Who were The Assassins: Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald

The One Who ‘Sums It All Up’

We’ve reached the end of our series about the assassins of Assassins and our production opens this weekend. All the profiles are online for you to read, and we’ve sprinkled in details relevant to the show throughout each one.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Assassinated President John F. Kennedy

Lee Harvey Oswald was a US Marine, a one-time defector to the Soviet Union, and the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

As a child, Oswald’s troubled relationship with his mother and other family members led him to act out socially and in school. He was evaluated by psychiatrists throughout his childhood who found him to be withdrawn and secretive. As a teenager he became enamored with socialist literature before joining the US Marines. He was court-marshaled twice for insubordination and the misuse of firearms while in the military.

Communists, Intelligence Agencies, Assassins, Oh My!

After leaving the military to care for his ailing mother, Oswald made a shocking move. He travelled to the Soviet Union where he attempted to become a citizen and live in the rival superpower nation. Oswald did not enjoy Soviet life, and soon made a return to America after getting married to a Russian woman.

After his resettlement in the US, Oswald’s life became populated with strange characters and coincidences that have fueled decades of speculation. Did the FBI cultivate him as an asset and encourage his pro-Cuba leafleting activities to entrap communists? Did the CIA assign him a handler to keep tabs on an unstable, one-time defector?

An early photo of Oswald with a rifle

Oswald’s eccentricities and political obsessions continued. During this time, he attempted to assassinate a retired Major General- his unsuccessful attempt only uncovered after he was investigated for Kennedy’s murder.

Killing Kennedy

On November 22nd, Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, down onto Dallas’s Dealey Plaza, killing President Kennedy. He had secured a job in the building a month earlier and used the vantage point afforded by the higher floor to scope out his target. He evaded capture by authorities for a little over an hour before he was tracked down and arrested inside of a movie theatre. Encountering a group of reporters after his arrest, he yelled that he was a “patsy”.

JFK rides in a motorcade moments before his assassination

The nation reacted to news of President Kennedy’s death with complete shock. This public and grisly assassination darkened a hopeful time in American life that the young, handsome President had symbolized. Two days after the assassination, Oswald was being walked to an armored van by police, intending to transfer him from city jail to county jail. Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner shot him in anger, killing Oswald and preventing him from ever testifying in court.

Legacy of a Tragedy

Despite the conclusions of the Warren Commission, and investigations by the FBI and Dallas Police, polls still show that most Americans still do not believe the official story of the Kennedy Assassination. Whether their alternate theories contain speculation about US Intelligence, multiple assassins, mobsters or magic bullets, the lack of clarity around Oswald’s motives still confounds.

If you want to get a closer look at Oswald’s desires and demons, and see what was possibly on his mind, come see Assassins at Landmark!

Further Reading

Meet our Oswald – Lucas Dysart

Lucas returns to the stage at Landmark as Lee Harvey Oswald in Landmark’s production of Assassins. Audiences have seen Lucas as a featured ensemble member in Rent and Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Who Were the Assassins: John Wilkes Booth

Who Were the Assassins: John Wilkes Booth
Who Were the Assassins: John Wilkes Booth

“Here’s our pioneer”

We near the conclusion of our series about the assassins of Assassins  as we are putting the finishing touches on our production that opens this Friday!

John Wilkes Booth

Assassinated President Abraham Lincoln

John Wilkes Booth was a secessionist, actor and the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.

Hailing from the famous Booth theatrical family, John, along his brothers Edwin and Junius, followed in the footsteps of their father as popular theater actors through the 1850s and 60s.

John was a sensation on the stage, becoming known for his energetic, hilarious performances and good looks. He was a huge hit with the ladies, receiving fan mail almost constantly.

A Plot To Kidnap Lincoln

Booth held deep pro-slavery convictions even before the Civil War, evidenced by his attendance at the hanging of the abolitionist John Brown. But as the conflict between North and South began in earnest in 1860, Booth made fiery public statements and hardened private sentiments against the Union.

While his star rose in the acting world, he gathered a group of conspirators and hatched a plot to end the war by kidnapping Lincoln. As his family relationships fell apart over his extreme views, he corresponded secretly with Confederate Intelligence.

After news of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Booth became enraged and dispensed with the kidnapping plan. He was now resolved to kill the President.

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Booth’s conspiracy was re-engineered. The goal was now to kill the top-ranking members of the Union government- President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.

Booth made his move while Lincoln attended a performance at Ford’s Theater, where the actor was a familiar face and free to roam the premises. He snuck into the President’s box during a performance of the play Our American Cousin and shot him in the back of the head with a pistol, soon after jumping down onto the stage where he shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis”, Latin for “thus always to tyrants”. He made his escape into the night, aided by a compatriot waiting in the stables with a horse.

