Tags: Martin Luther King | Jr. | Advise and Consent | Otto Preminger

'Advise and Consent, Co-starring Martin Luther King' – It Almost Happened

'Advise and Consent, Co-starring Martin Luther King' – It Almost Happened
Martin Luther King, Jr. (AP)

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Sunday, 14 January 2018 09:54 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As the nation pays tribute on Monday to the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., much will be chronicled and hailed: his stirring oratory, his leadership in demonstrations for civil rights from the March on Washington to that on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to his role in making the case for racial equality at the White House with three presidents.

But there is a part of the King saga that is now almost forgotten: how he was pursued for a role in an acclaimed motion picture.

In 1961-62, Columbia Pictures was making "Advise and Consent" in Washington, D.C. This was the film version of Allen Drury's epic novel on Washington politics, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960.

Director Otto Preminger spared nothing in assembling an all-star cast: Walter Pidgeon, Henry Fonda, Franchot Tone, Don Murray, George Grizzard, Gene Tierney, Burgess Meredith and Peter Lawford (who arranged through his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, for scenes to be filmed in the actual White House).

All of official Washington seemed caught up in the making of "Advise and Consent." Scenes were filmed in the U.S. Capitol and one real-life U.S. senator made a cameo appearance as himself (Democrat Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington state).

Then, on October 20, 1961, the news made national headlines: Preminger was casting Martin Luther King in the movie.

"Dr. King to Play Georgia Senator in 'Advise and Consent,'" blared Page One of The New York Times.

As the closing scenes were being filmed, Preminger announced, a scene had been added in the climax – a vote on the nomination for secretary of state before the Senate – in which "Senator King of Georgia" would appear.

"It is a short role," explained Preminger, "and while I know people will think of it as a publicity gimmick, it is nothing of the sort."

The reason he had cast the Atlanta clergyman as a senator, said the director, "and why he accepted it, is simply because his appearance will make a positive statement for this country here and abroad: It should indicate that it's possible for a Negro to be elected to the U.S. Senate at any time, now or in the future."

A powerful statement, all right, and one that set off debate and discussion on whether a real-life civil rights leader should act in a movie.

But there was one bigger problem: as well-intentioned as Preminger sounded, he and his staff apparently forgot to get Dr. King's final okay.

On October 21, King hand-wrote a statement agreeing that "associates of mine felt a positive contribution might be made by my appearance in a film as a Negro senator" and, although there were deliberations with Columbia, "I had not given any final consent nor signed any agreement."

He also revealed his belief that the brief role would not "be of significance in advancing civil rights" and, accordingly, he declined the role (which, according to Preminger, would have meant a $5000 contribution to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

Given the time of the movie, the concept of a "Sen. King" was revolutionary and controversial. It would be four years before a black senator was elected (Republican Ed Brooke of Massachusetts) and the reports of King being cast in the part caused outrage among Southern segregationists. Sen. Spessard Holland, D-Fla., denounced the casting as "bad taste."

But author Allen Drury may have felt quite differently. He told reporters only that the idea of casting King in the Senate was "interesting." In his 1962 sequel to "Advise and Consent," "Shade of Difference," he introduced a brilliant and charismatic black congressman from California named Cullee Hamilton.

In the subsequent books, Drury had Hamilton move to the Senate and, in Barack Obama fashion, the author moved him swiftly into national politics and, in the final novel, "The Promise of Joy," 1975, Hamilton is vice president.

Wonder where he got that idea?

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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As the nation pays tribute on Monday to the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., much will be chronicled and hailed: his stirring oratory, his leadership in demonstrations for civil rights from the March on Washington to that on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma,...
Martin Luther King, Jr., Advise and Consent, Otto Preminger
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Sunday, 14 January 2018 09:54 PM
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