It's one of those yarns that reeks of cigarette butts, aftershave and spilt whiskey. The sort of titillating anecdote graying, well-connected boozehounds might swap while swilling whiskey sours at Durant's, El Chorro or the Pink Pony.
Here's the short version: Back when he was Bird-dogger in Chief, John F. Kennedy spotted a future conquest on the arm of some Swedish diplomat or general during a White House function. Determined to grant the curvaceous young thing a personal tour of the Oval Office, JFK had her tailed by a lackey, who later reported that he had followed the dame right to the digs of the archconservative senator from Arizona, Barry M. Goldwater.
It's said that Kennedy later ribbed Goldwater about the matter, a little peeved perhaps that this yahoo from Phoenix had topped the king of Camelot at his own skirt-chasing shenanigans. Goldwater, for his part, never denied or admitted to the liaison, answering JFK's charge with only a wide smile.
Apocryphal or not, the anecdote persists among Arizona power brokers who tell it and tell it often because it illustrates something about their hero they believe to be true: Barry Goldwater was just as much a Casanova as JFK, only he was more discreet about it. One of the story's principal tellers, a well-heeled Phoenix legal beagle who knew Barry back in the day, laughs loudly when asked about what it implies.
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"You mean you want to know if Goldwater liked pussy?" he replies, chuckling. "Well, there's nothing wrong with that, now, is there?"
The ruggedly handsome Goldwater was married to wife Peggy from 1934 until she died in 1985. She was the mother of his four children, Joanne, Barry Jr., Michael, and Peggy. And, legend or no, the very idea that the senator might have had a sexual life beyond the matronly Margaret "Peggy" Goldwater is anathema to granddaughter C.C. Goldwater, whose acclaimed biodoc Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater continues on HBO until the end of this month. C.C. produced and narrated the effort, which portrays her grandfather as a crusty but lovable gentleman-politician who had no libido past fathering C.C.'s mom, Joanne, and Joanne's brothers and sister. Sure, her grandpa ("Paka," she called him) had gal pals, but would he have bedded one of them? Why, never!
"He never cheated on his wife," insists C.C. "My grandmother was part of everything he did; she was a major part of his life, and he loved her until the day she died. Had it not been for her death, he would have been married to her forever."
Almost in the same breath, C.C. concedes that her grandfather was adored by women.
"He had that kind of charisma that JFK had, and Bill Clinton has," says C.C., seemingly oblivious to the implications of her own analogies. "He was dynamic. He'd walk into a room and suck the air out of it. He was just that kind of person. Women fawned over him, because he was a handsome guy. And he knew it, and he was self-confident about it."
The senator would've had to be a saint not to have taken advantage of his winning combination of Alpha-male traits: athletic good looks, wealth, power and charm. He also had that Western swagger, the kind men admired and women fell for. Think William Holden in The Wild Bunch or Goldwater pal John Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder. He did and said whatever the hell he wanted.
Platinum sex goddess Mamie Van Doren, who slept with rounders like Johnny Carson and Joe Namath in her heyday, was an admirer. The busty bombshell, star of such B-movie celluloid classics as High School Confidential and Sex Kittens Go to College, was ensconced in an apartment at Newport Beach's Balboa Bay Club, the exclusive Republican enclave where Goldwater kept a 54-foot Hatteras yacht docked for many years (the Bay Club being where the Goldwaters waited out the scorching Arizona summers). In the '70s, Van Doren's balcony looked out onto docks where the senator would be working shirtless on his boat.
"He was out there with his suntan and his silver-white hair," says Van Doren, who still looks amazing, even at her advanced age. "I would check him out as he struggled to get his boat back in after being out for a while. He was pretty hot."
Van Doren heard rumors that Goldwater liked a little side action to his wedded bliss, but she never got the chance to find out.
"I missed on that one, didn't I?" she sighs. "Don't think I didn't think about it. I was just working too hard at the time. He had kind of a cockeyed smile, piercing eyes, and a quick wit that I liked. Yeah, he was a silver fox."
Barry Goldwater was also six feet tall, drove snazzy black sports cars and regularly made international lists of best-dressed men. He was just as cool as any Kennedy, and is far more interesting than his granddaughter's hazy-filtered, family-friendly portrait.
In C.C.'s 90-minute Hallmark card, Goldwater is salt-of-the-earth instead of salty. A man who tinkered with his ham radio in his spare time and gave the grandkids a miniature donkey they named Sweet Pea. He loved the Indians and respected gay people. He supported a woman's right to choose, and had a kind word when his eldest daughter Joanne had an inconvenient embryonic tenant removed from her womb before marriage. Though the media portrayed him as a coldhearted, nuke-friendly reactionary in the '60s, "Paka" would never blow up the world. He was a nice man.
