REVIEW POTPOURRI: Movies, TV and Christmas carols

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Killing Them Softly

I recently viewed a 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt as a gangland enforcer, James Gandolfini as a Mafia hitman and Ray Liotta as the host for a mob protected high stakes polka game, with a very good supporting cast.

The plot features a businessman in need of extra funds who hires two inept hoods to rob the polka game. They initially get away but then one of them brags about the heist to the wrong individual and the repercussions rear their ugly head.

Despite the constant foul mouthed dialog and jokes, and the super hideous violence (maybe because of it), the movie was a box office success, which doesn’t reflect well on cinematic tastes. Ever since the emergence of such directors as Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino etc., audiences relish the stylized combos of bloodshed and comedy displayed in Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, the Sopranos series etc., while the craft of the old Hollywood classics such as Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives, Vertigo and In the Heat of the Night – to name a few examples – is tossed aside.

To their credit, Pitt, Gandolfini and Liotta delivered superb performances but the movie still left a bad taste.


A certain amount of graphic realism was seen in the CSI series, which ran from 2000 to 2015 and, after a six-year hiatus, came back as CSI: Vegas. The difference lies in the episodes being more edifying on the gathering and analysis of evidence found at crime scene and less of violence and foul language for its own sake.

I am more than halfway through the first season and particularly enjoy the acting of William Petersen, Jorja Fox, Marg Helgensberger and Paul Guilfoyle as the investigative team.

Especially interesting is the use of facial reconstruction as part of the forensics. One episode that stood out involves a woman’s skull found inside the crawl space underneath the basement of a house by the plumber repairing a leaky pipe and the reconstruction of her face using computer graphics, the recognition of the missing woman and the resulting arrest of her murderer.

Christmas Carols

A mid-’50s lp, Epic LC 3074, and entitled simply Christmas Carols, features very expressive a capella performances of a mixture of well-known and rarely heard season selections by the Royal Male Choir of Holland, a group that was founded in 1883 and numbers 170 men.

Bing Crosby

On June 22, 1950, Bing Crosby recorded a ten-inch Decca 78 featuring renditions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Teddy Bear’s Picnic that were captivatingly arranged, as was so consistently typical of Crosby’s sessions for Decca. In terms of quantity and quality, this singer with his over 4,000 recordings achieved a rare standard and sold more records than Sinatra, Presley and the Beatles combined.

Also Sinatra, Presley and the Beatles were among Crosby’s most loyal fans.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Christmas music

Peter Knight

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Christmas music

Reader’s Digest released a number of record sets devoted to Christmas music, one being a 1985, two LP set Joy to the World. It contains two sides of 15 famous carols performed with decent professionalism by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Peter Knight (1917-1985); Knight’s name might be familiar to fans of the Moody Blues as he scored the strings for the group’s album Days of Future Passed.

Side 3 is devoted to a lushly overdone Christmas Suite for Orchestra consisting of the tried and true seasonal pop songs – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, etc., with Waldtaufel’s classical Skater’s Waltz tacked on the end.

Side 4 has organ and bells instrumentals of The First Noel, Schubert’s Ave Maria, Good King Wenceslas and a couple of others. Nice arrangements in very small doses.

Caribbean Calypsos

A 1956 Capitol album (T 10071) Caribbean Calypsos features three vocalists – Tony Johnson and a singer simply known as the Torpedo, both men natives of Jamaica; and the older Lord Beginner (1904-1981) who came from Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The selections have such titles as I Will Die a Bachelor, Wheel and Turn Me, Don’t Fence Her In, Lazy Janie and Queen Elizabeth Calypso. And the lyrics evoked the peaceful contentment of life then in both islands while downplaying its difficulties.

The birth names of Lord Beginner and the Torpedo, respectively, were the good old-fashioned English names of Egbert Moore and Nevil Cameron and were zealously kept a secret from their fans in the island. Lord Beginner sold more records than any other Calypso singer, save for Harry Belafonte who surpassed him by a narrow margin.

