On a hot day in June 1933, Benjamin V. Cohen stepped off the train at Washington’s Union Station carrying a heavy leather suitcase. His brushed-back reddish brown hair and his rimless glasses conveyed the look of a preoccupied, uncertain scholar. He hailed a taxi and rode to 3238 R Street, where Tom Corcoran was expecting him. Ben looked up at the five-story Italianate mansion as he walked up the steep steps, wondering at Corcoran’s extravagance. He was to live in The Little Red House for three and a half years.
The Little Red House was never little. The house was built by Alfred Scott in 1858, when Washington was still a swamp encircled by farms. It first became famous when General Grant lived there at the time of the Civil War and used the capacious grounds for his numerous horses and carriages. It was then known as the Scott-Grant house.
The historic past of the house played no part in Tom Corcoran’s impulsive decision to take it on. “Tommy the Cork” was already established as one of the backroom craftsmen of the first 100 days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Tom sought a large house so that he might persuade Ben Cohen to cease commuting from New York; he wanted Ben on the premises.
In June 1933, Corcoran was 32 and Cohen 38. Forty plus years later, on almost any Saturday, Corcoran and Cohen might be found lunching together at the Cosmos Club. Reminiscence was seldom on the menu, but on one occasion it was served with the soup. They began by disagreeing as to where and when they first met. Ben believed they had met briefly in New York or at Harvard in the twenties. Tom claimed it was at the Hotel Carlton in Washington in the spring of 1933. Ben made a map of “ifs.” “If Congressman Sam Rayburn had not complained to Raymond Moley, ranking brain truster, about the first draft of the Securities Act, Moley would never have called Felix Frankfurter. If Felix had not been aware of FDR’s distrust of establishment lawyers, we might have never been summoned.”
Tom deferred to Ben; he would never dispute the “ifs.” His facts, however, were solid: “You and Jim Landis were holed up in two bedrooms at the Carlton. I would arrive after my day’s work at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. I lay on your bed, Ben, for two solid weeks of all-night drafting sessions. I memorized the designs on the ceiling and drank so much sugar in my coffee I came away weighing 245 pounds.”
Ben reminded Tom that the Carlton Hotel bill was never paid until 1936, when FDR’s reelection made it possible to raise the funds. Tom pointed out that Jim Landis, a genius with piercing blue eyes and a staccato-authoritarian style, bothered Ben. “They” succeeded in persuading the President to appoint Landis to the Federal Trade Commission. The “they” in this case, as in most cases to come, referred to Tom, the eloquent persuader.
“That made us a team,” Tom exclaimed as if the moment had been sanctified. Scholarly, reticent, Ben sat relaxed, a cigarette dangling from his lips. In the early New Deal days Ben smoked four packs a day, letting ashes fall all over him. Tom dominated the conversation; everything about him was positive and exuberant. “You wrote those perfect drafts and I went down to the Hill to peddle them. You would sit silent at work, your mind spinning away, your drafting as structured as an architect’s drawing. You sensed the penumbra of the complications we faced, the loophole in Section 10 was always closed in Section 20.”
Amused, Ben described the Stock Exchange officers who came rushing to protest the bill. Urging the drafters to take their time, they suggested changes. When the New Dealers produced new drafts in 48 hours, they were alarmed. Their delaying tactics outwitted, they finally capitulated. Tom, adding a footnote, remarked: “They finally discovered we were not trying to make America over, we were just trying to make it work.”
“We were late,” Ben added in his slow-paced gravelly voice. “Those laws should have been on the books 50 years ago.” He was referring to the Securities Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, the Public Utilities Holding Act and others they had a hand in; the Wage and Hour Law, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Federal Housing Authority that followed. “In countries outside the United States, the disasters of the depression might have stirred up riots, or even revolutions.” Tom agreed: “When FDR came along, the credit crunch had become universal. Most Americans were jobless and desperate. Fortunately, there was no national debt and the race relations shock had not yet registered.”
