Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy 100th Frank Gilbreth, Jr.


On this St. Patrick's Day, everyone in Charleston should take a moment to remember one this city's most beloved adopted citizens, Frank Gilbreth, Jr. Gilbreth was born on March 17, 1911 and died in Charleston in 2001. He had a successful career as an author and newspaper executive but for more than 40 years he was more well known to Charleston readers of the Post and Courier as Lord Ashley Cooper, the author of the most popular column in Charleston history, "Doing the Charleston." During the 1960s-90s when most Charlestonians would open the paper often the first thing they turned to was not the funny papers, or the sports page ... it was Lord Ashley Cooper.

Before he became a Charleston icon, Gilbreth authored a family memoir with his sister Elizabeth Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen. The book is an American humor classic, and still one of the funniest books I have ever read. It details their life growing up as two of 12 children of "motion and efficiency expert" Frank Gilbreth. Frank, Sr preferred a large family because he claimed that children were "cheaper by the dozen." More than 60 years after its publication, the book is still in print. The Charleston County library system has several copies available.

The book was turned into a classic 1950 movie starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy. If you have never seen it, please put it on your NetFlix list. (Forget the more recent Steve Martin / Bonnie Hunt films of the same title. The title is all they share with the original.)

"Doing the Charleston" was Gilbreth's long-running column under the Lord Ashley moniker. Readers provided much of the content with their contributions, usually humorous, about the local scene. As such it was a repository of local lore, custom and history, often irreverent.

Some of the best Lord Ashley Cooper quips:

  • "In aristocratic Charleston, money won't buy you friends, but it can make you a more socially acceptable bunch of enemies."
  • "It takes a Charleston gentleman of the old school to make his company feel at home when he wishes that's where they were."

The centennial of his birth seems to be a good time to reflect on the wit and wisdom of an adopted Charleston curmudgeon.

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