- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000


I hitchhiked into Los Angeles for the the Democratic National Convention that was to nominate John F. Kennedy, making the last 40 miles on a turnip truck from Anaheim. The turnips, along with the crates of carrots, radishes and rutabagas.

My newspaper in Memphis couldn't send me to cover the convention, but a sympathetic managing editor had given me the week off if I wanted to try to see it on my own. I think he wanted to see how resourceful a police reporter could be in the rarefied precincts of major-league politics.

The governor's man in the Arkansas delegation, a friend from home, gave me breakfast at the Statler Hilton, ignoring my rumpled clothes and the aroma of wilted cabbages and turnips, and offered to make me an alternate delegate. I could replace someone who hadn't shown up in Los Angeles.

"I don't think that would be OK with the managing editor," I told him. "Newspaper reporters aren't supposed to make the news."

"Nobody here's going to make the news," he said. "The governor will make the news, and he'll tell everyone who they're voting for. A room here at the Hilton comes with it."

The managing editor was still sympathetic. "I can't have one of my reporters being a delegate to a convention," he said. "But if you're not any longer a reporter here it wouldn't be any of my business."

"Could I have my job back after the convention is over?"

"Maybe," he said. "Probably."

The governor's man had said that Dick Powell, born and raised in Little Rock, and his wife June Allyson had invited everyone to their house for supper and some of their friends from the movies would be there. With high hopes that this might include Ruth Roman, I quit my day job and became a political hack. The governor's man was correct. We didn't participate in choosing the nominee. The instructions to our delegation, like the instructions to nearly all the other delegations, arrived from the governors, senators and mayors back home. We caucused after breakfast and were told we would be voting for Lyndon Johnson for as long as he had any prospects. After that, who knew? We didn't.

The world has moved on to, as we all know, a better place in the universe, and the bosses don't select the nominees now. The bosses in the hotel rooms wreathed in stale cigar smoke, who came up with the likes of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR and Truman, have given way to the presidential primaries, which has thrown up McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis and Dole

Hollywood is not what it used to be, either, as the Los Angeles Times notes in its convention coverage. Most of the studios are gone with the wind, and movie stars dress like bums and bag ladies. A map of Los Angeles supplied with the Sunday paper refers to Hollywood as "the former glamour capital," and you can't blame the glitteries for trying to stay out of sight, since Bill and Hillary have been here for several days now, milking them like they were a herd of exhausted Holsteins.

The show-biz glamour, such as it is, has been relegated to the shadows by Al Gore's version of the old-time religion. The selection of Joe Lieberman, still an unknown to most of the party faithful, is as puzzling to the delegates as everyone else. "Who would have thought it?" asks a delegate from Cleveland. "The first fundamentalist to make it to the ticket turns out to be an Orthodox Jew."

Hollywood doesn't quite know what to make of the makeover, of the attempt to turn the party of the playboy in the Oval Office and the pornographers in the Lincoln Bedroom into the party of prudery and piety, synthetic though the prudery and piety may be. Casting Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, so hospitable to both the fund-raisers and the fun-raisers of the Democratic Party over the years, as the best little whorehouse in California is particularly puzzling. "The House the Babes Built," as columnist Mike Downey calls it in the Los Angeles Times, has been a home away from home for many a visiting Democrat.

"How petty that the issues of the Gore campaign would come to include back issues of Playboy," he says. "Wasn't Al Gore aware that the Playboy Mansion has long been a gracious host to everything from women's political caucuses to Rose Bowl football teams?"

Well, probably. Saddest of all is that Hugh Hefner's bunnies, drooping bunny's ears and all, have come to be the best-known expression of Hollywood glamour at this convention. Ruth Roman, as it turned out, did not make it to Dick and June's party for the delegates 40 years ago. But she didn't need a phony bunny's tail to make her a star worth yearning for.

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