6 Questions for Teaching Artist Daniel Passer

Daniel Passer Cirque du Soleil Zarkana Long Wharf Theatre

Daniel Passer in Cirque du Soleil’s ZARKANA

On May 30-31 we are offering a studio class for adults in Clowning and Commedia taught by Daniel Passer. Daniel is an acclaimed Cirque du Soleil Clown, Comedy Conceptor and Master Teacher at CalArts, Harvard, Brown University, The Second City and The Moscow Art Theatre. Most recently, he played the lead clown in the world tour of Cirque du Soleil’s latest spectacle Zarkana directed by Francois Girard. You can find out more about Daniel’s extensive body of work by visiting his website: www.danielpasser.com or read our interview with him below.

LWT: How did you become a theatre artist?

DP: My mother used to perform in old age homes with a bunch of other middle aged matrons (translation: housewives and mothers). I must have been 4 or 5 at the time. I still remember the outfits they wore – I think they were red white and blue skirts and blouses and sometimes they would don a cardboard stars and stripes hat. They sang a lot of George M. Cohan mixed in with 1920’s poo poo pee doo songs. I would run free in the audience – climbing on the wheelchairs and pulling their necks. The joy these women brought these kind old folks was priceless and I felt myself an essential part of that experience. I didn’t have an inkling then that 40 (something) years later I would be earning my living crawling through an audience and pulling the necks of over 2000 people a night at Radio City Music Hall.

LWT: What is your teaching philosophy?

DP: Joy and Rigor. Playing like a child and playing with total commitment and intention. We all had it as kids. The challenge is getting our “put together” adult selves out of the way.

LWT: Could you briefly explain the technique you will be teaching in your  class?

DP: It’s not really linear, but here goes. This is what I send to my prospective students:
Delving into the beautiful chaos and ferocious simplicity of your individual Fool.
Exercises will be customized to each player as we investigate playing and playing hard.
This is a place to further explore or find anew. Discover, Surprise and Offend your senses!
Hasn’t it been long enough since recess? Run Wild. And be ready to Belly Flop!

LWT:  Is your class appropriate for those with little to no acting experience?

DP: Sometimes, the individuals who really click in Clown Work are those with little or no experience. I think this is because they can’t help but approach the play with a beginners mind.

LWT: What can students expect to gain from taking your class?

DP: I can only speak from experience about how this work benefits theatre practitioners. In Drama School, I was introduced to 2 techniques that completely changed/enhanced the way I played as an actor. The first was Clown which I had the great fortune to study under a wonderful teacher. The second was Viewpoints which I practiced under the direction of Tina Landau and Beth Milles. Both of these forms are completely focused on moment to moment work and being present.

LWT: What is one piece of advice you would give other theatre artists?

DP: Difficult question. In general, I stay away from giving advice to other theatre artists as I feel it’s such an individual journey. Maybe that’s it. I wish someone had told me that when I was first starting out. There’s no one path.

About the Class:
Clowning and Commedia with Daniel Passer
Saturday, May 30 from 10am-1pm and Sunday, May 31 from 1pm-4pm
Ages 18+; Cost: $125

In this two day master class, participants will explore the elements of clowning and Commedia dell’Arte. There is no need to be physically fit—or need to have any previous experience with clowning—this is a place to explore further or start anew. Exercises will be customized to each player as we investigate playing and playing hard. Discover, surprise and offend your senses! When was the last time you let loose?

For more information or to register contact Mallory Pellegrino at 203.772.8272
or email mallory.pellegrino@longwharf.org

- Mallory Pellegrino

 

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Meet the Cast: Fred Applegate

How many people can say that the rock star Sting wrote a song for them? Fred Applegate can.

