Friday, June 15, 2007

Flashback: The Second Unpleasantness Involving Ford’s Theatre.

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

The Speaker hugely enjoyed not just viewing over and over again the rushes of his film biography (which indeed showed the film was everything we had hoped; not personal hype but an invaluable education as to the operations of the Speakership itself). But he also savored every detail involving the planning of the Ford’s theatre premiere of the film. Together we spent a majority part of two days in his office looking at invitation lists (from from his and Quaker’s standpoint)…before tackling the big issue on the agenda: who would do the inviting…us or his office.

Outside his door, in the chamber of the House, weighty debates centered on deregulation of cargo airlines, commercial airlines and possible natural gas prices and the trucking industry (only cargo airlines made it through in this session); in our room we debated a far weightier issue: whether The Quaker Oats Company or the Speaker himself should do the inviting. My position was that the Speaker should do the inviting…since his name would draw the crowds rather than ours. With us turning out the invitation it would look self a self-publicizing, commercial venture. With him doing it, with the invitation bearing the official seal of the U. S. House, it would have the dignity of the second person in line for the presidency. I could see a weighty paper stock, a multi-colored seal, paper with a heavy rag content that did not crinkle when you unfolded the invitation.

He rehashed it: would it look like a sellout to private interests if he invited people to see a film co-sponsored by Quaker? With all my might I said no, that the other way would look like a sellout—if we sent it out with his name on it. By 3 p.m. I convinced him to agree that he should send the invitation since Quaker’s name would be well down the list topped by WGBH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He said finally, “okay, I agree with you: I’ll send out the invitation.” Thereupon we had a misunderstanding. I had told him that although he should send out the invitation in his name, I wanted to do a draft of the invitation and see it before it was printed—and even gave him a draft: The Speaker of the House of Representatives cordially extends an invitation to the premier showing of a public policy film documentary…MR. SPEAKER…produced by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WGBH television Boston (with additional funding by The Quaker Oats Foundation) to be held at…etc.

I left and flew back to Cambridge only to be called a few days later by his secretary who seemed very apologetic.

“I’m calling to tell you that in my estimation this office made a mistake, Mr. Roeser. Only you can tell me how serious a mistake it was.”

God, I thought, what could it be?

“The Speaker understood that we were to send out the invitation in his name, is that right?”


“Well he gave me a draft of the invitation which we printed” and now that it has been printed I see your draft—which means that we didn’t follow your draft but his. He’s very upset about it having forgotten that you gave him the draft. Hold the line, please.”

I sagged in my chair.

“You know,” he said, “I’m gettin` old. I know now that you gave me the draft but so rooted in my noggin was it that we are sending out the invitation in our name that I sat down and wrote one, forgetting that you gave me one. And now when I see yours I don’t like mine at all—but it’s printed.”

I asked: Does this mean you don’t think we will like your draft either?

“I don’t think so.”

Well, then scrap it.

“It’s been already mailed out.”

God, you really are interested in this, aren’t you? How bad is it?

“Well, I misspelled Quaker but they caught it. But something tells me you won’t like it.”

How many were sent?

“Oh about 3, 900 of them. Not all of them will go to the premiere, of course.”

Thirty nine hundred? You added quite a few after I left. The theatre holds about 800.

“As I say, not all of them will go to the premiere.”

What happens if they decide to?

“We’ll have to have three or four showings. Maybe two days.”

Who are they?

“Well the congress, the executive branch and the judiciary, the regulatories and the presidential appointments.”

Did you remember to put RSVPs on them?

“Yeah—to Ford’s not here.”

And you checked with Ford’s to have people on hand to take the calls and know what the invitees are talking about?

“Oh yeah. What the hell do you think I’m a punk? I know enough to do that. I’m just calling in the likelihood that you wouldn’t like it.”

And something tells me you’re right. Tip, the deal was to let our people see it before it went through! How the hell did—I guess I don’t understand how this happened. You mean our people will get the invitation in the mail as you wrote it?

“I’m sorry.”

So am I.

“Will they [Quaker] be mad?”

We’re not in the habit of getting mad at the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Don’t very too much—not too much. It’s not fatal.

And not long later I got a call from Quaker asking what the hell is going on with a goofy invitation we never got to approve? Who wrote the thing?

“The Speaker.”

They were discomfited and absolutely right.

They asked: The Speaker? Doesn’t we have other things to do?

“Yes—but he decided to spend his time on the invitation. Don’t be too mad, we’re lucky `Quaker’ is spelled right, not `Quacker.’”

So I flew out there to soothe feelings. But they all agreed that in a few years it will all be forgotten by the CEO.

I flew back thinking that this was not the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t.

The worst thing that could happen, happened


Two weeks later while I was in Prof. Edwin Reischauer’s class on the history and culture of Japan (where he was reared and to which he served as Kennedy’s ambassador), the liberal secretary from my office looked through the glass of the door, trying to catch my eye. I came out.

“The Speaker’s office has been calling all morning,” she said. “Something must have happened. The last call I took had Mr. O’Neill on the phone himself, no secretary. I’m so thrilled.”

I was not. Apprehensive.

As I walked into my office, the other secretary said, “thank God, your phone has been ringing since 8:30 a.m. from the Speaker.”

And no sooner did I sit down to dial him when it rang again.

“Hold the line for the Speaker.”



“You gotta come here tonight. Dinner in my office..”

What happened? More invitations screwed up?

“No. Worse. Not good.”

Tell me.

“Nope. Can’t. This phone--. Forget it. Come on in. Soon as you can.”


So I got to the Capitol at 7 p.m., through the big mahogany door, then the anteroom doors, past the intense young women clerks and serious students of the law, leaning over their desks, into the sancto sanctorum.

“First, we’ll have a drink.”

He poured as the waiters brought in the steaks.

“Sit down and listen to this.”

I did.

“There is a guy at WGBH who opposes the premiere at Ford’s.”

Is that all?

“That’s all.”

That’s the problem? Who is he?

He gave the name.

Never heard of him. Is he the manager?


The director, producer?

“No. He’s a big creative type. He got the idea in the first place.” He gave the guy’s job description. Very-very creative type.

Tip, I can’t see where the problem is. He’s not in the line of command at the station. We’ve checked it out with the manager of WGBH who has said okay, with the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting who says okay, with PBS which says okay. . Ford’s theatre has agreed to it. Quaker’s all set. You have enormous influence over the CPB. The president of the United States is coming.


The vice president, the chief justice, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense.

“Yeah and we just heard from the secretary of the treasury and the chairman of the federal reserve today; they’re coming.”

You mean this guy who got the idea doesn’t like us having it at Ford’s and you’re stymied?

“He wants the premiere to be at WGBH Boston.”


“I can’t.”

Why for God’s sake?

He looked around the room as if we were being recorded. Then he got up from his desk, walked around it, bent over me and cupped his hands in a whisper.

What it was—next time.

1 comment:

  1. Leave us hanging all weekend- How sadistic!