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My Little Boy

Lady Esther Presents Orson Welles

My Little Boy 

Jan 19 1942


HOST, Orson Welles






DIRTY, a young girl

ERNA, another young girl (1 line)

AUNT (1 line)

HOST: Good evening. This is Orson Welles, bringing you another radio show for Lady Esther. To begin with, I'd like to point out that here's an interesting fact. These few moments, the ones that are ticking off as I speak to you now, are the really crucial ones in our radio programs. The reason is fairly obvious. It's in these first few seconds that we must grasp your interest and create a favorable impression. Well, tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I want to use this crucial time for a crucial reminder. Briefly, here it is. Don't forget to buy defense bonds and stamps this week -- and every week. Each dollar, each dime, is a weapon against the forces of fascist barbarism and intolerance. And now about this program. Tonight's story is, in its own right, a weapon against intolerance. Besides which, it's one of the finest things we've ever found for radio. No other broadcast of the Mercury's has been called for again by so many listeners. It's titled "My Little Boy." In just a minute, we'll be ready to do it for you, but there's something else I'd like you to hear first. It's from one of our best-known beauty authorities, Lady Esther.

LADY ESTHER: Very often a doctor will say to a patient, "What you need is more exercise." Now, most people know that they need exercise and they try to get as much as they can. But what many people do not know is that the skin needs exercise, too. Yes, your skin needs exercise just like any other part of your body. And if it doesn't get it-- Well, it becomes lazy and sluggish. And before you know it, the little mouths of the pores are blocked and soon your skin becomes dry and flaky. You begin to notice blackheads, big pores, even hard little lumps in your skin. What can you do about it? Well, every time you use Lady Esther Four-Purpose Face Cream, you help give your skin the exercise it needs. Because, you see, Lady Esther Face Cream does not one, but four important things for your skin. Not only does it thoroughly cleanse your skin and remove the stubborn dirt from the mouths of the pores, but it's especially designed to work with nature and help to restore your skin to its normal activities. Women say it's thrilling, really thrilling, to see how Lady Esther Four-Purpose Face Cream seems to wake up the skin. Many of them say it makes their skin look younger and smoother than it's looked in years -- and after very few applications, too. So start using Lady Esther Face Cream. See how this one cream, by itself, helps keep your skin looking its youngest and loveliest. It's all you need for the care of your skin -- Lady Esther Four-Purpose Face Cream. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy is beginning to live. Carefully, stumbling now and then on his little knock-kneed legs, he makes his way through the world, looks at everything that there is to look at, and bites at every apple -- both those which are his due and those which are forbidden him. He's not a pretty child, but he's charming. His face can light up suddenly and become radiant. He can look at you with quite cold eyes. He has a strong intuition and he is incorruptible. He has never yet bartered a kiss for candy. He has bad habits, too. He's apt, for instance, suddenly, and without the slightest reason, to go up to people whom he meets in the street and hit them with his little stick; what's in his mind when he does so, I don't know! As long as he doesn't hit me, it remains a matter between himself and the people concerned. [X] He has an odd trick of seizing some word in a grown-up conversation and storing it up for a while, and then asking me for an explanation.

BOY: Father?


BOY: What is life?

FATHER: (NARRATES) I give him a tap on his little stomach and roll him over on the carpet and conceal my emotion under a mighty tussle. Later, when we're sitting together, breathless and tired, I give him his answer. (BEAT, TO BOY) Life is delightful, my little boy. Don't be afraid of it! 


FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy comes into my room and tells me, with a very long face, that John is dead. And we put all nonsense aside and hurry away to the train to go where John is -- for John is the biggest dog that has lived in some time. When we get there, we hear that John is already buried. We look at each other in dismay to think how quickly that happens. We go to the grave, which is in the grounds of a factory where the tall chimneys stand. We sit down and can't understand it. We tell each other all the stories that we remember of John's wonderful size and strength. As each story is told, the whole thing becomes only more awful and obscure. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) At last, we go home by train. Besides us, there's a kind old gentleman in the compartment who'd like to make friends with my little boy. The boy has nothing to talk about to the kind old gentleman. He stands at the window and stares out. His eyes light upon some tall chimneys.

BOY: That's where John is buried.

