The Fortune Hunter by Bill Ayers
This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent
THE FORTUNE HUNTER Winchell Smith before Bill Ayers
CHARACTERS, eleven males: nine with doubling
1. DUNLOP Willoughby, 30, skilled in Latin, Greek, philosophy, higher math, but not reality
2. SPRAWLDINGS, 50, straight businessman, moustache, suit, and hat
FURRY, 50, eccentric orator, would be sign-writer
LONG JOHN, 50, travelling salesman, Tombstone frock coat, black eye patch
3. Harry KELLOGG, 40, suave, confident, puts his instinctive schemes into action
4. RITCHIE, 30, slow talking narrator, keen gossiper
5. SAM Graham, 50, father of Addie, vague, hopeless businessman, hopeful inventor
6. ROLAND Barnett, 30, Colonel’s son, immature, ambitious, talks fast for a Hillsburgan
7. Colonel BARNETT, 55, Roland’s father, rich, miserable, victim of unrequited love
8. Blinky LOCKWOOD, 50, father of Josie, bank owner, blinks if thinks he’s losing money
9. SHERIFF Zeke, 50, Pansy’s husband, popular lawman never arrested anybody
CHARACTERS, five females: four with doubling
ADDIE Graham, 20s, Sam’s daughter, lovely, lonely, determined
PANSY, 40s, Sheriff’s mischievous wife, large, strong Irish waitress with keen insight
JOSIE Lockwood, 20s, Blinky’s daughter, attractive with high giggle
PATRICE Toot-hill, 20s, Josie’s friend, also from rich family (may double as MISS)
MISS, 20s, non-dialogue, walk on-walk off
SET wings openings/entrances both sides of stage door US door DS hinged so characters inside drugstore may look out to Main Street
Set: DRUGSTORE, drab walls, aged wares on shelves, tattered wall posters drugstore counter to one side US, one counter stool, two chairs old, sorry looking soda fountain behind counter, with glasses and syrup jars small customer table near wings for PANSY scenes page13 and page 61 Side of stage: small A frame ladder, and burner contraption/invention on small table Side of stage: KELLOGG desk (SAM’s junk added p10), two chairs (also for drugstore p15) Bigelow Hotel counter with register book. Slides on and off stage (castors?), or bottom of counter corner hinged to floor at wings edge, so counter can be raised to stand on its end; off stage, out of sight when not in use
THE FORTUNE HUNTER Bill Ayers after Winchell Smith
ACT ONE scene one
Lower Broadway, New York City
SOUND: CONTINUAL 1920 TRAFFIC WITH SOME HONKING
LIGHTS: FADE UP SUNNY DAY 1920
DUNLOP Willoughby alone on stage at C, hangdog look about him His suit is tired and shapeless, his tie askew, his fedora out of shape SPRAWLDINGS enters from wings
SPRAWLDINGS: G'd Morning, Dunlop.
DUNLOP: Good afternoon, Mr Sprawldings. I got your wire. I mean, it got me, overtook me at Minneapolis. So here I am, I fancied it might be urgent, sir.
DUNLOP: I gathered you wanted to get my advice.
SPRAWLDINGS: Your advice!
DUNLOP: To stop wasting everyone’s time, so you can send out a real salesman. The low number of orders, if I have any.
SPRAWLDINGS: You've had bad luck.
DUNLOP: You mean you have, Mr Sprawldings. It was good luck for me drawing weekly cheques, bad luck for you having me do that. I can’t even remember that silly slogan. Sprawldings, uh, we’re going, no, relax, uh, coming or --
SPRAWLDINGS: ‘Sprawldings! Relax, we come to you.’
DUNLOP: Oh yes. Sprawldings. Relax, uh, we’re coming for you.
SPRAWLDINGS: That’s enough now. Dunlop, you’re a man of birth and breeding and education. What's the trouble?
DUNLOP: I thought that was why you called me in early. I can't sell, uh, anything.
DUNLOP: Just general incompetence.
SPRAWLDINGS: What makes you think that?
