1 Apr
2016

ELVIS PRESLEY: CIA SPY

Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, December 21, 1970.

Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, December 21, 1970.

When the National Archives first admitted, in 1988, that the White House meeting between President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley had been photographed, the iconic image of the President and the King of Rock & Roll in the Oval Office immediately became the most popular and highly requested photograph in the archive’s collection. It is still its best seller to this day. The meeting has even been the subject of Hollywood movies including the upcoming Elvis & Nixon, starring Kevin Spacey, and Elvis Meets Nixon, released in 1997.

The official government version of the meeting and how it came about is rather vanilla. But the truth is so explosive, so incredible, that neither Elvis nor the government could afford for it to be revealed. Only now that the last surviving government official – former First Lady Nancy Reagan – has passed away can the amazing story finally be revealed.

The official version, according to the Smithsonian Institution, is that in mid December 1970, Elvis was at Graceland in Memphis, and his family was complaining that he spent too much money on Christmas presents. Upset, Elvis stormed out, drove to the airport alone and caught the next available flight, which happened to be bound for Washington, D.C. Upon arrival he checked into The Washington Hotel, and, still alone, soon got bored and decided to fly to Los Angeles where he met up with Jerry Schilling, his longtime aide.

While flying cross-country, Elvis decided he wanted a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, so after just one day in Los Angeles, Elvis and Schilling flew back to Washington, D.C. on a red-eye. During the flight, Elvis scribbled a letter to President Nixon in which he offered his services to the government and all he wanted in return was a federal agent’s badge.

From the airport, Elvis and Schilling took a limo to the White House, where Elvis dropped off his letter at the front gate at 6:30 a.m. By noon, Elvis was back at the White House for a meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office. “I’m on your side,” Elvis assured Nixon, as he asked the president for a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and Nixon ordered it done.

At Elvis’ request, the meeting was kept secret. A year later, columnist Jack Anderson broke the story—“Presley Gets Narcotics Bureau Badge”—but few people seemed to care. The government’s version of events is entirely sanitized. But it had to be to protect Elvis – their biggest asset.

It’s a quaint story, but it is time for the American people to know the truth, which is that Elvis Presley was a C.I.A. agent. Yes. Elvis Presley was a secret agent of the Central Intelligence Agency – a spy!

Think about it. Who shows up at the White House in a caped, purple velvet suit with a huge gold belt buckle and amber sunglasses, armed with at least one gun, passes a note to the security guard at the front gate, and is suddenly escorted in to meet with the President of the United States and is issued a federal law enforcement badge? And all of this takes place within a few short hours? The cover story is so preposterous that was was actually taken at face value by the American public for nearly half a century!

The reality is that Elvis Presley’s work for the U.S. government began in 1958 when he joined the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Friedberg, Germany where he studied the communist infiltration of the German culture and became dedicated to fighting communism. Although officially “discharged” from the Army in March 1960, Elvis’s government service actually continued as a spy for the Central Intelligence Agency investigating domestic communist infiltration.

Although Elvis was the King of Rock & Roll, he undertook an assignment that required him to set aside his music career and investigate communism in Hollywood. And from 1961 until his December 1970 meeting with Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley stopped touring and instead launched a movie career as a cover for his work rooting out communists in Hollywood.

Elvis was in such deep cover he that he had to communicate his findings through movie titles. For example, the movie Blue Hawaii was originally named Hawaii Beach Boy but Elvis had the name changed to reflect that no communist ties were found at Paramount Pictures. Color coding states started as a cartographers trick, but was adopted by the C.I.A. following World War Two. Political analysts use colors to identify states by political affiliation, with blue signifying the Democrat Party, so Elvis selected Blue Hawaii to communicate that Paramount Pictures followed democrat principles and that he had not discovered any communist infiltration. And just as Elvis loved women, the government embraced capitalism. So whenever women were referenced in movie titles, it was a signal that Elvis was not uncovering any communist infiltration in Hollywood. Hence Girls! Girls! Girls!, Girl Happy and Harum Scarum. Although he didn’t find any communist sympathizers, he did note the leftward movement in Hollywood in the late 1960’s, hence The Trouble with Girls in 1969.

Elvis Presley performed his duties as a true American hero. Yet he became restless as the 1960’s came to a close, and was not sure what direction he should take in his life. He loved the government secret agent work, but he longed for the live musical performances that concert tours provided. At the same time he didn’t know if he could return to music as he had not performed live in nearly a decade. Torn, Elvis made a Christmas special in December 1968, billed as his Comeback Special. Although the production was a hit, Elvis was still torn.

The December 1970 meeting was not their first. Elvis and Nixon first met at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia less than two months after Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th U.S. President. Elvis was at Langley for debriefing following the recently wrapped filming of Charro, and Nixon wanted to personally meet with the Elvis to confirm there were no communist ties to Hollywood.

Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon shaking hands in Langley, Virginia, on March 7, 1969 following their secret meeting at the CIA headquarters.

Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon shaking hands in Langley, Virginia, on March 7, 1969 following their secret meeting at the CIA headquarters.

It is easy to see the excitement on their faces as the two men shake hands.

It is easy to see the excitement on their faces as the two men shake hands.

The President and the King enjoyed a far ranging discussion of communist influence around the world, the importance of Presley’s work searching out communist ties in Hollywood, and their shared loved of music. Nixon was the first President that Elvis had met, and the King was particularly touched that Nixon  helicoptered from the White House to visit with him. During their meeting, Nixon, an accomplished pianist with an excellent sense of rhythm, immediately recognized Elvis’s rhythmic cadence while they spoke, and, sensing Elvis’s yearning to perform, Nixon implored the King to return to music. Nixon was convinced that Elvis’s best years as an entertainer were ahead of him. But Elvis was torn, he wanted to serve his country and he also loved singing. Nixon finally persuaded Elvis to agree to a short concert engagement, after which Elvis would decide whether to return to Rock & Roll. Nixon promised that, after performing live concerts again, if Elvis wanted to return to music full time, they would meet again to formally acknowledge Elvis’s service to his country.

So from July 31 through August 28, 1969, Elvis returned to the stage in Las Vegas, reigniting his passion. Yet at the same time Elvis could not embrace the concept of shedding his deep cover assignment, and certainly was not going to make any decision lightly. It took a year of deliberation before Elvis decided to follow Nixon’s advice and rededicate himself to music full time.

To officially end his career as a C.I.A. agent, Elvis needed to meet with the President. But he couldn’t just show up at the White House and ask to see the Commander in Chief. The 1960’s were a turbulent time period as America experienced assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and access to the President was very limited by the secret service and scrutinized by the press.

Instead, in true “cloak and dagger” fashion, Elvis precisely followed the plan he devised with Nixon when they met at C.I.A. headquarters. First, Elvis had to signal his readiness with a trip to Washington, D.C., alone, checking in to the Washington Hotel under the code name John Burrows. The name John Burrows selected because he was an obscure politician from the mining hills of Queensland, Australia,  just as Elvis was from the mining hills of Tupelo, Mississippi. To this day the Australia government continues to honor Elvis’s spy work by allowing Queensland as the only place personalized Elvis Presley license plates can be bought anywhere in the world outside Memphis.

Next, he needed to return the next business day with his “handler” so that Nixon knew he was serious. And there was one caveat – he had to return his Colt .45 government issued service weapon, and in exchange Nixon would award Presley a federal agent’s badge as a silent commemorative for his years of service.

The perfect opportunity arose as 1970 came to a close when Elvis’s father Vernon and wife Priscilla complained about his Christmas shopping. Elvis “stormed” out of the house and flew to Washington, D.C. on Friday, December 17th. He checked into The Washington Hotel, alone, signaling that he was ready to meet with Nixon and announce his retirement. He then flew to Los Angeles for two reasons – to retrieve his service weapon and return to Washington with his “handler.”

Elvis loved guns, and he cherished his service weapon, so much so that he had it framed and hung on the wall of his Hollywood Hills home. To Elvis, seeing the gun on the wall in the heart of the entertainment capital of the world was the ultimate irony because it was a reflection of how he himself was hiding in plain sight as a secret agent.

Elvis's government issued Colt .45.

Elvis’s government issued Colt .45.

With gun in hand, Elvis then arranged to return with his handler – U.S. Senator George Murphy. Murphy was the perfect intermediary for Elvis and his selection was no accident. Nixon needed someone he could trust, so he turned to his longtime close friend Ronald Reagan for a recommendation, and Reagan immediately thought of George Murphy.

Murphy was ideal. He was a longtime friend of both Nixon and Reagan. He preceded Ronald Reagan as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946, and he was director of entertainment for Nixon’s 1953 and 1957 inaugurations as vice president. Having served as vice president of Desilu Productions during the fall of Cuba, he knew firsthand the perils of communism by seeing the effects on his Cuban born friend Desi Arnaz. Plus he was the U.S. Senator from California, providing the perfect bridge from Washington to Hollywood.

Ronald & Nancy Reagan, Richard & Pat Nixon, and George Murphy enjoying an afternoon together at La Casa Pacifica in July 1970.

Ronald & Nancy Reagan, Richard & Pat Nixon, and George Murphy enjoying an afternoon together at La Casa Pacifica in July 1970.

Murphy and Elvis flew from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and during the flight, Elvis penned his “letter” to the President. But it was actually the envelop and not the letter that was the key as it contained the code words George Murphy and Room 505 at the Washington Hotel.

