tv Interpretation of U.S. Presidents CSPAN January 1, 2015 8:00pm-8:56pm EST
pinesapple. special crops such as high grade tobacco. and, of course the most important single product -- sugar. these are some of the things produced by the cuban people who live on the big island with the tropical climate. next cartoonist pat reck oliphant draws ten presidential caricatures for an audience at the yale university art gallery. during the presentation historian david mccullough discusses the presidents and their memorable qualities. this is about an hour. i'm delighted to play the part i've been asked to do today with patrick. and president solovey, thank you
very much for being here and introducing us. i want to tell you, you're in for a rare thrill of an experience. i saw patrick do what he does this way in rome two years ago and it took my breath away. it's like watching a magic show. and i think that you'll come away, i hope you will, with a feeling that many of us have that what he's doing is of immense importance and his total body of work is a major american accomplishment in art, not just in politics and understanding of the times we have been living in. one of the most obvious lessons
in history is that it isn't just about politics and war and boring statistics. it's about everything. people, human, history is human. when in the course of human events our founding document begins. and the operative word there is human. this struck me powerfully one day when i was driving down massachusetts avenue and came to sheridan circle. i was late for an appointment. and all of the sudden hit this horrendous traffic jam. and everything stopped. and i was late and i was getting frustrated and i looked over at the statue of phil sheridan in the middle of sheridan circle, very good statue, and i thought, i wonder how many people driving around this circle have any idea who that is. they go around here twice a day, probably 5,000 in the morning, 5,000 in the even within 10,000 people or so. and i began to get down about that prospect, and the fact that
i was late for my appointment. and owl of the sudden "rhapsody in blue" came on the car radio and lifted me out of the car, my doldrums. and i started thinking, who is more important to us as a people, as a story. is it phil sheridan or george gershwin. by preference is gershwin. but they're both important. and i feel very much patrick oliphant is his art form's version of george gershwin. he is a major american phenomena. and the fact that we're going to enjoy his way of seeing life and our time is a privilege, believe me. i remind you, for example, of thomas nast who is the one who really put old boss tweet down finally.
and tweed summed it up perfectly, as you may remember. he said, my constituents don't care a straw for what you write in those newspapers, most of them can't read. it's those damn pictures that get me. and then of course there was bill maul din in our time, and to my mind surpassing them all, is our honored guest today, patrick oliphant. where are you, patrick? he's right at work. [ applause ] >> thank you. >> very generous of you. >> thank you very much. if you'd let me get on with my work. >> go ahead. i want to preach a little more. >> have you got any johnson
stories? >> i think the phenomenon of the human face is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the human brain. when you think there are very little differences from one face to another, minute, fractions of an inch. and yet you could be in grand central station at rush hour with 10, 20,000 people going by. and if some old friend of yours from 20 years ago walked by, you would recognize them instantly. think what that does -- what that says about the brain and how it evolved in order to know faces. we have right here in your wonderful gallery one of the national treasures in trumble's decoration of independence july 4th, 1776. almost everything about that painting in inaccurate. the room is wrong, the furniture is wrong, the curtains are in the wrong place, the door is in the wrong place.
there is only one thing that is totally accurate. the faces. 48 different faces which are all rendered superbly. most of them trumble went and did them in person. because of what was the utmost important was that they be identifiable and accountable. they wanted to be known for who they were. and at the time -- keep in mind when they were signing that decoration, they were signing their death warrants but there didn't want to be any ambiguity about who was there, who mattered. that's what we're seeing now all the time in our own public
political and national life. all these faces. but once in a while someone comes along who can see more in a face than most all of us do and can make it indelible in a way that it will never be forgotten. you'll never see the same face in the same way. now he's rendering the president, who was in office when patrick first came in 1964. i was stationed outside of president johnson's office right after the kennedy death to look over some photographs to be used in the usia of the president with the photographic head of the isa. because we weren't allowed to use any photographs that the president didn't like. and i could hear talk behind the door of the white house, the oval office, i think, i wonder if i'll get to see the
president. and it was time for me to go and just as i was about to leave, the door opened and this head came out around the sides of the door and it was at a much higher level than a head should be. and i heard the only immortal words that i ever heard the president enunciate -- i heard it in person. and he said, anybody seen my razor? take it from there, pal. >> got any nixon stories? [ laughter ] >> here he comes. [ laughter ] >> imagine, he can just stand up there and do that. nothing on the board.
