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Witness ‘Simpsons’ actor Harry Shearer’s total transformation into Richard Nixon

Between playing bassist Derek Smalls in the immortal metal spoof This is Spinal Tap and voicing dozens of characters on The Simpsons, Harry Shearer has been a key performer in two of the most oft-quoted entertainment franchises in living memory. For his latest project, however, Shearer’s the one doing the quoting. He’s re-enacting, verbatim, moments out of the presidency of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon, recasting the tragic president as a comic figure. The series, created in collaboration with Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler, is called Nixon’s the One. It already ran in the UK on Sky Arts earlier this year, and will soon be webcast weekly on YouTube’s My Damn Channel, starting on October 21st.

The scripts are taken from Nixon’s actual White House tapes—those notorious recordings that figured so heavily in the Watergate investigations that left his presidency and his legacy in utter ruins—and shot in a fly-on-the wall style that makes viewing feel like eavesdropping. A teaser was released about a week ago, in which Henry Kissinger is played by British actor Henry Goodman:

To play the former president, Shearer underwent some serious transformation—prosthetics, makeup, wig, the whole megillah, as this photo sequence attests.














Photos courtesy of Hat Trick Productions Ltd.

Terrific work, but this can’t go unsaid—is it maybe a little much? Shearer’s voice isn’t his only great gift as a performer, he has a marvelously expressive face, and it seems a shame to obscure ALL of it with latex appliqués. It strikes me that he could have made a better-than-credible Nixon just with the addition of a nose and some jowls. One possible reason for the full-face prosthetics could have been to DE-age the actor—this surprised the shit out of me when I looked it up, but Shearer is 70 years of age. Nixon, in the time period being recreated, was around 60.

About a month ago, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, Shearer released a similar verbatim re-creation of the unsettlingly awkward moments leading up to Nixon’s resignation speech. I’ve included the actual historic footage for comparison. The way Nixon tries to casually goof around with the news crew makes him seem more like your embarrassing perma-bachelor uncle trying to flirt with a waitress than the leader of the free world about to abandon his career in the face of nearly unanimous public contempt. Shearer’s take on that massively uncomfortable frisson works quite well as cringe comedy.


Previously on Dangerous Minds
White House memo suggests Nixon ‘neutralize’ Johnny Cash, 1970
Wasted Richard Nixon talks, slurs his words to Ronald Reagan on the telephone, 1973
Reefer man: Did Louis Armstrong turn Richard Nixon into his drug mule?
Let Nixon play Nixon: Listen to tricky dick tickle the ivories, on a composition by Richard Nixon

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Men of Crisis’: Woody Allen’s 1972 PBS ‘mockumentary’ that was cancelled for political reasons

By the time Woody Allen made “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story” in 1971/72, messing with found footage as well as the documentary form had become old hat for the restlessly experimental moviemaker. After all, his feature-length experiment of fusing new dialogue to existing footage, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? has been released several years earlier, in 1966. His first faux documentary (and one of the first “mockumentaries” in cinema history), Take the Money and Run, had come out in 1969.

“Men of Crisis” seems more than a little perfunctory. Wallinger is clearly a substitute for Henry Kissinger, but there’s really nothing about the Kissinger-Nixon relationship (as it was perceived in 1971) that was all that funny; the humor lies in the notion of Woody being “the second most powerful man in America.” The movie was supposed to be an hour long, but the final product delivered by Woody ran only 25 minutes long. Clearly the subject of the reprehensible Nixon presidency (pre-Watergate, of course) did not really animate Woody. The movie feels a lot like an extended sketch from HBO’s “Not Necessarily the News” in the 1980s, which usually juxtaposed perfectly normal footage of e.g. Ronald Reagan with concocted footage to produce a ridiculous effect. One thing that makes “Men in Crisis” noteworthy is that it marks the first occasion Woody Allen and Diane Keaton worked together on a movie. Keaton plays Wallinger’s ex-wife, “Renata Baldwin, who attends Vassar College, where she studies to be a blacksmith.” (As a Vassar alum, I’m pretty fond of this joke.)

Richard Nixon had a knack for annoying liberal elites that was very similar to that of George W. Bush. Woody Allen was never the most political of artists; even when dealing with politics, such as in “Men of Crisis” or Bananas, the essentially surrealist nature of his humor tends to run roughshod over any particular satire. One gets the feeling, watching “Men of Crisis,” that Woody has contempt for Nixon mainly because he’s not highbrow enough (witness the gag about Nixon and Agnew knowing “almost” all of the numbers from 1 to 10).

PBS was worried about running the program, they were right to be. After all, the Nixon administration was so famously thin-skinned that Nixon personally exerted pressure on Jack L. Warner to remove the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” from the movie 1776 because it seemed to poke fun at conservatives. (You can watch the musical number on recent reissues of the movie; it seems pretty harmless.)

If nothing else, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” had the effect of cementing Woody’s determination to work in feature movies, where outside interference could be minimized. He said afterwards that the incident had reinforced his preference to “stick to movies.” According to The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television by James Day, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” went down as follows:

The politically charged atmosphere of the early seventies should have warned those of us at NET that the times were hardly propitious for political satire—and certainly not on the public medium. But so eager were we to bring an element of lightness, a laugh or two, to public television’s overarching solemnity that we unhesitatingly accepted Woody Allen’s offer in late 1971 to produce a special. We didn’t even pull back after learning that he intended to use the show to satirize the Nixon White House. Allen approached us after having produced two prime-time specials for the commercial networks, fully expecting the public medium to give him greater artistic license to write and perform the kind of humor for which he is justly celebrated. He was wrong.

…. In the opinion of the PBS legal staff, the Woody Allen show “presents fairness problems … personal attack, equal time and taste problems,” a solid guarantee that no public station in the country would risk airing it. Except, of course, our own WNET.

What I and a brace of our attorneys screened with nervous interest was a mock documentary, Men of Crisis, that mimicked the style of the old March of Time, in which authentic news footage was combined with dramatic elements, a technique Allen later perfected in his feature film Zelig. The original hour-long script had been trimmed to the twenty-five-minute “documentary,” and the balance of the hour had been filled by an interview with Allen on the nature of comedy. Men of Crisis managed not only to lampoon the Nixon White House but to needle both the president’s foes (Humphrey and Wallace) as well as his friends (Agnew, Hoover, Laird, and Mitchell). Allen himself played the fictional Harvey Wallinger, high-living confidant and counselor to the president, whose resemblance to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was more than coincidental. As might be expected, the show included moments of questionable taste. Allen explained that “it is hard to do anything about the Administration that wouldn’t be in bad taste.”

I withdrew the show after the screening, hoping to find a broader context to make Men of Crisis acceptable to the system, perhaps by marrying it with other satiricial pieces that took aim with prudent impartiality at a broader range of political icons.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Johnny Cash’s musical ad for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 1971
07:48 am


Johnny Cash
Richard Nixon

You are in no position to give health advice, Mr. Johnny Cash!
Johnny Cash certainly lived his paradoxes—a champion of the rebel, yet oddly reverent of the powerful. He sympathized publicly with the margins of society while simultaneously invoking a kind of nostalgic, rural wholesomeness. That in mind, it makes total sense that he’d do a public service announcement on physical fitness for Richard Nixon.

It’s not totally without its charms, either! The tune is catchy. “The man I used to be” is a pretty clever euphemism for “I got fat,” and the whole thing lends itself to that wistful reminiscing you want from a Johnny Cash. This was recorded only one year in of a seven-year period of sobriety. Before 1970 he was still doing insane amounts of pills, and engaging in super-wholesome activities like driving out to the wilderness all cranked up and accidentally setting fire to 508 acres of California National Forest.

I guess Nixon thought America needed a fitness spokesman who wouldn’t make us all feel bad about ourselves?

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
White House memo suggests Nixon ‘neutralize’ Johnny Cash, 1970
10:21 am


Johnny Cash
Richard Nixon
Tex Ritter

Richard Nixon’s presidency was marked by a legendarily thick air of paranoia. Dick feared the Democrats—sure, but he also feared Jews, intellectuals, black people, Mexicans and a lot of run-of-the-mill, unremarkable whites, too. In fact, Nixon’s adviser Murray Chotiner (ironically, a Jew and former Democrat), felt that Johnny Cash might upset the Republican masterplan, and hoped Nixon would set him straight at a White House event.

