April 20, 1978, DIAMOND STUDS, THE LIFE OF JESSE JAMES,
opened at the University of Alaska Theatre for a four-day run.
It was performed by the Alaska Repertory Theatre. James Morrison had
several parts in this play, as did some of the other actors. Morrison performed
as "the Engineer", "Huckster", "First Yankee",
"Pinkerton", "Second Federale" and "Whicher". Most
of the cast members also had a listing for musical instrument they played. James
was listed as "guitar".
DIAMOND STUDS is referred to as a "saloon musical". There were
twelve songs sung during the performance. The two-act play has seventeen scenes.
A prologue of the story is accomplished before the first act with the cast singing; "Jesse James Robbed This Train." Act One begins on the streets of Kansas City, Missouri. It's in the afternoon of April 3, 1882. A man is hawking newspapers calling out the headline. "Famous Jesse James Killed In Saint Joe!"
A character called Huckster is selling bloodstained splinters from the floor where Jesse James was killed. "Get your blood-stained splinters! He yells. "Only fifty cents!" Another man is selling all eighteen verses of "A Ballad of Jesse James" for the cost of one penny.
The play then takes a step backwards into the past. The scene is the James' farm in Clay County, Missouri of 1863. Frank James notifies his mother that he is leaving the farm the next day. Jesse wants to tag along, but his mother, Zerelda, wants him to stay on the farm. She tells him that he is only sixteen and still her baby. Besides that, he's needed on the farm to help. "You know Pappy's in no good shape since them Yankees hung him from the plum tree," Jesse insists that he leave with his brother. Frank assures Zerelda that Jesse would be safe with him. "He can out-shoot and out-ride anyone in Missouri. She finally relents and allows Jesse to leave with his brother. Frank's plans are to join the Quantrill Raiders.
When Jesse and Frank arrive at Quantrill's camp, they meet up with Cole, Bob and Jim Younger. Frank tells Jesse that the Youngers are cousins on their mother's side of the family. He then introduces Jesse to William Clarke Quantrill who is affectionately called "Charley" by his men. Quantrill informs his troop that things were not looking good. "Major Johnson, from up in Kansas has two hundred men to our forty."
The story moves ahead to Surrender Headquearters, 1865. Cole, Frank, Jesse (who is badly wounded) and Major Edwards are there to surrender. Major Edwards served with Joe Shelby's Division. Cole doesn't like the way they are treating the Major. "I don't care if you're all generals in your make-believe army. You got to surrender or face prosecution!" warns the First Yankee. One of the Yankees points to Jesse, and tells them that Jesse had shot Major Johnson. "Looks kinda shot up himself," replies First Yankee. All of them are required to sign amnesty papers, but they are not happy with the conditions and express their irritation before signing the papers.
The year jumps to 1871. Allen K. Pinkerton has come to the James' farm to question Zerelda and Pappy about Frank and Jesse. Pappy is sitting at the piano playing softly in the background while Pinkerton speaks to Zerelda. "Ma'am, your Jesse's robbed a number of banks, along with his brother Frank, his cousins Cole, Bob, and Jim Younger, not to mention an entire supporting cast of unreconstructed rebels." "Jesse was critically wounded, Mr. Pinkerton. Shot in the lung. He could hardly rob a bank. Frank is in Baltimore, observing the plays of Shakespeare on the stage. My boys would never engage in anything illegal. They were raised in the Church."
Pinkerton feels he is getting nowhere and decides to leave. "I'll be back, he warns Zerelda. When Pinkerton has left the house Jesse, Frank, Bob and Jim all come out of hiding from behind the piano.
The scene shifts to Corydon, Iowa. The Younger and James boys plan to rob the Corydon Bank. When Jesse tries to get change for a hundred-dollar bill, the clerk, Greencheese, tells him that he would have to open the vault and he doesn't have the keys. The head cashier, Mr. Porkbarrel, was at a meeting in regard to building a new schoolhouse. Greencheese did point out that there was a new bank that opened just across the street.
The gang decides to rob the Ocobock Brothers Bank across the street. After the cashier stuffs the money into a feedbag supplied by Frank, the cashier is locked in the vault.
Jesse wanders down the street where Porkbarrel is addressing the crowd. Porkbarrel is introducing Henry Clay Dean when Jesse yells out that the bank had been robbed. Everyone heads for the bank.
