie squandered his talent, falling down drunk in the city’s gutters. He once said his father died a drunk, and he would, too. So for a lot of years Bill steered away from alcohol. He remembered meeting and getting to know the old Philly trainer Sam Solomon, and openly crying as Solomon described again and again the handsome Cool’s demise at the age of thirty-five due to careless living and drinking.

Still, Bill was naturally sociable so he took a drink now and then, and then a few more. After a stint in the Navy, he roamed the country, hoisting beers along the way. In New Mexico he decided he’d like to live in Alaska and packed up his pickup truck. When he hit the California coastline he turned north. When he came to Monterey he pulled over and watched the waves breaking on the shore. This gave him a kind of peace. He decided to put Alaska on hold.

Bill walked away from a hotel room for twenty-seven dollars a night, got one for seventeen, then a few days later found an affordable, thin-walled fisherman’s cottage just above Cannery Row. Rent included a chair, a cot, a black and white TV – he picked up a fridge at the dump. He found piecemeal labor jobs. He installed braces and boards on the sides of his pickup truck bed and made money hauling stuff. When someone asked him if could paint, he did that, too, and graduated from interiors to more dangerous exteriors.

At a pizza bar he met an older couple, Bruce and Jean, who had been friends – young protégés back then – of the late author John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts. Bruce, a painter, and Jean, a writer, liked a good time to dull some dark memories. Being with people they liked helped, so their house up on Huckleberry Hill was often wide open for guests. One day, not having seen him for a time, Bruce and Jean showed up at Bill’s cottage with a bottle of Chianti.

This surprised Bruce and Jean’s other friends. They said, “Bruce and Jean don’t visit you – you visit them. What’s going on?’’ Bruce told Bill, “Do you know why we like hanging out with you? You don’t treat us like old people.’’

Bill attributed that to his relationship with the Philly trainer Sam Solomon. Bill hadn’t treated Sam as old either, he loved him too much.

Bruce and Jean had seen a lot of life – violence in the valley’s agricultural fields, Steinbeck’s life threatened, and the much-loved Ricketts killed when his car stalled on the train tracks, standing by as his broken body was lifted onto a stretcher. They’d also seen artists and writers and poets fail, while they themselves had struggled to establish themselves; they did better than most though recognition was long in coming. For every local artistic success story, there were many more of failure, a few suicides sprinkled among them.

Through Bruce and Jean, Bill became a regular at Ricketts’ old laboratory on Cannery Row. A kind of men’s club had established itself of artists, cartoonists, judges, writers, professors, business types, all of a slightly raffish bent.

Hanging over them were the memories of Steinbeck and Ricketts, giving the place an exhilarating though sometimes haunted quality. In the good times, people swore you could get high just breathing the air, simply by stepping into the lab. The lab could also be unpleasantly aromatic. Rotting kelp and dead sea life would wash ashore on the rocks just below the concrete deck that extended out behind the lab. Still, that just added to the character of the place.

Eventually Bill left the board and batten cottage and rented a larger house in nearby Pacific Grove. It was a short walk to the shoreline, a middling one to the Row. When a friend lost his job, Bill rented him a room for almost nothing. When another separated from her husband, Bill rented her a room. And so on. Bill couldn’t say no, though granted he liked receiving rent – but, he told himself, it wasn’t much and included full kitchen privileges as long as people cleaned up after themselves.

The house at various times held seven or eight people, including a charming but luckless scholar in a frayed blue blazer living in the garage, made more comfortable by carpet remnants Bill gathered from painting jobs. Bill’s became a social center to rival Bruce and Jean’s.

One night the tenants and Bruce and Jean were sitting around Bill’s half watching the Academy Awards while sipping cocktails when Bill noticed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was winning all the awards but its author wasn’t on hand. Bill asked Bruce and Jean if, in the day, Steinbeck showed up when his books made into films were up for awards.

“That wouldn’t have been like John,’’ said Jean, and Bruce nodded.

Bill sipped his cocktail and pondered. He knew Ken Kesey lived in Springfield, Oregon. So though he realized it was a long shot, he turned down the television and called information. He not only got a number, when he dialed Kesey himself answered in his crystalline voice: “Ken here.’’

Surprised, Bill said, “Bill here.’’

“Bill who?’’

“Bill of Monterey.’’

After a pause, “Well – Bill of Monterey – what can I do for you?’’

Bill explained he’d heard Kesey had had a falling out with the film’s producers and guessed that’s why he wasn’t in Hollywood, and what did he think of what was going on so far?

“Well, I‘m in the backyard shed editing a magazine article, no TV, so I don’t know what’s going on down there. But since you ask me how I feel about it . . . have you ever suddenly remembered you have something important in your pocket, but when you reach in all you find is a hole big enough to match the growing pit in your stomach? That’s how I feel. Something important to me . . . part of me . . . is missing.’’

Bill felt tears coming to his eyes.

“Like after a shock treatment?’’

“Yeah, maybe so . . . .’’

“Or a lobotomy?’’

“You don’t feel anything after a lobotomy, Bill of Monterey – that’s why they do them.’’


When Bill got off the phone, he confused Kesey and shock treatments and lobotomies in his head with Sam Solomon and Uncle Eddie Cool lying in a Philly gutter – and wiped the tears from his eyes. Bruce and Jean comforted him. He was becoming like a son to them.

Portrait image of Bill, Ken Kesey, and Jean and Bruce Ariss by the artist CKline (Caroline)


Bill met a woman and fell in love and they had a daughter and the tenants had to go. When the marriage ended the tenants began returning and the daughter had many adults looking after her and getting in the way in the kitchen. There were only so many burners and pots and pans.

Cannery Row was eventually and predictably appropriated by developers. Work began on a sprawling luxury hotel project then was stalled by money problems. Cyclone fences couldn’t hide concrete pilings and rusting rebar. The lab guys didn’t mind eyesores from the past littering vacant lots – fish hoppers and caved-in boilers had character and echoes of Steinbeck and Ricketts – but contemporary pilings and rebar were another matter.

A restaurateur had the inspiration of hiding the fences and what was behind them with murals depicting Monterey life. With the city’s blessing, Bruce put out word anyone with the artistry and vigor to paint a vision of Monterey on sheets of plywood was welcome to try.

The city provided a hundred boards. Bruce coerced Bill into priming them on the lab’s deck, wisely hiring an attractive masseuse to keep Bill and the other volunteers – who delivered the primed plywood boards to artists and picked up the murals when completed – on the job. When a major earthquake struck on a fall afternoon, Bill tumbled off the masseuse’s table and some of the already installed murals collapsed. But they could be repaired and nobody on the Row was killed and the lab held together.

The mural project miraculously transitioned from an attempt to artistically cover up pilings and rebar into a symbol of the rebuilding spirit of mankind. Bruce was lionized. A walkway leading to the lab was named for him.

A year later Bruce and Jean’s house burned down. Bruce gathered himself for a final project – designing and constructing a new house for Jean. There was no shortage of volunteers to help. When the house was completed – a minor masterpiece of stone and arching wood beams – Bruce declined quickly.

On his deathbed Bruce said to Bill, “I love you – dance in the streets all night long.’’ He was prophetic. The city shut down Cannery Row traffic in his honor and people danced all night to the live music of Jake Stock and the Abalone Stompers, none longer than Bill.

Jean went on for another decade. She worried to friends that often when Bill called late at night to talk about the old times, he’d had too many cocktails. It tore at her heart. Bill wondered about this because when he visited it was usually Jean who brought out the Jack Daniels.

When someone young and smooth arrived from Los Angeles and talked an aging Jean out of important papers relating to life at the lab, Bill had to be dissuaded from traveling to Los Angeles and throttling the man. When Jean died, Bill regretted not having done it.

Portrait image of Carnnery Row by the artist CKline (Caroline)


Two men knocked on Bill’s door. They were wearing suits, loose ties and carried clipboards. They showed Bill identification. “We’re from the city. We’ve had complaints. Your tenants are living here illegally, have been for years. They have until four this afternoon to vacate the premises.’’

Bill worried most about the scholar in the frayed blue blazer in the garage. Over the next few weeks Bill found temporary shelter for most of his tenants. A few found housing on their own. A friend allowed the scholar to room with him across town. Bill’s daughter was already independently in her own place, so that was not a concern.

A week later Bill was evicted from the house. He became depressed, drank a little but not a lot. Memories of his uncle, Eddie Cool, and old Sam Solomon’s stories were always there to make him think hard. He would push it to the edge, but never cross a particular line he had unconsciously but firmly set in his head.

Even when Bruce and Jean had worried about him, he knew he would be okay. He would not die in some gutter like Eddie Cool. If he hadn’t learned abstinence or moderation, he had learned a kind of control.

One other thing he knew – he had to leave, he could no longer afford Monterey, the city’s rising cost of living. Philly was out. He cast about. He fondly remembered a dusty border town in New Mexico he had paused in decades earlier on his way to – he thought then – Alaska.

Portrait image of Bill of Monterey, California by the artist CKline (Caroline)

He made calls, he talked to people, he was told he could live cheaply in this town, which had changed little in the decades since. Through an agent he found for almost nothing a miner’s hut with paper-thin walls overlooking the desert. Like the sound of the breaking waves, he decided, the silence would bring him a kind of peace.

Illustrations by CKline (Caroline), who is happy to report that she is creatively pursuing multiple projects in the arts.

“Self-Protection”: Film Documents Steinbeck’s Application for a Gun License in New York State


The film “Steinbeck: Armed with the Truth (And a Colt Automatic)” came about after Paul Boczkowski and Marie Wainscoat of Longtimers Productions, a California company, viewed a gallery exhibition I helped put together six or seven years ago in Pacific Grove with my wife Nancy and the prominent marine biologist Robert Brownell, a student of Ed Ricketts as well as John Steinbeck. The idea for the exhibition was born when a man sent me a copy of the application for a gun license that Steinbeck submitted in New York State on May 12, 1942. In his application Steinbeck sought permission to carry two concealed revolvers for “self-protection.”

New York State Gun License Fires Interest in Pacific Grove

The person who sent me the gun-license application worked for a museum and felt the application was important enough to be made public. The subject of Steinbeck and guns already had my attention, and I agreed. Some years earlier I had spoken with a Salinas woman who told me that sometime in the mid-to-late 1930s she had witnessed Steinbeck being threatened by a man with a gun, perhaps hired by others, who was upset about what he felt Steinbeck was writing. We called the exhibition—which included artwork, letters, and documentation—“Steinbeck: Armed with the Truth (And a Colt Automatic).” The producers kept the title for their film about the show. “Steinbeck Fully Loaded,” a Sunday magazine feature, appeared in the Monterey County Herald.

I also wrote a piece about Steinbeck’s gun license application for an innovative literary-blog website called Red Room that, unfortunately, no longer exists. Before the site went out of business, Paul Douglass—at that time the editor of Steinbeck Review—picked up on my post. This led to my writing a pair of articles for the journal in the spring of 2008 and the fall of 2009.

Since that time, my account of Steinbeck and guns has appeared in a number of periodicals and books, though no one bothers to notify me before they publish it. The gun license episode tied in with other stories and historic tidbits about Steinbeck I had picked up while writing for the Monterey County Herald, operating a Pacific Grove art gallery with a literary bent, and co-curating the inaugural art exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in 1998.

Monterey County Sources Inspire Stories About Steinbeck

My sources were often people who had known Steinbeck well, or their descendants. Two were classmates of John in Salinas. Another was the daughter of a Monterey County cop who corresponded with Steinbeck after the writer left California for New York, and who shipped Steinbeck several revolvers via railway express. A fourth was the son of a Monterey County Herald editor who became a good friend to Steinbeck and helped him find a Big Sur mountain lion as a gift for the people of England—an incident I used in a book of stories that I wrote about Steinbeck’s life in Monterey County and New York State.

