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A Family Tale
THE "D.A." WHO CAME TO DINNER
BY TOM SOTER
My dad always loved to tell the story of the D.A. who (almost) came to dinner.
The D.A. in question was Frank Hogan, known for years as the crusading, incorruptible “Mr. District Attorney.” During the 1960s, when I was growing up in New York, my family lived in a Riverside Drive building that also was the home of Mr. Hogan (he was always referred to as “Mr. Hogan,” never Frank). Mr. Hogan was, as far as I could tell, a nondescript fellow, pleasant but nothing special. He was always polite to our family, and on hearing that my younger brother Peter was a baseball fan, took him to a few Yankee games (he had box seats).
He also stood out in my mind at the time because he had around-the-clock police protection. The Columbia University campus upheaval was going on at about this time, and there had apparently been threats against Mr. Hogan’s life, so there was always a police car with two cops parked outside our building. It was somewhat comforting to know that the men-in-blue were there, even though in the early morning hours you would frequently find them asleep at the wheel.
Mr. Hogan wasn’t the only celebrity law-and-order type that we knew. My family was also friendly with Gerald Gardiner, in the 1960s known for being involved in the defense in England’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover case (when the unexpurgated edition of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel was published by Penguin Books in Britain in 1960, Penguin was unsuccessfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959). In 1964, that notoriety led to Gardiner’s appointment as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, the equivalent of the attorney general in the U.S. (he was later made a peer of the realm).
My parents knew Gardiner because my mother worked with his daughter, Carol, who had come to live in America in the late 1950s, and who became friends with my family after passing what my mother used to describe as something like a test. My mom, a social worker, had two favored friends at the job, Helen and Carol. She brought Helen over for dinner one night, and things apparently did not go well. As my mother often recounted it, my father didn’t like Helen, so she was banned from the household. “Then I invited Carol,” she would say, “and I was very nervous because I really liked Carol, and I was worried that your father would disapprove.” But he didn’t, apparently giving her “a big thumbs up. And that’s why we still know Carol.”
Whether my father had such absolute power over my mother is a story for another time (some would argue that the opposite was true), but by 1966-67, we were close friends with Carol. As Christmas approached, Carol told us her father was coming to visit and my parents invited over both Gardiners to celebrate the holiday and have dinner with us. As an added treat, they invited District Attorney Hogan over for the meal so the two could swap legal stories.
Events moved along, Christmas approached, and at the last minute, Mr. Hogan had to cancel, with regrets. To fill out the dinner party, my father substituted a colleague of his from work, an advertising executive named Leo Kelmenson. Unfortunately, when introductions were made, Gerald Gardiner got it into his head that Leo was Frank Hogan. Seated side by side at dinner, Gardiner kept asking Kelmenson pointed legal questions about recent, noteworthy U.S. lawsuits that the Englishman had followed with great interest, to which Leo would reply, “I don’t know,” “I’ve never heard of that,” and “I have no opinion.” By the time Carol and Gerald were on their way home, Gerald was thoroughly disillusioned. “You know, that district attorney chap didn’t know very much about the law,” he said with some disdain.
Although Carol explained it all to him, I get the impression – at least from my dad’s telling of the story – that Gerald Gardiner was not completely convinced. About a year after the Christmas dinner, my father and Leo Kelmenson were in London together on business, and they dropped in on Gerald at his offices. They had a pleasant chat and later, Gardiner talked to his daughter by phone. “You know,” said Gerald, “George was here today. And he brought that district attorney fellow with him. He still didn’t know much about the law.”
April 9, 2010