Helen Gahagan + actress

Helen Gahagan + actress, Helen Gahagan (November 25, 1900 – June 28, 1980) was an American actress and (under the name Helen Gahagan Douglas) politician. She was the third woman and first Democratic woman elected to Congress from California; her election made California one of the first two states (the other was Illinois) to have elected female members of the House from both parties.

Early life and acting career

Gahagan was born in Boonton, New Jersey of Scotch-Irish descent, and reared Episcopalian. She graduated from the Berkeley Institute in 1920, and from Barnard College in 1924. Gahagan became a well-known star on Broadway in the 1920s. In 1931, she married actor Melvyn Douglas. Gahagan starred in only one Hollywood movie, She in 1935, playing Hash-a-Motep, queen of a lost city. The movie, based on H. Rider Haggard's novel of the same name, is perhaps best known for popularizing a phrase from the novel, "She who must be obeyed." Her character in She served as the inspiration for the appearance of the Evil Queen in Walt Disney's 1937 animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Political career

In the 1940s, Gahagan Douglas entered politics. She was elected to the United States House of Representatives from California's 14th congressional district as a liberal Democrat in 1944, and served three full terms as "a principled advocate of women's rights, civil liberties and world disarmament". During this time she openly had an enduring love affair with then Congressman (and afterwards U.S. President) Lyndon B. Johnson. Ms. Douglas was mentioned in the song "George Murphy" by satirist Tom Lehrer. The song begins, "Hollywood's often tried to mix-show business with politics-from Helen Gahagan-to Ronald Reagan?"

Appointments and activities

"Democratic National committeewoman for California 1940-1944; vice chairman of the Democratic State central committee and chairman of the women’s division 1940-1944; member of the national advisory committee of the Works Progress Administration and of the State committee of the National Youth Administration in 1939 and 1940; member of the board of governors of the California Housing and Planning Association in 1942 and 1943; appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a member of the Voluntary Participation Committee, Office of Civilian Defense; appointed by President Harry S. Truman as alternate United States Delegate to the United Nations Assembly; elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-ninth, Eightieth, and Eighty-first Congresses (January 3, 1945-January 3, 1951);... lecturer and author;..."  Excerpted from Bioguide Congress

1950 campaign

In 1950, Gahagan Douglas ran for the United States Senate even though the incumbent Democrat Sheridan H. Downey was seeking a third term. William Malone, the Democratic state chairman in California, had advised Douglas to wait until 1952 to run for the Senate, rather than split the party in a fight with Downey. Gahagan Douglas, however, told Malone that Downey had neglected veterans and small growers and must be unseated. Downey withdrew from the race in the primary campaign and supported a third candidate, Manchester Boddy, the owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. When Gahagan Douglas defeated Boddy for the nomination, Downey endorsed the Republican U.S. Representative Richard M. Nixon.

In the race against Nixon, Gahagan Douglas was considered by many Democrats to have been the victim of a smear campaign. It is not widely known, however, that the personal and political attacks between the opponents began when Douglas stated that Nixon had cast votes contrary to national security. Alluding to her alleged Communist (or "Red") sympathies, Nixon hinted that she was a fellow traveler, citing as evidence her supposed Communist-leaning votes in Congress. Boddy had referred to her as "the Pink Lady" and said that she was "pink right down to her underwear." Nixon reprised this line of attack during the general election. His campaign manager, Murray Chotiner, even had flyers printed up on sheets of pink paper, to underline the point.

Gahagan Douglas, in return, popularized a nickname for Nixon which became one of the most enduring nicknames in American politics: "Tricky Dick". Nonetheless, Nixon won the election, with over 59 percent of the vote. Gahagan Douglas' political career hence came to an end. The conservative Democrat Samuel W. Yorty (later a Republican convert) succeeded her in Congress.


Popular Posts