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On Becoming An Influencer

One of my personal obsessions is the need to teach. My family, my professional colleagues – even the readers of my weblog messages – can all attest to the fact that my relationship style is one of teacher to student. I must confess, however, that I’ve often been the student (the failing student) when it comes to understanding women in general and my wife in particular; but we’ll not go there.

Several years ago I established a website. Its primary purpose was to promote me (which is what websites are for) as a consultant in all things related to non-profit management. My consulting career did not go far, which means it did not produce much in the way of personal wealth even though my clients fared well as a result of my advice.

My website consequently wnet into a state of disrepair. And though I keep posting weblog messages, the number of readers is just as dismal. In fact, if you are reading this, then you are alone in your efforts.

I’m not much for social media, but I do come across the term “influencer” from time to time. It strikes me as a euphemism for consultant. And it appears that some of the practitioners of the art of influencing others make out financially in addition to soaking up the adulation that comes from hits, subscribers, viewers and patrons. It troubles me that people far younger than I am have found a way to achieve what I could not. They have my grudging respect for profiting from other peoples’ need to know.

So where does this leave me?

My need to teach is in direct contact with my sense of admiration for those who abide quite comfortably in the viral world. I wish to be like them to a certain extent by dropping the “consultant” image and taking on the “influencer” role. This puts me back into the role of student, but with a teacher’s mindset. And this means I will continue writing these weblog messages in a schizophrenic balancing act of being both teacher and student. You are invited to accompany me on this journey.

I do watch YouTube videos, mostly for entertainment. The few indoctrination videos I’ve  accessed convinces me that this type of platform is my best chance at being an influencer. I merely need to search the internet to find out how.

Therefore, next week’s message will be about what I learned about creating my own YouTube channel as my first step towards fame and (possibly) fortune. This old dog is about to learn a new trick. Arf!

The Sheep Pen Confession: 6

This series on my proposed confession for the 21st Century is based on the historic use of the word confession. It is an admission of faith, not of guilt for a crime.

My confessed tenets are easily remembered by the initials of the Sheep Pen Confession. SPC stands for Service, Presence and Compassion, which were defined in previous messages.

These three essential elements of the confession derive from my interpretation of a story in which the righteous are said to have performed at least one of six actions to benefit others. These include feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison.

Performing any one of these services provided the doer a metaphoric access to a great king’s sheep pen, the eternal abode of the blessed. But I think there’s more learn from this story as far as our actions are concerned; more in terms of what qualifies as Service, Presence and Compassionate activities.

My own choice for an action which exhibited these three traits involves an unidentified woman, who entered a private dinner and anointed the head of one of those present from a jar of expensive perfume. Her actions brought jeers of contempt from the onlookers, even though they benefited from the aroma of the ointment; which served as a pleasing indicator of her sacrifice.

The recipient was not hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick or in prison; the conditions mentioned above which prompt the actions of the righteous. But he was bereaved, knowing that his death was imminent.

He countered the critical taunts of the others with a simple compliment: “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” He went on to promise the woman that her actions would be proclaimed wherever the good news of his messianic program was preached. The irony of this statement is that the woman’s verbal tormentors would be the ones to tell and retell of her blessed intrusion upon their private gathering.

The woman’s name remains unknown to us. Her compassionate service delivery bore no promise of fame. It did prove to be exemplary, however, though its impact was expressed in a manner even the woman likely did not understand at the time or anticipate.

The one whose hair dripped with the sweet fragrance of the woman’s perfume defined her actions in a manner, which helps us to appreciate that our Service, Presence and Compassion can have an impact beyond the immediate.

He told those in attendance at the dinner, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” A resurrection followed.

In this same way, what we intend may never fully encompass the significance of what we do. Still the doing is required in order for the transcendent benefit to find fulfillment.

Sheep Pen Confession: 5

My current writing obsession involves something of a time warp. The word confession in my title is not an admission of guilt but a throwback to a time when people used the word to express their belief in something of value. Blinded by the specter of our current political trials, we are more inclined to think of a confession as part of someone’s plea bargain to avoid the full consequence of their stupidity.

