by TS Caladan
[Author’s note: What really happened in the controversial last scene of Bertrand Baxter’s ‘The Plan’ on live Kraft Theater television in 1955? Was there a real murder? Who shot who?].
In 1955, Kraft Television Theater aired Bertrand Baxter’s ‘The Plan.’ It starred Bert Baxter, Jack Rice, Richard Kiley and Gloria Stuart. The live production was fraught with onstage accidents to both main stars that led to the idea of legendary ‘curses’ upon early television actors.
“Bertrand ‘Bert’ Baxter was a postwar (noir) actor and writer primarily known for ‘Playhouse 90’ television and was considered the “first icon of the small screen.” He had many television credits but faltered when it came to films and productions in color. Popular with the ladies, Bert’s later life was veiled in mystery with odd rumors of addiction and a strange disappearance. A feature film was never completed which started to reveal the saga of Bert Baxter: a little-known, television actor that vanished at the height of his black and white popularity.”
“Jack Rice was an obscure actor with very few television credits outside of ‘extra’ work and no film credits. He is considered a unique footnote in TV film noir history for three reasons: 1) His portrayal of the heinous ‘Jack Rivers’ in ‘The Plan’ is thought to be the greatest villain in all of early, live television by numerous pundits of the art. 2) The bizarre accident of Rice being actually shot by a real gun onstage and then continuing his performance is more than spectacular, still preserved on kinescope. 3) Jack Rice, along with beloved Bert Baxter, completely disappeared directly after shooting ‘The Plan.’”
Story blurb for Kraft’s Theater’s 1955 production: “Mystery man, Jack Rivers, plans and executes the ruthless destruction of his good ‘friend’s’ life to the point of ruining his friend’s writing career and marriage.”
I walked in through the door of home-sweet-home, a door that I knew she kept unlocked during the day. She won’t budge. I insisted she lock it; there are terrible people in the world. She insisted back at me that big locks will only draw disaster to us. Who am I to disagree? Maybe she had a point?
I saw her in the hall as light hit her with brilliance. Why was Maddy in her red dress? It’s her only good one and for special occasions. Today was just another day where I could not find work as an actor. Maybe I should get a job as a cook. I can cook. Back to reality, what was Maddy up to?
“Darling,” she said in a deep, sultry voice.
I closed in on my blonde girl a little faster than normal. She must have spent two hours on the makeup and the ‘killer’ dress with the perfect slit up to…
“Oh, boy.” I had a large smile on my face. I was dazed.
“I’m not wearing any.”
“I noticed. What brought this on? You look stunning. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked better, my love."
“Jack.” She blushed on top of being flushed in the face. “I don’t need a special occasion to greet my man the way a man wants to be greeted.” Maddy slid her hand along her smooth thigh until the red dress opened to a wonderfully delightful sight.
“Oooh,” was all I could say. I got on my knees. The next words of grunted pleasure came out muffled.
“Jack. Oh, Jack.” She fluttered her eyes and said in a deeper voice, “Hope you don’t mind that I…started without you?”
“I cou…could t-tell…mmmuph.”
(What I did not know at that very second and seconds to come was the red dress and meticulous makeup were not for me. I did not see that her eyes darted and saw a gun aimed at us from down the hall in the shadows. She also saw the same man who left out the back way, quietly).
“You are so, so, um, good to me. I don’t d-deserve you.”
What the hell did I know of what was going on?
Maddy was normally a conservative girl. This hot, sexy version of her was very much out of character. At the time, I loved it. “I only wish I could give you more. You deserve more.”
“Don’t worry, darling. I have a feeling. You’ll get that big break you’re looking for. I just know it. Now c’mere.”
In the moment, I did not think much of her reply. I also did not know how our lives would soon change and the significance of her response. “You are wonderful to me, dear. Mmmm.”
“Rand, you have no idea where I’m from and what I’ve had to go through to get here. My neighborhood is not like your neighborhood. There was pain. We suffered. We starved. You haven’t figured it out? You haven’t a plug nickel’s worth of knowledge why, Rand. Why I’m the way I am? And above all, why I did to ya what I did…why I did to ya what I did. You, you might understand one day. Ha, yeah. One day when yer pushin’ daisies and I’m having my way with your wife.” (scene ends, a clap of applause).
“Good, that was good. Very good, in fact,” Bert commented from a chair just off from a stage with a fake background. He seemed very pleased. The ‘star’s’ verdict carried a lot of weight with the casting director, who sat next to Baxter.
I thought rehearsal went well. I wasn’t nervous. I had a good feeling, too. Kraft Productions pay well. Well, they pay for one week and then it’s ‘out on your ear.’ But this new medium of live television was so explosive and creative and millions of Americans will see my ‘handsome mug.’ It was great exposure to the maximum and could open many doors of success, possibly in feature films. I was made for this. This was my big break I waited a long time for. Was Maddy psychic? I know I got the part, but I don’t believe how close some of the story lines come to my life. Strange.
“I think we’ve found our nasty villain, Jack Rivers,” Baxter stated with confidence. He got up from his chair and shook my hand.
The casting director also got to his feet and did the same. Everyone was happy. Everyone smiled big. For now.
Wait until Maddy hears the big news. I’ll get a SAG card! I have Bert to thank for everything.
After final words between casting director and Bert, I was alone with my old friend.
“Did I come through for you or what?” Baxter commented rather than questioned.
“You came through for me, big guy. You really did.” I felt I had to hug my buddy from the ‘good old days.’ “Thank you so much: a real acting gig…and on television. You don’t know what this means for us…”
“Maddy. Yes, Bert.” He remembered.
We sat down in padded chairs in the actor’s lounge.
“There’s only one problem, old boy.”
I was momentarily startled. Did I not get the job? “Huh?”
Bert confessed, “Yes. I gave you the part over Peter Graves and over the casting choices. Truth is…I don’t think you can do the job.”
I was confused. Bert attempted to toss bit parts at me during his eight-year rise to video stardom. Yet it was always up to someone else to make the final decision. Nothing substantial had happened in this silly dream of mine (with wife’s blessings). There was always work as an ‘extra’ for very low pay or possibly stunt work for a little more pay. A rare SPEAKING part also a lead role were very rare indeed, not handed out to newcomers. “You don’t think I can do the job?”
“Rice is no Rivers. You’re too nice of a guy to play someone I wrote so utterly despicable. You’re good, Jack, but you’re no Jimmy Stewart. I don’t think Olivier could make Jack Rivers come to life. I mean like how I envision him with such sickly evil in his black heart. I need ‘Plan’ to hit big time.”
“Ha! Is that it? Have no fear, kind sir. That’s why it’s called acting. I can get evil. I have a few ideas that came to mind when I read the script. Maybe you can use my interpretations?”
Bert snapped back with anger. “Hey! This is TV, not Hollywood! No one’s going to walk down any red carpets here, are we Jack? Or win an Oscar, huh?”
I sure didn’t want to blow the deal. “Look. I was just…I’ll do whatever you say, Bert. Aren’t you directing ‘Plan’?”
“Yeah. I’m doing it all. Sorry I yelled. I have a lot on my plate, Jack.” Baxter swallowed two weird-looking pills. He lit up another filtered cigarette. “I want to make it clear this is IN and OUT. We can’t spend time on details. We hardly have a budget. We don’t polish it shiny. We get it done quickly.” Bert exhaled a long stream of smoke. “But it has to be great.”
“Sure, sure, got you. Time is money. I only meant, I can make the character simple, mean, direct and pure evil. We’ll get it on first takes. I know I’ll be prepared. Save you a bunch o’ time and money, Bert.”