They talked as veterans might, retracing a battle, avoiding a mine field, and praising their general, FDR, as his own best politician. Ben pointed out FDR “knew how to carry Congress; he would, if necessary, intervene directly with a member’s constitutents.” Tom pitied today’s members: “Then there was no TV, no commercial airline. The poor devils nowadays have to pose on the Capitol steps with every high school class.” An adjunct to FDR’s ability, they agree, was his success with both parties.
Ben, in laconic style, and Tom, in fast-paced prose, described the elements of belief, trust, and excitement that were always present. “We were succeeding,” Tom declared. “We were winning.” Ben described the law school graduates who came rushing down to help. “They felt they had come to work for the Lord even if they never saw him. We were just like those eager young men. We never stopped to question whether we were working for Rayburn, or Moley, or Felix, or for the President.”
Both men could be easily identified by a December 1938 cover of TIME magazine. Tom’s pepper-and-salt brown hair later turned gray but he always wore the same snug, well-tailored, double-breasted suits. Ben’s russet pompadour receded and thinned. His spectacles remained rimless.
Thomas Gardiner Corcoran—”Gardiner” a seafaring maternal family name—was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Dec. 29, 1900. His father, Patrick, son of an Irish immigrant, became Pawtucket’s leading lawyer and Democratic politician. His mother was an O’Keefe. Her father, one of the last of the whaling captains, sailed everywhere and after settling down built himself a schooner. The Andrew Marvel was burned at the docks in Cardiff, Wales, in a World War II German bombing raid. The Corcorans were well enough off, but their father insisted they work with their hands as well as with their heads. At twelve, Tom started a paper route; later he worked in stores and on farms. He got through both Brown, graduating at the head of his class, and Harvard Law on scholarship money. He also earned money playing piano in dance bands. He thought of being a musician, but the law enticed him more.
During summer vacations, Tom stalked the heights, studied astronomy. An active member of the save-the-mountains Appalachian Club, his colorful presence is still legendary to climbers.
Benjamin V. Cohen—the V often stood for victim—was brought up very differently from Corcoran. Born Sept. 24, 1894, he grew up in Muncie, Indiana. His Jewish father was a prosperous businessman who had immigrated from Poland. Cohen remembers he worked on Saturdays. “I suspect they wanted me out of the house. I sold shoes.” His family were staunchly Republican, due, perhaps, to what was then characterized as the (President) Cleveland depression.
Having distinguished himself as a student in Muncie public schools, he was sent off to the University of Chicago at the age of 16. One professor pronounced him “the most brilliant student I ever taught.” His grades were the top score of his class. When pressed, Ben admits to continuing his studies all through the four quarters permitted by the University, thereby attaining both graduate and law degrees in four years. He moved on to Harvard for his doctorate (S.J.D.). Twitted by friends about his record-breaking grades, he evades the subject, saying, “There were those rumors.”
Both men have remained actively engaged, separately and in quite different ways, with the present and the future. Corcoran called himself a “legislative entrepreneur.” When he resigned in 1940, reporters described him as a lawyer-lobbyist. Edward Burling, Senior, one of Tom’s favorite curmudgeons and co-founder of the prestigious Washington law firm of Covington, Burling, referred to Tom’s successful under-taking as “parliamentary practice.”
In Tom’s suite of offices there was one uncluttered room where he received clients. Photographs of his heroes hung in a cluttered hideaway. On chairs that once belonged to both Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for whom Tom clerked in 1926, and to Judge Learned Hand, were stacked weeks of unread and undipped newsprint. Photographs of both justices hung alongside one of World War II General Clair Chennault, inscribed “To an oft tried and proved friend, Tom G. Corcoran.” Eight months before Pearl Harbor, Corcoran put flyers, later known as “Flying Tigers,” into the general’s planes. A gold inscribed plaque expressed the “grateful appreciation” of the famous aviators. In adjoining rooms, huge maps of Tom’s favorite New Hampshire Mountains were shown visitors.
