The real Scoop Jackson, you betcha

Some of the secrets of Norwegian Seattle revealed.
Some of the secrets of Norwegian Seattle revealed.

I spent a fun evening at Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum at a book signing for the just published Norwegian Seattle (Arcadia Books, $21.99) by Kristine Leander. There was a nice overflow crowd gathered to talk about one of the city's most iconic ethnic groups and enjoy a new picture history — a kind of family photo album — of the Norse in Seattle. Leander asked me and fellow Crosscut contributor Peter Jackson to come and talk about our Norwegian roots. Both of us have pictures of relatives in the book.

I had met Leander earlier this year at the Swedish Club — strange stomping grounds for Norwegians who, as Jackson reminded us, were taught as youngsters to speak sloooowly around the Swedes, the poor dense things. The legendary antipathy between Norwegians and Swedes carried down through the generations, mostly as a kind of in-joke sniping, though it is also true that my Norwegian grandfather, Knute Berger, changed his name from Olsson to Berger so as not to be thought of as a dumb Swede. Peter had previously met Leander when both were involved in the effort to move the notoriously stubborn statue of Leif Erickson at Shilshole.

It's fair to say that no one in the audience needed to have lutefisk or Stan Boreson or the significance ofMay 17 explained to them. I shared some of my father's memories about being terrified by bedtime stories of terrible trolls read to him by his father. They had the effect of making my father very reluctant to hike up the Queen Anne Hill greenbelt to school for fear of being attacked by, of all things, a giant walrus. Such was how his imagination was stimulated in the old Norse way: by terrifying the pants off of the children at bedtime, a way to instill the notion that life is precious, fleeting, and filled with dread.

Peter Jackson regaled the audience with stories of his famous father, Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the late U.S. Senator whose name is still applied to the conservative wing of the Democratic party (Joe Lieberman, for example, is a proud, though lonely, self-styled "Jackson" Democrat). In an email circulated before the book signing, Peter worried that his stories wouldn't be that interesting. He warned "A wild and crazy day for my Norse relatives meant using two tea bags," a line that was greeted with much amusement and recognition by the audience.

Jackson talked about how his father's stolid character was a key to his success, how his quiet Lutheranism helped quell anti-Catholic Protestant prejudice during John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency, for example. Jackson said his father was a very sober man, in both senses of the that word. One funny anecdote Scoopophiles will appreciate. On his second date with the woman he eventually married, Senator Jackson took her to the set of the 1962 political drama Advise and Consent, to be an extra in the film.

It turned out, Scoop had a speaking role. In the film, Gene Tierney is hosting a cocktail party and turns to Scoop Jackson and offers him a drink. Scoop refuses in an overly earnest way (I notice on the film credits, Jackson is listed as "drink refuser.") When the Otto Preminger film was shown in Washington, DC, insiders howled at Scoop's line because it epitomized his square reputation: He couldn't even accept a drink from a glamorous Hollywood star.

Scoop was clearly not a "two tea bag" kind of guy.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.