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a true adventure comedy
Copyright 2011 by Jack Dempsey. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Jack Dempsey
Stoneham MA 02180 USA
jpd37 @ hotmail.com
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In 1970, Oscar-winning Little Big Man transformed understanding of General Custer and The West. Dustin Hoffman’s eccentric charisma and Chief Dan George together spoke comic truth to power. Merrymount takes this back to the beginning with the true life-story of America’s first “rascal” (and first poet in English), Thomas Morton: a bold, educated adventurer whose good-humored success here posed a threat (as the story goes) to The Pilgrims of Plimoth and the Puritan founders of Boston.
Merrymount is a fast-paced Shooting-Script of 2 hours, shorter than Dances With Wolves (1990). While “true adventure comedy” points to three large audiences for Merrymount, in April 2001 C-SPAN’s American Writers series registered 78 million households tuned in for readings of Pilgrim texts (Boston Globe 4/15/01). Yet, what has been done with their fundamental story? In 1952, MGM’s Plymouth Adventure won a Special Effects Oscar for the ocean-storm endured by Pilgrim families: happy Natives chopped wood for them in the last 6 seconds. Besides Little Big Man, only the 1973 small-release Squanto’s Story came even close to the facts, eccentric characters and drama of Morton’s times. His misadventures are the transatlantic contexts of the traditional “Story of the Pilgrims” taught in every school.
In 1991 Bruce Berenson’s Black Robe proved the Northeast‘s visual appeal but worked the myth of self-destructive “savagery.” In 1992, Last of the Mohicans played on Cooper’s juvenilia, and 1995 brought Demi’s Scarlet Letter and Disney’s Pocahontas. While disappointments, these films (and the success of The Crucible in 1996) proved mainstream interest in Merrymount’s frontier subjects, to increase with run-ups to the 400th anniversary of The Pilgrims’ landing (1620). Rather than spoiling the party, Morton’s story enriches it on every side, because Merrymount literally happened all around the supposedly-isolated Pilgrims and Puritans.
PBS’ 2004 series Colonial House portrayed a needless “wilderness struggle for survival” when the hard facts of Morton’s prosperity mock such melodrama. (The word “needless” is his.) National Public Radio concluded that Morton “begins to look like our true, long-lost American ancestor.” In 2005, an abysmal script and grunting Indians sank Colin Farrell’s The New World. And the 2009 PBS series We Shall Remain harps the same old song of “tragic necessity” turning the English against their neighbors.
The definitive Early American film remains to be accomplished.
Merrymount can be produced as well on radio or a bare stage. Each line is not to “direct the director” but to cull the facts, personalities and drama from the records and show how this world worked. Every production-resource is here and ready across a 4-season landscape from mountains to seacoasts. Merrymount requires only 3 sets: 1) forests and hills along the sea, 2) Native and colonists’ small homes and villages like today’s at Plimoth Plantation and other built sites, and 3) Sound Stage for simple interior scenes. Authentic Extras of all types stand ready with the region’s network of Interpreters—-even the ships.
