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  • Gavin Whitehead

Introducing Assassins (S2E0)

In season 2 of The Art of Crime, we explore eight artists who have committed, attempted, or at least been implicated in an assassination.

Above: Scene from Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In the background, the Scottish thane prepares to assassinate King Duncan in his sleep. The killer's wife, Lady Macbeth, stands in the foreground. Undated, this print was created by Charles Rolls. Held by Folger Shakespeare Library: ART File S528m1 no. 28 copy 1.



“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” It was 1864, and the audience of New York’s Winter Garden Theatre sat, rapt, as one of the nation’s brightest stars uttered the most famous lines in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. In the speech, the speaker, Mark Anthony, condemns the assassination of the Roman statesman and inspires the citizenry to rise up against his killers. Five months later, the actor playing Anthony, John Wilkes Booth, entered Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. and assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

John Wilkes Booth is far from the only artist to get involved in the crime of assassination. And once artists do, there’s no looking at their art the same way ever again.

Welcome to The Art of Crime, a history podcast about the unlikely collisions between true crime and the arts. This season is titled Assassins. It’s made up of ten episodes. Each of the first nine profiles an artist who has committed, attempted, or at least been implicated in an assassination. In some cases, these creators have also become targets of assassination attempts. In the final episode, we wrap everything up and consider what we’ve learned about the nature of assassination, especially when artists are part of the picture.

The subjects of this season worked in a variety of artistic media and in most cases achieved national or international renown in their lifetimes. Apart from John Wilkes Booth, we’ll hear about the aspiring playwright who walked into Andy Warhol’s studio bent on shooting him dead in 1968, the Roman emperor and thespian-musician who ordered the execution of his own mother in 59 A.D., and the German painter accused of taking part in a daring attempt on Hitler’s life in 1939.

In episode 1, we meet one of Mexico’s most celebrated muralists and hear about the night in 1940 when he and a band of gunmen came for the blood of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky as he and his family slept in their beds.


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