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The Nixon We Never Knew

- June 18, 2008

Richard Nixon was, among other things, not a people person. Because he was often ill at ease with others, his staff contrived to put him in positions that would have the effect of humanizing him — attempts that typically backfired because he was so obviously uncomfortable or out of character. For example, trying to come across as one of the boys with the young male members of his staff, he once asked them, on a Monday morning, whether they had “done any fornicating over the weekend.”

The pictorial record is full of evidence of this side of Nixon’s multi-sided personality. For example, there’s the famous photo of Nixon out for a casual stroll at the beach — wearing a suit and tie:


Or Nixon, in obvious discomfort, feigning delight while being hugged by Sammy Davis, Jr.:


Or, most famously, Nixon solemnly posing with The King, looking like “How soon can I get out of this?” was foremost on his mind:


But now, from the unlikely venue of Lisbon, Portugal, comes evidence of a wild and crazy, fun-loving Nixon previously unknown on this side of the Atlantic.

While we were vacationing in Lisbon last week with friends, a member of our party espied the following in a restaurant review in Frommer’s Portugal, 19th edition. I faithfully record it here to provide future Nixon biographers a glimpse into a previously unrecognized dimension of Nixonian behavior:

bq. A Severa. *. Good food and the careful selection of fadistas make this a perennial favorite. Every night, top male and female singers appear … As difficult or unsettling as it might be to imagine, before Richard Nixon became U.S. president, he came here with his wife, Patricia, and led a congalike line between tables while warbling the refrain, “Severa … Severa … Severa.” After midnight, tourists seem to recede a bit in favor of loyal habitues, who request and sometimes join in on their favorite fado number (though not usually forming Nixonian congo lines).

This changes everything.

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