Illinois Republican Everett McKinley Dirksen had a long and storied career as both a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Dirksen was first elected to U.S. House in 1933 and served 16 years representing central Illinois. Dirksen then won election to the U.S. Senate in 1950, where he served until his death at age 73 in 1969. Senator Dirksen rose through the leadership ranks of the Republican Party, eventually serving as Minority Leader from 1959-69.
“Everett Dirksen’s legacy will live on forever in not just Illinois, but the entire United States,” stated Rep. Travis Weaver (R-Edwards). “He worked nearly half of his life in public service. Dirksen never sacrificed his principles, and he had the courage to push for landmark civil rights reforms that forever changed our country for the better.”
The legacy of Dirksen includes advocating for racial integration and helping to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 written and passed. The Civil Rights Act was a landmark in legislative attempts to improve the quality of life for African Americans and other minority groups. Dirksen had a decisive role in getting the legislation passed, charting a strategy that required persuading reluctant Republicans to join with the majority Democrats to overcome a filibuster against the measure led by southern Democrats.
Dirksen was regarded as eloquent and persuasive, with a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes. He was known for his fondness for the common marigold. When political discussions became tense, Dirksen would lighten the atmosphere by taking up his perennial campaign to have the marigold named the national flower. In 1972, his hometown of Pekin started holding an annual ‘Marigold Festival’ in Dirksen’s memory. Pekin now identifies itself as the ‘Marigold Capital of the World.’
Dirksen’s wife, Louella, wrote a book that was published in 1972 titled The Honorable Mr. Marigold: My Life With Everett Dirksen. And now, Dirksen’s memory will be taken to the theatre. Actor Darrell Hammond of Saturday Night Live fame will portray Sen. Dirksen in ‘The Honorable Mr. Marigold.’
The Illinois-based Dirksen Congressional Center commissioned the play in 2021 under the pen of New Jersey playwright Wade Dooley, who is a central Illinois native. Hammond is known for his stand-up comedy prowess and his time as the second-longest-running Saturday Night Live cast member.
The show is set during Dirksen’s final days as he’s receiving treatments related to lung cancer at Walter Reed Medical Center. Famously accessible to the press, Dirksen holds a pre-interview with a young black female television journalist helping to prepare a profile on him. Their robust discussion looks at the senator’s life, his legacy on racial equality, and the political debates and personal tumult of the Vietnam War experienced by families across America.
The play could debut in theaters in late 2024 or 2025.