Nellie Bly, a young reporter, born Elizabeth Cochran, and Nellie’s mother Mary.
Erasmus Wilson, George McCain, Bessie Bramble, reporters
George Madden, John Cockerill, editors
Berthe Morisot, a painter
Susan B. Anthony
Two doctors, two judges and a lawyer
President Diaz of Mexico and his son Raffah
An Austrian army officer
A ship’s officer, a sailor, a ship’s doctor/nurse, a ship’s purser, a shipping officer, a telegraph officer
A clerk in Sri Lanka
A train passenger and a ship passenger
Two boardinghouse guests
A woman reading a newspaper
An asylum inmate and a matron
Scene 1, a courtroom in Pennsylvania
NARRATOR. Well, hello. This is the story of Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, better known as Nellie Bly. We first meet Nellie in a courtroom in the 1870s, not far from Pittsburgh. She is trying to save her mother’s life. Even at a young age, Nellie was trying to do the impossible.
LAWYER. State your name and age.
BLY. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. My age is 14 years.
LAWYER. Could you spell the name, C-O-C-K-…
BLY. …H. C-O-C-H….R-A-N-E.
LAWYER.[puzzled, looking at his documents] Is there an E at the end?
BLY. There is now. I’m adding it myself. Coch-rane. A little more panache that way.
LAWYER.[irritated] Your Honor –
JUDGE. I don’t care what her name is. Why is she testifying at all? How did this divorce case even get to my courtroom?
LAWYER. If you’ll bear with me, your Honor….Just start from the beginning…
BLY. Well it all began with my real father. He bought a mill here in Pennsylvania and then all the land nearby. I always wore pink so he called me Pinky. When I was five, Pappa died, and he made no will, so some of the money went to relatives we’d never heard of, and the rest just disappeared somehow.
LAWYER. But that was your mother’s earlier husband, from before…?
BLY. Yes. When I was nine, Mother married again, to John Jackson Ford. Ford has been generally drunk since they were married. When drunk he is very cross, and cross when sober. Ford left me alone to learn to read in Daddy’s library. Mother wasn’t so lucky. He beat her –
LAWYER. How often?
BLY. Over and over. I have heard him scold mother often and call her a whore and a bitch. Mother was afraid of him; once she had to hide behind a chimney, he has a gun.
LAWYER. So he did actually attack your mother?
BLY. The first time I seen Ford take hold of mother in an angry manner he threatened to choke her. Once at a town Christmas party he pulled a gun and threatened to kill Mamma; my brother Albert grabbed him while Mamma ran away. He threatened to shoot my brother too.
LAWYER. And what happened this last time?
BLY. This time, he just went wild, smashing the walls and the furniture, and threw the bone from the roast at mother, and she just had enough. She threw it right back at him. He pulled out his gun again, and my brother and I jumped between them. And Mamma ran. Then he nailed all the doors and windows shut and climbed a ladder to get up into the house. It took days before Mamma could get in and get her things. [looks at judge]
JUDGE. And? Why is this my problem?
BLY. And, some day he’s gonna kill her. And, then it will be your problem.
JUDGE. Half the men in this county beat their wives….
BLY. I know we’re just a bunch of farmers and miners, I know women don’t speak up here, I know women don’t get divorces here….I just want my mother to live, to see me get married. Just…set us free. I’ll go find a job somehow. We’ll survive.
JUDGE. You’ll get a job?
BLY. Yes sir. If I learned anything, it’s that a girl has to be able to take care of herself, so she doesn’t need to depend on somebody else.
JUDGE. You’ll starve.
BLY. I can do anything: energy rightly applied and directed can accomplish anything.
JUDGE. I think that only works with wrecking balls and dynamite. [Bly smiles sweetly at him]
NARRATOR. Even that cranky old judge found Pinky irresistible, or at least her argument. She grew up with her mother in Pennsylvania, trying to scrape by on what little money they had. And already, Pinky was looking for trouble.
BLY. Who is this insufferable jackass?....[hands Mary a newspaper] Erasmus Wilson?
BLY. [Nellie scribbles a letter furiously] This idiot in the Pittsburgh Dispatch…
BLY. Read this garbage!
MARY. …[reads newspaper] ”’What Girls Are Good For’…hiring women for office work is taking women away from their proper”…. Hmm…”Women should learn to spin, sew, cook and clean…Any woman found outside her sphere is a monstrosity. An effort to wrest from man certain prerogatives bequeathed to him by heaven, to a degree disgusting to womanly women and manly men. There is no greater abnormity than a woman in breeches, unless it is a man in petticoats…. a woman’s sphere is defined and located by a single word – home”….Well, it’s a little quaint, isn’t it?...
BLY. See? Mother, he’s an idiot.
MARY. Well, it’s not all bad, there’s another article next to it, from Bessie Bramble… [reads from another article] “the women of a century ago couldn’t hold a candle to those of today.” [reads letter over Nellie’s shoulder] Pinky, you can’t send a letter like that! Women don’t write letters to newspapers – you won’t be able to show your face on the street! And that letter -- if they publish it, you’ll be jailed for libel! [yanks the letter away] That’s the kind of language father would use….
MARY. Sorry. I meant Ford.
BLY. I don’t have a father.
MARY. No, you don’t. ….[holds the letter high] Now you’ve got all that nonsense off your chest, write a sensible letter. Think about what you’re writing. [smiles] And sign it “Lonely Orphan Girl”.
BLY. [laughs] I don’t have a father, but I still have a mother you know….
MARY. By the way, you left out the “K” in “jackass”….
Scene 3, the offices of the Pittsburgh Dispatch
NARRATOR. Pinky’s letter winged its way to the target of her wrath, Erasmus Wilson, columnist for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, and his boss, the editor, George Madden. Both of them were certain that such fighting words could only have been written by a man.
WILSON. George -- you’ve put tomorrow’s edition to bed yet?
GEORGE MADDEN. Wilson, you’re even more popular than I thought.
WILSON. The article on women at work…?
MADDEN. Erasmus, the postman added a second mailbag just for the letters for you. You touched a nerve out there.
WILSON. In favor, opposed…?
MADDEN. It’s a mix. Most of it is semi-literate rubbish, but – well, look at this one…
WILSON. [reads] Oh, for God’s sake…[more outraged] That’s not what I….Hmm….the author is clearly out of his mind, but he can actually write a bit…[looks at the bottom] ”Lonely Orphan Girl”? It’s a woman?
MADDEN. I think it’s a pseudonym for a man. No woman would ever make herself a social pariah by writing a letter like that. If it is a “she” – [ rolls his eyes skeptically] “She” has a lot to learn about style…But what he has to say, he knocks it straight off, and he’s just right too. With a little guidance he could learn the newspaper business…
WILSON. Put out an ad, bring him in. Perhaps there’s a story, interviewing this man.
MADDEN. [thinks] “Lonely Orphan Girl, send us your real name and address”?
WILSON. Exactly. [Madden exits] [Wilson reads] A lot to learn about style. And punctuation, and paragraphs, grammar, handwriting…
4, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. Madden’s note in the paper merely asked that the Lonely Orphan Girl send along his or her name and address. Instead, Pinky decided to scare the daylights out of her oppressors, right in the offices of the newspaper.
BLY. [drinking from Madden’s bottle] Mister, I must say that is top-notch bourbon.
MADDEN. [reacts with shock to see her in his chair] How did you get in here? Who in the world are you?
BLY. Lonely Orphan Girl.
MADDEN. You’re joking. [thinks] No….You just read about the letter in the paper…..
BLY. Came on pink paper, didn’t it?
MADDEN. I don’t believe it…. I just said send in your name, not ambush me. What now, are you going to shoot me or stab me?
BLY. I don’t approve of guns. Long story. [pleasant] Afraid of little old me? A girl of twenty?
MADDEN. So where did you learn to write like that?
BLY. I read my father’s books, and I did a month or two in the Normal School, studying to be a teacher – if you’re a woman and you want a job, either you teach, or you’re a housekeeper. Then the money ran out. I’ve tried tutoring, I’ve tried working as a nanny here in Pittsburgh…
MADDEN. Somehow I don’t see you in a “normal” school. I don’t see you being a nanny, either, I doubt you have the patience for it….So you came here to give us another tongue-lashing, then?
BLY. It’s even worse than that. Like I said, I want a job. Here.
MADDEN. A new female reporter? The owner would fire me first thing tomorrow.
BLY. So don’t tell him.
MADDEN. [thinking] Or…don’t tell him you’re a woman…The few times any newspaper has hired a woman, they usually gave her a man’s name, to protect her…
BLY. In a pig’s eye. Mister Madden, if these people read my stuff, they’re going to know a woman wrote it.
MADDEN. Who’s paper do you think it is, yours? [sighs] Well, if you use your real name, you’ll be an outcast. How about another woman’s name?
BLY. My mother calls me Pinky.
MADDEN. And that will make people take you seriously?...How about Nellie Bly, from that thing Stephen Foster wrote?
BLY. A compromise, then.
MADDEN. You are one of a kind. Quite the little pistol.
BLY. You know how tough a girl gets when she has to grow up with a brother?
MADDEN. Um, yes…
BLY. I had six brothers. And someday I’ll tell you about my stepfather….Was I the only woman to write a letter about Wilson?
MADDEN. No, I got a whole bagful.
BLY. [smiles, gets up] Damn right.
MADDEN. [winces] Oh my God…. Five dollars per week.
BLY. Hmm…We’ll see about that….. [smiles, puts her hand on his shoulder] And here I was expecting a cross old man.
5, the Dispatch
BLY. [typing/writing alone and then another actress takes over reading the article from the newspaper] “We should let our Pittsburgh girls begin by running errands and rise to better jobs, like boys do….There are more cooks, chambermaids and washerwomen than can find employment. Some have aged parents depending on them. We cannot let them starve. Can they, that have the full and plenty of this world’s goods, realize what it is to be a poor working woman, without fire enough to keep warm, denying herself food that her little ones may not go hungry, fearing the landlord’s frown, nothing to make life worth the living? If sin in the form of man comes forward with a wily smile and offers her money she cannot let her children freeze or starve, and so she falls. All of you who are lucky enough to be well off – this poor girl reads of what your last pug dog cost, and thinks of what that vast sum would have done for them, paid Father’s doctors bill, shoes for the little ones. Imagine how nice it would be, could baby have the beef broth that is made for your favorite pug….”
6, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. Amazingly, Pinky wasn’t the only woman writing for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The paper already had the formidable Bessie Bramble. Like Pinky, Bessie didn’t take any guff off of anybody, including, and especially, pretty young girls. Poor Mister Madden braced himself for the inevitable collision.
MADDEN. [pleading] Bessie, I can’t fire Nellie, she’s the greatest show on earth. Even when she’s dead wrong, you can’t stop reading her articles. The powers that be are terrified of her. All those articles on the women working in the factories….Here, the business on poor women getting men drunk and sleeping with them –
BRAMBLE. [furious] But now she’s coming after us!
