The Year They Tried
To BlockThe Deputy

Editorializing in defense of the play seemed futile and I decided that the only thing Ramparts could do to cripple the ecumenical conspiracy against Shumlin's play was to invent another ecumenical conspiracy --- this one on the side of The Deputy.

I rang up Ed Keating [publisher of Ramparts] in Menlo Park and told him we were forming a committee! As much as I hate serving, on committees, I love to organize them --- if only for the joy of designing yet another letterhead. But, as I told a protesting Keating, there was no time for letterheads in this cause; the play was scheduled to open, or be derailed, in five days. Keating came to New York like a bowling ball running downhill. He skidded to a stop in the Waldorf Astoria, where I had acquired accommodations suitable for a Catholic literary quarterly, and demanded to know all about this business of a committee. He didn't seem certain we should go whole hog on The Deputy, pointing out, quite correctly, that it was "dramaturgically flawed."

I diplomatically suggested to Ed that nobody in New York knew or cared who he was, but that he could become famous overnight if he, a Catholic publisher, headed a committee to defend the Pope-baiting play. Keating became convinced of the rectitude of our course, and we spent the next thirty-six hours on and off the telephone and dashing about Manhattan collecting religious men of good will and conscience who hadn't already given their due bill to the devil.

We managed to find a few prominent Protestants, like John C. Bennett, of the Union Theological Seminary, who would stand on the side of the angels against the best wishes of their own religious establishments. But we drew a blank on Catholic clerics. I talked to one auxiliary bishop, highly regarded for his liberalism, who told me he would rather endorse a company that put the picture of Jesus Christ on packages of contraceptives than get involved on the side of the, author of The Deputy. We could not find a priest who would even answer the doorbell if he knew we were coming to ask him to put his name to such an infidel committee. In desperation I threw some Catholic laymen in the pot --- Gordon Zahn, the sociologist, and John Howard Griffin, the novelist, agreed to serve as Catholic window dressing in lieu of the priests who had their heads stuck in the sand up to their ordained rumps.

I also drafted some Jews who did not fear to serve --- the late Rabbi Abraham H Eschel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Maxwell Geismar, the brilliant critic and literary historian --- a wonderful man about whom I cannot marshal enough superlatives, who, from our chance meeting during the white-heat controversy over The Deputy, was to become almost instantly my closest friend, confidant, foster father, and soul mate, and the most important intellectual influence on the developing Ramparts.

With a bit more padding, the "Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the Right of The Deputy to be Heard" was born but a day after its conception. In the finest tradition of Potemkin villages, the Committee barely had as many members as words in its cumbersome title, but that mattered not. A committee had been born; scholarly men of conscience had stood up to be counted; those of religious ilk who would suppress the truth were now to be squelched. Armed with press release, we marched out to do murder in the Cathedral.

All of this of course would be for naught if the daily press did not treat the late-blooming arrival of such a Committee as an event which turned the lopsided battle over The Deputy into an even fight --- with important men of religion on both sides of the controversy. A burst of publicity to that effect would result in the desired effect of the public no longer viewing the portent of The Deputy as an example of bigotry and malice aforethought, but rather as the confusing object of yet another religious mishmash, and therefore of no concern to those secular authorities waiting in the wings for an excuse to close the play down.

Keating was worried. He was afraid that we would give a party and that nobody would come. "It will be ruinous if we're ignored," he said, the night before the press conference to announce the Caesarean birth of our frail Committee. "It will be a disaster if the press doesn't come. A catastrophe. I'll be disgraced. Are you sure they are going to come?"

I said, Hell, I didn't know. Keating's face darkened as if in the shadow of a passing cloud. He paced about the living room of his Waldorf suite, delivering a depressing talk about how tough a town New York how hard it was to get any publicity there, how people were always calling press conferences in New York and being ignored, how Cardinal Spellman had agents planted in all the newspapers and how television stations would sabotage us, how we could be destroyed...