I call the series “Almost True Stories from a Writer’s Life.” The stories reflect the portrait of Steinbeck painted by my sources: a complex man of great gifts, deep compassion, and capacity for fun, traits overshadowed by very real and very dark threats experienced by Steinbeck in Monterey County. Some of my stories include artists, the secondary theme of the film. Artists were important to Steinbeck throughout his lifetime: he numbered them among his friends and felt not only comfortable, but also safe with them. When you have as many enemies as Steinbeck did, I learned, “safe” becomes important.

Which is why he applied for that gun license on May 12, 1942.

Sample “Almost True Stories from a Writer’s Life” in Steve Hauk’s Archive.—Ed,

Dora and Flora: From Short Stories about John Steinbeck By Steve Hauk

Dora and Flora had in common being of the same species and general place of birth, but that was about all. Dora was stuffy and stiff, and her expression was glazed and artificial. Flora was svelte and sensual, quick and dangerous with alive, darting eyes.

Dora would end up on a British warship, much loved of men, often patted on her head for luck in times of stress or danger. Flora would make her home in a London zoo, beloved of men, women and children alike, but not to be patted under any circumstance.

This is the story of how they got to their respective homes and it begins with a friendly meeting between two men in Somerset in 1959–one a British Navy lieutenant named Wellesley, the other a visiting American writer named John.

On a late summer eve following dinner, John and Wellesley sat outside John’s thatched cottage enjoying a potent drink called scrumpy, and maybe that had an influence on what was to transpire.

Scrumpy is particularly popular in Devon, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. The name derives from the word scrimp, which means (perhaps) a small withered apple, the kind that, fermented, produces cider with a hefty content of alcohol.

After his third scrumpy the lieutenant mentioned to John a pressing concern: he served aboard the H.M.S. Puma, one of four anti-aircraft vessels named for wild cats. The others were leopard, lynx and jaguar.

Wellesley found it bloody tragic that the Puma was the only frigate of the four without a wardroom mascot–in each case, a preserved head of the animal the ship was named for. John had been a war correspondent in London and North Africa and understood.

“Why, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but I come from Monterey County in California, and there are pumas everywhere, most with bodies attached to their heads. Wouldn’t you rather have a whole body than just a head? And wouldn’t you rather have the puma alive than stuffed?’’

John had an ulterior motive for bringing up the idea of a live puma, though he didn’t tell Wellesley. Naval wardrooms were for officers only, and a puma–stuffed or alive–would require a bigger space, one accessible to the ship’s entire crew. John loved the English, but he disliked clubby class distinctions.

Wellesley said he wasn’t sure a frigate involved in military maneuvers could manage a living puma, even in a cage. But he had to admit that a whole puma, stuffed and stationary, would certainly give his ship bragging rights.

The conversation continued on this elevated plane until the cider was finished. The next day John remembered in a sketchy way what he and Wellesley had discussed. Accordingly, he wrote a sketchy letter to Jimmy, a Monterey newsman and before that the driver of a Coca-Cola delivery truck.

As best Jimmy could make out from John’s morning-after letter, John wanted him to get down to Big Sur in south Monterey County and snag a live puma in the sprawling, precipitous Santa Lucia Mountains. John seemed to think it would be as easy as picking up a quart of milk at the corner grocery store. This threw Jimmy, because he knew John knew that the Santa Lucias were rough, unforgiving country.

Jimmy had recently written a story about the artist rebels of the early Beat Generation who were moving into the Big Sur of Henry Miller and Eric Barker, despite stark warnings about the tough terrain from the two older writers. “Either you live up to it or it rejects you and sends you to a purgatory,’’ said Miller. ”Sun is not all,’’ wrote Barker, a poet. “Here we drink fog like rain.’’ Jimmy recalled scrambling up a hill on one of Big Sur’s foggy days, notebook in hand, to find young men and women watching him–hands on hips, petulant yet lordly in pose. He rubbed his eyes. When he opened them they had disappeared into the mist. If they could evaporate in an instant, what was his chance of finding a puma?

Worried, he showed John’s letter to his wife Nancy, who read it and said, “John’s been drinking something, that’s for sure–but he’s serious. He wants a puma for the British Navy. He doesn’t want you to track it or capture it, Jimmy–just coordinate the effort is what I bet he means. I’m sure he will straighten it all out.’’

As Nancy had predicted a second letter bringing clarity arrived a few days later. John described the surprising power of a scrumpy, then said he would like a stuffed mountain lion if one could be found already stuffed–not one killed for that purpose–and maybe a live puma. Jimmy grew enthusiastic and wrote a story for the newspaper, emphasizing the idea of locating a stuffed puma since capturing a live puma seemed iffy.

The readers, who still held a wartime warm spot for the British, responded swiftly. Money poured in and when a Salinas hotel owner named Jeffery happened to have a puma skin and head–a big one–on the floor of his lobby, the money was used to have the tattered hide groomed and mounted on a redwood slab. Writing about this, Jimmy realized that “stuffed puma” lacked charm. He named it “Dora,” a name similar to character in one of John’s books, and it stuck.

John–if Jimmy could get it to the San Francisco airport–had arranged to have the stuffed and mounted puma flown to London and delivered to the H.M.S. Puma mooring in the port of Plymouth. Dora was loaded into his station wagon, and for a hundred and more miles stared angrily out the back window at following drivers.

At the airport Dora was posed for photos with two stewardesses, then put aboard a Pan-American flight. As Jimmy wrote in the newspaper, Dora was thought to be the first stuffed puma to come across the Polar route by air.

John and the H.M.S. Puma crew met Dora at Plymouth. A wire service photograph showed the goateed author amidst a dozen sailors reaching out to give Dora a pat. It was such a success that John wrote Jimmy again– could a live cougar be found as well? A zoo near London had promised to provide a home for such a puma that could be visited by the crew and the general public.

Starting from scratch, Jimmy let it be known that he needed a puma trapper. Hudson, a maverick rancher and politician with backcountry expertise, told Jimmy a tracker-trapper named Mathis lived deep in the mountains above Big Sur in a cabin inaccessible by car and without a phone. “You’ll have to track him,’’ Hudson warned. ”He’s hard to find.’’

Jimmy drove down the coast. Just north of the village he pulled over and asked a man walking on the shoulder of the road if he knew of a trapper named Mathis. “Trapper? I’m from Cleveland,’’ the man replied, perspiring, mouth quivering. “I’m looking for my son. Tall, brown hair–probably spouting bad poetry, plays a guitar. If you see him, please tell him his mother cries for him every day.’’

In the village everyone knew of Mathis–he hiked out of the mountains every few months to purchase supplies, they said, but no telling when. Jimmy would have to wait around or trek in to find Mathis himself. Discouraged,  Jimmy had a beer at Nepenthe, a gathering place on a hill leaning toward the Pacific with a view to the east of the mountains. He was on his second beer when a waitress yelled to the bartender, “Here comes Mathis!’’

“Where?’’ asked Jimmy.

Peering through the bar’s telescope, she replied, “He’s a few ridges over.’’

Stepping aside, she let Jimmy have a look. He made out a big man with a walking staff making his way down the mountain.

”When will he get here?’’ he asked.

“Not tonight,’’ said the waitress. “He’ll camp tonight and show up some time tomorrow–early afternoon, I’d guess.’’

“I need to talk to him.’’

“Then stay where you are. He comes here first for a few beers.’’

So Jimmy came back the next day and waited until Mathis walked through the door and dropped his backpack and had several beers. He gave the waitresses and bartender the latest backcountry news, which included some kids–bad musicians, from the sound of it, he said–moving into a nearby canyon, disturbing the peace.

After Mathis–a big man with a thick red beard and piercing green eyes–finished his third beer, he became quiet. Jimmy broached the subject of trapping a puma for Britain’s people and navy, explaining the project in full.

“What have the British done for me?’’ Mathis asked, shifting uncomfortably on his bar stool and already looking yearningly toward the hills he had just walked out of.

“We were allies in World War II,’’ explained Jimmy.

“I’d forgotten–I don’t have a television,’’ Mathis replied.

Then he thought a while.

“I’ll tell you what–you say a puma would have a good life in that zoo? Treated and fed well and given good care? Do you know that for sure?’’

“John said it would and I believe John.’’

Mathis thought, had another beer, and thought some more.

“The puma population’s lower than when . . . what’s your name anyway?’’


“Well, Jimmy, the puma population’s lower than it was when this John friend of yours was here and I don’t want to deplete it more. But . . . I have this female mountain lion less than a year old named Flora.”


“Yes, I’ve always liked the name.’’

“I’ll be damned–Flora.’’

“Yes–Flora.’ Mathis was impatient and a bit puzzled, but had always found it prudent not to let his curiosity get the best of him. “Anyway, Flora’s back in the mountains hanging out around my place. I found her as a cub. She’s not much good at hunting anything bigger than a squirrel and thinks bears are playthings, so I worry if something happens to me. I’d like to think she’ll be safe . . . even if it has to be somewhere else.’’

So they talked some more and a deal was struck. Jimmy wrote John who now arranged for a living puma to be flown from San Francisco to London. Mathis wasn’t sure when he’d get back to the village because sometimes Flora took it in her head to roam, requiring Mathis to track Flora or wait for her to make her way back, no telling when.

The following week a waitress at Nepenthe spotted Mathis and Flora in the distance, Flora on a leash. The trapper and puma arrived the next day to meet Jimmy, who had borrowed his wife Nancy’s pickup truck. Mathis said he and Flora had spent their last night together under the stars, the slim puma sleeping with her whiskered chin propped on his massive chest.

Mathis gently guided Flora into a cage, which was lifted onto the bed of the truck with the help of two village men. Mathis reached through the bars and rubbed behind Flora’s ears, saying goodbye, tears running down his cheeks into his rough red beard. He mumbled something and turned to begin the long trek back into the wilderness, then changed his mind and abruptly and swiftly turned up the hill to Nepenthe–and beer.

The distressed Flora yowled after him and all the way to the airport, causing several fender benders on the way to San Francisco.

Jimmy was relieved but saddened to pass a suddenly silent Flora on to Pan-American. To lessen the pangs he assured himself it was all for the best. He tried to imagine Flora in her new home enjoying cream teas, and John, his friend Wellesley and all England toasting her with a scrumpy. It was generally thought, Jimmy concluded in the newspaper the next day, that Flora was the first live puma to fly the Polar route.

This sketch about John Steinbeck and a pair of Monterey County mountain lions named Dora and Flora who flew the North Pole is excerpted from “Almost True Stories from a Writer’s Life,” a collection of short stories by Steve Hauk currently under development for print publication.

Reflections of an American Mossad: A Documentary Drama by Steve Hauk

Image of Steve Hauk, Pacific Grove playwright and John Steinbeck expert

Photo by Nancy Hauk

Was John Steinbeck the Albert Einstein of American fiction? If relativity means interrelatedness, the answer is yes. That’s the view of Steve Hauk, the California writer who lives in the Pacific Grove home once owned by John Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts. In stories and plays set in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Salinas, Steve captures the spirit of Steinbeck and his California circle. Everything and everybody connects. Past and present coexist, conflicting and coalescing in the lives of characters who knew John Steinbeck personally or love his work with a passion. In the play published here for the first time, Steve dramatizes the final days of a mystery man—a former member of Mossad whose habit of collecting and connecting hidden pieces of the past reveals secrets about Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner, the House of Windsor and the Vatican, and the nightmare of Nazi Germany that are almost as amazing as the man himself. 