My own inspiration for saying “I confess” is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was a revolutionary statement of faith aimed at a much needed institutional reform, which promised relief from a dogmatic oppression. I am thereby trying to resurrect the historic act of confessing, this time to a plan of hope relevant in the 21st Century.

My confession is based on a story told millennia ago about a king, who returns from a long absence and divides his people into two groups, likened to the way a shepherd divides his herd between the sheep and the goats. The king’s intent was to impart a blessing on the people, whose behavior during his absence best reflected the life-sustaining qualities of his own character.

The story illustrated the king’s desired behavior with six different benevolent actions: feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Performing any one of these services for the sake of another meant the doer would be inducted into the king’s metaphoric sheep pen, the abode of the blessed.

My Sheep Pen Confession proffers three virtues I see embedded in this story. They are easily remembered using the Confession’s initials SPC for Service, Presence and Compassion. In my last message I wrote about the nature of Presence. This time the focus is on the virtue of Compassion.

I make a distinction between pity and compassion. Pity is the passive impression that others are more unfortunate in comparison to one’s self. Compassion transcends mere emotion and demands action. It is the link between the other two virtues, Service and Presence. Compassion propels our fragile egos into the gap between life and death in order to give a cup of water “unto the least of these, my brothers.”

One of my favorite letter writers, the cynical James of the New Testament, called out people for their lack of transparency concerning their self-proclaimed beliefs. He did this with a question appropriate to this message.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

What good, indeed! Such a query seems to presage the narcissistic illusion of those who believe singing John Lennon’s Imagine is a sign of moral rectitude. Compassion can never be so supercilious.

To paraphrase another letter writer, compassion is the substance of our heartfelt desire, the evidence of character’s presence in a time of visible scarcity. It cannot endure shameless neglect.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 4

My current writing obsession involves something of a time warp. The word confession in my title is not an admission of guilt but a throwback to a time when people used the word to express their belief in something of value. My inspiration is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was a revolutionary statement of faith aimed at a much needed institutional reform, which promised a relief from dogmatic oppression. I am thereby trying to resurrect the historic act of confessing to a plan of hope, this one relevant in the 21st Century.

My confession is based on a story told millennia ago about a king, who returns from a long absence and divides his people into two groups, likened to the way a shepherd divides his herd between the sheep and the goats. The king’s intent was to impart a blessing on the people, whose behavior during his absence best reflected the qualities of his own character.

The story, or parable, illustrated the desired behavior with six different actions: feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Performing any one of these services for the sake of another meant the doer would be inducted into the king’s sheep pen, the abode of the blessed.

My Sheep Pen Confession proffers three virtues embedded in this story, which are easily remembered using the Confession’s initials SPC for Service, Presence and Compassion. In my last message I wrote about the nature of Service. This week the focus is on the virtue of Presence.

Presence may not be on anyone else’s list of virtues, but I contend it has a rightful place among the run of the mill virtues like courage, humility and gratitude. The moral bona fides of Presence can be seen in the wisdom of an ancient Hebrew statement of praise; Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence. Psalm 95:15

This is a sentiment with which we can all identify, if not on the spectral scale of person to deity, then in the tangible realm with persons of like kind. We imbue another’s Presence with this quality of light, possessing the capacity to enlighten any moment and comfort through emotional warmth.

From infancy we bond with another using our own innate facial recognition software. Involuntary joy gives birth to a smile, when we visually embrace the one who lovingly hovers over us like a mother bird sheltering her young. The rhythm of this original romance is eternal. It defines the fundamental desire of all future relationships, the desire for Presence.

Contrast this to the trauma of abandonment. We see it in people as well as in things. The ruin, decay and battered appearance of any structure holds true for people as well. We bear the telltale stains of sorrow and despair as prominently as weathered barn wood in need of a makeover. Isolation wears us down bodily until our countenance, our posture, our shuffling step reflect a derelict soul devoid of hope.

Loneliness is an appalling condition as dire as any physical illness. Fellowship is a remedy easily administered through the gracious light of Presence. Merely being with someone has the ability to generate a sense of well-being in a manner that is more effective than our best attempts at reason and right doctrine.

