Columbia College | Columbia University in the City of New York
COURTESY GEORGE BAKER ’69, LAW’73
An avid local theater performer, Baker spent years in leading roles but ultimately wanted to do something more enduring than be in plays that only had a few performances. “I would have these great crescendos of creativity and happiness, but then the show was over,” he recalls. One day his wife, who was reading John Adams, David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 biography, suggested he create a one-man show. “I started reading, and when I realized this fellow had so many sides to him, I began writing a script,” Baker says.
“Adams has never been given the full credit he deserves,” continues Baker. “If George Washington was FDR, then Adams was Harry S. Truman — both followed super people. They were very successful and did the right things at the right time.”
Aside from being a key player in the Continental Congress and editing the Declaration of Independence with Benjamin Franklin, Adams served as the Colonies’ ambassador to France during the Revolutionary War, won vitally needed loans from European powers and helped negotiate the peace treaty with England. As President, his cool head kept the fledgling United States from going to war with France.
In addition to highlighting Adams’ accomplishments, Baker’s shows touch on Adams’ mercurial 50-year relationship with his rival, Thomas Jefferson; his admiration for his wife, Abigail (“the first modern American woman”); and a “revolutionary conversation” with the man who courageously defended British soldiers at the Boston Massacre trial.
Unlike many historical reenactors, Baker also plays the piano onstage and sings patriotic songs. And humor plays a big part: “My father was a lowly farmer,” says Baker as Adams. “When I was 16, he sold several acres of his farm to pay my tuition to attend the local community college, called … Harvard.” If asked about current politics, Baker will tell a questioner, “Oh, sir, that’s not something I’m familiar with, but I will ask the Federalist party what its position is, and I will forward its answer to you.”
By performing mainly on weekends and evenings, Baker has been able to balance his law career with his acting. He has performed all over the U.S., but primarily works in New England and the Tri-State area. Baker says he especially enjoys New England audiences: “Adams is a hometown boy,” he says. “He’s like a hero, and I’m performing as a Boston Red Sox player who saves the day.”
Most of all, Baker wants to spread cheer. “People are torn today. Some are scared. I give them hope that we will get through this, and then when I look at people’s faces, they’re confident. I’d rather have that than have somebody laugh at a joke I made,” he says. “People don’t have to be angry at one another. We can just laugh at one another and laugh with one another.”
George Spencer is the former executive editor of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. He lives in Hillsborough, N.C.