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For nearly nine decades, the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club has delivered a “fractured fairy tale” version of state history

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by Patrick B. McGuigan
Associate Editor

It’s time again for the annual Oklahoma City Gridiron roast of national, state and local politics.

“Something always happens in Oklahoma?” You bet — at least since 1928. The late, great Ralph Sewell, a legendary journalist who covered state government for most of his life, wrote the first dtaft of Gridiron’s “fractured fairy tale” history in the 1990s. The story never really ends.

In 1929, four legislative horsemen ran Gov. Henry Johnston back to Perry. Into the governor’s chair slipped Bill Holloway — “I can hear him still, come out to the statehouse and call me Bill.” In 1930, Bill Murray came to the Capitol; music came to the Gridiron during his regime with “The Bells of St. Murray’s.”

In 1933 and 1934, Murray led his national guard into the oil fields and to the Texas line, ran a firebells campaign, made a presidential bid. But FDR and the New Deal moved into the White House. Gridironers sang, “ ‘Cause if you’re young, you’re gonna get stung, Santa Claus is coming to Town.”

In 1935, Ernie Marland gave legislators a taste for Scotch – instead of Coal County Corn. The 1937 show featured Josh Lee’s Rover Boys. They marched Josh to Washington and won themselves federal jobs. In 1939, Gridironers donned red wigs as Leon Phillips became governor. Shows were suspended for two years late in WW II, so Bob Kerr got off lightly.

By 1946, the Gridiron was hot again. Oil Broker and Cowman Roy Turner beat Tulsa’s Dixie Gilmer for Governor. The 1947 show was titled, “All this and (Hereford) Heaven, Too.” It dealt with Gilmer’s complaint that Turner sold a sterile bull for $100,000. But Turner backers warbled, “O, he sold T. Royal Ruppert for a lot of dough and when the buyers and the cows complained, he bought him back again.”

That brought Oklahoma and the Gridiron to Johnston and Willie Murray. “Come on a-my House, Come on.” Harry Truman beat Tom Dewey in 1948: “Boom, boom, boom, Whenever he got his Irish up, Harry lowered the boom.” And so to “Gemmun” Raymond Gary. Carter Bradley, as Gary’s double, skipped to a Mockingbird Hill parody, “Tra-la-la-tweedle-dee-dee, it gives me a thrill to be up from Madill.”

J. Howard Edmondson’s crewcuts came with prohibition repeal: “E-D-M-O-N-D-S-O-N spells Edmondson” was sung to the old tune of “Harrigan” with this Gridiron chant: Bootleg Joe lamented, “When you’re looking for a drink, I’ll be seeing you.”

The 1960s brought Henry Bellmon – a Repub – to the governor’s chair. Then Dewey Bartlett moved in, and the state’s campuses subsequently featured streakers and pot. Bartlett worried about “Screaming Yellow Zonkers,” so Gridiron served some at a banquet. Bartlett lost for a second term, but then joined Bellmon in the U.S. Senate.

The ’70s saw Nixon come, and go. David Hall sought re-election as governor: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon If You Still Want Me.” David Boren’s broom brigade swept Hall out. Four years later voters sent Boren to Washington — then, in 1980, Bellmon came home.

In the 1980s, George Nigh became Oklahoma’s first re-elected governor and Ronald Reagan moved into the White House. Bellmon, played by the beloved Judge Ed Dycus, made a comeback, moving into the 23rd street mansion for a second term. That brought joy to some Republicans, sorrow to others, and mixed feelings to Democrats. George Bush (original recipe) followed Reagan into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

David Walters, played by Tim Allen in the Gridiron, made darn sure the money didn’t run out, and beat Bill Price. As guv, Walters kept shooting himself in the foot — when he wasn’t mud-wrestling with Susan Loving, the state’s first woman AG. Out hunting with the Gaylords, “the Bellmon sleeps tonight.” In 1992, Bill Clinton moved from next door in Arkansas to the White House in D.C.

In 1994, a GOP tide brought Frank Keating and a slew of new Repubs to power. Girl power got goin’, as GOPers Mary Fallin and Brenda Reneau joined the Demos’ Sandy Garrett in state office. Yet another guy named E-D-M-O-N-D-S-O-N (Drew) also won. With a Repub guv and a Demo Legislature, there were plenty of sparks — but in times of trial, Oklahomans united.

In 1996, Bob Dole carried the state while the congressional delegation went to Repubs entirely for the first time ever. Still, D’s kept the state Legislature and Clinton won the nation a second time as “William C. — Superstar!”

After Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick’s bedtime story, MAPS was under way. Kirk Humphreys followed with his own MAPS — for Kids. A new Gridiron tradition was born with “Gridnac” from Bill Perry and Charlie Newcomb.

Sooner Traditions brought a new football title. “Dubya” (Bush Lite, or Extra Crispy) reclaimed Daddy’s job, Al Gore got “bushwhacked,” and a Democrat recaptured one of our U.S. House seats. Watts and Watkins came home. Keating took his own turns shooting himself in the foot.
In Andrew Harris’ memorable characterizations, Brad “C’est Moi” Henry’s “impossible dream” came true as he beat both Gary “Son of a Preacher Man” Richardson and Steve “I Can’t Lose” Largent.

We can’t help rhymin’, it helps with (Gridiron) timing: Brad was often late, Bush’s war sealed Saddam’s fate. The Henrys charmed us with a “side-step” song-and-dance, the guv left voters in a trance. In 2006, Fallin made history in a Congress race. Repubs gained more legislative control, but nearly every state office went to Democrats. In D.C., Dubya lost ground.

Hillary, Obama each other accused, but Tsunami Tuesday left Repubs confused. Attorney Gen’ral Drew got to sing his own song, to politics ol’ Gene Stipe had to say so long. House Repub ethics — what did we expect? Auditor McMahan got no respect. After MAPS for Kids came MAPS for Millionaires, and everything else.

In 2008, tired of Bush-isms and Clintonista pain, Americans nominated Irishmen: O’Bama and McCain. Barack won in a slam dunk, putting Repubs in a funk. In D.C., Tom Coburn was rockin’ the boat, Demos “change” to keep America afloat. Mayor Mick says we have to lose weight, would Clay Bennett’s Thunder winners create? Dana Murphy and Glenn Coffee led a GOP surge, Oklahomans had a conservative urge.

Demos cheered to see inauguration of the nation’s first black prez, but Repubs said his policies did not impress. There was lots of fighting in Obama’s first year, yet ObamaCare to liberals brought cheer. Brad’s veto pen sparked some legislative fights, but the Legislature overrode him, pulling things to the Right.

In 2010, Mary and Jari fought for the voters’ love, voters gave Democrats a rather rude shove, when Republicans gained control of every single statewide office.

Obama lost the U.S. House, but kept the Senate, Republicans looked ahead to the 2012 presidential pennant. Bart Vleugels made the Barack Obama character his own, as the campaign season led to a second term and “more Obama drama.” Republicans strengthened their hold on Oklahoma governance, but Governor Mary’s transparency fail made Gridironers grit their teeth.

All of which brings us more or less update to date.

All proceeds from the annual Oklahoma City Gridiron Show support scholarships for college students studying journalism. The Oklahoma City Gridiron Club runs the show, and the Gridiron Foundation gets the cash after the bills are paid. The club, in existence since 1928, has raised and dispersed several hundred thousand dollars over the past several decades. Advanced tickets are available only from Ticketstorm, at this link: This year’s performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27, Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2. Doors open at 7 p.m. Oklahoma City Gridiron performs at Lyric on the Plaza (1727 N.W. 16).

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