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For Clifton Daniel, playing Truman in ‘Give 'em Hell, Harry!’ is all in the family

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Clifton Truman Daniel
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In ‘Give 'em Hell, Harry!,’ Clifton Truman Daniel reenacts President Truman at St. Louis Union Station, holding up the infamous newspaper headline that incorrectly claimed the late president had lost the 1948 election.

During classroom introductions in first grade, Clifton Truman Daniel’s teacher went around the room and asked each student to stand up, give their name and say something interesting about themselves or their family.

Daniel stood up, said only his name and then sat back down.

“But wasn't your grandfather president of the United States?” his teacher asked the youngster.

“I don’t know,” Daniel replied. “That’s news to me.”

He explained what happened next on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air: “I went home that afternoon … dropped my bookbag at the door, and I marched across the living room to where [my mother] was sitting and I put my hands on my hips and I said, ‘Mom, did you know that Grandpa Truman had been president of the United States?'

“And she said, ‘Yes. But just remember something: Any little boy's grandfather can be president. Don't let it go to your head.’”

That was the Truman way. Daniel recalled his grandfather taking a train from Missouri to New York City to visit his first grandson soon after his birth — no private planes for the former president. Truman and his wife, Bess, also famously retired to Independence, Missouri, after their years in the White House.

Now Daniel is returning to his grandfather’s beloved home state to portray him in a one-man show.

Listen: Clifton Daniel portrays his grandfather, President Harry S. Truman

This Saturday evening at Missouri S&T in Rolla, Daniel will portray Truman in the 1975 play “Give 'em Hell, Harry!,” written by Samuel Gallu. Daniel has been playing the role since 2017.

Daniel said he didn’t have trepidation portraying his grandfather. Initially, he was more concerned about remembering 85 pages of dialogue, especially when there’s no one else onstage to help with cues.

He said he’s gotten better over time.

“I know [the script] well enough now that I spend much more time trying to put myself in his shoes,” he said. “The dialogue doesn't scare me quite as much, so I can take my time and have some fun.”

This weekend’s performance will mark the second time Daniel has portrayed his grandfather in his native state (a previous performance took place in Jefferson City). Daniel said the location has special resonance.

“It's Grandpa's home. He loved it,” Daniel said.

Related Event

What: “Give 'em Hell, Harry!”
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13
Where: Leach Theater in Castleman Hall, 400 W. 10th St., Rolla, MO 65401

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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