he touches -- >> that's what you need of nixon really, isn't it? [ laughter ] >> this gallery is a teaching gallery, which, to me, is one of the most exciting developments at yale in the last 25 years or less. and the idea that all of the different disciplines, as they say in academic life, really all of the different aspects of human life, can be taught here
by professors, instructors were lecturers in virtually any department. and imagine coming here to see this work when you're studying the politics of the last 40-some years, 50 years. and what a different, what a different lift it would give to the experience. >> this take as while. [ laughter ] >> patrick, i get the feeling you have a good time doing that face. >> well, it comes back about once a year. there's a strange afterlife he had. so he's good for a cartoon in a
you think in washington. [ laughter ] and this guy i did meet after he was in office. and he was a very good fellow. a nice fellow >> i agree. >> and that really gave me pause that you shouldn't hobnob with the enemy. but he used to bang his head on things. i used to draw him always this way. he called me up and asked me would i be the entertainment at a gathering of his staff. every year he had dinner with the staff.
so they were all there and kissinger and all those awful people. i don't know why i was so -- maybe i was just out in the crowd there. i don't know why i did this. but i took this and i walked over to him and i drew a band-aid on his head. you can get wrestled to the ground for that sort of thing. >> yeah. >> the secret service guy came over and said, you do that again, you'll never cartoon in this town again. >> well, i spent a day with president ford at the ford library. he had invited me out to lecture there. and i thought he was very level, balanced, intelligent and commendable figure. and by no means slow upstairs, by no means. and i think he's an example of how through the media or some wisecrack by another politician,
these people can be typecast in the most unfair fashion. and i think his presidency is waiting for somebody to write a good book about him. brief as it was, it was very interesting. and i personally think that what he did to pardon nixon was a noble and admirable decision that clearly cost him from getting reelected. it was not to his advantage in doing so. but there's all kinds of subsequent evidence to indicate, that he knew this was the best thing for him to do in the national interest. so i'm a gerald ford fan. and i think that more and more, as time passes, people will see him that way. it's interesting how our views of presidents change. when i was a boy, all excited
about the 1968 presidential election of truman against dewy, i was very interested in politics. i wanted to stay up to see how it came out but i was too tired to do so. the next morning i went in and my father was in the bathroom shaving. i said, dad, dad, who won? and he said, truman, like it was the end of the world. and 25 or 30 years later i went home, back to pittsburgh and was sitting with him after dinner and he launched into this whole tirade about how the country was going to hell and the world was going to hell. i've heard much of that all my life. and then he paused and he said, too bad old harry isn't still in the white house.
oh, i've got a little story, too, about our next character on stage here. when the panama issue became a big event in washington and was called by president carter to come down and advise them object what their policy should be -- my book on panama had just been published. i was just turned over to a very nice aid who has subsequently become a very good friend. we were sitting in this tiny little office and it was clear quite quickly that he didn't know anything about the panama canal. my heart went out to him because he had a real responsibility and i wanted to help any way i could. my wife and i were sitting on one side of the desk with barely enough room for our knees and he was on the other. and i looked down on the floor
and there was a mouse trap with cheese on it by a little hole in the wall. i said, excuse me, mr. butler, but is that what i think it is? he said, oh yes. i said, you have mice in the white house? he said generations of them. and we can't get rid of them. and i thought well, they are every right. they've been here for generations. they have ever right. was thinking maybe that's another series of cartoons for you, historic mice at the white house. >> that's right. you write it, i'll draw it. [ laughter ] >> now is there any symbolism that you're putting mr. carter lower than the others? >> yes. in my work at the time he shrank until his feet didn't touch the floor. he was also famous for, as i
>> he was in the row boat and the rabbit started trying to climb in. >> and the image was him pounding away at the rabbit request a pebble. >> i imagine if you tried to put a band aid on his forehead. another killer rabbit. >> the killer rabbit. >> very good. [ applause ] >> the guy that you like, david. or you told me you like him. and after all, he did give us one of his own begotten sons. >> oh, here he comes. i think i've known or interviewed seven of the ten presidents that patrick is going to render immortal today. and one of the things that
struck me, and the more i think about it, the more it strikes me as important, is that there doesn't seem to be any common denominator about these presidents. there's no trait. there's no running to type. jimmy carter is as different from ronald reagan as anybody could have been. and if i had to say which one i liked best, it had virtually nothing to do with their politics. and that is george bush, sr. and if i had to -- or if i would have had to ride, when they were all still with us, from new haven from texas with one of them, he would be the one i would pick.
