Menu

[Miss]

[Miss] by W.L. Newkirk

W.L. Newkirk © 2017

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey (played by Nicole Darden Creston) confronts drug company executives (played by Russell R. Trahan and Jeff Hole) in the April 2017 Playwrights’ Round Table production of [Miss] at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Orlando, FL. Photo Credit: Wayne Sysock

About the Play

[Miss] by W.L. Newkirk is the 2017 winner of SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest. See the Fall 2017 issue of Southern Theatre magazine to read Act One.

For production information, email W.L. Newkirk at cel647@gmail.com.

Act Two

Scene 1

Two weeks later. January 4, 1961. A small home in Ohio. JOHN YODER, depressed, is sitting. Doorbell rings.

JOHN: Come in. (MARY enters carrying a box of chocolates.) Mary. (JOHN gets up and embraces MARY.)

MARY: How is she?

JOHN: OK. Sad.

MARY: John. I am so sorry.

JOHN: Despite how she acted, she really wanted the——

MARY: I know. I know.

JOHN: Well.

MARY: How are you?

JOHN: (Shrugs sadly.) One minute you’re dreamin’ on how to build a treehouse and the next minute it’s all — gone. (BETTY enters.) (With false cheer.) Hey. Betty. Look who’s here?

MARY: I brought you somethin’.

(MARY hands BETTY some Russell Stover chocolates. JOHN exits.)

BETTY: Russell Stover?

MARY: When in doubt: chocolate.

BETTY: Works for me.

MARY: How ya feelin’?

BETTY: Did John show you the nursery?

MARY: No.

BETTY: He did such a great job.

MARY: Maybe later.

BETTY: He built a cradle, Mary.

MARY: Oh, Betty…

BETTY: At the shop, after work.

MARY: Betty…

BETTY: A cradle. He worked so hard on it.

MARY: What’d the doctor say?

BETTY: It’s absolutely beautiful. You hafta see it. Here, let me call him.

MARY: Betty. What’d the doctor say?

BETTY: The doctor?

MARY: What did he say?

BETTY: He said: It was all for the best.

MARY: He did?

BETTY: (Dissolving into tears.) Something was wrong with the baby. (MARY moves to comfort BETTY. Pause.) Do you think it’s because I didn’t love the baby enough?

MARY: What? No.

BETTY: Because I did.

MARY: Of course, you did.

BETTY: And I let John down.

MARY: No, you did not.

BETTY: I let him down, Mary.

MARY: John loves you.

BETTY: He was so looking forward to the baby.

MARY: You can always try again.

BETTY: But I’m so scared. What if somethin’s horribly wrong with me?

MARY: Did the doctor say anything?

BETTY: No.

MARY: I bet you’re OK, then.

BETTY: Maybe he’s not telling me.

MARY: I’m sure he would tell you if something was wrong.

BETTY: But what if——

MARY: Give it time, Betty.

BETTY: That’s what John said.

MARY: John’s right. Just, give it time.

(Pause while BETTY regains her composure somewhat.)

BETTY: Please. Can we talk about something else?

MARY: OK.

BETTY: Work.

MARY: Your docs. They miss you.

BETTY: You’re just sayin’ that.

MARY: No. They really miss you.

BETTY: I bet you’re spoiling them.

MARY: What is it you do for those guys?

BETTY: Trade secret.

MARY: Whatever it is, I’m a poor substitute.

(MARY and BETTY start eating the chocolates.)

BETTY: Did I miss anything?

MARY: Not much. Still signing up docs.

BETTY: For what?

MARY: Kevadon. Remember: The study.

BETTY: That still goin’ on?

MARY: Bigger than ever.

BETTY: So, Kevadon got approved?

MARY: No. Not yet.

BETTY: They give you a date?

MARY: Nothing certain. They say they hafta get rid of this dimwit at the FDA first. March, maybe? And you’re not gonna believe this.

BETTY: What?

MARY: Nulsen.

BETTY: Oh. God. What’d he do now?

MARY: He’s supposed to be writing some big deal study.

BETTY: Nulsen knows how to write?

MARY: Apparently. Who knew?

BETTY: And what’s this big deal study on?

MARY: Pregnancy something.

BETTY: (Beat) Pregnancy?

MARY: Whether Kevadon’s safe or whatnot.

BETTY: Whether Kevadon is safe in pregnancy?

MARY: Something like that.

BETTY: But I thought our guys said that Kevadon had already been proven safe in pregnancy——

MARY: It has. Safe as water.

(Pause. BETTY thinks. Suddenly serious.)

BETTY: Then why’s Nulsen doin’ the study?

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 2

Three weeks later. January 23, 1961. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. DR. FRANCES OLDHAM KELSEY studies at her desk. GERTRUDE HELFER walks up pushing a hand cart with a box on it.

HELFER: You see the inauguration?

KELSEY: A bit.

HELFER: Looked like everyone was freezing.

KELSEY: I heard they almost hadta cancel the parade.

HELFER: Well, Kennedy’s gonna be a big improvement over Eisenhower.

KELSEY: Yeah. Kennedy’s got hair.

HELFER: (Bad Kennedy impression.) “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

KELSEY: Like work nights and weekends.

HELFER: Funny. He left that part out.

KELSEY: That inauguration party musta been something.

HELFER: Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella, Gene Kelly——

KELSEY: Did ya see Jackie’s Inauguration Gown?

HELFER: Bet that number’s goin’ straight to the Smithsonian.

KELSEY: Where would you wear somethin’ like that?

HELFER: I don’t know. Five’ll get you ten they’ll be sellin’ knock-offs at Macy’s.

KELSEY: Just what you need.

HELFER: I know, right? (Beat) Oh. I almost forgot: Your next application. (HELFER takes the box from the hand cart and puts it on KELSEY’S desk.) Did ya hear Marilyn Monroe got divorced?

KELSEY: Again?!

HELFER: From that playwright guy. What’s-his-name?

KELSEY: Arthur Miller.

HELFER: I never got what she saw in him anyway.

KELSEY: They say: Opposites attract. (Points to the box.) So. What’s your guess? Another enema?

HELFER: You are developing quite the specialty.

KELSEY: It’ll be the opening line of my obituary: Doctor Frances Kelsey, best known for her work with enemas….

HELFER: I liked DiMaggio better.

KELSEY: Everyone liked DiMaggio better.

HELFER: Think Marilyn still loves him?

KELSEY: (Beat, obviously disappointed. Starts opening box.) Did Kevadon get — reassigned?

HELFER: That’s what they’re sayin’.

KELSEY: Any idea who?

HELFER: No. But odds are it’s someone who’s been around a while. I heard Merrell wasn’t thrilled you were new.

KELSEY: The new — woman.

HELFER: (Beat. Slowly.) Yeah. There’s that, too. (Beat. Sees KELSEY’s disappointment.) Look. Don’t blame him.

KELSEY: (Resigned) Oh. I’m not.

HELFER: Larrick’s gotta be catchin’ flak from Congress.

