Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CHOICE (1964): The Story Conference


Lo-Rus Walton

On September 22, 1964, Rus Walton, the director of public relations for the Citizens for Goldwater-Miller Committee,[1] convened a “secret” meeting in suite 217 of the Beverly Carlton Hotel in Los Angeles. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss the themes of a campaign film on the moral decline of the United States. The  hush-hush confab was, in Hollywood parlance, a story conference.[2] Choice, the movie produced in the immediate aftermath of the meeting, was never officially shown.

In addition to Walton, those who were in attendance were Queen for a Day executive producer, Raymond R. Morgan, Jr., production company owner, Henry Ludwin, and a local TV director, Joe Agnello.[3]

Also on hand, to the chagrin of Mr. Morgan, was a stenographer named James W. Golden from the firm of Noon & Pratt, Certified Shorthand Reporters.

Morgan, who did not think a meeting was necessary, was even more alarmed that Walton wanted a transcript recorded. In an exclusive interview with CONELRAD, the retired producer recalled his feelings about the conference and the stenographer:

I went on record at the time: “this is a horse shit idea.” Particularly, the transcript – “that’s dumb!” “Let’s not have a lot of stuff written down. If we’re going to do this.” But Rus [Walton] says, “No, we’ve gotta be sure everyone understands and so forth…” And I was very much against the idea of the transcript. I thought that was the stupidest damned idea I’d ever heard because it didn’t seem to me to be necessary. So when this meeting started out it was basically a speech by Rus and I thought to myself, “I’m not going to say anything” and I didn’t. I think I said one or two words… Basically, it was Rus’s big vision for what he thought this morality project was supposed to be. So we listened and we listened. I don’t know where the hell the transcript ever went, frankly, because I didn’t pay for it…[4]

Lo-Morgan-Cntr-1964 Raymond Morgan, Jr. center

As it turned out, Morgan’s instinct was dead-on because less than a month later embarrassing quotes from the transcript found their way into Drew Pearson’s influential syndicated newspaper column.[5] The resulting torrent of negative publicity over the film forced Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater to ban Choice from being aired (the movie can now be viewed in its entirety on CONELRAD’s YouTube channel; and the script for the film can be read here).[6]

Pearson 
The following is the entire Choice story conference transcribed from a copy obtained by CONELRAD from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum:

Lo-CHOICE-Noon and Pratt-Cvr

Noon & Pratt

Transcript of informal conference held at the Beverly Carlton Hotel, Suite 217, 9400 West Olympic Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California, commencing at 3:45 p.m., Tuesday, September 22, 1964.

Present:

Mr. Raymond R. Morgan, Jr.
Mr. Russell Walton
Mr. Henry Ludwin
Mr. Joe Agnello

Reported by James W. Golden, C.S.R.

Noon & Pratt
Certified Shorthand Reporters
707 S. Broadway – Suite 1120
Los Angeles14—Madison 66811

Beverly Hills, California, Tuesday, September 22, 1964

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Opening

MR. WALTON: The basic purpose of this documentary, and it supports the whole thrust of this project, is to very strongly and effectively depict the national prevalence of juvenile delinquency, crime, moral degeneration, narcotics, and the facts that women are afraid to walk on the street at night, the parks are empty after dark – parents are fearful for their children, husbands for their wives. This spastic child which was attacked by six or seven teenage boys yesterday; the fact that in Fremont, California on Saturday night, another woman was attacked, screamed and screamed while ten people stood by without doing a thing to help her; this same situation has occurred in New York City numerous times; all these things; we want to show that the country’s moral standards are in a serious decline.

Now, we have another basic problem, and that is the Senator’s national image, rightly or wrongly, has become that of a warmonger. This has scared a lot of women.

