January 30, 2008

Eifersucht und Stolz

A brief moment of remembrance for Margaret Truman Daniels, who died this week at the age of 83. The daughter of Harry S Truman, before becoming a bestselling author, was a classical singer who ended up on the receiving end of one of the most famous bad reviews in history. "Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality. She is extremely attractive on stage," wrote Washington Post critic Paul Hume in December of 1950. "Yet Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time—more so last night than at any time we have heard her in past years."

Then-President Truman didn't find that terribly illuminating, and fired off an intemperate response to Hume: "I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful," &c., &c. After Truman's letter became public, mail to the White House was reported to run 80-20 in the President's favor.

In that other 20 percent was a letter from Mr. and Mrs. William Banning of Connecticut:
Mr. Truman,

As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room, as a memory of one of your historic deeds. One major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.
Enclosed with the letter was a Purple Heart. Truman kept the letter and the medal in his desk drawer for many years.


Lisa Hirsch said...


I almost blogged that Hume review yesterday, and if I had, my only comment would have been "Small voice of fair quality, sings flat most of the time: not good qualities for a professional singer."

Lane Savant said...

She (Truman) couldn't write either.

Matthew said...

I confess to enjoying Murder at the Smithsonian during a brief mystery-novel period. It was at least better than that lady who was working her way through the alphabet.

Henry Holland said...

One major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.

[Stuffy British accent] One is invariably reminded of the pop singer Morrissey's bon mot after Margaret Thatcher was almost blown to smithereens by an IRA bomb at a Tory Party conference in Brighton: "The sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that she escaped unscathed. The sorrow is that she's still alive. But I feel relatively happy about it. I think that for once the IRA were accurate in selecting their targets." [/accent]

Ear Trumpet said...

Can the President have seen Virgil Thomson's Herald Tribune review of December 21 1949?

"The voice is small in size and not at all beautiful ... Of temperament, of the quality that enables a musician to bring music to life, she seems to have none at all."

And so on. It can be found in VT's collection "Music Right and Left" (1951).

Lane Savant said...

I was only about 10 at the time but I remember Harry offering to punch the reviewer in the nose.
I enjoy reading bad literature, (take Steve Allen, for example) it aids the appreciation of the craft (take Jeremy Denk, for instance)
Sorta like P.D.Q. helps with music.
Murder at the Smithsonian
was fun, even funny. A Bulwar Lytton gem.
As to the other, I gave up at "D is for Don't Bother"