“You know I alone will take the heat if ‘Plan’ fails,” Bert revealed as he took another inhale. “This is a first for me too: acting, writing and directing. About you, if you do a good job, New York will notice, Jack. You’re long overdue for that. I know you have the goods.” Bert smiled.
We laughed like we were close friends. We were not. Although I thanked the lucky stars that our paths crossed years ago.
He oddly asked about those times, “I forgot how we met.” After another inhale and exhale: “How did we meet, Jack?”
“You don’t remember Lippert’s class?” I asked with some surprise. How could Bert have forgotten the very video platform that launched him into stardom of the little screen?
“JR Lippert’s class, of course! The only teacher to never show for his infamous class, huh. I won for my Shakespeare. God, that was ages ago. Class of ’47. Someone liked my idea that radiation turned the Bard into a dying genius. Ha!”
“I remember that BB. Very topical. You must have had a lot happen to you over the years, to forget where it started?”
Baxter took a swig from a gold flask and did not offer a sip to me. “I barely remember golfing with Ike. He didn’t really know me. Hey, tomorrow. I’m having lunch at the Derby with Rod. Stop by; I’ll introduce you.”
“Rod Serling? You’re asking me to lunch along with F-ing Rod, “best new writer,” Serling? Rod “not-a-commie” Serling? Lunch? Tomorrow? The Derby?”
When two beautiful starlets recognized the video star from a hallway and waved, Bert suddenly had another ‘engagement.’
“You’ll have to excuse me, old boy. I just remembered another engagement.”
Bert was hypnotized and went off with the girls. They were gone.
“Serling,” I said aloud and in a world of my own. “Wow.”
The next day, I parked myself in the restaurant for hours. Everyone was a ‘no show.’ There was no Bert, no Rod. No one responded to phone calls. What was I doing? I should be home with Maddy. All those nights I worked, she was at her mother’s. I never checked. Was she there? Am I slowly seeping into the part of ‘Jack Rivers’? Am I becoming a violent, paranoid, psycho-killer on the inside?
The only person I recognized at the Brown Derby was Ed Begley. I went home.
[Later, unbeknownst to me, new writer Rod Serling arrived at the restaurant with the casting director for ‘The Plan.’ He explained to Rod that Bertrand Baxter was a major ‘loose cannon,’ had seizures which resulted in short-term memory loss or amnesia. He could not recommend Bert to host a new, anthology, TV series Rod had in development. The late lunch was bad news for Bert].
On main stage, Act 1, Scene 7 was rehearsed without costumes. The ‘hero’ of the drama was the biggest television star at the moment and played a character named “Starr.” Bert assumed his self-written role as an honorable man and talented newspaper columnist. The lead of “Rand Starr” was a dashing, crime and commie-crusading writer by night and a happy family man by day.
Also on the set were Gloria Stuart who played Rand’s wife, “Marion” and Richard Kiley as Rand’s boss at the newspaper. The scene involved Rand Starr who introduced his pregnant wife to his boss as he asked for a raise.
Bert as Rand and blonde ‘bombshell’ Gloria as Marion hit their spots in the mock office.
The kid with the clapboard marked the scene with the sound of a wooden SNAP. The boy shouted, “Act one, scene seven. Take three” and quickly moved offstage.
Bert ordered the Bell and Howell cameraman and actors, “We’ll take it after intros.”
I was offstage, excited to be part of the video show. I saw the hustle and bustle of backstage productions: how much loud and unorganized chaos there was…
And then, suddenly, an assistant yelled, “Quiet on the set!”
A complete silence. You could literally hear a pin strike the floor.
Something was eerily familiar about the bogus office scene, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was charged and ready for my big entrance at the end of a later scene.
Bert barked, “Action!”
