Thursday, 27 April 2023 12:34

The Ripple Effect: An Introduction to Stanley J. Marks’ Three-act Play about the JFK Assassination

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We present here the introduction to the play by Stanley Marks about the assassination of President Kennedy. This may be the only play ever written dealing in dramatic stagecraft form with the plotting, and the effects of Kennedy's assassination. Rob Couteau has spent years in uncovering the works of the late author Mr. Marks, and now has added to that collection with this singular play. He therefore does the honors of introducing this work by a near forgotten author.

Barbara Garson’s MacBird!, a satire based on Macbeth that borrows lines from Shakespeare, was the first widely publicized play about the JFK assassination. Privately printed in 1966, the playscript was reissued by both Penguin and Grove the following year, eventually selling over 200,000 copies. After opening at Manhattan’s Village Gate in February 1967, it was produced in Los Angeles — the adopted home of Stanley Marks — and at the Committee Theater in San Francisco.

As a devoted assassination researcher and connoisseur of theater, it’s likely that Stan Marks witnessed at least one performance of MacBird! during its long run. We can also assume that he was outraged by its cynical, insipid treatment of the Kennedy legacy, which portrayed the most empathy-driven president as being “heartless.” Garson even has Robert Kennedy (as “Robert Ken O’Dunc”) declaim that this “heartless” state was deliberately arranged by his own father:

To free his sons from paralyzing scruples
And temper us for roles of world authority
Our pulpy human hearts were cut away. […]
And so, MacBird, that very man you fear,
Your heartless, bloodless foe now lifts his spear.[1]

Thus, in a bizarre inversion of actual events, the scene portrays Robert as the murderer of President Johnson (“MacBird”) in a cold-blooded act that he tries to cover up. Garson also had the temerity to remark that if President Johnson had helped to assassinate JFK (a point of view that she didn’t necessarily advocate) it would have been “the least of his crimes.”[2]

Perhaps as a response to all this Marks decided to write his own play: one informed by far greater insight into the actual case. He never lost sight of the fact that the forces that reaped untold financial profits with Johnson at the helm were the same ones that had removed JFK and plunged the nation into a turmoil from which it has never recovered. But none of this is even hinted at in Garson’s drama, which soon received blessings from major media outlets, including approving reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, and the Chicago Daily News.

While Garson and her reviewers were focused on the animosity flaring between Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson (an example of what Joan Didion derisively refers to as the “sentimental narrative” that passes as American “journalism”), Marks was asking questions about the true nature of mass media and about its infiltration by embedded CIA agents. Such inquiries were rarely posed in 1967, the year that he published his first assassination inquiry, also titled Murder Most Foul! and subtitled The Conspiracy That Murdered President Kennedy: 975 Questions & Answers.

That text appeared in September 1967, five months before he copyrighted his play on February 19, 1968. The questions raised, the evidence gathered, and the jigsaw puzzle assembled in his first JFK book (MMF-1) were still fresh in his mind when he tackled his playscript, “A Murder Most Foul! Or, A Time to Cry; A Time to Die” (MMF-2). And so, it remains of interest to compare these two works and to see how, in the play, he focuses on several of the more salient points raised in his nonfiction, now lending them an alternate form of expression via the dialogue of various characters.

For example, in MMF-1, Stanley writes: “That the CIA controls many of the news columns in both the press and magazines is now known. What is not known, and what will never be known, is how many agents of the CIA now work for various organs in the mass communication media.”

In MMF-2 we witness the following dialogue that occurs between King (a leading backer of the plot) and his henchmen, Noslen and Prince, as they discuss Oswald in relationship to the assassination of Patrolman Tippit and the attempted murder of Major General Edwin Walker:

NOSLEN: From the television and other newspaper reports published last year, there seems to be no doubt that Patsy was the only one involved in those affairs.
KING: Let me say that those reports were made by organizations who know on what side their bread is buttered.

And later in the play:

KING: And the owners of the press didn’t give a damn and they still don’t give a damn. In fact, I would venture a guess that ninety percent of them applauded his [JFK’s] murder.

