I wish I could turn most of Hope For All's posts into propulsive page-turning narratives --- but I can't.

Henry Dawson

But the 'almost too dramatic to be true' story of dying Dr Henry Dawson is an exception.

Penicillin would have come along eventually no matter what.

But that it arrived, just in time, during WWII's darkest hour and that it was that rare 'wonder drug' that remained in the Public Domain and thus was available to all at a reasonable price is mostly down to the efforts of Dawson.

Dawson's IV : 'inclusive visions' (IV) for a globe then dominated by the murderous politics of exclusion

Dawson is known today, if known at all, for being the first in history to give someone a life-saving Intravenous injection (IV) of systemic penicillin, thus ushering our Age of Antibiotics.

But his really historic IV was his inclusive visions of what 1940 could and should be.

Dawson used what the world then considered the unspeakable (natural penicillin made by penicillum slime) to save what they considered as the unsaveable (SBE patients consuming scarce resources in a total war).

Dawson deliberately hoped to thus extend the two extremes of what people would consider as a potential helper and a potential savee.

Because WWII would never be won without building an equally wide and inclusive 'big tent' coalition to defeat the Axis.

Dying all the while

Because of his chronic fatal illness, Dawson was basically confined to working in and around a small lab in an upper Manhattan hospital between late 1940 and early 1945.

But from there, Dr Dawson managed to hold off his own body (and his own wartime government) just long enough to see world-changing success for his hope for a better world.

The dying Dawson actually forced the Allied high command to make concrete their years of high blown (but empty) rhetoric of inviting all small and the powerless into their big tent coalition, to help defeat the Axis.

In my considered opinion, Dr Dawson's project, because of the vivid contrast between its huge global 'grasp' and its tiny hospital room 'reach', just cries out be turned into a staged musical.


So consider this page as my attempt at its 'closet libretto', just to get the artistic pot boiling.

Others might see this story working better as a play, a movie, a TV series or a book.

Fair enough : 'fill your boots', as my father might say.

Because all my Hope For All posts are fully PD, 'public domain', and others are free to do what they want with them.

But here you will eventually find a series of chronologically arranged links (to particular Hope For All posts) that will self-assemble themselves into a non fiction 'back story cum libretto' of thirty scenes and five acts: "Hope For All" (the other Manhattan Project) .

I want this PD musical to be performed exclusively by students in the Health Sciences.

I hope it will help raise their consciousness on the serious ethical issues created whenever medical authorities define a medical lifesaver as 'scarce' and then go on to define who is or is not 'worthy' to receive it.

In addition, performance can serve to raise a little money and a lot of awareness about ongoing efforts to reduce Rheumatic Fever and the subsequent risk of  SBE, among poor populations around the world.

So let's start : 

The set is basically the bare stage, with four large video screens along the back wall which silently fade in and out various still images of wartime penicillin efforts, the war, home front activities etc - some of which are shots taken, in dramatic close-up, of these actors re-enacting the musical's scenes in rehearsals.

These still act as a counterpoint, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes ironic, to the actions going on down on the stage itself.

A large 1940s floor style radio, seemingly glowing from the tubes inside  
(but in reality mute), dominates the back centre.

Soon seemingly coming from it will be a constant mixture of instrumental music, singing, news - as if all sorts of fragments of  various wartime radio shows are drifting up and down in volume.

In actuality it is the musical bed that the musical's actors perform against as they mime mute, engage in dialogue, declaim, sing or dance.

Important to note that they are totally unaware of either this radio singing/talk/music/sfx --- or of the images fading gently in and out above them.

The musical begins when the entire cast and crew, made up exclusively of young Health Science students in bright white but non-medical clothing (shoes, socks and everything are white) silently and unsmilingly, marching up the centre aisle from the back and onto the barely lit stage.

The cast silently and openly (still expressionless) pull on tops over their clothing that are vividly colour coded to instantly indicate to the audience whether they are currently about to play the role of  either a (A) patient (B) family/friend of patient (C) frontline staffer or (D) hospital administrator/visiting bureaucratic VIP/ taxpayer.