Interestingly, as of the mid-50s, all three singers were residing in England.

Wienerwalzer Paprika

Wienerwalzer Paprika (Mercury MG50190) is an LP recorded during the summer of 1958 at the Vienna Konzerthaus Grosse Saal, one of the grand buildings erected during the reign of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph to function as a concert hall and still in use, most famously as the location of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Eve concerts broadcast worldwide.

The album doesn’t contain a single waltz by Vienna’s immortal Waltz King Johann Strauss Junior (1825-1899), instead focusing on six waltzes by as many composers:

1. Josef Lanner (1801-1835) – Die Schonbrunner Waltz; btw, Lanner, who was a self-taught violinist, formed a quartet to earn money performing at social gatherings and his second violinist was Johann Strauss Senior (1800-1849).

2. Josef Strauss (1827-1870) – Village Swallows Waltz; Josef was the younger brother of the Waltz King.

3. Emil Waldtaufel (1837-1915) – The Skater’s Waltz. This classic was conducted with more musicality than the above-mentioned rendition in the Reader’s Digest set.

4. Franz Lehar (1870-1948) – Merry Widow Waltz. I own numerous recordings of Lehar’s perpetually charming music for his Viennese operettas, the Merry Widow being quite rightfully his most famous.

5. Erno Dohnanyi (1877-1960) – Wedding Waltz. Dohnanyi was also a noted pianist, conductor and teacher in Budapest and, during his last ten years, at the University of Florida in Tallahassee.

During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Dohnanyi’s personal intervention saved the lives of several dozen Jewish musicians. His son Hans was an admiral in the German navy but took an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance, as did his daughter’s husband, the renowned theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer; both men were arrested by the Gestapo and later executed.

Hans’s son Christoph Dohnanyi became Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1984 to 2002 and is still active at the age of 94.

6. Emmerich Kalman (1882-1953) – The Gypsy Princess Waltz. Kalman was completing the Gypsy Princess in Budapest in 1915, while World War I was raging around him and, since its premiere in Vienna, the Operetta has been produced over 8,000 times worldwide.

Antal Dorati (1906-1988) conducted performances of vivid distinction while Mercury’s then-revolutionary technique of using one microphone placed strategically in the hall captured a full range of sound with tremendous clarity.


Jimmy Carter

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Jimmy Carter

The 39th President Jimmy Carter has achieved a few longevity records .

First, he is the oldest living one at 99.

Secondly, he has lived the longest of any President.

Thirdly, since his defeat for re-election in 1980 by Reagan, he has been out of office the longest.

Finally, he and his wife Rosalynn were married the longest of any presidential couple, lasting from 1946 to her death just a few hours ago (I am writing this Sunday evening, November 19, 2023), and surpassing by a few years that of George and Barbara Bush.

Novelist/journalist Norman Mailer wrote a fascinating New York Times magazine profile of Carter during his 1976 campaign and expressed awe at the candidate’s phenomenally encyclopedic memory, his grasp of the complexities of domestic and foreign problems and his above average, very focused interest in them (Mailer cited German novelist Thomas Mann’s statement- “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting.”).

Mailer also mentioned Carter’s younger brother Billy (1937-1988), a “good old boy” with a pleasant personality but not somebody to cross.

A photo of the newly-elected president in November 1976, that sticks in the memory is one of the two brothers and a few friends having beers at Billy’s gas station in their hometown of Plains, Georgia, and dressed in work shirts and blue jeans – one didn’t see the armies of secret service personnel surrounding the village.

For me, the most distinguished achievement of Jimmy Carter’s presidency was as a host and mediator at Camp David when former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated a peace between the two countries, that pretty well ended in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated.

A setback in his administration was the Middle Eastern oil crisis in which gas prices went up, supplies became limited and long lines of cars resulted at gas pumps across the country.

