Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thomas Dewey by Wolcott Gibbs

He held out for a while, but when the procession of supplicants began to clog the halls of his office, he saw that it was no good; he shouldered the cross. The cold fact seems to be that Dewey became the nominal choice of the New York Republican Party for one of those reasons which make practical politics such a fascinating study for the lay-man. For years the New York delegation had gone to the national convention with its members hopelessly split, some favoring this man, some that. Last year the better minds decided that this was all nonsense and that it would be a good idea if everybody went to Philadelphia agreed on one man. Then, if he didn't go over on the first couple of ballots, the state chairman would be in a position to handle his delegation as a solid block in further negotiations. What happened, it seems, was that the dummy candidate decided to run in earnest, on a fine, expansive scale worthy of William Jennings Bryan. "We drafted this monkey," says one humble worker in the vineyard, "and, by Jesus, he took it serious." This would not be a particularly alarming situation for the New York strategists if the primaries in other states hadn't made it clear that a good many romantic citizens were also inclined to take Dewey serious—so many, in fact, that at the moment it is quite pos-sible that he will go to Philadelphia so firmly established as the People's Candidate that the boys in the back room, who would al-most prefer to run Mr. Beebe, will have to climb on the band wagon. Incidentally, they will not be able to tempt him with the lesser role of the Vice-Presidency. Dewey says emphatically that he is not interested in anything but the White House, explaining to one interviewer that it would be impossible for him to live suitably in Washington on $15,000 a year. "I can't afford it," he said. "It costs money to be a Vice-President."
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What Dewey would be like in the White House can only be deduced rather arbitrarily from his history up to now. His early Life in Owosso, as previously noted, was suitable but dull, and so were his years in college, where he won singing and debating contests, got an adequate B grade in his studies, but was on the whole practi-cally indistinguishable from his contemporaries. Dewey's actual career, it might be said, dates from the summer of 1925, when, on a bicycle tour of France, he decided to grow a mustache. It turned out to be a dream—bushy, dramatic, an italicized swearword in a dull sentence. From then on, things began to happen. Later that year, he went to work prosaically for a law firm in New York, but he rose rapidly and by 1931, when he was twenty-nine, he was earning $8,000 a year. Furthermore, according to Rupert Hughes, whose biography of Dewey compares very favorably with some of Albert Payson Terhune's hymns to the collie, he "was handling most of the litiga-tion in his office." This statement is rather crossly denied by fellow-employees of the period, but there may be prejudice here, and anyway he was doing all right. The big break, however, came when he served on a case with George Z. Medalie and impressed him so vehemently that when Medalie took the post of United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he offered Dewey a job at a salary around $3,500 as one of the sixty assistants on his staff Dewey, whose indif-ference to money is such that he can remember offhand how much he was making at any given day in his life, even for singing in choirs, politely declined that, as well as a subsequent bid of $6,000. He finally accepted only when Medalie had raised the ante to $7,500 and the position to that of chief assistant. In the two years and nine months that followed, the United. States Attorney's office successfully prosecuted such middle-sized kings of the underworld as Legs Diamond and Waxey Gordon, and a lot of minor nobility, including James Quinlivan, a vice cop whose moral fervor had netted him $8o,000 in three years, and James J. (Cupid) McCormick, the clerk in charge of the Marriage License Bureau, where, it seems, the pickings were also very nice.

Dewey established his first offices in the Woolworth Building, where he set up elaborate defences against the hosts of darkness, in-cluding a twenty-four-hour police guard inside the building, secret entrances, and a special untappable cable connected directly with the main office of the Telephone Company. After examining some four thousand applicants, he picked four chief assistants, sixteen assistants, ten accountants, and nine investigators. Then, with the Governor and the Mayor, he called on the public to come forward with information on racketeering, assuring witnesses of protection. The first, and rather discouraging, fish to fall into this net was a nineteen-year-old boy whom Dewey's agents caught breaking windows, but soon the big ones began to come along. The biggest unquestionably was Lucky Luciano, who, in the eyes of casual newspaper readers, soon came to bear the same relation to organized prostitution that, the late John D. Rockefeller once bore to petroleum. Luciano's tentacles were everywhere, his income was fabulous, there wasn't a sporting lady in New York who didn't shiver in her chemise at the mention of his name. Rupert Hughes, giving a little shudder himself, called him "the deadliest and most evil genius in the whole country." There are those, even among his enemies, who claim that Luci-ano never got a dollar from prostitution in his life, and it is known that he was doing nothing more deadly than making book at Sara-toga when he was surprised to learn that Dewey had crowned him King of Vice. Nevertheless, sex being what it is, the trial was a tre-mendous artistic success. In addition to revealing the gay and pro-vocative names which most of the girls had thought up for themselves, the testimony was gratifyingly explicit and gave the public a good working picture of the technical structure of a pretty complicated business. A lot of the entertainment also lay in the relations between Mr. Dewey and his staff and the witnesses who eventually won the case for the prosecution. From the beginning, the young women were treated with exceptional tenderness and chivalry, even though one of the investigators persisted in wearing gloves through-out the trial and several of them were rather ungallantly mystified when their clients insisted they were virgins. As the girls began to come through with the right kind of testimony, they were shown even more consideration. They were set up in apartments and hotels around town, given spending money, taken to the movies, on shopping trips, out to cocktails, and even to night clubs. This last practice, however, fell into disrepute when one of them, in the company of an assistant prosecutor, was observed by the opposition having a fine, though somewhat incoherent, time at Leon & Eddie's.

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