Assassins Shooting Gallery: Meet the Players and the Plotters

By Ernio Hernandez
and Kenneth Jones
23 Nov 2012

James Barbour (inset Czolgosz) and Denis O'Hare (Guiteau)

 

Character:

Assassin: Leon Czolgosz
(aka Leon Franz Czolgosz, Fred C. Nieman)
Born: 1873 in Detroit, Michigan
Before he was an assassin: Wire Mill Worker
Other jobs: Menial laborer
Assassinated: President William McKinley on Sept. 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York

Why he became an assassin: Born and raised in impoverished conditions, Czolgosz became a factory worker at age ten. Increasingly exacerbated by the mistreatment of workers, he began to read socialist newspapers and attended speeches by anarchist Emma Goldman. Incited by the assassination of King Humbert I of Italy, Czolgosz traveled to Buffalo, rented a room, bought a gun and days later shot McKinley in a receiving line at the Exposition.



Died: Oct. 29, 1901, in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison after a speedy trial aided by his willing confession: "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none."

Last Words: “I killed the President because he was an enemy of the good people — of the working people. I am not sorry for my crime!"

 

Played by:

Actor: James Barbour
Born: April 25 in Mount Holly, New Jersey (grew in up Cherry Hill, NJ)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Jane Eyre, Urinetown, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel
Other jobs: Carnival Worker, Old Time Photographer, Indoor Batting Cages
"We spent our summers in Ocean City, New Jersey, and there was a boardwalk down there called the Wonderland Pier. I worked the carousel (which was a wonderful thing when I did Carousel) and the bumper cars and the Tilt-A-Whirl. The object of the Tilt-A-Whirl was when anybody complained about the ride, you sped it up so you would make them vomit. The other jobs were Old Time Photos — where you dress people up — and at 'Hackers, Hitters and Hoops' — the only indoor batting cages in Manhattan."

Why he became an actor: "At first I didn't know. All I knew was that I wanted to be everything and my family was very supportive of my choices. We were always very creative. As an actor, it's the only thing that I just did instantly, I could just do it and I could become anything I wanted to become. That to me was exciting."

On research for playing Czolgosz:
"The trial of Czolgosz was instantaneous. There's this great photograph of him in jail. [He looks] just destroyed. I'm looking at all these images and lines [of text] and he is just — and I mean it's a weird thing, but he is fascinating to me beacuse he was so committed to what he did. He was just so passionate about his belief."

On being a political person:
"I know that when [Michael] Dukakis was running [for president], which was when I was in college, that's when I really became aware of participating in politics. Since then, I've joined a group called The Creative Coalition — a bi-partisan political homeroom for people in the entertainment industry and their mainstays are arts funding and freedom of speech. This is the world we live in and we're all part of that. If we're active in our own lives to live morally and like good human beings, so I think we should for our country. We should try to represent ourselves whatever your viewpoints. I think it's important."

 

***

 

Character:

Assassin: Charles J. Guiteau
Born: September 8, 1841, in Freeport, Illinois
Before he was an assassin: Lawyer
Other jobs: Preacher, Author
Assassinated: President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C.

Why he became an assassin: After the death of his father (a former county clerk), the divorced lawyer-preacher Guiteau sought to get into politics and penned a speech which he believed won Garfield the election. Moving to Washington, he adamantly contacted The White House expecting the reward of being named Consul-General to Paris.

Died: June 30, 1882, hanged at the Washington, D.C. jail.

Last Words: [Reciting a poem which began] "I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad."

 

Played by:

Actor: Denis O'Hare
Born: January 17 in Kansas City, Missouri (grew up in Southfield, Michigan)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Take Me Out, Major Barbara, Cabaret; Off-Broadway: Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited), Helen
Other jobs: Maintenance Man, Dishwasher, Waiter, Bartender, Temp
"I was the maintenance man at McDonald's in high school. I also pulled weeds for a living for a while at an apartment complex where I had to start at one end of the complex. By the time I got to the end, all the weeds I had pulled were already back. So it was an existential trap. And my father got me a job as a dishwasher and they pulled me off the line because I turned so red, they thought I was going to die. And I did the waiter-bartender thing until I got fired and I became a temp.

Why he became an actor: "I don't have a rational, logical reason. I was a poetry major for two years in college and woke up at 20 in my junior year and realized that I didn't have any theatre credits and I had to make a decision to be either an actor or a writing major. Even before college, I was an opera student and I auditioned for the University of Michigan opera school. I didn't care where I went, it was like 'If they accept me, I'll go there, if they accept me at Northwestern, I'll go there and become an actor.' Ultimately, I got accepted at both and I chose to go to Northwestern because it was six hours away from my parents as opposed to a half-hour away from my parents."

On research for playing Guiteau:
"Guiteau is kind of a transcendent figure in a lot of ways. He's out of his mind, but he's latched onto something. Guiteau, in his madness, is glimpsing some sort of wonderful redemption. He's leaving behind the life of pain and torture and going on to bliss."

On being a political person:
"I'm a very political person. I spend a lot of time on the web, reading newspapers from around the world on a daily basis. I spend much too much time being angry about the state of the world, especially about the state of American politics right now. I have a little email group I sent out my rants to. I wear a "Stop Bush" button everywhere I go. I used to xerox my own stickers, put them all over Times Square before the war in Iraq. I feel like if you don't try to influence the course of events, then you have no right to complain about them. I do what I can. I do feel like I'm kind of ineffectual. But, I called The White House for a while, about twice a week for eight months. And I call Senator [Charles] Schumer and I call Senator [Hilary] Clinton and I call my representative all the time. I call TV stations, I call CNN, I write letters to The [New York] Times. Someone's got to. If you leave it to somebody else, everyone will assume that someone else is taking care of it, keeping an eye on things, presidents would lie."

 Continued...