Porkbarrel is telling Greenchesse, "Son, I'm so glad it wasn't our
bank." Greenchesse brags about sending the robbers to the bank across the
As Porkbarrel and Greenchesse count the money hidden in the vault, Jesse, Frank, Cole, Bob, and Jim walk in dressed in character hats. Greencheese thinks Jesse is Mark Twain. "Sam" to you, gentlemen," Jesse answers. Jesse continues, "I'd like you to meet some of my literary companions. This here's Walt Whitman (Jim). Edna Ferber (Frank). Ed Poe (Bob). Jesse points to Cole and said, "That's Huckleberry Finn. Sure growed up funny looking didn't he?" Jesse tells the two men that he was sent there to do a little research into bank robbers. He turns to the gang, "Gentlemen, you may proceed with the preliminary research." The gang begins to stack the money and Cole does some pickpocketing.
Next we jump to Belle Starr's Outlaw Heaven, a saloon in Texas, 1872. Jesse, Frank, Cole, Bob and Jim are standing at the bar when a ruffian yells out for Belle Starr. A second man calls out, "Hell, I'd settle for her daughter, Pearl Younger!" The name sparks interest in both Frank and Jesse. "Cole, was you ever in New Orleans before?" asks Frank. "Just one time," Cole answers.
The next scene takes place in the Summer of 1876. The gang is sitting on the front porch at the James' farm. They are planning their biggest robbery yet. Jesse mentions that they will need extra men. Frank brings up the names of Charlie and Bob Ford. There is a misunderstanding when Jim says something about the bank in Platte City. Jesse warns them that to continue to work in the Missouri area was dangerous. He thought they should go to Minnesota where he heard the banks were bulging with money. Cole doesn't like the idea of leaving the area because it would cause a problem of getting someone to hide them. "Why hell, anywhere in this state, we got a fresh horse every twenty miles just for the asking." He reminds them. "Don't forget what Bill Chadwell said," Frank interjects. "Minnesota is the wealthiest state in the union."
Chadwell, a horse thief, knows every road, hog path, cave and swamp in that part of the country. Frank figures they could take him with them to lead the way after the bank job. "Besides, Minnesota banks have never been touched," adds Frank. "We can sweep in there like a twister and be gone before the dust settles," Jesse jokes.
The next scene moves ahead to the Northfield Woods, September 1876. Enter Jesse, Frank, Cole, Bob and Jim. Cole and Bob are carrying Jim, who is critically wounded. Jesse is urging them to hurry for the posse can't be more than a mile behind. Cole protests that they can't go any faster. He says angrily, "Minnesota! Chadwell was gunna lead us out of here and he's dead in the street!" Jesse tries to reason with him. They have to get out of there. Jim was suffering and he wouldn't make it. When Jesse suggests they finish Jim off, it starts an argument "Why, you son of a bitch! I'll finish you!" Cole lashes out. Jesse again tries to reason with him. "Goddamit, Cole, they're coming!" Cole tells Jesse to ride out; he was staying with Jim. Bob states he was staying behind with his brothers. Jesse and Frank ride off.
Within a few minutes, Pinkerton and the posse show up. The brothers are told to drop their guns. "Come on, men, we got 'em! Keep them covered now." Pinkerton orders. Pinkerton points to Cole. "That's him! I'd recognize that face anywhere. The Pinkertons have triumphed at last! I've captured Jesse James!" "The man's King Cole, you dumb Yankee!" Cole says.
The play jumps forward to the Stillwater Penitentiary. It's the year, 1903. The Warden is telling Cole and Jim Younger that their parole is approved. Cole and Jim have been imprisoned for twenty-five years. Cole comments, "We spent a long time inside, Warden. Jim did a lot of reading and a lot of imagining. There was nothing else for him to do. It's a new century now. I wish Bob had lived to see it. I'm free now. Reckon I'll take my leave." Cole walks outside to freedom. "Is that a train I hear? Reminds me of the old days. Oh my, that is a train!" He starts reminiscing of the trains that he, his brothers, and the James' boys had robbed in the past.
"Get'em up boy, get 'em high! You go for your gun and I'll shoot you as full of holes as a colander!" Jesse orders. "Open that safe!" Cole yells. "Make your donations right here," Bob states as he opens a sack for the passengers to put their belongings. Jesse gives a letter to the conductor explaining that every time there is an article in a newspaper about a robbery the gang has done, the editor gets it all messed up. Jesse says, "This contains the full version of today's robbery."