With respect to our Pine Tree State, Carter appointed former Governor Kenneth Curtis as Ambassador to Canada and former Senator Edmund Muskie as Secretary of State, both men unfortunately serving terms of brief duration. He also came to Bangor for one of his town meetings and invited one of the questioners, an elementary school teacher, to bring her class to the White House for a visit with him and ten-year-old daughter Amy.

Information on Carter’s years in the White House abounds in libraries and on the Internet.

Prior to 1976, Jimmy Carter was a successful peanut farmer in Plains and was elected Governor of Georgia in 1971 for one term.

His post-presidential years have been distinguished by him with a nail apron and level building houses for Habitat for Humanity .

All three of his siblings died from pancreatic cancer in their 50s.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Poet: Samuel French Morse; Pianist: Moriz Rosenthal

Morse poems

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Samuel French Morse

Poet Samuel French Morse (1916-1985) taught English at Northeastern University and summered in Hancock.

His A Poem About the Red Paint People is a rumination on a long lost Native-American tribe and can be read in its entirety in the anthology Maine Speaks.

Several lines evoke the sense of sorrow and wonder at a burial site excavation:

“Perhaps he gave the place a name,
Or left a mark the weather wore
As smooth as water long before
The Abenaki settled here.
But who they were and where they went
No Indian or white man knows,
Whose own untoward and bitter wars
Are shellheaps now and broken adze,
Not someone’s half-remembered lies.”

According to his bio details, Morse kept a garden in which he grew plants not usually found and regaled visitors with inexhaustible details on each one.

Moriz Rosenthal

Moriz Rosenthal

Polish pianist Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946) achieved such progress as a youth that, after a tour of Romania, he was appointed the Romanian court pianist at the age of 14.

In 1878, Rosenthal began studying with legendary composer/pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886) at Weimar and remained there as an assistant until Liszt’s death.

The pianist made his U.S. debut in Boston in 1888, taught piano at Phila­delphia’s Curtis Institute of Music from 1926-28 and set up his own private studio in 1939 in New York City where he lived the last seven years of his life.

I have two of the four 12-inch 78 records that comprise a Victor Red Seal album of Chopin pieces he recorded in 1935 (Victor M/DM-338) which can be heard via Internet Archive. It is well worth hearing for its combination of astounding technical virtuosity, an astonishing range of loud and soft dynamics and a heartfelt poetry and knack for conveying the beauty of Chopin’s notes, especially the selected two Nocturnes.

Rosenthal also had a scathing sarcasm. When the pianist heard Vladimir Horowitz thunder brilliantly through the opening of the Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto, he remarked, “He is an Octavian, but not Caesar.”

Upon attending a recital of another legendary pianist Paderewski, Rosenthal commented, “Yes, he plays well, I suppose, but he’s no Paderewski.”

I’M JUST CURIOUS: Catching up

by Debbie Walker

So, I did go to the audition. Before the night was over, I decided I didn’t come close to the other actors with their college degrees in theater. They also needed an assistant to the stage manager, with the plan being once trained they would become The stage manager. Well, I am now the assistant to the stage manager, at least I am going to try it.

The play is called Mistletoe Ridge, and it is quite the little comedy. I know we have laughed enough at the auditions and the first practice. I can’t wait for the next meeting, that will be Tuesday! I will keep you to date and maybe even get a picture with everyone of the cast in their costumes.

My bedroom project is pretty much finished. I have the black and white material as blinds, and I made two shams with left over fabric. The black fabric I bought I used for a King bed skirt, but I cheated and bought two pillowcases (yes, they are black). Now that it is done, I am quite pleased with the room.

Poor Dave, the first couple of days he was not pleased with all the black, said it reminded him of a funeral home. Since he has now appreciated how much better he has been sleeping he’s quite pleased. Some things just take time.

It’s gotten to the time of year when I think of gingerbread. Gingerbread with whipped cream on top. Yummy! Did you know it has historical roots? Some of us now make gingerbread house and cookies. But long ago it landed in Europe with an Armenian monk who brought home a honey and spice cake to other monks in France, and it quickly became “food from Heaven”. Typical medieval recipes for gingerbread include no ginger. It once was a treat only for the elite.

