In honor of the great Irish patriot and religious leader, Saint Patrick, I have dedicated this paper. Through my research I have educated myself on Saint Patrick’s life and work, along with the meaning of the holiday that bears his name. I also have featured in this piece a small biography of five famous Irish-Americans, who were all exceptionally well-regarded in their time, and helped shape the early 20th Century image of Irish-American culture through politics, patriotism, religion, and theater.
Saint Patrick was said to have been born Maewyn Succat at Banna Venta Berniae in Britain. Calpornius. His father was a church deacon and his grandfather Potitus a priest. His life and deeds are generally unproven and again nothing has been recorded about his connection to any established church in that region of Eire. But in the 8th Century with his passionate missionary work, he became known as Ireland’s Patron Saint.
He was a Roman Britain-born Christian missionary and is revered as the patron saint of Ireland along with Brigid of Kildare and Columba. As a young man, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, and many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim. It is more likely that he was held in County Mayo near Killala. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.) It is said that Patrick recounted that he had a dream sometime after returning home. In the dream he saw a man coming, he believed from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he gave Patrick a document, maybe a letter. Patrick reads the heading: “The Voice of the Irish,” and imagined in that moment that he heard a voice; “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
This voice told him that he would soon go home, and that his ship was ready. He freed himself and traveled to a port, two hundred miles away it is said, where he found a ship and, after various adventures, returned home to his family in Britain in his early 20’s. While in Britain he became a believer in Christianity and eventually heard a calling to the church.
Also, it is reported that Patrick said that he experienced a second revelation; an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, and a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years. After finally accepting his vows as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a mission to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. Eventually he made his way back to Ireland as a missionary in the north and west of the “emerald isle.”
No one is really sure of the exact dates of his time and work in Ireland, but it there is some evidence that he was active in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. There is scant evidence about his work and mission, but at least two fragmentary letters do exist. Though much of the stories about his work cannot be certified as authentic, the Annals of Ulster seem to indicate that he lived from the mid 300’s to somewhere in the mid 400’s. These two Latin letters which survive are generally thought to have been authored by Patrick. These are the Declaration and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. The Declaration is the more historically critical of the two because it is the biographical account of Patrick’s life.
Much of the Declaration revolves around charges made against Patrick by other Christians at a trial. What these charges were, are not clearly articulated, but he does write about the returning of gifts for payment of priestly actions. It is therefore perceived that he was being accused of some financial misdeeds. With this is mind, evidence of Patrick’s mission is made clearer. He writes of the baptism of many, many people. He selected new priests and converted women and the kings of the clans that populated Northern Ireland in that period.
The second piece of evidence which comes from Patrick’s life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. In this, Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated certain Brythonic warriors of Coroticus who raided in Ireland, along with Picts and Irishmen, taking some of Patrick’s converts into slavery.
Of course all of these accounts are vague and not exactly historical. Saint Patrick acquired a Gaelic second name of Daorbae meaning – “He was formerly a slave!” Therefore he came to be known as Patricius Daorbae, during those years in Northern Ireland. His life and deeds are generally unproven and again nothing has been recorded about his connection to any established church in those that region of Eire, in the 8th Century. But most probably, it was the oral history of his passionate missionary work, which helped him become known as Ireland’s Patron Saint.
According to the the most modern interpretation of the old Irish historiography, Patrick died in AD 461, a date accepted by some of our later historians. Before the 1940s it was believed not with complete assuredly that he died in 420 CE. An essay written in 1942, entitled “The Two Patricks,” by historian T. F. O’Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had actually been two “Patricks;” Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of Saint Patrick was in fact in part of a conscious effort to meld the two into one personality. O’Rahilly’s premise was that a priest named Palladius came from Gaul to Ireland along with other early clerics named Auxilius, Iserninus, Secundinus who were sent from Rome. There were also other clerics, like Germanus of Auxerre who visited Ireland at that period of time and they brought some evidence of the existence of a “Patrick” ministering in Northern Ireland. An early document to Pope Boniface IV which doesn’t refer to Patrick is in the writings of Columbanus. In or around 613 CE, Columbanus states, that Ireland’s Christianity “was first provided to us by you, the successors of the holy apostles,” apparently referring to Palladius, and ignoring Patrick.
Saint Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside Saint Brigid and Saint Columba, although this has never been proven. The Battle for the Body of St. Patrick demonstrates the importance of his role as a spiritual leader and his body as an object of veneration, in early Christian Ireland. The Saint Patrick Visitor Center is a modern exhibition complex and is a permanent interpretative exhibition centre featuring interactive displays on the life and story of Saint Patrick. It provides the only permanent exhibition centre in the world devoted to Saint Patrick.
Both 17th century chroniclers of Patrick, Tirechan and Patricii talk of Patrick in their writings that were based on an earlier work, the Book of Ultan, now lost. The Patrick portrayed by Tírechán and Muirchu could be considered a strong, if not military figure, who confronts the Druids, and exposes the meaninglessness of their pagan idols. Some controversy and contradiction arises with their depiction of Patrick as accepting gifts from wealthy female converts. Patrick also worked with the slaves and the poor, encouraging them to accept a vow of a monastic existence.
As to the Pious legend crediting Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes. Even though there were no snakes in Ireland according to all modern biological research and knowledge, one thought was that the snakes referred to the Druids and their representation of the symbolic serpent. Another legend also credits Patrick with preaching to the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by using the shamrock, a 3-leaf clover, to highlight the Christian belief of “three divine persons in the one God.”
As one of the earliest Christian missionaries traveling abroad to spread the Christian faith, Saint Patrick is important, because he serves as a testament to the overall missionary legacy of the Church. His example afforded later Christian missionaries the opportunity to assess the best methods to employ when confronting pagan groups abroad. Perhaps, the most significant aspect of Saint Patrick’s missionary efforts in Ireland was that he transcended the boundary between Church hierarchy and prominent Church Fathers in terms of the viability of missionary pursuits. Saint Patrick proved that any Christian could live out the Scriptural commandment to spread the word of God while “exalting and confessing his wonders before all the nations that are under the heavens.” Patrick’s example would inspire later missionaries to undertake great missions to evangelize abroad in the years ahead.
Surely, Saint Patrick preached openly the gospel of Christianity while among the Picts and Irish peoples, but that method does not alone account for the success of Christianity. In sheer terms of numbers, Patrick himself suggested that he baptized and converted “many thousands,” to the faith. It is true that Patrick had some success converting the sons and daughters of Irish Kings to Christianity, but the real numbers of converts among the entirety of the Irish population remain unknown. There is no solid mention of his teaching the catechism of the Church to new believers, so there is little evidence to suggest that the new converts maintained the Christian faith without a foundation in doctrinal teachings. It was quite possible that converts reverted back to their traditional pagan beliefs, especially without any clear support from Church leaders on the European mainland.
March 17th, became popularly known as Saint Patrick’s Day, because it is believed to be the date of his death. Later this day was affixed as a feast day in the Roman church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding. And it is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. The feast day usually falls during Lent; if it falls on a Friday of Lent (unless it is Good Friday), the obligation to abstain from eating meat can be lifted by the local bishop. The date of the feast is occasionally, yet controversially, moved by church authorities when March 17th falls during Holy Week; this happened in 1940 when Saint Patrick’s Day was observed on April 3rd in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and happened again in 2008, having been observed on March 15th.
The first civic and public celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737. During this first celebration The Charitable Irish Society of Boston organized what was the first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in the colonies on March 17, 1737. The first celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in New York City was held at the Crown and Thistle Tavern in 1756, and New York’s first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was held on March 17 1762, by Irish soldiers in the British Army. On March 17, 1776, British forces under General Sir William Howe evacuated Boston during the American Revolutionary War Because of the coincidence of the event, the code-name for withdrawal at the Continental Army headquarters was “Saint Patrick.” Today the withdrawal of British troops is celebrated as Evacuation Day, and it is an official holiday in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. In 1780, General George Washington, who commanded soldiers of Irish descent in the Continental Army, allowed his troops a holiday on March 17th “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence.”
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe, KB, PC (10 August 1729 – 12 July 1814) was a British General who was Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the American Revolutionary War, one of the three Howe brothers. He was knighted after his successes in 1775 and was henceforth Sir William, inheriting the viscountcy only upon his brother Richard‘s death in 1799. Howe’s record in the war was marked by the costly assault on Breed’s Hill known as the Battle of Bunker Hill and the successful capture of New York City and Philadelphia – the latter of which would have significant strategic implications.
Since that first recorded parade in New York City, which began on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers in the English military paraded and marched throughout Manhattan, the tradition and parade became an annual event. The New York parade is by far the largest with at least 100,000 participants and crowds approaching 1-2 million along 5th Avenue, where the a green line is painted in the middle of the street. As the parade marches up 5th Avenue in Manhattan it is always led by the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment, along with politicians and political aspirants. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch once proclaimed himself “Ed O’Koch” for the day, and marched wearing an Irish sweater.
