Why did I spend 25 years in a detour from a Broadway and Hollywood careen (not a typo) writing--compiling mosaics--of what turned out to be a gallery of Great Americans--and, in my view--some of the greatest men in all of history?
I followed a strange and inspired pattern of accidental discoveries and chances that I took always to challenge myself. To say YES! To dominate and dissipate fear. To create myself in a way that had nothing to do with success and everything to do with finding out who i really am. The expanded answer to this question will turn up in a memoir which I am writing on the same principle.
Who am I today? How did I get HERE? How can I adequately credit the mentors who literally carried me here on the backs of their free ideas for nothing--and deposited me, time and again, on shores where be monsters--or so I feared at the time. I wrote what I had to write--in concert with great men who were nothing but kind and helpful--dead or alive--and I now must carry on their kindly work.
THE ABRAHAM AND LARRY SHOW, My Week in Bibleland. This is my own take on Genesis, the Bible, and how it affects us today. It is the result of my research into the beliefs of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the founders of Unity. Unity is a distinctly down-home midwestern American take on what to believe about Jesus, the prophets and inhabitants and events of the Bible. It is in one act--so far--and reflects a recovering Catholic's earnest search for something to believe in that is not repressive and is for grown-ups. We need to find faith that works to unify the world, which excludes no one, and which is, paradoxically, entirely free of conservative orthodoxies that limit vision of our common humanity. A vision like, well, that of Jesus himself. The play is funny, bawdy, acerbic, and probably--depending on your take on life--challenging--but is way beyond an attack on anything. it's a celebration of being human. My way. If you venture, you will be entertained. I am not a great American (or Christian!) --but I can act like one. (one hour--with a second act in the works titled ME? JESUS?)
Clarence Darrow came from a family who sheltered runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad when he was a little boy. His father was the "village infidel" because he always took the side of the underdog in any fight. Darrow got a basic law education because of the sacrifice of his brothers and sisters. And he succeeded hugely. As a very young man he was earning a salary as a corporate lawyer for the railroads in Chicago that was greater than the salary of the president of the United States. And then the railroad workers (who were virtual slaves to the all-powerful system of money and corporations) went on strike. Darrow was asked to choose sides by Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist agitator who appealed to him because Debs was always and everywhere on the side of the underdogs of American society. Darrow chose to give up his position and defend the strikers. It was the beginning of a lifetime of fighting for men and women who were abused by the system, who had no rights, who were desperately poor, and who, Darrow believed, through no fault of their own, were victims of the capitalist system. Yet Darrow was a capitalist. He was not a pacifist. He was not a liberal. He was, simply the greatest Humanist ever to exist in American society. And he changed it for the better. He was known by some as The Great Satan, by some as an agitator, and by most as The Defender of The Damned. His trials include the defense of John Scopes, who dared to teach evolution. Leopold and Loeb, the thrill killers who shocked the world. Communists arrested for demonstrating against the system. Children who were forced to work twelve hours a day seven days a week. Coal miners who worked in conditions of misery and oppression. And Black Americans who dared to challenge segregation at the risk of their lives. His career shone with the light of humanity, and grace, and the power of good. Darrow himself was a flawed man, whose greatest accomplishment was in seeking justice by fulfilling his father's dream of helping all who came to his door. And he was wily, willing to fight like his opponents to win, and able to charm and disarm the toughest judge, the most skeptical juror with great and genuine humor and honesty. He is one of the greatest Americans. His story, in CLARENCE DARROW TONIGHT!, is riveting. (two hours)
Teddy Roosevelt is one of the key presidents of our history. His importance is in re-balancing the natural abuses of the capitalist system run wild, in saving our natural resources, in fighting for the rights of women, minorities, and always in maintaining a strong national military power, which, like George Washington, he believed was the best defense. Teddy was also the greatest defender of the defenseless poor in our history. He was a guide to all the leaders who came after him to fulfilling the belief of Abraham Lincoln that human rights were more important than property rights. Teddy, like Darrow later, took his inspiration from his father, who, he said, "was a great fighter, but he fought for his family first." Teddy fought for his family first. And his family included the whole nation. When Teddy's youngest son, Quentin, was shot down by "six or