It was essential to create an Arts & Letters Committee to improve Humphrey’s image among youth and intellectuals. Isaac Stern, who was also very close to Humphrey, would have been an ideal president, bringing to the position his notoriety and an impressive network of contacts, but his wife Vera refused. She felt that Stern’s image probably had more to be lost than gained by this venture. Istomin did not bother with such precautions. He decided to take on the mission with the sole help of a secretary, Pat Daniels, the wife of one of the leaders of the clothing workers’ union.
He undertook to contact all the names in his extensive address book, and even tried to organize a concert at the Lincoln Center. Eugene Ormandy, though usually a Republican sympathizer, was very ambivalent about Nixon and agreed to conduct, with the participation of many soloists. Martina Arroyo was to sing the famous Leonora aria in Fidelio: “Come, Hope, let not your last star be eclipsed in despair! O come, light me my goal, however far…” Istomin eventually gave up on the concert project, due to severe organizational difficulties and the high cost which would not have yielded a substantial profit.
Sinatra supporting Humphrey
As might be feared, given the context, the collection of signatures and the financial contributions were modest, despite Istomin’s efforts. Among the most prominent personalities who agreed to be included in the Committee were writers Conrad Aiken, John Steinbeck and Richard Wilbur, philosopher Eric Hoffer, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, and the actors or directors Gregory Peck and Otto Preminger. There were numerous musicians, including Arthur Rubinstein, Byron Janis, Rudolf Serkin, Alexander Schneider, Leonard Rose, Joseph Fuchs, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes, Shirley Verrett and Grace Bumbry. Frank Sinatra had also declared his support, but there had been many defections. Bernstein had turned a deaf ear to Istomin’s requests; walled in by his own utopian demands, he had come to believe that Nixon’s election would cauterize the American people and steer them back on the path to the ideal. Stravinsky politely replied that he preferred to support McCarthy, who was more clearly opposed to the continuation of the war. The Committee raised $200,000, a modest sum that nevertheless made it possible to broadcast 2,500 one-minute spots across the country, in which the most prominent artists presented their reasons for supporting Humphrey.