Harry Shearer: 'Richard Nixon wanted my ass in Vietnam'






Richard Nixon hated television and the feeling was mutual. The new-fangled medium had done him no favours in the close-run 1960 presidential race against a more photogenic John F Kennedy in America's first televised debates. His five-o'clock shadow made him appear shifty. By the time he ran again in 1968, radically packaged up by Madison Avenue ad men, Nixon grumbled to a TV chatshow producer: "It's a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected." The reply came back: "Television is not a gimmick."

That producer, promptly hired to coordinate Nixon's successful campaign, was Roger Ailes, these days president of Fox News and chairman of Fox Television for Rupert Murdoch's media empire. All of which provides a pleasing, circular coincidence. Harry Shearer, a well-recompensed beneficiary of Fox as a voice artist on The Simpsons, has put Nixon back on TV in a series of dramatic reconstructions bankrolled by Sky Arts, also owned by Murdoch.

The beatific, droll Shearer, who improbably turned 70 in December, is a "very liberal Democrat" whose politics were forged in the white heat of the Vietnam draft as a political science major at UCLA and Harvard. He then worked in the California State Legislature before teaching in Compton and entering comedy via local radio. Munching on a banana, he explains his philosophy: "Eric Idle once told me that the only really effective way to get back at Rupert Murdoch is to take as much of his money as is humanly possible."...



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