The day the balloon went up for Wallace McCutcheon
THE TORIES: 1
A wistful drama in two acts
PROLOGUE: Senator Wallace McCutcheon's bid for the Conservative Party leadership ended when he got 76 votes on the second ballot. He leaned forward in his seat in the reds on the east side of Maple Leaf Gardens and reached across a row and shook hands with Robert Stanfield. Then he put a Stanfield sticker on the lapel of his dark-blue suit. Then he rested his chin on his right hand.
“There are no tears in my eyes,” McCutcheon said later. But there was no twinkle either. He knew how to lose but he didn't like to lose. Despite the pundits who had written him off and the people who said he had made a deal beforehand to fall in behind Stanfield, McCutcheon had entered the race to win.
He was written off because his image was all wrong — the press and most of the delegates saw him as a kind of bogey man of big business and Bay Street or even as a flunky for the E. P. Taylor interests. Of the 10 serious candidates he was the most conservative, his quest seemed the most hopeless and his running at all was the most remarkable.
The story of his loss is a personal political drama that divides, with scarcely any tinkering, into two acts, set against the greater drama of the convention.
John Gould: An advertising man Julian Porter: A young lawyer Alf Lewis: A mining entrepreneur Wallace McCutcheon: A Senator Donald G. Brenneman: A delegate Mike Bradley: A disgruntled designer Felicity Cochrane: A press agent An Amorous Lady
Mrs. Wallace McCutcheon: The Senator's wife Jim McCutcheon: The Senator’s son George Hees: A confident leadership candidate An Old Man
Susan Porter: The Senator’s daughter Brenda McCutcheon: Jim McCutcheon’s wife Leslie Rowntree: Minister of the Ontario Department of Financial and Commercial Affairs A Maintenance Man With a BB Gun Miscellaneous Delegates, Aides, Trumpeters, Baton Twirlers and other Political Figures
The Cavalier Room, The Westbury Hotel, Thursday, September 7, 1967. early afternoon.
McCutcheon workers in blue blazers are filling big balloons with helium from a yellow tank. The inflated balloons are at the ceiling
trailing “McCUTCHEON NOW” signs on long strings. Knots of people are standing around talking.
“—been a good citizen.”
“—balloons keep breaking and my
"—candidates have acquired enough courage to use words like socialism because the Senator did and he didn't get shot down in flames.”
“The bar opens half an hour before he comes and closes half an hour after he goes. That way we can keep out some of the—”
“—demonstration we got two babes with horns.”
“—won't kiss for the cameras. Jeezus—”
“—completely wrong image built up.”
“The Senator's image of money precluded us from throwing any great jeezly affairs,” John Gould is saying. Gould is the president of Gould Outdoor Advertising and a McCutcheon aide. “We're not trying to out-Hces Hees. The Senator is not as good looking as Hees or as young as Roblin. but he would make a helluva great prime minister. We got a fine product here. You can't make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. We're just trying to get as many delegates to him as we can. He’s a great question-and-answer man.”
Julian Porter, a young lawyer and McCutcheon's son-in-law. says there are three things working against the Senator. “He's 61 and maybe he looks older, he won't speak French, and he's known as a Bay Street tycoon.” When the word got around that McCutcheon was serving Chivas Regal Scotch in his hospitality suites. Porter scurried about substituting a cheaper brand.
“—so warm and human,” Alf Lewis is saying. Lewis, a mining entrepreneur, is wearing a fake straw hat with a fake bite out of the brim. “He shouldn’t be a millionaire. That’s why I’m in love with this guy and his wife. He had to fight for every dime, so he hasn’t a great deal of time for fun and nonsense. He didn’t probably run around with broads and go to weenie roasts. He supported his mom and dad when he was just a kid. The problem is to get all this across.”
“We got 500 balloons,” somebody says.
The same, a few hours later
Senator McCutcheon enters with his son Jim. He is well tailored, not tall, with white hair, a sanguine complexion and black-framed bifocals. There are / continued on pape 95
WALLACE McCUTCHEON continued from page 23
“I’m getting tired being told I’m wonderful but can’t win"
about 300 people now in the Cavalier Room, which is bigger than any of the other candidates’ Westbury headquarters. The crowd applauds politely. McCutcheon lights up a pencil-thin Ritmeester Livarde cigar, gets a rye and water from the bar and sits down on a little table.
“I will answer all but the impertinent questions,” he says. The voice is a growl. A CHFI announcer once said that he made radio me-n sound like eunuchs. McCutcheon answers the questions straightforwardly and well. The only one that could be construed as impertinent concerns his age. “Chronological age is immaterial,” he says. “It is a question of mental fitness and the state of the arteries.”
A delegate says. “Can you win?” There is a pause. McCutcheon is slumped over the microphone. “I’ll be blunt.” he says. “I’m getting very tired of wandering around the corridors and being told that I’m wonderful but I can't win. Should a delegate vote for his second choice on those grounds? I can win if you will vote for me.”
A delegate who turns out to be Donald G. Brenneman, president of the Kitchener riding association, opens his jacket and on the inside are buttons and stickers for all the candidates. “I had my picture in the press yesterday, and I said I was uncommitted." he says. “From now on I'm committed. I’m just wearing one button." Cheers, applause.
