Scene, February 1980, Mass Ave
OLD ALICE. [on the phone] Yes, I’d like to speak to President Carter please. This is Alice Roosevelt Longworth….You just tell him the name….Yes, I’m still here…Mister President, how lovely to hear your voice….Yes, I tried to contact you about the Panama Canal….Yes, I’m sure you had the best of intentions….Yes, I’m – I beg your pardon?....No, Mister President, I am not Franklin Roosevelt’s daughter, I am Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter...Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m ninety-six….Well, clearly you’re still new to all this. Let me help you. That canal you just gave away, down Panama way? My father went to a lot of trouble to build it. Look out your window toward the east. See that building near the Capitol?....The House Office Building? No, that’s the Longworth House Office Building. It was named after my husband. Now look to your left, see that big tree? Right underneath it, I buried a voodoo doll, to put a curse on William Taft’s wife. It worked, they lost the election. …And that deal you’re trying to make for all those refugees from Cuba? The country my father took from the Spanish? You might want to be careful with that one, Castro has outsmarted four presidents already....[nodding] Yes, Alice Roosevelt, you’ve got me now....Yes, I’d love to come for tea next week, long as you have some bourbon….Send a car, I live over on Embassy Row, 2009 Massachusetts Avenue….Yes, I’m quite sure of the address, I moved here from the White House in 1906, the wagons were drawn by horses….Yes, I can tell you a thing or two about how this town works, I know where all the bodies are buried….Looking forward to it. Have a pleasant day. [hangs up] Jimmy Carter. A Democrat who doesn’t drink. What is this country coming to?...Good evening, you’re just in time for tea, I’ve got Nixon’s daughter Tricia coming over, but she’s late. Things can be a little bumpy when your father is a great man. Same with me. When my father found out he had a daughter, he ran away. Ran one thousand seven hundred miles. Of course there was more to it than just that. Here he is, looking for trouble.
Scene, 1886, South Dakota
ROOSEVELT. [wrassling two cowboys to the ground] Alright, you have a seat right over there.
MIKE FINNEGAN, BOAT RUSTLER. Lemme go!
ROOSEVELT. Sit down. Hasten forward quickly there!
BOAT RUSTLER. Come again?
BILL SEWALL. [gun in hand] He means hurry up. He’s from New York.
BOAT RUSTLER. New York City?
BILL SEWALL. You best just do what he says. [hands Roosevelt the gun, ties up the thieves]
BOAT RUSTLER. The man can’t even see.
SEWALL. Don’t be letting that bother you. Not long back, Old Four Eyes here went into the saloon in town, and one of the locals planted himself right in front of him, and announced that Four Eyes was buying drinks on the house. A few seconds later the lad was on the floor looking for his teeth, while Four Eyes informed him that he was also a boxer. And he can shoot straight.
ROOSEVELT. Now you’re embarrassing me. Actually my shooting can be all over the place…..So you’re going to take the boat back?
SEWALL. If you insist….You’re going to march these boys all the way to town? When are you going to sleep?
ROOSEVELT. Don’t worry about me. It’ll be just like last night. [Sewall leaves] You just be glad it was me that caught you, and not de Mores.
BOAT RUSTLER. Who the hell is that?
ROOSEVELT. The Marquis de Mores. Bought seventy square miles of land, built a meat-packing plant out there. Biggest spread in the Dakota territory. Used to be in the cavalry, and he just loves duels. One of his men even sent me a challenge to a duel –
BOAT RUSTLER. So how come one of you ain’t dead?
ROOSEVELT. I showed up at his house with my guns, and he said he was misquoted. Silly way to settle a quarrel over cattle anyway. De Mores would have hung you by now. So be glad it was me, and be glad it was just a boat you stole, not the beef. What in the world were you doing with my boat, anyway?
BOAT RUSTLER. We were heading north, up river.
ROOSEVELT. There’s nothing up there.
BOAT RUSTLER. No posses, either.
ROOSEVELT. Well, if you behave yourselves, you may just leave these woods alive. Sewall was going to string both of you up, right where I found you with my boat. But we are trying to bring the law out here, so you’re going to get a trial.
BOAT RUSTLER. And how do you propose to get us up there, wherever that is?
ROOSEVELT. Not sure, either I’ll take you up to Dickinson, or I’ll march you over to Deadwood, a friend of mine is sheriff there, Seth Bullock. I think maybe you can avoid a hanging. If being drunk and stupid was a capital crime, half the people in Dakota Territory would get strung up, seems like.
BOAT RUSTLER. So this Bullock is a soft touch?
ROOSEVELT. Not hardly, and you better watch your step when you meet him. Bullock is the toughest man in the toughest town there is. That Custer fella found gold up in Deadwood – Custer made a mess wherever he went – so a bunch of miners stole the land from the Lakota, brought in opium, prostitutes, the Chinese, they already survived smallpox and a fire without even slowing down. And Bullock tamed the whole bunch of them.
BOAT RUSTLER. He’s still just one man.
ROOSEVELT. Let me try to help you here. Wyatt Earp showed up in Deadwood, wanted to take Bullock’s job. Bullock told Earp – this is the Wyatt Earp, Dodge City – Bullock told him Deadwood had no need of him. Bullock wasn’t even wearing a gun. Earp looked him over, and went back to Kansas.
BOAT RUSTLER. Rough neighborhood up here.
ROOSEVELT. Seth wasn’t impressed by Earp, he’s not scared of you. So just watch your mouth, with luck you’ll get thirty days as a guest of the city. …I’ve got some corn dodgers, and I’ll make some coffee.
BOAT RUSTLER. A little whisky would sure make us peaceable.
ROOSEVELT. Fair enough….From the sound of things, you came from a long way off.
BOAT RUSTLER. I’m out of Savannah, he’s from Mississippi. Our place in Georgia, after Sherman came through with his army, there was nothing left of it. Got back there, my wife and my children already cleared out. I hope they did, anyway. So me and Tom here, we headed west.
SECOND RUSTLER. I was lucky, got a job for both of us when I got home. Biggest business in Mississippi for a while? You’ll never guess – don’t tell him.
ROOSEVELT. No idea.
SECOND RUSTLER. We made wooden legs. For the soldiers. Sold em up north too. And then they ran out of men with no legs, and we headed up here.
ROOSEVELT. And how on earth did you end up here?
BOAT RUSTLER. Well, we had some trouble along the way. Maybe I shouldn’t say anymore.
ROOSEVELT. Maybe not.
BOAT RUSTLER. But we did try to find honest work, everywhere we went.
SECOND RUSTLER. But the west, out here it’s like the sea. One good wave and you go down. You’re working for a farmer, and it only takes one bad summer and you’re wiped out. Work for a rancher, it only takes one bad winter, and your stock die off. You go panning for gold, hunting silver, and as soon as you find anything, you got a hundred neighbors with guns. Everybody’s got a gun.
ROOSEVELT. Sounds a bit like you’re running away from trouble.
BOAT RUSTLER. And what about you?
SECOND RUSTLER. Mike!
