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September 19, 2010

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Chris Walter

Thanks for ruining Laugh-In for me, Kliph! As a kid, I thought I was watching real left wing-comedy, and so, I suspect, did my parents. My mom and dad were raised conservatively, but straddled the fence while I was growing up between hippie idealism and old-fashioned family values. They didn't have the heart to be hip, and neither did Laugh-In, apparently. I remember Nixon ignoring a government-funded report in favour of decriminalizing marijuana and, instead, declaring a "war on drugs." Even before that I had the strong impression that he was a very bad man, as much for the way he looked as for his perpetuation of the war in Vietnam. Elvis lost any lingering credibility he may have had after shaking hands with Nixon. Even my parents were overjoyed when the Watergate scandal broke out. While Americans are not alone when it comes to electing the very worst candidate, I am always astounded, especially when those weasels are elected for a second term. Will we ever learn? You already know the answer.

Chris Bearde

Total historically correct as far as my participation is concerned.
It seems after reading this that Paul Keyes was the original philosopher for the use of television as a political tool. After that his friend Roger Ailes took up the Fox News cudgel all those years later. How about this for another weird GOP political factoid.I also wrote and produced the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in the 70's...which assisted in electing another Republican to high office ..Congressman Sonny Bono...I suspect the GOP will read this article and call me ..How ever left I go..I seems destined to sleep with the enemy. And in defense of Elvis..having written on the 68 Comeback Special..I knew Elvis to be pretty apolitical..I think the heavy drugs kicked and he may have thought he was shaking hands with Lyndon Johnson.

Doug C

Has the matrix been lifted? I feel like i'm seeing a new reality that led to the horrorshow of Fox News and their constant reshaping of reality. Great article.

Ruswornom

Laugh-In started while I was in 4th grade, and it immediately became THE show I was not allowed to watch. So I watched anyway, and I loved it. This secret history is completely antithetical to the Laugh-In legend I grew up with -- hell, I thought Nixon was on because it was simply outrageous! -- and I'm grateful for Kliph setting the record straight.

L'Atalante

http://tesla.liketelevision.com/liketelevision/tuner.php?channel=1180&format=movie&theme=guide

Here's a brief clip of Nixon on the comeback trail trading gags with Johnny Carson... more Keyes at work?

Devlin Thompson

Minor correction: I think you substituted "vindictive" for "invective". Also, when you write "Laugh-In was canceled in March 1973. Richard Nixon canceled himself one month later", are you referring to his appointment of Elliot Richardson as AG? Because otherwise, that accelerates his resignation by sixteen months. Minor quibbles aside, this is another in your string of remarkable pieces. When do we get a book?

Emile


Thanks for another smashing article, Kliph.

Comedy writers and presidents goes back at least as far as Mort Sahl providing joke ideas and one-liners for Kennedy. Probably further. But Mort had integrity enough not to let it stop him knocking Kennedy in his own routines. He was an equal opportunity critic.

'You've been a great audience. Now is there anybody I haven't offended? No? Good.'

Listener Kliph

Devlin, you are my copy reader in shining armour. Wish more people would quibble in that minor way.

Michael Powers

Having been around at the time and knowing what a topic of conversation and idiotic warmth that Nixon's "Sock it to me" appearance engendered, and that it was run much more than once, it had an incalculable impact on the election and I intuit that Nixon wouldn't have won without it, the election was so heart-rendingly close. Everyone forgets that Humphrey came within a hairsbreadth of the presidency. Lena Horne was absolutely right. A similar debacle was Oprah Winfrey's hosting of George W. Bush in 2000, without which his "victory" could not possibly have occurred. Winfrey certainly changed the course of history more than anyone could imagine by not sealing out Bush as she had Bob Dole. Great article.

Andrew

Not only were The Smothers Brothers cancelled at the beginning of Nixon's administration, but Laugh-In was cancelled right before Watergate really broke wide open. Observers always said that the tide against Nixon only turned when Johnny Carson began doing Watergate jokes in his Tonight Show monologue. I wonder how Laugh-In (with or without White House influence) would have handled it.

DVD

From the comments:

"Everyone forgets that Humphrey came within a hairsbreadth of the presidency."

George Schlatter made a similar statement in the article. Just to quibble a little bit, Humphrey came very close, within half a million, to Nixon's popular vote total but trailed very far behind in the electoral vote totals, which is what really counts.

