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Name dropping in the Bush League

June 1st, 2010


My late brother, Neil Daniel, used to enjoy saying, “The last time I saw George Herbert Walker Bush, he was sitting on my toilet, moving his bowels.” (Actually, he said “Poppy Bush,” not the full four-part name, and he had a less formal way of saying “moving his bowels,” too.) Neil was a wit with a sophisticated sense of humor, so it’s curious that he would bring this matter up, and equally curious that it always got a laugh. After all, we’re talking about an act that everyone in the room, presumably, has done more than once. Even future presidents of the United States, future protectors of the Free World.

bushgeorgewh.png(In England, I’m told, the Queen does not go to the bathroom. Parliament passed a law back during the realm of Queen Victoria that the bathroom must come to the Queen.)

I don’t think my brother was simply looking for a cheap laugh; nor was he making a pompous egalitarian statement along the lines of “Everybody poops.” No, Neil was doing some sophisticated name-dropping, downplaying the long-standing close relationship our family had with the Bushes of Kennebunkport.

Neil Mallon, our uncle, met Prescott (“Pres”) Bush at Yale, where they were both in the Class of 1917. Neil majored in economics and science and was an All-American basketball player. Pres was a Whiffenpoof. They both belonged to Skull and Bones, about which I know nothing but rumors and whoppers. I do know that Skull and Bones was and is a society for future leaders in the worlds of finance and politics, and that friendships there turned into powerful alliances. That’s where the connection between the Mallons and the Bushes began.
After graduating, Neil and Pres and a couple of other Bonesmen enlisted in the U.S. Army and were turned into captains at the Officers Training School on the Yale campus. From there they went to Fort Sill, Okla., where these four or five young Bonesmen either did or did not rob the grave of the Apache leader Geronimo and did or did not steal the renegade warrior’s skull and femurs, which they either did or did not present as a trophy to Skull and Bones in New Haven, where the Indian’s skull and bones do or do not remain to this day. If all these possibilities are true, then we can say that a racist, elitist, irreverent, illegal, immature prank was a cornerstone of an alliance that shaped America’s future.

By the time the friends reached France, the Great War was either over or nearly so. After the war, Prescott Bush and Neil Mallon stayed in touch while they went their separate ways, Bush as an investment banker for Brown Brothers Harriman and Mallon as a factory worker, then a foreman, and eventually general manager and director of United States Can Company, all before he reached the age of thirty-four. Then, for some reason, he quit the tin can business and took some time off. He went hiking in Switzerland, where he climbed as many mountains as were available to climb, before he returned to the United States in early 1929.

Since his ship docked in New York, he decided to drop in on his old friend Prescott Bush before catching a train to Cincinnati. He showed up unannounced at the offices of Brown Brothers Harriman, where he learned that Pres was tied up in a committee meeting. Neil decided to wait until the meeting broke up, but instead, when word got inside the conference room, the secretary was sent back out to bring Neil Mallon into the room. There he saw a crowd of familiar faces, including several fellow Bonesmen, all of them beaming with what they regarded as a stroke of great luck. Brown Brothers Harriman had just acquired the controlling stock of a failing company called Dresser Industries, they were taking the business over, and they needed a brilliant, capable leader to take charge as its president and director.

Prescott Bush and his buddies presented my Uncle Neil with a company to run, a starting salary of $25,000 a year, and a career that would last him the rest of his working life. To fast-forward, the company survived the Stock Market crash, thrived during the Great Depression, acquired more and more subsidiary companies, got on the Big Board, dominated the market in the field of oil drilling equipment, and eventually, in recent decades, was absorbed by Halliburton, which was something like being turned into a constellation in the financial heavens.

Returning to yesteryear, we pick up Neil Mallon building Dresser Industries from the general headquarters in Bradford, Pa. By this time he was a very wealthy man.
At this point, Neil’s sister, Hannah Daniel, became a widow. Her husband died leaving her virtually penniless, with four children. Neil took charge of her life by inviting her and her children to come live with him in Bradford. She was reluctant to be dependent on her brother, because she was a social and political liberal and he was neither. It is a credit to Neil Mallon, and a testimony to his generosity, that he accepted her as she was, liberal though she was, and gave her and her children a home for twenty years, while the children grew to adulthood. He provided for them fully, giving them all they needed, including private school educations and college. He was an affable, affectionate man, but he never got too close to us, never disciplined us, never made us his disciples, in deference to his sister’s wishes.

I was the youngest of Hannah’s children, and that’s how I am connected to the Mallon family. Neil Mallon was my Uncle Neil.

But Neil Mallon was already Uncle Neil to other young people. He was, for example, Uncle Neil to all of Prescott Bush’s five children, one of whom was George Herbert Walker Bush, a k a Poppy Bush, who in 1943 was serving Uncle Sam as a naval aviator. After the war (in which Poppy was a hero) Poppy went to Yale, sang in the Whiffenpoofs, belonged to Skull and Bones, and graduated in 1948, already married to Barbara (whom he called Bar) and the father of two children, George and Robin.

