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Cassius Clay - An Audacious American



An Audacious American, a sixty-minute PBS documentary about the famed Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay, premiers at the Kentucky Theatre, in Lexington, Thursday, September 27, at 7 p.m.

In the film, Clay takes the viewer with him as he boldly, purposely and fearlessly strides through the 19th-century landscape of bitter politics and duels, palatial homes and beautiful women, slavery and the Civil War and a diplomatic mission precipitating the purchase of Alaska, leaving the lasting imprint of his fiery emancipationist personality in his wake.

Produced by Michael Breeding MEDIA and narrated by the world-famous Peter Thomas, the High Definition film was shot on location in Madison County at Clay’s stately Italianate-styled mansion, White Hall. This program portrays an eighty-five-year-old Clay writing his autobiography—recollecting vividly the triumphs and tragedies of his life, sparing neither himself, family, friends nor enemies.

The documentary was written by Betty Boles Ellison, a Kentuckian as are thirteen cast members. The only non-Kentuckian is Peter Thomas, American’s most famous narrator. He is assisted in the narration by Fowler Black, of Paducah, and Gathan Borden, of Louisville.

Breeding, producer of The Kentucky Humanities Council’s performance of Our Lincoln filmed at The Kennedy Center in honor of the sixteenth President’s 200th birthday and The Keeneland Legacy, spent two years assembling the cast, producing, directing and editing An Audacious American. “It’s the most arduous project I’ve ever undertaken but, yet, one of the most satisfying,” Breeding said. “Clay was such a multifaceted and brilliant person that I was surprised he’d been overlooked as a documentary subject for decades. I was fortunate to put together, on a shoestring budget, a crew and cast who did a splendid job telling his story.”

Mrs. Ellison, a journalist turned historian, wrote the script for An Audacious American based on her biography of Clay, A Man Seen But Once. “Dating back to the 1969-1971 restoration of his home, White Hall, in Madison County,” she said, “I’ve been captivated by not only the man himself but by all his accomplishments—general, diplomat, educator, farmer, journalist and most of all, an emancipationist. In order to achieve all of that, he sacrificed his family life but not what he called his ‘sacred honor.’”

Tickets for the premier of An Audacious American are free and can be obtaining at At the door, the price will be $10.00 with the proceeds to benefit the White Hall Foundation. “Attendees are encouraged to dress in period attire,” Breeding said. “Those who do will receive a complimentary DVD of the documentary.”


Michael Breeding and Mel Hankla as Clay at White Hall, Clay’s restored mansion in the spring of 2011.

claywhitehall copy

Mel Hankla as Cassius Marcellus Clay outside of White Hall State Historic Site.

Mel Hankla, from Jamestown, plays Clay. Hankla, like most of the cast members, are performers with the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua Programs. Hankla is also an educator, an expert in early Kentucky tools, weapons and blacksmithing and has published numerous articles in journals and magazines.

Kelly Brengelman, from central Kentucky, plays Clay’s wife, Mary Jane Warfield Clay. She says it’s possible she’s related to Mrs. Clay through the Burgess family.

A most moving performance is provided by Erma J. Bush, from Louisville, in the role of Mary, a slave who taught Clay about gardening and who, to protect herself, killed one of the family’s plantation overseers with a butcher knife.

Ethan Smith, from Cynthiana and a student at Georgetown College, plays a young Cassius Clay. His parents Betsy and Ed Smith have the roles of Sally Lewis Clay,

Cassius’ mother, and John G. Fee, who with Clay’s assistance, laid the foundation for Berea College. Dr. Smith teaches in the Department of Theatre at Georgetown.

Dr. George McGee, chairman of the Department of Theatre Performance Studies at Georgetown, portrays Clay’s cousin, Henry Clay.

Sam Stephens, a retired executive from The Clark Group and a Lexingtonian, makes a cameo appearance as Secretary of State William H. Seward.


Nicky Hughes as DeClarey and Hankla as Clay.

Nicky Hughes, curator of Historic Sites for the City of Frankfort, is cast as Dr. John P. DeClarey, from Louisville, a former suitor of Mary Jane Warfield’s. Clay challenged him to a duel that was never fought and claimed his mother-in-law, Maria Barr Warfield, was the instigator of the situation.

An adjunct Eastern Kentucky University faculty member, Charles Mullins, from Hazard, plays James G. Birney, who planned an emancipation newspaper in Danville before Clay established his True American in Lexington.

Caroline Haddock, from Lexington, gives an angry voice to the deep resentment many in central Kentucky felt about Clay’s newspaper. She is the co-founder of the Lexington Vintage Dance Society and an expert in historical costumes.

Sid Webb, from Lexington and retired KET director of productions, created the Monet-styled paintings of Clay and the actors for the documentary.

