Earl Mazo, 87; Richard Nixon Biographer

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Earl Mazo, 87, a biographer of Richard Nixon and former political correspondent for the old New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times, died Feb. 17 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda of complications from a fall at his Chevy Chase home.

Mr. Mazo wrote "Richard Nixon: A Political and Personal Portrait" (1959, reissued and updated with Stephen Hess in 1968), which a Washington Post reviewer called "a respectable overture" and the Times deemed "far and away the best Nixon study to date -- the most detailed and most penetrating."

Mr. Mazo knew Nixon in the 1950s from when he covered the White House as chief political correspondent for the Herald Tribune. He accompanied Nixon on his 1958 trip to Venezuela and wrote a vivid account of how the Secret Service saved the then-vice president from a mob intent on dragging Nixon from his car and killing him.

A man with enough tact to plumb the sometimes volatile issues of Nixon's past, Mr. Mazo also managed to soothe the ruffled feathers of Chief Justice Earl Warren. After reading excerpts of Mr. Mazo's book in Look magazine, in which he thought his name was being used to promote Nixon's presidential candidacy, Warren called Mr. Mazo "a damned liar."

It was "just a misunderstanding," Mr. Mazo told the Associated Press in 1959. After the chief justice cooled down, Mr. Mazo said, they talked cordially and parted on friendly terms.

Born in Warsaw, Mr. Mazo immigrated to the United States as a toddler. He grew up in Charleston, S.C., graduated from Clemson University and served in the Army Air Corps. During World War II, he was a reporter for Stars and Stripes newspaper in Europe. After the war, he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and served one year in the Truman administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense.

In 1951, he joined the Herald Tribune, working in New York until 1956, when he moved to Washington.

When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 presidential race, Mr. Mazo felt strongly that the Democrats had stolen the election, telling The Post in 2000: "There's no question in my mind that it was stolen. It was stolen like mad. It was stolen in Chicago and in Texas."

Tipped off by reporters in Chicago, Mr. Mazo went to the Windy City, obtained lists of voters in precincts that seemed suspicious and started checking their addresses.

"There was a cemetery where the names on the tombstones were registered and voted," he recalled. "I remember a house. It was completely gutted. There was nobody there. But there were 56 votes for Kennedy in that house."

At the urging of Chicago Democrats, Mr. Mazo went to Republican areas downstate and looked for fraud there. He found it but on a smaller scale than in Chicago. He then headed to Texas, where he documented similar Democratic electoral shenanigans. Mr. Mazo began writing what he and his editors envisioned as a 12-part series on election fraud. By mid-December 1960, he had published four of the parts, which were reprinted in papers across the country, including The Post.

Nixon called and asked Mr. Mazo to stop writing his series because the country couldn't afford a constitutional crisis at the height of the Cold War.

"I thought he was kidding, but he was serious," Mr. Mazo told The Post. "I looked at him and thought, 'He's a goddamn fool.' "

Failing to convince Mr. Mazo, Nixon called the reporter's bosses at the Herald Tribune and implored them to stop running the series. The editors pulled him off the story.

"Nobody told me why," he said. "I know I was terribly disappointed. I envisioned the Pulitzer Prize, for chrissakes."

Mr. Mazo joined the Times in 1964 as national political editor but after a year switched to the Reader's Digest, where he was a roving correspondent. He also appeared on WTOP-TV as a commentator in 1969.

A fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, he worked for the congressional Joint Committee on Printing during the 1970s and retired in 1981 to become a "professional grandfather," his daughter Judith Mazo said.

His wife of 62 years, Rita Vane Mazo, died in 2003.

Survivors include his wife of one year, Regina Schatz of Chevy Chase; two children from his first marriage, Judith Mazo of Washington and Mark Mazo of Chevy Chase; two stepchildren, Stuart Schatz of Bethesda and Nancy Weisz of Silver Spring; and 12 grandchildren.

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