BOAT RUSTLER. Fair question. What chased you all the way here from New York City?
ROOSEVELT. It’s okay, he doesn’t mean anything by it….Not long ago, my wife had a baby girl. Two days later my wife was dead. My mother died the same day.
BOAT RUSTLER. Well, assuming I’m still breathing on Sunday, I’ll say a prayer for ‘em.
ROOSEVELT. I’ll see what I can do about Sunday. Deadwood actually has a preacher, can’t think of a better place to fight the war against sin….You boys get some shut-eye, and if I nod off, I’ll try to wake up with the sun. All the things that have happened to me, I don’t think the Almighty intended for me to be stabbed in my sleep by a boat rustler. I never even heard of boat rustling ‘til you two came along.
BOAT RUSTLER. You’re going to try to sleep?
ROOSEVELT. [pulls out a massive book] I managed to stay up all last night, reading from my book. From this Russian fellow.
BOAT RUSTLER. [moans] If you’re going to read from that infernal book all night again….Could you just hang me now?
ROOSEVELT. [laughs] Mind your tongue. This is Anna Karenina. [reads] “Everything is in confusion, said Stepan Arkadyevitch to himself. Now here the children are, running wild! And going to the door, he called to them. They dropped the little box which served them for a railway-train, and ran to their father. The little girl, her father's favorite… [pauses] the little girl ran in boldly, threw her arms around his neck and laughingly hugged him, enjoying as usual the odor which exhaled from his whiskers.”
BOAT RUSTLER. Mister?
BOAT RUSTLER. What was your name again?
ROOSEVELT. Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt.
BOAT RUSTLER. So when I’m praying on Sunday…what was your wife’s name?
ROOSEVELT. Haven’t said her name out loud in a year. [long silence] Alice.
BOAT RUSTLER. And the baby girl, she lived?
ROOSEVELT. Alice….Same name….Spirit and image of her mother.
BOAT RUSTLER. Don’t you miss her something awful?
ROOSEVELT. You said you left a girl behind?
BOAT RUSTLER. Anna. My wife. And two little boys.
SECOND RUSTLER. Come on, Mister, what happens to the little girl?
ROOSEVELT. The little girl? …Back east, with family…
SECOND RUSTLER. No, the girl in the book!
ROOSEVELT. [smiles, reads] “Then kissing his face, reddened by his bending position and beaming with tenderness, the little girl unclasped her hands and wanted to runaway again, but her father held her back. What is mamma doing? he asked, caressing his daughter's smooth, soft neck. How are you? he added, smiling at the boy, who stood saluting him. He acknowledged he had less love for the little boy, yet he tried to be impartial. But the boy felt the difference, and did not smile back in reply to his father's chilling smile. Mamma? She 's up, answered the little girl. Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed. Of course she has spent another sleepless night, he said to himself. Well, is she cheerful?” [looks at the rustlers who are asleep] Tolstoy. It’s like chloroform. Finally I can finish that letter, if the sunlight holds out.
[Takes out a letter and a pen, writes] I’m a little worried about the weather. I’ll be coming home for Christmas, and leave Sewall and Dow to manage the herd for the winter. But like that boy said, all we need on this flat prairie is one long nasty winter, and the calves are going to go on me. Can’t find food under the snow. De Mores is fighting with the Chicago meatpackers, they won’t let his beef get to market, and if de Mores goes down, he’ll leave and take all his money with him, and then the whole town is in trouble. He’s a jackass but we need him. Bullock is trying to get the railroad to come our way. That would be like a license to print our own money…..Well, I’m losing my daylight, so it’s time to get this finished and in the mail. Love to Corinne and Bamie and Eliot, and say hello to Edith for me. [puts the letter down and then picks it up again] And give my love to….that little girl. See if you can give her something nice. I haven’t a clue what she might like. [pauses] Alice. Yours sincerely, Theodore.
Scene, 1903, White House
OLD ALICE. Yep. Being the daughter of a great man can be rough business. Learned that the hard way, 77 years ago. That’s me over there, when I was young and stupid, getting hollered at by my stepmother.
ALICE. But father ignores me, day after day, even at dinner. Even when he spends time with me, he just yells. I told him I was afraid of diving into the pool, and he just bullied me into it.
EDITH. The two of you are both so wild, you should have been a perfect fit. Perhaps you’re too much alike.
ALICE. He wanted a son --
EDITH. You don’t understand at all. Your mother died two days after you were born, your grandmother died the same day, your father was in shock. He never allowed your mother’s name to be spoken in the house.
ALICE. So that’s why he calls me Baby Lee, instead of Alice.
EDITH. And then he ran off to the Dakotas for two years on that ranch, until the snow killed off all his cattle. I think he wanted to die out there too. But it wasn’t because he didn’t love you. It was because he loved you too much. He was afraid of getting punched in the gut again. He still calls you his Mousiekins.
ALICE. But never to my face.
EDITH. And he always says he loves you.
ALICE. But never to my face.
EDITH. He’s afraid of loving you too much.
ALICE. So when is it going to stop? Every few months he sends me off to live with another relative….
EDITH. He doesn’t know how to handle you, Alice. You’re a wild animal. You’re like no other girl in the world. Smoking on the roof, drinking, riding in cars with men, bragging to the press about yourself, the gambling houses are hounding you for your poker debts – did you lose your pet snake again? I don’t know what to do with you either. So we kept moving you around, hoping someone could puzzle you out.
ALICE. My real mother would have found a way.
EDITH. Your mother was a beautiful fool. If she had lived, she would have bored your father to death. And she would have given up on you. I am your mother now.
ALICE. And you gave up on me too.
EDITH. Not when you got sick. Have you done your exercises today?
ALICE. No, please, I can barely stand from yesterday –
EDITH. Alice, rich people get polio just like everyone else, be glad you got a mild case. You need to do your laps on the staircase, and your runs in the park. By the time you’re ready to marry, you’ll be moving like a dancer. So get to it. I don’t care how much it hurts, I don’t care how much you cry.
EDITH. Later on, we’ll have another go at the Mark Twain. I promise.
ALICE. Bully! [which in those days meant “good!”]
EDITH. And put on a nice dress for tonight. Every girl in America is following your fashions. You shine like a star…You know why Theodore really fears you? Not just because he’s afraid to lose you, and not just because he can’t control you.
ALICE. And I remind him of my mother. And he blames me for her death.
EDITH. The real problem, deep down, is that Theodore is always the smartest and strongest person in the room. Except when you’re there. You’re just like him, only more so. Except you hate politicking, all that handshaking. He loves it.
ALICE. Yes, he wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.
EDITH. But other than that, you’re Teddy in a dress. Invincible, you’re the star as soon as you enter the room, always ten chess moves ahead of everyone else….You and Teddy are always so confident, except when you’re with each other…. So what were you fighting about today?
ALICE. Well, I was in his office –
EDITH. Did you knock?
ALICE. The first time. Not the second….
EDITH. Or the third. And who was with him?
ALICE. A smelly old man.
EDITH. That was Cannon. Speaker of the House.
