At 90, Alice Roosevelt Longworth didn’t caring who she annoyed in this mean, humorous 1974 interview

March 29, 2016 - accent chair


Alice Roosevelt Longworth sits underneath a mural in her mansion. The glamorous DC hostess was a fixture of a Washington amicable scene. (Linda Wheeler/The Washington Post)

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Alice Roosevelt Longworth during 90

By Sally Quinn

Washington Post Staff Writer 

Feb. 12, 1974 

“I still,” she muses, rapping her bony fingers opposite her graying head, “more of reduction have my, what they call, marbles,” and she pulls her flowered shawl around her a small closer, throws her conduct behind and laughs gleefully.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth is 90 years aged today.

“I competence be an aged crone yet we can still put on a strap and lumber down a street.”

When Mrs. Longworth, or Mrs. L. as she prefers to be called by intimates, incited 89 final year she had customarily a small tea celebration to celebrate.

“I’m saving my ardour for a vast whack subsequent year,” she said. “. . . if I’m still kicking around.”

This afternoon during 5 she will have her 90th birthday party. “It will be a miraculous and terrible scene,” she declares.

She will adore each notation of it.

“I contingency say, I’m always on stage. All Roosevelts are exhibitionists,” she says. “Am I? Decidedly so. That, my dear is what becomes of peasants.”

And she agrees to an pronounce a few days before a birthday, set for 5 o’clock tea. “It’s irresistible,” she admits later. “The pleasure of pouring out yourself to someone who listens with watchful courtesy and takes down each altered word.”

* * *

Her maid, Janie McLaughlin, answers a doorway and leads a approach by a darkened foyer, adult a stairs, past a rattiest looking animal skin that we ever saw, unresolved on a wall.

The Siberian tiger skin belonged to her big-game sport father, Teddy Roosevelt.

At a tip of a stairs, one can hear a cheerful, sharp-witted voice on a building above, chatting divided on a phone, Janie picks adult a vast coronet drum and an equally vast mallet. The sound reverberates by a house.

The write review upstairs ceases. When Mrs. Longworth appears a few mins later, she remarks laughingly, “Isn’t it humorous how things change? we used to sound a drum for my servants. Now they sound it for me.”

Her vital room is cluttered, cozy, gentle and dingy, finished in dark faded colors, some velvets and flowered prints.

The rugs and upholstery are so tattered that in some spots a threads frequency hang together. Over a backs and arms of a seat are square of yellowing plastic, a not unequivocally aspiring try during preservation. One suspects that a spoil competence even be cultivated, a arrange of scene-setter, a correct feel for a princely ancient of a aged Dupont Circle house that she has assigned for many of her life.

And of march there is The Pillow — a needlepoint sham that has been so mostly beheld and to that her detractors indicate when they weep her mischievous nature. It, too, is wrapped in cosmetic and it says, “If we haven’t got anything good to contend about anyone, come and lay here by me.”

Alice Longworth is a argumentative figure in Washington. Those who don’t know her — a public, or “the good acerbic masses” as she likes to contend — see her customarily as a formidable, amusing, rarely entertaining, iconoclastic aged lady.

But among those in a middle sanctum those who visit a Georgetown salons, those who impute to her as “Mrs. L,” there is a pointy multiplication of opinion about her that mostly causes upsetting moments.

There are those who consider she is cruel, meant and malicious, that she uses other people as a boundary of her humor, that she will harm someone for a consequence of a familiar one-liner, that she is radically cold and unresponsive to other people’s feelings. She outrages some with her ridicule of her cousin Eleanor Roosevelt (“I leave a good deeds to Eleanor”) and they straightforwardly indicate out that Mrs. Longworth has never unequivocally finished anything inestimable in her life.


The bizarre journal page from Sally Quinn’s 1974 story, published on a eventuality of Alice Longworth’s 90th birthday.

