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Max Baer Jr.
The Broadway production of "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" opened at the ANTA Playhouse in New York on December 12, 1972 and ran for 63 performances. Julie Harris, Macon McCalman and Kate Wilkinson recreated their stage roles for this filmed production. Julie Harris won the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for playing Mary Todd Lincoln on stage and in this production. See more »
"The Last of Mrs. Lincoln," directed by George Schaeler, starring Julie Harris as Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) in a 1976 teleplay, is a fine retelling and character study into the lives of the Lincoln family: Mary Todd Lincoln (Julie Harris) and her two sons, Robert and Tad, following the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States, devoted husband and father. While there have been numerous Hollywood portraits and stories revolving around the life and times of Abraham Lincoln himself, "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" is the only known account on his wife, Mary, who not only pushed her husband to the presidency of the White House, but was by his side at the Ford Theater when he was assassinated by a crazed actor named John Wilkes Booth. While all this is mentioned in dialogue through portions of the story, this videotaped presentation is all about Mary Todd Lincoln's struggles through the years and coping over the loss of her husband, her second son, Willie (who died in the White House during Lincoln's presidency in 1862), and further tragedy in her personal life that was to follow.
The story opens in 1865 Chicago where Mary, a recent widow, moving into an apartment along with her two surviving sons, Robert, and her youngest and most favorite, "Tad." During her period of adjustment, Mary, known for her tempestuous personality and extravagant spending, is now cluttered with more debts than she could handle, which leaves her to take action by writing firm letters to congressmen in Washington, D.C., asking for help and to award her a pension, which goes ignored for years until Mary faces up to the fact that she has been flatly refused. The next act fades into 1870 Germany where Mary faces another tragic chapter of her life, that of Tad, now approaching the age of 18, becoming gravely ill with not much longer to live. She decides to devote all her time to him by making his final days on Earth as pleasant as possible, especially when the young lad, under doctors orders, must sit in an upright position at all times, and restrained that way when sleeping so he wouldn't have to endure tremendous pain. Mary tearfully reads to Tad from her late husband's second most favorite book (the first being the Holy Bible), the works by William Shakespeare, and at Tad's request, she reads his favorite, HENRY V. Now coping with the loss of her husband and her youngest son, Mary slowly begins to imagine things, thus, losing her mind, leaving her sole surviving son, Robert, forced to have her committed to a mental institution. After she is released, Mary comes to live in the home of her married sister, Elizabeth, the very home she and Abe got married. Mary soon bonds with her nephew, Lewis, who bears a striking resemblance to Tad, and ignores all correspondence with eldest son, Robert, whom she has never forgiven for placing her in an institution.
Julie Harris, a theatrical actress with limited screen credit but with full credibility, gives one of the best performances of her career as the misunderstood and controversial Mary Todd Lincoln, almost overshadowing actress Ruth Gordon's carnation of that same character from the 1940 motion picture, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (RKO Radio), starring Raymond Massey as Lincoln. The supporting cast should not go without mention: Robby Benson as Tad Lincoln at 18; Michel Cristofer as Robert Lincoln; Patrick Duffy as Lewis Edwards; Priscilla Morrill as Elizabeth, Mary's sister; and Denver Pyle (of TVs DUKES OF HAZZARD fame) playing Senator Austin.
Rarely seen in recent years, unless one is lucky enough to find a rebroadcast of this presentation on public television, THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN was formerly available on video cassette through USA Home Video in the 1980s. At nearly two hours, this production holds interest throughout, thanks to an intelligent script, which could be both sad and funny, depending on the scenes, and fine performance from the entire cast, especially that of Miss Julie Harris. Recommended.
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