KELSEY: I know.

HELFER: And he can’t stand up to them. Not after Welch.

KELSEY: (With disdain.) Henry Welch.

HELFER: Imagine: Finding out your director of antibiotics has been on the take for years.

KELSEY: Larrick must have felt so betrayed.

(Pause. HELFER changes the subject.)

HELFER: You know she speaks French?

KELSEY: Marilyn Monroe?

HELFER: Jackie. She’s only 31. And she speaks French.

KELSEY: (Taking a document out of the box. Only paying half attention.) And Spanish and Italian.

(While KELSEY looks at the document and slowly sits, stunned.)

HELFER: (Not noticing.) Just imagine. Bein’ 31. Beautiful. Married to the most powerful man on the planet. Fantastic house on the Cape. What a life! (Beat) Oh, and the best clothes: Oleg Cassini, Coco Chanel, Givenchy, Christian…

(HELFER notices KELSEY.) Are you OK?

KELSEY: Where’d you get this?

HELFER: Larrick’s office. Why?

KELSEY: (Handing her the document.) Look.

HELFER: (Beat) Kevadon.

KELSEY: There must be some mistake.

HELFER: (Beat. Thinks.) No. It’s no mistake.

KELSEY: You sure?

HELFER: Larrick’s secretary told me to give it to you personally.

KELSEY: Really?

HELFER: I think old Larrick has decided it’s finally time to stand and fight.

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 3

Three weeks later. February 14, 1961. William S. Merrell Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. DR. JOSEPH MURRAY is talking on the phone. DR. RAYMOND POGGE enters, carrying a journal.

POGGE: HANG UP! (MURRAY holds up his hand.) HANG UP! (POGGE takes the phone out of MURRAY’S hand and puts down the receiver hard.)

MURRAY: (Spoken to the phone as it is being hung up.) I’ll have to call you back. (To POGGE.) DON’T YOU EVER KNOCK?!

(POGGE slams a journal down on the table.)

POGGE: Page nineteen fifty-four!

MURRAY: What’s this?!

POGGE: KELSEY’S GODDAMN VALENTINE’S DAY GIFT!

MURRAY: (Looks at the cover.) The British Medical Journal.

POGGE: Read it!

MURRAY: From December? Why are we just getting it now?

POGGE: There’s a mail strike somewhere.

MURRAY: A mail strike?

POGGE: Read it! Page nineteen fifty-four!

MURRAY: (Reads the article. It takes just a few seconds.) That’s it!?

POGGE: Whaddaya mean: That’s it?!

MURRAY: It’s just three paragraphs.

POGGE: And I’m thinkin’ we gift-wrap it.

MURRAY: Four patients with nerve damage.

POGGE: Maybe a cute card.

MURRAY: Ray. It’s only four patients.

POGGE: With hearts on it.

MURRAY: I take it this wasn’t in our application.

POGGE: HELL, NO! We just got it! How could it be in our application?

MURRAY: Maybe Kelsey hasn’t seen it——

POGGE: If she’s been captured by Martians.

MURRAY: But you said there’s a mail strike——

POGGE: Somewhere.

MURRAY: (Beat) I gotta go to Washington, then. Bring it to her attention.

POGGE: It’d be a long shot.

MURRAY: You got a better idea?

POGGE: No.

MURRAY: Try’n save the March release. Tell her we didn’t know.

POGGE: Yeah. About that.

MURRAY: We didn’t know. Right?

POGGE: Not about the four cases. No.

MURRAY: So, what’s the problem?!

POGGE: Hey! Don’t shoot the messenger, OK?

MURRAY: Sorry. What’s the problem?

POGGE: OK. After I saw the note in the British Medical Journal, I started nosing around, you know, asking if anyone had seen anything.

MURRAY: Uh-huh.

POGGE: And someone recalled one of our guys, Gustav Martin——

MURRAY: Who?

POGGE: Gustav Martin.

MURRAY: Who the hell is Gustav Martin?

POGGE: A doc who used to work for one of our subs. He talked about a Grünenthal document he came across that said the risk of nerve toxicity with Kevadon would be very great.

MURRAY: A Grünenthal document?

POGGE: That’s what he said.

MURRAY: Was it in the information Grünenthal sent over for our application?

POGGE: If it was, I can’t find it.

MURRAY: Ever wonder what else those Germans aren’t tellin’ us?

POGGE: Every single day.

MURRAY: When was this?

POGGE: Gustav Martin? Year and a half. Two years ago.

MURRAY: We knew that Kevadon had nerve toxicity two years ago?!

POGGE: No one working on the application knew.

MURRAY: Gustav Martin knew. And to Kelsey, Gustav Martin is us, Ray.

POGGE: That’s why Kelsey can’t find out. (Beat) Go to Washington. Tell her we didn’t know about the cases in the British Medical Journal. Plead ignorance.

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 4

One week later. February 23, 1961. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. DR. FRANCES OLDHAM KELSEY is nervously pacing. GERTRUDE HELFER walks in.

HELFER: Hey, Dr. Kelsey, what’s it like to be the most popular girl in class?

KELSEY: Must be my new lipstick.

HELFER: (Beat. Puzzled.) D’you even own lipstick? (Beat. KELSEY laughs.) Where’s Merrell?

KELSEY: Should be here any minute.

HELFER: Think it’s about the British Medical Journal?

KELSEY: I don’t know. Maybe Dr. Murray has a crush on me.

HELFER: (Facetious) That’s touching. (Beat) Think they knew?

KELSEY: About the nerve damage?

HELFER: Before the article?

KELSEY: OK. A GP in a town of about 4000 people in Scotland sees four cases of nerve damage caused by a single drug. That same drug’s being taken every day by thousands of people across forty-six countries. The manufacturer’s gotta know——

HELFER: Absolutely. Someone musta told them.

KELSEY: So, we assume the Germans knew.

HELFER: Of course, the Germans knew. What about Merrell?

KELSEY: Well, either the Germans are lying to Merrell or———

HELFER: Merrell is lying to us.

KELSEY: Yeah.

HELFER: Which is it?

KELSEY: I don’t know.

HELFER: How’re you planning to find out?

KELSEY: I’m not.

HELFER: You’re not?!

KELSEY: What difference does it make? Merrell’s application didn’t disclose the nerve damage. They filed it. They own it.

HELFER: OK. But what happens when Murray walks in here and tells you that the British Medical Journal was the first they ever heard of it?

KELSEY: (Uncertain) Simple: I say the risk of nerve damage was known and not disclosed in their application.

HELFER: But you don’t know, for certain, that it was known.

KELSEY: Not for certain. No.

HELFER: But you’re still gonna say it was.

KELSEY: Yeah.

HELFER: Why?

KELSEY: To force Merrell into a study so we can solve this thing.

HELFER: They’re not gonna be happy.

KELSEY: That’s not my problem.

HELFER: (Knock on the door.) You want me to stay? (HELFER shows her non-existent muscles.) Protection?