* * *

Alice Longworth has lived in Washington given William McKinley was assassinated and her father became President in 1901. She was 17 years old. She has famous each boss given Benjamin Harrison, who was in bureau from 1889 to 1893. Some she favourite and some she didn’t; over a years she has never hesitated to exhibit her accurate sentiments about them, or anyone else for that matter.

She has been a favorite of Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, yet there was no adore mislaid between her and Warren Harding, and Woodrow Wilson. President Eisenhower wearied her.

She upheld her father when President Roosevelt was using in 1912 on a Progressive sheet and her husband, Cincinnati congressman Nicholas Longworth, whom she married when she was 22 and he was 36, was using for reelection on a Republican ticket. Her father was obliged for her husband’s defeat. “It was too horrible, really, she says about that period. “Poor Nick, he stayed out, came behind in dual years, and afterwards became Speaker, so all was well.”

Her sum mindfulness with politics and a people in politics has never waned, yet she says now that it’s distant some-more enchanting when “you’ve got family in it.”

At 41 she had her customarily child, daughter Pauline, who was widowed during 26 and died during 31. She left an customarily daughter, Joanna Sturm, Mrs. Longworth’s grandaughter is now 27 and lives with her in a Dupont Circle house.

In 1931, Nicholas Longworth, who afterwards had spin a absolute House Speaker, died. Mrs. Longworth never remarried, preferring to sojourn alone, heading a eccentric life she seemed always to want, unhindered by a restrictions being a daughter of a President or a mom of a Speaker of a House contingency have place on her.

* * *


Alice Roosevelt Longworth, photographed in 1964. ”Mrs. L” was famous for puncturing egos and ruinous precedents. (Washington Star around AP)

After spending several hours with Mrs. Longworth it would seem that those who contend she is a antagonistic chairman are unjustified. To be certain there is a punch to her tongue, yet some-more mostly than not, statements that competence be suspicion meant or intolerable by some have an corner of law to them.

Mrs. Longworth is honest. “That,” she says, “infuriates people.”

As for purported miss of magnetism for others’ problems: She never talks about her possess sadnesses. “Never. we customarily don’t wish to,” and she doesn’t wish to hear about anybody else’s.

“I don’t consider we am unresponsive or cruel. we laugh, we have a clarity of humor, we like to tease. we contingency acknowledge a clarity of outcome does get reason of me from time to time. I’m a hedonist. we have an ardour for being entertained. Isn’t it bizarre how that upsets people? And we don’t mind what we do unless I’m injuring someone in some way.

I had a divine cousin who used to contend she lived in a house of law and she would go adult to some horrible-looking quadruped with an nauseous red nose and say, ‘You have an nauseous red nose.’”

Having been a President’s daughter and so mostly in a open eye, Mrs. Longworth has had her share of criticism.

But she thinks she is not as supportive today. “Criticism doesn’t worry me. It’s so poetic to be means to contend that.”

“But,” pipes adult granddaughter Joanna, “You’ve been aged prolonged adequate so that people don’t impugn we anymore. They’re all so overly respectful.”

“Isn’t it fascinating?” Mrs. Longworth asks. “It’s that awful enterprise of tellurian beings in worship.”

* * *

Her granddaughter, Joanna Sturm, wearing pants and a sweater, has customarily entered a room and sinks into a chair subsequent to a lounge as Janie brings in a tea tray: a china kettle over a burner that Mrs. Longworth lights herself, bread and butter, cookies and a small uninformed chocolate cake.

Joanna is high with longish, light brownish-red hair, a strong, graceful intelligent face and an open, easy, amiable manner. She is totally during home with her grandmother, who, when she is in a room, relies on her for advice.

Joanna will mostly come out with an opinion Mrs. Longworth clearly agrees with, and a comparison lady will pant with ridicule fear and disapproval.

“I,” says Joanna, with an enchanting smile, “am a wordless accomplice.”

“I’m full of honour for a younger generation,” says her grandmother, smiling sanctimoniously during Joanna.

