Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

Presidents Behaving Badly: Harry Truman Threatens Paul Hume

Paul Hume was the music editor for the Washington Post from 1946 to 1982. He was also a professor of music at Georgetown University from 1950 to 1977 and adjunct professor of music at Yale University from 1975 to 1983. He was a member of the American Association of University Professors, the Music Critics Association, and the Cosmos Club. But he was not President Harry Truman's favorite music critic.

Mary Margaret Truman was the only child of Harry Truman and First Lady Bess Truman. She was one described by the London Times as "a witty, hard-working Midwestern girl with singing talent who was neither particularly pretty nor terribly plain." It was what Paul Hume had to say about Margaret's singing voice that upset her father. After operatic vocal training, Truman's singing career began with a debut radio recital in March 1947.

In December 1950 Margaret gave a concert in Washington DC and Hume attended. The following day, on December 6, Hume wrote a review of Margaret in which he commented:

"Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality. She is extremely attractive on stage. Yet Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time -- more so last night than at any time we have heard her in past years. She has not improved in the years we have heard her and still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish."

The review did not sit well with the President. Truman. Truman wrote a scathing response to Hume, in which he threatened physical violence to the critic. In typical Truman colorful language, the President wrote:

"I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an 'eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.' It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work. Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below! Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry."

"Pegler" was a reference to journalist Westbrook Pegler, who was pretty much negative about everyone from Herbert Hoover to JFK. Hume said that he was "stunned" by Truman's letter. At first Washington Post editors planned to publish it after having its authenticity verified, but Philip L. Graham, the publisher, vetoed the idea. He said he had received several angry letters from Truman and hadn't published any of them. When Hume later told Milton Berliner, the music critic of the Washington News, about the president's letter. Berliner told his editors, who promptly arranged for his paper to print a story about it. The wire services picked it up, and it was printed all over the country. Truman was criticized by many for the letter. However, he pointed out that he wrote it as a loving father and not as the president.

Truman's staff referred to their boss's habit of firing off angry, unpresidential letters, as "longhand spasms". Paul Hume handled the incident with more grace. He said that he did not consider it to be any great sin for a father to be over-protective of his daughter. He also blamed himself for telling Berlinger about the letter.

Margaret Truman was equally forgiving. She said: "Mr Hume is a very fine critic. He has a right to write as he pleases." She gave up her singing career and became a writer of murder mysteries set in Washington DC.

Years later, Hume was visiting Missouri, Truman's home state. He looked up the man who had threatened to blacken his eyes, and Truman was no longer harboring a grudge. He even played the piano for Hume in his office before attending a concert with him.
Tags: harry s. truman

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