Will Rogers is Running for President

by Aaron Latham

Copyright 1974 by New York Magazine.
Reprinted with permission from New York Magazine, December 1974, pp. 79-86+.

Morris K. Udall, a congressman from Arizona, likes old sayings. One that he should like goes: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Only Udall, who has one good eye and one glass one, would settle for becoming the president of the United States.

Since May he has been traveling around the country trying to persuade people that he should be the Democrats' presidential candidate in 1976. Most politicians who have Oval Office aspirations describe this activity as "testing the waters." Mo Udall prefers a less tepid metaphor. The congressman tells audiences: "In New Hampshire, a wag who had been reading a sex manual said that what you presidential hopefuls are doing is kind of like foreplay -- going around touching all of the erogenous zones in the body politic."

Mo Udall's presidential aspirations have already taken him from America's ear lobe up in New England all of the way down to the nation's bunions in Southern California. In the beginning, Udall was just flirting with the idea of running for president, but the other day he announced that he was officially in the race. That wag with the sex manual could probably have told him: once you start something like that it is often hard to stop.

I first joined Mo Udall's road show in New Hampshire where, on a lovely fall evening, he easily outmaneuvered another politician who is much better known. Back then, the foliage was at its most beautiful and Senator Walter "Fritz" Mondale's presidential campaign was at its flushest: political writers were generally conceding him to be the leading candidate of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Since then all that has changed. What happened when Senator Mondale went head-to-head against Congressman Udall in New Hampshire may in some small way have helped the senator make up his mind to quit the race.

It began when Senator Mondale was asked to be the featured speaker at a dinner in Manchester for Democratic party candidates. But the invitation conflicted with a Florida invitation, so the senator declined. Then the Florida trip evaporated. A Mondale aide called New Hampshire and said that the senator would like to accept after all. The people in New Hampshire said they were sorry, but they had already gotten someone else: Mo Udall.

So a Mondale aide named Jim Johnson called up a Udall aide named Terry Bracy and asked if the senator could please share the platform with the congressman. Bracy agreed. Johnson said, "We'll owe you one." Mondale's side was already on the defensive. The next question to be settled was who would speak first. Bracy said that the week before, Udall had followed George Wallace and that had not worked very well, so he would like to go first this time. Since Mondale was more or less the suppliant in this case, he could hardly do anything but agree. He would go second.

At the dinner, the master of ceremonies introduced Mo Udall in especially flattering terms. He sounded as though he had admired the congressman above all others for many years. And little wonder, for the man who had written the introduction had done just that. Its author was Terry Bracy.

After describing Morris Udall as a man whose accomplishments elevated him above all others in the House, the M.C. went on to say that the Udall family were known as "the Arizona Kennedys." (This sobriquet was apt in a number of ways, but especially in that the Udalls, like the Kennedys, have performed a highly successful brother act in government. Mo's brother Stewart was elected to Congress in 1954. Then in 1961, when John Kennedy named Stewart Udall the secretary of the interior, Morris Udall was elected to fill his brother's vacated House seat.)

The master of ceremonies praised Morris Udall's thirteen-year record in Congress, especially his record as a conservationist, pointing out that in 1973 the National Wildlife Federation had named him the "Legislator of the Year." On the whole, it sounded like a presidential nominating speech.

When Congressman Morris Udall, 52, who stands 6 feet 5 inches tall, rose to speak, he made the audience laugh. Most of his humor was selected from the congressman's little black book, a small loose-leaf notebook in which he has been collecting jokes for 25 years. Some of this wit is beginning to show its age, but Udall treats jokes the way he treats his friends: he loves the old ones as much as he loves the new ones.

Udall told his New Hampshire audience about a politician campaigning on an Indian reservation in Arizona. The heady candidate made promise after promise -- new schools, paved roads, a heater in every tepee -- each one greeted by enthusiastic shouts of Goomwah. The politician was delighted until he went down to the corral to accept a pony and the chief warned him not to step in the "goomwah."

Udall went on to tell stories about the new politeness in Washington, where everyone goes around saying "pardon me," about the movement to change the national motto to "nolo contendere," and on and on into the autumn night. If Will Rogers had run for president, this is how he would have done it.

