By WILLIAM L. BUTTS
By JON ALLAN
In 1965 singer-songwriter and humorist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about entertainers in politics entitled “George Murphy,” a spoof on the recent election of that dancer-actor to the Senate.
Hollywood’s often tried to mix
Show business with politics,
From Helen Gahagan
To Ronald Reagan,
But Mister Murphy is the star
Who’s done the best by far.
Of course Ronald Reagan did go on to “do the best by far” with his election to the presidency in 1980. But the history of actors crossing into U.S. politics predates Reagan and Murphy, and goes back to Congressman Julius Kahn, who performed on stage in the 1880s opposite Edwin Booth, Joe Jefferson and other top stars of the theater before spending almost 20 years in the House, from 1904 until his death. P.T. Barnum, who served in the Connecticut Legislature in the 1860s, was Mayor of Bridgewater and twice ran for Congress.
Still, when you mention actors turned politicians, Reagan is usually the first name that comes to mind. While his story is so well known that it doesn’t bear repeating, Reagan is connected to a number of other celebrity politicians who may not be as familiar. He and George Murphy fought the left wing political activists in Hollywood for control of the unions and, like Reagan, was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Murphy was elected to the Senate in 1964 and was expected to easily win re-election in 1970 despite a bout with cancer. Then it came out that he had been accepting a regular fee of $20,000, a car and a credit card from Technicolor Inc. The hint of bribery lost him the race to Gene Tunney, the son of the former heavyweight boxing champion. Throughout his film career and after leaving the Senate, Murphy was an easy autograph signer, although his Senate signatures are often Autopens and he is of only moderate value.
California: Home of the Celebrity Politician
Perhaps because it is the center of the entertainment industry, California has had more than its share of actors who transition into politics. Today, California’s governor is A-list entertainment celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose story has played out in the press since his first election to governor. As his friend and Predator costar Jesse Ventura found out, it’s easier to win an election than run a state. Schwarzenegger has filled collections with non-authentic autographs since reaching stardom so use extreme caution in purchasing his autograph.
Another Californian of early note was Helen Gahagan Douglas, who served in Congress from 1945-51. A stunningly beautiful Broadway star, Douglas was known for her one role in the film She and was married to Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas. In 1950 she decided to run for the Senate and faced off against fellow Congressman Richard Nixon who dubbed her the “pink lady” and intimated she was pro-Communist. She authored the term “Tricky Dick” and went on to become a heroine of the women’s liberation movement.
Will Rogers Jr., son of the legendary humorist, was elected to Congress in 1943. When a bill he had authored to save the Jews in Europe failed, he resigned from Congress and became a highly decorated tank commander. He lost a race for the Senate in 1946. In The Will Rogers Story, in which he played the role of his father, his costar was the former Mrs. Reagan, Jane Wyman.
Hollywood Celebs Take their Fame Back to their Home States
Fred Thompson went from politics, where he was the Republican counsel of the Watergate Committee, to “B” movies, then back to politics as a Senator from Tennessee. He then made the unusual move of resigning from the Senate to star as the conservative DA on Law and Order. In the last presidential primary he seemed to have a reasonable chance of winning the Republican nomination, but it soon became obvious that he had little passion for the run and pulled out.
By the time this article comes to print it is quite possible another entertainment celebrity will be in the Senate, if Al Franken’s slim victory in Minnesota stands up to court challenge. Minnesota has a reputation for electing out of the mainstream figures. Before Franken there was Jesse Ventura, who not only won the governorship, but did it on the Independent Reform ticket. Ventura, a wrestler, action star and commentator, spoke his mind, politically correct or not. It wasn’t his attacks on religion or his lifestyle that brought him down but the grind of trying to balance budgets and work with legislatures.
The post of ambassador is one of the few political appointments given to amateurs. Just ask Reagan friend, Psycho’s John Gavin, whom he sent to Mexico. The most famous movie star ambassador was Shirley Temple, aka Shirley Temple Black, film’s greatest child star. An active Republican, she served as Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, was Representative to the United Nations and the first woman Chief of Protocol. She wanted very much to hold office and unsuccessfully ran against fellow Republican Pete McCloskey, a Korean War hero and opponent of the Vietnam War. She lost by a substantial margin. Temple’s early autograph can be very expensive, and in later years she signed Shirley Temple Black and has tried to inscribe signatures so that the inscription cannot be cut away. No matter what form, she is an excellent investment.
