Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Remarkable Life of the Pink Lady

As Congress debates health care, and opponents of the current proposal for reform label it "socialist," one of their chief villains is naturally Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. A Google search for "Nancy Pelosi socialist" turns up 630,000 or so hits. I'm not an ardent admirer of Pelosi, but observing the contumely heaped on her this month made me think of one of her predecessors, Helen Gahagan Douglas. 
I have just published a biography of Douglas by the veteran journalist and historian Sally Denton, and I confess I was fascinated to learn about Douglas's life, of which I had known little--except that she lost a famously bitter Senate election to Richard Nixon, who portrayed her as, not just a socialist, but a communist sympathizer. It's unfair that Douglas is known mainly for losing to Nixon: she was a remarkable woman, who went to Barnard and then became one of the biggest stars on Broadway.  Gifted with a beautiful voice as well as acting talent, she even performed opera and thought about becoming a prima donna--but instead followed her husband Melvyn Douglas to Hollywood. 

The plight of the poor during the Depression--and the urging of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt--moved Douglas to enter politics. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1944, becoming one of the earliest women in the chamber. There she was a staunch and fervent supporter of the New Deal and other liberal causes like disarmament, until she ran into the Nixon buzzsaw. (By the way, she also carried on a long-lasting affair with a young Congressman named Lyndon Johnson.) 
When you think about the resistance, condescension, and outright abuse that has confronted contemporary figures like Pelosi or Hillary Rodham Clinton, Helen Douglas's achievements of six decades ago seem all the more impressive.  For more on Helen Gahagan Douglas and Sally Denton's biography The Pink Lady, including an interview with Sally, visit this page. 

1 comment:

jmc said...

Often unnoted is the fact that Nixon's actions became more and more sleazy as his career developed. His 1946 campaign against the liberal Jerry Voorhis was vicious in its tone and unmerciful in its applications. An unmistakably decent man, and an antiCommunist, Christian progressive, Voorhis laid out all the details of Nixon's campaign against him in his 'The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon.'

Nixon's most successful slime crusade, however, was not for public office, but as a both a persecutor and a behind the scenes instigator in collaboration with J Edgar Hoover' in a campaign against Alger Hiss, all part of the GOP war on the New Deal.

Looking back on the Hiss case at this distance in time, the major outlines of what happened have become ever more clear: Hoover and Nixon framed Alger Hiss with the help of manufactured evidence, suborned witnesses, and fabricated testimony, most of it from the psychologically unstable fantasist, Whittaker Chambers.

The famous Woodstock typewriter in the trials was in all probability manufactured at the behest of the FBI either by former agents of British/ Canadian intelligence from the socalled Camp X [see Camp X, by David Stafford, 1986], a WW II espionage training camp 100 miles east of Toronto, or by covert Toronto associates who boasted of “being able to duplicate any typewriter in the world in three days.”

As for Hoover, long since demonstrated as having been a liar, he personally saw to it in subsequent years that several other innocent people were framed and sent to prison [cf. Joseph Salvati and Peter Limone, for example, framed in order to “protect” sources.] The argument that he was above framing Hiss thus holds no water at all.

Unfortunately for Alger Hiss, a Republican judge would not allow the typewriter to be resubmitted as new evidence in an appeals trial. Consequently, Nixon's public persona as a result of Hiss's conviction catapulted him onto the Eisenhower ticket, and ultimately into the presidency. Voorhis and the “Pink Lady” were just the beginning.
jim crawford
Westwood NJ