Joseph Stangle’s final appearance as TV’s beloved Uncle Georgie on the popular sitcom The Silver Sisters aired in
1974, two months before he was sentenced to five years in San Quentin State Prison. His career had been derailed
and he was now determined to get things back on track. The day he was released—four years, one month and
twelve days later--he stepped off a Greyhound bus, dropped a dime into the first pay phone he saw and called his
agent, Maury Jacobson.
“Anything on the horizon, boss?” he asked as if nothing had happened.
“Nothing this week, kid. Sorry,” Maury replied with the ease of a man who had learned long ago to not burn bridges.
Besides, Stangle had at one time been one of his best money-makers. And even though Maury suspected this would
never be the case again— Stangle was washed-up, done, kaput--he wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. After
all, as he was often fond of saying, strange things happen in a strange business.
Joseph sensed the even-greater-than-usual tension in his agent’s voice. He knew he was in for a long, tough ride.
All his life, since he was a child, he had dreamed of being an actor, and he wasn’t about to let a little thing like prison
(and that Rat-Bastard Kid) stand in his way. This was Hollywood, afterall, he reasoned. People had gotten away
with murder in this town. Literally.
Since his release from San Quentin thirty-four years earlier, Joseph has received a residual payment from The Silver
Sisters. Though the amount is usually small—$27.34, this morning--he always puts it to good use. He steps from his
apartment wearing his favorite powder-blue bowtie and suit coat, the residual check tucked neatly in his breast
pocket, carrying a bone-handled cane and towing a grocery cart.
The street is lined with crumbling Art-Deco facades that recall the Golden Age of Hollywood. Joseph often imagines
someone as elegant as even Garbo may have at one time taken an apartment here. After all, Clara Bow--the original
“It Girl”--at one time had lived just two buildings north of Joseph’s and he finds this oddly comforting. Two blocks
south, however, the quiet street abruptly terminates into ceaseless cross-traffic and gang-tagged burrito stands.
Lost in thought, replaying his favorite scene from Grand Hotel, Joseph rounds the corner and sees Emma Randall, his
former television wife, for the first time in three decades. Joseph stops as if he has bumped into an invisible wall and
a sudden sense of dread rushes over him. Unsure what to do next, he turns clumsily toward a run-down
consignment shop, dragging the grocery cart like a stubborn pet. He pushes the door. Locked. A sign hangs in the
window--CERRADO. With nowhere to turn, he stares absently into the store’s grimy window at a plaster bust of Elvis
Presley, his lip curled as if anticipating the scene to come. Sure stepped in it this time, you ol’ Hound Dog. Joseph
focuses on a peeling price tag affixed to Elvis’ forehead--$10—and his heart begins to race. Whenever he sees
anyone involved in “the incident,” his anxiety surges, as if police are going to rush in, guns drawn, and again drag him
away. To this day, he avoids children. And is never alone with them.
He can hear Emma Randall’s heels. Elvis seems to look on with glazed eyes. It’s Now Or Never...
“Joseph!?” Her voice trills with theatricality.
After a pause and a quick sucking in of air, he glances casually over his shoulder.
“It is you?” she exclaims.
“Emma!” Joseph almost shouts. He knows it sounded forced, canned, and wonders if she's spotted the bad acting.
They each quickly register the years that have accumulated on the other’s face and by now, Joseph thinks, she must
be in her late fifties and suddenly feels every one of his own seventy-three years.
“How have you been?” she asks. “It’s been forever and a day!”
“Oh,” Joseph says, “shouldn’t complain. And you?”
“Busy as a beaver. You know...”
Joseph grins half-heartedly.
“Still working in the business?” she asks.
“So difficult, isn’t it? Much tougher than in our day.”
“You know, I hate to even mention it...” She twists a piece of costume jewelry on her wrist. “...but I’ve always wanted
to tell you I never once believed any of that business with Dusty Gardner.”
The name strikes Joseph like a poison dart. The Rat-Bastard Kid. He grips his cane. “Well... thank you, Emma...”
“You know he went to prison, himself, don’t you?” she says.
Joseph’s throat goes dry. “No.... ” he manages.
“Why, yeesss.” Emma seizes his wrist and steps closer, eager to spill the inside dope. “Drugs. You know... the hard
stuff. The hard stuff.”
