Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Hick: A Love Story, The Romance Of Lorena Hickok & Eleanor Roosevelt at Drom by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Terry Baum's Hick: A Love Story, The Romance Of Lorena Hickok & Eleanor Roosevelt at Drom was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Hick: A Love Story, 
The Romance Of Lorena Hickok & Eleanor Roosevelt
Written & Performed by Terry Baum
Additional Writing Contribution by Pat Bond
Directed by Adele Prandini
Dramaturgy by Carolyn Myers
85 Avenue A
New York, New York 10009
Reviewed 8/14/15 

Hick: A Love Story, written and performed by Terry Baum, directed by Adele Prandini, and dramaturgy by Carolyn Myers is playing at Drom as part of the Fringe Festival. It is about the 30-year romance of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, an Associated Press reporter assigned to cover the future First Lady on the campaign trail. They became fast friends and later, Lorena literally lived in the White House for a time, having a bed in Eleanor Roosevelt's Dressing Room. Ms. Hickok was referred to by the press as the First Friend, but there were a lot of winking eyes at the time. According to Hickok's version of events, their relationship was common knowledge. In her words, "everybody knew."

Extramaritial sexual relations by Presidents and others residing in the White House is nothing new. Just think of JFK and his brother. But the prize for the most prolific offender would have to go to President Bill Clinton. Hillary was clearly aware of these transgressions, but instead of divorcing him, she agreed to stay married for the sake of both their political careers. I am certain she was angry when Bill's liaisons became public knowledge but she closed ranks and helped him clean up his mess by defaming the women who were his victims and by encouraging her contacts in the women's movement to do the same. President Clinton's sordid entanglements with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Monica Lewinsky drew barely a squeak of protest from the powerful writers, lawyers, activists, politicians, and academics who call themselves feminists. We have little reason to suspect any of this behavior has changed since he left the White House. It is just a time bomb waiting to go off in the Hillary Clinton campaign for President.

In contrast, here, we have a romance between two consenting adults in a non-traditional relationship. It is, technically, adultery and a crime, because Eleanor is married to Franklin Roosevelt. However, theirs is a political partnership hiding a dysfunctional marriage. After she caught her husband having an extramarital affair with her social secretary, she punished him by withholding sexual relations. She agreed not to divorce him so he could continue to advance in his political career, because in those days, the American public tended not to vote for divorced candidates for any elective office. That changed with the election of President Ronald Reagan. As Eleanor's children got older, they were sympathetic to their father over the issue and her daughter Anna actually facilitated FDR's liaisons with one his mistresses. FDR wrote his will to leave half of the income from his estate to Marguerite "Missy" LeHand (FDR's Private Secretary for 21 years who had been disabled by a stroke), whose exact relationship with FDR is debated, but it became nonoperational since she died before Eleanor.

This was a different time in America in which great privacy was accorded to the President's family. The newspapers were not looking for scandal and, if it fell in their lap, they were reluctant to print it. Newspaper reporters and photographers collaborated to hide the true extent of Franklin Roosevelt's handicaps caused by polio. Indeed, they formed a softball team to play the summer baseball circuit in the Hudson River Valley as the President's official team. At Eleanor's request, the Secret Service did not "protect her" when she went away to New York for the weekends (sometimes to meet Lorena Hicks) but she did agree to keep a gun in her purse.

We meet Lorena Hicks in 1968 as she is contemplating whether or not to leave Eleanor Roosevelt's correspondence to the FDR Presidential Library Archives. She already destroyed a number of letters containing juicy stuff that would indicate a passionate romantic and sexual relationship with the First Lady took place but she is conflicted as to what to do with the rest of the letters. It has been six years since Eleanor's death and she has no idea what her friend would want her to do. During this one-woman play, Terry Baum becomes Lorena Hickok to channel her life, her hopes, he disappointments, her failures, her successes, and her loves. Baum's extraordinary portrayal of Lorena Hickok's love for Eleanor Roosevelt reminds me of a romantic moment I observed in the East Village just before I gave a walking tour. Two men from Minneapolis that joined the tour sat on a bench opposite one another. They looked like a pair of lumberjacks complete with beards dressed appropriately for the autumn weather. I saw bliss on both their faces as they each looked into each others' eyes. It was just the purest example of true love I had ever seen between two human beings.

This love is brought out perfectly in the play by Terry Baum as she narrates the ups and downs of Lorena Hickok's relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. We get a picture of the desperate condition of the country through her eyes in the early days of the New Deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is shown to be very much a romantic, but she was too shrewd to let any personal, intimate relationship undermine her public image or her ability to make a difference. Together, they brought out the best in one another and made the country a better place. It was Lorena Hicks who suggested Eleanor have a daily news column, "My Day," to publicize what she was doing as First Lady and it was she who also suggested Eleanor Roosevelt hold Press Conferences before "all lady reporters" so they wouldn't lose their jobs during the Depression. 

Accurately reflecting the decisions Eleanor Roosevelt made, she once wrote, "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes...and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."

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