Kiley, as “Arne,” the boss, started the dialogue…
“A raise? Are you kidding me? Yes, your work exposing the Red Threat is exemplary…” Arne sat behind a large desk and puffed on a thick cigar. He was steadfast. “Hello, my dear. Your wife here is lovely. I see the need for the upgrade. But you caught me at a very bad time, Starr…”
“Sir,” Rand replied with overt seriousness and certainty. “The economy is booming. You’ve heard the phrase: Baby Boom? Houses are selling like hotcakes and people are spending money, hand over fist. Look around, sir. Post-war is prosperous times. There’s jobs now.”
Marion rubbed her bulbous stomach under the black dress right on cue. She batted her big, blue eyes and stated her one line in the scene: “Boom…we can always name the baby after you, Mr. Fine.”
Baxter wrote the scene so audiences laughed when he mouthed: Arnold? They loved and sympathized with the struggling newspaper writer, the shining, ego-inflated echo of himself.
Now I realized the familiarity with the scene. I lived with this when I was a factory worker in Pittsburgh. Maddy and I were in front of a boss in order to get a foreman’s job. She pretended to be pregnant with a small pillow under her clothes. A job I didn’t get. I told that to Bert long ago. He must have put my bit of a story in the show? Miss Gloria Stuart (Marion) hid a small pillow.
Kiley (Arne) continued and responded, “Hmm. I have to think about it, eh? Now you two SCAT! Busy this afternoon with more and more reports of perverted subversives. Go!”
Next scene, Scene 8, took place on the adjacent set.
I saw her. There she is! My girl!
Maddy finished her teaching job. She made it to Stage #13 and just in the ‘nick of time’ to see my first appearance in a nationally broadcasted (CBS) drama a little later.
“You made it!” I shouted in glee and louder than the normal din on the sets.
The head grip yelled at me, “Hey! Ssssh!”
I played it tough for “Jack Rivers,” the most despicable villain TV will ever see. I replied to him, “You shut-up.”
He went away and Maddy giggled.
“Darling,” she said. Her red lips formed a smile with great pride in me on this day of days.
We hugged and kissed.
I noticed her eyes caught both “stars” as they entered for Scene 8.
Bert looked at me and then at Maddy. He winked at her, it seemed.
For a quick moment, she lost her smile.
Was I paranoid again? I didn’t understand. Was something going on between my wife and Bert? I had a cold thought: I could use the fear, paranoia and anger for the part of “Rivers.” Maybe I should believe she’s having an affair with my old friend, the famous guy?
Maddy asked, “You didn’t go on yet, dear?” She spied her blonde counterpart with Bert.
Gloria resembled Madeline, but I truly preferred my wife.
“Not yet. Perfect timing.”
Maddy appeared thrilled. “That’s Gloria Stuart. She’s from films, my love. You are working with movie stars. You know she was in ‘Secret of the Blue Room,’ one of my favorites?”
I smiled at my beautiful wife. “I know.” I was very happy~
“She still looks gorgeous. Look at her…”
“I’d rather look at the prettiest girl in the room.” I meant every word.
She laughed. “Flatterer.” We kissed again. Lovely. She asked, “Oh. When are you on?”
“Minutes. We’re trying to make rehearsal as good as we can and fast as we can. Cameras are meaningless, just getting us used to the live show. Mad, does this remind you of anything?”
“Quiet on the set!”
I placed my index finger to my lips and she knew not to make a sound.
“Act one, Scene 8 and take one,” was distinctly stated by the clap-boy.
Bert didn’t need to say, “Action!” The scene began when Rand delivered the line: “I only need that one big break. That one huge, exclusive story, honey. And we can buy the house and land you want, the home of our dreams.”
Marion said, “I believe in you, Rand. Maybe it’s fate? I have a funny feeling something will come along, Darling. Your break. I just know it.” They kissed.
The actors walked into the fake elevator (only a sliding panel) where the final image was filmed that revealed her prosthetic bulge.
“Cut!” did not have to be shouted. The behind-the-scenes crew returned to the previous stage where the other B&H camera was near ready to mock shoot the last scene of a long day, Scene 9.
It was my big scene. Hope I don’t blow it. No pressure. Only my life in the balance.