because he's a wonderful friendly real man, a gentleman, and interesting, with many good story to tell, which he tells extremely well. and generous in the extreme. i was at his apartment at university of -- at college station where the bush, sr. library is. and in the apartment above his couch were five photographs. one was of president bush with margaret thatcher. another with president bush with gorbachev or ronald reagan. but in the middle, about that big, twice as big, three times as big as any of the others was the picture of george h.w. bush with joe dimaggio and ted williams. and you could tell which he
thought were more important in the scale of things. it was a wonderful picture of each of them. and he explained that he awarded them some kind of presidential recognition and they had taken the picture in the rose garden. and each had signed it. and i said, who a great picture. and i meant it just as a photograph. a superb picture. again the faces that are indelible for us. about two weeks later a big tube arrives at our home and it was the picture. he gave it to me. in the letter, accompanying letter -- they were talking about that he wrote nice little notes. this wasn't a nice little note. this was a real letter. he explained that each of the three had signed 33 of the prints. they made 99 prints.
they all signed all of them and each got to keep 33 of the 99. and he said that joe, who always professed to play only for the money sold his to ted. [ laughter ] but here he's got the 33 pictures of his. he said he had a few left and he gave me one. not only was that extremely thoughtful and nice, but that's a historic treasure. it's worth a lot of money, truly, if i were to sell it. i won't sell it. i've got a baseball player here and he ought to get it. but it's a measure, i think, of the man. and i think mrs. bush is fantastic. i don't -- i would not want to be her husband. she really rules the roost. but i remember maybe some of you do, when she made her first appearance as first lady on
stage at kennedy center and she walked out -- this of course coming after eight years of nancy reagan who was a very different kind of woman. she walked out like this and she walked up -- had a light blue wool suit, very nice suit, middle-aged lady. and she walked out and took that microphone and she said, well, what you see is what you get. and i thought, good for you. [ laughter ] >> did we get out of sequence? >> what? >> did i forget ronald reagan? >> how could you forget him. i think he's emerging. >> i think i might have forgotten him. >> it's in the stars as they say. >> there's his hair anyway. >> i interviewed reagan in the
white house before soon after he was shot. and i thought it was wonderful that he would be willing to do an interview so soon after. but when i went in to sit down with him, i was studying to see if there was any sign of the stress or the trauma or the loss of weight or scar on his head or anything, any sign whatever. nothing. and i was within three or four feet of him. absolutely incredible. he looked not like an older fellow who has carefully been done up and touched up a little
bit. not at all. he was intelligent and calm and as cordial as if we were old friends. and in no hurry and very, were likable. obviously a good sense of humor and a good sense of the fact that he had the job and he better do it. >> he liked the story, didn't he? >> he loved the story. >> yeah. >> i don't know if that's a sign of anything.
>> look at that cowboy hat, just one line. >> now, patrick, you've made him bigger than everybody. [ applause ] you've made him bigger than anybody. is there a reason for that? >> we've got to mo along here. we're running out of people. >> is there a symbolism to the umbrella that bush is holding? >> that will lead to the transpacific. >> oh yeah.
