Automatic Writing

18 Dec

Hollywood Director Max Finland found out that his sense of luck was not helping him at all in his gambling aboard the Lux in the late spring of 1946.

He had been driving down to Long Beach to go out to sea on the pleasure ship for several months, ever since finishing the job of directing his last horror film. Beyond the roulette and baccarat tables, he frequented the card rooms where he spent hours playing and watching games he had learned over the years: seven-up, monte, all fours, old sledge, pitch, faro, bezique, and brag. These old, forgotten games fascinated him. He had joy in mastering the intricacies of each. Weekends on the Lux, formerly the navy vessel Bunker Hill, gave him relief from studio troubles and headaches.

When was a new filming project going to be assigned him? he wondered.

One Friday evening in early March, Max drove to Long Beach in his new Frazer sedan and climbed the plank way onto the Lux. In a short time, the passengers were on the Pacific, then beyond the three-mile limit in international waters. California law and authority did not apply out here. Anything goes, the pleasure-seekers told themselves.

Over six feet tall and unusually gaunt, Max resembled a scary figure in one of his wartime monster films. Few of the gamblers or onlookers could identify him here, since the Hollywood elite set had not yet discovered the Lux for itself. He felt that he was gambling with a more ordinary population aboard this special ship.

But there happened to be one small young man who kept his eyes on Max Finland. This figure stayed in the background, but was planning to speak to him in the hope of becoming acquainted with the director. Finally, he took a seat at a card table where Max was engaged in a leisurely game of brag. Paul Ironson found this close enough to poker for him to be able to pose as a competent player. He began to make bets and play hands.

It was after losing a number of times that Max Finland decided to break away for a spell of rest. The young player across from him did the same, deciding this was the time to introduce himself.

“Mr. Finland, excuse me, but I recognize you. Why don’t you and I go upstairs for some air?”

Max studied the face of the stranger a moment, then nodded yes.

A stary blanket twinkled over the Pacific waters. Spring was coming to the great ocean, if not yet to the continent. Ironson described himself to his companion, the director.

“I’m unemployed at present, but used to be a scriptwriter at Cosmic Films. You made up silent scripts back in the twenties, didn’t you, Mr. Finland?”

“Yes,” answered the latter. “That is where a movie really begins, as an idea in somebody’s head. I still prefer to write my own scripts. But direction is a lot more difficult. It is more complicated than writing the story line. You’re always at war with producers and the guys with the money. The business end of our industry is a bigger worry for the director than it is for the screenwriter.”

Ironson decided to venture on. “What are your current plans, sir? Have you written a screenplay for your next filming project?”

Max looked out over the deck railing into the night water, dark and mysterious. In the far distance, Long Beach blazed with peacetime light.

“I want to move in a new direction, but the studio heads say no. They’re afraid of anything new or different. Once they believe you have found a successful formula for popular features, it becomes a prison and a trap. The greatest sin in Hollywood is to be original or creative. Nobody with influence or money wants to take a chance with new ideas of any kind.”

“I found the same thing when I was working at Cosmic,” moaned the younger man. “After being drafted in 1942, I worked on writing for Army training films. Last year, I came out and was hired at Cosmic. But the job didn’t last long. Today, I’m on the lookout for new prospects. My closet is full of rejected manuscripts. I came aboard the Lux this evening to observe the characters and gather material for future plots and proposals. And also to meet people like you, sir.” He smiled archly at the director.

Finland suddenly seemed to turn dreamy. “I have never been granted the budget to make an A picture, but every one of my grade B features has been far more than a filler for the second half of a theater billing. On low financial investments, I was able to make movies of recognized quality that impressed the viewing public everywhere. My work reached a height with “The Leopard People”. The cognoscenti saw through it to what I was saying in what was classed as a monster thriller.”

“It was very well done,” murmured the screenwriter. “I got a lot out of it too.”

Max turned his gray eyes directly on him. “Could I read some of your work?” he asked the man he had just met for the first time.

“Certainly,” beamed Ironson with joy. “At present, I’m developing several themes that center around the subject of spiritualism. My aim is to take a figure like the British writer Arthur Conan Doyle and show how the telepathic and arcane influenced his fictional work. I believe that the public out there is fascinated with all matters that touch on the psychic.

“Doyle was one who came to believe that we can receive communications with the dead and became an active proponent of spiritualism. There are millions of people in this country and all over the world who would want to see a picture that went into those subjects. I think that could be the center of a popular hit made on a low budget with inexpensive actors.”

Max grinned at what he had just heard. “I must give you my address down in Venice. Call me and drop by soon. And bring along some of your work like what you just described to me. We have a lot we can talk about. Imagine, you and I share a common interest in the realm of the supernatural!”

The director excused himself and headed back to the gambling rooms of the Lux.

Early the following Monday, Finland had a meeting scheduled with the president of Peregrine Studios, the company that had produced his features during World War II.

The office of Raymond Brant was in a small white cottage adjacent to the main sound stage. He had to be close to the point of production, the studio head deeply believed. He had to be aware of everything going on that he was paying for. His busy brain was the connection between the movie theaters across America and the decisions he made about what scripts to dramatize on celluloid film.

He had to be absolutely right in his judgments, estimates, and guesses about what the public would be willing to pay to see. Brant knew Max Finland and was always willing to hear the creative ideas hatching in his lively mind.

The two shook hands and the executive asked the director to take a chair across the expensive desk from him.

“I’ve been looking over your story lines and suggestions, Max,” began the now sitting studio boss. “It’s hard to judge subjects that are so odd and unusual. These would not be easy movies to produce, even as B-grade fillers. A lot has already been done on zombies and the dead. And you yourself have turned out work on animal-like monsters. Do you have any ideas on what might be the next popular craze out there across America?”

Max wrinkled his broad forehead. “I’ve been considering the psychic and telepathic world. There are organized spiritualists everywhere these days. I think that the war inspired a boom in that field. A writer like Arthur Conan Doyle did a lot of work in the area. His Sherlock Holmes stories have always given good stories for pictures both in England and here in Hollywood.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of spirit circles out there. Thousands of people everywhere are exploring the unseen. They want to see and learn about the world that Conan Doyle was exploring on his own. I think there are millions of viewers ready to be entertained by the experiences of psychics.”

The two old friends stared at each other in silence for a short time.

“Bring me whatever you can quickly work out, Max,” commanded the studio chief. “I am always interested in anything being born in your amazing mind.”

The director soon left the cottage office, his thoughts going back to his conversation with the screen-writer he had met on the gambling ship named the Lux.

Max Finland spent the rest of the day visiting Hollywood bars he had not visited since the joyful hysteria of V-J Day the year before. He returned home to his small apartment in Venice late that evening, tired but ready to explore the possibilities of making a film about uncanny psychic matters.

A short, familiar figure in a sport coat sat on the cement stoop in front of the entrance to his building. Paul Ironson leaped to his feet upon seeing the advance of the director, his black carborundum eyes ablaze with energy.

“Mr. Finland!” he excitedly called out. “I’ve finally found you.”

“How long have you been here?” inquired Max. “I’m sorry if you had to wait a long time.”

“That doesn’t matter. Here’s the script we talked about. Remember?”

Finland unlocked the apartment door and ushered the unemployed writer into the cluttered living room. The pair sat down and the director took the script that Ironson had brought. A quick perusal of it followed. The reader studied passages chosen at random. For a few minutes, neither of them said anything. Finally, Max looked up at the anxious young man.

“I want to present you a proposition, because what you have here is quite good. Let us rewrite and reshape this work together. In other words, I want you and I to become co-writers, the same as partners. I can’t pay you anything now, but both of us with get the movie credits should a picture be the result. Together, we will collaborate on a script with a psychic theme for Peregrine Studios.

“You have an uncanny style in the speech of your characters, especially for the central personality involved, Arthur Conan Doyle. His words are exactly what one would expect from a devoted, dedicated believer in Spiritualism. I realize that he lost his son in the First World War and afterwards attempted to communicate with him.”

“His story will be the core of the film,” asserted Ironson. “I want to show the famed author as victorious in his final quest to bridge the great gulf.” He smiled with joy at the film director. “It will be a magnificent honor to be your co-writer, Max. My fondest dream is coming true.”

Paul accepted the invitation to move in with his writing partner. Max bought a cot for him and gave him the back room where he himself had worked on movie scripts for many years.

The work began to take on a smooth, definite shape. Both men grew exhilarated at their success in creating an intriguing plot about the applications of telepathy by the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

“Yes,” agreed Max with his co-worker, “We can go on to attribute psychic and automatic writing to Doyle in his latter years. That is a fully justified assumption on our part.”

“That shall be the final triumph of his quest,” said the younger man in a solemn tone.

That evening, an unforeseen event occurred.

Max was resting on the front room couch when he noticed that the typing in the rear had ceased. There followed the sound of something falling with noise. What could it be? The director jumped to his feet and hurried to see.

He found a startling sight in the back room.

Paul was sprawled on the floor, writhing in pain. He rolled rapidly from side to side, gasping for breath and striking the bare wood with his hands.

Max rushed to the tortured figure and kneeled at its side.

“Paul, what is it? What happened to you? Tell me where it hurts.”

The stricken young man did not appear to see or hear him. Had he suffered a heart attack? Was he unconscious from some sort of seizure?

Max took the left wrist of his partner and felt the pulse. It seemed to be normal.

