Sunday, April 4, 2010


In that second "From Sea To Shining Sea" special from 1974, Robert Culp's character John Freeborn was trying to escape New England secessionists when he found an old man sitting in a field. Hoping that John would provide him with stimulating conversation ("I think intelligent conversation is the highest entertainment." he said), the old man invited him back to his house. And there John found out that the elderly couple who resided there were former President and First Lady John and Abigail Adams.

At least, that's the original intention of the special. But for Toobworld, this cannot be.

Burgess Meredith is one of my top ten favorite actors. And his characterization of Adams was fantastic. The only trouble was that he looked nothing like the second President of the United States - even with the episode taking place in 1814, which could have accounted for a difference in appearance.

The problem was that no special allowances were made with regard to his makeup. Meredith's naturally coarse thatch of white hair crowned his entire head, whereas the real Adams, even as a younger man, had a fast receding hairline and could be considered bald for the most part. If they didn't want to bother with make-up, they should have gone with John Houseman in the role; he would have come closer to the look as is. (This portrait of Adams by Gilbert Stuart puts me in mind of another actor, but I can't put my finger on it....)

But that would have robbed us of a spirited performance by Burgess Meredith.

Because of the character of John Freeborn, I'm reluctant to cast this into an alternate TV dimension. So I've come up with a splainin:

Burgess Meredith and Kate Wilkerson were not playing John and Abigail Adams. Oh, they were in the Adams' home, though - the letter from Thomas Jefferson which Abigail showed to John Freeborn was the real article.

I think they were actually the butler and the cook for the Adams family. But when their master and mistress were not at home, the two of them liked to pretend that they were the President and First Lady. And with the arrival of John Freeborn, they continued the charade. When John took his leave of them to make his way down to New Orleans, President Adams asked him to relay his regards to Andrew Jackson should he meet him. John did so and neither he nor Jackson ever knew that the message didn't come from the real John Adams.

The ad for "Land Of The Free" shown above is the only example I could find of Burgess Meredith as John Adams. But this picture to the left comes close to how he appeared in the special. And the hair is pretty much as was seen in the show.


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