- Historic Sites
Madly For Adlai
The masses and the media made waves for the Stevenson campaign of 1960 and almost upset John F. Kennedy’s bid for the Democratic nomination. The waves have been felt ever since.
August/september 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 5
Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy came early to the Stevenson press trailer. After Stevenson had phoned, a draft of a speech nominating him written by William Attwood had been dropped off at McCarthy’s hotel room. Attwood’s theme was “of not turning aside from Adlai. ” Writing his own draft on hotel stationery, McCarthy worked furiously through the morning and past lunch. The nominations schedule had called for him to speak at three. With an hour to go and still not satisfied with his speech, he left for the Sports Arena. We met here for the first time. A handsome, ham-handed man with pale eyes, he looked tired and yet agitated. Not only Stevenson, but Monroney, Carroll, and Doyle had pressed him to make the speech. They were counting on him.
I told McCarthy we had a breathing spell. The convention was already an hour behind schedule. There was a rules fight going on. With the Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington nominations and demonstrations on the schedule ahead of Stevenson, it looked as though McCarthy would be speaking in prime time.
FINNEY ARRIVED with word from Doyle that there would be no traditional demonstration following McCarthy’s nominating speech because, Finney said, Doyle was afraid any Stevenson demonstration would seem pale not only compared with Tuesday’s, but also compared with the Kennedy demonstration threatened by Robert Kennedy. Further, Doyle hoped a moment of quiet after McCarthy and Mrs. Roosevelt spoke might impress the delegates with the seriousness of their responsibility.
I read McCarthy’s draft. Finney also read it. McCarthy recollects that Finney suggested the “favorite son of the fifty states” idea. Finally I took the hotel papers from McCarthy, had them typed, and returned both the original and the typescript to him. I kept a carbon. McCarthy immediately started reediting the typescript on his knee. Then, after a while, he scooped up both versions and said he would take his seat in the Minnesota delegation to finish rewriting there. He wanted to listen to the other speeches and watch the Kennedy demonstration. For our press release I realized all I would have was his unedited second draft. (That night, as I heard McCarthy soaring, I realized he had made so many changes that the release was virtually useless.) I wished McCarthy luck. He strolled off, still expecting a moment of silence to follow his speech.
Days after the convention, Walter Winchell, then an influential columnist for the New York Daily Mirror , asserted that the amazing Stevenson demonstration touched off by McCarthy’s nominating speech had been financed by James Hoffa, the shadowy Teamster chief, and staged by Dore Schary, production head at MGM studios in Hollywood, and press-agented by me.
Actually David Garth and Tedson Meyers had organized the Stevenson campaign’s last offensive action as another expression of the hope and optimism inspired by Tuesday’s pandemonium when Adlai had arrived to sit with his delegation. Later that Tuesday evening, Tedson Meyers had said to Garth, “David, make us a riot for tomorrow,” and then pitched in with him.
Meyers got the money for an all-girl brass band, banners, streamers, placards and sticks, and the like from a trifle remaining in the treasury of the Associated Stevenson Clubs of California. The Stevenson “snowball” was free.
Garth’s “staging” consisted almost entirely of finding ways to get as many Stevensonians as possible into the galleries and onto the convention floor—not to pack the hall but to offset the expected masses of Kennedy supporters who would be allotted twenty-five hundred tickets by Paul Butler (to seventy-five tickets for the Stevenson campaign, plus fifty for our band).
Pending “go” or “no go” orders from Doyle, Garth collected more than two thousand balcony-seat tickets from the California host committee, other friendly delegates, and Stevenson volunteers wearing Kennedy buttons who had claimed about a third of the Kennedy allotment by repeated trips through the ticket line at the Biltmore. Should the opposing camps fail to fill the rest of the gallery, used tickets would be salvaged in the balcony and redistributed to small Stevenson groups waiting outside and, in turn, those tickets would be salvaged and redistributed again; a capacity crowd was in the party’s interest, which may be why this hoary ruse actually worked.
At the same time, Garth and Meyers plotted access to the convention floor itself. The New Jersey delegation, for example, had invited Stevenson demonstrators to come on the floor for its favorite son, Gov. Robert Meyner, who was holding firm on the first ballot and likely to switch to Stevenson on the second. Stevenson volunteers wearing appropriate buttons would also participate in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Symington demonstrations, then remain in the hall until Stevenson’s moment came. And a private security officer guarding a strategic outer door was found who would exchange his uniform and his post with a Stevenson volunteer; should Meyers call them, about two thousand demonstrators from the ring of marchers outside the Sports Arena would be able to take the floor through this guard’s entrance.
And there was no press agentry, no advance publicity at all. The demonstration was planned in secret; and no one told me when Doyle had decided to go ahead with it.