Home, in a wooded section of the city, became an extension of Tom’s office. Clients came to a 7:30 business breakfast or a quiet lunch. The tulip trees were taller than the white stucco house, flooded with sun, pale colors, silky rugs, and portraits of Tom’s deceased wife, Peggy. He never passed his piano without testing it. He could sight read but played mainly by ear. Pianos and women were his favorite non-business topics.
Tom Corcoran remained a controversial, fast-talking figure. As an advocate, his value was measured in six figures. In the thirties a reporter described him as a “man who went through the boom-and-broke years in Wall Street with his eyes and ears open; a Tory who believed the capitalist system would work if well mixed with brains.”
Corcoran found no fault with this description. He spoke often of the average man’s fears. “They lead lives of quiet desperation. They listen to commentators, devour TV, They ask themselves how can they deal with this evil they see and hear about. No wonder the churches lose adherents. One can suffer if one knows it is going to turn out all right.” Righting wrongs took Corcoran to many a fund-raising, political rally, and dogood cause. The checks he signed would paper many walls. He was always an optimist; he hoped for ways to make things turn out right.
Corcoran also believed in the wisdom of Cohen. “He can be counted on to be passionate about the troubles of our society. He was right about Vietnam long before others. He knew the war would tear the country apart, drain it, cause limitless inflation.”
Ben talked about Tom with equally moving intensity. “If only he had built up his own position instead of always promoting and helping others, he would have been a great judge, a cabinet officer, the solicitor general, the only position he ever really wanted. He was often accused of being too much of a self-seeker but, in a broader sense, he sacrificed himself. He tried to express his views through others.”
Frequent reference to Corcoran’s facility at the piano and the accordion, an instrument he referred to as his stomach Steinway, irritated Ben. When FDR’s favor was attributed to Tom’s melodic talents, Ben smoldered. “Tom met the president when FDR learned he could put a lilt in the language. Tom’s ability to talk down opposition on the Hill turned him into a power broker. He assembled the talent. He knew to whom each question in every agency should be put; he knew because he had placed them there. Frankfurter may have thought he was dictating the moves in the historic chess game but Tom was always the expediter. Later when Frankfurter did his best to keep Tom from becoming Solicitor General, alleging he had become “too political,” Tom must have realized that Felix had feet of clay.”
Young people always sought Ben’s advice on everything from what college subject should be their major to where they would find the “good life.” He joked about the many student theses he had helped write. For many years young men came to take him to play tennis, a game he enjoyed indoors and out.
Friends who wanted to celebrate his 80th birthday were gently turned down; Ben always preferred reading to partying. At Tom’s 70th celebration, he delivered the witty, tender speech of the evening. Close friends will testify that he was never heard to say a cruel or unkind word; he might laugh at people, but he was never mean.
After Corcoran left government in 1940, Ben was to take on many of the titles he declined in the thirties; legal advisor to Ambassador Winant, London, 1941; legal counsel to Secretary James F. Byrnes in State; delegate to Dumbarton Oaks; legal advisor to Bretton Woods. In 1947 he was called back to become a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations. In 1950, he was again summoned, this time as lawyer to argue before the Court at the Hague that Iron Curtain countries were violating the human rights clauses of their peace treaties. His warning was prophetic: the future of the U.N. would depend upon its ability to promote respect for human rights.
The liberal’s evangelist Joe Rauh describes Ben as “the most brilliant man ever, the greatest counselor on any subject anyone could have.” Joe knew that “everything personal had to be pulled out of him.” He remained modest, indifferent to luxuries, to the life style most ambitious men seek. He would defend Tom fiercely when his relations with corporate clients were criticized. “When in trouble,” he would observe, “these same critics will go to Tom for help and help will be given, often gratis.”
