• Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 9)

As an assistant director and three cameramen scurried about the taping set, the staffs of both Nixon and Frost went to separate bedrooms from which they would watch the taping on monitors. The staffs were not allowed to communicate with either of the on-camera adversaries once taping began. Despite the high stakes involved, the Frost and Nixon teams mixed easily and cordially. Nixon often engaged in his stilted small talk when off-camera. He willingly obliged autograph seekers awaiting him outside the guarded gates as he left, smiling broadly as he chatted with them. Reporters were not allowed on the property, and all the technicians working on the site signed pledges of secrecy about the contents of the tapings.

The crucial turnabout for Frost came during an agreed-upon seven-day Easter break in the interviewing. It was then that his staff was close to panic. Frost later conceded that he was "genuinely daunted before Easter" by Nixon. Frost had been partying as usual, leaving one taping to don a tux and emcee the Hollywood premiere of a movie he had helped produce. But then came the baiting challenge from Birt before the birthday party and a telling jest in one of the songs sung that night in Frost's honor. To the tune of Love and Marriage, it went: "Frost and Nixon, Frost and Nixon/ There's an act that's gonna need some fixin'."

On the day following this needling, Frost set aside his favorite white wines (Montrachet and Pouilly Fuissé) and began closeting himself with his staff and reading far into the nights in his suite atop the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He was still in a mood for cramming, fortunately, as his rented blue Mercedes rolled toward the final Watergate taping. En route, he read the statute on obstruction of justice that was to prove so helpful.

When the tapings were over, Frost's people were confident, perhaps overconfident, that their boss had scored a journalistic as well as a financial triumph. But Nixon's inner circle was just as certain that its man, even with his battering on Watergate (or perhaps because of it), had done much to raise his standing with the public. The show's viewers, said one Nixon friend, "should be sympathetic. It gives a much better understanding of what he thought. Those who like to make judgments will be better informed on their judgments now."

The series had by no means been an assured commercial success from the start. It represented a bold gamble by Frost. He had been in Australia when Nixon left the White House on Aug. 9, 1974—and he immediately decided to try to pin the fading ex-President down to a TV contract. To Frost, Nixon's "likely unavailability" was a challenge; it was "the appeal of the impossible" that lured him. He telephoned an offer from Australia. For nearly a year, Nixon showed no interest.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9