ALICE. Papa threatened to throw me out a window.
EDITH. And then he came to my room and said “Dammit, Edith, I can either manage the country, or I can manage Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”
ALICE. I don’t need him to manage me. Just….look my way once in a while.
EDITH. He’s President of the United States. How often do you think I get to see him?
ALICE. He isn’t really going to try to send me to that boarding school, is he? I swear to God, if he tries to send me, I will humiliate him. I will do something that will shame him.
EDITH. Well, try and make his life easier, rather than harder, and perhaps it will all work out.
Scene, 1925, Mass Ave
OLD ALICE. Not long after that I married Nicky Longworth, and I helped make him Speaker of the House. Not without some breakage along the way. By 1925 or so we had mostly figured out how to make it all work.
ALICE. [helping him dress] Nicky. You remember what kind of man my father was?
NICHOLAS. Teddy Roosevelt? Who could forget?
ALICE. He hunted elephants and rhinos. And outlaws in the Dakotas.
NICHOLAS. Yes, I know.
ALICE. One day campaigning, a man shot him in the chest. Papa went to his next stop to give a speech, blood dripping all over the pages, and only then did he go to the doctor.
NICHOLAS. I never knew.
ALICE. He hopped on a horse and declared war on the Spanish, for fun.
ALICE. When he died, Death had to catch him sleeping, because if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.
NICHOLAS. You’re probably right.
ALICE. Papa was a freight train. Can you imagine what he would have done, if he had known you had another woman?
NICHOLAS. Alice –
ALICE. Let’s skip over the bit where you deny it and I slice you up like a ham. Let me explain this, so that you can understand. You remember the 1912 campaign?
NICHOLAS. How could I forget?
ALICE. Yes, the party ran two candidates, Taft and my father. And you backed Taft. You made me look weak, and you made me look like a fool.
NICHOLAS. Well, you got your revenge. You came to my district and campaigned against me.
ALICE. I didn’t campaign against you. I campaigned for my father.
NICHOLAS. You took away my House seat!
ALICE. Yes, I know, we actually had to move back to Cincinnati. Good God, what a town. I got you your seat back two years later. Once you learned your lesson. Apparently you need another one.
ALICE. You’re a powerful man, you want it all. You want the whole world. You have mistresses. This time you were seen, at the hotel bar, at the Willard. Now every woman in Washington is talking about us. You made me look weak again. And now it’s time for you to pay Mama.
NICHOLAS. Pay you? What do you mean? How?
ALICE. My daughter.
ALICE. I’ve sent her away, to protect her.
NICHOLAS. Is that what you’re doing? You’re going to take away my daughter?
ALICE. Nicky, are you the only one in Washington who thinks Paulina is your daughter?
NICHOLAS. What do you…
ALICE. Take a stroll over to the other side of the Capitol sometime, the Senate, and listen to Bill Borah give a speech. Spring of ‘24, I was over there, Borah was trying to pass a law to stop the lynching of Negroes. People were running into the halls to bring their friends in, just to hear him. It was…electrifying.
ALICE. I took him out for a glass of something, just to hear him talk. And the next thing you know….Paulina.
NICHOLAS. You’re sure?
ALICE. Ever since that fight over the Taft race, it’s been pretty hard to find you round my bedroom. So, yes, I’m sure. You ever see Borah in the park? He rides his horse out there every morning. Like a cowboy out of a dime novel. So…now you know.
NICHOLAS. So you’re taking the baby away?
ALICE. Don’t be silly. I got her out of Washington so people can forget about you and your tramp and me and Borah for a while. Let them gossip about someone else. Already half the women in town are calling the baby Aurora Borah Alice. For now we’re going to concentrate on being the happy couple.
NICHOLAS. Are we?
ALICE. Nicky, you remember when we met? Papa sent us on that cruise to Asia, we met the Empress of China, I was the star of the press corps!
NICHOLAS. You jumped into the pool with that Congressman.
ALICE. And behind the scenes I set everything up so Papa could end the Russian war and win the Nobel Prize. By rights that prize should be mine. Papa was never the diplomat I was. …And you came along and swept me off my feet.
NICHOLAS. I never knew. You always seemed so cool and calculating.
ALICE. Nicky, once when I was a teenager a madman came to our home with a pistol, demanding my hand in marriage. They managed to bulldog him without anyone getting shot. Right in front of me, my father said “well, of course, he’s insane, he wants to marry Alice.” Papa never believed a sane man would want to marry a wildcat like me. But you were never afraid of me, Nicky. You saw me as an adventure….You were just a Congressman but I knew as soon as I saw you…We had that glorious wedding….
NICHOLAS. You refused to wear a white dress.
ALICE. Because I’m not a hypocrite. I was a grown woman of 22. I pulled out that big sword to cut the cake, I thought Papa was going to have a heart attack. My stepmother said right-out: “I want you to know I am glad to see you leave. You have never been anything but trouble.” Then off on our honeymoon to meet the Kaiser and the King.
NICHOLAS. And what’s all this in aid of?
ALICE. I fell in love with you Nicky. I still love you. I helped make you Speaker of the House, I’m going to save your job, I’ll even help you with those young Turks who are coming after you.
NICHOLAS. What young Turks?
ALICE. We’ll discuss it in the morning. The Republicans, this time. Nicky, I’m your wife and I love you. Just remember who it is you’re married to. Never forget that my name says Roosevelt before it says Longworth. I’ll teach you to be a better poker player. You have no face for a bluff. And you don’t have the rigging to stay afloat, if I find you’ve embarrassed me again.
Scene, 1925, New York
MILLIE [She’s 28]. Barkeep, need a brew!...
ALICE. Barkeep is in the back, settling up with that nice Italian boy with the knife.
MILLIE. I can’t believe this, a girl who wants a drink has to have a secret code word, like a spy for the Kaiser. Hahahaha.
ALICE. Might want to keep the hooraw down a bit.
MILLIE. Ladies and gentlemen, the codeword for the day is Babe Ruth! Hahahahaha.
ALICE. They don’t do beer here. Ever heard of Prohibition? They have cheap liquor with a little fruit salad in it. Here, try this, it isn’t too terrible.
MILLIE. Much obliged. Woah, you could fly a biplane on that stuff.
ALICE. Don’t like it?
MILLIE. It’s just right, my friend.
ALICE. Biplane. Isn’t that some sort of flying machine?
MILLIE. Sharp work. I’m a pilot.
ALICE. Pilot, as in pilot of an airplane?
ALICE. You are a woman? Not being rude…
MILLIE. Yeah, I know, I cut off all my hair. Back home in Kansas my Mamma didn’t want me to be an ordinary girl, she let me wear bloomers and hunt rats with a rifle.
ALICE. Good Lord.
MILLIE. I saw a little biplane when I was a kid, and I wanted to fly. My Uncle built a ramp on top of our shed, and I used a big old box as a sled, and just flew off the roof.
ALICE. Didn’t you fall?
