Harlem & Moscow

Episode two: Mission to Moscow

Episode 2

Dorothy West  anxiously awaits the arrival of Langston Hughes on their voyage from Harlem to  Moscow to make a movie. Dorothy gets to know some of the other Harlem Renaissance artists and activists  including Louise Thompson, the organizer, and Mildred Jones, an artist she will be rooming with. On the train, Dorothy and Henry Lee Moon get into a spat about sexual expectations abroad. Could their romantic getaway be over before it begins? 






[00:00:00] Announcer: You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

[00:00:06] Narrator: Hello, you’re listening to Harlem and Moscow, an original audio play presented by theGrio Black Podcast Network. Harlem and Moscow is a six episode drama with three additional companion podcasts. Harlem and Moscow: Red Flags.

[00:00:23] Harlem and Moscow is based on a true story. Episode 2, Mission to Moscow, stars J. Ivy as Langston Hughes, Evan Frazier as Dorothy West, and features Nancy Gilliam, Broderick Clavery, Susaye Lawson, and Brianna Cosette. I am your narrator, commenter, and teller of tales, Jared Alexander.

[00:00:54] Let’s get you all caught up on the journey from Harlem to Moscow. The trip to the Soviet Union begins. Dorothy West and her on and off again beau, journalist Henry Lee, and 20 other black writers, artists and intellectuals meet up with Louise Thompson. Louise Thompson is a prominent professor, activist, and the organizer of the trip, from Harlem to Moscow.

[00:01:19] Absolutely everyone is buzzing that renowned poet and writer Langston Hughes is coming on the trip, especially Dorothy. But, she’s super stressed that Langston is late. The ship’s captain is about to sail off without him, and Dorothy cannot contain her concern and excitement to her mother. As she recalls the day they set sail

[00:01:37] Dorothy West: Before you start, I have to point out that I didn’t lie to you, Mom. I thought I would be back before winter, although it’s almost summer now. Let’s skip to the part I know you’re dying to hear about, Langston Hughes. Much in Langston fashion, he almost missed the boat. The day we set sail, we were all on the deck waiting for him.

[00:02:04] Louise was negotiating with the captain while I stood at the rail with Henry Lee and all the rest.

[00:02:11] Louise Thompson: I promised the captain that Langston would be giving a generous tip in exchange for his tardiness.

[00:02:17] Henry Lee Moon: Lang probably spent the last of his lecture money just getting

[00:02:21] Louise Thompson: here. Say that a little louder, Henry Lee.

[00:02:24] I hope the captain doesn’t mind cigarettes.

[00:02:31] Would you like one, Dorothy?

[00:02:33] Dorothy West: No, thank you. I don’t smoke. Henry Lee?

[00:02:35] Henry Lee Moon: Oh, yeah. Thanks.

[00:02:38] Dorothy West: Excuse me, Mrs. I mean, Miss Louise.

[00:02:42] Louise Thompson: Just Louise is fine, Dorothy. You can do away with the titles altogether and call me comrade.

[00:02:48] Dorothy West: Louise, what happens if he if Langston Hughes doesn’t make it? Perhaps someone should have weighed it down on the dock?

[00:02:56] Louise Thompson: You seem awfully concerned.

[00:02:58] Dorothy West: If I had spent the month saving, I would be upset. No one came for me.

[00:03:02] Louise Thompson: Don’t worry your pretty little head. He sent this to me this morning. Telegram. I guess he didn’t spend all his money to get to the East

[00:03:12] Coast.

[00:03:14] Dorothy West: Louise, stop. I’m on my way. Stop. Hold that ship, because to me it’s an ark.

[00:03:21] Henry Lee Moon: I guess that makes us the animals.

[00:03:25] Dorothy West: Henry, leave! People are watching. And you smell like tobacco. Stand over there.

[00:03:31] Louise Thompson: We haven’t even left the States and you’re already regressing.

[00:03:34] Henry Lee Moon: You forgot what it was like to be young. Must have been so long ago for you.

[00:03:40] Louise Thompson: Ha! Ha! You kids had better behave yourself. This is more than just a study abroad.

[00:03:46] Promise me you won’t let anything get out of hand. And if you go out Saturday night, I better not read about it in Sunday’s paper. You wound, me Louise. Somebody has to. Ah, we need to finish room assignments. I assume you’ll be wanting to room with Teddy.

[00:04:03] Henry Lee Moon: Unless we’re allowing co-ed bunking.