Keating made me nervous. The press conference had taken on messianic proportions, with Wagnerian overtones of dread and doubt; the fate of the world hung somehow in, the balance. I had never been to New York before, and didn't know what else to do to make sure a rabbit would pop out of the hat. I had already sent out a press release, and a telegram reminding everyone in New York City in possession of a pencil or camera of the next dawn's press conference. Hell's fire, I figured, another, longer telegram might further set astir the journalistic duck ponds of Manhattan. (I am a firm believer in telegrams; "Deliver, do not phone," is a most effective creed; few among us are jaded enough not to take notice of the flat-chested yellow carrier pigeon from Western Union.)

I locked myself away with a late edition of the Manhattan Yellow Pages and a bottle of Scotch whiskey and drafted a magnificent telegram, in length somewhere between the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence, and kept the Western Union lady on the telephone for nearly three hours, as I dictated to her the names and addresses of an eclectic group of invitees drawn at whim and whimsy from, the Yellow Pages. I am no longer in possession of a complete list of those opinion-making journals which received a ramblingly urgent telegram the next morning inviting them to meet Edward M. Keating for Bloody Marys and Danish at the Waldorf Astoria, but some stained notes indicate the nature of the constituency:

The American Organist, Bedside Nurse, Casket and Sunnyside, Detergent Age, Elementary Electronics, Floor Covering Weekly, Foreign Affairs, Greeting Card Magazine, Hebrew Weekly, Hardware Age, Hospital Management, Hot Rod Magazine, Irish Echo, Intimate Story, Iron Age, Jack and Jill, Jewish Braille Review, Kosher Food Guide, The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Little Flower Magazine, Metal Finishing, Mobile Homes Magazine, Model Airplane News, Modern Concrete, New York Daily Fruit and Vegetable Reporter, Oriental Rug Magazine, Paris Match, The Polish Press Agency, Personal Romances, Plastic Laminating, Professional Barber, Progressive Grocer, Refuse Removal Journal, Rubber Age, Saucer News, Scholastic Coach, Sexology, Solid Wastes Management, and so on.

I asked the exhausted Western Union operator her name, as I wanted to send her one hundred roses; she declined, I believe suspecting baser motives. I crashed the into bed, exhausted, to await the dawn, secure in the hope that Ed Keating would have the pleasure of the company of at least some ladies and gentlemen of the press in the morning; most of those papers had never been invited to a press conference at the Waldorf, let alone in a telegram from a Catholic publisher who was defending an anti-Catholic play against Jewish pressure groups.

The phone rang with the rising of the sun. It was Keating, wondering if I had "any news" about the news conference. I said I had sent out reminder telegrams scented with bay rum, and the rest was in the hands of the grim reaper. The press conference was at 11 A.M. in Keating's suite; at 10:50 there was nobody there but several ruby-eyed Cuban waiters who stood like salt shakers guarding what seemed like a mountain of Danish pastry and a cotton field of coffee cups and highball glasses. The minutes ticked on without visitors. Keating slumped on a couch, looking glum, staring blackly at the movable feast I had precipitously ordered.

At 10:58 he announced, that nobody was coming. I got a drink for myself before they took the booze away.

At 11:03 A.M. the walls melted. There were suddenly hundreds of people piling electronic gear into the room; within five minutes there was standing room only, the food was gone, and we had sent down for more drink. The straight New York press had arrived en masse, but apparently my last telegram had flushed out a heavy representation from the journalistic hedgerows. A Daily News photographer told me this was the biggest Press conference he'd seen since the last time Adlai Stevenson conceded. "How come so many people are interested in this guy?" he asked, pointing with his strobe at Keating. "The guy's running for Pope," I said.

Keating adapted quickly to success, changing in color from gloom-gray to a lilaceous, perspiring pink under the torrid television lights. I thought he handled quite well the potentially awkward question of why no other members of our blue ribbon committee had showed up at the Press conference: Keating said that the room was too crowded. All through that night and the next day, Keating's passionate Catholic defense of The Deputy blocked out most of the Hochhuth hate news that had been inundating the New York media.

--- From If You Have Lemon,
Make Lemonade
©1974 Warren Hinckle
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