We find that there are three major issues in this campaign: 1. The nuclear syndrome. 2. The cost of living. 3. The whole moral issue, juvenile delinquency, crime, violence, immorality in government, immorality in the highest places, influence-peddling. How do we get back? We want to make them angry. Of immediate importance is the threat involved, the fact that they have to lock their doors at night; it may have been their child who was walking home from school yesterday. We find this fear in the minds of almost everyone, and particularly in the minds of women. It is felt very strongly by the independent voters, strong with Republican voters, strong with the Conservative Democrat voters, this issue of immorality in government. We want to incite the people to feel that Lyndon Johnson is incapable of coping with these problems because of the Bobby Baker scandal, because of the Billie Sol Estes affair, because of the $14 million that was made while he was on the public payroll, because of the McCloskey kickbacks – all of this, plus the fact that when you go down the list of major cities where there have been riots, Jersey City, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Rochester, these cities are in the control of big-city political machines, machines that stood back and did not do a thing to stop the riots. Now, we have documentary evidence for you to show that the police of Philadelphia were told not to interfere with the looters; and we also know that Lyndon Johnson is looking to the Mayor of Philadelphia to deliver Philadelphia to him, therefore he cannot interfere at this time. There is a whole background of big-city machines closely involved with the Johnson Administration, so there is a tie-in there.

At any rate, let me sum this up by saying that the public does not feel that Johnson can cope with the morality problem and they also feel that as long as you have immorality in government at the top, that person, that administration, cannot solve the problem of immorality at the lower levels. Therefore the purpose of this film then is to portray and remind the people of something they already know exists, and that is the moral crisis in America, the rising crime rate, rising juvenile delinquency, narcotics, pornography, filthy magazines, which is all a part of the same package. We want to just make them mad, make their stomachs turn.

This is not particularly a situation involving race. Although what they call civil rights may be a part of it, this is not a racial thing. The Seaside, Oregon thing, the Newport, Rhode Island Music Festival thing, Jersey City, these we can use, but it is broader than race. I mean, it is just a sinus sickness of society itself. You will portray that, and you remind these people what is happening, and you bring it right down to them and make their stomachs tighten. Then you will suddenly turn around and focus their anger on Johnson and this administration. This is based on the theory, which is a proven fact, that people tend to vote more against something than they are for something. Unless they are very zealous they are not motivated to go out and get it, but if they are mad and angry, then they go out and work. This was illustrated by the Rafferty thing in 1962. The people were damned sick and tired of the way the schools were being run, and they went out and did something about it. It is the same feeling now, but instead of being confined to a schoolhouse, it is a society in general; it is their kid, it is their wives and daughters, it is their homes. That is what we are trying to get across in this thing.

MR. LUDWIN: Appeal to their basic emotions.

MR. WALTON: Yes, raw naked emotions arouse them. You know better than I how far you can go. You might want to read Eugene Burdick. His first work was called THE 9TH WAVE, and in this book he points out how this candidate, an old colonel, went down to Olvera Street. He was addressing a very hostile crowd, so he just fed their hostility and anger and made them madder and madder, and at a certain point in his speech he began to turn this anger against his opponent, and the first thing you know, the crowd was just rabid against this opponent. This is what we are going to have t do in this movie: take this latent anger and concern which now exists, build it up, and subtlety turn and focus it on the man who drives 90 miles an hour with a beer can in his hands, pulls the ears of beagles, and leave them charged up to the point where they will want to go out and do something about it. They will see all this on television, and there is only one way they can go, and that is with Goldwater. This should include scenes of the riots in Harlem and Philadelphia, and out here in San Francisco, the sit-ins at the Palace Hotel; it should include the Seaside, Oregon thing, et cetera.

We have put out telegrams to all of our State and County committees, and they are sending us every day the front pages of their hometown newspapers wherever there is a story of violence, crime, murder, rape, and so on and so forth. So you can use this.

MR. LUDWIN: Would it be straining to make use of whatever organizations you have built up, which is considerable at this time, to have them contact people that they know within the news media business in their cities, using their weight to procure this? Otherwise, it becomes the product of a Hollywood producer making a film. I don’t want to go into a four-hour detail on this, but these things may have occurred to a friend, these people know these people in these cities.

MR. WALTON: We can do that, but I think a lot of your work in this area is going to have to be done by those people who know how to get into that, doing their own work, and going through the canned stuff, picking out what we need.

MR. LUDWIN: This is a monumental project.

MR. WALTON: We can do the basic research, pinpoint acts of violence, those riots, when they occurred and in what cities, so you are not shooting in the dark. You see, I want to see the sight of Harlem on August 15th and 16th.