Stanley continually reminds us that one of the greatest weapons at the disposal of the American Empire is a brainwashed populace. For how else can the Establishment continue to finance, without serious objection, its illegal wars of conquest, both economic and political?

Like the first MMF, the play also pokes fun at the absurdities put forth by the Warren Commission. For example, MMF-1 hosts a chapter titled “Rifles, Rifles, Everywhere,” referring to the fact that, shortly after the assassination, police discovered more than one firearm in the Texas School Book Depository, and the press published photos of more than one type ofMannlicher-Carcano rifle in the hands of police.(Besides that infamously dilapidated, rusty oldMannlicher-Carcano that FBI investigators initially refused to test, for fear it would explode in their faces, there was also a more sophisticated weapon: a7.65 German Mauser.) Marks explores this same set of facts inMMF-2 with a scene that’s also titled“Rifles, Rifles, Everywhere.” But this entire episode now occurs in silence, minus any dialogue, with only one character, who conducts a “dry run” of the murder using two rifles, each with telescopic sights. Fittingly enough, the weapons are hidden in golf bags.

Pause for a moment to linger over this potent symbol. For me, it calls to mind how President Eisenhower, who mollycoddled the CIA and allowed it to mushroom to gigantic proportions as it assumed autonomous powers in the 1950s (one of Kennedy’s aides even called it a “state within a state”),[3] was known as the president who “brought golf to the White House lawn.” During his tenure there, Eisenhower carded over eight-hundred rounds of this leisurely activity while the CIA was busy overthrowing democratically elected governments around the world. Thus, how fitting that King stuffs a box of bullets into a pouch on the bag that’s normally reserved for golf balls!

Marks may or may not have consciously drawn this connection to Eisenhower, but in his stage direction for this scene he includes an even more overt symbol: “On the mantelpiece, centered, is a large derrick, painted or glazed in gold. At the top of the derrick is a small Confederate flag.” This clearly alludes the Texas oil cabal that would have rejoiced over the president’s death, especially because JFK wanted to end the oil depletion allowance: the largest tax loophole in American history. But the derrick also points to that “bigger picture” perspective that Marks has always assumed: that, beyond the theatrical stage of Dealey Plaza, one must also investigate the money trail leading to corporate interests and their role in changing the course of history.

Later in the play, in a wonderful cross-pollination with nonfiction, King uses a slide projector to display Deputy Sheriff Weitzman’s affidavit, which testifies to the fact that Weitzman discovered a German Mauser inside the Texas School Book Depository. But of course, Weitzman was later compelled to alter his testimony to match a new “script,” now claiming that the rifle in question must have been an Italian Mannlicher-Carcano all along. This despite the fact that he was a firearms expert who would never have made such a foolish error. But just as a playwright wouldn’t hesitate to alter a first draft, the Warren Commission report was always a fictional “work in progress.” One of the classic lines in Stanley’s drama sums this up rather nicely:

Prince: At least the Commission was consistent; it started and finished with lies.

This is not the sort of thing that one would encounter in a mainstream media-endorsed drama about the assassination — especially back in 1968. And what other playwright from that era would include the following “Notes to producer and director”:

In Act II, Scene I, two false Oswalds are seen but not heard. There is more than sufficient evidence in the report and the hearings to prove that, in the conspiracy, a minimum of three Oswalds were used.

The scene that follows depicts “Executor,” the leader of a hit team, interacting with his ruthless subordinates Lion, Hawk, and Bulldog:

(LION walks to rear right door, opens it, and motions with hand. In walk two men, dressed in the identical clothes worn by Marine, hair combed the same way, and the same height and build. They walk only about ten feet into room, stop and face the others.)
CUBANS: It can’t be! Three of them! What’s up?
EXECUTOR: Yes, these two men look like Marine. They are decoys chosen to protect us and him. At no time will anyone of you speak to any one of them unless they speak to you first. That’s an order!
(EXECUTOR waves his hand to the two new actors who turn and walk out of door, closing it behind them.)