Long Wharf Theatre THE SECOND MRS. WILSON Fred Applegate

Applegate as Secretary Joe Tumulty in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON.
Photo: T Charles

Fred, currently playing secretary Joe Tumulty in The Second Mrs. Wilson, running through May 31, can point towards the recent Broadway run of The Last Ship, Sting’s new musical, as one of the highlights of his career. One day he came home from rehearsal for the show to find out that Sting was giving his character, Father O’Brian, another song in the second act. “It was an extraordinarily heartfelt and difficult show with breathtaking music. Everyone put his heart and soul into that one,” he said.

The Second Mrs. Wilson marks Applegate’s return to straight drama. The last non-musical play he’d done was 16 years ago – a successful production of Uncle Vanya in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, he’d finished another musical at the Alliance Theatre when he decided that getting back into a play would be just the thing for him. His agent contacted Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein and the rest was history.

For all practical purposes, Applegate has had several different careers. He began his career working in regional theatre, spending several seasons in the Guthrie Theatre’s repertory company. “I was in my 20s and had boundless energy – who doesn’t have boundless energy in their 20′s? I was at the theatre every day from 11 am to 11 pm. When I left the theatre at night, I wanted to go back. When I got up in the morning, I wanted to go back. It’s was where I wanted to be,” he said. “It was a tremendously creative period.”

But, California sang its own siren song. Applegate and his wife drove from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to visit some friends. While he was there, Applegate booked a national television commercial and a guest appearance on a television show. He and his wife were about to begin a family, and the pay was certainly good. “I said to my wife, this is easy,” he recalled. He didn’t make another penny for the next seven months.

Applegate kept plugging away, taking theatre jobs at the Mark Taper Forum, among other theatres. Television casting directors saw him in a play there, and Applegate went on to do over 150 television appearances over the next decade, including in Newhart, Growing Pains, Seinfeld, and a host of others. “The harder you work and the quieter you are, the more likely they are to have you back,” he said.

About a decade ago, Applegate decided to return east and concentrate on the theatre. He missed being on stage, interacting with an audience, being part of an ensemble. “You show up in New York at age 54 and you are the new kid. They respond to you differently,” he said.

It’s been quite a run – he’s appeared in six Broadway shows in the past eight years, including The Producers, The Sound of Music, and Young Frankenstein. He’s got two more lined up for the next season. “During the performance of a play, no matter the technical events, you are responsible for everything you do. You are expected to make a contribution to that night’s performance,” Applegate said. “In television, you are responsible for bringing what the director wants you to bring to the taping. But you don’t know how they are going to use that.”

Television is fun and certainly pays the bills, but for Applegate there is nothing like being part of a theatre community, bringing a show to life, interacting with an audience. “I am very close to not having to work anymore, being able to retire. I only want to do what I love,” he said.

-Steve Scarpa

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Celebrate the 50th Anniversary with the Artistic Directors

Please join us to celebrate our 50th Anniversary with the Artistic Directors on Sunday, June 7 at 2:00 p.m. in the Mainstage. A lively discussion with Arvin Brown, Gordon Edelstein, Doug Hughes and Jon Jory about the history and future of Long Wharf Theatre, followed by a champagne toast and light refreshments. RSVP to the Box Office at 203.787-4282.

This event is free and open to the public so all who are interested are invited to attend!

Long Wharf Theatre 50th Anniversary

 

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Meet the Cast: Nick Wyman

The Second Mrs. Wilson Long Wharf Theatre Nick WymnThere is almost nothing as satisfying in theatre, film, and television than watching a great character actor perform. They tread often in the background of a scene, stepping forward to lend moments of color, humor, and sheer pleasure to the proceedings. With a simple gesture and or inventive inflection, they can steal a moment. If it’s done right it looks easy – uncalculated, just someone behaving. If you know anything about acting and actors, there is nothing unplanned or easy about it.

The cast of The Second Mrs. Wilson is filled with these types of performers – supremely gifted, utterly nuanced, and completely in tune in the world of the play. Today, we come to celebrate and to get to know Nick Wyman, who plays Henry Cabot Lodge, President Woodrow Wilson’s nemesis in the Senate.

