Joshua Chamberlain and Me | HistoryNet

Within the Autumn 2022 subject of America’s Civil Struggle, Thomas A. Desjardin, Ph.D. — former historian and archivist at Gettysburg Nationwide Army Park — writes about how widespread tradition and trendy Battle of Gettysburg histories have dramatically reworked the true story of the twentieth Maine Infantry’s heroic bayonet cost on Little Spherical Prime on July 2, 1863. Desjardin, who’s at the moment engaged on two books specializing in the lifetime of Medal of Honor winner Joshua L. Chamberlain, units the file straight in our article. Amongst Desjardin’s spectacular bona fides is that he was actor Jeff Daniels’ historic adviser on the 1993 film “Gettysburg.” Right here, he shares his experiences working then with Daniels and the friendship they proceed to get pleasure from almost 30 years later.

Watching passengers disembark from the small airplane out on the runway of the Portland Worldwide Jetport, I scanned each, questioning who amongst them may be the personification of Civil Struggle hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Was he tall? Did he have a profoundly overblown mustache? Would I do know him by his upright navy bearing? In a second or two, I’d meet the person who would grow to be for all to see the famed Col. Chamberlain.

I had recognized of the actor Jeff Daniels as a result of, a number of years earlier whereas a scholar at Florida State College, I had learn the newspapers a couple of film being filmed on the town through which Daniels starred. Tallahassee was nonetheless sufficiently small then that even a comparatively modest movie manufacturing made the every day papers, and one may comply with alongside the place they’d shot on a given day. Seven years later, I had been in correspondence with a producer in Hollywood who was intent on bringing to movie a principally unknown novel, Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels,” that gave Mainers like me purpose for nice pleasure. The star of this manufacturing, as with Shaara’s novel, can be the man I had been learning since I used to be 10 years outdated, having grown up 19 miles from his dwelling almost on the campus of Bowdoin School, my father’s alma mater.


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Assembly Jeff Daniels

Per week or so earlier than the airplane arrived in Portland, my cellphone rang and upon answering I heard a voice say, “Hello, I’m Jeff Daniels and I’ve simply been forged as Joshua Chamberlain.” I briefly recalled the Tallahassee filming and questioned if he was the man in that spider film “Arachnophobia.” I couldn’t fairly conjure the picture of his face, however we chatted for some time, and he requested if I’d present him round the perfect Chamberlain websites in Maine and assist him put together for his function.

Someplace in the midst of the passengers strolling throughout the tarmac he got here into view. He was tall, no mustache, and wore plain tan khakis, a ball cap, and a type of loud, Hawaiian, flowered print shirts. We had some work to do.

From the Portland Worldwide Jetport — so named due to the one flight to Canada every week — we drove the 30 or so miles to the Bowdoin campus, the epicenter of most of Chamberlain’s life. Our first cease was on the former dwelling of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a block or two from campus, which was then an inn and restaurant. Because it was lunchtime, I figured I’d make him purchase me a sandwich.


However I had different motives. For one, I needed to make “Hawaiian shirt” man perceive that the character he was enjoying and knew little about was greater than only a native legend, little recognized outdoors the Pine Tree State. On the drive, I had dropped just a few hints about Chamberlain’s relationships with Mark Twain; the time Abraham Lincoln admired his horse; or how Teddy Roosevelt, with Chamberlain subsequent to him on the platform, as soon as instructed a crowd how envious he was of the Maine hero who had acquired his Medal of Honor in fight, whereas Roosevelt all the time thought of his personal Medal of Honor extra of a symbolic gesture.

“I used to be greeted right here by you, Normal,” Roosevelt had mentioned. “[T]o him it was given, on the supreme second of the nice and cozy to win the supreme reward of a soldier. All honor to the person and will we preserve ourselves envying as a result of to whom got here the supreme luck of profitable the medal of honor for mighty deeds accomplished within the mightiest battle that the nineteenth century noticed — Gettysburg.”

“Wait. He gained a Medal of Honor?” Daniels requested. To which I replied: “Nicely, you don’t ‘earn’ them, they’re awarded, however sure he did, and also you’re going to play him doing it.”

In July 1992, actor Jeff Daniels flew to Maine to go to historian Desjardin for his function as Joshua Chamberlain in “Gettysburg,” The subsequent month, the 2 met once more in Pennsylvania for filming — and to take this image. (Credit score: Ned Smith)

As his expression grew an increasing number of involved with the problem forward, we stopped on the parlor simply contained in the Stowe Home so I may lay it on a bit of thicker. Within the small room, the homeowners had positioned just a few antiques to depict its significance.

“On this room, as a scholar at Bowdoin, Chamberlain sat cross-legged on this ground along with his classmates and listened whereas the spouse of their professor, Calvin Stowe, learn aloud from the ebook she was writing on this room.

“You in all probability understand it as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’” I mentioned. “Chamberlain heard the writer learn it proper on this room earlier than it was revealed. Let’s get some lunch.”

Listening to a “Wait, what?” as we moved towards the eating room, I spotted I had set the hook. This was not simply one other paying gig. He was getting ready to play a really vital historic determine and in his first-ever try at portraying somebody who had really existed.