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.
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!"
Another off-color reference to his bawdy salad days came in a 1967 letter Goldwater dictated in Kyoto, Japan, while he and his wife Peggy were visiting there. Apparently meant for his son Michael, it included odd details, odd at least for a letter from father to son.
"Mommy talked me into visiting one of the famous Japanese baths, really a combination of Turkish bath and a rubdown by a girl," stated Goldwater. "I was kind of shook up at first when this nice young thing in shorts ushered me into a dressing room and indicated that I should remove my clothes, which I did down to my shorts. And when she indicated that I should also remove those, I kind of reddened in the face. The last time that happened to me there was a brass bed in the room and it cost me two dollars."
In his 1988 autobiography Goldwater, the senator describes a loose, carefree organization that he and wife Peggy belonged to with three other couples called "The Grand Canyon Hiking, Singing and Loving Club." During outings at different Grand Canyon lodges in the '40s, '50s and '60s, the couples would party, tell dirty jokes, drink and generally raise Cain.
Their 18th canyon excursion in 1966, as described by Goldwater, sounds like a real doozie. Goldwater went to bed early only to be awakened by a drunken cohort playing "Taps" over and over. Another pal was "pounding out whorehouse piano," with others singing. Friend Ollie Carey, wife of the actor Harry Carey, was "spread-eagled on the floor, passed out with a stale cigarette butt between her lips." Goldwater finally addressed his fellow sybarites with this admonition: "All right, you've finished the hiking and singing. Now go to bed and make love!"
These seem hardly the activities of some free-love, wife-swapping organization, though the title could fool you. More intriguing is the suggestion in C. David Heymann's The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club, a gossipy 2003 tell-all about D.C. wives, that Goldwater may have been in love with Bette Quinn, wife of his close friend, Army General William "Buffalo Bill" Quinn, and mother of reporter/socialite Sally Quinn, who is married to former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee.
After wife Peggy left D.C. for health reasons, Goldwater basically moved in with the Quinns, traveling and going to parties with them. Heymann quotes Goldwater biographer Robert Alan Goldberg as admitting that he was privy to letters from Peggy to Barry admonishing the latter about the relationship. Goldberg, who omitted info on the affair from his 1995 Yale University Press bio Barry Goldwater, claims General Quinn let him listen to a tape-recording of Goldwater reading love poetry reputedly to Bette Quinn with "Moon River" playing in the background. Goldberg states that Goldwater and Bette Quinn "were in constant communication" and "had a very, very close, intimate relationship that was a matter of common knowledge."
Reached by phone in Washington, Sally Quinn was characteristically matter-of-fact.
"Oh, right, that was a rumor that went around a lot in the old days," says Quinn. "I think just because he lived in the same apartment with them. And so, people started talking about it. All I can say is, if it's true, I don't know about it."
Don't crap where you nap. That's advice Goldwater offered his son Barry Jr., which Barry Jr. recounts in C.C.'s documentary, one of the few times the film admits that Goldwater may have been worldlier than it otherwise lets on.
"When it came to the romantic side of my life, he said, 'Son, keep it out of town,'" Barry Jr. said in C.C.'s doc. "He also told me if you can't get it by midnight, go to bed."
Asked if he believes his dad stepped out on his mother during their marriage, the former California congressman, who served in the House for 14 years while his father represented Arizona in the Senate, shrugged that he has no idea. "If he did, he didn't get caught, I know that."
As an aside, it's interesting to note a letter Goldwater wrote to Senator Gary Hart one day after Hart dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination because of the 1987 Monkey Business scandal, wherein the married Hart's dalliance with model Donna Rice was exposed.
Goldwater advised Hart, "Forget about it, let it blow over as it will. I am not going to vote for you, but you have my compassion."
Also left untouched by C.C.'s cable flick is the question of Senator Goldwater's abiding enthusiasm for Kentucky firewater, specifically Old Crow bourbon, a relatively cheap bottle of rotgut at which the fancy-pants bourbon connoisseurs of today would likely turn up their noses. C.C. does concede that her grandfather drank, but she almost makes it sound like it was strictly for medicinal purposes.
"He would drink a shot of Old Crow now and then," she admits, then warns, "but that would be one shot of Old Crow."
Numerous sources, as well as Goldwater's own words, contradict C.C.'s view of the senator as a rather moderate tippler. Sally Quinn, for instance, categorizes Goldwater's and her father's prodigious thirsts as "unbelievable." And she describes watching the C.C. documentary in which she appears briefly with Senator John Warner of Virginia.
