DAILY: May 20, 2019


(1) SMALL-TOWN HUDSON.  One of the things I’ve missed is documenting my doting on my dog. I wish I were as docile and as dear and as sweet-tempered and even, in his own way, as deeply human as Teddy is.  I often talk about his human energy.  We often talk too, those of us who talk of such things, about how some people are old souls.  But there are dogs who have them also.  Teddy is one of them.  He certainly soothes my soul and makes me, moreover, realize I have one.  Ted has become a little star here in Hudson.  And he wears it all quite well.  He’s a little needy.  But, hey, aren’t we all finally.  I certainly have a need for his nose to be pressed into the nape of my neck or the fold of my arm as he nudges closer and closer as we fall asleep together whether napping or dreaming all through the night.  He knows my dreams.  My dreams know him.


Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) on Sunday morning said that Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-MI) slam against President Donald Trump’s “impeachable conduct” isn’t enough to count as bipartisan support for impeachment proceedings.

“Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan asked Rep. Schiff if Republican Rep. Amash’s comment fulfilled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) standard for impeachment requiring support on both sides of the aisle.

“I think that what the Speaker has referred to, and I have as well, is can an impeachment be even potentially successful in the Senate?” Schiff responded. “We see no signs of that yet.”

However, he praised Amash for speaking up at all, saying that the GOP lawmaker “showed more courage that any other Republican in the House or Senate.”

Fuck that.  He showed more courage than Schiff and Pelosi, too.  I am sick of their conflating impeachment in the House as the same as conviction in the Senate.  I will not stop harping on this and their gaslighting of us.   They are in their way in cahoots with Trump himself because the result is the same: no impeachment.  I’m sickened by the Democrats standing on the wrong side of history so far re: this.  They are running out the clock so they can say that it is too close to the election in 2020 to impeach Trump.  History will condemn them along with Trump.    I condemn them now.  They are Trump’s chumps.  I refuse to be theirs just because they are on my side about almost everything else.  The cynicism on their part is stunning to me.

Last night Pelosi received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for “putting the national interest above her party’s interest to expand access to health care for all Americans and then, against a wave of political attacks, leading the effort to retake the majority and elect the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history.”  I appreciate her efforts in the expansion of health care and in other areas – including the recent Equality Act that expands equality for LGBT Americans (which will probably die in the Senate, by the way.)  But to cite her putting the national interest above her party’s flies in the face of every reason she puts forward not to impeach Donald Trump.  She is putting party above country every day she blocks moving forward with impeachment.  She can hold this JFK award to her chest as history condemns her if she continues in cynically putting party above country in this critical historic regard.

Which all brings me to a discussion of the book Profiles in Courage itself – one of the great scams in history and literature and the Pulitzer Prizes.  It is widely believed that JFK’s loyal lieutenant and speech writer Ted Sorensen – with an assist from Jackie Kennedy’s old history professor from Georgetown University, Jules Davids, after she reached out to him for his help on the book – were the real authors of the cobbled together tome.  Moreover, the book won the 1957 Pulitzer for Biography even though it was not even one of the books forwarded to the Pulitzer Prize Board from its selection committee that year.  So JFK’s fixer-father once more fixed something for him by his contacting his own fixer inside-DC columnist Arthur Krock to intervene with the Pulitzer Board and persuade it to award the prize to JFK who accepted it for a work that was ghostwritten for him. As a writer, I find that deeply dishonest and the whole Profile in Courage awards construct itself is tarnished by it.  Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt, no fan of JFK, was reported to have said, “I wish that Kennedy had a little less profile and more courage.”  I wish too this morning that Speaker Pelosi had less of the former and more of the latter.

And as someone born in Mississippi, I’d like to take note of the Mississippian profiled for his courage – Lucius Lamar who was a senator and Supreme Court Justice.  “JFK” – i.e. Sorensen and Davids – cited him for his eulogy speech for Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner  in 1874, along with his support of the findings of a partisan congressional committee regarding the disputed presidential election of 1876 in which Rutherford Hays only won 47.9% of the popular vote against Samuel Tilden 50.9% and lost the vote by over 200,000 out of 8.5 million votes.  Hays won the electoral college by one vote, 185 – 184.  He did however carry 21 states to Tilden’s 17, proving yet again that one-man-one-vote matters less than geographic power in our constitutional republic which is not a democracy in the strictest sense of the word.  JKF also cited Lamar’s unpopular vote against the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 which was about monetary policies of the time and the circulation of silver dollars after the treasury purchased a certain amount of silver.  But to me what was not “courageous” about Lamar was his helping draft Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession raising the 19th Mississippi Infantry Regiment of the treasonous Confederate Army which he helped command and working on the staff of his cousin, General James Longstreet. . In 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Lamar to the position of Confederate minister to Russia.  I think Sorensen and Davids were looking around for a southerner to include at the behest of JFK who looked at the book as a political document in order later to run for president and not a historical one.  He needed to appeal to southern readers.

And, to bring this back to impeachment, do not get me started on his including Senator Edmund Ross who was the vote needed in the Senate to acquit the egregious corrupt imperial racist President Andrew Johnson.  It was even reported by historians that Ross was bribed to vote for acquittal, something that “JFK” did not mention in his profile of this “courageous” man – in fact, they were all men he chose to profile.  One would think there were some courageous women he could have profiled back then.   So in that, I’m glad a woman got the award this year.


Photo by Jessica Hill, Associated Press. From The Telegraph of Alton, NH.

Below is the answer that Mayor Buttigieg gave to Chris Wallace on the Fox News Town Hall last night after Mayor Pete told Wallace that his question about women getting abortions in the last weeks of their pregnancies was a hypothetical question. Wallace: “It’s not a hypothetical. There are 6,000 women who get abortions in their 3rd trimester.”  Pete:  “Yes, but that represents less than 1% of all women who get them”   And then he went on to respond with the answer below.  Sometimes I forget how good Mayor Pete is at these forums.  Here is a link to the Town Hall.  Check most of it out here.

Photo by Jessica Hill, Associated Press. From The Telegraph in Alton, NH.

And he also went on the attack against Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham on their own news network.  That was a stellar moment as well.  A clip of that is here.



With all the media hype about Game of Thrones and its last season and its finale last night – I thought it was fine though certainly not transcendent in its tying up of narrative threads even as it put a man back in charge of the six kingdoms with a woman having only one kingdom to command in the compromise (and the man being a kind of homage to a crippled FDR in his wheelchair mode) – the series that to me is the truly inspired one is Barry, also on HBO.  There is nothing else like it on television in its balancing of tones.  At one moment you are deeply moved.  At another you are laughing out loud.  At another you are aghast and appalled at its violence and then shocked by its tenderness.  One is whipsawed by its brilliance even as it never loses its balance.  It is a great show.  So thanks to its creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader, its star.

Photo of Anthony Carrigan by Isabella Vosmikova/HBO

The whole cast is exemplary but there is no greater comedic performance on television at the moment than the one being given by Anthony Carrigan as the Chechen criminal NoHo Hank.  I am in awe of him and how he allows his evil to flutter through him so hilariously.  A singular creation from a singular actor.



Bening photographed by Celeste Sloman for The New York Times

I wrote yesterday about All My Sons and the remarkable performance by Bening as Kate Keller in the Arthur Miller play.  It is Bening’s first Broadway appearance in 30 years.  I saw her in Coastal Disturbances back then and have been her biggest fan ever since throughout these 30 years.  To discover her in that play was one of the great experiences in going to the theatre for the last half a century of my life.  What an arc it has been to see her as that ingenue back then and as this matriarch now but the “stage creature” nature of her art and talent remains the same.  She belongs on the stage.  She has done lots of stage work out in Los Angeles and I am glad that she has returned to New York to remind us of her greatness.  I even saw her in 2016 at her alma mater A.C.T. in San Francisco in a special one-night-only performance of the epistolary play Dear Liar by Jerome Kilty, in which she portrayed Mrs. Patrick Campbell to Mark Harelik’s George Bernard Shaw.   It is a play based on letters exchanged between Shaw and his leading lady, Mrs. Campbell, as they sparred across stage and stationery over a 40-year period.  I am grateful that Bening is once more becoming a leading lady of the New York stage.

Here is the recent interview she did for the New York Times with Alexis Soloski.  When you pair this interview with the now infamous one that Bradley Cooper did with Times with Taffy Brodesser-Akner, there seems to be a new model for interviews in the New York Times in which the writers can’t do their jobs re: getting their subjects to talk to them in the interviews so they write about that instead.  I would love to interview Cooper and Bening and simply put it in the Q and A format as an antidote to the paragraph-weary folderol at having failed to get them to open up. 


