UPDATE – March 9, 2016: This post has been getting a lot attention in the last two days since “Confessions of a Republican” has come into new awareness. Please check out our new post on this matter. Our production of Daisy, a new play about the 1964 U.S. Presidential election and its parallels to what’s happening in 2016, will be produced at Seattle’s ACT Theatre this July. Now here’s the original post.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” I said, as I met the actor who I’d only ever seen as he looked 50 years ago.
“I should thank you. It’s not often I get to talk about a gig from 50 years ago.”
So begins my conversation with Bill Bogert, a born-and-bred NYC actor who brilliantly captured the frustration of the majority of Republican voters at the time, in a commercial called “Confessions of a Republican”, made 50 years ago in 1964. Mr. Bogert himself was a 28 year-old Republican just as fearful of the man his Party put forth to lead the nation as was his semi-fictional character. “No, I certainly did not vote for Barry Goldwater. I voted for Lyndon Johnson. Ask me how long it’s been since I voted for a Republican.” I did. It’s been a long time.
I’ve always loved this commercial “Confessions of a Republican”, which ran alongside the far more famous “Daisy Girl” commercial that helped elect President Lyndon Johnson over his Republican rival Barry Goldwater. If you watch the commercial you’ll see that it’s a marvelous combination of a powerful script fused with a killer performance. But just as the agency behind this commercial (Doyle Dane Bernbach) made sure that all of the staff who made this campaign were ardent Democrats, I’d always presumed that the actor in the “Confessions of a Republican” commercial was also a Democrat. Why would a Republican actor sign on to do a commercial at the expense of his own Party?
“No, I’m a Republican. I just couldn’t stand Barry Goldwater. I was terrified of him.” It sounds almost like dialogue from my play itself. “My father was disappointed that I did this commercial. He thought my performance was good, but he disagreed with the entire thesis.”
I learned that when Bill Bogert interviewed to get the gig, the first question that the ad agency asked the young actor was whether or not he was a Republican. It was a pre-requisite for the gig.
I also found out that the lighter used in the commercial, where the concerned young man lights a cigarette in a moment of consternation, was in fact his own. “I used my own lighter. It had the theatre masks on it. Tragedy and comedy. I lost it after that.”
He certainly hasn’t lost his sense of political perspective. “The way that Barry Goldwater changed the Republican Party then, it’s the way that the Tea Party has changed the Party now.”
He knows how good the commercial was. He knows that his strong performance part of what made it so good. He’s proud of the work. “It’s not selling toothpaste.” They didn’t rehearse it too much. He came to the studio that day off-book for his single-shot, five-minute monologue. They let him ad-lib a little. When I asked Bill when was the last time he’s watched his now famous commercial, he didn’t know when. The look in his eyes suggested that it’s been several decades. I asked him if he wanted to watch it then and there. His eyes lit up.
Here he is reacquainting himself with some turbulent times.