SPRAWLDINGS: What other work have you done?
DUNLOP: A little of everything. Shipping clerk, timekeeper, cashier. There are no jobs open to a man with a knowledge of Latin and Greek and Etymology.
SPRAWLDINGS: Yet Harry Kellogg believes in you.
DUNLOP: He's a sure-enough optimist. He's too decent to see me as I am.
SPRAWLDINGS: He says you only need the right opening.
DUNLOP: ‘Out the door’, my employers say. My lofty education is no help. Higher mathematics has opened doors, my time spent employed has closed them. I was brought up to, well, be ornamental, not useful; to blow about in motor cars with a chauffeur. It seemed my father wanted me not to work, he had an idea I'd be some sort of genius. When he died, I had an extensive wardrobe, an impractical education and not a cent to my name.
SPRAWLDINGS moves to side of stage DUNLOP follows him
SPRAWLDINGS: Well, let’s see.
DUNLOP: You called me in to fire me, that’s fine. I'm sorry for you and for Harry Kellogg, because he believed I'd make good, and so did I in a way; at least, I had hoped to.
SPRAWLDINGS: He found you trying (Attempt at humour) an open air cure on a park bench, uh, in Washington Square?
DUNLOP: That’s where I lived. I was out of sorts and half-starved, friendless as a stray pup.
SPRAWLDINGS: He offered you a dollar. But you wouldn’t take it.
DUNLOP: I had done nothing to earn it. Anyway, I've left my samples and accounts with --
SPRAWLDINGS: Just a minute, we never let our men go without a month's notice.
DUNLOP: No, I'm grateful for your toleration. Goodbye, Mr Sprawldings.
SPRAWLDINGS: (They shake hands) You'll make good, uh, somewhere.
SPRAWLDINGS watches him walk away, almost to exit
SPRAWLDINGS: (To himself) I just don’t know where.
SPRAWLDINGS exits wings, for quick change DUNLOP turns front, DS at the apron, looking up at the skyscrapers
SOUND: TRAFFIC CONTINUES IN BG WITH SOME HONKING
DUNLOP: (To himself) Lower Broadway. I am fascinated by the brisk spectacle afforded by the cave-like offices in cliff-like walls. In the clear light of streaming humanity, looking forever forward, high and fluent on the sidewalks; there is no room for a professional failure.
DUNLOP crosses the stage, pausing at times, still observing the cityscape
DUNLOP: (To himself) All the keen-faced men, bright-faced women, eager boys, quickened by that manner of efficiency and intelligence which seems so very, very American. A well- dressed throng, well fed, amiable and animated, a resistless tide of affairs surrounds me, and here I am. Acutely aloof from it. (Stops other side of stage) Lord, what a worthless critter I am! No good to myself or anybody else. I’m a regular old man of the mountains!
FURRY enters US, no moustache, wearing heavy, furry jacket, flat cap
DUNLOP: Hello, Mr, um, oh, you look like my, uh --
FURRY: Go back! Have nothin’ more t’ do with that wicked landlady. I took down her sign "Furnished rooms to let with board." I replaced it with my own handiwork, a work of art. A sign painted "Abandon hope - all yee who enter here."
DUNLOP: Oh, that’s a good one.
FURRY: A man should be grateful, though. She has caused me to take a new turn in life. Yes-sir-ee, I was at a crossroads and she plumb barged me along the right trail.
DUNLOP: You know what you want, that’s important.
FURRY: (Excited) My childhood dream. I’m gonna be a sign writer!
FURRY exits wings
FURRY OFF: A sign writer, yahoo!
DUNLOP: (Calls after him) Good luck! (To himself) He sees his own future.
DUNLOP at one side of stage as MISS, 20s, wide brimmed hat, enters from opposite wings, and approaches him. They come face to face, his expression effusive, hers blank He steps aside, she continues on and exits wings
DUNLOP: (Calls after her) Miss! Excuse me! (Pause) Doesn’t want to know me.
