Thanks to Bryan Cranston, and with the help of my friend Tina, who was also there, I can now confirm the truth of my recovered memory: in August, 1964, we went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. It was some sort of day for young people, Tina remembers, so maybe it wasn’t the actual convention.
Hers is a visual memory:
What is Very Clear is seeing Peter Paul and Mary, and Paul Newman, and that I left my seat and went up to the front so I could see Paul Newman up close, which was when I discovered he was not very tall…and the most vivid memory is watching him, so handsome, watching Barbara Streisand singing and how totally appreciative he seemed of her, how he gave her his complete attention.
I can see the convention hall all full of kids, I can see Humphrey on the podium…
What Bryan Cranston has to do with this is that he was the only reason I went to see All the Way. A three hour play about the first year of LBJ’s presidency? A play with twenty actors, some playing multiple roles? A play dense with Machiavellian politics and policy?
All the actors, not just Cranston, were magnificent. The eloquence, the dramatization – we learned so much, I heard someone say afterwards, yet the time flew by. And the staging! The corpse of the last civil rights worker pulled out of the ground (a hole in the stage) behind LBJ, as he’s talking about sacrificing voting rights. The reel-to-reel tape recorder spinning over on the side, monitored by Hoover, as King meets with his advisors. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, shouting from the balconies.
It was astounding, and a little frightening. So much of what happened back then still resonates today: the Civil Rights Act, minus the Voting Rights amendment, which Johnson stripped out to get the (then-Democratic!) Southern senators on board (think of Republican Southern states and voting rights today). J. Edgar Hoover spying on Martin Luther King, Jr. (think Snowden). The three black civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi (standing ground in Florida). And George Wallace, most frightening, could be speaking today.
And, finally, the source of my recovered memory: in the play, as Johnson was nominated at the convention, confetti poured over all of us in the front rows. And then I remembered being there, at some point. Loud cheering, signs, chaos – I was there! I remember!
We can only hope, in these days when campaigns are funded by billionaires donating billions, the play will eventually (2016?) resonate more positively.