John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 5, 2008

And now, taking you back to an election of 50 years ago…

Columny: a column about columns
Two days before the election, the Sunday News quoted Vincent Lopez: “Based on numerology, Nixon will be the next President.”The election campaign, of course, was a serious matter; even the normally flippant daily columnists realized that. Any reader who followed the columns for the first two weeks of November (as I did) couldn’t help but be impressed by the grasp that the men-about-town displayed over the important issues. Take the Journal-American’s Louis Sobol, for example. After a week of such penetrating comments as: “I wonder if the Republicans’ slogan for Nixon shouldn’t be ‘Most Ike-y to Succeed’” and “Sherman Billingsley still refuses to divulge his own leanings” and “Please pull that lever or make that cross; Tuesday’s the day you’re the big boss,” the subtle Sobol went on election-night duty. The J-A ran his scoop next day: a three-column spread to say that the nightclubs were half empty.

Ed Sullivan pontificated that the new President’s first duty must be to “call on Americans to recapture their pride in their work.” As an example, old Ed himself proudly continued to work at reporting such essentials as: “Wilt Chamberlain and Bev Richardson a duet…Daughter for Steve Yates and his wife…The Don Prices named him Douglas…Neil Vanderbilt to wed Rita Kenniston?” (You asking us?) One Sullivan item on election eve was clearly significant to somebody. In its entirety it read: “Clifford Odets a item.” Huh?

Such a funny thing happened to the Post’s Earl Wilson that the election news, apart from a crack or two about Sinatra, went clean out of his mind. He even forgot to mention Toots Shor. The whole thing was so hilarious, in fact, that Wilson narrated it twice — once the day before election and, word for word, that day after. Seems that Earl laughed too quietly at a TV rehearsal and somebody said: “Get him. He’s laughing himself to sleep.” The second day that Wilson presented this to his readers, he had another side-splitter headed: “Today’s Best Laugh.” “Mrs. Jack Gilford,” it read, “ordered some monogrammed aprons but had to send ‘em back. They had Jack’s initials wrong.” Funny?

On November 6, Wilson had an exclusive: “DJ Alan Freed’s doing so well in L.A. that he thanks those who got him fired in N.Y. a year ago…” Some of the gloss was taken off this, however, by another exclusive from Dorothy Kilgallen on November 11: “Alan Freed, the rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey…had filed a petition of bankruptcy…”

With electioneering on her mind, Antie Kilgallen had a little lesson in manners for us all. The Campaign buttons reading: “Okay, Mamie, start packing,” belonged in the “Terrible Taste Department,” the columnist ruled. She also had a couple of messages for her elders, but not necessarily betters. To philosopher Bertrand Russell, who had urged the world not to rely on strength but to consider the dinosaurs, she commented: “Okay Bertrand, I’ve considered them. There aren’t many around my neighborhood these days.” And to paroled murderer Nathan Leopold, who’s suing Meyer Levin and Darryl Zanuck, she snapped: “You killed the kid, didn’t you, Nathan?” It’s good to know Auntie is watching our manners.

Counting the three in his Election Day poem (“…So register your vote today!/Then you can exercise your throat/If you don’t like the chap that wins/But don’t complain if you don’t vote.”), the Mirror’s Nick Kenny used sixty-two exclamation points in seven columns between November 2 and 11. That’s this many:!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Record day: November 4, when his column carried twenty-six of them.

Sobol observed one day that fellow-columnist Bob Considine had been asking people to name the last ten losing Vice-Presidential candidates and wondered if he (Considine) could name them himself? But this was a rare political comment among the insiders. Considine, for his part, tossed a bouquet to vacationing fellow-columnist Louella Parsons (“a marvel in the eyes of reporters who work with, for, and in opposition to her”) and said she was “an endless joy to know.” Louella herself, in town for the opening of her daughter’s play (Rape of the Belt) was quoted in the news columns as complaining that today’s movies “should show the pleasant side of life.” Walter Winchell asked: “Is columnist Murray Kempton keeping secret a happy story that starred him last summer?” (Here’s a dime, WW; why not go call him?) The Journal-American’s Jim Bishop, reporter, devoted one column to his dad (I’ve never known a greater man than you”), another tear-jerker to the wedding of Aunt Alice’s niece (“Now the little bird was ready to fly in communion with a mate”), but stayed away from discussions of fellow-travelers or fellow-Catholics in the White House. It took the World-Tely’s Robert Ruark to bring the subject back to the matter at hand with a column declaring that Ike was a great man and this mess certainly wasn’t his fault. (He hinted darkly, in another epic, that Adlai Stevenson was to blame).

Also in the World-Tely, an issue or two got tossed around by daily columnist Richard Starnes, touted in house ads as “New York’s most-talked-about new columnist.” Starnes, who’s even duller than Arthur Krock, has covered a wide range of subjects this month: Russia’s growth, the incidence of dog manure, Russia’s food production, the election results, Russia’s power production, etc. So who’s talking about him?

It was a poor week for the omnipresent Leonard (As I Was Just Saying to Winston Churchill) Lyons, who could claim only that he’s introduced Brendan Behan to Groucho Marx. (He made up for it last Sunday when he took along a group of celebrities to meet Thornton Wilder.) Lyons did manage to inject himself into the election picture, however, by recalling how his son had once sat in the President’s chair. “It was eight years ago during a family visit to the Trumans,” he reminisced.

The Trib’s pet bore Hy Gardner reported having had “a whale of a good time” at a rally for Nixon and Lodge. “It seemed to my eyes and ears,” he said worshipfully, “that there was a ring of sincerity as the partisan throng shouted thanks to the outgoing President and encouragement to a team they pray will succeed the incumbents.” Hy also wondered if we had noticed, “that the Democratic and Republican candidates for the Governorship of North Dakota were named Guy and Dahl?” Well no, Hy, we hadn’t. But thanks for bringing it to our attention.

After spending a day or two inspecting the guest list at the Horse Show (“Still Runs Strong as Attraction for Socialites,” headlined the World-Tely’s “Society Today” column), even the society columnists got around to tackling the election scene. There was one major cliffhanger, of course, and it remained touch and go right up to election eve: Would Peggy Bedford Bancroft (“Manhattan’s undisputed young mostess’ hostess,” as the Tely’s Joseph X. Dever described her) make it back from Paris in time to vote? Coyly the columnist hinted at certain counter attractions — a Prince Charles d’Arenberg in France; a Lord Eric Dudley in England.

In a subsequent column Dever also mentioned the meeting between Count Jose Berga de Lema and Prince Don Juan Carlos in Madrid when, said the columnist, the first thing Spain’s Crown Prince asked was: “what do you hear from Peggy Bancroft?” (She sounds like a socialite Elliot Ness.)

Election day itself brought stirring news from the J-A’s Cholly Knickerbocker: “Peggy Bedford Bancroft planes in today from Europe after saying before leaving there, ‘I don’t intend to get married at this time!’” Prince Charles, added Cholly, was “in hot pursuit.” (Trying to change her vote?)

A new concept of reporting the news as it happens was tried by Earl Wilson, who announced in his Post column on Monday that he’d held up his Marilyn Monroe divorce “scoop” for three days — “because the election news would have buried it.”

—From The Village Square, a collection of columns
by John Wilcock (Lyle Stuart, 1951)