I read something in Woman’s World magazine from October. I learned you can spray a wreath with hairspray to help it last. It also mentioned putting petroleum jelly to boost the life of your jack’o lantern. I’m sorry it’s not much help this year but you’ll have it for next year’s pumpkin.

Do you have a single glove or mitten? Don’t throw them. You can use them to hold potpourri’ in. The article I read was recommending you fill the glove half with dry rice, then fill it with dried herbs. In the article I read it said to tie the glove closed with a ribbon. I might do the ribbon, but it will be sewed shut first. I don’t trust just a ribbon. One use is in your drawers for sachet. I will use lavender in mine and put it in my pillowcase to help sleep.

I like this one. How much do you “waste” on bathroom smellies? Maybe instead try an empty toilet paper tube. Paint it or decorate it to suit you. Put cotton balls in it. Then put some of your favorite smelly stuff on the cotton balls.

I’m just curious what new projects you have started. Contact me at with questions or comments. Have a great week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Actress: Lee Grant

Lee Grant

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Lee Grant

On the basis of three different roles, I currently find Lee Grant, still alive and very sharp in her late 90s, my favorite character actress.

The emotional nuance, strength, vulnerability, anger, calm before the storm, joy, love, maturity, chaos, decorum-every ounce of one’s humanity – is channeled from her very inner self with phenomenal discipline and authenticity into the trio of characters mentioned below:

The 1964 Fugitive episode Taps for a Dead War presented Miss Grant as Millie Hallop, a widow who owns a diner, and lives with her teenage son and brother-in-law, the latter with serious PTSD issues of his own as a Korean War veteran who was grossly disfigured by an explosion from a hand grenade tossed at him by an enemy soldier.

Meanwhile Millie is stressed out by everything that could stress out a widow raising a son, running a diner, dealing with an emotionally fractured brother-in-law and experiencing her own issues of harrowing loneliness with minimal help from the people around her.

Lee Grant has spoken of how she would draw on her own life experiences of loneliness, anxiety and anger to pour into her character roles. This statement verifies her rightfully celebrated ability to convey being on the brink of some unpredictable explosion resulting from the loneliness, anxiety and anger. When her brother-in-law, portrayed by the also very gifted Tim O’Connor, brings home the Fugitive title character Richard Kimble, whom he recognizes as a war-time buddy, Millie very quietly tells Kimble to leave immediately and never ever show his face at the diner again. The look of sulphuric rage in her eyes was honed to a precisely outstanding degree.

The 1967 Oscar winning In the Heat of the Night featured her as a grief-stricken widow Leslie Colbert who spasmodically flings her hands in the air when she is informed by Sidney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs of her husband’s murder. At that moment, one is not sure if Mrs. Colbert is going to slap Tibbs or sob uncontrollably.

In a 1970 Columbo episode, Ransom for a Dead Man, she portrayed a murderess Leslie Williams who shoots her husband cold-bloodedly yet elicits a bizarre sympathy as she charmingly interacts with Peter Falk’s socially inept but phenomenally shrewd detective with his “Just one more thing” and “Thank you very much!”; and guardedly with a very suspicious stepdaughter. If I didn’t know any better, I would have rooted for her to get away with the murder.

One very memorable scene is when Leslie, being a licensed pilot of small aircraft, takes Columbo for a daredevil ride in her own plane and she is beautifully dressed and wearing designer sunglasses.

Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal, in New York City, to parents who were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, Lee Grant caught the stage bug very early in childhood and her Wikipedia biography gives an interesting account of her career with its setbacks and successes.

She was nominated for the Oscar best supporting actress award in 1951’s Detective Story in which she played a shoplifter; was named best actress at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival; but then blacklisted as a communist from 1952 to 1964 because, even though she was never a communist herself nor was ever interested in its ideology, her first husband and scriptwriter Arnold Manoff was a communist and she wouldn’t testify against him. During the 12 years, she was ekeing out a living through a few stage and TV roles and teaching to support herself and her daughter, actress Dinah Manoff.

