How a pair of pranksters fooled the news media
The presidential primary season is entering its home stretch. We’ll soon know which candidates will carry the Republican and Democratic standards in this fall’s campaign. (Then again, this election cycle is so crazy, who knows? Both parties may still be picking their nominees come Election Day.)
Some 50 years ago, one presidential hopeful stood out from the pack. She was like no other candidate before or since. And the incredible thing was … she didn’t exist!
Meet Yetta Bronstein, the president we never had.
To understand this unorthodox candidate, you must first understand the genius who created her.
For nearly 60 years, the deviously brilliant mind of Alan Abel has hatched hilarious hoaxes. He is a professional prankster who made a career of pulling fast ones on gullible TV, radio and newspaper reporters who value sensational stories above journalistic standards. Such as checking to see if the story is real.
Abel burst onto the national scene with his first major prank in 1959. He created a (totally fake) organization called the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA), whose mission was to put clothes on buck naked beasts. Its slogan was “A nude horse is a rude horse.”
Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But Abel had a gift for producing press releases so skillfully written they made the preposterous sound plausible. And many professional journalists fell for it hook, line and sinker. He even landed an interview for SINA on NBC’s Today show, resulting in many equally gullible viewers mailing contributions (which, to his immense credit, Abel always mailed back).
Emboldened by this success, Abel and his co-conspirator and wife Jeanne set their sights on an even bigger target: the 1964 presidential election.
They cooked up a candidate, Yetta Bronstein, a Bronx housewife with a thick Jewish accent on the far end of middle age who had never held a job, much less run for office. (In the time before a peanut farmer, a retired movie star and a billionaire-developer-turned-reality-TV-show-star sought the presidency, her candidacy seemed wildly improbable).
A candidate needs a political party, so the Abels gave her one, the Best Party, whose slogan got right to the point: “Why not?”
Yetta’s platform was bold. She wanted to:
- replace taxes with national Bingo to finance the federal government
- take Congress off salary and put it on straight commission
- allow gun ownership but decrease bullet velocity by 95%
- put truth serum in all Senate drinking fountains
The Abels even designed a spiffy campaign poster. But first they had to overcome a big problem. Jeanne agreed to play Yetta. But as a 20something attractive blonde, she looked nothing like the image they had crafted. So they used a photo of Alan’s real-life Jewish mother. Problem solved.
The Abels cranked out campaign press releases, and interview requests were soon pouring in. Reporters took those releases at face value and didn’t bother to check whether the Best Party or Yetta Bronstein even existed. They looked and sounded official, and that was good enough for them. Because of the physical appearance problem, TV interviews were declined. But Yetta did newspaper and radio interviews. Lots and lots of them. Even the esteemed New York Times fell for the hoax; its article quoted Yetta as saying, “I figure we need a Jewish mother in the White House. A mother will take care of things. Maybe our country could use a queen, you know? It certainly wouldn’t do any harm.”
The funniest moment came when Yetta sent a letter to the very real Lyndon Johnson as he prepared to attend the very real Democratic Party’s national convention in Atlantic City, offering to drop her campaign and become his running mate. She wrote: “Maybe I’ll see you on the beach in Atlantic City. That’s my home stomping grounds and I’ll be happy to show you around. I can also get many things there for you wholesale.”
Tuesday, November 3, 1964 rolled around and LBJ won in a landslide. But still, several thousand people went to the polls and actually voted for a fictional character.
Yetta’s fifteen minutes of fame weren’t over yet. She went on to run for Congress and even sought a seat in Britain’s Parliament … and was soundly trounced in those elections, too.
She even recorded a 45 RPM cover of the Beatles hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (which you can listen to on YouTube, by the way). The lads from Liverpool didn’t have to worry about competition from Yetta.
The make-believe Jewish mother threw her apron into the presidential ring a final time in 1968. Then Alan Abel’s fertile mind moved on to other pranks. I am particularly fond of the one where he created BREAD, the Brotherhood of Restaurant Employees and Dishwashers, which lobbied for diners to tip dishwashers instead of waiters and waitresses.
Yetta Bronstein isn’t a candidate for president this year, and that’s a shame. Because when you look at the mess professional politicians in both parties have made of things, the Best Party’s slogan resonates louder today than it did back then: “Why Not?”
Did you find this enjoyable or helpful? Please continue to join me each week, and I invite you to read Tell it Like Tupper and share your review!
Curious about Tell It Like Tupper? Here’s a chance to see for yourself. Take a sneak peek at a couple chapters in this free downloadable excerpt.