KELSEY: (Laughs) No. But you wouldn’t happen to have an extra H-bomb lying around, would you?

HELFER: I’ll check with the Russians.

(HELFER leaves. MURRAY enters.)

MURRAY: Hello.

KELSEY: Dr. Murray.

MURRAY: Dr. Kelsey.

(KELSEY and MURRAY shake hands.)

KELSEY: How was the flight?

MURRAY: Fine. TWA.

(KELSEY and MURRAY sit down.)

KELSEY: Well, you asked for this meeting.

MURRAY: Let me get right to it: We want to call to your attention a report of possible nervous system damage from Kevadon we’ve been tracking down.

KELSEY: OK?

MURRAY: It was reported in December’s British Medical Journal. (Pause) Dr. Kelsey?

KELSEY: I read the article.

MURRAY: (Disappointed) You did?

KELSEY: Yes.

MURRAY: Well. It’s the first we’ve heard of possible nervous system toxicity from Kevadon and we wanted to call it to your attention.

KELSEY: Thank you.

MURRAY: OK. (Awkward pause.) Well, that’s why I wanted the meeting. To call it to your attention. (Pause. Gets up.) Thanks for seeing me. (Starts to leave.)

KELSEY: (Getting up.) I’m curious: Why wasn’t it in your application?

MURRAY: I told you. The British Medical Journal was the first we ever heard of it.

KELSEY: Don’t you think you should have known?

MURRAY: How?

KELSEY: Don’t ask me. It’s your drug.

MURRAY: We found out when you did.

KELSEY: You sure?

MURRAY: Of course, I’m sure.

KELSEY: (Skeptical) OK?

MURRAY: Wait a minute. Are you accusing us of knowing about it and purposely not including it?

KELSEY: Me?

MURRAY: That’s exactly what you’re doing.

KELSEY: Well, the fact is…

MURRAY: Watch your step, Kelsey!

KELSEY: The fact is…

MURRAY: You wanna hear from our attorneys?

KELSEY: (Beat) Nonetheless, the fact is…

MURRAY: I think Commissioner Larrick should know about this. Don’t you?

(Pause. They stare at each other. KELSEY calmly pushes the phone across the table.)

KELSEY: Be my guest. (MURRAY picks up the phone.) Dial zero for the operator. Ask for the Commissioner’s Office.

(They stare at each other. Slowly, MURRAY puts down the phone. KELSEY pulls the phone back. Pause.)

MURRAY: Look. We want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do.

KELSEY: No, you don’t.

MURRAY: How dare you say that?!

KELSEY: If you really wanted to get to the bottom of this, you’d be in Germany right now.

MURRAY: I’m planning a trip.

KELSEY: Soon, I hope.

MURRAY: What more do you want from us?

KELSEY: A study——

MURRAY: A study? ——

KELSEY: To find out how widespread the neurological complications are and look for any other unusual side effects.

MURRAY: A study?

KELSEY: We can contact your docs——

MURRAY: Our docs?!

KELSEY: There’s only thirty of them. It can’t be that hard.

MURRAY: But they’re our docs.

KELSEY: Conducting an investigational study. Let’s use them to investigate.

MURRAY: Give me one good reason why we should cooperate.

KELSEY: You want Kevadon approved.

MURRAY: And if we cooperate, will you approve it?

KELSEY: You know I can’t promise that.

MURRAY: You’re not planning to approve us in March, are you?

KELSEY: I haven’t decided.

MURRAY: (Leaning across the table, threatening.) C’mon Kelsey. You can’t hold us up because some Scottish GP no one’s ever heard of reports four cases of suspected nerve damage!

KELSEY: (Beat. Leans across the table, face-to-face with MURRAY.) Wanna bet?

(They stare at each other.)

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 5

Three months later. May 23, 1961. Hallway outside Dr. Ray Nulsen’s Office. DR. RAY NULSEN crosses. BETTY YODER enters walking in the same direction. BETTY calls to him.

BETTY: Dr. Nulsen?

NULSEN: Betty.

BETTY: I’d thought I missed you.

NULSEN: I was just headed to lunch.

BETTY: Don’t let me hold you up.

NULSEN: Did we have an appointment?

BETTY: No. Just dropping off some Kevadon.

NULSEN: I think we’re almost out.

BETTY: I wanted to say how lucky we are to have a physician of your caliber in the Kevadon Program.

NULSEN: Glad to help.

BETTY: I was just checkin’ my records. You’re one of our top prescribers.

NULSEN: I wrote a study on it, you know. It’s coming out any day now.

BETTY: I already got it.

NULSEN: How?

BETTY: Merrell gave us all early copies.

NULSEN: I haven’t even seen it yet.

BETTY: (Looks in her bag and pulls out a scientific journal.) Here it is: The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, June issue.

NULSEN: Could I——

BETTY: If you promise to autograph it for me. (Hands him the journal.) Page one-two-four-five. (NULSEN looks at the article.) Pretty impressive. Don’t you think?

NULSEN: Thanks.

BETTY: I’m curious: When’d you find the time to write? You always seem so crazy busy.

NULSEN: Nights and weekends.

BETTY: I knew you were a genius. (Looks in her purse and pulls out a pen. She hands it to NULSEN.) Autograph, please?

NULSEN: (Signing article.) Merrell gave you this?

BETTY: Yes. So, we’d be ready for any questions.

NULSEN: (Handing journal back.) Of course.

BETTY: Oh. And it’s gonna be such a help. Especially that line about danger to the baby.

NULSEN: What line?

BETTY: (Surprised he doesn’t know.) C’mon. You know. You wrote it. (Searches through the article.) Now where’d that go? Oh. Here it is: “There is no danger to the baby if some of it appears in the milk or passes the placental barrier.”

NULSEN: Oh, that.

BETTY: Seeing it in print like that. So definite and everything. It’s gonna reassure a lot of docs who are on the fence about using Kevadon in pregnancy.

NULSEN: Good.

BETTY: Plus, it makes my job a lot easier. So. Thanks.

NULSEN: No problem. Sorry. (Like: I gotta be goin’.) Lunch.

(NULSEN starts to leave. BETTY stops him by saying…)

BETTY: Glückwunsch! (pronounced: glewk-voon-sh)

NULSEN: What?

BETTY: (Spoken more carefully.) Glückwunsch!

NULSEN: Sorry?

BETTY: I’m probably sayin’ it all wrong. Congratulations! My Grandma used to say that.

NULSEN: Oh. Thanks.

BETTY: I didn’t know you spoke German.

NULSEN: Me? German? Whatever gave you that idea?

BETTY: Your article. A lot of the references are in German.

NULSEN: No. Latin. I took Latin.

BETTY: Latin?

NULSEN: Four years. Miss Rickel. I hated it.

(NULSEN leaves. BETTY watches him go. She stands and thinks for a moment. Her smile disappears. MARY enters.)

MARY: Was that Nulsen?

BETTY: He’s headed to lunch.

MARY: Crap! I wanted to catch him so he could autograph his article.

