Commenting on George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to the 1939 New York World's Fair, the king's official biographer, John Wheeler-Bennett noted, "From the moment of their arrival their destinies (were) in the hands of those vociferous showmen, the Mayor of New York, Mr. Fiorello LaGuardia, and Mr. Grover Whalen, President of the World's Fair."

And now, a look at those "vociferous showmen" who helped make "The World of Tomorrow" THE enjoyable diversion in the warm-up to World War II.

Grover A. Whalen

A major magazine commentator noted: "The 'theme' of the big show will be not a jazz ditty by Gershwin or a 'lady lifting a veil' (a reference to the Mithrana statue on the Administration Building's exterior) but the man sitting in the flag-decked office at the end of the long corridor – Grover A. Whalen himself." Certainly most pundits could not find enough descriptive words of praise for the president of the New York World's Fair in 1939.

News accounts referred to him as "the busiest man in the world, including rulers of other nations," "the right man for the right job" and "a greater showman than Barnum," who possessed "just the kind of showmanship such an enterprise requires."

Grover Whalen lived a charmed and charming life. Even his birth seemed auspicious.

Grover Aloysius Whalen arrived on July 2, 1885, which coincided with the White House wedding of President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom. His parents christened him after the president and a favorite saint.

Whalen married Anna Dolores Kelly, who was said to be attracted to him first by his habit of wearing a white carnation in his lapel. Soon afterwards he began his successfully mobile political career.

Whalen supported John F. Hylan's bid for mayor in 1918. Upon his election, Hylan appointed Whalen Commissioner of Plant and Structures. Through the ensuing two administrations the carnation – wearing sophisticate held seven major posts, including Police Commissioner under the rapscallion Jimmy Walker.

When not holding a political appointment, Whalen worked for Rodman Wanamaker, eventually earning a $100,000 a year salary as the Wanamaker stores' manager.

Whalen also served as the de facto head of the Mayor's Committee of Welcome to Distinguished Guests. Often referred to as "Mr. New York," Whalen extended the Big Apple's greetings to Gen. John J. Pershing, France's Marshall Ferdinand Foch and Georges Clemenceau, Britain's David Lloy-George, Gertrude Ederle and Edward, the Prince of Wales, and America's Charles Lindbergh.

Known for his work ethic and with such extensive credentials and deep political and social ties, the New York World's Fair Corporation could find no better candidate for its presidency. The new president understood his assignment perfectly.

"If the end product was to be pleasure and astonishment and entertainment for millions of people, it was still the biggest promoting scheme ever undertaken for the city." When Great Britain and France hesitated over participating, Whalen privately negotiated a $4,000,000 pavilion from the U.S.S.R. and the two super powers fell in line.

Norman Bel Geddes, the designer of many of the fair's most innovative industrial pavilions, praised the president: "In organizing the fair and bringing it to completion on time he achieved something I doubt few men could accomplish."

Few doubted Grover Whalen's dedication and everyone relished his sartorial sense.

The same firms produced the urbane Mr. Whalen's attire for over twenty years. He preferred double-cuffed plain white or medium blue shirts. When running low, his valet Juan, stopped by the haberdashery to order a dozen of each. Normally Whalen preferred dark blue or black suits but for the fair often chose light grey or even white. For daytime, his suits were of eight or nine-ounce worsted and for evening wear the same, but in minute herringbone.

The same firms produced the urbane Mr. Whalen's attire for over twenty years. He preferred double-cuffed plain white or medium blue shirts. When running low, his valet Juan, stopped by the haberdashery to order a dozen of each. Normally Whalen preferred dark blue or black suits but for the fair often chose light grey or even white. For daytime, his suits were of eight or nine-ounce worsted and for evening wear the same, but in minute herringbone.

The dapper Mr. Whalen initially assumed a business residence in the Empire State Building until workers completed the Administration Building on the fairgrounds. When permanently ensconced in his new oval office, the building's calendars reminded his staff "Time Tears On." And so did Grover Whalen.

Its sturdy soul
Wins approbations:
He goes to all
Those dedications.

