Capitol Alert

Famous California death row case finds stage

The fate of Caryl Chessman, ultimately executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber in 1960, was the subject of much discussion in the home of then-Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and his son, future Gov. Jerry Brown. The drama is now a new play.
The fate of Caryl Chessman, ultimately executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber in 1960, was the subject of much discussion in the home of then-Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and his son, future Gov. Jerry Brown. The drama is now a new play. Sacramento Bee file

Rehearsals for “Chessman,” a new play by Joe Rodota, were about to start up Tuesday at the B Street Theatre, and the author, a political consultant, was comparing the job of playwright to opposition research.

There is the archive dig – Caryl Chessman, one of California’s most famous death row inmates, left abundant paperwork behind – but also the political significance of the case to then-Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and his son, Jerry.

“Really thinking about the candidate and about these public officials in depth,” said Rodota, who advised former Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Why they’re doing what they’re doing and what they’re thinking and where they’re going next.”

Jerry Brown, the state’s current governor, was 21 when he called his father in 1960 to urge a temporary stay of execution for Chessman, a convicted rapist.

Chessman was ultimately executed, but not before his father granted the stay. Pat Brown later said he suffered politically for the decision.

The B Street Theatre has first right of refusal on the play, of which Rodota is preparing for an invitation-only, staged reading Saturday.

Pat Brown died in 1996. Asked if his son was invited to the reading, Rodota said, “I don’t have his email address.”

He added, “But of course he’s welcome.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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