[FDR exhibited] a disposition to view honest critics with personal prejudice, and often to punish them by questionable use of the great power of the Presidency. – Arthur Krock
Because it reveals so well the corruption of American institutions, and because it shows so much of the Soviet-style dark underside of the unprecedented four-term administration of Franklin Roosevelt, the story of the life, destruction, and death of renowned cartoonist Percy Crosby ought to be known to every American. The corruption is of particular interest to this commentator because it so much involves the debasement of the same institutions that he has found in the "suicides" of two other important public figures, former Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, in 1949 and Deputy White House Counsel, Vincent Foster in 1993.
In all three cases, the highest office in the land is implicated, if not in the crime, at least in the cover-up.
In all three cases, as in the Soviet Union, the psychiatric profession showed itself to be of service to the state. In the Foster case, Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr was able to get Dr. Alan L. Berman, the executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, to declare that "to a 100% degree of medical certainty, the death of Vincent Foster was a suicide," in the face of a ton of solid evidence to the contrary.
In the 1949 Forrestal case, lead psychiatrist, Captain George Raines, alone among the Bethesda Naval Hospital doctors treating him, declared before the review board, whose hearings were not made public until 2004, that Forrestal made numerous statements suggesting that he was suicidal, and Raines volunteered that a suicidal-sounding transcription of a poem that turned up among the evidence looked like it was in Forrestal's handwriting, when, in fact, it looks nothing of the sort.
Percy Crosby was locked up in a mental hospital against his will for the last 16 years of his life.
None of these outrages could have succeeded without the complicity of what may well be America's most corrupt institution, its news media. In the Foster case, when a witness and his lawyer were able to persuade a panel of three federal judges to order Kenneth Starr to append their letter presenting evidence that thoroughly contradicts Starr's conclusion of suicide to Starr's report, the media completely blacked out the news of this letter's inclusion.
In the Forrestal case, the head of the National Naval Medical Center, Admiral Morton Willcutts, convened a review board to take testimony from witnesses a day after the body of former Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, was found 13 stories below a window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital from which he had fallen. The press had called the death a suicide right off the bat, and when the Navy decided not to release the transcript of the review board's hearings, which had been conducted in secret, they made nothing of it. In 2004, when the author obtained the Willcutts Report transcript and the Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library of Princeton University announced with a press release that it had posted it on its web site--much of which happens to contradict a conclusion of suicide (which it did not reach)--the American press completely ignored it.
The Press's suppression of the news about what happened to Percy Crosby is probably worst of all, because he was one of their own. One is reminded of how ABC Nightly News co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, was virtually erased from public consciousness after he suffered a serious head injury from an explosion in Iraq. The celebrity-obsessed country would certainly like to have been regularly informed on the condition of someone who came into their homes through the television five nights a week, but that wouldn't have been any better for the war effort than letting us see the flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base. So he—for awhile--and they were airbrushed out of the picture like so many fallen-from-favor Politburo members in the former Soviet Union.
Also brought to mind is the news treatment of the death of the leading newspaper woman in the country, Katharine Graham, the owner of the Washington Post Company. We have been told that she died from a fall on a walkway in Sun Valley Idaho, where she was attending a conference, but, to this day, we have not been told either who, if anyone, was with her when she fell, who, if anyone, witnessed her fall, or how she managed to fall so violently as to suffer fatal head injuries. We have also not been told who found her and called for assistance, in case no one was with her and no one witnessed her fall. Only the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, has been so specific as to report that she suffered "extensive intracranial injuries." (Search that term along with Katharine Graham on Google Groups.)*
But let us not stray too far from the story of the once rich, famous, and influential newspaper cartoonist, Percy Crosby. Here are some key excerpts from a brief story of his life, which can be found on the web site maintained by his daughter, Joan Tibbetts, at http://www.skippy.com:
During his career as a celebrity American artist and author, Percy Crosby crusaded against corruption and stood up to the likes of Al Capone and his henchmen when American citizens were too frightened to speak out. He used his Irish humor and gift of satire to lampoon politicians, President Roosevelt, the Ku Klux Klan, and fought for civil liberties, child labor laws, rights of veterans, and freedom of the press. Although he made a profound impression with millions of Americans, primarily through Skippy, the loveable and mischievous cartoon character who became a household word, Percy Crosby was unable to prevent retaliation by those who coveted control of Skippy for their commercial gain, and wanted him silenced. Percy Crosby was falsely imprisoned in a New York mental hospital for the last 16 years of his life, following years of harassment by the IRS. He referred to this period of his life as a "political witch hunt". During this time, Crosby's famous Skippy trademark and its valuable goodwill was pirated by a bankrupt peanut butter company, which later merged with a Fortune 500 company, making a fortune in illicit sales under the Skippy brand name....