"John said, 'I went out drinking with the two of them one night, and they just left me on the floor. They drank me under the table; I couldn't begin to keep up with them,'" recounts Quinn, adding, "It was really amazing. They could drink all night long, and then get up and go to work the next morning and perform just like everybody else."
Goldwater also very publicly came to the defense of his friend and drinking partner Senator John Tower of Texas while Tower was under fire when nominated in 1989 for Secretary of Defense during George Bush senior's presidency. Tower's opponents charged, quite accurately, that he was a boozer and a womanizer. Goldwater's retort to Tower's critics was telling.
"Yeah, he drank; I've had a few with him," Goldwater said, according to a press report. "That he chased women? I don't give a damn whether he did or not. If everyone in this town connected with politics had to leave town because of that, and drinking, you'd have no government."
Then retired, the former senator from Arizona was swimming against the tsunami on that one. The outcry did not dissipate, and Tower's nomination was defeated in the Senate.
In a society as hopelessly hooked on rehab as ours, the prevailing prejudice seems to be that if you drink heavily, you're an alcoholic. But couldn't it be that someone just likes to imbibe? Certainly in previous generations, such as Goldwater's, the capacity for consuming vast amounts of liquor dwarfed our own. Growing up in the Wild West, the Sun Belt instead of the Bible Belt, meant hard drinking was practically a way of life.
On several occasions, Goldwater proudly described how Prohibition had little effect in Arizona. In Bill McCune's well-rounded 1991 documentary Barry Goldwater: An American Life, Goldwater relates how he used to make beer for his father in spite of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In his '79 memoir With No Apologies, he explains, "When Prohibition became the law of the land, my father bought the bar, the back bar, and the brass foot rail of his favorite saloon and had them installed in the basement of our house. The country went dry, but that bar was always wet."
The passions of Barry's father, Baron, were card games and cocktails, and Barry's mother Josephine drank until she died at 94, "from too much of the brown stuff," opined Barry with a grin in the McCune doc.
In his '88 tome, Goldwater offered that his mom told him and his siblings that cigarettes and coffee would stunt their growth. "The three of us have always said we were lucky she didn't say anything about booze," he adds mischievously.
Family friend John Dean of Watergate fame sees the senator's alcohol consumption in generational terms. For those who had endured the Great Depression and World War II, liquor was the sine qua non of existence.
"[Barry Goldwater] was of a generation, not unlike my own father, where that was just part of their lives," asserts Dean, who knew the senator through his boyhood chum Barry Jr. "They drank at lunch, and went back to work. They drank in the evening when they came home. And when they got into parties, they had hollow legs."
Bourbon was what men drank, and Goldwater preferred it to champagne. He even tells a story in one of his letters of how a reception at the Nixon White House was made more bearable because the waiter filled his champagne flute with sippin' whiskey instead of bubbly.
Fess Parker, the iconic, coonskin-cap-wearin' actor known for his roles as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, met Goldwater while doing research in D.C. for the TV version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. These days, Parker's also known for the award-winning wines of his central California winery. And he recalls seeing Goldwater at various social functions both before and after the senator's run for the presidency in 1964. Like the time he ran into Goldwater at the Kentucky Derby, home of mint juleps, which are, of course, made with bourbon.
"One of the nights that I saw him, he had a little too much and was asleep on the couch," chortles Parker, who supported Goldwater against LBJ in '64. "I think he had a long day at the track, had a couple of those mint juleps, and sang, 'My Old Kentucky Home.'"
There was a bar in Goldwater's Senate office, with a bottle of Old Crow always on hand, naturally. But in his later years, his drinking habits, which expanded to tequila, did get him into a little trouble. In 1976, he had an artificial hip inserted, and it's been suggested that he dealt with the pain, in part, by drinking. Lee Edwards, a very sympathetic biographer writing for right-wing Regnery Publishing, points out in his book Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution that "Senators and government officials soon learned that the earlier in the day they did business with the senator the better."
Fellow Republican John Conlan, running in the '76 Republican primary for Senate, took a cheap shot at the old warhorse after Goldwater endorsed Conlan's primary opponent, Congressman Sam Steiger. In Dennis DeConcini's soon-to-be-released memoir Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle, he recounts that Conlan told the Washington press corps, "I don't know what it is with Barry. Maybe it's the pain [from his hip operation]. Maybe it's the drinking he's been doing." Goldwater denounced Conlan, Conlan lost to Steiger, and Democrat DeConcini whipped Steiger in the general election.
