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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Special Feature
An Encounter with Bill Starbuck
By Jeannie Callahan
(For CurtainUp's review of a revival of the play about Lizzie Curry and Starbuck go here).
As I walked through the woods I felt a cool breeze rustle through the trees. The day was hot and humid. Dry leaves crunched beneath my feet. Funny, I thought, These woods don't look like the woods in back of my house. But, of course, they are. They have to be!. But that tree there - I haven't seen it before, and . . .
As I wondered about the 'new' tree, a figure came striding forward out of the brush. He was dressed in a comfortable, soft, long sleeved shirt. His hair was dark brown and longish in the back. His eyes were piercing brown - good Heavens! I can't believe my eyes. It's Tommy Lee Jones - but it's not Tommy Lee Jones. (What on earth would Tommy Lee Jones be doing in MY back yard?)
"I've been looking for you, Lizzie," he said, "Your brother, Jim, said you like to take long walks in the woods."
"Lizzie? Jim?" I asked, puzzled. Then it dawned on me! Good grief - this was not Tommy Lee Jones, but Bill Starbuck - the lead character in N. Richard Nash's play, The Rainmaker! Of course! It had to be! He was dressed just as Tommy Lee dressed in the stage production that was filmed and shown on cable television! I can't believe I am actually standing before Tommy Lee Jones! No - take that back - Bill Starbuck, for that is who is most certainly standing before me. He smiled that slow smile of his, with the edges of his cheeks forming small lines. All the while his dark brown eyes crinkled in amusement.
"Starbuck?" I asked, "It's really you, isn't it?"
"Well of course, Lizzie, girl!" he said in mock amazement, as he put his hands on his hips. "Could you possibly forget me THAT quickly?"
Of course I couldn't! For some inexplicable reason, I am suddenly in one of my all time favorite plays - starring my all time favorite actor! My cup, as they say, is running over and over. But how? What is going on? Wait - I know! It's just like Peggy Sue Got Married! Kathleen Turner had Nick Cage in that one; but I have Tommy Lee Jones!
"No, Mr. Starbuck, I have most certainly NOT forgotten you," I say sternly. (Remember, Lizzie was stern in the early going.) "But I have to tell you right here and now - my name is NOT Lizzie. It's Jean - er, Jeanie," I say boldly. Come to think of it, this is more like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Back at the house, Lizzie's father, Jim and Noah are arguing; but here, off stage, I am having an unseen conversation with Bill Starbuck!
"Well, Lizzie, I told you last night you could be anyone you wanted to be! Even Melisande!"
(Oh, so that means he's already kissed me. I've missed that part. Rats.)
"If you want to be Jeanie, Jeanie it is! Jeanie, I came out here to convince you once and for all that I am your number one best and only chance to bring rain to this god forsaken parched land! Now, Jim knows I can do it! And your father. . ."
"What about Noah?" I interrupt. "Noah knows you're a fake!"
"A fake!" He looked at me incredulously. "How can you say that? Just what is it that makes you think I am not the genuine article?"
(I almost expect him to say 'Where'd you learn to talk like that' - but that's another movie - another Bill.)
"Oh, call it intuition," I said. "Women's intuition. Katharine Hepburn knew Burt Lancaster was a fake ."
"Katharine who? Burt who?" he interrupted. "Now, you're clouding the issue here, gal!"
"I notice how quickly you reach for an appropriate metaphor," I retort.
"Now Lizzie - that is Jeanie - you are much too harsh," he chided, a mock frown on his face.
"Look, Starbuck," I said, "I didn't even know you existed until a few weeks ago! I saw the Burt Lancaster movie; I saw the Broadway musical production starring Robert Horton, I read the play. And I had heard rumors that none other than Tommy Lee Jones had played the role in the early 80's. But I had never known for sure. And I was starting to think that The Rainmaker, starring Tommy Lee Jones was just a figment of someone's imagination."
"A figment of your imagination" - that's a good way to describe me," he said. "But look at me. Can't you can see how real I am!"
He was right. He certainly DID look real! I needed to catch my breath, so I sat down on a log and he sat beside me. He put his hand over my hands, which were folded in my lap. His hand is huge! It could cover both my hands so easily! This IS Tommy Lee Jones! But no - it's Starbuck! I am so confused!
"Jeanie," he said, " Never cast your imagination aside! When all is said and done, imagination is what we all live for! Your father and your brother, Jim believe in me and they're happier because of it."
"What about Noah?" I asked again.
"There are always Noahs in this world," he said gently, "People with absolutely no imagination at all. People who go to bed at night the same person who got up that morning." He was warming to the subject now. He stood up as if addressing a crowd. "Nothing new, nothing exciting ever happens to them because they don't let it! All they ever know is just the boredom of everyday existence! But life's too short for that, Jeanie! You've got to live each day fully; let your imagination run wild and free. Never stop believing that someday, somehow, someway, something wonderful just might happen, any time when YOU (he pointed at me) least expect it!"
"Something wonderful IS happening," I smiled. "I'm just afraid that if I click my heels together I'll find out I'm back in Kansas again."
"Darlin, I don't know what you're talking about," he said, puzzled, as he sat down again. (Of course not! The Wizard of Oz hasn't been filmed yet!) "But if you mean that you'll wake up and reality will hit you - then let me just say this - DON'T LET IT! Reality itself is just a figment of your imagination! You have the power over your own destiny!"
"Sure I do," I sneered. "I'm a middle aged woman with three grown daughters leaving the nest. What kind of power do I have?"
"You have ALL the power!" he shouted, and shook his finger in my direction. "You can show your daughters that no matter what stage of life they're in - that imagination will get them through."
"With imagination - you'll get there?" I said. "Harry Connick, Jr. said that."
"Harry who?" Starbuck asked.
"Never mind, " I laughed. "I think I know what you mean."
"Jeanie, are you starting to see that I am the one and only person who can bring rain to this drought stricken area?" he said, softly, raising his eyebrows. With that, he raised his hand and brushed it lightly against my cheek. I smiled. He was completely right!
It's the alarm.
It's time to get up.
It's time to get dressed
It's time to take Jennifer to school.
It's time to go to work.
I am awake.
Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are NOT here.
Kathleen Turner is NOT here.
Starbuck is gone.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide