Residents flock to see Lincoln during America’s inaugural week
Michaels Krebs and Debra Ann Miller (both of Chicago) played the parts of Abe and Mary Lincoln during Sunday's "Meet the Lincolns" event, held at the Glenview Public Library. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 6:09AM
GLENVIEW — Elbow-to-elbow in a nearly-full house gathered for a show by an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, it’s tempting to predict that 2013 will be The Great Emancipator’s big comeback year.
After all, Sunday’s crowd of up to 150 souls at the Glenview Public Library arrived in the 10th week that Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” a historical drama, has remained in American theaters.
Sunday, the total “Lincoln” box office take hit $160 million.
And “with it being the sesquicentennial of both Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation, this is a big year,” said Michael Krebs, the Chicago man who has made a 19-year career out of playing the railsplitter.
Any fresh wave of Lincoln popularity cannot be easily proved to have propelled a mostly gray-haired segment of Glenview’s population into the library’s Community Room Sunday, however.
A show of hands indicated about two-thirds of the audience saw the movie, and some said privately they’d even seen “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” last year.
But almost everyone who was asked said they’d have come Sunday, anyway.
Krebs and his Mary Todd Lincoln co-star Debra Miller, were good theater, especially for the price.
While the typical ticket for the Spielberg movie is $10.50, the price of the library show is exactly $10.50 less than that.
For a good actor, scoring with the Lincoln material is hard to miss. Abraham Lincoln is portrayed in front of the nation’s footlights as the first stand-up comedian elected President.
The stage was set early on Sunday, as Miller’s first lady storms out of the room, telling her husband that in her absence, he should refrain from “telling any of your outlandish stories,” and especially if they are “lies about me.”
She’s barely out the door before he intones that marriage is neither heaven nor hell, but purgatory.
He then explains that one of his most famous lines – “Better to remain silent, and thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt” – is rooted in living under his wife’s judgment.
The stories went on. They include the one about the traveler who defends himself against a farmer’s biting dog with a pitchfork, effectively ending the dog’s ability to bite anything else forever.
The farmer asks why the man didn’t beat the dog back with the other end of the implement, to which the traveler replies that he might have obliged if the dog had been using his other end, as well.
Also rolled out was the one about his unaggressive major general (“If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”). And when his wife whispers that McClellan’s successor is a drunk, Lincoln reiterates his even more famous line that if so, he’d like to know what brand U.S. Grant drinks, so he can supply it to the rest of the general staff.
The Dreamworks movie is well-stocked with stories, too, but with less well-know ones, such as the one about Lincoln’s client Melissa Goings, a battered wife about to stand trial in Metamora for killing her husband.
When Goings asked her counselor where she might get a drink of water, Lincoln replied that there was some excellent water in Tennessee.
When court was convened, she was not present.
The movie is actually well-stocked with humor, despite forays into battlefields, ethical conundrums and the death of little Willie Lincoln.
Spielberg had numerous actors to help with the pithy comic relief, notably Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens.
Krebs has only Miller, playing a first lady who is not known, historically, as a laugh-a-minute. She does swing several jokes, which is pretty good for playing a character known mostly for moroseness, anger and chronic headaches.
Mary Todd Lincoln, as played by Sally Field, is emotionally rocky in the movie, but at times seems almost a second secretary of state.
Field’s “Mary was played a lot more friendly than in some of the books I’ve read,” Jeanette Thornton-Schwab groused before the library show.
Miller played her somewhat crazier than Sally Field does in the film, but with subtlety.
The varying conceptions of sanity are even more at odds if one considers last year’s Vampire Hunter movie, in which Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed as no more than slightly worried. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays her as heroic, young and beautiful, having been ranked tenth on Maxim’s “Hottest Women of Horror Movies” list.
Sunday attendee Inga Davis said after the live performance that she wants to further explore the first lady’s personality.
“I saw the movie,” she said, “and now I want to really go a second time.