South of The Border: Whitlash's Liberty Hall and the Would-be U.S. Veep
April 3, 2019
South of the Border,
Column No. 7
Columnist's note: Liberty Hall, the century-old community hall in Whitlash sitting atop a small rise, is one of the first buildings a traveler sees when approaching Whitlash in the Sweet Grass Hills. I've read several accounts of the history and role of the building in the community since the hall was completed in 1916. Nearly every version of the history of Liberty Hall recounts the many community events held there over the years and, particularly, the dances held regularly and the occasional professional traveling theatrical or musical groups that would perform.
In Evelyn Aiken's book "Older than the Hills" she describes much of the history of Whitlash and the Hills. In one of her pieces about Liberty Hall, she noted "There was a traveling group called the Glendora Players that would put on a program here when they were going through the area." Aiken's only other mention of the group was a recollection that the group presented "kind of a funny show" and that they sold boxed candy "like the Cracker Jacks."
The mention of Glendora Players got me wondering if there was "a story behind the story." I'd researched similar traveling groups for a story about the old theater in Harlem, Montana. And for some reason, the Glendora Players name struck some chord in my memory. Turns out the founder, Glen Taylor, ran for Vice President of the United States in 1948. Here's some of what I learned about the Glendora Players who likely passed through Whitlash's Liberty Hall during the 1930's and early 1940's.
Glen Taylor grew up in
rural Idaho in a family of entertainers
Glen Taylor was born in 1904 in Portland, Oregon, one of thirteen children. He was raised in rural Idaho and quit school before he reached his teens. Many of his siblings were talented in both music and theater, Glen often described himself as a natural born actor. He began his career in the field of entertainment managing a couple of small movie theatres in rural Idaho owned by one of his brothers. He soon joined a musical-comedy company, run by another brother, located in Montana.
In 1930 Taylor married Dora Marie Pike and they founded the Glendora Players, a company of musicians, singers, dancers and actors. The group's first performance in 1928 was well received. Soon they added their young son, Arod (Dora spelled backwards) to the troupe and he delighted audiences with his cowboy songs and yodeling.
Unfortunately the Great Depression loomed on the horizon and vaudeville acts would soon be replaced with talking movies. The Glendora Players traveled and performed across the Rockies, likely in many situations like Liberty Hall in Whitlash. But they struggled in the throes of the Depression and a changing entertainment industry.
Glen Taylor sought a
seat in Congress
Despite no experience in politics, in 1937 Taylor announced he was going to run for one of Idaho's seats in the U.S. Congress. He sought the Democratic nomination for a House seat but came in fourth. He ran for the U.S. Senate, from Idaho, in 1940. He ran again for a Senate
seat in 1942. Much of this time he was derided as a "hillbilly, clown and buffoon" for his "Singing Cowboy" style of campaigning. Politically he was much more liberal than most successful candidates for Congress from Idaho, yet he continued to build political support among rural Idaho voters and in each election he narrowed his losses.
He won a U.S. Senate seat in 1944. During that campaign he abandoned his cowboy image and discarded the cowboy hat which he wore for the cowboy look and to hide his loss of hair. He fashioned a handmade hair piece to hide his baldness. He often said of his successful Senate campaign, "Hair won the election for me." Making his own custom hairpiece would prove to direct his future when his political career ended with the loss of his Senate seat in 1950.
Taylor used his experience from vaudeville in his political life. He once rode his horse up the stairs of the capitol building. Having difficulty finding housing for his family in Washington, he stood in front of the capitol singing "O give us a home, near the Capitol dome, with a yard for two children to play..." to the tune of Home on the Range. He found housing and was soon referred to as the "Singing Senator."
A run for Vice President on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948
Taylor was viewed by many political commentators as "extremely socialistic" because of some of the policies he supported. Though elected as a Democrat, Taylor found himself more and more at odds with the post-war policies of then President Truman, also a Democrat.
In the 1948 presidential campaign Taylor was tapped as the vice presidential candidate of the Progressive Party. That party's presidential candidate was Henry A. Wallace who was Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940 and elected Vice President when he ran with Roosevelt in 1940. At the 1944 Democratic convention Wallace was replaced as Roosevelt's running mate by Harry Truman. Roosevelt died in office and Truman became President.
Wallace decided to challenge Truman in the 1948 presidential campaign. Unable to win the Democratic Party's nomination, he opted to run on the Progressive Party with Glen Taylor as his running mate. Wallace and Taylor received less than three percent of the popular vote. The 1948 campaign was bitter and hard feelings remained toward Glen Taylor after the election. After losing the bid for his Senate seat he found it virtually impossible to find employment. That's when he turned back to his experience making custom hairpieces.
Glen Taylor designed, perfected and patented the "Taylor Topper" hairpiece
After politics Glen Taylor began making hairpieces at his house and built a business with 65 outlets. Taylor's son, Greg, eventually bought and continues to operate the hairpiece business. Now called Taylormade the original idea started when Glen Taylor made his own hairpiece. He always said of his win for the Senate, "Hair won the election for me. Nobody wants to vote for a bald politician." Glen Taylor died in 1984.
It's hard to say if the Glendora Players' appearances at Liberty Hall in Whitlash had anything to do with Glen Taylor's rise to national political office. But it likely can be said the skills he brought as an entertainer to Liberty Hall did help launch his volatile and short lived political career.