The True Story Of A Fake Presidential Candidate

Apr 1, 2016
Originally published on April 1, 2016 12:37 pm

Meet Yetta Bronstein, candidate for president.

At least, she was a presidential candidate — kind of. In the 1960s, a pair of professional pranksters, husband and wife Alan and Jeanne Abel, orchestrated an election-year hoax with Bronstein, a politician as much as she was a fiction.

"Yetta Bronstein lives in the Bronx. She has a boy named Marvin. He plays the drums, badly," recalls Jeanne. "And one day she decides to run for president!"

Bronstein ran as an independent write-in candidate in 1964 and '68, leading a political party known as the Best Party. Her platform included national bingo.

It was Jeanne Abel who would act as Bronstein in interviews with reporters, while Alan stood in as her campaign manager.

"I got a lot of press," Jeanne says. "I only appeared on radio because I was then only in my 20s and I was blond and not a Jewish mother."

Of course, this gave rise to a question: What exactly does Yetta Bronstein look like? For that, Alan had a ready solution. He gave everybody a photo of his mother.

In '64, they prompted some followers to head to New Jersey, where Democrats were holding their national convention in Atlantic City. Alan says they managed to convince about 20 people to come out and march with them, bearing signs that read "Vote for Yetta" and "Things Will Get Betta."

"And then 'Why not?' " Alan recalls. "That's all. 'Why not.' Question mark. Nothing more on the placard."

And besides widespread bingo, the political platform of candidate Bronstein was a little, well, revolutionary for voters at the time.

"You remember, you wanted them to be able to vote twice," Alan says. "You wanted to take Congress off salary and put them on straight commission. Allow guns in homes but decrease the velocity of bullets by 95 percent."

Bronstein ran behind the slogan: "A Mink Coat in Every Closet." And another: "If you want simple solutions, then you gotta be simple." When asked who would serve in her Cabinet, her reply was just as simple: "I'll have one."

She lost in a landslide, of course.

"They said I didn't win a single precinct," Jeanne says.

And that's not where Yetta Bronstein's prolific career of failure ended. Jeanne, writing as Bronstein, published the book The President I Almost Was in the U.S. and U.K. while gearing up for her '68 presidential bid. Bronstein also ran for mayor of New York City and Parliament in the U.K. — and she lost those elections, too.

Bronstein's campaign manager, Alan, didn't let his prankster career die, either. Though he was able to convince The New York Times that he died. In 1980, the paper ran an obituary for Alan Abel, who, as you can hear at the audio link above, is still very much alive. (The paper retracted it two days later — the first time the Times ever had to retract an obit.)

Still, it's Yetta Bronstein who endures, more than ever during the presidential campaign. Just don't expect her to jump into the race late.

"I don't think Yetta has a place in this particular election season," says Jeanne. "I mean, people have asked me, 'Don't you want to get in the race?' I said no, the comedy is already happening."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo. Special thanks to Andy Lanset at WNYC.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. On this April Fools' Day - the true story behind a fake presidential candidate. In the 1960s, professional pranksters, and husband and wife, Alan and Jeanne Abel, created a fictional candidate, Mrs. Yetta Bronstein.

JEANNE ABEL: Yetta Bronstein lives in the Bronx. She has a boy named Marvin. He plays the drums, badly, and one day she decides to run for president.

MONTAGNE: Yetta ran as an independent. Her party was called the Best Party, and her platform included national bingo. Jeanne Abel would pretend to be Yetta for interviews with reporters, while her husband, Alan, acted as her campaign manager.

J. ABEL: I ran in 1964 and 1968.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Who are we talking with? Yetta Bronstein, running for the presidency again.

J. ABEL: I only appeared on radio because I was in my 20s and I was blonde and not a Jewish mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hello, WNBC.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is Yetta Bronstein there?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes, she's listening.

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) I'm here.

There was, of course, this question - where is she? So Alan gave everybody a picture of his mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm glad there's somebody in our country who's concerned about running our government properly, and I think Yetta Bronstein is the one to do it.

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) But I must say to you, even if you didn't like me, vote for me anyhow because you might change your mind later on.

ALAN ABEL: We had followers go down to Atlantic City where they had the Democratic Convention. And we were marching up and down with about 20 people with our sign - vote for Yetta, things will get better

J. ABEL: Clean sweep with Yetta. I was on a broomstick with a broom

A. ABEL: Yeah, a broomstick - and then why not? That's all. Why not? Nothing more on the placard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Vote Bronstein in - get Bronstein into the White House.

A. ABEL: You wanted to take Congress off salary and put them on straight commission, allow guns in homes but decrease the velocity of bullets by 95 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: A mink coat in every closet?

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) Oh, yes, that's my latest slogan.

A. ABEL: And of course you lost by a landslide.

J. ABEL: They said I didn't win a single precinct.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) When Yetta gets to be first lady and also president.

(APPLAUSE)

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) If you want simple solutions, then you got to be simple.

You know, not once in all the interviews I did...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Have you thought about a Cabinet?

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) I'll have one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: No, I mean, who would serve in the Cabinet?

J. ABEL: Not once did the host say, well, you are kidding, aren't you, which was interesting in itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein) I never know where the college came from and the electoral college. It isn't very educational.

I don't think Yetta has a place in this particular election season. I mean, people have asked me, don't you want to get in the race, and I said, no. The comedy is already happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Mrs. Yetta Bronstein - independent candidate for president of the United States.

J. ABEL: (As Yetta Bronstein, singing) In the capital of Washington. There'll be a change. There'll be a change in government when Yetta gets to be first lady and also the president.

MONTAGNE: Jeanne and Alan Abel, remembering the fake presidential campaign they orchestrated back in the '60s for Yetta Bronstein. Their conversation is archived at the Library of Congress and is featured on the StoryCorps podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.