[00:04:07] Louise Thompson: We are not. And you, Dorothy, have you thought about a roommate?

[00:04:11] Dorothy West: The only person I know well is Mollie and Wayland.

[00:04:15] Henry Lee Moon: I didn’t realize you had a thing for older men.

[00:04:18] Dorothy West: He is a perfectly nice man and an incredible actor.

[00:04:22] Louise Thompson: Unfortunately, Mollie is rooming with me. She wasn’t sure if Helene would be tagging along with you. This is good. It will give you a chance to get to know someone you wouldn’t normally cross paths with in the city or on Martha’s Vineyard.

[00:04:39] Dorothy West: It’s Oak Bluffs to us, not The Vineyard. And I don’t spend all my time there, just summers and holidays and birthdays and weddings.

[00:04:48] Henry Lee Moon: Oh, I see Teddy signaling me. That face means he wants to sneak a drag. Excuse me, ladies.

[00:04:55] Louise Thompson: As I was saying, let’s put you with someone new. Someone whose family doesn’t own a vacation cottage.

[00:05:04] Ah! Mildred!

[00:05:05] Mildred Jones: Hi, Lou.

[00:05:06] Louise Thompson: Mil, I’d like you to meet Dorothy West. Writer, actor, student at Columbia. Dorothy, this is Mildred Jones. She just finished her art degree at Hampton. She’s the next Robert S. Duncanson.

[00:05:21] Mildred Jones: You’re too

[00:05:21] kind, Louise. How do you do, Dorothy?

[00:05:24] Dorothy West: It’s lovely to meet you.

[00:05:26] Louise Thompson: Oh! I think I see Lang. Captain!

[00:05:29] Captain! I see him!

[00:05:31] Dorothy West: What kind of art do you make?

[00:05:33] Mildred Jones: I’m a painter. I also do some secretarial work for Lang sometimes. Typing poems and essays and such.

[00:05:41] Dorothy West: You know Langston? I’ve only met him a few times myself. Are the two of you

[00:05:47] Mildred Jones: Oh no. We’re good friends. Langston isn’t tied to anyone’s apron strings.

[00:05:55] Dorothy West: What about you?

[00:05:57] I mean, did your husband come with you to the city?

[00:05:59] Mildred Jones: I hope not. I did my best to throw him off my trail with the divorce.

[00:06:04] Dorothy West: How awful. I’m sorry.

[00:06:06] Mildred Jones: I’m not. Here comes Lang. Dorothy, you might want to pick your job from the

[00:06:12] deck.

[00:06:12] Langston Hughes: Good morning, comrades.

[00:06:14] Louise Thompson: Langston! We were beginning to think you wouldn’t

[00:06:18] make it.

[00:06:18] Langston Hughes: Didn’t you get my telegram?

[00:06:20] Louise Thompson: Yes, and the captain will be expecting a tip, by the way.

[00:06:24] Langston Hughes: I’ll be sure to slip it to him before we make land. As everyone accounted for. Henry Lee and Teddy. Couldn’t get Countee to change his mind.

[00:06:34] Henry Lee Moon: Can you blame him? The last time he went overseas, he came back without a wife.

[00:06:38] Langston Hughes: Shame, shame. This time, he could’ve come back with a husband. Oh, don’t give me that look, Louise. I’m only joking, of course. Hello, Mollie. So good to see you again. Mill, I might have some typing jobs for you once we arrive in Moscow.

[00:06:54] Mildred Jones: Of course you do.

[00:06:55] Langston Hughes: I’ll be running around too much to be anchored by a typing machine.

[00:07:00] And who’s this little thing?

[00:07:03] Dorothy West: I, I’m Dot. Dorothy. Dorothy West, sir. But my friends call me Dot.

[00:07:08] Langston Hughes: I would love to shake your hand, but it seems to be occupied by a telegram. Hold on, this looks familiar. That ship to me is an arc. Whoever wrote this has an excess of drama and of coins. To buy so many words when “Hold the boat stop, on the way stop,” could have easily suffice.

[00:07:33] But now your hand is unoccupied, so put it there.

[00:07:38] Dorothy West: We’ve actually met before, Mr. Hughes. I attended one of your lectures at Fisk, and I saw you again at Tilly’s, and again at the Cotton Club.

[00:07:46] Langston Hughes: Hold on, were you the kid who had that short story published? Uh, the typist.

[00:07:54] Dorothy West: The typewriter. Yes, you remembered.

[00:07:58] Langston Hughes: Of course I remember you, Dot.