The envelop - containing the code words Room 505 & George Murphy - by which Elvis signaled he was coming in from deep cover with the CIA.

The envelop – containing the code words Room 505 & George Murphy – by which Elvis signaled he was coming in from deep cover with the CIA.

Upon receipt of the letter, the meeting was confirmed, and at noon on Monday, December 21, 1970, the America’s most secret of all secret agents came in from deep cover and retired. As they met, Nixon and Elvis, both cold war warriors, hugged in a warm embrace. For fifteen full minutes the President recounting how important Elvis’s undercover assignment was, and then Nixon presented the badge to his friend on behalf of a grateful nation.

Elvis loved the badge. Years later, Priscilla Presley admitted in her memoir, Elvis and Me, that the badge represented “ultimate power to him.”

Nixon presented Elvis this badge in honor of his spy work.

Nixon presented Elvis this badge in honor of his spy work.

After Elvis departed the White House he resumed his singing career full force, and the world embraced him. Nixon was correct, as Elvis’s greatest years as an entertainer laid ahead, including the January 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert that was an international satellite simulcast seen live by 1.5 billion fans. Not only did Richard open relations with China, recommit the United States to environmental protections by creating the EPA, bring the communist world to its knees through détente, but he also gave us the seven best years of Elvis Presley’s entertainment career.

23 Mar
2016

White House Church Services

As a Quaker growing up in Yorba Linda and Whittier, Richard Nixon attended church services four times a day on Sundays, plus Wednesday evenings. When he was a young attorney practicing law in Whittier, he continued to teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, play piano at services and even led an Easter Sunday sunrise service. To those who knew him, while he did not wear his spiritual beliefs on his shirt sleeve, it was clear that Nixon was “a deeply religious man.” His religious faith was, in his own words, “intensely personal and intensely private.”

As President, beginning with the first Sunday after his inauguration, Nixon began holding church and prayer services in the White House. A typical service had over three hundred guests. Although he became the target of considerable criticism for holding worship services in the White House, Nixon’s Quaker roots fostered a preference for these private services, rather than the disruption of descending on a church with teams of secret service agents and the White House press corps. The Reverend Billy Graham delivered the first sermon in the East Room. Before the service began, Nixon, upstairs with the Grahams, played hymns on the piano as Billy’s wife Bev sang.

In Nixon’s first year at the White House, Paul Smith, Nixon’s history professor from Whittier College, led a sermon in the East Room. Nixon knew Smith was not an ordained minister of the gospel, but he was a Quaker, and Nixon knew firsthand that all Quakers are “ministers by their belief.” Shortly before the historic Apollo moon landing, Smith delivered a sermon entitled “Reaching for the Moon.” Smith knew the invitation to give a sermon was a special honor. Considering Nixon “one of the finest students” he ever had, Smith was incredibly excited and moved not only at Nixon’s invitation, but also with the President and First Lady playing host to his grandchildren and the President’s introduction of  Smith as his college inspiration.

Nixon invited leaders from many religious faiths to preach at the White House, including Quakers, Presbyterians, Jews, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics. Other Californians asked to conduct White House services included Pastor Eugene Coffin of the East Whittier Friends Church, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (who Nixon had known since the 1950s) and Baptist minister Edward V. Hill. Reverend Hill, of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, was one of several African-American ministers to deliver a White House sermon. Nixon had initially met black ministers Hill and Reverend M.L. Scott, of the Calvary Baptist Church, also located in Los Angeles, through Billy Graham.

Nixon was nonpartisan in his invitations to attend services, which were extended to government officials, Cabinet members, Senators, Congressmen, and government employees such as chauffeurs and mechanics. For the first services, Nixon invited the White House telephone operators, who were stunned as they had never been invited to a White House event, despite years, if not decades, of service. When Paul Smith delivered his sermon, Nixon invited California Democrat Congressman Chet Holyfield, and when Nixon learned that Holyfield had a Whittier College student named David Edinger on his staff as a summer intern, he invited Edinger as well. Ted Kennedy and California Democrat Senator Alan Cranston were among those attending services with Nixon. Former President Lyndon Johnson often attended Sunday services, as did future Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Chief Justice Earl Warren attended Sunday services, even after his retirement from the United States Supreme Court. Relatives and friends were frequent guests as well, and after each service, Nixon had a social hour with fellow parishioners for coffee, donuts and pictures.

Even in times of a great pressure Nixon was mindful to extend courtesies to his extended family, such as in April 1970, when he was debating whether to expand the war in Vietnam to Cambodia, a decision he characterized as the most controversial foreign policy decision of his presidency. Nixon learned that his hearing-impaired second cousin Patricia Marshburn was graduating from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., so he arranged for Patricia to join him and Pat for Sunday services at the White House, and followed her visit by writing her father to compliment him on raising such a charming and gentle young lady.

