Written by Stanley Greenberg Friday, 20 April 2012 00:00
The Columnist is not my life story, even though I have written a column for Anton Newspapers for the last 14 years. It is the story of Joseph Alsop, of the famed Alsop brothers Joseph and Stewart. During the ’60s they were quite influential in American politics.
To make the 8 p.m. theater opening, we left on the LIRR about 5:30 p.m. to allow time for a nice Manhattan supper before the play. What a surprise it was to see the train filled with Ranger hockey fans of all ages, all wearing blue and red shirts with the names and numbers of players on their backs. Callahan and Lundqvist were two of the popular names adorning the jerseys. These fans were boisterous and gregarious, quite hopeful of a Rangers victory at Madison Square Garden.
Our play, presented by the Manhattan Theater Club, was performed at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on West 47th Street. The eponymous role was played by one of our favorite actors, John Lithgow. We had seen and enjoyed him in The Retreat from Moscow and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, plus his many and varied TV roles.
The Columnist takes place in the ’60s and encompasses the Kennedy election, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, L.B. Johnson’s presidency, the assassination of Ngo Diem, the anti-Vietnam marches and Washington D.C. politics in general during that turbulent era.
Joseph Alsop was a powerful writer of events and was a shaper of Democratic Party politics. Since his column ran in 300 syndicated papers, he was feared and courted by politicians. He supported the “Camelot” presidency and was devastated by the Kennedy assassination. He pushed L.B.J. to continue the Vietnam War. His domestic policies were liberal, but his foreign ideas were staunchly conservative. He was a Cold War warrior.
The play opens with an all-male sex scene at Alsop’s Kremlin hotel. Alsop doesn’t realize he is being filmed and the men behind the camera try to blackmail him later, but it doesn’t work. We are then introduced to his less flamboyant brother Stewart, who wrote the last page of the Saturday Evening Post. Throughout the play, Stewart constantly reminded me of my friend Dr. Bernard Levinson because they were both tall, balding, wore glasses and maintained erect postures.
My overall review is that the play is worth seeing, and will clear up many points about the ’60s. On the train home, we encountered the Rangers fans again, now saddened: the Rangers had lost in overtime.