BETTY:(Beat) He doesn’t speak German.

MARY: What?

BETTY: He doesn’t sp… (Interrupts herself.) Never mind.

MARY: This article’s gonna make him famous.

BETTY: Let’s hope not.

MARY: What’s wrong?

BETTY: You wanna take my place?

MARY: With Nulsen? You’d give up that account?

BETTY: Maybe.

MARY: Why?

BETTY: I don’t know. Somethin’s fishy.

MARY: That sounds very mysterious.

BETTY: (Beat) What else is happenin’?

MARY: Kevadon’s gettin’ approved.

BETTY: (Facetious) Yeah. And I’m Marilyn Monroe.

MARY: Swear to God, Marilyn.

BETTY: The FDA’s backing down?

MARY: That’s what they’re sayin’.

BETTY: I’ll believe it when I see it.

MARY: You watch. Merrell’s gonna make honest women of us yet.

BETTY: Oh. Speaking of that: How’s the marital discord?

MARY: It’s not.

BETTY: Whaddaya mean?

MARY: It’s not. It’s over.

BETTY: Over?

MARY: Last month. It’s with the divorce lawyers now.

BETTY: Mary. I am so sorry.

MARY: I guess there are just some things even Kevadon can’t fix.

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 6

One month later. June 27, 1961. William S. Merrell Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. DR. JOSEPH MURRAY sits at a table. DR. RAYMOND POGGE enters.

POGGE: (Laughing) THOSE BASTARDS AT THE FDA COULDN’T FIND THEIR DICKS IF YOU GAVE ’EM A ROAD MAP!

MURRAY: A road map?! What on earth are you talkin’ about?!

POGGE: OK. We’re working with the FDA setting up that study you agreed to. Thanks a helluva lot by the way.

MURRAY: Kelsey gave me no choice.

POGGE: The FDA’s selection criteria’s gonna limit us to 30 docs.

MURRAY: So?

POGGE: So!? We don’t have to try’n tell ’em about everybody.

MURRAY: How’d you work that bit of magic?

POGGE: That’s just it. I didn’t.

MURRAY: Who did?

POGGE: The FDA. They never asked. They just assumed we still had the same thirty docs we had in our initial application. Like I said: Those bastards couldn’t find their dicks——

MURRAY: How many do we have?

POGGE: What?

MURRAY: How many docs giving out Kevadon?

POGGE: No one knows.

MURRAY: Ballpark?

POGGE: (Beat) How was Europe?

MURRAY: The nerve stuff’s real.

POGGE: I was afraid of that.

MURRAY: The Germans are playin’ it down——

POGGE: What’d you think they’d do?

MURRAY: Sayin’ it’s diet or allergy——

POGGE: Or moon dust. How many cases?

MURRAY: No one knows for sure.

POGGE: Educated guess?

MURRAY: Hundreds.

POGGE: Hundreds?!

MURRAY: Thousands, maybe.

POGGE: How long d’ya think they’ve known?

MURRAY: Three years, at least.

POGGE: And they didn’t warn us?

MURRAY: Nope.

POGGE: You’d ’a thought it’d at least warrant a postcard or something.

MURRAY: Nothing.

POGGE: Assholes!

MURRAY: (Beat) But the good news is that they started a study. (Beat, smiles.) On chickens.

POGGE: Christ. Colonel Sanders must be dancin’ in the streets.

MURRAY: Oh. And the German government’s gonna start requiring prescriptions.

POGGE: We knew that was coming. I’m thinking we tell Kelsey we’ll accept a warning label.

MURRAY: I already tried that.

POGGE: When?

MURRAY: A month ago.

POGGE: Before she turned us down.

MURRAY: Said our application was “Incomplete”.

POGGE: Nothing’s complete enough for her. I pity her husband.

MURRAY: That’s why we gotta change course. Take the battle to her.

POGGE: How?

MURRAY: A conference at the FDA the first week of September. Bring in our docs, present the study data, show how Kevadon is safer than the other sedatives. Get approval.

POGGE: The Gunfight at the OK Corral?

MURRAY: Something like that.

POGGE: You be Burt Lancaster. I’ll be Kirk Douglas.

MURRAY: Who’ll Kelsey be?

POGGE: I don’t know? Miss Kitty?

MURRAY: That’s Gunsmoke.

POGGE: Right.

MURRAY: Make one last big push.

POGGE: Nulsen’s study should help.

MURRAY: Is that out?

POGGE: Just. It concludes Kevadon is safe for fetuses and infants.

MURRAY: Thank Nulsen for me, would you?

POGGE: Sure. That should shut Kelsey up about babies.

MURRAY: Let’s hope.

POGGE: Have you seen her lately?

MURRAY: Kelsey? She looks just awful——

POGGE: Good——

MURRAY: Dark circles under her eyes——

POGGE: The pressure’s gettin’ to her——

MURRAY: Like she hasn’t slept in months.

POGGE: The PR campaign, Congress——

MURRAY: The lawsuit.

POGGE: (Beat. Surprised.) What lawsuit?

MURRAY: Where’ve you been? I threatened her with libel.

POGGE: Libel?!

MURRAY: Where is it? (Finds letter on his desk. Hands it to POGGE.)

POGGE: What’s this?

MURRAY: Kelsey wrote that letter claiming we knew about the possibility of nerve damage and didn’t report it in our application.

POGGE: (Beat, skeptical.) But — libel? For this?

MURRAY: Yeah. We throw Kelsey off-balance. Force her to pay for a defense.

POGGE: We’d never win. Gustav Martin, remember?

MURRAY: (Like: Forget him.) Who?

POGGE: Right. We ratchet up the pressure.

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 7

One month later. July 26, 1961. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. An animated DR. FRANCES OLDHAM KELSEY is on the phone. GERTRUDE HELFER enters.

KELSEY: No. I do not wish to comment! (Beat) Leave my husband outta this! (Beat) I don’t care if you have fifty sources! (Beat) No comment! (Slams down the phone.)

HELFER: Another admirer?

KELSEY: This is gettin’ ridiculous! They’re just makin’ stuff up——

HELFER: The bigger the lie——

KELSEY: You think I can get a job baggin’ groceries at the A&P when this is over?

HELFER: Maybe. If you’re fast enough.

KELSEY: (Pause. Sees HELFER looking at her.) What?!

HELFER: Dr. Kelsey. D’you mind if I say somethin’ a bit personal?

KELSEY: (Thinks it’s her hair.) I need a new hair stylist?

HELFER: Well. There is that. (Beat) But mostly, you need some rest.

KELSEY: Did my husband put you up to this?

HELFER: No. It’s the consensus view of the Department.

KELSEY: The consensus view?! What am I? A lab rat?!

HELFER: Folks care what’s happening to you, that’s all.

(KELSEY picks up a piece of paper and hands it to HELFER with emotion.)

KELSEY: Then, here!

HELFER: What’s this?

KELSEY: (Derisively) Fan mail.

