Golden Years: Read My Lips

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Destiny and Power,” Jon Meacham’s surprisingly vivid biography of former President George HW Bush, is Shakespearean in its depiction of family, power and public service. It also briefly described an incident from one of the great days in the life of 10-year-old Richard Press.

My beloved uncle, State Senator and New Haven City Court Judge Harold E. Alprovis, in 1948 was a political crony of then Connecticut Republican Finance Chairman and later US Senator, Prescott Bush, who invited my uncle, with me in tow and a gaggle of  politicians, to the Princeton baseball game at Yale Field. It was also the day Babe Ruth came to New Haven to gift his memoirs to Yale.

Prescott’s son, George HW, familiarly tagged “Poppy,” was first baseman and captain of the Yale team. He accepted the manuscript from Ruth at a temporary microphone set up on the pitcher’s mound. It had rained all morning, but with Babe’s appearance the sun came out. Ruth was already frail, stricken with the cancer that would kill him three months later. The bleachers were loaded with local kids, many of them my fifth-grade classmates from Beecher School. Republican Mayor William Celentano, part of our crowd, presented Ruth with a certificate proclaiming lifetime membership in New Haven Little League. Ruth sadly responded, croaking tortured words into the microphone. After the ceremony he donned a cream-colored Ascot cap and took a seat with us along the first-base line, kindly signing my program before leaving after a few innings.

After the game (which Yale won), Mr. Bush introduced us to his son Poppy, who autographed my program right underneath Babe Ruth’s signature, a misbegotten treasure lost to the ages.

babe_ruth_george_bush

Meacham’s treatise recalls Poppy’s early married years in New Haven, a GI war hero gallantly completing his Phi Beta Kappa Yale degree in two-and-a-half years. Paul Press, my dad, habitually an obsessive raconteur of celebrities he befriended in and around the York Street store, recalled the era in a magazine interview. “Poppy Bush was a very nice man,” he said. “In the ’40s his wife Barbara was working at the Yale Co-op on York Street. I ran into her so often that she teased me I never invite her for lunch.”

When Bush was running for vice president in 1980, he gave a speech on the Yale campus that was interrupted by a heckler who accused him of being a “Brooks Brothers Republican.” Bush opened up his jacket alleging his suit was actually by J.Press. None of us Presses, nor any of the sales staff, ever recalled his patronage. Biograper Meacham clarifies the issue, noting, “his suits (42L, 38 waist) came from a Washington clothier, Arthur A. Adler; his shirts (which Bush, in a phrase that betrayed his Greenwich origins, unironically called ‘shirtings’ in private) from Ascot Chang, a Hong Kong tailor.”

A 1989 syndicated article in the New York Times provided further detail: “Bush likes his two and three-button suits by Norman Hilton and Southwick, which he buys at Arthur Adler in Washington or Norman Ditto in Houston. In ties, he alternates between neat foulards mostly by Robert Talbott.”

“Destiny and Power” can be comfortably digested by Democrats or Republicans, evenly distributing the triumph and disappointment of times past. The relationship between Reagan and his vice president, together with rivalry of their wives, is vastly entertaining. Unflattering references to Cheney and Rumsfeld have been duly reported. Make up your own mind about the Freudian dialogue hinted between #41 and #43.

George Herbert Walker Bush, 20th-century gentleman and public servant, never regretted articulating the famous credo that cost him his job: “Read my lips.” — RICHARD PRESS

16 Comments on "Golden Years: Read My Lips"

  1. 42L, 38 waist, and (IIRC) 6-foot-2. Not far off my own measurements.

    One pedantic note for Mr. Press: Bush wasn’t a “GI”, he was in the Navy.

  2. Thanks for your note. Correct. “World War II U.S. Navy Pilot.”

  3. An enjoyable read as always. I’ll add the book to my list. Speaking of which, when will we get your memoirs Richard?

  4. Bush could have used a dose (or more) of J. Press, with the attention paid to interesting worsteds, melange woolens, and bold, colorful tweeds. While perhaps a stickler about Ivy League tailoring, he, like nearly every other politician who (by necessity) caters to the masses, wore clothing that was mostly boring. Adler carried Southwick and Norman Hilton, so we might guess interesting cloth choices abounded. Advisors, populist to a fault, likely warned that a bold glen check shetland tweed-OCBD combo would be a turn-off to Joe Six Pack.