MADDEN. After you, you mean.
BRAMBLE. She wrote a piece calling for a women’s group like the YMCA, and when I pointed out that we already have that Christian group, Nellie fired right back at me. In print.
BRAMBLE. [reads] “The women’s group is so invisible that the girls don’t even know it’s here in Pittsburgh…while not daring to offer our humble opinion against that of a talented writer and learned lady like Bessie Bramble, yet the belief infuses our soul that one girl saved will receive a brighter reward than a lifetime spent in prayer.” And then she really brings out the guns. I just don’t like her tone at all.
MADDEN. I’m keeping her, Bessie.
BRAMBLE. Then stick her back in the fashion stories where she belongs.
MADDEN. And what if I did that to you?
BRAMBLE. Madden, you’re not the only paper in this town you know. I’m Bessie Bramble.
MADDEN. You picked this fight with her, because you didn’t think she would fight back. Little kitty has some teeth.
BRAMBLE. And you get to housebreak her. [laughs]
7, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. Madden found himself in the worst position possible: right in between Pinky and Bessie, as they prepared to scratch each other’s eyes out. He tried to ease Pinky away from the hard news and toward the softer pieces. Pinky’s response was…well, you can imagine. [Pinky is in Wilson’s chair]
WILSON. Pinky, you can’t just quit. You know how lucky you are to have a job at all.
BLY. [furious] Erasmus, I’m not going to allow that Bramble beast to run me off the stories I want to write.
WILSON. And where are you going to go? Have you ever been out of Pennsylvania in your life?
BLY. You’ll see. I’m going to pop up where nobody expects – not you, not Madden, not Bramble. And here’s a dollar that says that when I come up for air again, Madden will be forced to put me back in the paper, doing real news.
WILSON. I’m not going to take your money, Pinky.
BLY. You’re damn right you’re not taking my money. I’m going to win this bet. Energy rightly applied and directed…
WILSON. [weary] Can accomplish anything. Well, we’ll see…Can I have my chair back?
NARRATOR. Wilson and Bramble quaked with fear, and all of Pittsburgh wondered: where would Pinky strike next? They puzzled and they pondered – would she uncover an explosive new story in Pittsburgh? Would she run off to New York, or even Washington? But they missed the mark by thousands of miles, because they failed to think big – a shortcoming from which Pinky never suffered. She next came up for air in Mexico City, where she is now close to being executed for treason. Not for the last time, either.
RAFFAH. Papa, you’re president of Mexico, you can’t allow her to do this to you. What are we going to do with this Bly girl?
DIAZ. You finally grabbed her?
RAFFAH. We finally received the reports from America. She’s been writing one article after another, criticizing the government, criticizing you, stories about corruption here. She’s been at it for months. That local reporter you threw in jail – that set her off like a bomb. We got her and her mother at the hotel –
DIAZ. Her mother…?
RAFFAH. She’s acting as the girl’s chaperone.
DIAZ. [amused] What a world. She can’t travel by herself, but she can try to launch a revolution in my country… Well, let’s see this girl. [Bly and Mary enter] Senorita.
DIAZ. Do you cause this much trouble in America?
DIAZ. So…tell me.
BLY. Well, in fact I just wrote a series of stories about women working in our American factories, people complained to the owner of the paper….the editor forced me to write stories about flowers and…hats.
RAFFAH. [disbelief] Hats?
BLY. Women’s hats.
RAFFAH. But you’re not writing about hats now.
BLY. No. I am my newspaper’s foreign correspondent in Mexico.
RAFFAH. [more disbelief] And how on earth did you persuade your employer to take you off that important hat job and give you this job here?
BLY. I didn’t. I appointed myself.
DIAZ. And how old are you?
DIAZ [laughs] Come now, Raffah. She’s marvelous. You want me to take this girl to the parade ground and execute her for treason? No no no.
BLY. To be precise the word is sedition, not treason.
MARY. [terrified] Pinky, for once in your life…!
DIAZ. [to Bly] Listen to me, my child. This is not America. The law is what I say it is. You and your mother – [to Mary] Madam, you must have the patience of Job – the two of you will leave the city tonight, and you will leave my territories by the end of the month. Go back to – where was it, Plattsburgh?
DIAZ. Pittsburgh, and be sure to make as much mischief there, as you did here. With luck they won’t put you in jail.
BLY. Oh, they’ve done that already….You’ve been very gracious. Usually when I get a spanking like this, there’s a nasty layer of hypocrisy all over it. With you, it’s cut and dried like a dead fish. “Get out or I’ll shoot you just because I can.” Refreshing.
DIAZ. [laughs] Raffah, this is just the girl for you. You should marry her.
RAFFAH. Papa, don’t even joke like that.
BLY. [ironic] Mamma, he doesn’t like me.
MARY. [frightened] Pinky, just for once mind your tongue until we get to Texas.
DIAZ. Good advice, my dear….And how did you evade my soldiers for so long?
BLY. Haven’t you been reading my stories? It was right in print. Half your soldiers spend all day smoking that funny green stuff, what do you call it?
DIAZ. Marijuana….Well, I see your point. Vaya con dios.
BLY. And you too. [Bly and Mary exit]
RAFFAH. I must say that some of her stories make good reading. She covered the bullfights here, [laughs] she criticized our tortilla makers for spitting on their hands when working…Pity we can’t let her stay.
DIAZ. No no no. It would only be a matter of time before she aims her poison pen at me again. And at you. Let her go attack the powers that be somewhere else. And God help them.
9, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. For once, Pinky acted sensibly and ran for the Texas border as fast as her legs and the battered Mexican train system could carry her. She smuggled out a bagful of reports about Mexican corruption by telling the border guards they were women’s underwear. In no time she was riding back into Pittsburgh in absolute triumph.
BLY. Erasmus, old friend. [hugs him]
WILSON. Welcome home, Pinky. So you’ve finally realized I’m not the third brother of Beelzebub. Very open-minded of you….Well, here’s your dollar. You forced Madden to put you in the paper again. “Nellie in Mexico”. So how did you manage all this?
BLY. I brought my mother along, and talked the railroads into giving me tickets. I can be very persuasive.
WILSON. [ironic] You don’t say.
BLY. The Mexicans were so shocked that I carried my own bags; I wanted to show I could travel anywhere without a man….
WILSON. Balderdash. My wife can’t even go to Philadelphia without a baggage train that would make General Grant break down and cry.
WILSON. [amused] Don’t run off, I need to tell Madden you’re here. He’ll have apoplexy.
BLY. Did you get my last dispatch?
WILSON. Of course. [exasperated] Yes, we told all of Pittsburgh that it really was a woman writing from Mexico. [exits]
BLY. Not just Pittsburgh – I heard my stories were spreading all across the country. And the one before it, about the editor who was arrested?
BRAMBLE. [still suspicious of her, as she edits copy] Yes, it almost got you shot down there, when they got a copy. Brought a tear to my eye.
BLY. Get stuffed.
BRAMBLE. Don’t try my patience. [a brief staredown] Were you always like this? You know…this.
BLY. Of course I think I was an angel as a child, but my mother tells stories of me carrying on like a wild animal as a student, telling fairy tales by the hour….Once the teacher punished me in front of the whole class because I brought in my father’s medical book and showed everyone pictures of a man’s, um…
BRAMBLE. I see….So what do you have on now?
BLY. I have a bit of my own business. The man who handled my money when I was a child made a mess of the whole thing and I had to sue him. There’s almost no money left.
BRAMBLE. So the ditty bag is empty now?
BLY. ‘Fraid so. I really need the work. Tell Madden – for now I’ll even do the theater stories, the arts – long as I can keep my lunch down, that is….[sweetly] So you needn’t worry about me, Bessie….
BRAMBLE. [skeptical] Uh-huh….That can’t possibly be the limit of your ambitions.
BLY. I have three goals – to work for a New York newspaper, marry a millionaire, and change the world.
10, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. Work for a New York newspaper, marry a millionaire, and change the world. Any one of the three would be a longshot for a girl back then, but within ten years, Nellie achieved all three goals. Anyhow….Pinky tried to make nice with Bessie. She tried to make nice with Madden. She tried to accept the silly women’s stories she was assigned. But it was only a matter of time before her own special brand of lunacy impelled her to spit the bit and run off the course, leaving Pittsburgh behind her. Of course I’m using the word “lunacy” in the Victorian sense of the word: a word used to describe people who just won’t do what is expected of them.
MADDEN. You got another letter. From Pinky. She only writes these letters when she’s on another holy war…
WILSON. Good God, what is she angry about now?
MADDEN. Check it for poison.
WILSON. Pink paper again?
MADDEN. I know she’s not happy with her assignments…I admit she’s made our circulation explode, but she is also driving advertisers away. They’re angry.
WILSON. [reads, laughs] Yes, it’s not me she wants to chop up with an axe, it’s you!...”Dear Erasmus, apart from your occasional bouts of insanity, you’re a beautiful writer and I have always been an admirer. Your friend Madden, I’m afraid, has gone soft on me. He’s demanding, again, that I put my petticoat back on. He won’t let me cover any of the heavy stuff at all. Can you imagine? Society reporting is prostitution of the brain. Madden is a gutless, spineless” – oh no, we certainly can’t put that word in the newspaper….pity, really…
MADDEN. Oh shut up.
WILSON. “Even after the Mexico stories, he wouldn’t back down.” And she finishes off with “Dear Erasmus, I’m going to New York. Look out for me.” …”Look out for me”, as in “take care of me”, or “look out for me” as in “I’m going to create another public explosion”?
MADDEN. What do you think?
NARRATOR. Pinky did indeed go to New York, and she began writing stories there, and sending them back to Pittsburgh. Just as she had appointed herself the Dispatch’s correspondent in Mexico, she now set to work writing reports from New York, for the Dispatch. The problem was that the Pittsburgh Dispatch already had their man in New York. George McCain. And he was not pleased.
MADDEN. George? George McCain! Why are you back in Pittsburgh?
MCCAIN. [angry] It’s that girl, Nellie Bly. I’m supposed to be your New York correspondent, right? So why is she in New York writing stories for you?
MADDEN. [weary] She just does these things. Not long ago she appointed herself our correspondent in Mexico.
MCCAIN. Well get her out of New York!
MADDEN. And how do I do that?...You’ll be happy to know that you’re not the only one she’s tormenting. She just did a report on the editors of the big New York papers, when she was asking them for a job – they kept telling her that women couldn’t write accurately or cover dangerous stories -- and she made fools out of all of them….What happened to that story she was working on, in the park?
MCCAIN. There was a man in the park, he enticed women into his carriage, and then he drugged them and raped them.
MADDEN. And she got the story?
