Sunday, August 18, 2013

Two Teddies in Medora, ND

In September 1883, Theodore Roosevelt came to the Badlands of North Dakota, shot a bison bull, and invested $14,000 in cattle and cowboys, the money inherited from his father’s death nearly five years before.  He returned to New York City, celebrating his twenty-fifth birthday in October and his November re-election to a third one year term in the New York General Assembly.  On February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt watched his mother die from typhoid fever and his wife die of Bright’s disease.

By the summer of 1884, TR was back in the region of Medora in the Dakota Territory, a cattle rancher operating the Chimney Butte/Maltese Cross south of the young village.  The Elkhorn Ranch downstream would soon follow, and TR’s investments eventually ballooned to some $80,000.  That was significant money in 1883-1887.

To know Theodore Roosevelt, you do need to know of his experience in the Badlands.  His response to loss and tragedy was to seek hard work, adventure, strenuous living.  He did that here along the scenic Little Missouri River, hunting the game and birds for the table.  Of course, TR healed, married Edith Carow, and, together, they reared six children. 
It is so very fitting that Medora is the gateway to the Southern Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Today, the park teems with bison, elk, wild horses, prairie dogs, and big horn sheep. The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, started by the late North Dakota businessman Harold Schafer and his family and friends, provides in Medora a family centered environment for exploring and celebrating the history and culture of the region.  The Medora Musical, singing and dancing cowboys and cowgirls and more, is just one of many wonderful activities here.

This is my second summer performing in Medora.  I bring TR to life in a daily matinee at the historic Old Town Hall Theatre.  This summer has been quite special for me, as family and friends have visited.  This story is about one of those friends. 

For a year or more, Larry Marple and I have been Facebook friends, Larry having found one of my TR videos on Youtube.  Larry is a veteran elementary school teacher in Springfield, Ohio.  He’s also a fellow TR reprisor. It gets better.  His wife, Julia, portrays Edith Roosevelt, Teddy’s wife.  They married at a Civil War re-enactment in period clothes.  Great, bully stuff.

When I first started doing TR with earnestness and planned our fifty state TR Tour for 2008, I realized that there were other fellows out there across the country who brought  TR to life, each with his own talents, each with his own interpretation.  Some very good ones have passed away.  James Whitmore, no longer reprising his award-winning role in Bully, died in 2009.

I asked my father, who has been a professional comedian since 1971, what he thought about all these other TR’s out there.  He said, “Son, work on your own material and your own craft.  Don’t worry about what the other guy’s gigs are or what his interpretation is like.  Be the best TR Joe you can be and have fun.”  He’s a hippie, but he says a lot of smart things.

I consider all my fellow TR reprisors to be my colleagues, not my competitors.  America needs lots of TRs, visiting schools and libraries, performing in town parks and historic places.  There are hundreds of Abraham Lincolns, and rightly so.  TR himself revered Lincoln.  Should we not have as many Rough Riders as we have Rail Splitters? 

I met Larry Marple for the first time on Wednesday morning at the Dickinson, North Dakota Airport – pretty sure it’s named after Theodore Roosevelt.  Soon we were at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, an overlook of the most stupendous view of the Badlands to the east, west and north on the north side of Interstate 94, just two miles east of Medora.  Larry was in awe of the scenery, and though I have seen it over a hundred times, I was in awe again, too.  These are not the desolate grey Badlands of South Dakota.  These Badlands are full of geological and biological color.  Especially in what has been a wet and cool year, the grasses, sage, scrub oak, and cotton wood are green and verdant.  It is a take-your-breath-away view, and just a portion of what can be seen in the park, around Medora, and at the Bully Pulpit golf course.

In four fun packed days, Larry toured the park at 5AM with outdoor photographer Bill Kingsbury, hiked on the very grounds of TR’s remote Elk Horn Ranch site, hiked a butte, and most especially, performed in character and in costume as Theodore Roosevelt.  It was a great pleasure to have Larry here, and yes, it was a little surreal, too.  For Larry is a very good TR, full of interesting and accurate information.  He has the right look, too.  It was a doppleganger moment.

My father always lived and demonstrated the kind of collegiality one might hope existed in more areas of competitive enterprise.  Anytime a comedian was in my father’s audience, my father would invite the friend and colleague up for a guest set, a chance to say hello to the room.  I was determined to make a guest set happen for my friend, Larry. 

Larry and I had great fun when, for the first time, to our knowledge, in the long history of the universe, two Teddy Roosevelts appeared and performed on stage at the same time.  As an homage to the many people who make Medora work, we surprised nearly every one of the 150 or so audience members who attended a post Medora  Musical comedy show at the Old Town Hall Theatre.  The show starred comedian Kermet Opio and host/magician Bill Sorenson.  Let’s just say at the beginning of the show, a magic trick went bad and poof, there were TWO Teddy Roosevelts on stage.  Larry and I had fun, and everyone was blown away.  Today, I performed my regular matinee, and found a way to have Larry come on stage as TR and tell the audience all about the war in Cuba and the run for the Governorship of New York.  Larry was a big hit, I finished the show, and the audience saw something, again, that nobody has ever seen before. 

Well, Larry Marple is headed back to the classroom in Springfield, I think renewed in both his vigor for the school months ahead and for the many opportunities that he and Julia have to bring TR and Edith to life all across the country and here in Medora.

We are colleagues, and now true and real friends.

If you know someone who brings TR to life or someone who would like to learn more about doing so, have them get a hold of me, for we would like them to come to Medora and catch a bit of the Bully Spirit!