Presence is a virtue which scoffs at the ridiculous notion found in a text message that claims the sender is reaching out to us. And while we may fall back on the trite promise that we will keep in touch with someone, Presence is not susceptible to being mailed in. Nothing can replace the power of eye contact, not even a face time app. For ultimately what matters is that true Presence allows for the invasion of personal space through the touch of a human hand. It renders us vulnerable, the true test of our willingness to sacrifice self for the sake of one who needs our help.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 3

This is part three in something of a mission statement.  I use that term cautiously because I am on something of a mission, but I have opted for the claim of actually making a confession. The example I am following is the Augsburg Confession, proclaimed before a mixed assembly of  leaders in 1530.

This confession consisted of twenty-one theses regarding worship and seven antitheses regarding the abuses of the church. One thing to bear in mind about this seminal work is that it did promulgate doctrinal issues though it was anything but an esoteric document. It essentially liberated ordinary people from oppressive conditions imposed by a state-sanctioned orthodoxy. A confession of any other era should deliver that same kind of benefit regardless of national, ethnic or cultural creeds.

My confession is based on a story described in my previous message. At its heart was a brief list of actions, which I contend fostered a perspective of three life-giving virtues. These are best remembered by using the Sheep Pen Confession’s initials to stand for Service, Presence and Compassion. Today’s message is about Service.

Most of my career was spent in the service industry. This means the companies which employed me did not manufacture a physical product. Physical activity was common as in the time I worked for a friend, who had a cleaning service. More often, though, I was involved in number crunching – financial statements, tax returns and projections. My rise to administrative fame involved the management of a few cultural entities, where education and entertainment were combined to fulfill the mission as a service to the general public.

Service in these cases did not deny the right to generate revenue. In fact that was the point. My livelihood came from providing services for which people were willing to pay. When I write about Service as a component of the Sheep Pen Confession, however, it is the sacrificial kind, compensation not required.

The six examples of Service given in the story, which forms the basis of this confession, involves feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Such efforts require grace without an invoice.

The beauty of the types of Services listed here is that anyone can do them. It’s not rocket science as the saying goes. The overhead is minimal as is the travel. Foreign fields need not figure into these actions. The magnitude of their result, however close in proximity to us, is beyond measure. And we might find that the resulting gratitude similarly has no limit in terms of depth, breadth or height.

The compensation is internal, but bliss is not guaranteed. Servants are easily abused as they follow the dynamics of Service as defined us by the one who told the story of dividing the sheep from the goats. His definition of Service defines our perspective of self, for he said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Sheep Pen Confession: 2

I am on a mission to create a mission, so to speak. It is a mission tinged with sorrow stemming from the way we communicate in a fractured world; where shamming and bullying are the norms. It leaves me with the feeling that our cultural and political leaders subsist as a media sideshow. So I wish to respond, but not in kind if possible.

My resolution is to seek a historic platform known as a confession. I wrote about the example of the Augsburg Confession in last week’s message. My own more modest attempt is captured in the title of this series, the Sheep Pen Confession, a statement of faith relevant to the times by being counterintuitive. It possesses a 60s LUV vibe with a little more substance hopefully.

The basis of my confession is a story about a leader who returns after a long absence. He seeks to reward his people upon his return and does so in keeping with their own behavior or lack thereof.

The story says the leader divided his people into two groups the way a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. The criterion for admission into the sheep pen, the favored location, is determined according to six possible actions undertaken not only during the leader’s absence but implicitly on his behalf.

The six actions are: feeding the hungry, providing a drink to those who thirst, giving hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison.

The story does not commend: preaching sermons, praying lengthy prayers, building a mega-church, passing restrictive laws, shunning those who are different in any way, and submitting to a political agenda regardless of merit.

The story establishes three virtues, which form the substance of my confession. They are easy to remember by using the Sheep Pen Confession’s initials SPC to represent Service, Presence and Compassion. These three virtues are inherent in the actions which make one a sheep.