In 1980, when Goldwater, then 71, barely squeaked past multimillionaire Democrat Bill Schulz with some assistance from the Ronald Reagan landslide, the scuttlebutt afterwards was that Goldy was half-drunk or hung-over the following day when he appeared before reporters. Asked if the voters were sending him a message with his slim victory, Goldwater snarled, "I don't know, and I don't particularly care." The senator later apologized for this little eff-you with full-page ads in the state's newspapers thanking Arizona voters for reelecting him.
Finally, none other than Bob Woodward of the Washington Post portrays a somewhat tight Senator Goldwater (either from meds, whiskey or both) reading a classified document on the floor of the Senate in Woodward's 1987 exposé Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987. Goldwater's act may have been precipitous at the time, but the program he was exposing, the mining of the Nicaraguan harbors by the CIA, had been hidden from him. And as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was rightly pissed.
In light of all of these incidents and statements, it's safe to conclude that the senator was not the near-teetotaler C.C. describes. This doesn't mean C.C. is intentionally misleading viewers. Being a granddaughter does fix you with certain blinders. After all, how many grandchildren can accurately describe their grandparents' drinking habits? Goldwater's kids might have had trouble gauging this, too.
"I don't know if I've ever seen him drunk," says Barry Jr., who, when he was young, mostly saw his dad when he wasn't in D.C., and after that, sporadically. "Certainly not fall-down drunk. I've seen him kind of high. He was a happy drunk, if you had to categorize him. The only time I saw him drink was at night. He'd have a couple of Old Crows and go to bed."
Another omission in the HBO documentary is Senator Goldwater's connections to various mobsters, and those who had dealings with them. Many of these associations have been well-documented before, first in 1963 in Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris' classic account of mob influence in Vegas, The Green Felt Jungle, and later in the now-famous Arizona Project, a series of articles by members of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization detailing the influence of organized crime here. The latter was brought on by the execution of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in 1976, and it raised the ethics bar for all politicians when it came to dealing with their shadier constituents.
Many of the facts were undisputed by Goldwater himself, though he definitely disputed the suggestion that he was "tied" to organized crime. Goldwater was friendly with mobster Gus Greenbaum, who took over the management of Las Vegas' Flamingo Hotel after the 1947 assassination of Bugsy Siegel in Beverly Hills. Greenbaum took the Flamingo out of the red into the black, and later went on to successfully manage the Riviera. But when Greenbaum, a lieutenant of Meyer Lansky's, began skimming more than his allotted share, his days were numbered. On December 3, 1958, both he and his wife's corpses were discovered in their Phoenix home, their throats slashed with a butcher knife from their own kitchen.
Goldwater attended Greenbaum's funeral, a gesture that boggles the mind almost 50 years later. Can you imagine, for instance, Senator John McCain attending the funeral of Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano (even if he knew Gravano), whenever that occurs? This was Goldwater's rationalization in his '88 memoir:
"Greenbaum had operated a Phoenix grocery store before taking over a Las Vegas casino. We'd met him at various civic functions. He was, after all, a local resident."
It's true that Goldwater didn't need the mob. He was by then an icon in Arizona. But he was not above giving or taking favors, monetary or otherwise, from his underworld amigos. For instance, he was Greenbaum's guest in Vegas, where he was known as "a real swinger," according to the Reid/Demaris book. And Greenbaum donated lots of money to Harry Rosenzweig, in support of the 1949 Charter Government ticket, of which Goldwater was a part. Interestingly, the Valley National Bank, of which Goldwater's brother Bob was a director, helped finance the Flamingo's construction.
The senator was also acquainted with "Fat Willie" Bioff, who lived in Phoenix under the name William Nelson, though people knew who he really was: a mobster from L.A. who busted unions for the Hollywood studios, testified against members of the Capone gang, then relocated to Arizona, eventually going to work for Gus Greenbaum at the Flamingo. Goldwater gave Bioff and his wife a ride back to Phoenix from Las Vegas in the senator's private plane once. And Bioff, a Goldwater admirer, donated $5,000 to Goldwater's first Senate campaign through Harry Rosenzweig, and also lent Rosenzweig 10 grand at one point before six sticks of dynamite exploded beneath Bioff's new pickup truck with him in it in 1955 a little present from those Bioff ratted out, perhaps. Here, too, Goldwater attended the funeral, oblivious to any negative assumptions.
"I don't think it was abnormal for Senator Goldwater, or his senior colleague Senator [Carl] Hayden, to have come in contact with so-called nefarious characters," asserts Jack August, director of the Arizona Historical Foundation and author of Vision in the Desert: Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest. "Was money good money or bad money who really knows? Campaign finance laws were so much looser then."
