Set in Arizona during the early years of the Cold War
An outrageous former Vaudevillian finds herself put out to pasture, fumbling between her perplexing new job as guardian to a Russian child and her misadventures trying to regain her former glory (not to mention a ticket back to New York) through playing what she dubs “The Jackalope Circuit.”
The View from Upper High Hog
New York, 1954
Jazz Age, Atomic Age, Space Age — meh. The Fabulous Bette Noire (a.k.a. Bebe Rosenthal) figures she’s seen it all. Life on the big time Vaudeville circuit gives a broad an extra broad perspective, not to mention the chutzpa to fight. She’s been through wars one and two and enough husbands to form a chorus line, so she’s up for anything.
Therefore, when her latest husband kicks the bucket, stranding her on his employer’s Hudson Valley estate, Bebe knows just what to do. Enough with this love nonsense. It only leads to trouble. And a little hay fever. Her fans must be clamoring for her after her long hiatus. She’ll call her agent and get back to her proper place in the world — the stage.
Unfortunately, she discovers a few more things have gone on hiatus since last she saw Manhattan: the Age of Vaudeville and her ability to find a role.
With no money to speak of and nowhere to go, Bebe finds herself lured by an offer from her late husband’s employer. Give up her apartment over their garage, and they’ll give her a job with lots of time off and travel. She just has to be ready to start the next day, no questions asked.
Sounds great to a gal who loves her freedom and wants to see exotic places. And no questions asked? Bebe’s first husband was a bootlegger. No problem.
Then she finds herself herded onto an Arizona-bound train with her previously undisclosed responsibility shoved into her arms as the train pulls out. To Bebe’s horror, it’s a child. And, not just any child, it’s her employer’s newly-orphaned niece, Tatiana, a four-year-old who draws attention with her crazy orange hair, ugly duckling face, and constant babbling in Russian — a dead giveaway of her Auntie Kate’s secret past on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Bebe figures that Aunt Katya’s a smart one, killing two broads with one stone, setting her burdens adrift on an ice floe. Smarter, she’s put Bebe under the supervision of “Grandpa Joe,” a muscular enforcer from down on the (collective) farm.
Thus, Bebe begins her new life as hapless guardian to an alien life form in an alien land — the dust and neon planet of Route 66. She’s caught between the needs of the child, a feud between Aunt Kate and the headmistress of the child’s school, and her own urgent need to escape what she dubs The Jackalope Circuit.
In a series of misadventures, including stalking famous musicians, sending hate mail to Betty Hutton for stealing her schtick, and and trying to form a theater company using the residents of a flea-bag motel, Bebe struggles to reclaim her former glory, independence, and relevance in the world.
Meanwhile, the newly-renamed child, Elizabeth, looks on from the shadows, trying to make sense of a world equally alien to her and longing for Bebe to give her the attention, stability, and love she’s never had.
Against the backdrop of the burgeoning Cold War, the two dream their own versions of happily ever after, or, as Bebe refers to it, Upper High Hog. And Bebe fights what she considers the scariest age of all — old age.