Actor E. G. Marshall says he learned to like Ike during the making of a television special about the 34th President.
Marshall plays Dwight David Eisenhower in the one-hour biographical portrait "Ike," which is scheduled for broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service Wednesday (8 p.m. on Channels 28, 15 and 24, 9:30 p.m. on Channel 50).
"I've always thought of him as a happy hooligan, a ceremonial figurehead, but now I think he was the right man at the right time," Marshall said during a recent interview here to help promote the sympathetic program.
Marshall, an urbane, articulate, no-nonsense sort of man who bears no physical resemblance to Eisenhower, said he was a staunch supporter of Adlai E. Stevenson during the 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. But he was persuaded to play the former military leader and late President immediately after reading the teleplay for "Ike" by Sidney and David Carroll.
"I learned so much about him that I'd never known, and I realized that he remained pretty much an unrevealed character, even up through his presidency," Marshall said.
The teleplay unfolds in a straightforward way, revealing little-known or little-remembered details about Eisenhower and his Administration. These range from his reflections on the death of his first child, Dowd Dwight, at the age of 3, to his reaction to criticism that he remained aloof to the smoldering civil rights issues of the 1950s and the more volatile anti-Communist crusade led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
"Maybe he was right to go slow on civil rights," Marshall said. "And as far as the McCarthy era, well, I didn't speak out on behalf of some of my friends in the (entertainment) industry who were labeled (Communist-leaning) during the McCarthy years either, so I can understand Eisenhower's deferring to the legislative branch to deal with the issue."
Describing himself as a history buff, Marshall said he was satisfied that the Carrolls' script was based on Eisenhower's own words, many of which he said were drawn from the late President's papers at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan.
Marshall said he also talked with researchers, associates and friends of Eisenhower's in Abilene, Gettysburg, Pa., and at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He said he did not consult with any members of the Eisenhower family, however.
Marshall, who portrayed Eisenhower's predecessor, Harry S. Truman, in the 1976 TV drama "Collision Course," noted that there were limits to his new-found admiration of Ike.
"He had no politics, no positions, and I still wouldn't vote for him, but I think (the American) people were pretty happy during his two Administrations."