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Home Fiction, TV & Film Cora’s Rhapsody
Cora’s Rhapsody

Feature Film or TV Series

Story and Outline
by John Howard Prin

Cora's Rhapsody

Synopsis of Existing 2 Pilot Scripts

CORA WYLIE struggles to raise her large family during the Great Depression on Minnesota’s Iron Range. Cora’s childrearing is complicated by her hard-drinking, out-of-work husband, JESSE, whose free-wheeling life as a lumberjack is cut short in 1934 due to widespread economic turmoil. Their survival as a family is constantly tested by daily hardships, poverty wages, and harsh winters. Despite their hardscrabble existence in a 20’x 20’ shack, Cora keeps investing in her children, imparting her values, morals, faith, and good humor.

After the accidental shooting death of a young son, Cora takes extra time and energy to tend to the psychological needs of the 9 year-old son who pulled the trigger, JOEL. Jesse is of no help. She also strives to nurture each of her children, depending on her older twin girls, SARAH and SUZANNA, for the bulk of house-keeping and cooking duties.

On a trip to her home town, Duluth, the family visits her well-to-do (but sickly) FATHER who offers Jesse a well-paying job in his mercantile and grocery store. Jesse declines, saying he’s a rugged outdoorsman rather than a citified clerk. Cora is sorely disappointed and argues with Jesse to reconsider, citing the family’s deepening poverty and Jesse’s low wages as a newly-hired iron ore miner. No deal, says Jesse. Meanwhile, her father’s second wife, RUBY, whom he remarried after her mother’s death ten years ago, openly resents Cora’s “butting into” her father’s business affairs.

Back home, Cora relies on her faith and spiritual strength to keep one foot in front of the other. With railroad trains passing by, occasionally she is visited by a grungy hobo, IDAHO SLIM. He makes it a practice to sing loudly off-key as a way to beg for food, invariably when the children are at school and Jesse is away. The minute she gives him something to eat, he stops the abrasive singing and she stops covering her ears. The truth behind their random encounters is that he is a trained opera singer and poet whose rhapsodies touch her soul, lifting her out of her drudgery and revitalizing the life force in her. During one visit, he composes a rhapsody for her and sings it full voice on bended knee.

Months later, Cora learns of an unexpected inheritance from her just-deceased father. Immediately she realizes how the money could improve her family’s welfare and security. She also learns that Ruby has illegally denied her all but a pittance of it. With the aid of an unselfish lawyer who guides her through many weeks of legal battles, CLEMENT MCGRAW, Cora seeks justice. Jesse gets jealous of McGraw’s interactions with Cora and, unable to match his rival’s decency and cultured breeding, drinks all the more heavily. By this time Joel has found a path out of his devastating remorse and Suzanna strikes out for the bright lights of New York City to begin a cosmopolitan life.

A courtroom showdown tests everyone’s character and mettle, bringing several story threads to a climax. During a drunken binge, Jesse dies from a blunder of his own making. Cora grieves not only his death and the children’s loss of their father, but the potential she saw in him early in their marriage that has deteriorated into his misspent life. While the courtroom proceedings lean in Cora’s favor, she discovers the kind of genuine intimacy with a life partner that she has yearned for. Her sense of true self—long buried in constant care-taking duties—springs up like a new shoot in fertile soil.

In her arms is Clement McGraw. In her heart is Idaho Slim’s rhapsody. In her prayers is jubilant praise for God.

As the Depression nears an end and 1940’s wartime begins, the deepest strivings of a mother bear fruit in her own life and the lives of her loved ones.


Main Characters

  • Cora Wylie - mother, wife, lover, and practical problem-solver with firm godly ideals
  • Jesse Wylie - former lumberjack unable to stay employed as an iron miner; heavy drinker
  • Ruby Colton- second wife of Cora’s father, runs his successful grocery store after his death, fancies herself First Lady of Duluth
  • Clement McGraw - lawyer fighting his largest, high-profile case and confidant to Cora
  • Idaho Slim - railroad hobo whose random visits inspire Cora; a singer/poet
  • Joel Wylie - middle son who accidentally kills his brother; Cora’s dearest challenge
  • Suzanna Wylie- teen daughter who helps raise kids and leaves home for fashion career.

Existing TV Format

Scripted for television in two ready-to-shoot 2-hour pilot episodes with future episodes outlined. Historical drama that deals with female leadership, family relationships, marriage/independence, alcohol abuse, money, law and order, life and death, and Christian values lived out in real life. Both scripts (105 pages each) are available for editorial review.

Proposed Screenplay Format

Author will rewrite above existing scripts into one screenplay as a historical drama/romance, or draft future TV episodes/movie sequel.

Future TV Episodes or Sequel

Future episodes see Cora settling in Duluth, where she becomes the city’s First Lady during WW II years. As her children reach maturity and strike out on their own, she takes over her father’s executive role managing his enterprises (the store and a mineral mine), and later establishes an orphanage, an opera house/ballet school, and various charities.

Her love for Clement McGraw deepens and eventually finds fulfillment in marriage.Together they make a dynamic business team in a decidedly man’s world, negotiating major deals with steel mills and munitions manufacturers back East—while the power elite (older men in stiff suits) observe their success with envy and spite. Competitors’ treachery jeopardizes their prosperity and once again Cora’s “divine connection” wins the day.

Hobo Idaho Slim reappears at random moments and stirs Cora’s new sense of self. The freedom of his lifestyle and his flamboyant personality are very appealing to Cora, who feels strong tugs but shares them with no one. Ruby is released from prison after two years still unrepentant; and the older children return home (some to stay, some to leave again), all of them guided by their generously gifted mother and supportive stepfather:

  • Joel sets off to college and becomes a seminary student
  • Suzanna becomes an aspiring fashion designer in New York
  • Sarah marries the local sheriff and starts her own family
  • Gunther enters the Air Force and gets wounded as a fighter pilot
  • Lamont labors on a river barge as a grain worker
  • Winston, like his father, stays unemployed and drinks heavily
  • Younger sister Fay becomes a boy-crazy teenager
  • Littlest Dorothy pursues her love of singing and dancing ala Judy Garland.

By the end of the war with renewed national prosperity, Cora’s executive talents develop even more so as her motherly duties diminish. She is now clearly the wealthiest, most powerful, and genuinely civic-minded person on the Iron Range (northern third of Minnesota). People whisper that she could run for elected office and win—which she does by close popular vote in 1948 (the election of a woman to State Representative is historically accurate).

As a crusading woman in the Legislature, Cora learns the ropes quickly despite prejudice against her gender but never loses her sense of humor or her grip on why she is there—to represent underdog constituents and seek justice for their needs. Part social reformer, part seasoned realist, always a subdued but strong Christian, she stands up for children, orphans, and anyone whose voice goes unheard. Operating in the wings, unfazed about sharing the spotlight, is her astute legal advisor and ardent husband/lover, Clement McGraw.…and the ever-mysterious Idaho Slim.

Various storylines follow the Wylie children who grow up into young adults and fall in and out of love, starting their own families and careers, and making Cora a grandmother. For Cora, her faith, values, and acts of love live on in the nurturing partnerships she invests herself in, both on earth and in heaven.