The ?Manic Political Long Family of Louisiana
From the pen of the human interest, humorous columnist Jim Bradshaw of the St. MaryNow.com website of Lousiana came the following hilarious piece regarding the Governor Earl Long, scion of the even later and more famous Huey Long, of “A Chicken in Every Pot” Depression Era fame: JIM BRADSHAW: WHEN EARL LONG’S MENTAL STATE MADE NEWS. I am always on the lookout for pieces that document the foibles of the famous cultural figures of our time, both for purposes of humor and for instructional examples to use with trainees in medicine and psychiatry in my work. This piece is worth the read. I would commend it to the reader for a pleasant interlude.
I have another purpose as usual. I had in decades past some older ancestors of my father’s family located in Louisian. Early on in my life in childhood and teen years I was exposed to one great aunt in that state on periodic visits to her home there. She was in 80’s by the time I came to hear family stories about the Civil War and other fascinating tales involving my father’s family’s long gone relatives. A few of those stories involved that branch of my father’s ancestors with the infamous Huey Long who ran for President and was one of the reactive voices of common people’s Populism during the Great Depression which my father and his own family lived through.
The tales I heard about “The Kingfish” as Huey Long came to be known, were incredible. I heard of demoagogic speeches that could spell bind huge outdoor audiences, hard drinking, a talent for non stop off the cuff jokes and so much energy that almost no one could keep up with him.
Then in later years as accounts of Earl Long’s own clearly “manic” spells came out, I began to wonder about the fast paced, non stop life that was Huey Long’s. In my residency and later practice years, I came be exposed to persons who were not fully manic but who clearly were non stop persons as I called them. I came to view as a distinct type, a diagnostic category in my own mind that was not recognized, and may never be, in the bible of psychiatry, the DSM, the Diagnostic Statistic Manual. These were persons who were always “on,” always hypomanic or just below that level of revved-up-ness. I once knew a salesman who could sell out his luxury foreign car dealership in three months and then spent the rest of his work year languishing at his NC beach house until the new model year of luxury cars came in. He would then return and then proceed to sell the stock out, drive out all the other salespersons and make the dealership owner most happy. He finally had a manic episode and confirmed my psychiatric musings about him. I met and knew over the years such figures who all worked inhumanly impossibly long hours, had non stop energy, could drink everyone under the table, were the dominating person in any room they graced, had insatiable sexual appetites, and were enormously successful. They were company heads, surgeons, attorneys and politicians of course. Most of them never evolved into full blown officially symptomatic manics, but many of their progeny did and that is how I came to know them and suspect the truth about them. Their genetic diathesis, posing as this constellation of lifelong energy and such, sometimes emerged in the full evolution of their hidden “bipolar” subclinical makeup.
And that is my take on the Longs, Huey was a closet hypomanic and Earl was a full blown hypomanic-manic person in times when all this was poorly understood and denied.
I have to not tease the reader with all this. I have reprinted Jim Bradshaw’s article on the late Earl Long below for your immediate gratification and your own judgment:
“Sixty years ago Louisiana and the nation watched with a combination of awe, incredulity, and amusement, a political episode that was bizarre even by the standards of Long-era Louisiana.
During the summer of 1959 newspaper front pages were filled daily with the tirades, tantrums, and shenanigans of Gov. Earl Long that caused him to twice be confined in mental institutions, and to briefly act as governor while he was an inmate in one of them.
The manic episodes, family members said, were the result of Long’s return to heavy drinking and taking an assortment of pills either to help him sleep or keep him awake. Long said that was humbug (in much saltier words).
He was always volatile and hot-headed, but reporters began to publicly hint at the governor’s overuse of alcohol as early as April, when the Associated Press reported the governor’s hijacking of a legislative budget hearing “with his bottle of Tichenor’s antiseptic on the table before him.”
But things really began to unravel in late May, when Long railed for more than an hour and a half and, the AP said, “poured out scathing criticism” on legislators and political enemies … “as he screamed into the House microphone in a stinging, stump-speaking style.” They noted that he drank from a glass filled with “what appeared to be grape juice” during the tirade.
Two days later, the governor’s wife, Blanche, announced that Long had been ordered to bed “for several days” and that he was suffering from exhaustion. One of the people helping to make that decision was Jesse Bankston, Louisiana’s director of hospitals, who thought Earl needed more than bed rest at the governor’s mansion.
He thought Long needed to be confined for psychiatric evaluation and that the confinement needed to be outside Louisiana, so that he could not use his powers as governor.
On Saturday, May 30, Earl was strapped to a gurney, put aboard an Air National Guard airplane, and flown to the John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. The doctors were told that Earl had agreed to be admitted. They soon found out differently. The AP reported that Long “refused to cooperate with hospital authorities.” The Galveston Daily News said his refusal included “a couple of violent episodes.”
He threatened his wife with federal kidnaping charges, and court-appointed lawyers in Texas filed papers claiming he was taken to Texas against his will. Long himself signed the legal papers, “Earl K. Long, gov. in exile by force and kidnaping.”
The hearing June 16 on his petition for release, according to United Press International, was punctuated by Long’s outbursts against, among others, “the horse doctors” who were overseeing his treatment. When the judge tried to quiet him, Long said he was just trying to help his lawyers prove he was sane.
Before the ruling came down in Texas, however, Long made a deal with Blanche and with his nephew Sen. Russell Long that he would consent to being moved to the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans.
He was there one day before he reneged on his promise. He told Blanche he’d said he would go to Ochsner, but that he didn’t say how long he would stay. There was also a rumor, reported in the Alexandria Town Talk, that once the airplane was over Louisiana, Long planned to order the Louisiana National Guard pilot to take him to his farm in Winnfield, rather than New Orleans. It didn’t happen, but it sounds plausible.
When Earl reneged, Blanche had a friendly judge sign orders committing the governor to the Southeast State Mental Hospital in Mandeville. Once again, “a screaming, cursing Gov. Earl K. Long was hauled to a mental hospital.”
But this one was a state institution in Louisiana. While an inmate at Mandeville, Long called a meeting of the State Hospital Board and had its hand-picked members fire Bankston as state hospital director and appoint a new one, who, in turn, fired Dr. Charles Belcher, the superintendent of the hospital.
Belcher’s replacement saw no reason to continue to hold Long, nor did a friendly judge when the family tried to keep him confined.
The AP reported on June 26, “Gov. Earl K. Long swept out of a jammed courtroom a free man today — a complete victor over his family and state officials who committed him to a state mental hospital.
“Gov. Long immediately set up a temporary statehouse at the Great Southern Hotel … near Lake Pontchartrain. From room 221 in the hostelry, the governor is expected to drop the axe on political enemies.”
Which he did.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, “Cajuns and Other Characters,” is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.”