Ben points out Tom’s generous nature: when General Chennault died, he promised to take care of Anna, his young Chinese wife. He remained a frequent escort. Taking care of meant giving advice, keeping in close touch. He had a long list of persons in this category.
In his eighties Ben remained wise, selfless, and a voracious reader. Periodicals of all shades of opinion, Congressional Records, and books overflowed the shelves and tables. They even stood on the floor in his spare Winthrop House apartment on Massachusetts Avenue. The Time cover hung in a conspicuous place. His day started the night before when he walked his gray schnauzer (one of a series of dogs), Mr. Deeds, to the Dupont Plaza Hotel to buy the next day’s Washington Post. The doorman fed the dog tidbits Ben had provided: “otherwise he would give him indigestible scraps from the kitchen.” “Mr. Deeds lets me live with him,” Ben told callers in his self-deprecating voice.
When Tom married in 1940, Ben continued to live with the Corcorans until the fourth child was underway. He became Uncle Ben to Tom’s four sons and one daughter. When Tom’s wife died in 1957, Ben watched Tom pour almost “too much devotion on his children, lessons, books, sports, advice, they had too much of everything.”
When Tom first saw The Little Red House, he was entranced by the 35-foot living room with its twin marble mantels and their gilt feathered Chippendale mirrors. But it was the rosewood grand piano in that long room that proved irresistible. “I’ve always had a weakness for things I could not afford.” The place was in disrepair, but he needed the house to bring Ben back to Washington.
Between them they recall the first occupants; some had been Republicans: Merrit Willits, who had sandy hair and a “country boy look”; Dick Guggenhime from San Francisco, industrialist, who stayed only six months and found them the “greatest six months in my life”; and Stuart Guthrie, a Bull Moose Republican who likened FDR’s ideology to his favorite, Teddy Roosevelt. Guthrie, now in his nineties, vividly recalls the FDR haters: “In many states anything FDR proposed was regarded as wrong headed, socialistic, and perhaps even communistic.”
Talent counted, politics did not. Tom had one standard in choosing his “little chicks,” as he called his young men—high law school grades. Frank Watson went through law school without taking a single note. He and Willits had roomed together at Harvard. Ed Burke, Princeton and Harvard Law, Richard Quay, a Rhodes scholar, the grandson of a Republican Senator for Pennsylvania, along with Ed Burling had all three worked with Tom in New York at Cotton and Franklin, a law firm specializing in securities, then referred to as “green goods.”
Willits and Watson earned $2,400; others, more experienced, were paid more. Tom and Ben drew salaries of $7,000, most of which they plowed back into meeting household expenses. Ed Foley, who became best man at Tom’s wedding, and later under secretary of the treasury; Ed Burling, who joined his father’s law firm, and Alfred T. Hobson at the RFC, a piano and party man, were never occupants but most always participants. When prominent New Dealers came to sing songs on Saturday nights, Hobby and Tom accompanied them on two pianos. Hobby once astonished the household by arriving with his own piano on the shoulders of four strong men; that evening there were three pianos in harmony with Burke and/or Guggenhime playing the third. Open partying became a feature; people just came, and Tom and others just went on playing. Guthrie still recalls the “marvelous music”; Dick Guggenhime describes the talent as “fantastic.”
Peggy Dowd, a secretary whom all the inhabitants admired, was a popular visitor. Frank Watson, then Peggy’s boss, remembers how fast she could type: “You could hardly see the keys move, and, at the same time, she could carry on a conversation with you.” When Watson left for Indiana to carry on his Federal Housing Authority assignment, Tom had his first date with the blue-eyed, red-gold-haired beauty. They dined at the Tally Ho restaurant on 17th Street, where you could have dinner for 85 cents and a glass of wine for 20. Tom maintains that the time he decided to marry Peggy was at midnight when she just laughed as he handed her a long piece of legislation he needed by morning. Ben reminded Tom that he may have made up his mind in 1934, but it was 1940 and “two houses” later when Peggy and Tom took off for the little church in Leesburg.
