National Press Club

NPC in History: Crank up the popcorn popper for the Club's two silver screen cameos

June 30, 2019 | By Gil Klein | gilbert.klein@me.com

A still photo of the scene in which Jimmy Stewart rages in the National Press Club’s taproom.

A still photo of the scene in which Jimmy Stewart rages in the National Press Club’s taproom.

Photo/Image: Promotional photo by Columbia Pictures

The National Press Club made two cameo appearances in feature films.

In the renowned 1939 movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – nominated for 11 Academy Awards – an irate Jimmy Stewart chases a newsman known as “Nosey” into the Club to denounce the entire press corps after an unflattering report about him appeared in a newspaper.

“Why don’t you tell the truth for a change,” Smith yells at the reporters.

Retorts one, “Why, we’re the only ones who can afford to be honest in what we tell the voters. We don’t have to be re-elected like politicians.”

Seeking authenticity in the sets, director Frank Capra visited the Club’s taproom before filming to reproduce it in minute detail. Comparing this photo with contemporary photos taken at the Club, the detail is remarkable. Even the design on the cups and saucers is the same, as are the salt and pepper shakers and the water glass. In fact, the design of the cups and plates is the same today.

As Club archivist Jeff Schlosberg noted, not only is the uniform on the waiter exactly right, but the waiter looks like the same guy who worked for the Club.

In the 1945 war movie, “Objective Burma!”, starring Errol Flynn and nominated for three academy awards, war correspondent Mark Williams and played by Henry Hall is stuck in the jungle with a platoon of GIs. As they talk about where they most want to be, Williams says, “At the National Press Club bar, sipping a bourbon and water.”

Two novels written by Club members became major motion pictures.

In 1962, Fletcher Knebel, a political columnist for Cowles Publications, and Charles W. Bailey, of the Minneapolis Tribune, co-authored “Seven Days in May” about an attempted military coup in the United States. Two years later, it was produced as a movie starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Frederic March and Ava Gardner.

Alan Drury, then a writer for The New York Times Washington bureau, wrote one of the big block-buster novels of 1959, “Advise and Consent.” The novel used incidents from Drury’s 15 years as a Washington correspondent, including the McCarthy era, to explore what happens to a controversial nominee for Secretary of State.

The book spent 102 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1960 and was adapted into a well-received Broadway play. In 1962, film director Otto Preminger turned it into a motion picture starring Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Gene Tierney, Paul Ford and George Grizzard.

And when I got to the Club in 1985, a couple of members were still talking about being extras in the film shoot in Washington.

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 111-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington, journalism and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.