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…..