Fame is no Sanctuary by Christina Hamlett
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Special Agent Harvey Rudetsky (50s)
The Interrogator - unseen, a microphoned male voice
Henry Peavey - African American, gay (40)
Mabel Normand - slender brunette (late 20s)
Margaret “Gibby” Gibson - athletic w/ light brown hair (late 20s)
Mary Miles Minter - petite blonde ingenue (20)
Charlotte Shelby - Mary's mother, a bossy Southern belle (mid 40s)
Margaret Reilly - Mary's older sister (20s)
Faith MacLean - a neighbor (30)
Neil Harrington - a neighbor
Mrs. Wachter - a neighbor
Mrs. Stone - Mrs. Wachter's mother (50)
George Hopkins - set designer, gay (mid 20s)
CIRCA AND SETTING: 1922, Hollywood
All action transpires against the white and silver backdrop of an Art
Deco foyer. The geometric, linear and symmetrical features emblematic
of the era are reflected in twin staircases with sleek black railings
that curve upward to a balcony, the centerpiece of which is an
Empire's Sunburst stained glass window. Below the gallery are open
French doors leading to a dining room. There is a doorway downstage
left as well as a doorway downstage right. The set is never fully lit
except at the end, giving it an eerie quality. Characters appear in
spotlights at different areas of the stage as they are questioned
about the murder.
COSTUME NOTE: With the exception of Rudetsky who wears grey, all
characters wear period clothing in black, white or a combination.
Theatre ushers wear the uniforms of 1920s police.
As the houselights dim, we hear POLICE SIRENS. Blue and white search
lights scan the interior of the theater. After a moment, SPECIAL AGENT
RUDETSKY enters in front of the curtain from downstage right and
addresses the audience.
RUDETSKY: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm and stay in your
seats. (flashes badge) I'm Special Agent Harvey Rudetsky with the
Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. You are all
witnesses to a crime scene; specifically, the murder of one William
Desmond Taylor of 404 Alvarado Court, Unit B. (refers to notebook) The
victim was an Anglo-Irish Caucasian male. Age 49. Six feet tall.
Occupation: film director. Cause of death—a single bullet fired at
close range in the living room of his home. The body discovered by his
valet, a Mr. Henry Peavey. Although we will attempt to conduct our
investigation as quickly and efficiently as possible, we ask that you
not leave the building at this time. If a personal emergency should
require you to leave or if you believe you have critical information
about this case which could be of value to our efforts, please direct
those concerns to one of our uniformed officers at the entrance where
you came in. Thank you for your cooperation.
Rudetsky exits as the curtain goes up.
AT RISE: The set is in darkness. We hear a man sobbing hysterically.
INTERROGATOR: Mr. Peavey?
A spotlight comes on PEAVEY seated on the bottom steps of the stage
left staircase. The light startles him and he scrambles to his feet.
PEAVEY: (nervously) Yes, sir?
INTERROGATOR: Please state your name, age and occupation.
PEAVEY: Henry. Henry Peavey. Mr. Taylor's valet. I be 40 next month.
INTERROGATOR: How long have you been in Mr. Taylor's employ?
PEAVEY: Six months, sir. Fine man, that Mr. Taylor. Finest I ever done
work for. A man among men, that's the Lord's truth. (breaks down) I
can't believe he's gone. I just can't.
INTERROGATOR: Mr. Peavey, I understand you were arrested for vagrancy
a few days ago in Westlake Park. Is that information correct?
PEAVEY: (defensive) Yes, sir, but Mr. Taylor—he come right away to
pay the bail money—two hundred dollars—'n' get me out.
INTERROGATOR: Why would he do that?
PEAVEY: Do what?
INTERROGATOR: You say you had only worked for him for six months.
Isn't two hundred dollars a bit generous for someone of Mr. Taylor's
reputation to post an employee's bail?
PEAVEY: Like I said, that Mr. Taylor he was a good man. He knew that
parks 'n' such was the only places folks of limited means such as
myself could meet other folks in public.
INTERROGATOR: “Other folks” being ... men?
PEAVEY: Uh—yes, sir.
INTERROGATOR: Go on.