Occasionally the congressman would get serious to talk about the need to cut our dependence on foreign oil, the need to slow down the nation's growth rate to the equivalent of 55 miles per hour, the need to protect the environment. But generally he kept the audience laughing. He seems to feel that if he keeps enough people laughing long enough, he may someday get a chance to play the White House.

When Udall sat down to swelling applause, the M.C. introduced Senator Mondale by saying, "This man is on the move, too." He did not say much else. The Mondale staff had neglected to write out an introduction.

Mondale tried to be funny, too, which was a little like George Fenneman trying to compete with Groucho Marx. When Mondale sat down, Jim Johnson, his aide, sounded a little like Charles Foster Kane in the opera scene in Citizen Kane when the new husband is the only one who claps for his new wife.

After the dinner, a handful of people gathered around Fritz Mondale while a crowd pressed around Morris Udall.

The dinner was followed by a reception for Udall that went on late into the political night. We did not reach our beds in the Wayfarer Inn, which Bracy said was designed by the same people who built Attica, until 2 A.M. By the time the evening was over, I was much more exhausted than the congressman, but I noticed, as we were saying goodnight, that his face looked somewhat strange. Somehow it had lost its symmetry. I was puzzled for a moment until I finally realized what caused this phenomenon. Only one of the congressman's eyes got tired. The next morning at breakfast, Terry Bracy said, "Somebody has been working on Mondale's wardrobe since George Will wrote that article about his Thom McAn shoes."

Udall said, "He's developed a lot."

Bracy said, "Mondale was cool to [a certain local politician] last night because he knows he is one of your supporters."

Udall said, "Oh?"

Bracy said, "It's kind of dumb to come all of the way up here and be cool to people."

Udall said, "Yeah."

Bracy said, "Mondale takes it all very personally. That probably means he won't be in it very long."

Udall said, "Yeah, we'll soon separate out the ones who are too thin-skinned."

While Udall talked, he pulled one of his old tricks. With his glass eye he looked at Bracy but with his good one he was reading The Manchester Union Leader.

We drove to the airport for a flight west. Before we took off, Udall called Ella, his second wife, who was at home in Washington nursing a broken foot. When Udall is away from home, he calls his wife twice a day, which he prefers to writing letters. At one point, Ella started a campaign to get him to write her a love letter. This ended only when the congressman penned an epistle which read, "Tiger -- This is a love letter. Now get off my ass."

In the days that followed, Congressman Morris Udall and his one-man press corps visited Oregon, Utah, a half-dozen cities in California, and Arizona several times. We traveled by commercial plane, by private plane with the congressman at the controls, by car, and once, the man who would like to be the next leader of the free world made his entrance into Tucson, his hometown, riding in a Volkswagen camper.

Everywhere we stopped, we would hear that Henry Jackson had been there the day before, that Lloyd Bentsen was coming next week, that Mondale would be there soon. Ever since Senator Edward Kennedy pulled out of the race, the nation has had to put up with a surfeit of politicians seeking the 1976 presidential nomination, most of them with names and faces as familiar and as unappetizing as the dishes served on the political-banquet circuit. Morris Udall's great strength, which any other year would be his great weakness, is that he is relatively unknown. He is attempting to present himself as the new face the party and the country are looking for.

Actually, Mo Udall feels that he has more going for him than just obscurity. He is also pinning his hopes on the difference that two new rule changes will make. First of all, the nation now has a new presidential-campaign-financing law which Udall himself sponsored. The new law limits contributions to $1,000 and provides that the federal government will be the new fat cat every four years. The U.S. Treasury will pay up to half the cost of primary campaigns and the entire cost of the presidential campaigns that follow the conventions. That means that one need no longer be able to command great pools of money to run for president. Second, the Democratic party has outlawed winner-take-all primaries, which have in the past awarded 100 per cent of a state's delegates to one candidate. That means that there probably will not be a first-ballot winner at the 1976 Democratic convention. Eventually the delegates will have to compromise. Udall hopes to be in on that compromise. If his presidential bid fails, he says he would "jump at the chance" to accept the vice-presidential nomination, Mo Udall is an attractively contradictory presidential hopeful. He is a shy man who has chosen public life. He has a liberal voting record, but he represents a conservative state, and therefore people do not seem to be afraid of him. He has drawn praise from politicians on the left and on the right. Edward Kennedy recently called Udall "one of the finest congressmen the House has ever had." Barry Goldwater recently told a friend of mine, "Keep your eye on Udall for the presidency. I think the country would buy him before Jackson. I'd take Mo."

