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THE GRACIE ALLEN PRESIDENTIAL RUN

Story ID:4739
Written by:Henry F. Mazel (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:omaha usa
Year:1940
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THE GRACIE ALLEN PRESIDENTIAL RUN

In the early spring of 1940, Gracie Allen was sitting calmly at home with her family in Beverly Hills. She thought for a moment and suddenly looked up. “You know, I’m tired of knitting this sweater, I think I‘ll run for president,” she said.

George and her two children, Ronnie and Sandy, thought she was joking, which, of course, Gracie did a lot – George Burns played the straight man in the act and Gracie got the punch lines. But this time she wasn’t kidding.

The two main contenders for the presidency that year were Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie, not exactly chopped liver, well maybe Wilkie. George thought it wasn’t a bad idea. As a publicity gimmick it might boost the ratings of the Burns and Allen Radio Show, but he never imagined Gracie’s presidential run would be taken . . . well, seriously.

At first she made the rounds of other radio shows to plug her candidacy: The Jack Benny Program, The Texaco Star Theater, Fibber McGee and Molly among them. Those shows were the biggest in radio and had a very wide listenership.

After a host of other appearances, to everyone’s surprise, her candidacy took on a life of its own. She gave interviews and press conferences. Eleanor Roosevelt herself invited Gracie to speak before the Women’s National Press Club in Washington. Maybe Gracie was no Sarah Palin, but she did read the newspapers. So when Gracie was asked about the huge national debt of $43 billion (Can you imagine that? Today, we couldn’t bail out a Girl Scout troop’s cookie drive for that kind of dough), Gracie told a reporter she was quite proud of the national debt and the American people should be too. “Why, it’s the biggest in the world,” she boasted.

Well, it was politics after all, and strange things tend to happen. Not only was she endorsed by Harvard University (you can’t make this stuff up), women throughout the country organized around Gracie and decided to hold a political convention in Omaha, Nebraska during the middle of May. Gracie and her staff (could have been Harry Von Zell and Dennis Day) hired W. Averell Harriman’s private railway car for a whistle-stop tour from Los Angeles’s Union Station all the way to Omaha. There were thirty stops along the way, including some big towns like Vegas, Salt Lake and Denver. And she garnered big crowds in those places.

Gracie finally arrived in Omaha and delivered her speech to an excited throng of delegates – and the speech was carried live by NBC. Not to be a cynic, but NBC was also the network that carried The Burns and Allen Radio Show.

That may have been the case, but the important thing to remember is Gracie was nominated at that convention by acclamation, as the presidential candidate of the Surprise Party – well, the Democrats and Republicans already had names.

Aside from being among the first women to run for the presidency, one of her best campaign ideas has some resonance today. Gracie proposed to put Congress on commission. If the country did well, then Congress would get a cut. If the nation did poorly, then Congress not so much. Maybe not a bad idea for our new administration in Washington to consider.

Okay, naturally, you know the end of the story. Gracie didn’t win the presidency. FDR did that. But Gracie garnered a few thousand write-in votes and, today, she’s still better known than Wendell Wilkie.