Getting to know a (past) president
NORTH CANAAN — Kevin Titus began his career as an impersonator of characters on the wrong side of the law. In the mid-1980s, while stationed with the Army in Texas, he was portraying public enemies from the Dillinger era.But as the years went on, he began to take on a more stately air.“People told me I looked like I should be a president,” Titus said. “I liked history and was interested in several presidents, so it seemed like the thing to do.”He recently moved back to his hometown of Falls Village, after retiring from 22 years in the military. A corner of his modest, historic home is set up with a desk, flags and the trappings of a president. Behind the desk, in authentic garb, he is Warren G. Harding.Not exactly the president most would expect. But Titus’ research fascinated him. His decision to be a Harding re-enactor had much to do about wanting people to get to know a man for whom Titus discovered a great respect.He will bring his a re-enactment of President Harding to Christ Church Sunday, Sept. 18, at 11:30 a.m. to commemorate his signing of the Knox-Porter Treaty that ended World War I. He will present Harding’s “My Conviction” speech. All are invited.He will be in Raritan, N.J., on Sept. 10, re-enacting the signing where it originally took place, possibly at the same desk. At Christ Church, which he attends with his assistant turned fiancé and her daughter, Gina, he will be in character for his arrival and throughout the program. A reception with refreshments will follow, where he will answer questions. “People don’t know much about him because there was no real drama during his term, which was only two years, because he died while in office. But he started Social Security, the Veterans’ Administration and he wanted to clean up the corruption in the government. He promoted normalcy. He was very much in touch with the people. He loved to meet people, opened up the White House for people to visit anytime and is believed to have shaken more hands than any other president.”While his close friends and cabinet appointees were involved in the “Teapot Dome” scandal, Harding was apparently innocent.Harding’s passion was golf. He was called off the course to sign the treaty, Titus said, and did so in his golf clothes, which is exactly how Titus will re-enact it.Ironically, Edward Kellogg, related to the Falls Village Kellogg’s, was the one who brought the treaty to Harding to sign.Harding died in August 1923, before he could make a planned trip to Connecticut, with stops in Salisbury, Sharon and North Canaan. Titus said it is most likely he would have made the Episcopalian Christ Church his stop.His death, while on a trip to Alaska, was suspicious. Some believe his wife, Florence had something to do with it. She had hired a detective and knew about Harding’s mistress and illegitimate daughter. She exercised her right to refuse an autopsy. She also destroyed almost all of his personal papers.“From what I read about Florence, it’s also possible she simply didn’t want her husband to be disgraced. She wanted him to be remembered as a great president.”From a couple of rare recordings, including his inaugural speech, Titus taught himself Harding’s “strong and deep” voice.He brings no shortage of talent and experience. In the early 1980s, a Hollywood director filmed a Civil War re-enactment in Paramus, N.J. Titus was “discovered.”His credits include supporting roles in “Starkwood”, “Bonnie & Clyde, the True Story”, “North and South”, “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Point Blank.”“I played the SWAT lieutenant. I got killed in that one.”He also did a short stint as a NASCAR driver.Titus has another project in the preproduction stage. It’s a Broadway play called “Lincoln to Harding.”“Harding admired Lincoln. The basis of the play is, what if they had met?”The play could open as early as February 2012.