All at once, a suffocating voice emerged from deep inside Ironson. It sounded like that of a stranger.

“I overexerted myself. My mind went blank in the middle of the work I was doing. This has happened to me before in the past year or so. I guess that I was concentrating too much on getting done what I had started. The subject of Conan Doyle’s psychic experiments has captured and overwhelmed me. Pardon me if this fainting of mine has alarmed you, Max.”

The latter told hold of the body of Ironson, lifted and placed it on the cot that the young writer slept on.

“I want you to rest up before you go back to typing,” quietly said Finland.

It took several days for Paul to recover his full strength and begin working once more.

By the middle of May, he was again typing the film script. Max was overjoyed at the high quality of the plot he was creating about the psychic development of the English author, Arthur Conan Doyle. The final script, mostly the product of the younger partner, drew near its final completion.

Max announced to him what his immediate plans were.

“As soon as we have a final version, I plan to take it to Ray Brant at Peregrine Studios to have him evaluate its chances of being filmed. I have no doubts about its being accepted by him. He knows my past work for him and is certain to see the box-office possibilities of the subject we treat. In fact, I want to take you along with me to meet the studio head, It promises to be quite an experience for you, Paul. I think you’re ready to meet with the big man, aren’t you?”

Paul gave him a look of surprise. “I hope that I don’t show how nervous I am.”

Finland laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ll do most of the talking for us.”

The next morning, the partners rose early and left to deliver their handiwork.

Max introduced Paul to the studio boss and the latter asked his visitors to be seated.

“I brought you our finished script,” announced Finland, holding it in his hands and offering it to Brant.

Suddenly, the executive producer raised his right hand as if to block any transfer of the work over to him.

“Something more important has come up and needs immediate attention, Max,” he tensely announced. “I must postpone everything else that you and I talked about last time for the sake of an urgent project that I want you to look into and prepare for me. Let me explain what I am concerned about.

“In just a few weeks, the United States is going to begin testing atomic bombs out in the Pacific, on a small island called Bikini. The attention of our country and the entire world will be drawn to that location and the giant explosions set to go off there. What could be more exciting and interesting? These bomb tests should attract the curiosity and attention of millions and millions. That makes the event important for us here in Hollywood. I want Peregrine Studios to be the leader in the atomic field. There exists potential for atomic monster films, for mysteries and adventure tales of all sorts. Even the psychic and spiritualist aspects of these bombs can be exploited by us. That is where you come in, Max.

“I want you to work me up a script based on atomic power. It could be about the accidental making of monsters or zombies by the explosions. You can let your imagination go wild. You have done things like this for me before.

“We can use news films made at Bikini, working the plot line around them. The monsters can result from what the scientists call the atomic radiation. I know that the public will eat it all up.”

Max Finland found himself speechless, almost breathless. What he was hearing was not at all what he had expected.

The studio head went on. “This is a rush job, Max. I have asked the Navy to take you along as part of a filming crew covering the explosions from a warship. It will help you to get an immediate feel for what goes on out there. You can learn a lot and pick up many new ideas, I believe.”

“My new manuscript…” began the veteran writer-director.

Brant interrupted him. “That project will have to be put on ice for the present. This new job must take priority.”

“You don’t want to read the story?”

“Not now,” the studio head coldly replied. “That’s it for the present.”

All at once, Paul Ironson spoke up for the first time. “Could I accompany Mr. Finland out on the Navy ship?” he asked.

“Yes,” added Max. “He would be of great help to me there.”

“All right, if that’s the way you two want it,” said Brant, putting an end to the surprising encounter with him.

The two partners in script-writing did not discuss their new situation until back in the apartment in Venice.

“What happens now?” baldly inquired Paul. “How can I work on what the studio president wants me to? How do you yourself see this command from on high?”

Max stared at him with sympathy in his eyes. “It will not be easy, especially for you. But do either of us have any alternative? At least you can say that you are going to be paid for your time. I can arrange it so that you go on company salary like me.”

“I’m afraid that this thing about Bikini will not work out for us. It might mean the end of our efforts for a film on Arthur Conan Doyle and psychic spiritualism.”

Finland bit his lower lip. “We have to take up this challenge from Brant, my boy. That is the only hope left for us. Our original project may have to wait for a time.”

That afternoon, the pair began packing for their ocean voyage.

Bikini Atoll, a coral ring of over twenty islands, held a lagoon twenty miles long and twelve miles wide. Bikini Island itself was 21 miles long.

A joint Army-Navy task force had assembled that contained 200 ships and over 42,000 personnel. Seventy-five ships were located around the target. The first bomb test was set for July 1, 1946.