Like Temple, another famous actress and playwright, Clare Booth Luce, served in Congress from Connecticut and was appointed Ambassador to Italy and later to Argentina. Luce, the wife of Time-Life owner Henry Luce, came in second to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in a 1947 national poll to determine “the American woman you most admire.” Another Connecticut actor turned politico was John Lodge, who starred in films and on stage opposite Shirley Temple, Greta Garbo and others. He was a member of the famed Lodge family and brother of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Not only was he a Republican Congressman, but he was also Connecticut Governor and Ambassador to Argentina, Spain and Switzerland.
From TV to Congress
After establishing themselves as national figures in TV shows, actors have gone to their home states to run for office. Among those in recent years have been the actors who played “Gopher” and “Cooter.”
Fred “Gopher” Grandy of The Love Boat was a Republican who returned to Iowa, where he was elected to Congress and served from 1987-95. Grandy tried to distance himself from his acting career after he entered politics, but he did tell People magazine, “If there were no Gopher, there would be no Fred Grandy for Congress.” He lost a race for Governor in 1994 by only four points.
Democrat Ben “Cooter” Jones of The Dukes of Hazzard was elected to Congress from Georgia, serving from 1987-93, was defeated for re-election, and lost again in a 2002 congressional race in Virginia. Congress has also been the desire of others like Ralph Waite, the father on The Waltons, who ran for Sonny Bono’s seat but was beaten by his widow, Mary. Nancy Kulp, “Miss Jane” on The Beverly Hillbillies ran for Congress from Pennsylvania. An open bi-sexual, she lost the race to Sheila James Kuehl, who ran with Kulp’s former costar, Buddy Ebsen. “Zelda Gilroy” on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, who was also an open lesbian, has been a powerful and popular figure in the California House and Senate for almost 20 years and announced a possible run for California Secretary of State. Gopher, Zelda and Cooter were good at signing autographs, both in and out of office.
Politics and entertainment are two of the most popular areas of autograph collecting and the mixture of the two makes for an interesting specialty. With a few exceptions such as Reagan and Schwarzenegger, very few of the autographs are terribly expensive. Both professions are spent in the public eye, and the entertainer, looking for votes, is quite apt to authentically sign. Of these names, few have not signed authentically for me.
By JON ALLAN
For years I have been far more interested in collecting the politics of war, rather than in those who fought in them. But this changed when I bought several large collections that included some fascinating people who played key roles in history.
In a collection of WWI autographs, I found one of the great soldiers of fortune, Ivor Thord-Gray. There are gaps in the information on Thord-Gray and even contradictory statements, so in writing this article I have tried to piece together what seems to be the most logical set of events from the varying sources.
Ivor Thord Hallstromat was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1878, and spent his life far from home as he sought and served in what seems like all of the world’s wars from 1897 through WWII. He joined the merchant marines at the age of 15 and landed in South Africa. Thord-Gray was unique in that rather than fighting as a mercenary, he joined the military of the country he was fighting for.
During much of his time in the British military, Thord-Gray was suspected of being a German spy and both M1 and the FBI spent an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it. In actuality he was mistaken for another officer named Gray who was a German spy, but the problem haunted him.
Some sources claim that Thord-Gray’s stories of Africa served as an inspiration for Tarzan. Married five times, he died in Florida in 1964. Once asked why he had married so many times he replied he was collecting mothers-in-laws.
In making the choice of Thord-Gray, I picked one of the rarest adventurers. The Swedes are proud of his accomplishments and more than 1,000 letters and papers exist in their Royal Library. I paid almost nothing for my autograph, but there also seems to be nothing listed for sale, so I would suggest looking for signed copies of his books or letters. These could range from $50 to as much as a $1,000, depending on who is selling it to you. Or you may get lucky and find the autograph in a yard sale box for a fraction of its value.