In Act Two, the play begins in a Mexican cantina South of the border. The year is 1878. Jesse walks in. There are a number of men who appear to be asleep. He speaks out, "Por favor .is there anyone here by the name of Waldo Gonzales?" A man awakens at one of the tables. "Si. Ramon Waldo Chumper y Medina Gonzales. This is me." Jesse introduces himself as Howard. He wants to exchange three thousand gold coins. Gonzales only offers him twelve hundred in pesos. Jesse gets angry and tells him that he used to get sixty. "You think because I'm down here by myself you can kick the horse and leave me hanging. Permit me, Senor Gonzales, to inform you that you are mistaken." Gonzales flashes a knife at Jesse's throat. But Jesse's revolver is pressing the ribs of the Mexican. "Okay. Old price eighteen hundred," offers Gonzales. "Anything for my friend Jesse James." First Federale wakes up and mumbles, "Hesse Hames?" Gonzales continues speaking. "Everybody knows Jesse James has a big price on his gringo head." Gonzales levels a gun at Jesse's head. First Federale adds, "You do not have a chance, Hesse Hames!" "Not even if you had Panco Villa!"
Panco Villa enters the room. "Did someone call my name?" he asks. "The Federales, eh? I don't know what it's about, but I will make you regret it!" "Panco! For this relief much thanks," Jesse says. Panco tells Jesse that they will have to take them all at once. A shootout occurs. When the dust settles, Panco says he will return to the mountains to delight his Senorita.
The next scene takes place in Glendale, Missouri, 1881. Porkbarrel and Greencheese are waiting for a train. They jump on the train when it slows down. The brakeman sees them and tells them to get off the train. Jesse appears, "Not so fast! You're talking to my friends." Jesse knocks the brakeman out. He tells the conductor to open the safe. The conductor says he doesn't have the key. "They won't let us have 'em anymore." Jesse warns him that he'll throw him in the fuel box if he doesn't open the safe. The conductor swears he doesn't have it. Greencheese looking the safe over discovers that it's the old safe that they had used in Corydon, Iowa. "Don't you still have the key?" He asks Porkbarrel, who in turn digs into his pockets. "It's been seven years." Jesse asks them if they'd lost their jobs. They had, but were glad because they had been cursed on the streets. "I got it!" Porkbarrel yells out. The key opens the safe and they transfer the gold into a feedbag. Porkbarrel mentions to Jesse that this was great material for his next book. Greencheese lets Jesse know that Porkbarrel writes dime novels now. Jesse wants to know if he can give him some inside outlaw tales. "I know that Frank James is no longer riding with his brother Jesse." Porkbarrel knew that and knew that Frank James was living in Tennessee. "Jesse's married now to his cousin Zee. Did you know that?" Porkbarrel added that Zee is short for Zerelda and was named after his mother and they had two younguns. "Well, do you know that the Pinkertons bombed his house and blew off his mother's arm up to the elbow?" "'Course!" Porkbarrel answers. Jesse tries again. "Killed his little half-brother she had by Pappy?" Porkbarrel tells Jesse that it's all old news. Jesse turns to the conductor and wants to know if there are any Pinkertons aboard. "I don't let Pinkertons ride on my train." When Jesse offers money to Greencheese and Porkbarrel, Greencheese said he'd settle for a ride. "Ride, hell!" said the conductor," You're driving! I'm through with this job." Before Jesse leaves, Porkbarrel tells him to consult C. C. Porkbarrel for the last word in Jamesiana. Jesse asks him what's the last word on Jesse? "Jesse James? Why, he's riding to Glendale, to rob the train."
The next scene takes place on a road near the James farm in Clay County. The year has jumped to 1881. Jesse and Bob Ford are hiding. Jesse tells Bob that he is about to meet his first Pinkerton. A man called Whicher appears. He greets Jesse and Bob and says he's looking for work. Jesse asks him what kind of work he's looking for. Whicher answers that he is used to farm labor and hopes to find a job on some farm in the area. Jesse mentions that Whicher doesn't look like a farmhand. "I'm nothing but a poor man, without a dollar in my pocket," Whicher retorted. Jesse fired back, "I think you're from Chicago. When you arrived in Liberty a few days ago you wore much better clothes than you have on now. Didn't you set out to locate Jesse James. and found him quicker than you thought?" Jesse wants to see Whicher' s hands, which he had shoved onto his pockets. "All right," Whicher says, as his hands emerge from his pockets with two pistols in them. Jesse, quicker on the draw, shoots him dead. Ford comments, "Smooth as a baby's ass!"
