“If you had said to me when I was 25 years old that I would spend a third of my life in tights, I would have thought ‘only a complete moron would do such a thing,'” said historical interpreter Clay Jenkinson.
Jenkinson, who has spent the last 20 years portraying Thomas Jefferson on the radio in his famed “The Thomas Jefferson Hour,” and in personal appearances, returns to Bakersfield Thursday with a new historical character, Theodore Roosevelt.
In “None Dare Call Him Teddy,” Jenkinson will speak as the larger-than-life Roosevelt at the East Bakersfield High School auditorium.
Jenkinson cautions this will not be a stage show, but admits it could end up a hoot.
“(Roosevelt) was such a wild man,” Jenkinson said, referring to Roosevelt's energy and drive, and his high-pitched, “bully pulpit” delivery. “This isn’t supposed to be a caricature, but Teddy Roosevelt is a caricature.”
Jenkinson added Roosevelt to his resume of historical characters when he was participating in a symposium on water in the western United States. Roosevelt, known as much for his conservationism as for his foreign policy, created 24 water reclamation projects in the West and Midwest during his presidency, so taking on Roosevelt was a natural for the event. It was not so natural for Jenkinson, given his decades-long association with Thomas Jefferson.
“They couldn’t have been more different and still be presidents,” Jenkinson said. “These two would have hated each other. Roosevelt hated Jefferson; he thought he was the weakest president, and while Jefferson of course didn't know Roosevelt, he would have hated Roosevelt.”
Jenkinson said Jefferson, like his fellow Founding Fathers, favored a limited federal government and avoiding international entanglements. Roosevelt, on the other hand, increased the power and scope of the federal government and the presidency, and worked to make the United States an international power. The two presidents were opposed as personalities as well.
“I’m literally sweating when I’m finished portraying (Roosevelt),” Jenkinson said. In contrast, the intellectual Jefferson leaves him cool and relaxed. “It takes so much oomph to be Roosevelt. He is literally an exhausting character.”
Jenkinson bases his programs on what is known as the Chautauqua Method, which blends impersonation with scholarship, working without a script.
“I always know how I'm going to start,” he said. “I do an unscripted monologue in character.”
Following the monologue, Jenkinson will answer questions from the audience as Roosevelt. After a break, Jenkinson will return as himself, and take more questions from the audience, answering as Jenkinson, the scholar.
Jenkinson said the Central Valley is of particular significance for Roosevelt, which the audience will most likely hear about.
“You’re right by Yosemite, and of course that’s where Roosevelt met and spent time with John Muir, and became a conservationist,” Jenkinson said. “You are also near the Owens River project, in which Roosevelt played a part.”
Beyond presenting the larger-than-life president, Jenkinson will touch on a tender side. Roosevelt’s first wife, Alice Lee, is the reason why “none dare call him Teddy.”
“He didn't like to be called ‘Teddy’ because his first wife called him that,” Jenkinson said. “And she died, and so he didn’t want anyone else to call him that.”
Jenkinson's presentation is sponsored by KVPR Valley Public Radio, home to “The Thomas Jefferson Hour.”