DUNLOP stops looking into wings, moves to desk and two chairs KELLOGG enters, sits at his desk
SOUND: TRAFFIC FADES DOWN AND OUT
KELLOGG: Sprawldings called me, so I ask you: What under the sun can you do?
DUNLOP: I don't know. Nothing.
KELLOGG: Nothing. I started out with nothing. (Pause) Except ideas. More than one person had faith in me and gave me help when I needed it. I owe it to them to have faith in others, or lend a helping hand. Every man has some talent, some sort of ability.
DUNLOP: You can search me.
KELLOGG: The trouble is you were brought up all wrong.
DUNLOP: I was brought down all wrong.
DUNLOP moves to sit at side of desk
DUNLOP: I haven't got it in me, the capacity to succeed.
KELLOGG: That's piffle, brace up. There are ways, if you're not too particular.
DUNLOP: I'm not prepared for the burglar business.
KELLOGG: No need. Now attend to uncle.
DUNLOP: Fire when ready.
KELLOGG: (Rises) I know a way by which, if you discard a scruple or two, you can be worth a million dollars, or thereabouts, within a year, or thereabouts.
DUNLOP: But what'll they do to me thereabouts, if I get caught?
KELLOGG: It's perfectly legal. It's happening. A man of your calibre can't fail.
DUNLOP: Would you mind if I use your telephone?
KELLOGG: Sure. What d'you want?
DUNLOP: A straightjacket and a doctor to tell me (Chuckles) which one of us needs it.
KELLOGG: Now listen to me, Dun. I've thought this thing over for quite a time. I'll bet anything it will work. What d'you say? Will you try it?
DUNLOP: Will I? Why, it's the first laugh I've had for months.
KELLOGG: (Sits) No, this is straight goods. If you will follow the rules I lay down, I'll guarantee you'll be a rich man inside of twelve months.
DUNLOP: Rules! Man, I'll follow all the rules in the world. Tell me, what've I got to do?
KELLOGG: Marry a girl with a fortune.
DUNLOP: Are you mad?
KELLOGG: They do it to us all the time.
DUNLOP: They’re shameless.
KELLOGG: And not penniless. DUNLOP: You had my hopes up. I thought for a minute there was something in life that I could be suited to. Something that could make me worth --
KELLOGG: -- A thousand, ten thousand? DUNLOP: What girl with thousands of dollars would take a chance on me? KELLOGG: She’ll jump at it. DUNLOP: Why? What’s the matter with her? KELLOGG: Her? Oh, (Laughs) who knows? We have to find her.
KELLOGG rises, moves around, more excited as the idea develops
KELLOGG: That’s the hunt! Doesn’t it set your blood racing? Have you ever lived in a one-horse town? DUNLOP: No. KELLOGG: I have, my hometown. Any idea what becomes of the young people?
DUNLOP: Not a glimmer.
KELLOGG: The ambitious ones, mostly boys, leave to seek their fortunes in the cities. DUNLOP: Like you did. KELLOGG: The boys that stay are ‘Mainies’, they talk loudly, parading up and down Main Street, but they don’t make a girl’s heart flutter. Some of these unappreciated feminine creatures escape to college and boarding school, but most are confined to home by tradition.
DUNLOP: This sounds like sales talk.
KELLOGG: Not a bit, I'm inspired. I've solved your problem, only you can't believe it.
DUNLOP: How can I? What the devil are you getting at?
KELLOGG: (Sits) This pet scheme of mine. Lend me your ears. You won't find a small country town between here and the Mississippi, where there aren't about four girls to every boy. Do you see my drift?
DUNLOP: Keep on a ’driftin’.
KELLOGG: (Holds up some pages) Statistics. The demand for eligible males is three hundred per cent in excess of supply. It's a printed fact.
DUNLOP rises, the thought of such a plan making him weary
DUNLOP: Oh well, the first census was the Domesday Book. No money in that.