At the central point, the target was to be the battleship “Nevada”. It had been painted with bright orange and white stripes. Four more battleships and two aircraft carriers were near by. These included the battleships “New York”, “Pennsylvania”, and the “Arkansas”, as well as the captured Japanese battleship “Nagato”, and the carriers “Saratoga” and “Independence”.

Surrounding this group of central seven, was a large group of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, transports, and submarines.

Invitations had been given to friendly nations to send observers and news reporters. U.S. press associations, newspapers, magazines, and the radio networks had correspondents present. Hollywood studios had sent film crews, including Peregrine.

At twenty seconds after 9 a.m. in the morning of the first of July, the first bomb was dropped from the B-29 named “Dave’s Dream”.

There occurred a brilliant, blinding lightning flash. A gigantic ball of fire rose over Bikini Atoll. It spread out and upward, until it reached out for three miles. Then in only a few seconds it collapsed, turning into a great mushroom cloud that climbed skyward. This strange object then rose to a height of over five miles in a creamy white column. It contained unnatural streaks of salmon, apricot, rose, and even pink.

At the very top of the column there was the spreading mushroom shape.

Within a few minutes, black smoke began to rise from the target vessels within the waters of the atoll.

From a distance, two observers from Peregrine Studios watched on the deck of a cruiser. Both Max and Paul wore smoked glasses to protect their eyes during the initial blast. They continued to watch as if paralyzed or petrified. Neither said a word to the other. Both had experienced a sight they could never forget, a vision capable of changing the course of their two lives.

Without saying a word, Paul Ironson removed his shielding glasses and hurried back to the compartment he shared with his partner. When Finland followed him in, he found the young man busy working on a portable typewriter there.

“You are truly ambitious, my friend,” noted the film director.

The typing went on and on, until all the available blank paper available was used up by the frenetic Paul Ironson, whose eyes now had a haunted, drugged look to them.

As the Navy vessel made its return voyage to San Diego harbor, Max became alarmed by the drastic change in his partner’s behavior. Paul said little to him and slept little. His total attention rested on his typing work, which consisted of an endless number of stories with science fiction themes.

“What’s gotten into you, Paul? Why are you acting so strangely? Where are you getting this odd material from?”

The one at the typewriter looked at him with an almost crazed stare. “I am writing automatically, by purely psychic, telepathic means. It was the explosion and atomic influence on me at Bikini that did this. I am now able to pick up the thoughts of other writers from the present and even out of the past. There is no limit to how far I can go with this ability that has been uncovered out there on the Pacific.

“I am an automatic writer whose mind was set in motion by the atomic bomb!”

As soon as this statement was completed by Paul, he collapsed to the floor.

He remained in a coma until the return to California, only awakening after a week in a Los Angeles Psychiatric Hospital.

In the Pacific Ocean, the underwater detonation of an atomic bomb occurred at 8:35 a.m. on July 25. It was dropped from a LSM-60 landing craft and exploded at a distance below the surface of Bikini lagoon.

A bright red dome rose to the surface of the water. An opaque cloud spread above the target location. Within seconds, the cloud disappeared and was replaced by a column of rising water that lifted the battleship “Arkansas” into the air for a time.

The huge column of water was over 2,000 feet wide and over 5,000 feet high. Its base was surrounded by a sea wall several hundred feet high. Waves spread that were up to a hundred feet in height.

The battleship “Arkansas” sunk at once, the carrier “Saratoga” later. A landing ship and an oiler went down immediately.

Navy fireboats approached and flushed away radioactive debris off the battleship “New York”.

Scientists determined that this underwater test held greater danger of radioactivity than the first explosion had.

In Washington, President Harry Truman cancelled the scheduled third atomic test at Bikini. This was due to the unforeseen amount of radiation that had already been created by the first two tests.

In his hospital bed in Los Angeles, Paul Ironson awake in a screaming panic that had to be treated with the strongest sedatives available in 1946.

It was in late August that Max Finland was called to the office of studio president Raymond Brant. The latter’s first question was about the condition of the young scriptwriter who had gone to Bikini with the writer-director.

“No better and no worse,” mumbled Max. “I had him taken to a psychiatric facility in San Bernardino, but they make no promise that he will ever recover fully. All he does when awake is to talk about his psychic writing, but the doctors do not allow him to use writing paper or a typewriter. That would only make his condition worse, they tell me.

“But I have to say that he put down some fine short stories out on the Pacific Ocean. Who can say? It may be true that the atomic explosion turned his mind into that of an automatic writer with uncanny psychic capability. We can never know for certain. Perhaps he was always a potential telepath who was pushed over the line by the radioactive blast at Bikini.

“I can’t say for sure what actually happened to Paul Ironson or why.”

The studio chief then posed a question. “Do you think that you could get a script for a film out of all this business, Max?”

“I don’t believe I would want to. Not after all that happened to my partner.”


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