MILLIE. Tore my dress, got a fat lip. It was fantastic. [laughs] That Old Devil, Gravity, we meet again! Whomp! [pounds the bar]
ALICE. And your Uncle helped you do this…
MILLIE. My Uncle wasn’t quite right in the head. Took me to a fair once, a pilot was showing off in his plane, he flew straight up and then dove down on me in a field, waiting for me to run. Didn’t budge an inch. I think I heard the plane talking to me as it went by.
ALICE. So you finally got to fly in one?
MILLIE. Yep! By the time I was 200 feet off the ground I knew I had to fly. So I took lessons, bought a plane. A year later I flew that thing straight up, 14,000 feet.
ALICE. My God, that must be some kind of record!
MILLIE. It is some kind of record. World altitude record for a female pilot. Until I top it again.
ALICE. But you barely knew how to fly!
MILLIE. I had a year of flying under my belt by then. Piece of cake. Flying is easy – you can’t hit anything when you’re flying, it’s just a bunch of sky. Landing – that’s where it can get exciting, because there’s something you can hit. Planet earth. In a clash between an airplane and a mountain, bet on the mountain. Bang!
ALICE. Good grief. So you’re in New York for….?
MILLIE. I was taking classes at Columbia across town, but my money ran out. Gotta get a job next, teacher maybe. You?
ALICE. I’m only in New York for a few days, visiting family….Got a man around the house?
MILLIE. [smiles] I know, I know. I’m going to have my own career, and a lot of men just don’t want to hear it.
ALICE. No they don’t.
MILLIE. Tell you what, though, if I do marry, that boy can run off and do what he wants. Women have been trying to keep men faithful for a thousand years, and it’s just not in their nature.
ALICE. No, it’s not.
MILLIE. Course that means I can do the same. A woman might need a change of pace once in a while, don’t you think?
ALICE.[their eyes meet] Smart as whip, you are. Be careful what you wish for….
MILLIE. What in the – [smiles] Mmm, not my business. You sure don’t look the type.
ALICE. How should I look, all in red? Painted up, ribbons in my hair?
MILLIE. Not my business. So you’re husband’s running around, you’re running around?
ALICE. I don’t know, it all just happened.
MILLIE. You go home, take care of your husband. Every man in the world wants his Mamma. Take him by the hand, tell him what to do, keep him out of the way of the horse cars.
ALICE. Clever girl.
MILLIE. Damn, look at the time!
ALICE. Here, knock it back, I’ll get another.
MILLIE. You are a sport. Name’s Millie. Short for Amelia.
MILLIE. Gotta run! [exit]
ALICE. Be careful up there.
Scene, 1925, the Capitol
OLD ALICE. Nicky took his licking like a man, and he actually turned into a pretty good Speaker. Taught him everything he knew, of course.
MARTIN. Mister Speaker?
NICHOLAS. Joe Martin, our newest Congressman, class of ‘25. Around the room, we have Sam Rayburn sleeping over there, and Jack Garner, both from Texas, both Democrats, but I’m hoping they’ll see the light.
GARNER. Howdy. Nicky, you know damn well there are no Republicans in Texas. Ain’t never seen one. Easier to find a unicorn.
NICHOLAS. You’re welcome to sit in and play poker.
MARTIN. I’m still getting the hang of it.
NICHOLAS. In that case, you’re definitely welcome. [during all this dialogue, they are also talking up the actual poker game they’re playing]
MARTIN. So can I play on credit?
NICHOLAS. You’re asking us to trust a politician with money?
GARNER. Easy, he’s brand-new, he’s practically a civilian. If he was spending other people’s money – then you can start to worry.
NICHOLAS. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is the least dishonest. Sometimes when we’re doling out the jobs, we have to pick the least crooked crook. All ties go to the Republicans, of course.
GARNER. Once we had to trade two postmasters for a murderer and a horse thief.
NICHOLAS. But you seem middling honest…. [shouting at the sleeping Rayburn] Sam, it’s a quorum call, you’re late.
RAYBURN. [waking] Daaah, point of order, Mister Speaker! [realizes where he is] Dammit, Nicky!
GARNER. What the hell happened to you?
RAYBURN. Three hours of bourbon and branch with that jackass committee chair, getting your farm bill reported out. You’re welcome. You think I’m drunk, you should see Hamilton.
GARNER. The man loves to pull out the joy juice and strike a blow for liberty.
RAYBURN. I never knew he was such a drunk until we saw him sober – when he’s dry he doesn’t have a single idea in his whole head.
GARNER. You youngsters should be made of sterner stuff….Sam came here to Washington twelve years ago, about ten years after me and Nicky, so he’s the baby of the party, except when you young fellers come up. We bring you new members up for a look-see, get em drunk, see what kind of poker players they are. We call it the Board of Education. We swap stories –
RAYBURN. And when people misbehave, Nicky punishes them by playing the violin.
NICHOLAS. Go pound sand.
GARNER. Unless they’re prohibition types – then they don’t get a drop to drink. Once a dry member had the nerve to ask Nicky for the name of a bootlegger, on the sly, like. Nicky sent a passel of drunks over to his house to sing Christmas carols all night.
NICHOLAS. It is a bit ironic, since we passed Prohibition right downstairs. Not sure what we were thinking.
GARNER. At least we’re getting our little Board together for a purpose – half the big bills in Congress had to come through this room, to make it out of Congress alive. Coolidge, when he became president, he tried to set up these political breakfasts. But he wouldn’t let anybody talk business! He just sat there shoveling down his eggs, talking about the weather.
MARTIN. So how many presidents have you served under?
NICHOLAS. I have never served under any president. I have served with five. All the way back to – my father-in-law, in fact, Teddy. Being Speaker is a nice job – I even have my own car, I take Garner home in it every night.
GARNER. Keep the flivver in shape – I’ll be taking you home in it, once I get your gavel away from you.
NICHOLAS. Yes, we’ll have a Democratic Congress someday. When pigs fly. Face it, Jack, it’s 1925, the war is over, the good times are here to stay. I do want to see the Democratic party run by boys like you, a party that’s healthy and strong – but not too strong.
MARTIN. When I was younger, I read all about your battles with Joe Cannon.
NICHOLAS. When Cannon was Speaker, he was a dictator. He ran the House like a plantation. He changed all the rules, pulled all the power into his hands. And we finally broke him.
MARTIN. And once you became Speaker, you put some of Cannon’s rules back.
NICHOLAS. And your point…?
MARTIN. Don’t you find that a bit hypocritical, dishonest?
NICHOLAS. Let me refresh your memory. I’m a politician…. Well, I see your point. Cannon wanted total dictatorship, he picked every member of every committee, he charged the boys fines for showing up late or trying to leave early. The young Turks wanted total anarchy. I’m looking for a happy medium here. I only fine people who really piss me off, I don’t use my gavel to settle old scores. I have Sam and Jack over for drinks to see how the other team is thinking, and we can get some work done. But at the end of the day, I run the store.
MARTIN. So no young Turks causing you trouble?