As the crowd running for the presidency grows, you will be able to tell Morris Udall from all of the others if you remember these two facts: he is the tallest, and he is the funniest. And it is time we had a president with a sense of humor. Richard Nixon filled the White House with clowns, but not with laughs. He took himself too seriously. Udall says that he used to imagine that when Nixon slept with his wife there was a voice which announced, "Now entering your bed in his pajamas is the president of the United States."

When I traveled with Udall, he even saw the humor in such matters as getting up at 4 A.M., which we did one morning for a flight in a twin-engine Beechcraft that the congressman helped pilot. We took off from Tucson, passed over northern Arizona, where Udall grew up, and set down in Utah, where his ancestors had come from. For the congressman, it must have been like flying backward in time.

Mo's grandfather, David King Udall, a Mormon pioneer, left Utah to help spread the church to Arizona. Settling in a small community known as St. John's, King, a bigamist, had eighteen children. Mo's father, Levi, who had six children, studied law by mail from La Salle Correspondence School and went on to become the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. At law conventions, lawyers and judges were always dropping the names of their schools: Harvard, Columbia, Stanford. Then Levi Udall would drop the name of his school: La Salle.

When Morris, the fourth of Levi's children, was six years old, he had an accident. A friend, who was cutting string, slipped, the knife went into Mo's eye. A drunken doctor in St. John's treated the cut eye with hot compresses. Months later, as the Udalls were passing through Globe on a motor trip, Morris's mother, Louise, persuaded his father to stop long enough to see an eye doctor. The doctor said that the eye was diseased and that if it were not removed immediately both eyes would be lost. The operation was performed the next day. Then the family wrote away to the Denver Optical Co. which sent two boxes that contained twelve eyes each. Mo tried the eyes one after another until he finally found one that was not only the right color but would also fit in his head. The Udalls wrote to the Denver Optical Co. a lot over the years because Morris kept losing or breaking his eyes.

Such severe hurts in childhood often cripple people in some way but at the same time give them powerful compensating drives. Mo Udall may be such a person. He grew up thinking he was ugly, which may help account for his shyness, but he also developed ambitions which have been more than a match for his reticence. Perhaps his reliance upon humor grew out of the conflict between the two. Poet Robert Frost used to say that humor was the defense of the coward. Mo Udall's jokes may rather be the defense of the shy public man.

In many ways, Mo Udall seems to have grown up an insider -- who felt like an outsider -- with an outsider's energy. He was the son of a man who stood at the top of the legal establishment in the state but who had studied law by correspondence. Mo himself practically ran his high school single-handedly (captaining the basketball team, writing a political column, winning the lead in the school play, and, during football season, not only quarterbacking the football team but also marching in the school band at half time), and yet he could not forget that he had one eye and was not popular with girls. Later, when he attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, he was the first nonfraternity man to be elected student-body president. Now, in his race for the presidency, he emphasizes that he is a lowly congressman from a small western state. He tells audiences that the last person to move directly from the House of Representatives to the White House was Garfield, and look what happened to him. Once again, he feels that he is an outsider, but an outsider with a shot at becoming the ultimate insider, the president of the United States.

During his college days, Morris Udall was the highest scorer of the U. of A.'s nationally ranked basketball team. After one game, a sportswriter yelled, "Nobody can play basketball like that with a glass eye." Udall took his glass eye out, held it up to the reporters and said, "I haven't been able to see much with this but maybe you will have better luck." After college, Udall played one year for a professional basketball team in Denver. Then the team went broke.

