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[Source: mosesianarts.org]

Was Lee Harvey Oswald a “Lone Nut”? “Lone Gunman”? “Hitman”? “Conspirator”? Or, As He Claimed, “A Patsy”?

To try to get the answers to the above questions about the man accused of shooting President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, I attended a reading at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills of Dennis Richard’s gripping docu-play Oswald—The Actual Interrogation, which is based on the notes by Captain Will Fritz, Chief of Homicide for the Dallas Police Department, of his grilling from November 22-24, 1963, of Lee Harvey Oswald.

But while I was absorbed in the nine-actor production on October 25, I was unaware that in Maine, a gunman was running amok wreaking mayhem and, that on the same day as the reading, this had taken place right nearby, at Brentwood, another posh L.A. enclave:

“On Wednesday an intruder was arrested after climbing a fence at the residence of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Protectors from Gavin de Becker & Associates (GDBA) detected and detained the intruder, who asked to see the candidate. The intruder was turned over to the LAPD. After being released from police custody, the man immediately returned to Kennedy’s residence and was arrested again. The candidate was home at the time of both arrests,” according to a press release from the presidential campaign of RFK Jr., who has been a persistent critic of the Warren Commission Report of the assassination of his uncle, JFK.

You don’t have to be a hardcore “conspiracy theorist” to be critical of Washington’s official version of events at Dallas on November 22, 1963, as Oswald—The Actual Interrogation strongly suggests. Before launching into a description of Richard’s one-act drama itself, let me set the stage for you.

Setting the Stage

[Source: theatre40.org]

Theatre 40 is a 99-seat black-box space that has been located on the sprawling campus of Beverly Hills High School for more than half a century, although this independent non-profit theater is separate from the school.

A sign above a door

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[Source: yelp.com]

During Interrogation the all-male, presumably all-white, cast of nine actors clad in contemporary garb are generally seated on a bare, raised stage, facing the audience, reading from scripts. Some cast members play multiple roles.

Fritz interrogating Oswald in Oswald—The Actual Interrogation. [Source: stagescenela.com]

The youngest thespian, Tack Sappington, who depicts the title character, 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald, sits center stage in a white T-shirt, with David Datz as Captain Will Fritz sitting beside him on the suspected assassin’s left.

Various actors read aloud the play’s stage directions, and although they are not dressed in period costumes on a set designed to look like the interior of the Dallas Police Station, where most of the drama’s action takes place, it would be fair to say that the thespians are generally in character as they read their lines.

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The real-life Will Fritz. [Source: listal.com]

This is easy to believe as Oswald—The Actual Interrogation has the ring of truth and seems to mostly unspool in real time, with the Aristotelian unities of time, place and action—although it is actually a cleverly edited condensation of events stretching over the course of three days. As the playwright said in a talkback following the 90-minute reading, “Historically, it’s very, very, very accurate… 90% of it was what was actually said,” insists Richard, who based his docuplay “on the notes Captain Fritz wrote 10 days” after the interrogation – which, rather remarkably, was not audiotaped or filmed – took place. Tellingly, shortly after some exposition about the events of that infamous day, the first words uttered by Oswald are complaints and protestations, presumably in or near the movie theater where the pistol-toting Lee has been apprehended by Dallas police shortly after the fatal shooting of Officer J.D. Tippit:

“Hey don’t hit me anymore! Don’t hit me! Why are you doing this to me? This is police brutality. I don’t know why you’re treating me like this. I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of. And don’t think that I’m resisting arrest because I’m not.”

The informant claimed that Dallas police officer J.D Tippit was in fact the killer of President John F. Kennedy
J.D. Tippit [Source: dailymail.co.uk]

Once the arrested Oswald is transported to the Dallas Police Station, he is interrogated by Captain Fritz, who is occasionally interrupted by CIA and FBI agents, as well as fellow DPD officers. During the grilling a combative, reticent Oswald repeatedly refuses to talk (although not for long) and demands an attorney, in particular a New York-based lawyer tied to the Communist Party USA named John Abt or, in lieu of Abt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.[1]

The questions parried vary from logistical, factual ones, such as Oswald’s residence, and more “big picture” points, such as a CIA agent asking early on if the suspect had been to Cuba, or Fritz demanding to know pointblank: “Did you shoot the president?” (Judge Johnston, played by Dan O’Keefe, later pops into the de facto interrogation room informing Oswald that he was being charged with murdering Tippit, and later, with killing President Kennedy, too, prompting a legalistic outburst from the suspect: “You can’t arraign me in a police station! I have to be in a courtroom for that!”)

Dennis Richard, a Watertown native is a hugely prolific playwright, penning over 45 plays over the 

course of his career.

Courtesy Photo / Dennis Richard
Dennis Richard [Source: wickediocal.com]

Enter Stage Left: Lee Harvey Oswald, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…

Some of the most interesting things about Oswald’s statements have to do with left-wing politics. It emerges during the intense questioning by Special Agent Jim Hosty (Jeffrey Winner) with the FBI office in Dallas, as well as Fritz, that Oswald had lived in the USSR and married a Soviet citizen, Marina (who, BTW, is still alive).