Over lunch, I bear in mind sizing Jeff up and snickering a bit of.

“What?” he requested, virtually a bit irritated. “Nicely,” I replied, providing my first actual evaluation, “You’re a couple of foot too tall. Chamberlain was 5 foot 7, completely common for his time.”

He didn’t hesitate earlier than taking pictures again, “Nicely, he’s gonna be 6-3. Some issues even Hollywood can’t repair.”

This was an essential second as a result of it helped me perceive that Jeff was not getting ready to create the true, traditionally good depiction of Chamberlain, however quite the bigger than life — actually — character that existed solely within the pages of a novel. The function he had been employed to play was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 6-foot-3, and good-looking as a result of that’s what the common reader conjures of their thoughts once they learn “The Killer Angels.”

Chamberlain’s flaws

Over lunch, Jeff defined that he was the fifth “man we all the time needed” for the function, and that the earlier 5 included the most recent widespread names like Tom Selleck, Don Johnson, even Kevin Costner earlier than he wore the identical uniform and mustache in a film about wolves that gained seven Academy Awards simply two years prior. That movie had priced Costner out of the “Killer Angels” market.

In quite a few conversations and letters over the subsequent a number of months, together with a while on the set close to the battlefield in Pennsylvania, Jeff and I attempted to merge my ideas concerning the historic Chamberlain along with his information of performing and filmmaking. Throughout his journey to Maine, for instance, the one folks he had met have been those that adored Chamberlain, however as an actor he wanted some sort of flaw in his character to concentrate on, one thing that made him human. To this, I supplied some background on the very sophisticated relationship between Chamberlain and his spouse.

Chamberlain had grown up with a stammering drawback that had badly affected his character. Nicely into his 50s, he wrote an autobiography that included an outline of how the stammer created “nervous anxiousness” in him that he by no means fully shed at the same time as he mastered a number of overseas languages and taught speech as a university professor. His spouse, Fanny, then again had basically been deserted by her mother and father and despatched to be raised by her uncle in Maine, far-off from the humanities and music she beloved in her native Boston. The merger of those two troubled and needy personalities was sure to have its difficulties.

“The 2 would have been nice friends on Oprah collectively,” I instructed Jeff. “Speak about points.”

Troopers posing in a scene from the movie ‘Gettysburg,’ 1993. (Photograph by New Line Cinema/Getty Pictures)

HOllywood vs. broadway

Whereas he formulated a technique for his function, I realized rather a lot about filmmaking. There have been New York stage actors, he defined, and there have been Hollywood movie actors — two very completely different strategies. Additionally, he was taking a threat shifting from function movies to a tv manufacturing, as a result of “The Killer Angels” was shot as a miniseries. In tv, he defined, you get two, perhaps three probabilities at getting a scene proper, then the funds says it’s on to the subsequent scene. When you have just a few dangerous moments and the takes aren’t good, you don’t get a do-over and it stays within the closing product, not on the slicing room ground. In making movies, the funds typically permits as many takes as are wanted to get a shot good. This four-hour epic had a funds smaller for the entire manufacturing that was about what a single main actor will get for a lead function, so the stress was on. He must nail each take.

This combination of my historic analysis and Jeff’s skilled background and method appeared to move — virtually fully due to the latter — particularly once I was cautious to not reveal sure realisms about Chamberlain that might by no means fly with audiences searching for the novelized hero. For instance, it was in all probability twenty years after the movie aired that I lastly revealed to Jeff that the true Chamberlain most certainly suffered from malarial fever and dysentery at Gettysburg, as did lots of his males. The first symptom of the latter illness was violent diarrhea, one thing audiences simply weren’t prepared for of their heroes in 1993. The next yr, nonetheless, Jeff starred within the movie “Dumb and Dumber” which included the scene for which he’s now in all probability most well-known — and he’s OK with that — “the toilet scene” the place his character endured an explosive assault of diarrhea.

After lastly revealing Chamberlain’s real-life Gettysburg sickness, I instructed him, “You performed the correct scene, simply two films later.”

New Line Cinema

CHamberlain Stayed with him

At all times appreciative of the possibility to painting Maine’s most heroic character, Jeff didn’t merely transfer on to the subsequent function and overlook about his expertise. When the film aired in theaters in 1993, he organized for a replica of it to be despatched to Brunswick, Maine, to be proven to native audiences the night time earlier than the precise premiere in Washington, D.C. At his personal expense, he flew to Brunswick and appeared at a fundraising reception between airings. The cash raised that night time paid for the restoration of the two-story glassed-in porch on the aspect of Chamberlain’s historic dwelling, now a museum.

Jeff’s expertise as an actor shined within the closing lower of the film, and his portrayal is probably essentially the most memorable and well-liked of any among the many giant forged over 4 hours. The Academy of Movement Footage didn’t give him an Oscar nod for the function, however he did get one thing shut: Roger Ebert, one-half of the famed Siskel & Ebert duo who made reviewing films widespread, advisable him for a nomination. With a tricky function to play, “Hawaiian shirt man” did a pleasant job.

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