Richard Nixon, impersonated in all his awkwardness

Hard to believe that Friday marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

I was already working at my first newspaper job at the time. I was a copy clerk at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. I spent a good part of that evening running back and forth between the newsroom and the composing room (on the next floor), as the managing editor sent me up to have various headlines blown up to full page-width, and I brought full-sized proof of those heds back down for him to peruse.

That was how you did an eye-popping, historic headline in those days. Now, you’d just try various heds on your screen, and see immediately how they’d look on the page. Then, with the news pages still done on hot type (loud, clanking linotype machines, cutting-edge technology in the late 19th century), we had to get the hed set in the desired font by a compositor, have a high-resolution proof of it made, and have a camera shoot it at the right distance and magnification to blow it up on the page camera — a process even more tedious than that employed by David Hemmings in Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” Then, a proof was made of that.

At least, I think that’s how we did it. It’s been so long.

I saved at least one of those proofs I brought down to the M.E. Don’t know what I did with it.

Anyway, to celebrate the milestone, I share the above weird little video with Harry Shearer playing Nixon. Here’s a description of the video:

In a new video just posted online, Harry Shearer inhabits Richard Nixon in a verbatim comedic re-creation of Nixon’s poignant last 6 minutes before he resigned the Presidency, forty years ago today.

This excerpt, from Shearer‘s TV series “Nixon’s The One,” includes Nixon’s previously little known – and surprising – words to the CBS camera crew, which Shearer uncovered using advanced audio restoration techniques.

Watch the video here:

For the rest of “Nixon’s The One,” Shearer and his co-writer Nixon historian Stanley Kutler combed through thousands of hours of the legendary Nixon audio tapes, and re-enacted word for word the best moments as if filmed by a hidden camera.

“Nixon was one of the great comic characters of the 20th century,” Shearersays. “When I first began listening to his secret tapes, the revelation to me was the crazy conversations that went on in this place on the public dime. Stanley and I aimed to be as accurate as humanly possible in the way these lines are spoken, in the intonations, in the pauses, in the way people interact. Our job was to be faithful transmitters of this incredible record of craziness.”

Stay tuned for more news on the US launch of the series in fall 2014, which aired earlier this year on Sky Arts in the UK.

6 thoughts on “Richard Nixon, impersonated in all his awkwardness

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Aw, come on — y’all have NOTHING to say about this? This is Harry Shearer — Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap. You know, “Stonehenge” and “Big Bottom.”

    Admittedly, it’s weird and awkward. And tedious. But that’s the genius of it. It’s just like Nixon. This, folks, is the reason Nixon was so paranoid that he thought he had to cheat even to beat George McGovern. He was so BAD at relating to other people, in even the most routine interactions.

    I actually think he could have been a good president, one remembered positively, if he could have been COOL like, say, JFK. Being one of the cool kids doesn’t just matter in high school. Sometimes, it matters in the most powerful office in the world…

  2. Doug Ross

    Never found Shearer to be very funny. He pales in comparison to Christopher Guest and Michael McKean.

    Watergate was a turning point in my life. It’s probably the root of my cynicism with government. In 1972, in our fifth grade class “election” in Massachusetts, I was the only one who voted for Nixon. Everyone else went for McGovern. Nixon won every state except Massachusetts. When Watergate happened, I felt like the biggest fool (since surpassed many times). Watergate exposed the dark, corrupt underbelly that permeates our political system.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Sure, Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins were the driving forces behind the band, the ones who got the glory (such as it was), but where would they be without Derek’s steady bass beat, or his foil-wrapped cucumber?

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    I love the way those guys, to this day, don’t mind getting back into those characters. And they’re able to do it. Such as this clip, in which Nigel shares little-known “facts” about Stonehenge.

    “No one knows who they were, or what they were doin’…”

  4. Norm Ivey

    Daddy was working for Communications Command at the time. He took us to his workplace that evening so he could record the resignation on tape. I watched the speech in the studio on a bank of about 12 screens. In 7th grade, I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but I knew it was important.

    Nixon started the EPA and OSHA, ended the draft and US involvement in Viet Nam, and opened relations with China, each of which has had an enormous positive (IMO) impact on the nation. Had he not involved himself in Watergate, he would have gone down as a very influential president.

    Instead, he’s the one that resigned.

  5. Ralph Hightower

    I was on the air at WUSC-AM when Spiro Agnew resigned. Also, somewhere this past week or two, I read a photography blog about photographers to the President. Nixon was a real jerk with his staff photographer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *