In the 1964 presidential election, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran against Democratic incumbent Lyndon Johnson who had assumed office following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. LBJ won in a landslide, but there was another candidate in the race who has largely been forgotten by history: Mrs. Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish housewife from the Bronx.
One reason Mrs. Bronstein remains absent from the history books is that although she ran, she didn’t actually exist. She was the creation of professional media pranksters Alan and Jeanne Abel. The husband and wife team cooked up Yetta while doing a nightclub act, and decided she should run for the highest office in the land. Registering her as a write-in candidate, she was listed as a member of the Best Party, with a platform that included national bingo and lowering the voting age to 18 so that juvenile delinquents would have something to do (the 26th Amendment was ratified 1971).
Jeanne, a gifted improviser, posed as Yetta, promising voters 16 ounces in every pound and offering free hot dogs and bagels in exchange for votes. She only gave reporters radio interviews because unlike Jeanne who was in her 20s, Yetta was the middle-aged wife of a New York City cab driver. At one point during the campaign, she wrote to President Johnson offering to end her run if he would name her as his running mate (Click here to read Yetta’s letter). Alan, her campaign manager, perpetuated the ruse by using a photo of his own Jewish mother in their election materials.
The Yetta Bronstein hoax is just one of scores of pranks the Abels orchestrated over the past 60 years. The one they are best known for is attempting to advance the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA), which aimed, in the name of morality, to put pants on the world’s creatures. SINA’s slogan was, “A nude horse is a rude horse.”
Proving that no prank can go too far, Alan once even faked his own death, leading to a January 2, 1980, obituary in The New York Times. Two days later, for the first time in their history, the newspaper of record ran a retraction of an obituary explaining, “An obituary in The New York Times on Wednesday reported incorrectly that Alan Abel was dead. Mr. Abel held a news conference yesterday…”
The audio for this story includes archival recordings of live radio appearances Jeanne made during the 1964 and 1968 presidential campaigns when Yetta ran a second time for president. In between her runs at the White House, Yetta also ran for mayor of New York City, a seat in Britain’s parliament, and wrote a book, The President I Almost Was by Yetta Bronstein. Years later, their daughter, Jenny Abel, produced and directed a film about her father titled “Able Raises Cain.”
Asked if they’d consider running Yetta against the current field of presidential hopefuls, Jeanne responded, “The comedy is already happening.”
Jeanne and Alan sat down for StoryCorps in their rural Connecticut home. Surrounded by countless boxes filled with documentation of their life’s work, they tell the true story behind their fake candidate.
Click here for more information on the Abel’s hoaxes.
Originally aired April 1, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.