Ghost Writer

Studs Terkel

I have a scoop. I know who wrote Dubya’s State of the Union address. It was William Claude Dukenfield, a.k.a. W.C. Fields. Rarely has the master of outrageous humor been in such top form.

Unfortunately, he was unavailable to deliver the monologue himself. His choice as surrogate was an inspired one: a comic known as Dubya. Though this clown was not celebrated for his quickness of wit, his speech” was a lulu. For some unexplained reason, nobody laughed.

When Dubya, deadpan fashion, spoke of the liberation of Iraq, a day after 100,000 Baghdadis gathered in the streets, hollering, in effect, Vamoose, Yankees,” the Capitol’s extras, as directed by the master, stood up on cue and applauded.

When Dubya spoke of No Child Left Behind,” he momentarily goofed. He said child,” instead of child’s.” Remember in The Old-Fashioned Way (1934), one of Field’s great moments was his surreptitiously booting Baby Leroy in his little behind.

When Dubya defended the U.S. Patriot Act, memories of Fields and his buddy, Tammany Young, in It’s a Gift (1934) were evoked. Recall the scene when the two grabbed the withered old crone at the end of the bar and tossed her out, thus freeing the saloon of a terrorist.

Dubya’s interpretation of the tax cuts — who is screwing whom — was basically a variant on Fields’ classic dictum, Never give a sucker an even break.”

The memory evoked by that sequence of his performance was of the most moral movie ever made, a two-reeler, The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933). Fields and his wife, Rosemary Theby, are seated in a shack in the Frozen North. They are awaiting the release of their nebbish son from the pokey where he had spent time because of embezzling funds. After a rapturous greeting of their lost but now found boy, Fields asked, Where’s the money, son?” The poor soul replied, Father, I’ve gone straight and returned the money to the rightful owners.” Without missing a beat, Fields and the missus took the boy by his arms and feet and tossed him out into the blizzard. Came the master’s most memorable line, It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast.”

After Dubya’s performance, it may not be a fit night out for man or beast, but it was not a bad job by the boy. I have seen and heard better at the Rialto burlesque house, but, after all, Dubya was only a stand-in for the Great One.
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Studs Terkel is the legendary author of Hard Times, Working, Division Street, Hope Dies Last, and many other books. A long-time radio broadcaster, renowned interviewer and In These Times contributor, Terkel died in October 2008.
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