STAGES OF DOUBT: AN ANALYSIS OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION IN AMERICAN THEATRE – PART 6 - Final

To read Part 1 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 2 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 4 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 5 of this series, please click here.

It's been fifty-five years since Oswald's three shots rang out in Dallas and their echoes still reverberate throughout our nation. In that time, the conspiracymongers have accused 42 groups and 214 individuals of involvement with the murder of JFK and have put forward the names of 82 “assassins.”

I've no doubt in the years to come additional transgressors and villains will be placed on those lists, and new titles added to catalogue of “Assassination Dramas.”

The suspicions, paranoia and dissemblance of some have seemingly diminished the gravitas due the assassination of John F. Kennedy, while the shallowness and gullibility of others have rendered their historical awareness the death of America's 35th president to the level of a National Enquirer headline. For many the idea of a conspiracy is not a matter of study, evidence or plausibility, it is a matter of faith.

Not long ago I was at a pool party, when a casual remark on my part disparaging Oliver Stone's JFK brought on an onslaught by another guest.

Let's call him Don.

Don defended Stone, his film and ranked Garrison as the greatest American since Honest Abe.

Needless to say he was strident in his insistence that Oswald was innocent and that a vast and malevolent conspiracy was behind it all. As with all “True Believers” facts are meaningless, and I began to feel like Michael Palin facing John Cleese in the “Argument Clinic.”

Finally I put to him, “What proof, what evidence, would it take to convince you that Oswald was guilty?”

He snapped back, “There isn't any, because he's not!”

And there you go. The same mindset that denies the holocaust ever happened, insists FDR knew of the pending attack on Pearl Harbor, that NASA faked the moon landing, maintains 9-11 was an inside job, that Barack Obama was not a US citizen, that Hillary operated a child brothel in the basement of a pizza parlor, that the “deep state” is undermining Donald Trump's presidency and believes that the plays of Shakespeare were actually written by some guy named Rollo Gobermouche.

University of Miami political scientist and conspiracy theory researcher Joseph Uscinski warned that “Conspiracy theories are becoming part of our national dialogue.”

The danger here is all too present in our society. The maxim to “question authority” is sound, but to outright dismiss authority is fraught with peril. Hence the cancerous concept of “Fake News” and the hazardous inclination to put one's trust in the opinions of personalities and reject those of the experts.

That everyone is entitled to their own opinion is one of the bedrocks of this nation, but that foundation will be irrevocably damaged if we come to accept that everyone is also entitled to their own “facts.”

Sadly, it is as Eric Hoffer observed that one of humanity's great failings is that most people can only be completely certain about that which they know absolutely nothing about.

In her seminal book Virtues of the Mind (1996) Linda Zagzebski lists the barriers to sound inquiry and judicious appraisal as gullibility, close-mindedness, lack of thoroughness, rigidity, negligence, carelessness, prejudice, obtuseness and insensitivity to detail. These “intellectual vices” are the hallmark of the conspiracy minded.

There are those who readily point to the fact that the most recent polls suggest that over 2/3 of the country believe that some conspiracy was behind the events in Dallas as if this in some way establishes the historical facts. But to quote Robert Ingersoll “- majorities count for nothing. Truth has always dwelt with the few.”

Today the Assassination has become the great national Rorschach test for Americans. They look at the events that occurred on November 22nd, 1963 in the city of Dallas, and what they perceive tells you more about them than the ink blots. The ink blots never change.

And the ink blots say, “Oswald. Only Oswald. Nobody else but Oswald.”


  • Howard Brennan, a forty-five year old steam fitter had been standing across the street from the Book Depository on Friday November 22nd to watch the presidential motorcade.  Looking up he saw a man in the window of the sixth floor holding a rifle, just as the motorcade turned onto the street, the shots that killed the president immediately followed.  In the confusion afterwards it was Brennan who first directed the police to the Book Depository and provided them with a description of the man in the window, the information he provided would be broadcast over both channels of the Dallas Police radio.  Twenty-three minutes later, Patrol Officer J.D. Tippit pulled his squad car to a stop near the intersection of Patton and Tenth Street to question a man who matched the Brennan's description of the shooter. It was Lee Harvey Oswald. Witnesses observed Oswald fatally shooting Tippit before fleeing the scene. At Oswald's third lineup Brennan would claim he couldn't be sure Oswald was the man he had seen in the sixth floor window prior to Kennedy's assassination.  He would later confess before the Warren Commission that he had recognized Oswald as the man he saw in the window, but feared if he came forward as a witness that he would be placing his family in danger.
  • For my comparison review of JFK and Parkland see: TheTVolution.com/2015/04/parkland-and-jfk-two-views-of-the-assassination
  • For a fascinating debunking of the film JFK go to McAdams.posc.mu.edu/jfkmovie.htm
  • The “magic bullet” is only “magical” to those having no experience with firearms.  If you want an education in what bullets do once fired, I recommend you watch The Magic Bullet, Episode 2 from the first season of Forensic Files.
  • It should also be noted that Robert Caro, after 36 years of intense research into Lyndon Johnson, stated he found no indication whatsoever of an assassination plot.

Stages of Doubt: An Analysis of The Kennedy Assassination In American Theatre – PART 2

To read Part 1 of this series, please click here.

1967 saw the Broadway opening of the ponderous The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. Running over four hours, the work imagines the trial that would have ensued if Jack Ruby's shot had missed. At the center of the first act, the case against Oswald is laid out using excerpts from the transcripts of the Warren Commission. The second act has Oswald taking center stage where he rails at having just been a “patsy” in a plot by the CIA. The audience was invited to be the jury.

Despite having Ralph Waite and other Broadway heavy weights in its cast the show was poorly received and closed after nine performances. Today the play is only of interest for being penned by Leon Friedman and Amram Ducovny the father of The X-Files' David Ducovny.

The Red Devil Battery Sign is a later work by Tennessee Williams, and one the fans of the writer would rather see forgotten. Indeed, its inclusion in this article is based mainly on its author rather than the work's contribution to the mythos of the Kennedy assassination.

Set in the cocktail lounge of a seedy downtown Dallas hotel, shortly after the murder of a political figure with only the most oblique references identifying him as Kennedy, the play is a muddle of familiar Williams' themes. At the center of the piece is one of Williams' stock characters, a neurotic, sexually soaked, heroine searching for salvation in the arms of some flawed savior. Referred to only as the “Downtown Woman,” she has fled from her father, a corrupt Texas politician and her powerful husband, president of the multinational Red Devil Battery Company whose flickering billboard outside continually coats the bar in a red hue.

Trapped inside the hotel by those in league with her father and husband, she has documents that would expose those behind the recent political murder and their plot to usurp control of the government.

Her hope of redemption arrives in the person of King Del Rey, a successful mariachi band leader whose career came to a halt when he was disabled by a brain tumor.

From there the play plunges into a jumble of threats from menacing off stage agents, a prolonged death scene on stage, family betrayal, sexual dysfunction, Chicago hoodlums, and a marauding pack of howling, semi-civilized street dwellers.

In 1975 a production with aspirations of New York opened in Boston featuring Claire Bloom as the Downtown Woman, and Anthony Quinn as King Del Rey. But even this injection of star power couldn't rescue the play from its flaws and it closed after two weeks.

The play, often considered Williams' worst, is surfeit with fractured poetry and a crushing sense of confusion best expressed in a line of the “Woman Downtown's” dialogue: “Nobody knows nothin'.”

One recent theatre critic described it as “a paranoid mélange of apocalyptic nightmare and fluttery panic, as if Blanche Dubois had been plunked into the latest Oliver Stone film;” Which perhaps makes it a fitting epitaph for the death of Camelot on Elm Street in Dallas.

Dennis Richard bears out the old adage, “fact is stranger than fiction,” in his absorbing Oswald: The Actual Interrogation.