With a wave of his ever-present cigar while issuing a booming piece of rhetoric, Wyman creates a compelling and formidable antagonist. Lodge, his character, opposes Wilson’s single minded effort to establish a League of Nations because he believes it would damage America’s standing. Wilson felt that in order for the League to work properly, the United States had to make a military commitment in foreign conflicts. Lodge, a Republican who harbored presidential aspirations, believed that since only Congress can declare war, participating fully in the League would remove some of the United States inherent sovereignty. “Lodge is a Washington insider. He’s a very powerful man and very sure of who he is, with very strong believes,” Wyman said. “He’s a man of entitlement, the first man to get his Ph.D from Harvard.”

Wyman as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (right) in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Wyman as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (right) in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Wyman did some research on his role – not as much as playwright Joe DiPietro or fellow actor Harry Groener – but he did enough reading to know that Lodge was a brilliant and difficult man, and one whom Wilson simply loathed. And, the feeling was certainly mutual. “You have to play what’s on the page and what’s in the story,” Wyman said.

Sharing the stage with such stalwart, veteran actors like Margaret Colin as Edith, John Glover as Wilson, and with Fred Applegate, Groener, Steve Routman, and Stephen Barker Turner as the politicos enmeshed in the intrigue, has been an utter delight. The cast has made their own small community, something the theatre can provide that Wyman celebrates. Read his explanation of “Why I do Theatre” on the Actors’ Equity website to find out the strong role this sense of community has played in his career choice. It gives you more than just confidence. It’s the joy of playing with the best. They know their stuff so well, it’s just playing – you think ‘what am I going to get from Margaret tonight?’ It is a joy to be with these actors on stage and off,” he said.

He’s noticed that much of Long Wharf Theatre’s core audience – women of a certain age, as he puts it – derives tremendous delight in watching Margaret Colin put the misogynistic men of this world (Lodge included) firmly in their places. “The audience loves it,” he said.

Wyman doesn’t work out of town much anymore – he’s lucky that the bulk of his jobs are in New York City. He spent six years on Broadway as Thenardier in Les Miserables. If you’ve turned on your TV at some point in the past decade or so, you’ve seen Nick’s work. He’s battled Bruce Willis in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. “Making that was beyond fun. It was and remains the biggest movie roles I’ve had. They treated me like a prince. Remember, I was just another actor,” he said. He’s jousted with Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. He’s appeared on hit television shows as doctors and lawyers, as he says.

But one might argue that one of his more important role is one an audience doesn’t get to see. He is the president of the Actors Equity Association, a post he has held for the past five years. Wyman hopes that in this role, he can give a bit back to the other members of his profession, a difficult one under the best conditions. Being the union’s leader is a tough job. He’s in the midst of running for re-election. He’s been handling some major union concerns reverberating throughout the industry, while balance work on Mrs. Wilson. “I and the other people in the cast are lucky to make our livings as actors. But most actors put together their lives and careers as actors as a mosaic … we are all trying to put together enough money to make ends meet while getting enough work as actors to satisfy ourselves,” Wyman said. “(Serving as president) has been very gratifying. Very challenging, but very gratifying.”

- Steve Scarpa

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13 Firsts of First Lady Edith Wilson

The Second Mrs. Wilson Margaret Colin Long Wharf Theatre

Margaret Colin in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON
Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson Photography

When talking about the firsts of First Lady Edith Wilson it’s pretty easy to focus on the fascinating debate about her being the first woman to run the executive branch of government. However, we’ve found out that the second Mrs. Wilson holds the claim to a number of other firsts among presidential spouses. Check them out.

 

1. She was the first woman to get a driver’s license in Washington D.C.

2. In 1904 she became the first woman in D.C. to own and drive an electric car.

3. She was the first First Lady to play golf when she took up the sport to spend more time with Woodrow during their courtship.

4. She was the first First Lady to accompany her husband in the carriage on inauguration day to and from the Capitol in 1917, also the first inaugural parade to include women.

