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Bess W. Truman

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"ʻThe Red Bishop was most interesting and I have laid it aside for Harry to read

if he ever gets a minute to read a book except for reference."

Elizabeth Virginia ("Bess") Wallace Truman, 1885–1982.  First Lady of the United States, 1945–1953.  Near-mint condition Autograph Letter Signed, Fondly / Bess Truman, one page, 6" x 9¼", on personal note stationery, Independence, Missouri, no date [April 9, 1954].  With original autograph mailing envelope.

The wife of former President Harry S. Truman strikes all the chords in this letter to Leonard Lyons, the well-known syndicated Broadway gossip columnist who wrote "The Lyons Den" in the New York Post for 40 years, from 19341974.  Bess mentions both Harry and their daughter Margaret and takes a swipe at gossip columnist Walter Winchell, whom President Truman detested and with whom Lyons had a bitter ongoing feud.  In full:  “The Red Bishop was most interesting and I have laid it aside for Harry to read if he ever gets a minute to read a book except for reference.  He quite well remembers the incident you mentioned about bringing the British actress to the Waldorf that evening.  /  I have enjoyed each one of the many whodunits you have so kindly sent me.  /  I hope W. Winchell saw your answer to his fire-fighting statement.  /  I do wish we could get Sylvias [Mrs. Lyons] program out here.  Marg says it is excellent/  My very best to all of you & I hope I can see both of you the next time I am in N.Y."

Lyons (1906–1976) was a lawyer turned reporter.  In its March 15, 1954, issue, just some three weeks before Bess wrote this letter, Time magazine dubbed Lyons the "No. 1 name-dropper" among American newspaper columnists, a man "sharp-eyed and lively as a sandpiper who "flits in and out of restaurants and nightclubs picking up tidbits on kings, stars, villains and dog-biters."  His column was syndicated to 74 daily newspapers throughout the country. 

This letter to Lyons gives some insight into both Harry and Bess.  Harry was an exceptionally well-read and thus well-educated man although his only post-secondary education was a few courses at a night law school in Kansas City.  He was a voracious reader, and he told biographer Merle Miller in Plain Speaking that he had read all of the 3,000 books in his hometown library in Independence, Missouri, by the time he was 14 years old.  He read mostly history and biography, opining once that the only thing new in the world is the history you dont know."  In this letter, Bess confirms that Harry hardly ever read a book except for reference."  Bess, on the other hand, devoured mysteries—which, as in this letter, she termed whodunits."

Harry was smitten with Bess from the time they first met.  He knew her as a child, courted her for years until she finally agreed to marry him, and remained absolutely devoted to her throughout his life.  In its article on Lyons, Time quoted a "typical" Lyons anecdote—one perhaps more revealing of the Trumans than it was of Lyons himself: 

“I owed the Trumans a dinner, for they had been our hosts on that memorable last night in the White House . . . During the cab ride [to a restaurant], I suggested a private screening of . . . Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  He shook his head, glanced at Mrs. Truman's new hairdo, and said:  ‘Real gentlemen prefer grey hair.' "

The Truman Library in Independence has a collection of 22 of Bess's letters to Lyons over the period from 1956 to 1971, mostly thank-you letters for reading materials that Lyons sent the Trumans.  This letter predates that collection.

This is one of the nicest Bess Truman letters that we have seen.  It is in excellent condition, and Bess has penned it boldly in black ink.  The accompanying envelope still has some of the original glue on the flap and is likewise in excellent condition.



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