Speaking of Oswald look-alikes,[4] this might be the place to examine Marks’ ideas about Oswald as seen through the evolution of his oeuvre. Marks has always maintained a fluid position regarding the two classic schools of thought about this former marine who, in the words of Senator Schweiker, “had the fingerprints of Intelligence all over him.”

On the one hand, we have the notion that Oswald was manipulated into assuming an active role in the assassination.

On the other hand, we have the possibility that he was simply chosen to be an unwitting patsy who could be tricked into shouldering the blame for the president’s murder.

Throughout his nonfiction Marks has always leaned more toward the patsy position, though he adds that, as an attorney, he cannot definitively discount the other possibility simply because we don’t have all the evidence at our disposal. Thus, I was surprised to learn that, in the drama, Marks inserts Marine directly into a group that plans and executes the assassination.

Marine / Oswald is told that he’s to serve as a “decoy,” and he plays no role in the shooting. But he’s referred to as “Patsy” behind his back, as the plotter’s have earmarked him to take the fall.

But a careful reading of the play opens up another possibility regarding Marine’s true role:

When Prince asks King if “Patsy” was either an FBI informant or a CIA agent, after carefully defining the term “agent” King confirms that Patsy served in both these roles:

Look at Patsy’s record. He was ordered to learn the Russian language while he was a Marine. He was trained at a Japanese airfield as an agent. He was ordered to Russia as an agent while he was still in the Inactive Reserve and retained his Class A Marine security clearance. He returned and again acted his part as a Red and Bearded One [Castro] sympathizer. He operated a one-man pro-Bearded One committee out of a room next door to an EIA-controlled agency [the CIA]. He was subject to arrest when he returned from Russia, yet no federal agency made the arrest. Why?

This represents a view that the author consistently held throughout his nonfiction work. As early as 1967, in MMF-1 Marks asks:“Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?” Answer: “Evidence is now accumulating that he was a minor cog in the CIA.” He continues: “Was Oswald any type of Agent for the CIA?” “The evidence is accumulating that the answer is ‘yes.’” “Was Oswald either an FBI agent or informer?” “Yes, as to being an informant, as distinguished from being an agent.” In his next nonfiction book, Two Days of Infamy: November 22, 1963; September 28, 1964 (1969), headds that even if Oswald was “part and parcel of the conspiracy” he represents no more than a “piece of string [tied] around the conspiracy package.” And in Coup d’État! Three Murders That Changed the Course of History. President Kennedy, Reverend King, Senator R. F. Kennedy(1970), he further refines this view:

… a conspiracy murdered President Kennedy; but whether Oswald was a part of the conspiracy cannot be ascertained. Under the “basic principles of American justice,” if a person enters into a conspiracy to commit murder, and the murder is committed, then the degree of the participation is of no consequence — that person is guilty of the full penalty. If, however, a person takes some action of which he has no knowledge that his action is part of a conspiracy, he cannot be guilty of any crime. There is evidence that Oswald was used as a “patsy”; that he executed a part of the conspiracy but he had no knowledge of what was to occur.

In the playscript we have a patsy who is fully cognizant of the upcoming assassination and who also serves as an FBI informant and CIA asset. This leads to the question: Is Marine reporting back to either bureau about the plan to murder the chief of state, perhaps trying to prevent it? And what sort of follow-up orders is he receiving from his handlers in these respective agencies? The author doesn’t tell us; and so, the mystery of Marine remains intact, lending the drama a more resonant, intentional ambiguity.

But we are offered a clue about Marine’s own execution. Executorhas decided that Marine must be eliminated, because he can’t be trusted to remain silent:

Do you think the Department has forgotten that he tried to commit suicide, and failed, while in Russia? He will crack wide open. You don’t think for a minute that we would let him go on trial? How asinine do you think we are? Oh, he will play his part to perfection, but to us he is nothing more than our great, big, beautiful patsy. And in this game, as you know, Lion, the only good patsy is a dead one.

