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Work In Progress
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
Serious Monologue, Narrative Monologue, 58 minutes
Preceded by: Rain
Followed by: Talking About Love

Ok, here I am, four years old, sitting on the handlebars of our lawnmower.

Pretender is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series Work In Progress. It was originally broadcast in 1986.


Joe narrates pictures from his childhood to the sound of a slide projector.

1:30: Joe recalls teaching at a private school in Manhattan, the affairs he had with other teachers.

1:40: Joe remembers Glenda, who had attended the school before becoming a teacher there. She lived with her wealthy parents. An auto accident had left her face scarred. 'She dated doctors, lawyers, businessmen, diplomats, members of high society.' She didn't take Joe seriously, but would 'sport' with him: get naked and in bed, but not make love. She married an Iranian millionaire. 10 years later he encountered her on the street; they went to a diner; Joe wanted to 'sport' with her, a suggestion to which she took offense.

5:40: 'History is other people.'[1] I'll end up with my head in my hands, nobody's hero, only a teacher, only a teacher.'

6:00: Joe recounts the history of James Scott (1649-1685), first duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of King Charles 2 of England. Charles raised him as a prince. He was heroic in battle and popular.

Because Charles had no legitimate sons his brother James was his heir, but James was a Roman Catholic while England had become decidedly Protestant. People unhappy about the prospect of having a Roman Catholic king focused their hopes on Monmouth, bruited a claim that Charles had secretly married Monmouth's mother, which would make him the true heir.[2] To allay these rumors he voluntarily exiled himself to Netherlands. He took up with English noblewoman Henrietta, Baroness of Wentworth.

When Charles died in 1685 Monmouth knew King James would never let him back; Netherlands kicked him out for the sake of their relationship with England. Monmouth and Wentworth moved to Brussels. English dissidents tried to convince him to lead a revolt against his uncle, now King James 2.

15:40: Joe narrates more pictures from his childhood.

17:20: Joe remembers the next teacher with whom he had an affair, Kim, who looked like a cheerleader. She dated 'large good-looking athletic types'; Joe didn't think he had a chance.

18:00: At the beginning of fall semester, he noticed that she had capped teeth that made her look like a chipmunk; she wasn't dating anyone. Joe chatted her up in the cafeteria. She's troubled. She invited him over for dinner. After dinner they cuddled on the floor by the fire. Joe ejaculated, was too embarrassed to tell her, went to the bathroom, splashed water on his pants, told her he was sick, left. He avoided her the rest of the semester. She didn't return after Christmas. A year later he told the story at a party, to great amusement. He never saw her again.[3]

24:40: 'History is other people. I'll end up with my head in my hands, nobody's hero, only a teacher, only a teacher.'

25:10: Monmouth went to England, called for a revolt against James. Commoners supported him, but none of the nobility.

28:20: Joe narrates more pictures from his childhood and one from his marriage. Joe says they were divorced 3 years later.[4]

29:30: Joe recalls his affair with Becky, the school librarian, 'Irish... [with] intense blue-grey eyes, pale freckled complexion, and long red hair.' Her father was a radical writer and reprobate who had abandoned his family.

Years later Becky called, wanted to come over. Joe stuffed 2 pillows under his shirt, thinking it would be a good joke. Becky wanted to borrow $5,000 for an operation for her father. Joe knew he wouldn't get the money back, wouldn't lend it to her. As she left, he pulled out the pillows. She didn't get the joke.[5]

34:30: 'History is other people. I'll end up with my head in my hands, nobody's hero, only a teacher, only a teacher.'

34:50: The poor quality of his recruits discouraged Monmouth. Hoping for surprise, he attacked the King's troops at night near Sedgemoor. Monmouth was soundly defeated, fled.

41:30: Joe narrates more pictures from his childhood.

42:30: Joe recalls his relationship with Susan, the science teacher, self-conscious about being 30 pounds overweight. She resented prejudice against fat women. Joe tells her story of a visit to a spa, then the time they were jogging and Joe got a fly in his eye.

48:30: 'History is other people. I'll end up with my head in my hands, nobody's hero, only a teacher, only a teacher.'

49:10: Monmouth is captured. Joe reads an account of his execution (abridged) from The History of England from the Accession of James II by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Volume 1.

55:10: Joe narrates slides of pictures from girlie mags and some women he knew.

56:40: Woman: 'You're the most beautiful man I've ever met; every single part of you is beautiful: your eyes, your hands, your hair, your entire body - it's like a painting. When you touch me - I feel like crying. I feel all of your strengths coming into my body. You're my king - you're my master - I worship you - I adore you. Don't go - don't ever, ever leave me.'

57:40: Sounds of battle.

Legacy Synopsis

Joe narrates a slide show of his life. He describes having an affair with fellow teachers: a woman with scars on her face who later marries a rich man, a woman who has her teeth capped, a half deaf hypochondriac librarian for whom he later pretends to be obese, an overweight woman who goes to gyms. "History is other people," and ending up "only a teacher." The fictionalized story of the Duke of Marmouth, illegitimate son of the king and pretender to the throne of England, who lead a failed revolution in 1685. The story is interspersed with the song "The Great Pretender". Slide show includes women in nude magazines. Woman speaks a brief second person monologue to her lover. Sounds of battle.


Joe used the story of his relationship with Kim in 4 shows. I think that's the most times he used any story.Arthur Peabody (talk) 23:36, 8 January 2023 (EST)

Who's the woman at 56:40? Is it meant to be someone talking about Joe? Someone voicing the sentiment of Lady Wentworth to Monmouth? Who's the actor?Arthur Peabody (talk) 23:36, 8 January 2023 (EST)

The singer in the version of 'Great Pretender' sounds like Eric Idle to me. It sounds like a British parody, or one of those awful British band versions. BBC wouldn't pay royalties in the '50s for popular American songs so people made do with uninspired versions by uninterested bands. I heard Paul McCartney comment recently that he never heard Etta James's version of 'At last' until he came to America.Arthur Peabody (talk) 23:52, 8 January 2023 (EST)



  1. This reminds me of Sartre's comment, 'Hell is other people.'
  2. Charles denied this.
  3. Joe re-used this story in Higher Learning, Journal, and Karma Don't Deny Me
  4. Joe mentions having a young wife when he was in Iowa (1960-3?) in Cocktails Before Dinner (1986); he tells Lorraine Wilson he was married until about 15 years ago in No Show (1986)
  5. Joe re-used this story in Karma Redux.