August warns against applying the standards of today to a half-century ago. These contacts did cause Goldwater some grief, especially after the publication of The Green Felt Jungle, but it was really the Arizona Project that changed the way the mob was viewed in Arizona.
Goldwater was concerned enough by the Arizona Project to keep an extensive file of news clippings and notes on its activities, and he commissioned at least one poll on the subject, which concluded that his base of support in the state had not been eroded by the IRE's linking him to a rogues' gallery of hoods.
He was associated with other underworld figures besides Greenbaum and Bioff. In 1971, Goldwater signed a letter written on his official stationery endorsing a land-fraud scheme concocted by wheeler-dealer Ned "the Godfather" Warren, though Goldwater later denied any knowledge of Warren or the scheme. There was the revelation that Goldwater had interceded on behalf of convicted gambling boss Clarence Newman, who also happened to be an old Goldwater pal, to help him secure better prison digs. And Goldwater's best friend, jeweler and Arizona GOP Chairman Rosenzweig, was linked to prostitution and gambling.
Unsavory charges also surfaced concerning Goldwater's brother Bob, and the stake he held in the Arrowhead Ranch citrus groves, though this wasn't really an organized crime connection. IRE reporters discovered that illegal aliens were used as labor, paid substandard wages and kept in primitive conditions. Border Patrol raids on the groves regularly netted illegals working there. When a United Farm Workers member confronted Senator Goldwater about the aliens used on his brother's farm, Goldwater's response was stinging.
"My brother is over 21, and he knows what he's doing," Goldwater's quoted as saying in a 1977 New West article. "If you people [Mexican-Americans] would get off your butts and go to work, he wouldn't have to hire [Mexican] nationals."
There's no reason to believe that Goldwater was in any way connected to the murder of Don Bolles, but Bolles' killer, John Adamson, lured Bolles to the Clarendon Hotel on the fateful day of June 2, 1976, with a bogus tale regarding Goldwater corruption. And speculation concerning Goldwater's involvement was so intense following the slaying that the senator was forced to issue a statement on June 15 denying any link to Bolles' murder or to the mob in general.
However, Goldwater did know Phoenix attorney Neal Roberts, a pal of John Adamson's, who met with Adamson immediately before and shortly after the bomb beneath Bolles' car exploded and fatally wounded the reporter in the Clarendon parking lot. Roberts' ex-wife alleged that she overheard a telephone conversation between Roberts and Goldwater, with Goldwater stating, "What the hell's going on, how far is this going to go, and how much is it going to cost to shut people up?" Phoenix police questioned Goldwater about this phone confab, and Goldwater said it was bullshit. End of story?
This was one of the topics tackled by New Times staff writer Paul Rubin in a 10-year anniversary opus on the Bolles killing that ran in 1986. Rubin's reporting uncovered the fact that the Phoenix Police Department conveniently buried a file on Goldwater that might have explained the connection between Roberts and Goldwater. The implication was not that Goldwater had something to do with Bolles' demise, but that he and Roberts were involved in other activities that they didn't want divulged.
About Goldwater's unsavory contacts, real and possibly imagined, ASU's August says they made him seem all the more daring: "At the time for him, they were something that made people admire him. He was his own man, he was not cut of the same political cloth as the others. He wasn't careful. He was this dashing, outdoorsy, flamboyant guy. And part of his flamboyance were these associations."
Goldwater's flamboyance extended far beyond his knowing racketeers, but C.C.'s film only scratches the surface of this sometimes just plain wacky part of her grandfather's persona. His passions for photography, airplanes, Native Americans and ham radio are all touched upon, but she didn't get into Goldwater's admitting to smoking pot, once visiting with gun-toting Black Panthers in D.C.'s toughest 'hood, and believing in UFOs. Or that he was an inveterate practical joker, and was practiced at the art of cracking a one-liner.
Regarding his sense of humor, C.C. does document the fallout from Goldwater's encouraging all good Christians to kick the Reverend Jerry Falwell in the hindquarters this over Falwell's opposition to Sandra Day O'Connor's Supreme Court nomination. But better at revealing the ribald and funny side of Goldwater is Bill McCune's documentary, which includes some great clips from Goldwater's TV appearances. On The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, back when the show was in black-and-white, Goldwater comments on the fact that a member of the band had been in the Army Air Corps with Goldwater.
"He and I were in the ferry command, and don't misunderstand it," quipped Goldwater, straight-faced.
Also on Carson, he gave a tongue-in-cheek analysis of then-vice president Hubert Humphrey, a bud of Goldwater's despite Humphrey's being a Democrat.
