James Michael Curley, The Rascal King, from the book of the same name was also the inspiration for the movie “The Last Hurrah.” Curley was elected alderman while in prison, and served part of his fourth term as mayor of Boston while again serving prison time. In between, he was elected to the U.S. Congress four times and to the governorship of Massachusetts in 1934.

Despite the notoriety, Curley was beloved by the Boston Irish who frequently elected him in landslides. Like his counterpart, New York mayor Jimmy Walker, Curley was a convincing orator who could charm the birds out of the trees. By 1956, James Michael Curley had been out of office for six years, and although no longer a political candidate he remained a Boston icon. Many years ago, one of my Boston relatives, who was a skilled diarist, showed me the following story to use as I wished. It is a poignant look at political life from a bygone era.

On the afternoon before the 1956 presidential election I got a call from my wife’s uncle, Brendan McGrath, who said he and his wife Kelly were going to attend a wake and wondered if Kate and I wanted to come along.

I said, “Not especially, who died?”

“It’s a political wake of sorts, the Democratic election-eve rally, if you can call it that. Adlai Stevenson will be there, Jack Kennedy, Foster Furcolo, others.”

“Hold a second, Brendan . . . Kate, want to go to the Democrats’ rally with Brendan and Kelly?”

“It was in the Globe. Can we get in?”

“Brendan, Kate wonders if we can get in?”

“Crowd control won’t be a problem; 7:45 in the Statler lobby.”

Kate and I walked down Commonwealth Avenue under a big, quiet November sky. Not many residents of the elegant buildings would be joining us at the Statler. Given the level of cocktail and dinner parties, it appeared that Eisenhower’s election to a second term was being celebrated early.

We admired the glowing chandeliers and the burnished wood of the curved staircases, floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookcases and intricate mantelpieces. Fine artwork provided backdrop for the milling guests in their finery. Kate spotted a 19th-century clipper ship painting she thought was by one of the Stubbs.

Brendan and Kelly were in the center of the Statler lobby just finishing a conversation with Senator John Kennedy and two other men. Just as he turned away, Kennedy flashed a winning smile. Kate said, “Oh, he’s gorgeous.”

The McGrath’s, dressed to the nines and specimens of note in their late forties, looked like they should have been over on Commonwealth Avenue hosting one of the Republican shindigs. Kate asked, “What did you say to get that big grin from Senator Kennedy?”

Kelly said, “I asked if he was going to run for President in 1960.”

Brendan said, “You can bet the farm he will. Joe’s already working on it.”

I asked, “Who’s Joe?” and immediately realized I knew the answer if I’d only thought before speaking.

“Jack’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, he’s the power behind the throne.”

The Imperial Ballroom would not be the site of Stevenson’s coronation. The mood was blue in the half-filled hall. Empty chairs circled the stage. Bunting hung limply from the balcony railing, and the cut-glass chandeliers gave light without hope. A tinny band tootled a lifeless rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again” as the dignitaries filed onstage. The applause and cheers were forced and hollow.

As gubernatorial candidate Foster Furcolo sat down, a leather-lunged supporter hollered, “You got it, Foster.” Many applauded that not-too-risky prediction in heavily democratic Massachusetts.

Adlai Stevenson was introduced as, “The next President of the United States” and gave a game, witty speech. We hoped that Kennedy would speak, but he wasn’t about to identify too closely with this losing proposition.

Brendan leaned over and deadpanned, “I wonder if Jack regrets not being Adlai’s running mate?” Kennedy made a bid at the 1956 Democratic convention but lost to racket-busting Senator Estes Kefauver. Brendan said later that the run was likely a ploy by Joe Kennedy to position Jack as a national figure.

Kennedy’s going-through-the motions appearance for Stevenson on this night was a far cry from his election-eve speech at Faneuil Hall in 1960: “I run for the Presidency of the United States because it is the center of action.” That kind of open declaration was refreshing and would be unheard of in the plastic politics of the 21st Century.

I saw Kelly smiling up toward the balcony overlooking the stage, and looked up to see James Michael Curley blowing a kiss that she returned. He gestured for her to come on up, and she signaled, yes, when it’s over. Brendan and Curley then exchanged waves. Curley, too controversial to be allowed on stage, sat alone, erect, his handsome profile topped by a mane of white hair. Kelly leaned toward Brendan and said in breathless, giddy voice I had never heard before, “I so hope he speaks.”