HELFER: (Looks at the paper.) Wow!

KELSEY: A bill from my lawyer.

HELFER: I shoulda gone to law school.

KELSEY: And miss the fortune you’re making at the FDA?

HELFER: You’re right. (Facetious) I’d probably hafta sell my yacht. (Beat. Worried.) You’re not gettin’ divorced, are you?

KELSEY: Not that I know of. Not that I’d blame him.

HELFER: You have been a bit — consumed.

KELSEY: (Beat, resigned.) I know.

HELFER: Why the lawyer?

KELSEY: Merrell’s suing me.

HELFER: Personally?

KELSEY: Uh-huh. Threatening to sue, technically.

HELFER: Why?

KELSEY: Libel.

HELFER: Libel?!

KELSEY: Murray contends I libeled them by claiming that they knew about Kevadon’s potential for nerve toxicity and didn’t include it in their application.

HELFER: (Incredulous) He’s sayin’ they didn’t know?

KELSEY: That’s what he’s sayin’.

HELFER: They can’t be that stupid.

KELSEY: Their lawyers claim they are.

HELFER: So, what, you hand this bill in to personnel or——

KELSEY: I wish. No. I pay it.

HELFER: You pay it?!

KELSEY: That’s right.

HELFER: (Beat. Thinks.) They’re tryin’ to bankrupt you. (Hands back the letter.)

KELSEY: At this rate, that won’t take long.

HELFER: They can’t get you to back down any other way, so they’re forcing you to choose between fighting them or sending your girls to college.

KELSEY: (Facetious) Maybe, I can convince my girls to join the circus.

HELFER: (Tries to lighten mood.) How are their flying trapeze skills?

KELSEY: Minimal, I’m afraid.

HELFER: Tightrope?

KELSEY: No.

HELFER: Well, there’s always the elephants.

KELSEY: (Beat) I should’ve listened to you.

HELFER: Why? No one else does.

KELSEY: You warned me.

HELFER: Dr. Kelsey——

KELSEY: No. Months ago, you warned me.

HELFER: You’re not gonna want to hear this but——

KELSEY: You said Merrell would come after me.

HELFER: No one would fault you if you backed down now.

KELSEY: I thought I could handle it.

HELFER: You fought a good fight. A great fight, really.

KELSEY: You said I didn’t know what I was getting into.

HELFER: A better fight than anyone else would have.

KELSEY: I just thought my family would be somehow, out of bounds.

HELFER: Nothing is — out of bounds. There’s too much money involved. (Beat, slowly.) This. Is war.

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 8

Six weeks later. September 7, 1961. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. DR. JOSEPH MURRAY is pacing. DR. RAYMOND POGGE enters.

MURRAY: (Angry) I thought you had your docs in line!

POGGE: Look Joe. No one could’ve predicted——

MURRAY: What a royal screwup!

POGGE: Kelsey caught ’em off guard.

MURRAY: Off guard?! Off guard?! (Mimics KELSEY.) Can any of you in this room assure us that this drug is safe for a fetus? Christ!

POGGE: No one expected her to ask that.

MURRAY: You’d’ve thought one of your bastards woulda stood up for us.

POGGE: They didn’t know what we wanted them to say.

MURRAY: We paid their way here. Do they think that’s because they’re so friggin’ brilliant?

POGGE: They were tryin’ to help.

MURRAY: Not the sonovabitch who thought there should be more study.

POGGE: No. He was definitely off script.

MURRAY: Whose side’s he on, anyway?

POGGE: I’ll speak to him.

MURRAY: DAMMIT, RAY!

(Pause. They wait.)

POGGE: Where is she, anyway?

MURRAY: Takin’ a phone call.

POGGE: Makin’ us wait’s more like it.

MURRAY: She said it’s one of her kids.

POGGE: Bet it’s a power move to put us on the defensive.

MURRAY: (Skeptical) You think she got one of her kids to call so she could manipulate us?

POGGE: I wouldn’t put it past her.

(Pause. They wait.)

POGGE: Whaddaya think she’s gonna do with our Kevadon application?

MURRAY: (Weary) To tell the truth, I don’t know any more.

POGGE: So, let’s ask her.

MURRAY: What?

POGGE: Let’s ask her.

MURRAY: Now?!

POGGE: Look. Joe. Whadda we hafta lose? If she still has objections, we address ’em on the spot.

MURRAY: Quiet. Here she comes.

(KELSEY walks in.)

KELSEY: Sorry. (Makes face and shrugs.) Teenagers!?

MURRAY: Ready for the Wrap Up?

KELSEY: Sure. Your experts ready?

MURRAY: (Looking at POGGE.) They better be.

KELSEY: Then, let’s do it. (Starts to exit.)

POGGE: You gonna approve us?

KELSEY: (Stops. Beat, surprised by the question.) Excuse me?

POGGE: You gonna approve our Kevadon application?

KELSEY: (Beat, puzzled.) You wanna talk about that — now?

POGGE: Sure. Why not?

KELSEY: But your experts are waiting.

POGGE: Let ’em wait.

KELSEY: You sure? (Looks at MURRAY as if to ask: Do you want me to do this? Pause.)

POGGE: Are you finally gonna approve Kevadon?

KELSEY: Well, this application’s certainly stronger. No question about it. You guys have filled in some of the gaps. But, unfortunately, it’s still not strong enough for approval.

POGGE: C’MON! KELSEY!

KELSEY: Your experts are waiting.

POGGE: Why are you doing this?!——

MURRAY: Ray——

KELSEY: Doing what——

POGGE: Procrastinating!

KELSEY: (Beat. Firm. But exhausted. Slowly.) I am doing my job——

POGGE: (Derisively) Your job——

MURRAY: Ray. The Wrap Up?

KELSEY: Shall we go?

POGGE: Where are we still deficient?

MURRAY: Ray!

KELSEY: Pregnancy. For one thing.

POGGE: You’re a damn broken record, Kelsey, you know that?

KELSEY: The effect on the fetus.

POGGE: But we’ve——

KELSEY: (Slowly. Angry.) Ask your experts! (A painful pause then more conciliatory.) Listen: Add a warning that any woman who is pregnant or plans to get pregnant shouldn’t take Kevadon and——

POGGE: We can’t do that!

MURRAY: Ray!

POGGE: Morning sickness is one of Kevadon’s major indications.

KELSEY: I can’t help you then.

MURRAY: I think we should get to the——

POGGE: How ’bout Nulsen?

KELSEY: Nulsen!?

POGGE: Nulsen specifically states——

KELSEY: You guys wanna debate the Nulsen study, now?

MURRAY: Ray——

POGGE: Yeah. (Beat) Nulsen specifically states that Kevadon is safe for both the fetus and the newborn.

KELSEY: I read the study.

POGGE: And even you hafta admit it’s a significant study published in a prestigious American journal.

KELSEY: (To herself.) God, if men could only get pregnant.

MURRAY: Excuse me?

