Skip to main content

'Lincoln' sets history straight at Totem Pole Playhouse

FAYETTEVILLE >> An historical event of sorts is coming to Totem Pole Playhouse's 65th season.

An actor who has performed "The Memoirs of Abraham Lincoln" for the past 25 years will bring that one-man play to Totem Pole Playhouse July 10 through July 26.

Granville Van Dusen has appeared in nearly 100 plays and TV series, portraying everything from a Klingon magistrate in "Star Trek" to characters in the old "Baretta" and "Hill Street Blues" series and everything in between.

He is probably most widely known for his long portrayal as Abraham Lincoln in the one-man show he originated.

Van Dusen has portrayed the 16th president for a quarter-century, starting with a performance at the Kline Theater on the Gettysburg College campus in 1990.

"The Memoirs of Abraham Lincoln" was originally directed by Delbert Mann, who directed the Oscar-winning Film "Marty" in 1955.

"I called him up and told him I had this script. He said to bring it by, and I did," said Van Dusen. "He called me back after a couple of weeks — which is almost unheard of — and said he wanted to do it. I told him I didn't have any money. He said 'I don't care, we'll just do it.'"

Van Dusen goes by Sonny because "Granville Van Dusen" is too much of a mouthful and made directors and producers think he was some rich kid who wanted to act.

"I was born and raised in Minnesota as a farm kid," he said. "A poor farm kid at that."

He said he had done some acting while he was still in school. But he took his first really professional role at the age of 22, and has been acting regularly ever since.

"I've been really lucky that way," he said. "I never had to bag groceries or sell shoes. That kind of luck is pretty rare. I believe luck has guided my life, but I also believe that when luck strikes, you have to be ready to move."

Van Dusen has announced that this performance at the Totem Pole will be his last portraying Lincoln. His reason? Age. His and Lincoln's.

"Lincoln was 56 when he was killed," he said. "I'm well past that; I am 71 now. Everytime I do this piece, I have to lose 20 pounds to look right. I am getting too old. And I have to be able to do him credit, and I'm getting to the point where I'm less able to do that."

The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg is sponsoring the return production which runs from July 10 through July 26.

In nearly 50 years as an actor, Van Dusen said it is still magical to him, either doing the job himself or watching others go on stage and become someone else.

"We do it as children all the time," he said. "You see them playing with action figures and they become those characters. It's natural. And then somehow, we teach them that that's not good, that they should grow up and be more serious. Learning to act is like learning to be a child again. Actors are just grown-up kids."

He said a lot of the information that was put out there after Lincoln's death was less than accurate and generated by people with agendas other than the truth. In "Memoirs," he is Lincoln, as if he somehow came back after his death to set the record straight.