Tags: Hollywood | peter fonda | rod serling | congress | ethics | movie | certain honorable men

'Certain Honorable Men': Epic Political Drama Now Missing

The late Peter Fonda dons sunglasses and smiles in an old black and white photo
The late Peter Fonda (1940-2019) (AP)

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Monday, 02 September 2019 05:38 PM Current | Bio | Archive

When Peter Fonda died Aug. 17 at age 79, the actor was primarily remembered for his "rebel" roles in the 1960's and '70's.  Fonda's most memorable performance was as the iconic motorcyclist Wyatt in the 1968 film "Easy Rider." 

And, of course, he was part of a noted entertainment dynasty: the son of Henry Fonda, brother of Jane, and father of Bridget.

Sadly, one of Peter Fonda's early and noteworthy roles barely drew mention in his final tributes. The same year he made "Easy Rider," Fonda co-starred in a 90 minute-drama about the U.S. Congress — "Certain Honorable Men," shown on NBC on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 12, 1968.

Even sadder is this much-praised political saga — one which makes contemporaneous references to the Poor People's March on Washington and The New York Times columnists Scotty Reston and Tom Wicker — is apparently lost to history.

Written by Rod Serling, critically acclaimed author of "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and creator of TV's long-running "Twilight Zone" series, "Certain Honorable Men" is the story of Rep. Champ Donahue, D-N.Y., and his former aide Robbie Conroy (Fonda).

In a much-praised performance, Academy Award-winning actor Van Heflin portrayed 30-year House veteran Donahue with bluster, Irish charm, and sympathy. An old-time "machine" politician, he is accused of engaging in graft and exposed by his 28-year-old protégé Conroy.

To play a congressional staffer and aspiring liberal pol, Fonda traded in his trademark leather jacket for a business suit, wore glasses, and even got a haircut.

A superb cast was rounded out with veteran character actor Pat Hingle as Donahue's counsel during a hearing on his possible censure; Alexandra Isles as the congressman's "Gal Friday" Betty Jo (using her maiden name of Moltke, she would soon become world-famous as Victoria Winters on the long-running soap opera "Dark Shadows"); and Will Geer, best-known as the grandfather on "The Waltons" as the speaker of the House (and reportedly cast in the part because of his resemblance to the craggy-faced, real-life Speaker John McCormack).

For political junkies and people who closely followed the news, "Certain Honorable Men" was nothing short of a feast.  Taped in NBC's color studio in Brooklyn, the drama featured what looked like the halls of government themselves and a very legitimate-looking House chamber.

The story mirrored that of Sen. Thomas J. Dodd, D-Conn., who was censured by colleagues in 1968 for using roughly $116,000 in campaign funds for personal debts and home repairs.  Although there were no Senate rules against such usage of funds at the time, Dodd's case led to the creation of the Senate Ethics Committee and the adoption of rules governing the finances of lawmakers.

Much of the evidence against Dodd was provided by James Boyd, once a trusted staffer to the senator, who removed several of the Dodd financial records from the office files. In "Certain Honorable Men," it is Conroy who does precisely the same thing to finish off former mentor Donahue.

"There was an excellent simulation of a televised congressional hearing, some line scenes in the House of Representatives and a lot of meaty dialogue by good actors," concluded the AP about the drama (which was sponsored by Prudential and billed as the first of a series of dramas called "On Stage" — none of which, surprisingly, were ever produced).

In his final confrontation with Conroy, Donahue pleads his censure not be accompanied by an effort to oust him from office back home. His former aide icily replies Donahue's brand of politics "was good enough for your time, Champ, but not good enough for ours, for we've got a dream."

In effect, this summarizes the beginnings of liberal Democrats in 1968 to revise their nominating rules for president as well as kick out the older guard within their party and take it to the left. Obviously, they have succeeded.

Recently, this reporter sought to find a film and dust it off for younger viewers. It was not on YouTube, and no DVDs or films available for sale.

Michael Serino, Student Media Adviser at Ithaca College (N.Y.) for 16 years, made a thorough search for the film at the institution where Serling spent his last years. He came up with nothing.

This is unfortunate, because "Certain Honorable Men" had a message and insight about ethics and Congress that viewers can still learn from a half-century later. Hopefully, someone will track it down.

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

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TV drama "Certain Honorable Men" from 1968 had a message and insight about ethics and Congress that viewers can still learn from a half-century later, but Newsmax's John Gizzi is in search of a copy of it.
peter fonda, rod serling, congress, ethics, movie, certain honorable men
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Monday, 02 September 2019 05:38 PM
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