The Oswald episode also features a droll exhibition of Marksian wit. In early radio broadcasts of Marine’s arrest, Stanley has police officials refer to Marine as “P. Patsy.” The solemn tone of these announcements, which otherwise read like actual transcripts from November twenty-second, make the reference to a “Mr. Patsy” seem all the more surreal. One can also imagine the playwright giving us a sly wink when we learn that a radio host even bears the same name as the author: “Stan.”

By comparingMarks’ nonfiction to his dramatic work we witness the power of dialogue, of the spoken word, to enunciate complex ideas in a highly condensed, direct fashion. Whether MMF-2 works as a successful play that will rivet an audience’s attention is another question entirely. Such a didactic scenario is faced with numerous challenges, as the presentation of ideas (rather than the dramatization of a character’s shifting emotions) serves as its primary spine. Stanley even alludes to this in his stage direction when he writes: “The play can thus deal only in fact and the characters are subordinate to the main theme of the play, which reveals the methods used to murder President John F. Kennedy; why he was murdered; and how his murder changed the course of history.” But as a text that presents the keynotes of the assassination, it remains fascinating.

The various characters also personify broader social tendencies. For instance, Noslen is appropriately named because he fails to see things that are right under his nose. In contrast, King possesses a sort of royal sagacity as well as an ability to wed logic to common sense. He’s even able to adduce evidence for a conspiracy merely by examining the daily press. And King is a “kingmaker” thanks to his leading role in the plot.

The characters also give voice to some of the principal notions of the author, who often speaks directly to us via King and Prince. (At one point, Prince even says that he’s an attorney, just like Stanley.)

PRINCE: My God, this is worse than Alice in Wonderland.
KING: No, more like Orwell’s 1984. The worst is yet to come.

King is speaking about the revelations he’s about to unveil regarding the assassination and its cover-up, but he could just as easily be referring to what will happen after Kennedy’s demise: the resumption of a Cold War sensibility once this radical change of government arrives via coup d’état. And Marks would not have been surprised to learn that the cover-up continues to this day, with thousands of assassination-related documents still being illegally held under lock and key — not to mention files that are “missing,” illegible, or destroyed. But he holds out a sliver of hope that, eventually, at least part of the truth will emerge. This involves not only an understanding of Dealey Plaza events but also a macro view regarding the financial interests of transnational corporations:

KING: […] We may be able to keep the reasons why the chief was murdered from our generation. However, sometime in the future, students of the event will finally discover the fact that he was done away with because our group believed that the chief’s conduct of our national and international affairs was inimical to both us and the nation. Another man said it in another manner: What was good for GM was good for the nation. Just as he placed his interests first, so do we.

Executor voices similar concerns:

We have discovered that the chief has sent a secret agent to open negotiations with the Bearded One [Fidel Castro]. He is attempting a détente with the Reds. His feelers with the various Red nations to obtain some sort of peace, a “live and let live” attitude, does not appeal to us and to various sectors of our economy. Internally, there’s too damn much socialism. So, we believe he must go, and go he will.

As with Marks’ nonfiction, such statements transcend a microanalysis of the assassination (e.g., how many bullets were fired; where was Oswald when JFK was shot) and expand into a broader perspective of what was really behind it. Sometimes, this is rendered in a single sentence:

KING: […] Mr. Noslen, do you think we will ever get out of Vietnam?

We also have this startling remark made by King, shortly after Patsy’s assassination:

You know, when I organized this event, I never thought the ramifications would be so great … I found that a conspiracy is like throwing a stone in the water. From the center, the ripples keep getting larger and larger until it seems that the whole body of water is agitated. Everything those ripples touch reacts in a different manner. We murdered one man today, but a thousand, no, hundreds of thousands are going to die. No one on this earth will ever be the same.

This climactic statement captures the central concept of the play and transforms it into a highly condensed, potent simile. When we place this illuminating dialogue into the context of what will occur in places such as the Congo, Indonesia, and Vietnam as a result of a radical shift away from JFK’s anticolonialist policies, we realize that it can be read as an understatement. For, millions upon millions of were indeed killed in paramilitary operations that were essentially vast programs of extermination.[5] Thus, by fashioning such pithily rendered phrases, Marks is utilizing the full power of dialogue to condense and yet amplify such ideas, some of which are prescient.