About half the cast almost never speak and so play the roles of many different individuals as as well as any of these four different social roles.

Other key characters, like that of the protagonist Dr Henry Dawson, are played by one actor throughout.

But in real life, as in the musical, Dawson assumed all four roles from time to time --- just as will all the students in their own lives.

Clearly, he was usually seen in this musical as a frontline medical worker, but he was also a administrator, running a big arthritis day clinic and chairing a major military medical advisory committee.

He earned a good enough income to be a taxpayer worrying about how society pays  for treating those unable to fully pay their medical bills.

And, as someone constantly suffering life-threatening respiratory 'crisis' from his severe (ultimately terminal) case of Myasthenia Gravis, he actually was often a priority patient in his own hospital.

At other times, as when his pregnant wife and newborn baby came in for a checkup and was proudly shown around his worksite, he acted as a family member of a patient.

So for each of these different social roles, the same actor always playing Dawson puts on a different top.

Now the actors, instantly dressed in this scene's role, pick up a large display card from the selection in the back and mount it on one of three easels, each representing (from left to right across the stage) either Dawson's lab, his assigned ward or his classroom cum office.

(The entire five year period of the play is entirely played out in one of these three adjoining small rooms.)

So the initial - rather long-winded ! - card might say "Male ward G East, NYC Columbia-Presbyterian, Oct  16 '40".

Next they openly put that room's light on, at a light switch one of two central free standing posts that are the only markers dividing the stage into three rooms, to begin the scene - and start up the radio/ music.

The electrical wires from each post to the actual lighting are openly taped down to the stage floor.

At the back in each scene and barely lit, some actors mime realistically being lab techs, nurses, students, patients and their family --- with the help of a few appropriate props.

In the front, strongly lit, the key actors declaim and sing (project !) in a vaguely theatrical cum realistic manner.

No 'good' singing or acting voices please - I want them to come across as real doctors and patients, so barely holding a tune and singing weakly into their body mikes is exactly as what this play doctor ordered.

I don't want dying patients singing with the volume and physical intensity of some musical athlete -- this isn't Grand Opera - make the real actors and singers paint up display cards or take photographs instead.

Sort of kidding - they will have real musical and acting roles but only by singing and declaiming the pre-recorded vocals coming from the 'radio' and  inthe photographic stills on the screens above the stage.

We won't always have someone like Dawson singing out his deepest thoughts - a scene might conclude with him working at his desk composing the angry letter to the Washington Beltway bureaucrats he promised the others he'd write.

The words and tone of the song  we hear on the radio says what he is really thinking.

Or it might be the angry words exchanged in a realistic playlet heard on that same radio.

Now key actors will frequently and briskly move from room to room to room and back within each scene and when they do, they will openly shut of one room's main lighting on one side of the central columns and turn the new room's lights at the switch on the other side of the column.

The other actors are left miming in dim room until even that light goes slowly down and they can silently and invisibly leave that room to re-appear in the next room if needed.

Meanwhile, in the new 'room', a new display card will go up, setting the time and place of this new action within each scene.

Each scene itself will be marked off by an emotional climax and a slow fade to total stage black for a moment or two before fading up to a jump in time of usually at least a month or two.

To hue to current tradition, the musical will be in two acts, with intermission in between, both acts a little over than a hour long.

The songs will move from talking into declaiming into singing, interrupted  with speaking asides --- and will be traded around the key actors.

The melodies and formal structures of the each songs' verse, chorus, bridge etc will be the same on each go round but the words will not.

So while each chorus rendition will share words and concepts from earlier rounds, it will also advance the tale or offer a differing point of view - musically they will be still be fully song like, but intellectually they will seem more prose like as the song proceeds.

Because the musical matches closely the historical record, the high level opponents of Dawson's efforts will rarely appear in person in hospital - in real life they phoned or send letters, put out public press releases and just as frequently used his hospital bosses to try to restrain him.