They also offer me the inspiration to write three more messages espousing the beneficial nature of each virtue. And I will confess in a different way. I believe the six actions mentioned above are exemplary but not exhaustive. Given time I may find more in my arsenal of virtues sorely needed to quell the chaos and the discontent.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 1

The type of confession under consideration here has nothing to do with admitting to a crime, although that form of release can be good for the soul. Another equally efficacious confession is a typically less volatile statement of what one believes or personally confesses to be true. When we espouse a worldview, we are confessing our beliefs to others. It does not require a deity to make it sincere, but it does help.

The idea that anyone today would use the words “I confess” to anything other than a crime is not likely. Therefore I must resort to history to make my theses known and this is best done by drawing on the example of such an austere statement as the Augsburg Confession. It is a concise testimony drafted by a group of theological heavyweights, including Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, to clearly establish the basis of their reformation doctrine.

The Holy Roman Emperor convened a diet, or deliberative assembly, in 1530 to consider the veracity of the proposed confession. The Confession’s proponents were fearful of making an appearance at this assembly since their views ran contrary to the accepted doctrine of the Catholic Church. They managed to leverage a condition for their appearance, requiring the public presentation of a German version of their statement as well as submitting the formal Latin version to the assembly in order to comply with custom when discussing such issues.

We have a diet today, of sorts, convened by the emperors of virtual platforms. Anonymous contributions can be made, allowing all participants, who choose, to avoid the threat of arrest that Luther and Melanchthon faced by appearing publicly and affixing their signatures to their version of a blog. What hasn’t been lost to time is the pressure applied by both political and faith based opponents, who can excoriate an idea as easily as the Grand Inquisitor settled matters at the stake. Today we know them as trolls and they are more likely to wear bathrooms, if anything, as a form of stay at home clerical garb.

The Augsburg Confession historically consisted of 28 articles; 21 were positive statements (theses) about a reformed doctrine and 7 were negative statements (antitheses) addressing the abuses of the established church. It was a call for change, which was not well received by either the Holy Roman Emperor or the Vatican. We continue to live in the subsequent divide, which has only widened and become more diverse with the addition of other factions; political, religious and otherwise.

It’s time, I think, to launch my own Reformation, this one without the sanctity of any institutions. My list of theses is scant by comparison in terms of depth and breadth. Still, I hold it to be sacred and seek to divulge its contents over the next few messages. I call it the Sheep Pen Confession, a name derived from a story once told by a self-appointed Jewish rabbi. His speculative premise involves a futuristic return of a fabled king, who divides the world’s inhabitants into two groups, sheep and goats.

You don’t need to know the story to have an initial feeling that one group is deemed better than the other. And you can likely guess that the good guys are the sheep since goats typically have a bad rap for being aggressive head-butters. They lack the cute and cuddly virtues of sheep and will forever bear the shameful title of being escape goats, the bearer of sins for the good of humanity. It is best to be a sheep.

Sidetracked

Well, what can I say – or more appropriately what can I write – to explain another absence. The reason is simple. I got sidetracked by a new project – appropriately enough for this title – involving trains. My writing passion these past few months has been with screenplays. My earlier messages document my progress retelling the story of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, who were imprisoned by the Nazis for sheltering Jews during the German occupation of Holland during World War II.

Running parallel with my writing is the attempt to learn more about the technical aspects of screenplay composition, such as formatting, as well as understanding the demands of the feature film industry. My pursuit to learn the latter proved something of a deterrent in completing my work about the Dutch sisters.

The industry, it seems, likes action over talk, showing instead of telling. There also seems to be some desire for true stories. Of this I am a bit skeptical when you consider the common fantasy fare at movie theaters and on streaming services. However, without any intention on my part this combination of action and true life adventure spurred a thought about a historic event of Biblical proportions although not based on the Bible. To explain this requires a personal bit of my own history.

Once upon a time I was the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Museum. During my brief tour of duty in the Twin Cities an artist acquaintance of mine offered to donate a series of paintings he did to illustrate a story about an event known as the Great Hinckley Fire. The offer was made to me because Hinckley is in Minnesota and the story involves a train.

I said yes to the offer because I wanted to curry favor with the artist. I had no clue where Hinckley was located, no idea about the magnitude of the fire and virtually no knowledge about the railroad involved in the story. So mine was not a gesture of gratitude for illustrations of pertinent history, just a suck up for the prestige of having an instant and free collection of Ted Rose originals.