Marks also extends the scope of the play by examining things not normally associated with a JFK assassination chronicle. For example, Ronald Reagan appears here, thinly disguised as “Hameger,”the“governor of Khalif” (California). King reminds us that

The governor of Khalif’s approach to Vietnam was to make a parking lot out of North Vietnam. In other words, his Christian approach was the complete extermination of approximately eight million men, women, and children. […]

The North Vietnam are all dead, and you have used their blood, bones, and muscles to mix with the cement that made the parking lot. Now, what do you use it for?

Indeed, Governor Reagan once infamously remarked: “It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home for Christmas.” Marks rightfully equates this with a policy of extermination. Even after Reagan became president (an event that Marks predicts in this play, a dozen years before it occurred), Reagan never renounced such disturbing views.

The grim imagery of this scene in which “blood, bones, and muscles” are amalgamated with “the cement that made the parking lot” resonates with another set of dark images that appear later, in Act III. Although Marks doesn’t draw a direct line between these two points in the drama, the language employed connects them. In this latter scene, he portrays a chaplain addressing American troops in Vietnam from a pulpit on the battlefield:

Oh, Lord, our God, I summon your help for the mighty task you have imposed upon your soldiers. That task of crushing those who believe not in your words. […] May we have the strength to use our weapons of flame to burn, to ground into dust the bodies of all those who refuse our command that they give unto thee their loyalty and devotion. May our weapons make the soil unfertile; the women to cease childbearing; the blood, bones, and sinews of the men ground into the dust as your punishment for their defiance of your holy command.

The hypocrisy of praying to God for one’s success in committing barbaric atrocities has rarely been captured with such bitter, acerbic irony. And all this belongs in a play about the assassination, because what’s also being portrayed here is what will occur after Kennedy’s policies are reversed by President Johnson.[6]

* * *

Perhaps the most unusual tack that Marks takes in this dramatic journey is to introduce a buyer’s remorse into the mind of the main protagonist. By allowing King to question whether the assassins did more harm than good, Marks is able to shift the focus of the play to a new point: the snowballing of cynicism in the American psyche, the increasing distrust in government, and the incremental annulment of the American Dream, all of which are rooted in the events of November twenty-second. A debate over this topic that plays out between King, Prince, and Noslen reaches its culmination in Act III, and it foreshadows the final action in the drama.

But is King’s “character shift” artfully accomplished? It appears to arrive out of “left” field, and one might argue that the author has failed to convincingly foreshadow such a result. But setting this reservation aside for a moment, it’s certainly not unheard of for a person with radical beliefs to undergo a sea change that results in the assumption of a diametrically opposed viewpoint. The ancient Greeks even had a word for it, first coined by Joannes Stobaeus in the fifth century: enantiodromia. This concept is also foreshadowed in the philosophy of Heraclitus, a Greek from the late sixth century BCE, who writes: “It is the opposite that is good for you.”

In 1921 the psychologist Carl Jung theorized that enantiodromia is triggered by a mechanism in the unconscious that engenders a new equilibrium in consciousness. According to Jung, “when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life, in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up,” resulting in the “emergence of the unconscious opposite.”[7] Jung was also drawing onPlato’s aphorism in the Phaedo: “Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites.”

But apart from the psychological dynamics that might be at work in such phenomena, this sort of vociferous political debate among “patriotic” right-wingers was not all that uncommon in the late 1960s. King is clearly an “old school” zealot: in his view, JFK veered too far to the left and needed to be removed to preserve the status quo business interests. But as a former soldier who fought against Hitler and Tojo on the battlefields of World War II, he has a problem with some of the neo-Fascist notions that are now being espoused by his murderous colleagues. King is also no fool, and he realizes that economic disparity sends some men off to war to die in the rice paddies of Vietnam while others escape a military draft by lingering in expensive Ivy League colleges. In other words, King gets his hands dirty in supporting Establishment interests, but he does so without deluding himself: he knows how things really work. In addition, he’s one of those right-wingers who don’t necessarily buy into the Vietnam War jingoism or the need to emulate Hitlerian solutions of racial extermination (in this case, the liquidation of
the Southeast Asian masses). He wonders: Isn’t that the sort of thing that he and his generation fought against — and a cause that so many died for?

