George Romney almost got speaking lessons from George C. Scott

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Scott in Dr. Strangelove. ()
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Fifty years ago this month, Shakespeare in the Park went up with its first production and Michigan’s George Romney, father of Mitt, undertook his first major campaign.

For a brief moment, the two crossed paths. Their nexus was George C. Scott, the iconic star of Patton and Dr. Strangelove.

Charles F. Moore, Jr., a vice president at Ford, was George Romney’s friend and adviser, helping to marshal support for Romney’s budding 1962 gubernatorial campaign. One of the people Moore asked for help was George C. Scott's father, who asked his son whether he would give Romney elocution lessons.

It's not clear who had suggested that Romney’s speech needed help. He was a practiced public speaker when it came to making a sale, easily the best-known car-company president outside of the Big Three. But when it came to politics and policy, his words often came out scattered—“like the stutterer that you want to help along,” wrote David Broder and Stephen Hess.

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And so George C. Scott was asked to help straighten out his speech. In a June 8, 1962 letter to Romney, among his papers at the University of Michigan, Moore reported that the actor was “delighted to be of any assistance whatever” to the campaign. It seems that Scott saw Romney as a maverick much like himself.

Earlier that year, Scott had declined an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor—the first person ever to do so—because he felt the politicking by studios and agents in the trade papers had become more important than the performances.

George Romney had built a similar reputation in politics for rejecting the two-party system with his nonpartisan civic group, “Citizens For Michigan.” And in his letter, Moore had written that Scott described himself as another ruggedly “independent” citizen of neither political affiliation, happy to help the cause.

Of course, there was a catch: Romney would have to go to Scott on West 56th Street in New York City, since Scott had no time to go to Michigan. He was playing Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice and had to begin filming his next movie immediately afterward.

Though the campaign did send Scott a copy of a draft speech so he could familiarize himself with the material, it is unlikely the lesson ever took place. While New York City was Romney’s most frequent travel destination throughout his term as governor, in 1962 he was under a constant barrage from Michigan Democrats accusing him of using the governor’s office as a stepping stone to the White House. So Romney cut down on his out-of-state trips during the campaign, and as far as I can tell, he never visited Scott.

The Obama administration figures into this story, in a small way. Charles F. Moore, Jr., the Ford vice president who tried to put Romney and Scott together, was the maternal grandfather of treasury secretary Timothy Geithner. Moore's son and Geithner’s uncle, Jonathan Moore, would later serve as George Romney’s top foreign-policy adviser.