(With apologies to Orson Welles & Herman J. Mankiewicz)
The first cut of the newsreel wrapped up in the smoke-filled room, and one of the reporters hollowly noted that it was a tough thing to do in a newsreel. Seventy years of a man’s life.
This set off bickering amongst the rest of the men. Some wanted to excoriate the late Charles Foster Kane. Others wanted to celebrate his accomplishments. Nobody could agree on anything.
Rawlston, their boss, sensed that his men were losing focus, and brought the room to order. “JUST A MINUTE,” he shouted. The room fell silent.
“What were Kane’s last words? What were the last words he said on earth?” He turned to Thompson, who was running lead with this one. “Thompson, you’ve made us a good short, but it needs character-” “MOTIVATION,” somebody piped in, and Rawlston agreed.
“That’s it. Motivation. What made Kane what he was? And for that matter, what was he? What we’ve just seen are the outlines of a career - What’s behind the career? What’s the man? Was he good or bad? Strong or foolish? Tragic or silly? Why did he do all of these things? What manner of genitals did he have? What was he after?” He paused. “Maybe he told us on his death bed.”
Thompson looked around, confused. “With all due respect sir, what?”
Rawlston boomed on. “All we saw on that screen was a big American. But how is he different from Ford? Or Hearst for that matter? Or Rockefeller? Or John Doe? Or Jane Doe, again depending on the status of his genitals. I tell you, Thompson, a man, or woman disguised as a man’s dying words-”
Thompson, never eager to correct his employer, tried again. “Mr. Rawlston, I’m happy to run with this ‘Kane’s last words’ idea, it’s gold. But, I’m just the tiniest bit confused about one thing-”
Rawlston ignored him, drunk on the sound of his own voice. “Here’s a man who might have been president. But when he comes to die, he’s got something on his mind called ‘Rosebud.’ What does that mean? And how did it pertain to his genitalia? What did he have going on down there?”
Thompson raised his voice. “Mr. Rawlston, if I may be so bold, you seem really focused on Mr. Kane’s genitals, and if I may take the liberty of coining a phrase, it’s weirding me out.”
“You need to EMBRACE that feeling, Thompson!,” bellowed Rawlston. “Now look. We all know that Kane ran a newspaper empire, we know he tried to run for office. We know about the scandals, the opera houses, the marriages, the failed runs for office, and the fact that he lived in a big crazy house with lots of animals and things.”
The men murmured amongst themselves. It was a big crazy house.
“But what I’m saying is, we need to know what made him tick. And until we know for a fact that he had a Man Thing or a Lady Place, fellas, we don’t know squat. Go after the people that knew Kane well. That manager of his, Bernstein, those two wives, all the people who knew him, had worked for him, who loved him, who hated his guts...And while you’re at it, check to see what they’re packing down there as well. I don't mean check the genitalia of everyone in the City Directory, of course...”
The roomful of men laughed. Thompson didn’t.
“So does this take precedent over his last word, now?”
“JESUS, DO I NEED TO SPOON-FEED THIS TO YOU, THOMPSON? OF COURSE IT DOES!” Rawlston took a sip of water. His passion for finding the truth always left him parched. He took a deep breath, massaged his temples, and continued. “Of course it does. Think about it. What are you thinking about right now? What does any person think about at any given time? Help me out, boys.”
The reporters looked around, unsure how to answer.
“What, is this everyone’s first day on the job? Everyone is always thinking about their genitals. It’s literally on the minds of every single man, woman and child, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Go on, what are you all thinking about right now? Spit it out!”
One by one, each man confessed that they were thinking about their genitals. Even Thompson had to admit they were never far from his thoughts.
“See? So there you go. OBVIOUSLY Kane’s last word was in reference to his genitals. And if they weren’t about his, they were about somebody else’s. So, in a way, your job is very easy here, Thompson. It’s not like ‘Rosebud’ is a treasured family pet, or a nickname for a mistress, or a sled or some stupid nonsense like that. It’s about genitals. Genitals. Genitals, genitals, genitals.”
Rawlston’s voice raised to a fever pitch, now, like a preacher at a tent revival.
“What are we doing here, today? We’re telling the strange, amazing, unlikely story of a man who was either America’s greatest hero, or biggest goat. And when you are talking about someone’s life, literally the most important thing you can talk about is their gender, and if they were the gender they claimed to be. All of their accomplishments live or die by this simple, binary fact. Because either Kane was the man he said he was, or he was trying to trick people. And if he was trying to trick people, then by gum, we will make sure he pays.”
Thompson had enough. He took a step towards Rawlston.
“Okay, hold on, sir. We’re all pretty aware by now that Kane was no saint. He lied, he cheated, he stole, why, he broke every darn commandment in the good book. But at the same time, he was fiercely loyal to his second wife, took good care of his boy when he split up with his first wife, and when he spoke, it was like the voice of God speaking.”
“What’s your point, Thompson?”
“I feel like between his public and private life, there’s a pretty rich tapestry to explore, and maybe we can put this genitals thing on the back burner. It really doesn’t have any bearing on the story we’re trying to tell. We’re telling the story of his his actions, his friends, his loved ones, his enemies...His life. And his life was just so much more than what he was, as you colloquially opined, ‘Packing.’ And furthermore...Mr. Rawlston? Hello? Are you staring at my-”
“I’m sorry, Thompson, I was just looking at your crotch to make sure you had the right kind of genitals for the person you claim to be. And unless you are using some kind of device, it’s looking like you pass muster. Attaboy. I always knew you had them on you.”
And with that, Rawlston clapped Thompson on the shoulder, and sent him on his way.
Two hours later, Thompson was slapped to death by Susan Kane after he grudgingly asked her the questions Thompson prepared for him. When Rawlston was given this news, he sighed, sad to lose a good reporter, not to mention someone he had come to think of as a friend.
Still, he had to ask about his genitals. Just to make sure.