Late in the droning evening Curley was introduced. He remained seated during the standing ovation and acknowledged it with an amused smile and a few nods. Then he spoke for about five minutes. It was short on content and long on delivery. His syntax and enunciation were models of elocution. At eighty-one, Curley remained a dulcet-toned, sonorous, compelling presence.

Brendan whispered to Kelly, “Himself is in good form tonight.”

Following a dispirited encore of “Happy days . . . ” and Stevenson’s final wave and exit, we threaded through the seats, up the stairs and met Curley. He shook Brendan’s hand and hugged Kelly with feeling. She kissed his cheek and held his arm. Brendan introduced us:

Curley: Are you dark Irish or part Irish?

Kate: I hope it’s the best part, Governor.

Curley (laughing): I see the blarney came along with it.

Curley: Your name’s Matthew Jameson. Do you live in Boston?

Jameson: Yes, sir.

Curley (with mock seriousness): Are you a registered Democrat?

Jameson: Yes, sir.

Curley (with hand on my shoulder): Be sure to do your civic duty tomorrow, vote the straight ticket, and bring out the rest of the Jameson’s (wonderful smile and laugh from Curley as he patted my shoulder).

As Curley turned to Kelly, Brendan said, “We have some business to discuss with the Governor. I’m very sorry, but could we meet at the St. James’ exit in about ten minutes?”

Kate and I celebrity-watched among the clusters of Democrats in the Statler lobby and then waited in the vestibule of the St. James’ Street entrance. Two limousines and three police motorcycles idled at the curb. A small crowd around us buzzed that Stevenson was coming out soon. Even with certain defeat hanging over the scene, we felt a rush of excitement when his entourage swept across the lobby. The glass-paneled double doors burst open, and Stevenson, surrounded by handlers and secret service agents, whisked by. He was a trouper. But even with that marvelous smile, he looked like someone putting on a brave face for the cameras while being escorted to jail. Adlai also looked like he was thinking, “What the hell happened.” He happened to glance at me, and his eyes reminded me of a frightened animal. Most of all he struck me as being tired, way down deep. The doors slammed and the limos were sirened away.

Brendan said from behind us, “Makes you want to forget about getting into politics, doesn’t it?

We cut through the Public Garden talking mostly about local political races before saying goodnight at the corner of Charles and Beacon. Kate and I were alone in our thoughts most of the way up Marlborough Street to our apartment. I mentioned that Kelly seemed quiet and distant, and when Kate just nodded I let it go.

Lying in bed, Kate said, “There’s something about Curley and Kelly.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s the easy rapport, affection. The way they look at each other. She even looks like him: mouth, eyes, amazing resemblance. Kelly told me she was adopted; before that, a street kid who played on the tracks under the Mass. Avenue bridge. She showed me a photo of her mother who was beautiful, like Kelly. I remember her name, Lillian Holdaway. She lived with a man named Daddy Andrews who wasn’t Kelly’s father. Lillian never told Kelly who her real father was but said he was a famous man.

“Kelly told me that one night she awoke to hear her mother crying. Daddy Andrews was away. They went to Boston City Hospital in a taxi. As they wheeled Lillian through swinging doors, Kelly said her mother looked back at her and smiled. She never saw her again. Kelly wept as she told me that she walked home to their apartment over the Fenway Theater on Mass. Avenue and cried herself to sleep alone. The next morning a big car arrived, and a family took her to a new home on Beacon Hill. Daddy Andrews had returned to the apartment and told Kelly it was best to go with them. She never learned how the Sullivan’s knew about her. They just said that a call came in the night to pick her up the next day. They adopted her, and her life went from the streets to private education and luxury and lots of love. She was eight.”

“Is that all you know?”

“Yes, but I have some notions and hope someday when she’s open to it to ask Kelly more questions.”

“Do you think . . . ?”

“I don’t know what to think, Matt, but I know I can’t think anymore tonight; let’s go to sleep and dream of thousands of Jameson’s, McGrath’s and Sullivan’s voting for Adlai.”

“I think I’ll dream about Jack running in 1960.”

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