The fear was that Cash would carry water for Tex Ritter, a colleague and country music legend who was then running for Tennessee’s Senate Republican primary. Predictably, Cash never actually endorsed Ritter, who eventually lost by a landslide. Two years later, Johnny would visit Nixon again to discuss prison reform. The story goes that Nixon requested “Okie from Muskogee,” a Merle Haggard song satirizing reactionary “good ole boys” that Nixon most likely went over Nixon’s head. It’s said that Cash snidely responded by playing a decidedly bleeding heart, anti-war set of “What Is Truth?” “The Man in Black,” and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”

I’d argue that Johnny Cash is a complex and powerful figure, and that it’s tempting to ascribe political dissidence to a man who was ultimately kind of a simple guy with a few very meaningful pet projects. Regardless, it’s fun to contemplate Nixon being concerned about Johnny Cash being a potential thorn in his side, even if the threat was only imagined. You can see footage and hear clips of the 1972 visit below, from the Nixon tapes. June even says that they’re praying for him.


Via Retronaut

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER’: The speech Nixon would have given if lunar landing had failed
07:53 am


Richard Nixon
Apollo 11

Prior to the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing, one of President Richard Nixon’s speechwriters, William Safire, who later became a long-standing political columnist, wrote a speech for Nixon to give in case the mission failed and the astronauts were stranded on the Moon. “In Event of Moon Disaster” was originally sent as a memo, dated July 18, 1969, to Nixon’s chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and is yet another argument against the moon landing being a hoax:


Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.


A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.

NASA’s 45th anniversary of moon landing original resource reel:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Capitalism, Communism and dishwashers: Nixon and Khrushchev argue in ‘The Kitchen Debate’

 Nixon and Khrushchev
Nice body language, Dick. Photo credit: Elliot Erwitt.
In 1959, Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev met in Moscow in a highly publicized diplomatic event. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the American National Exhibition, a sort of cultural exchange fair where the US could showcase all the amenities afforded to its citizens by capitalism. The US public relations strategy was to get the world to associate us with modern conveniences and easy living. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately for Nixon, Khrushchev decided to dispense with the formalities and staged a delightfully bitchy political debate with the then Vice President over the exhibit displaying a “typical” California kitchen. Below is the transcript and a partial video excerpt from the famous Kitchen Debate, wherein a flustered Nixon attempts to gracefully field criticism with a little slick diplomacy (it doesn’t quite work). The entire exchange is done through translators, but there’s not much a gentler tone could do to ease the tension—not that Khrushchev had any intention of doing so. Some things translate loud and clear.

Over three million Russians actually ended up attending the fair, and the crowds often echoed Khrushchev’s particularly volatile brand of interrogation. Audiences would ask personal questions of the tour guides, often berating them with leading questions about American racism, our lack of universal health care, and social security. Of course the guides were instructed to politely admit that the U.S. wasn’t perfect, but a dynamic work in progress, nonetheless. 

The entire premise of the exhibit was just a show of Cold War dick-measuring, and the Kitchen Debate was the big finish. By the end, both men believed they had “won,” and the two shook hands, agreeing to broadcast the entire conversation in their respective countries.The U.S. went off half-cocked and aired the segment on three networks, which angered the Soviets, who had assumed they would coordinate simultaneous broadcasts. The Soviets then threatened not to show it at all, but after a few days it was aired, though with Nixon’s words only partially translated.

[Both men enter kitchen in the American exhibit.]

Nixon: I want to show you this kitchen. It is like those of our houses in California.

[Nixon points to dishwasher.]

Khrushchev: We have such things.

Nixon: This is our newest model. This is the kind which is built in thousands of units for direct installations in the houses. In America, we like to make life easier for women…

Khrushchev: Your capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under Communism.

