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Jack Smith

New schools of thought about an old subject . . . and now, students, class dismissed

May 28, 1987|JACK SMITH

Some loose ends remain on the question of who has class and who hasn't.

In assigning that elusive quality to various celebrities recently, I observed that "no one ever accused (former Gov. Edmund G.) 'Pat' Brown of having class (though his wife, Bernice, has it)."

I am happy to say that I have received no protests against either of those judgments, except from Pat Brown himself.

Gov. Brown writes:

"In your May 10 article you stated that my wife has 'class.' I agree with you; but, I must disagree when you state that I lack 'class.' A definition of class is, of course, very difficult--really, it is indefinable.

"However, there was a woman that I did not know professionally, but I did know her as the former District Attorney of San Francisco when she operated one of the finest gentlemen's houses in the U.S., who differs with you.

"She thinks that I do have class. In her book, 'The Lady of the House,' she states as follows, on page 225, 'In my book Pat Brown is a man of courage, style and class.' She said some other things, but I merely wanted you to know that there are some who have watched me over the years and know me well that think I have class."

Coincidentally, I happened to run into Gov. Brown and his wife at a banquet in the Beverly Hilton a few days after that column appeared.

Gov. Brown was his affable self, with a ready handshake and a hearty laugh. Mrs. Brown was gracious as usual. When we met, the governor's letter was in transit.

Though he did not name her, the woman he quoted but "did not know professionally," was of course the notorious Sally Sanford, who kept the most elegant sporting house in San Francisco. Later, under certain civic pressures, she moved it across the bay to Sausalito, in Marin County, where she was so well received that she was elected to the city council of that quaint community and later, as I remember, became its mayor.

Gov. Brown also told me that as district attorney he had prosecuted Sanford for whatever it was she was accused of, but had been obliged to dismiss the charges. Later, when the state was trying to get her license, she called on him to testify that the charges against her had been dropped, and he appeared in her behalf.

Later, when Brown was making a fund-raising speech while campaigning for attorney general, Sanford arose in the audience and pledged $4,000, asserting that she knew Mr. Brown to be "a good man."

I assume that she was not speaking professionally.

In any case, I certainly must revise my judgment. Pat Brown indeed has class.

What gave me the feeling that he did not have class, I suppose, was my memory of him as a tough politician who gave no quarter. In the 1962 gubernatorial campaign against Richard Nixon, Brown called Nixon a pawn of "Stone Age conservatives," but graciously excused Nixon himself from that characterization, observing that "I would place his philosophy no further back than the 19th Century."

Brown lambasted Nixon in the balloting, provoking the embittered Nixon to make his notorious "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" farewell speech to reporters on the morning after his defeat.

Brown's lineage hardly reflects the polish associated with class. His roots go back to the Gold Rush. His German-born maternal grandfather drove a stagecoach between Sacramento and the mining center Hangtown, now Placerville. His Irish paternal forebears had come by ship around the Horn in 1859. Brown was born in 1905 in San Francisco. His father operated a theater and a cigar store. As a schoolboy orator, Edmund Gerald Brown liked to quote Patrick Henry. Hence the nickname.

In his delightful history of California politics, "Dancing Bear," Gladwin Hill describes Brown as "pudgy, friendly, buoyant; well read, but with no intellectual pretensions; and utterly honest."

Hill adds, "He did not lack moral courage; once in San Francisco, in the face of public wrath, he asked a judge to dismiss a case he had prosecuted to sure conviction, because he ascertained that a key witness had lied."

That's class.

Hill also tells an anecdote that shows Brown's buoyancy and enthusiasm:

"Gov. Edmund Brown, chubby, bespectacled, in shirt sleeves, paused on the way down the aisle of his official plane, The Grizzly, to hunch over and peer out the window--knocking a cup of Coca-Cola into a reporter's typewriter. . . .

" 'Gee!' he exclaimed, with the recurrent boyish innocence that was both part of his charm and one of his fallibilities, 'will you look at that!'

"Necks craned at the landscape below. 'What is it, Pat?' several people asked.

" ' California !' he exclaimed with a beaming gusto. " 'Did you ever see anything like it?' "

Meanwhile, as long as we're dealing with reputations, I speculated recently of Madonna that "underneath all that artful degeneracy she's just a nice girl, like Clara Bow."

"Man," writes Ross Aguirez of Arcadia, "have you led a sheltered life!" He insists that as the famous It Girl Clara Bow was hardly innocent.

Well, heck, I wouldn't blame her for that.

I do have second thoughts about my description of television's Bill Stout as having a "wry, sardonic, skeptical, lupine curmudgeon's face" (and a sensuous canine growl).

In writing that sentence I overlooked one of the basic rules of good prose: four adjectives are enough.

Bill Stout's face is not lupine, which means wolf-like. I must have been thinking of his style.

Actually, he looks more like a teddy bear.

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