Mean Girl

Alice Roosevelt

I've been reading a book, Franklin and Lucy, about Franklin Roosevelt's many relationships with women including one of my grandmother's cousins Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd. In the course of the book, multiple family members keep popping up. Even the Roosevelts (Oyster Bay branch) were distant cousins. If my grandmother were still alive, I'd love to know if everyone knew they were related with all the complex interactions and connections. It's a tangled web, that points to a world with fifty people total.

Alice Roosevelt, Eleanor's cousin, and Teddy Roosevelt's daughter is one of the characters. She was married to Nicholas Longworth, another cousin. Between Longworth and Alice, I've discovered some wonderful quotes. I wish I were this quick on my feet. When insulted I tend to simply stammer and say, "uh, no." So enclosed today are some of these quotes that you may use whenever you need. And you can needlepoint a pillow, like everyone on the Upper East Side with Alice's most famous quote, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” 

One day, while lounging in a chair at the Capitol, another member of the House ran his hand over Nicholas Longworth's bald head and commented, "Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife's bottom." Longworth felt his own head and returned an answer: "Yes, so it does.

When asked about his wild daughter, Alice, Teddy Roosevelt said, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

Alice Roosevelt Quotes:

“I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches.” 

“The secret to eternal youth is arrested development” 

 On a Washington senator was discovered to have been having an affair with a young woman less than half his age: "You can't make a soufflé rise twice."

On President Calvin Coolidge: "He looks as if he were weaned on a pickle"

On President William Taft : "He has so much brain and so little beauty."

On President Herbert Hoover: "The Hoover Vacuum Cleaner is more exciting than the president. But, of course, it's electric."

 On President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was "One-third sap and two-thirds Eleanor."

On President Teddy Roosevelt: “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson proudly showed off an abdominal surgery scar Alice commented dryly, "Thank God it wasn't his prostate."

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Alice asked, "Hasn't anyone ever warned Jacqueline Kennedy about Greeks bearing gifts?"

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy once took the liberty of calling her by her first name. In response she looked at him icily and declared, "The policeman and the trash man may call me Alice; you.can.not."

Asked by a Ku Klux Klansman in full regalia to take his word for something, she refused, saying, "I never trust a man under sheets."

The Bad, The Powerful, and The Beautiful

At lunch a few weeks ago, Paula Scher asked me if I had any criminals in my family history. The British considered most of them criminals and traitors during the revolutionary war. During the Civil War, some ended up in Union prisons. The most notorious family member was Lewis Thornton Powell, a distant cousin (we have common ancestors on the Lewis, Thornton, Powell, and Harrison lines). Powell was convicted and hanged with the other conspirators in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Otherwise, the family scandals or rumors of unorthodox behavior were of a romantic nature.

William Christian Bullitt married the noted communist and ex-wife of John Reed, Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds). She slowly went mad, had an affair with Gwen Le Gallienne and died alone in Paris. Amelie Rives Chanler Troubetzkoy divorced her first husband; Astor heir Archie Armstrong Chanler, then married Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy. Troubetzkoy was described by the women of New York and Newport society as “a fine specimen of a man.” Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's true love from 1915 until his death in 1945. She was with him the day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The most controversial story is about the nature of cousin Joshua Fry Speed’s relationship with President Lincoln. If nobody ever discussed Lucy Mercer and FDR at dinner, you can imagine that the Lincoln and Speed issue was never mentioned. The facts are these: Lincoln moved to Springfield, Illinois as a young attorney. Upon his arrival, he went to Speed’s store to inquire about a room. Speed suggested Lincoln stay with him, as he had a large bed. Lincoln moved in and they lived together for seven years. Speed eventually returned to the family plantation, Farmington, in Kentucky to marry Fannie Henning. Lincoln had a nervous breakdown and went to Farmington to recover. He then returned to Springfield and married Mary Todd. Speed and Lincoln remained best friends, although a cooling occurred during the civil war. Speed was a southern Democrat and opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. He made many confidential trips to Washington to visit Lincoln, and saw him two weeks before the assassination (refer to Lewis Thornton Powell above—see how convoluted this all is). Speed’s brother, James served on as Attorney General in Lincoln’s administration.

Now whether this friendship was platonic or more isn’t particularly important to me. Who knows? Who cares? What matters to me is that this is now an interesting anecdote to be told at cocktail parties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Large

I often worry that I live a small life. When I read about a great, great uncle who was a United States Majority leader and Speaker of the House, or distant grandfather who was a US President, or even the odd balls who went mad in Paris in the Gilded Age, I think, “Should I be doing more?” This goes to the heart of the neurosis currently affecting designers. “How can I worry about kerning when there is climate change?” My answer is, “The people equipped to deal with complex climatological issues are far better dealing with this than you. But they probably have atrocious word spacing.” Every grain of rice tips the scale a little more.

This morning, I managed to assuage my insecurity about the smallness of my contribution. Then, I was faced head-on with that issue in force. I needed a varnish sample to show a client. We have a bin of “Favorite Things” that is a storage space for anything someone likes. As I dug through the bin, I continued to find wonderful items. “Oh, look at this. It’s a potato gun package,” I said as the designers politely nodded and tried to ignore me. This begs the question, is my little collection of odd items as important as serving as the United States Ambassador to France at the beginning of World War II? I say yes.

The grass is always greener

William Christian Bullitt, Paris 1939

This last year has been a hard one for everyone. It’s easy to think that the next guy has it better. Michael Bierut never has to get work and solves problems instantly, Dana Arnett has no worries, Marian Bantjes is sitting calmly at her studio in the woods or feeding the happy woodland creatures, Sean Adams is listening to the Beach Boys and driving around Beverly Hills. But like everyone else, they and I still pump gas, pay bills, load the dishwasher, and worry. I tend to think the same thing about previous generations of my family. They seemed to spend time touring Europe, leisurely riding through the countryside, and occasionally running for office. My grandmother’s cousin Bill (William C. Bullitt) was one of these people. I have photos of him looking dapper and sophisticated. He, seemingly, led a charmed life of privilege.

I recently finished a book, So Close To Greatness, about Bill Bullitt and his life was far from charmed. Like all of us, he worked hard for his beliefs, juggled a career and family, and wanted respect from his peers. He was born in Philadelphia in 1891 to the Philadelphia arm of the family. He went to Yale and Harvard Law. He served President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference. He was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and then France, and was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle. This would all appear, on paper, to be charmed. But, life wasn’t that easy.

Bill Bullitt’s second wife was Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds), widow of the radical communist, Jack Reed. Bullitt and Bryant lived in Paris and were part of the ex-pat community of the 1920s. Once again, on paper, this was a golden time. But Louise slowly went mad, became an alcoholic, enjoyed entering dinner parties in the nude, and they were divorced. The invasion of the German army ended Bullitt’s service as the ambassador to France. After his return to the United States, he lobbied to be part of Roosevelt’s cabinet. A mislaid plan to expose Secretary of State Sumner Welles’ predilection for Pullman porters ended his friendship with Roosevelt and ended his political career.

However, throughout all of these trials, Bullitt remained gracious and elegant. His response to the invasion of the German army was to order all good champagne and caviar to be taken with him and the embassy staff to the basement. “We may be killed,” he said, “But I’ll be damned if we’ll be annoyed.”

William Christian Bullitt, Camp Pasquaney, 1918

William Christian Bullitt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937

Louise Bryant in Russian costume 1920

William Christian Bullitt and Pie-Pie