“Political Paranoia” and the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club, feat. Future Governor Ann Richards

by Paula Bosse

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by Paula Bosse

Ann Richards drove my carpool. She and my mother swapped out driving kids to the First Unitarian Church Cooperative Preschool on Preston and Normandy in University Park. I’m not sure anyone in either family was an actual member of the church, but that preschool was one of the only co-ops in Dallas (it might have been the first), and it was a magnet for the more progressive parents in the city. The Unitarian Church was also a major gathering place in the 1960s and 1970s for those involved in women’s issues, liberal activism, and Democratic politics, including my mother and the future governor of Texas, Ann Richards. I remember hearing about Ann (she was always referred to as just “Ann”) throughout my entire childhood. My parents weren’t close friends with the slightly older Richardses, but my mother was a keen admirer of Ann and my father described her as “the funniest woman I’ve ever known.” I remember their home on Lovers Lane which always seemed to be crammed full of kids.

When Ann Richards lived in Dallas she was a self-described “housewife,” who, when she wasn’t busy raising her four children, was volunteering for Democratic candidates and causes. She was an active member of the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club, a group which, in 1963, gained instant attention for the fundraiser show they wrote and performed called “Political Paranoia,” a satirical revue of politics, complete with sharp satire, broad comedy, song parodies, and ridiculous wigs and costumes. The show was such a huge success that follow-up standing-room-only shows were performed in 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1968. The shows were written and directed by Carolyn Choate, Ruthe Winegarten, and Ann Richards, and the cast consisted of the members of the NDDW. Ann’s portrayal of LBJ seems to have made lasting impressions on those who saw it.

I have recently begun working on a project for the G. William Jones Film and Video Archive at SMU, and a reel of 16mm black-and-white film — with sound! — was discovered in the vault recently with no identifying information. Nothing. Nobody knows where it came from or how it ended up at SMU. But there it was: a lightly edited filmed document of the second installment of “Political Paranoia,” presented by the North Dallas Democratic Women in the auditorium of Hillcrest High School on May 16, 1964. I was sure Ann Richards would be in there somewhere — and she was! I was pretty excited by this “discovery” because this show has become something of a legendary touchstone in local Democratic politics. As far as I know, there is no other film footage of any of these shows. Not only that, this may well be the earliest footage of Ann Richards, the woman who would go on to become the governor of Texas (1991-1995) and one of the most celebrated women in politics and Texas culture. This is an amazing heretofore unknown historical document.

The show is full of smart sarcasm and “hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show” enthusiasm. The humor is more amusing than cutting, and these Democratic women were certainly not afraid of making fun of members of their own party. A lot of the hot topics of the day addressed in this show are lost to the mists of time, but that doesn’t take away from its entertainment value. This was a time when women had very little voice, impact, or power in politics, and the women here have firmly taken control of the reins and perform with an exuberance that crackles. 

The 34-minute film — complete with odd jumps and abrupt cuts — has been uploaded by SMU in its entirety here:

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Here are a bunch of screenshots. I don’t know who all of the performers are — I would love feedback and corrections from the public. At the bottom is a list of names of women who were involved with the NDDW, but as they were invariably identified as “Mrs. Husband’s Name,” I have no idea what most of their first names are! I am especially interested in identifying Ruthe Winegarten, one of the prime movers behind these shows (and also a Texas and women’s historian of note).

First, 30-year-old Ann Richards (or as she was identified in newspaper accounts, “Mrs. David Richards”) appearing as Gordon McLendon, Dallas media magnate, owner of KLIF, and one-time wannabe politician — “The Old Scotchman.” That voice is unmistakable.

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And here she is as LBJ:

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Carolyn Choate, one of the writers and directors of “Political Paranoia,” wrote the music and performed many of the song parodies (she was also a contributor to the annual Dallas Press Club Gridiron Show).

