History has not always been kind to President Richard M. Nixon. Those of us born after Watergate (and more than most who lived through it) are unable (or perhaps unwilling) to recount anything really positive about the life and legacy of our 37th President. This perception was reinforced by the recent film dramatization Frost/Nixon (2008), which grossly misrepresented the facts and tone of the famous 1977 interview series between then, ex President Nixon and British journalist David Frost.
When I watched the real footage of the interviews, I was surprised to see a completely different man than the one portrayed by Frank Langella. In Hollywood’s version, we get the Nixon we have come to expect: a fatally flawed narcissist who is ultimately out maneuvered by his own hubris and the cunning of a wily Englishman. In short, a classic villain loses to a fun loving protagonist. The former is left to wither away in a state of shameless isolation while the latter walks into the sunset with a beautiful girl (and even a Knighthood).
Well, for those of us willing to dig a little deeper by watching the original interviews we were given a portrait of a much more complex man. Too complex to base an entertaining movie around. It should remind us all that when in comes to printing the truth vs. the myth, Hollywood will almost always print the myth of history.
I’d like to share one particular quote given by President Nixon from the original interview (conveniently omitted from the recent film). He says these words towards the end of the final interview where Frost asks Nixon if he will ever be happy again after what he did to the American people. Besides providing a great interpretation of life’s real meaning the below also helps us form a more accurate portrait of one of the most complicated people in American history (but I’ll let you decide):
To me, the unhappiest people in the world are those in the watering places, the international watering places like...the south coast of France and Newport and Palm Springs and Palm Beach; going to parties every night, playing golf every afternoon, then bridge. Drinking too much, talking too much, thinking too little. Retired. No purpose. And so, well I know there are those who will totally disagree with this and say ‘Gee, boy, if I could just be a millionaire that would be the most wonderful thing; if I could just not have to work everyday, if I could just be out fishing or hunting, or playing golf, or travelling, that would be the most wonderful life in the world’ …they don’t know life, because what makes life mean something is purpose. A goal. The battle. The struggle. Even if you don’t win it…
And here's one more from the REAL NIXON...Although Anthony Hopkins read this scene very well in Oliver Stone's Nixon: