The Red Menace

The Stage Is Set

8/21/1918

Essanay front door copyA large crowd gathered outside the north side studios of Essanay Film Manufactuing Co. for an opportunity at working on a ‘great adventure’ with one of the biggest stars on film. Brought inside in a large group, they were each quickly interviewed by studio girls and given a blood test.

All of our heroes made the first cut, and were invited inside the studio while the next group was ushered into the lot. There they were given coffee and snacks and were greeted but ‘Fabulous’ Frankie Borzage. He explained that each would be given a screen test on some of them would be given the opportunity to ‘make history’.

The test involved each one explaining a dramatic moment in their life, such as Joe’s hand-to-hand fighting. Charlies flight from the cops, a vicious beating that Dash received and a harrowing rabbit illness that Crispin overcame. They were also questioned about their family responsibilities, with special attention given to Lester’s relationship with his sweetheart Vi.

Later, some men walked through the crowd with some kind of monitoring device and headphones. Joe asked one what he listening for, and the man answered ‘harmonic resonance’. Joe replied that he did not resonate, and but the man said. “I’m afraid you do.”

Again, our heroes seemed to make the cut. They were ushered through the studio— along one hallway that seemed to feature a tow-way mirror— and into a well-appointed but seemingly unused office. They poured drinks and chatted with each other while they waited.

Unexpectedly, a deafening horn went off in the studio. Crispin dove under a desk while Dash went to the window to survey. He noted that the studio staff did not seem to be panicking and urged calm. Quickly thereafter, nurses with earplugs came in to take everyone’s vital signs. Questioned by Joe, the nurse said she was only contracted for one day of work and had no idea why the studio folks needed all this medical information.

Some time later, Frankie returned and ushered them back through the studio to dinner. Two other groups were there as well, but were given walking papers along with dessert. Dash had to convince Crispin not to switch place cards with another table and encouraged him to ride it out.

Finally, Frankie came back and told them that it was time to meet the bosses. Returning to the mirrored hallway, it split down the middle revealing a large studio space littered with strange gear. At the far end of the room sat Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Edison and an attractive young woman with a scar running down her face.

Crispin asked to see the ‘script’ for this caper, which prompted Edison to dig into his valise and pull out a worn copy of ‘War of the Worlds’. He explained that much of what is told in the book is true, and that Earth has been undergoing an invasion for 20 years. Trouble, plagues, and even the Great War can attributed to these alien abominations, and he plans to turn the tide and take the fight to them.

He told them that he has invented a ‘Mass Kinetoscope’ which will convert their bodies to light and beam them to the red planet in one second, where they will be reformed. Again, Crispin explained he knew this trick and people shouldn’t worry. By the end of the night, Edison declared, this lucky group will on Mars and truly fighting a war to end all wars.

There were many questions, and Edison introduced Opal Elphinstone, who was captured by the Martians as a girl and escaped. She has spent the intervening years studying the enemy and may know more than anyone about their foes.

They were given contracts for $500 for one month’s work, and instructions on giving this sum to their next of kin is something should happen. Someone suggested a toast, and Chaplin ordered hism an to bring champagne for all.

While they were waiting, the skylight above them shattered, showering them with glass. Loud static from loudspeakers blared into the studio while five people in hoods and heavy garments clambered down ropes and fired rifles into the room.

Following Opal, our heroes ran to a rack of weapons on a far wall while Edison tried to protect his machineā€¦

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