I’m to enter through a side door, unclad in sinister “Jack Rivers” makeup and black clothes and expose what will and will not happen to the hero of our story (or overall secret ‘Plan’).
Finally. After perfect preparations and clap-boy, Bert yelled from beyond a door, “Action!”
This was it. Swallow. Take a cool breath. Relax.
I opened the door and slammed it, full force and with extreme vigor. Lights hit me.
The seated character of Arne Fine exclaimed in fright, “Jack Rivers!”
I said to the newspaper boss and pointed down at him: “HA! Ha! My old friend expects nothing, Mr. Fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve ‘gas-lighted’ him, interrupted his happiness over the years. Molded his life like clay. You’re not giving him a raise. YOU’RE FIRING HIM! Can you imagine? Imagine what the poor soul might do if he ever caught wind his old friend, he owes so much to, was behind all the misery and misfortunes in his life? Or that I’m sleeping with his sweet and lovely wife, Marion? She’s not pregnant, by the way. Do you think the sap, sad sack, the patsy could conceive of WHY his buddy was really doing this to him, Mr. Fine? Mr. Fine?”
From offstage, Bert instructed Kiley to stand.
He rose to his feet and faced me.
Arne exuded honesty with, “Haven’t a clue.” The ‘boss’ had a glazed expression of wonder.
Jack (me) snarled as an animal and with an even more creepy voice said, “You think Rand Starr or even you can imagine what you are dealing with here? What evil I am? What I really am?”
I was supposed to knock an item off of the desk for practice. I chose the black phone. It was the perfect choice and slammed into a couple things with much noise and a RING sound.
Boss Arne reacted in fear. (Dick Kiley was good. He had a future in the ‘Industry’). “I, ah, I d-don’t have a b-bloody, clue, sir.”
“Take you for example, Fine…”
“What?” Fine shook and wept.
My eyes blazed. “Why do you obey me? You’re bigger, far more important. WHY do it?! Why do you rage hellfire against enemies that don’t even exist, Fine?”
Arne bent over, almost in a prayer position and cried his little eyes out. “I d-don’t know.”
Here was where the background music swelled to a high pitch and ended with a close-up of my face that faded to black: nice introduction to my evil character. “Because I CAN do what I do to all of you small people and you’ll LOVE me for it.” I used hand and eye movements that will be employed in costume and makeup when the live shoot was the real thing.
Ominous close-up and fade out.
Maddy blew me a kiss from offstage.
Bert shouted, “Cut! That’s a wrap for the day, people. Great job and we’ll see you bright and early tomorrow.”
The crew hurried off Stage #13 with a few stragglers left behind…
Baxter approached Maddy. I heard him. He told her, “I know I picked the right fella for the job. You must be very happy, Madeline?”
She stood there in silence with her big eyes even bigger.
I stood there from a short distance.
BB went on and said, “I don’t know if you two plan children?” He looked at her belly.
Was he going to touch her? My ‘evil’ persona thought so. Or did I only perceive innocence as darkness and malicious intent?
I walked up to them and almost came between them. “How’d I do, boss?” I totally buried my fears and paranoia, then….
Suddenly a heavy light fixture fell from the ceiling and crashed on the stage exactly where I stood only seconds ago! I would have been flattened and very dead.
“Jack!” Maddy screamed in terror.
“My God! Are you all right?”
Other words and gasps of shock were expressed from a few who witnessed the spectacle.
Bert Baxter only said, “Huh. You’re a lucky man, Jack Rice. We have to get that fixed before…”
In the kitchen of our home (run-down, spacious apartment), I informed Maddy of the news:
“We have a special guest coming for dinner this evening…Bert Baxter.”
“He insisted. He invited himself. I’m sorry to say, dear, he’ll be here any minute.”
“What?” Maddy was mad.
“Don’t throw anything.” I didn’t blame her for being pissed.
“We have NOTHING!” the charming love of my life screamed.
