On Stage

There is little doubt that Richard Nixon would have enjoyed taking center stage in the intimate theater of Whittier College’s Ruth B Shannon Center for the Performing Arts.

shannoncenterShannon Center theater opened in 1990

As a student Nixon sang with the men’s glee club, practiced thinking on his feet with the debate club, ran a winning campaign for office in student government with a promise to support dancing on campus, and acted in college plays–Whittier English professor Albert Upton claimed that during rehearsals for one play he taught Nixon how to cry.

albert upton   English professor Albert Upton  

Television, even the black and white low resolution images broadcast in the early 1960s, challenged the traditional debate techniques that Nixon honed at Whittier. The majority of those who listened on the radio to Nixon and Kennedy verbally spar during the first of four presidential debates thought Nixon won. Most of those who watched on television came to the opposite conclusion. Kennedy, tanned and confident, easily trumped Nixon’s on screen persona. Appearance tipped the scales.

nixon:kennedy Nixon/Kennedy debate, 1960

Richard Nixon learned this lesson well and went to work improving his on-screen presence and learning to use television to his advantage.

To see Nixon’s appearance with Jack Parr, click on Appearing at piano . . .

To see Nixon’s “Sock it to me” appearance on “Laugh In,” click on Sock it to whom?

Read George Lois’ explanation of his Esquire magazine cover of Nixon in the hands of makeup artists. To read “How I Taught Nixon to Use Makeup and Become President,” click on Confessions of a make-up man.

schoolhouse-rn-violin-mNixon played the violin as a boy and the piano throughout life.  He wrote the song for his college society (The Orthogonians).

Watch Nixon (piano) enthusiastically accompany Jack Benny (violin) on stage. Click on Learning to play along.




surprise-logoFor a surprising revelation about one of Nixon’s unfulfilled ambitions, listen to Nixon reminisce about music and drama with interviewer Frank Gannon on tapes now at the University of Georgia.  Click on Conductor in chief.


In 1974, just months before leaving office, Nixon appeared on stage at the Grand Old Opry. He played “Happy Birthday” to wife Pat, and later “Wild Irish Rose” and “God Bless America.” Nixon initiated a tradition of presidential visits (not necessarily performances) to the Opry that continues through President Obama.

Click on God Bless America to hear Nixon perform followed by a country version of “Hail to the Chief.” To read Nixon’s remarks that evening, click on Country music is American.  

surprise-logoComposer John Adams converted Nixon’s visit to China into an opera. To watch Vancouver Opera perform in this trailer, click on International center stage.

 Portrait What performer wouldn’t love this venue?