DITTO IN THE STATEHOUSE – Garry Armstrong

If you are a fan of John Ford’s movies, maybe you remember “Ditto” Boland (actor Edward Brophy), the funny character wearing a Hamburg hat in the “The Last Hurrah.” The real-life Ditto Boland, after the James Michael Curley years, became an elevator operator at the Massachusetts State House. He worked there during the 1970s, which is when I met him.

Our State House reporter had told me about him, “warning” me not to ask Ditto about his past because he’d launch into a long-winded conversation about his storied days with the legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Okay, I was warned.

The “movie” Ditto

One day, I was the only person on the elevator with Ditto. It was an old elevator that groaned as it slowly went from floor to floor. Ditto said nothing until letting me off.

He smiled and said, “Hi, Mr. Armstrong. I know you’re new to Boston. If ever I can give you any help, just let me know.” That was all he said. Not a single James Michael Curley story.

Ditto did help me. As the new reporter in Boston, he pointed out key political players in the stories I was assigned to cover. Boston is a complicated town — especially politically. If you didn’t know who was who, you could be lost trying to correctly cover political events.

I was nervous when assigned to the State House because I didn’t know the backstories of the various Boston politicos. I felt I couldn’t do adequate justice to these assignments. Ditto and a couple of other old-timers rescued me many times over the years. Eventually, I was able to rescue others, too. One good turn deserves many more.

A few years after our first meeting, I ran into Ditto at “The Capital Dome,” a popular bar on Beacon Hill frequented by politicians, lobbyists, political reporters, and hangers-on. I was sitting in a corner – alone – because I really didn’t know that crowd.

Ditto (movie character) second on the right

Ditto approached, asked if he could join me and I nodded. I found his politeness charming because “polite” didn’t usually work well around the State House. We sat, nursing our drinks for long minutes.

Finally, Ditto told me he liked me because I was “friendly and polite.” I nodded. Then he said, “And, you never asked me about James Michael Curley.”

I laughed, longer and harder than I intended. Ditto just sat there, beaming broadly.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

14 thoughts on “DITTO IN THE STATEHOUSE – Garry Armstrong”

    1. Yes, Patricia. I was blessed to encounter many of these wonderful characters — from all walks of life. The common thread — most of them were kind to me. I mention that because reporters – then and now — aren’t always viewed with compassion. It goes with the territory.

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  1. I’m always fascinated by the stories you tell Mr. Garry. Such an interesting life you’ve led! Meeting “Ditto” was indeed a blessing it sounds like, sounds like you two were on a similar wave length that a lucky few get with strangers sometimes. At ease and instant friends. How lovely. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melanie, thanks. I think my job was the conduit or magnet for the encounters. What one did with the encounters is another matter. I saw some of my colleagues “blow off” people which I didn’t think was right. The people — strangers, everyday folks are the ones who watched the news and produced ratings for the TV station. Higher ratings mean/meant more revenue. More revenue translates into financial benefit for the TV reporter – if all is fair.

      Money aside, I think it’s only common decency to be polite to people who engage you in conversation. I worked in the era when TV news people were also regarded as “celebrities”, fodder for newspaper gossip (Pre social media days). I always found it weird but I also LOVED it.

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    1. Thanks, Leslie. I’d read the original novel, “The Last Hurrah”, seen the movie numerous times, visited the Curley home in Jamaica Plain (Massachusetts) — a local “historical” land mark and talked with people who knew the real James Michael Curley. I think — can’t recall for sure — I did a story or two about Curley’s son who was fodder for the gossip pages.
      I frequently used a clip from the movie — the one where Spencer Tracy/Curley tells his nephew that politics was evolving from the old days of kissing babies on street corners to use of radio and television. Tracy/Curley calls politics the greatest spectator sport. I so loved the dialogue and the scene. It was so true. When I had the opportunity to meet “Ditto”, I restrained myself and let him carry the conveation. It usually was sparse because I was headed for a political story and usually nervous because — because I wasn’t sure I was “up” for doing a good job. I think “Ditto” sensed my anxities and, as mentioned, helped a young reporter who would always be grateful.

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        1. Leslie, I don’t know what it’s like now. As a young newsie, in the 60’s and early 70’s – In New York, Connecticut and, finally, Boston — I did my best to absorb knowledge and advice from the old timers. I was always fascinated with their stories, how they “McGyvered” their way through chaos. It enabled me to deal with the daily chaos that I encountered over the years. I never blinked (okay, rarely) — just plunged ahead and did the story. Hours later, looking back — I would realize how crazy I’d been. Okay. A nightcap, sleep and another day of craziness. Sometimes, I would get a heads up. The veteran “Lou Grant” assignment editor would say, “Armstrong, this is a confused-complicated and zany story — your cup of tea — get the hell out of here and get cracking!”.
          I don’t know if there’s the same dynamic in today’s newsrooms.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. And this is why we bump into so many people who “met” you doing a story and remember you as the guy who interviewed them or their parents or teachers. You don’t remember them because there were so many (sometimes I think EVERYONE in New England met you!), but to them, you were a big deal — their single shot at being on TV and important!

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    1. Yes, I still love and appreciate the people who “grew up watching me on television”. Yes, it do make me feel old.(Smiley face)

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  3. In and of itself, that is a touching and amusing story. That he was able to assist you get the lay of the land was precious and priceless. He recognized you for the honest man you are with integrity. He had a great sense of humour too by the sound of things, perhaps a side that not too many were aware of. Loved this! Garry truly enjoyed!

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    1. Garry writes about celebrities a lot because people like hearing about them, but the vast number of encounters he had were regular people — man-on-the-street interviews or people who were caught up in something weird. They really are great stories, especially for the people to whom they happened.

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