“We have leftover pizza from yesterday,” I assured her.
She snapped back, sarcastically, “That’ll work.”
I tried to deflect her anger. “Oh, good. Put extra cheese and meat on it. Problem solved.”
Bert arrived with a bottle of expensive red wine. Not too much out of the ordinary occurred before the wine and old pizza. A bizarre conversation happened after the wine and old pizza, during coffee in the living room.
Bert honored our household and did not smoke cigarettes, which I knew killed him.
He popped a pink pill that went unquestioned.
We sat. Maddy and I attempted to relax. Why was Bert here?
Baxter emptied his flask into the coffee that I assumed contained alcohol and amphetamines.
“Let me say I am sorry for what went wrong with the light fixture. The guy in charge of that is…fired.”
“No, Bert. That is certainly not necessary. Ha, ha. God missed. Ha.”
Maddy laughed for a moment.
Baxter grunted, “Ah, yes. God…”
“I’m fine. It was an accident,” I said.
My wife supported me with, “Accidents happen.”
“Don’t know what would happen if we were to lose you, Jack.”
I misunderstood. “Didn’t know you cared so much, old friend.”
With a chill in his voice, he flatly stated, “I speak of the production, of course. We’d have to shut down if something happened to you, Jack. You’re the villain. We need you. Time is short.”
“It would be a horrible, horrible tragedy to your lovely wife, God forbid. Of course.”
“Why are you here tonight, Bert? Why really?” I asked him directly and into his brown eyes.
Baxter was serious and responded with an ‘atomic bomb.’ “You may be fired and the whole production cancelled all because of you, my friend.”
Maddy yelled in disbelief, “Bert!”
I sincerely asked, “I thought today went dynamite. I put my heart and soul into that minute’s worth of dialogue. I thought it was a good entrance and intro to a sickeningly evil creature…”
“What the FUCK is the use if you’re going to change the words I wrote?” BB was angry.
Maddy timidly asked, “You changed the script, Jack?”
I explained, “I went with what I felt, strongly; don’t remember what I changed. Then I’m confused, Bert. Why didn’t you say: Next Take? Why didn’t you give me the Riot Act when it happened in front of the crew? I’ll play ball and say only what’s in the script, even work for free. CBS doesn’t have to get a replacement for the time-slot. I know what this means to you, man. Hell, you’re…”
“What?” he asked with a trace of kindness on his face.
“…You’re Orson Wells and Rod Serling put together, big guy! I know what an opportunity ‘Plan’ is for both of us on our levels. I won’t let you down. We’ll get it on time and it’ll be great!”
Bert’s entire demeanor changed. He was no longer somber and tense. He relaxed. Baxter took a large gulp from a stiff drink.
I was curious. “What’d I change that pissed you off, Bert?”
Bert quickly answered with perfect precision, “To not…even you can imagine what you are dealing with here, you added: What evil I am? What I really am?”
Bert responded with feelings or anti-feelings from his internal self. “Jack. Your character is an evil MAN. He’s not Evil itself. Rivers has issues; he doesn’t answer to the Devil. Okay?”
“Gotcha. I’ll tone it down. Tell me in the moment and I’ll get it down.”
Baxter lied to his old ‘friend.’ “Actually I was going to mention your adlibs when, you know, the Sword of Damocles fell and changed everything, right?” BB smiled.
I replied, “Right. Right. Question: When can I see last scene pages, the big climax for possible movie version? The tail addition? I need some time to prepare, you know. Just asking. Shouldn’t the villain know what’s going on for the big finish?”
Maddy eyed the television legend as if he was going to explode.
He didn’t. The actor on speed, booze and coffee (who knows what else?) was nice and pleasant and very much in control. Bert appeared to have 100% of his memories and sensory capabilities. He answered, “Can you blame me for keeping finale a closed set? Build the hype and mystery with a lost scene no one sees? I want your part to be spontaneous. Not over-the-top. Make it believable, I want real reactions. I want you to not know…nothing rehearsed. Savvy?”