MCCAIN. She caught the man too. Reeled him in, used a little bait.
MADDEN. What did she use as bait?....Jesus. She used herself as bait, didn’t she.
MCCAIN. Spent night after night in the park. Alone.
MADDEN. Good God. Is she alright?
MCCAIN. Of course she is…..Madden, I worked long and hard to get that position, reporting from New York for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. And since Bly arrived, the Dispatch has carried more of her reports, than mine.
MADDEN. Sorry. But they’re good. She has promise as a reporter.
MCCAIN. That’s wonderful. Now let her go do it somewhere else. There are thirty seven other states she can report from – let her pick one and go there. I hear New Mexico is nice this time of year.
12, offices of the New York World
NARRATOR. Actually, in a few years Pinky did go to New Mexico – in fact she almost got killed there. But… one adventure at a time!...Pinky was ordered to leave New York. And of course Pinky did exactly what she was told….. [pauses and laughs] I’m joking, of course. She went looking for a new job in New York, and found herself in the offices of John Cockerill, editor of the New York World.
COCKERILL. [finding her sitting in his chair] Make yourself comfortable….So you’re that crazy girl who was almost executed in Mexico?
BLY. Yes, sir.
COCKERILL. The last time somebody ambushed me in my office like this, he had a gun, I shot him dead.
BLY. New York is a tough little town.
COCKERILL. It’s not usual to find a girl with your pluck in a place like Pittsburgh.
BLY. A lot you know about Pittsburgh.
COCKERILL. So why are you here annoying me? This is the New York World, not some Pittsburgh broadsheet. If you want a job filing, or tidying the place, the hiring office is…
BLY. Mister Cockerill, I want to write for you.
COCKERILL. Nobody’s going to hire a 23-year-old girl to….
BLY. [agitated] I’ve got to write. I can’t do anything else. Writing is like breathing to me.
COCKERILL.[shakes his head] This just isn’t done. No policeman is going to allow a woman to put herself in danger at a fire or a crime scene, a bar, a riot. And this is a big city newsroom – it’s like a locker room at a men’s club. One of those boys is going to try to stand you up against a wall some quiet night.
BLY. He won’t be trying that more than once.
COCKERILL. The best I can do is give you twenty-five dollars’ retainer while I talk to Pulitzer. Maybe he’ll let you mail in some articles, keep you out of the newsroom.
BLY. I’ve got a ton of story ideas – I could sail to Europe steerage and write about it when I get back --
COCKERILL. This is insane.
COCKERILL. Insane…Shh. [holds up a finger to silence her while he thinks] You are going to get yourself committed to the woman’s lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island. You should fit right in.
BLY. What in God’s name are you – [finally gets it]…Ahh…. [thinks] And how will you get me out, after I once get in?
COCKERILL. I don’t know.
BLY. Excuse me?...Seven days, Mister Cockerill. It’s a lunatic asylum! You will get me out in seven days. I want to hear you say it.
COCKERILL. Seven days, no matter what. And then write me a story about it. We hear they’re abusing the inmates there. Then we’ll see whether Pulitzer hires you.
NARRATOR. So she remained in New York but with a new challenge: to convince the people of New York that she was insane. She had already convinced everyone who knew her in Pittsburgh that she had lost her mind, but New York had more crazy people than any ten places you can think of. So she had to practice.
13, practicing insanity
Obviously the actress can improvise the scene in which Nellie is practicing “insanity” to prepare for her infiltration of the asylum, but we might also have a plan for how she might do it, to include elements such as:
Amnesia -- Who am I? I can’t remember!
DTs and invisible bugs – Get them off me!
Messes rudely with the hair and clothes
Conversation with her “multiple personalities”
Waving around a knife
Paranoia -- You talkin’ to me?
Laughs and shrugs apologetically to the audience at the end – what do you think?
The scene can absolutely be played for comedy.
14, a courtroom in New York
NARRATOR. And then off she went to the streets of New York, to share with her new neighbors the unique form of insanity that was Nellie Bly. All she had to do, was stay in character and keep a straight face. Pinky, just for once, a little self-control!
DOCTOR. Your Honor, this girl checked into a boardinghouse here in New York, and started screaming, all hours of the night, sitting out on the stairs. She kept shouting that the other boarders were crazy and they were going to kill her. The owner said she saw the girl wandering the streets in a daze all week. She says she doesn’t know who she is or how she got there. They called the police and the police called me and another doctor.
JUDGE. Looks to me like she’s been drugged….What’s your name, girl?
BLY. [wild, wrapped in a blanket] I can’t remember! I can’t remember anything!...[flash of insight] I come….from Cuba [coo-ba]
JUDGE. From Cuba [cube-a]?
BLY. No, Senor. Cuba [coob-a]. From the Hacienda.
JUDGE. From the Hacienda.
BLY. Si Senor.
DOCTOR. Are you a woman of the town? [she glares at him] Do you hear voices at night?
BLY. Si Senor, there is so much talking I cannot sleep – very often they talk about me, and then they talk about other subjects that do not interest me half so much….Somebody stole my trunk! Where is my trunk!
DOCTOR. Her delusions, her dull apathetic condition, the muscular twitching of her hands and arms, her loss of memory, all indicate hysteria. She’s positively demented. As a doctor I would have to call this a hopeless case. [Bly, hiding behind a handkerchief or the blanket, begins to shake, bent over]
DOCTOR. She’s undoubtedly insane. The most peculiar case that ever came into the hospital. Even the other guests in the house are terrified of her.
BOARDINGHOUSE GUEST. [terrified] You let her loose, I ain’t staying in that boardinghouse no more. I’m afraid to stay with such a crazy being in the house. She’ll murder us before morning.
SECOND GUEST. I had a nightmare about her!
JUDGE. She must be somebody’s darling. [Bly is still shaking] Alright, take her to Blackwell’s, it’s their problem now. Here, what are you up to? [Doctor pulls away the hanky to discover Bly helpless with laughter]
DOCTOR. She’s way round the bend.
BLY. [shaking with laughter] Oh my God, this is impossible.
DOCTOR. A sad case indeed.
GUEST. Yes it is.
JUDGE. A tragedy. [Bly brays with laughter again as they begin to lead her out]
BLY. Adios, senor!
DOCTOR. We’ll get her on the 5:45 ferry.
BLY. Nope, it’s 6:15 on Fridays. [she winces at her mistake; they stare at her and she returns to her act] They’re all crazy! They’re going to kill me! [and they resume leading her out]
WOMAN WITH NEWSPAPER. Who is this insane girl? Who is the mysterious waif with the wild hunted look in her eyes? [more Nellie laughter as they lead her out]
15, an insane asylum in New York
NARRATOR. Pinky held it together long enough to be dragged off to Blackwells Island in New York. Laughing all the way. There she met an asylum matron who threatened to beat her with a stick, an inmate who threatened to punch her in the face, and….an old enemy, who almost blew her cover.
BLY. [setting aside a bowl of gruel] God, it’s awful.
ANNE. [wild] No no no! Eat all the gruel you can, it’s the only way to avoid dying of thirst – the water here is filthy. So don’t drink the water, don’t eat the meat because it’s spoiled – just the gruel, and the bread when it’s fit to eat. Found a dead spider in mine last week, you gotta check.
ANNE. [constantly looking over her shoulders] Don’t hide food in your bed, or the rats will attack you at night, they’re all over.
BLY. Good God, how safe is this place? What if there’s a fire?
ANNE. [skeptical] According to the doctor, if there’s a fire, the nurses will absolutely stop to open our doors before they run for the hills. What do you think?
BLY. Is there anything to read, a newspaper, a game of drafts, a pack of cards?
ANNE. [laughs] You’re going to spend all day on those benches in that freezing room. Just sitting. Pick a buddy to warm up with, so you don’t freeze.
BLY. [wary] Warm up with?
ANNE. Relax, I’m in the asylum, but not for that. I kinda smell too much anyway. So will you in a few weeks….You get to change your clothes once a month.
BLY. But they said tomorrow is Saturday, Bath Day. Thank God.
ANNE. Yeah, you’ll change your mind tomorrow. All the girls use the same cold, dirty bath water and the same towels – even the girls with sores all over them. Then they rinse you off with buckets of ice water. They’ll comb your hair so hard, your hair will come right out. Sometimes they hold your head underwater, as punishment….
ANNE. Or just for fun. The nurses enjoy torturing the patients. One patient was seventy years old and blind – it was freezing, she pleaded for a blanket, and the nurses just laughed and watched her bump into the furniture; then they all grabbed her and, um, did stuff to her. Last week Urena Littlepage got here, they goaded her with insults, they spit in her ear, and when she wouldn’t stop crying they dragged her to the closet and choked her and beat her – laughing the whole time. Watch Nurse Grady – mean as a snake. Don’t talk at all when the nurses come in.
BLY. What if I have a complaint?
ANNE. Better to have a complaint, than have a complaint and a cracked skull. And God forbid you complain to the doctors about the nurses – the nurses will beat you with a broom handle, and threaten you with worse if you try to rat them out again.
BLY. What about the doctors?
ANNE. A dozen times I pleaded with the doctors to just test me again, so I can show them I’m not insane – never, ever will they actually do it.
BLY. So we’re here for good.
ANNE. And I’m serious about picking a buddy: when the night guard comes around, you really don’t want to be alone with that man, if you follow me. [looks at Bly] Especially you.
BLY. [curious] You’re not insane at all, are you?
ANNE. I don’t think so. Course, none of us do….I got sick from overwork and went to the Sisters Home; the money ran out and they just flung me in here. Bunch of these girls are just foreigners – nobody could understand them, so they got locked up.
BLY. I saw those three German girls…
ANNE. Yep, one of them was put here deliberately by her husband, he claimed she was cheating on him, and another was a maid who got in an argument with another maid, the other gal called the police on her –
BLY. Just a stupid argument is all it took?
ANNE. And here she is. And that French girl, she got sick while she was staying in a boardinghouse, she ended up in a police station, she couldn’t make herself understood, and zoom! Here she is. And sick as she was, they beat her when she got here. Another girl was beaten to death.
BLY. [points downstage] Who are all those people tied together with rope?
ANNE. [perhaps she uses the front row of the audience as her “crazy girls”] Those are the girls who are really crazy. They rope them all together and then tie the rope to the wall. Right after dinner, they all go Bedlam and start fighting with each other. Pulling hair, spitting, scratching, biting. The nurses come in with the ice water, and all of them except Mary pipe down. Then they come with the sticks for Mary. Then they fall asleep like a heap of wet rags, and we can all get some shut-eye.
BLY. So why are you helping me?
ANNE. Because you’re going to give me your bread ration next week.
BLY. What if I want to keep my bread?
ANNE. What if you want to keep your teeth?... You just do what I tell you, I’ll take good care of you.
