Most good writers are also good listeners.
And Hollywood scenarist Jack Wagner isn’t an exception to the rule.
In fact, Jack often goes it one better by listening in the right places at the right times.
Forty-seven years ago, Jack sat in the plaza of the north Mexico town of Gomez Palacio and listened.
He heard storekeepers grumble softly about the soldiers of Presidente
Porfirio Diaz. The soldiers, they complained, had an ugly habit of
grabbing merchandise off the shelves and laughing:
"Charge it to Porfirio."
He heard complaints of abuse and poverty and general displeasure from farmers and women and even children.
He also heard the name of Francisco Madero spoken frequently and reverently.
On a cold morning in late November of 1910, Wagner watched as Madero’s
"vanishing army" of angered citizens stormed through the town to
annihilate the forces of Presidente Porfirio.
He stayed around long enough to see Madero’s attack spark the national
revolution which brought Mexico its present democratic government.
Earlier this week I printed a story about some Cubans here in Los
Angeles. [Note: I haven’t run it. So many columns, so little time–lrh].
The Cubans told me that their country’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista,
was ripe for a fall. And they indicated, as boldly as anyone can
indicate, that they were ready to return to their native country and
help put Batista belly-upwards.
After writing the story, I learned that Jack Wagner had–only a few months ago–been sitting in the plaza of their homeland.
And, of course, listening.
I called Jack yesterday and asked him what he heard.
He told me:
"I heard some merchants complaining softly that the soldiers were
stealing from their shelves and laughing, ‘Charge it to Batista.’
"Other people complained about the way soldiers grabbed the young girls off of plantations.
"Bus drivers, laborers, shoeshine boys–each one had a gripe."
Jack told me that he spent about a month in Cuba.
"I went to Havana first, of course," he said, "but I still like to sit in the little plazas of little towns.
"So I took the bus to central Cuba, and over to the southern side."
I asked him, "What about Fidel Castro?" (My Cuban acquaintances here
had assured me that Castro, now staging raids from a mountain hideout,
was the man who would restore democracy to Cuba).
"Some people just mention him by implication," Jack told me. "They say, ‘There’s a man who can help us.’
"Of course, it took me a while to gain the confidence of the people.
Usually, after I did, they’d tell me, ‘Castro is in the mountains and
he is coming.’
"And that," he concluded, "is just the way they used to talk about Francisco Madero in Mexico some 47 years ago."