Hollywood’s Sneak Attack on George W.

The “Who’s Who” column in the January-February issue of the Washington Monthly contains an intriguing gossip item about a note recently sent out from the command center of Skull & Bones, the mysterious, allegedly powerful, and unquestionably ridiculous secret society at Yale that George W. Bush belongs to. The gossip item, sadly, is not available online, but here is what the note said:

In view of the political happenings in the barbarian world, I feel compelled to remind all of the tradition of privacy and confidentiality essential to the well being of our Order and strongly urge stout resistance to the seductions and blandishments of the Fourth Estate.

The Monthly translates this as “Don’t tattle on W.,” but Chatterbox suspects the note may have been sent out in response to a very specific threat to Bones’ presidential candidate: The March 31 release of a new movie called The Skulls (“a secret society so powerful it can give you everything you desire … at a price”). The movie is obviously a takedown of Skull & Bones: The Web site’s story summary makes clear the setting is an Ivy League college in New Haven, and the scriptwriter, John Pogue, is a Yalie.

For the Bush camp, the fact that Hollywood is making an establishment-conspiracy movie about Skull & Bones (many of whose members, Bush père included, have ended up working for one of Hollywood’s favorite whipping boys, the CIA) is bad enough. But check out the trailer, which includes a scene in which initiates get branded. Chatterbox, not recalling that Skull & Bones was ever known to go after initiates with hot pokers, queried Ron Rosenbaum, a Bush classmate at Yale who wrote a memorable piece about Skull & Bones two decades ago in Esquire. (It’s reprinted in his collection Travels With Dr. Death.) “I never heard branding,” Rosenbaum agreed, in connection with Skull & Bones.

But of course many people, Rosenbaum included, have heard about branding in connection with George W.’s youthful exploits in another Yale organization, the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Deke’s branding rituals were attacked by the Yale Daily News (“a degrading, sadistic and obscene process”) and then became the subject of a story in the New York Times that quoted Yale senior and past Deke president George W. Bush as likening the branding to “a cigarette burn.”  Surely this conflation of Bones rituals and Deke rituals constitutes a deliberate attack on George W.

It’s somewhat poignant that George W. should get tagged by Hollywood as a card-carrying member of the Bones conspiracy, because, as Nicholas Lemann, who profiled George W. recently in The New Yorker, points out, George W. is “much more of a Deke than a Bonesman.” Indeed, in First Son, Bill Minutaglio’s biography of George W., the author suggests that George W.’s membership in Skull & Bones was yet another case of the hapless and reluctant son doing daddy’s bidding. Minutaglio quotes Robert Reisner, a Deke brother of George W.’s, recalling that on the eve of Yale’s “Tap Night,” George W. told him that he was thinking seriously about rejecting the expected invitation to join Bones and instead joining a less elite (and, from the sound of its name, more party-hearty) secret society called “Gin & Tonic.” But George W. ended up choosing Skull & Bones over Gin & Tonic after all. According to an unconfirmed story that circulated around campus, Minutaglio writes,

At 8 p.m. on Tap Night, at the moment the bells were tolling in Harkness Tower, there was a knock on George W.’s door at his room in Davenport. When it opened up, his father, the U.S. congressman, was standing outside, asking that his first son do the right thing and join Skull and Bones–become a Good Man. [Bones literature refers incessantly to becoming a “good man.”]

Is it too late to include this scene in The Skulls?