FATHER: (TO BOY) Yes. (BEAT, NARRATES) The landscape flies past. He can think only of that -- and see only that. Presently, some more chimneys appear.

BOY: That's where John is buried.

OLD MAN: No, no, my little friend. That was over there.

FATHER: (TO BOY) You were right, my little boy. Those are John's chimneys. 

(NARRATES) While he's looking out again, I take the old gentleman to the furthest corner of the car. 

(POINTEDLY, TO THE OLD MAN) You see my friend, in years to come, if I live, I hope to explain to the boy the difference between Petersen's factory and Hansen's factory; and if I should die, I'll confidently leave that part of his education to others. Even if he never learns the difference, sir, I'd still be resigned. Today it's a question of other and more important matters: the strongest, the most living thing that little boy knew is dead.

OLD MAN: Oh, really? A relation perhaps?

FATHER: Yes, John is dead; a dog.


FATHER: Well, it's not because of the dog, don't you understand? It's because of death, which he's seeing for the first time -- death, with all its might, its mystery.

BOY: Father? When do we die?

FATHER: When we grow old.

BOY: No. Carl has a brother at home in the courtyard, and he's dead, and he was only a little boy.

OLD MAN: Then Carl's brother was so good and learned such a lot that he already was fit to go to Heaven.

FATHER: (LIGHTLY) Well, mind you don't become too good!


FATHER: (NARRATES) I give my little boy a pat on the stomach and he laughs and laughs and goes back to the window, where new chimneys rise over John's grave. I take the old gentleman by the shoulders and forbid him strictly to talk to my boy again. I give up trying to make him understand me; I just shake him. He eyes the emergency cord and when we reach the station, he hurries away. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) I go with my little boy, holding his hand, through the streets full of live people. In the evening, I sit on the edge of his bed and talk with him about that incomprehensible thing: John who is dead; John who is so much alive, so strong, so big. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy is given a dime by Mary the cook with instructions to go to the baker's and buy some rolls. I stand at my window and see him cross the street in his slow way with bent head, only he goes slower than usual, with his head bent more deeply between his small shoulders. He stands long outside the baker's window where there's a confused heap of all-day suckers and chocolates and peppermint sticks. Then he lifts his hand, opens the door, disappears, and presently returns with a paper bag, eating with all his might. And I -- who, Heaven be praised, have myself been a thief in my time -- go all over the house and give my orders. (BEAT) My little boy enters the kitchen.

MOTHER: Put the rolls on the table. You're quite a big boy now that you can buy rolls for Mary.

FATHER: (NARRATES) His face is very long, but he says nothing. Comes quietly in to me and sits on the edge of a chair.

BOY: Hello.

FATHER: Hello. You've been all the way to the baker's? What'd you buy at the baker's?

BOY: Peppermints.

FATHER: Why, you had some peppermints this morning. Who gave you the money this time?

BOY: Mary.

FATHER: Really? Well, Mary's certainly fond of you. Do you remember the lovely ball she gave you for your birthday?

BOY: (UNHAPPY) Father? Mary told me to buy a dime's worth of rolls.



FATHER: (NARRATES) It's very quiet in the room. My little boy cries bitterly and I look anxiously before me and stroke his hair. (TO BOY) You fooled Mary badly. She wanted those rolls, of course, for our dinner. She thinks they're on the kitchen table. When she goes to look, she won't find any. Mother gave her a dime for rolls, Mary gave you a dime for rolls, and you go and spend it on peppermints. What are you going to do? If only we had a dime, then you could rush across the street and fetch the rolls.

BOY: (STOPS WEEPING) Father, there's a dime on mother's writing table.

FATHER: Oh, is there really? Oh, I'm afraid that's no use to us, my little boy. That dime belongs to Mother. The other was Mary's. People are so terribly fond of their money and get so angry when you take it away from them. I understand that, for you can buy such an awful lot of things with money. You can get bread and ice cream and toys and clothes and half the things in the world. And it's not so easy to make money. Now, Mary, she has to spend the whole day cleaning rooms and cooking dinner and washing up before she gets her wages. And out of that she has to buy clothes and shoes and, you know, she has a little girl whom she has to pay for at Mrs. Olsen's. She must certainly have saved very cleverly before she managed to buy you that ball for your birthday.

