By RON OSBORN
It's Memorial Day weekend, 1961, and I have just seen the
greatest movie ever made: The Time Machine.
It plays at the Hayward Theater on a double bill with
Steve Reeves' Morgan the Pirate. And each day of
that holiday weekend, my friends and I make a pilgrimage
downtown to worship before the altar of George Pal's future
imperfect (I sit through Time Machine four times
and Morgan three ... for me still a three-day movie-viewing
personal best). It's got it all, action, scares, state-of-the-art
special effects. But most of all, to a pre-pubescent 10-year-old,
it's got something no other film in the history of cinema
ever had: Yvette Mimieux as Weena.
Weena ... she of pristine beauty, willowy grace, and an
intoxicating naivete that left me as a 10-year-old feeling
positively worldly and jaded; whose trusting and pure heart
were as much an aphrodisiac as her lithe figure and skimpy
toga. Who yearned for a strapping, masculine male -- me,
for instance -- to take her, teach her, mold her.
I'm certain no single visage ever inspired so many boys
to major in quantum physics in the hopes of finding a shortcut
in the space-time continuum.
Sure, there was no shortage of sci-fi pulchritude before
and after her: Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space
(who, by the by, was not the queen but a fetching underling;
still, that Hungarian accent made her too ... well, cosmopolitan),
Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet (who, not unlike
Weena, was also a babe and an innocent; but then there was
that sticky father-in-law issue), and of course Jane Fonda
in Barbarella (who was way too dominatrix-like, even
before I knew what "dominatrix-like" meant).
No ... clearly through all those years, and all those films, if I were to be stuck with a female in the future or the past, one choice towered above them all: Weena. The beautiful, simple, tabula rasa Weena.
Okay. So cut to a few decades later ...
I'm excited to show my 11-year-old daughter The Time
Machine on video, having shared an adolescent version
of the book together. I've not seen the movie for most of
those decades and long to relive my first major screen crush.
Plus, older and wiser now, and bearing the scars of numerous
failed relationships wherein I was never at fault -- as
is true of most males -- this was the chance to reacquaint
myself with the ultimate no-maintenance, hassle-free female;
the one woman for whom phrases like "No, you can't do that
tonight," "No, I won't do that tonight," and "Must you really
rearrange that in public?" don't exist.
Feverishly, I put the tape in the VCR, hit play, and resist
the urge to fast-forward to when we first meet Weena by
the river. But as the tape unspools, it dawns on me with
the ugly reality of a past-due mortgage payment that by
film's end, when Rod Taylor/George returns to the future
for a life with the beautiful Yvette/Weena, those two have
absolutely not a chance in hell together. None. Nada. Zippo.
Even allowing for George's Victorian male chauvinism, it'd
be over in two, three days. Tops.
How can I be so sure? The sad answer: because I'm no longer
10 years old.
I mean, imagine walking into the local tavern and seeing
George at bar's end, nursing two fingers of Scotch. Imagine
he's taken the night off from the future, just has to get
away, and has traveled to the present because we happen
to live in the golden age of blended whiskeys. Recognizing
him, you strike up a conversation. And he pours out something
not unlike the following:
Yeah, sure ... I'm George, time traveler nonpareil ...
thanks for asking. (Sip.) Hey, uh ... I left my wallet
in 1,000,000-something A.D. ... a few tips from the future
if you spot me a Glenlivit. (You do so.) Thanks.
Lessee, it's 2000, right? Invest everything you got in Euro-funds
... when Bill Gates buys Europe you'll be set. And bet the
house on the L.A. Clippers finally going all the way. Upp
... wait ... wrong century. Oh, and word to the wise, that
whole Morlocks-evolving-from-us thing? It started in the
late-1900s. Near as we can tell, it coincides with the introduction
of light beer. (A raised brow at what's in your hand).
But hey ... it's your future.
(He takes another sip, becomes pensive.) 'N here's
a free piece of wisdom for the ages: The day you finally
decide to settle down with Miss Right? Make sure ... make
really, really sure ... that you're sure ... know what I
mean? (A rueful gulp; signals to barkeep for a splash.)
Me, I went for an Eloi girl. Weena. Beautiful lady, trusting
soul. But the Eloi ... (a shake of the head) ...
they're a few links down the food chain, in a manner of
speaking. No, wait -- literally speaking. Anyway, as civilizations
go, they're not exactly what you'd call the brightest candle
on the cake. I mean, here I am, the person who travels hundreds
of thousands of years to get there, who wipes out the Morlocks,
who saves Weena 'n her people from becoming the catch of
the day. You'd think she could muster a little effort for
me, right? But this was our very first conversation:
Me: Okay ... so ... brand new day, nothing but
us, green grass, sunshine. Let's have some fun. What do
you do here for sports?
Me: You know, games, competition.
Weena: Com ... com-pa-tish---
Me: Competition. You know, where an individual or
Weena: In-da ...
Me: A person, a single person, you know what
that is, right?
Weena: Of course.
Me: Good, good. Okay, where a single person or team
Weena: Team ... ?
Me: Yes! (a pause to contain; then, very slowly):
Yes. A team ... a group of people ...
Weena: Uh huh.
Me: ... who band together ...
Weena: Uh huh.
Me: ... to play against another team ...
Weena: Uh huh.
Me: ... under a set of rules to determine who the
victor will be. Do ... you ... understand?
Weena: Of course. Except for one part.
Me: Which part?
Weena: The part after "yes."
Me: (very long pause, then) Think I'll swim now.
(Another gulp and wave to the barkeep.) Our first
day together, and already I'm thinking I wiped out the wrong
civilization. Granted, the Morlocks had that whole high-protein-no-greens
diet ... okay, fine, cannibalism ... but at least they knew
their way around a kitchen. And they were smart, they had
technology, you could hold a decent conversation with them.
Not to mention world-class mumbletypeg players, every one
of 'em. (Off the obvious question: how do you know? A
sheepish look.) Uh ... turns out that a few Morlocks
survived. And ... well ... okay, I admit it, I'm seeing
a Morlock girl now. I know, I know, she's not much to wake
up to. But we can talk, damnit! And the best part? She isn't
even jealous of my former relationship with Weena. In fact,
she wants to have her over for dinner ...
(An uncomfortable silence ... you nod, pay the tab
... pull your collar up against the cold ... leave.)
I don't know, maybe I was wrong to view The Time Machine
again. Maybe I should have held onto my Weena fantasy archetype,
if only because today's sci-fi babe-ola is either an NRA
poster girl (Alien's Ripley, Barb Wire) or
the ultimate bad one-night-stand (Species). And in
keeping alive that fantasy, part of that 10-year-old boy
who sat in the Hayward Theater stayed alive in me as well.
But it's too late. He and the fantasy are gone forever. Would that, like George, I could go back in time only a few months, put the tape on for my daughter ... and walk away, memories of Weena intact.
Ron Osborn is an Emmy, Cable Ace and Writers Guild Award-nominated
writer whose writing and producing credits include The
West Wing, Cupid, Moonlighting, Duckman, Night
Court and Mork and Mindy.