Reflections of an American Mossad


The Book Collector’s Dilemma

A play in two acts
by Steve Hauk

Copyright © 2014 by Steve Hauk. All rights reserved.


MH, mid-seventies, dapper, likeable, charismatic
S, fifteen years younger, casual
MICHAEL, mid-forties, a large man, perhaps a beard
HERMAN and IDA, an attractive late middle-aged couple
A Nurse’s Voice
A Doctor’s Voice
Helen’s Voice
Some `Presences’
STANLEY HUBER WOOD (1894-1949), an American artist
ERIC MOTTRAM ( 1924-1995), a British poet and essayist
LISE MEITNER ( 1878–1968), Austrian-born physicist
ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955), theoretical physicist
MARY CRAVEN (1946-2003), writer-actress from an important
American theater family
Mrs. TAKOMINI, a friend of MH’s

Act One
Scene I

The set, in an abstract way, should represent the interior of an
art gallery and upstage a door and windows looking out to a
quiet street on which a car or cars can be seen. The gallery
includes a desk and chair, phones and a computer, a settle (a
kind of arts and crafts couch), a number of paintings, mainly
landscapes. Two figures, S and MH, in separate lights. S, the
younger of the two men, open shirt, sport coat, jeans. MH, mid-
seventies, in silk tie, well-cut sport coat, slacks, shined shoes.
He approaches S and they come under a single light.

MH: Hello, I’m –
S (Cautious): Glad to meet –
MH: Richard – you know Richard at the photography
gallery in Carmel – he said you might be interested in –
S: Well, I’m pretty busy.
MH (Very polite, a subtle hint of hurt): Oh, well, I’m certainly
sorry to have bothered you. My deepest apology. (Staring
off.) I didn’t mean . . .
S: Oh, wait, but . . .
(MH stops, a pause.)
S: I do have a few minutes.
MH: You do?
S (Uncertainly): Yes . . .
MH: You’re sure about that, sir? Because . . .
S: Oh, yes . . .
MH: Well, I don’t want to . . .
S: No, no . . .
MH (Starting away): Because I can certainly understand a
busy man.
S: No, fine.
MH: Richard said – well, I have these paintings in my car
. . . You see my car, don’t you?
(Staring out, walking unsteadily, S following him.)
MH: If you wouldn’t mind following me.
S: The white Cadillac with the blue vinyl top?
MH: You don’t mind, I hope, that I parked in front of your
fine gallery . . .
S: No, not at all. (Looking at car.) A classic?
MH (Smiles): Well, I like it. It’s been faithful. Never let me
down that car. That’s important, don’t you think? (Opens
trunk, bends over with some pain, moves things around, pulling
items out): What I’m looking for under . . . likely under
these sport coats which I’ll move to . . . to the back seat.
(Moves around, opens door, etc.) Always travel with a few
S (Observing, interested but awkward): Lot of . . . pressed
shirts . . .
MH: Just picked them up at the cleaners around the
corner. Trying them out. Hoping I like their work, we’ll
see. I’m particular.
S: Nice . . . ties.
MH: Silk – can never have enough silk ties.
S: (Picking them up, looking at them, then): And shoes . . .
MH: Italian. Slippery soles, though, not good for me now,
I’m, you know . . . (Regretting saying it, changing subject he
shows sport coat.) Brooks Brothers . . . People that pack like
Brooks Brothers, you know.
S: Pack?
MH: Oh, sorry – carry a gun. Boxy cut, Brooks Brothers,
famous for it . . . in certain quarters that is . . . conceals you
might be packing.
S: Oh.
MH (Smiles): Well, you generally don’t want people to
know something like that, do you?
S: I’d guess not.
MH: Well, makes sense, of course. FBI likes Brooks
Brothers, too, same reason, but if it helps them dress a
little better, well that’s a godsend . . . Anyway, inside stuff.
Don’t worry, I don’t pack. Don’t favor Brooks Brothers
either. This I’m giving to a friend. (Reassuringly.) He
doesn’t pack either. My friend, I mean. I’ll put this . . .
(Loses his balance; S reaches out, helps him.) Thanks, balance a
little . . . off . . . (Embarrassed, he busies himself.) Now let’s
see, I wanted to show you . . . (Moving things around in the
trunk.) . . . There’s a portfolio in here somewhere unless . . .
unless I left it in San Francisco, I hope not, but mentally
I’m not . . . well, forgetful lately . . .
S (Awkward pause, embarrassed for him, looking in trunk,
picking up a book to cover): “The Innocents Abroad” . . .
Mark Twain . . .
MH (Large smile, glad for the change of subject): You like
Twain? You have good taste, sir! First edition, 1870,
American Publishing Company, illustrated. (Pushing it at
him.) Let’s make it a gift.
S: No, I couldn’t.
MH: Please, I’d be honored . . .
S: I just . . .
MH: It’s worn, but lot of character . . . lists at something
over . . . at . . . well, not sure about the numbers anymore
the way the market fluctuates . . . haven’t kept up . . . but
collectible, could pay for dinner . . .
S: Well . . . I am from Missouri, like Twain.
MH: There! You see? . . . Meant to be.
S: Thank you.
MH: Good. You make me very happy, sir. Hannibal?
S: Excuse me?
MH: From Hannibal, Missouri, like Twain?
S: No, St. Louis.
MH: Good Jewish town, St. Louis.
S: Lot of Catholics, too.
MH (More to himself, preoccupied): Good Jewish and
Catholic town. (Turning back to the trunk.) Now, the
portfolio . . . (Moving things.) Where oh where? . . . (Finds
something, looks at it.) Pornography. Not your thing I’m
sure. (Easily, pleasantly, a second look at the item, then putting
it back.) Another time that was. Not even sure how it got
here. I should be ashamed . . . (Smiles.) . . . but I’m not
when you live the life I . . . (Pauses. Then moving things
around, finds something, hands it back to S as he keeps his head
in trunk, looking.) The menu for the Cathedral Oaks dinner
this evening seven sharp. One of my homes, the Cathedral
Oaks Apartments. Tell me if it’s worth the drive to San
S: I’m sorry . . .
MH: I mean, read from the menu if you would, please.
S: Really?
MH: If you would . . . hope not an unreasonable request –
reading . . . fine print and my eyes, you see . . .
S (Looks at him, then reading): “Meat loaf and lentils.”
MH: I don’t think so . . . Next, please.
S: “Poached salmon and asparagus spears with a light
cream sauce.”
MH: Healthy except for the cream sauce, but worth a
hundred mile drive? . . . I don’t know. Read, please.
S (Loosening up a bit): How about “Rib-eye steak, mashed
potatoes and steamed broccoli”?
MH: No shequets, but I’m afraid not. I think I’ll stay in
town, pick up a greasy sandwich . . . On the other hand, if
I go up I can have tea with Mrs. Takomini on the third
floor of the Cathedral Oaks Apartments. Mrs. Takomini
has the whole floor you know. Where’s that portfolio? . . .
Oh, here . . . (Tries to remove something, has trouble.) Could
you give me a hand with this portfolio, please? Sciatica,
you see . . .
(They remove portfolio, S carrying it.)
MH: Serves me right. I didn’t believe my patients when
they told me how much sciatica hurt their balance . . .
accused them of whining. I’m a doctor, you see, but
sometimes not very understanding. Shall we carry this
back into your gallery? Good. Thank you.
(They move back in.)
MH: Thank you. Maybe we can open it now – hold steady,
please. (He unties portfolio ties, pulls out a large, unframed
watercolor, a dark, powerful image of a tree shattered by
lightning, holds it for S to see.) What do you think?
S: Well . . . . strong.
MH: The artist’s name is Stanley Wood. Stanley Huber
S: Deceased?
MH (Nodding): Some time ago, as a matter of fact –1940s
something . . . I have a dozen here, many, many more in
S: Really?
MH: Dozens and dozens and those are just the ones I can
S; They have a . . .
MH: Yes?
S: Georgia O’Keeffe look . . .
MH: Young man, you have the eye! Well, I was told you
are good. As it happens, Mr. Wood and Miss O’Keeffe
were lovers – according to Stanley Wood.
S: How do you know?
MH: I have his diary . . . (Pause, concerned.) Well,
somewhere . . .
S: Somewhere?
MH: Well, in storage in Oakland or here or Los Angeles
. . . Any of a dozen storage units to be more precise.
S: Oh. It could be important.
MH: The diary? Oh, no doubt – very important. But it’s
been a few years since I’ve seen it, the diary that is, and it’s
small as most diaries are, unless we’re talking some of the
larger literary egos like Mailer and Vidal – who never got
along, by the way – and it could be anywhere in the midst
of piles of boxes in any one of three or four cities, but I
have a good memory and might be able to recreate . . .
S (Eager, after a few moments trying not to show it): And it
said?. . .
MH: Generally? . . . What I said: that they were lovers.
Rather, our Mr. Wood indicates that was the case. We
have only his word for it . . . the man’s word for it, so . . .
need to tread gently. Taos, in the 1930s. He went down
there with Edward Weston the photographer.
S (Excited): Really? Because –
MH: Yes, there’s the look of Weston, too – you are very
(S looks through portfolio, quietly excited.)
S: Some of these are dated 1920s, so he could have –
Stanley Wood could have –
MH: – Yes, influenced O’Keeffe and Weston, my very
S: It’s possible. If we had the diary. . .
MH: Yes, well, no telling. Perhaps we’ll get lucky. I can’t
guarantee anything. Think we can do something with Mr.
Wood?. . .
S (Pause): All this good?
MH: I’m not the one to judge. I like them for what they are
and what they are is paintings. You see, I am not a visual
person – an art person. Pictures don’t necessarily move
me. I’m a book person, a rare manuscripts person. Letters,
too, I collect those by interesting people. I have storage
units up and down the coast of valuable books
and manuscripts and letters. When you get down to it, I’m
a collector of words. Yes, words are my . . . my passion.
S: Paintings, too, since you do have a few?
MH: Oh, yes, but a sideline. No more than two, three
storage units.
S: Storage units of paintings?
MH: Something like that – speaking volume wise, not in
one place, spread around – here, Oakland, Los Angeles,
maybe some New York. I’m not sure about New York.
New York might have been auctioned off; you know how
they do that with storage units if you don’t keep up the
rent. I don’t think I did . . . keep up with the rent, was off
in South America doing my . . . job . . . or something
. . . when the due notice came up. But I never kept letters
there . . . certain documents . . . hope I didn’t . . . just never
trusted the storage people there . . . so that’s good, but
could have lost a Shakespeare folio, maybe a Picasso
drawing or two, God knows what else. The Shakespeare, I
could cry. The Picassos, no, I wouldn’t cry just be . . . sad.
Anyway, so, if you’re interested and we could come to an
arrangement . . .
S: Yes, I think so.
MH (Smiles warmly): Good. (Starting off.) Well, this has
been a great pleasure for me, meeting you and discovering
we can do business. But if you don’t mind, I would prefer
to work out the details later. I’m a little tired. Can I leave
these with you? You sell them at whatever. You would get
what you usually get, and I would get . . . Well, what
would I get?
S: Seventy percent?
MH (Thinks about it): Seventy . . . yes, I’d accept that.
(He stumbles, S reacting, MH warding him off.)
MH: Thank you, I’m fine. (An attempt at being breezy.)
Except, it is only fair to tell you, I’m not really – I am
dying. I have perhaps seven or eight months left. Don’t
worry, it’s nothing catching, and I’m quite resigned to it.
That’s life. Well, death. I am so happy to have met you. It
has been a pleasure.

Starts out toward his Cadillac as the lights fade.

