Greetin’s, Cousin George

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Marines from Quantico, National Guard troops, an eighty-piece band, and more than five hundred guests strained to hear the first sound of the motorcycles. Preparations had been elaborate. The fair planned to give their Majesties a regal welcome, but the guests of honor were already thirty minutes late. The King finally entered Perylon Hall. The large room became silent. Awed by the royal presence, fair officials awaited the King’s first words. “When do we eat?” he asked. Grover Whalen, head of the World’s Fair, and New York City’s official greater, smilingly ignored the King’s question and took him over to a receiving line to meet dignitaries. About half the people had been introduced when the King started to walk away. Whalen heard Ambassador Lindsay say, “His Majesty is leaving now.” “He can’t do that,” Whalen pleaded. La Guardia rushed up to his official greeter. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. The King was gone. In less than fifteen minutes he had put a dragging tour back on schedule.

Whalen found the King outside. Defeated at Perylon Hall, he bundled George VI into a car and they drove to the Court of Peace, where the King was to review troops. Precise plans governed the review. As soon as the King stepped into a specially chalked area, a signal would be given and the troops would instantly swing into motion. Whalen was just explaining the chalk mark to the King when their car reached the Court of Peace. George VI, unmindful of Whalen’s explanation, shot from the car. Accidentally, he stepped on the chalked spot and the soldiers moved out, much to his surprise. The now puffing Whalen explained. George VI protested: “I won’t take the review.” Again he demanded, “When do we eat?” Whalen was too out of breath to answer, and the King trotted off. Once more Whalen chugged after him. When he caught up, George VI pleaded, “Where is it ?” Only then did “Mr. New York” understand, and he directed the King to the nearest rest room.

A few minutes later, while the Meyer Davis orchestra played “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Indian Love Call,” the King at last ate lunch. Afterward the royal couple toured the fair grounds in a blue and orange trackless train from which emanated strains of “The Sidewalks of New York.” The King seemed more at ease in the afternoon, but everyone was relieved when the World’s Fair visit ended. George VI and Elizabeth climbed into a waiting automobile for the drive up the Hudson to Hyde Park. There they might rest royal hands swollen from endless handshaking.

The Roosevelts were sitting in the library of their Hyde Park mansion when a member of the royal party phoned to explain that they would arrive late. The President had a pitcher of martinis ready when his guests drove in, even though his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, insisted that the King would prefer tea. As the King approached the cocktail table, F.D.R. observed, “My mother thinks you should have a cup of tea—she doesn’t approve of cocktails.” George VI answered, “Neither does my mother,” and gratefully took a drink.

The atmosphere at Hyde Park was intimate and informal. Only the butlers gave the gathering any hint of convention, and they inadvertently alleviated that. During the evening meal, a serving table suddenly collapsed, shattering part of the dinner service on the floor. The guilty servant stood in shameful silence, pierced by the stares of the Roosevelt women. He knew that he had overloaded the table, but Mrs. James R. Roosevelt saved him further embarrassment when she said, “I hope none of my dishes were broken,” and laughed. The King, the Queen, and the President seated themselves in the library after dinner, only to hear a second tinkling crash. Another butler was sprawled on the library floor surrounded by a sea of bottles, glasses, ice cubes, and liquor. The tray of drinks, in the words of Grace Tully, had “hurtled into space” and the butler “bounced after it like a ballplayer sliding into second base.” By the time the servant managed to pour the drinks, the hour was late, and everyone soon retired except Roosevelt, George VI, and Mackenzie King.

Left alone, the three men talked more seriously about the perilous drift of events in Europe. The defense of the Caribbean gravely concerned Roosevelt. As early as 1936 he had conceived a plan of establishing bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Trinidad for the better protection of the Americas and to prevent these territories from falling into hostile hands. American naval maneuvers in the winter of 1938-39 had initiated the idea of a Western Atlantic patrol. Roosevelt mentioned that it was a waste of money for Canada to expand her fleet, for the United States could defend the Western Hemisphere. The President also assured his companions that he would try to do something to ease the restrictions of the most recent Neutrality Act. In truth, he explained, he and Hull were doing their best to put public opinion on the right course. Finally, Roosevelt patted the King’s knee and said, “Young man, it’s time for you to go to bed.” George VI went to his room, but before retiring observed to Mackenzie King how impressed he was with Roosevelt. F.D.R. was like a father, the King said, giving him “his most careful and wise advice.”