Monday, May 7, 2007

Flashback: Did a TV Crew with Klieg Lights Work Magic to Elect Young?

[Fifty years of politics remembered for my kids and grandchildren].

Late in the afternoon after primary election night, 1972, Democratic nominee Andrew Young and his wife Jeanne met with a number of us to review the congressional campaign thus far. Present in his headquarters were John Lewis, now swiftly transferring from movement activist to politician, running the Voter Education Project, having been arrested more than 40 times and who helped lead the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma (and who ultimately became Young’s successor as congressman of the 5th district where he serves today); my friend, Hosea Williams who with Lewis led the march on the famed “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, was in jail on a DUI when he was picked up on election night; Julian Bond, a Georgia state Democratic representative (not entirely happy with Young’s election since it postponed what he had hoped would be his own ultimate election to Congress); Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (and who had shared Room 302 at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel with King the night before his assassination); and a number of political staff people who worked in the campaign.

After congratulating all on their work—and charting the road ahead for the general which few doubted he would win (which he did heavily)--Young grinned and said that every meeting he went to in the latter weeks of the campaign was enhanced by our film crew, dragging equipment in and hoisting klieg lights which gave the immediacy of importance to the events. “I told Roeser before that I didn’t know if he had any film in the cameras or not but their presence made folk think `wow, somthin’s goin’ to happen or be said here’” he said. Then he said: “when’s the movie goin’ to be made, anyway?” I said that there would have to be an awful lot of editing and re-filming done to make it complete (recognizing that Charles Guggenheim was going to step in and make it a finished project). Bond suggested to the mirth of all that the proper timing of its unveiling should be in two years when Young had to run again.

That having been said, I went back to Chicago. Sadly, I never saw this group again as an entity—including Hosea Williams. I still remember one of the last times we had coffee together, as Williams nursed one of his hangovers. He said what a number then suspected, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being where it came to the question of attractive female pulchritude was concerned. Especially when he became an idol to passionately enthusiastic Hollywood starlets. Williams said one night in Atlanta when they were planning a march, money was low and King’s popularity was sagging (at his death he was regarded by black militants as having been over the hill), he brightened up King by saying a Hollywood songstress was in town—one to become shortly famous—and wanted to meet him. King smiled and said, “oh yeah?” They went to a reception where he was introduced to a gushing Barbra Streisand. As we know, Streisand is multi-talented but no looker.

As they walked away, King whispered to Williams (this according to Williams): “Forget it.”


Bond’s wry suggestion that the film should be delayed until Young’s 1974 reelection came to pass. Editing took a long time and Guggenheim was doing it pro-bono. And he had to send a crew to Atlanta to dub in some locales. But after it was completed and seen as an historic production if not artistic triumph, we decided what to do with it to herald its coming. Earlier, Quaker had financed a prime-time documentary on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and we had scheduled it to be premiered at Ford’s Theatre. Precisely two years after election, Quaker financed the same kind of premiere before it was shown on television at Ford’s.

We sent out invitations to the entire national congress and many came. Buses were charted to bring dignitaries to the theater; cocktails and dinner were served in the foyer and basement of Ford’s in a splash which cost the company a good deal—but it was an excellent promotion. Because the turnout was free and featured great food and drink, it was the place to go to for Washingtonians that evening. And there was a mix-up that made the Secret Service’s collective hair stand on end—a mix-up I will remember until the end of my days.

You can imagine all the staff preparation it took to print the fancy invitations, have them sent to the entire A-List of Washington…the House…the Senate...key personnel of the White House…the Supreme Court…the media: then the tabulation of the RSVPs, the ticket-takers at the door, managers of the food and drink services with choice seats reserved for members of the Congress—with featured seats for Andrew Young and his wife and friends…also for the Illinois delegation since Quaker was an Illinois company…which meant particular seating for the two senators, Chuck Percy and Adlai Stevenson III; the House Democratic majority leader, Thomas P. [Tip] O’Neill; the House Republican minority leader Bob Michel;

…the chairman of the House Republican Conference, John B. Anderson; the House Ways and Means ranking majority member, Dan Rostenkowski…plus all the assorted corporate dignitaries from the food industry—all packed into the smallish theatre where Abraham Lincoln had been murdered. Present was the Supreme Court chief justice, Warren Burger and a recent addition to the Court from Illinois, John Paul Stevens. Civil rights leaders were there as well.