Uncle Neil gave Poppy his first job out of college in the sales department of the west Texas division of Dresser Industries. About this time Uncle Neil moved to Texas, taking the Daniel family with him. They lived in a country estate in Farmers Branch, thirteen miles outside Dallas, a place with a tennis court, a swimming pool, a lake, and a long, rangy house, one end of which held my brothers’ bedroom and bathroom, which (because the brothers were usually away at college by then) served as a “boys dormitory” when people came to visit. That’s where Poppy Bush occasionally stayed, and when the timing was just so, where he moved his bowels.

The Bushes visited Farmers Branch often, which is how I came to know Poppy and Bar and even little George. I never met Robin, who died of leukemia in the early 1950s. I did meet Little George; more about that later. While Robin was dying, Uncle Neil contributed a great deal of money for her medical care, a hopeless cause in those days. The next child born to Poppy and Bar was named Neil Mallon Bush, in gratitude.

Prescott Bush entered politics in 1952, as Republican senator from Connecticut. He was not the first politician in the family, and certainly not the last. Poppy left Dresser Industries and started his own oil company, sired more children, became a millionaire, and in time he too entered politics.

My sister Bino (short for Hannah) had a huge crush on Poppy Bush; not that Bino had designs on this responsible married man, but she held him up in her mind as the ideal man, and when she announced to my mother that she had met the man she knew she would marry, she said, “I’ve met my Poppy Bush.”

Fact is, I had a crush on Poppy Bush, too, or whatever is the right word for a kid’s hero-worship of a guy who walks into a home, makes everybody laugh, puts them all at ease, looks drop-dead handsome, plays great tennis, sings. He was already a politician, of course, which made him so good at business. He made me feel he was interested in what I had to say, even if I was eight or ten or twelve years old at the time. And I thought Bar was a great beauty, down to earth, witty, and pleasant.

This story has no conflict. All the conflict came later, after Poppy became a politician, head of the CIA and Republican Party Chairman, a toady to Nixon and Reagan, and eventually a warmongering president who courted the right wingnuts.

Actually, I didn’t know Poppy Bush at all, probably. He just had a way of making people fond of him. The one I knew a lot better was Poppy’s kid brother, Jonathan (Johnny), who came to Dallas two summers in a row to perform in musical comedies at the State Fair Music Hall. He played Stewpot in South Pacific in summer 1957 and Will Parker in Oklahoma!, summer ’58. Now there was a great fellow. Just out of Yale (where he was a Bonesman and a Whiffenpoof), he was a clown. He could tap dance. He sang. He struck up joking friendships with elevator operators. He cracked jokes a mile a minute. He made everyone in my family and all their friends feel like stars. He was my real hero. He also charmed my Andover roommate John Darnton, who spent a couple of months at my house in the summer of 1957. Johnny renamed Darnton “Gosh,” a nickname that stuck in Dallas but didn’t get much purchase at Andover. Johnny talked grown-up with us young boys, dispensing words like “fuckin” and “shit” as if they were candy and telling us about his sexual conquests among the chorus girls in the show. Another thing about Johnny Bush: he adored and worshiped his brother Poppy.

There’s no conflict in this side story, either. The conflict, I suppose, came later, when Johnny became the official non-spokesperson for Skull and Bones during disputes over Geronimo’s skull.

During that summer when Johnny Bush was doing Will Parker, which is a great role (not quite Curly, who was played horribly by Rusty Draper, opposite Jane Powell, who was dreamy and operatic), Poppy and Bar came to Dallas to see the show. Uncle Neil took the family, a bunch of us, including my mother and myself, and maybe Bino, and Bar and Poppy to dinner before the show at a fancy restaurant atop a building in downtown Dallas. Poppy and Uncle Neil got to amusing each other, and the dinner dragged on and on, with Poppy performing his witty and charming act, and the hour got later and later, and curtain time was approaching, until Bar stood up and shouted, “You two shut up. I want to go see Johnny Bush on stage!” Good for her.

I have one more thing to add. When little George was five years old and I was ten, I pulled him out of the swimming pool at Farmers Branch. We had been playing a game where I tossed him from the poolside into an inner tube, and on the third round he went through the tube and straight to the bottom of the pool. I jumped in and yanked him up to the surface, saving his life. I was a hero for a split second. My one act to shape America’s future.
Like my brother Neil, I can never resist the chance to toss that incident into the conversation when the opportunity allows it. Like my brother’s story, it gets a gasp every time. I won’t repeat some of the reactions I’ve collected.

My answer: Yes, I would do it again.

My answer to the next question: Yes, even if. And so would you.

It was no big deal. Besides, this little incident has given me a line that outdoes my Brother Neil’s in the name-dropping department. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry


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