>> i would like to just tell you one quick story about mr. bush, jr. through mainly entirely through the help of ted kennedy, we got a bill through congress authorizing the creation of a monument to john adams in the district of columbia. there is nothing in our capitol company rating the importance of our founding time of john adams. and president bush, h.w. bush, was newly in office and he was going to sign the bill. and ted called me and said, you should come down for this ceremony. well i had never been to anything like that and i wanted
very much to do it. so we met for lunch, ted and i at the adams hotel and then we were going to walk over to the white house. and ted was suffering from a lot of back pain then and it was clear i was difficult for him to walk but he insisted me wanted to walk and he never complained about it. so we started out to go over to the white house. i don't, it was 2:15, 2:30 something like that. and all the way through the park he was going, that damn president is doing this and those republicans are doing that. and i said, ted, aye got to tell you, i like the president. he looked at me and he said, oh, so do i. like, don't you know anything? what does that have to do with it? and i thought truly that's what we've lost in washington now. because you differ with somebody you don't have to consider them
your enemy. and the people that could work that way, like howard baker and alan simpson are desperately needed back in office. >> isn't that right. yeah. [ applause ] the guy in the bed there also gave us -- >> i asked patrick last night if ever he just started drawing and an idea came to him through the drawing. and he said very rarely. and as remarkable as his
drawings are, his talent is, really, there's nothing like it right now, maybe never has been. but to think that he's still doing three cartoons a week. so he has to have three ideas a week. and his ideas are always original. and one of my favorite aspects of his work is the little character he includes down at the bottom whose name is punk. and i asked him, when did punk emerge? and he said, oh, i brought him with me from australia. and we talked about how the trouble he had getting through customs. but think of that, every new idea three times a week for 40-some years. that alone -- many people have a
staff to help do that. his staff is all right up there in his head. >> oh brother. you know who is emerging, don't you? >> yeah. now consider all of the alias we have up here. those who weren't are the exception. which may make the comment that we don't want to think about, that -- look how much is in the eyes and the teeth and yet he
get it of who it is. it's remarkable. >> good ol' hillary. i don't like dynasties, do you? >> i'm sorry, what? >> i don't like dynasties. we're getting another clinton dynasty now. >> oh, another clinton dynasty. what does this say? >> cream. oh. cream. >> don't listen to him. english is his second language,
so -- anyway, where was i? >> i tried to take a lot of courses in the art department, art school as an undergraduate and particularly portrait painting and drawing. and studied with dean kellar who was a wonderful portrait painter and whose works hang around the university in many places and at the lobby of the yale club in new york. he was a terrific teacher. he made you really learn anatomy, drawing faces, everything. joseph albez had taken control of the art school and deen kellar had been banished to a little room up in one of the old sections of the old arts school. and didn't have any students.
so i went up to see him and asked him if i could be his student. he said if i could round up seven other students. you had to have eight students in order to qualify. he would teach the course. well, i did and he did. but one day i was sitting in a drawing class taught by another professor and we were busy drawing one of our fellow students. it was her turn to pose sitting in a chair just wearing what she had had on that day. and we're all working away. and all of the sudden this voice from behind, this german accent said, you have to ask yourself is she romanesque or is she gothic? and it was albers. instantly i knew exactly what she was. she was very gothic, thin. i thought what a brilliant analysis from this man who's
famous for the homage to the square. he knew a lot more than just the dear old square. what have we emerging here now? >> i've drawn him already. i just want to do him again. >> oh, i know. this is one of patrick's more celebrated images. and i asked him if by chance that this had emerged just from fooling with the pencil. and he said it had not. and he's done, i think, more than one version of the president in this form. he was not asking is he romanesque or gothic.
i take issue with your supposition that there is no common thread. you think they're all different? they're all wonderfully individualistic? >> i know you can prove they aren't. >> i'm just about to do that. >> all right. wait until you see this. talk about sleight of hand. >> does anybody remember golda meir?
thank you. >> thank you. you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter. @cspanhistory for information on our sked yum, upcoming programs and to keep up with the latest history news. after the american revolution and before he was elected the first president of the united states, george washington retired from public life. up next author edward larson focuses on washington's journey to inspect his western virginia land holdings during his retirement and how it contributed to washington's interest in western expansion and propelled his efforts to link the east and west through the potomac river. george washington's mt. vernon hosted this hour-long event.