The premier was held in 1974 and for a time it looked like President Gerald Ford (a Yale university law classmate of our chairman, Bob Stuart) would attend—but then he had to go to the London Economic summit. Then it seemed like the vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, would attend—but he was also out of the country, the first and only time this happened. Congress later passed a resolution that it not happen again and it hasn’t. That meant that the Speaker of the House, the next in succession to the presidency after Ford and Rockefeller, would be regarded with all the majesty of an acting president and would have all the Secret Service protection that a head of state would have. He was Carl Albert, a five-foot four-inch Oklahoma Democrat who had been one of the first to RSVP our invitation. The Secret Service didn’t want Albert to go but he vetoed them; he was definitely coming—as a signal tribute to the Black Caucus.

Two weeks before the premiere, the Secret Service wanted to sit down with me in Washington and schedule where Albert would sit so that its heavily armed protective security officers would be ranged around him. They were uptight because the most recent constitutional amendment—the 25th--had just been implemented, first with the appointment of Ford as vice president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew and then with the elevation of Ford to the presidency following the resignation of Richard Nixon. With tiny Carl Albert as the next in line, the Secret Service wanted no slipups or even the remotest danger to come to him. There was also the specter which the agency hated of precedent: the next in line to the presidency sitting in the very theatre where the first president to be assassinated was struck down. This could motivate some nut to make history. They were very antsy.

So these buttoned-down, thin, nervous lawmen figured out who would be seated around Albert and ordered that all of them be checked out. One was George Koch who was the president of our leading trade association, the Grocery Manufacturers of America. I had to assure them that Koch was not a logical assassin but they moved him to the back rows anyhow. On and on and on. Of course the big question was who would sit at the Speaker’s right hand. The Speaker’s wife would be on his left. It was logical that the person to sit on his right hand would be Robert D. Stuart, Jr., the chairman of Quaker Oats. They even checked out his background and gave Stuart an o.k.

When the evening of the premiere came, the crowds were handled smoothly. The Speaker and his wife arrived and were shown to their box directly proportionate from the historic box where Lincoln had met his untimely end. There was one problem. No Bob Stuart. He was nowhere to be found. We frantically checked and were told that his plane was late at Washington National. The seat remained empty next to the Speaker and the Secret Service was trembling with uncertainty since this had not gone according to plan. Why was the seat empty? Where was Stuart? They didn’t give approval for the program to start until Stuart could be found.

Of course Stuart could not be found; his plane had just touched down at Washington National. So I improvised. I collared a high level Quaker executive, told him he had to play the role of Bob Stuart so that the program could go on. I brought him to the Carl Albert box and told the jittery Secret Service, “here is Mr. Stuart.” They looked relieved, talked into their sleeves and said, “Stuart has arrived—ten-four!” The executive sat down, shook hand with the Alberts, the Secret Service gave the signal and the house lights darkened and the film went on.

Twenty minutes into the projection of the film, the real Bob Stuart arrived. Of course he had to be seated next to the Speaker. So as he approached the box, I whispered to the nearest Secret Service man, “Bob Stuart has just arrived. The man next to the Speaker is not Bob Stuart!” With that the guard lunged forward, grabbed the Quaker executive by the collar and pulled him out of his seat to the aisle while other guards, their hands on their artillery under their coats, scanned the crowd anxiously.

Stuart slipped in to the vacant theatre seat and shook hands with the surprised Carl Albert and his wife, they wondering who the first “Bob Stuart” was and if this was truly the real Bob Stuart. With all its phenomenal checking and counter-checking, the Secret Service had been gulled; believing me that the decoy was Stuart and not checking. It pleased me because in the robotic check-counter-check of the Secret Service one small detail eluded them: a Quaker executive said this fellow was Bob Stuart when he wasn’t and the elite corps believed me. I looked up at the Secret Service man standing by (he was fingering his gun under his coat) with his lips moving silently but unmistakably, calling me a four-word explective that began with the word “son--.”


The Young film having been widely praised and then used as a training film for community groups (which was my first intention), I returned to the government relations routine for the company. Not long later, a company vice president of advertising, Victor Elting III, an elderly, courtly Lake Forest Brahmin, had capped his long career at our company by being elected chairman of the leading advertising industry trade association, the American Advertising Federation (AAF), a consortium of top corporate ad professionals and ad agency heads. The job was an honorific, a ceremonial function that was to last a year or so Every chairman began his term with an address delivered to a pompously overdressed white tie and tails audience in Manhattan. The question is what Elting would say that would differ from the scores of other near-retirement corporate officers who served before him.