Ted’s gift also came with an autographed copy of the book written by Josephine Nobisso entitled John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire. When I left the museum’s employ the paintings stayed with them. I took the book, which I still retain in my paltry private collection as a personal gift from an acquaintance.

In the midst of writing about the ten Booms I thought it acceptable to set aside some time to outline the events mentioned in the book. The focus of Nobisso’s creation is John Blair, the African-American porter on board the train, and his heroic efforts to comfort and save the passengers and Hinckley refugees seeking salvation from an immense conflagration. The outline was easy but it sparked some questions for the purpose of establishing a greater context to a limited aspect of a story presented in a children’s book replete with Ted’s illustrations.

Context requires research and research is demanding. I am now in possession of six more books and my own feature film script about the fire. I succumbed – not to the flames – but to the compelling accounts of people caught up in a conflagration of such magnitude, the fire created its own weather system. Now I can’t wait to see how it plays out on the big screen.

Sources

It’s not a pleasant way to start a new message, but I promised to share the news about the progress of my screenplay, Angel Unaware, when I heard anything from the contest judges. I did, yesterday, and I didn’t – make the cut that is. The semifinalists were announced sans yours truly. Despite the disappointment, I need to finish this series about writing my screenplay if only to remind myself of the steps in the journey.

When the thought first occurred to me to write a screenplay about Dale Evans and her decision to raise what in the 1950s was considered to be a “damaged” child, I was on the road so had little chance to access any resources other than what I could find on the internet. There are small dividends in doing this kind of initial research.

My first source was Dale’s obituary published in the February 8, 2001 edition of the Los Angeles Times. The obit was pretty lengthy and gave me several factual points to verify later as did that ubiquitous online fount of knowledge we know as Wikipedia. The true treasure of that source was in the Wiki’s footnotes, providing a fair sized list of published sources I hoped to locate when I got home. Here I was fortunate to find that my local library system had a sufficient line of these books to help me gather the necessary material needed for my project.

My first read was Dale’s own book – and the heart of my screenplay of the same title – Angel Unaware, published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1953. The story is a fanciful rendering of a conversation between God and Dale’s daughter, Robin, in which the child relates the accomplishments of her two-year mission on earth. It presents the case that a child with Down syndrome can foster in others the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. Dale would always claim that the words were not her own; she merely recorded what God told her write of Robin’s story.

My next find through the library was Happy Trails: Our Life Story, published by Simon & Schuster in 1994. The authors are presented as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with Jane and Michael Stern. The book’s format provides a combination of biography and oral history. Each section begins with a brief biographical statement written by the Sterns followed by a lengthy oral history provided by either Dale or Roy. The first person aspects of this account allowed for a greater assurance that the information came from the people who actually lived the events. Whether their memory of things forty years on was truly accurate is somewhat subject to question.

The Stern’s book led me to another great find written two decades earlier by Carlton Stowers. His book, Happy Trails: The story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, was also written in cooperation with Dale and Roy. Published by Word Books in 1979, it has the advantage of being fresher in their minds, while covering a shorter time frame. Comparing this with the material in the Stern’s book did reveal some slight discrepancies in the narrative, which is fairly common when studying history. When in doubt, I went with Stowers’ version of things on the premise that the earlier work was more reliable.

Next up was Cowboy Princess written by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett and Frank Thompson. Cheryl is the Rogers’ oldest daughter. Her book was published by Taylor Trade Publishing in 2003, which is after Dale’s passing in 2001. The fact that her parents were deceased likely helped her out them on a few minor points from the previously published material. Her version of events did confirm most of what was written, but the few departures from the other texts served to shape a few key events included in my screenplay. Her biggest reveal, though, was not included. She confirmed some peoples’ suspicions that there were two Triggers. One was the original big, beautiful and fast golden palomino you see in all the close-ups of Roy’s movies and television shows. The second was a slightly smaller and younger version of the horse, which did all the fancy tricks we saw on the big screen and TV.