H. J. Phillips

Once the fair opened, the seemingly tireless president appeared to be everywhere at once. Often working sixteen to eighteen hours a day, Whalen occasionally returned to the flowered chintz couch in his office for a few minutes respite before returning to his duties. New York University recognized Whalen for his zealous efforts with the honorary degree of Doctor of Perispheres or Master of Trylons.

In fact, Grover Whalen, normally decked out in formal wear and a silk top hat, was so consumed by pavilion dedications and welcoming celebrities of every make and manner, he never actually visited the fairgrounds as a "tourist" until June 23. Taking a brief break from his official duties, Whalen passed unnoticed in an atypical grey suit, blue-striped shirt and polka dot tie. The busy president even took a few moments off to eat a hot dog and share its mustard with another patron.

While no one ever doubted Whalen's fervor for his job, it did carry a few perks. When traveling through the fairgrounds, the president had at his disposal a Cadillac or a $4,000 custom-built Chrysler. Occasionally, however, when the crowds swelled blocking the roadways, one of twelve blue bicycles available to the Administration Building's employees might be used.

Throughout the 1939 season, Whalen delivered over 150 prepared addresses. Daniel R. Matie, former Columbia University journalism professor, ghost wrote most for the too- busy president. Whalen seldom had time to pre-read Matie's output. The author discovered Whalen often found certain words difficult to pronounce "on the run" so carefully chose every speech's verbiage, with one notable exception pavilion. For some unknown reason, the president pronounced this ever-present word "PERV - ilion."

Always aware of the president's perchance to gain weight, the Administration Building's chef prepared a typical dinner of grapefruit, steak, green peas, a salad, raw apple and coffee. But, remarkably, one commentator noted Whalen's pre-fair, ever-present gardenia had been missing from his button hole for months.

The most telling perk Whalen enjoyed was a personal barber and makeup artist. Always aware of his appearance before the public, Whalen hired the makeup artist to prepare his face and eyes for proper media coverage. A wondrous tale circulated about this particular eccentricity.

Upon their demise, Grover Whalen and Franklin Roosevelt found each other in Heaven. The two decided to form a greeting committee but Whalen decided against joining when he discovered no news photographers would be present.

As the fair entered its summer months, John Richey wrote:

 
Sound the drums,
let the bugles blare,
Mr. Whalen is pleased with his fair!
He's cast on the ledger a critical eye
The fare, he thinks, will get the fair by.
So, scat old worry, scoot dull care!
Mr. Whalen is debonair!
All may relax, he's got "the gate!
" Silence all wreckers, this fair is no flop,
Whalen has spoken "We're over the top!"
So, beat drums beat, blare bugles blare,
Mr. Whalen is pleased with his fair.

However, attendance failed to meet pre-opening day expectations and the fair fell into economic hard times. Every attempt to remedy the situation seemed to fail. And the blame ultimately fell on the fair's president. By autumn, the corporation board thanked Whalen for his tireless efforts and promoted him to an honorary position, naming Harvey Gibson as the new president.

Nonetheless, many foresaw a bright future for the former fair president. A number of influential political columnists, not anticipating a third term run by FDR, promoted Grover Whalen as the Democratic nominee for the White House in 1940.

Fiorello LaGuardia

Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly of America's Second City paid his New York rival the ultimate compliment calling Fiorello La Guardia "the most dynamic personality in America." And the 1939 New York World's Fair could find no more enthusiastic host.

Fiorello La Guardia was born in Greenwich Village to a lapsed – Catholic Italian father and a Jewish Austro-Hungarian mother. (La Guardia was raised an Episcopalian and practiced that religion throughout his life.) His "international" background served him well in his early career, working in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Fiume. Later the U.S. Bureau of Immigration employed him as an interpreter at Ellis Island. His linguistic skills would find unparalleled use in "The World of Tomorrow."

Following his first wife's death from tuberculosis, La Guardia married Marie Fisher, his secretary while in Congress. They adopted two children.

In 1916, La Guardia won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but resigned it to serve in the world war. In 1922 he returned to Congress as a Republican and held the seat until 1933. That year La Guardia chose to run for mayor of New York City as a "Fusion" reform candidate, opposed to the scandal – ridden Jimmy Walker administration. La Guardia eked out a win over Walker's hapless replacement John O'Brian and Joseph McKee, candidate of the "Recovery Party" and supported by Bronx Democratic boss Edward J. Flynn and President Roosevelt.

