Reading Bill Bryson’s short (195-page) biography Shakespeare, I was reminded of a piece I wrote – and performed, I am proud and happy to append – for CBC radio, concerning the S.O.S. Society, “S.O.S.” standing for “Siblings of the Stars.”
The featured character in my broadcast imagining was Edward B. Robinson, brother of movie great Edward G. Robinson, whom impressionists mimicked, using his trademark intimidating, “Now listen here, mn’yah!”
Edward B. Robinson’s rendition, “Now listen here, mn’ah!” conveyed none of his brother’s murderous menace, though, like an off-key singer who believes they sing perfectly, Edward B. could not recognize the distinction.
Missed it by one “Y.”
Included in the gallery of brothers living in the shadow of celebrated siblings are the actual likes of Frank Stallone, Joey Travolta and the made-up, though contextually plausible, Ron Tin Tin.
Who stood petulantly behind the camera, mumbling,
“‘Play dead.’ I taught him that.”
Eclipsed brothers? Hey, it happens. (See: The (brother) Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour, with Earl Pomerantz as an “extra.”
I have been there, my friends.
Which made alarm bells go off when Bill Bryson’s abbreviated biography introduced me to – and I am sure it could not have been easy – William Shakespeare’s younger brother, Edmund.
An actor, of all things.
And here we go.
Our scene takes place – rubbing it in – in the Shakespearean Era (knowing full well which “Shakespeare” they mean. Giving him an “Era”, no less.)
Sitting in his office, a third-rate Elizabethan “Actor-Manager” auditions actors for his upcoming production.
ELIZABETHAN “ACTOR-MANAGER”: “Next, please!”
An actor enters. Moving to his desk, the actor hands the producer a charcoal-drawn “Head Shot.”
ELIZABETHAN ACTOR-MANAGER: “Thank you. (EYEING THE “HEAD SHOT”) He missed the chin, but it’s not bad. (CHUCKLING, REMEMBERING) Last actor came in, it rained all over his ‘face.’ (BREAKING HIMSELF UP) An ‘8-by-10’ puddle! (REGAINING HIS COMPOSURE) All right, then, down to business. Your name is… (CHECKING HIS “CASTING LIST”)… Edmund Shakespeare.
EDMUND SHAKESPEARE: Yes.
“To… (REALIZING HE’S BEING KIDDED)…ahhhhhh! Funny man! Not “Falstaff funny”, but ‘you got me.’”
“William Shakespeare is my brother.”
“I see. You must be very proud, having a celebrated sibling.”
“Ever try writing a play yourself?”
(SWALLOWING A GIGGLE) “Quite so. ‘The other Shakespeare’ – You don’t need any of that! Parents come to your play: ‘Well, it’s fine.’ Husband surprises his wife: “We‘re going to see Shakespeare!’ ‘William Shakespeare?’ (BARELY AUDIBLY) ‘Edmund.’ Smart move, becoming an actor.”
“By the by, does your exalted brother ever cast you in his plays?”
“He has this policy not to. Charges of nepotism. Not good for company morale.”
“Ironic, eh, wot?”
“Man mounts oodles of plays. No roles for his brother.”
EDMUND SHRUGS, IN HELPLESS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.
“Just curious. Can you get tickets for his plays?”
“Can you get tickets for other people for his plays?”
“I could ask, I suppose. It’s just that, in the past, I have procured tickets, and people have sold them for a profit.”
“Oh heavens, no. You know, we do plays – your brother does plays. ‘Tribal confederates’, you might say. Pick up some pointers. Perhaps ‘pilfer’ a few.”
THE TWO SHARE A “CONSPIRATORIAL CHUCKLE.”
“Would you like me to read for you?”
“Of course. (HANDING EDMUND SHAKESPEARE HIS “PAGES”) Here are your ‘sides’… may I call you Ed?”
“I would prefer Edmund.”
“Just trying to lightening the mood.”
“Would you call my brother ‘Willy’?”
“No, but he’s William Shakespeare. (RE: THE SCRIPT) We’ll start from the top.”
(READING IN CHARACTER) “‘Good morrow, my lord. How be you, this sun-splattered morning?’”
“‘Not good, not bad, but somewhere in between.’”
“‘I know, my lord, exactly what you mean. I pray thee, prithee…’ (DEPARTING FROM SCRIPT)… I have to stop.”
(LOOKING UP) “Is there a problem?”
“I can’t do this.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I cannot cast you in my play. It’s embarrassing. We are a humble undertaking, doing shows for people who can’t get in to see ‘Hamlet.’ I cast you – your name displayed prominently in the program – the entire evening, the audience thinks, ‘This certainly is not that.’ We are a trifling enterprise. But one does have one’s pride.”
“If you’ll allow me to read for you…”
“I can’t! Nor, I dare say, will any producers, thinking it through. Who wants to hire someone who reminds people they’re seeing substandard shlock!”
“But I am a very good actor.”
“You are a ‘Shakespeare’, sir. You have ‘baggage.’ And that ‘baggage’ is not good for my business. My band of players, knowing you’ve ‘seen better’? They’ll believe – rightly or wrongly – you don’t respect the material. It will decimate our esprit de corps, sir. Decimate it!”
“I cannot have you in my production! I am sorry they troubled you. Probably just wanted to look at you. See if you bear any resemblance… which, I frankly don’t see one. My deepest apologies, sir. We should never have asked you to come in.”
“Let me see if I understand this. I can’t work in my brother’s plays because I’m a Shakespeare. And I can’t work anywhere else because I’m a Shakespeare?”
“It would appear to be so.”
EDMUND SHAKESPEARE GROWLS LOUDLY IN FRUSTRATION, DROPS THE “PAGES” ON THE PRODUCER’S DESK, TURNS AND STOMPS OUT OF HIS OFFICE.
“By the by, you will remember about the tickets?”
EDMUND SHAKESPEARE TURNS, GLARING AT THE “ACTOR-MANAGER.”
“If my brother were here… (WITH BUILDING INTENSITY) He’s got… great words! Good day to you, sir!”
EDMUND SHAKESPEARE TURNS TO EXIT. THEN STOPS.
(TURNING BACK) “And furthermore… (THINKING)… Nah, I got nothin’.”
EDMUND SHAKESPEARE STOMPS OUT THE DOOR.
Answer To A Question From February 1 (Because I've been away from the internet since then but now I'm back.) (You see how I'm trying?)
Jimmy, I can't get full length videos of anything. I would not know how to do that, and if I did, I would not know how to put them on... wherever people who do know how to put them on put them on.
Years ago, a reader sent my a DVD compilation "Best of The West" episodes, bur I do not know where it is. For me, I guess, after I do the work, it's over. There are days - okay, most days - when later in the day, I do not immediately recall what I wrote here earlier that morning. But then I do. The passion and exertion are there. And the pride of accomplishment. But something happens after the fact.
Sorry to those who would like to see my previous efforts. I've done a lot of work I am proud of, and it would be fun if you could see extended samples. But the only place can effectively do that is here. Anyone's welcome to go back and read old posts. All of them, if you have time. It's just that I don't. Maybe I should. To learn something. Or just say, "Hey, that wasn't too bad."