BLY. Don’t you worry about me. Someone’s coming for me, to take me away.
ANNE. Well. Do I crush your little fairy tale now, or wait for it to die on its own?...No one is coming to take you away. This is the place where they take you away to.
MCCAIN [enters with Matron holding truncheon; Anne immediately runs to a corner]. I’m looking for my fiancee. [he looks at Anne, then Bly] Nellie!
BLY. Shhh! [pulls him aside] Mister McCain – please, you’ve got to cover for me, I’m sorry about the –
MCCAIN. Shhh. [long silence; looking at her; speaks louder] No, she’s not here… I’ll keep looking. [exits]
MATRON. [pokes Nellie in the chest with truncheon] You watch your step.
ANNE. Cough it up. Who was that man?
BLY. [smiles] A new friend.
16, the Dispatch
NARRATOR. Pinky made it out alive – Cockerill rode in and told the horrified nurses that Nellie was a reporter -- and her asylum story was a national sensation. And she actually found herself a romance, with a drama critic!
BLY. Come here, Metcalfe, I’ve been waiting to do this all night. [kisses him]
METCALFE. Nellie, I’m working tonight.
BLY. It’s Hamlet, sweetie. Not to ruin it for you, but everybody dies.
METCALFE. They start right on time, they’re doing the whole play, no cuts.
BLY. If I snore, poke me.
METCALFE. I gotta stay awake so I can review it. I heard he’s okay, but Ophelia is a disaster.
BLY. Come over for a snort after?
METCALFE. Time we’re done with this, it’ll be breakfast.
BLY. I’ve made you breakfast before.
METCALFE. Cooking in a kitchen. It’s just so…traditional of you.
BLY. Don’t start. Come over, keep me warm tonight. Don’t give me a lot of hooraw about it.
NARRATOR. Nellie enjoyed enjoyed a triumph in New York, and returned to Pittsburgh for a visit. To gloat, naturally. And to recuperate.
WILSON. Nellie! You’re back in Pittsburgh!
BLY. [congested] Just visiting some family.
WILSON. Are you alright?
BLY. Just a head cold….You’ve read about the ferry boat out there in New York harbor?
BLY. Well, I kept trying to get answers from the ferry crews on the Hudson River, about how they handle emergencies…
BLY. I wanted to know what happens when someone falls overboard. And I got what I always get with these types – “don’t worry your pretty little head about it…”
WILSON. I don’t like where this is going…
BLY. So finally I decided there was only one way to get an answer….
WILSON. [winces] You didn’t…
BLY. Of course. I jumped overboard.
WILSON. Well, of course you did.
BLY. They did a superlative job fishing me out of the water.
BLY. And banned me from the ferry for a month.
WILSON. Always finding new ways to make friends….You do know the factories and meat-packers dump their raw sewage into the Hudson?
BLY. Yes, I was in the bath all day, I had to burn my dress in the fireplace. Erasmus, could I have a little nip of brandy or whiskey?
WILSON. Drinking? God forbid. Then you might lose your inhibitions [she realizes he’s joking and laughs]. You watch your back, girl. Your story about the insane asylum was a national scandal – every reporter in the country wants to put a knife in your back.
BLY. Darn tootin’. [either Nellie or a young actress reads the article] “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck….”
BLY. When I went to the asylum, I stopped acting crazy. I acted perfectly normally, and the more I did, they more sure they were, that I was insane.
WILSON. Imagine that. Hey, are you okay?
BLY. [emotional] Cockerill promised to get my out in a week. They didn’t show up until the tenth day. Those last three days….longest three days of my life…..[calmer] Then afterward, the doctors spent a week explaining how I had fooled them. A grand jury is demanding more money and training for the asylums, and better examinations so that only the insane go in there. And women doctors, if they can find any.
WILSON. You’ll like this one, I think. [reads] “Now even the great editors of New York have been caught. They had scarcely got done saying that women could not cross the great gulf that separated them from reporters of the first order, when behold, Nellie steps in and performs a feat of journalism that very few of the men in the profession have equaled. She has shown that cool courage, consummate craft and investigating ability are not monopolized by the men of the profession. By her clever woman’s wit she has shown how easily men can be humbugged.”
BLY. Who wrote it?
BRAMBLE [enters] – I did.
BLY. [rises] Bessie.
BRAMBLE. You called Erasmus here a Philistine, and he became your best friend. You poached on McCain’s territory in New York, and then he covered for you in the asylum. And you got shirty with me about the YMCA, and [gestures to the article] I backed you up, back here in Pittsburgh, I still can’t figure out why I did that. How do you do that?....[Bly looks sweetly at her] Don’t beat your eyelashes at me, I’m immune.
BLY. Are you, now?
17, the offices of the World
NARRATOR. Pinky returned to New York, facing a real dilemma. How could she and Cockerill come up with another story to top the asylum expose? They needed a story as big as the whole wide world…
BLY. John, this is Anne Neville, one of the asylum girls. She just finished testifying to the grand jury about Blackwells.
COCKERILL. So you made it out, then? And the doctor who runs the place, he was on the stand today too, wasn’t he?
ANNE. [disgusted] The doctor lied, he evaded, he complained that he didn’t have enough good doctors or money –
BLY. He claimed the girl with the black eye got hit before she arrived in the asylum –
ANNE. He had the nerve to say he supported your story and he would have helped if only he had known…..
COCKERILL. But already things are changing in the asylum, right?
ANNE. Once your story hit the newspapers, the nurses panicked – suddenly we get good food, new clothes, more doctor visits….and the beatings stop.
COCKERILL. Well, that’s good, isn’t it?
ANNE. They’re hiding the truth, how is that good? They are actually making the women disappear. They told the grand jury there’s no way to prove anything because some girls were transferred to another facility –
BLY. Or just dumped on the street –
ANNE. One woman was reclaimed by her family, other women they claim they never heard of. And the baby –
COCKERILL. The baby?
ANNE. One of the girls had a baby in March. The baby disappeared. That girl will never see her baby again. I am grateful you got me out, truly I am, but I think of those other girls….
BLY. So you can make it back to my apartment? I’m up on 96th, remember, take the train up to where Broadway turns into a dirt road….
ANNE. Yes, I’ll put some food together for us tonight…. I am glad I didn’t punch out your teeth.
BLY. Yeah, I’m glad too….Punch out my teeth? You and what army? [they smile, they hug]
ANNE. Mister Cockerill, thank you. See ya tonight, crazy girl. [exits, doing a little crazy dance on her way out]
BLY. I don’t know how we got away with this. When they first dragged me into the police station to get me sent to the asylum, Captain McCullagh was there-- I had just interviewed him about those gambling dens.
COCKERILL. He didn’t recognize you?
BLY. No! And the landlady said “please, this is a nice girl, the asylum would kill her, don’t send her there!” – I wanted to strangle her.
COCKERILL. And they almost called in reporters to figure out who you were…
BLY. I know, they would have cooked my goose in a minute!
NARRATOR. So at a very young age, Nellie was already making waves. But she was just getting started. [this is just a little break because some time passes before the next beat]
COCKERILL. So….The other reporters out there are still giving you grief?
BLY. This time it’s not just the asylum story. They’re brassed off that I got the interview with Sullivan, the boxer. I even got to train with him.
COCKERILL. You didn’t get into the ring with him??
BLY. God no, he hits like a pile driver. I just exercised with him. Even that was almost enough to kill me. But he wouldn’t talk to the other reporters, so the boys are looking daggers at me….
COCKERILL. You’ve created a whole new kind of reporting, and you’re getting the stories and the quotes the other guys can’t. Need help out there?
BLY. No, not really. Usually your boys are very sweet. We eat, we play poker, we drink until dawn, then they walk me home….but I still feel like a fish out of water.
COCKERILL. Jumping out of the water was your idea…. That story on the jail, when you got yourself arrested and strip-searched and thrown in with the men – did they finally agree to hire a female matron?
COCKERILL. We’re preparing a retrospective – greatest stories of the New York World. Can I have my chair back? [They swap, he sorts articles] You’re on quite a roll. You went to the wild west show –
BLY. [she helps sort the stories] And worked as a chorus girl. I still have offers to go on the stage!
COCKERILL. And talked to that Lockwood woman who ran for president in 1888. As though that will ever happen.
BLY. I’m still answering all the mail about the article on women proposing marriage to men…
COCKERILL. Excited women or terrified men?
COCKERILL. You interviewed the female medical students, the deaf blind girl….the slavery in the factories, the divorce piece, the radicals, the religious cults…. One board member insists that Nellie Bly is really an entire team of male reporters. When was your last day off?
BLY. [laughs] Three years ago. I just love doing this…..I hired a spy to follow my so-called husband.
COCKERILL. Who did the spy follow? [she smiles at him, looks down] Dammit, Nellie!
BLY. Count your blessings, he didn’t find a thing. You really are dull, John.
COCKERILL. Compared to you, a prison riot is dull. Once in a while, I like to have a dull day. Since you arrived, they’ve been few and far between. [scans articles] You pretended you were in the market to buy a child…
BLY. Got four offers, best one was ten bucks.
COCKERILL. [chuckles] You tried to learn how to ride a bicycle. Is your shin better…?
BLY. Oh shut up.
COCKERILL. You busted that crooked lobbyist in the statehouse in Albany….Went to a haunted house looking for ghosts.
BLY. You were right, that was stupid, sorry.
COCKERILL. And then there were the twenty other times you offered to do something really dangerous and suicidal, and I had to stop you….
BLY. [touches his shoulder] I won’t tell the boys that I wear the pants in this marriage.
COCKERILL. And what happens to Jimmy Metcalfe while all this is going on?
BLY. John, I just don’t want to – let’s not go into it.
BLY. Seems like every time I score a big one in the papers, Jimmy’s got this burning need to cut me down to size.
COCKERILL. Is he knocking your stories?
BLY. It’s just that he can’t believe I’m doing what I’m really doing. I caught that crook in the statehouse and all Jimmy can say is “well, he was riding for a fall anyway, somebody was bound to catch him”.
COCKERILL. So, you want to let your bollocks hang down low again? Well. Remember months ago, we were talking about sending someone to travel around the world?
BLY. Jules Verne wrote the story about doing it in eighty days, we want to beat that, and [accusatory] you said it was too dangerous for a woman to travel alone, and no woman could do it without a dozen trunks of clothes.
COCKERILL. Nellie --
BLY. I swear to God, you send a man out there, and I’ll make the trip for another paper. And I’ll beat your guy. I’m serious.
COCKERILL. Don’t I know it….Listen, reason I bring it up, we just found out that there’s a man who said he’s going to try the trip, very soon – but he’s not a reporter --
BLY. Great guns!...Please! I promise, I can go myself, I’ll travel light --
COCKERILL. Nellie, calm down and listen for once. [long pause] I’m willing to let you go –
BLY. [laughs and screams out] Tarnation!