In 1952, Morris Udall was elected Pima County attorney and began cleaning up "wide open" Tucson. Two years later, Representative Harold "Porkie" Patten announced that he was retiring from Congress. Mo Udall decided to run for the seat, which he almost certainly would have won. Then his wife persuaded him not to make the race. Therefore, Mo's brother Stewart, who had never held any public office above the level of the Amphi school board, ran for the seat and won.

When Morris Udall was finally elected to Congress in 1961, his marriage, which had produced six children, began to fail, finally ending officially in 1965. When asked if his divorce could become an issue in a presidential campaign, Udall says that he does not think Betty Ford or Happy Rockefeller will bring it up.

Shortly before Christmas in 1968, Morris Udall telephoned Speaker of the House John McCormack -- who always called him Maureece -- to deliver some bad news. But the old man would not listen. McCormack kept going on about "Merry Christmas." Finally Udall fought his way through all that holiday cheer to tell the ancient Bostonian that he was going to try to take his speakership away from him. "Merry Christmas!" Morris Udall became the first congressman this century to challenge a sitting speaker. Udall lost a bitter contest but won national attention for the first time.

Two years later, Udall ran against Hale Boggs for majority leader and lost narrowly. Udall's challenges, although they fell short, eventually helped lead to reforms in the House, especially the weakening of the seniority system. In the end, Udall managed to put a ring in the Old Bulls' noses.

And Udall has continued to work for political reform. He not only co-sponsored the 1974 Campaign Reform Act, which President Ford recently signed, but he also co-sponsored the 1971 Campaign Reform Act, which President Nixon flouted to his peril.

Trying to cut down a wormy old tree like John McCormack was one thing, but chopping down real trees is quite another. Congressman Udall has sponsored many conservation bills, including the Wilderness Act and the Gateway Seashores Act. He recently sponsored a strip-mining bill which would require the repair of all ravaged land and chart the nation's future use of coal; at this writing the bill is before a conference committee. This year Udall's Land Use Planning Bill was defeated. Some environmentalists maintain that Udall proved an ineffective floor leader. Udall says the bill was scuttled by Nixon's impeachment politics.

Our twin-engine plane passed over the Grand Canyon. Udall said that he was trying to get a bill passed which would enlarge the national park there. We flew on over St. John's and finally landed in Provo, Utah, the home of Brigham Young University.

A Brigham Young student asked Udall how he thought his Mormonism would affect his chances of becoming president. Udall said that he no longer felt the need for an organized religion, although he still considered himself a Mormon. He went on to say that he thought his religion might help him in Middle America, where Mormons are considered hard workers, but that the Mormon belief in white superiority would hurt him although he disagreed with it. Then he told a story about a sign on a minister's door which read: IF TIRED OF SIN COME IN. Only someone had penciled: IF NOT, CALL 339-4128. Right now, Morris Udall is more or less at the church door. He has not left it, but he hasn't gone in either. Even in his own religion, he is an outsider.

In San Francisco, the funny congressman got a laugh he did not want. It happened in the paneled conference room of The San Francisco Chronicle.

Templeton Peck, the editorial-page editor, asked, "Well, congressman, what brings you here?"

Udall replied crisply, "I want to be president."

The room was absolutely silent while Peck tried to make up his mind whether or not Udall was joking. Finally he risked a giggle.

The congressman said dryly, "He laughs."

At a luncheon in Portland, Oregon, the local politicians knew that Udall was interested in the presidency, but they were still a little confused. They tended to get Mo mixed up with Stew. They asked the congressman, "Are you paying for your cigars these days?"

Morris Udall laughed and said, "That's my brother." A few years back, Stewart Udall had walked out of a drugstore without paying for several cigars. The manager called the police. Udall explained that he had simply forgotten to pay. Mo Udall told his Portland audience, "What bothered my mother was not the shoplifting charge because she knew Stew wouldn't steal. What upset her as a good practicing Mormon was that her son was smoking cigars."

