OPINION: ‘Uncle Ted’ gives valuable insight into the life of Alaska’s seminal senator

“I think it is safe to say, without any fear of contradiction, that no senator in the history of the United States has ever done more for his state than Sen. Ted Stevens.” – Sen. Mitch McConnell

On Thursday night, the audience at Cyrano’s Theatre Company was treated to a one-man performance of “Uncle Ted.” The play is a dramatic recap of the life of Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, a man who was key to the creation and development of the state of Alaska. Although Stevens was a Republican, virtually no ideology was on display. In fact, the play defines Stevens’ political ideology as that of advancing Alaska’s interests, not necessarily Republican principles. His best friends in the Senate were Sen. Daniel Inouye and Sen. Ted Kennedy, both Democrats. An adversary was Republican Sen. John McCain, with whom he tussled over earmarks.

Stevens is played by professional actor Dan Morrison, who portrays the boundless energy, enthusiasm and anger Stevens spent during his life to create his legacy of transforming Alaska into a preeminent resource-producing state. Stevens once described his life’s work: “Where there was nothing but tundra and forest, today there are now airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs and much, much more.”

The atmosphere for the play is established when the audience is filing into the theater to the tune of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” a tune suited to Stevens’ service as a World War II Army Air Corps pilot. When the lights go down, a panorama photograph of Bristol Bay is projected on the backdrop while Stevens posthumously narrates his own death in a 2010 airplane crash. The theme of aviation throughout the performance is strong. Major events of Stevens’ life are centered on flying and air crashes. Scattered throughout the show, Morrison sings, a capella, a few choruses of “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder.”

Although Stevens’ childhood was marked by poverty and absent parents, he had the grit, determination and above all the interpersonal relationship skills to rise above his early challenges. He earned money as a newsboy hawking papers. He was a high school football hero despite his short stature. He was a WWII pilot at age 20, graduated from college and Harvard Law School, and then went about making the connections that would eventually catapult him into the U.S. Senate. Throughout the play, Stevens repeats the line “relationships are primary, everything else is derivative.”

The first act ends with the tragic death of Stevens’ beloved wife, Ann, in an airplane crash that the senator survived. She was his wife of 25 years and the mother of his first five children.

The second act of “Uncle Ted” defines Stevens as the tenacious appropriator, all for the benefit of his state, thus earning him the nickname “King of Pork.” He was proud of steering funds to Alaska, as a matter of necessity, citing health problems in villages without sewer or running water, and the state’s inadequate transportation system.


A second marriage brought him great joy and a sixth child. His spectacular downfall, due to a corrupt Department of Justice criminal prosecution, led to his loss of reputation and his Senate seat. In the play’s opening, Stevens states that the unscrupulous prosecution destroyed his legacy. If that is true, playwright Sen. Gary Stevens (no relation) gives it back to him in the context of the dramatic revelation of Stevens’ life in two acts.

The play runs through Oct. 22 in Anchorage. I hope plans are in the works to bring the play to other cities. If you have the chance to see “Uncle Ted,” do it. The dramatic historical record Sen. Gary Stevens gifts to us is too valuable to miss.

Ann Brown serves as the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. The views expressed are her own.

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