Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Spiro Agnew and Henry Kissinger are all deeply appreciative of Lazlo Toth.
Toth has this in writing from each of them.
You may recall that a man named Laszlo Toth, with this slightly different spelling of the name, vandalized Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's in Rome in 1972. The following year, the name was adopted by Don Novello, a California comedian, as the signature for nut letters he wrote to politicians, and corporations, a collection of which was just published as "The Lazlo Letters" by Working Publishing Co.
It is a correspondence which Novello sees as "culprit-to-culprit." But while some of his letters went unanswered, about 70 per cent of them were warmly received as endorsements of the recipients with the crazy aspects of Toth's enthusiasm ignored.
When Toth sent then-President Nixon a song, "Richard Nixon Don't Resign for Me," with original lyrics to the tune of "Oh Susannah" ("The press has been coming down on you/like buzzards on a dead skunk/They can't fool the American people/with leftist literary junk" he was assured by Special Assistant to the President Roland I Elliott that "Your friendship and the unfailing confidence which you have expressed in the President's leadership mean a great deal to him at this time."
When Toth advised then-President Ford to stop saying "It doesn't hurt" when he bumped his head because "This can give people the impression that something is wrong with your nerve endings," and suggested his saying "It hurts a little," because "this will make you seem more normal." Ford wrote back that he "appreciated your fine letter" and sent him "a personally autographed copy of my series of speeches given during the celebration of our Bicentennial."
When Toth protested to Agnew "You were the best Vice President this country ever had and they to and treat you like some ordinary crook!" Agnew replied that "Your support and encouragement meant a great deal to me."
When Toth wrote then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "I'm glad you've got that new wife (a good cover) so you can concentrate on helping our President and not have to worry about winning and dining those starlet kooks and having to go around loosing like you were a sales rep for Frederick's of Hollywood or something Assistant Secretary Carol C. Laise wrote that Kissinger had instructed her to tell Toth that "it is heartening to him to receive thoughtful messages like yours. You may be sure that you have his appreciation for your support and good wishes."
You may dismiss an these replies as form letters, sent off by the thousands without any particular attention to the writer's state of mind. But that is one of Novello's chief points - the enormous volume of meaningless correspondence going in and out of Washington.
Another point is the respect with which letters are treated, no matter how crazy. "When I was in advertising, I did a commercial with a black man in it, and it drew three racist letters," said Novelle. "Three only. And they took the commercial off the air. It was then that I realized the importance of letters."
And a third point is that politicians will accept "any support in a storm."
"During Watergate they were saying all this stuff - like Ziegler would say 'Wait until all the evidence is in and Nixon said. "There will be no whitewash,' and I was parroting it back in them. So they felt successful: they felt it was working."
The character of Toth, whom Novello sees as a 60-ish reactionary "who takes bubble baths and hangs out at McDonald's and the public libarary" represents, he thinks, "what they think most Americans are like."
And beyong that, he felt that the correspondents who wrote individualized replies of appreciation - such as Bebe Rebozo, John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman - were genuinely moved by Toth's concern to the extent that they completely overlooked his craziness.
When Toth lamented that Haldeman had let his hair grow out - hair which "reminded me of Tab Hunter," Haldeman apologized that his answer was held up for two months because of the delay in forwarding his mail from the White House, "I am sorry you don't like the TV appearance of my longer hair," Haldeman wrote, "but I can assure you that it isn't a matter of my failing to keep up my appearance because of having lost my job."
Toth is only one of the characters Novello has created for himself. His stand-up comedy in night clubs features "Father Guido Sarducci," the gossip columnist and rock critic for the Vatican newspaper, who is trying to make monsignor because of the way that rank improves the veal at Italian restaurants.
Father Guido's plan is to change the logo of the Catholic church from the crucifixion ("a downer") to something optimistic ("like Charlie the Tuna, who always believes he'll be chosen"). He points out that crucifixion "was the only means of capital punishment of the time - if it had happened in 17-century France, Catholics would now be making the sign of the guillotine: or if in the American West, they'd be making the sign of the noose."
Two more characters are in the laboratory stage - Al Dritto (Italian for "straight ahead"), a Hollywood agent who includes a return-the-call clause in contracts, and Gianni Prosciutto, a rock 'n' roll singer who advertises Madison chewing gum.
But Toth is still at it. Since the book was published, he has written former President Nixon suggesting that he run for governor of California with former President Ford for lieutenant governor, provided that "all of a sudden he doesn't think he's too good for number two," and the slogan, "The President for Governor and Lieutenant Governor."
He wrote former President Ford a poem: "WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS, THIS COUNTRY HAD!/JERRY FORD WASN'T SO BAD."
And he wrote HEW Secretary Joseph Califano, telling him he deserved a personal chef, and enclosing a recipe for "Oysters Califano," which Novello describes as "Oysters Rockefeller, but with Rice Krispies instead of spinach."
Toth has written corporations, entertainers and foreign leaders, as well as American politicians. But the only person who took it as a joke, who wrote back mentioning his "tongue-in-check humor" was Lawrence Welk.
Now that the book is out, Toth has started to receive fan letters of his own. Taking the style from engraved cards which he occasionally received from the White House, he has made up a card of his own to send out. There are crossed American flags and the Liberty Bell on top, where the Presidents have the presidential seal, and the script below says. "Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful message of congratulations. It is encouraging to have the goodwill and support of the American people. Working together, I know we can go forward in peace with other nations and in progress here at home."