The existence of two Udall brothers in public life confuses a lot of people. One master of ceremonies was so disoriented that he introduced the crowd to his old friend Senator Stewart Udall. Such cases of mistaken identity can be funny, embarrassing, humbling, and (Mo Udall believes) useful. Since the two brothers are so often linked together as one person in the public mind, Mo figures that he is about twice as famous as he has any right to be. Now that pollsters have begun measuring him against other presidential possibilities, he believes that this confusion is paying off. A recent Louis Harris poll showed that 65 per cent of those interviewed were "unfamiliar" with Udall, which is a lot, but he nonetheless ranked above figures like New York's Governor-elect Hugh Carey, California's Governor-elect Jerry Brown, Georgia's Governor Jimmy Carter, Florida's Governor Reubin Askew, Arkansas's Senator-elect Dale Bumpers, and Texas's Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Of course, these men had to make their names all by themselves. To be known as Senator Stewart Udall is better than not being known at all.

On the tour, we went to a lot of fundraising cocktail parties, the most unusual of which was held in Phoenix in a house that looked like a cross between a mansion and a motel. The house belonged to Jack Ross, a car dealer, and his wife, Acquanetta, who is known locally as the "Leopard Woman." An old movie poster which decorated one wall of the Ross home explained the appellation. The poster read:

TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN
Starring Johnny Weissmuller
With Acquanetta
1946.

On the wall beside the poster was a leopard skin and on a facing wall was a gun rack holding four rifles. The house seemed to be trying to tell Udall something about the jungle he would be entering if he persisted in wanting to be president.

In the back yard, Udall was chatting with the "Leopard Woman" when a photographer walked up. The congressman jokingly told Acquanetta, "If you look like a go-go girl, don't pose with me.

The person Mo Udall wanted to pose with was the president of the United States, and he soon had his chance.

President Gerald R. Ford invited Arizona's senators and representatives to go for a ride on Air Force One. The occasion was the president's projected trip to the Grand Canyon state to meet with the president of Mexico, Luis Echeverria. Ford thought Arizona's congressional delegation might want to join his entourage, fly from Washington to Tucson with him, and trail around after him the rest of the day. Arizona has two Republican senators. They declined. Arizona has three Republican congressmen. They declined. Arizona has one Democratic congressman. He accepted. It was that kind of year.

Congressman Morris Udall flew from Tucson to Washington on a Saturday. He spent the weekend with his wife in their McLean home, and then he got up at 4 A.M. Monday to hitch a ride back to Tucson on Air Force One. His wife did not wake up. The congressman left her a "love letter" which said: "Tiger--You are a sweet woman."

Udall chatted briefly with Ford and Kissinger as they were all boarding Air Force One together. Then the president and the secretary of state disappeared into the forward compartment and Udall did not see them again until they were getting off the plane in Tucson. Congressman Udall had made a 5,000-mile trip in order to exchange perhaps 100 words with the president -- or about one word per 50 miles.

What made the trip worth it for Udall, however, was stepping out the door of Air Force One with Ford and Kissinger while the television cameras rolled. If he was to persuade people that he was of presidential stature, then it was good to appear to be the kind of guy who rode around on Air Force One and hung out with presidents. Arriving in Tucson with Ford and Kissinger, Udall knew that he looked more like a serious presidential candidate than he had the week before arriving in Tucson in a converted VW bus.

A luncheon for President Ford and Mexico's President Echeverria was to be held in Tubac that afternoon. Udall offered to take me along and smuggle me in. On the way to my rendezvous with the congressman which would ultimately lead to my rendezvous with two presidents, I bit into a jelly doughnut, which exploded like a sticky grenade all over my suit.

When I met Udall at the New Federal Building in downtown Tucson, he pretended not to notice. We got in his car and headed south. He drove.

When we arrived at the Tubac Country Club, where the luncheon was to be held, Udall suddenly remembered a call he had gotten from the State Department that morning. State had spent hours telephoning not only Udall, but all of the invited guests, informing them that the correct dress for the lunch would be no coat and an open collar. This was to be done in deference to the Mexicans who, according to the State Department, liked to dress that way. Udall and I dutifully stripped off our coats and ties and tossed them in the back seat.

In front of the clubhouse, Udall shook hands with John Rhodes, the Arizona congressman who serves as the House minority leader. Rhodes, who had skipped the morning welcoming ceremonies at the airport but had decided to put in a cautious appearance in Tubac, wore a dress shirt open at the neck and the bottom half of a charcoal-gray pin- stripe suit. He looked as though he felt naked.