MR. LUDWIN: I think in most instances, the people who will release it to you will allow you to get a scratch print or something – they refer to it as a scratch print – so that you can see what they have, and then you order what you want.

Core

MR. WALTON: I think one of the most frightening things is when the head of CORE during the Harlem race riots, wanted to get 1,000 Negroes, and he said, “There are only a thousand policemen, and I want a thousand Negroes who are willing to die,” and he wanted them to go out and kill the policemen. This is pretty violent. These kids up in Seaside, Oregon, white kids – it doesn’t make any difference, this is violence – and they were attacking the police with beer bottles and logs. Perhaps we could have a police figure in there or something.

MR. LUDWIN: You are not attempting to find the cause?

MR. WALTON: You just show me the solution.

MR. LUDWIN: One thing that happened one night in Encino, which is quite a residential area our here, big movie stars live there, and a friend of mine who is a TV personality, his daughter was riding her bicycle down past a very new supermarket we out there, a Piggly Wiggly, and four kids came up, one of them had borrowed his father’s Cadillac convertible, which his dad lent him often. These kids, having nothing to do, bought four dozen eggs, at 68 cents a dozen, and they went around throwing them; there was nothing to do, and they hit this girl in the eye. What the hell is happening in this country when things like this can go on? They take them up to the police, and this boy’s father is a very influential man, and the kids are remanded to their parents’ custody. The first time they can get away with it, and that is pretty bad.

MR. WALTON: We will have to some research to point out specific instances where the laws have been altered or impinged upon to the point where the law enforcement officers can’t protect society. As a matter of fact, you could read this month’s Readers Digest. There is an article entitled “Take the Handcuffs of the Police.” Things like that. For example, if you stop a guy who runs a red light and you find he has narcotics in his possession, you can’t do a damned thing about it because the violation was running a red light. Therefore, the police can no longer protect society.

MR. LUDWIN: We also have the case of the 400 San Quentin convicts appealing their cases because there was some new ruling regarding the confession angle, and they were appealing on the grounds of being illegally convicted.

MR. WALTON: That is right.

MR. LUDWIN: Also the Caryl Chessman case. How many years did he procrastinate? There are many single items such as that.

MR. WALTON: And I want you to concentrate in part on Washington, D.C., where the crime rate has gone up, skyrocketed.

MR. LUDWIN: Are you interested in the aspect of perhaps an interview with the police chief or something like that?

MR. WALTON: If we could get a couple of cops on there.

MR. LUDWIN: Police chief Parker of Los Angeles or somebody like that?

MR. WALTON: You have to make sure there that you handle yourselves so that it could not be determined a police brutality. You have to have calm, dedicated police, law-enforcement officers who are really trying to protect the public as opposed to a Bill Connor who doesn’t give a damn, he just wanted to beat some heads.

Reagan

MR. LUDWIN: Within the realm of support for Goldwater, I know there are many prominent people, and what I have in mind is the possibility of procuring one of these Ronald Reagan types to do the narration. I don’t know where he is hard enough or crisp enough.

MR. WALTON: I don’t know. He has quite a reputation of political association. One aspect which I think is very important is the rural aspect. Now, it is a fact that American political life, sociological life of the people who were brought up in the small towns and on the farms, especially in the Midwest, have a built-in prejudice against the big city. They think that the big city is something evil, that it is a sinkhole, it produces narcotics and crime. This film will obviously and frankly play on their prejudice. “You damned right. I remember when Old Joe went to New York and they rolled him, I remember that.” This has got to be this sort of thing. We are catering to the Midwest. We should carry that Midwest like nothing. They have a very high level of morality in the Midwest supposedly, so we are just going after that too. But the basic emotion is the fear and the anxiety of parents for their children’s safety, for the safety of their wives, the safety of their homes. “Tonight maybe the glass will shatter and someone will come into our bedroom.” Then we provide them with the solution for it: Morality must start at the top; it must start with the White House, with the Administration.

(There was a discussion of the record.)

MR. WALTON: One important issue for California is the narcotics issue; the narcotics crossing the Mexican border. The Governor cannot do anything to stop this, he cannot close the border; the President can close the border. I would like some strong shots of the Border Patrol uncovering some H stuff under the hood of an automobile crossing the border. That is one thing.