KELSEY: Gentlemen: You throw up at the beginning of the pregnancy. The first trimester. Right? That’s when women’ll take Kevadon for morning sickness. By the end, you’re not nauseous, you feel like the Hindenburg gettin’ ready to explode.

POGGE: We know that.

KELSEY: (Angry) Then act like it!

MURRAY: I don’t think we’re——

KELSEY: Nulsen looks at the end. The third trimester. The fetus is almost completely formed by that point. It’s almost as if Nulsen designed his study not to find anything.

POGGE: So, now you’re accusing — Nulsen — of lying?

KELSEY: No. I’m saying: If Nulsen had wanted to find an effect, he’d have looked at the first trimester because that’s both where the drug is likely to be taken and when the fetus is at the highest risk of getting damaged. But no one, not Nulsen, not the Germans, not you guys, not anyone, has looked there. And I’M NOT GONNA APPROVE THE DRUG FOR PREGNANCY UNTIL SOMEONE DOES! (Pause to let the emotion diffuse slightly.) Anything else?! (An angry KELSEY briskly crosses toward the meeting. POGGE stops her with…)

POGGE: Where are the bad babies?

KELSEY: What?!

MURRAY: Ray!

POGGE: Where are the bad babies?!

KELSEY: Whaddaya mean?

MURRAY: Let’s do the Wrap Up.

POGGE: You’re all theory, Kelsey. But the rest of us live out here in the real world.

MURRAY: Ray. The Wrap Up.

POGGE: (Starts to move menacingly toward KELSEY.) And in the real world, thousands of women are takin’ this drug every day. Some of them pregnant.

MURRAY: (Grabbing POGGE’S shoulder from behind to restrain him.) Ray!

POGGE: (Turns to MURRAY.) NO! (To KELSEY.) And if Kevadon affects the fetus, like you say, we should be seeing hundreds of cases of fetal, who knows what, death? Illness? Deformity? The bad babies.

MURRAY: The Wrap Up, Ray?

POGGE: And we’ve seen ZERO!

(MURRAY positions himself between POGGE and KELSEY worried about violence. Restraining POGGE.)

MURRAY: RAY!

POGGE: ZERO!

MURRAY: RAY!

POGGE: WHERE ARE THE BAD BABIES?

MURRAY: RAY! SHUT UP!

POGGE: WHERE ARE THE BAD BABIES KELSEY?

KELSEY: (Beat) I. DON’T. KNOW!

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 9

Twelve weeks later. November 29, 1961. A small home in Ohio. William S. Merrell Company, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. JOHN YODER is reading a newspaper. BETTY YODER enters with a dish.

BETTY: Well, that’s it. Say “Goodbye” to Thanksgiving leftovers.

JOHN: (Not looking up.) That’s awful.

BETTY: It’s not that bad, John. Christmas’ll be here soon enough.

JOHN: (Pointing to the newspaper.) Betty, did you see this?

BETTY: See what?

JOHN: The pictures. In the paper. The babies.

BETTY: No.

JOHN: They don’t have arms, or legs, some of them. Here. Look.

(BETTY comes over to look at the paper. Then walks away.)

BETTY: That’s horrible!

JOHN: There’s this mysterious epidemic of it in Europe——

BETTY: Why would anyone put pictures like that in the paper?——

JOHN: They figured out it was caused by a drug.

BETTY: A drug? Does it say which one?

JOHN: (Looks in paper.) Thal-id-o——

BETTY: Thalidomide.

JOHN: Thalidomide. That’s it. How’d you know?

BETTY: (Beat. Thinks.) Remember that drug. From work. I was talking about.

JOHN: You talk about a lot of drugs.

BETTY: Kevadon.

JOHN: Maybe.

BETTY: It’s thalidomide.

JOHN: Why’s it called Kevadon?

BETTY: That’s our brand name.

JOHN: Well, it also says here that it caused a lot of miscarriages. (Pause. JOHN looks at BETTY who looks stricken.) Betty. Are you OK?

BETTY: (Quietly. To herself. With recognition. Great emotion.) I killed the baby.

JOHN: (Not hearing.) What?

BETTY: Early in the pregnancy. Kevadon. I took it.

JOHN: Why?!

BETTY: They said it would help with the vomiting. They promised us it was as safe as water, John. As safe as water.

JOHN: D’ya——

BETTY: I killed the baby!

JOHN: You don’t know that.

BETTY: Don’t hate me, John!

JOHN: What? No.

BETTY: Please don’t hate me!

JOHN: Betty. I could never——

BETTY: Oh. God. What have I done?

(Lights out over JOHN and BETTY. Lights up on MURRAY. POGGE enters with a piece of paper.)

MURRAY: That the statement?

POGGE: Part of it.

MURRAY: Read it.

POGGE: (Reading) “Representatives of the German company, Chemie Grünenthal have agreed, under pressure from health authorities, to withdraw the drug.”

MURRAY: (Clarifying) In Germany.

POGGE: Right. In Germany.

MURRAY: Not here.

POGGE: No. Not here.

MURRAY: So, whadda we do?

POGGE: For the time being, nothing.

MURRAY: Nothing?!

POGGE: It’s just a first report. C’mon, Joe, you don’t honestly think Kevadon’s capable of doin’ something like this, do you?

MURRAY: But the Germans——

POGGE: The Germans are panicking.

MURRAY: Panicking?!

POGGE: We all need to just take a deep breath. Wait for PR.

MURRAY: Easy for them. Kelsey’s gonna want an answer from me.

POGGE: PR’s workin’ up the official response. But, in the meantime, we stay the course and if anyone asks, we’re to say: “We’re waiting for confirmation.”

MURRAY: We’re waiting for confirmation?!

POGGE: That’s what they said.

MURRAY: Confirmation?! From whom?!

POGGE: Who the hell knows. It’s just somethin’ to buy us some time.

(Lights out over MURRAY and POGGE. Lights up on KELSEY who is on the phone. HELFER enters with a cup of coffee.)

KELSEY: That’s very kind. (Beat) It was a team effort.

(Beat) Thank you, Congressman. (Hangs up. Exhausted.) They don’t stop.

HELFER: (Hands KELSEY the coffee.) For the hero.

KELSEY: Thanks. Hardly.

HELFER: Oh. But you are. Everyone’s talkin’ about you.

KELSEY: I know. Guess what someone just called me?

HELFER: What?

KELSEY: The procrastinator who got lucky.

(Lights out over HELFER and KELSEY. Lights up on JOHN and BETTY.)

BETTY: And I’ve been givin’ it out, John. Kevadon. I’ve been givin’ it out.

JOHN: How?! The paper says it’s never been approved in the United States.

BETTY: They told us to give it out anyway.

JOHN: And you did?

BETTY: What was I supposed to do?

JOHN: But it wasn’t approved!

BETTY: What was I supposed to do, John? It was my job.

(Pause.)

JOHN: (Worried) Betty. Are you gonna be in trouble?

BETTY: I don’t know.

JOHN: Do they know you were givin’ it out?

BETTY: I don’t think so.