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I was really interested to see Betty McKool, Ann’s longtime friend with whom she issued a famous series of annual jokey Christmas cards — I think this is Betty, seen as Nelson Rockefeller at the 1964 Republican National Convention in what I thought was a great, incredibly confident performance.

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I’m not sure who the blonde with the glasses and ruffled shirt is, but she gives a spirited performance as Barry Goldwater at the Republican Convention. (Mrs. Ray Pearce portrayed Goldwater in the first “Political Paranoia,” so perhaps this is her revisiting the role.)

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My preschool teacher (and, I believe, the founder of the Unitarian co-op school), Millie Seltzer, is seen below as Lady Bird Johnson. (There’s also a photo of her and Ann as Lady Bird and Lyndon from 1965’s “Political Paranoia III,” which is posted on the blog of Millie’s daughter’s here.)

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Speaking of Lady Bird, here’s Lyndon and Ralph Yarborough (I’m not sure who these women are, but “Lyndon” might be Mary Vogel).

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Possibly Mary Vogel again as “Mrs. GOP.”

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An unknown performer singing about John Connally.

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More unknown performers in “I Dreamed I Dedicated a Federal Center in 1994….”

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…dedicated by Republican congressman Bruce Alger.

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Again, possibly Betty McKool in the straw hat in the center (with someone else playing her husband, Mike McKool).

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The cast, with leggy Joyce Schiff at the microphone (and Ann Richards behind her to the left, holding the cowboy hat).

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“Political Paranoia II”
May 16, 1964
Hillcrest High School auditorium

“Poop and patter from the Pedernales to the Potomac…”
“The most talked-about show from Euless to Balch Springs…”

$1.50 for Democrats
$7.67 for independents
$25.00 for Republicans

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Below is a list of women who were members of the North Dallas Democratic Women who were known to have participated in the 1963 and/or 1964 productions of “Political Paranoia,” either on stage or behind the scenes. If you recognize any of these women in the SMU film footage, please make note of a time-marker and let me know where you see them and I will update the info.

Written and directed by:
Mrs. Alvin Winegarten (RUTHE WINEGARTEN)
Mrs. David Richards (ANN RICHARDS)
Mrs. Jim Choate (CAROLYN CHOATE)

Mrs. Mike McKool (BETTY McKOOL)
Mrs. Holbrook Seltzer (MILLIE SELTZER)
Mrs. Harry Weisbrod (BEA WEISBROD)
Mrs. Herbert Schiff Jr. (JOYCE SCHIFF)
Mrs. Philip Vogel (MARY VOGEL)
Mrs. Frederick Sparks (MERLENE SPARKS)
Mrs. Sam Whitten (VIRGINIA WHITTEN)
Mrs. Harry Hoffman
Mrs. Thomas L. Ford
Mrs. Harold Polunsky
Mrs. Kenneth Parker
Mrs. Charles Webster
Mrs. J. T. Mullenix
Mrs. Forrest West
Mrs. C. A. Hurst
Mrs. Jack Cohan
Mrs. Donald Fielding
Mrs. Don Kise
Mrs. Stanley Kaufman
Mrs. Richard Sandow
Mrs. Irwin Kaim
Mrs. James Taylor
Mrs. Ray Pearce
Mrs. Daniel Rosenthal
Mrs. Oscar M. Wilson Jr.
Mrs. Earl Granberry
Mrs. Jerome Meltzer 

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Sources & Notes

Screenshots are from “Political Paranoia II,” a filmed chronicle of the 1964 political revue written and performed by the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club at Hillcrest High School on May 16, 1964; the origins of the film are unknown, but this copy is held by the G. William Jones Film and Video Archive, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University. All thanks to Jeremy Spracklen and Scott Martin of the Jones Archive. The direct YouTube link is here.

Thanks also to Margaret Werry and Jean Ball for their help in identifying participants and for taking the time to share their memories of Dallas’ political past.

A good account of Ann Richards’ time in Dallas can be found in her autobiography, Straight from the Heart, My Life in Politics & Other Places (Simon & Schuster, 1989).

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.