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Portrait of an Assassin


This classic tale of intrigue and deception recounts the life of Charles Guiteau and his grandiose plan of getting President Garfield elected, as well as his subsequent assassination at a DC train station by Guiteau's hand.



Air Dates

  • First Run - October 8, 1980
  • Repeat - December 29, 1980





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6 Responses to Episode 1125

'Portrait of an Assassin' is a purposefully jumpy yet captivating tale of some of the life of Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield (20th US president) in 1881. Prima facie, James Jr.'s radio play seems an over-the-top rendition of the notorious figure, but after some research of my own, it seems Guiteau was as manic and bi-polar as portrayed. In 1875, the future assassin's own family attempted to have him committed to an asylum. During his federal trial Guiteau was wont to engage in such strange behavior as deriding his defense team, reciting lengthy prose, and soliciting members of the public gallery for legal opinion. Getting back to the radio play, John Lithgow's performance is outstanding as usual and he remains one of my all time favorite Mystery Theater actors (his best performance is as the main character of a fantastic science fiction episode entitled 'Prisoner of the Machines'). The ubiquitous Robert Dryden is his excellent self (how many times has he portrayed someone's uncle in the series?) Elsewhere, I think it is Himan Brown who provides yet another jewel of a cameo in his portrayal of a White House official during Act Three. As a lover of Mystery Theater and a great appreciator of its father, I delight in discovering the occasional role where Brown's distinctive voice enjoins an episode and imagine his thrill in standing at the microphone while producing the show. 'Portrait of an assassin' is a quality episode, especially as it stimulates the desire for learning more about this fascinating period in our nation's history. It earns 4 out of 5 stars. - JUROR #4


I rate this episode ★★★★★ for EXCELLENT. James Agate, Jr. put a lot of effort in his writing when he wrote this Drama-Mystery of Charles Jules Guiteau: an assassin who became so delusional; thinking the whole world owed him favors. He was crazy to believe that prosperity was waiting for him. He felt like he was King Midas; cursed by the fates. Not only he was dangerous to others, but also dangerous to himself. This CBSRMT episode has a strong Title and other titles could work such as “Man Of Delusion” or “The Assassin’s Ambition.” The sound effects of the jail cell, clock chiming at 8, door bell ringing, footsteps, the train whistling while engine running, opening of the window, howling wind, the Slap at the 24-minute mark, the trolley, bell tolls, pigeons, crumbs & seeds, and the newspaper pages were very supportive in this tale; making you think you there living in the late 1880’s. The music was powerful; variety of tunes that expressed desire, desolation, frustration, and deadly consequences. In our Host’s Prologue, E.G. Marshall brings up the distinction between “Assassination” and “Murder.” In ACT-1, he makes strong points about those who strongly believe in themselves, who have no friends, become their own worst enemy. In ACT-2, he enlightens the fans that this assassin was drawn by ambition which turned History upside down. In ACT-3, he enlightens us again that the killer developed new delusions and new terrors. In the end, our Host points out that self-appointed saviors see death as an answer. In his Epilogue, E.G. Marshall stated that “No man in high office is safe from the assassin’s hand” and it’s important to stay civilized. I’d give our Host props for narrating this story like he was a history teacher. But big props go out to our talented cast: John Lithgow (as Charles Jules Guiteau), Patricia Elliott (as Anna Bunn Guiteau & Mrs. Hager), and Robert Dryden (as Morland Finley & Uncle Ted). SPECIAL NOTE: Himan Brown plays the role of Secretary of State James G. Blaine (who told Charles Guiteau to never come back to the White House). Both Patricia Elliott & Robert Dryden played their roles terrifically. But for John Lithgow, he played the villain magnificently! It’s too bad that he only did 10 CBSRMT episodes and he should’ve done more. But still, this is one of his best roles ever! Tune in to this one if you’re a history buff and/or a fan of John Lithgow. Until next time…pleasant dreams. =^D


one of the best episodes

Brian Collins

Lithgow is so good it's spooky

Mar coll

To Russell - I really appreciate your reviews and the time you take to develop theories and alternative plotlines. Thank you. Best - Juror #4

Juror #4

I'm just a layperson, but I feel like this is an especially accurate depiction of bipolar illness. Also a cautionary tale for young women who get swept off their feet. Everyone should give this episode a listen. Classic radio theater.

Melanie C

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