Plaid sport-jackets, bell-bottom pants, wide ties in eye-popping patterns, macrame shawls, wedge heels, massive patent-leather handbags, frosted hair, pompadoured hair, seersucker suits, rayon everything, white belts, hot pants, wrap skirts, Maude-like whatever-they’re-called shoulder-to-floor vest-skirts. It was the ubiquitous vibe of The Southern California Super-Seventies!
Every one of those fashion moments can be spotted being worn by the era’s (and many from the earlier era’s but still holding their own in the 70s) entertainment celebrities invited on August 27, 1972 by President Richard Nixon and his wife, First Lady Pat Nixon to La Casa Pacifica, their private San Clemente, California estate, which sits on a high cliff overlooking a popular surfing spot on the Pacific Ocean.
Last month’s 2012 campaign fundraiser for President Obama in Hollywood, headlined by George Clooney, was but the most recent in a long line of similar events, going back to the May 19, 1962 birthday tribute to President John F. Kennedy held in Madison Square Garden and most famous for Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to him (see last week’s article on the event at http://carlanthonyonline.com/2012/05/19/other-photos-stars-from-marilyn-monroes-happy-birthday-night-to-jfk-his-reaction/
Unlike the Kennedy and Obama events, however, the Nixon “Celebrity Reception” was not a fundraiser but merely a gathering of bold-faced names who made their way down from Los Angeles to the Orange County town of San Clemente for the day who were thought to be friendly towards the Nixon Administration as the President’s 1972 re-election campaign ensued and might perhaps lend their names to the effort.
What made the Nixon event so unusual is that instead of celebrities gathering in an arena, the White House, or the private home of a celebrity host, it was the President and First Lady who invited everyone to their private house. Nor was there a ticket price. There was no hard-sell, nor even, apparently, a follow-up to see if any would volunteer to do so. At the very least, it was a groovy summer day in Southern California meeting the President and First Lady in their rarely-glimpsed private home.
And what a cross-section roster of Seventies Celebs it was: Glen Campbell, Lawrence Welk, Mary Tyler Moore, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, Frank Sinatra, Dorothy Lamour, Debbie Reynolds, George Jessel, Wayne Newton, Phyllis Diller, gossip columnist Rona Barrett. Chuck Connors, Glenn Ford, Connie Francis, Jack Benny, George Burns and even cranky William Demarest who was famous for playing cranky “Uncle Charlie” on the popular 60s sitcom My Three Sons.
Despite the unrest and acrimony of the years immediately preceding it, the event took place in a brief slice of a sweet spot in the nation’s life. Within five months, President Nixon would announce the complete U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that would engulf him and force his resignation two years later was yet only a news story.
The best part of all, however, is that it was filmed by the White House Film Unit of the Nixon Administration. The public domain Super-8 movie footage of the Seventies Celebrities arriving at the Western White House and being welcomed by the President and Mrs. Nixon was shot without sound. The film can be seen at the end of this article.
However, to provide a sense of authentic easy listening and experience just what Glen Campbell or Mary Tyler Moore may have been listening to on the radio as they drove down from Lost Angeles in their El Dorados to San Clemente, the following movie has been enhanced with the number one singles from that Summer of Seventy-Two. Alone Again, (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan was the hit song for three weeks preceding the party, from July 29 through August 25. Then on August 26, the day before the party, Brandy (Your’re a Fine Girl), by Glass, took the number one slot for a week – only to be bumped out again by Alone Again.
The mood of the fiesta is further matched with the happy-go-lucky stars-in-the-eye Close to You by the Carpenters from the year before; nine months after the Celebrity Reception at San Clemente, Karen and Richard Carpenter performed this song at the White House for Richard and Pat Nixon.
It closes out with the beginning of Black & White by Three Dog Night, which hit number one on the Billboard Top 100 two weeks after the party. It also has political significance. Written in 1957 by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson, it was later recorded with changed lyrics to honor the famous United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education which outlawed racial segregation of public schools, that ran: “Their robes were black, Their heads were white, The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight, Nine judges all set down their names, To end the years and years of shame.” Chief Justice Warren, who led in the decision, had been appointed by President Eisenhower, under whom Nixon served as Vice President.
Besides those mentioned here, what other Seventies Celebrities were in attendance at the Nixon party? Please feel free to contribute any observations of those not recognized and mentioned. Lastly, at just short of eleven minutes, this is a relatively long musical video so watch it when you have time to sit back on that avocado-colored lounge chair in that rust-colored living-room, enjoying your Fresca.
This article is written in honor of the forthcoming birthday of Peter McManus, A Super-Seventies Man
- The First Lady a Nation Never Knew: Pat Nixon in Private Taped Phone Calls & 100 Pictures on Her Centennial (carlanthonyonline.com)
- The Allure of San Clemente – Orange County, CA (marinachetner.com)
- San Clemente’s Not the Same, Mr Nixon You’re to Blame! (digitalcitizen.ca)