Jim wrote 1968 for me. I was his muse which was both flattering and unsettling.
I get satisfaction out of being the center of attention at times if I have to work and fight for it. A muse just has to exist. Where’s the fun in that? Being on a pedestal felt like there was only one way to go: crash.
Although the play is highly stylized, which makes it feel artificial, we tried hard to get the facts right. Many of Valerie’s lines she actually said: she did surrender to a policeman on the street by telling him “he had too much control;” and, the court room line “it’s not everyday I shoot someone” is hers.
And her SCUM Manifesto is so rich. When I was tasked to cut 16 single spaced pages down to about 100 words for her speech, it just couldn’t be done. The Manifesto is an absurdist’s delight.
Then there’s the bop cap. It was her signature item of apparel but we could never find one or figure out what one was. Even if we did, I told Jim I wasn’t going to wear it. I don’t like hats and this one sounded kind of hokey.
He was furious with me. He accused me of putting my vanity before the aesthetics of the play. He said we shouldn’t sabotage Valerie’s style or that of the era.
I shot back, “oh you mean like how listening to couplets for an hour really brings the 60’s back to life for most people?” Just an example of one of our many heady arguments over details.
I contributed plot ideas to the script, research and a few barbs. Jim was the wordsmith, however, the poet. The lines are his.
When I pulled out the play a week ago I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. A lot surprised me and a lot I’d forgotten. I may not have created or remembered the words but on every page I heard my voice. He really did write it for me.
Jim and I working together was a disaster. It almost destroyed our friendship. We did not speak for two years after the run. Then he became ill and I did everything I could to help him.
1968 had been too much for both of us, There was so much sturm and drang over the production, in the hands of the right person there’s probably enough fodder there for another play.
That person died in 1988. He was 37.