Nixon: I think that this attitude towards women is universal. What we want to do, is make life more easy for our housewives…..
 Nixon and Khrushchev
Photo credit: Associated Press
Nixon: This house can be bought for $14,000, and most American [veterans from World War II] can buy a home in the bracket of $10,000 to $15,000. Let me give you an example that you can appreciate. Our steel workers as you know, are now on strike. But any steel worker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years.

Khrushchev: We have steel workers and peasants who can afford to spend $14,000 for a house. Your American houses are built to last only 20 years so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.

Nixon: American houses last for more than 20 years, but, even so, after twenty years, many Americans want a new house or a new kitchen. Their kitchen is obsolete by that time….The American system is designed to take advantage of new inventions and new techniques.

Khrushchev: This theory does not hold water. Some things never get out of date–houses,for instance, and furniture, furnishings–perhaps–but not houses. I have read much about America and American houses, and I do not think that this is exhibit and what you say is strictly accurate.

Nixon: Well, um…

Khrushchev: I hope I have not insulted you.

Nixon: I have been insulted by experts. Everything we say [on the other hand] is in good humor. Always speak frankly.

Khrushchev: The Americans have created their own image of the Soviet man. But he is not as you think. You think the Russian people will be dumbfounded to see these things, but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now.

Nixon: Yes, but…

Khrushchev: In Russia, all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing…In America, if you don’t have a dollar you have a right to choose between sleeping in a house or on the pavement. Yet you say we are the slave to Communism.

Nixon: I appreciate that you are very articulate and energetic…

Khrushchev: Energetic is not the same thing as wise.

Nixon: If you were in the Senate, we would call you a filibusterer! You–[Khrushchev interrupts]–do all the talking and don’t let anyone else talk. This exhibit was not designed to astound but to interest. Diversity, the right to choose, the fact that we have 1,000 builders building 1,000 different houses is the most important thing. We don’t have one decision made at the top by one government official. This is the difference.

Khrushchev: On politics, we will never agree with you. For instance, Mikoyan likes very peppery soup. I do not. But this does not mean that we do not get along.

Nixon : You can learn from us, and we can learn from you. There must be a free exchange. Let the people choose the kind of house, the kind of soup, the kind of ideas that they want.

[Translation lost as both men enter the television recording studio.]

Khrushchev: [In jest] You look very angry, as if you want to fight me. Are you still angry?

Nixon: [in jest] That’s right!

Khrushchev:…and Nixon was once a lawyer? Now he’s nervous.

Nixon: Oh yes, [Nixon chuckling] he still is [a lawyer].

Other Russian speaker: Tell us, please, what are your general impressions of the exhibit?

Khrushchev: It’s clear to me that the construction workers didn’t manage to finish their work and the exhibit still is not put in order…This is what America is capable of, and how long has she existed? 300 years? 150 years of independence and this is her level. We haven’t quite reached 42 years, and in another 7 years, we’ll be at the level of America, and after that we’ll go farther. As we pass you by, we’ll wave “hi” to you, and then if you want, we’ll stop and say, “please come along behind us.” …If you want to live under capitalism, go ahead, that’s your question, an internal matter, it doesn’t concern us. We can feel sorry for you, but really, you wouldn’t understand. We’ve already seen how you understand things.

Other U.S speaker: Mr. Vice President, from what you have seen of our exhibition, how do you think it’s going to impress the people of the Soviet Union?

Nixon: It’s a very effective exhibit, and it’s one that will cause a great deal of interest. I might say that this morning I, very early in the morning, went down to visit a market, where the farmers from various outskirts of the city bring in their items to sell. I can only say that there was a great deal of interest among these people, who were workers and farmers, etc… I would imagine that the exhibition from that standpoint would, therefore, be a considerable success. As far as Mr Khrushchev’s comments just now, they are in the tradition we learned to expect from him of speaking extemporaneously and frankly whenever he has an opportunity. I can only say that if this competition which you have described so effectively, in which you plan to outstrip us, particularly in the production of consumer goods…If this competition is to do the best for both of our peoples and for people everywhere, there must be a free exchange of ideas. There are some instances where you may be ahead of us–for example in the development of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space. There may be some instances, for example, color television, where we’re ahead of you. But in order for both of us benefit…

Khrushchev: [interrupting] No, in rockets we’ve passed you by, and in the technology…

Nixon: [continuing to talk] You see, you never concede anything.

Khrushchev: We always knew that Americans were smart people. Stupid people could not have risen to the economic level that they’ve reached. But as you know, “we don’t beat flies with our nostrils!” In 42 years we’ve made progress.

Nixon: You must not be afraid of ideas.

Khrushchev: We’re saying it is you who must not be afraid of ideas. We’re not afraid of anything….

Nixon: Well, then, let’s have more exchange of them. We all agree on that, right?

Khrushchev: Good. [Khrushchev turns to translator and asks:] Now, what did I agree on?

Nixon: [interrupts] Now, let’s go look at our pictures.

Khrushchev: Yes, I agree. But first I want to clarify what I’m agreeing on. Don’t I have that right? I know that I’m dealing with a very good lawyer. Therefore, I want to be unwavering in my miner’s girth, so our miners will say, “He’s ours and he doesn’t give in!”

Nixon: No question about that.

Khrushchev: You’re a lawyer of Capitalism, I’m a lawyer for Communism. Let’s kiss.

Nixon: All that I can say, from the way you talk and the way you dominate the conversation, you would have made a good lawyer yourself. What I mean is this: Here you can see the type of tape which will transmit this very conversation immediately, and this indicates the possibilities of increasing communication. And this increase in communication, will teach us some things, and you some things, too. Because, after all, you don’t know everything.

Khrushchev: If I don’t know everything, then you know absolutely nothing about Communism, except for fear! But now the dispute will be on an unequal basis. The apparatus is yours, and you speak English, while I speak Russian. Your words are taped and will be shown and heard. What I say to you about science won’t be translated, and so your people won’t hear it. These aren’t equal conditions.

Nixon: There isn’t a day that goes by in the United States when we can’t read everything that you say in the Soviet Union…And, I can assure you, never make a statement here that you don’t think we read in the United States.

Khrushchev: If that’s the way it is, I’m holding you to it. Give me your word…I want you, the Vice President, to give me your word that my speech will also be taped in English. Will it be?

Nixon: Certainly it will be. And by the same token, everything that I say will be recorded and translated and will be carried all over the Soviet Union. That’s a fair bargain.

The Kitchen Debate. One of the first uses of color videotape, which was provided by the Ampex corporation. The impromptu international game of Soviet vs. Yank one-upmanship was shot at the Ampex booth at the fair.

Via Teaching American History

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
WASTED Richard Nixon talks, slurs his words to Ronald Reagan on the telephone, 1973
03:43 pm


Ronald Reagan
Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon is quite clearly drunk as a skunk (unless he took ‘ludes!) in this amazing LOL-worthy recording of a telephone conversation with California governor Ronald Reagan.

The call was taped on April 30, the same evening Nixon had gone on television to announce that two of his top aides, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned and offer the nation details on the breaking Watergate scandal.

Via Mediaite:

“I couldn’t be better,” Nixon insisted after warmly greeting Reagan on what should have been a somber night.

“The time is so far different,” Nixon, a California native, continued. “The time is only 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock there, huh?

“Yes,” Reagan replied.

“How nice of you to call,” the president added.

“You can count on us,” Reagan said after noting how difficult it must have been to deliver the Watergate speech. “We’re still behind you out here.”

“Each of us is a different religion,” Nixon said, pivoting. “But, Goddamn it Ron, we have got to build peace in the world. And that’s what I’m working on.”

That and a massive hangover from the sound of his slurred voice!

“How’d you ever marry such a pretty girl?” Nixon asked Regan after requesting the Golden State governor send his regards to his wife.

“I’m lucky,” Reagan replied.

“Where are you now? Are you in Sacramento?” Nixon asked.

“No, Los Angeles,” Regan answered.

“Good for you,” the president replied. “Get out of that miserable city.”

It’s awkward. And all over the place. But funny. Totally worth the listen, I promise.

