The Bob Bingham Enigma

(2014 UPDATE: Check out Bob’s new official Facebook page here.

from Ted Neeley’s Facebook pageBOB BINGHAM (yes, Caiaphas himself) will be joining BARRY DENNEN & TED Live IN PERSON for a very special evening FRIDAY, FEB 28 at 7:30pm in ORINDA, CA!! This is the first time since filming in Israel that these 3 cast members will reunite & talk about the making of the film! We have added 4 more Regular VIP Packages (click here). Regular Admission tickets available here.

(2013 UPDATE: Bob Bingham is alive and well and living a private life with his family in New York.)

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I really like Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). I grew up listening to the soundtrack and recently got into it again when I got to see it on the big screen as part of the ScreenPeace Film Festival put on by the Dayton International Peace Museum a few months ago.

I did the whole standard internet nerd thing then, Googling and IMDbing, downloading the soundtrack, seeing where the actors were now, that sort of thing. I did the standard Ted Neeley/Yvonne Elliman/Carl Anderson checks, but also most of the others, like Paul Thomas (award-winning porn star/director), Josh Mostel, and Bob Bingham.

Bob Bingham (who played Caiaphas in the Broadway show and film) was the one I really wanted to find other things on. I was kind of captivated by him; he is stunning, to listen to and to see, so large and lovely-deep-voiced. Particularly when contrasted by his co-star, the considerably smaller and higher-voiced Kurt Yaghjian (who played Annas and is currently in the band Kenny Vance and the Planotones).

Bob, however, proved difficult to find on the internet, a rare thing indeed in this day and age.

Bob Bingham, left, as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar
Bob Bingham, left, in Jesus Christ Superstar

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The first place checked (standard): his Wikipedia entry

The entire entry:

"Robert ‘Bob’ Bingham born 29 October 1946 in Seattle, Washington U.S. is an actor and singer. Bingham is most remembered for playing the role of Caiaphas in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

"Bingham created the role of Caiaphas in the original Broadway production, which ran from 1971-1973. Along with Barry Dennen (Pilate) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalen), Bingham reprised his Broadway role in the 1973 film. In 1993 he appeared in the film
The Nostril Picker.”

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Bob Bingham as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar

The second place checked (not as standard in this case because of a probable background in theater or music rather than film or TV but still pretty standard): his IMDb listing

It consists of two credits:

  1. The Nostril Picker (1993)
  2. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) …. Caiaphas

And the complete biography page:

"Date of Birth: 29 October 1946, Seattle, Washington, USA"

The message board contents, while providing no real useful information, are, like most IMDb message boards, pretty comical and are comprised of statements like these:

"He has one of the greatest voices ever, i think." … "He was rather edible in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’." … "He’s one hairy mofo too!" … "What a hunk Bob was in JC Superstar, and his eyes are such a beautiful blue." … "I kept watching thinking Ciaiphas is hot.”

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The Nostril Picker

Lead: The Nostril Picker

I thought I should check out his only other film credit, The Nostril Picker. It’s a B horror movie made in 1993, about a middle-aged guy who can transform himself into a high-school-aged girl; he uses this gift to befriend actual high-school girls, and then kill them.

I’m a sucker for dreadful horror films, so I found this one and let me tell you, in regards to its subject matter it did not disappoint.

It did disappoint in that I saw no Bob Bingham anywhere. His credit was basically that of an extra, and anyway it was 20 years after Jesus Christ Superstar, so it’s possible I missed him. Or, just as if not more likely—especially considering the context—it was another, way more random Bob Bingham.

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Bob Bingham as Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar

Drawing board: Wikipedia links and top Google hits that weren’t complete dead-ends charactized by containing nothing but the same Jesus Christ Superstar listing

The only new thing this page would tell me was the production dates for the original Broadway show of Jesus Christ Superstar: Oct 12, 1971–Jun 30, 1973.

"What became of Bob Bingham, Caiaphas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’?

"My mother introduced me to the movie this Lent and I became an instant fan of Mr. Bingham. But when I searched for additional work by him on the web, I found next to nothing, which seems strange for someone so talented. Does anyone know what he did after ‘JCS’?"

Answer: "He released a CD in 1998 called ‘Alone at Last’. In 1999 he released ‘Live at The Pheasant’. That’s all I could find. Try looking up some of the blues websites. You might find something about him there."

———

Bob Bingham, bluesman

Lead: Bob Bingham, blues musician

I’d come across the bluesman Bob Bingham in my Google search as well. The lead sounded promising. Doesn’t really look like him, at all actually, but hey it’s been a long time, and the age is about the same.

But not only does this guy’s bio say nothing about Jesus Christ Superstar (he’s all blues, all the time, only), the dates and locales are off:

"In the early 1970’s he moved from the Detroit area to Minneapolis where he co-founded the Lamont Cranston Blues Band with Pat Hayes.”

If there’s one thing I know, it’s where my Bob Bingham was in the early 70s.

———

Drawing board: I think I should let it go

A fellow internet nerd friend of mine, Nick Erber, became intrigued by the enigma. He didn’t believe me when I said Bob Bingham was more or less unfindable on the internet, an incredulousness I’d eventually given up on, resigning to him simply not existing outside of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Nick’s own brief search discovered something I hadn’t come across: excerpts from Palimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal. It read:

Gore Vidal

"One of the few boys that I found congenial was Bob Bingham. He was tall and study, with a booming voice. 'Flamingo' was a song that he often thundered.

(Wow! I cried at this point. Pretty accurate so far!)

"We double-dated at the girls’ school, Wellesley, and one night slept out on a golf course. He was the editor of the school literary magazine, The Review. I was on the board. One would have thought that with so much in common, the relationshiop would have been easy; instead, it was edgy. So competitive was the atmosphere that he and I were soon in a struggle over which of us was going to be The Writer. He was indolent. I was not.”

I said to Nick, ok, before I get to too excited, when was Gore Vidal born? Please say it’s around 1946. No—it was on October 3, 1925. So. Yet another Bob Bingham who is almost, but not quite, the Bob Bingham.

Nick said, maybe he died, in like 1979. I said, that would be depressing and besides, why doesn’t Wikipedia know that? Nick said, maybe he retired young and is living in Tahiti or something. I said, I could dig that. But what about before Jesus Christ Superstar? Why is there no information there? He had to have done something trackable before just showing up with a relatively significant role in a huge Broadway show. Nick said, maybe not. Maybe he just showed up. I said, maybe he’s an alien. Or a time-traveller. He’s the blues guy, in two places at once, and also 20 years older than himself. Nick said, there ya go.

———

It was then, I came across these, pages I’d only glanced at before:

In addition to the standard Jesus Christ Superstar Broadway show listing, there’s this:

Up From Paradise - [College/University (US), World Premiere, 1974] - God

Yes, he apparently played God, in a show that otherwise included the characters of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lucifer, and a narrator. It ran for 6 days in 1974 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

I looked more closely and found these message board posts:

"I’ve found that he was from Seattle, and was in a version of Hair in Seattle in (I think) the very early 1970s, but I can’t find anything post-JCSS.”

Wow! Something (maybe) indicating (maybe) an existence before Jesus Christ Superstar (after his birth, that is).

And then…

"Last I heard about Bob Bingham…He was a teacher in Seattle Washington. Since then, I have heard nothing."

Well! This was very exciting. So, apparently he’s not an alien or a time-traveller, but a teacher. It doesn’t answer every question, or quell every suspicion, but it’s something.

Kind of anti-climactic.

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