“Do You Remember Your President Nixon?” . . . . So asked David Bowie in his 1975 hit, “Young Americans.” We hardly had any time to forget Richard M. Nixon. He had only resigned from the presidency on the previous August 9, now forty five years ago. Less than a month later, President Gerald Ford granted Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed against the United States of America while he was president — more specifically any crimes committed during the Watergate scandal. A month later he was at death’s door with phlebitis but surgery saved him and he lived another twenty years, surfacing now and again to surmise and opine on things political. No, even if you weren’t paying that much attention, you would still remember President Nixon.
Some of us paid a lot of attention and still remember Nixon with some (only some) approval, some fascination and a large amount of animus. So, with that in mind, it’s off to the cabinets where we keep the old newspapers and reach for the August 9, 1974 editions of The Atlanta Constitution and The Atlanta Journal. It’s time to relive the days in which Tricky Dick received his comeuppance.
The first thing you notice when opening up a newspaper from the ’70s is that a wider wingspan is needed to open it up and review the pages than what’s required by today’s newspapers. In 1974, the paper was wider by at least 4 inches and deeper by at least an inch and a half. With the larger amount of space, there were more stories and the print was smaller. In those days it was thought that newspapers were for people who really wanted to read and would devote more time during the day to stay informed.
Whether Nixon would resign was a question that nagged at the nation for months. The matter of when the resignation would take place depended on when he and his administration realized they were out of time and that he could not survive an impeachment vote in the Senate. Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott and John Rhodes visited Nixon on August 2 and told him the jig was up. It was time to resign. Still Nixon waited nearly a week before announcing his decision to the American people.
On the evening of August 8 Nixon spoke from the Oval Office, finally allowing the other shoe to drop. I was working at the Federal Annex in downtown Atlanta, just a few blocks from the Atlanta Newspapers building where early editions of the next morning’s Constitution would sell like hotcakes once they hit the streets. At the Federal Annex, a few dozen of us packed the “swing room” to watch Nixon’s address. When he said “I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow” most all of us cheered. When Nixon finished, my team headed back to the loading docks to load and unload the last of the mail trucks for the day. Then home, to sit in front of the TV and absorb the news the major networks provided. On the next day there would be ample time to see how the Atlanta papers sized up things.
Both the Constitution and afternoon Journal, had all the vital news pertaining to the presidential succession occurring some two and a half years earlier than scheduled. We also found several stories regarding Nixon’s emergence on the national scene, his being on a presidential ticket five times since 1952 and the sordid activities that led to his resignation. David Nordan of The Atlanta Journal provided an illuminating piece entitled “Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ Changed Dixie Politics.” Yes, ten years after the signing of the Civil Rights Bill, mainstream Southern newspapers were still comfortable referring to the Deep South states as “Dixie.” Nordan, gone too soon, is still remembered as was one of Atlanta’s more spot-on columnists from the ’70s and ’80s. He had this to say about the changes in southern politics wrought by Nixon:
“Nixon and his policies came along at what proved to be the ending of one era and the beginning of another. Whether by design, he changed the politics of the region and established for it a new role in national affairs.”
On the same page were comments offered by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter on Nixon’s resignation. He expressed surprise that Nixon “admitted no guilt” over Watergate, only deciding to resign due to the “defection of his congressional support.” Yes, we agreed with Carter on that. It sounded as if Nixon wanted people to think he was pushed out of office — that he was betrayed by members of his own Republican party and not just those lying Democrats.
The Journal also reported on the activities at Manuel’s Tavern, for nearly two decades a place of comfort and libations for Atlanta liberals. Tavern owner Manuel Maloof, long active in the Democratic Party, expressed mixed emotions after watching Nixon’s resignation announcement on the TV with his customers:
“I’m not happy. I thought I would be. I hated the man. I’m surprised at my own reaction. I almost wanted to cry. It’s like when you cut off your leg to save your life. You’re alive, but you’re not happy.”
The crowd at Manuel’s Tavern was buying Maloof’s beer but not his sentiments. They cheered wildly and hoisted their beers high when Nixon said, “I will resign my office, effective tomorrow.” One man stood up, declared the show over and that “the American people have their government back again.”