[00:08:00] Come here. Welcome to the family, kid. And please rid yourself of these misters and sirs before we arrive in Moscow. Oh, Louise. We need a picture before we sail.

[00:08:15] Louise Thompson: You heard the man. Waylon, grab those chairs. Gather round. Men

[00:08:22] in the back. Tall men, Teddy.

[00:08:25] Short, yes. Stand on that, stand on that. And, oh, someone grab that life preserver with the name of the ship.

[00:08:32] Yes. Yes, we’ll put that right up in front. Okay. Everyone in places. Dorothy, why aren’t you in the picture? I suppose the two of us must sit on the floor, if you don’t mind a little dirt. Alright, uh, everyone look to the camera. Stay still, and no silly faces or goofy teeth showing. We are here to do something grand, and we must look the part.

[00:09:00] Sit up straight,

[00:09:01] Mill, would

[00:09:01] Mildred Jones: you? I’m perfectly comfortable how I am, Lou.

[00:09:05] Louise Thompson: Suit yourself. It’s only a picture that’ll last forever. Everybody look sharp. On my count, three, two, one.

[00:09:17] Dorothy West: And just like that, we were off. I didn’t get to see much more of Langston, as it rained almost every day, so we spent most days in the cabin.

[00:09:35] We ended up in Berlin for a night. I heard people say prostitutes prowl the streets in Berlin, and they do. Some of the men came back to the hotel, boasting about the German women willing to do anything and everything for cheap because they were curious about being with a Negro. Maybe I should be skipping this part of the story when telling my mother.

[00:09:56] It was a short stay, and then we were on a train only one stop from the Soviet Union. I was in a compartment with Henry Lee and Mollie. Although she had to run off in search of the food cart, Henry Lee and I sat in intense silence. I knew something was on his mind, but I couldn’t tell what.

[00:10:20] Henry Lee Moon: I didn’t think the trains in Russia would look exactly like they did in New York. It’s a bit, uh, disappointing.

[00:10:28] Dorothy West: What were you expecting? The conductors to be old women in babushkas?

[00:10:32] Hey, I heard they got women doing men’s work in Russia. I’m sure they got some female train conductors.

[00:10:40] Train Conductor: RUSSIAN: We will be arriving in Moscow in 5 minutes.

[00:10:46] Henry Lee Moon: So can we close the door in the city?

[00:10:49] Dorothy West: Not until Mollie comes back. How would it look?

[00:10:52] Henry Lee Moon: Like we’re two adults who need a little privacy. It’s loud. People passing by, the luggage being dragged. I can barely hear myself think. It would

[00:11:03] be nice to shut the door.

[00:11:06] Dorothy West: I’m sorry, but the door stays open until Mollie comes back or we reach Moscow.

[00:11:11] Henry Lee Moon: Oh, so we can close the door in the city.

[00:11:14] Dorothy West: That’s not what I said. You’re twisting my words.

[00:11:17] Henry Lee Moon: It’s not a twist, it’s a spin.

[00:11:20] Dorothy West: What do you know about that woman, Mildred?

[00:11:23] Henry Lee Moon: Uh, not much. I’ve heard she’s a fantastic painter, but I’ve mostly known her for doing typing work around town. She’s worked with the Amsterdam a few times.

[00:11:34] She’s fast and accurate.

[00:11:38] Dorothy West: I felt as though she was staring at me while we were taking pictures. I hope I didn’t say anything wrong. I may have reacted poorly to learning she was a divorcee.

[00:11:48] Henry Lee Moon: I’m surprised you noticed she was staring at all. You could hardly drag your eyes away from Langston. That is not true.

[00:11:56] And how many pictures did you take with him? Just the two of you?

[00:12:01] Dorothy West: Only a couple. A few.

[00:12:03] Henry Lee Moon: And how many did you take with me? The man who lent you ten dollars to go on the trip?

[00:12:09] Dorothy West: Are you upset with me?

[00:12:11] Henry Lee Moon: I actually think this will be good for the both of us. But especially for you. We’re going to another country.

[00:12:17] Hell, we’re already in another country. We should be free to explore and have

[00:12:23] fun without worrying about hurting someone else.

[00:12:27] Dorothy West: I came on this trip because you asked me to.

[00:12:30] Henry Lee Moon: You seemed pretty hesitant until Lang was mentioned.

[00:12:33] Dorothy West: He could be a mentor for me.

[00:12:35] Henry Lee Moon: Hmph. He could be a lot of things, but he won’t be.