Dawson's real life bosses were actually members of his main opponent's all-powerful CMR committee or were senior consultants to it, so they indeed did act as the 'horse' mouth' for his top opponent and his cohorts.

These top level opponents, in places like London & Oxford UK, Washington DC, Rahway NJ and in Boston, must be evoked through the photograph stills and their voice over a speaker phone for from someone in Dawson's team angrily matching their tone, by reading a letter or telegram from them aloud.

But again reflecting the historical facts, Dawson got plenty of mostly silent but visible disapproval and dismissal from his fellow colleagues , which spread among the support staff and the medical & nursing students.

This silent disapproval will be mimed in the play.

The final scene is a few weeks after Dawson's death in his hospital (which is not staged).

It comes about because Dawson's close colleague Dr Thomas Hunter, as part of his effort to carry on Dawson's working with curing SBE with penicillin, has Dawson's (and history's) first penicillin-the-antibiotic patient, Charlie Aronson, conveyed from his now permanent home at the Goldwater Hospital for Chronic Care to Dawson's old office/lab/ward.

Supposedly, Aronson is there for blood tests (to confirm to doubters among Hunter's colleagues) that Charlie is still blood bacteria free almost five years since he first received penicillin from Dawson.

After blood is drawn to be tested, Hunter leaves Charlie alone in his wheelchair  for a half hour - with something to read - while the central lab confirms that the blood drawn is a suitable sample.

In reality, Hunter wants to gently tell Charlie in person that his savior has died and also to give young Dr Hunter a chance to actually see this historical patient, who was first in Columbia Presbyterian before Hunter himself arrived as a young resident in early 1941.

Dawson treated and cured Charlie of a second separate bout of SBE in April 1944 but as usually happens with SBE, a clot of material from his damaged heart valve's vegetations (biofilm mass) broke free and caused a massive stroke in one side of Charlie' brain.

He should have died but Charlie had already survived a lifetime of serious medical incidents that should have killed him, so he survived this one too - albeit with permanent paralysis on one side, affecting limb movement and speech etc.

Very slowly and  very painfully and awkwardly, Charlie makes his way from the office into Dawson's now unused lab, a place that Charlie has never seen but heard much about.

He peers about reflectively and sadly, as above him on the screen we see silent stills of the now departed Dr Dawson in action, from earlier scenes in the musical.

Charlie starts singing the song "Just Doin' The Dance They Call Life" in his broken and impeded voice, while trying awkwardly to swirl around his wheel chair while also trying to wave his one good arm about - all in an weak but sincere imitation of the song's performance style as part of a soft shoe act.

A soft shoe act made up of a half dozen still wounded Returned Men, still visibly bandaged up, doing something between true soft shoe and an re-enactment of the famous and very poignant WWI images of  lines of gas-blinded men holding onto each other's shoulder as they move backwards from the trenches to the First Aid treatment post.

This song, the musical's theme song, is crucial to the whole musical.

This is awkward, because I am not sure the song actually exists, at least as I remember it.

It's sheet music cover image certainly exists, just as I described it above, seen in a library somewhere , seen in one of many such books collecting and displaying such bygone popular commercial art for the insights they bring to the mental atmosphere of earlier ages.

Below, the book either displayed the key phrase from the actual song chorus or explained its hook in the book author's own words.

The gist was this : "We're (I'm) not stumbling or falling or frightening your wive, We're (I'm) Just Doin' the Dance They Call Life."

And in an instant, I got it, I got it all.

Like Arthur Murray himself, like many - maybe even most - people, I was a wallflower when in High School  --  loved music but felt too awkward to feel like dancing, even though I badly wanted to.

My parents were of the Forties generation when knowing how to dance well was still key to finding the perfect mate in life, as it wasn't in my own Sixties and Seventies generation.

So my dad had an Arthur Murray book with the footprint diagrams explaining all the dances one needed to learn.

I was even put onto it, but with no success - I only learned to dance (freeform) by accident, while taking mentally challenged patients out on the floor at a mental hospital as part of my job.