A Shocked Nation

There is simply no modern equivalent to this gruesome and bloody event, especially given the odd clash of public figures. A young heartthrob actor taking aim at a President would have been just as wild back then as it would be now. Imagine Timothée Chalamet taking aim at the Head of State during a screening of Frozen. That’s how crazy it was.

Thousands upon thousands of mourners filled the streets as Booth attempted to escape into the marshes of the South. Booth’s co-conspirators had failed. Secretary Seward was injured but alive, and the man sent to kill Vice President Johnson had gotten cold feet.

Newspapers of all persuasions decried the senseless violence and cowardice of John Wilkes Booth, though some observed that the oh-so-shocked editorial sentiments of pro-South papers didn’t exactly ring true after so many years of propagandizing and fear-mongering about Lincoln and abolition.

Useless, Useless

Union authorities tracked Booth down at Garrett Farm in Virginia, where he had supposedly lied about his identity in order to stay with a local family. After surrounding him in a barn, he refused to surrender to Union forces, and they set the building ablaze. As the building began to burn, he moved around inside, allowing a Union Soldier to shoot him. He was removed from the burning building, mortally wounded. Dramatic to the end, Booth looked at his hands and muttered “Useless, useless” before he died.

The death of John Wilkes Booth

For Further Research:

Meet our Booth – Jay Dysart

Jay portrays John Wilkes Booth in Landmark’s production of Assassins. Audiences will recognize Jay from some of his previous appearances at Landmark as Andrews in Titanic, Frollo in Hunchback, Professor Bhaer in Little Women, and Orin Scrivello DDS in Little Shop of Horrors.

Who Were the Assassins: John Hinckley Jr and Samuel Byck

Another round of Would-be Assassins

We conclude our assassin profiles from Assassins with two more characters who didn’t seal the deal, and became well-known for their failures.

Samuel Byck

Attempted to assassinate President Richard Nixon

Samuel Byck was a US Army Veteran who attempted to kill Richard Nixon in 1974. After his discharge from the army, Byck failed in several business ventures and came to believe that the Nixon administration was conspiring against poor people. He sent threatening recording and messages to several figures he considered to be powerful, including Richard Nixon, Jonas Salk, and Leonard Bernstein. Though the Secret Service was aware of his ravings, they considered him to be a harmless eccentric (known for dressing in a Santa Claus suit) and did not intervene.

Byck carrying a picket sign

On February 22, 1974, Byck attempted to hijack a plane at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. He intended to fly it into the White House to kill President Nixon. The pilots on the plane that he hijacked were able to temporarily distract him and call for help, and authorities quickly halted his attempt. In his desperation, Byck shot the pilots and another airline employee. Two of them died. When his attempt seemed destined to fail, he took his own life.

John Hinckley Jr.

Attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan

John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. In his early life, Hinckley attempted to make a living as a songwriter, though he was unsuccessful. He wrote letters to his parents that contained pleas for money, and lies about a girlfriend that he never had.

After the release of the 1976 film Taxi Driver, Hinckley became obsessed with the actress Jodi Foster, and wrote letters to her professing his love. After stalking her and failing to meet her, he hatched a plan to impress her by assassinating President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan and his team, moments before the attempt on his life

On March 30th, 1981, Hinckley shot at Reagan with a revolver as he left the Washington DC Hilton Hotel. He wounded four people in total, including the President, who was struck in the chest by a bullet that ricocheted off of a car. None of the wounded men died, although Press Secretary James Brady was left partially paralyzed for the rest of his life.

John Hinckley Jr’s booking photo

At his 1982 trial, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, though he was ruled to be a danger to society. Instead of prison, Hinckley was placed in a psychiatric hospital for decades. In 2022, he was unconditionally released from psychiatric care. He plans to produce an album of songs.

More Resources:

Samuel Byck:

John Hinckley:

Meet our Byck – Corey Shaw

Corey returns to the stage at Landmark as Samuel Byck in Assassins. Corey was last seen at Landmark as a Gargoyle in Hunchback of Notre Dame, and has been an invaluable part of the behind-the-scenes production teams of RentWorking, and Little Shop of Horrors, among many others.

Meet our Hinckley – Mark Waters

Mark will be back on stage at Landmark as John Hinckley Jr in Assassins. Audiences will recognize Mark from his roles as Frederick Fleet in Titanic, St. Aphrodisius in Hunchback of Notre Dame, and various characters cursing onstage in Working: a Musical.

