Gracie At Sea
by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Spafford

The general idea of offering this story for George Burns and Grace Allen is dependent upon the thesis that farce and comedy do not hold attention over half an hour—and at the same time that there is great material in their personalities for full length pictures.

For the first half hour of pure farce, one laughs, for the second half hour one is amused; and for the third half hour one wants to hit the comedians on the head. Chaplin realized this when he decided to make longer pictures, as in Tilly’s Punctured Romance and The Kid, etc., and took a good deal of his purely farcical personality out of the picture to make way for counter means such as: Pathos of the Kid himself, to make way for this general principle, which has been well known to writers of light comedy for many years.

On this assumption, the authors who submit this story have tried to intersperse a vehicle which will carry George Burns’ and Grace Allen’s stuff, with touches of sentiment and emotions which are common to all and will arouse, we hope, the same feeling of recognition which has previously greeted only their farcical endeavors. The idea was first offered to George Burns in person and interested him enough so that he encouraged us to go on.

Herewith follows suggested story:

Gracie at Sea

Poor George, at this moment on the basis of a small inheritance, had been just about to quit work as publicity man and retire to the country, when his boss called him into his office to speak of a case that had a strange and fascinating interest for George, for George was a fundamentally lonesome and self-obliterating man. In himself, he encouraged those qualities which contributed to the satisfaction of others and got his pleasure in that success rather than in any advance on his own part. Because of this very quality, he was considered the best publicity man in Manhattan, and perhaps that is why his boss had asked him to take this peculiarly difficult and intricate case.

In brief, the case, as the head of the agency explained to poor George, was to go into the environment of the rich and solve a strange situation that had arisen there.

It seemed that a Mr. Augustus Van Grossie, long identified with yacht racing in America, had an unusual situation with his two motherless children—that the elder daughter must be married before the younger daughter.

And behold, the elder daughter was a mass of mistakes. Pretty enough, she, nevertheless, always gave herself away by some awkward blunder of speech or conduct, so that the correct young people of her environment fought shy of her. Therefore, since she could find no suitor it seemed that neither of the sisters would ever get married.

The task requested of the publicity agency was to send the most competent man that they had down to Newport to see if during the sequence of the cup races, Gracie’s carefully, if unsuccessfully manoeuvred gifts could be exploited to the extent of marrying her off. This was a last possible expedient on the part of her father.

At first George objected vehemently. He had already picked out his little cottage where he would enjoy his small patrimony in making plants into onions instead of onions into orchids. But his professional instincts reasserted themselves. The task fascinated him and off he went.

On the train, he was still baffled at his own weakness. Nevertheless, he had with him a typewriter, all of the data on the cup races and all he could dig out of newspaper morgues about the Van Grossies and their traditions. At the moment when he was thinking of turning back, he saw upon a satchel which was being deposited together with his own bag in the wrong place across the aisle the name of Gabrielle Van Grossie. With instinct for rising to such a situation he crossed the aisle and under the excuse of clearing up the confusion of the baggage, introduced himself as a friend of her father’s who was going down to see the races and had been invited to stay in her house. Gabrielle or Gay as she soon explained to him her nick-name was, sounded gay like her name and looked much more young and impetuous than her whole name would indicate.

During the ride, George managed to draw out from her innocence a few facts about the family with whom he was going to spend his next week—one of which was that she felt a vast impatience with the tradition which made it necessary for her sister Gracie to marry before herself. He guessed with his trained prescience that maybe she had a lover for whom she yearned and that this tradition forbade their union; and yet that she did not blame Gracie for it, but only the spirit that moved her father.

At about this same moment, the young man who, unknown to George, was the object of this young girl’s affection, was visiting the, as yet, unlaunched competitor to represent America in the cup races of the following Saturday. He was a fine young man in every way and a great favorite of Mr. Van Grossie’s, who hoped that sooner or later he might fall in love with the elder daughter, Gracie. They were looking at the yacht, from a technical standpoint. Little did they know what strange function it was to fulfill in both their lives during the next week.

