Goldwater Uncut

You've seen the G-rated HBO documentary on the Arizona legend, but there was so much more to Goldy than that

Such sentiments are perhaps inevitable considering the source, an adoring granddaughter whose commentary and appearances on screen constitute some of the documentary's most cloying moments. Then there's the lament of the Goldwater kids, particularly Barry Jr. and C.C.'s mother, Joanne, that the senator didn't show his love, didn't spend enough time with them. Their complaints seem out of place, like some weird form of therapy that you wish they'd do on their own behind closed doors. Instead, we get Barry Jr. and Joanne still tearfully seeking approval from their dead dad, wishing he had hugged them more.

What these Kleenex moments don't tell you is the degree to which their demands upon their father were financial while he was alive. No matter how much money the senator sent them — $10,000 here, $20,000 there — it seemed never enough. The drama and squabbling plays out in the Goldwater letters on file at the Arizona Historical Foundation at Arizona State University like some prime-time soap opera from the '80s, say, Dynasty or Falcon Crest, with Goldwater playing paterfamilias.

Lost in C.C.'s sometimes weepy, sometimes saccharine hagiography is the swashbuckling maverick and unapologetic original. The man who could drink bourbon by the bucketful and still rise before dawn so his desk would be clear by noon. The radical who admitted to having tried pot, and kept an anarchist hippie as his speech writer. The practical joker. The entertainer and celebrity, who enjoyed horsing around on TV with Dinah Shore, Carson and Dean Martin. A gent sans social boundaries, who saw nothing wrong with having organized crime figures as pals, and who could pass through phalanxes of Black Panthers with aplomb. A crackpot who believed in UFOs, thought there was something to the Roswell incident, and could rave about the evils of the Trilateral Commission like a first-rate conspiracy loon.

Movie vixen Mamie Van Doren on Goldwater: "Yeah, he was a silver fox."
courtesy of Mamie Van Doren
Movie vixen Mamie Van Doren on Goldwater: "Yeah, he was a silver fox."
Goldwater family portrait, with Michael (left), Barry, Barry Jr. (right) and wife Peggy (below center).
courtesy of Arizona Historical Foundation
Goldwater family portrait, with Michael (left), Barry, Barry Jr. (right) and wife Peggy (below center).

Goldwater uncut is a hell of a lot more fascinating than the sanitized version C.C. feeds us via HBO. The senator partied with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Peck and Fess Parker. He used to hang out with John Wayne aboard the latter's yacht, a former minesweeper called The Wild Goose. He defended his red-baiter bud Joe McCarthy until his death, and read a heartfelt eulogy to the commie-hunter on the Senate floor. Decades before the concept of political correctness was hatched, he belonged to Prescott's now-defunct Smoki People, a bunch of crackers who painted their skin, dressed up in Native American garb and performed snake dances for other Caucasians. On the side of his left hand, Goldwater was tattooed with a Smoki symbol honoring his participation and his status as an honorary Smoki chief.

To C.C.'s credit, she makes it clear that Goldwater wasn't a racist, though he opposed some elements of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ultimately voting against it. And she and director Julie Anderson do deftly expose Goldwater's contempt for the religious right, and his later, libertarian attitudes toward gay rights and abortion. (In 1980, he expressed support for the Human Life Amendment, which would have banned abortions, but later adopted a decidedly pro-choice position.) But they do a disservice to history by watering down a man so full of spit and vinegar. He was a man's man, and a ladies' man; these aspects of his character do not invalidate C.C.'s image of him as a kindly old grandpa, by the way. Such divergent qualities can co-exist in one guy.

We now know, for example, that Ike, FDR, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson had mistresses. Winston Churchill started his drinking at breakfast with wine or champagne, then a whiskey and soda soon after. Only the most obtuse Puritanical numskull would be critical of such foibles. They only add to the complexities and larger-than-life aspects of each. What, then, is this penchant for watering down Goldwater? He's better neat, or on the rocks, so you can get his full flavor.

Goldwater didn't grow up a prude. His grandfather, "Big Mike," a Jewish émigré from Poland, at one time ran a saloon in Sonora, California, that featured a bordello upstairs. (The senator always denied that his granddad owned anything other than the saloon below the bordello.) And in his 1979 memoir With No Apologies, Goldwater made clear that the world's oldest profession was completely tolerated in early 20th-century Phoenix.

"In common with most western cities in the days of my youth, Phoenix had a segregated red light district," Goldwater wrote. "The madams and pimps were well known to the local citizens and to the police. The community was not scandalized by the presence of these 'working girls.' There was no connection with organized crime."

In his files at ASU, there are typed notes referencing a story told by Goldwater that he furnished the officers' club at Luke Air Force Base with the satin and lace furniture from a Phoenix whorehouse. Interestingly, Goldwater's closest friend Harry Rosenzweig would be linked by more than one publication to prostitution in this state. The story goes that when Rosy, as Goldwater called him, drafted Goldwater in 1949 for an open slot on the Charter Government Committee, one of whose major goals was cleaning up vice, Goldwater cracked: "Get rid of the prostitutes? You're talking about my voters!"

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