Act One
Scene II

S. MH enters, holding a can of soda in one hand, a book under
his other arm. He stops, pauses.

MH: If you, my good sir, don’t want me to bring a can of
soda into your beautiful gallery . . .
S (Mildly surprised): Hello . . .
MH: And hello to you. Surprised to see me? The – (Holds
up soda can.)
S: That’s . . . OK.
MH: Thank you. A small addiction. I know this stuff’s not
good for you . . . but health’s not much of an issue with me
anymore, is it? I’ll be careful. Won’t spill Have you sold a
S: There’s some interest.
MH: Good. I thought there might be. I hope this isn’t a
great inconvenience, but when it happens I would like
cash only.
S (A beat): Yes, of course.
MH: Thank you. It’s really very simple. I have . . . enemies
. . . and anything that could leave a trail . . . (Waits.) But no
reason for concern. You’re safe, nothing would ever
happen to you. (Smiles.) And there may be a time or two
when I will ask you to make out a check to a certain, well,
lady friend of mine. There could be several, in fact – lady
friends, I mean. Women who have been a great comfort to
me in difficult times. I want them to have something.
Would that be okay with you? I hope so. (Shows him a
book.) I brought this for you. “The Sun Also Rises.” Signed
by the man himself – Ernest Hemingway.
S: Oh no, thank you, I couldn’t.
MH: Why not, because you’re a Steinbeck man? I have
been told you are a Steinbeck man.
S: Well . . .
MH: You write on him, don’t you?. . . The threats on his
life because of what he was writing . . . I’ve seen some of
those pieces . . . well done, sir . . . So it’s understandable if
the idea of Hemingway . . .
S: No, that’s not the reason.
MH: Any other reason doesn’t hold water unless you don’t
like Hemingway, and I know some people don’t – that
macho thing they pin on him. You don’t like Hemingway?
S: I like Hemingway.
MH: Well then. I won’t be able to enjoy such treasures
much longer, so why shouldn’t I share them with people
who will appreciate them, such as yourself? You like
words, being a writer, don’t you? Literature? I mean,
S: Of course.
MH: Very well then, enjoy the book. Could I sit down?
S: Please.
MH: That sciatica I mentioned before. Steinbeck men tend
to want to know the truth straight out, am I correct?
S (Smiles): I hadn’t necessarily thought of it like that. I
mean, eventually . . .
MH: I think that’s a relatively true statement. Hemingway
men – and women – I think it’s a little different with them,
don’t you, Hemingway being more a stylist and all. But
Steinbeck . . . a writer more from the gut . . . Steinbeck men
– and women – well . . .
S: Yes, I suppose.
MH (Smiles): Take my word for it – I told you I am a book
person. (A beat.) I also told you I was dying . . . didn’t I?
(S nods.)
MH: I thought so . . . (Pulls up sleeve of his jacket and shirt.) I
could understand you not believing that. I had the
poached salmon and asparagus spears, by the way, not
bad . . .
S: I’m sorry?. . .
MH: The dinner at my home, the Cathedral Oaks, in San
Francisco. I had them hold the cream sauce. And I did
have tea with Miss Takomini and I told her about you and
your place here and if you ever need help with your work,
she would be glad to help you . . . financially or any other
way. I can take you up to the city anytime to meet her, just
let me know . . . Anyway – see the marks?
S (Pause): Yes . . .
MH: Marks of my profession, though I’d rather not have
had them done to me. I could go into a description of them
– transfusion hole, needle marks, you know. We even
have a little lifting of some skin for a graft – right here –
before they realized they’d be making so many holes in me
and a little unsullied skin would have some testing value.
(Lowers sleeves.) Anyway, I didn’t want you to think I make
these things up.
S: I really didn’t . . .
MH: Good, I don’t. So I am beginning to tie up loose ends.
And I want to be straight with you as we do business. I am
– not was, but still am, despite my terrible physical
condition – a member of the Mossad. (Pause.) Since I was
twenty-three. (Pause.) You know the Mossad?
S (A pause): I’ve heard some things.
MH: I’m sure you have. (Pause, sounding exotically foreign.)
HaMossad leModi’ in ule Tafkidim Meyuchadim – the
Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations. Over the
years I have assassinated seven Nazis, all but one by
garroting. Don’t ask about the all but one . . . that turns
even my stomach. The others – used a wire. Seven may
not seem much to people anymore, with all these thrillers
and movies seven seems like an hour’s work. Trust me,
seven is a career. Anyway, even just seven you still may
not believe me. I have strong hands, even now. Let me
show you . . . (Puts a hand on his arm, squeezes; friendly,
Well? . . .
S (Uncomfortable): Yes, very strong.
MH: I am told you wrestled – I can feel quite a bit of
muscle there, you stay in condition – you would recognize
strength . . . you could take care of yourself I suppose. . .
(Waits a moment, then releases his arm.)
S (A moment to compose himself): How do you know?
MH: Know?
S: That I wrestled.
MH: Mossad, sir. I told you. I knew about you before I
came here, easy enough. (Pauses.) You looked at me . . . a
moment ago . . . when I said . . .
S: Did I? What?
MH: I saw some disapproval? . . . When I mentioned what
I did.
S.: I’m sorry, but . . .
MH: Understandable. I understand. I’m not insensitive.
Killing, after all. Not easy to swallow. But when you go to
a family, when you say to that family that the monster
who murdered their father and mother and raped their
sister all those terrible years ago, when you tell them that
monster is dead, well, the look of relief, the sense that these
people might be able to find some peace, to sleep again, if
just a little . . . well, that is reward enough and wipes out
any guilt, believe me I have no guilt. (Begins to pace, his
balance not good, sounding German.) A death camp
commandant. He’d pull out Jews, men he’d known as a
boy. They thought they’d been saved. (Grabs a chair for
balance.) Oh no. He cut their heads off with the help of his
wife, who was a nurse and could handle a knife and later
became a concert pianist and played Wagner. They did
this to fifteen or twenty, maybe more. He had a photo
taken with each severed head. We tried to get him for
decades, but always he was guarded and we didn’t want
to kill him from a distance. We wanted him to know. And
he was smart as killers often are. But he had a passion for
books as well as heads – like me, like you for paintings.
He turned book pages like this . . . (Pantomimes licking
fingers, turning pages.) Every page that way. Lick, turn. So
we put a book at auction he desired: a rare Kafka. A
Jewish writer, imagine. Our death camp commandant was
high bidder. We made sure of that. He took the book
home and died that night. We had poisoned the pages.
(Licking pantomime again.) A slow-working poison chosen
just for him – so he would know what was happening to
him . . . and by whom. Still, an easy death compared to
what he did to his school mates. (Pauses, opens portfolio.)
Some more paintings for you, an artist named Arthur
Faber, died in a bathtub overlooking the Little Sur River.
A woman in the tub with him. Both naked. She lived.
(Shows a small figurative painting.) What do you think?
S (Pause): Lively.
MH: People – I like people in paintings. Listed in Who
Was Who in American Art, exhibited at the Whitney in the
1940s, maybe the Corcoran too . . . Do you think you can
do anything with these?
S: Yes, I think so.
MH: Good. I’ll leave them with you. A dozen sketches.
Same financial arrangement? . . . Good. (Pause, again
sounding German.) The death camp commandant’s wife,
who cut off the heads, we finally got her, too, though like
him it was difficult. A few years later . . . poison on the
piano keys an hour before she gave a concert. She fell
forward early into Wagner’s piano sonata in B flat. A
stunning finish I can tell you. I was there, front row . . .
Can I borrow twenty dollars for gasoline? . . . I’m a little
low on cash.
S (A beat): Of course.

Lights begin to fade as S reaches for his wallet.

MH: Thank you. Very kind of you, sir. I will have it when
I return next week. One thing, please, that I’ve meant to
mention . . . do not ever look me up on the internet. Do not
do that. It would be very dangerous for me. Perhaps for
both of us. There are people. Good day to you, sir.

MH takes money, starts out as lights fade.

Act One
Scene III

S and an attractive late middle-aged couple.

HERMAN: Tell us about –
IDA: There’s a painting in the back gallery . . .
HERMAN: The Chinese man –
S: Wing Chong – Steinbeck wrote about him . . . character
in “Cannery Row.”
IDA: But a real person?
S (Enthusiastic): Oh, yes – really had a general store on the
Row, knew Steinbeck, Ricketts . . .
HERMAN: Ida likes it.
S: Painted by Ellwood Graham, friend of Steinbeck’s . . .
Steinbeck gave him money, told him to go to Mexico with
his wife Judith Deim, also an artist . . . told them to learn
to paint out loud. This was, oh, 1940, ’41, when he had
money from . . . from “Grapes of Wrath.”
HERMAN: Paint out loud?
S: Steinbeck, you know – figure of speech – to open up,
paint from the soul.
S: The way he was, well, could be.
IDA (Looks at her husband, persuasively): I do like it, Herman.
HERMAN (A beat, to S): Price firm?
S: Could move a little . . . for you.
(MH enters, stops.)
MH: Oh, sorry . . . I’ll come back later.
S (Awkward, not convincing): No . . . that’s fine . . .
MH: Well . . .
S: Ida . . . Herman . . .
MH (Quickly, taking Herman’s hand): Maurice. Happy to
meet you, Herman. (Takes Ida’s hand, bows his head, comes
close but does not kiss her hand, smiles while slightly covering
his mouth with his free hand.) So you must be Ida.
(MH holds her hand a moment too long.)
IDA: I suppose I must. (Blushes, then to S:) Well, we’ll think
about it.
HERMAN (To S, taking Ida by the arm): Remember now, see
what you can do – sharpen your pencil.
IDA (To MH, a bit charmed, as they begin to exit): And nice to
meet you, Mr. . . . (Stuck on the name.)
MH (Smiling, again covering his mouth): What did I say?
HERMAN: Maurice, I think.
MH: Good. Then call me Maurice.
HERMAN (A beat, then to S.) We’ll think on the painting.
See that you sharpen your pencil . . . Ida.
(They go. A moment.)
MH (Watching them leave): Ida . . . (Pause.) I meet a woman
like that and . . . (Quick change, deep concern.) Did I hurt a
possible sale?
S: Maurice?
MH: A name. No, really, did I get in the way of a sale?
S: They always think about it.
MH: Jews, yes?
S (Uncomfortable with it): Well . . .
MH: Of course they are.
S (Conceding): Beverly Hills.
MH: Temple Emanuel, I’d guess . . . Burton Way, eighty-eight
hundred block . . . good vintage book stores not far,
they know me . . . When I walked in you looked surprised.
S: It has been a while.
MH: How long?
S: You don’t know?
MH: No. I’ve been . . . well, under. Tell me.
S: A few weeks. I was worried. (A beat, surprised he said
MH (After a moment): So was I. Did you think I’d died?
S: Of course not.
MH: I appreciate your concern. (Smiles, covering his mouth
with his hand.) Thank you. Reason you haven’t seen me, as
I said, been under. And been muddled more than usual
lately .
S: Oh?. . .
MH: Yes. Been at Stanford. Maybe that’s the same thing.
They’ve figured it out, what I’ve got I mean. It’s called, it’s
the same name as, the same name as . . . as the chancellor
of Germany. A woman, you know. Do you know her
name? I’ve forgotten, on purpose probably.
S: German chancellor, that’s Angela – (Trying to remember.)
Angela . . .
MH: Yes, you have it almost – Angela Merkel! Yes, Angela
Merkel! German chancellor. I don’t have Angela, I have
Merkel! (Giggles, covers his mouth with his hand again, pauses
to regain composure.) You’ll pardon me covering my mouth
. . . I was ordered to Travis Air Force Base. The brass
wanted my opinion on a new jet in development stage. I
cracked my teeth on the controls – an overeager young
pilot preparing to take me up. A sudden stop as we taxied.
My fault also, having not attached my safety belt. My
mouth is numb. The government will fix me. If it makes
sense now with what I was saying. I was saying I have the
German chancellor disease – Merkel Cell Carcinoma. She
doesn’t have it, the chancellor doesn’t. It’s just the same
name. A skin cancer. Hard to detect, grows under the skin,
most people don’t notice it until it’s too late. That includes
me, a doctor, so that’s why I am dying.
S: You’re sure? They said that?
MH: I already knew I was dying, I just didn’t know of
what. Doctors don’t try to fool doctors, even a neurologist
such as me who has not practiced for so long now . . . One
of the doctors who saw me, he’s a friend, we were in a
kibbutz together, shared a canteen once in the Negev
Desert . . . Three, four months at most, that’s what they’re
giving me and then kaput I’m gone. So should I get my
teeth fixed, what do you think?
S (Pause): I’m sorry that you are dying.
MH: Thank you, that is very kind, but I’m a vain man, so I
think I will get my teeth fixed. I hate even I am losing my
hair – that’s how I am. We can still do business. I’m still
Mossad. Nothing changes. I can help you, Mrs. Takomini
will help you, even after I am gone. I have set that up. It is
done, don’t worry. You can contact her when I die.
S: How will I know that?
MH: That I have died? You probably won’t. They won’t
tell you. Let’s say if you haven’t heard from me for a time
then I am probably dead. If you need money . . . perhaps
to go to Taos to research Stanley Wood . . . go to Mrs.
Takomini, Cathedral Oaks Apartments, San Francisco. I
told her all about you and she feels you are a worthy
cause. Have you sold anything? A Stanley Wood or one of
those Arthur Fabers?
S: I have sold two Stanley Woods. People are excited about
them. We will sell more.
MH: Good. I am glad you will profit from our
relationship, that we will both profit. I will give you the
name and address of the woman to write the check to.
S: You don’t want the money?
MH: No. (Takes out wallet, hands him money.) Here is the
money I owe you. The twenty dollars. (Pause.) Tell me –
would you mind very much if I borrow it back? I will
return it in just a few days this time, I promise.

