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President Richard M. Nixon: Physical Description, Behavior, and Personality

About the physical description, personality, and behavior of President of the United States Richard M. Nixon.

His Person: Nixon was 5' 11" tall with brown eyes and dark hair. He has no illusions about his own attractiveness. "This is the face I've got," he once said. "I've got to accept it as it is." During the 1960 campaign, he refused to view tapes of his debates with Kennedy because he couldn't stand the way he looked on TV. Nixon's heavy growth of beard has always been notorious, and during campaign tours he had to shave at least 2 or 3 times every day in order to keep himself presentable. When he was 3 years old, Nixon was seriously injured when he fell from a carriage, and his head was cut under its wheels. He still bears a long scar on the side of his head but the scar is carefully hidden by his hair. This accident-which nearly killed him-left him permanently subject to motion sickness. Nixon has also had problems with hay fever all his life.

As a boy, Nixon wore a tie and jacket to school, and his classmates often made fun of his solemn formality. An item in his Whittier High School newspaper declared: "Nothing is funnier than to call Richard Nixon "Nicky' and watch him bristle. I did it once and he was too surprised to speak, if you can imagine Nixon inarticulate." This stiff, unyielding sense of personal "dignity" has been a permanent feature of the Nixon personality. During the White House years, when an old friend and business associate from Florida, Hoke T. Maroon, addressed Nixon as "Dick," the President shot back: "Don't you dare call me 'Dick.' I am the President of the U.S. When you speak to me you call me 'Mr. President.'" Nixon always appeared to be more comfortable in his 3-button business suits than in casual wear. While relaxing in the sun at Key Biscayne or San Clemente, he was often dressed primly in a sports jacket. During his solitary walks along the beach, he generally wore his black dress shoes. After he became President, his wardrobe became more stylish, and he began sporting gold cufflinks emblazoned with the presidential eagle.

Nixon has always had a difficult time coordinating his body. Childhood acquaintances agree that he had "2 left feet." Because the Whittier College football team was short on players, Richard was allowed to participate-but he warmed the bench for 4 years. Whenever he was put into the game, as one teammate recalls, everyone "knew a 5-yard penalty was coming up. Richard had such determination to win that he would rush ahead before the play started. I knew he'd be offiside just about every play." Nixon's habit in later years of clumsily banging into car doors led to the serious knee injury that slowed down his campaign for the Presidency in 1960. As President, his coordination problems continued to surprise observers. At one press conference, he raised his hands, beckoning the reporters in the room to stand up, while telling them, "would you please be seated." As he was delivering a major speech, he once pointed to the audience and said "I," then pointed back at himself and said, "you." Nixon was often so tense that when someone touched him lightly on the arm, he would jump as though struck by a blow.

Nixon has never taken much of an interest in sleeping or eating. In Six Crises, he boasts continually of his ability to function even after a long succession of sleepless nights. At meals, he is generally preoccupied. Among his favorite culinary delights are spaghetti, cottage cheese, and meat loaf. His favorite form of relaxation is sitting for hours in silent communion with his good friend, Florida banker Bebe Rebozo. It was Rebozo's function-at the White House or at Nixon's vacation retreats-to enforce the long silences that the President so much enjoyed. On one occasion, another Florida businessman joined Rebozo and the President for a cruise on Bebe's luxurious houseboat. This 3rd party became concerned when Nixon "lapsed into silence," and he attempted to dispel the gloomy atmosphere with small talk. Rebozo cut him off immediately with a firm, "Shhh!" In a shocked whisper, Bebe added, "He's meditating." That was the last word spoken on the trip.

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