Tuesday, September 4, 2018

September Song

The Helmsley Building lit up for Labor Day. 9:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018.

But it’s a long, long time
From May to December;
And the days grow short
When you reach September Maxwell Anderson

That is the opening stanza of “September Song” written for the Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday which opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in October 1938, with music by Kurt Weill and book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. The song was introduced by Walter Huston playing the main character, Peter Stuyvesant. Mr. Huston, a famous star of his time, is now forgotten in the annals of contemporary celebrity — although he has a famous granddaughter named Angelica who is happily still very much with us.

The “time” doesn’t seem so long now on this fourth day of the new month. May was about ten minutes ago. Just before Mother Nature turned up the heat (as well as provided buckets of rain and earthquakes and fires). I remember back in May wondering if Spring would ever come besides being on the calendar. Now, at this writing yesterday afternoon in New York, we were back to the heat and humidity.  The weatherman is saying expect more for the next two or three days. And then what?

Liz Smith, Peter Rogers and Ann Richards at a Literacy Partners dinner in 2005. Best pals all around.
I digress. I was somehow reminded on Saturday (I happened to be looking through our archives) that it was the anniversary of the birth of Ann Richards, the Texas governor who briefly was the shining light of the Democratic party in the 1990s. She’d be 85, if she were still with us. She died twelve years ago this month, just twelve days after her birthday, at the age of 73.

This is what I found in the NYSD archives 9/12/06:

Paris. News came across the Atlantic that dear Governor Ann Richards died last night at her home in Austin, Texas. I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Governor Richards, or Ann as everyone called her, three or four years ago through our mutual friend Liz Smith. Ann was then living in New York part of the time in a rented apartment on Broadway and 66th Street. She was working for a public relations firm as a rainmaker and catalyst.

She was a lively, goodlooking woman in person, as she was in her photographs with that beautiful head of white hair and sparkling eyes. She was very warm and friendly with everyone she met -- a natural politician and diplomat. She loved taking in theatre, be it Broadway or off-Broadway, not to mention the movies. and it was always fun to go with her because she loved talking about it all during intermission and after the show. 
Liz with Bob Kerrey, Ann Richards, Bill Clinton, and Joe Armstrong in 2001.
In the meantime, it was always a great pleasure to be in her presence, and to witness the enormous goodwill and affection that she generated wherever she went. It just came out of people spontaneously on sight of her. All kinds of people would walk up to her on the street and say: “Oh Governor Richards, we LOVE you, when are you going to run for President?” It was always the same statement followed by the same question wherever she went. Her answer was always the same: “oh why would I ever want to do that?” As if to imply it was just one big headache after another.

Personally I felt the same way that all her passing acquaintances felt, and wished she did run for President. She may have acquired her point of view about it after leaving public office where her last campaign experience was running against George W. Bush in the Texas gubernatorial race. It was devastating in the way Mr. Bush’s advisers, namely Karl Rove turned it into a major smear campaign against Ann. She told me once that she never wanted to put her family and herself through that again. Dirty she wasn’t and dirty she wouldn’t be.

DPC wth Ann Richards in 2005.
One night she and I went to see AR Gurney’s “Mrs. Farnsworth” with Sigourney Weaver and John Lithgow. The play was a thinly disguised story about the college age George W. Bush, calling into question the morality and character of the young man. At one point during the show when it became obvious who the subject of the play was, all eyes in the small theater were on my friend Ann. Whether she was aware of it or not (and there was little that she wasn’t aware of), she never let on, nor did she discuss the character after the show. A sore loser, she was not. A woman who picked herself up and got on with it, she was.

One night when I picked her up in a taxi to take her to the theater, she had intended to be waiting for us by her building entrance. But when we arrived she wasn’t there. Something held her up and we had to wait a couple of minutes. The first thing she did when she got into the cab was to apologize to the driver for holding him up. “That’s all right Governor Richards,” the man (who turned out to be Dominican) said, adding, “I’d wait for you anytime. I wish you’d run for President.”

She heard that line so often that I couldn’t help wondering how she felt about the irony that the man who defeated her in the gubernatorial race in Texas was now the President. I asked her a couple of times but her answer always deflected the question in some down-home way.

The last few years of her life were prosperous. She was very much in demand as a public speaker all over the country. Of course she was a pleasure to listen to, and she commanded pretty good sums for her Texas-grown wisdom and charm. She liked it too, although the travel from one place to the next all by herself could be grueling, not to mention lonely. However, she saw it as her last opportunity to make some money for her sunset years, so she pushed on.

Besides grueling, it wasn’t always pleasant. There was one incident at an airport in Indiana where a woman working for Homeland Security ran a metal detector over the governor’s body. The alarm went off when the detector scanned between her legs. Ann was surprised but realized it must have been the metal snaps of her lycra body suit that she was wearing. She explained this to the inspector.

Nevertheless, the Homeland Security woman made the 70-year-old woman remove everything but her undergarments to prove she wasn’t carrying anything lethal. It was an incident that infuriated Ann although there was nothing that she could do but follow orders. She realized it was just some stupid woman exercising a little personal power, knowing full well whom she was “detecting.”

Thinking back on the lady, she had a good life and a remarkable life. And I’m always reminded of the potential she might have provided for our nation had she lived. But of course that was never to be.  The mere pleasure of her company remains in memory a comfort nevertheless. Her spirit lives on.

Contact DPC here.