MR. LUDWIN: The narcotics problem is a real major one as far as California is concerned.

MR. WALTON: It is a major American problem, allowing narcotics to cross the borders. It is coming in from Cuba into Florida. It is also an important issue in Texas.

MR. LUDWIN: For instance, the girl at the airport not too long ago who was carrying a suitcase from Miami containing narcotics. She had brought in the suitcase two or three times before. How can a person bring in a suitcase full of narcotics so many times?

Sally

MR. WALTON: Also, all these dirty books.

MR. MORGAN: Pornographic literature?

ME. WALTON: Right. “Sally Slut’s Deal,” or whatever the title is. All these things.

MR. LUDWIN: They are sold over the counter, not sold under the counter. Although it is actually pornographic, it is within the letter of the law so that it isn’t pornographic, and the guys are smart enough that if sexy black stockings gets knocked out this month and sexy black undies next month, they watch it, but the point is it is still pornography.

(There was a discussion off the record)

MR. WALTON: Rape, crime, the increase of the crime rate, the increase in juvenile delinquency, that is what we want.

MR. LUDWIN: Public indifference.

MR. WALTON: Wife-trading, the jet set, and that whole damned rat-pack situation. Incidentally, I forgot to mention that this thing has gotten to the point in some cities where the people are so disturbed that they are setting up Vigilantes. The people in New York have the same thing now as in San Francisco. Some guy’s wife is attacked, the police won’t do a damned thing, so he sets up his Vigilantes. This indicates the depth of this emotion.

MR. LUDWIN: This is fine to illustrate the general rebellion against organized authority, but if it becomes general vigilante in the true sense, many vigilantes operating outside the law, this can be a detriment.

MR. WALTON: That is right maybe you can’t touch on this too much, the point being is you cannot take the law into your own hands; you have to give the law authority t protect the public. Maybe this wouldn’t come off, but if you could get some footage of the girl in New York where she was attacked and screamed for 15 minutes before she was murdered, and the people said that they didn’t want to get involved. We want to get them uncomfortable enough to the point where they will reject this sort of thing, where they will want to do something about it.

MR. LUDWIN: The whole thing is public indifference. They say, “It is not happening to me.” For example, the guy who had the heart attack and laid there for three days and then somebody finally notified the ambulance. Here is a guy who lay on the sidewalk for three days without aid.

MR. WALTON: You have touched on a real important thing here, public indifference.

MR. LUDWIN: This is the cause of it all.

MR. WALTON: This is going to backfire on the people, the people who don’t like to get blamed.

MR. LUDWIN: It is not “we” the public; it is “we” through lack of leadership because the leadership is covering these aspects, not making us aware of them, by allowing them to happen.

MR. AGNELLO: Just for my own information, is this going to be a network thing? How are we going to handle it?

MR. WALTON: There are two phases, Joe: The first is the documentary which may well be a network deal, but will certainly be placed in all the major cities. For example, maybe on October 23rd at 7:30, across the board, on NBC, CBS, every outlet will show this thing; and on the night of October 24 the Mothers of America will march into the precincts, all the porch lights will be turned on. It is this type of thing. It will be played right here in Los Angeles. These people will buy their own time on replays.

MR. AGNELLO: In other words, it will be a thing that will work nationally.

MR. WALTON: Yes. In addition to television time, we will make 100 prints available, maybe ten in California and only one in Arkansas, or maybe none in Mississippi. Who the hell knows? They will use them at their local level, in the precincts, the community clubs, womens clubs, Rotary clubs, stirring up the pot at the local level. Phase 2 will be as you produce this thing, there should be things pulled out of it for strong 30- and 60-second spots. Those are the two phases of it, Joe.

MR. AGNELLO: Are you going in any way to touch upon the Johnson Administration since he has been in office, what has happened since he has been in office?

MR. WALTON: And what he is: he is a child of this thing, he walked with this thing, Bobby Baker, Billie Sol Estes, $14 million – you know, that is pretty good for a Senator.

MR. AGNELLO: All these things, the budget in itself since he has been in office, how it has increased, the national budget.

MR. WALTON: The capper here is the situation in America and how it has been allowed to happen, because of immorality in high places, they haven’t done anything about it, and how can you expect them to do anything about it when they are creatures of this thing? There is only way out: Goldwater.

