They all liked Ike, and claimed credit for the slogan

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

November 09, 2008|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Our faithful Chestertown correspondent and longtime friend, Douglas R. Price, who in his younger days was a member of Dwight D. Eisenhower's White House staff, sent me a letter the other day explaining the history of "I Like Ike," which became his former boss' 1952 campaign song.

Price said he has been annoyed that the two authors of the "I Like Ike" slogan have been more or less forgotten, and is determined to set the record straight.

"The origin of the Irving Berlin 'I Like Ike' song dates back to a Broadway musical titled Call Me Madam, starring Ethel Merman with lyrics by Irving Berlin," wrote Price, who is finishing up his book, They Liked Ike, about Eisenhower's 1952 campaign.

Call Me Madam took its inspiration from Perle Mesta, the Washington society leader remembered as the "hostess with the mostes." Mesta had been appointed ambassador to Luxembourg by President Harry S. Truman in recognition for her Democratic Party fundraising efforts.

The musical's book, written by two seasoned Broadway veterans, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, was directed by George Abbott, with choreography by Jerome Robbins.

The curtain rose on the show on Oct. 12, 1950, at New York's Imperial Theatre. Its storyline follows the machinations of Sally Adams, a wealthy socialite widow who is appointed ambassador to Lichtenburg.

At her swearing-in ceremony, Adams, played by Merman, belts out, "Where the hell is Lichtenburg?"

When an embassy adviser discovers that Adams is bereft of any real knowledge about her assignment, he asks how she was qualified to be ambassador. Adams replies in song, "I'm the hostess with the mostes."

"In Act II of the show, there was a song titled 'They Like Ike.' It seems Irving Berlin adapted his 1952 'I Like Ike' song from his 'They Like Ike' lyrics of the 1950 Broadway hit," wrote Price in his letter.

He writes that over the years, the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kans., has been queried about the origins of the expression, "I Like Ike."

"The library believes it was created in the 1940s," wrote Price, who added that they also offer a number of conflicting claims to its pre-musical incarnation.

In the library's files reposes a 1962 letter from A.G. Trimble, a Pittsburgh political button designer and manufacturer, who claimed he coined the phrase and produced the first "I Like Ike" buttons in 1948.

Price also mentioned a 1967 Associated Press story that said a Ponca City, Okla., druggist, T.J. Cuzalina, claimed he was the first to use the slogan. Cuzalina claimed he published pro-Eisenhower newspaper advertisements in 1946.

A more likely explanation is what Price turned up.

Two World War II veterans, Stanley M. Rumbough Jr. and Charles F. Willis Jr., became close friends after being introduced in the late 1940s by their wives, who had been college roommates.

The two Long Island, N.Y., businessmen became interested in the political possibilities of an Eisenhower ticket after Gov. Thomas E. Dewey failed to capture the presidency in 1944 and 1948, Price said.

Their efforts to establish Eisenhower clubs came to the attention of Thomas E. Stephens, who was secretary of the New York State Republican Party, and during a lunch in the spring of 1951, Rumbough and Willis sported "We Want Ike" buttons.

According to Price, Stephens told the two political activists that he had seen Call Me Madam a few nights earlier, and in the show was a song called "I Like Ike."

"He suggested that since the show might be a hit and get a lot of publicity, they change their campaign slogan from 'We Want Ike' to 'I Like Ike,' which they did and, of course, the 'I like Ike' slogan became famous throughout America and around the world," Price wrote.

Price cites a 1953 letter in which Eisenhower acknowledged Rumbough and Willis, sayingthat "their efforts - together with a lot of other contributing factors - resulted in my nomination in July 1952 as the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States."

"That is an impressive testimonial," wrote Price in his letter to me.

The anvil is secure

Kathryn Balsamo, a speech and language pathologist at Rodgers Forge Elementary School wrote in an e-mail about the old anvil from the long-demolished Rodgers Forge. The piece, which had been on display in the school's lobby for years, is safely stored in a storage closet in the school.

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