From the time he entered the Dallas police headquarters on Friday, November 22nd at 1:58 pm until his shooting by Jack Ruby on Sunday, November 24th at 11:21 am, Lee Harvey Oswald would be interrogated four times by Captain John William Fritz, head of the Dallas Homicide and Robbery Bureau, for a total of approximately twelve hours. Richard based his play on the notes and testimonies of those who were present. The work had its West Coast Premiere in 2011 at Write Act Repertory Theatre in Hollywood and drew heated criticism from reviewers more revealing of their unawareness of the event's history than any failing on the part of Richard's play. One critic faults the actor portraying Oswald for “blustering in the face of mounting evidence against him.” He condemns the actor's performance that “gives the impression of a slightly crazed liar.”

Both “blustering” and “slightly crazed liar” aptly describes Oswald's conduct during his interrogations.

One reviewer reacting to the fact that a judge arraigned Oswald in the Dallas station's interrogation room instead of a court decries it as “redefining the term kangaroo court." This reviewer is apparently unaware that such arraignments are permissible and common in Texas, and of the steps the Dallas authorities took to ensure Oswald of legal representation. The president of the Dallas Bar Association, H. Louis Nichols, even met with Oswald in his cell following his arrest to assure he was aware of his right to counsel and to offer to find a lawyer for him if he wished. Oswald brusquely declined, stating that he only wanted John Abt, the New York chief counsel for the American Communist Party to defend him. Calls made by Oswald to Abt's Manhattan office as well as those made on his behalf failed to reach the lawyer.

Oswald: The Actual Interrogation shows the many contradictions and lies Oswald made during his interrogations, and details the body of evidence connecting him to the murder weapon and placing him on the sixth floor of the Book Depository at the time of the shooting. What surprises most of those who see the play is learning that there were fifteen eye witnesses that linked Oswald to the shooting of JFK and the murder of Police Officer J.D. Tippit, and that Oswald had been positively identified in four separate lineups by six out of seven witnesses. Had he lived to reach a courtroom, Oswald's conviction would have been, as one detective put it, “a cinch.”
In addition, Richard captures the petulance and insolence Oswald displayed throughout his time in custody of the Dallas Police. Assistant District Attorney William Alexander who was present when Oswald was charged with the murder of Police Officer Tippit later told reporters, “He's the most arrogant person I've ever met. I got the impression he enjoys being in the spotlight.”

Hardly the behavior one would expect from an innocent man charged with murdering the president of the United States.

Witnessed by the World (2013) by Ronnie Cohen & Jane Beale is original in both its concept and plot. Joan, a seasoned investigative reporter, is struggling with a script she's penned about Jack Ruby. She's reached out to Ira a young established Hollywood screenwriter whose career has recently faltered and he agrees to assist Joan with her problem script. Joan has had a long obsession with the assassination and is using the script to publicly expose those that she has learned were behind the murder of JFK. To the young jaded screenwriter the assassination is something they taught in history class. This allows the playwrights, in essence to lecture their audience on the “errors” of the Warren Report under the disguise of the older reporter explaining them for the benefit of her younger partner.

The script within the play puts forth one of the favorite speculations of the CT adherents, that Ruby was conned into killing Oswald by the Mafia. In representing Ruby as a pawn of the mob, the playwrights disregard Ruby's repeated assertions that he shot Oswald on sheer impulse. While in police custody, Ruby even expressed amazement at the good luck that enabled him to do it; “If I had planned this I couldn't have had my timing better.” The notion that Ruby was a hit man for the mob is also refuted by his own behavior. First there is the inconvenient fact that the morning of Sunday the 24th in the Dallas Police Station's basement was not the first opportunity Ruby had to shoot Oswald. The owner of a pair of strip clubs, Ruby vigorously sought to put himself in the good graces of the police and was often scurrying about the station giving out sandwiches or passes to his clubs. The Friday night of the assassination, Ruby was at the station mingling with the throng of reporters when just after midnight the door to the interrogation room opened and detectives lead Oswald out into the corridor. Ruby, with the .38 caliber snub-nosed revolver he always carried in his coat pocket, watched as Oswald passed by right in front of him. Here was a perfect opportunity, for all he knew, perhaps his only opportunity, for Ruby to carry out his “hit.” Yet he did nothing. It wasn't until the following Sunday, when mere happenstance, brought Ruby to the station just as Oswald was being transported to a more secure facility, that Ruby saw the smirk on Oswald's face, and snapped. He pulled out his revolver and rushed at Oswald shouting, “You killed my president, you rat son of a bitch!” The single shot he fired into Oswald's abdomen proved fatal but it could just as easily have not. A scrupulous assassin would have aimed multiple shots at the “target's” head. Like Oswald did.