“There are certain things,” Annette Bening said, “that you don’t really want to talk about.”

It was a recent Tuesday — bright, glinting — and Ms. Bening, 60, was sitting, shadowed, at a rickety table in the back of a subterranean NoHo cafe, eating a plate of scrambled eggs. It was just after noon, hours before she would slip into the stage door of the American Airlines Theater and begin the process of becoming Kate Keller, the mother at the spiraling center of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” a role that has earned Ms. Bening her second Tony nomination — and first for best actress in a play.

Jesse Green, co-chief theater critic for The Times, wrote that in “All My Sons,” “Ms. Bening goes deepest of the four leads in exploring the muck at the bottom of her character’s personality.” How does she do it? That was one of those certain things.

She wished she could talk about it, she said in her barrel-aged voice. She likes to read actors’ interviews, scouring them for details of life and craft. “I’m dying for all that stuff,” she said. She wanted to be cooperative. She wanted to support the show. And there were a few things she could reveal, like a family story from years before her birth that helped bring Kate to life.

Yet discussing how she prepared the role, how she plays it would mean intellectualizing it, distancing herself from it, violating something veiled, even sacred, at the core of what she does. Jack O’Brien, who directs “All My Sons” for Roundabout Theater Company and said that he had rarely seen an actor “so willing to self-immolate in pursuit of honesty,” wouldn’t talk about it either. “I respect her instrument and her process too intensely,” he said a few hours before I sat down with Ms. Bening. “I’m not going to out her.”

As Ms. Bening will tell you, privacy is important. It’s healthy. And didn’t I think, that today, in the time that we’re in, we all overshare a little bit and maybe we shouldn’t? “So forgive me,” she said.

I did. You would have, too. Because when Ms. Bening turns the full force of her attention and empathy on you, it’s as though she has switched on a pocket sun and good luck resisting.

Besides, those definite boundaries are probably why she can seem so totally exposed onstage and so unruffled as she nipped at a piece of toast, pink eyeglasses perched at the bridge of her nose, her hair, dyed mouse brown for the role, winging every which way.

Before she became a movie star, before she and Warren Beatty married and had four children, before she made her way back to Broadway after a 32-year breather, Ms. Bening was a classical actress. And then, as now, she was cerebral, uninhibited, electric.

“She was pretty much always pretty exciting,” said the actor Dylan Baker, who played opposite her in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1980.

After her season in Colorado, she began studying for a master’s at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and then working in repertory on the West Coast and in the Rockies. In the mid ’80s she felt ready to move to New York and she booked a role in an Off Broadway comedy, Tina Howe’s “Coastal Disturbances.”  The show transferred to Broadway, netting Ms. Bening her first Tony nomination. She played Holly, a love-thumped photographer who escapes to the beach and falls for a lifeguard, Leo.

“She brought so much intelligence and heart and whimsy,” Ms. Howe said, speaking by telephone. “She was transparent, you could see right through her skin into her emotions.”

X-ray her in an online clip, probably filmed for the Tony Awards broadcast, in which Holly rhapsodizes about dolphins and tides as Leo (an extremely tan Tim Daly) buries her from toes to chin in the sand. She remembered having to shower constantly. “But I just felt so lucky,” she recalled. “Lucky, you know?”

Mr. Daly, who now stars in “Madame Secretary,” remembered how sometimes he would get sand in her mouth. “But she was buried, right? So she couldn’t get up and punch me,” he said speaking by telephone. “Listen,” he said. “We were young, we were beautiful, we were sweaty, we were sandy, we were naked. It was an adventure.” (I checked this with Ms. Howe: “No, no, they were definitely NOT naked!” she wrote.)

Not long after, Ms. Bening went to Hollywood. From her breakout role in “The Grifters” through “Bugsy,” where she met her husband, and “Being Julia” and “The Kids Are All Right”  and “20th Century Women” and  “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” she has specialized in assertive, complicated women. Either no one ever told her that female characters don’t get to be that smart and that sexy at the same time or people did tell her and she ignored them.