KELLOGG: Now take a city gentleman, young, good looking, who doesn't talk or parade. He can't fail in such a town to get the best looking girl with the biggest bankroll. There’re hundreds of country heiresses pining away for the lack of the likes of you. When you consider it, it's your duty to marry at least one to make her happy, and live a contented life on the sunny side of Easy Street for the rest of your natural born days. Can you see it?
DUNLOP: I see the intellect that conceived the notion. Where’s the catch?
KELLOGG: None, if you follow my instructions. It depends on the way you go about it.
DUNLOP returns to his chair, sits DUNLOP: I’ve noticed single ladies, older ones I mean, in the country. But I’m not eligible. I’m not even a statistic, I’m a square peg in a round hole. KELLOGG: Take a young gentleman of means in expensive clothes with an air of mystery and romance. Imagine his chances in such a town. DUNLOP: It can’t be that easy. KELLOGG: It is, if you follow the rules. I’ll give you advice for every occasion. DUNLOP: No good for me, on any occasion. KELLOGG: A brilliant idea! A set of cards, you know, like an M.C. might hold to make announcements or to jog the old memory. For reference, at all times.
DUNLOP: In my pocket. KELLOGG: You’ve got the idea!
DUNLOP: But, it's a pretty damned rank thing to do, to marry a woman for her money. It's a contemptible, low lived piece of business.
KELLOGG: Remember. Women marry men for money all the time.
DUNLOP: So, some good may come of it, eh?
KELLOGG escorts DUNLOP away from desk, toward door DS
KELLOGG: First, we pick out the town, two or three thousand inhabitants. Most such towns have rich men with marriageable daughters. Of course, there is no open or closed season, the hunting's always good, but there are a few precautionary measures to be sure of bagging an heiress. You mustn't swear, use slang, smoke and or drink.
DUNLOP: Are these people really that inhuman?
KELLOGG: Worse. It would be fatal if you are seen in the hotel bar. And you must refuse invitations to dances, parties, church socials, or even Sunday dinners.
DUNLOP: Why Sunday dinners?
KELLOGG: Because Sunday's the only day you'll be invited to their home. Dinner on weekdays is twelve to twelve-thirty, and it's strictly business, no time for guests. But you won't be asked till they've sized you up pretty carefully.
DUNLOP: Quite so. They should.
KELLOGG: You must be particular with your clothing. Quiet, plain, sober, dark greys and blacks, and the very last word as to cut and fit. The very best of shirts, collars, ties, hats, socks, shoes, underwear. Your laundress will report on everything.
KELLOGG: Be particular to have your shoes polished, shave daily and manicure yourself religiously, but don't let 'em catch you at it. And then, my son, you must work.
DUNLOP: That’s the catch. What kind of work?
KELLOGG: Makes no difference, so long as you hold some job in the town.
DUNLOP: Well, that lets me out.
KELLOGG: You go to church without fail, morning and evening every Sunday. It'll make you solid with her papa and mama, and that's necessary when you're a candidate for their ducats as well as their daughter. Them’s the cardinal rules; church and work until you've landed your heiress. After that you can move back to civilisation.
DUNLOP: I'm going to have a swell time.
DUNLOP moves down to C, KELLOGG follows
KELLOGG: First thing is find board and lodging, with a landlady that gossips, so that she'll spread the word round town. When you move in, stock your room with the driest looking, imposing Law Books. Lots of stationery, pens and pencils, red and black ink and make sure to have a well-worn Bible on display.
DUNLOP: I hope you’ve got this written down.
KELLOGG: Make the rounds of the stores and ask for work. Try and get into the dry-goods emporium, the girls all shop there. Anything except grocery or hardware stores, you mustn't do any employment that would soil your clothes or roughen your lily-white hands.
DUNLOP: You believe I'll have a chance of winning a millionaire's daughter, if I become a ribbon-clerk in a dry-goods store?
KELLOGG: The best in the world. The ribbon-clerk is her social equal, he calls her Mary and she calls him Joe.
DUNLOP: Anything else?
KELLOGG: The storekeepers aren't apt to employ you at first, they'll be suspicious of you.