But Prince and Noslen are incapable of comprehending all this. To these neo-Fascists, the ends justify the means, no matter how vicious or inhuman. When this is revealed via a witty but bleak dialogue in the play’s concluding scenes, the author sets the stage for a final twist of fate; and the thickheaded Prince feels he has no other choice but to usurp the assassins’ throne.[8]

Besidescreating a drama that pivots upon King’s enantiodromian reaction, Marks is also implying that the forces that killed Kennedy (at first, symbolized by King) eventually metastasized into even more demonic elements (personified by Prince and Noslen), leading to the imperialist policies of Nixon to Reagan to George W. Bush — a presidential rogue’s gallery. And one that Marks not only witnessed firsthand, in real time, but that he continued to chronicle and critique until shortly before his death in 1999. He was one of the few who saw where all this was leading, and he tried to warn us through the vehicle of his self-published screeds — like a voice ringing out in the wilderness.

For example, one of the most percipient points raised in MMF-1 concerns what will happen in the aftermath of the Warren Commission. Marks boldly asserts that its lies will only serve to poison our collective national psyche:

It can now be said that the American people do not believe anything stated in the “Report.” Due to this lack of belief, a cynicism has now gathered among the Citizenry that bodes ill for the Nation. A Nation whose moral fiber has been torn and shattered cannot long live; for when the Nation’s spirit is destroyed, no Nation will live [...]

As a result of this toxic brew of cynicism and despair, the nation’s youth will grow disaffected, the American Dream will invert into nightmare, and a sense of hopelessness and a loss of vision will escalate throughout the decades and well into the future.

This is precisely what we, as a nation, have inherited today.

The same theme is exploredin a final scenein the play,fittingly titled“Decay in the American Dream,” when King tells Prince: “A nation without vision can never progress toward the future.”In Marks’ next assassination text, Two Days of Infamy (March 1969), he writes:

Perhaps it was the cynicism, inherent in citizens of all nations, that convinced the American citizenry that the “Report” issued by the Warren Commission was supported by rotten timbers incapable of supporting the truth. The suspicion increased in the same ratio and in the same speed as smog increased with the density of automobiles on a Los Angeles freeway. The American people were becoming deeply convinced that the Commission had perpetrated a gigantic, gruesome hoax the like of which concealed a conspiracy that reached into the very gut of American government and society.

And in Coup d’État! (February 1970) he adds that the Commission’s misdeeds led to the public’s “erosion of faith” in governmental institutions.

In his play about the Sixties assassinations, A Time to Die, A Time to Cry, or, Murders Most Foul! (1979), Marks introduces a new character: Noslen’s brother Ramal. In one scene Ramal remarks: “The country is out of kilter. Nobody trusts anyone. Something’s cooking. I can’t see what’s in the pot.” Reflecting on the JFK assassination, he inquires: “But was it worth it? Look at our country today. Faith has been destroyed in the governing process.” To which Noslen concludes: “I guess this lack of trust started when the Warren Commission whitewashed the whole thing.”

In that version of the play, Marks is unequivocal about who was the mastermind behind the assassination, when he has Ramal add: “[CIA Director] Dulles marked him for death when he resigned.”

* * *

I have yet to come across a public notice or advertisement for Marks’ first play in any of the media archives covering this period. Other than the fact that it was copyrighted on February 19, 1968 almost nothing is known about its genesis or history. It was only due to a search of his work in the Copyright Office that I was made aware of its existence. With the help of Marks’ daughter, Roberta Marks, after filling out numerous forms and affidavits and responding to seemingly endless emails, on April 30, 2021 we finally managed to pry a copy of this eighty-one page manuscript from the labyrinthine Library of Congress.