Again, critics attending this show exhibited a superficial understanding of the subject they wrote on.

One such reviewer, perhaps an early detractor of “fake news,” bemoaned how “The mainstream media ridicules “conspiracy theorists,” before proclaiming, “Many reputable writers and investigators, including the 1960s District Attorney of New Orleans, James Garrison, meticulously and logically disputed the Warren Report's conclusions.”

Seldom does one come across statements so thoroughly wrong in all its parts.
First off, the CT community has few - very few – “reputable writers and investigators;” serious historians and scholars, almost without exception, support the findings of the Warren Report establishing Oswald as the lone assassin.

It also appears this reviewer, like many, naively mistook Oliver Stone's star studded three hour plus JFK as actual history. Loosely adapted from On the Trail of the Assassins, Jim Garrison's 1988 spin of his failed prosecution of Clay Shaw, Stone's JFK can most accurately be described as a blatant distortion of a judicial persecution.

The depiction of Garrison as a Christ like figure only nobler is perhaps the most outrageous fabrication Stone foists on film audiences. Garrison was viewed by friend and foe alike as a troubled and unethical man, and even members of his own staff reproached him for his “attempts to intimidate and bribe witnesses.”

Stone's skill as a filmmaker are undeniable though, and those skills are nowhere more apparent than in JFK's suspense filled climax with Garrison remaining in the courtroom, refusing to leave until finally a verdict is reached. The truth is a bit more prosaic. After being sequestered to begin their deliberations, the jury ordered coffee and picked a foreman. The court was then informed they had reached their verdict on the charges against Clay Shaw.

Not guilty.

It had taken 54 minutes.

Garrison had not been in court for the closing arguments, but in his office. He flew into a rage when he learned of the verdict.

Nothing in Garrison's case, JFK or Cohen and Beale's play has ever “meticulously and logically disputed the Warren Report's conclusions.”

The plot of Witnessed by the World takes some clever twists after Ira brings the script to the attention of a heavy weight producer, which in turn brings it to the attention of the very people Joan hopes to expose. But the play suffers from certain choices that undercut the main character's believability as an investigative reporter.

…continue reading


BILLY HAYES ALERT - IT'S "MIDNIGHT EXPRESS" WEEK IN LOS ANGELES!

Don't look now, but Billy Hayes is back in town.

The "Midnight Express" man left Los Angeles in 2014 and hit the road with his one man show for a time, then settled down in Sin City, where he's been negotiating with various pot enterprises who want to market a "Billy Hayes" brand of high-end weed.  Billy has become the poster guy for the booming industry there, as he has been smoking for 50 years and has no ill-effects to show for it.  "On the contrary," he says, "I'm the happiest and the healthiest person I know."

Billy is the subject of a fascinating documentary by Sally Sussman, MIDNIGHT RETURN: Billy Hayes and Turkeywhich is finishing up its run at the Laemmle Music Hall on Friday, and is an absolute must-see if you want to understand why Billy Hayes is such an iconic figure to those of us over 50, and also if you want to get all the juicy behind-the-scenes info about the making of the landmark film Midnight Express.  This film - which would never get made today in the era of political correctness - boasted the collaboration of some very talented and large-ego'd men: David Puttnam, Alan Parker, Peter Guber and Oliver Stone.  When you hear their recollections, it boggles the mind that the movie turned out as well as it did.

