The extraordinary true life story of Nate "Snooks" Gulliver, dancer and drummer extraordinaire, who played with Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and other greats and was Billie Holliday's childhood sweetheart.

Summertime, very early morning, a town street in the early 20th century. Horses and wagons plod along; a motorcar chugs past, making the horses shy. Down the street is a house with the red lantern of a brothel. Inside, the morning chores are underway. Somebody shouts "Nate! Get over here with that broom! A skinny African-American boy about ten years old, NATE “SNOOKS” GULLIVER, begins sweeping. But as soon as his uncle leaves the room, Nate sneaks out. A couple of ladies watch him sadly. They talk about how his poor mother passed, and how he came to live in a brothel owned by his uncle. They shake their heads and cluck. Nate plays the drums and dances at night for the customers. Since it’s Prohibition, Nate's uncle sends him to pick up a couple of jugs of liquor. Suddenly a gang of toughs accosts him. Nate pleads that his uncle will whup him if he shows up without the bottles. But one of the boys attacks him. a knife appears and in the midst of the scuffle, the attacker is accidentally stabbed. Nate runs. Later, amid wailing and screaming, Nate is dragged from the brothel by police, identified as the killer and taken to jail. Little Nate is thrown into a jail cell alongside criminals and crazies. He huddles alone in the filthy common cell trying to pray. Finally one of the policemen tells him he has a visitor. It is Billie Holliday, his childhood sweetheart. She slips him a little locket with her picture in it. At the trial, the judge decides that Boys Town will give Nate his best chance, and he is hauled away. Years pass, and Nate is now an adolescent. Quick shots show him studying, attending services, and abiding by the Boys Town rules. Restless, he sneaks away in the deepest night with his pack of poor belongings and departs into his future. BEGIN ACT II On the wooden stage of a rural carnival, Nate dances, dressed in a bow tie and top hat. His moves are skilled and daring, the crowd oohs and ahhs. But his shiny patent leather tap shoes are patched together. When a sole comes loose, he gracefully dances on and makes it part of the act. The crowd laughs and cheers. Daytime, a city street in the eastern U.S., Nate stands before a nightclub, broke but brave. He walks into a coffee shop and asks for a piece of pie before his audition. The pretty waitress ELSIE says, “I always had a weakness for a dancing man.” She spoons him up a hot turkey sandwich with gravy and rings up NO SALE on the cash register, and puts a piece of pie down too. Before a group of owners and musicians, Nate dances his heart out and wins them over. He is hired! Posters of Nate, now nicknamed SNOOKS, in tuxedo and top hat are all over town. Signs of the Great Depression are everywhere, but Nate's talent keeps him in the money. He dances for a group of high-rolling gangsters, who tip him a wad of cash. As Nate and Elsie celebrate their wedding reception, NAte finds a letter he had sent to Billie Holiday marked "return to sender." A poster board outside a swanky nightclub advertises CAB CALLOWAY and right under Cab's name, is Snooks Gulliver. He becomes a regular member of bands featuring Peg Leg Bates; Benny Goodman; Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington. World War II has broken out. Nate stands in line at the induction center. I done my time, Nate says, I want to serve my country. Well, you can't, says the officer, if you have a felony conviction. Nate walks out dejected. He works for the USO and entertains the service men. The war over, Nate sits across from his agent. The entertainment/music scene is changing. The big bands are no longer as popular. The agent can’t find gigs for Nate. Nate goes to work at the huge LUKENS STEEL factory. His ears, used to fine music, ring from the deafening roar of the mill. He is wearing a pair of old dancing shoes. Nate reads in the paper that Billie Holliday has been arrested and thrown into jail for heroin use. It is almost too much to bear on Nate's first day of work. Scenes of Nate enduring the punishing routine of the steel mill. Huge vats of boiling metal, sheets of red hot steel. The noise is never-ending. But the workers have a rough camaraderie and deep friendship. Nate pulls up to the house in a brand new car. a 1950 Buick Roadmaster! Blanche chides Nate. You know we can't afford that, Nate! Oh yes we can, Nate tells her—because I've been promoted! Nate confesses that he will be a special handler—a more dangerous job that pays more. On the factory floor, Nate skilfully handles huge buckets of molten steel. But when Nate loses his grip once day—the whole bucket splashes down. Men run for their lives. Nate is on fire, burning alive. The hospital is quiet as Blanche sits sobbing and praying with friends in the waiting room. Nate is burned over 70 percent of his body. If the burns dont kill him, the infection will. Just a matter of time. A bandaged form lies motionless in a hospital bed. In the darkness, sounds come to Nate: Jazz, laughter. His life seems to be passing before him. He hears in his mind the laughing hookers from the cathouse, Billie Holliday saying I am NOT too skinny! I'm going to be a star! The carnival barker shouts: “This way folks for the dancing sensation of the thirties.” He hears Blanche saying Nate, you have to face reality and get a job. Face reality..... face reality.....face reality.... Nate wakes up. It is months later. He is scarred but alive. Blanche enters his hospital room with a lemon meringue pie. They told me you were asking for pie, I figured I'd make you your favorite! BEGINNING Of ACT III Years have passed. Nate’s little boy is running around the house. Nate, slower and older but healthy. Blanche enters the room, looking pale and thin. Honey, you got to take a rest now and then. But Blanche only looks at him sadly. At the town doctor's office, NAte is called aside. “I hope you've made plans for when Blanche is no longer here,” he tells Nate. Later, Nate takes Blanche her in his arms. I will be strong for you, he tells her. You can lean on me. Months later. Nate is at the graveside. Little Nate beside him in a dark suit, clings to Nate's leg. Time passes. Nate teaches Little Nate to dance. The boy wears shiny tap shoes, and they do a few simple numbers together. A knock at the door. GERALDINE comes in. I just thought you and that son of yours might enjoy a little home cooking, she tells Nate. She brings in a big plate of fried chicken. Yes, she says, there are a lot of lives that went up in smoke in that mill, Nate, but for us, the mill can be about life. Think of those forges as making people stronger and forging the steel to go on when we lose and struggle and cry. Music we see the real Nate, age 92, sitting in the rest home, smoking his cigar. He looks out the window. My purpose, he says, was to climb the ladder of life. He starts to reminisce about the people he knew and the places he's been. his voice fades away as credits roll...

Script Excerpt
Starring Roles For:
Will Smith
A young Will Smith
A young Mariah Carey
In the Vein Of:
What's Love Got To Do With It?
Confessions of a Super Freak
Author Bio:
Author website: Amazon Page:

Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in fiction in 2021 and 2016

I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the shooting of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times:

My short story, published in Cornell University's literary magazine, Epoch, is currently under option to Sony and Road Less Traveled Productions.

Show More