James Ronald Skains
Piney Woods Journal Correspondent
The only thing that everyone agrees about related to the assassination of Huey P. Long is that he was shot in the State Capitol on September 5, 1935 and died two days later in the near by Lady of the Lake Hospital.
“The two most amazing things about the U. S. Senator Huey P. Long’s assassination is that it was never investigated by the FBI or any other Federal agency nor was there an autopsy performed,” Michael Wynne, co-author of the popular stage play “Who Shot The Kingfish” told the Piney Woods Journal.
Wynne, a Louisiana historian of note and an intense collector of political memorabilia pointed out, “Here was a sitting U.S. Senator and a major national political figure of his time, gunned down in the State Capitol of Louisiana and not one FBI agent investigated the circumstances of his death.”
“Secondly, no autopsy was ever performed on Long’s body and the coroner’s inquest was basically a comedy of errors and what little evidence was available was not properly handled,” explained Wynne, who has hosted several symposiums on the legacy of Huey P. Long, the Long political family of Winn parish and two term Governor. “The journey that led to ‘Who Shot The Kingfish’ stage play began when I organized a series of political symposiums at Louisiana College in Pineville in 1998 and 1999,” Wynne, an LSU history major, noted.
“At those symposiums, we were able to bring together a lot of the people that were still alive that knew Huey Long and other members of the Long political family,” Wynne, a native of Lafayette, pointed out. “However, the consensus that seemed to come out of those panel discussion and presentations was that no one really knew by whom and how Huey Long known as the Kingfish was killed.”
Huey Long was dubbed the Kingfish by the Washington DC media when he told one reporter that he was a “small fish in Washington but back in Louisiana, he was a Kingfish.” The name quickly stuck and became the synonym for the political wizard of Louisiana politics in the 1920’s and ’30s.
“After one of the symposiums on Huey Long, David Zinman, a well known writer and former AP reporter in the New Orleans Bureau and I went to dinner,” Wynne recalled. “We talked about the disagreement between so many people as to what actually happened and who was responsible on that fateful September Sunday night in 1935.”
“Over a period of time and several discussions, David and I began to realize that at least seven theories existed as to what happened that night in the Louisiana State Capitol corridor,” Wynne elaborated. “Some people believed that Dr. Weiss did not kill Huey Long, some people just as firmly believed that Weiss did, others believed his bodyguards killed him while others held firm belief that a conspiracy existed even to point that he was allowed to die in the hospital due to proper medical care being withheld,” said Wynne, who has been a member of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame Board of Directors since 1993.
“So, David and I began to discuss ways to bring all the available information out about the Long assassination in a way to bring some consensus to all these theories in a way that people would remember what we found, said Wynne, who first begin developing a love for history by doing reel-to-reel recordings of the life and times of his grandparents at age ten.
“We first thought about doing an in-depth paper about the facts and theories concerning Long, then we discussed doing a book, but we discarded both ideas because we did not think we could make any noteworthy conclusion,” Wynne recalled.
“We then began to formulate the idea of some type of stage play that the audience could inter-react with,” explained Wynne, who started collecting coins at a early age. “However, we recognized that first of all that what we did had to be fair and balanced not extolling any of the theories that existed on the assassination.”
Huey P. Long, a native of the Piney Woods of Winn parish in north Louisiana, was at the peak of his meteoric political career when he died in 1935. He rose to Governor of Louisiana at age 34 after serving ten years as a Louisiana Public Service Commissioner.
Four years after becoming governor, he became a U.S. Senator.
A populist, Long found his power base in his 17 years as a state level political figure in Louisiana in the poor and disadvantaged. He gave the people welfare benefits, charity hospitals, paved roads, and free school books. And he abolished the poll tax.
“David and I began an extensive research program into every known fact and theory of the death of Huey P. Long,” Wynne admitted. “Zinman had written a book that he titled ‘The Day Huey Long Was Shot’ back in the early 1960’s, so that gave us a leg up on our research. However, in 1992, Weiss’s long-missing gun along with a spent bullet in the chamber was discovered,” Wynne noted. “This was the bullet that the official versions of the events claimed killed Huey Long; however, ballistics test showed that it did not come from Weiss’s weapon.”
“Taking everything into consideration at that point, David and I knew that we had our work cut out for us if we were to write a plausible stage play explaining Who Killed The Kingfish,” Wynne, who has lived in Pineville, Louisiana for many years, pointed out.
One of the first major questions was that Weiss was unlike other American assassins, most whom were mentally disturbed or social misfits. A brilliant physician and family man, Weiss was the father of a newborn son and a devout Catholic who had attended mass earlier that fateful day with his wife, the former Yvonne Pavy of Opelousas.
Another question was why Dr. Carl Weiss, Jr. even in the State Capitol on that Sunday night after making a medical house call in another part of Baton Rouge. Weiss did live just a few blocks from the Capitol but his car was later found parked in the Capitol parking lot.
Long had built a crack political machine the likes of which were probably never seen before or since on a state level. Louisiana was his empire. He controlled the governor’s office, the legislature, and the courts.
In addition, Long was looking beyond the borders of Louisiana to enhance his political career. He had set his sights on the White House and his “Share the Wealth” plan had caught up the longings of millions of the Depression-era poor.
“As we did our research, we found some credible evidence to support each of the theories of who killed the Kingfish,” said Wynne, a noted lecturer on Louisiana history and a close personal friend of the late Jimmie Davis. “We stayed true to our goal of presenting a fair and balanced accounting of the event hear around the nation on that September night in 1935,” Wynne explained. “David and I decided that the only way that a plausible consensus could be developed to the assassination of Huey Long was that if Weiss had survived his numerous bullet wounds and stood trial in a court of law as the accused assassin of the Kingfish. So we developed the script around the premises that Weiss had survived his wounds during the shoot-out with Long’s bodyguards and was standing trial for Long’s death,” Wynne elaborated. “However, we used several flashback scenes with Huey to tell the audience the life and times of the 1930’s and Huey’s personality.”
“David and I are from totally different backgrounds and I think that helped us do a credible job on the script and the ensuing stage play,” Wynne pointed out. “David was a New Yorker, a well known and respected journalist, an author of several books and in-depth articles and I was just a country boy with a passion for Louisiana political history, especially Huey P. Long.”
“Who Killed the Kingfish,” a two-act drama in which members of the audience are selected to serve as Weiss trial jurors had its world premier at the Hopkins Black Box Theatre at Louisiana State University from October 26-30, 2005.
“The play has been presented some two dozen times in different venues including the Old State Capitol during the Huey Long Symposium in September of this year which was presented by the Terrebonne Little Theatre players,” Wynne noted.
“I’ve been able to attend most of the performances, some time incognito until being introduced as the co-writer of the play at the curtain call,” Wynne said. “In fact, in the first few performances at LSU in the fall of 2005, I was on the juries.”
“I was amazed at the difference of opinions of the jurors,” Wynne stated. “Even the nuances of the actors and their personalities influence the votes on the jury. Each jury has come up with different splits among the jurors as to the guilt or innocence of Dr. Carl Weiss, Jr.,” Wynne pointed out.
The Journal asked Michael Wynne one final question, “Who Killed The Kingfish,” to which Wynne replied, “I haven’t figured that out yet.”