NICHOLAS. Well, I’m also a little nicer. Cannon was just unpleasant. My wife said the most dangerous place in Washington was between Cannon and a spittoon. One time, Alice – she is a real trouper – she even volunteered to play poker with Cannon, to help us get an appropriation bill through. All night long Cannon was spitting tobacco into her umbrella stand. She took it like a man. And then took all his money. She thinks I won’t let her come to these Board meetings because she’s a woman, but the truth is, she would clean us all out at the poker table. Too smart for her own good.
GARNER. Cannon was an old-time back-breaker, but the old boys, back to the War Between The States, were really something. They all had pistols out of the House floor, duels, spitting their chaw all over the Senate floor – you couldn’t walk down there without boots.
NICHOLAS. Alice called them cave-dwellers. We still have a few who want to fight the war all over again.
RAYBURN. Like anywhere, the unwritten rules are the most important. And we’re not all as crooked as we look. Generally it pays tell the truth the first time so you don’t have to be keeping your lies straight, because lies tend to die young –
GARNER. And everybody up here knows that a man who will lie for you will lie against you when the time is right. And this is a town where a man’s word is all that he has.
NICHOLAS. And watch where you put your feet. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience – well, that comes from bad judgment.
GARNER. Every man here is a prima donna, so respect is the coin of the realm. Don’t be taking credit for another man’s shovel work – get a reputation that way.
RAYBURN. And don’t wreck another man’s work out of spite – any jackass can kick down a barn, it takes a carpenter to build one.
NICHOLAS. And in this town every dog has his bone – I first came here all those years ago, fresh from the Harvard elites, went to an embassy party, and the little man in the corner wouldn’t give me any more rum. I reared up on my hind legs and said “don’t you know who I am?” And without missing a beat he said “You know who I am? I’m the man in charge of the rum.” All those committee chairs who run bills through here – you’ve got to ask nicely for your rum.
RAYBURN. Watch out for men who suck up to you. If two men agree on everything, one of them ain’t thinking. And if you’re out on the floor and a man lays the flowers on thick – “my very distinguished honorable colleague” and so forth – look out. You’re about to get clobbered in the head.
NICHOLAS. And be realistic. Every one of us came here to make history and change the world, and most of us will be disappointed. Even me. We all try to be honest as we can, but the grafters and grifters can’t be avoided altogether. The companies with deep pockets, the string-pullers, the railroads, the banks. You make a mistake on a vote, the people always forget, but the money boys never do. And I know you got here by making beautiful speeches all across your district, but around here -- speeches are our favorite sport, but nobody really changes any votes that way.
GARNER. Except for Bill Borah.
NICHOLAS. Borah. [looks at Garner] Persuasive man. We’ll talk later. [an uncomfortable silence descends]
GARNER. And sometimes the people are just plain wrong, by the way. Sometimes you have to go back home and tell a bunch of angry people that the country needed something that they didn’t want. And you don’t apologize to a crowd like that. Apologizing to one man is courtesy, but apologizing to a mob is just cowardice.
RAYBURN. Nicky, not to beat a dead horse, but I think that bill to help the farmers, it’s time has come. They’re getting hammered by the banks, it’s time we did something. We could be heading for another panic.
NICHOLAS. Nonsense. The economy is rolling along like a freight train.
GARNER. So what’s in this thing again?
RAYBURN. Here, I have the latest draft –
GARNER. Don’t show me what it says, tell me what it does.
NICHOLAS. Alright, let me see if I can get you a fair hearing. Perhaps I can pull the committee back into session early.
GARNER. If you do it out in the open, they’ll crucify you.
NICHOLAS. Tell the minority whip I’m going to do it, but tell him it’s a secret. Word will get out within hours.
GARNER. Jackson is going to raise hell.
NICHOLAS. Yes, he’s been driving us all to distraction. I’ve been working over on the Senate side, trying to get him appointed ambassador to some kingdom of cannibals somewhere. We may be in luck.
GARNER. And what about Katzenburg?
NICHOLAS. Tell him if he fights me on the bill, I’m going to have to go back to my district to defend what he’s doing, which means I can’t be here in town getting his bridge bill out of committee. He’ll see the light.
GARNER. And O’Malley, he’s got brass balls. He wants an amendment that puts price controls on the stuff his farmers buy, but not on what they sell.
NICHOLAS. You have to admire a thief who goes for the whole hog. I heard you defend O’Malley on the floor – a brilliant argument in defense of a man who is clearly guilty as hell. …Sam, I’ll get you out of committee, but only because this thing is going to die on the House floor.
RAYBURN. [answering the phone] What was the name again? Hays?
GARNER. Give me that. Hays was down at the club a couple of nights ago, making clever comments about your wife and Bill Borah and Paulina –
NICHOLAS. He was? Here, give me the phone –
GARNER. No, let me have the pleasure….[on the phone] Hays, how’s the old complaint?....We were so pleased you actually showed up for the vote this week, the members actually gave you an ovation. …We were a bit suspicious that you disappeared when we needed a quorum. …A barn burned down on your farm – a less charitable member than myself would think you tried to wreck the bill by resorting to arson. … Voters? Isn’t your district mostly desert and salamanders?... Yes, I called you to let you know that during the recess, some idiot down your way was writing these insane letters and signing your name…Yes, you gave me a lot of free advice, which was worth just what I paid for it…
RAYBURN. Lord, don’t sweet-talk him, give it to him with the bark on.
GARNER. Yes, you keep telling me you’re the one who pulls the strings in there, but the way you’ve been carrying on I really don’t think you could get the Lord's Prayer endorsed in that committee….Well, I tried to back you up, but you had two different positions on the issue…Well, I suppose mediocrity is entitled to representation in the House too. If Caligula can make his horse a consul of Rome I suppose your county can make you a Congressman. …Yes, I heard you told the press you were preparing your notes for a biography to be published posthumously – well, the sooner I see it the better. And next week when I’m killing your subsidy bill in Appropriations, perhaps you’ll remember that in this town, a gentleman doesn’t discuss another man’s wife in a saloon. [hangs up] Well, we’ll see if he learns his lesson.
NICHOLAS. I owe you a bourbon or two.
MARTIN. What in the world was –
GARNER. Private business. Steer clear, son.
MARTIN. Well, I was rather in awe when I first got here, house of the people and all that. And then I looked at the other members, I listened to their speeches –
GARNER. Yes, we all go through that, usually takes a few months. One day you look at the House in session and you wonder how the hell we all got here. Are these really the 400 smartest men in the country?
NICHOLAS. Sometimes I’m up there in my chair looking down at all of them, and I just think of the country, and I pray. Back during the Great War there was talk on the floor of putting together a regiment of congressmen to go fight –
RAYBURN. Can you imagine the poor soul who would have to lead that pirate crew into battle?
NICHOLAS. I can barely get them pointed in the same direction when it’s time to vote on naming a post office – just imagine them all in a trench facing the Huns and their machine guns. Serve em right.
GARNER. I always wondered whether the man who invented those indoor toilets was having a little joke at our expense, when he made the pull chain for flushing the toilet look exactly like the lever you pull to cast your vote.
