Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Original Illustration Created By J.e. Matzer

I watched two specials on Abraham Lincoln this past weekend. 

Abraham Lincoln. 
just checking...

Abraham Lincoln. 
"Honest Abe."
"Old Abe."
"Spotty Lincoln."
"Father Abraham."
"The Rail Splitter." 
"The Great Emancipator." 
"The Thigh Master."
just checking again..
"The Liberator."
"The Ancient One."  

Abraham Lincoln. 
A fascinating historic figure to be sure.

...and, as of late, the subject of a major motion picture with 12 OSCAR nominations and several television specials.

I recently sat down...well...okay...I was already sitting...to watch two television specials about our 16th President. 
The first of these two specials was National Georgraphic Channel's Killing Lincoln, based on the best-selling book by Bill O'Reilly. The second was History Channel's The Lincoln Assassination. 

Both told the story of the days leading up to the murder of our 16th President of the United States and the events after

Tom Hanks narrated Killing Lincoln. Tom Berenger narrated The Lincoln Assassination.  

Apparently, you have to be named Tom to get a narrating gig these days.

If I had to classify these two movies, I would say Killing Lincoln was more HBO and The Lincoln Assassination was more History Channel.

The world these days, it seems, has Lincoln Fever.

There are currently over 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln.

Daniel-Day Lewis accepted an OSCAR on Sunday night for his performance as the man who penned the Emancipation Proclamation in Steven Spielberg's Beardy Man With Tall Black Hat. 

I'm kidding.

He, Day-Lewis, as we all know, won an Best Actor OSCAR for Spielberg's Lincoln.

Killing Lincoln, National Geographic's first original scripted drama, averaged 3.4 million viewer’s during its Sunday night, two-hour premiere. From start to finish, the production, from Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony, was a class act. 

You think Tom Hanks would attach his name to just anything?

Well...okay...besides 1984's Bachelor Party.

...and the 1985 stinker Volunteers...


Okay. Besides Bachelor Party...and Volunteers...and The Burbs...

And if any of you say Turner and Hooch I swear I will pull this blog over and slap you with a wet gym sock!

My point was...what was my point? Oh yeah! My point...my point was that Killing Lincoln was very well done. Great production values, for television that is, and good, solid acting.

I haven't read O'Reily's book but I would guess Killing Lincoln had to have followed the book closely. I mean, we're not talking about a work of fiction here. It's the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, for Pete's Sake. You would guess someone did some research along the way. I didn't see BASED ON A TRUE STORY at the beginning of either special. Just saying.

I mean, how much can you..and why would you...change history? 

Lincoln was President. Booth shot him. Lincoln died. Booth died. 
Oops. My bad. 
Too late. It's too late, isn't it?

The story of Lincoln and Booth is a fascinating story. 
It is a sad story. 
We all know how it ends. 

I think that what both productions wanted to do, in addition to showing the complexity of Lincoln, was present a case for John Wilkes-Booth.

The two men are interchangeable after all. Two sides of the same coin. You can't tell this story and not discuss both. 

Booth does have a story and I think the producers, writers and researchers wanted to make sure he was presented as more than just a one-dimensional thug...a mustache twisting villain from history...a punchline...

Killing Lincoln did a brilliant job of presenting Booth, the man. As portrayed by actor-and son of Don 'Crockett and Tubbs' Johnson-Jesse Johnson, Booth was an actor. He was a man drowning in his own hatred for Abraham Lincoln. He was an egomaniac who considered himself a hero, not only of The Confederacy...but also of The World. He was

Although not Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Honest Abe, Billy Campbell brings something real and therefore sad...sympathetic to his performance of the doomed President.

Side note: Abraham Lincoln is one of those mythic characters that are easy to dress up as for Halloween...or school plays. All you need is a little chin hair and black, stove-pipe hat. 

Having said that, you can't put just any actor in the role.

That's actor Raymond Massey, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln in 1940's Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Born to play the role, wasn't he? 


I gotta say, Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty darn impressive. 

That's Robert Barron from Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventure. See what I mean about the whole stick-a-beard-and-tall-black-hat-on-anybody thing?

I liked Campbell's performance. What I didn't like was his make-up. Too many times while I was watching I thought to myself "Is this show about Lincoln? Or James Brolin?

Campbell is a good-looking man. 
Sucks to be him. 
So good-looking, though, it was hard see Lincoln at times. 
Abe was not a handsome man. He stood a foot taller than the average man. 6'4 today is a pretty common height. Back in the 1860's though, not so much. His arms and legs were unusually long. He had a mole. He had stooped shoulders. Thick eyebrows, a big nose, thick lips...okay.
I'll stop there. 
I guess what I'm trying to say is "Take away the black coat and hat, and, well, I'm not sure you would have guessed Billy Campbell was Abraham Lincoln."

Aside from physical appearance, however, Campbell delivered. He, along with Johnson and cast of relatively unknown actors with period beards, told the story of the assassination of our 16th president admirably and did so in an entertaining way while still presenting the facts. 

I never knew all the details..the whole story...surrounding the assassination.

Aside from all the basic facts and that popular list of similarities between the assassinations of President Lincoln and President Kennedy...

