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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Jan. 7, 1960

January 7, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Jan. 7, 1960, Mirror Cover

Columnist Gets Nosy About First Ladies

Paul Coates    Every Monday morning, two thin eight-page bulletins find their collective way into my mailbox.  Both are called "The Insider's Newsletter."

    One, on white bond trimmed neatly in blue, is subtitled, "An every Monday report for busy MEN who need to know what's going on."

    The other, on tattletale gray tastefully embroidered in kind of an off-shade fuchsia, is subtitled, "An every Monday report for busy WOMEN who need to know what's going on."

    I read both.  Not always on Monday -- but before the week's over, I've pretty well digested them.

    The sheets, a product of Cowles  publications, keep me abreast of matters national, international, financial and political, among others.  They do cause me certain secret embarrassment, however, in that the report "for busy women who need to know what's going on" generally holds my attention more than the report "for busy men who need to know what's going on." It kind of gives me the feeling of peeking in where I shouldn't be looking.

Jan. 7, 1960, Finch Trial     For example, this week, while we menfolk were being told that Rockefeller's unhappy, Detroit's optimistic, and that radioactivity is at its lowest level since September, 1958, the women were getting the low-down on the female powers behind our leading Presidential candidates.

    "Unless a dark horse pops up between now and election time," the nation's busy women and I were told, "one of the following women will become the nation's number one hostess . . . "

    The magazine then listed Mrs. Richard Nixon, Mrs. Stuart Symington, Mrs. John Kennedy, Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, Mrs. Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson's sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Ives, and proceeded immediately to pick to pieces their talents as prospective First Ladies.

    Broadly, the magazine concluded that the Mesdames Symington, Johnson, Nixon and Stevenson Ives would be real cut-ups at official White House social functions.  In fact, I got the impression that they'd be a barrel of fun at anybody's party.

    But the editors hesitated on giving their stamp of approval to Mrs. Kennedy ("she doesn't especially like the social whirl") and Mrs. Humphrey ("she has a habit of forgetting names").

    The Newsletter also probed into the First Lady candidates' backgrounds, interests and characters, just deep enough to give us some insight into the power they would wield over their spouses, and the influence they might have on the course of our nation.

    It came up with some startling facts.  For example, that hot tip about Mrs. Humphrey's inability to remember names.  A shortcoming like that could have dire international consequences.

    At a formal White House cocktail party for visiting dignitaries, it's not unlikely that in her role as hostess she might take Nikita Khrushchev by the arm, steer him across the room to the French minister of finance and introduce him by saying: "Monsieur, you know the premier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Mr. What's-His-Name."

    Or in Calcutta, while accompanying her husband on a future round-the-world peace mission, there's the awful danger that she might become confused and refer to the dinner partner on her right,Pandit Nehru, as Sabu.

Jan. 7, 1960, Finch Trial     The Newsletter points out that Jacqueline Kennedy is, among other things, devoted to modern art.  There's a threat to our heritage in that.  She could decide to take down the White House portrait of Washington by Stuart and replace it with Salvador Dali's "Melting Pocket Watch."

    And don't think she isn't the type who might feel that the quaint furniture and four-poster bed in the Lincoln Room is "icky," and should be done over in Swedish modern.

    Besides, she's simply not experienced enough for the job for First Lady.  She didn't even have enough influence on her husband to insist that he comb his hair before he threw his hat in the ring.

    Pat Nixon, they tell me, is another First Lady candidate.  She's got all the necessary experience and charm, but let's be blunt about it -- she hasn't got the wardrobe.  How would it look for her to walk into the White House in a plain cloth coat?

    Lyndon Johnson's wife is named Lady Bird.  And I think we're all in agreement that that alone disqualifies her.

How High the Vittles

    Symington's Edie, according to the Newsletter, is a lavish entertainer.  With our national debt already staggering, I think the added grocery bill she would cause would eliminate her from consideration. 

    That would seem to leave Adlai Stevenson as the logical candidate.  For the purposes of this discussion, his marital situation is ideal.  He's single.

    But he's got an older sister who would act as his official hostess.  Her name is Evelyn Ives.  The Newsletter identifies her as a big-game hunter.

    And a First Lady wearing a pith helmet and bearing an elephant gun is just a little more than even you and I should be asked to take.