Jack McGuire: Earl Kemp Long’s Unlikely Defender

Jack McGuire met then-Governor Earl K. Long during Long’s 1959 campaign for Lieutenant Governor (in those days, Louisiana governors were barred from seeking re-election to successive terms). McGuire was a senior at Newman High School in New Orleans.

He’d been assigned a paper on the state elections that year, and chose to look at Long despite the fact that Jack’s father David McGuire had been kicked out of LSU in the 1930s (along with six other journalism students) for refusing to apologize to Huey Long for calling for him to stop interfering with the coaching of the LSU football team. By 1959, David McGuire was chief administrative officer for New Orleans Mayor Chep Morrison — who had run against (and lost) to Earl Long in the 1955-56 governor’s race (primary elections then were late in one year with runoffs early the next. Governor’s were inaugurated in May then).

“I didn’t think I had too much to learn from the anti-Longs, so I talked to my father about following Earl,” Jack recalls.

Governor Earl K. Long and Jack McGuire in New Orleans, 1959.

They first connected in New Orleans during that campaign. Earl, who’d suffered a breakdown while addressing the Legislature in April of that year, was subsequently committed by his wife Blanche to a mental hospital in Galveston, TX, and then Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. Jack actually attended the hearing where Earl was released from Southeast Louisiana Hospital after firing the director of the hospital system and then having the new director fire the head of the hospital itself. Earl ran third in the race for Lieutenant Governor. His political career seemed finished.

Uncle Earl, as Long was called, decided that he was not done. He chose to challenge incumbent Democratic Congressman Harold McSween for the Eighth District Congressional seat that Earl’s brother George had held for eight years until his death in 1958.

Earl was all in.

Jack and a couple of high school friends decided to follow Earl on the campaign trail for a couple of weekends during the summer of 1960.

What Jack saw in the desperate campaign that Earl Long waged moved him in a fundamental way. He spent a significant amount of his adult life working to claim Earl’s essence from the sensationalistic, often tawdry press coverage and academic writing that portrayed the three-time Governor and brother of Huey Long as a crazy man.

Jack gathered an incredible collection of articles, photographs, memorabilia, and interviews with people who knew Long and/or were involved in that 1960 campaign, which ultimately took Uncle Earl’s life.

Flooding from Katrina in Mandeville claimed much of Jack’s collection of material on Earl Long. But, because he had shared it with so many people in an effort to get them to write the story of that last campaign, he was able to reassemble his materials and even added to the collection.

It became clear that Jack was going to have to write the book on Earl’s last campaign if it was going to be written.

University Press of Mississippi sent the original manuscript to readers. One liked it; one hated it. UPM said that if Jack would take into consideration the comments from the readers, they would be willing to take another look at it. Jack and the late Water Cowan had written an earlier book on Louisiana governors that UPM published.

Jack turned to me to help him edit the book and get it into shape for reconsideration.

We worked together on it for about seven months in 2014 and 2015. We sent off the revised manuscript in April 2015, the weekend before Jack went in for knee replacement surgery.

The UPM editors loved the new approach and committed to publish the book. Jack left it to me to deal with the New York copy editor UPM chose to work with us, and to track down many of the photos that ended up in the book. Jack’s son Barrett helped cover the cost involved with printing the additional photographs that contribute to much to the quality of the book.

The book, Win The Race Or Die Trying: Uncle Earl’s Last Hurrah, came out in late August, 2016, just ahead of Earl’s birthday.

Shortly after that, Jack conducted a series of book signings and radio interviews across the state to publicize it which stretched into 2017.

In this interview, Jack talks about Earl’s tumultuous last years and the campaign into which Earl ignored doctor’s warnings and poured every last bit of energy he had into it to defeat McSween.

The book has been well received. The interview covers some ground not in the book, particularly dealing with his father David.

This 1934 photo shows Earl Long (right) conferring with his brother Huey at the dais of the the state senate. George W. Wallace, Executive Counsel to Governor Oscar K. Allen, is seated on the left. Courtesy Trice Political Photographs Collection, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.