Who Were the Assassins: Giuseppe Zangara

Introducing Giuseppe Zangara
Giuseppe Zangara

FDR’s Would-Be Assassin

Today we highlight another assassin who didn’t get the job done – at least not as he intended.

Giuseppe Zangara

Attempted Assassin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Giuseppe Zangara was a would-be Presidential assassin who attempted to kill Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. An Italian immigrant and veteran of World War I, Zangara was deeply resentful of rich capitalists, and suffered from painful physical ailments that further embittered him.

About two months before FDR’s first inauguration, the soon-to-be President was in Miami, giving a speech in the Bayfront Park area. Zangara, having recently purchased a revolver, was among the crowd. The tortured veteran stood only five feet tall, and worked desperately to see over the heads and hats of the lively crowd. When he got close enough to spy the future President, he pointed his gun over the shoulder of a woman named Lillian Cross, and fired.

Mugshot of Giuseppe Zangara

Zangara’s bullet missed the President-elect entirely, but injured several others, and mortally wounded the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak. Lillian Cross grabbed the would-be assassin’s arm, and soon the crowd was on him, pummeling him furiously. FDR himself prevented the crowd from killing Zangara, urging them to let the justice system decide his fate.

Zangara’s Arrest

Zangara was quickly tried and sentenced to death for killing the Chicago mayor. The Anarchist Assassin insisted that he wasn’t afraid of the chair, and reiterated his hatred for capitalists. He was executed by electric chair on March 20th. In his final statement, he bade goodbye to “Poor people everywhere”.

Front page of the Miami Herald after the attempt. Lillian Cross’s photo is outlined.

Doctors who performed Zangara’s autopsy concluded that the acute pain he experienced throughout his life was due to adhesions on his gallbladder. Throughout his life, Zangara’s intense pain had been misdiagnosed and mistreated as appendicitis.

More Reading:

Meet our Zangara – Charlie Carlos

Charlie Carlos

Charlie portrays Giuseppe Zangara in Landmark’s production of Assassins. Audiences will recognize Charlie most recently from his role in Working, and from past performances as Harold Bride in Titanic, Leaf Coneybear in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and John Brooke in Little Women.

Who Were The Assassins: Charles Guiteau

Another Assassin from Assassins

The characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical are drawn from American history. Many are memorable names and figures, but some may be surprisingly un-familiar. We continue our journey through the historical characters from Assassins as we are preparing our upcoming production.

Charles Guiteau

Assassinated President James A. Garfield

Charles Guiteau was a deeply troubled and strange man who killed President James A. Garfield in 1881.

Guiteau was a social outcast who failed out of jobs, schools, and even sex cults. He lived in the Utopian “Oneida Community” and was a deep admirer of its founder, John Humphrey Noyes, who espoused a belief in group marriages. But Guiteau wasn’t deemed fit for even the freest love, and was soon nicknamed “Charles Gitout” by community members put off by his ravings and upsetting demeanor.

Guiteau drifted through a pitiful career as a lawyer, a failed marriage, and a plagiarized attempt at starting his own cult in the ensuing years, alienating himself from the world while become more and more convinced of his own genius and righteousness.

In 1880, Guiteau wrote a political speech in support of James A. Garfield for president, which was distributed to members of the Republican National Committee, and delivered publicly only twice. He convinced himself that his contribution to the campaign was vital in securing Garfield’s victory, and demanded a consulship in return. His demands were ignored by members of Garfield’s administration, which filled Guiteau with rage.

An artist’s rendering of the attack on President Garfield by Charles Guiteau

On July 2nd, 1881, Guiteau lied in wait for President Garfield at a train station, and shot him twice in the back. Though the president’s wounds would have been considered quite treatable by today’s standards, sterilized medical operations would not become the norm in America until several years later. Garfield died 11 weeks after the attack.

Guiteau’s trial became a media curiosity as he argued with his defense, made strange outbursts, and defended himself with original poetry. Before he was executed by hanging, he recited an original poem titled “I Am Going To The Lordy”.

After Guiteau’s death, his body and brain became objects of fascination in the medical community. Abnormally thick dura matter in the brain seemed to indicate that he suffered from neurosyphilis, which some believed to explain Guiteau’s deteriorating relationship with reality in the later years of his life.

For further reading/listening:

Meet our Guiteau – Phineas Wilder

Phineas Wilder

Phineas portrays Charles Guiteau in his first show with Landmark. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, he also attended the British American Drama Academy in London. Past shows include The Drowsy Chaperone (Underling), Best and Only (Jud), and Preludes From Moonlight (Richard).