But as an adult interested in all history, I fully knew about the dance craze began by Irene Castle pre WWI and turning into a full flood in the 1920s Jazz Era.

This sudden need to dance fast and fluid to find a soul mate clashed awkwardly with all the mass of young Returned Men whose healed wounds would still make them forever physically awkward.

As well civilians of all sorts with existing physical handicaps never experienced them poignantly more than while watching all the fast dancing from the sidelines.

The point of the song wasn't really about dancing - it was saying, we may be permanently injured physically and mentally thanks to the Great War, but we're still fully people, just trying to make our way through life as best as can.

Often this physical free movement awkwardness from injury etc is put under the umbrella term of arthritis.

Dawson's day job was running a hospital day clinic devoted to treating and researching this then badly neglected disease.

Dawson and his wive Marjorie, together with all the key characters in his team, in the musical anyway, had all been patients or subjects at the clinic
at one time or another : Dr Hunter, Floyd Odlum, Dr Dante Colitti, Charlie and fellow SBE pioneer Miss H.H.

Dawson had an arthritic big toe  from a serious war wound, spent years in hospital or convalescing and after the war he never again played any sport with grace, as he had before the war.

Marjorie had a bad hip from birth and despite many childhood stays in the hospital it only got worse, making work awkward, requiring a special dispensation to drive , and the use of a cane at times.

These arthritic conditions is how the two first met - being fellow wallflowers together at a 1920s student dance at McGill University.

They were - in a minor way - 'crips', as people in the era of modernity was so quick to label anyone at all 'outside the norm', as they put it.

So too the others - but in a more serious way.

Colitti also spent his early life in hospital fighting TB that fused his spine - he was a hunchback but still became a very successful doctor, but only after fighting racial and religious prejudice all the way.

His arthritic spine was checked at Dawson's world class arthritis clinic only a mile or so from Colitti's home in the bronx.

Dr Hunter had to use crutches, braces (and a wheelchair at times) after surviving childhood polio that put him too in hospital for years - despite this, he was a cox for two prize winning varsity rowing teams, at Harvard and at Cambridge !

Floyd Odlum was healthy and America's most successful financier until
his patriotic worrying about American readiness during WWII gave him a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis so bad he was only after comfortable in a heated swimming pool - he too knew of crutches and wheelchairs.

We have already spoken of Charlie - HH also would be in a wheelchair and attached to a IV tower while under penicillin drip treatment - but in addition, she had to have an eye removed as a result of her SBE and so was permanently partially blind -  yet another of Dawson's team of 'crips'.

All are visibly damaged, visibly unworthy of attention, outside the norm, in modernity's terms.

But all are visibly successful, despite that - survivors.

They physically represent, on stage, the abstract concept that Dawson (and the musical) are trying to espouse : 'all life is worthy of life and all can contribute in their own way to the common good, if but given a

This might seem a trite postmodern inclusion-oriented critique of exclusion-oriented modernity of seventy five years ago and it would be , if first said and practised today.

But it wasn't: Dawson first preached and practised it seventy five years ago, in the teeth of fierce intellectual opposition, at the very apogee of modernity.

So, back to Charlie singing awkwardly alone in the lab as the music and audio and lights slowly ebb down to end the play.

Normally, the actors sing without seeming to be be aware they have moved from talking to heightened speech into song - but not so with "Just Doin' the Dance They Call Life".

They sing it as a song, bits of it anyway, sometimes tongue in cheek, constantly, as their self conscious theme song for the project and themselves in it : successful 'worthy' crips helping to save 'unworthy' crips from eugenically-minded Allied governments that only wanted the SBEs to die silently and patriotically, off stage.

So, no upbeat ending with the entire cast rousingly singing the theme at full guns as the curtain comes down.

Instead, out of the total darkness on stage, the health science students, cast and crew, all leave the stage down the centre aisle as silently and as expressionless as they came in - as if literally ghosts of the long gone dead ....

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