Roy Jr., known as Dusty, also wrote a book about his childhood entitled Growing Up With Roy and Dale. Published by Regal Books in 1986, his collaborator in the storytelling was Karen Ann Wojahn. Like his older sister, Dusty made a few clarifications to the Rogers’ saga, but no great or glaring departures from what was previously written. In fact I would say that he and his sister were unanimous about their parents’ integrity. Both affirmed the truth about their parents being true to their public persona. What we saw in the movies and The Roy Rogers television show was what the children experienced at home. The Dale and Roy we saw in public were the same people in private life – a rare feature for Hollywood celebrities.

Another important find was King of the Cowboys, Queen of the West, written (or more accurately compiled) by Raymond E. White and published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2005. The biographical information was rather scant. What White’s book did offer was a detailed listing of every verifiable public appearance, performance and publication involving Dale and Roy. This resource helped me place some of the material gleaned from the other books into a better understanding of the chronology and the professional context of events included in my script. I felt better about the sequence of my story arc thanks to this book.

Dale’s own final foray into autobiography occurred two years before her death. Dale Evans Rogers: Rainbow on a Hard Trail was initially published by Revell in 1999. The authorship was attributed to Dale Evans Rogers with Norman B. Rohrer. The edition I found in the library was a reprint by the Thorndike Press in 2001 with an introduction by Joni Eareckson Tada. The focus on this book was Dale’s later life and the challenges of surviving Roy. Still there were a few choice tidbits to be applied to the script and I shamelessly used a portion of the title as a line of dialogue at the end of my script.

I should also mention that I did read a portion of Dale’s book The Woman at the Well published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1970. What this book provided more than anything was Dale’s no nonsense examination of her own life, which some friends objected to for its self-deprecating honesty. I tried my best to infuse my screenplay with Dale’s courageously blunt attitude.

My final discoveries were two books I purchased since they were not available through the library. The first was Queen of the West: The Life and Times of Dale Evans written by Theresa Kaminski and published by Lyons Press in 2022. This most recent addition to the Evans’ life story was helpful in adding details missing from the other biographies. Kaminski’s bibliography indicated a much greater reliance on documentary evidence as opposed to the oral histories common to my other sources. The information she provided helped me to refine my own version of Dale and Roy’s story.

 The second book I discovered late in the process was The Angel Spreads Her Wings written by Maxine Garrison and published by the Fleming H. Revell Company in 1956. Garrison’s book focuses on the impact of Dale’s book Angel Unaware. Her insights were gained first hand as a member of Art Rush’s staff, Art being Dale and Roy’s agent. As with Kaminski’s book, Garrison’s personal revelations helped to clarify some vague points made in my other sources. She also provided me with a great line I used as dialogue for Dale regarding peoples’ expectations that the only writing a celebrity knows how to do is sign an autograph.

There is one more title I would like to share, which I discovered after finishing my screenplay and submitting it to the MovieGuide competition. The title is Happy Trails: A Pictorial Celebration of the Life and Times of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian. It was published in 2022 by Trafalgar Square Books. I add it to my list of sources simply to show that peoples’ interest in the Queen of the West and the King of the Cowboys has not waned some seventy years after their television show ended. It is proof to me that any story about Dale and Roy is marketable.

And by the way; though my script failed to impress the folks at MovieGuide, I have submitted it to another contest, this one sponsored by ScreenCraft. I think Dale and Roy would be pleased with my sense of perseverance in the face of adversity. It is the cowboy way after all.

Consolidations

I am in the midst of chronicling my recent attempt to write a screenplay with the goal of submitting it to a competition sponsored by MovieGuide. Partial success came in the form of meeting the deadline for submission. The subplot of writing this series about writing the screenplay is intended to help pass the time while I wait to find out if further success is attainable, namely by making the cut as a semifinalist. That announcement won’t take place for another week or two, so it helps to keep the web log series going, filling my mind with something other than anxiety.

The screenplay is about Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, two of my childhood heroes. The focus of my story, though, is not about their celebrity status. What prompted me to feature them in this manner is a true-life episode in their lives, which touched my family’s, thereby inspiring me to reveal through a movie script the drama of being family in an unscripted reality.