MARTIN. So we’ve had a few women in the House. No female pages, I see.
NICHOLAS. Not as long as I’m Speaker. Putting young girls out on that floor, at the beck and call of the members? Most of our members are men of honor, or try to be. Not all of them. Grown women, that’s a little different. I keep having to remind myself that few women are like Alice. In certain circles I admit that Alice and I are equal partners….I only wish I was her equal. That rotten newspaperman was in the House gallery writing a piece on me, she put a tack on his chair – he must have lifted five feet off the ground, I thought he was going to go over the railing. Alice played a big part in stopping the League of Nations –
GARNER. Bill Borah fought it, too.
NICHOLAS. Yes, Jack, I know….Back during the suffrage fight – How could I go home to a girl like that, and tell her she didn’t have the sand to vote for a president?....Now I’ve lived a man’s life in a man’s town. Once I was sitting in a chair over in the cloakroom, and one of my colleagues who shall remain nameless, stands behind me and rubs my bald spot, he says “nice and smooth, it feels just like my wife’s bottom”. And I patted my head and said, “Yes, so it does." So, yes, I’ve lived a man’s life. For a long time, I wondered how the other man felt.
GARNER. Nicky –
NICHOLAS. Later….But at least the woman in question was making her own choices. Bringing teenage girls down here, putting men in power over them…..I know these men all too well.
GARNER. They say Borah is planning to run for the White House.
NICHOLAS. Yes. His eye is on the White House. And my eye is on him.
GARNER. Well, he’s bound to boot the ball. Sometimes he’s his own worst enemy.
NICHOLAS. Not while I’m in town.
GARNER. I thought this might lighten your day a bit. I had a drink with old Bascom, Coolidge’s fixer. He said Coolidge wanted Borah to be his running mate last year. So he invited Borah over and asked if he wanted to be on the ticket. Borah said – which place, the top or the bottom? Coolidge threw him out.
NICHOLAS. Our man Calvin may not be as dull as we thought.
Scene, 1952, Washington
ALICE [at this point Old Alice takes over the role on Alice]. Lady Luck, Dame Fortune, had given so much to all of us. Now she began taking it all away. The Depression hit us all. Nicky died, Borah died. The storms blew me around a little, but I still had some weight to throw around. We were all getting ready to say goodbye to Truman and saddle up for the ’52 race….Martin! Joe Martin! What on earth were you doing down there, with Miss Watkins?
MARTIN. Just getting the scuttlebutt.
ALICE. Out peddling nasty gossip again? And you didn’t come to me first? [pats the chair beside her] Come tell Mama. This city, with the gossip – the whole town is just a bunch of little old ladies sitting under hair dryers. So what do you hear?
MARTIN. Old Man Scott, over in the House, he really is riding around with that English woman.
ALICE. Scott? He’s got to be seventy! You can't make a soufflé rise twice….Cactus Jack, still riding tall in the saddle?
GARNER. I’m back in town to help Truman mend a fence or two.
ALICE. And mending fences for yourself, with the old FDR gang?
GARNER. One or two of them still think I’m The Devil.
MARTIN. You’ve got troubles with the Roosevelt folks? Too old-fashioned for them, I suppose…
GARNER. That’s right, I forgot, you were in the House, you missed all the real excitement in the Senate. It wasn’t because I was too conservative. Back when the New Deal was going full blast, the Supreme Court kept shooting down all of FDR’s programs. FDR came up with this scheme to take over the court by adding a whole bunch of new justices who saw things this way. A bunch of Senators decided that if a president could do that, he could control the court entirely, and they stopped him dead in the Senate. I sided with the Senators.
MARTIN. But you were his vice president.
GARNER. But I was right and he was wrong. And I wasn’t vice president for long. He replaced me with that idiot Wallace in 1940, and then Truman. Otherwise, I’d be in the White House right now….And the New Dealers, some of them still hate my guts….So how are you keeping?
ALICE. Pretty fair, finally got a nickel or two in the bank. You remember way back when the Depression hit, I actually had to do cigarette ads. Can you imagine? Me, a banker’s granddaughter. Then I wrote that autobiography and things settled down some…So you’re not going to see me buried in Arlington anytime soon….
MARTIN. Arlington? Not going to be buried alongside Nicky?
ALICE. Buried in Cincinnati? Isn’t that redundant? A fate worse than death…. Joe, I invited you over here for a reason….
MARTIN. McCarthy’s coming, right? The whole town is talking about it. The old Republicans and the new….
ALICE. Yes, McCarthy is coming to be crowned by Republican royalty. Joe, you need to watch your step a bit. We still have aftershocks from General Macarthur…
MARTIN. Well, it was tragedy and farce all rolled into one.
ALICE. Well, we may have dodged a bullet with Macarthur. Back twenty years ago he got together with those bankers and factory men, trying to use the war veterans to overthrow Roosevelt and set up a dictatorship. Thank God Macarthur fell on his face.
MARTIN. They never proved any of it.
ALICE. Joe, I know all those business boys like the back of my hand. They wanted to launch a coup d’etat….But this current mess, we could have avoided it, Joe. Macarthur lost his head and wrote that letter attacking the President, and you told the whole world about it. You called Truman a murderer. You got Macarthur fired in the middle of a war. You wore a derby hat to the Queen’s reception, making angry speeches about Indigo China – there’s no such place! Speaker of the House can’t be that clumsy. And now I hear you want to mess things up over in the Capitol again?
MARTIN. We have a fair chance to take back Congress in ‘52, I’ll get the Speaker’s gavel again…
ALICE. And you want to shut down the Board of Education?
MARTIN. Alice, it’s a silly drinking club. I don’t even drink!
ALICE. Joe, when my husband was Speaker, he set that whole thing up so he could drink and play poker with the rest of the House leaders, both parties – even the Vice President, Truman was having a snort over there when word came that Franklin had died. You know. Nicky used the poker games to size up new members, solve problems, get things passed, soothe hurt feelings – smartest thing Nicky ever did –
MARTIN. Aside from marrying you.
ALICE. You’re very sweet. We need to marry you off to some clever woman, to keep you out of trouble.
MARTIN. Someone like you? We are the same age…
ALICE. Don’t be impertinent. Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t handle me, what makes you think you can?….Joe, you just don’t know men like Nicky did. Keep the poker games going. At least pretend to drink and hunt and fish and do all that country-club sort of thing men like. It’s still a men’s club, you know. With one exception, and here she is!
SMITH. Maggie Smith, Senator from Maine, we’ve never met.
ALICE. An oversight. Weren’t you over in the House for a while? Can’t be too many women who’ve done both…
SMITH. So far, it’s just me.
ALICE. I read your speech in the paper. You sure you wanted to come here tonight? You know who’s coming –
SMITH. I know exactly who’s coming. Joe McCarthy.
ALICE. That speech – didn’t somebody try to warn you off of attacking McCarthy? Did you think that through?
SMITH. I always try to think before I talk, pity the same can’t be said for McCarthy. But when people keep telling you that you can’t do a thing, you kinda like to try it. And yes, they did warn me off. Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. Standing for right when it is unpopular….