Joseph gropes for words, but comes up empty.
“Doesn’t surprise me you didn’t know,” she continues. “He was with Warner’s when it happened. Somehow they
kept it away from the press. Of course, this was back in the--what?--early-eighties. So much easier then. Much
For a brief moment, Joseph lets himself ponder the Rat-Bastard in an eight-by-six being tag-teamed by the Girls. Oh,
the Girls would like him... Yes, they would. “What ever happened to him?” he hears himself ask.
Emma pulls back as if she has been stung. “How on earth would I know that?”
In the kitchenette of his dim apartment, Joseph unpacks eight bottles of Charles Taylor Cabernet (Two-Buck Chuck)
then shuffles to his reading chair and lowers himself onto it. Gravity offers a final shove and he falls back with an
exhausted groan. His heart thumps dully, a steady reminder that he is alive. Life zooms by, he thinks. If only I were
Uncle Georgie, I would never age… But you’re not! You’re Joseph Stangle. Convicted felon. Washed-up actor whose
latest claim to fame is a commercial where you told the world you can’t get a hard-on!
His eyes spring open. It’s Wednesday… time to call Maury Jacobson. Today will be the day. He can feel it.
A moment later, he has Maury on the phone. “Anything on the horizon, boss?”
“Sorry, kid. Nada.”
Joseph quietly thanks him and hangs up, then lets loose a deep sigh that makes his fingertips tingle. His thoughts
turn to the Rat-Bastard Kid in lock-up and his lip curls with satisfaction. You should have heard those knocked-out
jailbirds sing... Let’s Rock!
In 1974, the top four TV shows were All In The Family, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, and The Silver Sisters,
which had been on the air for two seasons when Joseph got the call that he was to play Uncle Georgie, a tender-
hearted drunkard of the slapstick variety. It seemed the show’s recent slip from the number-one slot had prompted
network brass to decide that what the show needed was a new character. And it seemed to work; the appearance
of Uncle Georgie during the first weeks of the third season had boosted ratings so much that Maury Jacobson had
already been talking about a contract re-negotiation.
Emma Randall, as Tisha Redborn--the youngest of The Silver Sisters--was the show’s lead but the real star was
undeniably, thirteen-year-old, cherub-faced Dusty Gardner as Mason Redborn.
Since the first week of rehearsals Dusty Gardner had rubbed Joseph Stangle the wrong way. Or, perhaps, Joseph
had rubbed Dusty the wrong way. It all started during a table-read when Dusty read a line and Joseph chuckled and
said a bit too loudly “He can’t be serious?!” But it was during the blocking rehearsal, however, when things reached
critical mass. Titled “Make Room for Uncle Georgie” the first scene opened on the familiar living room of the Redborn
INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY
(TISHA, AUNT MARGIE, MASON, UNCLE GEORGIE)
TISHA IS ON THE COUCH, READING A TABLOID TO MARGIE, WHO KNITS IN HER EASY CHAIR.
A baby alien was born in Idaho.
Did they name it Spud?
UNCLE GEORGIE ENTERS FROM KITCHEN EATING A BANANA.
(APPLAUSE, LAUGH TRACK)
MASON ENTERS FRONT DOOR.
What is it, Mason?
Becky Halversham asked me to the dance!
Oh... how nice!
In my day, a girl asking you
to a dance made you a Nancy Boy!
Dusty Gardner abruptly stopped and glared into Camera #1. “Cut!” he shouted. “Goddamnit, CUT!”
The production crew rushed in, flocking to Dusty’s aide. Did he need another Pepsi? Was there something in his eye-
Max Banfield, the show’s director, pushed his way through with the concern of a parent whose child has just been
struck in the head with a fastball. “What is it, Dusty? What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter!?” he shouted. “Can’t you see, you idiot?” He gestured toward Joseph.
Max looked around as if he might have missed the white elephant taking a dump in the middle of the Redborn family
living room. “What? What, is it?”
“Him!” Dusty yelled, pointing at Joseph. “Uncle-fucking-Georgie! He’s upstaging me on camera three!”
Max blinked. “Oh.” He leered at Joseph as if he were a member of the Manson Family. “I see,” he said.
“He’s been doing it for three weeks, Max!” The child star brought his hand to his forehead as if he had the vapors. “I
can’t work like this!” he sighed, and stormed off. The entire cast and crew appeared frozen, mouths agape, staring
at Joseph as if he were a fly in the ointment of their well-lubed world.
