Coates Views the Funny Side of Nixon
NEWS ITEM (Hank Grant's column, Hollywood Reporter) -- "Writer Tony Webster's been approached to pen gags for Richard Nixon's campaign speeches."
I'm no Criswell, but I can make a prediction or two, myself. And, the way I see it, if Richard Nixon wants a gag writer, it indicates that he fully expects his opponent for the Presidency to be that mirthful rib-tickler, Adlai Stevenson.
So come with me now, to mid-September, 1960. The scene is the office of the Vice President in the Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. Mr. Nixon is seated at his desk idly fingering a "For Prosperity And Hilarity Stick With Dick" campaign button.
Two men in identical Sy Devore sports jackets are pacing either side of the room. They are the gag writers hired by the Republican National Committee to write pungent ad-libs for the candidate's use.
One is Arty, whose writing credits include Joe Penner, Al Pierce and His Gang, and Pinky Lee. The other is Marty, who wrote for Don McNeil's Breakfast Club, Moran and Mack, Billy Jones and Ernie Hare and who, at one time, was hired to create sparkling patter for the A&P Gypsies.
ARTY (stops pacing): Listen, Rich. You mind a little honest criticism?
NIXON: Mind it? I welcome it. Any man who accepts the cloak of high government office would be remiss in his responsibility to . . .
ARTY: Fine, Rich. Fine.
NIXON: . . . his constituents. We, in government, are, after all, no more, in effect, than servants of the people. If they find us lacking in any respect, we have a solemn obligation not to . . .
ARTY: Yeah. Well, good, Rich.
NIXON: . . . not to deny anyone, big or small, regardless of race, creed or color, the opportunity -- in fact, the right -- to be heard. Even, I assured you if what we hear is critical in nature. It is the very essence of our democracy.
ARTY: Swell, kid. Swell. But what I was gonna say, I get this feeling that your performance isn't warm enough. You know?
NIXON (icily): I don't think you have any call to make a crack like that.
MARTY: That's not what Arty meant, Rich. It's nothing personal. What he meant was we got to build you some warm style jokes to get you across. You know? Gags like about the kids, the wife, the mother-in-law, the family dog.
ARTY: You got a dog, Rich?
NIXON: Are you kidding?
MARTY: Great! Now what we do, we go through the file on dog jokes.
ARTY (snaps fingers): I got one, Marty. Right off the top of my head. Now follow me. There's this TV show, see? And Lassie's being interviewed on it.
MARTY: No good, Arty. Too blue.
NIXON (gets up and starts pacing with them): Variety had an item that Stevenson's planning to revive that "old shoe" routine again. That's a tough act to follow.
MARTY (slaps him jovially on the back): We top him, Rich. Leave it to us. We just do the shoe gag.
ARTY: You come on, Rich. You follow? You make a few introductory remarks like I'm glad to be in your fair state. Then wham! You say, "You know, folks, it's a funny thing, but you can't make shoes out of bananas. Only slippers."
NIXON: I don't get it.
MARTY: You don't have to get it, Rich. Just throw it away. Deadpan. You know, like Bob Hope.
NIXON: I'm booked for a one-nighter next week before the Women's Auxiliary of the National Grange in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, fellows. You got any ideas?
MARTY: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Corn belt. We need some farm type jokes, Arty.
ARTY: Got one, Marty. Right off the top of my head. There's this . . .
MARTY: No good, Arty. Too blue.
(THERE'S A KNOCK AT THE OFFICE DOOR. A SENATE PAGE ENTERS AND ANNOUNCES, "MR. VICE PRESIDENT, THE SENATE RECONVENES IN FIVE MINUTES.")
NIXON (fluffs out his boutonniere): That's all for now, boys. Got to go. It's showtime!