If Nixon and Brezhnev necked some Russian vodka during the Soviet leader’s White House visit, I can’t wait to hear that tape, too.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Let Nixon play Nixon! Listen to Tricky Dick tickle the ivories, on a composition by Richard Nixon
07:17 am


Richard Nixon
Jack Paar

Nixon at the keys
Sure, you know him as the only president to resign in disgrace as well as the guy who turned Cambodia into a mass graveyard to little gain, but back in the day Richard Nixon was quite the charmer.

In 1962 Nixon campaigned to be governor of California and lost the race to the incumbent Pat Brown (father of the state’s current governor, Jerry Brown), an outcome humiliating enough that Nixon groused in a press conference afterward, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore!” (Well, that certainly proved not to be the case.) A few months later, on March 8, 1963 (the 1961 date on the video’s splash screen appears to be wrong, or else a reference to the date of composition, which given the context is idiotic), Nixon went on The Tonight Show, then under the stewardship of its second host, Jack Paar, and affably showed America his less pinched, less gloomy side. Given that he became president a scant five years later, this video arguably shows a key point in the transformation Nixon needed to effect in order to achieve that lofty goal. His laughter at Parr’s remark about “fifteen Democratic violinists” is genuine and likable; his crack about the Republicans not wanting “another piano player in the White House” is apparently a reference to Harry Truman, who was known as a piano player. (Also note, in the same sentence, the reference to “last November.”) The “Concerto” is a little dreary, but what the hey, we bet that Roger Sterling would have found something cheeky to say about it. For some reason the audio kicks out at the end, but the video is too delicious not to share.

In his 1983 book P.S. Jack Paar, the host reminisced:

He had been on the Tonight program with me, and against his own judgment and that of his many advisers, I got him to play the piano. It was an unusual moment, with Richard Nixon playing a ricky-ticky tune that he had composed. Marshall McLuhan, the media analyst, had written in his first book that if Nixon had played the piano on the Tonight program in the 1960 campaign, he would have won the election.

Paar had the McLuhan comment right; McLuhan wrote that “a few timely touches like this would have quite altered the result of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign.” Whether that’s really true, who can say? Nowadays all the political scientists insist that elections are all about the fundamentals. But one thing is for sure: the 1960 election was veeeeery close, and Nixon probably would have won the damn thing if not for some shenanigans on the Democratic side in Chicago…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Reefer Man: Did Louis Armstrong turn Richard Nixon into his drug mule?
05:36 am


Richard Nixon
Louis Armstrong

Ah, this is a good one. But, before we dive deep down into this wondrous legend, let’s get one thing straight: In the Jazz community no one calls Louis Armstrong “Satchmo.” It’s Pops, got it? You know, as in the local friendly neighborhood patriarch and titular head of the Jazz family. Pops

As for this legend, it should be noted that, like all legends, little details that were not initially explained or transmitted may get explained, or embellished, in later tellings. These latter variations may or may not have much to do with what actually happened, but tracing the sources of this particular legend, it’s pretty likely that something did actually happen, and that something is pretty hilarious.

As the legend goes, some time in the early 1950s, Louis Armstrong and Vice President Richard M. Nixon were riding the same plane together back to the US from Japan (this seems to be the most plausible version). Apparently, Nixon was a big Armstrong fan and noticed the musical great struggling with a number of heavy cases including, of course, that of his trumpet.  Nixon asked Pops if there was anything he could do to help him.

Armstrong reportedly said something like, “Oh that would be a great help, because you know, I’m starting to get pretty old. Do you think you could carry my trumpet case? It’s quite heavy.” So Armstrong gave Nixon his trumpet to carry and, since it was with the well-known and easily identifiable jowly Richard Nixon, Vice President of the United States of America, Nixon and the case sailed right through customs. (There are variations of the tale that make the destination a European country and also Russia, but apparently Armstrong never played there)

Now unbeknownst to Nixon, the trumpet case he was carrying… also contained Pops’ stash. Armstrong was, of course, a “viper”—a lifelong smoker of “the gage,” as they called it back then (and if it’s not obvious, we’re talking about marijuana here).

