FROM THE DARK SIDE
The camera focuses in on the "No Trespassing" sign hanging on the chain-link fence. Slowly the camera pans up, through the fog and onto the slightly weathered facade of Titan Tower. Inside, in the screening room, the video footage was about to roll.
"Title card: News on the March. Voiceover: Legendary was the Xanadu where Kubla Khan decreed his stately pleasure dome. Today, almost as legendary is Connecticut's Xanadu, home to the World Wrestling Federation. In Xanadu last week was held this year's strangest funeral. Here was the memorial service for a potent figure of this century, America's Kubla Khan, Vincent K. McMahon. (A picture of McMahon slowly fades as we now see a montage of web pages and dirt sheets.) Title card: To millions of fans around the world, more newsworthy than the names in his own programs, was McMahon himself, greatest wrestling promoter pf this or any other generation. (We now see a montage of WWF history, beginning with Hogan up through the present. We see Savage, Steamboat, Warrior, Undertaker, Bret, Owen, Michaels, Austin, the Rock, HHH and Angle.) Video clip of a certain newsletter editor: "Vince McMahon is in fact nothing more or less than a genius." Video clip of a certain newspaper columnist: "The words Vincent K. McMahon are a menace to every wrestling fan in this land. He is today what he has always been and always will be, a fascist." Voiceover: And still another opinion. Title card: "I am, have been, and will be only one thing - An American." - Vincent K. McMahon. Voiceover: McMahon exploited the nature of one war (clip of Sgt. Slaughter as Iraqi general, with WWF title) and supported vigorously another (clip of Kurt Angle on 9/13/01 Smackdown). Loved by many and hated by just as many, McMahon was a leader in the popular culture of his day. (A clip of video wall outside WWF New York announcing McMahon's death). Then last week, as it must to all men, death came to Vincent K. McMahon."
Inside the room, various staffers mill about, discussing the first cut of the tribute. The consensus was that it captured the public McMahon, but we needed more of the private man. So, one of the young men on the writing team was dispatched to find out more about the man behind the myth. And about his last word, which no one but the young writer thought was important.
Scene: a nightclub in Southern California. The neon lights read Daddy's Little Girl, Floor Show, Stephanie McMahon, twice nightly. Inside, our reporter comes upon a haggard woman slumped over a table. She slowly picks up her head.
"Who told you to sit down? Why don't you people leave me alone? I'm minding my own business. You mind yours."
"All I want to ask you about."
"Get out. Get Out! GET OUT!"
Scene: A mid-town office building. Behind a large desk is a middle-aged Shane McMahon. Behind him is a huge picture of his father. Underneath is a framed WWF title belt, from the first time Shane won the championship.
"Who's a busy man? Me? I'm the chairman of the board. I got nothing but time. What do you want to know?"
"Well, Mr. McMahon, you were with your father for the beginning of the expansion."
"From before the beginning, young man. And now it's after the end."
"We thought maybe. If we can find out about his last word."
"Sorry. That's the one thing I won't talk about. Who else have you been to see? Stephanie? I called her myself the day he died. She couldn't even come to the phone. Have you talked to Patterson?"
Scene: An old-age home in San Francisco. Sitting in a wheel chair, wearing a cap to shield his eyes from the sun is McMahon's long-time companion, Pat Patterson.
"I can remember absolutely everything, young man. That's my curse. That's one of the greatest curses ever inflicted on the human race - memory. I was his oldest friend and I far as I was concerned, he was a swine. Not that he was ever brutal, he just did brutal things. You don't have a cigar, do you boy? I have a young boy for a physician that thinks I'm actually going to stop smoking."
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Thanks for indulging me, young man. What is it you want?"
"What do you know about his last word?"
"I saw that on the TV show. You can't believe everything you see on that show."
"But you were always there? And you were Canadian? Does that have anything to do with it?"
"Sorry. I can't help you. Are you sure you don't have a cigar?"
Scene: Back to the club a few days later and Stephanie.
"I'd rather you just talked. Anything that comes to mind."
"Lots of things come to mind about me and my daddy. I think the beginning of the end may have come when we created my sitcom. I didn't want be on TV like that, but it was his idea. Did you ever see it?"
"No..uh..I've only heard about it."
"Come into my office and I'll show you. I've got the raw footage there."
They went into her office and watched the tape. It was prototypical sitcom, with Stephanie as the perky young single girl as the main character, complete with wacky neighbor and slightly less attractive best friend. It wasn't funny, the writer thought. The most disturbing thing came when Stephanie sang the closing credits to the show. The crowd sat in stunned silence. Suddenly, from the balcony, there was one set of hands clapping and they grew louder and louder. One of the cameraman zoomed in and it was Vince.
"Not my best work."
"Well, that's not my place to say. About his last word."
"That's what you want to know about? Shane told me that what you wanted to know about. But as far as I'm concerned, the memory of that died with him. And now, please leave and don't come back."
On his way out of the club, a tall, dark man came up to him. He was wearing a dark suit, with a thick pair of sunglasses snugly fit on the top of his head. His stringy hair looked wet, even though it never rained in southern California.
"So, you want to know about his last word, eh?"
"Yes, I do."
"If anyone could tell you about it, it would be me. But it will cost you."
"Let's go for a walk and I'll tell you about it. About Montreal."
If you didn't know, this column is a tribute to Citizen Kane, Orson Welles' first movie and arguably the greatest film ever made. It was released on DVD this week. Do yourself a favor and rent it.