seven planes of the Hun" in the first world war, Teddy's heart was broken--not only by the loss, but by what Quentin had said to his brothers when he enlisted, at nineteen, "I suppose we must now practice what father preaches." Teddy's lifetime belief in the warrior life is challenged in this, as he relives his life during a political speech for his sister's husband in New York, and he departs from his prepared remarks to urge Americans to create a nation to which the young who offered their lives in sacrifice to defend, "will be proud to come home to", and which will match their dream of equality and justice. Teddy died at Sagamore Hill just five months after giving the speech in July 1919. He died of a broken heart. He was just sixty-one years old. But his life shines with robust fearless accomplishment and with great self-deprecating good humor and cheer. TEDDY, TONIGHT! is a grand and moving story about one of the very greatest of presidents, and men. A great American. (two hours excluding the possibility of a q and a session or a panel discussion on the issues of the play which is welcome)
Ernest Hemingway is a great American and one of the greatest of writers in the English language. His reputation as a macho man is deserved in that he was a man filled with fear all his life who always and everywhere challenged life to do him in and destroy him. His relationship with his parents--particularly his mother, was the key to his desperate need to prove himself. The play is the tale of the last two minutes of his life, when, after having been released from the Mayo Clinic after receiving another round of barbaric shock treatments for "depression" he got up from bed, went to the kitchen, took the key to the gun cabinet from its usual "hiding place," went downstairs to the basement, took his favorite shotgun from its rack, went upstairs to the foyer of his house, closed the door, knelt for a moment, then took his own life. That stark event was the culminating personal tragedy of the man whom I think of as having no skin. His sensitivity was so unusually powerful he was exposed throughout his short life to every pain that can be experienced by any human who ever existed. The miracle is that he could have endured it as long as he did. The greater miracle is what he did with the pain of life--the pain of being human--he created a magnificent record of it for all to see for all time. The play is a ninety minute journey full of bravery, humor, and struggle which tells the story of the thoughts and memories racing through his mind like a thousand newsreels in that two minute journey from sleeplessness to his final sleep. He, like Teddy Roosevelt, was sixty-one years old when he died. The year was 1961. He had recently won the Nobel Prize For Literature. He had been one of the world's most famous men for most of his adult life. He had known many of the world's greatest accomplishers from writers to painters to philosophers. He had tried to find happiness with four wonderful and strong women. He was a great thinker and writer. His description of how he learned to write from the impositions of journalism when he was a foreign correspondent ("at a dollar a word for a telegram, you learned to be brief") to the paintings of Cezanne in Paris, is a completely captivating tale of courage, determination, and of a uniquely American take on the world that remains powerfully energizing today. He was a great American. (ninety minutes)
LYNDON is the story of an American tragedy. Lyndon Johnson, the greatest master of the Congress in our history, came to the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His first term was occupied by fulfilling what Kennedy had begun before he was murdered. But Johnson went much further than Kennedy could ever have gone--because he had been the master of the Congress--he was able to get bills passed which the Kennedy forces would not have been able to do. Johnson proved himself to be a brilliant and disciplined liberal Democrat who created 200 pieces of domestic legislation for the American people--in childhood education, a widened and strengthened social network, primary help for the most distressed areas of American cities, voting rights, civil rights, and medical care for all citizens. His plan to create a Great Society was a magnificent dream. It is an astonishing record of great achievement. Then came Vietnam, a legacy of the Kennedy presidency which Johnson (a lover not a fighter by temperament) had to continue when he came into office--but which destroyed not only his presidency, but him personally. He died of a heart attack four years after giving up his office in 1968, just weeks after he had attended--against his cardiologist's express orders--a meeting with the leaders of the black coalitions fighting for their rights. He faced them, took responsibility, apologized for the slowness of progress, explained again the nature of participatory democracy, and urged them to keep fighting within the system to achieve their goal, and not to burn it all down. It was the last act of a great president. He also told some very funny--and apropos--jokes, which, as always, illustrated his points perfectly. He was a great man, a great American, and LYNDON tells that story graphically, hilariously, and furiously, and in his own words. (ninety minutes).