BOY: Father? Haven't you got a dime?

FATHER: Here's my purse. Look for yourself, there's not a penny in it. Spent the last this morning. (BEAT, NARRATES) We walk up and down. We sit down, get up, and walk about again. We're very gloomy. (TO BOY) There might be one hidden away in a drawer somewhere.

BOY: Yes!


FATHER: If only-- If only we could find a dime.

BOY: Here's one! Hurray!

FATHER: Hurray!

BOY: Father, a dime! A dime!

FATHER: (LOW, URGENT) Yes, now hurry. Now, you go this way through the door, then run back quickly up the kitchen stairs with the rolls and put them on the table. I'll call Mary so that she doesn't see and we won't tell anybody. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) He's down the stairs before I've done talking. I run after him. (CALLS, TO BOY) Hey, there! 


FATHER: Wasn't it a splendid thing we found that dime?


FATHER: (NARRATES) And he laughs for happiness and I laugh, too, and his legs go like drumsticks across to the baker's. From my window, I see him come back, running with red cheeks and glad eyes. He's committed his first crime. He's understood it. He has not the sting of remorse in his soul, nor the black badge of forgiveness on his cap. The mother of my little boy and I sit until late at night talking about money, which seems to us the most difficult matter of all -- for our little boy must learn to know the power of money and the glamour of money and the joy of money. He must earn much money and spend much money.

MOTHER: Yet there were two people yesterday who killed a man to rob him of four dollars and thirty-seven cents.


FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy is engaged to be married. She's a big, large-limbed young woman, three years his senior. Her name is Gertie. By a misunderstanding, however, which is pardonable at his age, and moreover, quite explained by Gertie's appearance, he calls her "Dirty" [X] -- "Little Dirty." And by this name, she will be handed down to history.

BOY: I wanted a girl for myself.

FATHER: (AMUSED) Quite right, my boy! (NARRATES) Either I know very little of mankind or he's made a fortunate choice. No one is likely to take Dirty from him. Like the gentleman that he is, he at once brings the girl home to us and introduces her.

BOY: (PROUDLY) Father, this is Little Dirty. She's my sweetheart. We're gonna be married.

FATHER: That's what people usually do with their sweethearts. Uh, come in, Dirty, and be welcomed by the family.

BOY: Wipe your feet, Dirty.

FATHER: (NARRATES) The mother of my little boy doesn't think much of the match.

MOTHER: Why, she's a perfectly dreadful little thing! I - I have a good mind not to let her in the house.

FATHER: Do you remember what little use it was when your mother forbade me to the house? We used to meet in the most incredible places and kiss each other terribly. (CHUCKLES) I can quite understand that you've forgotten, but you ought to bear it in mind now that your son's beginning to--



FATHER: Besides, I must remind you that - it is spring. (LONG PAUSE, NARRATES) Dirty is paying us a visit and my little boy is sitting at her feet. She's buried her fingers in her hair and is reading, reading, reading.

DIRTY: (READS INTENTLY) "Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his maid-servant."

FATHER: (NARRATES) The boy watches her with tender compassion, then he comes to me.

BOY: Father? Must Dirty do all the Ten Commandments say?


DIRTY: (READS, VERY QUICKLY) "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house nor his--"

BOY: Father? When I grow big, must I do all the Ten Commandments say?


BOY: Father? Do you do all the Ten Commandments say?


BOY: (WORRIED) Father? I don't believe that I can do all those things that the Ten Commandments say.



FATHER: (NARRATES) There's a great hullabaloo among the children in the courtyard. I hear them shouting something and I go to the window and see my little boy in the front rank of the ruffians, screaming, fighting with clenched fists, and without his cap. I know he'll come up before long and tell me about it. Presently he appears. He stands still, as is his way, by my side. Says nothing. I steal a glance at him. He's greatly excited and proud and glad, like one who's fearlessly done his duty.

BOY: It was only a Jewish boy we were beating up.

FATHER: (SHOCKED) What?! (BEAT) A Jewish boy?! (BEAT) Were you beating him up?


FATHER: What had he done?

BOY: Nothing.

FATHER: (NARRATES) He seems puzzled. I look so queer suddenly. Now I snatch my hat and run out of the door as fast as I can. 