    As one reflects, this allegation would hold against most men who “dress up” for work or public service. The cloth is just so tediously boring. Seems the solid navy suit (boring), white spread collar shirt (boring), and solid tie (boring) rule the day.

  5. But then, Heyday Ivy could be boring. We’ve read words of praise for the solid charcoal grey suit, white shirt, and frequently-exalted black knit tie. Boring. Maybe, after all, this is the most deserving yet tragically accurate charge to be made–that Ivy became so bloody boring.

    I recall Boyer’s observation (see his new book) that, to paraphrase, Ralph Lauren saved tweed–or, rather, more precisely, Harris Tweed. So much a savior that he deserves a monument somewhere amidst the Hebrides islands. But he also saved wool challis and bold striped ties and heathered flannels. And maybe even tattersalled oxfords.

    Perhaps it wasn’t Brooks he resurrected, since that corpse was dead beyond hope. Rather, J. Press and Chipp, with their attention paid to checks, herringbones, and solid shades with some character.

  6. Bags' Groove | December 4, 2015 at 12:55 pm |

    @S.E.
    Do you think those who “dress up” in solid navy suit, white shirt, and solid tie might be worried about standing out from the crowd? After all, egalitarianism is the name of the game in this brave new world. And didn’t they all dress identically in Orwell’s 1984?

  7. Harpell Crower | December 4, 2015 at 1:27 pm |

    Boring? I would prefer to use the word “distinguished”. Ivy never became boring. It declined from being distinguished to being “interesting”.

  8. Forgive my utter snobbery and subjectivism, but It occurs to me that as Main Street Ivy spread across the country it was “dumbed down” to the most basic denominator, aspiring to look boring so as to appeal to people who were sold on looking vaguely Ivy but perhaps weren’t so keen on looking like they stepped out of a Brooks Brothers window display.

    But as Poo-Bah informs the Mikado, “I wasn’t there.”

  9. Richard: I truly enjoy your reflections. Keep them coming!

    A.E.W. I agree with you. Great photo attached to support your view. His hat speaks volumes!

  10. Babe’s shoes. Wow. But, when you’re Babe there are no limits, I guess. Looks good on him, but foolish on me.

  11. “…egalitarianism is the name of the game in this brave new world. And didn’t they all dress identically in Orwell’s 1984?”

    Well put. This, sadly, isn’t overstatement. The next dictator will mandate polar fleece jackets, hoodies, ill-fitting jeans, and ugly sneakers (think Nike) for all.

    It occurs to me that one of the best reasons to consistently do the trad thing is to stick out amidst a crowd of boors, slobs, and yokels. One recalls Mr. Press’ reflections upon the traits that distinguished “shoe” from “weenie.”

  12. NaturalShoulder | December 5, 2015 at 9:17 pm |

    I agree with you S.E. I am frequently the only person wearing a suit or coat and tie in a meeting but it doesn’t bother me at all. I consider doing so part of being a professional and will continue to do so even if acceptable business casual continues the slide into the sartorial abyss

  13. Henry Contestwinner | December 7, 2015 at 1:22 am |

    Indeed, S.E. & Natural Shoulder, we should continue to dress well, regardless of those around us. The good news is that the Worst Generation (i.e., the Baby Boomers) have started to retire, so their anti-suit-and-tie influence is waning, and their children (predictably) are rejecting their slovenly ways. True, we have seen Pitti Uomo, urban lumberjacks, and Fred Castleberry as part of that rejection, but the surge in interest in dressing nicely could bear Ivy-scented fruit—but only if we show them how it’s done.

  14. The Loafer Lawyer | December 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm |

    I’m not so sure “Poppy” was so drab after all. Politics, arguably, requires a watered down style. Post-retirement Bush 41 has been, at times, quite natty. Check out the socks –
    http://www.krmg.com/news/news/local/george-hw-bush-breaks-out-pink-socks-bush-library-/nXX4D/

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