Who doesn't know that list
This list...which is so fast to connect the two men..the two assassinations...is interesting...but, if you click on the above link, you will see that it is indeed controversial. Several of the coincidences are a stretch. 

I didn't know just how many layers there were to the story. As I've said, the story of Lincoln and Booth and their entwined fates is a fascinating and sad story. 

The History Channel's The Lincoln Assassination, at two hours, had the luxury of telling the whole story. 

A full description..analysis...of Lincoln the man is presented. 

I, for one, never knew of his battle with depression or just how mentally unstable his wife Mary Todd-Lincoln was and what a constant struggle their marriage had been. 

There are interviews in both specials with many well-learned Lincoln experts and authors of Lincoln biographies whose passion for their subject is thinly veiled. Some are practically giddy having an opportunity to talk about their favorite subject.

The art of photography was just coming into it own and the amazing photographs of Alexander Gardner, add a layer of texture to both of these specials. Pictures say a thousand words, don't they? 

The stunning Civil War-era and post-Civil War era photos of Lincoln tell much of the story. The man wore the pressure of his presidency on his face and stooped shoulders. The photos of Lincoln and his son, Tad, are particularly touching.

The above photograph, taken by Alexander Gardner, is of Lincoln assassination conspirator Lewis Payne aboard the USS Saugus, after his arrest.

Is that not an amazing photo?

Payne, aside from being a conspirator in the assassination plot, also attempted, most unsuccessfully, to murder United States Secretary of State  William H. Seward.

Know that in this photo, Payne is 21 years old.

So...now...let's address the elephant in the room: the actual assassination of Abraham Lincoln. 

We all know where it happened (Say it with me. Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C.) but do you know the details of how it all went down? 

You should watch these specials.

We all know Lincoln and Mary and their friends Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone were at the theater that night to watch a performance of
(say it with me) Our American Cousin.  

Did you know, however, Ulysses S. and Mrs. Grant would have been there, but at the last minute decided to go to New Jersey? 

Yep. It's true.
Were you aware...that after the murder of Lincoln there were over 1500 documented eyewitness accounts...and no two were alike?

We all know that after killing the President, Booth jumped onto the stage below, flashed his knife at the audience and yelled "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus to all tyrants!") before hobbling off the stage. 

What you probably didn't know was right before he showed off that he spoke Latin, Booth screamed "HOLY #@$%! MY ANKLE!! IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE!

I'm pulling your leg.
I'm a leg puller.

Both specials do show the death of Lincoln and the description of his wounds are graphic. Which is a good thing because we've all heard the story so many times, we tend to forget that a real man with a wife and children was shot at close range with a ball of lead the size of a pretty good marble. 

Some things about the time directly after Booth fired the fatal shot you will learn from both specials:
  1. The bullet did not exit Lincoln's skull.
  2. He was first given brandy and that as astounding as it may seem, CPR, albeit an early version in which the arms were pumped up and down, was performed by Army Surgeon Dr. Charles Leale.
  3. The President was alive for several hours after being shot. 

It's always morbid to talk about death, no matter how fascinated we are by it. If you want all the interesting and grisly details, either show will satisfy the C.S.I fan in you.

The following from both specials blew my mind.

The above is a photo from Lincoln's Second Inauguration. 
The circled figure at the top of the photo is John Wilkes-Booth. This is just one of several occasions where he was close enough to shoot The President with not even a rifle but a handgun. He probably could have walked right up to him and stabbed him if he had wanted. Learning what I have of Booth from both specials, the thought probably had crossed his mind.


That was my mind. Every time I see that photo...

Damn. I've got to stop looking at it.  

Anyway...that's how it was in the days before the first killing of an American president. There was no Secret Service. There was no need.


False alarm.

I guess that one sure sign of a good movie or television show about a historic figure is that when you are finished watching, your interest is piqued and you want to know more. 

On the other hand...the right one, in my case, because I'm left-handed, the one sure sign of a bad movie or television show about a historic figure is that when you are finished watching, your interest is piqued and you want to know more because you learned diddly squat watching Lincoln: The Peoples' Paralegal. 

For the record, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter must be a work of fiction. There was no mention of vampires in either Killing Lincoln or The Lincoln Assassination.

Whether you are a history buff, a crime enthusiast, a conspiracy theorist, Tom Hanks fan or like shows about men with all kinds of beards, you will enjoy the time you spend watching The National Geographic Channel's Killing Lincoln or The History Channel's The Lincoln Assassination.

One last thing: If you are currently in school and have been assigned a book report or term paper on Abraham Lincoln, by all means, watch these two shows. They're well done and full of historical information. Read a book too, please.

Read a few books. 
There are 15, 000. 

And that's 'Jody' with a 'y'
*Copyright 2o13
*All Rights Reserv


  1. I've always been fascinated by Lincoln, the Man and the Myth. And Booth, who was very ... odd. And the whole conspiracy thing, which captivated the country for awhile. And the effect the assassination had on the whole Reconstruction thing, and Andrew Johnson and the impeachment and the people who wanted to punish the South and how angry everybody was for such a long time. Thanks for writing about it, Jody!!

  2. thank you for reading!
    I am equally...it is a story with many levels