About two-thirds of the way through the play, exasperated that he has not been allowed to shower or change his clothes, Oswald protests: “You know something? I have to tell you something: Life is better than this for the colored people in Russia than it is over here. I want to complain about my rights as a citizen.” Similarly, earlier in the text Oswald groused to District Attorney Alexander (Michael Kerr): “The way you people are treating me, I might as well be in Russia.”

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Oswald and Fritz. [Source: bustle.com]

Oswald’s participation with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans is discussed. (Whether or not Lee was acting as a double agent in that pro-Castro group has subsequently been the subject of much conjecture.) Later, when asked by Postal Inspector Holmes (portrayed by David Hunt Stafford, Theatre 40’s Managing Director and Artistic Director, who also doubles as Walter Cronkite, speaking with an uncanny impression of that newscaster’s stentorian voice) if he’s a Communist, Oswald tellingly responds: “No, I am not a Communist. I am a Marxist-Leninist.”

He goes on to tell Captain Fritz, who is inquiring about his religious beliefs: “Religion? Karl Marx is my religion.” This presumably means that Oswald is contending he is not per se a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the CPUSA, but does philosophically and politically align with some variant of left-wing thought derived from the theory and practice of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin.

The Big Picture

Throughout the interrogation a defiant Oswald bobs and weaves. His behavior and allusions call to mind the title of a Beatles song from their “White Album”: “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” Most interesting for those suspicious of the Warren Commission Report’s finding that Oswald acted alone are his repeated assertions that allude to something much bigger than the Dallas Police are aware of vis-à-vis the liquidation of President Kennedy is afoot.

The astute skeptic should carefully consider the following statements: Referring to FBI agent Hosty, who has been inquiring about Lee’s purported visits to the Soviet embassy, to Mexico City, to Cuba, Oswald snaps: “Who’s talking about Cuba? GET THIS MAN OUT OF HERE! I’m not saying anything about Cuba. Get this man away from me!” Later, he insists: “I know what game they’re playing. They’re fooling around with the wrong guy here.”

Note Oswald’s intense anxiety regarding Castro’s and Che’s Caribbean foothold of communism. Then ponder his subsequent statements, which suggest that he is an in-the-know, extremely well-informed individual who has it all figured out. What “game” are they “playing”? Why is Oswald “the wrong guy”? Is it because he’s privy to information they are not, and/or due to his being well-connected to powerful forces they are unaware of?

Along these lines, the tight-lipped suspect goes on to say: “The truth will come out.” What “truth” is Lee Harvey Oswald referencing? Later, regarding his alleged shooting of Officer Tippit, Oswald tells Captain Fritz: “When the time is right my story will come out.” What “story” is he referring to?

Confronted with his alleged role in shooting Officer Tippit, Oswald asserts: “You won’t make anything stick on me. There are other things going on you people have no idea about. Nothing is going to stick to me, let me tell you that right now!” What “things” do the authorities “have no idea about,” pray tell? And does he have such powerful allies that nothing will “stick” to him?

When Captain Fritz directly accuses Oswald with murdering both Tippit and JFK, the haughty Oswald replies: “You people are so off the mark here it makes me laugh. You’re on a fishing expedition with no fishing pole.” What does this purportedly lowly 24-year-old high school dropout, dishonorably discharged ex-Marine, Texas School Book Depository Building blue-collar worker know that the police captain/CIA operative/FBI agent grilling him don’t know, about who whacked the president??? Inquiring minds want to know—and have wanted to know now for 60 years. Who really was Oswald, a figure on the world stage for barely three days, then disappeared. To paraphrase an old saying about John Kennedy: “Lee Harvey, we hardly knew ye!”

The “Patsy”?

All this leads up to the proverbial $64,000 question. Why does the alleged “lone gunman” proclaim: “I’m just a patsy!”? Who, if anyone, is he a fall guy for? One could conceivably crack the case if the answer were ever determined, so to get a sense of what Oswald meant by calling himself a “patsy,” during an extended Q&A session after the proverbial curtain dropped, I asked the actor who depicted Lee Harvey, an expert on the JFK assassination, and the playwright.

In addition to delivering a helluva performance, Tack Sappington proved he was sharp as a—well—tack and no sap by hypothesizing that his character knew “he was a small part in a bigger operation he was apprised of. He knew there was a bigger operation.”

Tack Sappington
Tack Sappington [Source: thegrouprep.com]

Glenn Bybee, a long-time scholar of the Kennedy assassination, added, “I concur. At one point he knew they were coming after him. He was a little piece…A lot of people had their hands in the cookie jar.”

Dennis Richard, the dramatist, had still another take (as is often the case with those who go down the rabbit hole and theorize about the hall of mirrors that is the JFK assassination), as to why the protagonist of his play called himself a “patsy”: “I think he did it on purpose to deflect away [from himself], to think that something else is behind it. Oswald was paraded in front of the press three times.” He wanted people to think he was “just a cog in the wheel”—which he may or may not have been.

