- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Simple roles

Immersing ourselves in early American history over the weekend, we paid a visit first to Pope’s Creek Plantation, George Washington’s birthplace along the banks of the Potomac River.

Only a few miles away in Virginia’s historic Northern Neck are the birthplaces of James Monroe, the nation’s fifth president, and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

And farther south along the coastline of Tidewater Virginia, we come to Colonial Williamsburg, where the signature film, “Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot,” has been shown daily to visitors since 1957, the longest, continually screened film in American motion picture history.

Financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and starring Jack Lord, the movie shot in and around Williamsburg depicts the years 1769 to 1776 and the tension leading up to the American Revolution.

History buff Richard Bailey points out in one recent writing that a newer DVD copy of the film discusses the making of the film.

“The narrator noted that at the time the film was made, Williamsburg was still a quaint little town and the availability of local citizens who could be hired as extras … were almost nonexistent,” he states.

Particularly needed were men who could be dressed in Colonial costume and play the parts of this country’s earliest politicians.

“Because local men were generally employed and not available to work as extras, a decision was made to hire patients from the nearby Eastern State Mental Hospital to play the role of the elected delegates,” Mr. Bailey reveals.

“According to the narrator, the extras did not have to worry about learning any lines because they had none. All they needed to do was sit quietly and act as if they were paying attention to whomever was speaking.”

You can guess where this story, headlined “An Old Sign of Current Times,” is going next. Without going there ourselves, Mr. Bailey concludes that the indigent wards of the hospital “were quite pleased to have this opportunity to not only appear in the film, but to also make a little spending money, so the arrangement worked out to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.”

Iraq for idiots

It could not be confirmed if the White House was sent a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Iraq,” but this columnist happens to be on the mailing list to receive the latest titles in the familiar Complete Idiot’s Guide series.

The new Idiot’s Guide on Iraq covers the capture of Saddam Hussein and the deaths of his sons, the changeover of power, and ongoing controversies surrounding weapons of mass destruction, prisoner abuse, and the battle against insurgent terrorists.

Chairmen again

Former Republican Sens. Connie Mack of Florida and Dan Coats of Indiana, the latter ambassador to Germany until two weeks ago, have joined the Washington international law office of King & Spalding, becoming co-chairmen of the firm’s government relations group.

Mr. Mack, who retired in 2001 after 18 years in Congress, was chairman of both the Senate Republican Conference and Joint Economic Committee. Mr. Coats retired in 1999 after a decade in the Senate and eight years in the House. Mr. Bush appointed him ambassador to Germany in 2001, where he served until March 3.

Banning smoke

Smokers will not be happy to read that business has increased in Massachusetts’ restaurants since a statewide smoke-free law went into effect last July.

Opponents of the state’s much-watched clean indoor-air law had predicted business would be hurt if smokers couldn’t light up with meals.

The Department of Revenue reports meal-tax receipts are up in each of the last six months of 2004, compared with the same period in 2003, including an 11 percent increase in August, the first full month after the law took effect.

Kissing cousin?

A reader in Nebraska writes to ask if this columnist is kin to Deb McCaslin, publisher of the Custer County Chief newspaper in Broken Bow.

Not my family tree, albeit the same newspaper ink runs through our veins.

The other McCaslin, it’s worth noting, made national news herself not long ago when her newspaper, at least for a week, was leftist.

“But not in the way most media critics would presume,” the Associated Press wrote. “The weekly Chief was printed backward last week so the front page opened to the left instead of the right, as do most periodicals. McCaslin said the newspaper matched the edition to International Left-handers Day.

“Sometimes, you have to have fun,” Miss McCaslin explained. We couldn’t agree more.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected] times.com.

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