DUNLOP: We know why.
KELLOGG: You walk in, say 'I'm looking for employment.' Just say it and get out.
DUNLOP: That's the way I always ask for work.
KELLOGG: Pick out the church the rich folks go to. First thing, note what hymns are listed, so that you can open the page before anyone else. Do as they do, stand, kneel, and sing with hope, not too loudly, modestly, as if you were born to it.
DUNLOP: This is going to be hard work.
KELLOGG: Nearly all the bigshots in such towns are deacons, and it's their business to waylay you after the service, tell you they hope you enjoyed the sermon and will come again. If you follow the rules I've outlined, not only will all the girls be falling over themselves to get to you first, but their fond parents will be egging them on. All you've got to do is to pick out the one with the biggest bundle and --
DUNLOP: Make a play for her?
KELLOGG: Not on your life! That would be fatal. You put yourself in her way. She'll do the courting, and when she scents the psychological moment, she'll do the proposing.
DUNLOP: It doesn't sound natural.
KELLOGG: It goes back to the Garden of Eden.
KELLOGG: I never suspected you had all this romantic imagination in your system.
KELLOGG: Imagination be blowed, this is business. I plan to stake you.
KELLOGG moves to desk, gets whiskey bottle, two glasses from drawer, pours two whiskey shots
DUNLOP: No, no more sponging.
KELLOGG: You start tomorrow and order your war kit. The day you start -- I'll advance you five hundred dollars. When you're married you can repay me the advances with interest, and I'll consider it a mighty good deal for myself. Well?
DUNLOP: It's a drowning man's straw, but I will.
KELLOGG: Good, It's a bargain. (Raises glass, laughing) To the fortune hunter!
DUNLOP: (Raises glass) God help the future Mrs Dunlop Willoughby!
SOUND: HORSE AND CART OCCASIONAL 1900 VEHICLE
LIGHTS: FADE DOWN
KELLOGG and DUNLOP leave the stage RITCHIE comes on to DS apron position, as per Dunlop on Lower Broadway RITCHIE wears three piece suit, tie, coat over shoulder When RITCHIE addresses audience, no one else on stage moves, unless scripted to do so
LIGHTS: FADE UP
Set is now Sam’s drugstore, using door US and door DS, except when characters scripted to enter from wings or speak front
RITCHIE: (To front, real slow) Waal, now. This har be Main Street. I am fascinated by thuh dawdlin’ spectacle, afforded by thuh slowpoke routine o’ local folk, in thuh clear light o’ streamin’ reg-u-larity, ovuh an’ ovuh. I wuz born an’ raised in Hillsburg. As a community we be mod’rately prosp’rous an’ contented, comfo’table if not energetic an’ advanced. Not a pushin’ town, never known a boom. Thar’s industry har, but as yet thuh smoke doesn’t foul our skies, nor thuh reff-use pollute our river, nor thuh soot tarnish our veg’tation. A quiet, peaceful, sleepy town, nestlin’ in thuh bosom o’ thuh hills, clean, sweet an’ wholesome.
RITCHIE crosses stage slowly looking into the wings
RITCHIE: I drove t’ thuh train station in m’ father's surrey on thuh off chance o’ pickin’ up a gra-too-it-tee from some stranger, wishin’ t’ be conveyed intta town. (To front) Sho’ ‘nuff thar wuz this Mysterious Stranger with three trunks an’ he tipped me a whole quarter.
RITCHIE dips into wings to the station, dons coat jacket, re-enters to other side of stage DUNLOP enters immediately, following RITCHIE like he is in the surrey
RITCHIE: (To front) Thar be a pack o’ dogs fightin’ outside thuh front o’ Graham's drug-store on thuh way t’ thuh Bigelow Hotel.
RITCHIE and DUNLOP reach other side of stage, move US to hotel counter
RITCHIE: (To front) Willie Bigelow wuz dozin’ behin’ thuh hotel desk, so I slew thuh register roun’ fo’ thuh stranger.