COCKERILL. but to beat the other man, you’ve got to be ready to go in two days.
BLY. Two days!...Oh my God! [rushes out]
COCKERILL. I take it you accept, then…NARRATOR. Well, if we can give Pinky two days to prepare for world conquest, you kind people can give us ten minutes to visit the Thunder Box – that’s water closet to you – and fiddle with our costumes. Don’t leave us – Pinky’s most incredible adventures are yet to come!
18, a train outside Calais, France
NARRATOR. Well, in the ten minutes you’ve been buying candy in the lobby, Pinky has travelled an astounding 3000 miles. She crossed the Atlantic aboard ship, and quickly found that she has no sea legs at all. Pinky is simply thrilled to be on dry land now, and out of the storms: she is on a train which will take her across France and Italy – if the train robbers don’t get her. And along the way she will meet the famous painter, Berthe Morisot.
BLY. So how long does this train take to get from Calais to Brindisi?
TRAIN PASSENGER. Well, it depends less on the French end than the Italian end. The last time the train ran, it was robbed by bandits.
BLY. Robbed? Why didn’t they say something at the station?
PASSENGER. Well they want your money obviously. Would it have stopped you?....Of course not….Did I give you that much of a fright? You’re awfully pale.
BLY. Actually I was ill the whole way over from America. Most of this trip is by sea – what on earth have I gotten myself into?
PASSENGER. My goodness. All alone in this trip?
BLY. Hey, just on this train I’ve gotten two marriage proposals. Here in France. One of the men was astounded that I could travel with just the one case.
PASSENGER. How do you do that?
BLY. I have only one dress --
PASSENGER. One dress, for the whole trip?
BLY. Yep. A coat, hat, some veils. The rest is a bodice and other lady bits, a robe, pens and paper, money and some jewelry – got my lucky ring! And a few other bits and bobs.
PASSENGER. What is that funny bracelet? A locket?
BLY. The latest from New York. It’s a watch you can wear on your wrist.
PASSENGER. What a crazy idea. Some pickpocket will strip it right off of you. ….Well, you must have forgot to pack something.
BLY. Whatever it is, I just buy it. Always pack fewer clothes and more money….My newspaper wanted me to take a revolver but I decided….
PASSENGER. Newspaper…You’re Nellie Bly, aren’t you?
PASSENGER. Trying to beat the Phineas Fogg record, 80 days!
BLY. Actually I’m going to meet Jules Verne in France.
PASSENGER. Eighty days. No woman could possibly do that. No man has ever done it.
BLY. Maybe it can’t be done by a man. My great-uncle travelled around the world years ago, but it took him three years and it destroyed his health. [Berthe Morisot, 47, enters] Madame Morisot! Thank you for coming to see me! [pulls out notepad]
MORISOT. On my way back to Paris. A few new paintings to exhibit. Some nice sketches too.
BLY. I must say, Madame Morisot, I was surprised -- you already made your name in the art exhibitions, you could have played it safe, and instead you joined the renegades, the Impressionists.
MORISOT. Well, of course. Nobody’s going to tell me how to paint.
BLY. Madame Morisot –
BLY. Berthe, I kept looking at your paintings, trying to see signs of Edouard Manet’s influence, and – perhaps I’m an ignoramus on art --
MORISOT. Don’t tell this to anyone, because it would ruin Manet. But it was me, steering him along when he was struggling, not the other way around. Telling him where to go with his composition, his style, doing more paintings outdoors in natural light. And I was the one who got him to join the Impressionists.
BLY. But Manet helped you too…?
MORISOT. Oh, yes, he’s extraordinary. He even painted me!
BLY. So it’s alright for you to get help from Manet, but if people know you helped him, it would ruin him?
MORISOT. I don’t care if I look weak, but it’s different for a man. The art world in Paris is a strange place, and it can be ugly sometimes, in the midst of all that beauty….
BLY. So many of your paintings are about women and girls…
MORISOT. Well, partly it’s because of my husband. If you’re a Frenchman, and your wife has a career of her own, she’s out in the world painting…it can be embarrassing. There are homes he isn’t invited to, there are clients he can’t get. He would never try to put me in shackles, but I decided to steer clear of a few things. I don’t do nude paintings or wild city scenes like Renoir and the Abisinthe, I don’t spend long hours in studios painting men…
BLY. So there was a bit of sacrifice….
MORISOT. No no no….[laughs] Nellie, you of all people should know better. All year long, the men are painting the things they think are important – pictures of gods and heroes and kings, naked women, great battles. Me, I paint what is important to me. Women taking care of their children, girls working in a cherry orchard, a young girl learning to read. The lives that women and girls live every day, they’re important, they’re worth painting. Are you going to sit there and tell me that their stories are not worth telling? Nellie Bly?
BLY. Boy am I stupid.
MORISOT. Just like me when I was your age. A reporter needs stories to tell. Out there are a thousand women with great stories. Go find one and tell her story. And then another and another.
MORISOT. Assuming you get home alive. Travelling around the world, just to come back to the place where you started – now that is stupid. [a pause, and they laugh]
19, Colombo, Sri Lanka
NARRATOR. At this point in our story, Pinky has been aboard one ship after another, across the Mediterranean, through the Suez, and around to Sri Lanka. Used to be called Ceylon, that pretty little island just south of India. And now she’s in the Grand Oriental Hotel there, settling her stomach, entertaining the natives and infuriating the white masters. Welcome to the British Em-pah [“empire” in a Victorian accent].
ANGRY BRIT. Come here, my good man. I want a new room please.
HOTEL CLERK. Is there a problem with the room you have?
BRIT. I want a room further away from that awful American woman. And if you can’t accommodate me, I can assure you there are other hotels in Ceylon.
CLERK. It’s Sri Lanka, sir.
BRIT. It’s a British territory and we’ll damn well call it what we like.
CLERK. Very good sir. If I may, is the woman doing something she oughtn’t?
BRIT. Didn’t you see her? She was in your bar, alone, without a chaperone, drinking and smoking, carousing at all hours! She’s in there now, shoveling down your curry like a Yukon lumberjack. How does this establishment allow such a thing?
CLERK. She seems to be very clever at overcoming resistance.
BRIT. I’ve been elbow-to-elbow with the woman ever since Suez. On the Aden run, they actually let women sleep on deck half-naked, on the port side, with the men right over on the starboard – scandalous! When we take coaling stops there, the white people are forced to use sticks and umbrellas to beat away the beggars….And this American girl stopped us!
CLERK. And sometimes you use the sticks to avoid paying the boatmen, by beating them.
BRIT. What on earth are you….
CLERK. You’re not my first Englishman….Sah.
BRIT. Then the girl saw an Egyptian magician there doing his tricks – she acted as his assistant, turned out she knew his tricks all along. We said “why in blazes didn’t you tell us before?” And she said she wanted the magician to get our money! She’s a Communard!
CLERK. The poor man probably needed it to feed his family.
BRIT. And then we got to Aden and tried to cut the rate for the boatmen, and she defended the boatmen again – the prices are posted and we should cough it up, she said!
CLERK. Well, you should be happy to know that the girl is Nellie Bly –
BRIT. You’re joking. Around the world in eighty –
CLERK. Yes. And she’s been delayed here. If she loses one more day on the way to Hong Kong, she misses her connection. If you’re a betting man, the odds are against her getting home in time now. First she was almost thrown in jail for driving in an illegal carriage, and then when she found out she had to wait for the arrival of the Nepaul, she screamed “may she go to the bottom of the bay, the old tub!” You could hear her all the way in the bar.
BRIT. So….what odds are you offering on her arriving on time?
CLERK. What stakes are you offering?
BRIT. Can I get credit?
CLERK. You’re not my first Englishman. [holds out his hand] Pounds sterling or gold please.
20, aboard “The Oriental”, east of Singapore
NARRATOR. And now Pinky is sailing away from Singapore toward China. And not only is she behind schedule, her life is going to be imperiled again. This time by a passenger who is even crazier than she is.
ROMANTIC YOUNG MAN. Salutations. …..Good job we’re finally out of Singapore.
BLY. [slowly, frightened] We meet again.
YOUNG MAN. I’ve been following you.
BLY. I know….I saw you.
YOUNG MAN. Careful of the railing, you’ll fall overboard….You’re a beautiful girl.
BLY. Thank you. [silence]
YOUNG MAN. Do you think life is worth living?
BLY. Yes, life is very sweet. The thought of death is the only thing that causes me unhappiness.
YOUNG MAN. You cannot understand it or you would feel different. [approaches her] I could take you in my arms and jump overboard, and before they knew it we would be…at rest.
BLY. [pause] Um…
YOUNG MAN. I know, I can show you, I can prove it. Death by drowning is peaceful slumber, a quiet drifting away.
OFFICER. [enters] Hello, Miss. Everything alright? [young romantic slowly slips away; she slips her arm in officer’s] Good to be out of Singapore…
BLY. Oh God yes, when I heard we had to stay a whole day …
OFFICER. Oh. Was that you shouting at my captain down there? He’s still rather in a state of shock.
BLY. Lieutenant, I can’t miss my ship in Hong Kong.
OFFICER. Surely you didn’t waste the visit to Singapore? [sailor enters, arm bandaged]
BLY. [to the sailor] So have you found my monkey?
BLY. [to the officer] I bought a monkey.
SAILOR. The monkey? Yes, we’ve met. [holds up his/her arm]
BLY. What did you do?
SAILOR. All I did was scream. The monkey did the rest. That monkey is bad luck – we should throw it overboard.
BLY. Some of the sailors say that priests are bad luck. We have a minister aboard – toss him over, and you can have my monkey too….
OFFICER. Did you talk to those newlyweds?
SAILOR. Yes sir, sorry about that sir, a bit of fun….
OFFICER. Where’s your pistol?
SAILOR. I didn’t want the monkey to grab it and pump me full of bullets. He’s dangerous enough as it is.
OFFICER. Good thinking, carry on. [sailor exits]
OFFICER. Almost all the crew is armed. Last time through here, pirates tried to take the ship. [points] About fifty miles out, over that way.
BLY. [looks out at the sea] Here be dragons….
OFFICER. So you bought a monkey.
BLY. Odd – I had a chance to buy a boy in Suez and a girl in Ceylon. Didn’t realize people were bought and sold out here.
OFFICER. Cheap commodity.
BLY. We just fought a war to stop it. In America anyway.
OFFICER. It’s a big world out there….
BLY. What happened with the newlyweds?
OFFICER. Well, they just got married, it was obvious what they were going to be doing in that stateroom. So the sailors told them there was a storm coming, they couldn’t take off their life preservers at any time. So they never took them off.
