Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DBTL 70: Bojowy!

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and following the Second Polish Soviet War of 1944 - 45, the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine.

Warsaw, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
5 December 1961

Vic Morrow ran from the helicopter across the hard-packed snow, his 38M rifle slapping against the small of his back. “Everybody get down!” he shouted in American-accented Polish, then suited action to words by diving into the snow himself.

There was a long pause, and then the director called out, “Cut!”

Morrow stood up and looked to the director to see if he wanted another take. As it happened, he did, so Morrow allowed the makeup woman to brush the snow from his uniform and touch up his makeup, while a stagehand dumped more snow over the ground. When they were done, he resumed his place crouched under the spinning rotors and waited.

The clapper called out, “Scene twenty-two, take two,” and clapped his board.

“Action!” the director called out again, and Morrow began running toward the camera.

The second take went much as the first one did, and the director did not call for a third. Morrow didn’t think he would. This was television, and there wasn’t time for multiple takes at different angles. Instead the director called out, “Take fifteen.” The rotors of the helicopter began to slow, and techs began to move around lights, mirrors, and boom microphones. Handing his rifle over to the prop man, Morrow gladly headed for the relative warmth of his trailer.

“Vic!” a voice called out to his left (pronounced “Veek”, as it always was within the Polish Commonwealth), and Morrow looked over and saw one of the front office people making his way through the chaos and the churned-up snow of the location shoot while a dark-haired young woman followed him. She wore a dark blue coat and a matching hat with a definite Fifth Avenue look to them. There was also a tape recorder slung over one shoulder, which immediately identified her as a journalist of some sort.

Morrow waited by the trailer as they neared him, and the front office man surprised him by addressing him in English. “Vic, this is Miss Steinem from Esquire.” He pronounced the unfamiliar magazine carefully. “She is writing story on Bojowy! and would like to interview you.”

“Nice of Roman to give me so much advance notice,” Morrow replied in Polish, then added in English, “I’d be happy to speak with Miss Steinem.”

“Good, good,” the man said with an oblivious grin. “I leave her in your capable hands. Glad to meet you, Miss Steinem” He scurried off.

“Come on in, Miss Steinem,” Morrow said, opening the trailer door and motioning for her to precede him. Closing the door behind him, he gestured to a canvas chair. “Have a seat.”

“Call me Gloria,” said Steinem as she sat and busied herself setting up her tape recorder.

“Gloria it is,” Morrow replied as he set his helmet down on the table and sat in another canvas chair. Although he had never met Steinem before, Morrow felt as if he had known her all his life. Despite her midwestern accent, she reminded him of any number of women he had known growing up in the Bronx. She was a pusher. She would let nothing stand between her and whatever goal she had set for herself. Morrow was not surprised to find her in Warsaw on assignment from Esquire. Give her ten years and she’d be the magazine’s editor – if she didn’t start up one of her own. “Esquire. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.”

Switching on her tape recorder, Steinem spoke into the microphone. “Interview with Vic Morrow, December fifth, nineteen sixty-one.”

“I’m afraid this is going to have to be a short interview, Gloria,” Morrow said. “I’m due back in front of the cameras in –“ he checked his watch “—twelve minutes.”

“If I have to, I can always do a follow-up later on. In fact, I probably will have to. For now, I’d like to start by asking how you wound up filming a television show in Poland.”

Morrow shrugged. “Sheer dumb luck on my part. When I was starting out as an actor, I spent half a year in Warsaw doing a bilingual production of Shakespeare. I was able to pick up enough Polish then to get by. Then, three years ago, Roman Polanski was putting a show proposal together for the PRT, a doughboy’s-eye view of the Second Soviet War. With America in the Warsaw Pact, Roman decided that there ought to be an American character on the show, even though there weren’t very many Americans in the Polish Army during the actual war. Somebody on his production team knew my agent in New York, and they asked him for an all-American type actor. Since I spoke some Polish, my agent sent them some casting photos, and Roman brought me over for a screen test. They liked what they saw, and that’s how I got the role of Sergeant Blaine.”

“Is it true that Sergeant Blaine is based on George Orwell?”

“That’s what they tell me. Of course, I’d never met Orwell at the time, so my performance was mostly based on a couple reporters I knew in New York.”

“Which ones?”

“Meyer Berger was one. He was a World War vet, and he actually covered the Second Soviet War for the Times. Jack Kennedy was another. He covered the Soviet invasion of Japan for the Journal American, and he was actually in Tokyo when the Russians took it.”

“What does Orwell think of your performance?”

“He told me that he liked the character, but found my American accent irritating.”

“Were you involved in the decision to market the show to the United States?”

“Well, of course, the production people and the PRT handled all the business stuff. They were the ones who sold the series to Metropolitan. My own contribution has been to dub Sergeant Blaine’s lines in the English version, and I’ve also helped translate some of the other dialogue into English.”

“What do you think of Henry Luce’s criticism of the show?”

“Henry Luce? The Time magazine Henry Luce?”

“That’s the one.”

“I didn’t know he was criticizing the show. It’s only been running over there for, what, two months?”

“He says that American television shouldn’t be showing foreign programming, that it’s a way of propagandizing American viewers.”

It took a moment for Morrow to adjust his thinking to American politics. Luce, he knew, was an isolationist, critical of America’s entry into the Warsaw Pact and the League of Nations. Finally, he said, “I think Henry Luce is barking up the wrong tree if he thinks the businessmen running Metropolitan have any interest in broadcasting Polish propaganda. I’d like to think that they’re running the show because it has good storylines and, with all due modesty, good acting.”

There was a knock on the trailer door, and a voice called out in Polish, “Five minutes, Vic.”

Steinem’s brown eyes seemed fixed on his. “I’m sure there are plenty of Polish shows with equally good storylines and acting, so why a show about the Polish-Soviet War?”

Morrow shrugged. “Conflict is the heart of drama, and war is pretty much nonstop conflict. I’m sure if America had fought any wars recently, they’d be making television shows about them. But there haven’t been any, thank God, so they have to import a show about someone else’s war. And now, I’m afraid, I have to be getting back to work.” He rose from his seat and picked up his Polish Army helmet.

Steinem switched off her tape recorder and unplugged the microphone. Morrow asked her, “Do you think they’re trying to propagandize people with our show? Because, speaking off the record, I think Henry Luce is nuts.”

“You’re probably not aware of it, living here in Europe,” Steinem answered, “but things have been getting pretty crazy lately back home. There are strikers being killed in half a dozen states, and the police are attacking negroes with dogs and fire hoses down South. There are plenty of people who would prefer to have the public pay less attention to what’s going on in America, and getting involved in one of the wars in Africa or Asia would suit them just fine.”

“So, you think showing people Bojowy! or whatever they’re calling it there –“

“ ‘Combat!’ ”

“Showing them Combat! is going to make them want to go to war?”

Steinem opened the door to the trailer, and a cold wind blew in. “It wouldn’t be the first time people were tricked into a war.”

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