Tom had his reasons for the delay, and for the night shifts. FDR had a habit of pulling back and casing the situation to see who had the most troops for or against. They, namely Ben and Tom, had to be ready with the latest draft by early morning.
Peggy Dowd waited because of some obscure folklore: the eldest son in a Catholic family never married until his mother died. Rumors of Tom’s firing young Benedicts who wed still survive. Irishmen laugh at Tom’s legend; maybe waiting eldest sons account for Irish old maids.
Neither Ben nor Tom could be certain what they paid for rent. The telephone bills alone ran to $600.00. Felix Frankfurter called often and always collect. Burke, who kept the household books, remembers that everyone’s share of expenses went up in winter when the ancient furnace ate up tons of coal. Rumor had it that the furnace might have been salvaged from either of the Civil War ships, the Monitor or the Merrimac. The Little Red House belonged to an admiral’s widow, thereby lending credence to the joke.
What those two men contributed to the New Deal and the 20th century may have begun in the Carlton Hotel, but it was sealed and fulfilled in The Little Red House at 3238 R Street.
The spring of 1934 was open season for Roosevelt haters. It was Congressman Fred A. Britten, Republican from Chicago, a handsome, stylish ex-boxer, who gave The Little Red House its name. Britten used testimony offered at a congressional hearing by Dr. William A. Wirt, superintendent of schools from Gary, Indiana. Wirt was known to be a member of the Silver Shirts, a right-wing organization. He testified that at a dinner of radical-minded government employees he overheard a plot to overthrow the government, claiming FDR was but the Kerensky of the New Deal Revolution and that the Lenins were to follow. Britten attacked “the ten to 18 young men of radical minds. . .,” known as “Frankfurter’s hot dogs,” who met every night in “The Little Red House.”
Britten’s term “The Little Red House” transformed an appellation given to “The Little Green House” of ill-repute in the Harding Administration. His remarks provoked Congressman Charles V. Truax, Democrat, to ask “would the gentleman prefer “The Little Green House” that owned and robbed the country for twelve years?” Neither side relented.
The Washington Times Herald carried a picture of the small, ill-proportioned 1910 Harding house directly beneath the handsome large brick mansion on R Street. The caption under The Little Red House reads: “But It’s No Shack.” The sedate New York Times described the scene as “an oratorical field day afforded members of Congress by a slack calendar.”
In May 1934, Max Stern of the Washington Daily News rang the bell at 3238 R Street. Corcoran, disengaging himself from piano playing, called out: “Come in but park your bomb at the door.” Stern found a “group of well-tailored, well-behaving young men harmonizing.” He felt let down to be asked to sing second bass, not to the “Internationale” but to “Git Along Little Doggie.” In his story Stern facetiously characterized those present. Tom and Ben were accused of the crime of “drafting” the stock market regulation bill. Guthrie, the house patriarch, was declared harmless along with Burke, Watson, Willits, Quay, and others. Their dedication to government service reminded Stern of the British system of placing talented sons of England’s first families in the British Civil Service.
Gerald Swope, who later joined the household, came of just such a first family; his father was president of General Electric. His uncle, Herbert Bayard Swope, introduced him to Joe Kennedy (father of President Kennedy), who became the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kennedy promptly hired young Swope. Swope recalls the night when Corcoran, Cohen, and a male secretary Corcoran employed for night duty, dined with Kennedy. The purpose of the group was to draft Kennedy’s maiden speech. He was to make what was then considered a bold statement: “I believe in corporations making a profit.” Swope watched fascinated as Corcoran dictated and Ben, seizing each page, edited the contents. His Harvard Law School classmates felt as he did about the New Deal: “It was like joining up at war time . . .you felt left out if you didn’t go to Washington.”
