In October I submitted my screenplay, Angel Unaware, to a writing competition sponsored by MovieGuide. The challenge to me was twofold. First I had to research my subject well enough to tell a compelling story. Second was the need to learn the formatting rules to craft a professional looking script. The first challenge I met through my local library and on-line sources. The second was met with the purchase of The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier. I guess the third challenge I met was meeting the submission deadline, which I did with a few days to spare.
Trottier advises the writer to view a screenplay as a three act construct. Last week’s message acknowledged the mental anguish this fostered in me as my prior work as an administrator prompted me to view the organizations I managed as a seamless whole. Trottier, being my guide in all things script writing, prevailed in my thinking, so I drew convenient lines of demarcation in the story. And if you’ve followed the previous messages in this series, then you know the story is about Dale Evans and her impact on a grassroots movement to improve the opportunities for people with physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of their own.
Act One begins with Roy Roger’s proposal to Dale in the most appropriate setting, The Roy Rogers Rodeo, which took place in Chicago in the fall of 1957. It ends with the birth of their daughter in August 1950. This latter event, which should normally be viewed as joyous, was a time of great stress. Little Robin Elizabeth was born with Down syndrome, a condition often labeled as Mongolism because of the shape of the child’s eyes. The prevailing wisdom was to have such children put into an institution where they could receive “professional” care during their brief life expectancy. Dale and Roy defied that wisdom and saw Robin as God’s gift to them and their family. Their decision to take Robin home is my big event to the transition from Act One to Act Two in keeping with Trottier’s advice.
The substance of Act Two spans another two year period. During that time Dale and Roy saw many doctors in search of the best possible help for Robin. In addition to her overt symptoms of Down syndrome, Robin also had a heart condition. The sources I had access to never defined this condition in true medical terms, but it was apparent that it was a progressively deteriorating condition.
Robin’s presence changed the Rogers’ household for the better. Previously tense relationships were transformed as the power of love became increasingly apparent to everyone. It was during this time that Dale wrote the song, which ultimately became synonymous with Dale and Roy’s western persona, Happy Trails. A new conflict arose, however, with the arrival of a nurse to care for Robin while Dale was on the road making public appearances with Roy. Mother and nurse were immediately at odds over the proper manner in which to care for Robin. Running parallel to that little drama was the cancellation of Roy’s movie contract with Republic Studios.
Dale and the nurse did reconcile. Roy moved into television, following the example of his B-western cowboy contemporaries William Boyd, of Hopalong Cassidy fame, and Gene Autry. And while Roy’s career problems culminated in a happy ending, Robin’s health and happiness did not.
Dale and Roy’s other three children came down with the mumps at the same time. Robin was kept in isolation to avoid contact with her siblings, but to no avail. Robin came down with the mumps, which digressed rapidly in a series of convulsions, which in turn led to encephalitis. Her heart simply could not endure the stress. The end of Act Two and the transition into Act Three came with the housekeeper’s two-word announcement to the desperate parents that “She’s gone.”
Act Three concerns the aftermath of Robin’s death – the challenges to Dale and Roy’s faith in a loving God and the search for meaning behind a tragic event. The title to a C. S. Lewis book, A Grief Observed, could easily serve as the theme of my third and final act. It reveals the true character of our celluloid heroes and provides the answer as to why I regard Dale’s story as one worth telling. Stay tuned.