BLY. Even when they were in there doing their…
OFFICER. Yes. Apparently they were wearing the life preservers and nothing else. [Bly laughs]
BLY. That and her bindings. The girl has her feet bound, she’s Chinese, right? You’re an old China hand, why do Chinese girls bind their feet?
OFFICER. Why do you western girls bind your chests with corsets? How on earth do you breathe?
BLY. You think I had room in my little bag for a corset? Not that it’s any of your business, but this figure of mine is the real thing, it’s all me, just the way God made me.
OFFICER. [looking out to sea, glances at her in the corner of his eye] Well, certainly I’m not criticizing his work…. So why do you need to get to Hong Kong so desperately?
BLY. I need to get to New York by a certain date. If I fail, I will never return to New York. I would rather go in dead and successful, than alive and behind time.
OFFICER. And you think buying a monkey is going to make travelling easier?
BLY. Well, I don’t always think things through.
OFFICER. Do you speak any languages? I know the route you took here – you speak any French, Arabic, Chinese?
BLY. Nope, just muddling through with English and a lot of arm-waving.
OFFICER. So that man before – he was the one following you?
BLY. Yes. He wanted to jump overboard, and take me with him. Not doing that again.
SAILOR. [reenter] Sir, there’s a man overboard on the starboard side! [officer crosses to sailor]
BLY. [looks over the “railing”, waves] Farewell, my friend! Somehow, my heart will go on.
OFFICER. [to the sailor] Go tell the bridge to stop the propeller screws. [they begin to run off]
BLY.[grabs officer, arrests his progress] Here, let me come along, I learned all about man-overboard drills!
OFFICER. How on earth did you do that?
BLY. Well, funny story, really. There I was, on the Hudson River ferry…[they run off]
21, Hong Kong
NARRATOR. Happily, Pinky doesn’t jump overboard again this time, God knows why not, and she makes her way to Hong Kong. Her ship nearly goes down in a monsoon, her cabin filling with water, and in Hong Kong she faces yet another unexpected delay, and she handles the news….well, just about the way you’d expect.
SHIPPING OFFICER. [injured eye] God, let me sit. It never occurred to me that being a shipping officer could be dangerous.
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. Here’s a bit of salve for your eye. Amazed they even have it in Hong Kong. So what happened again?
SHIPPING OFFICER. I told the Bly girl that she was going to be delayed here in Hong Kong for five days. She punched my eye.
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. Oh, dear…. Well the ship broke the all-time speed record for the Colombo run, it’s not as though the ship was dawdling.
SHIPPING OFFICER. She’s genuinely dangerous. She went down with all the westerners, looking at the embassies, and then looked at the American flag and said – “that is the most beautiful flag in the world, and I am ready to whip anyone who says it isn’t!” A roomful of strapping men, sailors, and not one dared say a word….
TELEGRAPHER. Where did she get to now?
SHIPPING OFFICER. She’s spending Christmas at a leper colony in Canton. She went to the prison so she could ask the prisoners about the crucifixions, the death of a thousand cuts, the bamboo torture, burying criminals up to the neck in sand, the fingernail torture…
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. All the other western girls just go….shopping.
SHIPPING OFFICER. And at dinner she was telling everyone about the prison where they keep the heads of executed criminals in jars….The governor’s wife fainted dead away.
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. You better give me back that medicine.
SHIPPING OFFICER. Give it back?
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. I’m going to have to give Miss Bly the real bad news. I got a report from the telegraph office. There’s another reporter trying to travel around the world, sailing west instead of east, a girl named Elizabeth Bisland.
SHIPPING OFFICER. Not to worry, Bly is very competitive…
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. Miss Bisland made her connection here in Hong Kong. Bly didn’t.
SHIPPING OFFICER. So Miss Bly is going to lose the race.
TELEGRAPH OFFICER. And I get to tell her.
SHIPPING OFFICER. [passes the medicine] Be brave, my lad.
22, New York, and San Francisco harbor
Back home, Nellie’s beau was having mixed feelings about her trip.
COCKERILL. Well, you don’t want to hedge your bet? She’s making great time.
METCALFE. She’s just getting underway.
COCKERILL. You really think it’s going to take her a hundred days?
METCALFE. I think she’s riding for a fall.
COCKERILL. You really bet on her to lose?
METCALFE. It’s the smart money.
COCKERILL. What do you think she’s going to do when she finds out about your bet?
METCALFE. A lot of her career is based on luck. It’s got to run out eventually.
COCKERILL. And guts. A lot of men would run away from the fights she gets into.
METCALFE. Yes. I know. She loves a good fight.
COCKERILL. Takes a bit of getting used to?
NARRATOR. Meanwhile, Pinky heroically faces the interminable sea journey across the Pacific, only to be stuck yet again, this time in San Francisco harbor. The hazard here is the most dangerous to travelers everywhere: not hurricanes or robbery or earthquakes or revolutions, but…paperwork.
PURSER. [grabs Bly as she runs onstage] Miss Bly –
BLY.[seasick] You really don’t want to stand between me and the toilet.
PURSER. But Miss Bly, I came to tell you – you can’t enter San Francisco, you’ve got to stay aboard.
BLY. What do you mean, I have to stay in the harbor? I’m an American citizen!
PURSER. You’ve got to stay in the harbor in this tugboat. You can’t enter San Francisco yet.
BLY. Why not, in God’s name? I’m already behind schedule because of the weather! You’re the ship’s purser, do something!
PURSER. Miss, I can’t find the health documents for the ship, and if they don’t turn up, we’ll be here in the harbor for two weeks --
BLY. Two weeks! I will slit my throat with a knife! If we don’t get into San Francisco tonight, I will. Slit. My. Throat. I promise you. And then I’ll slit yours!
PURSER. Miss Bly, it may not make any difference anyway. The Central Pacific railroad is blocked by snow in the mountains, the worst storm in years.
BLY. Oh my God!
PURSER. Your newspaper is trying to charter a special train for you, but I don’t know when it could be ready.
BLY. I could just murder Jules Verne. Eighty days. Why couldn’t it be ninety days?
SAILOR. Sir, we found the bill of health! We can go!
BLY. [to the sailor] Get my monkey off the tug and onshore, I’ll get my bag –
DOCTOR. [far off to one side of the stage with a passenger list] Um, Miss, we still have a quarantine, you’ve got to come back to the ship, I can’t let you go onshore until I’ve examined your tongue!
BLY. Examine this! [sticks her tongue out at him grotesquely, glares at him, and runs off]
DOCTOR. Um, alright….[writes on his list]
23, New York World
NARRATOR. Pinky is overjoyed – the last leg of her journey is by train! We pick up our story in the offices of the New York World, and all of New York has just welcomed her home with a gigantic celebration, cannons booming, every reporter in New York waiting at the depot, green with envy!
BOARDINGHOUSE GUEST. Don’t I know you?
BLY. Don’t think so. I’ve been travelling. I started in Hoboken, travelled 30,000 miles, and ended in Jersey City.
BOARDINGHOUSE GUEST. 30,000 miles to get from Hoboken to Jersey City. You take a wrong turn somewhere?
COCKERILL [enters with Bramble]. Nellie! Seventy-two days. You beat Jules Verne by a week. Your nose is sunburned.
BLY. Bessie, you came after all!
BRAMBLE. I just wanted to see if you were really still alive.
BLY. Barely. God, I’m just shattered. The last five days, I got maybe three hours of sleep. [collapses into his chair]
COCKERILL. Well, this will perk you up. That other girl Bisland who’s making the trip around the world? Still at sea, you beat her like a drum.
BLY. I’ll be a week in my bed. I was averaging three hundred miles a day, the whole way. We got on that special train, and I’m thinking I might have a chance. On any given day we had that train blasting away at 60 miles an hour. We saw tribesmen out there, they were simply terrified. They let me drive the train down there, I got up to 75 miles an hour in Arizona, there was a man standing at this little whistle-stop station, I blew his hat right off his head.
COCKERILL. You broke the all-time speed record for the San Francisco-Chicago run.
BLY. In New Mexico they were repairing a railroad bridge, but they didn’t warn anybody. The bridge wasn’t finished – it was held in place by these tiny little screws. The bridge builders tried to stop the train but no one paid attention. We barreled across this rickety pile of metal at top speed – it actually held together!
COCKERILL. [incensed] No it didn’t. We got a telegram from the railroad. It took a hundred men a year to build the bridge, and ten seconds for you and your train to twist the bridge beyond recognition. Pulitzer had to pay for it.
BLY. So does Pulitzer care that I’m alive? By all rights I should be dead, at the bottom of a canyon with a million tons of train cars on top of me.
COCKERILL. I’m not even sure that that would stop you.
BLY. [reads telegram] See? I didn’t destroy the bridge. I only….bent it.
COCKERILL. Later you smashed a handcar to bits, and ruined one of the engines you were using – a wheel flew right off into a ravine. You’ve left more debris strewn across America than anyone since General Sherman. And then there was that mysterious train ride through Missouri, nobody could even find you, we thought you missed the train….
BLY. [smile, blank look] Mind your own business….And it was like that all across the country. I come rolling into New Jersey, a thousand people yelling, cannons firing, and my new pet monkey goes absolutely berserk. Me and the monkey, we stagger back to my apartment, and the monkey goes absolutely insane and smashes all my dishes. I just want to lay in my own bed for a week.
COCKERILL. Well, of course, conquering the insane asylum, diving into the Hudson, travelling around the world, you must be a decrepit old lady of…
BLY. I’m 25. 26 in May. I feel like ninety.
BRAMBLE. 25! Why do you tell everyone you’re 22? [laughs] You think your accomplishments are insufficient for a girl of 25?....So was the trip really as bad as all that?
BLY. [smiles] The trip was…wonderful. All the people I fell in love with – fat wrestlers and geishas in Japan, snake charmers and rickshaw boys in Ceylon, fortune tellers in Hong Kong, the naked Somali divers--
BLY. Yes, they swim with the sharks off of Aden….
BLY. All those little Chinese children who wanted to touch my gloves and my face, the young lads on the Asia route who wanted to marry me, the fat little mayors of the whistle-stop towns who plied me with flowers and wine…..John, what is that smoke coming out of the basement? Is the building safe?
COCKERILL. Oh yes, the contest. We ran a contest in the paper – people had to clip out a coupon, write down exactly when they thought you were going to come back to New York. Date, hours, minutes, seconds. Then send their coupon to the newspaper. The winner gets a free trip to Europe.
BLY. Good grief, the smoke is like a tenement fire out there, how many coupons did they send in?
COCKERILL. It was just here in New York, we were hoping to get two or three thousand entries. By the time we stopped the betting, we got nine hundred thousand.
BLY. Good God!
COCKERILL. There’s a reason why you draw bigger crowds than the president. You’re the most famous woman in America right now. We had thirty three men just to tabulate all the coupons. So now they’re down there burning all the betting slips in the furnace.