The light fades as S hands him back the money. S seems at
ease with the “transaction.”

Act One
Scene IV

MH waiting by the car. Lights up on it. S enters from the
distance, pulling on a jacket, looking hurried. MH looks very
pale, shaky, trouble standing, bracing himself against the car.
There are some oil paintings on the roof of the car, a manila
envelope. Sounds of traffic.

MH: I apologize for –
S: No, that’s OK.
MH: I do not like bothering people at home, the home is a
sacred place, but there was no time, so I called, I hope I
didn’t bother your wife.
S: It is not a problem.
MH: I think, I do not know, but think, that my time has
come, sooner than I thought it would. You can see . . .
well, I am not good. Pale is not a good color for me. I am
going to the University of California hospital in San
Francisco. It has been arranged. A surgeon, an old friend,
is flying up from Los Angeles. He will be in charge of my
treatment. I have given him instructions if this cannot be
turned around to give me a few decent months . . . well, he
knows what to do, or rather what not to do. He owes me a
favor, so . . .
S: I am so sorry.
MH (Trying to be brisk): Yes, thank you. Because I may not
see you again I wanted to give you these . . . put them into
your care . . . (Begins to lose his balance trying to reach the
paintings, S grabbing him, then helping with the paintings.)
Thank you . . . Oils by our Mr. Stanley Wood . . . I found
them in the storage here in a large box with Italian shoes,
Salvatore Ferragamos if you are interested . . . nine-and-a-halves
. . . (Smiles.) . . . Very painful . . .
S: The diary? Did you find the diary? (Pause.) I’m sorry, I
shouldn’t . . .
MH: No, I understand, don’t worry so much. There isn’t
time for worry. You do it for Stanley Huber Wood. He
should be remembered if he influenced these other great
artists. I understand, one understands these things when
one is dying, but you are a fine writer, you have written
for museums, isn’t that so? – people will believe you if you
write it, if you do it well . . . (Indicates the top of the car and
the manila envelope, grimaces in sudden pain.) Could you,
(S grabs manila envelope, hands it to MH, who immediately
hands it back.)
MH: Thank you, for you. Inside a letter of introduction to
Mrs. Takomini. A formality since I have told her so much
about you she said she feels she knows you and she will
be glad to welcome you. She would be expecting you after
my death. Cathedral Oaks, third floor. She appreciates
company and likes to serve tea. Also (Indicating envelope.)
names of two more women to send money from the sales
of the paintings. The instructions are clear. You see, I have
loved women all my life.
S: But you never married.
MH (Smiles sadly): It would have been very unwise and
unfair, don’t you think, considering my life. There was a
young woman I loved, her father was a record executive, a
very rich man, and he said he would never allow his
daughter to marry someone like me, and he was a Jew, so
it wasn’t that, I was never sure what it was, so I accepted
. . . accommodations from him – a job with his company
and an apartment in New York City that I have only been
in once in fifty years believe me or not and is worth a
king’s ransom but I can’t abide it and I can’t make myself
sell it for some reason I do not understand . . . and this
was all when I was young and before the Mossad, so I
could have married her despite him, and she was willing
and we loved each other as I have said, and it might have
all been different, so someone punished me . . . maybe
God, I think God . . . (His breathing has become labored.)
Now if you will help me to the driver’s seat while I can . . .
S (Helping him): Should you drive?
MH: If I find I can’t . . . there are people to help me. I
simply make a call. (Begins getting into the car.) One more
thing – I have left a provision for you in my will. You have
been good to me so I am good to you. (Suddenly.) Have
you looked me up on the internet?
S: No.
MH (Pauses, smiles): I know. Believe me I will know if you
do – my people would inform me immediately. One
leaves chicken scratches, all over the universe, and they
never go away. Remember that – they never go away.
(Seated inside.) Help me, please, to close the door.
S (Suddenly moved): You are a great man.
MH (Smiles, sadly): I am not leaving you so much money
as that. Goodbye, sir.

Lights fade as S closes the door.

Act One
Scene V

S enters, removing his jacket, sits at his desk, decides to collect
phone messages, pushes button.

MH’S VOICE (Foggy, disoriented): Hello, sir, it’s me. I’m at
the hospital . . . about to go under . . .
NURSE’S VOICE: Doctor – you really shouldn’t . . . we are
about to wheel you in.
MH’S VOICE: Madam, this is very impor . . . (With
difficulty.) . . . important . . . I am speaking to a friend, a
dealer of fine art. (To S.) The nurse, she means well. Sir, if I
die, and the odds seem good . . . look for a box marked . . .
a box marked with a red letter C . . . a red C . . .
(S stands, paces, looks at the telephone as he listens.)
MH’S VOICE: Red C on a cardboard box. Important. If I
don’t make much sense . . . it’s because . . . going under . . .
and this just came to me, you know, like a dream, but I’m
not delusional believe me, this exists . . . the box . . . the
cardboard box contains letters . . . correspondence
between Einstein – Albert Einstein– and Lise Meitner . . .
(S sits at desk, makes notes.)
MH’S VOICE: . . . Important letters, I’m counting on you
. . . they mustn’t be lost or allowed to get into the wrong
hands . . . Lise Meitner you don’t know was a brilliant
nuclear physicist, worked with Otto Hahn . . . deserved
the Nobel Prize as much as Hahn, but a woman, a
beautiful woman, and a Jewess, so . . . so, you can guess a
woman and a Jew how much justice can be found there . . .
I’m sorry, dizzy . . . When the Nazis come into power,
Einstein comes here, ends up at Princeton as we all know
. . . Lise Meitner we know less . . . she escapes through The
Netherlands trying to reach Sweden and escape death or
worse . . . Hahn a man after my heart in this affair gives
her his mother’s diamond wedding ring to bribe border
guards . . . she makes it to Sweden . . . Stockholm . . .
(Pause, his words becoming “thick.”)
Over the war years, seventy-one letters between Einstein
and Lise Meitner . . . in the box marked with the red letter
C . . . After the war she’s invited to Los Alamos . . . She
does not go. She says, “I will not work on a bomb” . . .You
can imagine the importance of these letters . . . what a
treasure . . .
I can’t die, sir, knowing they are lost or in the wrong
hands . . . The box would be in storage in maybe Oakland,
perhaps Monterey, at a place called . . . at a storage
franchise called . . . (Pronouncing it “safe-keep’’) Saf-Keep.
(A beat.) There, I’ve told you where I keep things. Tell no
one. (With sleepy humor, close to going under.) Nice people at
Saf-Keep, but they don’t know how to spell. They spell
safe –
NURSE’S VOICE (Stern if defeated): You have five seconds,
MH’S VOICE (Sounding more under): Yes, yes, thank you,
nurse, I can do this in five seconds. (To S.) They spell safe
S – A – F. (He giggles.) No E! Well, for literary men like you
and I – and with you a Steinbeck man – what can we say?
(Giggles again.)
MAN’S VOICE (Considerable authority): What’s going on
NURSE’S VOICE: I’ve tried, he won’t get off the telephone.
MAN’S VOICE: Okay, that’s quite enough, my dear friend.
Don’t you understand we’re trying to save your life. Take
the phone from him, nurse – let’s wheel him in.

Phone connection is cut. S stops writing, lights fade.

Act One
Scene VI

S. Sound of car approaching, stopping. A figure – a large man –
gets out of the driver’s seat, opens rear door, MH gets out,
enters with a spring in his step; he carries a manuscript. S looks
at him, dumbfounded. The large man remains in shadow, stands
by the car; it is a taxi cab. The figure remains more or less
motionless, arms crossed or at his side, now and then shifting
his weight from foot to foot.

