Friday, March 27, 2009

Personal Asides: A Flashback to the Old Morality.


Your responses to my “Thoughts While Shaving” earlier this week have started me going. Forgive an octogenarian for droning on.

Nelson Rockefeller.

Los Angeles’ Cardinal James Francis McIntyre condemning the lifestyle of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller when Rocky ran for president in the California 1964 primary was sniffed at by one of my readers… who said that plain and simple divorce (not infidelity or remarriage) was once considered a no-no for presidential candidates…his implication being, I suspect, that outdated views of morality are bound to change to make room for our enlightened ones.

Divorced presidential candidates were frowned upon throughout the years as a general stance of public disapproval but no not explicitly by the Catholic church. There was some civil disapproval of Adlai Stevenson II for that reason when he ran for president in1952 and `56….and there was a was a very slight no-no extant against Ronald Reagan. But no Catholic prelate issued any statement whatsoever about either candidate’s divorce.

Rockefeller’s divorce after 32 years of married life didn’t by itself constitute a grave public scandal—but his remarriage did--because he broke up two families to do it: his own and that of Margaretta Fitler Murphy, a young mother of four small children. He had been divorced earlier without much bad press when a fire in the governor’s Albany mansion broke the story when in the middle of the night both Rockefeller and Mrs. Murphy had to climb down the fire escape in full view of the media. An inherited multi-billionaire, Rockefeller…arrogant that he had enough money and clout sufficient to surmount his troubles and be elected president anyhow…was the natural choice for president until this happened. He proceeded apace to marry her; she was denied custody of her children, signifying that the court felt she was unfit.

Women Angered.

Women of the time were first to rage at the scandal—not McIntyre. Then came the secular media. Things died down for a bit but then Happy Murphy Rockefeller appeared in public with pregnancy well underway…which triggered secular media coverage and angered women once again: indicating that it had been an adulterous affair. That too died down but at the time of the California primary, Happy Rockefeller became ready to deliver which spurred public opprobrium again. Cardinal McIntyre’s comment was acerbic but well in line with the public mood at the time. Happy Rockefeller delivered Nelson Rockefeller, Jr. in time for the election.

What didn’t help was Rockefeller’s jocular reference to the matter to the media as he boarded his private plane to fly back to New York after hectic campaigning: “I’ve got two shows opening up at the same time!” That did it. But even then the California primary was close: Goldwater 51%, Rockefeller 49%. Rockefeller withdrew after that loss.

Another writer to this blog dismissed it all by saying McIntyre was a racist and close to the John Birch society. Meaning I guess that only racists and fascists would object to marital infidelity and family breakup—although how he conjures this puzzles me greatly. Anyhow, he is wrong about McIntyre’s “racism” and John Birch membership. He was a conservative …no doubt about that…and an advocate of the Tridentine Mass, the same Mass that Benedict XVI has sanctioned.

Rocky’s Insistence on Decorum Did Him In.

Rockefeller later died…as I said yesterday…in the arms of his 25 year old mistress with whom he was cheating on Happy. But there’s an interesting story in connection with that told me by a close Rockefeller aide who had key roles in Rockefeller’s presidential runs and who stayed on his personal payroll through the vice presidency and into his return to private life. On the night in question, Rockefeller was having dinner with Happy and a few friends when he feigned he had forgotten something at his office and had to get it right away. Instead of going to his office, he went to the apartment of his young mistress. Once engulfed in amorous pursuits he suffered a major heart attack. The young woman didn’t know what to do so she called her best friend, another young woman who lived nearby.

Both of them advised the semi-conscious Rockefeller that they were going to call the paramedics. With his last breath Rockefeller told them no, don’t you dare, it will be a scandal. Instead he directed them to help him dress and deliver him to his office where they were to call the paramedics. Of course anyone suffering from such a serious attack should have medical attention immediately. By the time they got him transported via car and up the elevator to his office and called the paramedics he was dead. Thus pride and concern for his righteous reputation could well have been the cause of his death.

The ex-mistress, incidentally, is one of the better paid woman in Manhattan. Whenever she gets the notion she wants to write it up she gets another endowment.

Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.

The only divorced (and remarried) man to serve as president was, as we all know, Ronald Reagan. He married actress Jane Wyman who by the time she married him had been married twice earlier although the press didn’t report this at the time: nor did they dig up that fact after Reagan became president.

Circumstances of the Reagan-Wyman divorce are unknown. In her last interview (before dying at age 90 in 2007) Wyman denied that Reagan’s interest in politics caused the breakup. What did according to one of Reagan’s oldest confidants was Wyman’s infatuation with actor Lew Ayres…a conscientious objector in World War II…although that is problematic. At any rate she didn’t marry Ayres but married another guy some years later, divorced him and remarried him before ditching him for good.

Jane Wyman was a troubled, mixed up woman who found peace in her old age by associating closely with Catholic Loretta Young who led Wyman into the Catholic church. Wyman became a very serious, devoted Catholic and lay member of the Dominican Order. In fact she was buried in the habit of a Dominican nun.


The temper of the times was heatedly against marriage breakup and adultery: witness Ingrid Bergman, a married woman who went to Italy to film “Stromboli” which was directed by Roberto Rossellini. She did the film, fell in love with Rossellini and became so controversial that a United States senator, Edwin Johnson, took the floor of the chamber to condemn her and urge her to stay in Italy and not come back.

Bergman’s husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom contested for custody of their child and won custody. She married Rossellini and had twin girls with him. When she did come back as the mother of Rossellini’s twins she decided not to go to the Academy Awards to receive her Oscar but had Cary Grant receive it for her. Ed Sullivan considered having her on his show but as a publicity stunt invited his television audience to vote on whether she should appear. The yes votes topped the no’s but Sullivan decided against it anyhow. Instead, Steve Allen had her on his show and became the hero of the hour for liberals by the grandstanding. Allen was not the first nor was he the last to so grandstand for liberal, “tolerant” applause—gestures that remain with us yet.

Sorry I went on for so long. My thanks to yet another correspondent who told me how I can find Harold Lloyd and Will Rogers films for which my deepest gratitude.


  1. elizabeth alexanderMarch 27, 2009 at 6:04 AM

    You skated so carefully around Reagan's divorce and remarriage, including that Nancy was pregnant when they married.

    Then, there is Limbaugh (three marriages), Gingrich, multiple adulterer etc., all good family people.

  2. Cardinal McIntyre stood alone among California's Catholic bishops in refusing to oppose a referendum repealing California's law banning discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. That is fact. I never said the cardinal was a card-carrying Bircher. I have read that his views were close to them, if that is incorrect, I apologize.