Sunday, December 28, 2014

John Oller's "American Queen"

John Oller, a lawyer, is the author of four books, including, most recently, American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague—Civil War “Belle of the North” and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal (Da Capo Press, 2014). It has been praised by Pulitzer prize-winning author Debby Applegate as “a terrific work of historical research and reconstruction” which tells “the story of the Civil War and its scandalous aftermath—its assassinations, impeachments and sexual hijinks—from an entirely fresh perspective.”

Here Oller dreamcasts an adaptation of American Queen:
Kate Chase, the beautiful, charismatic daughter of Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, was the undisputed “Belle of Washington” during the Civil War. A brilliant conversationalist, shrewd political strategist, and “People Magazine” personality a century before People was first published, her goal was to make her widowed father president of the United States and herself his first lady. To that end she set up a rival salon “court” against Mary Lincoln and married one of the richest men in America, the “boy governor” of Rhode Island, in the social event of the Civil War. A fashion plate eagerly followed by readers of the society pages, she adorned herself in the most regal Parisian gowns. But when William Sprague turned out to be less of a prince as a husband, and an economic depression ended his fortune, she found comfort in the arms of a powerful married senator, New York’s Roscoe Conkling. The ensuing sex scandal ended her virtual royalty; she became a social outcast and died in poverty, yet in her final years found both greater authenticity and an inner peace that had always eluded her.

My biography, American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague—Civil War ‘Belle of the North’ and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal, may be riper for a television mini-series (shades of Downton Abbey) than a feature length film. Either way, here are my casting choices for the four main, real-life characters, and some other ideas:

Kate Chase -- The most obvious candidates here would be Anne Hathaway, Kate Beckinsale or Keira Knightley. And I would be thrilled with any of them. But for the “Scarlett O’Hara of the North,” I would do what David O. Selznick did in casting the lead in Gone with the Wind:--go for someone relatively unknown. And so my vote here goes to Joanna Vanderham, a 23-year-old Scottish actress who played the lead in the eight-part BBC costume drama series The Paradise. She’s almost a spitting image of Kate Chase.

William Sprague -- Sprague was a drunk and womanizer and, perhaps, suffered from a mental impairment akin to bipolarism. The project would require someone who can veer from low to high energy. My choice: James Franco.

Salmon Chase -- Kate Chase’s father (a governor, senator, and Supreme Court chief justice in addition to his stint as treasury secretary), was reserved, dignified, and a bit of a cold fish (“Salmon,” get it?). I don’t normally think of Ed Harris in that vein, but then again, Harris can play anyone. And he looks the part.

Roscoe Conkling -- Probably the toughest main character to cast. Conkling was vain, arrogant, a flamboyant dresser—a “peacock” in the words of many. Women loved him for his raw masculinity, well-maintained physique, and low, booming voice. Spaniard Javier Bardem usually plays foreign types, but I’d give him a chance to Americanize himself for a change. He’s certainly got the sex appeal that would give the character credence.

Others -- Someone would have to play Abe and Mary Lincoln, but I don’t think Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field would jump at this one. Liam Neeson, who was originally cast for the Spielberg movie? Holly Hunter for Mary Todd ? As for the likes of Grant, Sherman, Garfield—stick a beard on just about any good actor and you’ve got yourself a supporting character.

Director -- David E. Kelley (The Practice; Boston Legal; Ally McBeal) hasn’t had a good gig in a while. He’s shown he can do wonders with television soap operas that have “procedural” elements (which this could well be). He’d be my choice.
Visit John Oller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue