Back at the turn of the last century, when Barnum and Bailey and the Ringling Brothers were jostling to take over the world, there was the White Elephant War. Circuses battled to present the public with the most sacred, kaleidoscopic, cataclysmic white elephant to ever roam the planet. The masters of skullduggery and deceit would go to almost any length to win the war–which is of course why I love them. Following is a brief, fictional scene from a classic circus moment–a taste of the bigger piece in process. Tossing bits for folks to gnaw on keeps me in focus, so you get to be my guinea pigs. My title’s thrashed–apparently clowns are universally despised–and my blog resists all attempts to format including, WTF, spacing! So ransom spacing aside, this piece is skeletal–the nature of the screenplay beast, so not for those who want to linger in a lush landscape of language. But for those of you, dear readers, who care to proceed, I am confident you can dance your way through the blocks of typeface and I hope enjoy a brief cotton candy moment.
The only context you get–Frank Fox is a working clown as well as the owner of the mud show, Warren is his press agent/manager.
EXT. CIRCUS GROUNDS FRANK FOX CIRCUS – DAY
The circus has a starved, desperate quality about it. The tents look more worn than in earlier scenes. Performers are resting under trees or in tents. A few practice acrobatics on a grassy spot.
A small chattering crowd of reporters including ALEX KEANE, is gathered outside a small tent next to a water wagon drinking whiskey. Warren stands at the entryway and holds up his finger to silence the crowd. He opens the tent flap and guides the crowd into the tent.
There is a curtain stretched across the back of the tent and several rows of chairs facing the curtain. The reporters seat themselves and a waiter enters and circulates through the small crowd passing out drinks. Warren takes his place in front of the curtain and holds up his drink in a toast.
Frank appears in the entryway and takes a seat in the back row.
Thank you all for coming here…. I have behind this curtain the most magnificent creature you will ever lay eyes on. You are all aware of the Ringling Brothers’ devious and attempt to deceive the public by presenting an albino elephant and calling it white. And you know of Barnum’s surreptitious skullduggery, attempting to pass off an aged and decrepid beast as a mystical Eastern treasure. Well, folks. Today you are about to see the real thing. The rarest, most wondrous, most sacred elephant of all. Caught in the wild East Asian jungles at the risk of life and limb and purchased with untold amounts of gold and jewels.
Warren takes a drink and waits for the reporters to savor their alcohol.
Gentlemen. I present to you, Pawah, the only real, living white elephant!
There is a COLLECTIVE GASP as Warren pulls aside the curtain and presents a small white elephant.
The reporters jump to their feet for a closer view. The reporters question Warren while Keane bends down to touch the elephant’s leg.
How much did you have to pay for the elephant?
Keane examines his fingers.
Well now. I’m not going to disclose the exact amount, but you can be sure, it was a lot.
Keane spots a bucket under the tent flap near the water wagon. He reaches into the bucket and pulls out a sponge.
What do you say to the Ringling Brothers who called your elephant a horrible hoodwink?
Where exactly did you find the elephant?
Keane rubs the sponge along the elephants hindquarters and leaves a wake of gray elephant skin. The white paint runs down the leg and into the sawdust.
Were there more?
He’s the only one alive.
Well he’s certainly a live elephant.
Warren sees the exposed leg and quickly slides the curtain shut.
(shouts at Keane)
Out! Get out!
What’s that? Is it paint?
It’s not real?
How dare you touch the sacred elephant! That’s a sacrilege!
Out! Everybody. Out!
Frank shoos the reporters out of the tent, but they linger in the doorway.
You painted the goddamn elephant!
The Ringlings will get a kick out of this.
It’s getting that desperate, huh Frank?
Frank shoos the reporter off and slumps in a chair.
With the tent empty of reporters, Warren pulls the curtain back and studies the elephant.
He’ll need a touch up for tonight’s show. The crowds will be back, you’ll see. No one can resist a sacred elephant.
(under his breath)
What’s become of me, Mabel?
(bows his head, closes his eyes)
It’s a shame….
Frank taps his foot, then stands up.
Well. I’m not dead yet….
He exits the tent, Warren still examining the elephant.