Pres­i­dent Tru­man once sent aides to make sure his daugh­ter’s man­ager wasn’t skim­ming funds.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - JOHN KELLY’S WASH­ING­TON

On July 15, 1969, Charles S. Mur­phy, a former ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant and spe­cial coun­sel to Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man, sat down to give an oral his­tory of his time in Tru­man’s White House. Var­i­ous mat­ters of pol­icy and pol­i­tics were dis­cussed, but the in­ter­viewer, Jerry N. Hess, couldn’t re­sist ask­ing about the fa­mously irate note Tru­man sent in 1950 to Wash­ing­ton Post critic Paul Hume af­ter Hume panned a con­cert by the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter, Mar­garet.

Tru­man was known for his sharp let­ters, but usu­ally his White House staff in­ter­cepted them be­fore they could be sent, Mur­phy said. In this case, how­ever, Tru­man mailed the note him­self be­fore he could be talked out of it.

Last week in this space, An­swer Man ex­plored this fa­mous episode. There’s plenty more to ex­plore. To An­swer Man, the most in­ter­est­ing part of Mur­phy’s oral his­tory is when he men­tions that Tru­man was con­cerned that Mar­garet’s man­ager was skim­ming money from her na­tion­wide singing tour.

Tru­man gave Mur­phy and an­other as­sis­tant, Don­ald Daw­son, a spe­cial as­sign­ment. It was, Mur­phy said, “to see that the re­ceipts of the con­cert at DAR Con­sti­tu­tion Hall were prop­erly ac­counted for and Mar­garet got what she was sup­posed to get from it.”

The pres­i­dent’s men de­cided to im­pound the ticket stubs that were col­lected at the door. “Now, we never counted them, but no­body ever found out whether we counted them or not,” Mur­phy said.

This strikes An­swer Man as a bit un­seemly. White House staff be­ing in­serted into a pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter’s busi­ness deal­ings? Said Mur­phy: “And later, we as­sured the Pres­i­dent that, in our best judg­ment, that the mat­ter was prop­erly han­dled and that the re­ceipts were all prop­erly ac­counted for.”

Sounds like Mar­garet’s man­ager got the mes­sage.

There must have been some Amer­i­cans who won­dered whether Mar­garet’s high-pro­file singing ca­reer was boosted by her fa­ther’s job. The Post’s Hume never said that, though af­ter her ap­pear­ance at a DAR Con­sti­tu­tion Hall per­for­mance in 1949 with the NSO, he noted: “At the rate of over $100 per minute, Miss Tru­man is one of the coun­try’s high­est paid singers. She has a long way to go if she is to merit her re­ward.”

Sev­eral read­ers pointed out that Tru­man had a lot on his mind in De­cem­ber 1950, when he penned the let­ter threat­en­ing to punch Hume. The Chi­nese had en­tered the Korean War in late Novem­ber. The very day of Mar­garet’s con­cert, Tru­man’s press sec­re­tary, Char­lie Ross, had dropped dead at his desk.

“Tru­man was al­ready un­der con­sid­er­able strain when he saw Hume’s re­view,” wrote reader J.S. Sonies of Hern­don, Va.

The District’s Tom Bower said when he vis­ited Key West, Fla., he toured the Tru­man Lit­tle White House, where the pres­i­dent some­times va­ca­tioned.

“In the liv­ing room there is a pe­riod ra­dio that has been pro­vided with a copy of the per­for­mance by Ms. Tru­man which is switched on by the do­cent as part of the dis­cus­sion of the event,” Tom wrote. “It is a fine bit of liv­ing his­tory for each at­tendee to de­ter­mine the sta­tus of her voice.”

Of course, a recorded voice is dif­fer­ent from a live, un­am­pli­fied voice, a point Hume made in his re­view of Mar­garet’s 1951 re­lease “Amer­i­can Songs.” Backed by the Vic­tor Orches­tra and the Robert Shaw Cho­rale, Mar­garet sang the works of six early Amer­i­can com­posers.

In his re­view of the al­bum, Hume opined, “The mu­sic has a fresh­ness and originality that makes the record a treat.”

A treat! Ah, but no­tice he wrote “the mu­sic,” not “the singing.” Hume said that the mi­cro­phone had given Mar­garet’s voice “a resonant tone” that it did not ac­tu­ally pos­sess. He lamented that “Miss Tru­man has, even on records, her usual trou­ble­some habits.” Though her voice was richer, there was still an “in­se­cu­rity of pitch,” es­pe­cially when com­pared with the sup­port­ing cho­rus of so­pra­nos, “none of whose names will prob­a­bly ever be known to Amer­i­can au­di­ences.”

Well, you can’t say that Hume wasn’t con­sis­tent in his writ­ing about Mar­garet Tru­man.

Hume did seem able to dis­so­ci­ate his role as a critic from his role as a cit­i­zen, and to dis­so­ci­ate Tru­man’s role as a pres­i­dent from Tru­man’s role a pro­tec­tive fa­ther. In April 1951, the As­so­ci­ated Press trans­mit­ted a story head­lined, “Now Paul Hume Writes a Let­ter to the Pres­i­dent.”

The let­ter was in sup­port of Tru­man’s fir­ing of Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur. Hume de­clined to quote from the mis­sive and told the As­so­ci­ated Press: “Hon­estly, there’s no news in it. I just sat down and wrote the Pres­i­dent a let­ter like hun­dreds of other folks do.”

For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­


In 1955, Wash­ing­ton Post mu­sic critic Paul Hume holds a record for which he chose all the se­lec­tions. His taste was ques­tioned — and lightly threat­ened — by Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man.

John Kelly's Wash­ing­ton

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