Lord, Day & Lord, then a prestigious Wall Street firm, valued Crosby's estate in early 1932 in excess of $3 million dollars (more than $44 million in 2006 dollars, ed.), and advised Crosby to incorporate under his famous Skippy trade name to protect the "immense good will" he had created, from unauthorized uses. Skippy, Inc. was incorporated in Delaware on May 11, 1932, and Lord, Day & Lord partners became Skippy officers, directors, the named incorporators, and trustee for Crosby's infant children....
Roosevelt became president in
1932, with his" New Deal" program that was the beginning of big
government. Crosby voted for FDR in 1932, but soon became one of his most vocal
critics after FDR's attempt to "pack the Supreme Court", when the
Court ruled in 1935 that the NRA (National Industrial Recovery Act) was
unconstitutional. The Court's landmark decision, A.L.A.
Schechter Poultry Co. v. United States
(aka the "Sick Chicken" case) found that the NRA codes of fair competition allowing large trade associations to write and enforce their own laws was unprecedented. Percy Crosby referred to the NRA as Roosevelt's "New Russian Administration", unaware that it was by means of the NRA peanut butter code that a bankrupt California food packer (Rosefield) would steal Skippy and make a fortune....
Dale Crosby, secretary of Skippy, Inc. and a stockholder, advised Lord, Day & Lord in April 1934 that the IRS was asking a lot of questions about Skippy's business. By 1936 she reported that the IRS was "swarming like hornets" and wanted records for an audit. Skippy's tax lawyer suspected the audit was due to Percy Crosby's political crusade and beliefs. In 1937 Crosby drew a political cartoon, entitled "Paying the Price," showing the slain figure of Justice lying on the ground with a giant boot on her chest, captioned "One Man Rule".
Crosby sent copies of the cartoon to the Supreme Court and all members of Congress, which depicted Roosevelt's attempt to "pack the Supreme Court" after its unanimous decision against the NRA. Roosevelt was reputedly furious, and already sensitive to public outrage at his "court packing" plan. The IRS claimed Skippy, Inc. was incorporated by Percy Crosby to evade taxes and filed liens for $47,000, which was published nationally and reported during congressional hearings on tax evasion. Crosby fought back with prominent newspaper ads denying liability, and Lord, Day & Lord filed protest briefs, to no avail. He was forced to discontinue his publications under "The Freedom Press", which he founded in 1932, and had to sell valuable real estate at distress prices to pay the IRS debt and penalty fines. In 1939 his wife filed for divorce and took custody of the four young Crosby children. The bitter divorce proceedings were publicized to portray the creator of Skippy as selfish and cruel. The children never saw their father again. Crosby moved to New York City, began drinking heavily, and was hospitalized in 1940 for severe stress. He married Carolyn Soper, a hospital dietician, who, unlike his former wife, Dale Crosby, had little education or business experience. Crosby's friends and colleagues saw her as an opportunist. Crosby fired Lord, Day & Lord for "heinous conduct" in 1942 and threatened to sue the firm, which had also done all tax work. In June, 1944 he discovered that, despite the 1934 final decision for Skippy, Inc., Rosefield had continued to sell its peanut butter under the counterfeit Skippy label. A cease and desist letter from Crosby's new attorney resulted in Rosefield's renewed request to its Chicago attorney to report Crosby and Skippy, Inc. to the "criminal division" of the Justice Department. In September,1946 the IRS froze all assets of Percy Crosby and Skippy, Inc., after Hearst cancelled the Skippy contract. The IRS claimed Crosby and Skippy, Inc. owed another $43,000 in back taxes and penalties. Crosby, unable to pay an attorney, was forced to sue Rosefield pro se in New York (these documents remain concealed by Bestfoods to date), which action was allegedly dismissed for failure to prosecute. It was during this period that Crosby's licensing agent said the artist was "hounded and harassed", and was like "a hunted man"... "His phone was tapped, his mail intercepted, and he trusted no one.....”
