Elvis hugged the startled Nixon
Such a surreal story that I had to share it on the anniversary. In case you already know it, I added a second. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
Kind of a fun and strange story from history today; we haven’t done one of these in a while.
Fifty-one years ago this morning, Elvis Presley showed up at the White House, bearing a handwritten letter he’d scrawled during a redeye flight.
He'd met Vice President Spiro Agnew, he wrote, and he now hoped to meet President Nixon, in order to volunteer to help out with “the problems that our country is faced with.”
He also asked if he could get some kind of credential as a “Federal Agent at Large.”
Wheels turned in the White House that morning. An aide wrote a memo to the president's chief of staff:
"If the President wants to meet with some bright young people outside of the Government, Presley might be a perfect one to start with."
“You must be kidding,” the chief of staff, H.L. Haldeman, wrote in the margins. But he approved the meeting.
Around 12:30 p.m., Presley arrived, met Nixon, and promptly began showing him the collection of police badges he'd brought with him.
Then, they talked about the Beatles. From another presidential memo:
“Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise.”
Then, they talked some more about the danger of drugs. (This seems like a good place to mention that by some accounts, Presley had arrived at the White House that day after a frenetic two-day trip from Graceland to Washington to Los Angeles and back to Washington. Draw your own conclusions.)
“The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Presley indicated to the President in a very emotional manner that he was ‘on your side.’ Presley kept repeating that he wanted to be helpful, that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost.”
Finally, Presley asked Nixon for a federal badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the precursor to the DEA.
“See that he gets it,” Nixon told an aide.
“Unable to suppress his excitement,” Jack Anderson wrote in The Washington Post more than a year later, “Elvis hugged the startled Nixon.”
Reportedly, Presley carried the BNDD badge (image here) with him wherever he went afterward. In her 1985 book, Elvis and Me, Priscilla Presley later wrote:
“The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to [Elvis]. With the badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
This is such a weird story from history, and I kind of love it for pure surreality. (Kevin Spacey starred in a movie about it, but the movie bombed, so I’m not sure how many people saw it.)
Also, it's fascinating to think about what happened to everyone involved in the story afterward.
Aside from Presley's drug use and eventual death, Agnew and Nixon both resigned in disgrace, Haldeman went to prison in the Watergate scandal; even Spacey got his comeuppance decades later.
Most of the details I used in this story came from the National Archives. But, as long as we’re talking about Nixon and celebrities and the days before Christmas—honestly, when will I do this again? — here’s one more.
In late December 1969, so a year before the Presley story, an Armed Forced disc jockey was on the air in Saigon, hosting the same “Good Morning Vietnam!” kind of show that Robin Williams made famous years later in the eponymous movie.
Nixon planned a holiday address to the nation, and it was the disc jockey’s job to interrupt the musical broadcast and pipe in the president’s speech.
“All was going well," the DJ later recalled. "I flipped a switch to bring the CBS feed to radios throughout Vietnam, and the president began his speech ... I told everyone they had been listening to the commander in chief, and then it was back to the business of entertainment.”
The only problem: the DJ had jumped the gun; Nixon had merely paused. “To make matters worse, I heard Nixon say, ‘And now I’d like to speak directly to the men and women serving our country in Vietnam.’”
The DJ had to think fast: Admit error and interrupt the music again?
Or else—realizing that he was literally the only person in Vietnam who was able to listen to CBS News via his headphones, and thus the only person who knew that the president’s speech was continuing—just pretend it hadn’t happened.
The DJ’s name was Pat Sajak, who would later become famous as the host of TV’s Wheel of Fortune. As Specialist Kajak in Vietnam in 1969, he went with the latter choice and pretended it hadn’t happened.
“So,” Sajak wrote later in a USO publication, addressing his fellow service members, “very belatedly, I want you all to know that Richard M. Nixon wishes you a very merry Christmas.”
Call for comments: I’m tempted to continue the surreality today by asking for your own stories about meeting Nixon at Christmastime. But that seems a little too specific—so, how about anything regarding Elvis Presley, presidents, Vietnam, being away during the holidays, Pat Sajak, or celebrity meetings writ large.
7 other things worth your time
New COVID news and restrictions. I’m sure I won’t get them all, but: The omicron variant now makes up 73 percent of COVID-19 cases in the USA. Israel banned its citizens from going to the U.S., the National Hockey League announced a temporary league-wide shutdown, Fox News is requiring all employees at its New York HQ to be vaccinated, Queen Elizabeth II canceled the traditional royal Christmas celebration. (The Hill, The Independent, Detroit Free Press, Mediate, Fox News)
Pope Francis: Domestic violence against woman is ‘nearly satanic’ and parents should never slap their children. (America)
The last 12 Christian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti and held in captivity for two months found their freedom by escaping, according to their charity group, Christian Aid Ministries, and several other sources. (Miami Herald)
Kind of tough story to read about a constable in Arizona who is back in business, evicting people who haven’t paid rent from their apartments in 10 minutes or less. (WashPost)
Elon Musk says he'll pay more than $11 billion in taxes this year, most of anyone ever. (But, there’s an asterisk.) (USA Today)
A Papa John's restaurant manager says he was fired after 13 years with the company for closing 3 hours early amid ongoing hiring and retention challenges. Unrelated, but thematically connected, and I’ve been meaning to include here: Diners leave $4,400 tip, then server is fired by Arkansas restaurant, customer says. (Business Insider, Yahoo News)
Biden’s favorite ‘Hagar the Horrible’ cartoon is now set up on his desk in the Oval Office. He’s given interviews about this four-word comic several times, and apparently has held onto it for decades, but it wasn’t displayed in its current position until recently. (PBS, Breitbart on Twitter)
Thanks for reading. Photo: National Archives; at one point this was their most-requested photo. Click here. Don’t forget to add your comments.