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Library of Congress

Richard Nixon: The Shy Guy

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Library of Congress

Who knew Tricky Dick was such a wallflower? Believe it or not (and we realize trust might be an issue here), Richard Nixon was a shy child—the kind who played the piano and only followed sports so that people would like him more. Sadly, the awkwardness didn't go away with age. Never a ladies' man, Nixon proposed to his wife, Pat, on their first date, and then obsessively pursued her for two years until she said yes. To spend time with her in the interim, Nixon even drove Pat on dates with other men.

Perhaps all Nixon wanted was a little attention—and in 1948, he finally got it. As a young Congressman, he spearheaded the investigation that exposed former State Department official Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy. The act quickly made Nixon the sweetheart of anti-Communist America. Later, he tried a similar tactic when he ran for Senate in 1950. During the race, he accused his opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, of being a Commie, calling her "pink right down to her underwear." His supporters mailed out thousands of postcards reading, "Vote for our Helen for Senator. We are with you 100%." It was signed "The Communist League of Negro Women Voters." It was neither the first time nor the last time Nixon (or his cronies) would use dirty tricks to advance his career.

Even after making it all the way to the White House, Nixon remained the socially awkward wallflower he'd been in his youth. As president, he did whatever he could to avoid talking to people, especially strangers. He spent hours alone in his office with a yellow legal pad, jotting down lists of enemies and thinking up ways to comport himself better in public. He usually ate lunch by himself at his desk, almost always nibbling on the same meal of rye crackers, skim milk, a canned Dole pineapple ring, and a scoop of cottage cheese.

As part of his insular world, Nixon's phone had direct connections to only three people—Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and Domestic Policy Advisor John Ehrlichman. (Lyndon Johnson's phone, by contrast, had been wired to 60 people.) The three men formed a protective shield around Nixon, carefully guarding him from face-time with others, including other members of the Cabinet. Collectively, the trio became known as The Berlin Wall.

Is it any surprise, then, that this shrinking violet began to seethe with paranoia? Nixon wanted every room bugged and every conversation recorded. Of course, he never anticipated those recordings being used against him. Practically every moment of Nixon's presidency was caught on tape—tapes that are filled with off-color remarks about Jews, African Americans, and Italians. Of reporters, he once said, "I wouldn't give them the sweat off my balls."

Throughout his career, Nixon employed spies (called "plumbers" because they fixed leaks) to dig up dirt on his political rivals. And if they couldn't find anything through wiretapping or burglary, they often planted evidence. But in June 1972, five of Nixon's plumbers were arrested after breaking into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Hotel. Nixon used everything in his power to cover up the connection to the White House, but of course, it was all recorded. When the Supreme Court finally subpoenaed the tapes, Nixon was busted. Feeling pretty stupid, he resigned—and the nation hasn't trusted politicians the same way since.

Watergate will always define Richard Nixon's administration. But to be fair, he also accomplished a great deal that benefited the country. Here's a glimpse of the sunnier side of Nixon's presidency.

Special Ops

Nixon wasn't the only president to tape all of his conversations, but he was the only president to do so using a recording device that never stopped. Notoriously bad with electronics, Tricky Dick had trouble remembering how to turn on the tape recorder, so his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, installed a voice-activated system in the Oval Office. It made the president's day-to-day life easier, but it also had one problem: It could never be turned off. Oops!

A Sweet-and-Sour Diplomat

In 1972, a trip to Communist China was a big deal, as America had no formal diplomatic relations with the country. So when Nixon decided to visit Chairman Mao Zedong that February, it shocked the world. But the trip almost ended before it began, when a member of Nixon's advance team—drinking vodka and smoking pot—nearly burned down the hotel where the president was supposed to stay. Nixon was determined, though. It was an election year, and of the 391 people who made up his Chinese entourage, 90 were from the media. Night after night, Americans watched on prime-time television as Nixon and Mao got along famously, and the Cold War began to thaw.

A Patron of the Arts

nixon-elvis.jpgNixon abhorred modern art, and even forbade its presence in the White House. But you'd never know it, because his advisors told him that publicly supporting the arts would boost his image. As a result, Nixon oversaw a six-fold increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). To Nixon's horror, however, some of that money went to Erica Jong's novel of sexual liberation, Fear of Flying. He also cringed at PBS' liberal programming and tried to slash its budget in 1972. But because the cuts might have hurt Sesame Street instead of left-wing commentators, the matter was dropped. Not even Nixon could stomach being known as the man who murdered Big Bird.

Champion of Mother Earth

OK, so Nixon didn't really care about the environment. But after the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, public outcry over the destruction of the environment became too great to ignore. How great? The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and millions of Americans participated. In New York, no cars ran down Fifth Avenue. And in Washington, folksingers Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs sang at the Washington Monument. It was the largest single protest in American history, and Nixon paid attention. During his years in office, he signed the Endangered Species Act, strengthened the Clean Air Act, and created the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Mary Poppins of Smack

Sometimes a spoonful of methadone helps the crime rate go down. In 1968, Nixon campaigned to fight crime by any means necessary. So the following year, after a study found that 44 percent of people entering Washington, D.C., jails were using heroin, Nixon agreed to fund methadone clinics across the city. Within one year, the burglary rate dropped by 41 percent. This should have been a major win for the president, but critics argued that the clinics only substituted one drug for another. The policy never caught on, and to this day, Nixon is still the only president in the war on drugs to have spent more money on treatment than enforcement.

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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