The parade is organized and run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. For many years the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was the primary public function of the organization. In the past the Hibernian Order has at times appointed controversial Irish republican figures to be the Grand Marshal. Even at times the New York parade has been moved to the previous Saturday in years where March 17th falls on a Sunday. The event also has been moved on the rare occasions when Easter fell on March 17th.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization. Members must be Catholic and either Irish born or of Irish descent. Its largest membership is now in the United States, where it was founded in New York City in 1836. Its name was adopted by groups of Irish immigrants in the United States its purpose to act as guards to protect Catholic Churches from anti-Catholic forces in the mid 19th Century, and to assist Irish Catholic immigrants, especially those who faced discrimination or harsh coal mining working conditions.
Ireland’s cities all have their own version of the parade and their unique festivals, including Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford, along with the small towns and villages. The Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin is part of a five-day festival; over 450,000 people attended the 2005 parade.
Meanwhile, one hundred years earlier in 1905, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt were married on March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day. The couple was married by FDR’s old Groton Headmaster, Endicott Peabody. It was at the 76th Street home of Eleanor’s grandmother, Mary Livingston Ludlow Hall. There 200 guests could be accommodated, because they were able to open up two interconnecting drawing rooms of the neighboring house owned by a cousin. President Theodore Roosevelt, who marched in the Saint Patrick’s Parade, gave away the bride, his favorite niece, and always signed correspondence to Franklin as “your affectionate uncle.” “Uncle Ted was in fact Eleanor’s uncle and FDR’s 5th cousin.
The Rev. Endicott Peabody (30 May 1857 – 17 November 1944) was the American Episcopal priest who founded Groton School for Boys (known today simply as Groton School), (in Groton, Massachusetts), in 1884. Peabody served as headmaster at Groton School from 1884 until 1940, and also served as a trustee at Lawrence Academy at Groton. In 1926 Peabody also founded Brooks School, which was named for 19th-century clergyman Phillips Brooks, a well-known preacher and resident of North Andover. Peabody was Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s headmaster at Groton, and he officiated at FDR’s marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), also known as T.R., and to the public (but never to friends and intimates) as Teddy, was the 26th President of the United States. A leader of the Republican Party and of the Progressive Party, he was a Governor of New York and a professional historian, naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier. He is most famous for his personality: his energy, his vast range of interests and achievements, his model of masculinity, and his “cowboy” image.
The color green was not always the color of Saint Patrick. Historically blue was associated with St. Patrick, and not green. The color green, representing Ireland, the Irish people, and St. Patrick’s Day in modern times, may have gained its prominence through the phrase “the wearing of the green” meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing. Many times in Irish history, the “wearing of green” was seen as a sign of Irish nationalism or loyalty to Catholicism. To reiterate the oft told legend, Saint Patrick may have used the shamrock, a three-leaf clover, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish. The wearing of and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a prominent symbol of the holiday. Many believe that this change from blue to green came about in the 1750’s as a sign of the emergence of Irish nationalism.
Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularization of Saint Patrick’s Day. Writing in the Word magazine (March 2007), Fr. Vincent Twomey stated, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival.” He questioned the need for “mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded, “It is time to bring the piety and the fun together. The first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held in Ireland on March 17, 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long.
In Canada, the longest-running Saint Patrick’s Day parade occurs each year in the basically French-speaking city of Montreal, Quebec. The parades first started in 1824; but Saint. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Montreal as far back as 1759 by once again Irish soldiers in the British Army based in Montreal after the collapse of French rule.
In the City of Toronto during the early and mid 1920’s, the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team was known as the Toronto Saint Patricks, and they wore green jerseys. In 1999 when the Leafs played on Hockey Night in Canada on St. Patrick’s Day, the Leafs wore the early green St. Patrick’s jersey. The city’s downtown also hosts a large parade that attracts thousands of spectators.
In Great Britain, the late Queen Mother used to present shamrocks brought specifically over from Ireland to members of the British Irish Guard regiment. Many Irish-Americans celebrate the holiday by wearing green clothing. Other people, regardless of their ethnic background also wear green-colored clothing and items. Traditionally, those who are caught not wearing green are pinched.
The longest-running Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. are:
- Boston, Massachusetts, since 1737
- New York City, since 1762
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since 1771
- Morristown, New Jersey, since 1780
- New Orleans, Louisiana, since 1809
- Buffalo, New York, since 1811
- Savannah, Georgia, since 1813
- Carbondale, Pennsylvania, since 1833
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin, since 1843
- Chicago, Illinois, since 1843
- New Haven, Connecticut, since 1845
- Saint Paul, Minnesota, since 1851
- San Francisco, California, since 1852
- Scranton, Pennsylvania, since 1862
- Cleveland, Ohio, since 1867
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, since 1869
- Kansas City, Missouri, since 1873
- Butte, Montana, since 1882
- Rolla, Missouri, since 1908
- Holyoke, Massachusetts, since 1951
- Baltimore, since 1956
- Denver, Colorado, since 1962
- Las Vegas, Nevada since 1966
- Norfolk, Virginia since 1968
As we approach the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities, there is an annual celebration at Dudley’s Parkview restaurant, right off Hudson Park in New Rochelle. It is hosted by the legendary William O’Shaughnessy, who runs WVOX Radio, where my show is broadcast. Bill invites the whole world of Westchester to join the fun.
President & CEO, Whitney Radio, parent company of Westchester community station WVOX…and WRTN, the upscale regional station In the New York area. The power of William O’Shaughnessy’s personality has propelled his wvox (am)-wrtn (fm) well beyond their market of record, New Rochelle, N.Y. And O’Shaughnessy has used their proximity to New York City to fashion himself into an East Coast power broker.
Located in Westchester County, the stations are in “the heart of the Eastern establishment,” O’Shaughnessy says. While he claims “no talent as a broadcaster, really,” O’Shaughnessy’s stations do get the establishment’s ear. “Sooner or later, everyone on the make … they come through Westchester. Westchester is where the money and the influence is.”
As part of my piece on Saint Patrick and his day, I chose to write about five Irish-American individuals; a political rogue, a great musical comedy star, a famous and priest and a war hero, a legendary political mastermind, and the last a great governor and national political leader. Interestingly, these individuals not only influenced our country and culture in the first half of the 20th century, but were connected in a number of ways.
Probably the first really famous Irish-American to be remembered is the one and only George Michael Cohan. He was an individual who became the stuff theatrical legends are made of, and he himself made up some of the legends himself! George M. Cohan was not the oldest of the five that I have selected, but he probably made the earliest impact.
Cohan’s baptismal certificate — which is his only written birth record — verifies that he was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3rd, 1878. However, Cohan’s family unfailingly insisted that George and his country shared birthdays on the 4th. Although noted for their honesty and knowledge of the calendar, the Cohans were traveling actors and had to make connections all of the time, but certainly found it hard to resist the publicity value of a performer (their son) being born on the Fourth of July.
George was the second child of Jeremiah and Helen Costigan Cohan, better known as Jerry and Nellie. These Irish New Englanders interrupted their endless tour of the variety circuit so Nellie could give birth in her hometown of Providence – just as she had done when her daughter Josephine was born two years earlier. Many of my generation, and those who are older, are quite familiar with the story of Cohan told through the celluloid frames of the famous academy award winning film, Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Jerry and Nellie took their young children on their musical tours. Although George was exposed too little formal education, his later successes proved that he developed a more than passing mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic. When he was eleven, he and his older sister Josie joined his parents in the family business of vaudevillians.
In those days of the Gay Nineties, there were hundreds of family acts in vaudeville, but few as close knit and clever as The Four Cohans. They often toiled on the well-regarded but physically demanding Keith circuit, sweating through a regimen of often more than four performances a day. Frankly they never really had any time off, except in the summer when many theaters closed.
As a creature of the theater, he took advantage of his father’s easy nature and became a kind of theater brat. Despite many incidents and pronouncements that adults did not appreciate his behavior, George generally went by the beat of his own drum and frequently got into trouble and had the reputation of being a tough backstage operator. He certainly had problems when he starred as the lead in Peck’s Bad Boy in 1891 and was attacked by local boys.
Even though Jerry Cohan regarded their act as a “road act,” and avoided the big-time of New York City, young George insisted that they had to make it in on Broadway.
He attempted to run away to the “Big Apple,” and when brought back, his forgiving father, said “they will all run away to NYC, and try their best to make it.” When the Four Cohans debuted with the Keith Circuit at the Union Theater, they were asked to split up, and they generally failed. Young George was put in the despised opening act and failed every night, but his sister succeeded with her lovely voice and style.
George eventually learned his lesson about the big-time Broadway theater and critics and his own temper, and basically for the rest of his career kept it in check. This “run” where he had the lead act marked a turning point for George. As Josie became the toast of New York, George was unable to find real work, and he took up song writing. In his extra idle hours he wrote tune after tune. He made good with his first published tune, “Why Did Nellie Leave Her Home?” in 1893 and was able to compose a number of other minor hits on his way up and down Tin Pan Alley.