By holding Sunday services in the White House, the President and First Lady were able to worship in the manner that was most spiritually fulfilling to them, with family, friends and colleagues.

Reverend M.L. Wilson leads church services in the East Room.

Reverend M.L. Wilson leads church services in the East Room.

Pat & Richard Nixon welcome Reverend E.V. Hill and his wife to the White House where Reverend Hill delivered an East Room Sunday sermon.

Pat & Richard Nixon welcome Reverend E.V. Hill and his wife to the White House where Reverend Hill delivered an East Room Sunday sermon.

President Nixon, Billy Graham and his guest share a laugh following Sunday services at the White House.

President Nixon, Billy Graham and M.L. Wilson share a laugh following Sunday services at the White House.

President Nixon welcomes fellow parishioners to the East Room at the White House for Sunday church services.

President Nixon welcomes fellow parishioners to the East Room at the White House for Sunday church services.

Nixon's former history professor Paul Smith leads a sermon in the East Room.

Nixon’s former history professor Paul Smith leads a sermon in the East Room.

5 Mar
2016

RIP Hubert Perry, 102, Richard Nixon’s Last Surviving Classmate

Hubert Perry was “Mr. Whittier.” Having attended Whittier High School and Whittier College with Richard Nixon, until his death on Saturday, February 20, 2016, at the age of 102, he was the last surviving classmate of Richard Nixon. Hubert was a wonderful man, and over the last several years he related his experiences with Nixon to me.

Hubert and Dick Nixon, both from modest beginnings, were lifelong friends.

When Hubert was born in 1913, there were no hospitals in Whittier. He was literally born at his parents’ kitchen table in the house where he was raised at 6226 North Friends Avenue, Whittier.

While Hubert’s father, Herman, had been the Nixon family’s banker since shortly after Richard Nixon’s birth, Hubert was a sophomore at Whittier High School when he first met Dick Nixon, a junior at the time. Following high school, they attended Whittier College together. Dick was six months older than Hubert, and one grade ahead. During these years Nixon was a frequent guest at the Perry’s house on Friends Avenue.

They bonded on the football field, where Hubert was the student manager while Dick was a member of the team. Hubert reflected on his teammate: “Knowing for sure in his own mind that he was not going to letter and yet he was there every night, one hundred fifty -five pounds, and took a terrible beating against guys one seventy-five to two hundred pounds. He never quit.  He was the most popular guy on the team.” In addition to tenacity, Hubert appreciated Nixon’s motivational skills: “The team had very poor equipment, which was always breaking, and as guys came off the field to fix their equipment or rest, he’d come over and sit by them and tell them how great they were doing to help motivate them.” Hubert continued: “Coach Chief Newman demanded his players play at their highest level. He so focused on winning that if they were losing, he couldn’t motivate the players further. Dick Nixon would become the motivator – he was the most important man on the team.”  Hubert also recognized that “football at Whittier College was the first time that Dick Nixon got into rough football where everyone was bigger. Football was a big influence on his life. It made him more competitive than he would have been.”

Dick and Hubert’s college lives paralleled in many aspects. In addition to football, they were in the Glee Club together, served in student government, and each were members of societies (Whittier’s version of fraternities). Dick founded the Orthogonians and Hubert joined the Franklins.

Having known Nixon so intimately, Hubert knew firsthand the common misconception, developed through media, numerous authors and opponents in political campaigns, was that Dick Nixon was “bitter” or envious of his peers dating back to his creation of the Orthogonian Society at Whittier College. Much has been made of the fact that in The Acropolis (Whittier College’s annual) the Franklins wore tuxedos while the Orthogonians wore short sleeve shirts. Yet Hubert explained that the Franklins borrowed the tuxes from Glee Club members like Nixon. The Glee Club members all had tuxedos because they performed in them when they went on tours. Plus, “it was the middle of the Depression and tuxedos were pretty cheap then. During the depression there was not much demand for a tuxedo, so they were not expensive.” The Orthogonians wore short sleeves in their Annual picture as a statement, but not a statement of inferiority. “They wore white shirts just to be different.” At the time, Whittier College had 400 students and four years of tuition was only $1,000 ($125 a semester). “It was a poor man’s school. It was not a case of being poor amongst a bunch of rich kids – there were no rich kids because nobody had any money.” So “being a Franklin was not a big deal since most students lived at home or in a dorm, and the Orthogonians were just as rich as the Franklins.” As Hubert saw it, “Envy and jealousy of Franklins by Orthogonians was manufactured by media and authors.”

