With his business booming in the early '30s, Marshall made his entrance into the great worlds of society and politics. He had a fountain in his dining room and a bathroom papered with covers from La Vie Parisienne. In 1931 he toured Europe with his friend Jimmy Walker. " Jim Farley and I were very thick for years," he adds. In 1932 and 1936 Marshall was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, but he gave up formal allegiance to the party in 1937, when he moved the Redskins to Washington from Boston. When business warrants, Marshall strives to be a neutralist. Before Pearl Harbor he warned his laundry drivers and sales force: "Your Palace organization is 100% American—employs only 100% Americans. Your United States of America is a neutral country...therefore, the discussion or conversation of the conflict in Europe with customers or with anyone is in strict violation of the rules of this organization—and anyone who violates this rule will be dismissed."
With Jimmy Cromwell, future bridegroom of Doris Duke, Marshall imported from Cuba the first rumba band ever to play in Palm Beach. With Cromwell, he climbed the heights of Newport, and many are the tales, apocryphal or otherwise, of that ascent. Making his bow there, Marshall—who has a phobia about dirt—deftly flicked a spot of dust off the shirt front of the Arnoesque Colonel Creighton Webb. When a bridge-playing dowager affixed him with her lorgnette and asked archly who he was, he replied, "Madam, the name is Marshall, and I'm in the laundry business. Can I get your work?"
He amazed a Washington dinner party by bounding in with the news, "congratulate me, folks. I've finally arrived socially. Today I got the sheets of Mrs. Bordy Harriman." He became chums with Averell Harriman, giving him, he says, ideas for Newsweek. "I dictated the format to Raymond Moley on a train going west," he says airily. But Marshall and Harriman haven't seen one another for several years. "He went one way, and I went another," Marshall says. "Politics!"
For a spell Marshall served as publisher of Hearst's
. He pepped up circulation by dressing a crew of street vendors in black and gold uniforms and dispatching them to strategic locales at critical intervals. He amused Washington no end. Society tittered with his doings. His zenith came when he sent out a Christmas card showing himself toting a bag of laundry up the social ladder.
It was the quest for publicity that led Marshall into sports. In the mid-'20s he took over a basketball team named the Yankees and dubbed it the Palace A.C. In 1932 he took over the Boston franchise in the National Football League. To avoid confusion with the Braves, he named the team the Redskins. He dressed the players in burgundy and gold uniforms, because, it was said in those days, he had spent so much gold for burgundy. He hired all the Indians he could and installed Lone Star Dietz, a full-blooded Indian, as coach.
Marshall literally spouted ideas to better pro football. He opened up the game by fighting for the rule allowing a forward pass to be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. It was he who dreamed up the notion of two divisions and a championship playoff. And from the beginning he never failed to offer his own suggestions on how to coach the team. Once, after the Redskins had won the toss, he told Dietz to kick off instead of receive. Then, discovering that no one was available to work the spotting phones high above Fenway Park, he decided to man them himself. After clambering to his perch and donning the headset, he was aghast to see the Redskins lined up to receive. "Damn you, Dietz," he shouted into the phone. "I told you to kick off!" "We did," said Dietz, "and the Giants ran it back for a touchdown."
A Monday morning quarterback
Nowadays, Marshall denies he was involved in the incident, but there can be no denying he ponders every move of every coach carefully. (The Redskins have had five of them in the last decade.) Bergman says that when he was coach, Marshall used to discourse brilliantly at Monday morning critiques. Afterwards Bergman learned Marshall made it a practice to look at the game movies beforehand. There are times, however, when Marshall is not eager to claim credit for tactical brilliance. Once after the Eagles had pasted the Redskins 49-14, a youngster seeking autographs asked Marshall if he were the coach. "Not today," said G. Presto.
The year before Marshall moved the Redskins from Boston, where they were a financial flop, he married Corinne Griffith, "the Orchid Lady" of the silent screen. (Marshal! had been married previously to Elizabeth Mortensen. They had two children, George Jr., now living in Florida, and Catherine, who is married to George E. Price, the comedian. Marshall will say nothing of his first marriage other than that he still pays alimony.) Miss Griffith responded to football by collaborating with Barnee Breeskin, then the orchestra leader at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, a favored Marshall spa, in writing Hail to the Redskins
. Miss Griffith did the lyrics, Breeskin the score. The song goes:
Hail to the Redskins, Hail Vic-to-ry
Braves on the warpath, Fight for old D.C.
Scalp 'em, Swamp 'em
We will take 'em big score.
Read 'em, weep 'em,
Touchdown we want heap more.
Fight on. Fight on till you have won.
Sons of Wash-ing-ton.*