Neither Cohen nor Corcoran paid any attention to what was said in the newspapers or in congressional debates. They purposely took no impressive government titles. Early on they wrote speech drafts as well as legislation for FDR, but neither was ever on the White House staff. Over the years neither was affected by his historical halo. Both always refused all offers of biographers. Cohen turned down frequent requests for oral history interviews remarking: “Answering questions on one’s role in public events, one tends to exaggerate one’s effectiveness. I am interested in today and tomorrow, not yesterday.” Corcoran fended off writers by assuring them he was writing his autobiography.
On March 5, 1933, the day after the inauguration, President Roosevelt proclaimed a national bank holiday. The emergency banking measure the President proposed extended government assistance to private bankers to reopen their banks. The bill was passed by the House by a voice vote.
The neophytes representing the government on the bank reorganization effort found meeting attorneys from prestigious law firms a heady experience. Tom’s little chicks, trained by him in the intricacies of these transactions, had the advantage. By the time they were at work on the tenth or twelfth transaction, private practice giants were engaged in their first encounter. Watson kept a record: of the 15-plus banks to which he was assigned, only one later collapsed. An odd experience amused him: “A Southern lawyer offered me a twenty-dollar bill to speed up the work.” “We did feel,” Watson reported, “we were contributing something; we were moving mountains, one shovelful at a time.”
Guggenhime pointedly underscores the lack of self-interest. At the time when Watson’s hometown bank came up for help, he merely remarked that although they were in trouble, they just did not qualify under the rules.
Stuart Guthrie avows that he was neither noble-minded nor enthusiastic about coming to Washington. “It was with reluctance that I finally decided to accept.” But by the time one year had expired, he had changed his mind: “We were all hooked. Nothing could have induced any of us to leave the scene.”
The inhabitants of The Little Red House never felt deprived. Living was cheap; they could ride a cab to work for fifty cents. And when they had the senior Kiplinger, father of the current Kiplinger Letter, and/or Raymond Moley for dinner, and Charles Edison for breakfast, all these years later they could put it down as a fabulous experience, or as Guggenhime says: “That was the place to be.”
Corcoran was known to be a hard driver, but Watson recalls times when he could be gentle and persuasive. He used words as another might use power. Watson was present when Tom smooth-talked an official of the Federal Reserve who was determined not to cooperate. When they left, the man still held out, but Tom instructed Watson to go back the next day, “I have softened him up.” Tom was right; by the next day the man was ready to compromise.
Guggenhime had a similar experience: “Tom once took some of us to call on the then Attorney General, Homer Cummings. The legality of a clause in some legislation was in dispute. En route, Tom remarked: “It’s always better to have more men on your side than the other man has on his.” Guggenhime recalls another occasion when he sat outside of the Cabinet room holding a draft of an executive order creating the Export-Import bank. He and others had stayed up most of the night refining the paper he clutched. Guggenhime figured he was at last about to meet the president, but at the right moment, Tom came through a door, swept towards Guggenhime, snatched the order, and went right on through into the Oval Office.
When asked how he and Ben managed their easy access to the sacred, well-guarded Oval room, Tom replied that “Missy LeHand or Hackey,” FDR’s personal secretary and the White House personal telephone operator, were their “infallible contacts. Pa Watson, Steve Early, Marvin Mclntyre, the insiders, none of them ever liked us.” FDR depended on various small groups, but he never wanted to be dependent on any one group—or even any one person.
Tom gave himself not only to his contemporaries and his “chicks” but also to his elders. He took Quay to meet Justice Holmes. Quay described the luncheon as one of his most cherished memories. By then Holmes had reached the status of a living legend. All deferred to him but “Tom, by contrast, treated him as an equal, pulling no punches, keeping the conversation rolling at a furious pace and teasing him unmercifully.” The old gentleman loved it, and as they left he came to the door and putting his hand on Tom’s shoulder said: “Sonny, you have the most preposterous narrative facility I have ever encountered.”