The other subtle item of note in the late night…
“Ever consider me for Rand Starr and you for Jack Rivers and did you plan on the villain sounding like Jack the Ripper or Jack Rice or mirroring my life?”
“No, to all questions.”
The evening ended with ‘cheers all around’ and without further surprises. Bert went home.
Inside a dark, candle-lit, windowless, ceremonial center of a Secret Society known as the “Grand Orient Kabballans,” there was a large gathering of 100 men in hooded, black robes.
A lone initiate stood in the middle of a massive ritual. The solitary man was blindfolded. Behind him were symbolic statuary and markings on the walls that depicted satanic figures, pyramids and triangles with a ‘one-eye.’ The floor was a black and white checkered pattern.
A low chant was heard like sorrowful voices that vibrated through the air.
Initiate’s face was painted red and hair was dyed white. He was the only one without a sword under his robes. He wore a noose around his neck, a black suit from the 19th Century and a red fez.
Bertrand Baxter was the initiate who sought to achieve the next higher level in the occult Brotherhood. His arms reached upward as if he greeted the arrival of something above the secret congregation and far beyond his understanding.
A hundred men exposed 100 ritualistic swords, pounded them on the floor three times, pointed them at Baxter and then slowly left the room in an orderly fashion.
BB was not in control here and directed nothing. He was the one being directed by his true ‘puppet-masters’ as it had been for the last 8 years. Dark spirits emerged and swirled in ether…
The initiate was renamed “Taxerr Dantbreb” and felt sudden, electro-magnetic power. His body surged and convulsed in spasms. ‘Ectoplasmic’ energy manifested high in central midair and then moved down and circled the initiate.
The man was alone in the large arena.
Satan’s deep voice seemed to speak: “Taxerr, you have failed me again. Your petty pinpricks into the heart of your exclusive golem sacrifice are meaningless! We’ll never give you a theater gig, make Plan a film or Broadway play or your coveted feature FILM. You, Mr. Television Drama, must stay with underarm deodorant commercials and singing bears advertising toilet tissue…”
Red-painted Bert with white hair was not himself. He was a mindless, controlled, zombie slave. “What must I do to serve you, my master?”
“Sacrifice your friend! You must burn care and compassion from your heart and only leave a hole. DO THE DEED, thus proving loyalty and dedication to the Brotherhood, the Industry and our Will. No more pinpricks, but a thorn into the rose. Can you wield the sword, Taxerr?”
“I understand and obey. I have a question, master.”
“May I have his woman? Madeline’s essence is exquisite and unlike anything on Earth.”
“DO THE DEED and you’ll play alongside Jimmy Stewart in the upcoming ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much.’ Yes…the woman is yours.”
“A thousand points of thanks to the one who cannot be named.”
The main set and especially Stage #13 was “plagued with problems.” Actors and crew worked their ‘tails off’ to ready the show in one week. They gave themselves a well-deserved round of applause on the last day. They were ecstatic to work with a “living video legend.”
The boss Baxter appeared very happy with the finished live performances in ‘The Plan’ and the secure knowledge that it was completed on time and done well. A good broadcast.
‘Plan’ was shot live in perfect sequence to the story. Everything was done. The crew went home. There was no “wrap party” for something as trivial as CBS Kraft Television Theater.
Only one more key mystery scene at the end “needed to be shot” (BB’s hidden scene to be attached to the ‘film’ version later) and The Plan was ‘in the can.’
As Rivers, I performed my (not murderous) scenes where I displayed very disturbing evil for the cameras. I had the crew spellbound. There was only the ultimate resolution: Rand Starr learns that his friend, Jack Rivers, was the one who’d tortured him throughout his life. The brave hero shoots the nasty villain dead.