JOHN: (Beat, thinks.) You gotta tell them.

(Lights out over JOHN and BETTY. Lights up on KELSEY, HELFER, MURRAY and POGGE. KELSEY and MURRAY are on the phone.)

KELSEY: You’ve seen the news?

MURRAY: Yes.

KELSEY: Are the Germans acknowledging the connection with birth defects?

MURRAY: No.

KELSEY: (Surprised) Why not?!

MURRAY: It’s just a first report. They’re waiting for confirmation.

KELSEY: So, are you withdrawing your application for Kevadon?

MURRAY: No.

KELSEY: Why not?

MURRAY: We’re waiting for confirmation.

KELSEY: Well, McBride in Australia found the same thing. His report’s coming out in Lancet. Theres your confirmation!

MURRAY: I hadn’t heard that.

KELSEY: Have you notified your docs?

MURRAY: No.

KELSEY: Why not?

MURRAY: We’re wait——

KELSEY: (Annoyed with MURRAY.) Waiting for confirmation. (A second phone on KELSEY’s desk rings.) Yeah. Yeah. I got it. Hang on, Joe. (To HELFER.) You wanna get that.

MURRAY: (Facetious) Well, that worked well.

(HELFER picks up the phone. KELSEY watches.)

HELFER: Hello. Dr. Kelsey’s office.

(Lights up on BETTY. Phone to her ear.)

BETTY: I’m trying to reach Dr. Frances Kelsey.

HELFER: Ma’am. I’m sorry. She’s a little busy right now.

BETTY: It’s about Kevadon.

HELFER: (Pointing to the phone. To KELSEY.) Kevadon?

POGGE: What’s happening?

MURRAY: Kelsey told me to hang on. (POGGE is annoyed.)

HELFER: (KELSEY motions to HELFER to continue. To BETTY.) Can I help you?

BETTY: There’s a lot of Kevadon out there.

HELFER: No, ma’am. It was never approved in this country.

BETTY: There’s this investigational study——

HELFER: We know. Thirty doctors have been——

BETTY: Hundreds.

HELFER: (Beat) What?

BETTY: Thousands, maybe.

HELFER: Hang on. (To KELSEY.) The woman on the phone. She’s saying that hundreds of doctors have been passing out Kevadon.

KELSEY: That’s impossible!

HELFER: I know. (To BETTY.) I’m sorry, ma’am, that’s impossible. You must be mistaken.

BETTY: No. It’s true. I’ve been passing out the pills.

HELFER: Hang on. (To KELSEY.) It sounds like she knows. She says she’s been passing out the pills.

KELSEY: Who is she?

HELFER: I don’t know. Maybe a nurse——

KELSEY: Ask her where she works?

HELFER: (To BETTY.) Excuse me, ma’am. Where do you——(BETTY hangs up. Lights out over BETTY.) Hello? Ma’am? She hung up.

KELSEY: Call Larrick!

HELFER: (HELFER dials the operator.) Give me Commissioner Larrick! It’s urgent!

KELSEY: (To MURRAY.) Sorry to keep you waiting, Joe. You still have just thirty docs with Kevadon, right?

MURRAY: Hold on. Let me check. (To POGGE.) Kelsey wants to know how many docs have Kevadon.

POGGE: I was afraid of that. The PR guys are tryin’ to figure out what we’re allowed to say.

MURRAY: That doesn’t do me a damn bit of good right now!

HELFER: Commissioner Larrick. Hang on. (To KELSEY.) Larrick.

KELSEY: (Takes phone from HELFER.) Commissioner Larrick. Frances Kelsey. There may be a whole lot more Kevadon out there than we thought. We’re trying to track it down. I’m on the phone with Merrell right now. (KELSEY listens.)

POGGE: Gotta be careful, Joe. Remember: We can’t say or do anything that might be detrimental to Grünenthal’s interests.

MURRAY: But they can lie to us!

KELSEY: I understand. I’ll call you as soon as we know something. OK. (Hands phone back to HELFER.) (To MURRAY.) Joe?

MURRAY: (To KELSEY.) Hang on. (To POGGE.) Any more brilliant ideas?

POGGE: Tell Kelsey the truth about the number of docs.

MURRAY: The truth is: I don’t know.

POGGE: So, tell her.

MURRAY: (To KELSEY.) Dr. Kelsey?

KELSEY: You still have just thirty docs with Kevadon, right?

MURRAY: I don’t know.

KELSEY: Whaddaya mean: You don’t know?

MURRAY: I just don’t know.

KELSEY: The truth.

MURRAY: That is the truth.

KELSEY: More?!

MURRAY: I don’t know.

KELSEY: You’re gonna hafta do better than that, Joe.

MURRAY: Look.

KELSEY: Do you have their names?

MURRAY: Maybe. Some of them.

KELSEY: It was an investigational study. How can you not have their names?! (HELFER gets KELSEY’s attention.) Hang on.

MURRAY: (To POGGE.) She’s not buyin’ it.

KELSEY: (To HELFER.) They’re stonewalling. I’m sure of it.

HELFER: Ask about the pills, then?

KELSEY: What?

HELFER: Ask about the pills. How many? They gotta track those.

KELSEY: (To MURRAY. Threatening.) OK. Joe. I’m gonna ask you a question and if you lie to me, I swear to Christ I’m gonna spend the rest of my life making sure you go to prison!

MURRAY: Calm down. We’ve always been——

KELSEY: SHUT UP! (Beat, slowly.) How much Kevadon have you dispensed? How many pills?

MURRAY: I don’t know.

KELSEY: Find out.

MURRAY: I don’t——

KELSEY: FIND OUT!

MURRAY: (To POGGE.) Is that the Kevadon formulary report?

POGGE: (Beat, concerned about where this is leading.) Why?

MURRAY: Kelsey wants the number of pills we’ve dispensed.

POGGE: Wait for PR.

MURRAY: Give me the report.

POGGE: Listen to me, Joe. Wait for PR. Those guys are handling this.

MURRAY: Give me the report.

POGGE: Telling Kelsey now’s only gonna screw things up for everybody.

MURRAY: Ray. Give me the damn report!

POGGE: (Beat, slowly and calmly.) OK. But you’re gonna regret this.

(POGGE hands him the report.)

MURRAY: (To KELSEY.) I’m looking. Hang on. (To POGGE.) This can’t be right.

POGGE: (Slowly and calmly.) No. It’s right.

MURRAY: Oh, my God! (To KELSEY.) Here it is: (Beat) 2,528,412.

(KELSEY is stunned. She slowly drops the phone and stares off into the distance. A catastrophe.)

END OF SCENE

 

Scene 10

Six months later. June 5, 1962. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. DR. FRANCES OLDHAM KELSEY is at her desk on the phone writing on a paper. GERTRUDE HELFER walks in.

KELSEY: (On phone. Sadly.) OK. Got it. Thanks. (Hangs up. Beat. To HELFER.) Seventeen.

HELFER: Seventeen, what?