Kentucky History Connections

By Kathy Cummings

We first learned about Michael Breeding’s Cassius Clay project in the spring of 2011. We were on a visit to White Hall, the restored home of Clay. We designed the website for the Clermont White Hall friends group and have photographed the home many times Visit the website at

 Our connections with Mel Hankla, who portrays Clay go back even further. The first time we worked with Mel was in 2004 and we debuted the website for his company American Historic Services on January 1, 2007. The article above references Hankla’s knowledge of firearms and weapons. His Kentucky Longrifle web site went online in 2008 at

clay at desk

Nicky Hughes who plays DeClarey in the film first appeared on these pages with the Civil War website Cornets and Cannons in 2010. It was a Civil War music project conceived by Hughes which brought an entire musical festival to Frankfort in 2011. Although the festival was a one time event the website remains at and has an amazing amount of information, photos and videos about Civil War Era Band Music. The Capital City Museum website is an additional website we put together for Hughes at His latest project will be the October 12-14, 2012 Days of Knights Festival in Frankfort. Learn more about it at

Michael Breeding also appeared on these pages when he debuted the film for McConnel Springs in 2008. Having also met and worked with Sam Stephens (who portrays Secretary of State William H. Seward and Charles Mullins (who plays James G. Birney) it soon became quite apparent as the film took shape that with all of these knowledgeable gentlemen and many of the Chautaqua performers that it would become a first class production.

The film is set to air on KET (Kentucky Educational Television) on October 15th just prior to October 19 - Cassius Marcellus Clay’s birthdate. Clay was born in 1809. Other air dates are listed below.

Premier of An Audacious American September 27, 2012 Open to the Public - visit for more details

ticket copy

Television Air Dates:

KET: Monday, October 15 at 10:00 pm EDT KETKY: Thursday, October 18 at 7:00 am EDT KETKY: Friday, October 19 at 3:00 am EDT KETKY: Sunday, October 21 at midnight EDT KET2: Sunday, October 21 at 5:00 pm EDT KETKY: Sunday, October 21 at 6:00 pm EDT KET: Tuesday, October 23 at 4:00 am EDT KETKY: Wednesday, October 24 at 7:00 am EDT KETKY: Wednesday, October 24 at 8:00 pm EDT KETKY: Friday, October 26 at 1:00 am EDT KETKY: Friday, October 26 at 6:00 pm EDT KETKY: Saturday, October 27 at noon EDT KETKY: Saturday, October 27 at 9:00 pm EDT KETKY: Monday, October 29 at 4:00 am EST


An Interview with Mel Hankla about his role as Cassius Clay in An Audacious American

Click Here


Kentucky Historical Society Artifact featured in Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’

Lincolns watch

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 9, 2012) — A pocket watch that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln and is now in the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) collections is featured in Steven Spielberg’s newest film. “Lincoln” opens in limited release today and nationwide Friday, Nov. 16.

KHS was contacted in May by Ben Burtt, an Academy Award-winning sound designer working on the film. The sound team was dedicated to incorporating as many historically accurate sounds as possible that Lincoln would have actually heard in his lifetime – including the ticking of his pocket watch.

KHS Director of Museum Collections and Exhibitions Trevor Jones was reluctant to participate at first.

“Although I very much wanted to help, I was initially skeptical. Lincoln’s watch is an iconic artifact at KHS and is irreplaceable,” Jones said. “I was concerned that winding it could cause damage and I wasn’t going to risk a signature artifact.”

Closer examination by staff and experts determined that the watch is still in perfect mechanical working order. This summer, a sound technician visited Frankfort to record the ticking of the pocket watch at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

The watch and a recording of its ticking are now on display in KHS’s signature exhibition, “A Kentucky Journey,” through Saturday, Dec. 8.


About the watch:

This pocket watch belonged to President Abraham Lincoln. The piece includes the pocket watch, chain and fob. Part a) is a yellow gold key wind hunting case pocket watch. The watch has hand-chased features and is inscribed on inner case, ”J. Jacqueson, Copenhagen.” The watch has unmarked jewel movement and a porcelain dial and second hand. Part b) is a yellow gold link unmarked chain. Part c) is yellow gold watch fob with wax stamp gold initials ”AL” in onyx.

This watch was worn by President Abraham Lincoln. Following his assassination at Ford’s Theater in 1865, Robert Todd Lincoln inherited the watch. He gave it to his cousin, Benjamin Hardin Helm, Jr. In 1943 Helm presented the watch as a birthday gift to William H. Townsend, one of America’s leading authorities on the life of Lincoln. Upon Townsend’s death the watch passed to his daughter Mary Townsend Murphy. The Murphy family believed that the pocket watch was carried by Lincoln on the night of his assassination but there is no evidence to support this. The contents of Lincoln’s pockets that night are in storage at the Library of Congress.


The decision was made to record the ticking watch at the Thomas D. Clark Center for History instead of flying it to the Skywalker Ranch. Here Greg Smith (wearing headphones) of the Spielberg team along with Trevor Jones and Bill Bright of KHS are discussing the best position for the microphone on the watch inside KHS’s vault.

For more information , read Trevor Jones’ personal experience on the KHS blog, visit the KHS Objects Catalog at or visit KHS on Facebook

The Best Photos of 2012

Schoenbrunn Village 2012 Colonial Fair


Click here to see what we think were the best photos of 2012.

See photos of the October 2012 Fair submitted by Matt and Beth Wulff. Click Here.

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