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NOW THAT the phone is free of recorded pitches, the ballots are counted and all the neighborhood election posters have been taken down (would that they were!), I can share details of one of the most exceptional campaigns in U.S. history, Gracie Allen’s run for the 1940 Presidential election.
The comedy team of Burns and Allen entertained in vaudeville, films, radio and television from their movie and radio debuts in 1929 until Gracie’s retirement in 1958. Today, their radio broadcasts are high points of SiriusXM’s Radio Classics.
In Gracie: A Love Story, George Burns recalls that originally Gracie was the straight man of their act. But, he noted, her straight lines got better laughs than his punchlines. What evolved was Gracie’s stage persona of zaniness, total innocence and illogical logic.
What better credentials to go against the incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940?
From the Gracie Allen for President Program Guide by Elizabeth McLeod, “Americans approached the 1940 Presidential election with a humbling mixture of hope, dread and anxiety.” Gracie offered them what they needed, “distraction from the increasingly dismal state of the real world.”
On February 28, 1940 she declared her candidacy running on the Surprise Party ticket for the Presidency of the U.S. The Surprise Party emblem was Laura the Kangaroo (1940 was a leap year). The party motto, “It’s in the bag.”
Gracie, George and others of their radio cast did a whistle-stop campaign on Union Pacific Railroad. From Los Angeles, their stops included Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver and Dallas among cities hosting their weekly radio broadcasts.
The whistle-stop campaign ended in Omaha, Nebraska, chosen for the Surprise Party convention.
Twelve broadcasts and two guest visits on other shows are collected in the Radio Spirit collection, Gracie Allen for President! There’s a book as well, Gracie Allen for President 1940: Vote with the Surprise Party.
The Surprise Party platform contained wonderful bits of Gracie’s illogical logic:
Extend Civil Service to All Branches of Government. A little politeness goes a long way.
Congress Must Go! The Senate is the only show in the world where the cash customers have to sit in the balcony. Put Congress on a commission basis—if they do a good job, they get 10 percent of the extra take.
On the Lend-Lease Bill. If we owe it, we should pay it!
Take the Fizz out of Fiscal! Put our money in a safe bank. At 2 percent it’s a good investment, so let’s put it in three banks and get 6 percent!
The Surprise Party’s convention at Omaha’s Creighton University Stadium drew a crowd of more than 80,000. After this came a triumphal return to Los Angeles (100,000 greeted Gracie, 1 greeted George) and a visit to the San Francisco World’s Fair. Then the joke was allowed to run its course.
How successful was Gracie’s presidential run? She received 63 votes in the Wisconsin primary. Harvard University students gave her their endorsement. Some say Gracie garnered 42,000 votes in November; only six other females in U.S. history have received more in a presidential election.
Gracie’s official campaign song became a hit. Here’s its most cogent line: “Even big politicians don’t know what to do/Gracie doesn’t know either/But neither do you!”
No one running for public office ever displayed more candor. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014