Eventually after his successes generated from May Irwin’s interest in his song, Hot Tamale Alley, his reputation started to soar. Along with his ability to write interesting and fresh skits, performers, always in need of new material, were after George to continue to write for them. Around 1895 his father Jerry decided to put young George in charge of their flagging act.
George was only seventeen, but his songs, skits and skillful handling of the act quickly brought The Four Cohans greater notoriety and success. They became the most highly paid four person-act in vaudeville, eventually earning over $1000 per week. Vaudeville impresarios, the Keith management family, saw their new rise to prominence and realized that a genuinely devoted familial appeal was irresistible, and he now booked them into his top theaters. When audiences demanded more curtain calls, George responded with a one-line closing speech that became Cohan’s lifelong trademark –
“Ladies and gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you!”
Cohan’s first Broadway musical, The Governor’s Son (1901), was a near miss. It was an expanded version of one of his vaudeville sketches, involving the comic misadventures of several guests at a country resort – a woman (Josie) in search of her runaway husband, two older battling newlyweds (Jerry and Nellie), and a vivacious girl (Ethel) competing with a widow for the attentions of a Governor’s son (George — of course).
Disappointing Broadway reviews sent The Governor’s Son packing after an unimpressive 32 performances. However, provincial audiences delighted in this show’s simple, wholesome humor. The Cohans played it around the country for two profitable years. Running for Office (1903) also failed in New York before turning a profit on the road — again starring the Cohans. Then George was introduced to Sam Harris, a gambler and boxing promoter, who combined a solid business sense with a passion for the theater. Cohan and Harris formed a partnership that became something of a Broadway legend in its own right.
With its patriotic yet sentimental story of an American jockey who is falsely accused of throwing the English Darby, Little Johnny Jones (1904) was the breakout hit George had long hoped to achieve. Yankee honesty eventually wins out as the jockey wins vindication – as well as the heart of the all-American girl he loves. George wrote the script and the songs, produced, directed, and starred in the title role. As usual he dominated the show and that production is featured heavily in the later film Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The following song became a classic American standard:
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
A Yankee Doodle do or die,
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,
Born on the Fourth of July.
I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart.
She’s my Yankee Doodle joy.
Yankee doodle came to London
Just to ride the ponies.
I am a Yankee Doodle Boy.
In Give My Regards to Broadway, the disgraced Johnny, forced to remain in England and defend his reputation, asks his friends boarding an ocean liner bound for home to –
Give my regards to Broadway.
Remember me to Herald Square.
Tell all the gang at Forty-Second Street
That I will soon be there.
Whisper of how I’m yearning
To mingle with the old-time throng.
Give my regards to old Broadway
And tell them I’ll be there ‘ere long.
Cohan changed the definition of a Broadway leading man. He danced with a style and grace that defied Newton’s Laws, while maintaining that leading man look! In a way he created a unique look that had never been seen before or since. Cohan’s dance routines covered the whole stage, even sending him climbing up the side of a wall into a back flip.
There was no other performer, songwriter or playwright like Cohan at that time. Before the emergence of Al Jolson, one could have easily called him the “world’s greatest entertainer. Most veterans of the theater and critics were not sure how to react to his overwhelmingly sincere combination of flag-waving and sentiment bordering on mawkishness and showmanship. Audiences adored him. Little Johnny Jones made two return engagements on the Broadway’s Great White Way during its wildly successful year-long tour. George M. Cohan was finally recognized as one of the theater’s major stars, a distinction he relished privately for the rest of his life.
Al Jolson (May 26, 1886 – October 23, 1950), born in Lithuania, Russian Empire, was a highly acclaimed American singer, comedian, and actor, and, according to PBS, the “first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America.” His career lasted from 1911 until his death in 1950, during which time he was commonly dubbed “the world’s greatest entertainer.” Numerous well-known singers were influenced by his music, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Judy Garland. By 1920, he was America’s most famous and highest paid entertainer. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had nine sell-out Winter Garden shows in a row, more than 80 hit records, and 16 national and international tours. Yet he’s best remembered today for his leading role in the world’s first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, released in 1927.
Cohan was asked by a producer to write a show for musical comedy star Fay Templeton. The result was 45 Minutes From Broadway (1906), in which a suburban young housemaid gives up an inheritance so she won’t lose the big city smart-aleck she loves. Templeton co-starred with newcomer Victor Moore, who began his long reign as one of Broadway’s favorite comic actors. Cohan’s wisecrack-rich dialogue still resonated time and time again throughout his years in vaudeville.
Victor Moore (1876–1962), who was a star of stage and screen, appeared in over 58 films and 21 Broadway shows. He became best known for starring in Gershwin’s award-winning political satires Of Thee I Sing (1931) with William Gaxton, Let ‘Em Eat Cake (1933).
His leading lady, Fay Templeton was born in San Francisco (1865-1939) was an established star long before Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway. Fay introduced the hit songs “So Long Mary” and “Mary Is a Grand Old Name.” A few months later, she married a Pittsburgh industrialist William Patterson, co-founder of Heyl & Patterson Inc., and announced her retirement from the stage; she and Patterson also had no children.
For it is Mary, Mary,
Plain as any name can be.
But with propriety
Society will say “Marie.”
But it was Mary, Mary,
Long before the fashions came.
And there is something there
That sounds so square.
It’s a grand old name.
George M. Cohan was now at the top of his profession, a position he held and relished for years to come. Years before the era of mass media, he was the first superstar of American show business, his name familiar from coast to coast. Cohan had triumphed as an actor, singer, dancer, songwriter, playwright, director and producer. No one else in the American performing arts has worn so many hats so successfully. Actor and longtime friend William Collier put it this way –
“George is not the best actor or author or composer or dancer or playwright. But he can dance better than any author, compose better than any manager, and manage better than any playwright. And that makes him a very great man.”
– As quoted in John McCabe’s George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway. (New York: Doubleday& Co., 1973), pp. xi-xii.
Cohan’s professional habits became the stuff of legend —
- He rarely let a promising idea die quietly. When his autobiographical drama Popularity (1906) failed, he turned it into a musical shamelessly entitled The Man Who Owns Broadway (1909) — and this time around, it became a hit.
- Cohan directed all his productions to run at a quick pace, never giving an audience the chance to feel bored. He once defined his approach this way — “Speed! Speed, and lots of it; that’s my idea of the thing. Perpetual motion.”
- He was a popular show doctor, turning other people’s flops into hits – a process he referred to as “Cohanizing.” Because he rarely took credit, no one is sure how many plays and musicals profited from this treatment.
- Cohan was so accustomed to touring that he didn’t have a fulltime home during the early 1900s. When pressed, he listed the Knickerbocker Hotel (which used to stand at 142 West 42nd Street) as his residence.
Best known for patriotic fervor, Cohan’s “flag waving,” was only one of the noteworthy elements in his body of work. Many of his songs and plays also reflected his Irish heritage. Theatre historian John Bush Jones writes –
“For Cohan, the spirit of Ireland thrived in the large Irish-American communities of New York, Boston and his native Providence. To be Irish in America was, for him, to be an American with a proud ancestral heritage. Accordingly, he wrote numbers like “Mary’s a Grand Old Name” from Forty Five Minutes From Broadway, “Harrigan” from Fifty Miles From Boston and “Nelly Kelly, I Love You” from Cohan’s postwar Little Nelly Kelly. These numbers’ lyrics extolled the Irishness of the title characters, while the melodies fused an Irish lilt with American flair, trading on popular song-forms of the day, such as the “waltz clog” rhythm for “Nellie Kelly” . . .
– Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre. (Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2003), p. 22.
Cohan was keenly aware of his own talents and attributes, and some considered him an egocentric, but he just saw himself as being correct and always on the mark. Cohan biographer John McCabe offers this view —
“Cohan was also noted for his professionalism and private generosity. His abrasive, demanding style covered a tremendous empathy for anyone else who shared the theatrical profession. No one cared more about theater people, and no one was as willing as Cohan to help out a performer or stage hand suffering from hard times or poor health. Unlike most Broadway producers, Cohan and Harris were unfailingly fair to actors and authors. Such qualities made it hard to hate Cohan. He was so popular with his fellow actors that they made him the “abbot” of the Friar’s Club for two terms — a unique honor.”
In those days, the Ziegfeld’s Follies made revues a popular trend on Broadway. At first, these essentially plot-less shows always imposed some semblance of a plot. Cohan spoofed this trend in his first revue, Hello Broadway (1914). Between songs and sketches, the cast searched for an elusive box containing the plot. When eventually found, it turned out to be empty. Audiences enjoyed the joke, and Broadway revues thereafter did away with the forced pretense of a plotline.
The Ziegfeld Follies were a series of elaborate theatrical productions on Broadway in New York City from 1907 through 1931. The Follies were lavish revues, something between later Broadway shows and a more elaborate high class Vaudeville variety show. Many of the top entertainers of the era (including Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Ann Pennington, Bert Williams, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Marilyn Miller, W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, Gilda Gray, Nora Bayes, The Tiller Girls, and others) appeared in the shows. The Ziegfeld Follies were also famous for many beautiful chorus girls.