MH (Smiling): So, you see, I didn’t die after all. Still several
months left it seems. I am like the person who yells fire in
the crowded building. Today’s a gift . . . My lungs were
filled with carbon monoxide – that’s why I looked that
way – from my car, my Cadillac. Leaky exhaust system.
Some doctor I am. My friend the surgeon, he said, “You
should have been dead yesterday. How did you get here?”
“I drove,” I told him. “Really? Then you should have
been arrested yesterday before you killed someone else.”
So they gave me oxygen and . . . (Spreads his arms, giggles,
covers his mouth.) . . . you see, I am still alive. As you can
tell, my teeth have not been fixed . . . the Cadillac, I drove
back with the windows down. I have parked it for a time.
Maybe I will fix it, I don’t know, maybe not, but it could
come in handy, I could give a Nazi a lift, we could go
together . . . This is my driver now – Michael . . .
(He waves, Michael stares a moment, then waves back, a simple
motion, leans against car.)
Michael is being paid for by our taxpayers, so I may never
go back to the Cadillac. Don’t tell him I said so, but I have
a feeling Michael is also being paid by the CIA. Or
perhaps is the CIA. That’s OK. A quiet man, Michael.
Have you sold any Stanley Woods?
S: One.
MH: Good. Hold the money. I need to think who to give it
to. (A beat.) They said I called you, left a message and
spoke of Einstein and Lise Meitner. Is this so?
S: Yes.
MH: I hope I didn’t say too much . . . didn’t bore you. Did
you research her? If you researched her perhaps you saw
her image and fell in love with her. A dark-eyed beauty
with the courage to call out the scientists who capitulated
to the Nazis who turned me into the killer without guilt I
now find myself. I hate them for it. They tore my passions
from me – a very great sin.
S (Pause): You said you had letters between her and
MH: Yes. I don’t know where – believe me, I’ve looked.
Like the Stanley Wood diary. There are so many boxes, so
heavy, and you can see physically I am not able to . . . and
there’s no one I can trust.
S: Could I help?
MH: Come to the storage units? . . . I asked my superiors
about you. They said no. They aren’t sure about you. They
looked into your past. They don’t know where you stand.
They see things in black and white – you are for them or
you are not. Of course you have never made such a stand
either way, why would you, you’re neither a Jew or a
Nazi, are you? (Shrug, smiles.) But it makes you a puzzle –
to them. I’m sorry, that is the way they are. Very careful.
Very . . . regimented? Some day, perhaps. (Hands him
manuscript.) This I did find. I entrust it to you. The only
copy, never published, given to me long ago by the
author, Mary Craven. She called it “A Portrait of Harold
Clurman.” The most important person in American
theater in his time was Mr. Clurman. Mary’s life’s work –
yet unfinished at the end of her life . . . Abuse of drugs
and alcohol . . . She called me one night when I was living
in Los Angeles, from a telephone booth. This was years
ago when they still had telephone booths. I could tell she
was in trouble. I said, “Do you see a cab driver nearby? If
so, call him over.” I had the cab driver deliver her to my
apartment. She slept thirty hours and when she woke she
wanted heroin, not food. It was then I knew it was over
for her. Not the same with Janis Joplin. I told you I took a
job with a record company in return for not marrying the
executive’s daughter? . . . Joplin was one of this record
company’s artists. I cared for her, got her a year or two
more. When she woke up from a drunk, she was very
hungry. Could eat for hours. Not Mary Craven . . . no
interest in food, it means something, that difference. Think
about it. So . . . anyway, Mary gave me the manuscript. I
promised I would try to do something with it. It has
slipped through the cracks with time. I have betrayed her
memory. I give it to you. Do what you can. She was a
woman who should have been loved, like Lise Meitner,
like . . . well, like many in my life. (Pause.)
(A cell phone rings. MH pulls it from his jacket.)
MH: Excuse me. My apologies. Very rude I know.
(Listens.) Hello. I will. (Pause.) Yes. Of course. (Listens,
hangs up.) I am wanted right away. I still live, so I am still
needed. I remain useful, even like this. You do not retire
from the Mossad. Something going on in the . . . (Stops,
thinks whether he should say it, decides he won’t.) . . . Anyway,
they need me . . . (Turns.) So, Michael!

He smiles then leaves, stooped slightly as he walks toward the
car, the cab driver, Michael, carefully opening a car door for
him, as the lights fade.

Act One
Scene VII

S at his desk. Car pulls up, same as before, the cab driver,
Michael, opens the door for MH, then stands by car, watches.
MH enters. S looks at him, they are silent for a few moments.

MH: I’m thinking aloud. (Pause.) Do you understand? Do
you understand what I am saying to you?
S: You are not speaking?
MH (Nods): Just thinking. If you are questioned, well, you
know what I mean. I am trying to protect you and, if you
wish, I won’t . . . won’t think aloud . . . Do you wish me to
not think aloud?
S (Pause, looks toward Michael then back): No.
MH (Pause): Very well, then I will think aloud . . . The call
I received here yesterday . . . I’ve been ordered to
Washington tonight to be briefed by . . . officials . . . then
make a call from Washington to a member of the Israeli
cabinet. Someone I once knew. Something important to
say to him but before that I have been given a joke to tell
him. I hate jokes, I tell them badly. I asked, “Why the
joke?” They said, “Listen, we want him in a good mood
when you tell him what we want you to tell him.” I said,
“The way I tell jokes, he will be in a terrible mood.”
(Pause.) This all makes me very . . . very nervous. I am
thinking aloud you recall . . . Do you?
(S nods. MH pauses to look furtively in the direction of Michael,
then turns back.)

MH (Lowering his voice): “Look,” they said,  “just do as we
ask, tell the joke, we have psychologists on the payroll and
they tell us this is the best approach.” I could try the joke
out on you but I am thinking aloud and no one thinks
aloud a joke . . . You do recall that I am thinking aloud?
S: Yes.
MH: Good. (After another glance toward Michael.) After I tell
him the joke, I am to tell him that the United States
government is well aware Israel is trailing a flotilla of
ships and planning a blockade at Gaza – yes, this they are
preparing to do . . . So you now know something very few
people know . . . Of course the cabinet member I am
calling will already know about the ships, just as the
Mossad knows, but knowing that the United States knows
will not be pleasant for the Israeli cabinet, not at this time.
In a few days, fine, but not now. . . they are doing this on
their own. The United States wants this Israeli I am to tell
a joke, and the cabinet and the prime minister to rethink
what they are doing, because this planned blockade could
possibly lead to . . . the danger exists . . . of bloodshed . . .
worse, of a nuclear confrontation. (Pause, nervously.) That
is the feeling . . . so . . .
(He takes a few unsteady steps.)
S (Pause): I don’t understand – are you with the Mossad or
the CIA?
MH (Turns, stares at him, not pleased): I am just thinking,
remember? . . . I am thinking possible nuclear catastrophe
and you ask me that? What does it matter if I am Mossad
or CIA or both if there is a nuclear catastrophe? How
stupid people can be. Perhaps it is only the assassins and
spies who love humanity. It seems we must kill a few of
you to save the rest of you from yourselves. (Pause, softer.)
You don’t question what a man’s thinking to himself or
aloud. I thought you understood this . . . I thought I made
that clear to you. (Pause.) Or are you trying to trick me
out? (Pause.) I thought you were my friend. I am
disappointed in you.

They look at each other as lights fade.

End of Act One

Act Two
Scene I

S. The cab already pulled up. Michael, the cab driver, helps MH
into the gallery, holding his elbow. MH holds his can of soda,
which is open.

MH: This is Michael.
S: Hello.
MICHAEL (Without expression): Hello. I’ll get the trunk.
(He goes to car trunk, opens, etc.)
MH (Pause.): You saw? The incident in the Mediterranean?
S: It was all over the news.
MH: Ship boarded. Nine dead. We failed . . . I failed. (A
beat, a melancholy smile.) The joke fell flat, flatter now.
S: But no nuclear incident.
MH (Morose): But still possible. I haven’t long to live . . .
but now I feel I live too long.
(Michael enters with box, sets it down quietly, goes back to car,
leans on it, waits.)
MH: (Pause) You’re looking at the box – what do you
think is in it?
S: You’ve found the Einstein and Lise Meitner letters?
MH: No, I haven’t found them, but I think . . .
S: Yes?
MH: I hope maybe Oakland, you know, the storage
company in Oakland with the nice people who can’t spell.
That’s my thought, that perhaps that’s where the box is
with the red C . . . but just a guess.
S (Pause, then indicating the box): The Stanley Wood diary?
MH: No. I haven’t found it. I’m sorry. Odds very slim . . .
one book in all that . . . among all those things . . . more
than eight-hundred cartons. I will show you someday if
my people allow it – allow me to take you to the storage
units, when they are no longer suspicious of you . . . when
you take a stand . . . Did you sell another Stanley Wood?
S: No.
MH (Critically): You are losing your touch . . . like me. Are
you dying also? Should I find another art dealer? So, the
box Michael brought in, look in it please, tell me what you
(S goes through box.)
S: Letters.
MH: I told you I have a fondness for letters.
S: And something else . . .
MH: I should imagine . . .
S (Pulling out, displaying an ice pick.): This? . . .
MH: Oh, a mistake . . . shouldn’t have been in . . . For
assassination I’m afraid. (With a gesture.) The back of the
neck up into the brain . . . really quite merciful and quick,
just a dull pain and that’s it . . . method used quite often, to
this day . . . (Smiles.) Demonstration only, that one, never
used for the real thing . . . to the best of my recollection.
(S pauses, returns it to box, removes several letters.)
S (Studying them): Eric Mottram? . . .
MH: His letters. Found them in storage here just this
morning, thought of you . . . thought they would interest
you, being a literary man.
S: I’m sorry, who is . . . ?
MH: You don’t know? I have been giving you too much
credit as a literary man! Are you sure you’re a Steinbeck
man? Eric Mottram, prominent British poet and academic
of the Beat Era. Brilliant biographer of William Burroughs
–”William Burroughs: the algebra of need.” (Pause.) You
recall, one day I told you I was teaching a class on Kafka at
Kent State during the 1970 killings – that I led my students
off campus, and you gave me one of your looks of doubt I
did such a thing or even taught Kafka? You know the look
. . . Do you recall? . . . (Gesturing.) The top letter – read the
return address and first paragraph . . .
S (A pause, looks at him, then at letter): “15 Vicarage Gate,
London W. 8. . . .”
MH: Mr. Eric Mottram’s home for many years . . . Properly
postmarked? . . . London, air mail?
S: “Par Avion Aerogramme.”
MH: July 1970? . . .
S: Yes.
MH: And what happened the summer of 1970?
S: Kent State.
MH: Yes, read, please.
S: “Hello –  ”
MH (Quickly): Don’t say my name. (Indicates someone or
something might be listening.) Humor me. Now – read,
S: “Congratulations on your latest Kafka piece . . . ”
MH (Interjecting): Kafka, you hear? You may write on
Steinbeck, I can write on Kafka. Read, please.
S: “. . . on your latest Kafka piece. Rather disarming,
though, that the sheer order of a great work should still
have to be stated so clearly . . .”
(S looks at him.)
MH: Continue, please.
S (A beat): “You may imagine you have been in my mind
during the painful and disgraceful events at Kent State.
We heard what you did, saving your class . . . Bravo – one
almost imagines you were trained for this kind of thing
from the reports we were given . . . I hope that you are
well and not abominably shaken. I’ll be in Kent to lecture
this September, in spite of alarms at my safety expressed
here. Everyone here seems to think America is an armed
camp of thugs and National Guardsmen . . . ”
(S looks at him.)
MH: You hear? . . . What I say I did, I did. What I say I will
do, I do . . . remember that. So . . . many such letters from
Professor Mottram in that box. Reflections, observations
.  . . William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles,
Burroughs of course . . . Important . . . if life and thought
and passion are important, if not . . . (Shrugs.) Will you see
that they get to Kent State, please . . . No, better, King’s
College London, which was his academic home. Can you
do this? Can I trust you to do this when I am gone?
S: Yes. Of course.
MH: Good, then I leave them with you. They are a
treasure. I thank you, sir. It is a great relief that these at
least won’t be lost . . . that I can leave something. Now I
am off to San Francisco to see Mrs. Takomini and have
dinner in the Cathedral Oaks dining room. Perhaps
poached salmon again to keep my strength up. Mrs.
Takomini says hello. (He sips from the soda can, then calls,
somewhat depressed.) Michael! . . .

Starts off as lights fade.