If adventurers interest you, do some research. People who explored Africa, the Amazon or the North and South Pole have wonderful stories and sell for under $50 or as much as $1,000 for a diary with content. Research is the secret. Make a list of who you want and why the individuals excite you. I just came across a list I made 15 years ago and realized I’ve collected every name on the list. It may take years, but that is part of the adventure of collecting.
Thord-Gray Time Line
1897 • South African Cape Mounted Rifleman: Fought in Bechuanaland and Pondoland
1899-1902 • British Army: Fought against the Boers in the Second Boer War—this war pitted the British Empire against the two independent Boer Republics in South Africa and was the first major international war of the 20th century
1903-1904 • South African Constabulary: Fought with forces in Transvaal and saw action as a captain in the Lydenburg Militia
1906-07 • Royston’s Horse: Fought with the British against Zulu chief Bambatha; the Zulus had turned to guerilla attacks against the British, but the superiority of the British arms defeated the Zulus and Bambatha was beheaded.
1907 • Nairobi Mounted Police/Kenya: Thord-Gray was known as a big game hunter during these years.
1908-09 • US Army/Philippines: Joined the U.S. Army as a Captain and spent time in the Philippine Constabulary
1910 • French Foreign Legion: Fought in Tonkin (now Vietnam) and some sources have him joining the Italian Army and fighting in Tripoli
1912 • China: Fought in the Chinese revolution under Sun Yat Sen
1913-1914 • Mexico: Thord-Gray wrote a book, Gringo Rebel: Mexico 1913-1914, describing experiences serving as Pancho Villa’s captain and commander in charge of artillery.
1914 • WWI: Thord-Gray joined the British Army as a Major and made second in command of the 15th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Promoted to lieutenant colonel and then colonel of the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers, he then became commander of the 1/26th Battalion. The 11th saw action in many battles. Thord-Gray received important decorations for his service and wrote a book on trench warfare.
1918 • Canadian Army: Lieutenant colonel and director of information when the Allies invaded Russia to try to put down the Soviet government, he fought the Bolsheviks across Russia to Siberia
1919 • Russian White: Army Colonel and commanding officer of the 1st Siberian Assault Division; seriously wounded on August 14, 1919 in Omsk. Thord-Gray was again wounded in 1920 and captured by the Red Army, but was quickly turned over to American troops.
1928 • Venezuela: Given the rank of lieutenant general when revolution broke out, but gave up the rank when the revolution broke down in early 1929.
1934-1935 • Florida militia /United States: Became an American citizen; Governor David Scholtz appointed him major general in the Florida militia and chief of staff to the governor.
1941 • US Army: Some sources have him advising during WWII.
By JON ALLAN
In American history, certain battles of its wars hold an iconic status: Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Alamo, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Bulge, to name a few. When people think of the Spanish-American War of 1898, they think of the Battle of San Juan Hill. And when Americans think of this battle, they think of Teddy Roosevelt charging up the hill, followed by his Rough Riders, an all-American mix of cowboys, Ivy Leaguers, Pawnee Scouts, polo players and New York City policemen.
It was “A Splendid Little War,” created by the jingoism of the yellow press techniques of William Randolph Hearst and others, whose propaganda caused the public and the politicians to demand that a hesitant President McKinley go to war to kick the cruel Spanish out of Cuba, and to “Remember the Maine.” It was clearly an optional war and though we passed a law that we would not annex Cuba, we ended up with the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.
The Spanish-American War is barely remembered today and mostly what we know of it is due to one man, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was one of our most colorful and important of presidents, and it was his charge up San Juan Hill that eventually gave him the presidency. His history is well known and in recent years has been dissected by a number of historians. Roosevelt was many things, but one thing he did all his life was push himself to the end of his limits and expected the same from others. As assistant secretary of the Navy in the McKinley administration, Roosevelt’s machinations helped bring on the war. More than anything he wanted to serve in it and prove himself a “man.” When Roosevelt proposed to Secretary of War Russell Alger the concept of the Rough Riders, otherwise known as the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, Alger agreed, offering him a colonelcy and command. But, Roosevelt suggested Col. Leonard Wood to help him lead the volunteers.