KELSEY: Seventeen babies with multiple deformities.

HELFER: (With concern.) Dr. Kelsey.

KELSEY: That doesn’t count all the ones who died or were miscarried.

HELFER: Dr. Kelsey. (Beat, slowly.) You have got to stop beating yourself up over this.

(KELSEY gets up. Upset.)

KELSEY: It was my job!

HELFER: Look. There are maybe ten thousand in Europe.

KELSEY: So?

HELFER: So, we’ve only had seventeen.

KELSEY: And you want me to do what: Go up to a child with no arms and legs and say, Sorry——

HELFER: No!

KELSEY: I almost got it right.

HELFER: No! But it’s not your fault!

KELSEY: It IS my fault.

HELFER: Dr. Kelsey.

KELSEY: They had over twelve hundred doctors in that sham study. We thought they had what?

HELFER: Thirty.

KELSEY: Thirty!? How could I miss that? (Beat) How many patients?

HELFER: Dr. Kelsey. We’ve been over this.

KELSEY: How many patients?!

HELFER: Twenty thousand.

KELSEY: Twenty thousand!

HELFER: You did everything you could.

KELSEY: No. I didn’t.

HELFER: What else could you have done?!

KELSEY: I could have rejected the application——

HELFER: How?

KELSEY: If I’d just rejected the application the first time——

HELFER: You couldn’t.

KELSEY: I could have stopped it all.

HELFER: You had no cause.

KELSEY: None of this would have happened.

HELFER: You did your best.

KELSEY: I could have stopped it!

HELFER: (Begs) FRANCES, FRANCES, PLEASE.

KELSEY: (Starts to weep.) I could have stopped it. I could have. They were lying. I knew they were lying. I swear to God. I knew they were lying.

(HELFER walks over and embraces KELSEY. KELSEY weeps. Pause. Phone rings. HELFER looks at it.)

HELFER: Should I answer it? (KELSEY shakes her head “No”. But the phone keeps ringing. Finally, HELFER guides KELSEY to a chair and answers the phone.) Dr. Kelsey’s office. (Beat, stands tall.) Yessir. She’s right here.

KELSEY: (Waving her off.) I can’t talk to anyone right now.

(HELFER kneels beside KELSEY with the phone.)

HELFER: (Gently) Frances. It’s President Kennedy.

END OF SCENE

 

EPILOGUE

Four months later. October 10, 1962. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC. GERTRUDE HELFER rolls in a hand truck dolly full of boxes and starts unloading them. DR. FRANCES OLDHAM KELSEY enters.

KELSEY: What’s that?

HELFER: Your next application.

KELSEY: All that?

HELFER: Oh. No. There’s much more.

KELSEY: More?!

HELFER: You know, two years ago when I first met you I handed you a couple of binders. Now look. (Smiles) See what you’ve done. (Pulls a magazine off the top of the boxes.) Oh. My mother gave me her copy of Life Magazine if you want another one. (KELSEY opens the magazine and looks at her picture.)

KELSEY: I hate that picture.

HELFER: You look fine.

KELSEY: I look like a raccoon.

HELFER: (Hesitantly. Because KELSEY does.) You — do not.

KELSEY: My girls are on me to use make-up.

HELFER: (Eagerly.) Maybe you should.

KELSEY: But I hate make-up.

HELFER: You could try cucumbers.

KELSEY: Cucumbers?

HELFER: That’s what I use.

KELSEY: Cucumbers?

HELFER: (Putting a box from the hand truck dolly on KELSEY’s desk.) What time do you leave for the White House?

KELSEY: I just got back.

(KELSEY looks in her purse for a pen, finds it, hands it to HELFER, who reads the label on the pen.)

HELFER: The President of the United States. You stole Kennedy’s pen?!

KELSEY: He gave it to me after he signed the Kefauver Bill.

HELFER: (Beat, hands back the pen.) Kefauver’s gonna change everything.

KELSEY: We’re entering a brave new world.

HELFER: That’s twice.

KELSEY: What’s twice?

HELFER: The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and now Kefauver. You both times.

KELSEY: No——

HELFER: (Jokes.) Troublemaker.

KELSEY: Honest. It was the rats and the rabbits.

HELFER: Uh-huh. Blame the poor animals.

KELSEY: It wasn’t just me.

HELFER: (Beat, skeptical.) Did you see Kennedy putting a medal on anyone else?

(KELSEY opens the top of the box. Starts to remove documents. Pause.)

HELFER: Frances.

KELSEY: (Half-listening) Huh?

HELFER: They’re sayin’ you saved twenty-thousand children from bein’ crippled. Twenty thousand! (Beat. Sees KELSEY is distracted.) Frances. Are you even listening?

KELSEY: (Half-listening) Twenty thousand.

HELFER: And you know what’s scary?

KELSEY: (Giving HELFER her attention.) No. What?

HELFER: Remember the day we met?

KELSEY: (Smiles) You thought I’d look older——

HELFER: (Somewhat light-hearted.) Shut up——

KELSEY: Like I do now.

HELFER: You told me the story about how you got into the University of Chicago because they thought you were a man.

KELSEY: The name, Frances.

HELFER: They saved all the positions for men because why: They thought they made better scientists?

KELSEY: Don’t forget it was the Depression. A lot of men were out of work.

HELFER: So, if your parents had named you Mary Ann, you wouldn’t have gotten in——

KELSEY: Probably not——

HELFER: And you wouldn’t have ended up at the FDA that day I handed you those first two cases.

KELSEY: No.

HELFER: OK. Ready for the really scary part: (Beat) Those twenty-thousand kids would have gotten crippled.

KELSEY: You don’t know that.

HELFER: Yes. I do. No one else would have stood up to Merrell. No one. Those twenty-thousand kids would have gotten crippled. Think about it, Frances: All those kids are gonna be running and playing because your folks named you Frances, not Mary Ann.

KELSEY: (Beat) Life is sure a tenuous thread.

(Brief pause.)

HELFER: Folks’ll remember you, Frances.

KELSEY: What?

HELFER: Folks’ll remember you. They will.

KELSEY: (Skeptical) A woman scientist?

HELFER: Yes. A woman scientist. Long after we’re all dead. They’ll remember you.

KELSEY: No, they won’t.

HELFER: Why’s that so hard to believe?

KELSEY: Because people forget.

HELFER: They’ll remember you.

KELSEY: People forget.

HELFER: Not you, Frances. You won.

KELSEY: You think so? Guess what I heard walking through the cafeteria this morning.

HELFER: What?

KELSEY: (Beat. Slowly.) If Marilyn Monroe had taken thalidomide, she would still be alive.

(Music starts. KELSEY and HELFER look at each other. Then KELSEY walks back to her desk and sits down. HELFER exits, stopping long enough to put her hand on KELSEY’s shoulder. KELSEY looks at her picture in Life Magazine. Then closes the magazine and sets it aside. She picks up a file from her next application and goes back to work. Lights fade.)

END OF PLAY
Menu