(TO BOY) Come! We must find this Jewish boy and beg his pardon! 

(NARRATES) My little boy hurries after me. Doesn't understand a word of it, but he's terribly in earnest.

(TO BOY) What's his name?

BOY: Nathan.

FATHER: (CALLS) Nathan?! Nathan?! 

(NO ANSWER, NARRATES) Nobody in the courtyard. We go out into the street. 

(CALLS) Nathan?! 

(NO ANSWER, NARRATES) All in vain. The Jewish boy and his persecutors are blown away into space. So we go and sit up in my room again. 

(TO BOY) Well, there's nothing to be done now. I hope you will meet that Jewish boy some day so that you can give him your hand and ask him to forgive you. You must tell him that you did it only because you were stupid. But if another time, anyone does him any harm, I hope you will go in and help him, and beat up the other fellow as long as you can move a limb.

(NARRATES) I can see by my little boy's face that he's ready to do what I wish. So now I have to explain.

(TO BOY) Let me tell you, the Jews are by way of being quite wonderful people. You - you remember David, about whom Dirty reads at school? He was a Jewish boy. And the child Jesus, whom everybody worships and loves, although he died two thousand years ago. He was a Jew, too.

(NARRATES) My little boy stands with his arms on my knee. Now the old Hebrews rise before us in all their splendor and power. They ride on their camels and coats of many colors, with long beards: Moses and Joseph and his brethren and Samson and David and Saul. We hear wonderful stories. The walls of Jericho fall at the sound of a trumpet.

BOY: (INTERESTED, IMPATIENT) And what next? Go on, Father.

FATHER: (NARRATES) The whole day is devoted to Jews. We learn that many of the most famous men in the world are Jews. And when evening comes and Mother sits down at the piano--


FATHER: (NARRATES) --and sings the song which Father loves above all other songs, it appears that the words were written by one Jew and the melody composed by another. (BEAT) My little boy is hot and red when he falls asleep that night, turns restlessly in bed and talks in his sleep.


MOTHER: (BEAT) He's a little feverish.



FATHER: (NARRATES) We're spending the summer in the country -- a long way out, where the real country is. Cows and horses, pigs and sheep, a beautiful dog, and hens and ducks form our circle of acquaintance. The sun burns us. We eat like farmhands, sleep like guinea pigs, and wake like larks. Presently, for better or worse, we get neighbors. They're regular city people. The pearl of the family is Erna. Erna is five years old; her very small face is pale green, with watery blue eyes and yellow curls. She is richly and gaily dressed and I at once perceive that my little boy's eyes have seen a woman. He's seen the woman that comes to us all, at one time or another, and turns our heads with her rustling silks and glossy hair and wears her soul in her skirts and our poor hearts under her heel. "Now comes the perilous moment for Dirty," I say to the mother of my little boy. (CHUCKLES GENTLY) This time it's my little boy's turn to be superior. He knows the business of the country thoroughly and explains it all to Erna. When he worries the horse, she trembles, impressed with his courage and manliness. When she has a fit of terror at the sight of a hen, he is charmed with her delicacy. Altogether, there's no doubt as to the condition of his heart. One morning, he proposes. He's sitting with his belovèd on the lawn. Close to them, her aunt is nursing her rheumatism in the sun. Up in the balcony above, I sit like Providence and see everything, myself unseen.

BOY: Erna, you shall be my sweetheart.

ERNA: Yes?

BOY: I have a sweetheart already at home. Her name is Dirty.

FATHER: (NARRATES) This communication naturally by no means lowers Erna's suitor in her eyes, but it immediately arouses all Auntie's moral instincts.

AUNT: If you have a sweetheart, you must be true to her.

FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy understands not a word, and answers not a word, but later, after lunch, he comes up to where his mother and I are sitting and puts his hands in his pockets and looks straight before him.

BOY: Father, can't you have two sweethearts?

FATHER: (NARRATES) The question comes quite unexpectedly and at the moment, I don't know what to answer.


FATHER: Er, yes. You can. But it's wrong. It leads to more fuss and unpleasantness than you can possibly imagine.

MOTHER: (TO BOY) Are you so fond of Erna?

BOY: Yes.

MOTHER: Do you want to marry her?

BOY: Yes.