And about an hour after the twilight that brought George into Newport, another scene was taking place which was equally to affect the destinies of the people concerned.

A girl in the garden of the enormous Van Grossie villa at Newport was feeding a pool of avid gold fish. She had finished her last throw of the proper food from a container and was saying good-bye to her favorite gold fish—a large mouthed and particularly taciturn specimen. But as she turned away, there was a curious answer. She turned back. “What did you say, Noah?”

Noah made no answer. “Oh, you silly thing!” she said, and turned away again.

Then she heard the strange cry the second time. She turned back and laughing, said, “Noah, I bet you say that to all the girls.” But laughing out loud as she did, she nevertheless could not neglect the fact that the unexpected sound which had attracted her attention came from a little inlet some distance away, off toward a little patch of woods. It was a curious sound. It was a sound that had been for a long time in Gracie’s heart—even though she did not recognize it. It was a sound of something new and unfound and fascinating, and she stopped in her tracks looking up at the sky for a moment, upon the chance that it might be a bird that she had never heard before. Yet she knew in that same heart that it was not a bird, and a minute later found her following a repetition of that sound to its source.

Its source was a dark arbor in the corner of the inlet, its source was the sea. Its source was God knows where. To be more specific, its source seemed to be from a small, very broken, utterly unseaworthy-appearing little dory in which was a laundry basket and turned out to be a little boy who even in the fast growing darkness caused her to snatch him out of the dory and nurse him with cries of delight. The child had probably come from some derelict tramp steamer, but Gracie was not thinking of it in those terms at the moment. She was merely delighted and started up through the little woods.

At the other end of the little woods another scene which would have surprised Mr. Van Grossie was taking place. Little Gay, scarcely off the train, was rushing off into the woods to keep an appointment with Mr. Van Grossie’s hand-picked candidate for Gracie’s hand. In a bower in the woods, the two met and embraced passionately, while in the big house George was  getting more explicit details of his assignment.

The millionaire and the publicity agent strolled down through the gardens. As they reached the edge of the little woods, the same cry that Gracie had heard some minutes earlier reached both their cars. “What was that?” said Mr. Van Grossie, but George, in this new environment, was giving no opinions. He wanted to use his own judgment and while he knew very well the direction from which the cry had come, he wanted to pause a minute and consider. Again the cry sounded. This time he said to himself; “Well, it that isn’t the cry of a baby, I never heard one” and “look here” he said to his host, deliberately pointing the way in an opposite direction, “you go down that direction and investigate and I will go this way.” No sooner had the older man, considerably puzzled, started off in the indicated direction, than George darted toward the sound. In an instant he had come upon the young girl he had met on the train, a strange young man and an elder girl carrying a baby in a wash basket. The two pairs of human beings had evidently just come in contact, and being no laggard in intruding upon strange situations, he introduced himself into the general excitement which followed upon the discovery of the baby.

The advices of what to do about it were various, but George, seeing for the first time the girl he was to publicise and hoping for more story and more mystery, agreed that the baby should be concealed from her hard boiled father for the time being and given over to the charge of an old nurse, and it was obvious that Gracie had decided immediately to adopt the child.

Thoughtfully, George went in search of Mr. Van Grossie, thinking that he would be more able to make up his mind about Miss Gracie next day.

And well he might, for the next day, he saw Gracie in her natural element.

She had been commissioned to christen her father’s boat, and from far and near people assembled upon the ways to watch and applaud. It seemed a sure-fire stunt to George who did not see how she could possibly go wrong. But Gracie’s talent for going wrong re-asserted itself, for at the moment that she was to smash the bottle on the bow, and the boat was to slide down the ways, she stopped her swing, holding the bottle aloft, to wave to the crowd. The boat began to move and the hurriedly completed swing which she had directed toward the bow missed fire, swinging Gracie around in an acrobatic circle. Nothing defeated by this, she took a mere second in the arms of sympathizers to murmur “Where am I” and then set off in a mad run, with skirts flying, in pursuit of the boat sliding rapidly down the ways. Just as the yacht slid into the water Gracie arrived at the end of the ways. Nothing daunted she reached the boat only by a daring leap through mid-air in esthetic pose—and attained her aim at the sacrifice of sinking gently into the bay. George made a quick dive and brought her to the surface, but with the idea recurring to his mind even at his first reappearance on the surface, that he had a difficult venture. His task as a publicity man was to show that Gracie was a mature and gracious, and accomplished woman. The papers the next day said nothing of the incident except for sly remarks, but the implication was enough to make him grind his teeth and decide that next time, things would not be as heretofore. He decided that perhaps since most musicians were considered eccentric, any curious departure from convention on Gracie’s part in that line might be excused. So he decided that he would concentrate to the best of his ability on rehearsing Gracie for a hard number. It happened that was one of his many accomplishments and he was careful to call rehearsal in the morning several days before the event. It was held in the drawing room of the Van Grossie mansion. The baby had still been kept under the supervision of a confidential nurse, but Gracie had dared upon this occasion to sneak it into the music room for rehearsal. George played the piano and found that Gracie had certain talents. He concentrated therefore on her following his own piano accompaniment. Gracie, however, was torn between her supposed love of music on the harp and her interest in the child playing about her on the floor. When the baby decided to climb up the slanting slope of the harp, she obligingly began to tip the harp, all unknown to George, so that the baby would have something more solid to climb and George at the piano, all unknowing, kept on playing and admonishing and advising her without sensing what made an increasing scries of extraordinary discord. He got madder and madder, while the child got more and more interested as it found it could climb. So did Gracie. Correspondingly, her interest in the music decreased. Her harp had now tilted so that Gracie was practically underneath it at a dangerous angle and playing it as no known instrument had ever been played, her body slanting dangerously backward.

Finally, still looking at his score on the piano, he said, thinking that he is being heard: “Now,” he said, “we will try to get the finale with a big crescendo of harp and piano.” At that moment, the crash that he had commanded arrived, but in an entirely different form, and turning around, he saw the harp, Gracie and the child sprawled upon the floor. As he picked them up one by one, Gracie, the child and the harp, talking all the time, he kept up a continual bawling-out to the effect that Gracie did not care about serious music, during which time Gracie was thinking only of whether the child had been possibly annoyed in the fall from the harp. Finally, he turned to her, and in one sharp line of abjugation which he thought would wither up any one who had seriously studied music, said; “Look what you have done to your Bach.” Gracie felt at the baby’s diapers. Feeling at his wet diapers, she said, “I didn’t do it, he did it himself.”

George was still shaking his head in doubt the next morning when he had embarked in a foursome on the golf links with the two sisters and Gabrielle’s devoted Dick. Unfortunately his problem was complicated by the fact that Gracie was no golf player any more than she was a christener of boats. His own idea was to bring them all together and dispose of the situation of the baby, but there were two particular points about Gracie’s claim that precluded that. While Gabrielle and Dick went ahead in an intimate twosome and descended into one sand-pit, there would always be Gracie in another sand-pit far behind, and he was continually rushing everywhere as a liaison officer between two trench systems, trying to keep the party as one. It was not that Gracie hit the ball so badly, but that a large  caddie she had hired held in a large bag that she had somewhere found, a young male child who continually absorbed her attention. As near as he could make out in his impassioned abjurations to Gracie, she was teaching the child to count in accordance with her own score, and it was only because of the aforesaid predilection of the younger couple for the privacy of the dunes that he was able to bring them together at all and discuss with any intelligence what plans should be made for the future of the child. Perhaps, he thought, the whole situation would be beyond his abilities, but he was indefatigable, and in carrying out his new plan the next day he had mustered everything he knew about publicity into the picture.