5. Was the first First Lady to stand beside her husband as he took the oath of office.

6. First First Lady to order a Presidential china service made in America, she ordered it from Lenox China in Trenton, New Jersey.

7. Became the first First Lady to christen a ship on August 5, 1917 when she broke a bottle against the Quistconck, the ancient Indian name of the place where the ship was built.

8. Made first official overseas trip as a president’s spouse when she accompanied the President to Europe on two separate occasions, in 1918 and in 1919, to visit troops and sign the Treaty of Versailles.

9. First First Lady to attend foreign diplomatic talks.

10. First First Lady to make international visits with European royalty.

11. First presidential spouse to decode covert wartime communications and was entrusted by her husband with a secret code that allowed her access to the drawer holding classified information and wartime planning papers.

12. First former First Lady to receive permanent Secret Service protection.

13. She and Woodrow Wilson were the first and so far only President and First Lady to be buried in the Washington National Cathedral.

Bonus Fact: She could have been the first First Lady to vote in a presidential election in 1920, but chose not to because she did not personally support suffrage for women.

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Happy Limerick Day!

The Second Mrs. Wilson Long Wharf Theatre

Margaret Colin and John Glover in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON. Photo Credit:T Charles Erickson

President Woodrow Wilson was well known in his day for loving Limericks. He would recite them not just for entertainment in social situations but also in the company of his aides and advisers while executing his presidential duties. Today he would have thoroughly been enjoying himself by celebrating Limerick Day.

You’ve probably never heard of this holiday and no one is really sure who exactly created it. We do know it celebrates the birthday of writer Edward Lear who popularized Limericks in his 1846 Book of Nonsense. The day obviously also celebrates Limerick poems.

What exactly is a Limerick? A Limerick is a humorous verse or poem. It is five lines longs. The first, second and fifth lines rhyme and are generally longer while the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other and typically have less syllables. They began as nursery rhymes over 500 years ago with bawdy versions developing over time in pubs and taverns. This style of poem received its unique name from Limerick, Ireland after the city began to be popularly used in refrains.

Wilson was reportedly so fond of quoting Limericks to others that some thought he had written them. One hundred years later some of his favorite ones are still often mistakenly thought to have been authored by him. Joe DiPietro incorporated Wilson’s renowned Limerick habit into The Second Mrs. Wilson by having his Wilson cheekily recite to Edith one of the Limericks most commonly associated with him:

For beauty I am not a star,
There are others more perfect by far,
But my face, I don’t mind it
For I am behind it,
It is those in front that I jar.

This Limerick was actually written by a poet named Anthony Euwer, not Woodrow Wilson, and was first told to Wilson by his daughter Eleanor. If you enjoy a good Limerick like President Wilson did then be sure to celebrate this holiday by writing or reciting one of these humorous poems today.

-Kimberly Shepherd

 

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Woodrow, Edith, and the Lusitania

Sinking of the LusitaniaOne hundred years ago today the trajectory of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency was forever altered by the German torpedoing of the ocean liner RMS Lusitania. Already concerned with the growing war in Europe, many in the US now called for the peace loving president to enter the conflict in revenge for the more than 100 Americans killed in the sinking. However, the spring of 1915 had brought the prospect of more than just war to Wilson’s mind. Approximately six weeks before the Lusitania was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic another life altering event had occurred in Wilson’s life. In March 1915 he met Edith Bolling Galt; a meeting that may have changed Wilson’s place in history just as much as the Lusitania.

After returning from a golf game, Wilson and Dr. Cary Grayson ran in to Edith coming off an elevator at the White House. “I turned a corner and met my fate,” is how Edith later described the meeting in her memoir. She had been at the White House for tea with Wilson’s cousin, Helen Bones, who promptly invited the men to join them. Historians have speculated that the meeting may have been purposely orchestrated by Bones and Grayson to help the morale of the depressed widower. If so, the set up worked. Wilson spent the afternoon sitting and chatting with Edith and soon invitations from him to her for dinners, car rides, and chats proceeded in the weeks that followed.

