by Betty Jane Holt
A mesmerizing performance was given by Joe Wiegand at the financial event sponsored by Marc Robins of the Robins Equity Roundup. I was tired and just wanting to go back to the Hampton Inn and get in the hot tub until the introductions were made for the 32nd president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He stepped up and walked onto the stage and having recently watched the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelt family my mouth fell open for before me was the spitting image of Teddy Roosevelt, pince nez eyeglasses, three piece suit, pocket watch in place, and for over an hour, an hour and twenty minutes, the audience was treated to a spectacular account of President Roosevelt’s life or as he preferred to be called, Colonel Roosevelt. The accent, the grandiose gestures, the homilies all from the 30 books written by Roosevelt and the dozens written about him made me believe that Teddy himself was superimposed onto Joe Wiegand. This camera obscura made the image complete.
There was an overview of all the National Parks established by Roosevelt, his sickly beginnings as an asthmatic and puny child, the high jinks of the Roosevelt children and even the story of stripping to the buff with the French Prime Minister in order to cross the creek on the Roosevelt property. The Frenchman wore only his gloves and when asked why, his response was that he wore them in case they were to meet some ladies.
He related how Teddy’s mother died and his wife died when he was a young man of 25, all during the same week. He spoke of Roosevelt’s heartache and then relates the story to the children in his audience who have some of the same experiences and he sees the light in that child’s face.
He knows the child is thinking if this man can do those things and become president then I can too.
He relates Roosevelt overcoming his spindly childhood ill health. He spoke about working hard and playing hard and not mixing up the two. Even as I write this it is difficult to accept that the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt did not flow down around and into Joe Wiegand so complete was his presentation.
Joe Wiegand, born in Illinois, began as the third son in a family of four boys and a girl. His father, Jim, a former sheet metal worker, moved his whole family to Hollywood. He was successful as a stand up comedian and became a comedy writer for David Letterman, George Carlin, and Robin Williams. This background formed the foundation for Joe’s dramatic skill in story telling. Interested in history, he entered the political arena, organizing campaigns for Illinois politicians and finally running himself and becoming an Illinois State legislator. It was during that time that he honed a speaking skill that was part story, part fact, and all fun, weaving information in such a way that kept his audiences awake.
He had always had an interest in Theodore Roosevelt and residing in the land of Lincoln with all the political significance of Reagan, Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Adlai Stephenson it occurred to him that he could make young people understand history from the perspective of the person himself. It became his calling.
He performs at schools and historical societies, with the express purpose of exciting people about all the facets of this president’s life. He pops back and forth across the country performing hundreds of shows each year in an amazing act of energy and commitment. He was scheduled to appear the next night in Maine and had to be up at 4 am to catch an early morning flight. He will be returning to Oregon October 9 to perform before the Oregon Historical Society.
He was impressive in his dynamism, talking to him later the Boston accent was replaced with the solid dialogue of his mid-western roots. He still expressed the enthusiasm for this vocation that he has created for himself. And for all the rest of us. Watch this space for the date and time of one of the best experiences of your life, Joe Wiegand as President Theodore Roosevelt.
“I’ve got the Elgin Opera House in my sites! I would be honored to bring my TR Show there,” said Wiegand.
by Betty Jane Holt