"He talks so fast," Goldwater dryly observed. "I said, 'You know, Hubert, sitting there trying to listen to you reminds me of trying to read Playboy magazine with my wife turning the pages.'"
Later on in years, he appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and proclaimed, "I'm getting a tattoo of a lipstick pucker right on my ass."
Another Goldwater bon mot of unknown origin: "Sex and politics are a lot alike. You don't have to be any good at them to enjoy them."
The McCune film also has a terrific clip of Goldwater on Dinah Shore's program, with Goldwater accompanying songstress Shore by making trombone-like noises into his hand. According to Judy and Earl Eisenhower (Earl is the late president's nephew), both long-serving members of the senator's staff, Goldwater also once rode a motorcycle onto Shore's show that he had made himself from a mail-order kit.
Goldwater also loved to pull pranks or do something outlandish for laughs.
"We were in Mexico for Christmas, and dad was touting the blessings of peanut butter," recalls Michael Goldwater. "One of us said, 'Well, you can't shave with it,' and he said, 'Yes, you can.' And he did. He smelled like elephant breath for the rest of the day."
Then there's the famous story about the 18th hole at the Phoenix Open.
"He was in charge of the microphone, you know, announcing players going off to tee," relates Michael. "Weeks before when they reseeded the green on the 18th hole, he ran a wire and a speaker to the location the hole would be on the final day. And the story is that Sam Snead reached down to pick his ball out of the hole, and dad said over the microphone, 'Get your hand off my balls!' Scared the hell out of Sam."
A similar rib-tickler appeared in Goldwater's '88 memoir, in which the senator explains how he rigged a device in the toilet bowl of the guest bathroom of his home, so that when someone sat down, it triggered a recording of his voice that carped, "Hi, Honey. How ya doin'? Can I be of any help?"
Family friend John Dean, who's currently working on a book with Barry Jr. about the senator tentatively titled Pure Goldwater, tells of how Goldy's dresser drawers were full of "antsy pants," gag boxer shorts with big red ants all over them that Goldwater had developed for the Goldwater department stores. Dean was a classmate of Barry Jr.'s at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, and often visited the senator's D.C. apartment, where Dean was the butt of at least one Goldwater gag.
"I was having a snack at the senator's apartment with Barry Jr.," remembers Dean, chuckling. "The senator said, 'Son, give John one of those peppers there, he'll like those.' So I bit down on this goddamn pepper, and it was like fire. The senator just roared when I reacted. Brought tears to my eyes. Didn't give me a hint of what I was getting into."
Goldwater's sense of humor was ribald, often crude. Like that of a back-slapping traveling salesman. During her appearance on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show to promote the HBO special, C.C. acknowledged as much, talking about how grandpa liked to pull the classic "pull my finger" joke on her. The fart joke never made it into her film.
Nor did C.C. have much time for the nutty, boyish side of her grandfather, which seems so much more interesting than the tales of teary-eyed staffers and offspring. Once again, McCune captured more of this in his flick, like the time Goldwater was asked by a reporter of his interest in flying saucers, and he replied, "I'd like to see one sometime sober."
More than just joking about it, Goldwater told Larry King in 1988 that he believed the U.S. government was withholding information on UFOs from the American people and their elected representatives. He informed King that he'd once attempted to gain access to the room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where the Air Force had supposedly collected UFO evidence, and maybe even the bodies of aliens who crash-landed in the Roswell incident. But when he asked his friend USAF General Curtis LeMay to help, LeMay gruffly advised him to "go to hell."
Goldwater's interest in extraterrestrial visitors persisted, and there are some oddball docs saved in the Goldwater files at the Arizona Historical Foundation, including some sent to Goldwater purporting to be once top-secret memos on Operation Majestic 12, an alleged super-secret committee looking into flying saucers. There are additional nutty documents suggesting that alien visitations are connected to the discovery of the Earth's hollowness, an inner world one can enter through the North Pole called the Enchanted Continent. There's no indication of why Goldwater retained these daft dossiers. Maybe he just forgot to throw them out.
But then, Goldwater was open to new ideas and experiences, including a lil' wacky weed. George Seitts, a legislative aide to Goldwater in his youth and currently director of the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures, says the senator admitted to a flock of pages that he'd tried marijuana in his youth, but that it didn't do much for him. Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess an iconoclast, welder and eventual hippie mentions in his autobiography Mostly on the Edge how Goldwater caught him smoking hash in the Goldwater guest house at Be-nun-i-kin (Navajo for "house on top of hill"), the senator's Paradise Valley home.