💡 Phineas also penned this hilarious article about Assassins for Broadway Beat: Oops: Local Man Typed “Assassins” Lyrics Into Google and Now He’s On an FBI Watchlist

Who Were The Assassins: ‘Squeaky’ and Sara Jane

Who Were the Assassins: Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore
Who Were the Assassins: Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore

Introducing some Would-be Assassins

In addition to the handful of successful Presidential assassinations, American history has its fair share of un-successful attempts. Today we highlight two characters from history (and our show) who didn’t get the job done in remarkably similar fashion.

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme & Sara Jane Moore

Attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore both attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September of 1975, just 17 days apart. They did not know each other, and neither of them succeeded.

Lynette Fromme was a devotee of famed murderer and cult leader Charles Manson. As a teenager, she ran away from home and met the charismatic, mysterious Manson, who had just been released from one of his many stays in prison. She felt an immediate connection with the doom-saying, drugged out mystic, and became the second ever member of the Manson Family. Though she was never charged for the Tate and LaBianca murders that made Manson a household name, she defended Manson publicly during and after his trial, and continued to live her life at the margins of society- narrowly avoiding charges for another California murder in 1972.

The arrest of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme

In 1975, she donned a red robe and approached President Ford in a Sacramento Park, getting close to him in a crowd of people hoping to shake hands. She produced a gun from her robe, and, according to witnesses, attempted to fire it. The gun did not go off. In the years since, she has claimed that she purposefully did not chamber a round, though she did have other bullets in the magazine. During her trial she stated that she wanted to defend the natural world from the industrial forces that were destroying it, saying that she “came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water, and respect for creatures and creation.”

Newsweek cover featuring an image of Lynette Fromme being apprehended

Just seventeen days after Fromme’s attempt on the President’s life, Sara Jane Moore attempted to kill Ford in San Francisco- this time with a gun that did go off. Moore’s recently purchased handgun had an incorrectly calibrated sight, which caused her to miss the President by just six inches. Moore had been a political leftist, as well as an FBI informant spying on those same groups. At different times, she gave different reasons for her assassination attempt. Most recently, she claimed that her attempt on the President’s life was a gesture of protest against the Vietnam War and an attempt to inspire a political revolution against the conflict.

Both Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore were paroled after serving more than three decades in prison, and are still alive to this day.

For further reading/listening:

Meet our “Squeaky” – Maddie Levy

Maddie Levy

Maddie will make her Landmark debut as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme in Assassins. Some of her favorite credits include 9-1-1 on FOX, ABC’s The Middle, How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Pantages theatre, and Les Miśerables at the Hollywood Bowl with the world famous LA Phil Harmonic.

Meet our Sara Jane Moore – Emily Morgan

Emily Morgan

Emily returns to the Landmark stage as Sara Jane Moore in Assassins. Audiences will recognize Emily from her appearances in WorkingLittle Shop of HorrorsSpamalotHunchback of Notre Dame, and in one of her favorite roles as Shwartzy in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Who Were The Assassins: Leon Czolgosz

Introducing The Assassins (and Would-be Assassins)

The characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical are drawn from American history. Many are memorable names and figures, but some may be surprisingly un-familiar. Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting the historical characters from Assassins for our audience as we are preparing our upcoming production.

Leon Czolgosz

Assassinated President William McKinley

Leon F. Czolgosz was an American laborer and anarchist of Polish decent who assassinated President William McKinley on September 6, 1901. Raised in Cleveland, he held a succession of menial jobs, including grueling employment at a bottle factory, before committing himself to anarchism.

Czolgosz attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, where he waited in a receiving line and shot the President twice in the abdomen at point-blank range. A man standing behind Czolgosz struck him in the neck and knocked the gun out of his hand. The police struggled to keep the angry crowd off Czolgosz, but he was apprehended and taken to jail. He was subsequently tried, convicted, and executed seven weeks later.

Czolgosz believed there was great injustice in American society due to the structure of government. He was dismayed by the inequality he saw, which allowed the wealthy to enrich themselves by exploiting the poor. Czolgosz was impressed after hearing a speech by the anarchist Emma Goldman (also a Character in Assassins) in 1901. After the speech, Czolgosz approached Goldman and asked her for reading recommendations. Emma Goldman was later arrested on suspicion of being involved in the assassination, but was released due to insufficient evidence. She later published “The Tragedy at Buffalo” as a defense of Czolgosz.

Czolgosz’s last words were: “I shot the president because I thought it would help the working people and for the sake of the common people. I am not sorry for my crime.”

More Reading

Meet our Czolgosz – Owen Lovejoy

Owen Lovejoy portrays Leon Czolgosz in Landmark’s production of Assassins. Audiences will recognize Owen from his past performances as Quasimodo in Hunchback of Notre Dame and William Barfée in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.