A hotel corridor, the following morning
Mike Bradley, an intense, bearded young man who was hired to write press releases by the Senator's press agent. Felicity Cochrane, relates in lowtones a tale of conspiracy against him.
“At a meeting about the demonstration. Alf Lewis suggested that we have 100 naked savages run in with flaming torches. I said there wasn't time to set that up. and I thought of using a rocket to symbolize, you know', going up. Everybody thought it was great and I was going to build it. We were going to fill it with helium. About a week ago it turned out we could pull it up with a drop line. I made the frame and I was going to cover it with corrugated foil. So on Wednesday Alf Lewis tells me his ow n engineer is going to do it. They used tent silk and forgot the fins. It doesn't look right. Not only that. I designed the skirts for the girls waving the banner, and I got the girls. Then Alf Lewis decides to use his own girls. He says mine are too short. But mine are taller. I just wanted to put the record straight."
The Cavalier Room, a few hours later
Felicity Cochrane is a small blonde who ran in the last federal election as a Conservative candidate in the Toronto riding of Parkdale. She fell and broke her leg on election night. Even so. she lost by 5.868 votes. She is wandering around the room now. telling delegates that the Senator is a
sweetie—“Not, you know, the tycoon type at all.”
The Senator is in a huddle with a middle-aged lady in a blue-and-white dress. “I love you.” she says. “I love you. Ruth, goddam it,” he growls.
Alf Lewis speaks to a bus-load of kids from King High School and some other people, mostly elderly, down
from the York-Simcoe riding where McCutcheon will try to win a Commons seat in the next election.
"What I'm looking for are people really interested in Wallace McCutcheon.” he says. “We've been working for five months on a five-minute demonstration. Maple Leaf Gardens is 190 feet high. We are going to carry in all
these balloons. They have between 100 and 150 feet of cord. Following your captain, let your balloons up very slowly. At the bottom of the string there are signs. The trick is that we still be floating tomorrow — let them go very gently. When you walk in, hold the string so that the balloons are about five feet in the air so the opposition will not be able to puncture the balloons. We also have bang balls wdth rice inside. We don’t want young people to have the bang balls because
some of the delegates may think they are a little childish. That’s psychology .
Felicity Cochrane is telling somebody that the Senator frowns on publicity. “I don’t think he ever needed it in his life. He hates hoopla but he has to go along with it.”
“ — was appalled that the biggest detail had to be a demonstration.” Julian Porter is saying.
“ — going to have go-go girls?” somebody else says.
“—wrote these lyrics, ‘Hello Wally.’ Of course we couldn't — ”
“ — never uses his furlined convertible.”
“—go up like all feisty.”
“This is still a horserace.
He’s figured his chances.”
“ — don’t have to feed him any answers.”
“ — fiscal irresponsibility has got to — ”
“Let’s go!” Alf Lewis shouts. “Everybody follow the Senator. This is it.”
En route to Maple Leaf Gardens, a few minutes later
Senator McCutcheon is walking along Carlton Street, flanked by his son Jim, who is a lawyer, and Mrs. McCutcheon. Jim McCutcheon is taller than his father and has red hair. He says that a Toronto Star reporter has been misquoting the Senator. "But what can you do?”
“I think we can tell the son of a bitch to follow Alvin Hamilton,” McCutcheon says.
Outside the Gardens they have to push through a lot of Hamilton and R o b 1 i n supporters. The McCutcheon people with their balloons have fallen behind. No one seems to recognize the Senator. A Hees claque gathers.
“When will we go in?” Mrs. McCutcheon says. She is a confident, matronly woman.
“When the Hees signs go through, if they ever do,” Jim says. The Senator is impassively smoking a cigar.
Maple Leaf Gardens, an hour later
The McCutcheon demonstration surprises everybody. It is easily the best of all the candidates’. It fairly reeks of money, and it has a kind of garish class. Two well-built blondes in split skirts sound a trumpet fanfare, there are miniskirted baton twirlers, a brass band, the hundreds of big balloons with their attendant signs and the slowly ascending grey tent-silk rocket towing more signs.
“You don’t win votes with a demonstration,” Julian Porter says. “But you can lose votes if you don’t com-
pete. If you are going to enter the arena, you have to do it right. Of course, the constant danger with McCutchcon is that people will say. That rich s.o.b. is trying to buy us.’ We are trying for a certain dignity. If I’d known about those two blondes ...”
“Diamond Jim McCutcheon,” somebody says.
The same, later that night
Through a stroke of bad luck, Mc-
Cutcheon's speech is the last one. When he finally gets to the rostrum, following George Hees, the crowd of 8,000 has dwindled to about 3,800. Hees came on strong, with his football crouch, his karate chops and lines like, "My platform is v/ctory.” He discounted McCutcheon by telling the delegates that he was used to speaking last. "As a heavyweight I used to have to appear last. I was last here in the Gardens 25 years ago and I won.” McCutcheon’s speech has some good lines. He says that, unlike the other
candidates, he will speak only in English because, “Under the British North America Act I have never found anything that required an audience to listen to me in French . . . While 1 haven't the facility I would like to have in the language, 1 am not afraid to say ‘deux nations.’ ” But his delivery is flat, he makes no promises and his denunciation of fiscal irresponsibility, over-government, “packaged solutions” and “the closed society” seems to strike no reverberating chord with the delegates.
