Trick or Treat with Tricky Dick

I ain't superstitious. But as I write, it is the night before Halloween 1989. And I swear that Richard Nixon keeps crossing my path.

First there was the much ballyhooed October 29 broadcast of the ABC docu-drama The Final Days. That was nice. Fifteen years down the line, the thrill of wallowing in Watergate is far from gone. But then there was this freak sighting of Nixon in China that has me shaking in my boots.

For a pre-Halloween production, The Final Days was a bit skimpy when it came to Nixon's more ghoulish behaviors. We heard First Son-in-Law Ed Cox describing that famous close encounter in which he caught the commander in chief wandering the White House hallways, talking to the portraits of his predecessors. But the network filmmakers chickened out and failed to re-enact that key historic episode. We hear references to the president's latter-day drunkenness, but only once do we get dramatic images of Nixon wobbling at the helm like the commander of an Exxon tanker.

But in that one scene posterity is served. It's the famous "Pray with me, Henry" incident, during which the lapsed Quaker president forces the Jewish secretary of state to his knees. No one will ever top the rendition of that scene performed by Dan Aykroyd (as Nixon) and John Belushi (as Kissinger) on the old Saturday Night Live. But The Final Days gave it a fresh twist by focusing not on Nixon's monomaniacal self-pity, but on Kissinger's mortified reaction.

Theo Bikel's face, portraying the Great Man, was a road map of half-hidden disgust and terrified embarrassment. By the end Kissinger was so walleyed and stiff that the scene took on an (I think unintended) hilarity. He looked, for all the world, like a parody of a man walking past a graveyard at midnight on Halloween.

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