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.

SURVIVING POLITICS: THE LAST HURRAH – GARRY ARMSTRONG

John Ford’s classic, “The Last Hurrah”, celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. It was still very timely and I frequently used a clip from the film during my working years until it was suggested I was riding a dead horse. Considering how things worked out, maybe even more timely than I imagined possible.

I didn’t agree then and don’t agree now.

In the movie, Spencer Tracy, aka Frank Skeffington — in reality, the Honorable James Michael Curley — explains how politics has become a media show — the number one spectator sport in the land.

Garry-With-TipONeill

I knew many of the real life characters from the movie based on the popular novel about Boston politics. “Tip” O’Neill, the late, legendary Speaker of the House, was my friend, confidante, and muse. O’Neill frequently explained how he cut bi-partisan deals while orchestrating “good cop-bad cop” scenarios so no one looked bad on “the hill.”

O’Neill said he used an end-game big picture hand to win big political pots. He knew how to bluff the bully boys who didn’t know when to walk away from the game.


Today, there is chaos on the hill. Madness from the White House. Insanity in the country. Who has the best hand? Some have already folded, walked away, or been pushed out entirely. If we are lucky, more will come. The cards are grimy and I’m pretty sure they need a new deck.

Tip O’Neill urged me to always look and listen beyond the sound and fury. He smiled in recollection of the deals brokered while end-of-days threats filled Congress. Sadly, there are no Tip O’Neills today, but his advice about not yielding remains valid and relevant. I wonder what he would do today?

When the rhetoric abated, it was our job to vote with intelligence and not fold our hand. Doesn’t look to me like we got it right. What do you think?

THE LAST HURRAH: SURVIVING OUR POLITICS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Election - 2016_election_banner_1

Marilyn stirs the pot for this piece on our political porridge — which is boiling over.

So many seemingly poor choices on the menu of presidential candidates. How do you choose without a four to eight year siege of mental Montezuma’s revenge?

The potty mouth exchanges between the Republican candidates are less and less funny with each passing day. It’s no longer Spring Training. They’re playing for keeps — with our baseballs.

John Ford’s classic, “The Last Hurrah”, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It’s still very timely. I frequently used a clip from the film during my working years until it was suggested I was riding a dead horse.

I didn’t agree then and don’t agree now. Spencer Tracy, aka Frank Skeffington, aka James Michael Curley, explains how Politics has become a media show — the number one spectator sport in the land.

Garry-With-TipONeill

I knew many of the real life characters from the movie based on the popular novel about Boston politics. “Tip” O’Neill, the late, legendary Speaker of the House, was my friend, confidante, and muse. O’Neill frequently explained how he cut bi-partisan deals while orchestrating “good cop-bad cop” scenarios so no one looked bad on “the hill.”

O’Neill said he used an end-game big picture hand to win big political pots. He knew how to bluff the bully boys who didn’t know when to walk away from the game.

Today, there’s a lot of bluster from the bully boys. Who has the best hand? Some have already folded and walked away. The cards appear a bit grimy. Maybe they need a new deck.

Tip O’Neill urged me to always look and listen beyond the sound and fury. He smiled in recollection of the deals brokered while end-of-days threats filled Congress. Sadly, there are no Tip O’Neills today, but his advice about not yielding to the bully boys remains valid — and relevant.

When the rhetoric abates, it’s our duty to vote with intelligence — and not fold our hand.