Only about half of the assembled guests had followed the State Department's dress instructions. Soon the coatless and tieless were sneaking envious glances at their counterparts who looked like insurance salesmen dressed for work. As the president's arrival grew more and more imminent, more and more people put their coats and ties back on. I glanced over at John Rhodes just as he was slipping up the knot in his striped tie. As the silk slid home, an expression of much-wished for peace seemed to pass over the congressman's countenance.

Udall and I were almost the only ones left uncoated and untied. Udall was even wearing a short-sleeved shirt. But he made no move to cover up. He was determined to finish what he had started, a trait which may keep him in the presidential race.

Suddenly it started raining. Ford had asked Udall at the Washington airfield what the weather would be like and the congressman had promised the president that the sun always shines in southern Arizona. And now it was pouring. We all pushed into the clubhouse. Udall and Rhodes found their way to the bar, where the barstools were real Western saddles. The men in their suits found these saddles awkward; the few women in their dresses found them impossible. Rhodes ordered a Margarita. Udall ordered a Coors beer, which he drank out of the can. When Udall offered to buy a round, presidential adviser Dean Burch said, "Be careful; if you pull out a hundred-dollar bill you'll never live it down."

Finally four helicopters landed one after the other on the lawn. One of them opened and disgorged the White House press corps.

Udall said, "The boys on the bus."

I asked him if he really wanted all those people to follow him around one of these days.

Udall said, "No."

When Gerald Ford and Luis Echeverria entered the clubhouse, they were, of course, dressed in coats and ties. Moreover, all of the Mexican dignitaries in Echeverria's entourage, the ones our State Department had been so anxious to put at ease with its open-throat policy, arrived coated and tied.

Udall told a man standing next to him, "All these other politicians don't want Ford to come into their districts. Hell, I'm glad to see him in mine. He's good for me."

The congressman then plunged through the crowd and put his arm around the president, telling him how proud Arizona was to have him. "It's a great day for the state."

Suddenly photographers were clicking away and Udall could not help thinking about Fishbait Miller, the fabled doorman of the House of Representatives, who had not known that you were not supposed to touch royalty, and so had grabbed Queen Elizabeth II by both arms and yelled, "Right this way, honey!" Udall, standing there in short sleeves and open collar, with his arms around the leader of the free world, felt similarly gauche. Deciding that he had to explain his attire, Udall told Ford about the State Department's instructions. Ford, wearing a necktie decorated with presidential eagles, nodded.

Udall said "And here you two show up in coats and ties."

Ford said, "Well, we had our choice and we decided to wear ties."

The circle around Ford was joined by Will Rogers Jr., the son of the great American comedian who had himself met with presidents, once telling Harding that he did not have to tell him any jokes because "you appoint them." Rogers had risen from cowpoke to court jester before dying in that Alaska plane crash with pilot Wiley Post. It seemed appropriate that Will Jr. and Mo should be brought together here, for Udall is often compared to Will Rogers. Udall loves to quote Rogers, especially the comedian's line: "I belong to no organized political party, I'm a Democrat." If the Democrats are more organized now than in the past, Udall gives the credit to two men: one of them in San Clemente and the other at that moment in Tubac.

The greeting that Gerald Ford offered Will Rogers Jr. was somewhat unexpected. When they were introduced, the president of the United States shook hands with the son of one of America's greatest comedians and said:

"Hello, I remember when your father flew over Alaska."

Will Rogers Jr. did not know what to say at first but he finally told the president, "That was in 1935."

Ford said, "That was my last year in college," and moved on toward a table that bore a buffet lunch.

The president was followed by Kissinger, the Great Negotiator, who asked the Big Question: "Iz zit low-calorie?"

After the luncheon with the two presidents, Udall and I drove back to Tucson to see Ford off on Air Force One. On the road, Udall told me a little about his plans. He would run in the New Hampshire primary, the Wisconsin primary, and perhaps three other early primaries to be chosen later.