BLY. What was your guess, did you bet on my return date?
COCKERILL. I decided to get a coupon for no return -- dead at sea.
BLY. Sorry to disappoint you….Jackass! Betting on me to die.
COCKERILL. I’m kidding. I bet on you to win, 79 days. I remember all those other guys who bet on you to fail. But “dead at sea” was a popular choice – if you had died, we’d be shipping half of Manhattan off to Europe….cost a fortune…..You know this is going to change everything, right? You can’t do your undercover jobs anymore.
BLY. What the hell are you talking about?
COCKERILL. Nellie, being an undercover reporter is like being a food critic, nobody can know what you look like. Now everybody knows you. Didn’t you see the shop in the lobby?
COCKERILL. Hawkers on Broadway came up with a new scheme. They got a picture of you somehow, and put it on everything. They call it merchandising. Nellie Bly trading cards, Nellie Bly dolls for the kids, Nellie Bly dresses, hats, notebooks, schoolbags, pens, papers, lamps….There’s even a board game, all about your race around the world.
BLY. Dammit, I’ll sue!
COCKERILL. Don’t even try. We took over the racket downstairs, at least you’ll make a dollar or two. But the whole world knows you now, right down to your shoe size.
BLY. No more undercover?
COCKERILL. Part of me is glad – I keep waiting for you to get killed out there, going underground like that. Well, there’s still the other stuff you do, the exposes, the interviews, you can still scare the hell out of the high and mighty….[she massages ankle] Something wrong with your foot?
BLY. I twisted my ankle in Brindisi – I almost missed my ship, I had to run for it.
COCKERILL. You mean you did the last two months of all that on a broken ankle??
BLY. I didn’t break it. I only bent it.
COCKERILL. So I guess I won’t tell you about that murderer who wants to do an interview from the jailhouse. I could give the job to —
BLY. [leaps up] Wait wait wait. Which jailhouse?
COCKERILL. Remember, the man killed three women –
BLY. John, you are just adorable when you give me the “be careful” speech….
COCKERILL. Nellie, please –
BLY. No promises! [she hobbles out]
BRAMBLE. So you’re the one taking care of her now, is that right?
COCKERILL. You don’t take care of Nellie, you just call the fire brigade when it’s all over.
BRAMBLE. Great fun, though, isn’t it?
COCKERILL. [he smiles]. It’s ironic, keeping her from getting killed every week, it’s gonna kill me ahead of schedule.
BRAMBLE. There’s even a song about her.
COCKERILL. Another one?
BRAMBLE. A new one, out on the street, a song called Frankie and Johnny. Nellie is supposed to be the homewrecker who causes the wife to shoot the husband.
COCKERILL. Yes. It’s a tough little town we live in.
[Cockerill leaves, Metcalfe enters]
BLY. Jimmy, we’re going to have that talk now.
METCALFE. Good God, is this about the trip again?
BLY. It’s not just the trip. Somehow I knew that when I came back, you’d find some way to turn it all into a joke.
METCALFE. Come on, Nellie. Can’t you see that there’s a little bit of the circus in all this?
BLY. The circus? A man tried to kill me. Our ship almost went down off China....Jimmy, I saw this coming all the way down the track. I was thinking that you just don’t like women who got some sand. Then I saw what you did to that boy on the drama desk.
METCALFE. His work was an embarrassment.
BLY. He’s a young writer, like you were once. He’s passionate. A real editor is a teacher, Jimmy. Or more like a fellow student. That old crank Erasmus Wilson kicked my ass to death, til I started writing good work – best friend I ever had. You made that boy look like a fool. The whole city saw it. I’ve seen Cockerill fire people, I’ve never seen him chop off a man’s head the way you did. Jimmy, I was wrong about you. You don’t hate women. You’re just mean. I always believed you could be tough, but also be generous.
METCALFE. Generous. Are we back to the money?
BLY. You know what? Keep the money. This is just too much work, Jimmy. Find yourself a nice traditional girl, never talks back…. I love you, Jimmy. Your streetcar’s coming.
24, New York
NARRATOR. Now this really brasses me off. This Frankie and Johnny song is just cruel – Frankie was supposed to be this girl in Saint Louis who found out her man Johnny was canoodling with Nellie Bly, and then Frankie shot Johnny dead with a gun out of jealousy. Absolute slander! Nellie was only in Missouri once, for a few brief hours on a fast train, during her quest to race around the world. So unless she was making violent love to this Johnny while pounding down a Missouri railroad track in a chartered train…..[thinks] You know, actually I can see Pinky doing that. I’m going to put that down as “maybe”.
NARRATOR. Um…. back in New York, Pinky flung herself into a couple of romances. One was a writer named Metcalfe who broke her heart, and the other was an old man named Seaman with a million-dollar steel factory – clever girl! She married the steel man, and her new-old husband tried to keep her under his thumb. You can imagine how well that turned out. Fittingly enough, her next journalistic coup was interviewing the leader of the movement for women’s rights.
BLY. I think my readers might want to know, whether Susan B Anthony was ever in love?
ANTHONY. Define “love”.
BLY. Yeah, good question.
ANTHONY. Nellie I’ve been in love a thousand times. But I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge; if she married wealth, she became a pet and doll. Had I married at 20, I would have been either a drudge or a doll for 55 years. Think of it!....True marriage is a beautiful thing, but for a woman to marry a man for support is a demoralizing condition. And for a man to marry a woman merely because she has a beautiful figure is degradation….
BLY. Miss Anthony, I will never be a dyed-in-the-wool bloomer like you. For one thing, suffragettes always seem to be so sloppy in their dress. Dress is a great weapon in the hands of a woman, if rightly applied. So many of them are untidy.
ANTHONY. Excepting me of course.
BLY. Of course.
ANTHONY. But you’re firing off another salvo for our side, aren’t you? Women in the army? [reads] “Do you think a company of soldiers led by a woman would ever dare run away? Do you think that if a woman were watching them, any man of them would flinch? Do you think that if a woman drew her sword and said come on, there would be a single soldier in the whole army who would not come on until his wounds made it impossible to crawl any further? The wars of the future must and will be planned and officered by women….If the United States goes to war with Spain I will raise a regiment, led by women, and this regiment will go to the front, and you will see war such as there never was before.” [or another actor could read this]
ANTHONY. A bit better than that last thing you wrote.
BLY. [sighs] I do have a job you know.
ANTHONY. A story about training elephants for the circus?
BLY. I tell you, I had a real hoot. And I scared the circus boys to death. They said I did things with the elephants that even they were afraid to try.
ANTHONY. [opens her mouth to ask and then says…] Never mind, I don’t want to know….So what keeps driving you forward?
BLY. When I was finishing my trip around the world, crossing America on those trains, thousands of people wanted to meet me. Sometimes I was just too exhausted. But then one girl came to see me in Kansas. She was a young reporter. This girl travelled six hundred miles to meet me. How could I tell her I wanted to go to bed? So I talked all night with her. Later I heard from her again. She’s still out there reporting, driving the locals insane – the sheriff, the mayor, the ministers. That’s what this is all about, that girl out there. If she keeps fighting, how can I quit?...So I fought for better assignments. And then I started doing some of the meatiest stuff of my career: interviewing Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman in jail, crooked cops, the Pullman strike. Nellie is back!
ANTHONY. So am I going to be the first person to ask you about Metcalfe.
BLY. Everybody else is too afraid. I was the one who told Jimmy to marry some old-fashioned girl, stay home and make babies. Nobody’s fault but mine.
ANTHONY. You’re not bothered?
BLY. It was my idea. [smiles] Of course I’m bothered. At least one of us is happy.
25, New York
NARRATOR. Well, we wanted to show you Pinky with her husband, but he went and died on us!...The husband, not the actor….A young girl marries an old man, and…the inevitable happens. A sumptuous funeral….and a dozen lawsuits over the money.
BRAMBLE. So how are you doing, really?
BLY. Once Robert’s funeral was over, and it was time to settle Robert’s estate, it turned into a fight. And I love a good fight.
BRAMBLE. [dry] I never would have guessed.
BLY. Robert’s family fought the will in court, and I crushed them.
BRAMBLE. But then you had to manage the estate. Who did you hire to run it all?
BLY. Are you joking? I’m doing it myself.
BRAMBLE. Oh boy.
BLY. Bessie, I took over as president of the firm. I went into the shop and worked the stuff myself – I have twenty five of my own patents. I came up with a new milk can, a garbage can that can be stacked, I doubled the business. I built my own power plant, got the rail lines to come right into our yard.
BRAMBLE. Sounds as though you’re turning into the very thing you hate.
BLY. Not at all. I’m taking care of my people too – they get cheap doctor visits, a recreation center, showers and soap….
BRAMBLE. But they’re still coming after you, aren’t they?
BLY. Robert’s relatives keep suing, competitors are stealing my designs, employees are stealing money – that man Gillman who was romancing me? He was picking my pocket the whole time. And the banks are calling in their loans, I need to find more investors who aren’t part of the New York network of fuzzy old men. [stands]
BRAMBLE. So where are you going?
BLY. Europe. Austria.
BRAMBLE. You’re insane. War is going to break out any day. There will be chaos and danger and – ahh [she figures it out, points at Nellie]….It took me a minute.
BLY. Whenever there’s a gigantic fire, there’s a hundred terrified men running away from the fire, and [raises her hand] one crazy girl running toward it.
BRAMBLE. You’re going to cover the war, aren’t you?
BLY. Can we just skip the part where you tell me all the reasons why it’s impossible, no woman’s ever done it before…? I’m in a bit of a hurry.
BRAMBLE. As always. Why aren’t we meeting at the office?
BLY. There are marshals out there, they want to arrest me for fraud, because of the steel firm. It’s total nonsense, but the bankers have better lawyers than I do. It’s going to be tricky, getting to my ship without them seeing me…..Oh, did you hear about my train?
BLY. The Pennsylvania railroad built this train, and they named it the Nellie Bly. It was the fastest they had…
BLY. Until it crashed and burst into flames, because they had dynamite on board.
BRAMBLE. They named an express train the Nellie Bly, packed it with dynamite, and sent it rolling down the track? I think they should have seen that explosion coming. …Metcalfe?
METCALFE. [entering] Nellie.
BLY. Jimmy! [smiles]
METCALFE. Just came to apologize about all the fuss.
BLY. Baby, it’s me should be apologizing. My husband was just positive that I still love you.
METCALFE. Was he right?
BLY. Of course he was. Then he sent all those detectives to catch us in the act.
METCALFE. I know. I saw. And it all came out in court. Hurts your reputation more than mine.
BLY. That was Robert’s fault. He didn’t pay the damn detective – he sued me to get the money for spying on me.
METCALFE. Sorry, sweetie. Sorry about your husband, even if he was chasing me all over the city.
BLY. Who would have thought your wife would die right around the same time?
