The 64th Annual
Diamond Bessie Murder Trial
by Bobbie Hardy
Jefferson’s 71st Annual Historical Pilgrimage presented by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club is scheduled for May 3-6, 2018. The garden club, founded by thirty-five ladies in March 1939, has continued to enliven and preserve our town’s history, and 2018 will be no exception.
1939 was an exciting year in America. In addition to the founding of the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, David O. Selznick’s long-awaited film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15.
Fast-forward to April 22-23, 1955, when the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial, a unique adaptation of the last stages of the nationally-famous trial which actually occurred here in Jefferson, became an important part of the annual Pilgrimage celebration. 2018 will mark the 64th year for our production.
Surely you must be wondering why there is a correlation between the garden club and Gone With the Wind.
I am honored to announce that the 2018 performances of Diamond Bessie will feature Mickey Kuhn who portrayed seven-year-old Beauregard Wilkes in the motion picture. Mr. Kuhn will play the role of Sam, the gravedigger, made famous by the late Milton Jones and the late Fred McKenzie. He will follow in the footsteps of Joey Romano and Bubba Haggard who shared the role in our 63rd annual performances. Also, Mr. Kuhn will serve as Grand Marshal of the Saturday morning Pilgrimage parade.
Joining Mr. Kuhn will be a dedicated and distinguished returning cast of characters. Playing the role of the beautiful Diamond Bessie for the third year will be Kimberly Parsons. Ms. Parsons holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from Baylor University. The role of Abraham Rothschild will be played for the 17th year by handsome David Ham. Sharing that role with David for the first year will be Zachary Venable. Mr. Venable holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from LSU, Baton Rouge. He serves as assistant principal of the new William B. Travis Elementary School in Marshall. For the 30th year, organist Glennda Abraham of Marshall will accompany the stars of our production.
Other returning cast members include Jim Finstrom as defense attorney Dave Culberson; Bill Gleason as prosecuting attorney George Todd; Mitchel Whitington as Sheriff John Vines; Mary Spearmon as Jennie Simpson; Brooke Bradley LeFleur and Sheila Langbartels as Isabella Gouldy; Charlie Horn and Dave Little as Morelli, the bartender; Jack Rasberry and David Ham as Justice Bankstead, the corner; Skip Torrans as Judge Estus; Michael Martin as the janitor and Steven Coleman as the bailiff.
Joining the cast this year will be Will Baldwin as Jim; Doug Thompson as Justice Bankstead, the coroner; and James Dreesen as the bailiff.
Bessie Moore, alias Diamond Bessie, was from a wealthy New York shoe-manufacturing family and was blessed with stunning beauty. Abe Rothschild was the handsome son of a diamond-wealthy family. Both made tragic decisions that adversely affected their lives.
Bessie and Abe were married in Danville, Illinois, in early January 1877. Shortly thereafter, they headed south by rail, eventually traveling on Jay Gould’s new Texas & Pacific Railroad. After several days in the old Capitol Hotel in Marshall, Texas, the couple arrived in Jefferson. This is where our production begins.
Mrs. Lawton Riley, the playwright, mixed tragedy and humor with fact and conjecture to create this exciting and captivating drama which traditionally plays to sold-out audiences in Jefferson’s historic Playhouse, located on the corner of Henderson and Market streets. The setting has a distinct resemblance to the courtroom where the real drama played out over 140 years ago. Jefferson, the historic little town on Big Cypress Bayou, has its share of ghost stories. You will witness the best one of all when Diamond Bessie rises from her grave to spy on the re-enactment of her own sensational murder trial.
Tickets for the 64th annual performances are available by calling Beth Crawford at 903-665-0737. The cost per ticket is $20.
Show times are Thursday, May 3 and Friday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 5 at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 6 at 2 p.m.
For additional Diamond Bessie information, please visit www.jeffersonpilgrimage.com or www.diamondbessieplay.com.