STONES IN MY PASSWAY
C. Rosalind Bell
EXT. SOUTHERN MISSOURI HWY 61 1938
A GREYHOUND BUS drives along HWY 61 headed south.
INT. GREYHOUND BUS
ROBERT JOHNSON, a long, slender-fingered guitar player is sleeping under his hat…his head pressed against the window of the crowded back of the bus. HE wears a brown double-breast suit, polished shoes and argyle socks. HIS elegant dress belies the wear and tear of HIS existence. THE YOUNG WOMAN sitting next to ROBERT with a BABY in her lap tries HER best to get comfortable in HER seat.
EXT. THE AMERICAN RECORD COMPANY DAY
Helena, Arkansas. A white frame house doubles as an office for the mid-south division of he American Record Company and as a residence for ERNIE OERTLE and HIS family. In the front yard, TWO YOUNG CHILDREN play with a dog, TWO COLORED MEN drive up in a truck.
THEY park and go to the back of the truck where they pick up two large boxes. They head for the office part of the house.
INT. ERNIE OERTLE’S OFFICE DAY
Stacks of music sheets, promotional pictures and posters lie about. Pictures of the black artists are on the walls. A fan whirs overhead. THE PHONE RINGS. ERNIE opens screendoor to let the MEN inside. HE answers the telephone, cradling it in his neck. THE MEN place the boxes on the floor.
Hello. ARC Records. Earnie Oertle
here. Well Yes. I’ll hold on I reckon.
ERNIE nods to the MEN and cups the telephone.
Boys, I’ll be right with you.
Put them on that table
there fellas. My back won’t let me bend
over like that nomore.
THE MEN put the boxes on the table. Head out to get more.
EXT. THE HIGHWAY
The Bus slows to stop in front of a small southern Illinois bus depot. Though still in Illinois, they have crossed the Mason Dixon line and are in the south.
INT. THE BUS
THE BABY sitting on HER MOTHER’S lap next to ROBERT begins a hard cry waking ROBERT. HE looks a the BABY making a face the MOTHER cannot see, rubs his eyes, looks out of the window cradling HIS face and returns to sleep. THE COLORED PASSENGERS in seats up font make their way to the crowded back of the bus where THEY have to stand as the BUS DRIVER makes HIS way back of the putting the colored section sign into place. TWO WHITE PASSENGERS board and take a seat in the mostly empty WHITE SECTION at the front of the bus.
INT. ERNIE OERTLE’s OFFICE
The MEN bring in the last boxes. ERNIE reaches into his pcket and pulls out a fifty cents piece. HE gives it to the MEN. THEY tip their hats.
Mighty nice of you.
THE MEN leave. ERNIE let’s himself out. With a scissors he opens one of the boxes.
Yall be good now.
INT. THE BUS
The bus comes to a stop. The door opens.
Chaffee, Oran and change here for
Cairo. Thirty minute rest stop.
The WHITE PASSENGERS go into the café marked WHITE ONLY.
The COLORED PASSENGERS get off he bus ad walk away from the café/motel.
SOME take prepared sandwiches out of bags and boxes and eat on make-shift tables. Some walk along the road and disappear into the woods to relieve themselves. Some go around to the back of the café.
ROBERT, with his guitar across his back, brushes the wrinkles from his suit, shakes hands with some of the COLORED PASSENGERS, waves at others, wipes the band in his hat and walks down to the fork in the road toward the Chaffee.
INT. NYC OFFICE DAY
The New York City skyline is visible through the window.
JOHN HAMMOND, a forty-year-old WHITE MUSIC PRODUCER, sits in a business suit, at his desk in a leathery swivel chair. HE signs a letter, hand it to his secretary then puts his crossed feet on his mahogany desk. TWO other MEN sit smoking cigars and listening to his conversation.
Hi Ernie. Sorry to make you wait.
Ernie, this is John Hammond calling.
How is everything?
