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Series: Arch Oboler's Plays
Show: Suffer Little Children
Date: Sep 16 1939

This is a transcript of an excerpt from a special NBC broadcast (June 25 1939) on behalf of refugee children presented by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. A version of this sketch later aired Sep 16 1939 on ARCH OBOLER'S PLAYS as "Suffer Little Children."

CAST:
ANNOUNCER
NARRATOR

The American Adults:
RONNIE, young society woman
AUNT MARY, older society dame
VOICE, in Ronnie's head

The German Children:
JON
MIRIAM
ROBERT
SIEGFRIED

ANNOUNCER:

... Miss Katharine Hepburn in another original drama. Its title: "Miss American."

MUSIC:

FOR AN INTRODUCTION ... THEN FADES OUT BEHIND NARRATOR--

SOUND:

A FIERCE WIND BLOWS, IN BG

NARRATOR:

The scene: a great luxury liner returning from Europe to America. It is late at night. A girl stands on the boat deck looking out into the darkness, her face to the wind that lifts whitecaps on the tumbling seas. Suddenly, an older woman approaches and speaks.

AUNT MARY:

(APPROACHES) Well, Ronnie! I must say, this is a peculiar way to behave.

RONNIE:

(DISTRACTED, TROUBLED) What? What did you say, Aunt Mary?

AUNT MARY:

I said it distinctly and you heard me. Do you realize that people have been asking about you?

RONNIE:

Have they?

AUNT MARY:

Oh, Ronnie, do come downstairs. Standing up here in the cold--

RONNIE:

(INTERRUPTS) Please! I'm all right.

AUNT MARY:

Oh, Ronnie, what is the matter with you?

RONNIE:

(BEAT, FLATLY) Four people.

AUNT MARY:

People? Oh, that. Well-- Well, after all, my dear, there are always a certain number of undesirables on board a ship this size. And if you'd only stop wandering up and down the second and third classes, you'd find everything quite right and proper.

RONNIE:

Right and proper?

AUNT MARY:

As for the children, I spoke to the captain about them.

RONNIE:

Did you?

AUNT MARY:

(WITH DISDAIN) Staring at us every time we walked the deck. I told the captain exactly how we felt about the matter.

RONNIE:

We?

AUNT MARY:

The things we talked about this morning.

RONNIE:

Oh. Oh, yes, I remember.

AUNT MARY:

I should think you would. You were quite definite in your opinion -- and of course I agree with you. They've no right to take such young children and bring them to New York to - to heaven knows what! (CHUCKLES) But you know the captain. That little charming smile, and he changed the subject and-- Oh, well. What difference does it really make? We'll be docking in the morning and away from all this.

RONNIE:

Aunt Mary, there's - there's something I want to tell you that--

AUNT MARY:

(INTERRUPTS) No, no -- tell me later, my dear. Right now the thing for you to do is to go down, get dressed, and join the others just as quickly as you can. Come now.

RONNIE:

No! No. I want to stay here.

AUNT MARY:

(SURPRISED) Why, Ronnie--

RONNIE:

Please! A few moments longer. I - I'll come down.

AUNT MARY:

Ronnie, I've never known you-- (GIVES UP, EXHALES) Oh, very well. Have your silly little mood. But I don't understand what it's all about -- mooning up here in the dark like a romantic sixteen-year-old. All I say is hurry downstairs. (MOVING OFF) We'll be waiting for you.

SOUND:

WIND SIGHS ... THEN OUT WITH--

MUSIC:

PENSIVE ... FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS ... THEN IN BG

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) Romantic? Yes, it is romantic. I'm in love with-- If she knew-- In love with-- Yes. "Love at twenty-third sight" with--

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) America.

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) That's a childish thought to have.

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) Patriotic pap.

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) Of course it is. Of course. (CHUCKLES) Getting softening of the brain. Thinking silly things -- over-emotionalized -- ought to go below and join the party, stop standing here thinking to myself.

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) America.

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) No. No. Why - why shouldn't I think it out? How did it start?

AUNT MARY:

(WHISPERS) The things we talked about this morning.

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) Yes, Aunt Mary did say that. The things we talked about this morning.

AUNT MARY:

(WHISPERS) Those children.

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) Always staring at us.

AUNT MARY:

(WHISPERS) Why bring them over?

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) Full of foreign ideas. Always staring.

AUNT MARY:

(WHISPERS) Not like us. Foreigners. Not like us!

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) "Not like us" -- I said that, I remember. Not like us, not like us. Not like me. Not - like - me. Resented their being on board. What happened? Oh, let me remember. I went walking on the lower deck. They - they were sitting there as usual.

VOICE:

(WHISPERS) The four of them.

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) Yes, the four of them -- sitting in a row -- white faces staring, eyes looking at me -- at me, at me -- I couldn't stand it. What did I say? Yes, yes, I said--

MUSIC:

OUT

RONNIE:

(SHARPLY) You! Children! Don't you know it's bad manners to stare at people?!

MUSIC:

FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, FLATLY) For a moment, no answer. Three little boys, one little girl. Their staring eyes. Why should they stare at me? I said--

MUSIC:

OUT

RONNIE:

(ANNOYED) Answer me, one of you! If you're coming to America -- heaven knows why -- at least they should have taught you some English!

MUSIC:

FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, FLATLY) They didn't move. Four rigid little figures. And then--

MUSIC:

OUT

JON:

(SIMPLY) We all speak English.

RONNIE:

(SARCASTIC) Well, at last! The Sphinx speaks!

JON:

(SIMPLY) No, that is not my name.

MUSIC:

FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, FLATLY) He said that, then he closed his mouth, and the four of them were sitting there once again -- those eyes of theirs staring, staring. I said--

MUSIC:

OUT

RONNIE:

What are you sitting there for?! I've been watching you all through the trip! You sit there in those deck chairs hour after hour! What are you waiting for?!

MIRIAM:

(SIMPLY) America.

MUSIC:

FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) She said that -- the little one -- and then she closed her mouth so tightly I could see the muscles of the corners of her lips. She sat there -- tense -- frightened. Not another sound from any of them. Their eyes beyond me, on the sea, on the horizon. I said--

MUSIC:

OUT

RONNIE:

All right, you're waiting for us to reach land! But what's that got to do with the four of you getting up, running around, having fun?! Come on! Don't you know how to laugh?! (TO ROBERT) You! Do you know how?!

SOUND:

WIND SIGHS ... THEN BRIEFLY IN BG

ROBERT:

(SLOWLY) When we are in America, then we will laugh.

RONNIE:

So that's it! You don't like the sea! You're waiting for the land!

SIEGFRIED:

(WITH QUIET DETERMINATION) No. We are waiting for America.

MUSIC:

FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, SCORNFUL) Waiting for America? What silly nonsense were these children thinking? Couldn't laugh until America? I thought to myself, how silly! Proof that these children -- strangers, aliens -- foreign to our thought! Aloud I said--

MUSIC:

OUT

RONNIE:

(ANNOYED) Listen, the four of you! Are you trying to rib me in your infant continental manner? If you're waiting until you land until you laugh, I'm warning you, you'd better start laughing now! Ha! There isn't much to laugh about there, let me assure you! The dullest, dumbest place on earth! Why do you think I went abroad? (SCORNFUL) Laugh in America! Don't make me laugh! We've got depressions and recessions and concessions and dissensions and [probes and investigations and this and that]-- (FADES OUT)

MUSIC:

FOR INCREASINGLY TENSE STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, IN BG--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF) And while I kept talking, the children's faces grew angrier and angrier, their eyes larger and larger, hating me for what I was saying. Angrier and angrier, until at last one of them cried out--

ROBERT:

No!

MUSIC:

UP AND OUT SHARPLY

ROBERT:

No, wait.

RONNIE:

Wait?

ROBERT:

Miss American, wait. What you say -- it is not right.

RONNIE:

What's not right?!

ROBERT:

All these things you say of America -- I do not understand, I do not know. But - but this I know: It - it is not right.

MIRIAM, JON & SIEGFRIED:

(AGREEING) No! It is not right!

RONNIE:

(AMUSED) Now, wait a moment! And what is right, Herr Professors?

ROBERT:

(WITH DIFFICULTY) America is - is good. And - and is a good place, because-- Because-- Jon, you say it.

JON:

Because-- Because in America-- (TRYING TO REMEMBER) All men are - are--

SIEGFRIED:

(HELPFULLY) Created equal.

JON:

Ja. And they are en- endowed by - by--

MIRIAM:

Their Creator with--

JON:

With the right of Life - and--

ROBERT:

Liberty--

JON:

And Liberty - and - and the 'suit of Happiness!

RONNIE:

(SARCASTIC) Bravo! Right out of the old Declaration of Independence! So where did you learn that and what does it mean?

MIRIAM:

Jon teach us!

JON:

Ja.

ROBERT:

(CORRECTS HIM, WHISPERS) Yes.

JON:

Yes. Here on the boat, they gave me a book. I read -- I -- how you say it, Miss American? I - teach!

RONNIE:

(TAKEN ABACK, QUIETLY) You - teach? You? And what you - you teach -- all - all that about life and liberty-- What can it possibly mean to four children like you?

JON:

(SIMPLY) Maybe I - I do not understand everything you say, Miss American, but what we learn, it means that no matter what is wrong in America, it can be fixed. We are free and equal, and we can work and help America.

MUSIC:

SOBER ... THEN FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, SLOW AND UNEASY) Help - America? When he said that, I - I didn't have anything more to say. Nothing cute or bright or clever. Four little children. I stood in front of them. Suddenly I - I wanted to say so - so many things to them, but my throat-- I - I couldn't. I - I couldn't, until one of them said--

MUSIC:

OUT

SIEGFRIED:

Please, Miss American. What the books say about America-- It is all right?

SOUND:

SHIP'S HORN, OFF

RONNIE:

(SHAKEN) Right?

MIRIAM:

Tell us of it, Miss American.

SIEGFRIED:

Bitte.

ROBERT:

Please.

RONNIE:

(SLOWLY, QUIETLY EMOTIONAL) America. It's - it's very large. And very beautiful. And all the people in it -- or their fathers -- or their fathers' fathers -- came over the water to it, just the way you're doing. And there's a bigness to it. And a braveness to it. And you need never be afraid. And no matter what goes wrong there, there's always hope -- as long as there's someone like you - to remind the rest of us that the - the American Way is the human way.

MUSIC:

WARM ... THEN FOR STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS, BEHIND--

RONNIE:

(TO HERSELF, A LITTLE DAZED) That's what I said to them. Yes. And they came close to me, and touched my hand, and they smiled at each other, and at me. (INHALES) And so I - I'm in love. Yes, in love -- with my country -- for remembering four little people who want to help us.

MUSIC:

UP FOR A CURTAIN

SOUND:

APPLAUSE

ANNOUNCER:

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we bring this program, starring Katharine Hepburn, to a close. The broadcast was especially written for this occasion by Arch Oboler. ...