It was to be a beauty contest, and Gracie was to win the prize. Moreover, it was to be a fully publicised beauty contest and he had taken careful thought. Society reporters from all over New England and New York were present to take notes. Photographers were there in scores. Gracie, with the help of her sister, had been carefully instructed in her role; her competitors had been chosen with equal care from among the wall flowers and past debutantes in the vicinity, so that when Gracie won, no one would find any special injustice in the choice. The judges were hand-picked, but;

George had failed again to count on Gracie. When one of the entrants in the contest asked Gracie to fix her number on her back, Gracie obligingly did so. Gracie reversed the number “9” so that it should read “6,” and a few minutes later Gracie’s old trusted nurse, bringing up Gracie’s adopted baby, allowed her to play with Gracie’s number and reversed it so that it on the contrary read 9 instead of 6. Orders had been given that number 9 should win the contest.

So George, after this parade before the impassioned cameras, issued bulletins about the charming Miss Van Grossie’s triumph—and then a few minutes later saw the cup provided for presented to the girl who wore mistaken the number 9 instead of to Gracie who should have work it except for the upside down conditions of the numbers on their respective backs.

The story has gone off by telegraph to New York and by this time the society columns have managed to give it the wrong headlines with slight hints of the right story. It is too good a story again to be missed by social gossip columnists and George again had cause to wonder why he ever called himself a publicity agent since his attempts in this case have been rewarded by constant failure. He still had trumps in his hand to play, however and:

He banked everything on that night of the music ale. George and Gracie entered the room, she leaning on his arm as she swept majestically across the floor to the temporary stage at the end of the room. This was George’s final trick and he was about to push Gracie into prominence as the world’s greatest harpist.

He made a formal speech of presentation which Gracie acknowledged sweetly. Amid many bravos, George announced the first selection and with him as accompanist, Gracie started a tentative glissonde on the harp strings. She got off to a beautiful start but ended up in a terribly sorry chord. Quite unperturbed and with George prompting and keeping time, she swung on with the composition. Suddenly the baby peeked out from behind the piano where he had been in hiding. The child was old enough to realize that George Burns considered him a nuisance and so he tried to keep out of George’s sight. He kept edging his way closer and closer toward Gracie, until finally just as Gracie reached a difficult passage, the baby ran out from its hiding place and managed to trip and fall head and shoulders through the harp strings.

That, of course, ended the musicale; Gracie bowing her way out and pushing the harp before her, she managed to keep the child unseen by anyone but George. Once outside the room it was obvious to both George and Gracie that a safe hiding place would have to be found for the child. When she managed to extricate the baby from the harp strings, she and George ran down to the boat house and into the store room, where they put the baby to sleep for the night on a jib sail which was stretched out horizontally to air. George and Gracie sat down alongside while they waited for the child to go to off to sleep. Before the child finally closed its eyes, both George and Gracie were leaning back against the wall, dozing off themselves. They were awakened roughly the next morning when they were discovered by Mr. Van Grossie. As they opened their eyes they saw him angrily lifting the child into his arms and starting off down across the lawn evidently intending to dispose of the child, in some way of his own. Gracie and George took a short cut hurriedly to the dock where they found Dick and Gabrielle waiting to go out to the sailing yacht. George captured the little dory and hid it under the wharf and he sat in it making notes on his typewriter. Gracie explained hurriedly to the young lovers that the situation could be clarified if they would only claim that they were married and the baby was theirs. As Mr. Van Grossie came rushing on the scene with the baby in his arms, he was confronted by this false situation. On learning that Dick and Gabrielle seemed to be married, he was extremely disappointed but before he had a chance to vent his rage the “get ready” gun had been fired by the Race Committee. Mr. Van Grossie philosophically took the attitude that there was no use crying over “spilt milk.” He shoved the baby into Gracie’s arms and then dragged Dick and Gabrielle out to the racing yacht in the motor launch, calling back to Gracie to come on out with George as soon as he showed up. With Mr. Van Grossie out of sight, George re-appeared over the side of the pier. He and Gracie jumped into the one remaining motor boat and started for the races.

Gracie and George had both become much excited because of all the confusion and tension which pervaded the air just a moment or so before the historic races. Gracie sat in the stern holding the baby with one arm and steering with the other, while George sat in the bow, his typewriter resting on an air cushion on his knees. They had gotten about twenty feet from the wharf when the launch suddenly capsized and broke in half. George’s half sank very slowly, his typewriter floating out of his reach on the air cushion. The baby, who had managed to climb onto another one, was also floating gleefully as Gracie’s half of the boat, which had the motor and the propeller, sped in crazy circles around him. The baby was amused and delighted when George’s portion of the boat filled with water and sank to the bottom. George was swimming frantically and treading water as he chased his floating typewriter. Gracie was unable to stop the boat for the minute but finally, as it completely filled with water, she ran it into the dock and was dumped unceremoniously into the water. The loss of the motor boat forced them to take the only remaining craft which happened to be the small battered dory. George and Gracie climbed aboard and with Gracie at the oars they went to the rescue of the floating baby and typewriter—and continued on among the numerous sight-seeing craft that milled about the contending yachts. Gracie rowed up just in time to tie onto the back of her father’s boat as the starting gun was fired. In the ensuing confusion, as Gracie and George tried to scramble aboard the yacht, the baby was stranded and it was not until after the yachts had started that Gracie was suddenly horrified to remember that the baby was still in the trailing dory. The Van Grossie boat was in the lead and Gracie and George were struggling to effect the rescue of the baby, who sat laughing and clapping his hands as the dory rocked and swerved in the yacht’s wake. Gracie suddenly decided that she needed a good length of rope to do the trick so with George still watching the child, she ran up the deck until she found at the base of the main mast the sort of rope she needed.

However, this rope was fastened to a marlin’s pike at the base of the great mast. Nothing daunted and not at all worried, or aware of the fact that that particular rope was the one which held the main sail up in place, Gracie struggled until she was able to pull out the marlin’s pike, determined on getting that rope. As the spike finally came out, the huge main sheet tumbled down practically smothering the boat; and the rival boat swept by triumphantly to victory.

After a moment signs of life began to appear from under the canvas which covered the deck like a blanket. Dick and Gabrielle appeared from under one corner and embraced each other happily. Near the foot of the mast, an indistinguishable hump raised up and called out just as though nothing had happened, “Oh, Georgie, where are you?” From somewhere near the stern came George’s distracted and discouraged response, “Right here, Gracie.” She extricated herself from the sail and ran back to join him. George decided that it would probably be politic to remove Gracie from the scene with the utmost dispatch. As he helped her down into the dory occupied by the baby he announced: “I think, Gracie, that for the benefit of mankind I had better make you my eternal problem.” Gracie giggled happily as she sat down at the oars; “Oh! George, you do say the nicest things.” George’s face, with his usual pained expression, was bent over his typewriter as he tapped out his final press release as the dory headed back to shore. As the small boat fades off in the distance, George was busily writing:




After meeting a George Burns and Gracie Allen in 1934, Fitzgerald collaborated with Spafford on the present at their request, a farce for the duo that had Gracie as an eccentric heiress and Allen the PR man tasked with cleaning up her image enough that she finds a suitable husband. Featuring a found mystery infant, a frantic yacht race and fixed beauty pageant, hilarity ensues.

This treatment for comedy was never purchased.

Typescript, np, 1934, 15 pages and 1 page cover synopsis, 16 pages total (11 1/8 x 8 5/8 in.; 283 x 220 mm); upper corner with minor lose from staple removal.

Published in I'd Die For You collection (2017).