Act Two
Scene II

S. The cab driver Michael helps MH into the gallery. MH limps
noticeably. MH indicates the settle. Michael helps him to the
settle. MH is having some trouble breathing. Michael hesitates.
MH signals him that he is OK, that he can leave. Ending with:

MH: Thank you, Michael. I won’t be long. Oh, can you
bring me a can of soda, please?
(Michael leaves.)
S: Can I get you something?
(MH signals no – he has trouble catching his breath – that he
would prefer silence, ends with:)
MH: Thank you . . . (He looks down.)
(A few moments silence. Michael enters with can of soda, opens
it, hands it gently to MH, leaves, leans against cab, opens and
reads a paperback book, glancing over the top of it now and then
at S and MH. MH removes a vial of pills from his sport coat,
takes a pill, drinks, swallows slowly, pauses.)
MH: My third today of the little morphine pills . . . they
are help from God . . . (Pause, looks at him sharply.) Tell me:
what have you done? . . .
S (Pause): What do you mean?
MH: My people have said you may visit the storage – you
must have done something. They have given their
permission. What happened – have you taken a stand?
S: I am not a Jew and I am certainly not a Nazi.
MH (Pauses, studies him, then smiles ironically.): I know you
are not a Jew . . . And the other – of course not. Yet
something changed their minds.
S: Did you ask them?
MH (Irritated, mockingly): Do you think they would tell
S: Perhaps you spoke up for me?
MH: Yes, but I spoke up for you long ago and that didn’t
seem to matter to them. I told them you were a Steinbeck
man – that didn’t carry much weight. Now if I had said
you were a Kafka man . . . or a Gertrude Stein man . . . or a
Golda Meir man . . . that’s probably what I should have
done, when there was still time . . .
S: There is still time.
MH: Is there? To visit the storage? . . . If so, there is very
little and I must use it wisely. I have an appointment to fix
my teeth in two days, the United States government to
pay for everything, but is there any sense to it? Is that a
wise use of my time? Simple vanity? Am I going to be
eating much longer? No . . . Is there any reason to have a
good smile? Why? What’s so funny? . . . Going to the
Oakland storage, even with your help and Michael’s help,
is that a good idea I wonder. (He pauses, waits.)
S (Also a pause): I think it is a good idea.
MH (Small smile): Ah, of course you do, you are thinking
of the Stanley Wood diary . . .
S: And the letters of Einstein and Lise Meitner . . .
MH: Yes . . . perhaps Albert and Lise say something in the
letters that can save the world we can hope . . . Mary
Craven, her book, her manuscript, and Eric Mottram, his
letters, they are safe with you, correct? . . . So maybe you
have enough; we have saved something, you and I. Well, I
had a feeling about you from the beginning. (Pause.) There
is something else if we are to do this, save the storage
from . . . well, I’ll get to that. (Sets aside soda, tries to stand,
holds out his hand.) Will you? I need to stand . . . my sciatica
. . . I don’t want to call Michael . . . he is enjoying his book
. . .
(S crosses, helps him up, stands nearby for a few moments as
MH, grimacing in pain, stabilizes his balance, collects himself.)

MH: (Indicates can of soda): Could you . . . my cola . . .
(S gives him can of soda; MH sips, his balance precarious.)
S: You said there was something else?
MH: You want to go to Oakland with me then, meet the
storage people who can’t spell? Am I correct? . . . we have
permission now . . . Well, there is something that must be
done, but I don’t think you want to hear it. (Pause, a
dismissive gesture.) And now that I think of it, better to
forget the whole thing . . . (Turning in direction toward door
and cab.) Could you call Michael for me, please . . . so I can
S: I want to hear it.
MH (Takes a step away, stops, pauses): Why? You won’t
believe me – you will think it is a trick.
S: I won’t.
MH: You’re sure of that?. . .
S: I am sure.
MH: Well, this I don’t believe but we’ll see . . . (Smiles.)
We’ll test you, shall we? (Turns slowly.) So . . . you know I
do not write or accept checks or use credit cards? And you
know why – just as I do not want to be searched on the
S: Yes.
MH: I have a friend, Victor, a rare books appraiser in New
York, he pays for the storage in Oakland as a favor to me
for that reason we speak of. There is a lady friend who
pays the bill for storage here. I repay them with cash every
four months, and with gifts of books and jewelry and
whatever I have that they may fancy. Well, something has
happened to Victor. I don’t know what; he can’t be
reached, perhaps he is dead . . . perhaps because of me he
is dead . . . not like him to not fulfill . . . obligations . . .
such a good friend . . . So, a few days ago I receive a call
from the Oakland storage people, the people who can’t
spell “safe,” and they tell me Victor is three months
behind in storage payments and tomorrow at this time
everything will be auctioned off. (He waits.) I have money,
but I can’t get to it, it is not a good time . . . not a safe time
for me . . . (He waits again.)
S: The letters are in that storage unit, the diary . . .
MH: I can’t say for sure . . . only maybe, perhaps . . . no
one can guarantee . . . In any case, I need thirty-six
hundred dollars to pay the back rent fees or everything
will be auctioned off.
S: So you need cash?
MH: It may surprise you, but cash is not a good idea in
this situation. Michael and I could drive to Oakland with
the cash, but what if something happens? An auto
accident, perhaps? . . . And you’ll laugh at this – an
assassin? . . . I can’t think clearly . . . (Shows pills.) . . . so I
am ripe for picking . . . anyone can kill me . . . (Small smile.)
Well, some can. (Serious again.) And I have lost my value
since the Gaza incident . . . I do not think I will be called
on again . . . (Pause, a subtle look toward the cab.) . . . and I
can’t be sure even about Michael . . . (Pause.) Or you, my
friend . . .
S: You think that I? . . .
MH: I wonder why it is now okay for you to visit the
storage when before . . . but I will I trust you. If the storage
is auctioned everything will be gone, scattered among
dozens of used book dealers and bric-a-brac collectors . . .
It pains me to think . . . picked over by vultures . . . gone to
who knows whom . . . maybe the Albert Einstein and Lise
Meitner letters that could save the world, perhaps the . . .
the Stanley Wood diary talking of modern art and Georgia
O’Keeffe that is so important in your world . . . (He waits.)
S (A beat): You’re saying you need my money anyway?
MH: Of course the money is needed. I have said that.
S: A credit card then?
MH (Nods slowly): The ubiquitous credit card, if we wish
to save these words of Lise Meitner and Einstein and
Stanley Wood . . .
S: If they are there.
MH: If they are there and maybe they are not . . . You look
up the telephone number yourself, sir. You call them. Ask
any questions you wish of them. Use my name if you
must; I will cover my ears. You will know where your
money is going. That should assure you . . .
S (A beat): Fine.
MH: You’ll do it?
S: Yes, fine.
MH (A beat): You realize, of course, you must call by
tomorrow morning . . .
S: I’ll call now.
MH: You will call Oakland now? S: Yes.
MH: Thank you, my friend. (He sits gingerly on the settle,
lowering himself with the help of his arms.) I am much
relieved . . . to think of those letters gone . . . well . . .
(S opens a telephone book, turns pages.)
S (To himself): Oakland . . .
MH (Tired but a smile): The Yellow Pages, under storage,
safe misspelled, no E remember . . .
(He watches. S writes down a number. MH’s cell phone rings.)
MH: Pardon me, please. Hello? Yes? (To S.) This is
fortuitous, sir. It is the storage people from Oakland who
can’t spell.
S (Immediately suspicious): Is it?
MH (Nods, small smile): A setup, is that what you think?
Such a suspicious mind you have, like some of my Jewish
friends – like me. Maybe you are Jewish after all. (Then into
phone): Yes . . . yes, we will have the money . . . you . . .
excuse me? . . . (Pause.) I was told tomorrow . . . the
fifteenth . . . (He falters.) Today is tomorrow? (Pause.) Today is
the fifteenth? . . . (Pause, his hand trembles, tries to steady it
with other hand.) I see . . . I know I was warned . . . I know
you are just doing your job . . . Tell me, young lady . . .
was there a box with a red letter C? . . . “Perhaps?” . . .
And if “perhaps” is “yes” – what did it sell for? Not that it
matters . . . I see. So it is all gone, all sold?. . . (Pause.)
Thank you, you have been very gracious . . . Yes, it is
difficult, I know, don’t be so upset, my dear, I don’t blame
you, these things happen . . . (Hangs up, puts phone in
pocket.) Put away your telephone book and credit card – I
have taken so many of these I confused the day. (Indicates
vial of pills.) It is all gone, everything auctioned off, so
many years of collecting. She – the young woman who is
so upset – she seems to recall a box with a red letter C . . .
but there was so much she can’t be sure . . . We can pray if
you believe in prayer . . . pray that the woman in Oakland
is color blind and saw instead a blue letter G . . . (Pause.)
To have let down Lise Meitner this way. . . and Einstein
. . . Well, not so much Einstein, he’s Einstein, and with me
it is always the women anyway . . . So, the box, if it was
the box with the Lise letters, it went for between twenty
and thirty dollars, to the best of her memory, as did most
of the boxes. Nothing over fifty dollars, imagine . . .
(Pause.) So . . .
S: Is there any way that –
MH: No to your question: they do not give out the names
of buyers, there’s a law . . . and who would return them in
any case? . . . they are worth a fortune, any publisher
would snap them up like that . . . I am sorry to have put
you to so much trouble for nothing . . . (Pause, takes a sip
from the can, dully.) I wonder . . .
S: Yes?
MH: What our Mrs. Takomini will say . . .
(He drops his head, then tries to stand, can’t, lifts his head,
holds out his hand for assistance to stand.)
MH: . . . She loves Lise Meitner too.
(S hesitates as lights fade.)

Act Two
Scene III

S is going through a large box on his desk, studying a document.
MH seated as before on the settle, leaning forward onto a cane
he holds with both hands. A soda can on the arm of the settle.
Michael can be seen leaning against the cab, reading a paperback
book. MH looks in Michael’s direction.

