Vic Meyers Enters Politics
all the odd ones who clamored for the attention of the Washington
electorate, the oddest by far was a dapper young man with a thin
waxed mustache and an air of raffish dignity, Victor Aloysius
Meyers, the joke that backfired.
Meyers operated Seattle's most celebrated night spot, the Club
Victor, and led its best dance band. He was a glib, personable
master of ceremonies who suffered the usual occupational
disabilities of his professions: he was often broke and sometimes
in trouble with the federal authorities charged with enforcing the
Volstead Act. He was a favorite with reporters.
name was news. Everybody knew Vic and he was always good for a
laugh. It was worth a two-column picture when the government
noticed that people were drinking at the Club Victor and padlocked
the joint as a nuisance. It was copy when he won a radio contest
as the coast's most popular M. C. It even seemed funny and worth a
picture when he fell off a stepladder and broke his arm.
dull afternoon in January 1932 a group of newspapermen were
talking about the collection of fatuous has-beens and never-wases
who were seeking to become mayor of Seattle. The only colorful
figures in the race was John F. Dore, a stumpy little trial lawyer
with a rasping vocabulary and a gift for saw-toothed phrases, but
Dore was running under wraps; he was the businessman's candidate,
and not even Irish Johnny could be lively on the subject of
efficiency in municipal government. The rest of the candidates
were hardly worth quoting.
Somebody remarked that Vic Meyers was better copy than the whole
kit-and-kaboodle. The remark set Doug Welch to thinking happy
thoughts. Doug was an assistant city editor on the Times and the
most efficient humorist then practicing in the Northwest. The idea
of Vic Meyers as a candidate for mayor appealed to him; Vic would
be a good peg on which to hang some satirical feature stories
about the other candidates.
After clearing it with the higher brass, Doug phoned Vic and told
him that if he'd hustle down to the County-City Building and file
for mayor, the Times would give him an eight column bannerline on
page one and follow that up with daily pictures and features for
thought it was a lovely idea, and so did the Times' readers, for
with Welch and every happy cynic in the city room thinking up
gags, Meyers put on a wonderful campaign. His slogan was a
straight-faced parody of all the short, meaningless slogans
dreamed up to fit on advertising placards: "Watch 'er Click
announced that he would campaign in shirt sleeves, to prove he was
not a representative of the vested interests, but later he took to
wearing tuxedo, silk scarf, top hat, velvet-lapeled overcoat, and
kid gloves. "Somebody," he explained, "has to give
this campaign a little class."
Meyers drove a beer wagon around town. His band played "Happy
Days Are Here Again," and Vic parked the wagon at
intersections and harangued the townsfolk on topics of the day.
There was the usual argument about daylight-saving time and Vic
took a firm stand. "I don't believe in it. Seattle should
have two-four time, allegro."
burlesqued the economy speeches that John Dore was making. "I'm
not very economical and thrifty myself, but you ought to see my
wife! As soon as I am elected, I will turn over the city to her.
In two weeks Edinburgh will appoint a commission to come and study
the economies my wife will put in."
Dore was against waste, and so was Vic: he suggested putting
flowerboxes around all the fire hydrants to utilize any water that
came out four-square in favor of graft. "There's not going to
be any cheap chiseling on city contracts while I'm mayor," he
said. "I'm going to take it all myself." On other topics
he was less flatfooted, explaining that he had noticed that mayors
who said "yes" ran into a lot of trouble and those who
said "no" had even more. So he was going to be the
nation's first "Maybe Man."
Sometimes a serious citizen would ask Vic how he stood on some
topic. When he couldn't think of a wisecrack Vic would roll his
eyes thoughtfully heavenward, wait a moment, then nod, smile, and
lean forward. "I'm okay on that,' he would assure his
had more gag writers than a radio comedian, and they delighted in
thinking up stunts for him.
the candidates were promising to do something about Seattle's
streetcars, which were ancient and ugly and flat-wheeled. Vic
suggested hostesses, and when Laura La Plante, a reigning blonde
in Hollywood, visited town, Vic took her for a streetcar ride. He
generously gave her credit for the suggestion that the hostesses
supply cracked ice on the late evening cruises.
When all the candidates were invited to speak at a luncheon of one
of the service clubs, Vic arrived dressed as Mahatma Gandhi,
leading a goat. He sat at the speakers' table sipping goat's milk
and munching raw carrots and looking at his rivals over the top of
his gold-rimmed spectacles. His very presence made all the
was good fun. Nobody took it seriously except the Star and the
Post-Intelligencer, which sniffed disdainfully about degradation
of the electoral process, and Vic himself. As the campaign wore on
and he listened to more of his rivals' speeches, Vic arrived at
the opinion the reporters had started with that he was as good as
any of the other bums in the race.
From the time that notion assailed him, Vic was a problem to his
gag writers. He wanted to talk about issues. He was the comedian
hell-bent on playing Hamlet. Toward the end of the campaign he
announced that the comedy was over; from here on in he was out for
votes, not laughs. For many this statement seemed the ultimate in
deadpan hilarity, but Vic was serious. He finished sixth in the
primary field of ten.
Times, in his name, demanded a recount. Vic suggested that the FBI
study the fingerprints in all the polling booths. Then he went
back to leading his dance band but only briefly. After a few
months in which he failed to gain an inch of front-page space, Vic
phoned Doug Welch and suggested another campaign, this time for
Welch said the gag had worn thin; anyway, once was enough. Not for
Vic. He decided to run unsponsored, drove down to Olympia, and
appeared at the state capitol, ready to file. He was less ready
when he learned the filing fee was sixty dollars. "That's too
much," said Vic. "What do you have for twenty?" "Well,"
said the clerk, "you could file for lieutenant governor.
That's twelve." Vic hesitated. "I can't spell it,"
he said thoughtfully, "but I'll take it."
worked hard at his campaign. He used the gags Welch had dreamed
up, but he had the swing of it now and made up some for himself.
He beat tom-toms on an Indian reservation and expressed surprise
when told that wards of the government had no vote. He played his
saxophone at a lumber camp. He again wrapped himself in Gandhi's
assured the voters he was okay but he also came out for pensions,
children's welfare measures and unemployment compensation. None of
the professionals took him seriously, not until the September
primaries. In the privacy of the voting booth, Washington citizens
scanned the long list of candidates for lieutenant governor and
found there the familiar name of Vic Meyers.
Enough voters pulled the lever or marked the "X" beside
his name to make him the nominee of the Democratic Party. The joke
had gone far enough. It looked as though 1932 would be a
Democratic year, and the last two Democratic governors had died in
Clarence D. Martin, the nominee for governor, was a gaunt
gentleman who looked none too durable.
Republicans and many Democrats asked the voters, "Do you want
a man like Vic Meyers just a heartbeat away from the governorship?"
On election day 286,402 of them did, which was 40,000 more than
wanted Vic's Republican opponent.
Vic had the last laugh . He announced that he would hold a
coming-out-of-the-red party for his creditors; he also expressed
hope that someone would tell him how to do whatever it was a
lieutenant governor did. Editorial writers throughout the nation
shuddered in print for the fate of the state.