A play is where you find it.
So many people have asked me from time to time how I came up with the idea for such and such a book or play. I never have to think very hard to answer them. All ideas I have used for any of my books, stage plays or original screenplays have arrived in my brain due to a real life experience of one kind or another.
Christmas of 1978 when I was living in Paris, my friend Ken and I decided to go spend the holidays with our good friend Erwin Leidel in Stuttgart, Germany. During that time, I became acquainted with the songs of a singer by the name of Zarah Leander (Featured Photo from her 1937 movie “La Habenera”). During World War II, she made many memorable musical films in Nazi Germany. Rumored to have been the mistress of Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister, she was the reigning queen of German cinema during the Nazi era. She didn’t make propaganda films per se but instead made just wonderfully photographed dramatic musicals peppered with party line half truths. (All of her films are available for purchase on the Internet.) After the war, she was chastised briefly for her collusion with the Nazi regime. As soon as possible after her reprimand, she took up her singing career once again.
Zarah Leander was an exotic brunette whose classic beauty made her dramatic singing voice extremely fetching. In the early fifties, she became the cult-darling of the Gays in Germany. They flocked to her concerts en masse and she kept singing to them even up into her eighties. Unfortunately in 1991, while performing a concert from her wheelchair in Vienna, she fell out of it onto the stage, broke her hip and thus ended her very lengthy and fabled career. She died not too long after that.
Before those Stuttgart Christmas parties, I had never heard of Zarah Leander myself. However, after seeing a couple of her movies on TV and listening to her songs, I must admit I became as fascinated with her as anyone else.
During our stay with Erwin, Ken, he and I took a weekend trip to Munich. In a small town about midway between Stuttgart and Munich, we stopped off at the home of a friend of Erwin’s by the name of Hermann, a jolly, rotund guy who was a super fan of the famed singer and who had opened his own private Zarah Leander museum. We spent the afternoon there and were amazed at how he knew every facet of her life. He had a vast collection of everything connected with the woman, including many programs and personal artifacts.
During our farewell party back in Stuttgart, one of Erwin’s friends Ingo presented me with an album of Zarah Leander’s songs from her wartime movies. Ingo told me he made sure it contained my favorite of her songs, Yes Sir!. I liked this number mostly because of its lilting, fast melody and because of the big production number connected with it in one of her films. The song actually made fun of John Wayne and how he was winning World War II all by himself—even though he actually never spent one day in military service. The song was far from vindictive and, so I was told by Hermann, was greatly appreciated by John Wayne himself after having upon an occasion met Zarah Leander .
I knew instantly when Ingo gave me that album, I could feel a play coming on and I told him so. He was quite pleased and asked what the name of the play would be. I answered, “It can only be called Yes Sir!” Everybody had a good laugh and said they would surely come to Paris if I did write and produced Yes Sir! as a play.
Ken and I got back home, picked back up with our routines and busily began the year 1979—my last year to live in Paris. In my quiet moments, on the metro, at lunch, before going to sleep at night, or at any odd moment, I reflected about Yes Sir!. I thought and thought about trying to come up with a play for that song title. The question was not a case of my muse having deserted me. I just didn’t know in which direction to guide my creativity.
One day I was cleaning out my closet and came upon some of my earlier amateur attempts at writing. One was a play I had written called MAGGIE’S WAY. It was based upon the experiences Ken and I had once had in a bar in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico—across the border from Laredo, Texas. He and I decided to go out for a drink in a local bar our first night there. We noticed the place had call girls fetchingly sitting around, waiting for the evening’s johns. One of the ladies I struck up a conversation with was called Maggie—short for Margarita.
We were having a lot of fun talking about life in general when this very handsome, young man came up. He smiled and said he hated to interrupt us but he had to talk to Maggie. They went off and after a lot of animated and friendly conversation, he left. Maggie rejoined us. I asked her who the young man was and she said he was her son. He was a student at the University of Texas School of Law and had just arrived home for the holidays. She said he just wanted to check in and inquire about what time she’d be home. She told us how nice he was, how proud she was of him, how she’d been a single parent and had to raise him the best way she could. She added proudly how she was helping him get through law school and that soon he was going to get married to a judge’s daughter in San Antonio.
I got back to our home in Riverside, California, and in the course of the next few weeks I wrote this play called Maggie’s Way, based on Maggie and her real-life situation. Eventually it got put away and via storage in different locations ended up in my closet in Paris, France.
I stopped and thought a long moment. It came to me that I was holding in my hands the play Yes Sir!. I didn’t know exactly how but I knew it was the general direction my muse had been waiting for. I took it over to my writing desk and somehow realized that Maggie’s real story as I had written it was true and valid—but not theatrical and original enough for a play in which music played a central theme. I ended up changing Maggie to a male drag queen in a bar and made a lot of other cosmetic changes to Maggie’s basic story. I even managed to work in the song Yes Sir! as a drag queen number.
When I finished with the new play, I contacted the members of The Paris English Theater and we had a reading. They wanted to go into production immediately. We did. We held auditions and were able to get some very top talent. We also got ourselves booked into the Théâtre Adyar, a lovely, large theater with a balcony not too far from the Eiffel Tower. We had enough patrons and donors to ensure that the production was first rate. So, that is how Maggie’s Way became Yes Sir! This proves that if you’re a writer, a play or a book is out there waiting for you to find it.
And yes, Ingo and Erwin and the other German friends (even Hermann) came for the Paris opening!