Ain’t complaining. What can I do
for you John?
INT. ERNIE’s OFFICE
ERNIE is on the phone standing at the window peering through venetian blinds looking past the children at nothing in particular.
I talked to Don. He gave me your name.
Don said you were the one I needed
to call on. Said if the musician was a
NEGRO and in the south call you.
INT. JOHN’S OFFICE
The SECRETARY walks back into JOHN’S office and places a letter on his desk. JOHN takes the letter but waves her off. SHE leaves.
I’m putting together a concert.
We’re going to call it Spiritual to Swing. I want to put
together the greatest living Negro artists this country has ever seen. Let’s See here…Phillip hand me that line up. Blues minstrel, honky tonk, holy roller…I’m talking comprehensive. I got Basie committed to headline. And I need your help Ernie. I want to get Maude Lewis and Ruby Smith and Robert Johnson up here too. Don said you could put your hands on all of them for me. Told me you could get me in touch.
You called the right man.
This is going to be big Ernie. Carnegie Hall I’m talking about. Trainfare, spending money, fine accomodations…
I’ll get you your people—I can guarantee you on that. I’ll get you yout people Ruby and Maude. I can get to them right away. Maude was through here last week. And Ruby is in Oceola. That Johnson boy I’m going to have to look for. Give me a week or so on that.
INT. ERNIE OERTLE”S OFFICE.
ERNIE is at the window watching the children chase the dog on the lawn. Their laughter, with the dog’s barking is wafting into the office. ERNIE knocks on the window and when he gets their attention, shakes his fist a them in warning.
I already mentioned Basie and his orchestra headlining…Anybody on this lineup can just about write their own ticket after this…Make sure you tell them that Ernie.
Spiritual to Swing, huh? Saints right next to Sinners, that ought to be something. Yeah, that ought to be something. Allrighty. I’m in. Count me in.
JOHN ( voice on phone)
Good, good Ernie. And for you, how about your fee and expenses? Is that a deal? And a big bonus for signing all three. How about that Ernie? Good. Good. Call me when ou get something. First thing. Call me.
Carnegie Hall you say? Hee Hee Hee. Well sir. I might like to see them in that kind of company myself. I’ll get back to you John.
EXT. THE REAR OF THE TOLBERT HOUSE DUSK DARK
MAXINE walks out of the back door of the large white Tolbert house in a well-to-do neighborhood where she works for the widow Tolbert and lives in a small house in the back. SHE is wearing her maid’s uniform with an empty basket perched on her hip. She walks to the clothesline and sets the basket down. SHE feels the clothes making sure they are dry then unhooks them from the clothespins, folds them and puts them in the basket. When she is midway through folding small articles she begins to take down the sheets. As SHE maneuvers one end of the sheet over the other SHE looks up to find ROBERT at the corner of the house looking at her. SHE blinks hard, takes a deep breath and continues her work.
Maxine turns around to say something but changes her mind and just stares at him a few seconds before continuing to fold clothes.
How you doing Maxine?
HE leans against the house, guitar in hand and gives HER a knowing smile.
MAXINE responds with a weak one.
Robert. Robert. Robert.
Maxine turns round to face him. She is nervous and fiddling with her apron.
You been taking care of yourself?
He moves closer to the back steps and looking her up and down. Robert brushes off his suit and wipes the inside band of his hat. HE lights a cigarette.
Six months and I ain’t heard from you Robert. Not one word. Not one peep.
You know I was going to play up north. I told you that.
All this coming and going…ain’t knowing when I’m going to see you again.
ROBERT props his leg up on a small stool turning serious.
I had a rough time up there this time. Look like every turn I made was the wrong one. It sure was rough though, I ain’t nothing but glad to see you Maxine. But I’m wondering when you going to invite ‘a poor tired been on the road a long time man’ in to have some of that whatever you got cooking up on that stove and take load off his feet.?
HE finishes his cigarette, walks over to the line takes one end of the sheet MAXINE is folding and folds with HER. SHE is still nervous.
I brung you something.
SHE stops folding clothes and looks directly at ROBERT.
You know what I’m is to you Robert? Nothing but halfway between the big city and home. That’s all I’m is to you.
MAXINE finishes taking in the clothes. SHE takes the basket to the back door of the TOLBERT house opens the door and slides the basket inside.
HE begins to go through some of his things and pulls out a flat box. HE hands it to MAXINE.
If you knew all the hell I been through these last few months you’d stop all that and give me some sugar.
A MAN appears at MAXINE’s screendoor in his undershirt. SHE sands up.
Franklin you up? This here Robert…
I know how that is I done hear him play before. She almost done with supper you want to put your feet up under our table? Play a little something for us before you go?
ROBERT stands shaking his head.
No. No. I ain’t hungry. I just came from eating. Just come from eating I’m full up. I was in the neighborhood, just popcorning, thought I’d stop by. See how life been treating my friend here. Maxine you take care of yourself. I better be on my way.
EXT. HWY 61 DUSK
ROBERT sits out along the shoulder of the highway on his suitcase playing HIS guitar and singing. A logging truck blows its horn and continues down the road. A car passes.
I GOT RAMBLIN
I GOT RAMBLIN ON MY MIND
I GOT RAMBLIN
I GOT RAMBLIN ON MY MIND
HATE TO LEAVE MY BABY
BUT YOU TREATS ME SO UNKNIND
I GOT MEAN THINGS
I GOT MEAN THINGS ON MY MIND
LITTLE GIRL LITTLE GIRL
I GOT MEAN THINGS ON MY MIND.
A pickup truck passes him and pulls off the road a few hundred feet ahead. A flock of birds passes over him. ROBERT walks slowly to the truck. A WHITE MAN sticks his head out of the passenger window.
What you waiting on boy? We ain’t got all day.
JOHNNY SHINES stands on the back of the truck.
Come on. Hurry up man.
ROBERT looks at JOHNNY with nonchalance. JOHNNY holds out his hand to help him climb the back of the truck.
You worser than a bad penny you know that Johnny? Everywhere I look there you is.
The truck continues down the HWY. ROBERT continues to play.
HATE TO LEAVE YOU HERE BABE
BUT YOU TREATS ME SO UNKIND
AND I’M LEAVIN THIS MORNIN
WITH MY ARM FOLD UP AND CRYIN
Ain’t no cause to be acting like you Houdini. Least thing you could do is tell somebody when you leaving. Leave people looking silly.
AND I’M LEAVIN THIS MORNIN
WITH MY ARM FOLD UP CRYING
Here I done told the man ’sure we’ll stay four more nights. I had it all settled. Me and you. Playing. The word done got out. We making all the money we didn’t get to make in Chicago. Got donies lined up round three corners waiting to get in the place and what happened? Gone. You done vanished. Sometimes you is a tough nut to crack.
I HATE TO LEAVE MY BABY
BUT SHE TREATS ME SO UNKIND
I GOT MEAN THINGS
But the way I figure-here I am and ther you is and you ain;t forgot what you told me about Jackson, right? Recording with that man. I’m going to hold you to that one. Ain’t nothing like having a record in your name ain’t it?.
I’VE GOT MEAN THINGS ON MY MIND
I GOT TO LEAVE MY BABY
WELL SHE TREATS ME SO UNKIND
JOHNNY makes a playful jab at ROBERT.
Ain’t that right?
Why you asking me that? I ain’t the on for that question you just seen what happen to me out there.
All I seen was the womens falling down and they men’s trying to catch them before they hit the floor. All that around your playing. That’s all I seen.
What’s that got to do with recording? I thought you asked me something about recording. I knows good and well I can reach them hen I’m standing right there in front of them…but if I got to knock on every door in New York to get somebody to see me…
What you talking man? Them people know who you is… You got your self some records taking about door to door…