Plenty has been written about a sad chapter in American history; the Watergate break-in, and the resignation of President Richard Nixon. This year, this month, even more so since we are noting the 40th anniversary of the climax of this event.
All of these recent reflections remind me of the day in 1965 that I spent in Los Angeles at J. Walter Thompson Advertising with three Watergate characters. I was 23 years old and getting ready to graduate from the University of Arizona. I was flown there from Tucson as a prospective candidate for their management training program. They were one of the companies I had been interviewing with at the UA Placement Center. They liked the fact that I had media experience and decided to look at me more closely. Thus, the all-expense paid trip to LA.
On arrival at the agency I was put in the care of a young guy named Ron Zeigler. I was really impressed because he was only 2 years older than me and already was a full fledged account executive working on French's Mustard and the all new, at that time, Sea World. This was Mr. Ivy League to the max; striped blazer and smoked a pipe. In his office the first thing I noticed were autographed pictures of Former Vice President Richard Nixon. We talked politics.
He told me about working on Nixon's California Gubernatorial Campaign that he lost in 1962. Immediately after the loss Nixon sourly blamed the press, claiming he would not run for anything ever again, and uttered the famous words, "You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more."
Of course, in my astute political judgement I told him that I thought Nixon was finished. "We'll never see or hear from him again," I said.
Ziegler begged to differ and said he thought he would make a run for the Presidency in 1968. Well, he did, and he won, and took Ziegler with him to the White House as his Press Secretary..
I spent the day with him and another future Nixon aide Dwight Chapin. He was MY age. I wondered how these people got so far, so fast. Later he told me he worked on the Nixon 1962 campaign, too.
One funny thing I remember vividly. Ziegler told me about attending the NBC preview of new TV shows, and reported, "There's this hilarious new spy spoof where the agent has a phone in his shoe." He was talking about Don Adams and Get Smart.
At the end of the day I was ushered into the office of the head man at the Los Angeles J. Walter Thompson operation. It was somewhat spooky. Very dark, except for one light on the man's desk. I was nervous because here was the guy who would decide whether to hire me or not.
We briefly spoke in pleasantries. He asked about my experience. I talked about my radio and tv jobs. He explained that all the people who start with them in management training become assistants in the media department and I would have to move to New York. He asked how much money I would want to start. I said $700 a month. He said that was way more than they were willing to pay. Around $500 was usual. I couldn't imagine living in New York on such a pittance. I explained that I thought I deserved more because of my extensive background in broadcasting. He thanked me for my visit and that I would hear from them in a few days.
And, I did. A nice letter thanking me for my time, explaining they decided they did not want to hire me, and wishing me good luck. I still have that letter. It was signed by H.R. Haldeman, the man who conducted my final interview. He would go on to be Nixon's chief of staff in the White House and actually served time in prison for his participation in cover-up of the Watergate burglary.
I never forgot that day with Nixon's future henchmen. How different would my life have been if they would have offered me that job! Would I have taken it? Would I have gone to work in the White House, too?
In retrospect, things seemed to have worked out better for me than for my interviewers. But, I take no pleasure in that.