Nixon had 301 electoral votes to Humphrey's 191. Amazingly, George Wallace got 10 million popular votes and 46 electoral votes. Without Wallace to split the right-wing vote it really would've been pretty lopsided.

Vic P

I didn't think it was possible for Kliph's essays to get any better. This one, though, goes up against some of the great myths of American political culture, and deserves an even wider audience than all his other great articles.

Persnickety Close Reader

More minor way quibbling:

I imagine you mean "At the war's end he worked...," not "At war end he worked..." Do you mean "a variety of deceptive political trickery" or "a variation of deceptive political trickery"? I ask because "a variance of deceptive political trickery" doesn't make any sense in this context. I don't know what you mean by "laudatory success," since "laudatory" describes something that expresses praise. All occurrences of "Keyes'" should be "Keyes's," because "Keyes" is not a plural noun, and "time and time again" would be preferred over "time and again," since the latter makes no sense. Lastly, I'll futilely remind you that "media" is a plural noun.

CaptainOT

Nixon actually appeared at the first American Film Institute Tribute given, honoring John Ford in 1973. This was at the height of Nixon's Watergate problems - the Saturday Night Massacre occurred a month or two before!

Nixon noted that Ford was a general in the Army reserves and as Commander-in-Chief he made Ford "a Major General" for the duration of the evening - huge applause.

Ford got up (with Nixon standing upstage of him), said his thank you's, and ended the evening for asking everyone to say a silent prayer of four words: "God Bless Richard Nixon". Thunderous applause.

Michael Powers

I'd completely forgotten about Nixon's appearance at the AFI Tribute for John Ford. Ford was such a sadistic lunatic, but he did make one real masterpiece, the very last picture he actually directed all the way through: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

Michael Powers

One last thought. There's a bittersweet quality to the still of Goldie Hawn in bikini with all the drawings painted onto her body. Nowadays more and more young women look like that--with permanent tattoos. I think if I starting Medical School right now, I'd try to specialize in whatever aspect facilitates tattoo removal. Soon enough there'll be a whole generation of middle-aged women willing to do or pay practically anything for that service.

Jeff Yellin

Mr. Nesteroff

My cousin, Donny, to whom I was very close, was one of PK's best friends. Donny first became friends with PK during the Paar years in New York . Donny has been a fixture on The Tonight Show since 1957, where his friendship with Paar resulted in Paar firing Teleprompter and allowing Donny (an employee with Teleprompter) to start his own cue card company. (It didn't hurt that Ed Sullivan did the same thing for Donny.)

When Carson took over, Donny became close to Johnny, his brother Dick, Rudy Tellez, and Bobby Quinn. When Carson came to CA, Donny moved out also and set up a West Coast office. . Donny was close enough with Johnny that it was OK for him to also do the Bishop and Cavette shows while continuing The Tonight Show. That was very irregular for someone associated with Jonny. Donny's company is still there with Leno.

I was living here when Donny came out and helped his family acclimate. I was several years younger than Donny, a Vietnam vet and was very anti-Nixon and vehemently against the Vietnam debacle against which I actively protested after returning from combat in Vietnam in 1969.

I practically lived at Donny's home. He hired me and worked with him in the 70's. In addition to the Tonight Show, Donny's company did many other shows. We worked all the specials and award shows that PK produced during this time.

Jeff Yellin

I feel I had a lot of insight to PK on a personal level because we both shared an intimate relationship with my cousin. Because of Donny's special relationship with PK, whenever we worked on a PK show, we spent a lot of time around PK and his staff. There were times that I was at PK's office in Toluca Lake when he had phone conversations with Nixon, John Wayne or Sinatra and would hear his comments afterward to my cousin, PK's associate Marc London and his faithful secretary, Laila (sic?) . PK loved those three celebrities and was very proud to be in that circle. His condo at the marina was wall-to-wall pictures of Nixon, Wayne and Sinatra. It was very disturbing to me; he was near fanatical, almost religious, in the way he revered these people. I looked at these people as ass-holes.

Early on, the first time PK was at my cousin's home for dinner (routinely a monthly occurrence), and not knowing of his political bent, I got into a discussion about Vietnam after my cousin told PK that I was a decorated veteran. Donny wanted to crawl under the table. After that, I was asked that whenever PK was coming over, to please refrain from political or religious comments (PK's wife, Miriam, was very religious). When PK was over during Watergate (which I watched daily), I was begged to please, please, please...do not even respond to whatever PK said because PK was devastated about Nixon being "victimized" by Watergate. It got to the point that whenever he and Miriam would arrive, I'd exchange social pleasantries and then go shoot pool in another room.

