Janet Napolitano - Eleanor Roosevelt as Farce

Bruce Thompson
Karl Marx famously said "History repeats, first as tragedy, second as farce." Watching Janet Napolitano try to deal with the airport screening issue is like watching a farcical replay of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Office of Civilian Defense. 

The February 16, 1942 issue of Time magazine reported:

Most U.S. citizens would agree that Eleanor Roosevelt is a fine woman; but even a fine woman can go too far. And last week it began to look as if the First Lady had gone too far.

As OCDiva to Fiorello LaGuardia's OCDemon of the Office of Civilian Defense, she had contributed the lioness' share to the air of bustling nonsense which has characterized OCD. This week Mayor LaGuardia, by promising to resign as head man of OCD, somewhat cleared the air and quieted the room. But no sooner had he done so than Eleanor Roosevelt set the shouts and murmurs going again louder than ever. The suspicion that the OCDiva regarded OCD as her particular plaything was deepened by the appearance of her newly summoned playmates.

The playmate-protégé who roused the first angry shouts was personable, politically ambitious Cinemactor Melvyn Douglas (real name: Melvyn Hesselberg). First it was announced that he was going to be in charge of information for OCD. Then OCD said Mr. Douglas was actually going to look after OCD's art division, at the rate of $8,000 a year (when he worked at it; he is still in the movies). Straightway Congress sounded off. He's a Red, cried California's Leland Ford. He isn't, either, cried California's Jerry Voorhis. This hue & cry flushed another playmate-protégé from OCD's covert: one Mayris Chaney, a toothsome blonde dancer who in 1938 had made up a dance which she gratefully called the "Eleanor Glide." Miss Chaney was in charge of the children's section of OCD's physical fitness division. Salary: $4,600 a year.*

With Miss Chaney thus in view, the House really gave tongue. For four hours Congressman after Congressman lit into Miss Chaney, Friend Eleanor and OCD. Bayed Missouri's Philip Bennett: "If [she] is worth $4,600 a year, then Sally Rand, strip-tease artist from my own Congressional district, ought to be employed at once because she would, on this scale, be worth at least $25,000 a year to civilian defense." In full-throated chorus, the House voted to forbid the use of civilian defense funds for "instructions in physical fitness by dancers, fan dancing, street shows, theatrical performances or other public entertainment," amended a $100,000,000 appropriation bill to make sure that no dancer would get any of it.

The OCD was the agency that took to ringing bells at midnight to conduct air raid drills. The public response was to coin the phrase "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout".


Bruce Thompson

Karl Marx famously said "History repeats, first as tragedy, second as farce." Watching Janet Napolitano try to deal with the airport screening issue is like watching a farcical replay of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Office of Civilian Defense. 

The February 16, 1942 issue of Time magazine reported:

Most U.S. citizens would agree that Eleanor Roosevelt is a fine woman; but even a fine woman can go too far. And last week it began to look as if the First Lady had gone too far.

As OCDiva to Fiorello LaGuardia's OCDemon of the Office of Civilian Defense, she had contributed the lioness' share to the air of bustling nonsense which has characterized OCD. This week Mayor LaGuardia, by promising to resign as head man of OCD, somewhat cleared the air and quieted the room. But no sooner had he done so than Eleanor Roosevelt set the shouts and murmurs going again louder than ever. The suspicion that the OCDiva regarded OCD as her particular plaything was deepened by the appearance of her newly summoned playmates.

The playmate-protégé who roused the first angry shouts was personable, politically ambitious Cinemactor Melvyn Douglas (real name: Melvyn Hesselberg). First it was announced that he was going to be in charge of information for OCD. Then OCD said Mr. Douglas was actually going to look after OCD's art division, at the rate of $8,000 a year (when he worked at it; he is still in the movies). Straightway Congress sounded off. He's a Red, cried California's Leland Ford. He isn't, either, cried California's Jerry Voorhis. This hue & cry flushed another playmate-protégé from OCD's covert: one Mayris Chaney, a toothsome blonde dancer who in 1938 had made up a dance which she gratefully called the "Eleanor Glide." Miss Chaney was in charge of the children's section of OCD's physical fitness division. Salary: $4,600 a year.*

With Miss Chaney thus in view, the House really gave tongue. For four hours Congressman after Congressman lit into Miss Chaney, Friend Eleanor and OCD. Bayed Missouri's Philip Bennett: "If [she] is worth $4,600 a year, then Sally Rand, strip-tease artist from my own Congressional district, ought to be employed at once because she would, on this scale, be worth at least $25,000 a year to civilian defense." In full-throated chorus, the House voted to forbid the use of civilian defense funds for "instructions in physical fitness by dancers, fan dancing, street shows, theatrical performances or other public entertainment," amended a $100,000,000 appropriation bill to make sure that no dancer would get any of it.

The OCD was the agency that took to ringing bells at midnight to conduct air raid drills. The public response was to coin the phrase "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout".


Bruce Thompson