Uncle Ben, carrying a valise and an umbrella, enters the forestage from around the right corner of the house. He is a stolid man, in his sixties, with a mustache and an authoritative air. He is utterly certain of his destiny, and there is an aura of far places about him. --Stage directions from "Death of a Salesman."
Maybe it's the air of flinty authority. Maybe it's the dapper mustache. Maybe it's the tan suggestive of those faraway places. At any rate, G. Gordon Liddy, who served more than four years in prison for masterminding the Watergate burglary, is in the running for the minor role of Uncle Ben in an upcoming Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
Auditioning Tuesday in New York's Edison Theatre, Liddy sufficiently impressed Miller, producer Robert Whitehead and actor Dustin Hoffman to merit a callback next week. Hoffman will star in the production as Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman who has reached the end of his rope.
Liddy, 52, was called to the theater, which houses the long-running "Oh! Calcutta!" at the request of Hoffman, who had seen the iron-willed Watergate conspirator on television and thought he might be right for the role of Ben. According to Whitehead, Liddy's audition lasted "about twenty minutes."
"We've already seen lots of actors for the role and we'll see lots more," Whitehncle Ben is the gambling capitalist, the guy who got rich quickly, the maneuverer who wins. Physically, I suppose Liddy has qualities for the role. But there are complications. If he did come onstage in that part, I see how it could overshadow the play. Right now we're more concerned with casting the more important roles."
Although Hoffman played Liddy's nemesis, Carl Bernstein, in the movie "All the President's Men," Whitehead said there was "no discussion of the past" during the bn. Liddy, wearing a seersucker suit, read a scene from the first act with Hoffman and a stage manager. In the racter counsels Willy's son, "Never fight fair with a stranger, boy."
"He was very cooperative," said White project more, and as he warmed up, he did a little bit more. But there are no stage skills there. We gave him a few suggestions as to how to find a little moree role when he comes back next week."
The production, which is expected to begin rehearsals within two months, will go on tour before opening on Broadway. Whitehead, who has a long-standing producing partnership with Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, said that Washington is a possible pre-Broadway stop. Michaehas already staged "Death of a Salesman" for the National Theatre of Great Britain, will direct the revival.
Liddy was characteristically close-mouthed about his prospects as a budding thespian. "He has nothing to say on the subject until he gets the part," said his New York publicist, Kevin Flaherty, yesterday. Although Liddy's previous acting experience has been confined largely to college productions and congressional hearings, Flaherty said, "We all know he's a natural. He has a very commanding presence and he reads well on film."
Flaherty also said that "Return Engagement," a documentary film in which Liddy debates '60s guru Timothy Leary, was recently shown at the Cannes Film Festival and is scheduled for release in October. Liddy also makes a cameo appearance in a wilderness spoof called "The Outdoorsters," which remains unreleased a year after it was filmed.
If Liddy does get the role in Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning script, at least one line will take on new resonance. Gazing at Ben, his older brother, the dispirited Willy Loman observes admiringly, "There was the only man I ever met who knew the answers."