Bellamann, Churchill, Fulton, and the "Iron Curtain" Speech
Several months ago I received an inquiry from Mr. Joe Norton concerning a possible connection between Henry Bellamann's novel Kings Row and the selection of Fulton, Missouri, (the town on which Bellamann modeled his fictional town Kings Row) as the site of Winston Churchill's landmark "Iron Curtain" speech.
I had never heard of such a connection but was very interested in the possibility and began to look into it. Below is a somewhat edited version of correspondence to date on the subject.
If you have any information to contribute or would like to comment in any way, please e-mail me at LRampey@panix.com. Please be sure to let me know if you wish your comments to be posted here and, if so, whether or not I may use your name and/or e-mail address.
Joe Norton's original inquiry (9/4/99):
I lived in St. Louis for about 10 years and share an interest in some
of the local authors from around there. I wonder if you could shed some
the following topic.
I have heard that there may have been a connection between the book
"Kings Row" and the surprising choice of a small obscure college like
Westminster at Fulton as the platform from which Churchill elected to
Iron Curtain Speech. The connection is that, as you know, the book was
into a movie, and this film became one of Churchill's favorites, which he
often watched for relaxation during WW II. This much is fact. Well then,
since a theme of the book is the struggle between smallness and
quirkiness versus largeness and opportunity in the normative environment
of America, the small town, the setting of this book and movie would
made a forceful point on the need of post-War America to rise to its
new role of world-class leadership. Perhaps that was in the back of
Churchill's mind in deciding where to deliver his message. It is
surprising coicidence that two significant literary settings occurred in
otherwise quite mundane surroundings of a place like Fulton, Missouri.
Can you advise me if anyone has pursued that hypothesis and reached
conclusion on it? Thanks very much.
Leslie's response (9/4/99):
This is fascinating. I've never made the connection, but I shall
pass your note along to Dr. Harry Bayne (who wrote the South Carolina
material on my page). If he doesn't know anything about it, I'm sure that
Jay Karr, who has put out the latest ed. of _KR_, will. I'll get back to
you when I find out something. Thanks for writing and for looking at my
Leslie quotes Robert H. Pilpel (9/8/99):
"Late in 1945, when Churchill's plans to come to America were made
public, Franc Lewis ('Bullet') McCluer, the president of a small
Presbyterian college in Fulton, Missouri, called Westminster, contacted
Brigadier General Harry Vaughan (class of '16), military aide to the
president of a large nonsectarian replublic in North America. McCluer
told Vaughan that Westminster needed an eminent speaiker -- 'of
international reputation,' according to the terms of the endowment -- to
deliver the annual Green Foundation lecture early in March. Vaughan, the
faithful alumnus, promptly got McCluer an appointment with fellow
Missourian Harry Truman, who proved to be very sympathetic to
Westminster's cause. He not only agreed to forward the college's speaking
invitation to Chartwell under the aegis of the Presidential Seal, he also
scribbled across the bottom of it, 'This is a very fine old [footnote: Old
by Missouri standards: Westminster was founded in 1851.] college in my
state. I will be very glad to go out with you and introduce you. I hope
you can come.'
"Thus the stage was set for what was to become 'Fulton's Finest
Robert H. Pilpel, in Churchill in
America, 1895-1961: An Affectionate
Portrait, pp. 213-4.
Joe Norton's response (9/12/99):
Thanks for your continuing efforts to research possible connections
the novel and the Churchill speech. As you indicated, the quote you
can be interpreted various ways. Superficially, the content indicates
the invitation to Fulton was not Churchill's idea, and thus what he
about Fulton as a setting for his speech is immaterial. However, I work
for the government myself, and it is a fairly commmon ploy to get
someone else to formally initiate a suggestion when there are politics
involved and when the suggestion may be criticized. Probably, the
extent to which Churchill was previously aware of the town and his
of the place, if these facts could still be established, are the most
Harry Bayne's response (and Leslie's comments) (9/15/99):
Churchill did not select an American college at which to deliver
his famous "Iron Curtain" speech. In May 1945, while he was participating
in the Potsdam conference in Germany with President Truman and Premier
Stalin, Prime Minister Churchill learned that the British people had voted
him out of office. Humiliated, embarrassed, and personally wounded by
this rejection, he had to leave the conference to make way for the new
prime minister, Clement Atlee, a person he loathed.
In the months following, Churchill grew despondent and
increasingly reclusive, spending much of his energies on painting,
fishing, and writing. He refused King George VI's offer of a knighthood,
replying, "If I am not worthy to be prime minister, then I am surely not
worthy of a knighthood" (my paraphrase).
Truman, aware of Churchill's demoralized state, made contact with
his friends back in Missouri (his home state), and was able to arrange the
speaking engagement at Westminster College in Fulton, the college which
Henry Bellamann attended in 1900-1901 (renamed Aberdeen College in _Kings
Row_). Truman had bever attended any college, but he did have contacts
at Westminster, and officials there were more than happy to receive their
distinguished guest in 1946.
At the Churchill Memorial in Fulton is a copy of Truman's letter
to Churchill, inviting him to come to speak at Westminster, adding that he
(Truman) would have the honor of introducing him (Chruchill). Churchill
accepted the inviation, came to Washington, rode the train to Missouri
with Truman and his entourage, and delivered the memorable address.
(David Brinkley accompanied Truman and Churchill on the trip, and has
written a colorful account of the journey, including details of a
cross-country poker game, at the outset of which Truman insisted that
Churchill, as the "savior of the free world," must be allowed to win. He
won every hand.)
Harry goes on to doubt that Churchill could have viewed Kings
Row multiple times in pre-videotape years. I have to comment there that
I don't think that would have been impossible. I just finished a
biography of the Windsors in which the author says that the family often
viewed American films in the '30s at home. And we know that our
presidents always have had film prints available to them, so I do not
find it inconceivable that the Prime Minister did also.
A question I would wonder about, however, is: from seeing the
film, how did Churchill know enough about the author's background to
connect him with Fulton? It's an unusual filmgoer who bothers to check
that deeply into the genesis of a film -- even one he likes. Of course,
Churchill was an unusual man! On the other hand, he did have a lot of
other things going on at the time.
Joe Norton's response (10/3/99):
I would like to respond to some of the potential objections raised by
Dr. Bayne, as follows:
1) That Churchill was invited by others to Fulton does not
rule out the fact that the locale influenced the theme of his speech. It
merely implies that the locale influenced the choice of theme, rather
the theme influencing the choice of locale.
Also, by my count we now have two varying accounts as to who
initiated the choice of locale, one the President to the college to
Churchill, the other, the college to General Vaughn to the President,
This further increases my skepticism about ex post facto government
paper trails on the origin of political ideas which might have proven
controversial when initially floated. Basically, I reiterarate that what
Churchill's mind about Fulton and its background is probably the most
decisive point in this matter.
2) I do not see any particular problem with repeat viewings of the
by Churchill provided he was actually given the film by someone. I
butler was trained in how to operate a movie projector.
3) As to how Churchill could have known about the details of the
Fulton setting - no problem. During the 30's when he was so dependent on
written output to keep his ideas before the public, he maintained a group
readers who would synopsize large numbers of books for referencing
in Churchill's own writings. Presumably, these would have represented
elite of the graduates of English public universities and would be
of grasping the societal and ideological implications of a literary
This team of researchers is why, when you read a work written by
during that era, such as the "History of the English Speaking World", it
appears that he had done a vast amount of very selectively targeted
reading, all out of proportion to the time available for such reflection
an active parliamentary career.
Churchill could have maintained some of this reseach and synopsis
during his tenure as PM, or more likely, recalled them when he was out of
and ready then to bring out the "History" for publication. It would be a
task to assign them a similar background research project on Bellamann's
work if they were around during that time. I do not think it's unlikely
that Churchill would have know the movie was based on a book, and from
point all the other effort would have already been available and on hand.
The major concern I have with NOT positing a connection between the
and speech is that either one of two other explanations must then be used
to relate the two significant literary efforts that arose from the same
Either Fulton, Missouri is the type of transcendent and romantic location
gives rise naturally to multiple literary inspirations- and it surely
alternatively, there was a mere coincidence at work. The latter
may be sustainable from the narrow viewpoint of one place and two authors.
But it is not so sustainable from the wider viewpoint of all places and
authors in American literature, because that raises the problem of
repeated coincidences every time a duplicated setting arises anywhere.
dangerously close to positing a geomancy of some sort of "power points"
in the history of ideas if a sufficient number of coincidences are on
remain unchallenged as coincidences. It is to me, much more rational to
connection between ideas coming from the same place at approximately the
same time, if we are focusing upon the intellectual history of a whole