I had been a regular reader of the Crain’s publication Advertising Age, the bible of the advertising industry. Advertising Age featured a columnist who was a far-sighted progressive, one who had been railing against low-quality television and radio advertising which he claimed had been debasing the public taste. While no one wanted government regulation of advertising, it occurred to me that an independent sector self-scrutiny review board which would exert only the discipline of public relations censure for bad taste ads might be acceptable. We got Elting to accept the concept and in his speech he outlined the proposal of a National Advertising Review Board. Advertising Age saw in the Elting proposal a verification of what its lead columnist had been referring to and give it yards of ink. Almost overnight, Victor Elting III moved from another rather forgettable corporate vice president of advertising at a food company to the widely-publicized statesman of the industry, a far-sighted visionary with idealism and intellectual thrust. This he was all too glad to accept as the denouement of his ad career—but the question was how the thing could be implemented which was not government, not regulatory but which carried some sanctions in behalf of good taste.

To sketch out the format of such an institution, I had called on my old former assistant at Commerce, Bill Geimer who was then in the private practice of law. After I had been fired by the secretary of commerce, I landed with my one last good contact in the White House (Stephen Hess, now a senior fellow at Brookings) a job for Geimer as Hess’ assistant. Geimer moved from there to become an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld who had been given the job by Richard Nixon of running the Wage and Price Control agency under Nixon’s ill-advised regulatory scheme to fight inflation. Geimer became a special assistant to Rumsfeld at the Wage and Price Control agency and attended a meeting in the cabinet room with the president and his cabinet in structuring the Commission.. Not bad for an idealistic, conservative, talented kid who had been a patent attorney at a Chicago law firm with little hope of going to the federal government (which he sorely wished to do) until I hired him to come to Washington to work for my agency.

There is an old saying that no good turn goes unpunished—and in this case it was true with Geimer and me. Not only did I use my last chit as a “fire-ee” to get him elevated to a White House staff post earning more money than I earned at Commerce, a slot which propelled him t `o become a top aide to Donald Rumsfeld, a Nixon top adviser (landing him in a secure place where his views are recorded in perpetuity on White House tapes in a discussion with the President on wage and price controls on September 9, 1972)…after which he then landed a secure job at a leading Washington law firm…it turned out he was embittered—get that!—believing I had done him a terrible disservice in getting myself fired so that he would have to undergo the inconvenience of moving into different job slots.

I have never, ever in all the associations I have had before or since understood Geimer’s bitterness. But to the end of his days (he died too early) he believed I, who brought him to Washington in the first place (where he had striven to go), had been very un-thoughtful about his well-being and caused him job dislocation. Notwithstanding his resultant promotion and pay hike. I shall never understand it or these vagaries of his post-Commerce moody temperament. He later got connected with the CIA and became a consultant and part-time operative where he shepherded the return of the highest USSR defector to American life and with CIA help formed and led the prestigious Jamestown Foundation. He was at one time a close friend and always a trusted expert who carried out all the assignments I gave to him extraordinarily well…even when he thought I was not considerate of his well-being by getting canned by Nixon and his people!

This time Quaker paid Geimer and his friend, a philosopher of business, Richard Cornuelle who had written the book, “Reclaiming the American Dream,” to devise an institution in the independent sector, the National Advertising Review Board. Rather than two sectors, public and private, there are three—and the independent sector is very influential: churches, foundations, labor unions, associations and as we invented, a self-regulatory one, the NARB. The institution was devised at Quaker, unveiled in its entirety by Elting who by now was getting accustomed to his role as Grand Vizier and viable conscience of the nation’s advertising industry, lionized seemingly with every issue of Ad Age. True to human failings in which we all share, he became convinced he devised the concept entirely himself and when elevated ultimately to Mount Olympus with other advertising giants like Leo Burnett, he took on the toga of statesman which in his estimation…not necessarily mine… he richly deserved.


A Chicago political (but nonpartisan) project beckoned next, the leadership of Project LEAP [Legal Elections in All Precincts]. It was designed uniquely to fight Chicago vote-fraud. I was a co-founder but paid little attention to it until its board asked that I become its chairman. It was a coalition of Republicans and independent, liberal Democrats who were critics of the original Mayor Daley…carrying with it a board membership on the IVI (Independent Voters of Illinois) for the chairman. I was now the only conservative ever to serve on the IVI board and convened the one-man (me) pro-life caucus of the IVI. That was fun. What wasn’t was when shortly after, I was summoned to meet with Daley patriarch in his City Hall office. What he said to me—all this later.

No comments:

Post a Comment