I heard this through my own father who had in turn heard it from the cats in Armstrong’s band during a NYC run he played in Pops’ band circa 1970. Since my own pop wasn’t a regular, he didn’t hear the story from Armstrong himself, but some of the older regulars told him that Pops relished telling the story and that they’d heard it it many, many times over the years.

As far as I’m concerned that’s just about enough for me to believe it, but some web-based clicking doesn’t reveal a lot in the way of published articles or stories. Indeed, there are lots of different versions of the story that put the event in Paris, Ghana, London, Russia and elsewhere. But stumbling across the “Snopes” message board, there seems to be a fairly reliable source for the story from the late Arvell Shaw, who was in Armstrong’s band in the late 40s and early 50s.

Given Pops’ legendary love of weed, this seems not only plausible but quite likely.

What is equally fascinating is that there may have been a second act to this story…

In 1954 (after the drug mule event), Armstrong’s wife Lucille was busted for cannabis possession. Having returned from Japan, she was in a beachfront hotel room in Waikiki when the cops burst in, searched the place, and carted her—and what was almost certainly Pops’ pot stash—off to jail. Clearly, a tip-off had occurred. Although Lucille Armstrong was eventually released and ordered to pay just a $200 fine, this prompted Pops to write a stunning letter to his manager about getting hassled for ganja:

“Mr. Glaser, you must see to it that I have special permission to smoke all the reefers that I want to when I want or I will just have to put this horn down, that’s all, I can gladly vouch for a nice, fat stick of gage, which relaxes my nerves, if I have any ... I can’t afford to be ... tense, fearing that any minute I’m going to be arrested, brought to jail for a silly little minor thing like marijuana.”...

“Can you imagine anyone giving Lucille all of those headaches and grief over a mere small pittance such as gage, something that grows out in the backyard among the chickens and so forth,” Louis emoted in his letter to Glaser. “I just won’t carry on with such fear over nothing and I don’t intend to ever stop smoking it, not as long as it grows. And there is no one on this earth that can ever stop it all from growing. No one but Jesus – and he wouldn’t dare. Because he feels the same way that I do about it…. Gage ain’t nothin’ but medicine,”

(You can find more details about the bust here...I linked to the cached version because there seems to be some spamware in the ‘real’ one.)

So the obvious question here is, who tipped off the cops in Hawaii? Did, somehow, the Vice President hear about his having been used to move Pops’ weed stash and then had one of his gang phone in a “tip”? That kind of petty revenge is certainly not outside the scope of Nixon’s character. I guess we’ll never know for sure if Tricky Dicky behind this, so deem this “act two” speculative.

But the “drug mule” bit? I’d wager this is true. It’s simply too outlandish not to be: Louis Armstrong got Richard Nixon to move his pot stash across an international border—and that alone deserves all the respect we post-modern ironic types can muster.

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
Chuck Colson tribute: From the White House to the big house, Jesus and anti-gay bigotry

Former Special Counsel to Richard Nixon and the first from his administration to become a Watergate jailbird, influential Christian leader and anti-gay activist Chuck Colson remains hospitalized in critical condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage last week. In Colson’s honor, Joe.My.God. reminds us of the ridiculous Born Again Christian comic based on Colson’s evangelical memoir of the same title.

Quoting from Gamma Cloud:

Published by Spire Christian Comics in 1978, Born Again is the sugar-coated, “feel good” story of Chuck Colson’s suffering and redemption.  It’s a relatively typical tale in some respects, as Colson professes that he was converted to Evangelical Christianity through the help of his friend Thomas Phillips who had himself been “saved” some time earlier.  Phillips provides Colson with a copy of the C.S. Lewis book Mere Christianity and Colson subsequently immerses himself in the text, learning all kinds of Jesusy insight. (Incidentally, despite the fact that he apparently needed “saving,” Colson effectively maintains that he was basically law-abiding – and apparently naïve and blissfully oblivious of the wrongdoing and unethical behavior swirling around him – throughout all of his work with the Nixon administration and CREEP.) While serving time in a Federal prison for convictions related to the Watergate scandal, Colson shares his enlightenment with other inmates and he ultimately decides to start a ministry and devote his life to spreading the word far and wide.

