In 1952, John Henderson wrote a comedy, No More Homework, in which a teenage troublemaker causes problems for her school play, and her irate father threatens to march her out onto the stage and give her a public spanking in front of the entire assembled audience. Regrettably, she ends up getting a lesser punishment involving her allowance (or future lack thereof), but Henderson didn’t disappoint when he wrote We ‘Dude’ It five years later.
The comedy starts with a situation not unlike that of Gold Mine in the Sky: a Texas ranch is inherited by Doris Meacham, a middle-aged lady from New York, who decides to turn it into a dude ranch – in other words, a themed holiday camp for tourists rather than a working ranch. The advertisements have already gone out before she discovers two important facts: the ranch staff absolutely hate the idea, and the ranch itself has no horses or cattle whatsoever. It’s too late to change the plans, though, because the guests start to arrive. One of them is going to have an uncomfortable time at the ranch…
Unable to get any other vacation, for reasons that will become apparent, the self-absorbed movie star Carla Vayne arrives with an entourage of three. The others are: her long-suffering secretary, Miss Padgett; Yvette, ‘the cutest little French maid who ever came out of Brooklyn’, dressed in ‘a very pert maid’s costume’; and her teenage daughter Cynthia Vayne, known as ‘Stinkey’. The script indicates that Stinkey is ‘dressed a bit younger than her years’, calling for ‘bobby sox and rather short dresses’. As for her personality: ‘She is spoiled, destructive and utterly devoid of good points.’ Which means that, from our perspective, she has one very good point: not what she is or what she does, but what she deserves…
It soon becomes clear that Stinkey is utterly out of control. Hence the vacation difficulties: the Vayne party can’t stay anywhere for more than two days before her behavior results in a request to leave. In the course of the first act, she causes chaos in the kitchen, pitches one man into a horse-trough, shoots another in the rear with a bow and arrow and steals rocks from one of the other guests, who appears to be some kind of a geologist. That last may sound like the least of her crimes. But don’t underestimate its plot significance. There appears to be oil in that thar ranch, and Stinkey’s rock theft means the evidence gets into the hands of someone who knows what it means – but has no scruples. She really is causing a lot of trouble…
The harassed ranch staff try to think of ways to contain her, distract her, amuse her or just plain scare her into docility. They talk of faking an overnight Indian attack. The real native American on the strength talks of reviving his people’s ancient custom of scalping. Well, I guess that has some of the right letters…
The fake Indian attack takes place, giving Miss Padgett the opportunity to place a publicity story with the newspapers and ensuring that, for once, Stinkey’s level of boisterousness is on a par with everyone else’s. Afterwards, she has one regret: ‘Aw gee! Nobody got killed.’ She continues her career of mayhem by digging up the flowerbeds, but she eventually overreaches herself, with a predictable outcome…
The miscalculation concerns the long-suffering Miss Padgett. The weapon is a pin. The occasion is when Stinkey sees Padgett bending over. The outcome is that Padgett leaps high into the air, then decides her time of suffering has come to an end – and Stinkey’s has just begun, in the same general area.
PADGETT: You! You little fiend!
(She grabs her and hauls her to a chair where she sits and pulls a protesting Stinkey over her knees, and spanks her.)
PADGETT: That’s the last straw! That’s for Beverly Hills – Lake Tahoe – L.A. – Frisco – Houston – Dallas – and Acapulco!
(As she punctuates each place, Stinkey howls and kicks her legs.)
CARLA: Stop! Stop, Padgett! You’re killing my little darling! She’s not mean – she’s just a little high-spirited!
(Padgett rises and dumps Stinkey on the floor.)
PADGETT: High-spirited, my foot! She’s a no-good, spoiled, sadistic little brat! And I quit!
PADGETT: From here on in, you can do your own dirty work! I’ve been nurse, private eye, baby sitter, heart-mender and what-all long enough. You can take this fugitive from the human race and fight your way back to Beverly Hills alone!
CARLA: Padgett! Padgett, don’t leave me alone with Stinkey!
At this point, Stinkey makes her second wrong move. ‘Come on, Padgett,’ she says. ‘You know Mother’s too old to look after me!’ And that’s a major mistake, because Carla isn’t only Vayne by name but vain by nature.
(Carla turns slowly to face her daughter.)
CARLA: What – was – that – you – said?
STINKEY: I said you were too old to look after me.
(Carla strides down to grab her.)
CARLA: Too old, huh? Why, you little varmint, I’ll show you a real Texas hidin’!
(Stinkey yells as Carla drags her off by the ear.)
STINKEY (off): Yeowwww! Pad-gett! She’s killing me!
PADGETT (off): Good.
So Stinkey gets spanked a second time, and three things tell us that it’s much worse for her than the first one. Carla characterizes it as a ‘Texas’ hiding, and in case we didn’t already know the saying, earlier in the play we were reminded that everything’s big in Texas. The import of the remark is that, if Stinkey thinks what she’s just had was a sound spanking, she ain’t felt nothing yet. And that’s confirmed almost at once when she calls for help to the very woman who administered the first spanking!
But the real clincher is that it happens offstage, which means it’s mainly left to our imagination – and what we imagine is likely to be a lot more fearsome than anything we might actually see, or any actress be able to endure, if the second spanking were also done onstage.
There is only so far that you can legitimately go in thinking about an offstage scene, but when the playwright invites us to use our imagination, maybe we’re entitled. Exactly what we imagine will be determined by many things, some of them personal… such as the fact that we, unlike most general audiences likely to have seen the play, have an uncommonly strong interest in spanking scenes and their exact detail! But other variable factors will not be individually idiosyncratic: what we can think about what happens offstage will be defined in part by what we have seen onstage, and some elements are bound to differ between productions.
But let’s start reasoning from one solid textual fact: Stinkey is very quick to start calling for Miss Padgett’s help. There’s a good theatrical reason for that, to avoid taking the focus away from the stage itself for too long. But what it means is that the severity of the offstage spanking isn’t determined by its duration: Miss P. gave Stinkey at least seven smacks (for seven place names), but Stinkey already knows this is worse long before her mother can possibly have got that far. So the logical inference is that Carla is spanking very, very hard.
That’s quite consistent with what Carla said about Texas, and in some productions it’s got to be the whole story.
But since the script specifies that Stinkey is dressed in a short skirt, there’s another possible dimension. If the onstage spanking was like this,
then there’s another obvious way in which the offstage one could be worse. And when Stinkey was spanked onstage on the seat of her panties, as happened at Kit Carson High School, Colorado, in 1974…
Well, maybe that’s a thought too far in a play that was mainly performed by junior and senior high school classes!
The play had a long life of nearly three decades, proving especially popular in the various rancher states, and most of all, for unknown reasons, in Oklahoma.
And it was in Oklahoma that the latest known production took place: it was the 1983-84 junior play at Duke High School, and Teresa Summers spanked Linda Benevides.
Can you imagine what she’s going to be getting offstage?