Pegler Dissects the Annual Gridiron Club Banquet in Washington and Finds It Rather Somber

Westbrook Pegler

Green Bay Press Gazette/March 5, 1935

WASHINGTON, D. C. Journalists on the political runs have a tendency to paint their noses, paste on false whiskers and cavort the rickety planks of an improvised stage in the banquet room of some hotel once or twice a year, cracking laborious jokes at the expense of the statesmen within their scope and singing doggerel in quavering voices. The most distinguished of these entertainments are those of the Washington Gridiron club which derive prestige from the traditional presence of the reigning president of the U. S. A. There have been occasions when the president, for one good reason or another, was unable to be present but custom and good form suggest that he do so if it be physically possible. If he should decline to attend merely because he didn’t want to, that might be taken to indicate that he couldn’t take his gruel. Thus, even Herbert Hoover subjected himself to this searching of his character by the gentlemen of the press, although the merry-making at the Gridiron dinner of his administration was toned down out of consideration for the bruised condition of his soul.

Judging the Gridiron entertainments strictly from published account, the presidential presence sometimes glosses over serious artistic defects in the material and in the performance itself. This is hardly to be wondered at inasmuch as active membership in the Gridiron is restricted to the more sombre minds of Washington journalism to the exclusion of an element of frivolous and flippant squirts who take the problems of the world lightly and might turn out brisker gags and sing louder if it were up to them.

Parodies and Broken Legged Jokes Abound

There is no doubt, however, that the Gridiron is the most important foolishness of its kind in the amateur theatrical season in this country as is demonstrated every year by the scheming and wooing indulged in by distinguished statesmen, executives and captains of industry who eat their hearts out and bust their straps in competition for a limited number of invitations.

Elsewhere, these pin-shows range down through a list which includes those of the New York city hall men and the Albany correspondents to blackface minstrels by groups of county seat reporters, not forgetting the Baseball Writers’ association. Some of them may be regarded by friends of the accused as pretty fair for amateurs. But, judged by standards they would be heartily condemned by any play reviewer as to material and execution, both. Puns, parodies and broken-legged jokes abound and serious indignation among the audiences is averted only because a majority of those present attend in a mood of pity mingled with alcoholic carelessness.

A hopeful innovation has been introduced by Mrs. Roosevelt in Washington, however, and greatly improved upon in Albany by Mrs. Herbert Lehman, the wife of the governor.

Perceiving that the ladles of the Gridiron circle were having a rather sticky time of it by themselves on Gridiron nights Mrs. Roosevelt invited them to come to the White House for an entertainment of their own, which, this year, took the form of a masquerade. The humor of the ladies followed natural inclinations and certain of them showed up somewhat thinly disguised as the Dionne quintuplets recalling a popular song of some years back which held that when grown up ladles act like babies the effect leaves something to be desired. The news photographs of the masqueraders prompted a reflection that ladies should never strive to make themselves grotesque unless they be gifted comediennes such as Ray Dooley or Beatrice Lillie but, on the contrary, should make themselves as charming as possible at all times. Of course this was a private party but, after all, they did sit for the news pictures and they were printed and the effect may be localized somewhere between pretty awful and worse yet.

Nursery Party Was A Success at Albany

Mrs. Lehman seems to have received the same impression for when she borrowed the idea from Mrs. Roosevelt and entertained the ladies of the Albany press corps at a nursery party in the executive mansion the result, as seen in the news pictures, was more pleasing to the naked eye. The grownup ladies at Mrs. Lehman’s party did not act like babies but compromised on very nominal skirts, rompers, pig-tails, hair-ribbons and bare legs. It may be outside the province of these dispatches to appraise the shanks of a governor’s lady and those of her guests but anyone with three cents may buy a daily paper and anyone who has seen the pictures has a right to remark that they are very attractive photographs. Certainly the eye does not hurry on to the contemplation of other matters as quickly as it fled the disenchanting view of the grown up ladies acting like babies at the White House a few weeks ago. And if a newspaper subscriber may be permitted a preference in the matter, Mrs. Lehman should be consulted in the preparations for next year’s reunion of the Gridiron widows. Her idea makes for more artistic artwork in the press.

The happy thought occurs, too, that next year the Albany correspondents might be prevailed upon to hold their party in the seclusion of the nursery or, say the tap-room if there is one in the executive mansion, and permit the distaff side to take the stage in the banquet hall of the hotel. The ladies God bless ’em have hit upon an idea which, though not strictly original, seems to contain much better entertainment value and charm than anything the gents were able to offer.



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