Alice Longworth finds a broadside about her “absolutely fascinating. we perspective it from a totally isolated indicate of perspective yet we suspect we can arrange of see given they wish to pronounce me. we am some-more comical than many President’s daughters.”

One of her many new pronounce was with another President’s daughter, Julie Eisenhower, who wrote a story for a Saturday Evening Post.

“Totally inane,” declares Joanna.

“Oh, Joanna,” says Mrs. Longworth, laughing, “it wasn’t either. It was lovely.”

Later, Janie clears a tea things divided and brings in Mrs. Longworth’s cooking tray. Mrs. Longworth offers cooking to her guest, afterwards peeks underneath a image cover.

“Oh good, spareribs. we adore spareribs. No one ever serves them. They’re fattening too and we customarily can’t seem to put on weight. . . . we customarily import 92 pounds.”

As shortly as she legalised a dish and begun to puncture in, Mrs. Longworth steers a review into a beginnings of a report session.

“I’ll tell we who we consider is extremely nice,” she says. “Margaret Truman. I’ve always favourite her a good deal. we haven’t seen a Johnson girls during all. we always get them churned adult yet they seem to have a good time. And Julie Eisenhower has got something. She seems rather smart. Joanna scoffed during her square about me and we suspect it was rather scoffable, yet we did it given we wanted to uncover that we’re friends. we like Julie improved than Tricia. I’ve never been means to get on with Tricia. She seems rather pathetic, doesn’t she? we consternation what’s wrong with her?”

Mrs. Longworth keeps on munching, venturing opinions, perplexing out names for reaction.

“I like Jackie unequivocally much. But I’ve always wondered what on earth done her marry Onassis. He’s a nauseating character. He reminds me of Mr. Punch. . . Jack was so attractive.

“Ethel,” contend Mrs. Longworth, “is working unequivocally badly these days. There’s a certain ardent peculiarity about her we never liked. we favourite Bobby though, a good deal.”

Mrs. Longworth can't mount pomposity or fake loyalty and will go to good lengths to skewer someone guilty of holding himself too seriously.

“I’m substantially bad about people who have noble, excellent and miraculous thoughts. That’s so depressing. we never could mount a small divine family things that my insincere cousins used to do. But they’re all passed now.”

Alice Longworth is a survivor in a city where a word is an anachronism. She has been worshiped and feared precious and detested, yet there has never been a time when she has not been talked about. Her vast utterances about people and events began when she was a child and she is still adding to a list of quotable quotes.

She would acknowledge than when McKinley was assassinated and her father became President that her feeling was “utter rapture,” she was ecstatic,” a line that confounded people in a directness. But she’ll customarily as straightforwardly ridicule herself. When she had her second mastectomy several years ago, she remarked after that she was a “only topless octogenarian in Georgetown Hospital.”

* * *

Interviews are always one approach of securing information. Mrs. Longworth is as extraordinary and mindful as an interviewer, holding a conditions in quickly, optimistically prepared to be entertained, amused, informed; yet customarily as braced, graciously, of course, to be bored.

She talks quickly, by her teeth in a rather upper-class approach that she will elaborate for outcome from time to time. Often her written speed creates it formidable to understand.

Her eyes are unequivocally clear. They dart behind and forth. Her hands rest in her path yet she twists her fingers as her mind leaps about. Occasionally she will jump adult to indicate out some vestige souvenir or sketch opposite a room.

She roars with delight during a ungodly idea that one should abase oneself during her feet during a sound of her drum and points her finger admiringly. “Ah,” she says, “you’ve got a disagreeable nature, horrid, we like that.”

She is as prepared with a accepted poke about immature people as she is about past generations, and customarily as most during home with immature people as if she were in her 20s. A event with her and Joanna could roughly be a women’s consciousness-raising session, yet for her disrespect about anything taken too seriously. And she once said, “I’ve never favourite people my possess age.”