An Extremely Animated Audience Talkback

The post-performance talkback session between the ticket buyers, cast, bard, director Louis Fantasia, and the expert on the JFK assassinartion was the liveliest this theater critic has ever attended.

The level of audience participation was a testament to how, six decades later, the crime of the century still baffles, enrages, and puzzles Americans. I am not an authority on all of the different theories as to why Kennedy was shot and who pulled the trigger(s), but I am familiar with the broad outlines, especially having been privileged to repeatedly interview Oliver Stone, who of course directed 1991’s path-finding JFK, as well as the 2021 documentaries JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass and JFK: Destiny Betrayed. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the compelling Oswald—The Actual Interrogation and the absorbing post-play question and answer period.

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Louis Fantasia [Source: hetfest.com]

For instance, near the end of the play there are several indications that Oswald is not safe and the Dallas police interrogating him received phone calls, including from some guy you might have heard of by the name of Jack Ruby, who of course went on to rub out Oswald (who the Dallas nightclub owner allegedly knew).

Glenn Bybee, who believes at least six shooters cut Kennedy down in a crossfire, said some of the assassins fired from the Dal-Tex Building (where the FBI mysteriously rented an office space), as well as the South Knoll (or the grassy knoll). Bybee, who has been on the trail of the assassins for decades, believes “the CIA was involved” and “LBJ was the most responsible” party for killing Kennedy. “Oswald’s daughters are still alive” and “his grandson is the spitting image” of Lee Harvey. An additional 12,900 pages of pertinent documents are yet to be declassified by the U.S. government. And so on–the perplexing twists and turns are endlessly head spinning.

Another remarkable fact is that, according to director Louis Fantasia, there was only one rehearsal of this reading. Nevertheless, the actors acquitted themselves well, proving themselves worthy of the hefty material they were tackling. The cast for the Theatre 80 production, which ran for two nights only in October, is: The superlative Tack Sappington as Lee Harvey Oswald; David Datz as William Fritz; David Hunt Stafford as Postal Inspector Holmes; Michael Kerr as District Attorney Bill Alexander; Larry Eisenberg as Sims; David Westbay as Jim Leavelle; Jeffrey Winner as Hosty; and Dan O’Keefe as Judge Johnston and other characters.

A person with glasses and a beard

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David Datz [Source: pwcenter.org]

America Doesn’t Need Another Kennedy Hit

According to the same press release from the RFK Jr. campaign that informed me of the intrusions at the mansion of Bobby Kennedy, Jr., and his wife, actress Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), the security firm “GDBA had notified the Secret Service about this specific obsessed individual several times in recent months and shared alarming communications he has sent to the candidate.

“Over the last several months, the campaign submitted formal requests for Secret Service protection, yet U.S. Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas has refused to approve the protection. Every presidential administration for 55 years has afforded early protection to candidates who requested it. The Biden administration is the sole outlier.” [Emphasis in original.]

A hand holding a stamp to a person's forehead

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[Source: substackcdn.com]

I am not voting for RFK Jr. but it is genuinely despicable that, when he was running as a Democratic Party candidate, and as he continues his campaign for the presidency as an independent, the government persists in denying Secret Service protection for a person whose uncle was killed while president and whose father was assassinated while running for the White House. Especially given the current climate fraught with political violence.

Those who doubt this should see a staged reading of Oswald—The Actual Interrogation, which will be presented November, 16, 17, 18 and 19 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts. 

For more info and tickets see here.

  1. Abt was a founding member of the National Lawyer’s Guild while working during the New Deal as assistant general counsel of the Works Progress Adminisgtration (WPA), chief counsel (ten years) for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union and, for many years, counsel for the Communist Party USA. He was also one of the first attorneys to represent Angela Davis for her alleged involvement in the 1970 Marin County courthouse incident. His memoir was published by the University of Illinois Press (1993), two years after his death.

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  1. One important figure omitted in this account is any reference to Judyth Vary Baker, Lee’s 20 year old brilliant lover in the summer of 1963. Among the things she revealed in her amazing book “Me and Lee” is that they both admired JFK, knew of the assassination plot, and tried to find ways to foil it. Lee told her as early as July that he thought he was being set up to take the fall (the patsy). They had socialized with Jack Ruby a number of times, who she only knew by the nickname “Sparky.” She was horrified when she learned it was he who killed Lee.
    I personally remember the time he was being led from one point to another and a reporter called out “Did you kill the president?” and his precise words, as I recall, were “I didn’t kill anybody; I’m just the patsy. (remember he had also been charged with killing Officer Tippet.) Lee had also told Judyth that he was “on loan to the CIA from the FBI. he was a very intelligent man, and they planned to each get a divorce marry and go to Mexico. And so much more! Oh yes, Judyth is still alive and recently did an hour long interview about those times. I saw it

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