ALICE. Before all this hooraw, they were talking about putting you on the ticket, for vice president. Just imagine. What would you do if you woke up one morning and found yourself sleeping in the White House?
SMITH. I’d apologize to Missus Truman, put on my clothes and go home….No, you want to see a woman with real sand, go chat with Jeannette Rankin. First woman in Congress – this was before women could even vote. She shot off her mouth, opposing World War One, and was tossed out after one term. Twenty years later, she’s back in the House again, votes to keep us out of World War Two, gets tossed out again. This was the day after Pearl Harbor, the vote was 388 to 1, Jeannette had to hide in a phone booth until the police could rescue her from the mob. And she’s still out there raising hell. Now that’s guts.…
ALICE. So are things thawing out for you?
MAGGIE. Well, the other Senators still won’t let me use the gym or the pool. That’s nothing – Adam Powell, the colored Congressman, can’t even use the dining room….and there he is, the man who would be king. [McCarthy enters]
MARTIN. Senator McCarthy!
MCCARTHY. [to Smith] I guess you must be the belle of the ball in the liberal circles after you aimed your guns at me, again….
SMITH. Joe, you have debased the Senate. Every American has the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest, the right to think for themselves. I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to victory on the backs of the four horseman of calumny – fear and ignorance, bigotry and smear. And your effort to bring down General Marshall – are you seriously going through with that?
MCCARTHY. Man sold China to the Communists…
SMITH. Poppycock. As though we owned China in the first place. Marshall did as much as anyone else to beat Hitler, and then he fed and clothed the whole world. He’s going to get the Nobel Prize. Are you really going to put your credibility up against his?...Who’s next, Eisenhower? Are you going to run for president?
MCCARTHY. The thought crossed my mind. And what the hell do you know about national security anyway?
SMITH. You mean besides serving on both committees? I’m also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, I sailed all over the ocean in the war, inspecting our destroyers. And I didn’t tell any whoppers about it. Tail-Gunner Joe. I hear your friends in the House have lassoed some dangerous actors and radio announcers, how very brave.
MCCARTHY. Well, we’ll see how brave you are when we get back into session. I’m rounding up money to run a challenger against you for your Senate seat.
SMITH. How very exciting.
MCCARTHY. And I got the newspapers coming after you too.
SMITH. Just try. I already sued them, they’re already backing down. All bullies are cowards.
MCCARTHY. And I’m going to have you thrown off my committee next week.
SMITH. How very disappointing. I’m going to lose the pleasure of your company.
MCCARTHY. I’m giving that seat to a real American. A man of honesty and integrity.
SMITH. And who might that be?
MCCARTHY. Richard Nixon!
SMITH. Joe McCarthy and Dick Nixon. Well, surely a team like that is destined to make history.
MCCARTHY. Well here’s one friendly face, I’m sure. Mrs Longworth, rock-ribbed Republican! None of that New Deal socialism for you.
ALICE. No indeed.
MCCARTHY. Here's my blind date! I am going to call you Alice!
ALICE. Senator McCarthy, you are not going to call me Alice.
MCCARTHY. Beg pardon?
ALICE. The trashman and the policeman on my block call me Alice, but you may not.
MCCARTHY. As you say. Mrs Longworth.
ALICE. Senator, for many years I let my husband speak for me, but he’s long gone, so I find myself doing man’s work. You may be the king of Washington right now, and Maggie here may be a pariah. But anybody who tangles with her, is going to end up tangling with me. You remember Tom Dewey? Looks like the little man on the wedding cake? I cut Dewey down to size, I can do the same for you. That’s assuming you don’t crash and burn all by yourself.
MCCARTHY. Well, you’re father was a wild man back in his day…
ALICE. You don’t know a thing about my father. Look at that bunch he led up San Juan Hill. That wasn’t a regiment, it was a fraternity party, a bunch of men you might find in a San Francisco bar. Golfers and baseball players, Lakota Sioux, men who hunt Lakota Sioux, college boys and cowboys, old prospectors and hunters, men that Pappa met in a men’s club – I’m surprised that bunch even found Cuba, let alone fought a battle.
MCCARTHY. They didn’t go there for victory, they went there for a story they could tell the boys in the bar back home.
ALICE. Like every other soldier in the world. But Pappa made them believe in doing something good, even if they didn’t really achieve anything. He made every one of those men better than they were before. ….You, on the other hand, drag every man down to your level. You turn brave men into cowards, and artists into censors. You turn good men into political thugs. You took Nixon, a hungry, vulnerable man, and turned him into a gangster. You created a hundred informers and a thousand liars….
MCCARTHY. Your father was a fighter too.
ALICE. Pappa always kept his punches above the belt. He could be a gentleman even when he was punching your lights out. He wasn’t dangerous, the way you are. Dangerous for the party. Dangerous for the kind of people we really want to be…
SMITH. How we want to treat each other.
ALICE. My father didn’t hate, the way you do. Once in a while my father would put a bears’ head or a buffalo’s head on his wall – you want people up there on the wall. Truman’s head, Marshall. You want to destroy these people.
SMITH. And not because you hate them – you just want to show you can do it, so everyone will give you a wide berth.
ALICE. My father loved everyone….almost everyone. Don’t ever say his name in my presence…..Have a pleasant evening.
MCCARTHY. Senator. I’ll see you on the floor.
SMITH. So to speak. [McCarthy exits]
MARTIN. Where’s he going? I thought this was going to be his big night.
SMITH. He’s a busy man.
ALICE. Didn’t even stay to try out my bourbon. And that’s a man who can hurt a bottle of bourbon. Not like you.
SMITH. McCarthy needs to get back home, that’s his problem. He’s spent almost his entire six years here in town, trying to be the King of Washington. You spend too much time up in the clouds on Mount Olympus, you lose touch with what’s going on with real people in the real world. Last time I went back to Maine, I was campaigning for one of our congressmen, and I wandered through the hills and found this general store. I did a little campaign stop, and I threw everything at them. I did my economy speech, my war speech, I told them how much we were helping the people from Maine, and the storekeeper led me out to the parking lot to look at the license plates. I was on the wrong road, I was in New Hampshire. They’re still laughing about it. McCarthy needs to get back out there in the middle of real people. Maybe he’ll turn human again.
Scene, 1962, New York
ALICE. I’m sure we’re all grateful to President Kennedy for the memorial service for Eleanor the other day. But I wanted to bring together the people who go all the way back with her, the old New York people too, for something more private….Cousin Eleanor. She had it hard from the beginning. An ugly duckling. She lost both of her parents when she was very young. She saw that love and happiness were to be denied her, so she learned to do without. For years she fought with her mother-in-law. Old Sara insisted on running Eleanor’s household and she told Eleanor’s children that she was their real mother. When Franklin got polio – I thought it would be a mild case, like mine, but someone up there decided he needed a real test. Franklin had the whole wagon load fall on him. The first time I saw him, I just …
MAGGIE. Steady as she goes…
ALICE. It’s alright…When Franklin got polio, old Sara told him to retire, but Eleanor fought the old witch and finally they both got free of her. Eleanor travelled all across the state so Franklin wouldn’t have to. When the war veterans threatened to take over Washington, Eleanor walked right over there and talked them out of it. She fought Franklin on the lynching law, and she fought him to let more Jewish refugees into the country. She fought for the right to work with the Red Cross in war zones. She went to the UN to fight for refugees and Jews and minorities. She fought for the Tuskegee airmen. She fought for women. She fought against McCarthy….