I asked Ms. Howe, who remains a close friend, if she’d ever regretted Ms. Bening’s defection to the movies. “Not for a minute,” she said. “I admire her for taking on Hollywood and for doing it on her own terms.”

In Los Angeles, where no one notices theater, she kept at it — Chekhov, Ibsen, Ruth Draper’s monologues. In 2014, she returned to New York, in a humdrum “King Lear” for Shakespeare in the Park. She entertained offers from Broadway, too. But when her children were at home she could never get the timing right — even limited runs didn’t coincide with school breaks. She always passed.

The children grew up. And last year the director Gregory Mosher offered her Kate in “All My Sons.” (After a dispute regarding color-conscious casting, Mr. Mosher left the production; Mr. O’Brien replaced him before rehearsals began.) She took it.

“All My Sons,” is a play about responsibility, corruption and the nexus, as Ms. Bening put it, “between a booming economy and bloodshed.” Joe Keller, Kate’s husband, owns a factory that manufactured faulty cylinder heads during World War II. Those cylinder heads were shipped to Australia and welded to bombers. Twenty-one pilots died. Three years later, in 1947, with one son returned from the war, and another designated missing in action, Joe has been exonerated, but the question of his guilt remains. “The play is asking, are we just responsible to ourselves or are we responsible to the greater good?” Ms. Bening said. “That’s a deep political question.”

But her relationship to the play, which she first saw as a graduate student, is more personal. And here at least, she wanted to talk. During World War II, she said, Russell Ashley, one of her mother’s older brothers, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (he was too old for the American one) and deployed to India. “And he was killed because his plane had a mechanical failure,” she said. His body was never found. She has a photograph of her family shortly after. Her grandmother is 60 or 61 in the photo, the same age Ms. Bening is now. “There’s just this look on her face and there’s this —.” She let the rest of the sentence fall.

I asked what that meant for Kate and Ms. Bening evaded elegantly, describing unrelated sections of Miller’s autobiography, segueing somehow into “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Several colleagues mentioned what Mr. O’Brien called “this unmistakable quality of intelligence.” Yes.) She acknowledged that her own experiences as a mother had informed the role, but only in the most general terms. “It would be psychologically, physiologically impossible to be an actor and not use anything about your own experience,” she said. (Using “you” and “your” rather than “I” and “mine” is big with her.)

I would have liked to have heard about the particulars, about what in her life — not her mother’s life, not her grandmother’s — had helped her take a character like Kate, who on the page can seem frail, fragmentary, a midcentury desperate housewife, and make her into someone vivid, capacious. But she stopped talking about her own children years ago and very rarely discusses her marriage, though when she mentioned briefly how a shared vulnerability can create intense bonds between actors, it was hard not to think of Mr. Beatty.

She would speak a little about what she does before she steps onstage, like an exercise routine — swimming, the elliptical, yoga — that helps quiet what she calls “the mental chatter.” Even then, just before curtain, she can feel frightened, scared, exposed. But she has learned to say to herself: “Well, naturally you do. You’re standing in front of all of these people.”

Then she enters, giving a performance that seems on the one hand exactly calibrated and on the other as though she’s making it up as she goes along. Her co-star Benjamin Walker, who plays her son and has a 2-year-old of his own at home, said: “Being onstage with her is like being onstage with a toddler with a loaded handgun. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“She’s constantly surprising you because she’s working to surprise herself,” he added.

It has been a surprise, after so many years, to have again stepped away from the cameras, the microphones, the people always fiddling with her hair and makeup and clothes. “It’s just me standing on the stage with my feet on the ground, and with my fellow actors, listening, watching, responding,” she said. “That’s really freeing. Exhilarating.”

Does that mean she might find herself back on Broadway soon, that she might not wait 32 years this time? She wouldn’t really talk about that either. “It will depend,” she said.



  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

  • Show Comments

  • Melissa Powell

    Missed your voice on FB, and deeply appreciate this posting. And YES YES YES to everything you wrote about Anthony Carrigan, giving a brilliant brilliant characterization on Barry. Everyone on that show is doing great work, but that performance is really great. I’d be curious what percentage of the ideas are on the page, what’s in the direction and what is from the actor. And of course, the costume depart, because Hank is styling’.

  • Sid Rosen

    sessumsMagazine is looking good and reading well. Thank you!

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