Merrymount is a fact-based twist on “the” familiar tradition, and 78 million people know it’s time. Till then, as “Mine Host” Morton says, Drink And Be Merry—-
The True Story: Plot Summary
|CAST OF CHARACTERS (43 speaking parts, & Extras)
|Thomas Morton||Walter Bagnall||Edward Gibbons|
|Jack Sawyer||John, William & Gilbert (boys)||David Tompson|
|Sam Maverick||Bill Blackstone||Bill Jeffreys|
|Edward Ashley||Sir Ferdinando Gorges||Councilmen|
|High Judges||Archbishop Laud||Mrs. Alice Morton|
|English children & domestics|
|EXTRAS: English, French, Scot, Dutch Coastal Fishermen, Wives & Children|
|Sachem House Afire||Woman of the Rock (Rock)||River (F)|
|Many Arrows||Big Wolf||Willow|
|Crazy Bear||Likes the Fire (Fire, F)||Sweet Grass|
|Pequot, Narragansett, Mohegan, Nipmuc, Abenaki, Niantic|
|Sachem Sassacus (P)||Sachem Miantonomo (N)||Sachem Uncas (M)|
|Tatobem (Sassacus’ father)||Mamoho (P, male Sachem of Mystic Fort)|
|Samm (P, big brave)||Little Owl, Bright Star (Pequot mothers) and 3 boys|
|Robin Cassasinamon (P)|
|EXTRAS: Dozens of Braves and Family Groups of all Ages & Tribes|
|William Bradford||Captain Myles Standish||Edward Winslow|
|Isaac Allerton||Hobbamock (Wampanoag)||Jack Oldham|
|William Brewster||Temerity Higgins & Mother||Sara, teen servant|
|EXTRAS: Yeomen, planters, some with arms, Wives and Children; Stevedores|
|BOSTON, SALEM & CONNECTICUT
|Gov. John Winthrop||Vice-Gov. Edward Dudley||Captain Daniel Patrick|
|Captain John Endecott||Captain John Mason||Captain John Underhill|
|Rev. Samuel Skelton||Philip Ratcliff, planter||Law court Elders, etc.|
|EXTRAS: Puritan Family Groups, Planters, “regular” Soldiers, Yeomen, Seamen|
— Part 1: Morton’s Rise —
From Thomas Morton’s arrival in New England to his May Day Revels with Native people and planters in 1627. How does a witty Elizabethan outdoorsman and lawyer take care of six boys when they’re marooned on the frontier? How do they come to terms with Native American women and men devastated by plague, how do the tribes handle them? What longings for a home, friendships, romances and trade bring cooperative success in what Morton calls “paradise“? And, what will The Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation do about this fast-rising rival, Merrymount? By May 1627, Morton’s many friends raise a Maypole to celebrate and grow their prosperity: the pageant also stages America’s first English poetry and drinking-song, to offer the country a new manifesto of love. It’s not Utopia — just mutual respect. And it’s working.
— Part 2: Exile and War —
From Plimoth’s and Boston’s assaults on Merrymount to their Pequot War and The Battle of Mystic, 1637. Captain Myles Standish leads Plimoth’s slapstick campaign to foil Morton: they arrest, maroon and exile him, but he comes back full of scathing sense. As more Puritans found Salem and Boston, how do Morton’s boys and Native friends cope with change nobody wants? What happens when Boston hoists Morton like a cow onto a ship as the country’s first “political exile,” and chops down the Maypole to bring his boys and Native friends to heel? Who cooperates, who resists? As Morton wins his suit in court, the Puritan colonies move to crush both dissent and Native tribes in Morton‘s web. Ten years after the May Day Revels, The Pequot War explodes across this array of individuals, and Merrymount’s people need every trick to save themselves. Their best weapon: the Puritans’ own comic ineptitude. Any film can include an exploding fortress — history gives us a fortress melting in the rain.
— Part 3: The Price of a Home —
From Morton’s final return, arrest and banishment to the secret survivals of his Native and English-planter friends. Beleaguered King Charles can’t enforce Morton’s legal victory: the English Civil War is near, and Morton (at 70) sails back to America. He still craves a home and family of his own and, hunting old friends, discovers what the Puritans have done (and what they think they’ve done) to his “paradise.” As the colonies clamp down, Merrymount’s friendships and romances, rivalries and hatreds reach good and bad resolutions. Boston reviles Morton as a traitor and mocker: they arrest and jail him through a brutal winter. But Morton, who taught others “to cherish a friend,“ discovers secret helpers in the colonies. At last he escapes to join surviving Native and English friends in Maine “wilderness.” There, Thomas Morton and his mixed American family find a place to build anew.
Dialogue with others
about these subjects.
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Time Line 4: 1630 Through the Pequot War