[00:12:40] I’m sure you’ll figure out on your own all the things he can’t do.

[00:12:44] Dorothy West: You’re speaking in riddles.

[00:12:45] Henry Lee Moon: You’re just not listening, Dot. Dot, Dot, Dot. You’re still so young. I always thought you might be more open as time went on. Maybe Wally was right.

[00:12:59] Dorothy West: Since when do you and Wally talk, let alone about me?

[00:13:03] Henry Lee Moon: He makes some good points about you and your cousin.

[00:13:07] You’ve been in Harlem for almost five years and you still haven’t truly let loose. Feels like there’s this fire inside of you but you never let it out. Or at least, not for me. If you carry on the way you are, you’ll die an old maid.

[00:13:22] Dorothy West: That’s it! I’m taking my bag and I’m moving cars. I don’t need to take advice from a man who was just drooling over some white prostitute who was willing to kiss him for a dime.

[00:13:32] Henry Lee Moon: It was a nickel, actually.

[00:13:35] Dorothy West: Well then Henry Lee, I wish you all the best with your loose women and spinning stories or whatever you’re here to do. I’m going to focus on my career as an actress and a writer. And if that’s not exciting enough for you, then I guess I’m just not an exciting girl.

[00:13:50] Henry Lee Moon: There’s no need to make a speech.

[00:13:52] You’re not on camera right now.

[00:13:53] Dorothy West: Oh!

[00:14:03] Langston Hughes: Dot?.

[00:14:04] Dorothy West: Langston! Hello. Sorry, I, I had to leave my compartment. I’ll go find an empty one.

[00:14:10] Langston Hughes: Nonsense.

[00:14:11] Join us.

[00:14:13] Dorothy West: Oh, hello Mildred. I didn’t realize you were here too. I don’t want to interrupt anything.

[00:14:21] Mildred Jones: You didn’t interrupt anything that can’t be continued later. Come here, next

[00:14:27] to me.

[00:14:28] Langston Hughes: I can take your bag. Sit. Please.

[00:14:34] You don’t mind if I close the door, do you?

[00:14:37] Mildred Jones: Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Lang stays on his side of the compartment.

[00:14:41] Dorothy West: I suppose that’s alright, if it’s the three of us.

[00:14:44] What were you two talking about before?

[00:14:50] Langston Hughes: Oh, nothing too exciting. Who did you abandon back there?

[00:14:55] Dorothy West: Henry Lee decided it was best if we left each other free to explore on this trip.

[00:15:01] Mildred Jones: You don’t say.

[00:15:03] Dorothy West: He was barely speaking English. I still don’t understand half of what he said. He was the one who asked me to come with him, and now he’s the one to end things.

[00:15:12] Langston Hughes: Nothing better than being unattached in a foreign city. This would be a good thing for you, kid.

[00:15:19] Dorothy West: That’s what Henry Lee said. I’m not interested in romance.

[00:15:24] I’m ready to work.

[00:15:25] Mildred Jones: I hope we do as little work as possible. I spent enough time working in Harlem.

[00:15:30] Langston Hughes: We are about to experience true freedom. I mean, even here on this train. There’s no separation of class like there was on the ship. There’s no need to move to the colored section just because we passed an arbitrary border.

[00:15:45] In the Soviet Union, we can be exactly what we are. And not be ashamed of it.

[00:15:52] Dorothy West: There might not be a color line, but Russia does still have rules we’ll have to follow.

[00:15:57] Mildred Jones: Well, we’ll just have to see what we can get away with.

[00:16:01] Langston Hughes: Ah, we must be here.

[00:16:06] Dorothy West: I’m so sorry, Mildred. The train knocked me clear out of my seat.

[00:16:09] Mildred Jones: No need to apologize. And please, call me Mil.

[00:16:13] Dorothy West: Alright. Mil.

[00:16:16] Langston Hughes: By the way, do you two have your roommate situation figured out yet? All the other ladies might be booked up.

[00:16:25] Dorothy West: I assumed Mollie would be mine, but I heard she’s spoken for.

[00:16:28] Mildred Jones: Let’s room together then.

[00:16:30] Your friend Mollie can come for a visit whenever she’d like.

[00:16:34] Dorothy West: Alright.

[00:16:37] Louise Thompson: Come on, don’t let the train take off or you’ll end up in China.

[00:16:41] Langston Hughes: Louise, forever punctual.