In those days the Court still sat in the Old Senate Chamber. Clerks were crowded into a narrow corridor which each Justice had to traverse to get to his private office. Tom admitted he often forgot to push his chair back into the knee hole of his desk. After several collisions, Holmes chided Tom: “Young man, unless you push your chair out of the aisle, I’m going to hold you personally responsible for damage to what I choose to call my reproductive organs.”
For the last months of the justice’s life, Tom made a point of paying him frequent visits after work. He would dine with Holmes, read to him, and see him safely to bed. Holmes was the first of a group of elder statesmen and heroic figures that included Justices Brandeis and Frankfurter, Joe Cotton, under secretary of state under President Hoover, Judge Learned Hand, General Claire Chennault, Edward Burling, Sr., and others to whom Tom was to devote his enduring loyalty. Edward Burling recalls the coffee-cum-debating breakfasts Tom enjoyed with his father. “If Tom was for you, you could do no wrong. But with others, he would push them from hell to breakfast for any mistake.”
In June 1935, Ickes’ diary noted that Cohen and Corcoran came to dinner, probably to impress a group of senators Ickes had assembled. Ickes’ diary records many calls by Tom and Ben to Roosevelt’s prima donna secretary of the interior. Cohen went with Ickes to call on Senator Robinson of Arkansas, then majority leader, and Cohen was requested to stand by while Ickes visited with Vice President John Garner. When Ickes threatened to resign, Tom once again arrived with Ben, who let Tom do all the talking. Ben’s almost silent presence gave these occasions the solemnity they required. Ickes did not resign.
Ben’s silence was as persuasive as speech by other men. Quay pictured Ben as “at home in Plato’s Republic. By far his most important gift was wisdom, a quality much rarer than intellect.” Watson’s meticulous memory saw him writing longhand on yellow legal-size pads. “He was never a young, playful guy. He sat around the edges and we waited for his advice. We suspected he was guiding Tom but had no proof. He had a tremendous reputation as a draftsman.” Burke described his draftsmanship as “consummate and ingenuous.” Working with him had an advantage: when they were writing railroad legislation, it was hard to believe Ben had not always been a railroad lawyer. His solutions to seemingly impregnable problems of financing were radical departures from traditional methods.
On the February day in 1937 when the Court-packing plan was announced by the White House, Ben Cohen had left for New York. The news reached him when he bought a paper in the station. He took the first train back to Washington so he could be with Tom during the coming storm. Neither Tom nor Ben had been consulted in advance of the announcement. Even though they had misgivings about the tactic, they sympathized with Roosevelt’s purpose and pitched in to help him sell it to Congress. Despite their best efforts, the bill never passed.
At the close of the lease on The Little Red House in June 1936, the Admiral’s widow and her lawyer appeared claiming $600 in damages. Burke made them martinis. They sat in the lovely, long living room talking of many things. The claimants forgot about the andirons being dirty. They settled for $150.
Dick Guggenhime likes to think that the “friendships forged in The Little Red House last forever.” Guthrie, Guggenhime, and Burke all came to Washington to celebrate Tom’s 70th birthday. At the New Deal dinner on March 4, 1977, commemorating the 44th anniversary of FDR’s inaugural, Tom introduced Ben as the Saint of the New Deal.
In the fall of 1975, Corcoran and Cohen were seen together on the steps of The Little Red House. They had been attending a fund raiser for the Committee for a More Effective Congress, a bipartisan organization. They were watching a line of solemn pickets marching up and down. The protestors, mostly neighbors intermixed with Georgetown history buffs, were trying to delay the building of other houses on either side of the tall twin magnolias that still guard The Little Red House.
Since then one house has been built. A narrow space of lawn separates the commodious dwelling from one of the twin magnolias. Hearings had been held, but zoning laws had given new owners permission to build. The new bricks are paler than those of the original Little Red House.
As they left, Tom was overheard remarking to Ben: “Did you notice, the elegance of that house has not lost its eloquence?”