There were competing Broadway revues to Ziegfield and the most famous were the George White’s Scandals that ran from 1919-1939.. The “Scandals” launched the careers of many entertainers, including W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges, Ray Bolger, Helen Morgan, Ethel Merman, Ann Miller, Bert Lahr, and Rudy Vallée. Louise Brooks and Eleanor Powell got their show business start as lavishly dressed (or underdressed) chorus girls strutting to the “Scandal Walk”. Much of George Gershwin‘s early work appeared in the 1920-24 editions of Scandals.
Also Earl Carroll produced and directed numerous Broadway musicals, including eleven editions of Earl Carroll’s Vanities, Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book, and Murder at the Vanities, which was also made into a film starring Jack Oakie.
Known as “the troubadour of the nude,” Carroll was famous for his productions featuring the most lightly clad showgirls on Broadway. In 1922 he built the first Earl Carroll Theatre in New York, which was demolished and rebuilt on a grander scale in 1931. He built a second theatre on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, California in 1938.
Unfortunately Cohan’s sister Josie unexpectedly died of heart failure in 1916, and his beloved father Jerry faced the same fate a year later. Emotionally devastated, George found comfort in his work. Still one of America’s top songwriters, he owned his own music publishing firm, guaranteeing the fullest possible profit from every song. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Cohan’s stirring “Over There” captured the nation’s sentiments –
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back
Till it’s over over there.
At the end of the war, Cohan was in an enviable position. One of the best known men in America, he owned a number of Broadway houses, had touring companies that were performing all across the country, and saw his operetta parody Royal Vagabond (1919) score to great acclaim. The book’s dialogue still had a vaudevillian edge to it, but with its sophisticated style it reflected a modern contemporaneousness. In the 1920s, Cohan wrote and produced several successes, but it was clear that popular tastes were changing. In the cynical postwar Jazz Age, Cohan’s flag-waving and idealistic patriotism was seen as old fashioned, out of step and antiquated. He continued to threaten his “retirement” now and again, but there was always another treatment that would catch his eye, and stimulate his artistic and competitive juices.
Cohan loved to perform: it was in his blood. In 1933, he ignored his decades old innate fear of the movies to go to Hollywood just long enough to star in his only musical film. The Phantom President (1933) was the story of a small time entertainer who agrees to campaign in place of a dull presidential candidate to whom he bears a remarkable resemblance. Cohan stars as both the vaudeville hoofer and the candidate. Despite a score by the famed Rodgers and Hart team and a decent cast that included Jimmy Durante and Claudette Colbert, The Phantom President was basically a failure. It did provide a lasting celluloid image of what Cohan could do and it is still available to see. One sees him in action with his great dancing and unique singing style.
Once back on Broadway, Cohan portrayed another president when he starred as President Franklin Roosevelt in the musical I’d Rather Be Right (1937). His former partner Sam Harris produced it with a script by playwright Moss Hart and songs again by Rodgers and Hart — who grudgingly accepted the project after their earlier unhappy association with Cohan in Hollywood.
Moss Hart (24 October 1904 – 20 December 1961) was an American playwright and director of plays and musical theater.and was married to the famed Kitty Carlisle, the grand doyenne of theater and art in New York who outlived him by 46 years. Kitty Carlisle, who was born Catherine Conn in New Orleans, was originally a musical comedy star, and television personality in the years after Hart’s death in 1961.
Kitty Carlisle (also billed as Kitty Carlisle Hart; 3 September 1910 – 17 April 2007 was an American singer, actress and spokeswoman for the arts. She is best remembered as a regular panelist on the television game show To Tell the Truth. She served 20 years on the New York State Council on the Arts. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Arts.
This time around, Cohan treated Rodgers and Hart with open contempt, even though their score included “Have You Met Miss Jones?” and the Cohan showstopper “Off the Record.” He was equally annoyed with Moss Hart’s book, which had more contemporary satirical bite than any Cohan script ever. Cohan, of whom it was said, openly disliked FDR, played him not as wheelchair-bound but with an all-out song and dance performance. No one had ever depicted a living president in a book musical before, so I’d Rather Be Right opened amid extraordinary press hoopla. Critics raved, Roosevelt (a longtime fan of the Four Cohans) expressed his approval, and the show became the hottest ticket on Broadway. After a profitable New York run, Cohan went out on a grueling national tour — no small feat for a man in his sixties.
As to Rodgers and Hart, the great and enigmatic musical composing team, they were an American songwriting partnership consisting of the composer Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895 – 1943). They worked together on about thirty musicals from 1919 until Hart’s death in 1943. Their breakthrough came in 1925 with The Garrick Gaieties, which featured the hit song “Manhattan.”
Their many other hits include “Here In My Arms,” “Mountain Greenery,” “The Blue Room,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Spring is Here,” “Lover,” “Mimi,” “Isn’t It Romantic?” “Blue Moon,” “It’s Easy To Remember” “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” “My Romance,” “Little Girl Blue,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Where Or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Johnny One Note,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Falling In Love With Love,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “I Could Write a Book,” and “Wait Till You See Her.”
Hollywood wanted to do a film version of Cohan’s life and he readily approved the choice of former vaudevillian James Cagney as his cinematic alter ego and was delighted when longtime friend (and vaudeville veteran) Walter Huston was cast as Jerry Cohan. While Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) goes to great lengths to ignore certain aspects of Cohan’s life, it remains a magnificent showcase for several of his finest songs — and a wildly entertaining film overall. Cagney’s brilliant performance is his own creation, not an imitation. However, he did have one of Cohan’s old dance assistants on hand to make sure that his dancing and stage mannerisms invoked something of George’s unique style. Cagney, like Kitty Carlisle Hart, was an admirer of FDR, and played the role of Cohan in a more sympathetic way towards the president. Like all Hollywood movies, there is always poetic license. Cohan’s personal life was simplified, and his early and unsuccessful marriage was never mentioned. His difficult and diffident relationship with his children was ignored and the deaths of his sister and mother were breezed over. Also his critical partnership with Sam Harris was romanticized. But, all in all, it was a great award-winning and highly entertaining film.
James Cagney was able to replicate his style better than anyone in the later film biography of his life.James Francis Cagney, Jr. (July 17, 1899 – March 30, 1986) was an American film star. Although he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of roles he is best remembered for playing “tough guy”s. He won the Academy Award in1942 for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Cagney retired for 20 years in 1961, spending time on his farm before returning for a part in Ragtime mainly to aid his recovery from a stroke. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. His father was Irish and his mother was part Irish and Norwegian.
Cohan saw Yankee Doodle Dandy become a phenomenal success. Against doctor’s orders, he snuck out of his Fifth Avenue apartment in a wheelchair to catch screenings of the film at the Hollywood Theater, later the Mark Hellinger. After hearing the wartime audience cheer for his old songs, George M. Cohan had his nurse take him home.
Cohan defied his painful condition to the last, insisting he would somehow recover and make another comeback on Broadway. He was even working on a new musical for himself entitled The Musical Comedy Man.
Despite the pain, and his wife’s ongoing health problems, George’s spirits remained high. When Ward Morehouse asked how Cohan felt looking back on his life in the theater, the old trouper grinned and characteristically said, “No complaints, kid. No complaints.” He died quietly on the morning of November 5, 1942.
In the early 1960s, a statue of George M. Cohan was erected in the center of Times Square, at the intersection of Broadway and 47th Street. Crowds pass the base of that statue every day, and most pay little if any attention to it. But the visage of the man who once “owned Broadway” still gazes down the street ro which he dedicated his life. In a neighborhood caught in an ongoing vortex of upheaval, Cohan’s monument provides a much-needed visible link with the past. George M. Cohan became and remained the consummate Irish-American entertainer of his day. He was patriotic and was the embodiment of assimilation from the old world to the new.
I move from one of our greatest entertainers to the sometime Honorable James Michael Curley, who probably represented the theater of politics more than any other individual before or since. Ironically George M. Cohan’s last critical Broadway performance was in I’d Rather be Right, about Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Curley was intimately connected with FDR in the early days of his presidential career. Even though it was reported historically that Cohan did not like FDR, he graciously accepted a medal from FDR, and in the movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy, there was no reference to Cohan’s political feelings or preferences. In the Massachusetts Presidential Primary of 1932, Curley did not have permission to plaster his name with that of FDR’s on every sign post, broadside and button, in an attempt to win the primary for the gubernatorial designation for himself. Without realizing that Al Smith would enter the race against FDR, Curley wound up picking the wrong candidate to back. Smith, who was extremely popular with Irish-Catholic Democrats, defeated FDR. Curley, because he was on a “so-called” ticket with Smith’s opponent, also lost. FDR never forgot Curley’s attempted power-play and refused to endorse him in subsequent years.
James Michael Curley (November 20, 1874–November 12, 1958) was an American politician who served in the United States House of Representatives, as the mayor of Boston, Massachusetts, and as Governor of Massachusetts. He was a larger than life figure who inspired thousands of his followers with his dynamic style and personality.