Dick Nixon eventually ran for student body president, and Dick Thomson, a Franklin, ran against him. Hubert recalled, “Dick Thomson was much more outgoing than Nixon. He was the yell leader for the football games. But there was no question Dick Nixon was going to be student body president.”

There was no dancing allowed at Whittier College, which was a Quaker school, but Nixon changed that once he became student body president. “Dancing was frowned on. One of the great things that he did for Whittier College, was that he went to the Board of Trustees and asked that the Board approve hiring a band to play on the second floor of the Women’s Club (now the Whittier Red Cross) in order to have a dance. That was one of his great successes.”

In Nixon’s senior year, when Hubert ran for student body treasurer, Nixon was the first to support him. “Dick stood up and said ‘I nominate honest Hubert Perry to be treasurer.’ It was the shortest nomination speech ever.” And Hubert won.

At the conclusion of Nixon’s senior year, Hubert, on the staff for The Acropolis, wrote regarding Nixon: “After one of the most successful years the college has ever witnessed we stop to reminisce and come to the realization that much of the success was due to the efforts of this very gentleman. Always progressive and with a liberal attitude he has led us through the year with flying colors.”

Following World War Two, where Hubert and Nixon both served in the Navy, Hubert’s father, Herman Perry, recruited Dick Nixon to run for Congress in 1946 against Jerry Voorhis. That first campaign was marked by five debates, the first of which was in South Pasadena, with Hubert attended, sitting in the front row. “Dick was an excellent debater,” Hubert jokingly recalled, “Dick was making Voorhis out to be a dirty rat. And he kinda was a dirty rat.” Hubert added “You could see the sweat on Voorhis’ face. Dick had Voorhis on the defensive. Voorhis was a socialist. At best he was a liberal. He was not the right man for the times and we were happy to see him go.”

As to his personal life, after graduating Whittier College, Hubert earned an MBA at Stanford in 1937. While Hubert was in the Navy, his commanding officer told him: “Perry, everyday you are getting more particular and less desirable.” Shortly afterward, Hubert attended a Stanford annual alumni retreat at the University Club of Los Angeles, and as he stood waiting for an elevator, he met Louise, the love of his life. He proposed to her on their first date, they married, and were together until her death in 2010.

Like his father, Hubert spent his career as a banker at Bank of America. And like his father before him, for many years he ran the Whittier branch office. When Hubert and Dick were kids, the Nixon Store, in East Whittier, was considered “out in the country” from Whittier, as there was nothing but miles of orchards between Whittier and the Nixon Store. Yet through the years, Whittier grew and eventually consumed East Whittier, in large part due to Hubert as he financed the development for nearly all the subdivisions and development of East Whittier. Hubert also became involved with the Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, which, to this day as a credit to Hubert’s fiscal guidance, is a well funded and financially solid medical facility.

Although they pursued different career paths, through the years Hubert and Dick maintained their friendship. After the 1952 “Fund Crisis” speech Hubert’s sister ended up with a puppy from Nixon’s famous dog Checkers.

After he was elected President, Nixon, who had been on the Whittier College Board of Trustees since 1939, called Hubert to tell him: “I am going to nominate you to the Board of Whittier College.” Hubert worked to have the Richard Nixon Presidential Library established at Whittier College, and was able to arrange for the City of Whittier to donate 30 acres above the College as a library site. Although the City supported the effort, the College faculty did not recognize the future potential of having a presidential library on its campus, and Nixon’s library was built in Yorba Linda at his birthplace instead. Hubert, who was on the original Nixon Library Board of Directors and remained on the Board until shortly before his death, quit the Whittier College Board of Trustees in protest.

In response to a question of what was his fondest memory of Richard Nixon, Hubert described a trip they had to Washington DC and New York City.  Hubert’s father thought Herbert Hoover was the greatest president ever. Herman was a trustee of Whittier College, serving on the Board with Mrs. Herbert Hoover. Herman also wanted to meet Herbert Hoover because of his admiration of Mrs. Hoover. Nixon knew how important Herbert Hoover was to Herman Perry, so he arranged for Herman, Hubert and Louise to meet Dick and Pat in Washington DC, and for the Perry’s to continue on to New York to meet with President Hoover. Paul Smith, the president of Whittier College, had told Hubert that Herbert Hoover was hard to talk to, that he did not carry a conversation and unless you asked him questions, and that he did not say much. So Hubert stayed up all night thinking about questions to ask President Hoover. The next evening the Perry’s all met in President Hoover’s suite for two hours at the Waldorf. Herman and President Hoover spoke and engaged in conversation. They found that once you asked President Hoover a couple questions, he just opened up and started talking, speaking for over an hour at one point.  That evening was the highlight of Herman Perry’s life.  “It was such a great experience to meet Herbert Hoover.”