PEAVEY: Well, Mr. Taylor he was spose to go to court this afternoon
and say things on my behalf. Bein' who he was and important in
Hollywood 'n' all, I thought—we both thought—the charges might get
dropped on his say-so.
INTERROGATOR: And now it looks as if that's not going to happen.
PEAVEY: (angrily) I didn't kill him! Lord, I swear it weren't me!
INTERROGATOR: No one has accused you of anything, Mr. Peavey. We're
just trying to reconstruct your whereabouts prior to discovering Mr.
Taylor's body this morning. (beat) Take your time.
PEAVEY: Well, first off I left my lodgin' house on East Third Street
'bout seven o'clock ...
INTERROGATOR: You don't live here?
PEAVEY: No, sir. Mr. Taylor he lived by hisself. It's the way he
INTERROGATOR: Go on.
PEAVEY: So then I goes to the pharmacy on Fifth to buy Mr. Taylor's
Milk of Magnesia and peppermints.
INTERROGATOR: He gave you money for this?
PEAVEY: No, sir. I paid for it myself and then he'd say, “What's the
damage, Henry?” And he'd rightly pay me back.
INTERROGATOR: I assume you had to show a receipt?
PEAVEY: No, sir. No it weren't like that at all. Mr. Taylor he trusted
me. I'd never do him wrong.
INTERROGATOR: What time did you arrive at Alvarado Court?
PEAVEY: Just before 7:30. I wanted to be early so's we could talk
'bout what might happen at the court.
INTERROGATOR: Did you have a regular routine you followed?
PEAVEY: Yes, sir. I bring in the newspaper and the milk. Then I goes
to draw Mr. Taylor's bath just right and make his usual breakfast so's
it be ready when he comes to the kitchen.
INTERROGATOR: Was it customary for Mr. Taylor to open the front door
PEAVEY: No, sir. I gots my own key.
INTERROGATOR: So you could let yourself into the house anytime you
PEAVEY: No, sir. I only came when I was spose to.
INTERROGATOR: But you could let yourself in? For instance, on
occasions when Mr. Taylor wasn't at home?
PEAVEY: I'd never do that. Never. He trusted me.
INTERROGATOR: So what happened this morning?
PEAVEY: Well, I comes in the door as always and—(chokes up) First
thing I seen was his feet in his shoes. 'N' then the rest of hisself
just layin' there on the floor in his same clothes as last night.
He breaks down and sobs.
INTERROGATOR: (after a moment) How did you know what he was wearing
PEAVEY: It's what he was wearin' when I left.
INTERROGATOR: And when was that?
PEAVEY: 'Round five. I usually stays later but I'd finished up and Mr.
Taylor he told me I could go.
INTERROGATOR: Might he have been expecting someone?
PEAVEY: I dunno. He didn't say.
INTERROGATOR: I need you to tell us the rest, Mr. Peavey. What did you
do when you saw him lying on the floor?
PEAVEY: I—I thought maybe at first he'd fallen to sleep. He liked to
read scripts real late and maybe he gots hisself tired and thought
he'd just close his eyes a bit. (beat) And then I saw the blood 'n' it
was like it had come out the back of his head and—and-
INTERROGATOR: Did you see anything else? Anything unusual or out of
PEAVEY: Alls I could think was to run 'n' get help.
INTERROGATOR: Even though he was already dead?
PEAVEY: I didn't know that! I swear I didn't! I just knew he wasn't
movin' 'n' I had to get somebody quick.
INTERROGATOR: One more question for now, Mr. Peavey. Do you know of
anyone who might have wanted Mr. Taylor dead?
PEAVEY: Nobody. Nobody at all. Mr. Taylor was a good man. The best
ever was. Oh Lord, what am I gonna do now he's gone?
He returns to sobbing as the spotlight goes out on him.
Spotlight comes up on the downstage right doorway. As soon as it hits,
MRS. WACHTER ducks out of sight. A moment later, she peers around the
INTERROGATOR: It's all right. You can come in.
Not sure she feels comfortable doing this, she reluctantly steps into
INTERROGATOR: Please state your name.(beat) It's a matter of police
procedure. We need your name for the record.
MRS. WACHTER: (clears her throat, speaks meekly) Mrs. Wachter. Mrs.
INTERROGATOR: And your relationship with the deceased?