On or about December 16, 1948 Crosby allegedly slashed his wrists and stabbed himself in the chest at his New York apartment. It was reported on national radio news that the famous creator of Skippy had attempted suicide, and was taken to Bellevue hospital. Interestingly, a small news article reported that the police found no evidence of the weapon used. Five days later, on December 21, 1948, Rosefield was issued a federal trademark for Skippy by the U.S. Patent Office after Rosefield's fraudulent application swore that no other person, firm or corporation had a right to the mark. Rosefield and its Chicago counsel had not appealed the 1934 decision for Skippy, Inc., and knew this federal registration was at their own peril as long as Percy Crosby was alive to make a protest. Crosby was transferred to Kings Park hospital for the mentally ill, and adjudicated incompetent by the New York Supreme Court in January, 1949, without a hearing or counsel to defend him. His written pleas for his release fell on deaf ears....
Throughout his years in confinement, Crosby wrote thousands of memos and tried to seek help from the outside world to gain his release, including letters to the National Press Club, to publishers and a plea to Erwin Griswold, Harvard Law School Dean. Letters to his children and others were censored, and Crosby was led to believe that his children had been college educated with the royalties from Skippy peanut butter, and turned against him. This was during the period of the Senator McCarthy "witch hunt" hearings exposing Communists in government and focusing particularly on writers, artists, Hollywood directors and screenwriters, who were branded as subversives, and their careers destroyed. Crosby's former attorney, Herbert Brownell (Lord, Day & Lord partner) became U.S. Attorney General under Eisehower-Nixon, and knew that Percy Crosby had threatened to sue the firm for "heinous conduct" in 1946 for "selling Skippy down the river", but he remained silent to protect his political interests....
Crosby was deprived of the expensive art material to which he was accustomed as a free man, but kept his sanity by drawing pictures and cartoons. He had to use cheap paper, and hospital adhesive tape to mat his art and correct his manuscripts, keeping his work locked in a trunk with keys kept on a shoestring around his neck to protect his work from theft and vandalism. The artist, who had captivated millions of people with his humor and extraordinary skills with the pen and brush, refused to accept defeat. Despite his long years of despair, frustration and humiliating torment by fellow inmates and hospital staff, he achieved a fulfillment and forged an inner peace with God. He would not give into tyranny and continued to wage his battle for truth and to satisfy an unquenchable fire of creativity with which he was blessed. In June, 1964 he wrote his last memo to a hospital nurse about the "Skippy steal", and shortly thereafter had a coronary, which left him in a coma for months. On December 8, 1964, his 73rd birthday, he died. His children were not notified of his death, and read his obituary in The New York Times a week later. He was buried in Pine Lawn Veterans Cemetery, close to his childhood home.
With regard to the title question, then, one might be inclined to exonerate FDR for the final blow against Crosby, the confinement in a mental hospital, because it occurred three years after the president’s death, but in terms of personnel and policies, the Truman administration was very much a continuation of Roosevelt’s. Concerning Crosby’s financial and professional destruction, the case against Roosevelt is very strong. As we see from the opening quote from the long time Washington correspondent for The New York Times, Arthur Krock, retribution of this sort was completely in character for the man.
Finally, I must admit that I was not the first to notice the similarities between Percy Crosby's demise and James Forrestal's. That honor belongs to Ms. Tibbetts. I had never heard of Crosby until I received her e-mail in September of 2003. A copy of this correspondence is at http://www.dcdave.com/article4/030929.html.
December 10, 2006
*Later elaborated upon further here.