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June 8, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 33
Beat, and Conservative, Too
By Mary Perot Nichols
A sandal-shod ex-model and actress who frequents the White Horse Tavern and the Figaro coffee house hardly conjures up a vision of contemporary conservatism. Nonetheless, Rosemary McGrath, who can pass for a Village “beat,” is the fountainhead of the young conservative movement in Greenwich Village. In private life she is the wife of a Village surgeon, mother of two small children, and a resident of Washington Square.
Mrs. McGrath came down to one of her favorite haunts, the Figaro Cafe, late one evening last week for an interview with The Voice. Unlike the common-road to radicalism, it was not a revolt against family that turned Mrs. McGrath into a conservative and which led her into founding and becoming chairman of the Village branch of Young Americans for Freedom. Her father, she noted, “is a regular Democrat — but conservative like Robert Taft.” Mrs. McGrath’s education, after Jamaica High School in Queens, had been in Catholic Schools — first Mount Saint Vincent, a college in Westchester County, and then graduate courses at a Jesuit college in Buffalo. However, a foray into the University of Buffalo theatre landed her in a nest of liberals. “All I did was fight with them.”
Mrs. McGrath, however, does not attribute her conservatism particularly to her Catholic education. She claims she always was conservative. “Wherever I went, the status quo was liberal. I was the only one who thought the way I did — except perhaps at the Mount.” She was “all alone,” Mrs. McGrath explained, until William F. (“God and Man at
Yale”) Buckley, Jr., came along and made it respectable for young people to be conservative.
Her husband was a New Dealer at the time they were engaged. “When the McCarthy thing was going on, I remember we stood on opposite sides of Queens Boulevard and screamed at each other.” She naturally, was for McCarthy. However, husband Robert is a conservative now, and Mrs. McGrath described the way she managed to alert him to the dangers of Communism. “I brainwashed him,” she said cheerfully. “We began to get the National Revue, and I would clip Sokolsky columns and put them on his plate.”
Did she expect her children to grow up to be young conservatives, too? “Yes, they’ve already been on a picket line.” And whom were they picketing? “Krushchev” was her answer.
The White Horse Tavern became her favorite bar, Mrs. McGrath said, when she and her husband, then an intern at St. Vincent’s Hospital, lived in the West Village. There are not many of the conservative ilk to be found there, Mrs. McGrath admitted, “unless I bring them with me after a YAF meeting.” However, in the absence of co-believers, she said she loved to drink beer and talk to Socialist Michael Harrington…
“You can be a Bohemian or beat” — she uses the words interchangeably — “and a conservative.”
“Many beats are against unions and many of them look up to Dostoevsky,” she said as proof of her point. “But what do they have to go into Zen for? If they used a little Augustine and Aquinas, they’d be all right.” Her definition of “beat” is someone who can live in suburbia and still be an individual.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]