MAGGIE. She just kept coming up the hill again and again.
ALICE. It was her, speaking out, that gave me the courage to step out on my own. And some of this was my fault, if you want to look at it that way. I told Franklin to take a mistress. I said he had a right to happiness, because he was married to Eleanor. I was being mean. But it was when Eleanor found about that other girl, that she decided to make a life of her own. To be a fighter. If anyone thinks I should be ashamed for interfering in their lives, well…I’m ashamed of quite a few mean, small things I’ve done. But in a way I’m glad I did it to Eleanor. Because that Mercer girl made her mad, and when Eleanor was mad, she was like a force of nature. Sometimes a woman needs to slay a few dragons, to appreciate how amazing she is. And I was one of Eleanor’s dragons. Not that I’m taking credit. But today I’m proud to be her cousin. For damn sure she was a Roosevelt.
Scene, 1980, Mass Ave
OLD ALICE. The longer you live, the more funerals you go to, saying goodbye to the people you love. By the time you’re my age, you’re looking forward to seeing them all again soon. Papa and Edith, Paulina, Nicky and Borah, Jack and Sam….Still got Maggie Smith around, she’s only 83, practically a child. And here we are, still waiting for Tricia Nixon to cross town. [Tricia enters] Tricia, good to see you again!
TRICIA. Missus L!
OLD ALICE. Alice will do. I don’t think I’ve seen you since your wedding. How’s your father? Still at San Clemente, planning another comeback?
TRICIA. He’s writing, but mostly he’s working the phones. He never quits.
OLD ALICE. Yes, I remember when he first arrived. Smart as a whip, but he was just so driven, like the hounds of hell were after him. Only politician I never knew who didn’t know how to smile. I tried to help him in ’52, tell some funny stories about him, but there are no funny stories about Dick Nixon….
TRICIA. People don’t know the other side of him. He wasn’t the smooth character that Kennedy was, but there are things the outside world missed…
OLD ALICE. Yes, he came to my daughter’s funeral. Funny, I vowed not to be a terrible parent like my father, and I did such a poor job of it, my little girl died so young, taking all those pills. And Dick Nixon was right there for me….And then there was the other Nixon. I wanted to smack the hell out of him when he resigned. He was being driven from office, and he was quoting my father about how to get through tough times. My father was talking about losing his wife and my grandmother all in the same day, and your father was comparing that to being thrown out of office for being a crook. Well, I wasn’t the only one yelling at him that day. But you and Julie stuck with him.
TRICIA. Of course.
OLD ALICE. Well, good for you. I was like that with Papa – defended him like a wildcat. Almost cost me my marriage. Being the daughter of a president, well, you know –
TRICIA. I was mulling that over with Susan, Gerry Ford’s girl. She had a few wild times, just like you did.
OLD ALICE. Susan Ford is an amateur. Hanging out drinking in bars, big deal. I stopped two men from winning the presidency, Bill Taft and Dewey, I stopped the League of Nations, I tossed my own husband out of office and then I made him Speaker. [derisive] Hanging out in bars….For such a long time, I was a mean person. I tormented my father and his new wife. I made fun of Taft’s wife, the way she spoke – I didn’t know she’d just had a stroke. I made fun of Taft too, I helped run him out of town – then later I found out he wasn’t such an old poop, he said he didn’t even believe in Jesus.
TRICIA. Pretty plucky back then.
OLD ALICE. I made fun of Wilson, I made jokes about Wilson and women, I blocked his plan for the League of Nations – I didn’t realize that his stroke had made him paranoid, crazy, launching all those police raids to round up people who were criticizing him. He was just sick. Two years we had a crazy man and his wife running the country. I was so mean to my cousin Eleanor, I even egged Franklin on to take a lover –
OLD ALICE. Yes. And then Eleanor she was so kind to me when my daughter died – I never told anybody that. She actually forgave me about the Mercer girl….Four or five presidents banned me from the White House – even my father considered it. And then I began to see where all that meanness leads to.
TRICIA. The war?
OLD ALICE. MacArthur. And that man McCarthy. And…that taxi driver.
TRICIA. Taxi driver?
OLD ALICE. I had a colored man drive me around. I got to know the man, his family. All the things a colored man has to do, just to get by. We were in traffic, everything was all jammed up, another driver got angry. He jumps out of his car and comes toward us, screaming, “what the hell are you doing, you black bastard!” And I just had enough. I hopped out of the car with my cane, and I said "He's taking me to my destination, you white son of a bitch!"….I began to feel a little silly, being the rich bitch, writing all those nasty things in the paper, when the rest of the world had real problems.
TRICIA. Like Dorothy Parker.
OLD ALICE. Yes, she was the queen of the poison pen. And then when she got blacklisted herself, she was a new woman. You know Dotty left every nickel she had to Martin Luther King? That girl, who would rather have died than let anyone think she cared about anybody?...When I came back to the White House, I got to say hello with all those colored folks who ran the place years before, I felt like Scarlett O’Hara returning to Mammy at Tara. I made my peace with FDR’s bunch, and the Kennedys.
TRICIA. You liked Jack…
ALICE. Yes, even though he was a little too chummy with McCarthy. I liked Lyndon too, but I wore a big hat to he couldn’t kiss me – a big old octopus. I rooted for him to beat Goldwater, I thought old Goldwater was too nasty. And Bobby Kennedy – fascinating. A bit thin-skinned, but – he could have been the one. He could have changed America forever. And I could have helped him. For half a century I was the prophet, Cassandra, telling truth to power. But I couldn’t always make them listen.
TRICIA. Surely you’re not giving up? Throwing in the towel?
OLD ALICE. I’m just fussing around with my granddaughter, waiting to see what comes next, maybe this Reagan fella knows his business. Don’t know how long I’ll be around, though, I’ve had two mastectomies – I’m the only topless octogenarian in Washington.
OLD ALICE. Well, whatever comes after octogenarian. Arlington cemetery, I suppose. When I was eighty I could still touch the tip of my nose with my toe, polio and all, but now I don’t press my luck. My age, a broken hip might as well be a broken skull.
TRICIA. So how have you lasted so long? You drink, you smoke….
OLD ALICE. The secret of eternal youth is arrested development. I have a simple philosophy. Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches… And try to make the place a little better.
TRICIA. And be ready for one more ride up San Juan Hill?
OLD ALICE. [laughs] On our honeymoon I insisted on going to Cuba to see the battlefield, this great hill Papa conquered. The hill was, and I’m being generous, a mild slope. But it made for a great story.