Curley was born to Michael Curley and Sarah Clancy, immigrants from County Galway, Ireland and they settled in Roxbury, MA in 1864. Curley served in various municipal positions and a single term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1902-1903). He was elected to the Board of Aldermen in 1904 while serving in prison, having been convicted of fraud. Curley took the civil service exam in place of two men in his district to help them get the jobs with the government. Though the incident gave him the proverbial “black eye” within some communities, it aided his image with the laboring poor, because they saw him as a man willing to fight the system and help out.
In 1910, while serving as Aldermen, representing the City of Boston, Curley decided to run for the 10th District Congressional seat then occupied by Congressman Joe F. O’Connell who had won a narrow election over his Republican foe. In a three way race Curley won the Democratic primary and then won the general election handily.
Curley ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 1934, and this time he won, having lost ten years earlier. In his flamboyant style, Curley’s extravagant personal spending and expensive vacations showed that he had lost touch with his constituents.
A series of scandals rocked his administration, including the involvement of his state limousine in several traffic accidents, the alleged sale of pardons to state convicts, and the appointment of scores of poorly qualified individuals to public offices.
In the late 1930s Curley’s political fortunes began to ebb. Denied Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s endorsement in the 1936 senatorial election, he lost against a moderate Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. In 1937 and 1940 one of Curley’s former political confidants, Maurice J. Tobin, twice defeated him for the Boston mayoralty, and in 1938 the famous Boston Brahmin Leverett Saltonstall turned back Curley’s attempt to recapture the Massachusetts governorship. After leaving the office of governor, he squandered a substantial sum of money in unsuccessful investments in Nevada gold mines; then he lost a civil suit brought by the Suffolk County prosecutor. He was forced to forfeit to the city of Boston the amount of money he received from General Equipment Company for “fixing” a damage claim settlement.
Leverett A. Saltonstall (September 1, 1892–June 17, 1979) was an American Republican politician who served as Governor of Massachusetts (1939–1945) and as a United States Senator (1945–1967). He was born in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. His son, Brooks Saltonstall killed in action on Guam on August 13, 1944. Part of the Boston Brahmin Saltonstall family, he was able to trace his ancestral roots to the Mayflower, the Pilgrims and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Saltonstall was the tenth generation in direct descent to graduate from Harvard and the great-grandson of a U.S. Congressman of the same name.
In 1942, however, Curley managed to revive his faltering career by returning to Congress, serving from 1943 to 1947, this time in the 11th district. In defeating Thomas H. Eliot, a former New Deal attorney with an exemplary voting record on behalf of the Roosevelt administration, Curley based his campaign on appeals to ethnic and religious prejudice. Once back in Congress, he compiled a voting record that matched his former opponent’s in support of the Roosevelt administration’s social agenda.
Curley’s popularity within Boston remained high – despite a felony indictment in 1943 for influence peddling, which stemmed from his involvement with a consulting firm seeking to secure defense contracts. Using the slogan “Curley Gets Things Done” he won an unprecedented fourth term as mayor of Boston in 1945. A federal jury then found him guilty of the felony charges, but he remained mayor even after he entered a federal penitentiary in 1947, serving until 1949.
In 1947, during his last mayoral term, he was convicted for a second time on federal charges of official misconduct, including mail fraud. He spent five months in jail during this term, but still retained a considerable degree of popularity with the working classes. Out of political expediency and because of pressure from the Massachusetts congressional delegation, President Harry Truman pardoned him, enabling his release.
The city clerk, John Hynes, ran the city during his incarceration, and intentionally held many large items in limbo until Curley was released from prison so the mayor could handle them himself.
Upon his release Curley told the manager he was grateful for what he had done, but then told the media that he had accomplished more in his first day back as mayor than the manager had over the previous several months. Livid, Hynes felt betrayed, and this anger fueled Hynes’ successful run for mayor in 1949.Curley’s failed mayoral bid in 1951 marked the end of his serious political career, although he continued to support other candidates and remained active within the Democratic Party, and even ran for mayor one last time in 1955. That was his 10th time running for the position of Boston’s mayor. His death in Boston led to one of the largest funerals in the city’s history.
Curley’s last campaign inspired The Last Hurrah, a 1956 novel written by Edwin O’Connor. It is considered the most popular of O’Connor’s works, partly because of a significant 1958 movie adaptation directed by John Ford and starring Spencer Tracy. The novel when published was immediately a bestseller in the United States and stayed so for 20 weeks and on bestseller lists for the year it was published. The Last Hurrah, which won the Atlantic Prize, was also highlighted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and Reader’s Digest.
The1958 film The Last Hurrah, was certainly enhanced by the direction and the first class acting of two famous Irish Americans, John Ford and Spencer Tracy. Both of them certainly softened the edges on the old Boston political warhorse, James Michael Curley.
Spencer Tracy (April 5, 1900–June 10, 1967) was a two-time Academy Award winning actor of stage and screen, who appeared in 74 films from 1930 to 1967. He is generally regarded as one of the finest actors in motion picture history. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Tracy among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 9th on the list of 100. He was nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Actor.
John Ford (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973)] was an American film director of Irish heritage famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach and The Searchers and adaptations of such 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath. His four Best Director Academy Awards (1935, 1940, 1941, 1952) is a record, although only one of those films, How Green Was My Valley, won Best Picture.
Curley had an unusually tragic personal life. He outlived his first wife and seven of his nine children. Two twins died shortly after birth. One of his two daughters died while a teenager. His namesake, James Jr., who was groomed as Curley’s political heir, died in his early adulthood. Another son who had a drinking problem died while Curley ran for mayor in 1945. Ironically, his remaining daughter and another son both died of strokes on the same day in 1950. Both were in the same room of Curley’s house talking on the same phone when they had their two strokes. Two other sons outlived Curley. One son, Francis, became a Jesuit.
Curley is honored with not one, but two statues at Faneuil Hall, which stands in front of the old Quincy Market and across from Boston’s new City Hall. One shows him seated on a park bench, the other shows him upright, as if he were giving a stump speech, and a campaign button on his lapel. A few feet away is a bar named for one of his symbols, The Purple Shamrock. Curley’s house, known in his time as “the house with the shamrock shutters,” located at 350 The Jamaicaway, is now a city historical site.
Of course one could also go a few doors down and drop into the Union Oyster House, the oldest continually eatery In 1826 the new owners installed the fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar — where the greats of Boston paused for refreshment. It was at the Oyster Bar that Daniel Webster, a constant customer, daily drank his tall tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters, seldom having less than six plates. The toothpick was first used there! To promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks. Another great Irish family, the Kennedy’s have patronized the Union Oyster House for years. J.F.K. loved to feast in privacy in the upstairs dining room. His favorite booth “The Kennedy Booth” has since been dedicated in his memory
The youngest of these five famous Americans was Jim Farley, one of the greatest political operators of all time. He was not only associated with FDR’s early days as Governor, but was closely to connected the rivalries that FDR had to deal with. Farley was fully aware of the liability that Boston’s Curley posed to the president and never forgot the damage Curley afflicted on FDR in the Massachusetts Presidential Primary of 1932.
James Aloysius “Jim” Farley (May 30, 1888–June 9, 1976) was an American politician, business executive, and dignitary who served as head of the Democratic National Committee and as Postmaster General. Farley was the campaign manager for New York State politicians Alfred E. Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s gubernatorial campaigns as well as FDR’s Presidential campaigns in 1932 and 1936. Farley predicted large landslides in both, and revolutionized the use of polling, and polling data. Farley was responsible for pulling together the New Deal Coalition of Catholics, labor unions, blacks, and farmers for FDR. Farley, and the administration’s patronage machine he presided over, helped to fuel the social and infrastructure programs of the New Deal. Farley opposed Franklin Roosevelt breaking the two term tradition of the Presidency, and broke with Roosevelt on that issue in 1940.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States. He was a central figure of the 20th century during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war. Elected to four terms in office, he served from 1933 to 1945 and is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms. He was voted Time Magazine’s Man of the 20th Century, and despite controversy and revisionism, he is still regarded as one of the greatest men who have ever lived.
Farley was born in Grassy Point, New York, one of five sons whose grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants. His father was involved in the brick-making industry, first as a laborer and later as a part owner of three small schooners engaged in the brick-carrying trade.
Farley always had his heart set on a political career. In 1911, he officially began his service as a politician when he was elected town clerk of Grassy Point. He was elected chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party in 1918 and secured the upstate vote for Alderman Alfred E. Smith, north of the Bronx line, when he ran for governor the same year. The Democrats could not win north of the Bronx line before Farley organized the Upstate New York Democratic organization. By cultivating the neglected Upstate Democrats, Farley became a force in New York State Politics. After helping Alfred E. Smith become Governor of New York State, Farley was awarded the post of Port Warden of New York City. Farley was appointed to the New York State Athletic Commission at the suggestion of Jimmy Walker in 1923. Farley served as a delegate at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, where he became friendly with a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would give his famous “Happy Warrior” speech about Al Smith.
Farley later became Boxing Commissioner of New York State, where he would acquire his first taste of national and global attention for his role in fighting for equal rights for African-Americans. In 1926,
Farley threatened to resign his post as Athletic Commissioner if the boxing champion Jack Dempsey did not fight the mandatory challenger, an African-American fighter named Harry Wills.
