Opinion: ‘Squeaky’ Fromme met Sara Jane Moore and John Hinckley -- on stage, at least
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The release from prison today of Manson Family member and would-be presidential assassin Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme has unleashed — at least for those in a certain demographic — a flood of memories of the Ford administration. Anyone out there still remember the drama of the USS Mayaguez incident? The silliness of those WIN buttons?
Fromme’s release comes just a little more than a year after the parole of Sara Jane Moore, the other woman who tried to kill President Ford. It’s not clear if they ever met in prison, but did they meet, after a fashion, thanks to Stephen Sondheim.
The vehicle was a musical (and we use the term lightly) stage production called “Assassins,” which chronicles the moves and plumbs the motives of those misfits throughout American history who killed, or tried to kill, U.S. presidents. Even by Sondheim’s high standards for the inventive (think “Sweeney Todd”) and acerbic (“Company”), this show is an odd mix, both compelling and troubling. This is, after all, the show in which Charles Guiteau, who murdered President James A. Garfield, does a cakewalk up to the gallows.
In the show Fromme and Moore meet at ...
... a park bench where, among other things, they discover they both hated their fathers. Later, Fromme meets John Hinckley, the man who wounded President Ronald Reagan, and they sing a duet.
No doubt court-appointed psychiatrists wrote page after page about the quirks and motivations of Fromme and Hinckley, but Sondheim, with few words in that little duet, somehow gets at their sad, misguided lives. It’s called “Unworthy of Your Love.”
Hinckley, who was obsessed with impressing actress Jodie Foster, sings to “Jodie darlin’ ” and Fromme to “Charlie darlin’.” Consider these snippets of the lyrics. Hinckley begins:
I am nothing
You are wind and water and sky, Jodie.
Tell me, Jodie
How I can earn your love.
A bit later, Fromme sings:
I am nothing
You are wind and devil and God, Charlie
Take my blood and my body
For your love.
Let me feel fire,
Let me drink poison
Somehow the desire for approval leads to murderous thoughts. After swapping lyrics back and forth, the two finally sing in unison:
Let me prove worthy of your love.
I’ll find a way to earn your love, Wait and see.
Then you will turn your love to me
Confounding and pathetic? Certainly. Beyond understanding? Indeed. And that, perhaps, is the point. Except to the assassin, or would-be assassin, the attacks and killings on our presidents have never made sense.
-- Steve Padilla
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Photo: Mary Catherine Garrison, left, as Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme and Becky Ann Baker is Sara Jane Moore a 2004 production of ‘Assassins’ in New York. Credit: Ari Mintz/For The Times