In the Constitution, there was a brief story on Mr. and Mrs. Eugene W. Preble of Sandy Springs, the “golden ghetto” suburb where the great rock musician Al Kooper resided at the time. The Prebles had been neighbors of Gerald and Betty Ford in Alexandria, Virginia. The incoming president was described by Mrs. Preble as “the perfect neighbor.” The Prebles’ daughter used to babysit the four Ford children a decade or so prior. Mrs. Preble said, “I remember Jerry would always bring her home — right to the door — and wait till she was safely inside. He had a wonderful, outgoing personality. All the neighborhood children were welcome in his swimming pool.”
Scanning Life Through The Picture Window . . . . Both the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution for decades had the largest amounts of paid movie advertising of most any newspaper in the country. In ’74 there were many exceptional films to choose from, all advertised in the August 9 morning and afternoon editions. Included were The Sugarland Express, Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, The Exorcist and Claudine. At the bottom of one of the pages was an ad for the Atlanta International Film Festival, which that night presented the world premier of Harry and Tonto, with Art Carney, the film’s star (Harry — Tonto was his cat), making a special appearance. The film was one of those sleepers; Carney would win an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film.
Showing at four of the metro area’s busiest theatres was Carnal Knowledge, taking a victory lap across the country after the Supreme Court had ruled some six weeks earlier that the film was not obscene. Films advertised for the Rock and Roll crowd were Son of Dracula, starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr and the re-release of Born Losers, an early “Billy Jack” film. There was also a smaller ad for Truck Turner starring Isaac Hayes as a bounty hunter who makes cold meat of his captors. That sounds far more realistic than any “Billy Jack” film.
Ain’t There One Damn Song That Can Make Me Break Down And Cry? . . . . There was no shortage of great music clubs in Atlanta during the summer of ’74. The Great Southeast Music Hall, Richard’s, Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom, The Bistro and more. Advertising prices in the major metro dailies were prohibitive so the clubs patronized The Great Speckled Bird and Creative Loafing. The major dailies did business with the clubs that poured the harder stuff in vast quantities as opposed to the $2.75 buckets of beer at the Music Hall. On the weekend of Nixon’s resignation, Little Anthony and the Imperials played Scarlett O’Hara at Underground Atlanta. In the 2-inch ad there was also notice of an upcoming appearance by Cortez Greer, who was often proclaimed “the hardest working man in show business.” We never did learn what James Brown thought of that claim but Greer had a loyal following. In the July 4, 1974 edition of Jet magazine, Clarence Brown wrote that “Greer nearly rocks the roof with his mixture of soul, rock and pop singing. And the tall, slender, handsome Greer literally jolts a crowd to its feet with the unique combination of his exhausting and exuberant steps and that mellow tenor voice.” Greer does sound like a hard working guy. Too bad I missed him.
Some rock and roll got into the August 9, 1974 Constitution with news of the marriage between actress Faye Dunaway and Peter Wolf, lead vocalist of the J. Geils Band. Dunaway would later be nominated for Best Actress for her role in Chinatown, which was playing Atlanta theatres that week. Wolf was also having a big year and it wasn’t only for marrying Dunaway. Less than two months later the J. Geils Band released what turned out to be their best album, Nightmares … and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle. Nightmares… received a glowing review in Rolling Stone and featured the hit single, “Must of Got Lost,” which made it to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the brief below the wedding picture, Wolf is redundantly described as a songwriter-composer. How on earth did they not describe Dunaway as a thespian-actress?
I Got A Suite And You Got Defeat . . . . Having worked in advertising with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1981 through 2008, ads in the older newspapers arouse my curiosity. Back in 1974 the two newspapers, although both owned by the Cox family, had two separate staffs on the news-gathering side. One paper working to scoop the other, never mind the family ties. The advertising departments at the Constitution and the Journal combined long before the merger of the news staffs. Back in the ’50s, when the ad departments were separate, competition between the two was intense, nearly cut-throat. The old guys would tell me how a Constitution ad manager had better not see an ad that ran only in the Journal. No excuses would be accepted.
The editions on August 9, 1974 were emblematic of how dominant print advertising still was. Even with television pursuing a larger share from local businesses, print still ruled. The papers were wide, long and thick. Small news holes though. More room was needed for more ads, which a ravenous company like ours believed had to be sold as it may be the last handful we’d ever sell. That was a long-established mentality. Many executives found themselves in gated communities due to the hard work of employees they’d browbeat on a daily basis. It was a tradition that lived into the early 21st century at Atlanta Newspapers.