Joanna works for a National Women’s Political Caucus and, in fact, a treasurer during a NWPC, Lucille Flannigan, lives with them on a tip floor. Joanna tells Mrs. Longworth that Lucille will not be there for tea.

“I’m all for a women’s cause,” says Mrs. Longworth. “I saw too most of a ‘silly small womanizing’ over a years. But I’m not aroused about it. I’ve never been treated as defective by any man.”

Mrs. Longworth is reminded of a story of a crony of hers in a aged days (the spin of a century) who, after being banned by her father to see a immature man, dressed in men’s garments and cut her hair. The father remarked, “What an peculiar revenge.”

Mrs. Longworth laughs heartily, “Homosexuality and lesbianism were unequivocally select in those days,” she says.

“And it was utterly acceptable. At slightest as distant as we was concerned.”

“Tell her about a occurrence in a White House garden,” prompts Joanna.

It seems Margaret Cassini, Igor’s mom and a daughter of a South American ambassador, had been a good crony of Alice Longworth’s and they had taken a travel one day in a White House garden.

Miss Cassini proceeded to tell immature Alice that a mutual crony was observant horrible things about her. Alice asked what, and a crony replied that a certain Miss Alice Barney was claiming to be in adore with Alice.

“I don’t consider that’s nasty, given we consider that’s lovely, so nice. I’m so blissful to hear she is,” Mrs. Longworth recalls observant with a mischievous smile.

Margaret Cassini apparently snorted with contempt, that gratified Alice enormously.

“Still,” she says, “usually we suspicion it improved to keep divided from joking about a lesbian thing given my father was President.

“But we know in those days people were always carrying adore affairs with their poodles and putting small flowers in bizarre places. But they talked amusingly about their affairs. My family didn’t, though. They would have left positively insane with horror. Especially my younger sister Ethel. She would have fainted passed away. But don’t consider we have ever been scandalized.”

Mrs. Longworth was amatory a conversation.

“Not in a clarity of dignified outrage,” says Joanna. “But you’re being esthetically angry constantly.”

“Yes, that’s true,” says Mrs. Longworth. “By passionate things, by uninspired things. And afterwards some things we consider are terribly funny. Like dear aged men’s things unresolved all around them. we consider that’s terribly funny.”

What?

“Men’s penises, my dear,” she says unequivocally deliberately, disposition forward, watchful for a reaction.

As shortly as she is greeted by a scream of dismayed laughter, she leans behind and howls delightedly herself and Joanna joins in.

“Oh, we can see it in a paper now,” says Mrs. Longworth, “Dear aged Mrs. Longworth sitting with her granddaughter articulate about men’s penises.”

The pronounce moves to matrimony contra vital together. Would she, if she were Joanna’s age today, have married?

“No, we never would marry again. we competence live with people. But not for long. we unequivocally wouldn’t wish to do anything introspective or eminent or holding a position about someone again. But we competence rather customarily spend a night with them, or an afternoon or something.”

She pauses, afterwards reflects for a moment: “Still,” she says, “I’m fearful we do trust in marriage.”

“Why?” Asks Joanna. “You frequency reveled in it yourself.”

“That’s true. we frequency reveled in it.”

“You frequency advise it for me,” says Joanna.

“I suspect I’m customarily a neutral person,” she muses. “But we followed my father’s marriages. He was always so full of guilt. we desired my father yet we was never quite tighten to him. we enjoyed my stepmother. But it’s meant to pronounce about your relatives that way. we don’t wish to pronounce about my parents.”

The theme changed.

Well, if Alice Longworth wouldn’t have married if she were immature today, what would she do?

“I would have run for office. If we were unequivocally immature we would try to get over a prudery of vocalization in public. we still have it. we shuddered with apprehension when people attempted to make me get adult and speak. It was customarily fake honour we suppose. But I’m unequivocally unequivocally shy.