[00:16:45] Dorothy West: We made our way off the train with our bags dragging behind us. There was a crowd at the train station and they were singing. I asked Langston, is there a festival or something?

[00:16:55] Langston Hughes: This is for us. We’re honored guests. The first Negro film cast in the Soviet Union. Hell, in all of Russian history. Look at that banner there. They’ve even written it in English.

[00:17:10] Mildred Jones: Workers of the world unite.

[00:17:13] Dorothy West: It’s wonderful. But what are they singing?

[00:17:16] Langston Hughes: The Internationale. A song of revolution and solidarity. A song for a new world.

[00:17:28] Soviet Choir: On

[00:17:31] Meschrapbom Official: On behalf of the Meschrapbom Film Production Company, welcome Negro comrades! Welcome to

[00:17:48] the Soviet Union!

[00:17:51] Narrator: Back home in Oak Bluffs,

[00:18:03] Dorothy is trying to tell her mother something important. Before guests arrive at the family’s home in the

[00:18:10] vineyard.

[00:18:11] Rachel West: My dear daughter, you know I never liked Henry Lee. Mom, I He would have been a fine match. I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him. But you could do better. Oh, that would be Betty with the little ones for lunch.

[00:18:29] They want to hear all about Russia and Berlin and all the rest.

[00:18:33] Dorothy West: I was hoping to finish telling you first before I saw anyone else. Remember, I still have something to tell you, to ask you.

[00:18:41] Rachel West: You can finish telling and asking me whenever. Now that you’re back in Oak Bluffs, we can talk about it every day for the rest of my life if you’d like.

[00:18:52] For now, go answer the door before they melt outside.

[00:18:57] Dorothy West: But after lunch and they leave, can we continue?

[00:19:01] Rachel West: Of course, of course. I want to hear all about it. Now the door, the door.

[00:19:05] Dorothy West: Yes, ma’am. After lunch, we’ll get to the singing and dancing part of the trip.

[00:19:09] Rachel West: And Langston. Was he there singing and dancing as well?

[00:19:15] I noticed he never disappeared from your letters.

[00:19:19] Dorothy West: Lang is not much of a singer, but we danced. A bit.

[00:19:23] Rachel West: I can see why you don’t want to tell it with the little ones.

[00:19:28] Dorothy West: All right, all right, I’m coming.

[00:19:34] Rachel West: Mrs. Dorothy Hughes. I like that.

[00:19:43] Narrator: Next time on Harlem in Moscow, Episode 3. When in Moscow.

[00:19:50] Carl Junghans: You Africans are not what was expected.

[00:19:54] Louise Thompson: Negroes, Junghans. We’re Americans.

[00:19:57] Dorothy West: What do those boys do all night?

[00:19:59] Louise Thompson: The men are doing what the men always do when they’re abroad. White women.

[00:20:06] Dorothy West: Mill! Don’t look at me like that.

[00:20:09] Langston Hughes: The much anticipated script, Black and White.

[00:20:14] Dorothy West: You make it all sound so good.

[00:20:16] Langston Hughes: That’s my job.

[00:20:17] Mildred Jones: Oh, thanks. I would just love to come back to the hotel with you and read over your shoulder.

[00:20:25] Carl Junghans: I like this one.

[00:20:26] Dorothy West: They do not do this sort of thing in Boston.

[00:20:29] Mildred Jones: Sure they do. They just don’t invite

[00:20:31] you.

[00:20:37] Narrator: Thank you for listening to Harlem and Moscow, an original audio play presented by theGrio Black Podcast Network. Harlem and Moscow was written by Alle Mims and directed by Aries Harper and Regina Griffin. Sam Riddell is the producer and sound designer. Our audio engineers are Aaron Reppert and Carey Durham with Music by Transitions.

[00:21:00] And the U. R. S. S. Soviet Chorus. We’d like to thank our amazing cast. J. Ivy as Langston Hughes. Evan Frazier as Dorothy West. Nancy Gilliam as Rachel West. Broderick Clavery played the roles of Henry Lee and the Meschrapbom official. Also starring Suze Lawson as Louise Thompson. Brianna Cosette as Mildred Jones.

[00:21:26] Sam Riddell as the train conductor. Yours truly, Jared Alexander, your narrator. Harlem in Moscow continues with episode three, When in Moscow. But first, if you’re dying for more on the real story and the real people, check out our companion podcast, Harlem in Moscow: Red Flags. Harlem in Moscow is such a powerful story that few people know about.

[00:21:55] Please rate, review, share, and tell a friend about this important adventure in black history.