Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln – By Larry Wolters (Chicago Tribune 1956)

Chicago Tribune – Monday February 13, 1956 – Page 70

Lauds TV Programs on Lincoln

By Larry Wolters

Lincoln: Every year television devotes more programs to Lincoln around February 12, and every year the equality of the Lincoln tribute seems to improve. Outstanding this season were two productions: “Good Friday, 1865,” written by John Lewellen of Glen Ellyn for the Robert Montgomery theater of last Monday, and “The Day Lincoln Was Shot,” based on Jim Bishop’s best selling book and presented Saturday night on Ford’s Star Theater [quite different from Ford’s theater in Washington where Lincoln was shot]. Both plays were telecast in color as well as black and white.

“Good Friday,” as previously reviewed was a notable production. “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” was even more satisfactory. Produced with the lavish hand of Hollywood, the cast ran to 103 persons, with more than 50 reading lines. It was headed by such actors as Raymond Massey, who has come to be an almost legendary Lincoln; Jack Lemmon as Booth, Lillian Gish as Mrs. Lincoln, and Charles Laughton as narrator.

This combination, under expert direction by Delbert Mann, created a mounting sense of the oncoming tragedy, tracing hour by hour the various plot threads that were climaxed at 10:15 p.m. As the play proceeded, you felt an almost unbearable suspense. Lemmon, who usually plays comedy roles, proved a great Booth, handsome and sinister, a young firebird obsessed with carrying out a conspiracy which, except for the greatest of luck, could never have been executed.

Monolog: Booth was at his best in a monolog [or soliloquy] when, speaking of the future, he said: “You [Lincoln] know nothing of me but our names will be linked in all eternity. Lincoln and Booth, perhaps Booth and Lincoln.”

Photo: Gish, Lemmon and Massey in – “The Day Lincoln Was Shot”

Massey and Miss Gish were indeed Abe and Mary Lincoln except that the actor has put on a little too much weight and no longer looks too much like the Civil war President and Miss Gish has too small a face. Furthermore her blonde hair should have been converted to black to match Mary Todd Lincoln’s.

Photo: Lillian Gish in – The Day Lincoln Was Shot – promotional

Intrusion: The Ford theater reconstruction was especially effective in color. Viewers were able to understand the whole layout, with the Presidential box overhanging the stage. The scene or two from the play, “Our American Cousin,” provided a change of pace. This was comedy at its corniest, reminiscent of the Abbotts and Costellos of today. There was one break of pace we were not prepared for. As the tension mounted there came a sudden intrusion by Bing Crosby plugging Thunder-Birds an also a promise from the sponsor that Bing would be in great form for ”High Tor” four weeks hence.

Raymond Massey – Lincoln

Then the action shifted back to the assassination, Booth’s escape and the long confusing night in Peterson house, with Secy. Stanton playing the role of dictator for eight hours before he got to the fateful: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

This fantastic yet true story of a tragic day in American history gave television 91 years later just about its finest hour.

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