Posted on 29 December 2008.
Native Utican attorney has flair for theatrics
By Patricia J. Malin
It is hard to describe Richard Enders, never knowing what character will reveal itself. By day, you might bump into a mild-mannered attorney specializing in estate and elder law who occupies a quaint office on West Park Row in the village of Clinton.
If his clients should chance to return here at night, they might spy the esteemed novelist and lecturer Charles Dickens coming down the staircase. Perhaps Mark Twain will pop in, accompanied by his outrageous nest of white hair and razor-sharp wit.
Then again, you might find Enders, a playwright and actor, out on the town giving a light-hearted performance to a group of senior citizens. He is also a traveling salesman, of sorts. Instead of delivering a physical product, he “sells” the Mohawk Valley, albeit in words. He scouts out regional attractions and highlights them on a local, weekly television show.
The talented Enders was among 10 people named to the Oneida County Historical Society’s Hall of Fame recently.
Enders was chosen as a Richard W. Couper Living Legend along with businesswoman Benita “Be” Denemark; former state Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Julian; state Supreme Court Justice John W. Grow and television executive Stephen P. Merren.
It’s easy to think of him as “Clark Kent” who has an incredibly wide range of likeable disguises. But let’s start at the beginning with his conventional role.
He is a robust 66-year-old man who has been practicing law for 40 years. His office, however, looks as it might have been a century and a half ago. Antique books and items decorate a large picture window, including a plaque that reads: “If there’s a will, I want to be in it.”
His office strikingly resembles a scene from a Dickens’ novel (dare we say The Old Curiosity Shop?) Visitors will find Victorian, wood-paneled décor, a gray-haired lawyer sitting alone at a large antique desk (a replica of one used by Dickens on his lecture tours), surrounded by books and papers. A nearby table displays a photograph of his Irish immigrant grandparents.
As much as enjoys practicing law, Enders has a twinkle in his eye and a storyteller’s manner that makes it hard to differentiate his occupation from his hobby. Over the last 20 years, he has toured throughout New York state and neighboring states with seven one-man plays, including five he has written personally.
Enders is arguably best known to local theater-goers as Ebenezer Scrooge, whom he has performed over the last two decades. Last Christmas, though, with the Stanley Theater dark for its long-awaited expansion, Scrooge was homeless. That’s not to say Enders was idle. He has been working on the script for a new play adapted from Mark Twain.
“The beauty of Mark Twain is that he was a master of the language,” Enders said. Oddly enough, Twain couldn’t make money off his classics because there were no copyright laws in the 19th century, so Twain was forced to make his living as a lecturer and humorist. Incidentally, Enders said that Twain once lectured in downtown Utica and the building still stands. Still, Enders’ modern rendition is not an archetypal piece audiences expect from the author of “Tom Sawyer.”
In “A Tale Told To Me,” Twain chooses to narrate the life of Rachel, a former slave. “It’s a very powerful piece about slavery,” explained Enders. “It’s the most moving piece I’ve ever done. The only thing the experts say about it is that there is absolutely no humor in it.”
With painstaking research into the lives of Twain and Dickens, Enders has an ability to transform his characters into flesh and blood. His career, as well, goes hand-in-hand with two giants of world literature. “Law is performance by nature,” he pointed out.
Born in 1941 and raised in the Cornhill area of east Utica, Richard Moran Enders always possessed a political bent, but art was a close second interest. While attending Catholic University in Washington in 1960, he had an opportunity to work behind the scenes on the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy (Note the Irish-American and Catholic connection.)
By “working” on the campaign, Enders admitted that his job involved stuffing envelopes only. On election night, he and a friend talked their way into campaign headquarters at the Mayflower Hotel. As they whiled away the hours chalking up the vote on the large tote boards, though, they felt they were symbolically lifting Kennedy to a narrow victory over Richard Nixon.
After getting his degree in political science in 1963, Enders enrolled at Cornell University Law School. He graduated in 1966 and took a job as a law clerk with the U.S. Court of Claims. Most of the time he spent in the archives, which was nonetheless “exciting” work, he said. He recalled that Abraham Lincoln (whose portrait also hangs in Enders office) began his career as a law clerk.
In 1967, Enders contracted mononucleosis and returned home to recuperate. In the meantime, he continued to do legal research. He attracted the attention of then-Oneida County District Attorney Arthur Darrigrand, who named him assistant D.A. In 1970, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller appointed Enders to fill Darrigrand’s shoes. At 29, Enders became the youngest D.A. in county history.
A popular prosecutor, Enders remained in office until 1981 when he went into private practice. His father wanted him to aim higher and try for a judgeship. “About four or five people I appointed as attorneys went on to become judges,” he said. But he preferred the sidelines. That is, until he discovered theater.
“If I did (become a judge), I never would have gone into stage work and playwriting,” he pointed out. “I believe in serendipity.”
All the world’s a stage
In 1985, he earned his first walk-on role in a Utica Players Theatre production of “On Golden Pond.” Peter Loftus, his director from day one, is still Enders’ trusted adviser and close friend. In 1987, Loftus encouraged Enders to perform Dickens and later, Scrooge. The duo still teams up to produce “Mark Twain Live.” Enders is now considering writing a play about Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In June 2007, Enders debuted his one-man play, “Bluetooth Diaries”—the musings of an old man in a nursing home, to an audience at Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. As veteran director Jane Metzger introduced her friend, she recounted Enders’ initial performance with the Players of Utica. “Little did we know back then that we created a monster,” she quipped.
In August 2008, he loaned his talents again and performed in “The Wizard of Was,” a local play written by Cassandra Lockwood-Harris and loosely based on “The Wizard of Oz.” Enders played the inept “Wiz,” who in this case grudgingly grants favors to a group of characters from Utica’s Cornhill neighborhood.
In addition to his stage work, Enders hosts a weekly show on Sunday mornings on WKTV called “Mohawk Valley Living.” Produced by Lance and Sharry Whitney, Enders said it is meant to show the “positive” side of life in central New York, not necessarily for tourists, but for locals who might not be aware of this area’s treasures.
Finally, Enders is a family man. He and his wife, Eileen, a teacher, have four children, Kathleen, Jennifer, Susan and John, ranging in age from 26 to 37. Though slightly disappointed that all of them turned to teaching instead of law, Enders observed with a laugh that teachers are also performers, only on another stage.
Throughout the years, he has loaned his presence and talent for countless other charitable and community events. He is available to speak to or perform for any local group. To book “Mark Twain” or “Charles Dickens,” call Enders at 853-8691.