"The senator, coming into the pool house one day, smelled the fragrance of hashish smoke, and smiling, said, 'I recognize that,'" wrote Hess. "It was then that he explained the popularity of marijuana and its derivatives among old-time Arizona cowboys."
Among Seitts' many stories is how in the early '70s he drove Goldwater to find Hess, who was then in the rough Adams Morgan district of D.C. Dressed in silk suits, Seitts and Goldwater entered a rickety building in the neighborhood guarded by Black Panthers, rifles in their arms, their chests crisscrossed with bandoleers.
"I'm thinking, 'We're not going to get out of here alive,'" says Seitts. "So we go up this dark hallway, to this room, and there's Karl. The senator says, 'What the hell you doin' here?' Typical Goldwater. Then he sits down with Karl, and they're chitchattin'. And Karl says, 'Let me take you upstairs.'"
On the roof of the ghetto dwelling were huge fiberglass tanks filled with rainbow trout that Hess, with the help of the Panthers, was growing as some sort of idealistic, develop-your-own technologies project meant to revitalize the inner city. Hess, it should be noted, was the fellow responsible for adding the famous Cicero quote to Goldwater's 1964 Cow Palace speech, where he said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." Goldwater remained fond of Hess, long after Hess had done a 180 and gone over to the New Left. In the Goldwater files at the Foundation, there's a clipping of Hess looking like Che Guevara, apparently passed on to Goldwater from Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, with the note, "Barry, what has happened to Hess? Strom." Seems whether you were a radical liberal or a mobster, if Goldwater liked you, you were a friend for life.
Seitts can regale listeners with accounts of driving Goldwater's sports cars, whether it was the '63 Corvette Stingray in Phoenix, or his AMX car in D.C., both with dashboards tricked out with a ham radio, car-phone equipment and aeronautical dials and gewgaws. It's well-known that Goldwater was a pilot who insisted on flying the government's most advanced aircraft even as an old man. And Seitts has stories of coming in on a Saturday to help Goldy install a ham radio antenna atop the Senate office building in defiance of security personnel.
Tantalizing is the tale of how Goldwater was ready to support Colin Powell in the 1996 GOP presidential primary over Bob Dole, until the point Powell declined to run. Seitts explains that Goldwater was the titular head of Dole's Arizona forces. Dole had no idea he was looking for another horse to bet on.
Goldwater was full of surprises, and more mercurial than the C.C. documentary describes. She makes the point that Goldwater's later stands on abortion and gay rights were in keeping with his libertarian philosophy of limited government. There's something to that, but Goldwater did not quite agitate for African-Americans in the same manner that he did for gays in his later years. Yes, Goldwater was influential in desegregating the Phoenix municipal airport, and the Arizona Air National Guard, but he wasn't as outspoken on the issue of racial equality as he was about gays in the military after he left the Senate.
Times changed, and to his credit, so did he. As biographer Robert Alan Goldberg points out, when Goldwater was president of the Phoenix Country Club during 1959-60, he forced the club to accept his crony Harry Rosenzweig, over objections that Rosenzweig was Jewish and Jews weren't allowed as members. But thereafter, he never pushed the Board of Directors to change its policy toward Jews, though Goldwater himself was half-Jewish. No more Jews were admitted for another 10 years, and, as Goldberg pointed out, "Blacks and Hispanics would have to wait even longer."
But when it came time to protecting the rights of a different minority homosexuals he didn't hold back.
C.C. Goldwater (who was born Ross, not Goldwater, changing her name sometime in her 20s) candy-coats her grandfather's legacy with a treacly touch, and attempts to make him seem almost faultless. The only flaw she seems to find in his character is that he wasn't demonstrative enough toward his family. Of course, that didn't stop certain family members from nagging him for cash, a state of affairs that plays out through letters Goldwater wrote to his children as they grew older.
Writing in the '88 memoir, Goldwater states about his eldest children, Barry Jr. and Joanne, "The greatest difference between us is our attitude toward money and material things. I have always viewed money as a necessity. . . . The two of them see owning money as an accomplishment in itself, an end."
He finished the thought with a terse, "I'm fed up with money talk."
A sore spot was always Goldwater's mother's financial trust, of which he was the trustee. There's no indication of how much was in the trust, but its assets must have been sizable. Goldwater family members, especially Joanne, pestered him about it until his death. As late as 1995, Joanne was still at it.
"We have beat the old 'trust' horse to death, and you have steadfastly said you will not break your mother's trust," Joanne wrote. "I have never understood fully why you are so adamant on the subject."
Goldwater responded shortly afterward with another refusal.
