Friday, March 16, 2007

March 16, 1912:

Pat Nixon's Birthday

Despite what her husband did, Thelma Catherine Ryan Nixon, known by the nickname "Pat" since she was born so close to St. Patrick's Day, remains a sympathetic figure among First Ladies. Apparently, she also was reasonably consistent in giving good advice to her husband, though of course he didn't always take it.

"Pat Nixon first learned about the criminal actions that came to be cumulatively known as the Watergate scandal and soon come to engulf the Administration only from the media," according to "She and her daughter had been specifically left uniformed by the President and his advisors of the details of their actions and decisions as they were in the midst of it all. When the First Lady first comprehended the potential damage that the secret tape recordings made by the President could create, she offered the unsolicited advice that he destroy them while they were still legally considered private property - advice he did not follow..." The entire bio is here.

Even in satire, her portrayal tended to be sympathetic, as in the case of a May 8, 1976, Saturday Night Live skit based on The Final Days, the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein book about the goings-on at the White House before Richard Nixon resigned. Madeline Kahn portrayed Pat Nixon the put-upon spouse, driven to drink, with Dan Ackroyd as a demented Richard Nixon.

[ open on Pat Nixon at her desk at San Clemente - half-empty bottle of gin on the desk ]

Voice: Mrs. Nixon, maybe you should go upstairs to bed now.

Pat Nixon: [ drunk, maintaining control ] No thank you, Ron, I'll be alright.

Voice: Alright. Good night, Mrs. Nixon.

Pat Nixon: Good night... [ starts writing in her diary ] Dear Diary... it's twelve o'clock, and once again I find myself alone. Dick's leg swelled up today, and he was in intense pain. Good! The ocean is calm here at San Clemente... quite a contrast to the stormy final days in the White House. I'll never forget the night of August 7th... I had just gone down to the pantry to get some refreshments, when I heard Dick's voice. As usual, he wasn't speaking to me, he was talking to Abe Lincoln...


Richard Nixon: [ walks over to portrait of JFK ] You! Kennedy. You looked so good all the time. They're gonna find out about you, too. The president! Having sex with women within these very walls. That never happened when Dick Nixon was in the White House! Never! Never! Never!..

[ flashback to Pat writing in her diary ]

Pat Nixon: Never, never, never, never, never, never. [ sips drink, gains control of herself ] I think Henry Kissinger was the first one to suggest that resignation was inevitable. He told Dick not to think of it as a resignation, but as 'humiliation with honor.' I think the last time they spoke to each other was on that same night...

[ flashback to White House hallway ]

Richard Nixon: Never! Never! Never!


[ Nixon turns to portrait of Lincoln ] What is happening to me, Abe? Everything's falling apart. Why me, Abe? Why me?!

[ the lips on Lincoln's portrait move ]

Voice of Lincoln: Because you're such a dip!

[ flashback to Pat at her diary ]

Pat Nixon: [ slurring ] ..because.. you're.. such.. a dip!

Voice of Richard Nixon: Pat! Pat! Where are you? I'm cold.

Pat Nixon: Well, dear Diary, I must close now.

Voice of Richard Nixon: Pat, it's chilly in here.

Pat Nixon: Throw another tape on the fire!

[ fade to black ]

Transcript and photos are here.

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