Times Television Editor

For most of his life, actor Barry Bostwick says, all he knew about George Washington was that his picture is on the dollar bill. Period.

Now, Bostwick can talk with the ardor of a campaign manager about the nation’s first President, a man, he says, who “had no sense of his accomplishments.”

What gave him this appreciation for Washington and the role he played in the country’s founding was portraying him in the eight-hour CBS miniseries “Washington” two years ago.

He took on the role again for a four-hour sequel, “Washington: The Forging of the Nation,” a General Motors “Mark of Excellence” presentation to air Sept. 21-22 as CBS’ first miniseries of the season. Both specials were based on the extensive volumes on Washington written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Thomas Flexner.


In some respects, the second production is considered more important than the first. Where the first dealt more with young Washington the man, “Forging of the Nation” delivers the message that without the older Washington, there might not have been a United States.

Bostwick pointed out that Washington was the one with the level head as personal and political controversy flew around him. “While everything was in upheaval, he was the person who stood there and made rational judgments and gave a really strong, centered line,” Bostwick said.

“He could take the very radically different ideas that Jefferson and Madison were throwing out and create something people believed in. He was the nation. And he proved that a country could be led by a head of state who was not a king.”

In other words, Bostwick said in comparing the two miniseries, “in the first eight hours, you saw a man’s character being built. In this one you see a man building something out of his character, building a nation from a mature soul.”


Bostwick was interested to learn that Washington generally felt he was a failure up until the time he passed the torch to John Adams, the second President. “Not until that moment did he feel successful,” the actor said. “He never felt he was doing things right. He was such a sensitive man and was deeply hurt by what the newspapers were saying about him.

“You see in this program a man who is not a perfect person, not full of self-confidence . . . a man always working for the greater good.

“His great power as a human being came from giving up power to others. I think that was very inspiring to me as an actor. Just think how life would be if we didn’t hold onto our own egos and always think that things had to be done our way. We so seldom do things in our lives that are for the greater good.”

Bostwick went from starring as Washington to the more contemporary story “I’ll Take Manhattan.” “I jumped from playing the age of 64 in Washington’s era to playing a 26-year-old in 1940s London. It wasn’t hard, especially going from something that required so much research to something that I think is just fun.”


He’s cast as a publishing magnate in the eight-hour “Manhattan” miniseries. Between the two specials, he said, he’ll be on CBS 12 hours this season. “ ‘Washington’ is the first miniseries of the season; ‘Manhattan’ is the biggest,” he said. “I feel like an employee of CBS this year.”

However, that isn’t 100% the case. In the works for ABC is “Dads,” wherein he plays a single father who moves in with another single father. “I’m a journalist who has given up his carefree, adventurous life, settling down to take on the responsibility of bringing up a young daughter. My buddy is a widower with two boys. Together we’re a new kind of family unit: two very masculine, wholesome guys doing their best to bring up three children.”

He’ll do six episodes of “Dads,” which is due on at mid-season. And if it’s picked up for a longer run, Bostwick said he won’t mind. A series would allow him to stay home after a long siege of traveling, and while he enjoys “discovering” new cities, he misses his home here and has been known to fly in from location just for a day or two--"to see how my orange trees are doing.”

He’s never done a sitcom . . . “not even one episode in front of a live audience.” But he likes the concept, and he likes one-word titles. “Dads,” he believes, tells it all.


Then what one-word title would he pin on “Washington”? He took a moment to ponder an answer.

“It’s a strong word, but compassion comes to mind,” he finally said. “I’m not sure I can give all the reasons for it, but part of that word is very apropos to this piece--and that’s passion. This is a piece about passionate ideas--and passionate feelings about whether those ideas are right or wrong.

“We end up with great compassion for the man who put himself in an arena he didn’t want to be in, compassion for seeing him ultimately succeed out of so many episodes of failure and disappointment.”

When he viewed the coming show, Bostwick said, “I was able to tap into a very deep emotion of patriotism which is so seldom touched in us. You can watch four days of Liberty Weekend and perhaps during a few moments you get to see the triumph of the little man and what freedom actually meant to him.


“With ‘Washington,’ you get to see what freedom meant to this man and how much the founding fathers were willing to sacrifice to make it a reality.”

He had praise for General Motors, sole sponsor of the first eight-hour production and these four new hours. “The company should be applauded. ‘Washington’ is a gamble, but it’s a gamble we in the industry have to take if we want to keep some level of excellence in television.”