Monday, November 16, 2015


In the spring of 1932, George and Ira Gershwin's Broadway musical, "Of Thee I Sing," spoofed Washington politics, including a vice president named Alexander Throttlebottom, who could get inside the White House only on public tours. The tour guide, who failed to recognize Throttlebottom, at one point engaged him in a discussion of the vice-presidency:

Guide: Well, how did he come to be Vice President?

Throttlebottom: Well, they put a lot of names in a hat, and he lost.

Guide:  What does he do all the time?

Throttlebottom:  Well, he sits in the park and feeds the peanuts to the pigeons and the squirrels, and then he takes walks, and goes to the movies. Last week, he tried to join the library, but he needed two references, so he couldn't get in.(1)

Audiences laughed heartily at these lines, in part because they could easily identify the hapless Throttlebottom with the incumbent vice president, Charles Curtis. Curtis was never close to President Herbert Hoover and played no significant role in his administration. Despite Curtis' many years of experience as a member of the House and Senate and as Senate majority leader, his counsel was rarely sought on legislative matters. His chief notoriety as vice president came as a result of a messy social squabble over protocol, which only made him appear ridiculous.  Many Republicans hoped to dump Curtis from the ticket when Hoover ran for reelection. Given Curtis' Horatio Alger-style rise in life, and his long and successful career in Congress, how did he become such a Throttlebottom as vice president? 

That's a great question. It hints that Curtis rose in prominence from obscure beginnings, a fact not in dispute. That he faced challenges is true but it is also true that his background may have been the perfect storm of chaos from which a politician is born.

Curtis's father, Orren (the white side of the family that claimed lineage among the first settlers in New England), was a piece of work to put it mildly. Married multiple times, a rake and a rounder, he wound up serving as a deputy in Shawnee County when his son was a young county attorney.  Orren was a leading state's witness in prohibition cases prosecuted by Charley, no doubt turning in the same people who had been serving him for years. 

During Charley's lifetime, his father must have disappointed him many times, but I have yet to find a record of Charlie's saying a bad word about him.

Our Charley: From the Reservation to Washington, a paperback based on this early years is will be available in December. For pre-publication discount, check this site.

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We miss our friends in Philadelphia!!! 

Carol Lieberman portrayed Sarah Josepha Hale at the dedication of a new historical marker in her honor downtown. Sarah not only penned "Mary had a little lamb," she is responsible for Thanksgiving's becoming a national holiday. She is buried, of course, in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

So many friends in the crowd, including Carol Neumann Waskie and Andy Waskie. Can't wait to see you all!

It seems he remained a loyal son despite his father's many shortcomings. It may also be that in dealing with his father's failings, he became a better man. 

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