A few weeks ago, while mowing the lawn, Clifton Daniel began to recite a monologue in character as Harry S. Truman.
“Which is weird,” he admitted recently, in between bites of a Whole Foods wrap. Truman hated mowing the lawn. “My neighbors probably think I’ve lost my mind.”
Daniel, who lives in a suburb north of Chicago, is the eldest grandson of the 33rd president. (His middle name is Truman.) For the past several months, he has spent each morning practicing lines from a dog-eared photocopy of “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!,” the 1975 play by Samuel Gallu. On Oct. 12, wearing clear plastic glasses and a Panama hat, Daniel took the stage in Wilmington, North Carolina, as President Truman.
He first thought about playing Truman after a friend told him that he was starting to look like his grandfather. Daniel, who is 60, has a history at Thalian Hall: In the 1980s, he joined its community-theatre company and performed such roles as Mozart, in “Amadeus,” and “the guy in the back, holding a mop,” in a play whose title he couldn’t recall.
Fatherhood weaned him off acting, but a few years ago Daniel told the executive director of his old theatre that he wanted to try “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!”
“The next thing I know, he’s started arranging it,” Daniel said. Soon a producer was talking about taking the show on the road. Daniel brought a photograph of Truman to a local barbershop and left with his hair swept neatly to the side, beneath a thick coating of wax and hairspray. “I had a helmet,” he said. “It wouldn’t budge.”
Read the rest of Daniel A. Gross' piece in The New Yorker.
From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI