By Jim O’Neal
After Richard Nixon graduated from Whitter College in California, he accepted a scholarship to the Duke University law school. He finished third in the class of 1937.
His application to the FBI was accepted, however he was never notified (one of life’s little ironies). So he decided to return to California and passed the bar exam. Then he turned his sights to politics.
In 1950, after three years in the House of Representatives, he had an opportunity to run for the U.S. Senate, and it was simply irresistible.
The Democratic candidate was Helen Gahagan Douglas, who had the distinction of being the first Democratic woman from California elected to Congress in 1944 (things DO change). After three terms, she decided that the Senate was going to be her next step, as well.
As an actress and opera singer married to actor Melvyn Douglas, she was already well connected politically in Washington, D.C. Her social life included an open love affair with a future U.S. President … Lyndon Baines Johnson.
For perspective, one has to remember that in 1950, Margaret Chase Smith from Maine was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate without first being appointed to finish an unfinished term (typically after their husbands had died).
So here was this glamorous, charismatic woman pitted against a shy, introverted individual who had gained a modicum of notoriety chasing communists, most notably Alger Hiss.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given what we know now, Nixon launched a truly vicious attack campaign, even challenging her basic loyalty. He dubbed her “The Pink Lady” and it worked. He won the election with 59 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest Republican senator at age 32.
This was the campaign that earned him the well-deserved sobriquet “Tricky Dick.”
Helen Gahagan Douglas died on June 28, 1980, at age 79 from breast and lung cancer – a deadly duo that was largely untreatable in those days.
Senator Alan Cranston of California eulogized her on the floor of the Senate, comparing her to the grandest, most eloquent 20th century leaders, rivaling even Eleanor Roosevelt in stature and simple greatness.
Tricky Dick’s career came to a different end, although two recent biographies with totally different tones and content were recently published.
I suspect there will be more in the future.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].