That was the typical noir finale America expected to see for a film version, but didn’t:
Good guys that beat the bad guys…
Bert and I were alone on the empty set as Bert had planned. I realized the unbelievable truth: I got this part because old buddy Bert was banging my wife. Everything in the show mimicked my life. In real life, I was Rand and he was Rivers. He was going to really kill me in the last scene. This was never a TV production, this was a murder! I guess that was the plan all along.
I thought I looked fantastic in “Rivers” makeup, similar to Mr. Hyde: extremely menacing with a lot of dark hair that hid my facial features.
Bert was woozy. Dizziness came over him. He slurred his words. “We can sssshoot all night, Jack. Only thing left…is, is, is me to ssshoot ya DEAD.” Bert pulled out a real gun.
I immediately recognized that it was not a prop gun. I was scared. I knew I was near death and thought of my beautiful wife.
Bert babbled on. He pointed the gun directly at me. “I sssaid I had new l-last lines for you, Jack. The tail scene. This time…YOU talk. I wanna hear your l-last words, sooo make it good, old boy.” Baxter was still and quiet. His eyes closed. He used all of his energy to hold the gun on me.
I didn’t care. The B&H camera didn’t roll, yet. I’ll give him a last scene. I started to take the Rivers costume off. I removed the black hat with wide brim. I removed the thick beard and took off the hairy suit.
Bert’s eyeballs twitched behind his lashes. The gun waved in the air.
I knew he was only half there because of the Mickey Finn pills I slipped into his drink minutes earlier. “Here’s an ending for you, dear friend. Both barrels! So testers at Lippert’s class actually LOVED my Captain John Smith as the reincarnation of Galileo, did they? And HATED your radioactive Shakespeare? Really? You switched our fucking scores! I won? I woulda been fast-tracked as an actor and not just an extra? Everything was in your story. Killing my cat, Sheba. Fucking my wife! Plan was your bloody confession. How could I not have seen what you done to me for years? You’re goddamn Rivers! Everything he does to Rand, YOU DID TO ME! Why?”
Bert was completely out of it. His gun aimed at the floor.
I pulled out a loaded pistol I brought with me. I looked at it and sighed. I put it back into my pocket. I took Bert’s gun out of his lifeless hand and placed it in another pocket. I saw the quiet stage, the camera, the Rivers makeup, the unconscious rat-bastard or ‘thorn in my side’ and remembered:
The show must go on. I had a dark and sinister plan…
The camera rolled. Suddenly into frame of the B&H lens entered the image of a man’s arm who wore a light-colored jacket, the same jacket that “Rand Starr” had worn throughout his scenes onstage. The hand held a gun and the gun fired!
The last ‘missing’ scene of ‘The Plan’ or death scene where truth was revealed and the character of Jack Rivers was shot by the character of Rand Starr and died…
Bert Baxter was in Jack Rivers’ makeup and costume. No one knew this small fact but me. The last scene was discovered by the casting director the next day and attached to the live scenes (much later) preserved on kinescope. Kraft Theater’s live viewing public was never supposed to see the final scene, only what led up to it. The live ending was left open to interpretation. But production copies that included the climatic death scene among insiders surfaced many years later.
Viewers of the old kinescope recording were utterly amazed at the reality of the death scene, the bullet holes and blood, thought too real to be faked. Black and white, archival images of The Plan’s missing ending led some to believe they observed an actual murder.
Bertrand Baxter and little-known Jack Rice were never seen again. They sailed off into video legend and obscurity.How to order novels by TS Caladan
or go to publisher’s site: TWBPRESS.COM
- http://www.twbpress.com/authortraycaladan.html Promo-page from publisher: TWB Press in Colorado
- TWB Press in Colorado
TWB Press, publishing, electronic, e-books, ebooks, short stories, novels, science fiction, supernatural, horror, thrillers, fiction
TS Caladan's 3-Book "Traylogy" can be purchased thru TWB Press.
9" x 6" books with cover art are less than $18.00. EBooks are $3.99.