Remembering my father's theatrical side

Posted June 12

It’s been just over a month since my father, former Sen. Robert F. Bennett, passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Our family is tremendously grateful for the outpouring of kindness that has been directed our way. Dad is being rightly remembered for his accomplishments as a leader and a statesman, and his vast array of political accomplishments have received a great deal of attention. That’s as it should be, but just for fun, I’d like to introduce you to a side of Bob Bennett that you may not have known.

Two years after he left office, politico.com asked him this question: “What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail?”

His answer: “As a kid, it would have been to be an outfielder for the Yankees. Now, it would be to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning play.”

Sadly, this dream went unrealized, but Dad had a lifelong passion for the theater that found expression in a number of unlikely ways. Most notably, he turned our church congregation in Calabasas, California, into a makeshift theatrical production company. During the 12 years our family lived there, he produced and directed performances of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “You Can’t Take It With You” and, most notably, “The Music Man,” which included just about every person in the neighborhood in the cast. I’m not quite sure who came to watch the thing, as everyone who went to church with us was up on the stage.

He couldn’t keep up this pace as an impresario after he was elected to the Senate, but he did find time to appear as Grandpa in another church production of “You Can’t Take It With You” back in Washington, D.C. How many other sitting senators have participated in local community theater productions while holding elected office? Personally, I’d pay big money to see a version of “The Odd Couple” starring Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, but I just don’t think that’s going to happen.

If you’re interested, you can watch Dad’s last acting performance on YouTube. It’s in a video called “Javelin Man,” which tells the story of Teancum, a hero from the Book of Mormon who kills two sleeping enemy kings with a javelin through their hearts. Dad plays Ammoron, the second king, who survives long enough to send his henchmen after Teancum and get revenge. Dad’s single line in the film is “Get him, guards!” I thought his delivery was Oscar-worthy, but, alas, the Academy was unimpressed.

The “Javelin Man” director thought it would be funny if Dad would be willing to play Ammoron wearing a long flannel nightshirt and a nightcap with a pompom on the end. My father declined.

“The first rules of politics,” he told us, “is never allow yourself to be photographed with a drink in your hand or wearing a funny hat.”

I believe that if Michael Dukakis had taken that advice before riding around in a tank, he might have been elected president of the United States. In any case, that’s why Dad’s sporting a suit and tie for his final role.

It has been wonderful to see my father hailed for his life as a public figure, but I think his theatrical side deserves mention, too. He was a great man, both onstage and off. That’s a truth that time won’t diminish, even if a photo eventually surfaces that shows him wearing a funny hat.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.


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