The dictionary of Richard Nixon in pop culture, from ‘Animaniacs’ to zoo animals


On July 24, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon, right, greets the Apollo 11 astronauts in the quarantine van on board the USS Hornet after splashdown and recovery. (AP)

This week marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon's resignation. As you'd expect, the media has been thick with retrospectives and bookstore shelves are groaning with the weight of expertly timed new revelations from those who were there. If you were wondering what Watergate meant for American politics this week, there are dozens of people waiting to offer you their ideas.

However, Nixon has had quite a legacy in pop culture too. His presidency was recent enough that we remember the context surrounding his career, and he's disgraced enough that he has become one of the easiest and most accessible shorthand for "corrupt politician" in our ever-growing arsenal of  references. And, his inelegant exit from the White House means that entertainers have perhaps felt even more entitled to make fun of him than other presidents -- teasing Andrew Johnson doesn't have quite the same effect. Although reverence for the presidency has drifted quite a bit since Nixon left town, as you can tell by all the presidents who have been skewered on "Saturday Night Live" since.

Although Nixon has never topped lists of the best presidents in American presidency, he would surely top a poll that asked respondents to pick the most Shakespearean president every now and then. Which is why Nixon and pop culture will remain BFFs.

Here's a dictionary of some of the ways Nixon has lived on in pop culture -- or has influenced it. It's abridged -- we'll leave the complete dictionary of Nixon until the 50th anniversary.

A

"All the President's Men": The book — later turned into the Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman movie — published by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward about how the Watergate scandal was uncovered. The New York Times called the movie, "the thinking man's 'Jaws.'"

Source: The New York Times, April 18, 1971
Source: The New York Times, April 18, 1971

"All in the Family": Nixon did not like the sitcom, as a White House tape recorded on May 26, 1971 reveals. He argued  that Archie Bunker's son-in-law was bisexual:

“Archie is sitting here with his hippie son-in-law, married to the screwball daughter — in-law apparently goes both ways.”

He kept talking on this subject for awhile.

"The point that I make is that, goddamn it, I do not think that you glorify on public television homosexuality. You don't glorify it, John, anymore than you glorify, uh, whores. I don't want to see this country go that way. You know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that, so was Socrates."

"Animaniacs": The cartoon's  "President's Song" had this to say about Nixon: "Richard Nixon, he gets caught and Gerald Ford fell down a lot."

B

"The Big Lebowski": In the Coen Brothers' cult hit, a photo of Richard Nixon bowling at the White House is on the wall of the Dude's house (see Bowling).

"Black Dynamite": In the film, a spoof on 1970s Blaxploitation movies, the eponymous character and Nixon engage in a kung fu duel. Nixon loses.

"Blind Ambition": An eight-hour miniseries on the Watergate scandal. Rip Torn plays Nixon, Christopher Guest plays Jeb Magruder. Written by the guy who wrote "Soylent Green."

Bowling: Nixon was president when the White House got the one-lane bowling alley that's still in there. The lane now needs some serious work, which doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.

C

"Call of Duty: Black Ops": Gamers can play Richard Nixon as he fights off zombies with JFK, Fidel Castro and Robert McNamara.

"Christmas Carol": Impressionist Rich Little did a "Christmas Carol" HBO special in 1978. All of the characters were done in famous voices — and were all played by Rich Little. Jacob Marley shared the same voice as Richard Nixon.

D

"Doctor Who": When the 11th Doctor goes back in time to 1970s America for two episodes, he visits Nixon in the White House. The TARDIS visits the Oval Office too.

"Deep Throat": Before being the name of the Watergate leaker, this was the title of a pornographic film — one of the first with a plot — starring Linda Lovelace. It is the favorite film of Jimmy McMillan, who ran for New York governor on the "Rent is Too Damn High" party ticket in 2010.

"Dick": A teen movie in which Deep Throat is Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst.

"Drunk History": On the Comedy Central show "Drunk History," Saul from "Breaking Bad" plays Richard Nixon.

E

"Elvis Meets Nixon": A film that retells the story of Nixon meeting Elvis and giving him a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs so the singer could fight the damaging effects of the Beatles. 

Ephron, Nora: The late writer -- most famous for penning "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" -- was once married to Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal. After the identity of Deep Throat was revealed, Ephron said she had known all along -- and wrote a Huffington Post column about it.

F

Flag pins: Finding a campaigning politician without a flag pin is far harder than finding Waldo these days, all thanks to Richard Nixon. As the Reliable Source wrote in 2012,

The tradition only goes back about 40 years, when Richard Nixon started wearing a flag lapel pin regularly. Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose wrote that the president, besieged by anti-war protests, got the idea from his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman — who picked it up (we are not making this up) from Robert Redford’s 1972 film, “The Candidate.” The lapel pin started as a Republican gesture; after 9/11, politicians from both parties donned the pins as symbols of patriotism and solidarity.

"Forrest Gump": Forrest Gump met Nixon during his ping-pong superstar phase in the 1994 Tom Hanks movie.

"Frost/Nixon": A 2006 play based on the interviews that British journalist David Frost had with President Nixon in 1977, long after his resignation. It later was turned into a film.

"Futurama": Although the TV cartoon takes place in the future, Nixon's head has been preserved, and he runs for reelection.

G

Greenberg, David: This historian wrote "Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image," which unpacks how the president's image has been rehabilitated -- or at least recast with less of the immediate emotions that left it grubby in the 1970s.

H

Hopkins, Anthony: The British actor played Richard Nixon in "Nixon," the 1995 Oliver Stone film. Roger Ebert said of the film, "Thoughts of Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear come to mind; here, again, is a ruler destroyed by his fatal flaws."

I

"I am not a crook": During a press conference in November 1973, Nixon said, "I am not a crook," continuing to say he was unaware of the Watergate cover-up. The phrase became infamous a few monthly later, and people haven't stopped saying it since, as NPR demonstrated last year.

J

Joel, Billy: Yes, Richard Nixon gets mentioned in "We Didn't Start the Fire."

John, Elton: The British singer wrote a song titled, "Postcards from Richard Nixon."

K

"Kissinger and Nixon": A 1995 TV movie based on Walter Isaacson's book "Kissinger." Beau Bridges played Richard Nixon.

L

"Lee Daniels' The Butler": In which you see something you never imagined was possible -- John Cusack playing Richard Nixon.

M

Masks: According to the description for the Nixon mask available on Amazon for $8.01, "You get to do all sorts of Richard Nixon things in this mask, like shake hands, kiss babies and commit treason. With a mask like this, the sky's the limit." Nixon masks are still wildly popular, and often are the top selling costume mask in the United States.

Miller, Arthur: The playwright once said, "Richard Nixon's character is our history."

Merriam, Eve: The Harvard Crimson's 1970 review of Eve Merriam's "Nixon Poems," said, "She has shown that you can't write much of interest about Richard Nixon

N

Neruda, Pablo: One of the Chilean poets last poems was titled"Call for the Destruction of Nixon and Praise for the Chilean Revolution."

Newman, Paul: The late actor and seller of delicious cookies made the top 20 on Nixon's enemy list. In 2009, Newman's daughter said, "He was tickled pink and framed it" after he found out.

Nixmas: In 2008, Stephen Colbert celebrated Nixmas, and decorated his holiday tree with a presidential theme.

"Nixon in China": An opera inspired by Nixon's visit to China, written by John Adams and first performed in 1987.

Nixonland: Rick Perlstein's 2008 history of the culture that put Nixon in office and began fracturing around him.

O

"Our Nixon": A new CNN documentary about the Watergate scandal.

P

"Point Break": A 1991 film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. In the movie, bank robbers use president masks — including a Richard Nixon one.

Q

R

"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In": During the 1968 presidential election, Nixon tried to connect with the kids by going on a variety show.

If your blood pressure goes up every time President Obama appears with Jimmy Fallon, blame Nixon.

S

"Sammy-Gate": In this 2014 satirical film, Sammy Davis Jr. caused Watergate.

"Saturday Night Live": Dan Aykroyd played the president in the sketch comedy show's early years.

Sawyer, Diane: The prominent TV journalist worked in the Nixon White House, writing press releases and doing other communications-related work. Many people thought she may have been Deep Throat.

"Secret Honor": A Robert Altman movie in which Nixon gets drunk and gives a 90-minute monologue. Fact is mixed liberally with fiction. Among the stories told by Nixon in the movie, as recounted by Roger Ebert: "Watergate was staged to draw attention away from more serious, even treasonous, activities. Kissinger was on the payroll of the Shah of Iran, and supplied the Shah with young boys during his visits to New York. Marilyn Monroe was indeed murdered by the CIA, and so on."

"The Simpsons": A fictional Nixon made several appearances on the TV cartoon.

Stein, Ben: Before "Ferris Bueller," "Win Ben Stein's Money," and that 1990 ad he did for Sprinkled Chips Ahoy, Stein worked as a Nixon speechwriter.

T

"30 Rock": In one of the NBC sitcom's live episodes, Alec Baldwin appeared as Richard Nixon during a Laugh-In sketch. Baldwin plays Nixon in a few other episodes as well.

Transformers: Nixon makes an appearance in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon".

U

V

Van Houten, Milhouse Mussolini: A Simpsons character who was named after Richard Nixon. His middle name inspired this character's first name.

W

"Watchmen": In Alan Moore's graphic novel, Nixon wins five terms. This fictional Nixon is also responsible for the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Woodward and Bernstein.

X

X-Men: Richard Nixon is president during the 2014 film "X-Men: Days of Future Past".

Y

Young, Neil: His song "Campaigner," repeats the line, "Where even Richard Nixon has got soul. Even Richard Nixon has got soul."

Z

Zoo animals: The tape recorders that were used to capture all of Nixon's Oval Office conversations managed to save this very important thing he had to say about panda sex.

The problem with, uh—The problem, however, with pandas is that they don’t know how to mate. The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?

And now, 40 years after he left the White House, the National Zoo has a panda cam.

 

Correction: This post originally said "Our Nixon" was shown on HBO. It was CNN.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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