On October 2, anyone in the Los Angeles area who’s interested in paying the $100 admission can go to the Landmark Theater in West LA, watch the vice-presidential debate on a big-screen television, then enjoy some supplemental entertainment: a reading of the new play Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Helen Gahagan Douglas about the actress-turned-congresswoman whom Richard Nixon defeated for the US Senate in 1950. This event is being hosted by Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel; Robert Redford and John Cusack are listed as the honorary co-hosts.
The play was written by Wendy Kout (the creator of the Richard Lewis/Jamie Lee Curtis TV series Anything But Love) and Michele Willens (a former journalist who interviewed Douglas in 1973). Who will perform in the play (which has four roles) is uncertain. One site, apparently quoting the press release, says that Wendie Malick (formerly on the series Just Shoot Me) will play Douglas, and suggests that Charles Shaughnessy (who played Maxwell Sheffield opposite Fran Drescher in The Nanny) will take on the three male parts. Another states that the cast will also include Patrick Breen and Michael Durta.

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Helen Gahagan Douglas, to judge from the online descriptions, will treat its title character in somewhat hagiographic terms, stressing her role as a symbol of New Deal liberalism – presumably to help straighten out anyone whose idea of what constitutes a next-generation feminist has been shaken up by a couple of hours watching Gov. Sarah Palin. (The title, by the way, is rather anachronistic; “Don’t Blame Me” political buttons and bumper stickers didn’t come in until proud Goldwater voters started wearing and applying them in 1965.)

The future President’s role in the play is thus described in the promotional material: “Nixon is the narrator, a comic and ominous Iago during the first half of the play until he becomes a major political player.” In other words, he functions in this work roughly in the same way Che Guevara does in Evita. The juxtaposition of RN to that historical figure might seem incongruous, which brings me to today’s quiz.

I recently read that next month Frank Langella, who won a Tony last year for his portrayal of RN in Frost/Nixon, will be opening on Broadway next month in the role of Sir Thomas More in a revival of A Man For All Seasons. There’s nothing very incongruous about portraying these two men back-to-back, in my view, and I’m sure the late Charlton Heston, who portrayed Sir Thomas in several productions of this play, would have agreed. But it did bring to mind the many different characters Langella has played across the decades – Quilty in Lolita, John Adams, Sherlock Holmes, and of course the world’s sexiest Dracula. And that in turn led me to think about the numerous other actors who have essayed the role of our thirty-seventh President.

So I looked up some of these men, and was interested to see what other historical figures they had portrayed. This led me to put together the quiz below. The first list is of fourteen actors who have played Richard Nixon in big-screen films, TV movies or miniseries, or on Broadway. The second list is of other historical figures that these actors have played. Match the actor to the role – one actor for each character. (So far as I know there’s no overlap.) You’ll note that there are fifteen roles listed; this is because one of them is a hoax, thrown in for shock value, and no one who played Nixon also played this part. The first person to send me the correct answers at rwnedelkof@aol.com will receive a hardcover copy of Col. Ralph Albertazzie’s The Flying White House, a fascinating history of Air Force One which opens with a long, detailed chapter about RN’s final flight as President on August 9, 1974 (which Albertazzie piloted). Ready, set, go:

(By way of clarification: Cliff Robertson and Jason Robards played characters based on RN, rather than RN himself. Billy West’s portrayal of both RN and the other historical figure were voice characterizations in cartoons. The two actors listed here who played RN on Broadway played the other historical figures in the same productions. And J.T. Walsh is on this list because he was the reader on the audiobook of the novelization of Oliver Stone’s film Nixon, so I’m counting that as a portrayal; thanks to the remarkable Nixon-memorabilia site www.nixonbuttons.com for that info. )

ACTORS

1. Beau Bridges

2. Bob Gunton

3. Philip Baker Hall

4. Dan Hedaya

5. Sir Anthony Hopkins

6. Jeff Johnson

7. Rich Little

8. Cliff Robertson

9. Jason Robards Jr.

10. Derek Smith

11. Lane Smith

12. Rip Torn

13. J. T. Walsh

14. Billy West

ROLES

a. Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin

b. Hugh Auchincloss (stepfather of Jacqueline Kennedy and Gore Vidal)

c. Lenny Bruce

d. Al Capone

e. Johnny Carson

f. Oleg Cassini

g. Roger Ebert

h. Mao Zedong

i. Aristotle Onassis

j. Colonel Tom Parker

k. St. Paul of Tarsus

l. Robert Plant

m. Grantland Rice

n. Walt Whitman

o. Bob Woodward