Huey Long's Legacy

More than 70 years after his death, Huey Long, known as" kingfish" in his time, is still a giant presence in the state of Louisiana, especially in Baton Rouge at the capitol he had constructed.

Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana's current governor, told CBSSunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver her long ago predecessor is endlessly fascinating.

"He understood symbolism and grandeur," she said. "Huey Long was either absolutely loved and adored by the masses or absolutely hated and resented by the business community and the people of means."

Born in Winfield, La. in 1893 to a middle class family, Long gained absolute power in the state by crushing his enemies and rewarding his cronies. He also did much good for Louisiana by building roads and bridges and improving education his program came to be called "share our wealth."

Long's enduring legend has inspired a new film called "All the King's Men," adapted from Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The movie stars Sean Penn in the lead role of Willie Stark, who is modeled Long.

Governor Blanco had a place of honor at the premiere last weekend, an event that brought some badly needed Hollywood style glamour to post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Students at Tulane university came out in force to welcome the stars studded cast, including Penn, who says capturing the real Long took some work. He traveled the state researching the part.

"I think the amount of hope he actually gave people…continues today," Penn said. "You know, you can encounter so many people today in the state that still have this great love for whatever part of him touched them or inspired them or made them feel recognized."

The movie had special meaning for New Orleans native Patricia Clarkson, who plays Willie Stark's high-powered personal assistant. She's from New Orleans and hopes that all the attention the film is getting will encourage tourists to her home town.

"I think it's great for people to see, you know, this city alive again, you know, it's back," she said.

The notion of making the movie came from Louisiana native, Democratic political advisor, James Carville, who is one of the film's executive producers. He said it was easy to get Hollywood on board.

"They said, 'this is the kind of project that I've been waiting all of my life to work on,'" he said. "And that's why all these people came. It was literally the story that drove people to this movie."

The new film has opened to mixed reviews. Carville was well aware that a previous hit version of "All The King's Men" had already been made into a movie. In 1949 it won an Academy Awards for best film and best actor for Broderick Crawford who played Willie Stark.

"Somebody said, 'Well why are you making this again?' And I said, 'They made 'Hamlet' 10 million times. Then we can make 'All The King's Men twice?'" Carville said.

Carville said that Long was corrupt, but at least he kept things interesting, and even sung his own theme song which said that every man could be king.

"I'm not saying that we don't have corruption in Louisiana, but at least our corrupt politicians have the good graces to entertain us," Carville said. "And I mean if you're gonna steal from us, God darn, leave us a good story or a good joke."

Long eventually ran left the governorship to become a U.S. senator because, according to Louisiana State University professor Richard White, who wrote a long biography of Long called "Kingfish," he had national aspirations.

"He wanted to be president and the Senate is the platform for the presidency," White said.

Even when his job put him in the nation's capitol, White said Long regularly left the U.S. senate to run roughshod over the Louisiana legislature. Even today, Sept. 7, 1935 is an infamous day in Louisiana's history. Just as the session was about to adjourn, Long begun to walk out, but lying in wait was Dr. Carl Weiss, part of a political family threatened with disgrace by Huey Long.

He allegedly fired a pistol at Long and there was a scuffle. Long's bodyguards killed Weiss on the spot. Long was shot in the abdomen.

"He had one bullet in him we think," White said. "We're not sure how many bullets he had, 'cause no autopsy was made."

Two days later Huey Long was dead at 42. His demise set off a wave of mourning in Louisiana and a series of questions about why someone like Huey Long or the fictional Willy Stark can both attract and repel us.

"Most scholars have had trouble trying to describe whether he was a demagogue or a dictator or just a great democrat and I don't try to answer that because he was all of those things and much more," White said.