The slandering of Claude Pepper ("homo sapien/thespian"). UL or all fact?

Did George Smathers really defeat Congressman Claude Pepper in a 1950 congressional election by alleging his brother was a “known homo sapien”, his sister “a practicing thespian”, and accusing him of “matriculating” into college, and practicing “celibacy before marriage”?

Some accept this as fact, others take it for a gag. I have a lot of doubts that these “allegations” would have actually carried through - even assuming a lot of voters in 1950 were paranoid commiephobic rubes.

It sounds like a funny story, but is this why the election was really lost?

This columnist, one of the few Google references I could find, says it was in a “speech”. I can’t find the speech itself anywhere offhand.

Here’s the other reference, another columnist, in which he mentions that Smathers always denied the story.

Interview with Claude Pepper. He does not mention it.

An analysis of the election, which does not mention it.

So, you tell me. Smathers denies it, Pepper himself and a fairly serious analysis of the election don’t mention it. That’s about as far as I got.

I don’t think Florida voters were that ignorant in 1950, so if I had to guess, I’d guess that it’s just a “humorous rustics” story repeated by columnists.

While I certainly can’t match the erudition of Duck Duck Goose on this question, I am inclined to believe that Smathers actually made the statements in question.

While Pepper maynot have alluded to these statements by his opponent in the interviews cited, I recall distinctly that he did discuss this as actually happening during a report on 60 Minutes in which he was profiled.

The issue of whether this cost him the election is another question. IIRC, Pepper did not suggest this when interviewed for 60 Minutes, but instead saw this as a striking instance of the sort of nonsense one sometimes had to put up with in politics.

This one could be a genuine complaint, though :slight_smile:

Mad magazine ran an article circa 1969 showing a ficticous pol giving such a speech, which also included mention of the opponent’s nephew who "subscribe(d) to a “phonographic magazine”.

The opponent’s “thespian” wife was also said to have “practiced in front of paying customers”.

I’ve also heard derivative writings where “nuptials” is used similarly as the dirty word it sounds like.

Daily Courier, The Tuesday, November 14, 1950 Connellsville, Pennsylvania
from a syndicate column Assignment America, by Inez Robb:

I don’t know if it’s true, but it is contemporary. Apparently the original story he was refuting appeared in Time magazine.

Though it’s sapiens, for what it’s worth.

That’s the plural. Obvoiusly Smathers (or Pepper) was referring to only a single person, hence the use of the singular. :wink:

No, by the rules of zoological nomenclature, it has to be a singular adjective, because “Homo” is a singular noun. If you wanted to form the plural, you’d also have to form the plural of “Homo”, but you don’t do that for names of genera or of species. And in Latin “sapiens” is singular.

There’s an SD report that refer’s to this, too, saying:

Sorry, “refers”. I don’t usually insert redundant apostrophes :slight_smile:

I’m sure he didn’t know any of that already.

It’s in the April 17, 1950 issue of “Time”, in an article with the title of “Anything Goes”.

It should at least be a matter of undisputed fact whether either or both of these politicians had a sister working as a Broadway actress. It seems to me that that would be at least indicative of who was the original target of the slander.

Infrequent poster Tammi Terrell answered this back in 2004.

It’s a study which would be worthy of a Staff Report. She is probably the most knowledgeable poster on SDMB about most Urban Legends.

I contributed a rec.humor.funny entry in 1989 that included a note from the book of long-time Florida House Clerk Allen Morris, who was respected as a chronicler of Florida political history and knew both Smathers and Pepper well:

"Smathers retired from the Senate in 1971, vigorously denying the story till the end–but nonetheless acknowledging in Florida House Clerk Allen Morris’ book `Reconsiderations,’ (1982) that the tale has by now ‘gone into the history books.’ "