MRS. WACHTER: (embarrassed) Oh I didn't have a relationship with Mr.
Taylor at all! No, no. Good heavens. I'm happily married to my
husband. Arthur. Arthur Wachter.
INTERROGATOR: Let me rephrase that. How did you and your husband know
MRS. WACHTER: He was a neighbor.(points downstage) We—my husband
Arthur and I—live over there.
INTERROGATOR: And the address?
MRS. WACHTER: 412 Alvarado Court. Unit A.
INTERROGATOR: How well would you say you and your husband were
acquainted with Mr. Taylor?
MRS. WACHTER: Oh, not that well at all. Well, of course, except to say
hello now and then. It's what we all do, isn't it? Being good
neighbors and wanting to know who's who.
INTERROGATOR: Were you ever invited to his home?
MRS. WACHTER: Oh mercy no! Not that Arthur and I wouldn't have gone if
he'd asked us but-
INTERROGATOR: But what, Mrs. Wachter?
MRS. WACHTER: Well, Mr. Taylor was one of those movie people, you know
what I mean? It's not the kind of world Arthur and I feel comfortable
INTERROGATOR: And what kind of world is that?
MRS. WACHTER: Oh you know—where everyone is beautiful and handsome
and rich and—(lowers voice) They drink a lot of adult beverages and
INTERROGATOR: You mean at parties?
MRS. WACHTER: Well, obviously I wouldn't know, never having been to
one, but I'd imagine a lot of immoral things go on that workaday
people like my husband and I don't partake in.
INTERROGATOR: Did Mr. Taylor have a lot of those parties?
MRS. WACHTER: I wouldn't really know.
INTERROGATOR: But living in such close proximity, you'd have been able
to see cars on the street, hear loud noises, maybe music?
MRS. WACHTER: Not that I'd have been snooping but, no. I didn't see or
hear anything like that.
INTERROGATOR: Did you find that unusual?
MRS. WACHTER: Why would it be unusual?
INTERROGATOR: Seeing as how the deceased ran in popular circles in the
moving picture industry, wouldn't it be natural they'd all socialize
with one another after hours and on weekends?
MRS. WACHTER: Well if they did, it would have to have been somewhere
besides Alvarado Court. We're all very light sleepers. (beat) I also
got the impression-
MRS. WACHTER: Mind you, I didn't know him that well but it seemed to
me—and to Arthur, too—that Mr. Taylor preferred to spend time alone
in his own company.
INTERROGATOR: Go on.
MRS. WACHTER: Well most nights there'd only be a few lights on. And if
he left the draperies open, you could see him sitting in a chair or at
a desk with lots of papers.
INTERROGATOR: Movie scripts?
MRS. WACHTER: I suppose they could have been. We were never close
enough to see but it was definitely loose papers and not books.
INTERROGATOR: What do you remember about the events of this morning?
MRS. WACHTER: Well I got up early to fix Arthur's breakfast. Eggs over
easy with sausage. White toast with strawberry jam. Or was it
marmalade? I don't remember. He likes them both but given his druthers
he'd prefer grape jelly. Is that important?
INTEROGATOR: Grape jelly? No, ma'm. I think we can safely rule out
MRS. WACHTER: Well, all right, if you're sure.
INTERROGATOR: When did you first realize something was wrong at the
MRS. WACHTER: I suppose it was when I opened the front door to get the
newspaper and I heard a man screaming his head off. I thought at first
it was a girl because it was so high-pitched and squealy.
INTERROGATOR: Did you know who it was?
MRS. WACHTER: I don't know him by name exactly but he's a colored man
I've seen go to work every morning at Mr. Taylor's the last couple of
months. Anyway, I only caught a glimpse on account of he was running
around in circles real fast and flapping his arms like a chicken.
INTERROGATOR: You didn't see him stop anywhere?
MRS. WACHTER: Well, he might have but not from how crazy he was
carrying on and yelling holy heck. (crosses herself) Pardon my French.
INTERROGATOR: And you didn't see him come back?
MRS. WACHTER: No.(beat) Do you think he did it? Killed Mr. Taylor,
INTERROGATOR: We're investigating all possible scenarios, ma'm. Now do
you recall anything else unusual in, say, the last 24 hours?