Joseph glanced at the floor, to a piece of gaffer’s tape stuck there in the shape of a “T,” and looked up. “I’m hitting
Two hours later they were able to re-start rehearsals. After they had finally wrapped, Joseph was in his dressing
room when he heard a light knock at the door.
“Yes?” Joseph said.
The door opened and Dusty Gardner stepped in. His face was solemn, his eyes downcast.
Joseph hid his surprise. “And what do you want?” Wearing his monogrammed bathrobe, Joseph reached into the
closet for the powder-blue leisure suit he had purchased at Bullock’s.
Dusty quickly shut the door behind him. “I...” the boy stammered. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Joseph was so caught off-guard that he turned away and busily straightened the jacket on its hanger. “It’s okay,
Dusty,” he said, adopting a fatherly tone. “This business has a way of driving people mad.”
When Joseph looked back, the boy had unbuttoned his bell-bottom jeans. “What are you doing?” Joseph asked.
Dusty’s eyes narrowed. “Proving I’m a better actor than you’ll ever be.”
Joseph looked puzzled and watched as the boy pushed his jeans down to his thighs, revealing white briefs. Joseph
dropped his suit and stepped toward the door. Dusty hopped in front of him. “Get out of my way,” Joseph said.
“What’s gotten into you?”
Without warning, the boy shoved him. Joseph’s foot caught on the rug and he stumbled into the wall.
Dusty suddenly tugged hard at his underwear until they ripped. Before Joseph could move, he had pushed them
down so far that his nearly hairless pencil-dick sprang out. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” Dusty screamed at the top of
his lungs. “Stop! STOPPP!”
Stunned, Joseph struggled to his feet as the half-naked boy leapt onto him, kicking and screaming, clawing at Joseph’
s face like a rabid squirrel. “Heelllp!” the boy screamed as he pushed away and rushed the door. Instead of trying to
get out, Dusty held the door closed as Joseph tried to yank it open. “HELP! HELP MEEEE!” the boy wailed.
“Stop it! You’re crazy!” Joseph shouted. “Open this door!”
Dusty began screaming like someone who was being stabbed to death. Joseph grabbed the boy’s shoulders and
lifted him off the ground as he viciously kicked and clawed. Suddenly, Dusty planted a knee against Joseph’s chin. It
connected with a sharp crack and sparks burst into Joseph’s vision. He dropped to the rug as the door flung open.
A shocked and curious stage crew, led by Max Banfield, stood in the doorway like a tableau. They looked at Dusty--
torn underwear and pants nearly to his ankles--and at Joseph, splayed on the floor, wearing only an open bathrobe
and silk baby-blue boxer shorts.
Tears flowing, Dusty stumbled into the arms of his wide-eyed saviors.
“What the hell is going on here!?” Max demanded.
Before Joseph could utter a word, Dusty screamed, “He tried to rape me. He tried to rape me!”
After police arrived, Joseph’s dressing room was searched. In the drawer of his makeup table they found a magazine
called “Dirty Little Devils.” On the cover was a teenage boy--grinning, well, devilishly--wearing only red briefs and
holding a pitchfork. Dusty had planted it there, Joseph knew, and he told this to anyone who would listen. But the
damage was done.
Shortly after, Joseph found himself in the back of an LAPD squad car, handcuffed and dazed, life as he had known it
Since his encounter with Emma Randall a month earlier, Joseph could think of little else but the Kid, so he had decided
to use his most recent residual payment to buy nosebleed seats at a matinee of Wicked. Musicals always have a way
of soothing him.
While riding the Metro from Hollywood and Vine, the musical’s soundtrack still buzzing in his ears, he notices a man at
the far end of the rail car. He looks somehow familiar. He is thin and wears too many layers of clothing. Joseph at
first thinks maybe he mows the lawn of his apartment building. Or maybe he works at the liquor store around the
corner. He looks like a homeless drug addict, Joseph thinks. And then it hits him like a knee to the chin... the Rat-
But he is no longer a kid.
Joseph’s heart thumps. He pulls up his collar and grips his cane, his knuckles turning the same bone color as its
handle. Despite the Rat-Bastard Kid’s sallow face and low-worn Lakers cap, Joseph knows it is him. He would
recognize that face anywhere. That arrogant little face.