Reflecting back over a lifetime friendship with Richard Nixon, Hubert summed up: “Nixon was a brilliant individual.  He had a way with words and seeing people. He certainly made mistakes but he was an honest man.”  “Mr. Whittier” was proud of his friend: “Whittier was a provincial little town. You never expected to produce a person of international stature from this community.”

Hubert Perry had an incredible life and was a trusted friend of President Nixon. I enjoyed getting to know Mr. Whittier. Rest In Peace, my friend.

Clockwise, from top left: Herman Perry residence at 6226 Friends Avenue, where Hubert was born and Richard Nixon often visited; Hubert Perry, far left, in 1920 Whittier Soapbox Derby; Hubert & Louise Perry with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger; Hubert at home with Nixon.

Clockwise, from top left: Herman Perry residence at 6226 Friends Avenue, where Hubert was born and Richard Nixon often visited; Hubert Perry, far left, in 1920 Whittier Soapbox Derby; Hubert & Louise Perry with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger; Hubert at home with Nixon.

22 Jul
2015

Another Nixon Biography Based on a False Premise

The latest biography on Richard Nixon, Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas, falls into the same trap as every other modern biography on America’s 37th President. Too little time was devoted to actually researching Nixon’s roots and early life in Southern California. Instead, the commonly held belief, repeated in A Man Divided, is that President Richard Nixon was insecure and that his frailties as an adult could be traced to his Whittier roots where young Richard Nixon grew up poor, and was “a poor athlete” who “made the most of being an outsider. At Whittier College, rejected by the cool kids fraternity, he started a fraternity for uncool kids.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the 6th and 7th grade at East Whittier Elementary, Nixon tasted his first success at debate. In the 8th grade, he was elected class president, and spoke at the graduation ceremony. In his first two years at Fullerton High School, Nixon played football, with his freshman team winning the CIF Championship at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Academically, he continued to achieve success in debate. He transferred to Whittier High School for his junior and senior years, and immediately ran for student body president (not something a sixteen-year-old lacking in self confidence would do at a new school). Though he lost the election, he was appointed general manager of the student body. He continued to achieve great success in debate, beating more than 60 students to become the Whittier area champion in The Los Angeles Times Constitutional Oratorical Contests for 1929 and 1930, bestowing a great honor on his high school.

Nixon, having graduated at the top of his class from Whittier High School, was selected “Best All-Around Student” by the Harvard Club of California and received scholarship offers from both Harvard and Yale. Yet he attended Whittier College because family expenses were tight, as his older brother was dying of tuberculosis and the family insisted on paying all medical expenses. But they were not poor. At Whittier College, out of 400 students, Nixon was one of about a half dozen students that could afford to buy a car.

He played basketball his freshman year and football all four years, and although he was not a starter, he developed a reputation for his tenacious dedication. Team captain Keith Wood reminisced: “I can still see his helmet flying off” as Nixon was knocked on his back, but always getting up, “ready for more.”

Whittier College did not have fraternities, instead it had one men’s “society” and three similar groups for women. The men’s group, the Franklins, started as a literary organization. The athletes on the football team, led by Dean Triggs (who transferred from Colorado College where he was a member of a fraternity) rejected the Franklins, and instead formed their own group, the Orthogonians, and asked 17-year-old Richard Nixon to be their leader because they recognized that he had the ability to develop the organization. Far from the “uncool” kids, the Orthogonians were the epitome of the cool kids. Known as a “no neck and merry crew,” they were immediately popular and seen as “the big shots on the campus,” receiving “the cream of the crop” as members of their group. In the next nine years, 6 of the 9 student body presidents were Orthogonians. Many authors wrongly declare that the Franklins were rich, took their annual photographs in tuxedos, and Nixon was jealous of his classmates. Yet Nixon, who sang in the Glee Club and also acted in school productions, owned two tuxedos which he was known to lend to his classmates.

In his first week at Whittier College, Nixon was elected class president. He was re-elected president the second semester. For his sophomore year, he was elected student body representative, in his junior year he was elected student body vice president (receiving more votes that either candidate for student body president), and for his senior year he was elected student body president, soundly defeating the Frankin candidate Dick Thomson. In fact, many Franklin members supported Nixon’s candidacy, and Thomson himself, who was one of Nixon’s best friends, always felt the Franklins picked him to run against Nixon because no one else would do it.

At the end of his term as student body president, the school yearbook raved: “After one of the most successful years the college has ever witnessed, we stop to reminisce and come to the realization that much of the success was due to the efforts of this very gentleman. Always progressive and with a liberal attitude, he has led us through the year with flying colors.”