In her 2014 autobiography, I Said Yes to Everything, she writes :

“Dinah was my grail, my constant; nothing and no one could get between us. Dinah, and my need to support her financially, morally, viscerally, and my rage at those who had taken twelve working, acting years from my life were what motivated me.”

More about Lee Grant can also be accessed via YouTube, etc.


Gerald Ford

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Gerald Ford

The 38th President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) always struck me as the most personally likable of our 46 chief executives. His geniality helped immensely in generating good will on both sides of the aisle during his 25 years in the House of Representatives before President Richard Nixon appointed him as vice president on December 8, 1973, after Spiro T. Agnew was forced to resign.

However, at the same time, when Ford became vice president, I confess to knowing very little about him, except for the name, and, despite having more interest in our nation’s leaders 50 years ago than nowadays, I had very little interest in knowing more about Ford (Congressmen L. Mendel Rivers and H. Edward Hebert interested me more.). But I do remember Ford serving on the Warren Commission investigating JFK’s assassination.

Eight months later on August 9, 1974, President Richard Milhous Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president and would appoint Nelson Rockefeller as vice president (it was a choice between Rockefeller and George H. W. Bush.). Ford also kept Henry Kissinger on the job as Secretary of State and William E. Simon as Treasury Secretary.

Certain memories of the Ford Presidency stick out:

A photograph in Time magazine shows Ronald Reagan shaking hands with D.C. Federal Judge John J. Sirica, who became best known during the Watergate investigation for demanding that Nixon turn over the White House tapes; Ford is standing between the two men with a look of panic on his face.

First Lady Betty Ford did a cameo appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

During September 1975, two assassination attempts were made on President Ford’s life 17 days apart – the first by a Charles Manson follower named Squeaky Frome and the second by Sara Jane Moore. Both women served prison terms for more than 30 years before finally being paroled.

Ford’s decision to pardon former President Nixon may have been the most controversial one of his two years in office and is still being debated by scholars.

Ford’s televised debates with Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter were marked by what struck me as lots of warmth and cordiality – the amount of time the two spent shaking hands seemed at times forever.

A few memories after Ford left office:

In the late ‘70s, Ford was a guest on the Dick Cavett Show and had the most ingratiating smiles and laughs at Cavett’s witticisms.

At the 1980 Republican Convention, it was reported that Reagan offered Ford the chance to be his running mate before selecting Bush.

During the late 1990s, a cable channel televised a program at the Ford Presidential Library in which the former president introduced historian David McCullough who gave a speech about his just published biography of Harry Truman.

On December 26, 2006, President Ford died from coronary disease at his home, in Rancho Mirage, California; he was 93.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Jerome Kern

Great American Songbook composer Jerome Kern (1885-1945) was so captivated by reading Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel Showboat that he immediately saw its possibilities as a musical on Broad­way. But he had never met Miss Ferber and had no idea how she’d respond.

One even­ing at a theater reception, he spotted an acquaintance, the notoriously outspoken book re­viewer/­author/theater critic/­radio personality Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943) who was chatting with a woman and who could possibly arrange an introduction, given his own connections in the publishing world; Kern approached Woollcott with his request.

Woollcott replied that Ferber was very reclusive and inapproachable and could not imagine her wanting to even discuss the matter but would see what could be done. He then turned to the woman sitting next to him and said, “Edna Ferber (1885-1968), meet Jerome Kern. ”

With lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, Kern worked very quickly and the musical premiered on Broadway in less than a year. It was a huge success, it has generated at least two films in Hollywood, numerous recordings of selections have been released – I am quite fond of a 1946 Columbia Masterworks set- but Showboat had to wait until the mid-1980s for a complete recording of its three hour plus length of music and drama.

Edna Ferber

In 1980, I attended a production of Showboat at the Houston Grand Opera starring Donald O’Connor, a quite memorable evening.

Certain songs from the musical still resound – My Man Bill, Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man, and Old Man River.

A Music Treasures of the World LP from the ‘50s contains the nicely scored Showboat Symphonic Suite conducted by William Strickland (MT-31).

I recently listened to several other records here at the house of Kern compositions:

Columbia A5081 – a December 31, 1908, 12-inch shellac featuring soprano Elise Stevenson singing a very charming song, Frieda, from the 1908 Broadway musical, the Girls of Gottenberg, which closed after less than a year.

Victor 35425 – a November 24th, 1914, shellac, also 12 inch, featuring the Victor Military Band performing a medley of tunes from the Girl from Utah, which includes the classic They Didn’t Believe Me.

Victor Red Seal – a 1938 set of six 12-inch 78s, Gems from Jerome Kern Musical Shows, presenting the Victor Light Opera Company directed by Leonard Joy.

ES 10, a 1960 LP with Ed Sullivan’s written notes on Kern’s 1933 musical Roberta and selections from it performed by the uncredited vocalists listed simply as the Ed Sullivan All Star Cast, the record having sold in supermarkets for $1.69. Selections included Yesterdays, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Lovely to Look At, and were very nicely performed.

Book of the Month Records 41 – 7511, a 1984 three LP set with booklet, Jerome Kern Master of Melody, and containing vintage recordings of his music that range from Paul Whiteman to Perry Como.

The arranger/composer Paul Weston related an anecdote about working with Kern in Hollywood. The older composer told Weston, “Whenever you get told to do something that doesn’t make any sense, you ask why and keep asking why until you get an answer that does.”

On November 11, 1945, Jerome Kern died in a New York City hospital, at the age of 60, from a cerebral hemorrhage he had suffered six days earlier; Oscar Hammerstein was keeping a vigil in the room when Kern stopped breathing.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Mad Men, The Death of Stalin

Jon Hamm

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Mad Men

The seven seasons of Mad Men, which ran on AMC from 2007 to 2015,was an interesting viewing experience throughout the last three to four months via Amazon Prime but, now that all 97 episodes have been watched, I feel tremendous relief that it’s over.

It depicts the world of Madison Avenue advertising agencies and their executives and other employees from 1960 to ’70 and does good work in recreating lifestyles, clothing and, most importantly, attitudes against the backdrop of American history during that decade – JFK, Vietnam, rock music, social media, the rising crime in Manhattan, the quiet desperation resulting from prosperity and the good life. And every episode would end with a song appropriate to that episode.

My gripe with the series was how tiresome most of the characters eventually became; the main character Don Draper, as portrayed by Jon Hamm, is insufferable in his selfishness, disloyalty and arrogance as he becomes a golden boy for creating successful ad campaigns; I was rooting for him to fail miserably, which he does by the end of the series when he has a rude awakening permeated with insincere repentance and accountability.

Only two performances really stood out – the late Robert Morse as the founder/CEO of the agency where Draper is a partner; and the extraordinary actress Elizabeth Ann Reaser who appears in a couple of episodes in season seven as the waitress Diane.

Reaser conveyed the depths of torment in her characterization of somebody who is apparently a loose cannon but who still evokes tremendous sympathy as a human being.

The actress graduated with honors as a theater major from Juilliard and, after struggling for a few years with bit parts, landed a role on daytime TV’s The Guiding Light. She gave an interview with the following comment about her upbringing:

“My father raised me from the time I was 12 years old. And it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be strong – I wasn’t raised like that. ”

The Death of Stalin

Robert Morse

Elizabeth Ann Reaser

A 2017 film, The Death of Stalin, has three outstanding performances – Simon Russell Beale as Stalin’s KGB police chief Lavrenty Beria, Olga Kurylenko as Stalin’s favorite classical pianist Maria Yudina who sends a personal note to the Dictator telling him how much she loathes him, and Jason Isaacs as the Soviet military hero Marshal Zhukov who participates with other Central Committee members in the kidnapping and execution of Beria ten months after Stalin’s March 1953 death.

