Monday, Aug. 12, 1957

Knight of the Bald Iggle

The deadliest denizen of Cartoonist Al (Li'l Abner) Capp's disorderly world is the Lower Slobbovian Bald Iggle, the gentle-looking bird that fixes a maddening, sad-eyed stare upon anybody who tells a lie. If Lower Slobbovia really existed and the U.S. needed an ambassador there, Washington would do well to send Manhattan Dress Merchant Maxwell Henry Gluck. Of all the foreign diplomats in Lower Slobbovia, Max Gluck alone would be so honest that he would run into no trouble with Bald Iggles.

But after Dwight Eisenhower named Maxwell Gluck to be his ambassador to real-life Ceylon, Gluck's guileless honesty appeared to be, instead of a unique advantage, a handicap on the order of kleptomania or St. Vitus' dance. He embarrassed the Administration, set off horselaughs and snorts of indignation in the U.S. press, sorely annoyed the Ceylonese, and indelibly marked himself as durable headline material. What was Gluck's offense? He admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in secret session, that he could not pronounce the name of India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal (Jah-wah-har-lahl) Nehru or rattle off the name of Ceylon's Prime Minister (Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike).

A Hatchet in Hand. Before he ran afoul of the Senate, handsome, well-tailored Max Gluck had made himself a millionaire in a remarkably successful business career (Darling Stores Corp., a women's wear chain with 140 stores in 27 states). He was also a successful Kentucky horse breeder (in 1955 his Prince John won a record-breaking purse of $157,918.50 at New Jersey's Garden State Park). Semiretired, at 57, he decided this year that he would like to serve in a Government post. "I just wanted to do some good," he explained last week. "I didn't ask to be an ambassador." Straightforwardly, Gluck wrote four Republican Senators: New York's Irving Ives and Jacob Javits, Kentucky's John Sherman Cooper and Thruston Morton. All four recommended Gluck, a heavy contributor to Republican campaign chests, to the Eisenhower Administration. Big campaign contributions will not get a Government post, but they may—under the Republicans as well as the Democrats—get a man's name on a list of possibilities.

After a series of screenings, interviews and FBI checks, Gluck found himself appointed Ambassador to Ceylon. Early in July, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and met up disastrously with Arkansas' William Fulbright. The Senator from Arkansas asked Gluck how much he had contributed to the Republican Party in 1956. Gluck admitted to "$20,000 or $30,000." (The record shows $26,500.) Then Fulbright asked how much Gluck contributed in 1952, and Gluck said "around $10,000." By then, even a nearsighted Bald Iggle would have spotted the hatchet in Fulbright's hand, but not ingenuous Max Gluck. He blundered on, trying to give honest and accurate answers as Fulbright whacked away. Gluck did not recall the United Nations report blaming Russia for smashing Hungarian independence, or that Ceylon was one of the five signing nations. Afterwards, he explained that he knew the name of India's Prime Minister, but he could not pronounce Jawaharlal. And the name of the Prime Minister of Ceylon "is a bit unfamiliar now; I cannot call it off."

Against Fulbright's opposition, the committee voted to confirm Gluck, and next day the Senate routinely approved him without debate. Scheduled to take up his post in Colombo in September, Gluck busied himself with State Department briefings on Ceylon, including a lecture on Buddhism.

Then, last week, a custard pie of publicity suddenly smacked into Gluck's face. The Washington Post and Times Herald front-paged excerpts from the Gluck-Fulbright exchange (leaked by none other than William Fulbright, reported Washington Columnist Doris Fleeson). In cold, black print, they made hard reading for Max Gluck and his sponsors.

Exquisitely Blank. Without ever setting foot on the island, Maxwell Gluck suddenly became Ceylon's big news of the week. His admissions of ignorance, snapped an English-language paper, "would have drawn a blush to the cheeks of the average Ceylonese schoolboy." A Colombo columnist sneered at Gluck's "exquisitely blank" mind.

Washington got almost as excited as Colombo. Indignant protests rang out against paying off campaign contributors with Government posts. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee summoned Under Secretary of State Christian A. Herter to Capitol Hill to explain Gluck's appointment. When a newsman brought up the Gluck flap at the presidential press conference, Dwight Eisenhower scowlingly declared that Gluck's campaign contributions had never been "mentioned to me as a consideration, and I don't take it very kindly as suggesting I would be influenced by such things ... Of course we knew he had never been to Ceylon—he wasn't thoroughly familiar with it. But certainly he can learn, if he is the kind of character and kind of man we believe him to be."