MRS. WACHTER: Not really. (beat) Oh wait. There was the man my mother
saw last night when she came to babysit our daughter so's Arthur and I
could go to dinner.
INTERROGATOR: What man was this?
MRS. WACHTER: A shady sort. That's what my mother said. And badly
dressed. She notices things like that. She thought he was waiting for
the streetcar but it came and went and he didn't get on. That made her
a little nervous so she kept her distance til she got to our
INTERROGATOR: What did she think he was doing?
MRS. WACHTER: She wasn't sure but she thought she saw him take
something out of his left pocket and put it in his right.
INTERROGATOR: Did she see what it was?
MRS. WACHTER: She was too far away.
INTERROGATOR: What did he do then?
MRS. WACHTER: Well, then he went off down Maryland Street. That's the
street right behind Mr. Taylor's.
INTERROGATOR: I'll need your mother's address in order to get a
statement from her.
MRS. WACHTER: Oh, she's staying with Arthur and me for a few days. All
this murder business—and on such a nice street, too—it's got her
plenty worried for sure.
INTERROGATOR: Did she tell you anything else about the man she saw?
MRS. WACHTER: Only that she thought for a minute maybe it could have
been Mr. Taylor's last valet, Mr. Sands. He was from England, I think.
A lot of Hollywood people like to have English servants because they
make everything sound so—what's the word for it? Posh and proper. We
used to see him when he still worked there and then, next thing we
knew, he had left.
INTERROGATOR: When was the last time any of you saw him?
MRS. WACHTER: Six months or so. I'd have to ask Arthur. He's got a
better head for these things than I do. Anyway, as I was saying, then
the colored man came to work so we assumed Mr. Sands got a job
somewhere else. Maybe he went back to England. Good riddance, too. He
seemed kind of sneaky.
INTERROGATOR: Sneaky in what way?
MRS. WACHTER: Well, he and Mr. Taylor would leave the house at the
same time in the morning but then a few minutes later, Mr. Sands would
come back, look around and let himself in.
INTERROGATOR: How long did he stay?
MRS. WACHTER: Sometimes only a few minutes. Other times, a few hours.
INTERROGATOR: Thank you, Mrs. Wachter. If you remember anything else,
please let us know.
The spotlight goes out on her.
A spotlight comes up on the balcony where a nonchalant MABEL NORMAND
is drinking a martini.
INTERROGATOR: Miss Normand?
MABEL: Yeah, who wants to know?
INTERROGATOR: Please state your name and occupation.
MABEL: Like you just said, Toots, my last name is Normand. First name
Mabel. The Mable Normand? The actress? Obviously you must have heard
INTERROGATOR: And your age?
MABEL: A gentleman never asks and a lady never tells.
INTERROGATOR: According to your birth certificate, you were born in
November of 1892. That would make you almost 30.
MABEL: Sweetie, nobody in Hollywood is 'almost 30'. If they are, it's
a death sentence.
INTERROGATOR: How long were you acquainted with Mr. Taylor?
MABEL: Billy? Billy and I go way, way back.
INTERROGATOR: Could you be more specific?
MABEL: Sure. I knew him—(sarcastically) Almost forever.
INTERROGATOR: When did you first hear what had happened?
MABEL: From my friend Edna. Edna Purviance. She's Chappie's new
MABEL: Charlie Chaplin. (snicker) You don't get out much do you?
INTERROGATOR: What did Miss Purviance have to say?
MABEL: She called to tell me something bad had happened to Billy but I
didn't believe her.
INTERROGATOR: Do you remember her exact words?
MABEL: She said it was complete craziness out in the street. She
couldn't see Billy's place from her window but he was the only one she
didn't see out there in a bathrobe so she said it must have had
something to do with him being hurt or something. I asked her if she
thought I should come over but she didn't think it was a smart idea.
INTERROGATOR: How would you describe your relationship with the
MABEL: We were friends. Very close friends, if you know what I mean.
INTERROGATOR: The two of you were intimate?
MABEL: Pfffft! Can't a man and a woman just be friends without taking
it under the sheets?
INTERROGATOR: Just answer the question, Miss Normand.
MABEL: It wasn't like that with Billy and me. He listened. He cared.