"It [the trust] continues till I die," he told her. "Then you kids can fight it out."
The level of Goldwater's frustration is evident in letter after letter. In 1991, he griped to one associate, "I don't know how the hell I can keep my children from spending money they don't have, and I don't have, unless I somehow can shoot all of them."
Barry Jr. was a particular source of worry. In 1983, the former congressman was the target of a Justice Department probe into drug use on Capitol Hill. The department concluded that there was "insufficient admissible, credible evidence to support criminal charges." But later that same year, a House ethics committee inquiry found that there was "substantial evidence" that Barry Jr. and two other former congressmen had used cocaine and other illicit substances. Apparently the problem got worse, and in 1990, according to correspondence on file at the Arizona Historical Foundation, the family did an intervention, and Barry Jr. entered the Meadows in Wickenburg for rehabilitation.
He had fallen far. When he arrived in D.C. in 1969, having just turned 31, Washington press touted him as D.C.'s most eligible bachelor. Young and handsome, he dated Tricia Nixon briefly, and enjoyed the attentions of numerous wanna-be Mrs. Goldwaters. He was a workaholic in Congress, and toiled on significant legislation regarding privacy and other issues. But the devil was in the white powder, and it brought him down. After his stay in the Meadows, he had trouble getting back on his feet, even with his dad's regular contributions to his well-being.
"I do hope you're able to get some kind of job," suggests the elder Goldwater. "I don't give a damn if it's just digging ditches, something that will require your setting a schedule, and getting it done, the money will take care of itself."
None of this was included in C.C.'s doc. Nor was there anything about the manner in which many of the Goldwater offspring tried to turn a buck off the name, no matter how tawdry the effort. Goldwater admonished them all at one point that he would write no more letters of recommendation, nor meet with someone just because one of the kids or grandkids sends them his way.
With his blessing, some of the children started Goldwater's Foods, hawking salsas and the senator's chili. And C.C. got her claim in, too, first as an aspiring actress and model, then with her own PR firm called the "Goldwater Group." C.C. penned several letters over the years trying to involve her "Paka" in various schemes, from a proposed talk show with C.C. as the host to a "Gourmet Gala" for the March of Dimes. Often the senator seemed to just shine her on, other times he'd gently admonish her. After all, he was her grandfather. But that didn't mean he'd go along with every idea.
"You see, we can't just use our names as Senators to endorse this, that or anything," Goldwater wrote her in 1980, this time concerning some deal involving Taiwan. "I just can't do what you have asked me to do, but I wish you the best of luck."
There's something sad about all this, the way this larger-than-life figure ends up getting pecked at over money and the use of the Goldwater imprimatur by family members. With every jar of salsa sold, every dorky nephew like Don Goldwater running for office with little to recommend him, the currency is further devalued. Unlike the Old Man, his progeny, for the most part, seem to have had a tough time making a name for themselves.
Some might argue that Goldwater did the same thing when he became a politician, banking on the rep of his family's stores. But he actually expanded the influence and reputation of the Goldwater name. When people now think of Goldwater, they think of Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the guy who ran for president, was called a warmonger, lost, but continued on as the conscience of the Republican Party.
The children, for the most part, were not happy about his second marriage in 1992 to then-Susan Wechsler, now Susan Goldwater-Levine. Both Mike and daughter Peggy told New Times that at the time, they wanted their dad to just live with Susan, who came to know the senator as his nurse. According to Goldwater's lawyer Bill Quinn (son of General William Quinn), charges of gold-digging were made by some of the kids, even though Goldwater had his second wife sign a prenuptial agreement.
Reached for comment, Goldwater-Levine declined to discuss her life with the legendary Arizonan, but she did say she was not upset at all over being left out of C.C.'s documentary. C.C. skips over Goldwater-Levine entirely, as if her years with the senator, who died in 1998, did not even occur. It's one of the more unusual lapses, especially considering that some Republicans believed she had a Svengali-like influence over the aged pol, a claim addressed in the Lee Edwards biography. Some argue she influenced Goldwater's swing to the left in his later years, and while that seems unlikely, it certainly would have been worth examining for a few minutes in a 90-minute biodoc.
To be fair, C.C.'s documentary has revived Barry Goldwater as a figure to be reexamined. But her Goldwater is a rather staid figure, when he was in reality so much more. The real Goldwater hobnobbed with hoods, drank with John Wayne, and was loved by the ladies. Yes, he drank in excess, probably indulged in infidelity, cussed like a pirate, rarely went to church, and could be an ornery old goat at times. But that's the way we like him, unvarnished, uncouth and uncut. That's much of his appeal now, as it was in decades past.
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