OPINION

Famous visitors to the Truman Library through the years

Sam Rushay
Truman Library

During its 64-year history, numerous Hollywood stars, entertainers and other non-political celebrities have visited the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence. 

Sam Rushay

Most famously, comedian and musician Jack Benny came to the library in 1959, and interviewed Harry Truman for "The Jack Benny Show,” his hugely popular comedy series that ran on radio and television for over three decades. Unknown to many Americans today, Benny was a household name during the 1950s. 

Truman gave Benny a tour of his presidential library and met with him in his office at the library. The two men discussed the jobs of the president and Presidents Jefferson, Polk, Jackson and Lincoln. They even played a musical duet together, with Truman playing the piano and Benny playing the violin. 

Benny originally was concerned that his episode with Truman should be serious in tone, but Truman quickly put him at ease, and the two men shared a natural banter. Benny’s light-hearted, humorous interview with Truman appeared on CBS in October 1959. 

During the 1960s, numerous other stars graced the Truman Library with their presence. In 1963, actor Lorne Greene, star of the TV western “Bonanza” paid a visit. In 1963 and 1965, several members of the cast of “Gunsmoke,” also a hit TV western, visited the Truman Library. Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, and Ken Curtis had their pictures taken with Mr. Truman. 

In 1964, Ginger Rogers, an Independence native, Academy Award-winning actress, and dance partner of Fred Astaire, visited the library with her mother, Lela. Both women were photographed with Truman. Rogers’s birthplace is just a few blocks east of the Truman Library, on Moore Street. 

Another celebrity who visited the Truman Library in 1964 was Jack Lord, who came dressed as his television character Stoney Burke, which was also the title of his TV show, a western. Lord later found fame in the hit TV show “Hawaii Five-0. “ 

Photographs of most of the stars mentioned in this article are available in the photo database on the Truman Library’s website at https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/photographs. 

The reasons for some of these celebrities’ visits to the Truman Library are unknown. Often, they were in the Independence area for other reason, such as their appearance in theater productions in Kansas City, and they visited the library because they wished to pay their respects to Harry Truman.  

Hollywood visits to the Truman Library continued in the decades following Harry Truman’s death in 1972. In the mid-1990s, actor Paul Newman and his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, visited the library while they were in the region filming the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.” Actor Gary Sinise also came to the library in the 1990s as part of his preparations for appearing in the title role of the movie “Truman.” Sinise wanted to see the place where Truman’s artifacts and papers were stored, and where Truman spent so much of his time. 

Other famous people who visited the Truman Library include actors Tim Conway and Jack Klugman, and TV talk show host Phil Donahue.  

Hollywood entertainers weren’t the only people to grace the Truman Library with their physical and virtual presence. In 2018, Patrick Mahomes, a then relatively unknown second-year quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, visited briefly to read to children during Easter egg roll festivities on library grounds. In the 2010s, the guitarist for a famous Los Angeles-based rock group came to the library. The library’s social media friends include at least one Hollywood actor. 

Sam Rushay is the supervisory archivist of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.