The Cavalier Room, Saturday, September 9, late morning
The Senator and Jim enter to applause from about 50 delegates and hangers-on. "We got some nice telegrams after the speech from people who can’t vote,” Jim says. “Things are looking good.”
“You were just great,” an old man says to McCutcheon.
"Did I do all right?”
"Dandy, just dandy.”
“I’m never quite sure, you know.” “ — that he’s bad reading from a script,” Julian Porter is saying. “He doesn’t have the rhythm of an orator, and he won’t express his anger. He’s very angry and frightened about what the government is doing. He’s so frightened that he looks at me and says, ‘Do you know what you’re inheriting?’ But even so, even after all his experience in business, he has enormous faith in people. He could never be cynical. He figures that he has a chance in this campaign if he is absolutely consistent and truthful. He has shown far more pluck than I could have. He knows that his chances of winning are not terribly great.”
A corridor in Maple Leaf Gardens, later that day
The Senator’s daughter, Susan Porter, and Jim’s wife. Brenda McCutcheon, are eating hotdogs. They are pretty, nice - looking girls. “I’d like to see him beat George Hees,” Susan Porter says.
Brenda McCutcheon says that rumors have been hurting him. “They say he spent a quarter-million on his campaign. There is no sense trying to beat that kind of rumor.”
"Anyway, I think he’ll do a lot better than the press thinks,” Susan Porter says.
Room 25, Maple Leaf Gardens,
a few minutes later
In a gloomy, greenpainted cubbyhole used by minor officials during NHL games, McCutcheon and Leslie Rowntree, an Ontario provincial minister who nominated him, are watching convention coverage on a decrepit 17inch Admiral portable.
Julian Porter rushes in. “In today’s Tel y the poll has us leading two to one!” he says. “We’ve got to get some Telys." McCutcheon doesn’t say or do anything. Porter and Rowntree run out.
“Rumor,” Porter says when he comes back a minute later. "It’s Stanfield who’s ahead two to one.”
Rowntree comes in with 20 Telys. “It was Stanfield,” Porter says. “Oh.”
The Senator’s fartn, Gormley, Ontario, two days later
The thing Senator McCutcheon can’t figure out is how one of his swans got loose. The swan is sitting in the swimming pool hissing at everycontinued on page 98
body who comes near.
“Well have to get the goddam thing out of there,” McCutcheon says.
Otherwise, it has been a restful day. “I felt very depressed for an hour or two yesterday morning,” he tells Porter, “but 1 had 12 hours’ sleep and today I feel fine.”
He is driving around the farm in his Thunderbird. unwinding. The farm has 300 acres, half a dozen houses, a dozen horses, 150,000 transplanted trees, a herd of Angus cattle and a lot of waterfowl on a pond: swans, Canada geese, mallards, Egyptian geese, blue geese, pintails and black ducks.
“I was disappointed when I got 137 votes on the first ballot. 1 thought I might get 200. 1 didn’t discourage
the higher predictions but 1 didn't believe ’em. I was surprised and pleased that I defeated Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Fleming on the first ballot.
“If I were to do it again I'd start a couple of years earlier. I didn’t realize that individual delegates in many parts of the country didn't automatically know who I was. As the managing director of the Argus Corporation and the director and senior officer of many other corporations, I assumed that 1 was as well known across the country as I am in the Toronto Club. It wasn't the case.
“There are no tears in my eyes. When I made the decision to run in February lots of people told me I would be hurt, humiliated, ruined. I was none of those things. I feel I made an impact on the policy thinking of the party. I established that some supposedly unpopular statements arc popular. When the Conservatives form the next government I’ll be there. My next project is to get elected to the House of Commons.”
Maple Leaf Gardens, later the same day
On the floor of the Gardens are piles of debris, Hees pamphlets, “Keep The Chief” buttons, paper cups, the stale ends of hotdog buns, “I’m A Roblin Fan” fans, Fulton placards and blue triangular Stanfield placards with their fine idealized sketch, wads of paper with scribbled columns of numbers and scraps of blue rubber from broken McCutcheon balloons. Many balloons are still up in the rafters where, obeying some fundamental balloon discipline, they would float for eight days and then sink. But Jesse James, the assistant building superintendent, has told his men to shoot down the balloons with a BB gun. There is a maintenance man plinking away at the surviving balloons.
A big blue McCutcheon balloon that must have sprung a leak starts to drift down from the very top of the Gardens. There are two signs suspended from it on a long string. The maintenance man with the BB gun watches the balloon coming down, and after a long time it turns around and there is the round magnanimous face of Wallace McCutcheon. The maintenance man raises his gun and fires, there is a popping noise and the signs — “The Man of Decision” and “McCUTCHEON NOW” — tumble and swing and glide down to the floor.
“Right between the eyes,” the maintenance man says. ★