Then too you might peruse the older editions and see ads purchased by major and minor retailers alike. It’s a trip down Memory Lane. There were some well-known stores, car dealers and other services that were part of the daily milieu back in the day. Do you remember Sterchi’s? Woolco? Grants? J. Riggins? Whitey Whiten’s Plaza Pontiac? Piedmont Airlines? There were Sears ads galore. In the Sports section there was a large page-busting ad for Peugeot dealers. That’s right: Peugeot.
All The Way From Washington . . . . With a primary election coming the following Tuesday, there were scads of political ads. Guys running to be judges placed ads throughout every section of the paper. There was a governor’s race on as well. The main fear in that contest was the possibility of segregationist Lester Maddox, currently the Lieutenant Governor, returning to the governor’s office which he occupied from 1967 to 1971. Georgia had moved in a more progressive direction under its current governor, Jimmy Carter, and the people in Atlanta appreciated every step forward. All the while Carter was in pursuit of loftier ambitions, although keeping them mostly to himself.
Besides Lester Maddox other Democratic Party candidates for the gubernatorial nomination included former U.S. Senator David Gambrell, George Busbee, Bert Lance and Bobby Rowan. Busbee, the blandest of them all, was elected governor in November. If it meant Lester Maddox would have to go back to frying chicken full-time, Atlantans were fine with a bland governor.
There was nothing bland, however, about some of the congressional races in the Atlanta area. Larry McDonald, a distant relative of General George Patton, a surgeon and the second president of the John Birch Society, was elected in the 7th district, defeating incumbent John Davis, a 7-term congressman attacked by McDonald over his support for school integration. And making a lot of noise in the 6th district race was Republican Newt Gingrich, who lost to incumbent Democrat Jack Flynt by less than 2,800 votes. Gingrich tried passing himself off as a progressive Republican in that race and the next one in ’76 when he lost to Flynt by 5,100 votes. By 1978 Flynt had enough of his overweening challenger and retired, essentially clearing Gingrich’s path to Congress. The country has been stuck with him, as congressman, presidential candidate and incessant babbler ever since.
The political ad dollars rolled in for the Atlanta newspapers back in the day. It was almost as if when a candidate stopped by to purchase an ad, the ad salesperson could tell him to take a number and wait. It wouldn’t take long. The newspaper would get the candidate’s ad and his money in no time. Yet things would change quickly. In the ’80s major metro dailies found it difficult to sell political ads. Politics had changed and the electronic media swept in to take advantage of the negative campaigns that candidates learned to embrace.
I Got A Suite And You Got Defeat . . . . Of course the big department stores ruled at Atlanta Newspapers. Rich’s was the most dominant, but Davison’s, owned by Macy’s, ran a close second. Several days a week the department stores seemingly ate up every good slot in the prime sections. The department stores always had something going –like an autograph session with Henry Winkler and Donny Most of Happy Days at two of Davison’s stores on the day of Nixon’s resignation. (Note the typo in the ad.)
If your client was running a middling two column ad, you might as well expect it to be buried. Maybe on the same page with listings of the people who are about to be buried themselves. That was the situation the Shady Lady Restaurant and Lounge found itself in on August 9. Way at the bottom of the page, which was topped off with the obituaries. Their ad, which promised “Beautiful Girls To Serve You All Day and Night” landed on the same page where people were checking out the arrangements for Uncle Bean. This couldn’t have been what the Shady Lady wanted but you can bet she didn’t get any sort of credit allowance from the ad department. I remember the management well. Their verbal gymnastics, sometimes mean-spirited, usually prevailed.
I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy . . . . A slight variation of John Lennon’s iconic line is sung with joy and defiance by the back-up vocalists. Then Bowie’s voice goes full-throttle in the last 60-70 seconds of “Young Americans.” He doesn’t miss anything. It’s serious business being a young American with all the complexities and bad choices waiting around every corner. Yet Bowie makes it all sound like great fun. “Young Americans” never loses steam. It’s a great soulful rocker that proclaims, “Yeah, we have problems, we mess up but we’re young and we’ll come out of it ready to celebrate again.” At least that’s the way it feels when you hear Bowie and his group digging in. Yes, in early ’75, we still remembered our President Nixon and the bills we had to pay. Some are still paying on them, after a fashion. The All-American installment plan. Pick up a newspaper from 45 years ago and read all about it: the history and what history left us with. It’s hard to forget our President Nixon.
(photos of newspaper pages by Jeff Cochran)