by Art Shay
(Swans - May 4, 2009) Royalty in the news has recently forced me to look back at the cabbages and kings of my past and share them with you in a kind of regal porridge. "If I were king, oh God, if I were king." "Do you know thees poem in English?" asked the nice, almost-old German lady so briskly shuffling down the hall with me and what master-rat Wolf Blitzer yclept recently "the press rat pack." She (big, black, womb-shaped German purse swinging with her steps) was none other than Anna Freud, whom I was photographing with a hidden Leica -- made not far from her Deutsche haunts -- while pretending to interview her in bursts of stupid questions like my fellow journalistic rats, none of whom had yet achieved Blitzer's super-rat status. It was only the sixties. I was freelancing for the super PR company Daniel J. Edelman, Inc., which would eventually prosper as master lobbyists in Washington under President Reagan. I had helped Danny move up from UP correspondent to the Big Time with a Life Magazine story on the Toni Twins. He paid me well to cover such events -- placing my words and pictures in magazines of the day as if the magazine had, on their own and with their minuscule budgets, hired a thousand-buck-a-day journalist to do a story on, in this case, the great Anna Freud lecturing the entire shrink corps of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis (CIFP).
I still get Danny and Ruth's New Year's cards. And I still occasionally sell an image of Anna Freud to young shrinks now grown hoary and wanting to recall their historic meeting with Anna and her kid-as-king theories. (Old age stinks but healthy survival with fit mind and body has its perks. Both Anna and her big daddy died too young and badly. One of age's involuntary pleasures: the frisson that comes with stumbling on the obits of people younger than yourself. Especially when you've known them. Schadenfreude? Who cares.)
Anna Freud, my one day in her ken, then repeated Francois Villon's deathless 15th century lines in German, and again in surprisingly good English for a Viennese born the previous century, paused between the off-green walls of Danny's secret client, the CIFP, to expatiate on her off-the-wall question.
"Every child is a king, and must be treated so in zee family, to dewelope in normalcy," she huffed. "So treat your children as if they were kings and all is open to them, or they will not dewelope normally. Eet is why first-born sons do so well."
I used to mockingly quote this precocious (albeit Anna was the last-born of-six Freuds) theory to my three younger brothers until their achievements began to outstrip my own, and like that recently shot-up pirate dinghy, no longer held water.
But I never forgot what she theorized (as Mel Brooks has opined in another public venue): "It's good to be the King."
It's also not bad being the Crown Prince. On the crowded sward of the University of Chicago, Prince Charles creaked around the campus in a wrinkle-free gray suit from Saville Row. I was shooting a bunch of bored, gaping students, when the Prince backed into me by accident. "I'm truly sorry," he said. Then looking at my camera, he added, "Oh I have a Leica too -- very sturdy." A prince had talked to me! An instance latterly filed with JFK's asking me, "Where can a feller take a whiz around here?" just before his 1960 debate with Nixon. And with Truman's deathless Pennsylvania Avenue question: "Why do you need three cameras? I have one and haven't used it in years."
I still got terribly arch glances from the hovering SS lapel-pin crowd, who acted as if I had bumped into the royal corpus, which would have been as big an infraction against the throne as speaking first to him, or the one Michelle Obama almost pulled, reflexively returning the momentary infractional Liz gesture of Charles's mama's short timid arm encircling tall Michelle's waist.
I had last been close to Her Majesty before she queened up. That was in High Wycombe, England, during the 1945 dregs of WWII, when the 19-year-old queen-to-be and her bouncy 15-year-old sister Margaret appeared at the 8th Air Force Headquarters garage to look over our sorry fleet of three or four GM trucks, D-Day rejects for one reason or another, stolen by us from the infantry. The royal lasses had received training in the repair of such cranky behemoths and were pleasant enough, and while they were ready to change a clutch or something -- having been trained to do so -- all they had to do was smile at all of us flyboys who had just flown thirty missions each defending the girls' crusty old country. (I flew one mission with an Irish-descended gunner who so hated the English that, shouting Irish imprecations on his throat mike, he crapped in a flak helmet and threw it out the side window vaguely aiming at Buckingham Palace as we went by in formation en route to doing our real business in Germany). On the ground we greeters of the Royal Pair were about to dump our English girlfriends to return home for a month's leave to marry the old American girlfriends who hadn't written us Dear John letters.
Years later a canine fan in my family would report with great admiration that the favorite activity of Elizabeth as queen was to crossbreed her pureblooded mini-dachshunds with her even purer tall Corgis. Her Majesty is on record explaining this weird sexual match-up. Said she: "Oh, it's simple. We have a little brick."
Queen Elizabeth has seemed to weather the inattention and quirks of her father, the ineffectual but handsome stutterer, George VI, to say nothing of the American divorcee-bedding predilection of her abdicated uncle Edward VIII, who, it is said, unlike his equally randy but more studsy predecessor, the Victorian Prince of Wales, never fathered or even Big Daddied any known person. Love amongst the upper clawses, as Evelyn Waugh scoffed. How could Evelyn not be a mocker and scoffer? He was for a time married to a lady also named Evelyn. The Brits have always been careless about sex.
The sixties and seventies were peripatetic years for European and Middle Eastern royalty coming to our shores to explore the magic of American culture and achievement. Thus it was that Sports Illustrated sent me to follow Jordan's wiry little monarch around Chicago when he came to visit the young, super rich, do-good playboy Michael Butler, who (after romancing several lithe, sweet-talking Hair dancers), check-booked Hair from its Manhattan disco into full birth as a hit Broadway musical. Thus it was that scion Michael Butler helped his classy family open a private hunting preserve a few miles from the Loop, and got a Chicago caravan of limos to help escort his Majesty to an opening day of pheasant shooting.
