Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nixon Protagonistes

Did you know that Steinbeck was once asked to write a novel about Richard Nixon to take him down?

From an essay in the New York Times...

Steinbeck fell “madly for Adlai” in 1952 during Stevenson’s first race against Dwight D. Eisenhower, writing the introduction to a book of Stevenson’s speeches. After the Ike landslide, Steinbeck lamented to Stevenson that the country had “lost our chance for greatness when greatness was needed.” The two became friends, and when Steinbeck signed on to the 1956 campaign he helped shape Stevenson’s speeches. 

So it wasn’t out of the ordinary that in May 1958 Steinbeck would be having lunch in New York with Stevenson’s right-hand man, William McCormick Blair Jr., and the New York socialite Marietta Tree, a prominent Stevenson supporter (and also his lover). Rumors were rife that Stevenson wanted to make another run for the White House. But Blair didn’t ask Steinbeck to write speeches. He had a more unusual request: Would Steinbeck write a novel to kneecap the likely 1960 Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon? 

Today it’s hard to fathom that anyone would think a political novel might be an election game-changer. But 1958 was a different time. Major novelists were celebrities, best sellers could be cultural events and Steinbeck himself had credibility as a moral authority. The Stevenson camp was trying to use an unorthodox media strategy to attack the man they saw as their greatest foe, just as politicians today use social media to bypass traditional gatekeepers and influence public opinion. The question was, would Steinbeck agree?

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