A C T I , S C E N E O N E
Act one, scene one opens with Lillian Hellman clawing her way, stumbling and scrambling, through the thorny nighttime underbrush of some German schwarzwald, a Jewishbaby clamped to each of her tits, another brood of infants clinging to her back. Lilly clambers her way, struggling against the brambles that snag the gold embroidery of her Balenciaga lounging pajamas, the black velvet clutched by hordes of doomed cherubs she’s racing to deliver from the ovens of some Nazi death camp. More innocent toddlers, lashed to each of Lillian’s muscular thighs. Helpless Jewish, Gypsy and homosexual babies. Nazi gestapo bullets spit past her in the darkness, shredding the forest foliage, the smell of gunpowder and pine needles. The heady aroma of her Chanel No. 5. Bullets and hand grenades just whiz past Miss Hellman’s perfectly coiffed Hattie Carnegie chignon, so close the ammunition shatters her Cartier chandelier earrings into rainbow explosions of priceless diamonds. Ruby and emerald shrapnel blasts into the fl awless skin of her perfect, pale cheeks. . . . From this action sequence, we dissolve to:
Reveal: the interior of a stately Sutton Place mansion. It’s some Billie Burke place decorated by Billy Haines, where formally dressed guests line a long table within a candlelit, wood-paneled dining room. Liveried footmen stand along the walls. Miss Hellman is seated near the head of this very large dinner party, actually describing the frantic escape scene we’ve just witnessed. In a slow panning shot, the engraved place cards denoting each guest read like a veritable Who’s Who. Easily half of twentieth-century history sits at this table: Prince Nicholas of Romania, Pablo Picasso, Cordell Hull and Josef von Sternberg. The attendant celebrities seem to stretch from Samuel Beckett to Gene Autry to Marjorie Main to the faraway horizon.
Lillian stops speaking long enough to draw one long drag on her cigarette. Then to blow the smoke over Pola Negri and Adolph Zukor before she says, “It’s at that heartstopping moment I wished I’d just told Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ‘No, thank you.’ ” Lilly taps cigarette ash onto her bread plate, shaking her head, saying, “No secret missions for this girl.”
While the footmen pour wine and clear the sorbet dishes, Lillian’s hands swim through the air, her cigarette trailing smoke, her fi ngernails clawing at invisible forest vines, climbing sheer rock cliff faces, her high heels blazing a muddy trail toward freedom, her strength never yielding under the burden of those tiny Jewish and homosexual urchins. Every eye, fi xed, from the head of the table to the foot, stares at Lilly. Every hand crosses two fi ngers beneath the damask napkin laid in every lap, while every guest mouths a silent prayer that Miss Hellman will swallow her Chicken Prince Anatole Demidoff without chewing, then suffocate, writhing and choking on the dining room carpet.
Almost every eye. The exceptions being one pair of violet eyes . . . one pair of brown eyes . . . and of course my own weary eyes.