METCALFE. I wonder if this is a chance to fix what got broke.
BLY. Jimmy, that’s sweet. Really. But I think I learned my lesson from the first time. We’d drive other insane. And I’m getting old. You get yourself a sweet young actress, your real love was always the theater.
METCALFE. That’s why I fell for you. You really are the greatest show on earth.
NARRATOR. Well, after she was almost shot for treason in Mexico, you would think Pinky would have the good sense to be careful on the Austrian front? Well, you would be wrong. Next stop: World War One.
AUSTRIAN OFFICER. [processing paperwork throughout the scene] Fraulein, all this will go much more smoothly if you will just admit you’re a spy for the British so we can give you a top-notch execution.
BLY. Colonel von Mannstein -- British? Are you listening to my accent?? I told you. I left my travel documents on the train. Just let me go back to Vienna.
AUSTRIAN. And how did you get here in the first place?
BLY. I first came to Vienna to seek financing for my steel firm.
AUSTRIAN. And you’re running away from legal troubles back home too. And your creditors. If you really are Nellie Bly.
BLY. I beg your –
AUSTRIAN. We have spies of our own. You had to go to Paris because you were travelling, yet again, without a valid passport. If you are who you say you are. And then you came here demanding to be sent here to the battle front as a reporter. You promised to write articles that were truthful and –what was the phrase? -- creditable to our Empire. Now why would a real journalist agree to any such thing?
BLY. To get to the front. “Nellie Bly on the firing line”.
ENGLISHMAN. [enters] Wilhelm, you’re late for our Faro game.
AUSTRIAN. As you can see, I’ve got actual work to do for a change.
ENGLISHMAN. Good God, you’re Nellie Bly!
BLY. A pleasure.
ENGLISHMAN. What in the world are you –
AUSTRIAN. No, not you too. I’m still not convinced that she’s Nellie Bly. How could she have gotten all the way to this battle front?
ENGLISHMAN. Nellie got all the way round the world in the time it takes you lot to conquer a mile of territory….Of course this is Nellie Bly. In America every child seven years old knows who she is.
BLY. [smiles] He thinks I’m a spy. He wants to hang me –
AUSTRIAN. Shoot you.
BLY. Shoot me -- it’s Mexico all over again. So what are you in for?
ENGLISHMAN. I owe him rather a lot of money, gambling at Faro. As soon as we even the score, he’s going to neatly forget to lock my cell one night, and I’ll be off to the coast. Any day now!
AUSTRIAN. You hope.
BLY. So are you satisfied? I’d like to get out my next dispatch.
AUSTRIAN. Oh fine. [reading] “Two miles from the front. I swapped my heavy coat for an officer’s cape. Shells are exploding all around us. Colonel John yelled for us to fly to the trenches, but like the famous lady turned to salt, I turned to look. Six more frightful explosions. I was not afraid, I would not run. Yet my mind was busy. I thought another shot would follow. It will doubtless be better aimed. If it does, we shall die. And if so, what then?” [Nellie gets up painfully]
ENGLISHMAN. You weren’t shot in the fighting, were you?
BLY. No. I accidentally picked up a poisoned bullet. Now I have an inflammation that starts at my waist, and goes to my feet, with all the stops in between. When I go to the latrine, you’ll hear me yelling from a hundred yards out….
ENGLISHMAN. [aside] Nellie, you might want to be careful with your dispatches. The American authorities said they were concerned about the pro-German tone of your stories –
BLY. That’s absurd. I’m organizing aid for refugees, widows and orphans. Innocent bystanders.
ENGLISHMAN. And you made one or two snide remarks about the British. And then you were wandering around without a passport again. You’ll need another visa in Paris, and if you continue to portray the Germans as the salt of the earth, they may not let you back into New York harbor.
BLY. I’ll just have to swim for it. Wouldn’t be the first time!
ENGLISHMAN. There are people on both sides of the war who want to shoot you for treason. You must be so proud.
NARRATOR. Having persuaded the Mexicans and then the Austrians not to execute her for treason, she also managed to avoid being charged with treason back in New York. Barely. But now, in 1922, she is slowly losing ground to her age. Her clock reads fifty seven years, over forty thousand miles, and a thousand stories.
COCKERILL. So you’ve heard about Wilson, then?
BLY. [blanketed in a chair] Old Erasmus. A few years younger and I would have gone to his funeral. Well, I could be seeing him again soon.
COCKERILL. You’re as sick as I’ve ever seen you, and you’re so calm…
BLY. After all my running around, all my failed romances, I am actually making my best steady money ever, and I’m doing what I love. I’ve got the advice column, I get all those letters from people needing help, people with ideas, the jailhouse confessions…fighting for jobs for the blind, fighting to stop executions….I got Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard both talking to me before the title fight…
COCKERILL. [reading articles] You seem to have softened a little, from your first holy war for working women…
BLY. I don’t think there’s a contradiction there. There are only so many jobs out there for women, and I think the rich women should stay home with their families so that all those poor women who need the work can get it.
COCKERILL. So do you count as a poor girl now?
BLY. It’s a good thing I’m making good money with my writing, because the steel firm is gone. My husband’s managers turned out to be crooks, they stole everything. I beat them all in court, but by that time the company had been whittled down to nothing, by lawyer’s fees, neglect, debts, the tax man…
COCKERILL. So you’re ruined, then…
BLY. I’m not ruined. It’s like Berthe Morisot said, I travelled around the world, just to end up right where I started. And here I am, right where I began, doing what I do better than anyone. Writing…. I had my brother arrested for sneaking into our house and auctioning everything off for cash. But I expected that. [sighs] My mother was the real disappointment.
COCKERILL. Well, she sued you to get your stock…
BLY. No, that’s not it. She just had no backbone. She didn’t tell my father to set down the damned will in writing, for years she didn’t stand up to Ford when he beat her, and she didn’t rein in my brother Albert when he was acting like a fool.
COCKERILL. I guess you spent most of your life not being your mother, like all girls. But nobody did it quite like you did. Among other things, you are the best reporter in America.
BLY. The best…
COCKERILL. You were the best, bar none, male or female. You wrote the book.
BLY. Go easy with the past tense there. I’m 57, I have heart problems and pneumonia, but I’ve been left for dead before. I was almost killed in Austria….
COCKERILL. And Mexico…
BLY. Oh yeah, completely forgot. I could have been drowned in the Hudson, drowned in the Indian Ocean, bombed in Austria, crushed by a train….You know, if I die tomorrow, I can’t say I haven’t gotten my money’s worth. I’m living on borrowed time, and good God, look at the life I’m having. But I feel like a five-year-old getting off the merry-go-round – I wish I could do it all over again.
COCKERILL. What would you change? Any regrets?
BLY. . I wouldn’t change a damn thing
COCKERILL. Not even Metcalfe.
BLY. [silence] I had no idea I could hurt so bad. Nobody warned me about that. But the sweet parts were….sweet. So no, I wouldn’t even change that.
COCKERILL. Not even your family?
BLY. Life is a masque of uncertainties and surprises. I have fought many battles, with men around the world, my mother, my brother, my husband, and I have lived with anger all my life. I’m never satisfied, I always want more. But never hate. Never have I hated.
COCKERILL. I don’t think there’s a mean bone in your body. [takes her hand]
BLY. What a great soul you are. A Mahatma, like that little man Gandhi who’s been running those strikes in India – a great soul. In my life there have been a lot of men who were just plain small. I fell in love with Metcalfe and he turned into a brute, I married Seaman and he turned out to be a jealous old crank; I fell in love with that Gilman fellow at the steel mill and he stole my money. And a dozen reporters who couldn’t stand getting beat by a woman, and some bonehead editors. There are times I think that Darwin man was wrong – men simply cannot evolve. But then there was good old Erasmus, and Madden, who put up with all my wilder days. And you, no matter how I tormented you, you loved me most of all.
COCKERILL. Go easy with the past tense there.
BLY. I never gave up on love, and I never gave up on men. I think men can be wonderful. Just not very bright sometimes. And always so afraid. I never wanted to be owned by a man, but I never felt the need to own one of my own, either.
COCKERILL. Well, who opens your jam jars for you? Who kills your spiders? [they smile] ....Why don’t you rest now. A little sleep.
BLY. Time enough to sleep when I’m dead….So when I get better, what’s the next story?
COCKERILL. [reads] Well, let’s see. They’re searching for the tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt.
BLY. [excited] Oh please --
COCKERILL. No, you can’t go…..That man Mussolini is taking over in Italy….Your friend Gandhi is in jail again…..Ahh, you’ll like this. Those radio stations are going up all over America, hundreds of them. They even want to build “networks” of stations. Someday, a news reporter will be able to speak into an electric microphone, and your voice and your story will be heard all across America, all at the same time.
BLY. That first radio reporter. I wonder, who will she be? [smiles]
BLY. Of course, “she”. [sleeps]
NARRATOR. [you could have multiple narrators here] Pinky died six days after Erasmus Wilson did. So she never got to hear those women broadcasting the news. She never knew Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Leslie Stahl.
She never saw Margaret Bourke White, who covered World War Two, and was torpedoed, strafed, bombed, stranded in the Arctic, and crashed in a helicopter;
Or Tsering Woeser, a female reporter who was thrown in a Chinese prison for writing about Tibet;
May Chidiac, a woman who kept reporting four years after assassins cost her her arm and her leg;
Jila Banyagoob, who was thrown in an Iranian prison, and lived to write a book about it;
Ethel Payne, who challenged the President to his face on civil rights years ago,
Farida Nekzad, a reporter who escaped from her kidnappers by jumping from a speeding car;
Christiane Amanpour, known for “parachuting” into war zones;
Anna Politovskaya, a reporter who was assassinated by the Russian government;
Or Katie Graham, the newspaper lady who destroyed Richard Nixon.
Pinky had no sons, but her daughters circled the world.
Without Pinky, no one would have heard of the New York World, or Joseph Pulitzer, and there would be no Pulitzer Prize. Given the sorry state of journalism today, it would be a handy thing if Pinky were to rise from her grave and get back to business, exposing dishonesty and stupidity wherever she finds it. Rise from the grave -- impossible, is it? How many times have I said “there’s no way in the world Pinky could do that”?
BLY. [glares at him/her] No way in the world I could do…what?
NARRATOR. Oh, nothing….[to the audience] And with that unnerving thought, I bid you good night….[to Bly] Good night, Pinky. [she sleeps] Go to sleep, and dream of chaos and disaster, and villains who need chasing, and men who need kissing. And dark, sweet secrets on a Missouri train.
BLY. [reminisces, delighted laugh] A Missouri train…
NARRATOR. Ha! I knew it! I knew it! [folds arms in triumphant fury]
BLY. Well, you’ll keep my dark, sweet secrets for me, won’t you?[Bly laughs, sleeps; lights out]