I have three items for my write-up today on Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas—-Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950, a book about Richard Nixon’s 1950 race for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas.
1. On pages 181-183, Mitchell talks about blunders that Douglas was making. Nixon’s campaign had circulated the Pink Sheet, a paper that said that Douglas in the U.S. House voted the same as far left Congressman Vito Marcantonio 354 times. Douglas received “conflicting advice from advisers” (page 183), as some told her to ignore Nixon’s charges, while others said that she should respond to them so that they wouldn’t look credible, and also that she should emphasize Americanism and speak before veterans groups. Douglas spent a lot of time responding to Nixon’s charges. She composed the Blue Book as a detailed response to the Pink Sheet, but Nixon’s Pink Sheet was far more effective. While the “Pink Sheet could be reproduced in the hundreds of thousands, easily distributed and quickly read”, Douglas’ Blue Book “was so cumbersome and so costly to produce” that only a few saw it, and the press “took little notice of it” (page 182).
Mitchell says that Douglas may have been waiting for the public and the media to get tired of the smears and to demand a real debate that focused on the issues. But, as Mitchell narrates, “that moment had not yet come, and it was becoming obvious that it would not come” (page 182). This is actually a poignant part of the book, in my opinion. And, aside from the question of whether or not Mitchell’s narrative is accurate, it’s a sad scenario: you hope for people to be reasonable and to come to bat for you, but they don’t do so. You have to speak up for yourself, because it doesn’t look like anyone else is speaking up for you.
Mitchell talks about another candidate, however, who was facing a similar situation as Douglas but had a different approach. Frank Mankiewicz was running for the assembly, and his opponent Harold Levering was saying that Mankiewicz was socialistic. Mankiewicz did not expect to win in his Republican district, and he chose to have fun, calling his opponent “an amiable do-badder”. Douglas, by contrast, was not having fun. Mitchell does say that Levering was “running a low-key campaign” (page 182), and I doubt that the same can be said about Nixon’s aggressive and effective operation. Still, just having fun may be a good way to run for office, even when attacked.
2. Mitchell talked about a number of famous people: Ronald Reagan, Cecil B. Demille, Frank Capra, Anne Baxter (whom I know as Nefretiri on the Ten Commandments), and Edward G. Robinson (Dathan in the Ten Commandments).
Let’s start with Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a reputation as a far-leftist, according to Mitchell, and Reagan had supported Douglas in her races for the U.S. House. But, in 1950, when Douglas was running for Senate, Reagan only donated $50 to her campaign. Moreover, there were indications that Reagan was moving to the right, for Reagan called actor Robert Cummings (who was with Reagan in the movie King’s Row) and invited him to a party for Nixon. Mitchell speculates that Reagan’s relationship with Nancy Davis, whom Reagan was dating, played a role in Reagan’s shift to the right, for Nancy was a conservative, her family was conservative, and she socialized with conservatives.
Cecil B. Demille wanted for the Screen Directors Guild to have a loyalty oath, but the Guild’s president, Joseph Mankiewicz, strongly disagreed. Demille did not think that he was supporting a blacklist, for producers could still hire whomever they wanted. John Ford said, “I will not stand for any blacklist, but why shouldn’t a man stand up and be counted?” Mankiewicz responded that “nobody appointed DeMille to do the counting” (Mankiewicz’s words, quoted on page 199), then added that Russia is the only place he knew where people weren’t “entitled to a secret ballot” (Mankiewicz’s words, quoted on page 200). Demille replied, “Well, maybe we need more of that here”. (It’s interesting that Demille in that moment was actually admiring the Soviet system that he opposed!) Demille had Frank Capra on his side, and Demille sought to remove Mankiewicz from the presidency of the SDG. At first, people were too intimidated to stand up to Demille, on account of his power within Hollywood, but eventually the tide turned against him, and Frank Capra reversed his support for Demille. Mankiewicz kept his presidency, then he went on to retain the loyalty oath. Like, what was this fight all about?
Anne Baxter was a Nixon supporter. Edward G. Robinson, however, supported Douglas. Robinson was suspected of having Communist sympathies, but how Robinson handled the accusations became a model for other people who were suspected. Robinson answered questions from the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to its satisfaction, as well as met with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Robinson said that, as far as he knew, he did not know any Communists, so Robinson was not naming names. Mitchell on page 222 says that “It was impossible to tell whether he was testifying truthfully or acting dumb.”
3. Two weeks before Election Day, Nixon alleged that Douglas was supporting a strategy that was backed by the Soviet Union. Because the U.S. failed to aid anti-Communist Formosa (Taiwan), Nixon said, the country was threatened by Communism, and the Communists were encouraged to be aggressive in Korea. Six U.S. Representatives sponsored what Nixon called a “get out of China” resolution, and Douglas was one of those six. Nixon said that Congressman Walter Judd “traced the genesis of that resolution directly to Joseph Stalin” (Mitchell on page 209). Nixon said that “This action by Mrs. Douglas has been established to have come just two weeks after [U.S. Communist Party leader] William Z. Foster transmitted his instructions from the Kremlin to the Communist national committee”, and that “this demand found its way into the Congress” (Nixon, quoted on page 209). According to Mitchell, Nixon did not specify how the demand made its way into the Congress or how specifically Douglas was involved. I wonder if Nixon was saying here that Douglas was doing the bidding of the Kremlin as part of a plot, or simply that she was unknowingly advancing its agenda. I think that, ordinarily, Nixon’s stance was the latter.