Unlike Marks’ subsequent plays, this particular version is never listed as a published work on any of his book jackets. But later versions of the drama were issued under his “Bureau of International Affairs” imprint, and they appear to have been substantially altered and expanded. For example, in 1970 he published a playscript with the title A Time to Die, A Time to Cry and described it as “A three-act play concerning the three murders that changed the course of history: President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.” And the 1979 version of A Time to Die, A Time to Cry is subtitled Murders Most Foul! (note the plural phrase: Murders).

Although we don’t know if this first playscript was ever given a public reading, one may infer that it was rehearsed or performed at least once. For, in his “Note to Producers and Directors,” Marks writes: “Originally the actors had played the scene ‘Who Speaks for God?’ as Scene I of Act III. Some people liked it in that place; others were outspoken in saying that it belonged in the […] final scene of Act III.”

I suspect that he refrained from publishing the manuscript because, less than two months after he registered it, Martin Luther King was assassinated, on April 4, 1968;and about two months later, on June 6, 1968 Robert Kennedy was also felled by assassins’ bullets. With such historic events rapidly unfolding, Marks probably felt obliged to catch up with them. However, he may have been overwhelmed; for the first version is far more successful than the 1979 playscript, which I also obtained from the Copyright Office. The latter treatment attempts to go in so many different directions that it becomes bloated and is difficult to follow with any degree of enthusiasm.

Marks continued to rework his play all the way through 1988, when a final version was deposited in the Copyright Office: one that’s since been reported as “lost.” All the more reason to be thankful that this first version managed to survive, tucked away in one of the dusty cardboard boxes of our nation’s disordered archives for fifty-three years.

Order your copy of Stanley Marks' book A Murder Most Foul! A Three-Act Play About the JFK Assassination here.


[1] Barbara Garson, The Complete Text of MacBird!, New York: Grove Press, 1967, p. 107.

[2] And if anyone has any doubts about JFK’s remarkable empathy, this eloquent statement made by his wife four months after the assassination should put them to rest: “Just as an example of him having a heart — I can remember him being so disgusted, because once we had dinner with my mother and my stepfather, and there sat my stepfather putting a great slab of paté de foie gras on his toast and saying it was simply appalling to think that the minimum wage should be a dollar twenty-five. And Jack saying to me when we went home, ‘Do you realize that those laundrywomen in the South get sixty cents an hour?’ Or sixty cents a day, or whatever it was. And how horrified he was when he saw General Eisenhower — President Eisenhower, I guess — in their Camp David meeting before inauguration — and Eisenhower had said to him — they were talking about the Cuban refugees — and Eisenhower said, ‘Of course, they’d be so great if you could just ship a lot of them up in trucks from Miami and use ‘em as servants for twenty dollars a month, but I suppose somebody’d raise a fuss if you tried to do that.’ You know, again, so appalled at all these rich people just thinking of how you can live on — not thinking how you can live on just twenty dollars a month, but just to use these people like slaves. He was just so hurt for them, though he’d say it in a sentence [.…] And then, another time, when you were trying to raise money for the cultural center, and a Republican friend of my stepfather said, ‘Why don’t you get labor to do it? If you took a dollar a week out of all of labor’s wages, you could have the money raised in no time at all.’ And he was just really sickened by that and said, ‘Can you think what a dollar a week out of their wages would mean to all those people?’ So all those things show that he did have a heart, because he was really shocked by those things.” Interviewer Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. adds: “Of course, he had a heart, [but] it wasn’t on his sleeve … But he was deeply affected.” See Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, New York: Hyperion, 2011, p. 66-67. Jacqueline also recalled a telling incident involving Robert Kennedy. When the CIA failed to protect Oleg Penkovsky, a secret agent in Moscow who was arrested and executed, RFK approached Jacqueline, “just looking so sad … and he said, ‘It’s just awful, they don’t have any heart at CIA. They just think of everyone there as a number. He’s Spy X-15.’ And he said that he’d said to them, you know, ‘Why? This man was just feeding you too many hot things. He was just bound to get caught. And they’d keep asking him for more. Why didn’t someone warn him? Why didn’t someone tell him to get out? He has a family. A wife or children or something.’ Bobby was just so wounded by them — just treating that man like a cipher.’” Ibid., pp. 192-93.

