Skip to main content

The Man And His Shadow

May 2024
2min read

Making up Richard Nixon

RICHARD NIXON’S loss to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential
contest seemed to signal the end of what had been a controversial and troubled political career. But Mr. Nixon was anything but a quitter, and two years later he resurfaced as the Republican candidate for governor in his home state of California. He was challenging a wily old campaigner, the incumbent Democratic governor, Pat Brown. A vigorous, hard-fought campaign began to unfold.

In 1962 I was managing a television station in the small Northern California seacoast town of Eureka. I learned that both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Brown planned to make a short campaign visit a few days apart from each other. I made contact with their local officials and offered each candidate 15 minutes of television time for whatever he wanted to say. Both parties were quick to accept the offer.

Several days before Mr. Nixon’s scheduled visit, one of his top aides in Los Angeles called to inquire about the arrangements for the broadcast. He was particularly concerned about how Mr. Nixon would be prepared for the camera. I remembered the debacle during the first televised Kennedy-Nixon debate, when Mr. Nixon had not been properly made up or lighted. With his black beard and sallow complexion he resembled a back-alley thug, and his appearance on television that night was widely thought to have cost him the election. I assured the caller that an experienced makeup artist was at our disposal. In fact the only member of my small staff with any makeup experience was me, and even that was extremely limited.

About an hour before the telecast the Nixon entourage arrived at the station, and I took them through the studio and briefed them on the program format. Everything seemed to be satisfactory. I then took Mr. Nixon into my office to get him camera-ready. Some wag had placed a sign on my desk that said MAKEUP DEPARTMENT , and Mr. Nixon found that quite amusing. He was very friendly and affable, and he seemed to be enjoying himself.

I had the tools of my trade on my desk: a brand-new container of Lazy Shave, plus eye shadow, an eyebrow pencil, a large powder puff, and rouge, all of which I had borrowed from my wife’s cosmetic case. After applying Lazy Shave on every inch of skin from neck to ears, I outlined Mr. Nixon’s eyes and brows and feathered in some rouge on his cheekbones to provide contrast. I even penciled in a little wrinkle on his forehead to impart a cerebral look. As I worked I thought to myself: Here I am, touching up what is perhaps the world’s most famous five o’clock shadow.

After an on-camera check he was pronounced ready. We had a few minutes to talk before airtime, and I was impressed by his excellent grasp of economic concerns in our part of California.

The program went very well, and everyone, particularly Mr. Nixon, was pleased. I got him cleaned up and then walked him out to his limousine. He thanked me profusely and invited me to visit him in Sacramento after the election.

I never met him again, but in the years that followed I thought of our encounter every time I saw his face on television.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.