Jack “Manassa Mauler” Dempsey (June 24, 1895 – May 31, 1983) was an American boxer who held the world heavyweight title from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey’s aggressive style and punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial and attendance records. Jack’s father was Irish with a touch of Choctaw Indian, and his mother was English with a bit of Cherokee. They both became Mormons.
James Joseph “Gene” Tunney (May 25, 1897 – November 7, 1978) was the heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-1928 who defeated Jack Dempsey twice, first in 1926 and then in 1927. Tunney’s successful title defense against Dempsey is one of the most famous bouts in boxing history and is known as The Long Count Fight. Tunney retired as a undefeated heavyweight after his victory over Tom Heeney in 1928. Tunney was from Irish people who immigrated from Kiltimagh, Ireland and his son John V. Tunney served as a United States senator from California.
Farley banned Dempsey from fighting Gene Tunney and publicly threatened to revoke Tex Rickard‘s Madison Square Garden license if he ignored the ruling of the commission. This public stand for African-American rights would prove to be a valuable asset to the Democratic Party for generations.
After some convincing from Farley and long time FDR confidant Louis Howe, Roosevelt asked Farley to run his 1928 campaign for the New York governorship. Farley orchestrated FDR’s narrow victory in the 1928 gubernatorial election and for that work was named secretary of the New York State Democratic Committee and orchestrated FDR’s reelection in 1930. Farley was named Chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, a post he would hold until his resignation in 1944. Farley brought to Roosevelt’s camp the powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and helped FDR win the 1932 presidential nomination and election. This was due to the Farley’s ability to gather the Catholics, Unions, and big city machines (while maintaining the Solid South) into the New Deal Coalition. Farley repeated this process in 1936 and correctly predicted the states Roosevelt would carry. His oft-repeated adage “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont” summed up the campaign. This prediction secured Farley’s reputation as the “political prophet” of his time.
Louis McHenry Howe (1871- April 18, 1936 was an intimate friend and political advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He, along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Marguerite Missy LeHand, was one of the few close associates who supported FDR throughout the most difficult stages of his personal and political recuperation after being afflicted by paralytic illness.
Howe is most known for his fierce, astute, and lifelong devotion to the political career of Franklin D. Roosevelt who publicly credited him (along with James Farley) for his initial election in 1932. Howe was also referred to as “the man behind Roosevelt” and Eleanor Roosevelt frankly credited him for his influence on her political development as well.
After FDR’s victory in 1932, and in accordance with political tradition, the president appointed Farley to the cabinet post of Postmaster General, a post traditionally given to the campaign manager or an influential supporter. He also took the unusual step of naming Farley Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in addition to the cabinet post in 1933. Farley was constantly harassed by FDR’s opposition for refusing to resign one of his these posts. Farley worked hard to keep the Post Office solvent through the Depression and, through his expert stewardship the once unprofitable Post Office Department finally began turning a profit.
Farley was instrumental in revolutionizing transcontinental airmail service, and reorganized the Post Office’s Airmail carriers. Farley worked in concert with the Pan American World Airways‘ (Pan Am) president Juan Trippe to see that the mail was delivered safely and cost effectively. This was after a brief period whereby the Army carryied the mail, with service men killed flying in bad weather. Farley oversaw and was responsible for the flight of the first Pan American China Clipper.
Juan Terry Trippe (June 27, 1899 – April 3, 1981) was a U.S. airline entrepreneur and pioneer, and the founder of Pan American World Airways. Born in Sea Bright, New Jersey Trippe graduated from The Hill School in 1917, and then Yale in 1921. He began working on Wall Street, but soon became bored. After receiving an inheritance he started working with New York Airways, an air-taxi service for the rich and powerful.
Farley is remembered among stamp collectors for two things. One is a series of souvenir sheets that were issued at commemorative events which bore his name as the creator. The other twenty controversial stamps were known as “Farley’s Follies.”
These were reprints, mostly imperforated issues of stamps of the period that were given to President Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, both collectors, (Farley himself did not collect stamps.) When ordinary stamp collectors learned of this they complained, and in 1935 many more stamps were reprinted for them. Today the souvenir sheets are not particularly scarce. The original sheets were autographed to distinguish them from the reprints, and fifteen of them are scheduled to be displayed in an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in June 2009.
Farley controlled federal patronage in the new administration and was very influential within Roosevelt’s Brain Trust and the Democratic Party throughout the United States. Farley used his control of patronage to see that Roosevelt’s first 100 days of New Deal legislation was passed. Farley was conservative in private, yet politically liberal and masterfully used his influence to line up support for the New Deal‘s far reaching programs. He helped to bring about the end of Prohibition and the defeat of the Ludlow Amendment, a 1939 attempt by isolationists to limit the foreign affairs powers of the president by requiring a referendum for a declaration of war without an attack. Farley’s close relationship with FDR lasted until the issue of FDR’s 3rd term caused a political fissure.
Farley began seeking support for a Presidential bid of his own after FDR. refused to publicly seek a third term, only indicating that he could not decline the nomination if his supporters drafted him at the 1940 Convention. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, this left Farley without a legitimate candidate. Roosevelt would publicly hint at support for Cordell Hull after privately telling Farley and others they could seek the nomination.
Farley also opposed the so-called “packing” of the Supreme Court, yet in all instances, was continuously loyal and supportive of FDR’s policies. Farley was asked by FDR to seek the Governorship of New York multiple times during his tenure in the Administration. He refused on every occasion.
In 1940, Farley resigned as Postmaster General and Party Chairman after placing second in the delegate count at the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Roosevelt was “drafted” for a third term.
Farley was the third Irish-American Roman Catholic to be nominated for the Presidency and was the first Irish-American Roman Catholic to achieve national success when FDR appointed Farley to his Cabinet as Postmaster General and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Eleanor Roosevelt flew to the convention to try to repair the damage in the Roosevelt-Farley relationship, and although Farley remained close to ER and Jimmy Roosevelt, he felt betrayed by FDR and refused to join FDR’s 1940 campaign team.
In 1938, Farley wrote his autobiography, Behind the Ballots. After leaving the administration in 1940, Farley was named Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, a post he held until his retirement in 1973. Farley also wrote his biography, Jim Farley’s Story, the Roosevelt Years in 1948. Farley, ever the loyalist, was very complimentary to his late patron, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Farley, who was well-known for his political savvy and charm, knew not to bite “the hand that fed him.” When it came to the public he graciously would sign his autograph with his well-known green ink (for the Irish) for anyone who asked.
Farley would remain a prominent national figure and confidant to pope’s, dignitaries, and sitting Presidents until his death in 1976. Remembered as one of America’s greatest campaign managers, politicians, business minds, and political bosses, Farley remained active in state and national politics until his death at age 88 on June 9, 1976, in New York City. At his death, Farley was the last surviving member of FDR’s Cabinet. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
Father Duffy, as he was known to almost all New Yorkers in the first quarter of the 20th Century, was the oldest of our group. He, of course, was connected to both FDR and Al Smith through General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was a law school classmate of Franklin Roosevelt, and ran for Lt. Governor of NY against Al Smith in 1922. Father Duffy and George M. Cohan also share the distinction of having their statues in Broadway’s theater district. Interestingly James Cagney had a leading role in both film treatments about Duffy and Cohan.
Francis Duffy (1871-1932) was born in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada and immigrated to New York City, where he taught for a time at the College of St. Francis Xavier and where he was awarded a Master’s degree (the school survives as Xavier High School). He became a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, being ordained in 1896. He attended The Catholic University of America, where he earned a doctorate.
After ordination, Duffy served on the faculty of St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, NY, which trains priests for the Archdiocese of New York. He was professor of Philosophical Psychology (a course more related to the Philosophy of the Human Person, than to Clinical Psychology, in today’s terms), functioned as a mentor to numerous students, and was editor of the New York Review — at the time, this publication was the most scholarly and progressive Catholic theological publication in America. Extremely popular with students, Duffy was part of a group of members of the Dunwoodie faculty who attempted to introduce ground-breaking innovations in seminary curriculum, putting the institution in the forefront of clerical education.
The New York Review itself never published an article that was suspect, but it did print papers by leading Catholic biblical experts who were part of the newly-emerging schools of biblical criticism, and several of these authors’ other works (which would be uncontroversial today) raised eyebrows in Rome. Duffy himself wrote few signed items in the journal (though he did author parts of it) but was responsible as editor for the entire publication.
Duffy’s new assignment was creating the parish of Our Savior in the Bronx, New York. There, he organized the parish and built a physical structure that combined parish school and the church, one of several innovations he introduced. Throughout this period,
Duffy was active in both the Catholic Summer School, a sort of adult summer camp and continuing education system that foreshadowed the explosion in Catholic higher education for the laity today, and in the military — he was regimental chaplain to the 69th New York National Guard Regiment which was federalized for a time during the Spanish-American War.