Your article has given me an insight into what I didn't know about what I was actually experiencing at the time. I always knew PK was an insider, but did not realize how deep and historical the situation was. Reading your article puts it all into perspective. From the details I knew about PK, and in juxtaposition with your details...2 + 2 = 4. It is scary to think that what I was witnessing first-hand such an historical impact on the craziness of the political process, up to and including the bizarre state of politics in which our country is today...

Thank-you for the insight Mr. Nesteroff.

Jeff Yellin

PS

It was always curious to me why when PK passed away, there was so little press. Your piece makes me now think that PK must have burned so may bridges that after Nixon's total fall from grace, he just became a persona non-grata. No one of any importance seemed to have anything to say about PK's place in the television industry. You would have thought that at least Fox would have had something to say...

PPS

I must say, however, that whenever I was around PK and my cousin that they kept me in stitches. Donny in his own right is a very funny, funny man. He could always make Carson laugh. I've watched him imitate and "out-Rickles" Rickles; "out-Bishop" Joey Bishop and out "J. J. Johnson" [Billy Saluga] face-to-face many times. When the Exorcist was released, the Carson staff had arranged a private showing at NBC. PK, my cousin and I went. It was small group of maybe 15-20 people. While everyone else watching the film was engrossed, and intent on enjoying the film by being scared-to-death, they were really pissed at PK and Donny making jokes about the movie and the three of us laughing and interrupting the scary atmosphere. I think I laughed harder that night than any other time in my life.

Michael Powers

One more comment about "Laugh-In." As you watched the series back then, you could always sense a right-wing tonal undercurrent, with bits like, "That's what they'd like you to believe" and so on to discourage independent thinking and ever connecting the dots about whatever happens to be going on, or cerebrally veering an iota from the mainstream. Television comedy shows can have a much more pronounced effect on the culture than almost anyone realizes and "Laugh-In" was anything but an exception. The program more or less jeered at the notion of questioning authority in a number of different ways and a generation of schoolchildren who grew up mouthing its catchphrases are now adults whose minds automatically shut down at the thought of questioning much of anything the media presents to them. Commonsensical analysis no longer exists even as an abstract concept, it's been simply ruled out. A much more recent example of extraordinary cultural influence would be the infinitely more entertaining "Seinfeld" in its discouragement of reaching out to meet new people, a sort of nine-year protracted version of your mother's admonishment not to talk to strangers, a parental edict for children that some people never manage to outgrow in the first place, let alone when the "hippest" weekly (later, with reruns, daily) television series embraces and underscores it repeatedly.

Michael Powers

As for DVD's comment that Nixon beat Humphrey so handily in electoral votes in the 1968 election despite the popular vote being whisker-close, he's overlooking the fact that a few more popular votes in key states would've swung the electoral votes in precisely the other direction. That's the tricky thing about looking at electoral votes, one forgets that a very few popular votes, in a close election, would shove that same massive electoral vote total into the other candidate's column.

Natalia Ramirez

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I think Mad Men is one of the best television series in the U.S. in the last 20 or 30 years. I don’t usually watch too many series because frankly, I rarely get hooked on the plot. But Mad Men, especially, is a well-written and well contextualized series set in the decade of the 60’s, where many important events marked the history of this country, like the hippie movement or the civil rights movement. These events defined the culture of an era and that's exactly what Mad Men tells us from the perspective of an advertising agency and all its members.

Doug C.

I'm reading this for the third time today and I just wanted to express my thanks for such a great job. Thanks to Kliph Nesteroff for writing it and to everyone who's comments expanded it's range. It's a fascinating read.

Bruce Reznick

My father Sidney Reznick wrote jokes for Hubert Humphrey to use in the 1968 campaign. One of them was cited by Nixon after Humphrey's death: "Hubert used to say these terrible things about me. He called me `Richard the Chicken-hearted..." (This was after Nixon's refusal to debate.) I entered college in 1969 and wrote an article (long-gone and not on the web I'm sure) pointing out the Nixon/Laugh-In connection. I vividly recall writing that there had been some anti-war Vietnam jokes when LBJ was president, but these had disappeared when Nixon got in.

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