"What do you do?" the driver asked pleasantly after they were all bundled in.
"I impersonate Theodore Roosevelt," Dellinger told them.
"So do I!" the man said.
According to John Gable, executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, there are some half-dozen Theodore Roosevelt impersonators active in the country right now. Gable is a talkative, well-informed fellow with a quick wit and no hesitation whatsoever in saying that while the public may like Theodore Roosevelt impersonators, he doesn't because they do violence to the historical context. Nor does he refrain from saying that the Roosevelt family also deplores them, but its members are much too polite to say so.
Gable is a fountain of knowledge on who those deplorable people are.
There's Joe Earley, an actor who lives near Philadelphia. There's Jim Foote, who lives a stone's throw from Roosevelt's birthplace and the headquarters of the association named for him at Sagamore Hill, New York. There's a fellow in Canada. And one in upstate New York. The best one of all was Bob Boyd, who died a few years ago in an auto accident in North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt impersonators spend a lot of time in the Dakotas, because Theodore Roosevelt did.
The man in the car with Wayne Dellinger turned out to be Ted Zelewski, who lives near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is according to his daughter, who answers the telephone one evening. When her father takes the call, however, he is surprisingly uncommunicative about his alter life as the 26th president of the United States of America.
"I'm not sure I want to talk about it. I'm sure you can understand that there are reasons," Zelewski says mysteriously. Since we don't understand, this conversation peters out rather quickly.
Besides, John Gable, our talkative acquaintance at the Theodore Roosevelt Association, has already told us that Ted Zelewski is a professional actor who used to do more characters, but now concentrates on Theodore Roosevelt, whom he does with some success at Mount Rushmore.
joe earley doesn't want to say how old he is because as an actor he's tired of telling 26-year-old producers he'd worked on Steve Allen's show and hearing them say, "Who?" And Ernie Kovacs! He's dropped those credits entirely. Joe still wants to work.
These days Joe writes, directs for television and acts here and there. He does a Theodore Roosevelt character, but he's done Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant and Galileo--this was for Steve Allen's Meeting of the Minds, in which historical characters from different ages appeared together and chatted. He's also done soaps, and he can probably dance. Recently, though, Joe Earley has specialized in Theodore Roosevelt. He imitates the president's voice, which was high-pitched with funny jerks and halts. Then he does Grant's voice, gruff and deep from all that whiskey. An actor could do anybody, but Earley admits he has a special affinity for Theodore Roosevelt. He cherishes the time he sat next to Ethel, Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, and asked her if her father really said, "Bully!," and she cast her eyes up at the ceiling, apparently praying for patience, and said no, he usually said, "Delightful."
That same evening, Ethel Roosevelt told Earley that while he was performing, she heard flashes of her father in his voice. That was during a performance of a play Joe Earley had written about the 26th president, called TR.
The play suffered from a wretched twist of fate. Joe had written it and was in the process of "putting it on the boards," as he says, at LaSalle University in his native Philadelphia. Then he found out that James Whitmore and two collaborators--the guys who'd done Give Em Hell, Harry--had a show called Bully in the works.
Earley rushed to open TR, but couldn't find an empty theatre. The more healthily financed Bully opened and spoiled his version's chances. "It was a caricature," he says of Bully, with that special note of contempt artists reserve for each other's work. "It had him throwing teddy bears into the audience."
talking to jim foote by telephone can sometimes be difficult, since he uses one of those old two-piece phones that requires holding a trumpet-shaped piece to one's ear and shouting into a trumpet-shaped speaker mounted on a stand.
Jim Foote must have answered the upstairs telephone this day, however, because he sounded fine, as he talked about his infatuation with TR.
It all began when he got out of the Navy in 1972, grew a mustache from sheer relief and realized he looked like Theodore Roosevelt. One New Year's Eve he wore a TR costume to a party, and that was that.