FATHER: Well, the thing is settled. We'll write to Dirty and give her notice. There's nothing else to be done. I'll write now and you can give the letter yourself to the postman; he comes this afternoon. Take my advice: you will make her a present of your ball. Then she'll not be so much upset.

BOY: She can have my goldfish, too, if she likes.

FATHER: Excellent. We'll give her the goldfish. Then she'll really have nothing in the world to complain of. (BEAT, NARRATES) My little boy goes away. Presently he returns.

BOY: Father? Have you written the letter to Dirty?

FATHER: Not yet, my boy. There's time enough. I shan't forget it.

BOY: Oh, Father, I'm so fond of Dirty.

FATHER: She was certainly a dear little girl.

BOY: Father, I'm also so fond of Erna.

FATHER: (NARRATES) We look at each other. This is no joke. 

(TO BOY) Perhaps we'd better wait with the letter till tomorrow. Perhaps it'd be best if we talk to Dirty ourselves when we get back to town.

(NARRATES) Then my eyes surprise an indescribable smile on our mother's face. All a woman's incapacity to understand man's honesty is contained within that smile. I resent it greatly.

(TO BOY) Come on, let's go.

(NARRATES) My little boy and I go to a place we know of, far away behind the hedge, where we lie on our backs, and look up at the blue sky and talk together sensibly, as two gentlemen should. 


FATHER: (NARRATES) My little boy is going to school. We can't keep him at home any longer, says his mother. He himself is glad to go, of course, because he doesn't know what school is. I know what it is and I know, also, that there's no escape for him. But I'm sick at heart. So we go for our last morning walk along the road where something wonderful has always happened to us. We sit down by the edge of our usual ditch and suddenly my heart triumphs over my understanding.

(GRUMPY, TO BOY) I just want to tell you that school is a horrid place. You can have no conception of what you will have to put up with there. They will tell you that two and two are four.

BOY: Mother's taught me that already.

FATHER: Yes. Two and two are never four, or only very seldom. And that's not all. You'll never have any more time to play in the courtyard with Carl. When he shouts to you to come out, you have to sit and read about a lot of horrible old kings who've been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years, if they ever existed at all, which I, for my part, simply don't believe.

(NARRATES) My little boy doesn't understand me. He sees that I'm sad and puts his hand in mine.

BOY: Mother says that you must go to school to become a clever boy. Mother says that Carl is ever so much too small and stupid to go to school.

FATHER: (NARRATES, SADLY) I bow my head and nod and say nothing. I take him to school and see how he gallops up the steps, without as much as turning to look back at me. (PAUSE) Here ends this story about my little boy. What more can there be to tell? He's no longer mine. I've handed him over to society.

MOTHER: There was nothing else to be done.

FATHER: Really? Is there nothing else to be done? I wonder. Small boys have a bad time of it, you know.

MOTHER: They had a worse time of it in the old days.

FATHER: Ah, that's poor comfort. The world's still full of parents and teachers who shake their stupid heads and turn up their old eyes and cross their flat chests with horror at the wickedness of youth. "Children are so disobedient," they say. "So naughty, so self-willed, and talk so disrespectfully to their elders." What do we do? We, who know better?

MOTHER: (SIMPLY) We do what we can.

FATHER: (BEAT, NARRATES) She says it in such a way, and looks at me with two such sensible eyes, and they're so strong and so true, that I suddenly think things look quite well for our little boy. I become quiet and cheerful like herself.

(TO MOTHER, WITH A CHUCKLE) Huh. Those teachers of his better look out, though! My little boy, for all I care, may take from them all the English and geography and history that he can, but they shan't throw dust in his eyes about the important things. I shall keep him awake. We shall have great fun finding them out.

MOTHER: And I shall help him with his English and geography and history.


HOST: Ladies and gentlemen, you've just heard Carl Ewald's "My Little Boy." Dix Davis was the little boy and Ruth Warrick was Mother. You remember Ruth as the first Mrs. Citizen Kane? Now she's returned to the Mercury to play in a new picture, a thriller. Norman Foster just started directing it last week. Joe Cotten and I wrote it and we're all very excited about it. It's called "Journey Into Fear." Now, also present in tonight's cast were Ray Collins, who appeared somewhat obscurely, but excellently for all that, as the old gentleman on the train.