[3] After noting “the autonomy with which the agency has been permitted to operate,”Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. warned President Kennedy: “The contemporary CIA possesses many of the characteristics of a state within a state.”Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “CIA Reorganization” memo to President Kennedy, June 30, 1961, p. 3. (For more on this memo, see my essay “On the Life and Times of Stanley J. Marks,” below.)

[4] Tenacious researchers have continued to plumb the depths of this mystery ever since the appearance of Richard Popkin’s The Second Oswald (New York: Avon Books, 1966), a text cited by Stanley in MMF-1.

[5] When I asked JFK historian James DiEugenio for a rough estimate of how many were killed as a result of Kennedy’s policies being reversed, he replied: Vietnam: 5.8 million, and this includes the Cambodian Holocaust. Indonesia: a low estimate is 500K; a high estimate would be 850K. Congo: usually given as 100K, but, after the overthrow of Mobutu, the number exploded to well over five million.” Private communication with DiEugenio, December 24, 2023. See also Greg Poulgrain, JFK vs Allen Dulles: Battleground Indonesia (2020) and Richard D. Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa (1983). There were also dire consequences in Latin America: “I believe that if President Kennedy had remained in office for eight years, he would have left a tradition of political unity between the two Americas, of working together. It did not happen that way. The fatal bullet did much harm to you, but greater harm to us.” Juan Bosch, former president of the Dominican Republic,interviewed by Lloyd Cutler, June 9, 1964, p. 15; John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program. Cf. Robert F. Kennedy’s famous “Ripple of Hope” address at the University of Capetown, South Africa, on June 6, 1966: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” The first half of the quote is engraved on RFK’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

[6] In this regard, certain remarks made by Jacqueline Kennedy proved to be rather farsighted. As early as June 2, 1964, speaking about Laos and Vietnam, she said: “Jack always said the political thing there was more important than the military, and nobody’s thinking of that. And they don’t call the people who were in it before [back] in. And so that’s the way chaos starts. If you read the story of the Bay of Pigs in the papers now, I mean, the CIA just operating so in the dark, saying, ‘Even if you get an order from the president, go ahead with it.’ Well, that’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen again.” Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, pp. 272-73.

[7] See Carl Jung, Psychological Types, first published in German in 1921.

[8] Regarding this passage in the play, my colleague Al Rossi adds this insightful remark: “I am impressed particularly by the sophistication of Marks’ characterization of the plotters as having different agendas. We should probably not forget the Brutus vs. Cassius paradigm here from Julius Caesar in this regard. Moreover, though not quite the same, it’s also reminiscent of the uneasy alliance between neoliberals (the financier / corporatist / rentier class) and neoconservatives (the crazy military brinkmanship imperialists) that has had its ups and downs over the years but continues to function. To see this dynamic as having emerged from the alignment of interests that resulted in the assassination of JFK is definitely vatic, whether realized by Marks in an accord with dramatic or psychological principles of verisimilitude or not. There’s also something of this in the screenplay of Executive Action, with differing viewpoints emerging from the characters played by Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Will Geer, but it certainly is not problematized in the same way in which Marks makes this a kind of linchpin for his denouement.” Al Rossi, private communication, December 26, 2022.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 May 2023 09:20
Rob Couteau

Positive reviews of Rob Couteau's literary works have appeared in Midwest Book Review, Publishers Weekly Booklife, and Barney Rosset's Evergreen Review. His interviews include conversations with Ray Bradbury, Last Exit to Brooklyn author Hubert Selby, LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann, Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda, Picasso's model and muse Sylvette David, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Justin Kaplan. His current research is focused on Operation Gladio and JFK's numerous foreign policy innovations.

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