Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In…With Nixon?

Dan Rowan, Richard Nixon and Dick Martin, Burbank, California 1968

Dan Rowan, Richard Nixon and Dick Martin, Burbank, California 1968

Nixon debates JFK on TV, 1960

In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon was beaten by Senator John Kennedy by a thin margin for the Presidency. Barely recovered from the flu when they debated, Nixon’s television appearance in the debate contributed to his defeat.

In 1962, having returned home to Los Angeles, he was trounced in his race for Governor by Pat Brown. Feeling that media dislike for him had factored in his loss, he snapped at them, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” and his flash of anger was seen by millions on television.

Nixon at what he declared was his “last press conference,” following his 1962 gubernatorial defeat.

Beaten, defeated, trounced and kicked. After all that, why did Nixon want to get socked? And on television before millions of voters?

The vibe of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In could not have been further at odds with Nixon’s Persona as tough, square and taking himself too seriously. Which is exactly why Keyes convinced him to appear on the show to deliver its signature line most associated with Laugh-In lovelies Judy Carne and Goldie Hawn. “Sock It to Me!”

Here’s the short Nixon appearance on Laugh-In:

Stealing a few minutes between campaign appearances when he was next in the Los Angeles area, Nixon did six takes, the first few seeming insulted or serious. When he asked it as a question, however, it proved ironic and tapped into a self-deprecatory streak that the formal politician had never considered displaying in public. But the times, they were a’changing, and even the kids who were slated to be sent off to Vietnam under LBJ and soon Nixon could at least relate to the joke. He got the basic appearance fee of $210.During a rally in Burbank, where Laugh-In was filmed at the NBC Studios, Nixon was joined by Rowan and Martin. The Nixon bit on Laugh-In aired on September 16, 1968. His Democratic opponent, then-incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey turned down an invitation to also appear, missing a chance to put himself before the younger demographic of the show. In later years Nixon (and many chroniclers of the ’68 election) credited his Laugh-In appearance for helping him go on to victory.

Nixon shapes his fingers and arms up in his signature "V for Victory" p

Nixon shapes his fingers and arms up in his signature “V for Victory” pose.

Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn

Rowan and Martin were strong supporters of Nixon as President. In January 1973, they even taped a short gag for his 60th birthday on January 9. He called to thank them – and it was recorded by his secret taping system. Being just days after his controversial bombing of Hanoi, he found some escape in talking to them, focusing on the forthcoming Super Bowl game between the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. Here is the brief call, now part of the so-called “Watergate Tapes,” of the National Achives Nixon Presidential Library.


Categories: Hollywood & The White House, Presidents, The Nixons

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5 replies »

  1. Carl, nobody does a better job of weaving pop culture and politics together than you! And you weave it together in a way than is not not only fascinating and funny, but that reveals patterns of genuine historical significance.

    • Well hey kiddo thanks – that’s a pretty high compliment – I strive for that….and also attempt to avoid making the irrelevant relevant…..I want to write another book about that ‘making the irrelevant relevant” current trend called “Dessert Isn’t Dinner,” but it needs to line up and might get some facetime with my brain and keyboard by 2019.

    • I agree with Mr. Kennard; he weaved the best attributes of Carl Anthony very eloquently. If somebody were to ask me what I like best re Anthony’s writing, I would have attempted to say the same. The role of Pop Culture in politics, so very important for the fundraising, =fascinating responses to our politicians = gaining knowlege of Presidential Politics & history through a newer, more entertaining P.O.V.
      than previously taught.

      Like all your fans, I prefer my history served up by a colorful, entertaining scholar rather than some dreary old coot who insists on using the driest accumulation of “facts” available in any rural library “for circulation”. Many times Librarians will put the most colorful materials in their locked/restricted collections. Those beautiful coffee table books, such as ones published by Alberis, & edited by 1st Ladies, works that need to be pursued for leisure time activity, are sadly, very restricted, available to the reader for a short length of time, say 1/2 to 2hrs.

  2. I agree with Byron. Great job. I doubt Humphrey would have won the election though…Laugh In or not!

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