Overall, Nixon was very well liked. Classmate Joe Gaudio played sports with Nixon, sang with him in Glee Club, and was an Orthogonian brother. Gaudio saw Nixon as one who “embodied a personality and character that Whittier College was all about; the enterprising young fellow being given an opportunity for an education, an opportunity to express the entire spectrum of his individual personality.” In his recommendation to Duke Lake School, Walter Dexter, Whittier College President wrote: “I believe Nixon will become one of America’s important, if not great leaders.” His classmates felt the same way, and in 1934, they voted Nixon “Best Man on Campus.” Upon graduation, many of Nixon’s classmates signed a letter to him stating: “Out of every graduating class, there is at least one person who becomes an outstanding person and we all feel that you are destined to be that person.”

Richard Nixon’s Whittier experience was nothing if not incredibly successful and typically all American. He enjoyed the fruits of his many successes. Every biography of Nixon built upon unfounded claims of young Nixon as a poor outsider, rejected by his classmates, harboring some non-existent hatred of so-called “elites,” is built upon a false foundation.

 

 

17 Jun
2015

Los Angeles Magazine Reviews Richard Nixon: Native Son

The June 10 issue of Los Angeles Magazine has a terrific review of Native Son: Richard Nixon’s Southern California.

Here’s a snippet: This sparkling new pictorial does two astounding things at once. First, it captures the entire life and career of Richard Milhous Nixon on one sheet, and second, it places Whittier at the center of the action (the only map I’ve come across that does so). There are two areas of focus: the lower roads, which trace Dick’s boyhood, and the much more well-known “Richard Nixon’s Political Road,” which begins in 1948 and roars on until 1974.

 

 

 

30 Mar
2015

Richard Nixon Plays the Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl has played host to bands from rock and roll legends The Rolling Stones and U2 to current pop stars Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, and innumerable sporting events, including the Women’s World Cup Soccer, NFL Super Bowls, and the annual iconic Rose Bowl football game. The Rose Bowl also has a storied history with President Richard Nixon.

Though it is currently the home field for the UCLA Bruins, it was once the home field for CalTech when that prestigious university fielded a football team. From 1930-1934 when Nixon played football for the Whittier Poets, Nixon took to the field to help defeat the Beavers at the Rose Bowl.

On January 1, 1939, Dick Nixon, who was dating Pat at the time, secured seats on the fifty yard line and brought her to see Duke (his law school alma mater) take on USC (Pat’s alma mater) in the Rose Bowl. It is easy to imagine Nixon’s excitement building the clock wound down to less than a minute in the final quarter as Duke, undefeated that year, was leading the Trojans 3-0. But the Trojans came roaring back to score a touchdown and win the game, 7-3.

The following year, when Tennessee was preparing to play USC in the Rose Bowl game, Nixon’s scouting report on behalf of the Whittier 20-30 Club was covered in the The Whittier News. He visited the Tennessee Volunteers football team at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, and reported that “They are all built close to the ground, but broad and powerful; the ends looked like tackles, the backs looked like tackles, and the tackles looked like tackles.” Nixon, tongue-in-cheek, also reported that several young ladies were busy entertaining the squad, and the players appeared to be having more fun than they were supposed to.His observation proved accurate as USC defeated Tennessee 14-0.

In 1953 and 1960, Nixon was Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade and attended the Rose Bowl games. Although there have been other notables to serve as Grand Marshall more than once in the modern era (i.e., Bob Hope 1947 & 1969, Shirley Temple Black 1939 & 1989), Nixon is the only one to serve as Grand Marshall twice within 8 years. In the 1953 game Nixon saw USC defeat Wisconsin 7-0, and in 1960 he witnessed the Washington Huskies dismantle Wisconsin 44-8.

In 1969 Nixon returned to the Rose Bowl as President-elect, escorted by his friend (and then Governor) Ronald Reagan, and not wanting to demonstrate a bias to either USC or Ohio State, watched half the game from each sideline. Unfortunately, Pat Nixon’s USC Trojans fell to the Buckeyes 27-16.

Over the course of nearly forty years, Southern California Native Son Richard Nixon’s life was intertwined with the iconic Rose Bowl, as a football player, man courting his future wife, Vice President elect, candidate for President, and President elect.

Rose Bowl & Nixon

Clockwise, from top left: Pasadena Rose Bowl Stadium; Richard Nixon suited up for Whittier College; Dick & Ron, Pat and Nancy crossing the field in 1969; Pat & Dick in 1960.

 

 

 

28 Feb
2015

Dick Nixon: A Southern California Piano Man

When one thinks of Richard Nixon, “musician” is likely not the first word that comes to mind. But he was. And his first love was the piano.

From the early days of his childhood, growing up in the tiny home in which he was born, Richard Nixon developed a passion  – and talent – for playing the piano. Several relatives were terrific musicians and Nixon received music lessons throughout his youth. When his extended family got together each year for Christmas or summer picnics at the Milhous home in Whittier, Dick frequently entertained his relatives with Christmas carols or Rustle of Spring, one of his mother’s favorites.