Dale and Roy’s only natural born child was a little girl named Robin Elizabeth, a child with Down syndrome. Dale’s doctor advised them to institutionalize their new born daughter in keeping with the conventional wisdom of the day. The loving parents defied convention and welcomed Robin into the full embrace of their family for the brief two-year span of her life. Dale’s response to Robin’s death would help to shape people’s perception of children like Robin and others whom society deems to be less than normal.

My commitment to writing a faithful account of Dale and Roy’s decision to keep and raise their daughter immediately met a significant obstacle to faithfulness. A screenplay is typically written for a two-hour production, which limits the scope of the story. The number of people and events actually involved in any real life saga can simply overwhelm the attempt at a faithful recreation. A writer must therefore make some concessions to eliminating the clutter by ignoring a strict chronology and consolidating events and people. Here are my major concessions to efficiency in storytelling.

Doctors are key to Dale and Robin’s care and there were many of them involved in Robin’s diagnosis and treatment. I reduced the number to three; Dale’s obstetrician, Robin’s pediatrician and the head of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. I also reduced the number of ailments Dale and Robin endured. Dale was anemic, which I did mention. Her Rh negative blood type was important to the story as was her contacting Rubella during her pregnancy. I chose not to show her fall down a flight of stairs while pregnant. It struck me as too much drama for a story already overloaded with health issues.

Dale and Roy’s oldest daughter, Cheryl, wrote in her memoirs that Robin contracted polio during the last weeks of her life. This was affirmed by her brother Dusty. But neither Dale nor Roy ever mentioned it so I left it out. I also shortened the life ending episode, which saw Robin endure a series of convulsions over an extended period of time, during which she was given coffee enemas in order to “stimulate” her internal systems. I shortened the time frame, included one convulsion and nixed the enemas – too messy.

Robin had multiple live-in nurses, most of them unnamed in the available sources. Here again I made an executive decision to keep it simple and retained the most prominent of them, a woman named Claudia Jones. She impacted the family more than any others by insisting that Robin needed to be in a warmer climate than that afforded by the Rogers home in the Hollywood Hills. This motivated Dale and Roy to find a new home in Encino and for Dale to insist that a separate structure be built on the new site, where Robin and Claudia could live in relative peace from the Rogers busy and exuberant household, while still participating in family meals and prayer time. The move and subsequent construction made the cut.

Dale had three different agents during her early career. Roy had only one, Art Rush, who eventually took over Dale’s contract as well. He is the only agent mentioned in the screenplay. Art served as Roy’s best man when Dale and Roy married. Art’s wife, Mary Jo Mathews, was Dale’s matron of honor. Mary Jo became my surrogate for Dale’s many other female friends, keeping the cast small and allowing me to use Mary Jo as the confidant to whom Dale reveals her innermost thoughts.

Another consolidation was the use of the Sons of the Pioneers as Dale and Roy’s only backup band, even though Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage were more prominently featured in Roy’s movies and personal appearances. Roy was a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers and it is the band most people my age associate with him. But it also allowed me to make consistent use of Pat Brady, Dale and Roy’s sidekick on the television show, who was also a sometime bass player for the Sons of the Pioneers.

Keeping the list of characters to a manageable number helped to declutter the storyline to suit my own sensibilities. I get lost watching movies with large casts, especially when actors look alike. My feeble brain and eyesight are easily confused by the similarities. Writing my own screenplay allowed me to minimize the confusion by consolidating people, places and events. Then there is the flipside.

Certain celebrities are commonly associated with Dale and Roy. Gabby Hayes and Andy Devine are prime examples; members of a larger western themed entourage of people cast in various roles in Roy’s movies and television show. Trigger, Pal (Dale’s movie horse), Buttermilk (Dale’s television horse) and Nellybelle all make appearances in the script because they resonate with people my age, whose emotional attachment to Dale and Roy encompass the animals and props. All are used to advance the story in what I hope is the best possible way.

Above all was my desire to maintain a credible story arc with a clear resolution to the hero’s journey. For me, Dale is the hero of this story, hence my practice of stating her name first instead of the usual convention enshrined in their film and television credits. We will see if the contest judges are swayed by my presentation. Stay tuned. I will let you know their decision as soon as I know it.