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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

President Richard Nixon, Music Man

     President Richard Nixon is best remembered for Watergate and for being the only president that was forced to resign from office and have a number of his administration officials end up in prison. 
     His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was investigated by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion and tax fraud. Agnew took kickbacks from contractors during his time as Baltimore County Executive and Governor of Maryland. After months of maintaining his innocence, Agnew pleaded no contest to a single felony charge of tax evasion and resigned from office. Agnew spent the remainder of his life quietly, rarely making public appearances. He wrote a novel and a memoir; both defended his criminal actions. 
     There are a number of things about President Nixon that are largely unknown. A community theater brought Richard and Pat Nixon together in 1938 when both auditioned for the Whittier Community Players production of The Dark Tower. Nixon's wife was always called Pat, but her real name was Thelma Catherine Ryan. She was nicknamed Pat by her father because she was born on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. 
     Nixon was a Quaker and as a boy he went to Quaker meetings four times on Sundays and played the piano at church services. He enrolled at Whittier College, a Quaker institution, and attended mandatory chapel hours every day. 
     Nixon could play five musical instruments! His mother insisted he practice on the family’s upright piano every afternoon and in the seventh grade he was sent 200 miles away to take lessons with his aunt, who had studied at the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music. Although he never learned to read music, Nixon could also play the saxophone, clarinet, accordion and violin. 
     His musical talents turned out to be political assets: Nixon’s 1963 appearance on The Jack Paar Program (above) during which he played a tune he wrote, helped rehabilitate his image after losing the California gubernatorial election the prior year. As president, he occasionally tickled the ivories, playing Happy Birthday for Duke Ellington at the White House and My Wild Irish Rose in honor of his wife at the Grand Ole Opry. 
     One of Nixon’s favorite pastimes in the White House was bowling. He’d even bowl a few frames dressed in his suit. In addition to using the alley in the adjacent Old Executive Office Building, Nixon had another one lane alley built in the basement beneath the North Portico entrance to the White House. 
     Nixon was a huge football fan. It may seem hard to believe, but he played on the Whittier College football team and, while president, struck up a friendship with George Allen, coach of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. Allen invited the president to address the team in 1971, and legend has it that Allen used a play that Nixon had suggested for a playoff game that year. The play was a disaster, a 13-yard loss that stymied a critical scoring drive and contributed to Washington’s loss. 
     In 1938, Nixon and several investors attempted to strike it rich making California orange juice, but he had no more luck than his father in the citrus business. Nixon was the president of the Citra-Frost Company, which attempted to produce and sell frozen orange juice, but he even performed the menial work of cutting and squeezing oranges. Citra-Frost’s misguided attempt to freeze the juice itself, rather than the concentrate, doomed it to bankruptcy after just 18 months.

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