La Guardia summed up his political philosophy: "Some people don't accomplish much because they keep thinking of things that have happened. Instead of looking forward, they set their thoughts on the past, regretting things done or left undone." No one ever accused The Little Flower of looking backwards.

"How can I sleep? I dream, but my dreams rest me. Sometimes I see the city of tomorrow, with marvelous parks and buildings, finer hospitals, safer and more beautiful streets, better schools, more playgrounds, more swimming pools, greater markets. I see a city with no slums and little poverty. It will be a reality someday."

News columnists loved the ebullient little mayor, often comparing him to Theodore Roosevelt as an irresistible public figure. Miriam Anderson fell under his spell: "He was so vibrant that the brief meeting with him made you feel that you were living with a greater awareness." And Roy Wilkins said: "Like Mrs. Roosevelt he has popped up everywhere when least expected."

H. I. Phillips seemed to sum up best The Big Apple's always energetic mayor:

 
Who is it who is on the go?
Who flies the banner, "Don't go Slow!"?
Who saves the world each day or so?
La Guardia!

Who christens a new subway car?
Directs a raid upon a bar
And crowns a baby movie star?
La Guardia!

Who leads a fight at City Hall
Then pays the President a call
And hurries back to shout, "Play ball"?
La Guardia

Who dedicates each mile of park?
Who yells to racers, "On your mark!"?
And o'er the radio cries, "Hark!"?
La Guardia

Fiorello La Guardia for all of his accomplishments, and they were many for New Yorkers, loved the spotlight. And "The World of Tomorrow" was the center of media attention in the spring and summer of 1939.

The Brooklyn Eagle referred to La Guardia as "The Biggest Sucker in the World of Tomorrow." Showing his support for his city's great exposition, the mayor purchased a season ticket, while other political officials received free passes. The mayor didn't care. He scooted across Flushing Meadows every day, attending the opening of almost every foreign pavilion.

His pungent personality and fiery speeches always overshadowed the more restrained, dapper Grover Whalen. Edward Reid noted: "The tubby, little figure of the city's chief executive rolled to the dais, while a band played 'Hail to the Chief,' like a determined tank and that was that. The Maginot line just caved." And his extensive linguist skills came into great use.

The Brooklyn Eagle, noting his diplomatic service, exclaimed: "It seems as if destiny prepared Fiorello La Guardia for the role of Mayor of the City of a Hundred Tongues."

So important was Mayor La Guardia to "The World of Tomorrow" that society orchestra leader Eddy Duchin requested Grover Whalen institute a Mayor La Guardia Day.

What many fairgoers didn't realize about the ever-present mayor was he had moved his office to the nearby Arrowbrook Country Club. From his windows overlooking the fairgrounds, La Guardia had the best view of "The World of Tomorrow."

Having established a Summer City Hall every year since 1936, the mayor announced his intent to reside for this summer near the fair. On May 2 his press secretary, James Kieran, admitted "I don't know what's on the Mayor's mind" but, beginning at 7:30 A.M., his staff left the Manhattan City Hall with all their files and relocated in Queens. At 9:15 the mayor arrived for a quick inspection and then left to greet Denmark's crown prince and princess on the fairgrounds.

The Summer City Hall took over the country club's upper story. The fair's interior designer, Miriam Miner Wolff, oversaw the redecoration of two private rooms, one in blue and grey and the other in red and terra cotta, which served as reception areas for distinguished guests. The mayor's new offices enjoyed the comfort of air conditioning, unusual for 1939.

La Guardia exclaimed, "I like it here." However, often proclaiming he would continue to use the Arrowbrook site as his official office space until the end of his term in office, the always unpredictable mayor announced suddenly on October 31 he and his staff would return to the downtown city hall that day.

Looking forward to the upcoming presidential election in 1940, many suggested La Guardia run for the Republican nomination. However, the always politically astute mayor offered: "Gentlemen, a new political problem arises with the advent of television. But even before Technicolor and wide screen, the United States of America has sought tall, intelligent Presidents."