Tom Dick and Playwritting, by Hal O’Oleary

Tom Dick and Playwritting, by Hal O’Oleary
Tom Dick and Playwritting, by Hal O'Oleary

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing: Sandro Botticelli’s St. Augustine in His Cell.

“The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Sound familiar? Well, the old Dragnet introduction may serve me well in the telling of a story “stranger than fiction”  to use another well-known phrase used by writers to entice their readers with the suggestion of something mysterious. In my true story, I do not change the names but use just the first names of our subjects which does, for reasons of  commonality, make it highly unlikely that their identities might be revealed. While my story is also stranger than the usual run of fiction, I would hasten to admit that there is little about it that would normally be thought of as mysterious. So, with those disclaimers, let us proceed with this introduction:

The story you are about to read is true, but stranger than most fiction. Only the first names have been used to protect our subjects from pity or scorn depending upon the amount of empathy you can muster. Our subjects are Tom and Dick.

Both Tom and Dick were minor playwrights. Let me quickly add that they were not minor in the quality of their plays, all of which were first rate and most entertaining. They were minor playwrights only in the sense that they realized precious little in way of remuneration for the tremendous time and talent found in every one of their offerings.

Had our less than sophisticated society, as a whole, recognized and rewarded them even modestly for their considerable contribution to the enlightenment of those they reached, their less than auspicious endings may have been different. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to make some minor effort to atone for society’s lapse.

Both Tom and Dick were gentle souls in the harsh world of the theatre. Although bitter at times for the rejection they endured as part and partial of the fate that awaits all practitioners of this most perilous pursuit, they were for the most part pleasant and even tempered. They both, as evidenced by marriage failures, were selfishly and entirely committed to the dubious and less than profitable career of writing. Caught in an inescapable desire, not for fame and fortune, but for self-fulfillment in the thought that they may, with their pens, serve a humanity they were so much an exemplary part of.

The other glaring similarity they shared was that they both fell victim to John Barleycorn.

So addicted to the bottle was Dick, that on a bright summer’s day that most less troubled souls would take to the great-out-doors, he might have been heard to say, with little concern for consequences, “Ah, it’s a beautiful day, let us set forth to the Court Bar and Lounge for a bit of refreshment.” Tom, on the other hand, was greatly concerned for his condition, and had experienced failure after failure in all manner of treatments and pledges to free himself of his curse until, in the end, cirrhosis of the liver sadly claimed another victim.

Tom’s demise followed Dick’s by several years, but it was the event of the Dick’s death that triggered my stranger than fiction story. Actually, it can be told in but a few short sentences, but to really appreciate it you must first have an appreciation for the affinity that these two beautiful souls had each other. There was, of course, their similarities which included their sad addiction to booze, but more than that it was the playwright’s muse that kept them at their assigned tasks with a great understanding of and appreciation for each of their shared need for attempting to illuminate the dark corners of that shortest of poems, “I?. . .Why?” It was an addiction equally as compulsive as their thirst for John Barleycorn.

And now the story. Because of their chosen commitment to the arts, they went without not only many of life’s comforts but a few of its necessities like an adequate supply of clothing. In fact they were known to have shared needed articles of clothing for a variety of events, like the graduation of Dick’s daughter or the production of Dick’s play “A Single Indiscretion” with Eve Arden in Texas and the opening of Tom’s play “Minor Auditions For A Major Role in Hollywood. Those were the euphoric days despite the hardships that went with the territory. However, Dick’s death was anything but euphoric for more than just the obvious reason. Knowing of the affection they had for each other,

Dick’s family approached Tom with the request that he serve as a pall bearer for Dick.  While the request was anything but unusual, It was most unusual that with the utmost humiliation Tom was forced to decline. When the astonished family asked why, Tom reluctantly voiced this stranger than fiction but true response.

“It’s because Dick is wearing the only suit we had between us in the coffin.” he said.

Would this be a tragi-comedy? For Tom’s funeral, I composed the following ode.


In parting, bear in mind you will be missed,

We have your gift to all who’ll share your gift

From the muse with whom you kept your faithful tryst.

Oh, if only life at times were not so swift.

We have your gift to all who’ll share your gift

Making lives you’ve touch a little more complete.

Oh, if only life at times were not so swift.

Fleeting yes, but isn’t that what makes it sweet,

Making lives you’ve touch a little more complete?.

Justice doesn’t seem to fit a life so brief

Fleeting yes, but isn’t that what makes it sweet,

Playing checkmate to the overarching grief?

Justice doesn’t seem to fit a life so brief.

Let us praise you for the treasure, now our own,

Playing checkmate to the overarching grief,

For it is through your plays you will be known.

Let us praise you for the treasure, now our own,

From the muse with whom you kept your faithful tryst

For it is through your plays you will be known.

In parting, bear in mind you will be missed.

View Comments (1)
  • fabulous piece! more than beautifully entertaining…beautifully told…many thanks!


Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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