Oliver Stone bares his soul about his triumphs and regrets

As a screenwriter myself, I was fascinated to hear about how much the Brits, Parker and Puttnam, hated Stone, even after they were in awe of his screenplay; and how shabbily Stone was treated throughout.  Of course Oliver Stone got the last laugh, winning the Oscar and launching his career, which had basically been stalled to that point.  Stone has some very interesting things to say about the reasons why he related so personally to Billy's story, and how he feels about the film now.  I was shocked to learn that the famous ending of Midnight Express was not in fact his creation... but enough.  I won't spoil the many other revelations.  I will say only that Alan Parker's comments deepened my respect for him as a film artist.

Billy at 23 years old is arrested for trying to smuggle out 2 kilos of hashish

But the center of the story is Billy Hayes, who comes as a deceptively complicated figure - at times he's straightforward and almost an everyman who loves his family and wants to make everyone proud of him, at other times he's an adventurer, a daredevil and, well, "crazy," as his brother and sister keep saying.  Fate chose Billy to be an actor in a drama about American innocence caught in a web of foreign intrigue, and that story has proved to have staying power way beyond anything Billy himself ever expected.  Much like the film of his life that became a cultural phenomenon for young Americans in the 1970s and '80s, and which continues to exert enormous influence over those who've seen it, down to the present day.

Billy and his dad, shortly after Billy's escape

Billy's true-life escape from an Alcatraz-like Turkish island prison still boggles the minds of the Turkish authorities, a few of whom show up in the film still insisting that he must have had help from the CIA.  The escape came after the Turkish court had changed Billy's sentence from four years to 30 years, just as he was about to be released.  (The film makes it clear that Billy was a pawn in Nixon's war on drugs, and that Nixon was happy to have Billy's freedom sacrificed to his law and order policies.)  Given all this, there seems to be some justice in the terrible publicity that the country of Turkey reaped from Billy's harrowing escape.  But Billy himself was disturbed by the anti-Turk tenor of the film and the devestating effect this had on the Turkish tourism industry and on the Turkish people's image in the world and self-image.

The Turkish newspapers depicted Billy as endowed with superpowers

The central theme of the documentary is the return of Billy Hayes to Turkey in 2007, as he attempts to heal the wounds created by the Hollywood film made from his story.  Over the objections of his lawyers and most of his friends (though not me), "crazy" Billy puts himself into the hands of a branch of the Turkish police (of all people) as he holds several news conferences, expressing his love and admiration for the Turkish people.  Then he goes on a tour of his old haunts, including the prisons he spent time in.  The municipal jail has been converted into a Four Seasons (no kidding!), but the infamous Birkakoy prison for criminally insane is still there.  Though it's closed down now, slowly rotting in the hot Turkish sun, they open it up for Billy in an unforgettable sequence, in which all the terrifying memories begin rushing back.

Billy back at Birkakoy - "you are a broken machine."

It's an extraordinary experience, part of an extraordinary story which Billy himself has been trying to come to terms with ever his escape.  He has gradually come to recognize the unique role he's been chosen by history to play, and he has stopped trying to be an actor or director - I met him when he directed my play Break of Day about the young Vincent van Gogh, 18 years ago - and embraced his public persona, taking control of his own story.

Toward this end, Billy brings his one-man show, Riding The Midnight Express with Billy Hayes, to the Odyssey Theatre for four performances this weekend.  The 73 minute show is followed by a Q&A with the audience and then Billy will sign his books for you, including his brilliant Letters from A Turkish Prison, which has not received the amount of attention that I believe it should.  I've seen the show six or seven times in various iterations, and I highly recommend it.  By embracing his "criminal" past, Billy has achieved a philosophy of self-acceptance which feels earned and authentic, and quite the opposite of all the self-help gurus out there who claim to have the answers on how to find your true self.