In 1952, vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon, facing accusations of financial improprieties, went on national television to defend his place on Dwight D. Eisenhower's Republican ticket. The speech touched on whether Nixon had received cash gifts from supporters. Citing his family as one of modest means, he said his wife, Pat, who watching him on camera as the speech unfolded, didn't have a mink coat, just "a respectable Republican cloth coat." While he denied receiving money, there was one gift that he would refuse to return – a black-and-white dog named Checkers, loved by his daughters. The emotionally manipulative speech went down in history as the beginning of the use of television to influence public opinion, and became known as "the Checkers speech."
Writer Douglas McGrath has fashioned a dramatic portrait of Richard and Pat Nixon at that critical time in "Checkers," a new off-Broadway play at the Vineyard Theatre. McGrath is a guest on the latest edition of THEATER TALK, along with the play's director, Terry Kinney, and the two stars, Anthony LaPaglia and Kathryn Erbe. The interview premieres at 1 a.m. on Friday, November 9 (2012; early Saturday morning) on Thirteen/PBS, followed in New York City on CUNY TV* Saturday at 8:30 PM, Sunday at 12:30 PM, and Monday at 7:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 7:30 PM. The series is co-hosted by Michael Riedel of the New York Post and executive producer Susan Haskins. After broadcast, the interview can be viewed online at http://www.cuny.tv/show/theatertalk/PR2001341.
"Nixon could never hide his essential humanity – he was an unpolished, imperfect person like everyone else," says McGrath on the program, adding, "This was the first time a politician used his wife as a prop." LaPaglia notes that Nixon's "acute paranoia came from an early age – he was picked on his entire life." Pat, says Erbe, "believed in him. I think about her heart." Acting the part of Nixon, says LaPaglia, has brought on "Stockholm Syndrome – I love the guy!"
THEATER TALK is the weekly series dedicated to the world of the stage. The program is jointly produced by the not-for-profits Theater Talk Productions and CUNY TV. It is taped in the Himan Brown TV and Radio Studios at The City University of New York (CUNY) TV in Manhattan, and is distributed to 60+ participating public television markets nationwide. THEATER TALK is made possible in part by The New York State Council on the Arts, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The TDF/TAP Plus Program, The CUNY TV Foundation and The Friends of THEATER TALK.
*CUNY TV, the City University of New York television station, is carried in New York City's five boroughs – on Channel 75 on Time Warner and Cablevision, Channel 77 on RCN, and Channel 30 on Verizon FiOS.