Biographer of Lincoln assassin says John Wilkes Booth was a charmer

Historians in the News
tags: Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth



There may have never been a more charming assassin than John Wilkes Booth, who took the life of President Abraham Lincoln in a theater 150 years ago this week.

“He was a man with something to lose, not a born loser,” says Terry Alford, professor of history at Northern Virginia Community College. “He was somebody.”

As one of his era’s top actors, Booth had legions of fans, including at least two White House residents named Lincoln. His masculine energy and sexiness captivated women, and men  found him to be a fine companion for evenings out on the town. When I asked if Booth had enemies, Alford – now his sole biographer – couldn’t think of one.

The reverse was hardly true. Booth hated the North with an uncommon rage, one that exploded in blood and ruined lives.

This assassin like no other deserves to be understood by history. What drove this beloved celebrity to murder? Alford seeks the answer in his extraordinary new book Fortune's Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth.

We all know what happened on the night of April 14, 1865. Thanks to the gripping and deeply perceptive “Fortune’s Fool,” we know much more about why.

In our interview, I asked Alford to ponder what he learned about this extraordinary man’s life and his lust for revolution and revenge.
 
Q: What was John Wilkes Booth like in person?
 
He had drop-dead good looks, perfect teeth, great complexion. Physically, he was a marvel, a gym rat, an exercise fanatic.

A lot of people found him charming to be around with great personal appeal. He could be very sympathetic, he could put his face up next to yours and listen.

He was brave on occasion. When an actress’s dress caught fire, he put it out. And when a horse bolted with a young girl riding down the street, he ran the horse down and saved the girl.

It’s amazing how many friends he had, an army of friends of both sexes. He did a terrible thing, but as time passed and people felt safe to speak they mind, there’s a surprisingly positive amount of things said about him. ...




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