The lost driver of our lead limo, in those pre-GPS days, got loster and loster in the welter of off-ramp trails leading to the promised hunting land. Perky Hussein, a smart jet pilot who had trained in Texas, perceived the problem of confusing fences, and suggested to Butler that we all dismount from our posh mechanized camels, climb over a barbed wire fence or two, and get on with the day's pleasure. As the King's aide, a bulky Jordanian colonel put it, "Hees Majesty is very eager to shoot zee peasants as soon as possible."
The same flunky colonel, I noticed, worked the cocktail rooms whispering into several young female ears. I asked one such lovely what the colonel had said. "He wanted to know if I would like to spend the night with His Majesty. I was flattered, but realized he was asking perhaps five of us, so I told him to fuck off, but nicely." (For some reason Sports Illustrated ignored this note in my captions.) Someone in the party averred His Majesty's thing at home was importing $500 a night international call girls, mostly movie rejects, from Monaco, which hobby he sometimes combined with plane fucking in a seraglio-converted DC-3 after a blood-rousing round of falconry.
|Hussein and Butler. © 1959 Art Shay|
My picture shows the leather-jacketed King Hussein and tall, handsome Michael Butler -- shotguns in hand -- trudging through the Oakbrook, Illinois, prairie ready to decimate some private fowl. As the Colonel said later when we left the killing fields for a -- surprise! -- pheasant dinner at the Butler country club, "His Majesty breeds falcons een Jordan." "Would you say," a smart-ass Trib reporter slyly asked, "that the King is for the birds?" "Yes, of course," confirmed the colonel over his forbidden Brit after-hunting Sundowner. Alas, the quote was never published until now. Along the way, Michael Butler told us that all North American pheasant sprang from a congeries of ten pairs sent here by the Chinese in the preceding century. (The pheasant killing-fields are now occupied by people who are in the same sort of business on a grander and more humane scale -- McDonald's world headquarters.)
Imagine having the good luck to have survived the Chinese dinner table, trans-Oceanic ornithological incest, and wildlife enemies in Illinois, only to be brought down several generations later by the gamely bird-loving King Hussein and his royal shotgun equivalent of Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro 450 Big Bore Mannlicher.
On the 1953 Ford assembly line -- a marvel of the age for introducing automation, which involved firing 80% of the assembly line workers -- who should appear the same day I was following Henry and William Ford III down the line but brisk Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands, and her handsome, machine-savvy consort, Prince Bernhardt. I think he was spirited away to secretly test-drive one of Bill Ford's early 8-mile-a-gallon Lincoln Continentals around the test track. Unless it was a Fordy legend, one of the test engineers reported that when Bill Ford asked him what he thought of the humongously-long Continental hood, the consort mused, "By the time you'd be run over in Rotterdam by the front end, rigor mortis will have set in when the rear wheels go over you." They shoulda hired the royal dude for simple prescience. Or as Groucho or Woody might say, "They shoulda made the Prescience instead. I'd run over and buy one if they threw in an extra cylinder." Her Majesty was charmed by Ford's using a blind man to sort carburetor parts by feel. My picture of this guy happily whistling while he worked was used in the now-classic book, Ford at Fifty.
Chicago's own Emperor of Politics -- his son now enthroned with only a different middle initial (M into J -- mutatis mutandis) sits between the King and Queen of Denmark, as tour guide to the unmelancholy Danes. He extols the sturdy Water Tower landmark (just behind them) for being the northernmost structure still standing after the Great Fire of 1871. Their majesties, the mayor said, loved Seurat's A La Grande Jatte, which they had just seen in the Art Institute. It reminded them of Copenhagen's beautiful Frederiksburg Park, which they often visited on a sunny Sondag.
|Daley and Danes. © 1960 Art Shay|
My favorite white royalty were two Swedish princesses who rooted for Northwestern one Saturday at Ryan Field because Svenska flicka Ann Margaret had gone to Northwestern. They laughingly avoided being picked up by two beer-swilling juniors who thought they recognized a good possible lay when they saw one.
My favorite all-time royalty was the Masai chieftain of a tribe that prospered in the shadow of the then snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro. Then was 1955, and the spry, randy chief with hair just turning iron-gray had four queens (his wives) showing to our NBC safari group; he then tried to ante up six cows, four goats, two sheep, 100 chickens, and a darling bead choker if we'd trade away our sexy West Virginia Zoo Parade writer, Dorothy Ruddell. Our fearless leader, Marlin Perkins, considered the deal, or seemed to, but the dour wife of one of our nature cameramen, a religious Milwaukee Lutheran, got hysterical trying to explain what would happen to poor 23-year-old hillbilly Dorothy if we knuckled under to His Majesty. He would, she theorized, do unspeakable things to her. Years later there was nothing unspeakable in Wisconsin, where Ed Gein (of La Crosse) butchered relatives and neighbors, including his mom, whom he paper-bagged and shelved for our Life story. (This was the age just before plastics.) And then came Plainfield's own Jeffrey Dahmer -- convicted of only 17 of his perhaps 50 murders. But I digress.
The subject of our script lady as a royal Masai bride was dropped when a runner carrying a message in his forked stick arrived (like something out of Waugh's "Scoop") with the breaking news that a neighboring tribe of pissed-off Kikyu would, the very next morning, dispatch 1500 women with razor-sharp pangas in a long line through the wait-a-bit bushes, seeking out and killing the marauding Mau Mau. Who, like the Masai, for some reason had lost the 19th century respect we whites had earned for bringing them the trinkety social and manufactured accouterments of civilization plus a chance to make a hundred pounds here and there on oil or rubber crops.
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