Lt. Col. Wood was an Army physician, and Presidents Cleveland’s and McKinley’s personal physician, who had gained fame and a Medal of Honor for his actions in fighting Geronimo in 1886. While in Cuba he replaced the ill Gen. Samuel B. M. Young as the commander of the Second Cavalry Brigade, which included the Rough Riders. Wood is an important autograph of a San Juan Hill collection because, despite the fact that the calvary will be forever known as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders,” he was technically the commander. He went on to become
governor of Cuba, chief of Army staff and was a major candidate for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination. His signature can cost around $100. Wood may have officially been in charge, but there was never any doubt that Roosevelt was the real head of the Rough Riders.
The overall war was commanded by Gen. Nelson Miles, a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, wounded four times and later known as the great Indian fighter. The command in Cuba fell to Gen. William Shafter, another Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and Indian fighter. He was in his 60s, weighed well over 300 pounds and suffered badly in the tropical heat. Because of his gout, he had to be carried on a door, but he used good sense in capturing Santiago, the main objective, through the use of the Navy and through peace negotiations. Roosevelt wasn’t pleased with this because it denied him the chance to fight another battle after San Juan Hill. President McKinley’s choice to lead the cavalry, including the Rough Riders, was the aging and diminutive Confederate Cavalry Gen. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, who McKinley believed would help bring the nation together.
The confused Wheeler mistakenly called the Spanish “Yankees” and, despite his age of 61, road to the gunfire at San Juan Hill. As a Confederate hero of the Civil War, Wheeler’s autograph is highly desirable, and since he served in Congress between wars, it’s also fairly plentiful with a signature selling for $100-$150. Gen. Miles and Shafter both also sell in the same range.
Not So Splendid A War
The majority of the regular Army who fought in the war, plus volunteers, made up a force of massive proportions—so large that there were not enough bullets in the country to meet their needs. Getting the troops to Cuba and supplying them was poorly planned. The war was brief, lasting only from April to August (with the final peace treaty being signed in December), but it was bloody. Once in Cuba, the Americans found the roads almost impassible, food largely unavailable and the soldiers out-gunned by smokeless rifles that picked off the troops almost from the time they reached land.
Several bloody skirmishes were fought before reaching the two hills that overlooked Santiago: Kettle Hill, named for a huge kettle found at the top, and San Juan Hill beside it. The troops waited below, being picked off for hours before the final order was given to charge. There is still controversy today as to who made the final call to charge, but once made, the Americans faced a small but well entrenched group of Spaniards at the top.
The charge is where history and fact part ways. We think of Roosevelt, alone, leading the Rough Riders to victory. In fact, he was a part of one of many groups who made the charge. They were dismounted cavalry
and infantry, primarily led by regulars including a large number of African-Americans. Five African-Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in the battle.
Roosevelt showed great bravery in what he considered the greatest day of his life, and within days was shamelessly lobbying for a Medal of Honor. His duplicity in the war and his back-biting against his superiors had left a sour taste in the mouths of the War Department, who felt that, while brave, he was no braver than others. He went to his death regretting that he had not received the medal, but in January 2001, despite opposition, and the fact that some believe he really didn’t deserve it, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Bill Clinton.
Besides the leaders, a number of generals who gained fame in WW I were part of the attack on San Juan Hill. Among these are a few from my collection, such as Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who won the sobriquet “Black Jack” because he commanded black troops and was an officer in the charge; Malvern Hill Barnum, the son of Civil War Gen. Henry Barnum, who was cited for gallantry as part of the 10th Cavalry; Gen. Charles Crawford, who led the 3rd Infantry Division in WWI; Gen. Frank McCoy who was wounded; and others include Gen. Lytle Brown, Gen. T. A. Baldwin and Gen. Samuel S. B. Young.
Many important officers played a role in the battle at San Juan Hill, and it’s an adventure to find them. Many who were also in WWI can be found for as little as $25 for a letter.