“Every once in a while it hits me. we was like a tenement child, we know, misshapen with my legs (she had a illness a child that was suspected after to have been polio) and we was always unequivocally unwavering of that. My stepmother used to widen my legs each night.”

Mrs. Longworth also feels shy, she says, given she was a customarily child of Theodore Roosevelt and her initial wife. “My brothers used to provoke me about not carrying a same mother. They were unequivocally vicious about it and we was terrible sensitive.”

* * *

Often indicted of being vain, given of her good beauty, Alice Longworth, seems unknowingly of her looks and says she never unequivocally suspicion she was pretty, even when she was young. She jokes now about losing her hair and not carrying bought a new dress given she was 80.

“I suspicion we was a rather pitiable creature, terribly modest and that they were customarily observant we was graceful given we was a President’s daughter. Sometimes we demeanour during cinema of myself then, perplexing to see what they suspicion was pretty. But afterwards we dynamic not to be a pitiable creature. we motionless to improved it so we became resistant, contrary, and we attempted to be conspicuous. That feeling has lasted in some way.”

The review moves to accents, and Mrs. Longworth says she apes whoever she is with. “Except LBG,” she chortles. “And we never aped Pat and Dick,” she adds.

“Thank goodness,” pipes adult Joanna.

“Mean!” chides Mrs. Longworth.

What kind of people does she like, who amuses her, interests her?

“Oh, customarily a people in this unequivocally room, my dear,” she coos.

“That’s not customarily true,” says Joanna.

Does she like Gerald Ford?

“Who’s Gerald Ford? Oh yes, a Vice President. Do we know Gerald Ford, Joanna?”

“I wish not.”

“Oh, Joanna,” she says with a grin. “You’re so intolerant.” She starts to comfortable adult to a game.

What about a Nixons?

She unexpected goes critical and says a bit stiffly. “The Nixons are aged friends. I’ve favourite them for years. I’ve famous them for a long, prolonged time. we don’t pronounce about them.”

A cover comes over a review and for a few seconds there is grave silence.

“Well, that positively put an finish to that conversation,” jokes Joanna. “Maybe we’d improved change a subject.”

Mrs. Longworth giggles and agrees and offers tea with honey.

That was not a finish of that.

The enticement to get behind to Nixon is too much. And later, in a midst of another conversation, Mrs. Longworth leans brazen ripping with a reduction than graceful opinion about how Watergate has been rubbed by a President — for whom she has always until now, had customarily a top praise. She goes on a bit, afterwards leans behind and says, deliberately savoring a pleasure of her remark, “But that my dear, is customarily between us and not for your story.”

* * *

As she turns 90, Mrs. Longworth is not meditative about a end. Her phone rings endlessly, she has callers to tea everyday, she still reds compartment 3 or 4 each morning, and she still goes with friends to cooking parties, that she adores.

She has “plenty of money” as she will tell you, so there are no worries there.

“I have no problems,” she will say. “It’s easier to grow aged if we are means to relax. we relax like insane and I’m meddlesome in everything. Thank heavens we haven’t gotten senile. we have good aged gusto, that’s all.”

But in a final year Mrs. Longworth has not been terribly well. Perhaps her dual bouts with cancer are holding their toll. She went to her initial cooking celebration in 6 weeks a other day and was tired all a subsequent day.

“I’m exploding with aged age,” she says with a devious giggle and adds, with customarily a minute snippet of concern, “It’s customarily in a final year that we have been removing apparently older.”

Mrs. Longworth, for all her exquisite manner, is a snob. “I do trust in privilege,” she says resolutely. And partial of her snobbism is a kind of nose-thumbing. “Epatier (titillate) reduction bourgeois,” she will contend with a easily incited French accent.

Some people contend she has middle-aged in her aged age. Does she consider she has?

“No,” she says brightly.

Alice Longworth can still giggle during herself and shouting during herself gives her permit to giggle during others.

“When they start comparing we to a Washington Monument,” she says, “you customarily have to open your eyes and take a good demeanour during yourself.”

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