Some blogs back, I told about my 4th grade writing career -- turning the week's spelling words into stories about Silly Billy -- and hinted about something else I'd written then. It took me some time to unearth it, but in a box of very old mementos, I found the one-and-only copy of the script for "Romemoe and Curliet."
Fifty years later, a lot of the back story has been forgotten, but I can tell you this:
* I was a big fan of the Three Stooges.
* My brothers and I got hand puppets of Moe, Larry, and Curly for Christmas -- one for each of us.
* My two closest friends in 4th grade were John Cataldi and Ricky Margaroli.
* It's a safe bet I had not read Romeo and Juliet at the time and had only the vaguest idea of the plot.
One day, John and Ricky (who were also Three Stooges fans) and I were talking about what it might be like if Moe, Larry and Curly performed one of Shakespeare's plays. [It's likely that the only one we knew of was Romeo and Juliet, so I doubt that we would have hit on doing "Moebeth" or "A Midsummer Night's Curly."] I mentioned that we had the three puppets and that led to the idea of doing a puppet show.
Initially, the three of us were going to collaborate on the script. I had access to a typewriter at home and was on my way to mastering my skills as a four-fingered typist, so I would be the one to type it up. The collaborative process proved to be a problem, as we spent a great deal of time discussing what I was going to put on paper. Since there was no Wite-Out in those days, whatever I typed was going to be a permanent part of the script.
Needless to say, when the guys had to go home for dinner, the only thing that had been written was the preface to the script that explained why we were creating the play. (We wanted to "give something back to Elmont Road School.")
But I was on a roll. Over the next couple of days I pecked away at the typewriter, producing the script about the two families -- the Practical Jokers and the Montagooses -- and the star-crossed lovers, Romemoe and Curliet. (Larry had a smaller role as Larrybalt, but then, he always seemed to be the odd man out in the Stooges films too.) In fact, it was mostly a collection of slapstick and corny jokes.
William Shakespeare was probably spinning in his grave, but I was sure I had written a great masterpiece. John and Ricky, who I was afraid would be upset that we didn't collaborate on the script, turned out to be quite happy to be getting their names on something they didn't have to write.
So we took it to our teacher, Mrs. Fox, to ask if we could perform it as a puppet show for the class. Mrs. Fox went us one better; she took the script to Mrs. Carlson, the principal, to suggest that we perform it for the entire school! As you may have guessed, Mrs. Carlson thought it was a wonderful idea.
I do remember having a meeting with Mrs. Carlson about the script. She asked for a couple of changes. At one point in the script, one of the characters explains how he knows what is going to happen and he tells the king it is because he read it in a comic book. There follows a half-page of dialogue about which comic books he and the king enjoy reading. (In fact, it is the list of comic books that I enjoyed reading!) Mrs. Carlson suggested that we did not need this sequence and the script has her pencil note that we should omit it.
Her other request was a name change. I had called one of the characters Jeezy Jinx Jokeson, going for alliteration, obviously. And while I might have come up with a better name afterwards, this is what was typed into the script. Anyway, Mrs. Carlson thought the name Jeezy sounded too much like Jesus and suggested we call him Cheesy instead. Well, I certainly wasn't going to argue with the principal so, though no change was made on the script, we called him Cheesy in the performance.
Now that we were headed for the big stage, we had to assemble a cast -- both puppets and puppeteers. I persuaded my brothers to allow me to borrow Larry and Curly for the show. (We glued a wad of yellow yarn to Curly's head to turn him into Curliet. We also put some rouge and lipstick on the puppet's face; much to my brother Jimmy's annoyance, we could never get it off.) Then we gathered up whatever puppets we had to fill out the cast.
Initially, we were planning to have other kids in the class performing the various secondary characters. This proved unwieldy because there were times when we would have had half a dozen or more people behind our little puppet stage -- all trying to read from the single copy of the script -- so all the parts were divided among John, Ricky and me.
The stage was actually a cafeteria table with some pieces of cardboard propped on it to hold up the curtain. Whatever set we had was made up of dollhouse furniture.
I do not recall much about the actual performance. I remember standing on the stage with John and Ricky, reading the preface to the audience of students and teachers. And that it was tricky behind the table making the puppets move around while trying to speak into the microphone which was lying on the table in front of us. I can't say whether the show was well-received; I'm sure the classes applauded when it was over, but who knows whether they actually liked or even understood it.
In any case, it was the first time I had written something that was performed for an audience. It was far from the only time... but those are stories for other days.