As a student at Whittier College, he came under the tutelage of Margarita Lohmann, a gifted pianist who Nixon often visited at her nearby home / studio where he further developed his talent.

Merle Wildermuth, Nixon’s cousin, enjoyed the times during World War II, when Dick returned home on leave, still in uniform, to visit Merle’s home on Malvern Avenue in Fullerton. Pat, Dick and the Wildermuths enjoyed gathering around the family piano as Dick tickled the ivories to their delight.

In 1950, in the closing days of his Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas, Nixon was so confident that he would win the election that he spent the evening at the Los Angeles home of Kenny Washington in the heart of Douglas’s Congressional District. Washington and his fellow Rams football teammates sat around as Nixon entertained them with show tunes and other favorites on the piano.

Even after Nixon resigned the Presidency in 1974, while he and Pat were living at La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, Nixon was known to hold impromptu get-togethers for his staff that would gather around as Nixon pounded out the USC fight song to Pat’s delight.

From top: Richard Nixon's birthplace at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda; The Milhous home on Starbuck in Whittier; Margarita Lohmann's home on Hadley in Whittier; Merle Wildermuth's home on Malvern in Fullerton; Kenny Washington's central Los Angeles home; Pat and Dick at La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente.

29 Jan
2015

Nixon’s Fighting Spirit at the Hollywood American Legion Stadium

Richard Nixon had a fighting spirit, dating back to his formative years when he and his Whittier College Poets football teammates took on the defending national champion USC Trojan football team in a forlorn effort at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Nixon carried that same fighting spirit into his political life.

When he announced that he was challenging popular Democratic incumbent Sheridan Downey for the U.S. Senate in 1950, Nixon promised his supporters: “There is only one way we can win. We must put on a fighting, rocking, socking campaign and carry that campaign directly into every county, city, town, precinct and home in the state of California.” Although Downey, who faced an intra-party challenge from Helen Gahagan Douglas, decided to retire rather than fight for re-election, Nixon campaigned just as hard against Douglas as he would have against Downey.

So it is no wonder that in the closing days of the Senate race Nixon held a massive, old-fashioned torchlight parade and rally at the Hollywood American Legion Stadium, a preeminent boxing arena in its heyday. Hollywood celebrities Dick Powell, June Allyson, Dennis Morgan, and Irene Dunne joined Nixon on stage, encouraging voters to help carry Nixon to victory.

Less than a week later, Nixon won the Senate race by 680,000 votes in the largest margin of victory of any Republican candidate nationwide in that election year, carrying 59% of the vote.

The Hollywood American Legion Stadium still stands today, and continues in the fighting spirit, albeit in the world of fitness as a LA Fitness health club.

The original Hollywood American Legion Stadium is now an LA Fitness Health Club

31 Dec
2014

Presidential Golf & A Wedding

On August 23, 1969, President Richard Nixon was on a working vacation at the Western White House (La Casa Pacifica) in San Clemente when he decided to play a round of golf with his friend (and Attorney General) John Mitchell. The two choppered to Century City to tee off at the exclusive Los Angeles Country Club.

Once at the golf course, Nixon learned that Ben Hayes and Terry Lee Russell had their wedding scheduled to take place that same day at the private country club. Rather than have the nuptials and reception moved, rescheduled or cancelled, Nixon instead was happy to personally meet with the bride and groom, then he and Mitchell enjoyed their round of golf while Ben and Terry Lee enjoyed their special day.

Bride Terry Hayes, her new husband Ben, and Terry's father Fred Russell meet with President Nixon at Los Angeles Country Club on their wedding day.

31 Dec
2014

Santa Monica Sears – Protecting from a Cold Front

By January 1962 Richard Nixon had returned from home to California after his tenure as Vice President, and was in the midst of his campaign to unseat incumbent Governor Pat Brown. Born in Yorba Linda, raised in Whittier, and now enjoying the fruits of his labors practicing law in Los Angeles, Nixon was living in Brentwood with his family.

On January 21st,  Nixon was the Grand Marshall of the Sunland / Tujunga March of Dimes Parade, which took place in a freak snow storm. Fortunately for Nixon, the day before he had given a speech at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, and just happened to stop in the nearby Sears store and bought a raincoat. Nixon later thoughtfully wrote the Sears store manager: “I am indeed pleased with the raincoat I purchased, and it certainly gave me good protection from California’s ‘unusual weather’ the following day when I rode in the Sunland-Tujunga March of Dimes Parade.”

Sears Store in Santa Monica

Sears Store in Santa Monica where Nixon shopped