Week 25 : Text Fragment : Partial Lecture Transcript

Partial Lecture Transcript
UCLA Film Studies 5C - May 6th 1939

Melody Straw, screenwriter, explains where she got the title for her first script, "The Alligator Funeral."

My grandmother was a wire artist. In her heyday she crossed a wire hung over the Grand Canyon, by the time I was born she had slowed down considerably, but I once watched her walk a wire between two balancing elephants. She was a stately old lady then, with far more grace on the wire than she ever managed on the ground.

We called her Eh-Eh (like the letter "A" repeated twice) though her name was Alphonsa - named for her father who kept the wolves in the circus. No one knew who Eh-Eh's mother was. One day a baby appeared in a box on the steps of my great-grandfather's trailer with a note that simply read, "YOURS." [laughter]

The wolf keeper had quite a reputation and no one doubted that the child was his. As Alphonsa grew her temperment proved her lineage even more; the circus folk I met always said that she was the only one who could quiet the wolves when they got to howling.

Alphonse and Alphonsa kept the wolves, then the lions, and later, the alligators. Alphonsa was particularly fond of the gators and when they hatched she would carry the babies in a purse, little green tails wagging back and forth as she walked the grounds.

Alphonse wanted more for his daughter than a life with the animals and as she was neither smart nor pretty he taught her the only thing besides animal wrangling that she had an affinity for: balancing. By age seven she was in the clown act, dancing on a giant red ball. By twelve she had a solo on the high wire.

Alphonse died in the summer of Alphonsa's fourteenth year. They had just picked up a new brood of alligators, including the legendary, "Ol' Jank - Terror of the South," reputed to be seventeen feet long, but actually only thirteen and a half. Jank was cantankerous and old, and as it turned out, quite the trickster. One day, after Jank had lain in his cage, refusing food for over a week, Alphonse decided to go in and investigate the problem. As soon as the cage door shut with my grandfather inside Jank sprang with lightening agility and bit Alphonse in two.

My grandmother loved to tell this story whenever I had friends over and she seemed to take particular pleasure when she was able to make them cry. She herself never shed a tear, nor did she show any sadness at all regarding her father's untimely demise. "He died an honorable death." She would say, "He got an alligator funeral."

(Contributed by guest writer Kim Boekbinder)

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