MH (After several moments): Michael is not CIA.
S (Distracted by what he is looking at): No?. . .
MH: He is a taxi cab driver. He reads mysteries. That is
what threw me.
S (Looking up, smiles.): Really?
MH: It is not always so sophisticated, this business you
know. (Taps his head.) One can think too much. I thought
he was – they were – trying to throw me off the trail by the
obvious . . . (Gestures toward Michael reading, then:) And of
course I’ve been addled . . . (A sly tone.) So tell me, what do
you think of that document?
S: What is the language?
MH (Looks at him acutely.) Italian. You told me you are part
Italian, that your grandparents on your mother’s side were
from the old country. You can’t read Italian?
S: No.
MH: You didn’t recognize the language?
S (Sheepishly): Well, I didn’t look closely, but now that I . . .
MH: I worry for you, my friend. If you had been raised a
Jew in Cleveland like me you would have been driven
from the temple. It is a letter for your information – on
S: You found these in storage here?
MH (Nods): Some weeks ago. I just thought to show them
to you.
S: Nothing on –
MH (Gloomily): Don’t ask, please. No box with a red letter
C . . . so far. No Lise Meitner and Albert Einstein. Probably
gone in Oakland, but still two storage units it could be
found, and maybe Los Angeles so there’s hope . . .
S: But you don’t think Los Angeles?
MH: No. Unlikely. Mostly Hollywood things there and I
would not have knowingly subjected Lise Meitner or
Albert Einstein to Hollywood.
S: But unknowingly?
MH (Nods slowly): Always possible. I forget sometimes,
more lately.
S: And the Stanley Wood diary?
MH: Please, I would tell you . . . So, the letter you are
holding, you recognize it is written on parchment?
S: That would be my guess.
MH: Good, we are progressing. There is some hope for
you if you can recognize sheepskin. You note the date,
you don’t need a foreign language to see it is Seventeenth
Century. I will tell you what you are holding – letters from
a pope – you’ll find his name there – to an archbishop
whose name is also there, Garradini I think. I’ve had them
for years, purchased them in Ohio . . . in Akron I think . . .
from an old American soldier who stole them somewhere
in Italy during World War II and knew I collected words,
even stolen words. And I will be honest with you, I do not
read Italian and never knew what they said, so when I
rediscovered them a few weeks ago I sent several copies
off to an important library in Europe and copies of those
letters to a friend who is an Italian scholar at Harvard. I
received a lightning-bolt reply from the library: they
offered to purchase all of the letters for a very large sum.
Never have I had such a swift response. I said, “What
would you do with them?” They said, “Why do you
care?” I said, “Because they are words and I care about
words, so I must know or I will not sell.” They said, “We
would, at first, sequester them.” Well, that got my interest.
Then I received a call from my professor friend at Harvard
and when I told him what the library said, he replied, “I
am not surprised at their quick response. From the letters I
have translated, it seems the pope was furious with an
archbishop who was profligate and fathered many
children, and two of the children – boys – were the issue
of a woman cousin to the pope, which naturally further
enraged the pope, so he ousted the archbishop, sending
him to a monastery in Bulgaria to spend his remaining
days eating beans and breaking bread with monks.” (He
pauses to take a pill washed down by a sip of soda.) So . . .
S: So that is why the library would sequester the letters?
MH: Hardly. That’s just a ripple as scandals go, religious
or otherwise . . . (Another sip.) . . . especially religious. It
might tickle the interest of some academics or Church
critics, but not much else. No, there’s something far more
intriguing, something that would resound today, and it
concerned what the pope did with the two boys – for my
friend continued, and naturally I paraphrase, my memory
faulty, “From the third letter, it seems the pope arranged
something through the Holy See and the German family
we now know as the House of Windsor, and the boys
were sent to them and became members of that family –
the House of Windsor.” (He pauses, sips.) That’s the reason
the library wants to sequester the letters – (He grins,
reflexively covering his mouth.) Don’t you see? – to hide the
fact there are swarthy people in the House of Windsor.
S (After a pause): Will you sell them the letters?
MH: I can’t say. Being a swarthy person myself I would
trade them in a second for the Lise Meitner letters. Like
every other woman I have loved, I love her more once I
have lost her . . . this part of her . . . her words, her soul . . .
gone to where? . . .
S: You may still have them . . . we can search storage here,
Los Angeles . . .
MH: We could, but if they cannot be found? Then all hope
is gone. That I couldn’t bear. At least now I still have hope
. . . So finally I am a coward and I look slowly, maybe I
find them, maybe I don’t . . . The pope letters, I was going
to give them to you to do as you wish, sell them if you
wish, but then . . . but then . . . I have not wanted to say
this . . . I have put it off . . . (Pause, stares at him, with
intensity.) . . . but you now leave me no choice – you are
not a Steinbeck man. Steinbeck men are straight with you,
but you have not been straight with me. (Pause.) I asked
you to not google me and you have googled me, putting
my life in danger . . . Little chicken scratches all over the
internet, leading to me. Like tracks in the snow. Google
google! Buck buck buck! (Slams one shaky hand into the
other.) Now my enemies have an idea where I am . . . Even
now they are tightening the circle . . . You see, if people
google a person’s name, people in pursuit of that person
tend to think their prey is where the google comes from.
And these people are on the watch, all the time – they
know!. . . (Pauses, his breathing labored.) So you say to
yourself, this old man with the broken teeth and thin hair
is close to death anyway, so what can the difference be?
. . . If I have two seconds to live, I do not want those people
to end it a second sooner. I loathe them! So you see what
you’ve done thank you very much.
S: You believe I did that?
MH: Little chicken scratches! (He tries to stand, fails.) My
people told me! Can never be erased! Even when I am
dead they will point to here! Yes, even when I am dead
these ghouls can track me. The googles came from here or
near here. Who else but you? (Pauses, holds out his hand.)
Help me, please.
(S helps him to stand.)
S: Other people have met you here. They ask about you.
Anyone could have done it.
MH: But I believe it was you . . . You used to make me
happy, not so much anymore. (Pause, resignedly.)
Whatever, whomever, it is done . . . But I am ready if they
come – have you noticed my sport coat? Square cut . . .
Brooks Brothers . . . Do you like the fashion? . . . not
beautiful but useful . . .
(He opens the jacket to reveal a shoulder holster and revolver.)
S (Pause): Could you use that?
MH: Shoot them? Of course . . . Aim it?. . . There was the
day. Now?. . . with shaky hand?. . . (Shrugs, closes jacket.)
Life is full of questions of this question we shall perhaps
soon see . . . Here is another: Can I have forty dollars? I am
meeting a charming woman – Helen – at Costco. Michael
will drive me. I want to buy Helen a Polish dog. One for
Michael, too. You may ask why Costco . . . It is a good
place to relax . . . sample foods . . . and hide when one is
not strong . . .Tell me, sir. Have you sold another Stanley
S (Taking money from his wallet): No.
MH (Taking the money from S): An Arthur Faber?
S (Pause): No.
MH: I have someone else with you, another artist? . . . My
memory you know.
S: No.
MH (Sighs): Times are not good . . .

He moves slowly toward cab and Michael who, seeing him,
closes his book and opens a back door of the cab as the lights fade.

Act Two
Scene IV

MH on the settle, S behind his desk, Herman writing a check.
Ida standing nearby. A few moments silence as MH studies his

HERMAN (Kidding): I.D.?
S (Also): Birth certificate will do.
(Herman hands him check.)
S: Thank you.
HERMAN (Picking up a package that is obviously a wrapped
painting): Ida.
MH: You’re going so soon?
HERMAN (Gesturing): Well, driving back this afternoon, a
long drive . . . (To S.) Watch over our good friend, please.
(MH begins to stand, has trouble, holds out a hand to Ida.)
MH (Looking up, smiling weakly): Ida, please . . .
(She helps him to his feet.)
MH: Thank you.
HERMAN (To MH): You’ll visit us again?
MH: If I can get that way.
IDA (Pats his hand): Please try. We’ll have lunch, the three
of us.
MH (Kisses her hand, looks at her): I look forward to it.
HERMAN (Watches, pleased): Take care, Maurice.
(MH smiles at his use of the name, nods. A moment, then
Herman and Ida leave, Herman carrying the package.)
MH (He watches them go. Pause): I didn’t ask for this life,
you know . . . I wanted a family, a wife like Ida . . .
Herman doesn’t realize how lucky . . . (Pulling himself up
straighter, moves a few steps.) I wanted to be a teacher and
poet like my very good friend Eric Mottram . . . but not an
artist like Stanley Wood because, as I told you, I am not a
visual person except for illustrations in books. I do like
book illustrations did I tell you?. . . I suppose it goes
without saying . . .
(The pill vial, clumsily.)
Pardon me, another pill . . . I am upset. And the morphine
again another addiction . . .
I grew up in the city of Cleveland I think I told you, social
climbing parents – not only in the Jewish community by
the way. My mother specialized in being beautiful and
perfect. Never a hair out of place. Arranging events to
raise money for the museum, the symphony, the garden
club . . . My father a businessman. A closed man – not
private, closed . . . closed off. I once asked him to come to
my baseball game. I wasn’t more than twelve. He said to
me, a boy, “Never ask anything like that of me again.
Never.” But I was stubborn and wanted his love and if
you tell a child not to do something he will do it . . . so I
did – and the next year ended up in a military preparatory
school far from Cleveland and my friends, the few I had
. . . American Jewish boys did not do well in military
schools then, you know, but I did not back down from
anyone and now I look back it prepared me for my life to
come . . .
My father had a second house in Cleveland where he did
some of his business. It was downtown in a bad area. A
simple place with bars on the windows. As a boy I never
understood. I only really thought about it years later, after
it had been closed up, after his death, after the Mossad
recruited me. I think I didn’t want to know what he had
been up to . . . I still don’t want to know . . . Some agent I
Sometimes I look back and think . . . think I was
manipulated to have this life, even as a boy . . . I do not
say brainwashed . . . persuasively “guided” is better . . . My
family’s synagogue . . . Temple Tifereth Israel in Cleveland
. . . is a great temple. Our rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was a
brilliant orator and a passionate Zionist who gave
powerful speeches for the establishment of a homeland.
He backed his words raising millions of dollars for the
new country Israel . . . If he had lived later and not under
God’s holy hand he might have been Mossad so read his
book some day about Jewish survival. He knew what
dangers we face . . . Look him up, there are books on him,
even a website on your treasured internet . . . (Smiles
ironically.) So the Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver him you can
look up.
I suppose Rabbi Silver was an inspiration to me . . . You
know how these things can happen and you don’t know
they are happening until much later . . . He convinced me I
should visit Israel to see for myself . . . and perhaps serve,
he said, “if a way presented itself to me.”
So when I was twenty-three I visited Israel – and what do
you know “a way” presented itself to me. Two men greeted
me on the tarmac of the Tel Aviv airport. They said to me,
“Young man, do something for your country, serve your
country.” I said, “I have.” They said, “We don’t mean
America, that is fine what you have done for America, we
know about that, America is our friend, but we mean for
this country – for Israel.”
I didn’t know what they meant, not really . . . but they
seemed wise and powerful . . . and I was flattered . . . it is
easy to flatter the young of course . . . so I said, “Very well
. . . yes . . . I will . . . ”
And so I did . . .
. . . and soon I knew . . .
(He stands slowly with a weary smile, shrugs.)
. . . soon I know what they meant.

He touches S’s desk for a moment, then begins to move away as
the lights fade.

Act Two
Scene V

S enters. A few moments later the cab pulls up. It is twilight.
Michael enters with a cardboard box, sets it on the settle. S
stares at it for a few moments. The light dims slowly throughout
the scene.

S: Letters?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. I was just told to deliver it to
S: Where is he?
MICHAEL: Gone, with a woman named Helen. A friend
he has been seeing.
S: Gone where?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. They went off in an old Cadillac.
I tried to talk him out of it. (Shrugs.) The Cadillac was
smoking, might not go far . . . I warned him, but he knows.
(Pauses, then indicates telephone.) Have you listened? . . . He
left something. He said to listen . . .
(Leaves, cab pulling off. S watches him, waits a moment, then
pushes message button on phone.)
MH’S VOICE: Hello, sir. I am down to a few days.
You may believe me or not. I know you are of a suspicious
These days I will spend with Helen . . . Finally in my life I
choose the woman, not the duty . . . I have said goodbye to
Mrs. Takomini, so now I say goodbye to you . . .
Remember, Mrs. Takomini will help you . . . the Cathedral
Oaks Apartments. Whatever you need . . .
What can you do I hear you saying . . . say a prayer, it
needn’t be long.
(The sound of something dropping.)
HELEN’S VOICE (Slightly old country German): Here . . .
MH’S VOICE: No, let me . . .
HELEN’S VOICE: Don’t be so stubborn . . . Here it is, now
hold tight.
MH’S VOICE (After a moment, breathing irregular): Excuse
me, not doing well . . . dropping my phone . . . A friend
helping . . . Helen . . . remember I told you about Helen
and the Polish dog at Costco? . . . Say something to my
friend, Helen . . .
HELEN’S VOICE: Bless you, sir, bless you.
MH’S VOICE: You see, I tell her about you and she blesses
you that should tell you something . . .
We will go for a trip in the old white Cadillac with the
blue vinyl roof, Helen and I . . . maybe to Los Angeles to
see the storage there if the car will go that far . . . If not we
will not.
Perhaps we will see Herman . . . and the lovely Ida.
Michael will deliver a box to you. It is, I am sorry to say,
not the Stanley Wood diary . . . nor the Lise Meitner
letters. It contains things of importance so take care of
them, but not so important as Lise Meitner’s letters.
Someone somewhere has those. We can only hope good
and not evil will be done with them. They are worth much
more than twenty or thirty dollars . . .
So why that should bother me now I don’t know.
Pardon me, another pill.
Good luck with the Stanley Woods . . . and my good
friends both gone Mary Craven and Eric Mottram treat
them kindly . . .
(With a touch of humor.)
. . . and the pope letters –the scandal will be great so stand
strong . . .
Of Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner . . .
(Pause, falters.)
. . . well, Albert can take care of himself . . . even in death
. . .
As to Lise Meitner, not so easy when you are forgotten . . .
. . . but maybe she forgives me for not doing more . . .
(A few moments, then the sound of a click.)
S looks over at cardboard box as lights dim to darkness.

End of play