He would attempt to nail down the Arizona delegation and try to win over other Rocky Mountain states. And he would attempt to put together a California strategy which would allow him to campaign only in those parts of the state where he had the best chance. Along the way, he would not be very specific about his programs. He thought George McGovern had been too specific. Udall suggested that he would attempt to appeal to the chauvinism of his fellow representatives to help him in his battle with all those big, important senators and governors. He spoke of the House of Representatives as though he hoped it might almost become an auxiliary campaign staff. In 1975, he planned to go to work on his foreign-affairs credibility, visiting Russia, Italy, Ireland, Israel, France, West Germany, and perhaps Asia again. Udall said that at the moment his campaign chest contained about $12,000. (This figure has since grown to about $25,000.)

When we arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where the president's plane was parked, an airman stopped us. The congressman told the serviceman who he was, but the man in blue wanted some identification. Udall, who could not locate his congressional I.D., was reduced to showing the airman his American Express card. The airman looked dubious but passed us through anyway.

The presidential aspirant with the recognition problem pushed on to his place in the line of dignitaries who would shake the president's hand as he departed. He was the only Arizona politician who had followed the Republican president all day long.

After the president's plane took off, I asked Udall if he was at all intimidated by all the pomp and ceremony surrounding the office. He said no, because if he were president he would cut out most of it, adding, "I'm tired of presidents who always have to have bands playing."

"I'm going to be braless," Ella Udall said the next day, "because my husband was thoughtless."

We were in Del Webb's TowneHouse motor inn in Phoenix, where later that evening Senator Edward Kennedy was to deliver a speech to a Democratic fund-raising dinner. Udall's wife and his wife's mother had just flown in from Washington to attend the dinner. The problem was that the congressman had forgotten his wife's suitcase. He had remembered to carry the suitcase with him on Air Force One from Washington to Tucson, but he had forgotten to bring it the last leg of the journey from Tucson to Phoenix.

"I threw all my left shoes in that suitcase," said Ella Udall, whose right foot, broken when she stepped in a sprinkler hole, wore an Ace bandage. "And I threw my foundation garments in it. Mo, you're so forgetful it's a wonder you can remember your name."

"Tiger," the congressman said, "that's like George Wallace calling me a racist."

Still, Mo Udall looked sheepish, having been transformed, when he entered the motel room, from a presidential aspirant whom everyone deferred to into a husband who deferred to his wife.

Looking her husband over, Ella Udall lectured: "How many times do I have to tell you not to wear pants with no cuffs? . . . How many times do I have to tell you not to wear the brown belt with the black shoes? . . . How many times do I have to tell you not to wear loafers with a suit? . . . ."

Eventually, Ella Udall disappeared into the bedroom to get dressed. When she re-emerged, she was wearing a pink dress and wore a bedroom slipper on her left foot.

Before the dinner, we went to a cocktail party given in Kennedy's honor. Ella Udall's mother got out her pocket Instamatic and tried to shoot a snapshot of her daughter and her son-in-law posing with the famous Massachusetts senator, but the flashbulb failed. Twice. Later Udall got Kennedy to autograph a program for his mother-in-law.

When Ella Udall told a story about falling asleep at a party she had given in Washington, she noticed her husband staring at her, and so demanded, "Mo, what are you doing looking at me with your good eye?"

Later at the dinner, Mo Udall served as the master of ceremonies, making everyone laugh and praising Edward Kennedy. Earlier in the week, Kennedy's office had called Udall's office and asked if it would be all right if Kennedy lauded Udall as a presidential candidate. Udall's office said they wouldn't mind. Then the two offices worked all day hammering out the proper flattering language. Udall could not help being very pleased.

When Kennedy rose to the Phoenix podium to face the dinner audience and the CBS cameras that would carry his speech statewide, he described Morris Udall as "one of the finest congressmen the House has ever had." He went on to say that Udall was " a big man with big ideas who stands tall over other congressmen." He said Udall stood "on the launching pad of national leadership." It was one of the biggest nights of Morris Udall's political life.

After the dinner was eaten and the even more appetizing applause had died down, Udall took his wife aside and asked her how she thought it had gone.

Ella Udall said, "I thought you needed a shampoo."

 

Last update: December 22, 1998
URL: http://dizzy.library.arizona.edu/branches/spc/udall/presidnt.html