During the entire ride, Joseph steals glances up the subway car and grinds his dentures. He’s sure he hasn’t been
spotted and furtively watches the Rat-Bastard twitch and fidget. Meanwhile, an old anger--one he thought as dead
as his libido—stirs deep inside him.
The train screeches into Union Station and the Rat-Bastard scampers onto the platform and up the escalator. Joseph
follows and watches as he ducks down a near-empty side corridor and lingers. Joseph hovers some distance away,
pretending to study a map of the sparse subway system, watching as the Kid rocks on his heels as if waiting for
someone. A moment later, a plump Asian man appears and they both scurry into a nearby restroom.
Joseph’s face slackens; he has lost sight of his quarry. He swallows, looks around, and inches toward the restroom.
An Art-Deco cherub holding a lighted globe hangs above the wood-paneled entrance. Joseph pauses. What am I
doing!? he asks himself.
The door swings open and Joseph spins away, hiding his face. He suddenly feels like Peter Lorre in "M." He glances
over his shoulder and sees it is the Asian man. A moment passes and Joseph looks again at the door. He stares at
the word “MEN” stenciled onto the dark oak. It seems to beckon. After a moment, he steps toward it.
Inside, the heavy door closes softly and muffles the noise of the trains to a dull rumble, sealing the space like a
tomb. The room seems empty: a row of sinks on one side, urinals and stalls on the other.
Joseph pads toward the sinks, leaning to see under the stall doors along the way. Where has the little Rat-Bastard
gone? he wonders and looks in the mirror. This is crazy. This is ancient history. Let it go! He turns on the water. It
hisses and echoes off the granite walls.
He then hears the unmistakable click-strike of a lighter, followed by a gentle sucking sound. He turns and, standing
only a few feet from the stall door, imagines the kid on the toilet with his legs curled up like a hyena. A cough startles
Joseph and he blinks as an acrid, pharmaceutical cloud wafts over him.
Before another thought can cross his mind, Joseph runs at the door, striking it with his shoulder. It bursts open,
smacking the man. A crack pipe shatters on the floor.
“What the hell are you doing, you old fool!?” the man yells and kicks the door causing it to slam into Joseph’s face,
striking him in the nose. In that instant, three decades of repressed rage leaps out of Joseph and he charges into
the dark stall, swinging his cane wildly, crashing it down in swooping blows.
The man falls onto the floor, screaming, wriggling under the partition. Suddenly, one of Joseph’s blows lands with a
dull thuck! The sound, combined with an instant lack of movement, causes Joseph to step back. He looks at the kid
trapped under the stall, unmoving, stunned by what he has been capable of.
Blood trickles from Joseph’s nose and he can taste it in his throat like iron shavings. Fear creeps over him as his
breathing becomes heavy and his heart pounds. He has killed the kid.
Joseph then hears a whimper, as if a little boy has scraped his knee and wants his mommy. He turns toward the
mirror. Blood splatters his shirt like a warm, sticky Rorschach test. Joseph watches in reverse as the little Rat-
Bastard slithers on his belly. “You crazy bastard!?” the Kid shouts. Holding his head, trembling, blood streaming
down his arm and onto the floor, the Kid struggles to his feet and squints into the mirror at Joseph. “Who da hell
you tink you are!?”
There’s something strange in the Kid’s voice, he thinks. Is he doing an accent?! Joseph peers deeply into the mirror
as the Kid staggers into a pool of light. Suddenly, Joseph realizes that he is not Dusty Gardner. In fact, he looks
nothing like him. For one thing, he’s at least ten years too young—or old. He’s no longer sure. And is this man
Joseph watches as the man jerks open the door and runs out as the sound of a speeding train rushes in like an alarm
clock interrupting a satisfying dream. Joseph lays his hands on the cool granite sink and gazes into the mirror. He no
longer recognizes himself. Maybe, he thinks, he is in costume for a role. Maybe he is on camera right now.
Strangely, he feels more alive than he has in a long, long while. Re-invigorated. Ready for primetime.
He brushes down a patch of unruly hair, straightens his jacket, as the corner of his lip turns up slightly. As soon as
he gets home, he assures himself, he will call Maury Jacobson. Today, there will be something on the horizon.