He taught me stuff about history and literature that I never got to
learn in school on account of I left too soon. Billy was sweet and
decent and sensitive to everybody he knew 'cause he wanted 'em to do
INTERROGATOR: Including other women?
MABEL: Especially other women. They liked that he never came off as
trying to take advantage and get 'em in bed. He treated 'em like you'd
treat a little sister, a sister you didn't want to see get used or
INTERROGATOR: What else can you tell us about him?
MABEL: What else is there to know? Whenever I got in trouble, I knew
he'd always be there for me.
INTERROGATOR: Have you been in trouble a lot, Miss Normand?
MABEL: Yeah, mostly with rotten men I found out I couldn't trust.
INTERROGATOR: Was he aware of your drug problems?
MABEL: I don't have drug problems. I can quit whenever I want.
INTERROGATOR: Did he ever advise you that a narcotics or alcohol
addiction would make you a liability to the studio? That you'd be
considered a risk they couldn't afford?
MABEL: Like I said, it's never gone that far. I know my limits.
INTERROGATOR: May I ask how tall you are, Miss Normand?
MABEL: What's that got to do with anything?
INTERROGATOR: The deceased was shot at close range by someone who
either crouched down ... or was approximately five feet tall.
MABEL: (insulted) You think I killed him? Billy was my best friend!
INTERROGATOR: Then you won't mind telling me how tall you are.
MABEL: Fine. I'm five foot one. Happy?
INTERROGATOR: Tell me about Mr. Taylor's valet.
MABEL: Henry? He's a funny one for sure.
INTERROGATOR: Funny in what way?
MABEL: Well he obviously wasn't born to manners but he did a helluva
job imitating them. Like when I'd come to the house and he'd do a
little bow from the waist and say, “And how are you this fine day,
Miss Normand?” Gotta make you laugh the way he tried so hard to puff
INTERROGATOR: What were his duties?
MABEL: Just valet stuff. He put out Billy's clothes, made him
breakfast, ran errands. He was also aces when it came to making
INTERROGATOR: Do you happen to know whether the deceased was seeing
anyone at the time of his death?
MABEL: (angry retort) So now you're just calling it death? Like he
caught a sniffle that went to pneumonia? Or he went to sleep one night
and didn't wake up? My friend Billy was murdered in his own house in
cold blood! Why aren't you out there finding out who did it instead of
asking stupid questions?
INTERROGATOR: Please calm down, Miss Normand. We're trying to gather
information from anyone who had a connection to Mr. Taylor in order to
determine motive, means and opportunity which led to his demise. Now
once again, were you aware of whether he had someone special in his
MABEL: In the first place, Billy would've told me. We told each other
everything 'cause we knew it wouldn't go any further. And secondly,
everybody knows the only thing Billy loved was his work, and who could
blame him? He was at the top of his game. The top.
INTERROGATOR: People at the top are often easy targets for people at
MABEL: You're saying he got offed 'cause somebody got jealous?
INTERROGATOR: Or perhaps someone scorned? Was there anyone whose
career ambitions or personal affections he might have recently
MABEL: Well, if you put it that way, only one person who comes to
INTERROGATOR: And who would that be?
MABEL: (sly smile) I really don't like to drop names…
The spotlight goes out on her.
The spotlight comes up on the downstage right doorway and NEIL
INTERROGATOR: State your name, please.
NEIL: Neil J. Harrington. (points out toward the audience) I live over
there. At 408, Unit A.
INTERROGATOR: You live alone, Mr. Harrington?
NEIL: No, I have a roommate. Verne Dumas.
INTERROGATOR: You say you have some information about the case we're
NEIL: Well, I didn't know Mr. Taylor per se except to know who he was.
Always nicely dressed, always seemed to keep to himself. Not the sort
of person you'd think most Hollywood people are.
INTERROGATOR: Go on.
NEIL: I'd be out walking late at night and sometimes I could see him
through the window and working at his desk.
INTERROGATOR: Did he have many visitors?
NEIL: Well, a lot of times there was this real pretty gal from the
flickers. I don't know all their names 'cause I don't keep up, but I'd
seen her in some of 'em and she really lit up the screen—you know the
type? And she'd come and stay for a couple of hours and sometimes play
the piano but that was that.
[End of Extract]