You won’t have [Richard] Nixon to kick around anymore.” Wanna bet? Ever since Tricky Dick resigned in disgrace from the Oval Office in 1974, Hollywood’s been kicking the jowly President around just fine, thank you, on both the big and small screens. Now, with Anthony Hopkins and Beau Bridges taking turns as the paranoid statesman in movies out this month, what better time to canvass the candidates and cast a vote as to who’s the Trickiest?
— Chris Nashawaty, with additional reporting by Marshall Fine
Actor: Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live (1976) The Spin: Nixon as motormouth wacko Watergate Theory: The insanity defense—Nixon was off his nut The President’s Man: John Belushi as Kissinger, Nixon’s gravel-voiced nerd accomplice Vote Clincher: Babbling in the final hours to Abraham Lincoln, Nixon whimpers, ”Well, Abe, you were lucky. They shot you.”
Actor: Jason Robards in the ABC miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977), as Richard Monckton The Spin: Nixon as paranoid grandpa Watergate Theory: Watergate was the fault of Nixon’s high- jinks-prone staff. The President’s Man: Cliff Robertson as aw-shucks CIA director Vote Clincher: Let’s just say he was better as Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men.
Actor: Rip Torn in Blind Ambition (1979) The Spin: Nixon on speed Watergate Theory: John Dean (who wrote Blind Ambition) was the fall guy for Nixon and his cronies. The President’s Man: Martin Sheen as Eddie Haskellish John Dean Vote Clincher: When Dean tells him there’s a cancer on the presidency, Nixon’s leer says, ”Ixnay, the ape-tay is unning-ray.”
Actor: Lane Smith in the TV movie The Final Days (1989) The Spin: Nixon in dire need of some Prozac Watergate Theory: Okay, so he was guilty, but if everyone had just shut up about it, the whole mess would have gone away. The President’s Man: Theodore Bikel as cynical lapdog Henry Kissinger Vote Clincher: Nixon and Kissinger drop to their knees and pray.
Actor: Beau Bridges in TNT’s Kissinger and Nixon (1995) The Spin: Nixon as raging, tyrannical anti-Semitic statesman Watergate Theory: None. Watergate’s barely mentioned. The President’s Man: Ron Silver plays Kissinger as a borscht-belt Brillohead. Vote Clincher: Nixon summons Kissinger by bellowing, a la Fred Flintstone, ”Where’s my Jewboy!?”
Actor: Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) The Spin: Nixon as Horatio Alger with a grudge (and an occasional Welsh accent) Watergate Theory: Watergate was the result of Nixon’s un-Kennedy-like upbringing. The President’s Man: Bob Hoskins as houseboy-gazing dandy J. Edgar Hoover Vote Clincher: Nixon cries like a baby after losing the ’60 election.
Actor: Richard Nixon as himself in Forrest Gump (1994) The Spin: Nixon as glad-handing Prez Watergate Theory: Forrest spots the break-in and gets Nixon in hot water. The President’s Man: Tom Hanks as Forrest, Ping-Pong-playing diplomat to China Vote Clincher: Nixon is overshadowed by JFK, who utters the line ”I believe he said he had to go pee.”