MR. AGNELLO: Are we going to touch upon the various overseas problems also?

MR. WALTON: I don’t think so, just internal problems. You see, the problem is, as we outlined before you got here, we have found that there are three strong issues in the United States right now, three things that are bugging the people: this nuclear deal, the threat of war, the red button, the economic thing, the straight jacket, the cost of living, you cannot make ends meet; then finally, the moral disintegration and juvenile delinquency. We cannot play up the nuclear thing because every time we play it, the Senator gets hurt, but that is not as emotional as juvenile delinquency and the moral crisis, and the public by and large feels that Johnson cannot cope with the moral problem because he is immoral himself, so there it is, there is the issue.

MR. AGNELLO: How do we come to the conclusion that he is immoral himself?

MR. WALTON: First we attribute it to the fact that he stole his first election, the 87 votes in Jim Wells County, Texas. Next, Bobby Baker was his strong right arm, the first man he saw in the morning, the last man he would see at night. “I know I should him the Secretary of the Majority, but he is my Bobby.” These are quotes. And Billy Sol Estes and that whole situation in Texas of which he was an important part; the fact that the only major state with a television monopoly is Texas, and he owns it in Austin, Texas; the $14 million, $13 million by his own admission, but the press thinks it is maybe closer to $14 million, but even $13 million is big on the salary of a Senator. Also, we base it on the McCloskey affair, the Washington Stadium, the Hospital, the kickbacks, the big-city machines. You go down the list of the various cities where the riots have occurred, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Rochester, Jersey City, every one of them is controlled by a machine and every machine is geared in to Johnson. They did nothing to stop the riots. He cannot make them stop the riots because he is in bed with them. It is all there. You don’t have much to develop it, but there it is.

Adjourned

MR. AGNELLO: We want to find film on all of this?

MR. WALTON: Yes, powerful film, real gut film.

(Whereupon at 4:30 p.m. the conference was adjourned)

Addendum

A D D E N D U M

(After the conference was adjourned, there was an off-the-record discussion, after which Mr. Morgan requested Mr. Walton to summarize the conclusions.)

MR. WALTON: The basis of the thesis is this: John F. Kennedy, whether you agreed with his polices or not, was moving America to a period of greatness. It was a period of challenge, and he had a bright promise. Then this guy, Johnson, by an act of God, moves in and has not only allowed all this immoral stuff to start, he has literally destroyed all the work that Kennedy had started to accomplish, and the Kennedy people feel this. They want no part of Johnson. Kennedy was an idealist, he was a philosopher, he had great visions, and this guy Johnson is nothing but a political animal. Kennedy was primarily a principled man, and I think you can hit a lot of Democrats right in the guts with this. You see, this 63% that Johnson has is there, but it is real soft, it is like a house of cards, you pull a couple of those cards out and the whole thing is going to collapse.

MR. MORGAN: He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

MR. WALTON: I think you can twist that, but it has become: “To hell with America, what can I get for myself? $14 million?” You can twist it subtly because Kennedy is respected in both parties, and his respect is growing.

MR. AGNELLO: There are many, many Democrats who intend to vote for Johnson on the strength of the Kennedy background, but they don’t know if they want to vote for Johnson or note.

MR. WALTON: That is right.

MR. AGNELLO: They are Democrats, but they are borderline cases.

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[1] Citizens for Goldwater-Miller was a wing of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign apparatus led by F. Clifton White (1918-1993). See page 480 of Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus [New York: Hill and Wang, 2001].

[2] “Transcript of informal conference…” September 22, 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, DNC Series I, Box 325, folder: Goldwater, Barry: Mothers for Moral America Campaign, 1964.

[3] In-person interview with Raymond R. Morgan, Jr. conducted by Bill Geerhart, April 6, 2008.

[4] In-person interview with Raymond R. Morgan, Jr. conducted by Bill Geerhart, April 6, 2008.

[5] Drew Pearson, “GOP To Pin Rising Crime On Johnson Administration,” October 20, 1964, Salisbury (Maryland) Times (Syndicated Washington Merry-Go-Round column).

[6] Laurence Stern, “Morality Film Scrapped On Goldwater’s Order,” Washington Post, October 22, 1964.

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