The Second Mrs. Wilson Long Wharf Theatre Margaret Colin Edith Wilson John Glover Woodrow Wilson

John Glover and Margaret Colin in THE SECOND MRS. WILSON
© T Charles Erickson Photography

On May 4, 1915 the Lusitania steamed toward Liverpool oblivious to the tragic place in history it would occupy in less than 72 hours. At the same time, Woodrow Wilson sat alone with Edith Galt on the South Portico of the White House. No longer able to hold back his feelings he drew his chair close and told her he loved her and wanted to marry her. Shocked, Edith reportedly exclaimed, “you can’t love me for you don’t really know me; and it is less than a year since your wife died.” She left a disappointed Wilson at the White House that night but promptly wrote him a letter explaining she was not turning him down, but simply wanted to get to know him better before making a decision. Accepting her answer, Wilson wrote back, “Here stands your friend, a longing man, in the midst of world affairs—a world that knows nothing of the heart he has shown you . . . but which he cannot face with his full strength or with the fullest of keen endeavors unless you come into that heart and take possession, not because it is exposed but because, simply and only because, you love him. Can you love him?”

Edith received this letter on May 6, 1915, and the couple began what proved to be a swift course toward marriage. The following day at 2:12pm the Lusitania was sunk. Wilson was thrust in to decision making and negotiations to try and keep America out of the war. As part of his courting of Edith he shared every step of the process with her and even began soliciting her advice on this and other state matters, a habit he would continue for the rest of his presidency and that most certainly influenced Edith’s decisions after his stroke.

Edith and Woodrow Wilson

As we remember the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania and the nearly 1200 people who perished because of it, we look on May 7th as a major turning point in the First World War. However, behind closed doors, it was also a large turning point of sorts in the evolving love story of Woodrow and Edith Wilson.

- Kimberly Shepherd

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A History of Female Presidents Onscreen

Despite the questions surrounding Edith Wilson’s role in the presidency while her husband was ill, a woman has never officially held the office of the President of the United States, at least in this universe. TV and film have been portraying women in the oval office since before a remotely viable female candidate even showed up on the scene in the real world.

  • Female President Project Moonbase Long Wharf Theatre The 1953 sci-fi film Project Moonbase holds the title for the first onscreen portrayal of a female president. Actress Ernestine Barrier played Madame President in the distant year of 1970. The film’s futuristic predictions may have been a little off.

 

  • Kisses for my President Female President Long Wharf TheatreKisses for My President in 1964 dealt with the topic of the first woman elected president. However, the comedic film focused mostly on First Gentleman Thad’s (Fred MacMurray) funny difficulties filling a formerly female role.

 

  • Patty Duke Hail to the Chief Female President Long Wharf Theatre In the 80’s Patty Duke also took a turn as the first female president on the sitcom Hail to the Chief.

 

  • Glenn Close Air Force One Female President Long Wharf Theatre In the 90’s Glenn Close looked pretty in charge in Air Force One as a vice president negotiating with Russian terrorists for the release of the president.

 

Then in the new millennium came a flood of women in the White House.

  • cherry Jones 24 Female President Long Wharf Theatre Hit show 24 followed up its portrayal of an African American president with Cherry Jones playing the first woman president.

 

Prison Break Female President Long Wharf Theatre

 

  • Prison Break Female President Long Wharf Theatre Prison Break Female President Long Wharf Theatre Around the same time on the same network Prison Break gave us the love to hate, corrupt President Caroline Reynolds.
  • Geena Davis Commander in Chief Female President Long Wharf Theatre If you changed the channel from Fox to ABC in 2005 you may have also caught a glimpse of Geena Davis playing president in Commander and Chief.

 

  • The Simpsons Female President Long Wharf TheatreEven The Simpsons jumped on the bandwagon for an episode in 2000 that flashed forward to show Lisa as president.

 

 

Today you can watch any number of shows focused on women ascending to the oval office.

  • Kate Burton Scandal Female President Long Wharf TheatreABC’s Scandal had former Vice President Sally Langston take over the presidency for a stint while President Grant was in a coma.

 

  • Claire Underwood House of Card Female President Long Wharf Theatre Both Scandal and Netflix’s House of Cards contain first ladies who seem to have serious eyes on their husbands’ jobs.

 

 

  • Veep Female President Long Wharf Theatre Then over on HBO in the political comedy Veep we follow the story of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a formerly unsuccessful presidential candidate who ends up as a powerless vice president, but who eventually (spoiler alert) becomes president.
  • Alfre Woodard State of Affairs Female PresidentThis season Alfre Woodard played the first black woman to be elected president on NBC’s State of Affairs.

 

  • Tea Leoni Madame Secretary Female President Tea Leoni may not be president in Madame Secretary, but considering the show was inspired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi scandal, a future presidential campaign plot line would not be surprising.
  • Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation Female President Finally, if you were a big Parks and Recreation fan you surely picked up on the allusions the show’s finale dropped about Leslie’s ambition to be president coming true in the future.

It seems the idea of a female president is not just a subject reserved for the evening news or CNN. Hollywood is fascinated with writing stories about this possibility and as an audience we’ve shown no signs of becoming disinterested anytime soon. So flip on the TV or log in to Netflix to check out any number of fictional women who are or want to be commander and chief. Better yet, come to The Second Mrs. Wilson to see the story of a real life woman who might actually have been our first woman president.

- Kimberly Shepherd

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Meet Joe DiPietro: Playwright of THE SECOND MRS. WILSON

Photo Credit: Andrea Zucker Photogrpahy

Photo Credit: Andrea Zucker Photogrpahy

Playwright Joe DiPietro is a very busy man these days, but one could say he’s been running at this breakneck pace for a long time. He spent time in April running back and forth between previews for his Broadway world premiere Living on Love, starring Renee Fleming and Douglas Sills, to rehearsals for the world premiere of The Second Mrs. Wilson, running through the end of May at Long Wharf Theatre.

DiPietro has consistently balanced his work for the Broadway stage with smaller plays dealing with subjects like creationism, family, and the quest for love. Now, at Long Wharf, DiPietro is making his first foray into historical drama.

Born in New Jersey, DiPietro grew up a theatre junkie, but after a successful collegiate career he took a job he liked in the advertising department of CBS Sports, writing plays in the evening and during spare moments at work. “I’ve never been the flavor of the month,” DiPietro told NorthJersey.com in 2010. “The movies have never pursued me. Theater companies don’t ask me to write plays for them. I’ve always felt that I’ve constantly had to prove myself.”

When in doubt DiPietro writes – when success comes, the ideas flow. When he runs into difficulties, he hunkers down at his computer and commits himself further to the work. “I’ve always felt like I’ve had to get my work out there. Sometimes I think I write too much and don’t live enough,” he told NorthJersey.com.

He began his career with a pair of remarkable successes. The musical review I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which started at Long Wharf Theatre, ran for over 5,000 performances at the Westside Theatre. In 1998, he followed up with the semi-autobiographical comedy Over The River and Through the Woods, which ran for 800 performances over two years.

By 2005 DiPietro debuted on Broadway with the book for the Elvis Presley jukebox musical All Shook Up, which flopped at the box office. His career not only survived this hiccup, but thrived, winning an Outer Critics Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical for The Toxic Avenger in 2005. He reached the pinnacle of his career to date in 2010, winning Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score for the musical Memphis.

The Second Mrs. Wilson is a departure from DiPietro’s previous work. DiPietro, a self-avowed political junkie, was reading a story about Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential run in which the reporter dropped a tiny off-handed remark – Clinton would be the first female president of the United States, if you didn’t count Edith Wilson. “I read that and thought ‘Wait, what?” he said.

