Thursday, November 30, 2006
Personal Aside: My Date with Ginger RogersPart I.
There is in my files somewhere, although fortunately I have mislaid it, a full color photograph of me and my 1974 date Ginger Rogers (who died in 1995 at age 84). Then she was a mere slip of a girl at 64 with luxuriant hair so blonde that it shone in the dark, wearing rather extensive cosmetics eyeliner, glossy lipstick, heavy pancake primer over which there was a second coat of pink powder and upon one cheek was pasted a black imitation beauty mole the size of a lascivious ink spot. I was a stripling of 46, married with four children, squinting through horn-rimmed glasses, taking her arm nervously as I didnt know what else to do with it when the cameraman asked us to look natural. My date with her was arranged by Doris (Mrs. Robert) McClory, Gingers former agent who in her own advanced middle age had married the widower Republican Congressman who represented the far northwest suburbs. It was my first year as chairman of the anti-vote fraud organization, Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) and I was hosting a fund-raiser at the Conrad Hilton. Mrs. McClory saw the advance notice and since Ginger Rogers was in town appearing in the play Cactus Flower and when she called me at Quaker Oats, she said she thought it would be good to kill two birds with one stone.
I didnt quite know what she meant: kill two birds with one stone. The analogy didnt seem to be apt for any endeavor in which I would have an interest. She said it is a figure of speech and didnt care to explain it further but proceeded with her idea. Ginger, she says, is always worried about her plays not getting sufficient media. Your organization seems to get media at election time and I think it would be a good idea if you were to accompany her to your fund-raiser where the media, if it were there, would be prompted to mention that Ginger is in town doing Cactus Flower. She is, after all, a Hollywood celebrity, a solid Republican and it wouldnt hurt your fund-raiser if it were announced that you would be accompanied to it by Ginger Rogers. She repeated: Ginger is a solid Republican who has never forgotten that Mayor Daley stole the 1960 election from Richard Nixon.
All well and good but this was some time ago. Now, the people who volunteered for Project LEAP tended to be long haired extremely liberal young men with sideburns that merged into longish beards, who smoked exotic cigarettes and for a reason I had never understood tagged around with, for the most part, rather plain, unattractive extraordinarily liberal often butch women wearing no makeupall of whom were radical refugees from the ultra-liberal days of rage against the Vietnam War who did the vote counting in the hope of screaming foul against the hated Richard J. Daley machine. They had elected me against their better judgment because although a Republican, I was seen to have some access to Republican corporate contributions for the organization which was tied into the IVI (Independent Voters of Illinois). The IVI had little money of its own. I did not let them down and for that reason they continued with me as their leader, allowing me to announce to the press every election day that the machine made it a jungle out there since voting conditions perpetrated by the Boards of Election Commissioners were a disgrace to democracy with which Republicans and liberal independents agreed solemnly.
As radical, un-bathed and dissolute as some of our LEAP election judges were, they were a boon to the weakling Republican party and had been recruited as Republican judges of election--although they hated everything my party stood for, particularly Richard M. Nixon who had just thrilled them by being forced to resign. But Republicans embraced the LEAP judges happily albeit pragmatically because they could not muster judges of election on their own and the radicals hated the Democratic machine so fervently they had good reason to see that no votes were stolen. In fact that is how we sold that idea to W. Clement Stone, a roly-poly insurance half-billionaire of advanced age with patent leather black hair and a pencil-line mustache who donated tens of thousands of dollars to the enterprise, securing my steady tenure. With Stones money I was generally assured of a loyal LEAP following.
Still in all, I had my doubts about the well-being of Ms. Rogers and me were the date to occur. I was closer to the age of our volunteers than was Rogers who had been born in 1911. I had at least been in the Peace Corps which was accepted by them, had been fired by Nixon which had thrilled them while Rogers was noted for her support of the late Robert A. Taft as preferential to Dwight Eisenhower but voted for Eisenhower only because he had made Richard Nixon his vice presidential choice. It was to be a cocktail party where our comp volunteers usually celebrated raucously while Clem Stone and others paid the bill and didnt show up. Thus I did not believe this would be an evening where views would congeal. However Doris McClory sweetened the pot by putting me in touch with some dowagers who would go to our cocktail party and make sizable contributions in the hope of touching the hem of Ginger Rogers and added that Mr. Stone had hoped we would treat the sweet darling of his adolescent dreams, Ms. Rogers, with circumspection.
That did it. I was committed.
I checked with my wife, of course who did not feel the slightest pang of jealousy that I was going to accompany an elderly female former screen star who had gone through four husbands, virtually telling each of them on their wedding day she would not keep them long.
There was one proviso. Doris McClory told me that Ms. Rogers wished to be picked up by me in a limousine with driver as befitted her station when in the old days she was driven through the studio gates for her early morning shoot. That was easy; I negotiated a Quaker mailroom employee who drove senior officers in a limousine to get permission to take the car out for this purpose since Ms. Rogers was a conservative Republican. Permission granted.
So with a long sigh of misgiving at the hideous unnaturalness of the event, I told my wife that I would see her later at the reception but I would first have to pick up my screen star escort in a limousine. I asked my wife if she wished to accompany. She said no, she trusted the both of us and she would see us at the reception. Drat. All the way to Ms. Rogers hotel I, sitting in the back seat of the limousine, felt desperately uneasy. I experienced a kind of exquisite Catholic guilt about this arrangement but then, too, a pinch-me-Im-dreaming feeling that four decades after seeing her when she won the Oscar for Kitty Foyle I was taking her out. More realistically, I turned my thoughts to other things: such as how my arrival with Ginger Rogers would be taken by a rabble who just a few years earlier had been hurling imprecations and horse-dung at the police.
It being 11:15 p.m. now, I shall go to bed to continue this on Monday. Until then if you wish to comment, please dobut let no one recycle the old bromide of how she was the better dancer than Fred Astaire since she had to do everything he did backwards and in high heels. We have all heard it; it was first coined by Gloria Steinem as part of a feminist pitch which was good when first used but which has been so repeated that it has become a cliché. Now if you wish, comment away.