The official home of the Alabama governor is a white-pillared ante-bellum mansion with a black iron fence in front and the original slave quarters behind.
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REPORTER: PAUL HEALY
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: The official home of the Alabama governor is a white-pillared ante-bellum mansion with a black iron fence in front and the original slave quarters behind. At 8:50 a.m., George C. Wallace stepped from its handsome portico into an unmarked state police car and was driven out the gate past its white brick sentry box.
In the back seat with him were two Montgomery businessmen who had volunteered to accompany Wallace on his first campaign swing since he announced himself as a third party candidate for president of the United States. The three-day swing would take him into Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia in a drive to round up the 10,552 signatures required to qualify his American Independent Party on the Pennsylvania ballot Nov. 3.
(Wallace cancelled the appearance in Philadelphia at the request of police officials who feared it would cause violence on a Black Nationalist holiday.)
At Montgomery's airport 15 minutes later, Wallace joined 18 others aboard a DC-6 chartered for the trip. The party included eight campaign aids, four newsmen and six state troopers assigned by Wallace's wife, Lurleen, the Governor of Alabama, to protect him.
After the plane took off, I told Wallace that the Pittsburgh Hilton had just reported receiving numerous anonymous threats against him--including one that a bomb would be set off when he made his evening speech there.
"That's the times we live in," he commented casually. ":In Richmond, we had 5,000 in the hall and 5,000 outside. The police told the crowd they were required by law to inform them of a threat to set off a bomb at 8:30. Well, 8:30 came and I didn't notice anyone leaving."
Wallace's main campaign thrust is a demand for tougher law enforcement, but his own appearances tend to inspire lawlessness.
At Dartmouth, students had tried to overturn his car. Last month in California, where 16 Alabama state troopers were sent to guard him, he delivered his speeches from behind a chin-high, bullet-proof steel podium which was dismantled and carried from hall to hall.
At 48 years of age, Wallace is a 5-foot, 7-inch, 149-pound bundle of bristling energy. In the plane he chewed nervously on a cigar and squirmed in his seat like a schoolboy. Ten minutes after we were airborne he noticed with horror that the No. 3 engine was spouting oil like a geyser. He darted into the pilot's cabin. Quickly he returned to inform us that somehow "they forgot to put the oil cap on," and we were returning to Montgomery's Dannelly Field.
At the field, crewman explained that the cap had blown because the engine had been over-filled with oil. Only slightly reassured, we were presently on our way again in the old DC-6 with less oil.
Minding the Store
I asked Wallace how he had the time to run for president and also run the state while Mrs. Wallace was incapacitated due to her third bout with cancer.
"I don't really run the state," he insisted quickly. He said that Mrs. Wallace simply laid down the broad policies and a highly competent cabinet carried them out. Wallace himself was governor during 1963-67 (he was barred by law from succeeding himself) and spends a good deal of time in the governor's office in his wife's absence.
When he arrived at the Pittsburgh airport, Wallace was asked for comment on a statement by Sen. Hugh Scott (R-Pa.) the day before. Scott had welcomed Wallace into the state by calling him a "menace to everyone, including himself" and quipped that if Wallace bit himself "he would die of blood-poisoning."
Wallace laughed and promised the Pittsburgh newsmen that "I won't bite anybody while I'm here."
Wallace proceeded in a three-car motorcade to a jammed press conference at the Hilton Hotel. Here he kept assuring doubting newsmen that he was really out to win the presidency, not just to prevent either major candidate from getting a majority of electoral votes so that the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives.
Under questioning, Wallace was brassy, breezy, bantering. Asked if husky Sgt. Lloyd Jemison, standing behind him, was a bodyguard, Wallace looked annoyed but cracked: "He's got a submachine gun, so don't point no cigar at him because when you do he jumps."
Reporters wanted to know why Wallace was being guarded at the state's expense. He winked broadly and replied, "As the governor's wife I'm entitled to a bodyguard."
"I have them to keep me from biting myself," he added. Both these japes brought loud laughter, mostly from Wallace fans who had infiltrated the room.
During the press conference, Wallace claimed that he has won polls conducted by TV stations "from Honolulu to Syracuse" and brashly predicted that he would carry Pennsylvania in the election. Afterward, trailed by some of the newsmen, he rode an elevator to the first-floor restaurant.
"The Time magazine man can watch me eat," he suggested with a sly smile. "They wrote that I eat with my fingers, with a sucking sound, and pick my teeth."
With three newsmen as guests, Wallace wolfed down a hamburger and a glass of milk---almost noiselessly.
Then the Wallace party walked to a nearby building to tape an interview with station KDKA-TV. First, a makeup woman powdered his face and pointed out the circles under his eyes. Then he picked up a telephone and put in a call to Montgomery. He was told that Lurleen had asked for a shot to kill the pain.
He shook his head and remarked, "She was all right when I left the mansion."
On the program, Wallace denied that he was a racist, a Ku Kluxer, or a Fascist, pointing out that he fought the Nazis with enthusiasm in World War II (he was a B-29 flight engineer). Nazism and Communism, he said, were really the same thing. He identified himself as "the voice of millions of people in this country who are disgusted with both political parties." Previously, Wallace has been elected as a Democrat.
After a second, shorter TV taping in the same studio and a running interview with a gangling college student, Wallace walked a block to his hotel suite with a burly Pittsburgh policeman opening a path for him. He gladly halted several times to shake hands with passersby who recognized him.
Wallace had an early dinner in his suite, taped a third TV interview and showed up at the Hilton ballroom at 8:20 p.m. Two thousand Wallace screamers filled the ballroom's seats and several hundred others stood in the aisles and against the wall. They roared with approval when the master of ceremonies noted that "neither snow nor sleet nor bomb scares will keep the people away" from their pugnacious candidate.
As Wallace stepped to the rostrum, there erupted a furious standing ovation punctuated with shouts of "Give 'em hell, George!"
George did. For the next 30 minutes he was Huey Long in a tab-collar shirt with French cuffs, and a three-button suit. His rasping Deep South accent was the voice of every frustrated little guy who wants to give the big shots a swift kick in the rump. He alternately shifted his followers from helpless laughter to teeth-gritting anger as he ridiculed Communists, bureaucrats and "the pseudo-intellectuals who can't even park his bicycle straight."
Freedom of the Bath
"The people of Pittsburgh and Alabama are tired of bureaucrats telling them who to take a bath with," he cried.
Millions of "cab drivers and steel-workers and beauticians" were behind him, he said, and this had thrown a scare into the Republican and Democratic leaders.
Nobody had bothered to picket Wallace this cold night, but he nonetheless castigated demonstrators as "rag-tag scum of the earth." If he were president and a group of peacenik "anarchists" lay down in front of his car, he promised, "it'll be the last auto they'll lie down in front of."
Mid-way in his speech, a half dozen hippies rose from the audience and ostentatiously walked out. Threats and catcalls pursued them, but Wallace magnanimously recommended tolerance.
"Let them go," he urged. "Let the television people have them in the corridor. We rented the hall."
As Wallace concluded, the band struck up "Dixie" and he was quickly escorted back to his hotel suite for the night.
There someone remarked that it had been a great rally.
"It was good," Wallace agreed, biting into a new cigar, "but no better than California and other places."