The next scene moves to St. Joseph, Missouri. "The House on the Hill" 1882. Jesse tells Bob Ford to get the horses ready because they are leaving for a place called Blue Cut, which is three miles from Kansas City. Jesse with wine bottle in hand makes a toast to their house on the hill. Zee, his wife, is not happy that he has to leave again. She tells him, "Well, it ain't Kansas City, but at least no one knows we're here, except the Methodist Church. She toasts with the wine bottle. Jesse reminds her that here she is Sister Rosie Howard and he is Tom Howard, the singing grain salesman. "That doesn't describe your new man," Zee questions. Jesse says that Bob will do fine for Blue Cut.
There's a knock at the door. Jesse asks who is there "It's Marshall Murphy. You know me, Brother Howard, from the church choir." Jesse invites him in. Zee is afraid he knows about Blue Cut. "What's on your mind, brother?" Jesse asks. Murphy tells Jesse that he is helping to organize a posse to hunt for Jesse James. Jesse asks if James is in the area. "He's in the neighborhood," Murphy answers. Jesse turns to Zee (Rosie) and tells her to go to the bedroom and lock the door. Murphy assures Jesse that he's not that close. "Well, how close is he? Near Kansas City? Glendale? Uh - Blue Cut?" Murphy says that it's in the opposite direction. A Pinkerton spotted him. Murphy wants to know if Jesse will ride with them. When he says he would, Zee reminds him that he has to close a deal the next day. Jesse tells Murphy that he has to close this deal. "He's a scoundrel, Brother," Murphy comments. "He's a poltroon (coward)! But, business is next to godliness." "Are you sure that you're not just a tiny bit afraid, Brother Howard?" Murphy questions. "Believe me, Marshall, there is no place I'd feel safer than in the middle of your posse."
The St. James Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri, late in the night of January 13, 1882. Bob Ford meets with Governor Crittendon and Pinkerton. Ford is telling the Governor and Pinkerton that he's on the inside and can deliver Jesse James. Pinkerton says, "It's obvious to me that Ford knows where Jesse James lives. When we know the suspect is there, we will surround the house with five hundred Pinkertons. He won't get away." Ford mentions that Jesse won't be taken alive. Bob Ford volunteers to shoot Jesse for the reward. The Governor likes that idea. It had been a messy deal when the James' farm was blown up.
St. Joseph, Missouri, "The House on the Hill." April 3, 1882. Ford is inside Jesse's house. Jesse asks him to go pick up the Sunday papers. "A man must be informed," he tells him. When Bob leaves, Jesse speaks with Zee. "I' m riding to Platte City tonight and taking the bank in the morning." Zee asks if Ford is going with him. Jesse says, yes. When Ford enters the house, Zee tells Jesse she wants to talk with him later.
Jesse reads the papers and finds out that his gang is getting credit for jobs they haven't done. When Zee mentions cleaning up and packing, Ford wants to know what she's talking about. "Why, this is the end of the line, Bob. I'm riding to Nebrasky, remember? Gonna farm with Zee and raise up a family. Platte City will be my last haul." Ford thinks the job will go smooth. "You know," Jesse begins, "God made men, and Mr. Samuel Colt made 'em equal. You want to help me clean up these odds and ends?"
Ford offers to help. Jesse removes his gun and holster. "Don't want no neighbors to see me packin' iron." He asks Ford to hand him a chair; he wants to dust off one of the pictures hanging on the wall. Jesse stands on the chair with his back to Ford. Ford pulls his Colt .44, levels it at Jesse's head and pulls the trigger.
The James farm, circa 1905. Zerelda is showing tourists around. The tourists want to see the house. "Cost you a dollar," Zerelda tells them. They ask who she is. "I'm the mother," Zerelda replies. She asks them if they want to take a picture of her. "Cost a dollar," she repeats. When Zerelda picks up a stone she tells the tourists it's from Jesse's grave. The tourist asks, how much? "Five dollars," answers Zerelda. When the tourists leave with their treasures, Zerelda comments, "There's plenty more where that come from - in the creek bottom! Dumb Yankees!"
Synopsized from playbook, "Diamond Studs, The Life of Jesse James" by Jim Wann.
Note: Diamond Studs opened in New York City at the Westside Theatre on January 14, 1975.