More Doris • Hoof 'n' Horn Memories • Tales of the Throne • Unions and Poverty
I was disappointed that the article on Doris Duke [January-February 2011] did not mention the furor in 1951, when she was offended by a satirical piece about the Duke family by Yerger Hunt Clifton ’53 in the Duke and Duchess, the college’s humor magazine, and somehow withdrew money from the endowment. The administration of the school reacted as well: Clifton was “allowed” to remain at Duke on the condition that he not contribute to any campus publication.
Around 1980, President Terry Sanford came to Mobile for an alumni dinner meeting, and I was fortunate to sit across a round table from him. Of course, the conversation included many reminiscences. President Sanford, former governor of North Carolina, was nationally prominent, and I knew that he had once collapsed while making a political speech. As I recounted Clifton’s story, it flashed through my mind that Sanford has been stricken again. He was clearly disturbed, and before I reached my view that the administration’s treatment of Clifton had been harsh and quaint, he burst out: “I know it well—that magazine is in my top desk drawer—that young man cost Duke University twenty million dollars!” He added that he had met Ms. Duke a number of times and had not regained the loss. As we walked out after the meeting his farewell to me was, “I’ll get that money back yet!”
Apparently Doris never forgave: On her death she left less than 1 percent of her fortune to the university. The affair cries out for definitive exposition. How I would like to see Clifton’s transgressions again!
In the late 1930s, Doris wanted to visit Duke incognito, so she came in the guise of a friend from New Jersey visiting my aunt, Eleanor Huntington Platt ’38. The visit—presumably to evaluate potential philanthropic interest in the school—was arranged through Marian Paschal, a childhood friend of my grandfather from pre- World War I summers spent at Asbury Park on the Jersey shore. Marian went on to become a secretary/assistant/friend of Doris Duke, and my grandfather maintained the connection over the years.
As my grandfather William Richard “Dick” Huntington Jr. told the story, there was at the time a notoriously stern woman’s college dean at Duke. (What woman’s college at the time did not have a notoriously stern dean?) This dean was as mean to Doris Duke as any other female charge. My aunt, sworn to secrecy, watched the encounter play out in silence, but had the satisfaction of revealing her friend’s true identity after Doris left, much, of course, to the dean’s jaw-dropping horror. My grandfather was a great storyteller, so perhaps some details might be out of place, but the essence of the story is true, and it may be one of the reasons Doris never became a major benefactor of Duke.
Or perhaps she gave to the school anonymously. My mother told me, via Marian, about how Doris would send an emissary (perhaps Marian herself) to, say, an inner-city tenement to deliver an anonymous scholarship check to some prodigy musician from a poverty-stricken family. There were variations of details, but the basic plot was a real-life version of the TV series The Millionaire, only it took place in the Depression.
Though hardly poverty-stricken, my grandfather was not wealthy either, and I believe my aunt and uncle (W.R. Huntington III ’43) attended Duke with some degree of assistance from Doris. (My mother is a tangential story.) Later, my cousin Rick (W.R. Huntington IV ’67, Ph.D. ’73) and I followed in their footsteps, but by the time we came along, the connection to Marian and Doris had faded to family lore.
“Sleep, sleep, I couldn’t sleep tonight ...” before thanking you for the Hoof ’n’ Horn spread [March-April 2011]. The Joe College Weekend posters for Belles and Ballots took me back to the spring of 1951, when I played Patience Pennypacker in that student-written musical. Pennypacker, in a gray wig, set out to wrest the mayorship of (what was the name of that town?) from incumbent Oliver Muldoon, played by Al Raywid ’52. A period spoof of women in politics, it sported several catchy songs and humor that we thought was so wonderful.
Fast-forward to this evening, which I spent under another gray wig (quite elegant this time) dress-rehearsing as Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady, opening in three nights at Theatre Macon for ten performances. The nostalgia bug really got me when I opened Duke Magazine. I’m just shy of eighty and am most fortunate to be able to do what started years ago with Hoof ’n’ Horn!
I was amused to see pieces on Hoof ’n’ Horn and the secret societies [Retrospective, March-April 2011] in the same issue, because they recalled the OCC—Order of the Chair. For some of us, the secrecy, elitism, and masked, hooded Red Friar were all rather too close to the KKK. So a satiric “counter society” was formed, which did absolutely nothing but stage a mock dubbing ceremony in front of the chapel each spring, and occasionally wear Wildean green carnations. (The Friars sporadically sported red ones for no ostensible reason.)
The ceremony consisted of the masked and robed Great Green Greasy Dragon tapping the chosen with a plumber’s tool and leading him or her to a porcelain toilet base. The Keeper of the Grits then demanded, “Do ya’ love yo’ grits?” When the initiate responded in the affirmative, he was “plunged” into the throne. By 1961, when I was the Dragon, the event had become so popular, people were asking to be dubbed. That year, some wag gained access to the great carillon and played the Mickey Mouse Club theme during the ceremony. I doubt that was ever topped. This spoof was instigated and perpetuated largely by members of Hoof ’n’ Horn.
I was delighted to see the picture of Dick Vincent [’63, LL.B. ’65] and Grace Osgood [’61] in The Boy Friend, which I directed. It was repeated for commencement eve and was the watershed production, which changed forever the emphasis from student-written to professional shows, a more valid use of the abundant talent and hard work contributed by people from wonderfully diverse places all over the university.
P.S. I, too, went on to play a leading role on Broadway.
The article about the Red Friars and the White Duchy resurrected a personal memory. There was a not-so-secret group, the Order of the Chair, that satirized the secret societies. Its induction ceremony was held annually in the spring, and always drew a crowd. New members were “coronated” sitting on a toilet temporarily placed in front of the chapel at lunchtime.
The narrator described for those present the outrageous activities that had qualified each new member for induction. I recall in particular one coed who was praised for her decision in a male-female strip poker game. When she was down to her bra and panties, she lost another hand of poker and chose to remove her panties. I remember her name, but in deference to discretion, I will not mention it here.
In light of current efforts to roll back a generation of labor rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, thank you for the timely article “Poverty in the South” [March-April 2011], highlighting Duke alumni working as social-justice advocates and union organizers. It was a great piece that raised thoughtful questions but could have gone a step further exploring the publicpolicy perspective.
Unlike the Northeast and California, almost all Southern states have passed laws weakening unions. As a result, these states with high poverty rates also have low union membership. Statistics show that people who are members of unions, whether working at a grocery store, a packing plant, or a construction site, are significantly more likely to have higher wages, family health care, and equal pay regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other factors. Union members can take paid time off to care for a sick child and raise safety issues in the workplace without fear of being fired.
These benefits and safeguards are the difference between poverty jobs and middle-class opportunities. Organized labor embodies the values of democracy, empowerment, and collective action that form the backbone of social-justice work. A big step forward for the South to tackle poverty would be to amend state laws to stop weakening unions and give people a chance to break into the middle class.
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Forum: May/June 2011
June 1, 2011