Already famous in theological circles, Duffy gained wider fame for his involvement as a military chaplain during World War I when the 69th New York (The Fighting 69th) was federalized again and re-designated the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment. When the unit moved up to the front in France, Duffy accompanied the litter bearers in recovering the wounded and was always seen in the thick of battle.
Lt. Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan (who would go on to create the OSS in World War II), used Father Duffy’s influence with the men as a key element regarding morale. Duffy went far beyond the actions of a normal cleric. The regiment was composed primarily of New York Irish immigrants and the sons of Irish immigrants, and many wrote later of Duffy’s inspirational leadership. Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of his division, admitted later that Duffy was very briefly considered for the post of regimental commander. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, the Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State), the Légion d’honneur (France), and the Croix de guerre. Father Duffy is the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the U.S. Army.
Major General William Joseph Donovan, USA, KBE, (January 1, 1883 – February 8, 1959) was an American soldier, lawyer and intelligence officer, best remembered as wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He is also widely known as the “father” of today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During World War I, Donovan organized and led a battalion of the United States Army, designated the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division, the federalized designation of the famed 69th New York Volunteers, (the “Fighting 69th“). In France one of his charges was poet Joyce Kilmer. For his service near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on 14 and 15 October 1918, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he received a promotion to colonel, the Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts.
In the wonderful World War I action film, The Fighting 69th (1940), Father Duffy was played by Pat O’Brien. It starred James Cagney and George Brent and the plot is based upon the actual exploits of New York‘s 69th Infantry Regiment during the First World War. The regiment was first given that nickname by opposing General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. O’Brien, who plays Father Duffy, a military chaplain, attempts to reform the character played by Cagney. “Wild Bill” Donovan, played by Brent, is the regimental commander, who ultimately orders Cagney’s character (Jerry Plunkett) to be court-martialed. One of the characters portrayed in this film is Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, the poet. Alan Hale, Sr. plays Sgt. Wynn, who loses both his brothers due to Cagney’s blunders.
Sergeant Kilmer, who was killed in action, was a great poet, no less a great soldier, wrote the famous poem, “Trees.” Kilmer’s companions wrote: “He was worshipped by the men about him. I have heard them speak with awe of his coolness and his nerve in scouting patrols in No Man’s Land.” This coolness and his habit of choosing, with typical enthusiasm, the most dangerous and difficult missions, led to his death.”
Kilmer, who was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for valor, was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, near Fere-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France. Although Kilmer is buried in France in an American military cemetery, a cenotaph is located on the Kilmer family plot in Elmwood Cemetery, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. A memorial service was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
The text stated below is the original written by Kilmer.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Following the war, he wrote of his exploits in Father Duffy’s Story ( published by George H. Doran Company, New York 1919), a book that grew out of a manuscript originally started by Joyce Kilmer, the poet and convert to Catholicism, who had joined the regiment and had become a close friend to Duffy. When Kilmer was killed in France, he was working on a history of the regiment’s involvement in the war, which Duffy intended to continue, but Duffy was prevailed upon to include his own reminiscences of the war.
He then served as a pastor of Holy Cross Church in Hell’s Kitchen, a block from Times Square, until his death. While there he had one last opportunity to make a contribution to Catholic thought: in 1927, during Al Smith‘s campaign for president, the Atlantic Monthly published a letter by Charles Marshall, a Protestant lawyer, which questioned whether a Catholic could serve as a loyal president who would put the nation and the Constitution before his allegiance to the pope (a common thread in American anti-Catholicism). Smith was given a chance to reply: his article, a classic statement of the intellectual ideas behind American Catholic patriotism, hinted at notions of religious freedom and freedom of conscience which would not be spelled out by the Church itself until the Second Vatican Council‘s Declaration on Religious Freedom in the 1960s. In fact, Al Smith had gone to Father Duffy and asked him to ghostwrite the piece and he did.
The last of our great Irish-Americans was the legendary Al Smith, who was known to everyone in his time. Jim Farley first worked for Smith in his NY State Governor’s campaigns. Smith was associated with FDR from the days that FDR entered the New York State Senate in 1911 and became his great rival and sometime critic. Smith was a political opponent of WWI hero William J. Donovan, whose friendship with Father Duffy was legendary. Later of course, Donovan became an intimate of FDR, worked secretly with him regarding early war-time spying and became the head of the war-time OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, which was the forerunner of the CIA.
Alfred Emanuel Smith, Jr. (December 30, 1873–October 4, 1944), known in private and public life as Al Smith, was an American politician who was elected Governor of New York four times, and was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928. He was the first Roman Catholic and Irish-American to run for President as a major party nominee. He lost the election to Herbert Hoover in a campaign that featured many anti-Catholic references, He then became president of the Empire State, Inc. and was instrumental in getting the Empire State Building built at the onset of the Great Depression.
Smith was born to Alfred Emanuel Smith and Catherine Mulvihill, and initially grew up in the multiethnic Lower East Side of Manhattan, on Oliver Street, within sight of the Brooklyn Bridge, then under construction. His four grandparents were Irish, German, Italian and English, but Smith identified with the Irish American community and became its leading spokesman in the 1920s.
He was thirteen when his father who was a Civil War veteran and who owned a small trucking firm died. At fourteen he had to drop out of St. James School in Manhattan to help support the rest of his family. He never attended high school or college, and claimed that he learned about people by studying them at the Fulton Fish Market, a job for which he was paid $12 per week. An accomplished amateur actor, he became a notable speaker. On May 6, 1900, Alfred Smith married Catherine A. Dunn, with whom he had five children.
In his political career, he traded on his working-class beginnings, identified himself with immigrants, and campaigned as a man of the people. Although indebted to the Tammany Hall political machine, particularly to its boss, “Silent” Charlie Murphy, he remained untarnished by corruption and worked for the passage of progressive legislation. Smith’s first political job was as a clerk in the office of the Commissioner of Jurors in 1895. In 1903 he was elected to the New York State Assembly. He served as vice chairman of the commission appointed to investigate factory conditions after a hundred workers died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Smith crusaded against dangerous and unhealthy workplace conditions and championed corrective legislation. Smith was always a familiar character with his tradition brown derby hat, and his ever-present clenched cigar in his mouth. His theme song was the Sidewalks of New York, written by Charles Lawlor and James Blake, which would be used extensively in his later campaign for president in 1928.
Down in front of Casey’s
Old brown wooden stoop,
On a summer’s evening,
We formed a merry group;
Boys and girls together,
We would sing and waltz,
While the “ginnie” played the organ
On the Sidewalks of New York.
East side, west side,
All around the town,
The tots sang “Ring-a-Rosie,”
“London Bridge is Falling Down.”
Boys and girls together,
Me and Mamie O’Rourke,
Tripped the light fantastic,
On the sidewalks of New York.
In 1911, the Democrats obtained a majority of seats in the NY State Assembly, and Smith became the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. In 1912, following the loss of the majority, he became the minority leader. When the Democrats reclaimed the majority in the next election, he was elected Speaker for the 1913 session. He became minority leader again in 1914 when the Republicans won the majority again, and remained in that position until his election as sheriff of New York County in 1915. By now he was a leader of the Progressive movement in New York City and state. His campaign manager and top aide was Belle Lindner Moskowitz, daughter of Prussian-Jewish immigrants.
Belle Lindner Moskowitz was born in Harlem in New York City, to Isidor Lindner, a watchmaker; and Esther Freyer. Both parents were immigrants from East Prussia in Germany. She was the sixth born of seven children. She attended the Horace Mann School of Columbia University and in 1894 she attended Teachers College, Columbia University, but only stayed for one year.
In 1900 she became a social worker at the Educational Alliance. She was appointed its educational director while still a student at Columbia. In 1911 she met Henry Moskowitz, a physician, while working with him on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire Commission. They married in 1914. In 1918, she supported Al Smith for Governor of New York. Moskowitz became one of Smith’s most intimate advisers. Referring to her as “Mrs. M”, he kept her close at hand throughout his tenure as governor. Tammany Hall sachems referred to her derisively as “Moskie,” coveting her influence.
When Smith became the Democratic Party candidate for President in 1928, Moskowitz worked as his campaign manager. She worked as his press agent during his attempt for renomination in 1932. On December 8, 1932 she fell down the front steps of her house at 147 West Ninety-fourth Street and, while recovering from the broken bones, died of an embolism on January 2, 1933 at age 55.
After serving in the patronage-rich job of sheriff of New York County beginning in 1916, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1918 with the help of Tammany Boss Charles F. Murphy and James A. Farley, who brought Smith the upstate vote. Smith is sometimes claimed as the first Irish-American to be elected governor of a state. But historically there had been many, Catholics elected earlier in other states, e.g. Edward Kavanagh of Maine. Previous Catholic governors of New York included Lord Thomas Dongan in the 1680s and Martin H. Glynn, who served 1913-1914 after Governor William Sulzer was impeached.
In 1919, Smith gave a famous speech criticizing William Randolph Hearst. Newspaperman Hearst, known for his notoriously sensationalist and largely (except on some economic matters) right-wing newspaper empire, was the leader of the populist wing of the Democratic Party in the city, and had combined with Tammany Hall in electing the local administration. Hearst had attacked Smith for “starving children” by not reducing the cost of milk.