In 1919, upon returning from the Paris Peace Conference, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. According to a White House official history, Edith “took over many routine duties and details of government.” The history is a bit more complex than the White House record would indicate. Wilson’s stroke was more severe than officials were led to believe. Vice President Thomas Marshall, ambivalent at best about assuming the duties of the presidency, couldn’t even get an audience with the Wilsons, DiPietro said.

“I didn’t know the full story of Woodrow Wilson’s second wife’s participation … I’d never seen an exploration of that and I thought that this was a great piece of untold American history,” DiPietro said. “It is a shocking story in this day and age,” he said.

Inspired by the English tradition of history plays, DiPietro decided Edith Wilson’s story was worthy of dramatization. “I just love working on history plays. I love bringing a dramatist’s sharpness and wit to it. I like making history lively and relevant, and show the humanity of the participants. I just love it,” he said. “I’ll learn a lot from this experience.”

He immersed himself in the time period, reading biographies of Wilson and her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, and histories of the tumultuous period following World War I. He viewed documentaries. DiPietro knew the process would be a lengthy one. “My belief is research, research, research, then put it away and start writing the play,” DiPietro said.

DiPietro took some creative license with the material, conflating some historical figures, for example. He believes that some history plays can get so dense that the humanity at the center of the work can be lost. “It is not a documentary. It is my dramatic interpretation, but it sticks very closely to the facts. I wanted to show what it was like to be a strong, shrewd woman at a time when women couldn’t yet vote in every state,” he said.

But, the personal informs the political, DiPietro said. Edith was motivated by her fierce love for Woodrow and her need to protect him and his legacy at all costs. She was also extraordinarily intelligent, capable, and driven – a formidable opponent to the men seeking to usurp her husband’s power. “It’s a rollicking story,” he said.

- Steve Scarpa

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How Edith Wilson Won an Oscar

1944 film Wilson Zanuck Edith Wilson Long Wharf Theatre

Poster for the 1944 movie WILSON

A thin man, about 5 feet 11 inches tall with a high forehead, high cheekbones and a long, thin nose upon which sat rimless glasses, Woodrow Wilson had the air of a stubborn academic not a silver screen hero. Nonetheless, in 1944 the famous film producer and head of 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, thought Wilson was the perfect film subject for the time. Zanuck personally admired Wilson and having just returned from serving in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, he wanted to provide some historical context for the war to the public. He thought making a film that showed Wilson struggling 30 years earlier over the question of entering World War I would help explain the origins of World War II. A biopic about any large public figure such as a president is always a daunting task. Zanuck, though, faced a unique hurdle in getting the movie produced.

At the time of Wilson’s presidency presidential papers were not considered to be public record like they are now. The full control of all of Wilson’s papers was left in the hands of his wife Edith upon his death. As she had been during his presidency and illness, Edith Wilson was extremely protective of her husband and his reputation. She was notorious for restricting access to Wilson’s papers to only those she liked and deemed had good intentions towards the portrayal of her husband. If she suspected a biographer or journalist of writing any word against him she would withdraw their rights to use the papers. Zanuck then had no choice if he wanted to use these key primary sources to make the film he so thought the world needed to see. He gave Edith Wilson complete and total control over the screenplay for the film Wilson. She reviewed each draft of the script writer Lamar Trotti wrote and all of her comments were incorporated into the final filming script. Furthermore, she was allowed to have full control over how she herself was depicted in the film by actress Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Wilson premiered to critical acclaim in the summer of 1944. The New York Times called the film “an impressive screen biography” and noted “Fitzgerald makes a remarkably understanding woman of the second Mrs. Wilson.” Despite its financial failure Zanuck was quoted as calling the film “nearest to my heart … an artistic and sociological success.” It ended up being nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1945, including relative newcomer Alexander Knox for Best Actor for his portrayal of Woodrow Wilson. It won for best editing, sound, art direction, cinematography, and for the screenplay that Edith had had such an important role in creating.

Check out a clip of the biopic Wilson below.

- Kimberly Shepherd

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