Sunday, May 8, 2016

"But most men of culture, Abandon their ships. Traverse the interior, Get into new trips."

So off we go.  I am given the A Go Go Go Ahead to write my own play CASANOVA'S LIPS instead of churning out a tired rehash Old Fashioned Melodrama for Santa Barbara City College's Drama Department.  The Goal: to have a full scale production up and running by the final weekend of April, beginning of May for two weeks (as all SBCC plays ran) in 1976, to coincide with the Bi-Centennial.  It was late September 1975, and I had till the third week of October to write the whole thing.  Okay.  Let's do this...

Working on the front room floor of my little studio apartment on Chapala Street, THE CHAPEL, more fondly known as Altair-4 from the film FORBIDDEN PLANET, so named and agreed upon with my former roommate Pedro, I was fired up!  Excited and Ready and Steady to Go.  Inspired with ideas.  With a full supply of SPACE PIRATE RADIO import LPs to supply soundtrack. The radio show ran uninterrupted on the air at KTYD during my full gig of production.  Five days at Santa Barbara City College, weekends on the radio Midnight to Six A.M.  No breaks.  How did I do it?  Madness, of course.  The Fun of Madness.  Ah, the Energy of Youth!

Okay.  So the concept of CASANOVA'S LIPS was certainly inspired by THE GOON SHOW--breeding ground for my favourite comedy character actor, Peter Sellers and the anti-establishment surrealistic comedy of Spike Milligan.  I'm sure I was influenced by one particular episode entitled "Napoleon's Piano."  This dealt with the attempted theft from the Louvre of the actual piano Napoleon played at Waterloo.  Crazy, of course.  And on a subconscious level, the basic caper comedy format of the original THE PINK PANTHER and TOPKAPI must have somehow been in there. 

But my approach or plan of attack was different.  Influenced by the way comedy can convey ideas hidden within the jokes, as in THE GOON SHOW, or placing subtext and punning on cultural references, as in THE FIRESIGN THEATRE, I wanted to be the purveyor of a more radical, revolutionary type of satire, cloaked in the seemingly harmless veneer of the ha ha.  If Henny Youngman was actually a member of the Weathermen  ("Take my Bomb, please!").  If Senor Wences was a part of the Baader-Meinhof.

A turning point for me in my early life was the murder of President Kennedy.  Although I realized he was no Saint; that his family background was murky at the least, the concept of coup d'état in what was purported to be the hallmark of civilization, the Good Ole U.S.A...This was Unacceptable.  That a group of individuals in the United States, forged together by a link of Fourth Reich (or is that forthright) thinking and philosophy, could attain their goals by killing a beloved President in the streets of redneck Dallas, Texas, like a Third World Banana Republic.  Madness.  It didn't happen immediately on November 22nd, 1963, but by the time Mark Lane had written RUSH TO JUDGEMENT, the textbook definition of a 'Patriot' was villainy in my soul.  We had all been duped.

So over time, I had a major epiphany.  If you told the truth, trying to reach kindred spirits, you probably would put yourself in the line of fire.  If...however, you suggested a nugget of possibility, wrapped in a chewy coating of giggle... well, you MIGHT just get away with it.

(And there's another chapter or three here on such procedures in the media.  I've made a study on it in my long career in the trenches of broadcasting.  Stay Tuned.)

So how does a subtext about political murder wind up in a silly, mainstream, family oriented old fashioned, laughs aplenty melodrama?  Well, understanding the ways and means of Propaganda used by the Right, the Left leaning satirist uses the very purpose of Satire: as Agitprop.  But with the touch of a softer satin glove.  And coated in a gallon of giggles.

The Story So Far...

Paris, 1876.  A frustrated, forced into semi-retirement cat burglar, visiting his friend, famed psychic Madame Blavatsky, contemplates his next heist.  Indulging in a cup of Lipton Belladonna Tea and listening to La Blavatsky read poetry from Shelley's "Prometheus Unzipped," the rhyme referring to lips gives Le Chat the dream induced idea for the Crime of the Century.

"Who is the greatest lover in the world?" asks Le Chat, fired up by the Belladonna Tea ("Belladonna tea now comes in tea bags?" Le Chat asks earlier, leading up to one of my favourite sight gags in the play).  First question first.  "Warren Beatty," responds Madame Blavatsky.  "Who is Warren Beatty?" asks an incredulous Le Chat.  "Warren Clyde Beatty," Blavatsky replies, with fond memories.  "He was an animal trainer in the Ukraine National Circus.  I was so young then.  And he had so many girls.  Even my mother, who was the circus fortune teller.  She would..."

Le Chat is only asking who was the Greatest Lover in the World, not Madame Blavatsky's personal life.  When the answer is given:  CASANOVA, the insane idea begins.  Casanova was the Greatest Lover in the World, with complete and total power over all the women he met.  And his power was in his KISS.  As it turns out, Casanova's lips are enshrined in the Paris Louvre, under guard, encased in glass.  Anyone who possessed these LIPS would have complete and total power over all the women in the world in the current century.

And here is where Industry steps in as well as entrepreneurial savvy:  Make a mold of the original lips, fill them with wax, and Voila!  CASANOVA'S WAX LIPS!  Guaranteed to turn any loser lover into the object of female devotion.  Pathetic males, unable to score with women, would gobble up this miracle product.  It's a cinch!  Le Chat would be fabulously wealthy.  The only task at hand: to steal the famed lover's lips from the Louvre.

To do the deed, Le Chat would need an accomplice.  A second story man.  Bell ringer.  Agile.  Sports minded.  Football.  Used to play Hunchback for Notre Dame.  His name?  Quasi Modo.

There would have to be a fall guy.  Staking out the museum before the robbery, the appearance of two Gaudy American Tourists, a couple named Lee Harriet and her husband Ozzie Waldman (one of my Triple Entendres) become the perfect frame up.

What ensues is quite simply, nuts.  Putting this together? 

Now I know the feelings people like Ernie Kovacs, Jacques Tati, Ken Russell, Terry Gilliam and even Orson Welles must have felt.

Easy to Assemble Plans follow........