William Randolph Hearst I (April 29, 1863 – August 14, 1951) was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher. The son of self-made millionaire George Hearst, he became aware that his father received a northern California newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment of a gambling debt. He was twice elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in 1906 in a race for governor of New York. Nonetheless, through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, most notably in creating public frenzy which pushed the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. Although Hearst shared Al Smith’s opposition to Prohibition he swung his papers behind Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidential election. Hearst’s support for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, via his allies William Gibbs McAdoo and John Nance Garner, can also be seen as part of his vendetta against Smith, who was an opponent of Roosevelt’s at that convention. His life story was a source of inspiration for the lead character in Orson Welles‘ classic film, Citizen Kane, which was one of the most influential films of all time.
Orson Welles‘ 1941 film Citizen Kane, which was loosely based on Hearst’s life Welles and co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz added bits and pieces from the lives of other rich men of the time, among them Harold McCormick, Samuel Insull and Howard Hughes into Kane. Hearst used all his resources and influence in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the film’s release. Welles and the studio, RKO, resisted the pressure, but Hearst and his Hollywood friends succeeded in getting theater chains to limit bookings of Kane, resulting in mediocre box-office numbers and harming Welles’ profits.
Smith lost his bid for re-election in 1920 to Nathan Miller, but was reelected as governor in 1922, 1924 and 1926 with James A. Farley serving as his campaign manager. As Governor, Smith became known nationally as a progressive who sought to make government more efficient and more effective in meeting social needs. Meanwhile, his young assistant Robert Moses constructed the nation’s first state park system and reformed the civil service system, later gaining appointment as Secretary of State of New York.
Robert Moses (December 18, 1888–July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. Although he never held elected office, Moses was arguably the most powerful person in New York state government from the 1930s to the 1950s. He changed shorelines, built roadways in the sky, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.
During Smith’s term as governor of New York, he strengthened laws governing workers’ compensation, women’s pensions, and child and women’s labor with the help of Frances Perkins, soon to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s Labor Secretary. At the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Smith unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president, advancing the cause of civil liberty by decrying lynching and racial violence. Roosevelt made the nominating speech in which he saluted Smith as “the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield.” It was reporter Frederick William Wile who made the oft-repeated observation that Smith was defeated by “the three P’s: Prohibition, Prejudice and Prosperity.”
The Republican Party was still benefiting from the economic boom of the 1920s, which their presidential candidate Herbert Hoover pledged to continue. Historians agree that the prosperity along with anti-Catholic sentiment made Hoover’s election inevitable, although he had never run for office. He defeated Smith by a landslide in the 1928 election.
Smith was the first Catholic to win a major-party presidential nomination. Smith’s Catholic beliefs played a key role in his loss of the election of 1928. Many feared that he would answer to the pope and not the constitution. The people also criticized him for being a drunkard because of the stereotypes placed on Irish Catholics of the day. Another major controversial issue was the continuation of Prohibition. Smith was personally in favor of relaxation or repeal of Prohibition laws, despite its status as part of the nation’s Constitution, but the Democratic Party split north and south on the issue. During the campaign Smith tried to duck the issue with noncommittal statements.
Smith was an articulate exponent of good government and efficiency, as was Hoover. Smith swept the entire Catholic vote, which had been split in 1920 and 1924, and brought millions of Catholics to the polls for the first time, especially women. He lost important Democratic constituencies in the rural north and in southern cities and suburbs.
He did carry most of the Deep South, thanks in part to his running mate, Senator Joseph Robinson from Arkansas, and he carried the ten most populous cities in the United States. Some of Smith’s losses can be attributed to fear that as president, Smith would answer to the pope rather than to the Constitution, to fears of the power of New York City, to distaste for the long history of corruption associated with Tammany Hall, as well as to Smith’s own mediocre campaigning. Smith’s campaign theme song, The Sidewalks of New York was not likely to appeal to rural folks, and his city accent on the “raddio” seemed slightly foreign.
Although Smith lost New York State, his fellow Democrat Roosevelt was elected to replace him as governor of New York. James A. Farley had moved from Smith’s camp to run Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful campaign for Governor, and later Roosevelt’s successful campaigns for the Presidency in 1932 and 1936.
Joseph Taylor Robinson (August 26, 1872 – July 14, 1937) was an American politician from Arkansas, of the Democratic Party. He was a state representative, a U.S. Representative, Governor of Arkansas, U.S. Senator, and Senate Majority Leader, and he was a candidate for Vice President in the 1928 U.S. presidential election. Robinson was the Majority Leader at the time of FDR’s court reorganization plan, and died suddenly while trying to direct the Bill through the Senate. Without his support the plan failed.
In historical perspective Al Smith started real voter realignment. He helped launch the end of classless politics that ushered in the New Deal coalition of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As one political scientist explains, “…not until 1928, with the nomination of Al Smith, a northeastern reformer, did Democrats make gains among the urban, blue-collar, and Catholic voters.”
These voters were later to become core components of the New Deal coalition and broke the pattern of minimal class polarization that had characterized our electoral system. Smith often is underestimated as a symbol of the changing nature of American politics in the first half of the last century. He represented the rising ambitions of urban, industrial America at a time when the hegemony of rural, agrarian America was in decline. He was connected to the hopes and aspirations of immigrants, especially Catholics and Jews. Smith was a devout Catholic, but his struggles against religious bigotry were often misinterpreted when he fought the religiously inspired Protestant morality imposed by prohibitionists.
After the 1928 election, he became the president of Empire State, Inc., the corporation which built and operated the Empire State Building. Construction for the building was commenced symbolically on March 17, 1930, per Smith’s instructions, as president of the corporation. Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s tallest skyscraper opened on May 1, 1931–May Day–built in only 13 months. As with the Brooklyn Bridge, which Smith witnessed being built from his Lower East Side boyhood home, the Empire State Building was a vision and an achievement constructed by combining the interests of all rather than being divided by interests of a few.
Smith felt slighted by Roosevelt during the latter’s governorship. Smith naively thought FDR would spend most of his time in Warm Springs, Georgia and would leave the every day operations of the state to Smith’s chief of staff, Belle Moskowitz and Robert Moses. But FDR had no intention of becoming an absentee governor, with Al Smith’s hand-picked people pulling the strings. Belle Moskowitz was forced out quickly, following the advice and council of his wife Eleanor, and Robert Moses continued his focus on the parks and other state-wide work. This certainly lessened Smith’s impact on state affairs.
Later in his second term, FDR had attempted reconciliation with him on November 17, 1931, when he invited him to lunch. But it was not a success.
In December, Smith confessed to the publisher of the Atlantic Constitution, that though Roosevelt had always been considerate of him, he had never once asked for his advice, “on one damned thing.” They became rivals for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. At the convention, Smith’s animosity toward Roosevelt was so great that he put aside longstanding rivalries and managed to work with William McAdoo and William Randolph Hearst to block FDR’s nomination for several ballots.
This unlikely coalition fell apart when Smith refused to work on finding a compromise candidate, and instead maneuvered to make himself the nominee. After losing the nomination, Smith begrudgingly campaigned for Roosevelt in 1932. When President Roosevelt began pursuing the liberal policies of his New Deal, Smith began to work with the opposition.
Smith believed the New Deal was a betrayal of good-government Progressive ideals and ran counter to the goal of close cooperation with business. Along with other prominent conservative Democrats, in 1934 he became a leader of the American Liberty League, the focus of political opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal. Smith supported the Republican presidential candidates Alfred M. Landon in the 1936 election and Wendell Willkie in the 1940 election.
Although personal resentment was a motivating factor in Smith’s break with Roosevelt and the New Deal, Smith was consistent in his beliefs and politics. Smith always believed in social mobility, economic opportunity, religious tolerance, and individualism. Strangely enough, Smith and Eleanor Roosevelt always remained close. In 1936, while Smith was in Washington making a vehement radio attack on the President, she invited him to stay at the White House. To avoid embarrassing the Roosevelt’s, he declined. In1939 he was appointed a Papal Gentleman, one of the highest honors the Papacy bestows on a layman. Smith, like most New York City businessmen, enthusiastically supported World War II, but was not asked by Roosevelt to play any role in the war effort. Smith died at the Rockefeller Institute Hospital on October 4, 1944, of a heart attack, at the age of 70, broken-hearted over the death of his wife from cancer five months earlier.
After Smith’s death, FDR evoked his memory. He recalled that in 1928 when he was running to succeed Smith as Governor of New York, Smith said, “You don’t have to be an acrobat.” He described Smith graciously as “frank and warm-hearted.”
There were many other famous Irish-Americans who made their name in the first half of the 20th Century who I could have included. I briefly mentioned William Donovan, a great hero of both World Wars. Joseph P. Kennedy, Thomas Corcoran of New Deal fame, Mayor Jimmy Walker, and Eugene O’Neill come to mind. But the above five were closely identified with the Irish Community and on St. Patrick’s Day they seemed to stand out most vividly.