Well…I guess some of that story is true.

The fact of the matter is that Chuck Colson: Born Again is nothing short of a grand and glorious collection of obfuscation and half-truths.  Colson’s yarn portrays the man himself as an pious martyr acting in service of a naively innocent Richard Nixon.  In one of the more laughable parts of the story, it’s inferred that John Ehrlichman learned of the Watergate break-in while watching the evening news.  Indeed, the entire question of wrongdoing and guilt is effectively marginalized through the omnipresent argument that Richard Nixon’s coterie of henchmen acted under the Nietzschean principal that “what is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.”  With respect to this particular version of the Watgergate story, it’s basically unclear as to whether the “love” that spurred Nixon and co. to action was an unfettered and dogmatic love of country or a just good old-fashioned lust for power, influence and control.

As soon as I saw the cover, I recalled leafing through this silliness at my parents’ church in the late 70s. At the time, I was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s then new Jailbird and if you know what that’s about, you’ll laugh at the thought of picking up Chuck Colson: Born Again at the same time.

In 2008, George Bush gave this asshole the Presidential Citizens Medal.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
New book claims Nixon had long-term gay affair
11:25 am


Richard Nixon

File this one anywhere you want: A soon to be published biography of Richard Nixon by former UPI reporter Don Fulsom makes the claim that Nixon was bisexual. Yeah, Nixon. Insert your own “Tricky Dick” joke here, I can’t be bothered:

From Queerty:

Due out next month, Fulsom’s racy bio, Nixon’s Darkest Secrets, asserts that Nixon carried on a decades-long affair with Mafia-connected Floridian Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, unquestionably one of the 37th U.S. President’s closest confidants. Rebozo often vacationed with Prez Dick in Key Biscayne, both with Nixon’s wife Pat along and not. During the men-only visits, the twosome reportedly frolicked together in and out of the water, and gushed over their shared passion for Broadway musicals.

But was there ever anything more than a strong bromance between the dark duo? Nixon’s final chief of staff, Alexander Haig, reportedly joked about the pair being lovers and threw in an imitation of Rebozo’s limp wrist for good measure.

Of course this could easily be chalked up to Haig’s jealousy over Rebozo’s unshakably close connection to the president.  But what of the repeated journalistic whispers—like the Time magazine reporter quoted by Fulsom, who claimed that when he once bent down to retrieve his fork at a Washington dinner, he realized that Nixon and Rebozo were holding hands under the table?

Richard Nixon once called San Francisco “the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine,” and he blamed the fall of Rome on homosexual emperors. Anyone who has read the transcripts of the Nixon tapes knows how many times “[expletive deleted]” appears in the text, quite often in place of the word “cocksucker,” an expletive Nixon apparently loved to throw around. The man was clearly not comfortable about the topic of homosexuality. The idea that Nixon was bi seems as utterly preposterous to me as the idea of Nixon being sexual at all (although of course, he did have two children so we know he got laid at least twice).

In the completely ridiculous tape below, John Ehrlichman, Bob Haldeman and Nixon discuss homosexuality and “Archie Bunker” in the Oval Office on May 13, 1971. There is a 14-second bleeped out section where Nixon is meant to be running down a list of supposedly gay entertainers. It starts to pick up steam in the latter part of the clip, at around 5 minutes in, in terms of the yucks value.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Nixon family album
09:54 am


Richard Nixon

More of these at Bostworld.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
When Elvis met Nixon
08:57 pm

Pop Culture

Elvis Presley
Richard Nixon

From today’s Los Angeles Times, the little known tale behind the famous photo of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, including the top page of the letter Presley wrote to Nixon that led to the meeting:

“Dear Mr. President, First I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley.”

In five pages, Elvis explains he loves his country and wants to give something back and, not being “a member of the Establishment,” believes he could reach some people the president can’t if the president would only make him a federal agent at-large so he can help fight the war on drugs.

“Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. . . . I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent. . . . I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not to [sic] busy. Respectfully, Elvis Presley.”

Picture of Elvis and Nixon is worth a thousand words (Los Angeles Times)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment