After meeting with the Gov last Monday, I had a little time to kill. I spent some time admiring the glories of The War Room, a reception area on the second floor of the Capitol Building. The War Room has that name because it is decorated with murals dedicated to the various conflicts in which New Yorkers of European descent have engaged, between the founding of the Dutch colony and World War I. The murals, which were painted by William de Leftwich Dodge, are fairly amazing, in a comic book sort of way. I was pleasantly surprised to see my man Will Cushing kinda sorta honored. In one corner is a frieze that clearly shows the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack, or CSS Virginia. Above the frieze, however, is the legend, Albemarle and Merrimack. I would like to have heard the arguments that got Cushing pushed in, or left out, of that honor.
Last Wednesday I was invited by the Washington Chapter of the Center for Maritime Security to speak at a screening of the 1998 HBO movie Pentagon Wars, which was held at the Heritage Foundation. I was thrilled to be invited, and I was happy to see the film, which
I co-wrote, and to meet some fans who know more than a little about the world of Pentagon procurement. Much to my delight, I also got to speak a bit about Commander Will Cushing, who was in his day a force for maritime security. Special thanks to Emil Maine, the organization’s Director of Operations (below), for arranging everything.
In the spring of 2010, I walked into The New York Times and proposed that the paper blog the Civil War. Out of that grew the Disunion series, which from October 30, 2010 until last week did just that–wote about the war, in matters great and small, generally corresponding to the events of that day 150 years before. Before the series ended nearly 1000 posts later, literally dozens of contributors, famous historians and civilian researchers alike, combined to cover the war.”`Disunion’ has been like no other intellectual or journalistic enterprise I’m aware of: a sustained five-year conversation among dozens of historians (academic and not) representing every specialty and viewpoint,” wrote historian and series contributor Adam Goodheart. “It was a conversation that included an even broader and more diverse public around the world. It brought leading scholars and laypeople together in ways that I think have never been equaled. It truly serves as a model for those in many other fields who aspire to be “public intellectuals” , not to mention enduring as a resource for educators, students, and scholars. Just a remarkable achievement.” Much credit and thanks belongs to the Times, especially editors Clay Risen and Geeorge Kalogerakis. To conclude the series, the Times assembled –in their words–“an all-star cast of Disunion contributors and friends: David Blight, Ken Burns, Adam Goodheart and Jamie Malanowski”–to respond to readers’ questions. Here is that discussion, in which I was very proud to have participated.
Recently my editor sent a copy of my Cushing book to Paul Frisco, the head of the USS Cushing Association, a group composed of veterans of the six ships that bore the name USS Cushing. Mr. Frisco wrote back:
“Mr. Malanowski did a masterful job in his telling of the many hair-raising exploits of Commander Cushing. He had me there on every foray Cushing undertook. His prose was crisp and clear. Well done. My hope is that the book will not only gain wide acceptance but will perhaps materialize into a movie. The Cushing story is a masterpiece waiting to be unfurled upon the public.”
Thanks, Mr. Frisco! I’m with you! See you at the multiplex!
Often when friends learn of the David vs. Goliath dimension of the sinking of the Albemarle, and of other elements of Will Cushing‘s career, they assume that the story must have been made into a television show or a movie. This is not true, except for a show made in 1959 called The Glory Hunter, which was the pilot of an anthology TV show about the Civil War. Cushing was played by an unknown and completely inexperienced actor named George Segal, whose long career continues with his role in the TV series The Goldbergs.
“Call me George,” George said endearingly during our brief phone conversation. “We’re in business together.” He remembered that he got the part because he had worked previously with the director Jim Kiley, and he recalled the heavy wig and uniform that he wore, and the pleasant time he had filming the show on location in Plymouth. Beyond that, not much came back; not such a surprise, given that the show was never broadcast, and that George went on much bigger and better things; within a year of playing Cushing, George began getting cast more frequently, and by the mid-sixties was making his mark in King Rat, Ship of Fools and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? . He was very curious about Will Cushing‘s life, wondering “if he had a life” after the war. He seemed disappointed that Will died so prematurely. “It’ll be a great part for some young actor,” he said, hopefully prophetically.
According to Kim McCray of the Port o’ Plymouth Museum, the film was shown in Plymouth, once, and many years ago. It then disappeared. McCray says she been in touch with CBS and the Museum of Broadcasting in New York, neither of whom has a print. These pictures, which George in his generosity has given to me, may be among the last shreds of evidence that the production ever took place.
Is The Glory Hunter a good title for a film about Will Cushing? I don’t really think so; it conveys a narcissism that I don’t think was that much a part of of his personality. Will liked recognition, certainly; but I feel there was something purer in his spirit. He sought the challenge, and the victory, more than the crown.
(Photos: top, Segal as Cushing and the crew of Picket Boat No. 1; center, going upriver; below, Cushing with men unknown.)
Dear Friends of William Cushing, Alonzo Cushing, and any other Cushing who has wandered through the wrong door:
Welcome to this new blog devoted to those valiant brothers, to my new biography of Will, and to other matters related to the Civil War. I can’t say that you will frequently find new posts here, but we’ll do the best we can. Please comment; all comments, including critical ones, will be posted if they are expressed in an appropriate way.