Otherwise this film, promoted as a satirical black comedy, is, as I commented to a friend, quite vile.







Richard M. Nixon

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Richard Nixon

The 37th President Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994) would often take long walks along the beach at his San Clemente vacation house on the Pacific Coast. I vividly remember seeing photos of him taken from a distance by the journalists whom he despised and whose favor he rarely, if ever, sought.

Regardless of the pressures any president of the United States experiences even in recent years, Nixon conveyed a definite aura of mien in his bearing (During the final months of his presidency when Watergate was the most frequently reported topic, Press Secretary Ron Ziegler made the mistake of speaking to the president who suddenly lashed out at Ziegler with his arms.)

Nixon doggedly fought his way up the ladder, did well in school growing up in Whittier, California, and attending Whittier College before getting a scholarship to Duke University Law School; he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 and became Senator in 1950. And he wasn’t above using smear tactics in both campaigns.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower picked Nixon as his running mate, although reluctantly since he didn’t particularly like Nixon as a human being, because Nixon had strong appeal to the very conservative Midwest and California Republicans which Eisenhower lacked as a more moderate Eastern establishment candidate.

After eight years as Ike’s Veep, the defeat in 1960 for the White House and the unsuccessful California Governor’s race in 1962, Nixon bided his time until a chain of circumstances, some of them perhaps engineered by Nixon himself, led to his being chosen as the Republican candidate in 1968, with Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew as the running mate, in a three-way race with Hubert Humphrey and Maine’s Edmund Muskie for the Democrats and the American Independent Party’s George Wallace and Curtis Lemay. Nixon and Agnew won by a narrow margin.

Rather than getting into Nixon’s leadership legacy which is voluminously documented, I wish to share a couple of brief personal items. When Nixon attended Whittier College, he took history courses with Professor David Henley who was married to my grandmother Cates’s first cousin, and East Vassalboro native, Lila Upham.

Secondly, uncles Paul and George Cates went to a Republican rally, in Augusta, in 1964, for Congressman Clifford McIntire who ran unsuccessfully against Muskie for the Senate; Nixon came that day to drum up support .

To conclude, I found a quote from Gore Vidal in a piece he wrote about the 1968 Republican convention at Miami Beach that nominated Nixon. Vidal is describing Ronald Reagan who had thrown his own hat in the ring after being elected in 1966 as the Governor of California. Vidal is remembering Reagan at the 1964 convention in San Francisco.

“I recalled my last glimpse of him, at the Cow Palace, in San Francisco, four years ago. The Reagans were seated in a box, listening to Eisenhower. While Mrs. Reagan darted angry looks about the hall (displeased at the press?), the star of Death Valley Days was staring intently at the speaker on the platform: as the age of television progresses, the Reagans will be the rule, not the exception.”

Back during the 1960s, I really didn’t think Ronald Reagan ever had a chance of becoming president.

George McGovern

In later years, the former president did a series of interviews with Diane Sawyer and David Frost and mentioned that two of his closest friends were Ed Muskie and George McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent in the 1972 race who carried only one state out of the 50.

On March 16, 1974, Nixon appeared on a Grand Ole Opry TV special in Nashville with country music legend Roy Acuff (1903-1982) who taught the president how to manipulate the yo yo and talked him into playing the piano.

Another country legend Hank Williams may have best summed up Acuff’s appeal:

“He’s the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn’t worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.”

Two ten-inch 78s here at the house feature Acuff’s uniquely down home singing and fiddling with his long time colleagues, the Smoky Mountain Boys.

Okeh 05297 from July 5 and 6, 1939, contains two sacred music selections, Drifting Too Far from the Shore, and Eyes are Watching You; Columbia 36856, recorded August 2, 1945, has Pins and Needles, and a song composed by Acuff’s business partner Fred Rose, We Live in Two Different Worlds.