The Vietnam Peace Plan
Sullivan was old school when it came to show business. His Sunday evening show was broadcast live. There was no lip-syncing by singers, no pre-recording, no multiple takes. The acts performed live. Sullivan also believed in rehearsal, and there was typically a full dress rehearsal Sunday afternoon. Brody missed the practice session—the only act ever to do so in the long history of the show. And he was not even in the studio when the show started.
That morning, Brody was still in San Juan. He was nervous, constantly running his hands through his hair. He did not know what to do. Nolan and Herman told him to return to New York. Renée told him that he needed to be happy and do what he wanted to do, not what he thought he had to do. Others in Brody’s group were still trying to figure out if they could go to the horse races. Finally, Brody decided he had to go back to New York. “I want to bring happiness to the world. Peace. I have to go back.” He ran his right hand through his hair, and massaged the back of his neck, then began tapping the back of his neck with his hand, a nervous habit he had. “Millions of people will see me. If I’m on television, then I can invite President Nixon to come talk to me.” And with that pronouncement, the group got up to leave. Markel called the airport and ordered that the jet be prepared.
In the lobby of the hotel, Brody ran into Vincent de Regatis, a New York fashion designer. He introduced himself. Brody said he knew him, but he didn’t. Brody could use some new clothes, or “threads” as he called them. Business suits, something neat and professional. Dark blue, charcoal gray, a couple dozen pinstriped, but mod, and happening. De Regalis was eager. He had sized Brody up—a 38 regular, off the rack. Brody ordered 1000 suits and gave him his address in Scarsdale. As the group left, Wortman turned to Moran. “That guy Brody’s got a lot of funny ideas,” he said, “but there’s something about him which makes you think he knows what he’s up to.”
Brody and his group pushed through the line of money seekers. The rental cars sped to the airport, and the jet’s wheels lifted off the tarmac around 3:30 p.m. With a refueling stop, the flight was scheduled to take a little over five hours, which, with a one-hour time change, would have the jet landing shortly before the start of The Ed Sullivan Show. Inside the white jet, Brody was nervous, walking up and down the aisle, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He was having a panic attack. His chest felt tight, and his breathing was quick. Herman gave him a joint, and it relaxed him. Both Brody and Renée told Moran that they had used stronger drugs, including LSD, for several years. They were open about their drug use: it was not unusual for their generation. Drugs were prevalent. They did them. Everyone did. They thought Moran would understand; after all, she was just a couple of years older. Brody said he and his wife wanted to stop. “I want to be straight,” Brody said more than once, even as he smoked joint after joint. The idea to give away his fortune, Brody admitted, came to him when he was tripping. “The idea just grew and grew. I was tripped out on drugs, and the idea just came to me.” But he was determined to carry out his plan. It did not matter that the plan came to him while tripping. What mattered was the plan. What mattered was peace, love, happiness, the end to suffering, hunger, war.
After refueling in West Palm Beach, the pilots pushed the envelope and got a little lucky. They found a nice tail wind, and cut the return time. The jet touched down at the Westchester airport twenty minutes before Ed Sullivan was to be announced to the studio audience. Herman pulled out his leather attaché case and called Ed Sullivan’s producer on his radiophone. Outside the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, a large crowd waited for Brody. At 8:02, following the commercial break at the top of the hour, the show started. “Now in its twenty-second year presenting the greatest in world entertainment, The Ed Sullivan Show. And now live from the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, here he is--Ed Sullivan.” Sullivan walked to center stage to rousing studio audience applause. Sullivan was 68 years old at the time and looked older. His skin, even with makeup, was gray and his eyes were deep-set and hollow. He wore a charcoal gray suit, white shirt and a black-and-royal-blue-striped tie. The stripes were wide and British, running from the heart down. He had a pocket square that matched the royal blue in the tie. When he walked on the stage, he had some doubt that Brody would make it to the studio, but the show had to go on, and Sullivan would put it on as it had been designed.
“And now, good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Sullivan started. “Before you enjoy Michael Brody Jr., the generous young Scarsdale, New York, millionaire making his singing debut” were the first words he mumbled. “Before you meet Muhammad Ali—Cassius Clay—in a scene from Buck White, preceding comedy star, Bill Dana, French comedy magician Mac Ronay, Minnie Pearl, June Allyson in a medley from her films, and Buddy Greco, here are Alice and Eller Kessler from Germany who open with “This Girl’s in Love with You.” As was routine with Sullivan, he usually spoke with the guests after their performances. Sullivan chatted up the Kessler Twins, and they did a small encore, singing “He’s Got Possibility,” flirting with Sullivan as they did.
From the Westchester airport, Brody and his group took a helicopter to the 60th Street heliport and, from there, a limousine to the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway between 53rd and 54th Streets. The limo pulled up out front at 8:15, right at the end of Bill Dana’s act. Several hundred waited outside for Brody. The crowd surged forward as the limo’s doors opened chanting “Money, Money, Money.” The night filled with camera flashes. The television crews from the major networks tried to film the mass, but the darkness and the tangle of bodies made it impossible. “Let us through,” screamed Herman as a police escort surrounded Brody and his group, then bull rushed its way through the crowd to the theater’s entrance doors.
After Dana finished, Sullivan and he chatted about Dana’s plans. Sullivan then announced Buddy Greco and scooted backstage. There, the stage crew was setting up for Brody’s rehearsal. Sullivan did not let any act on the stage without a rehearsal, and he wanted to see what he was getting into with Brody. There was still time to scuttle the appearance, if necessary. Sullivan eyed the young couple and liked the way they looked. Brody had a nice smile, and Renée was a little doll. Brody, however, was nervous, and he didn’t have his guitar. A band member loaned Brody a 12-string. Brody was told that the engineers needed to do a sound check. They asked him to rehearse his song after they got the microphones set up.
After Greco’s medley, Sullivan announced an audience appearance, which was also routine. In nearly every show, Sullivan would introduce a star or celebrity who was part of the audience. Many times it was done for publicity for performers who were tied to CBS or who would appear, in future weeks, on his show. Lucille Ball was in the audience that night with her two teenage children, Lucie and Desi Jr. She was serving as the chairman for Easter Seals and was in New York to promote a new charity campaign. She received a firm round of applause. Mac Ronay followed immediately, and Sullivan again disappeared back stage. Brody was ready for his rehearsal. Brody’s voice was not strong; his guitar drowned out his singing. The producer started thinking about ways to boost the audio on his voice. Sullivan had seen enough, however, and nodded his approval.
At each commercial break, Sullivan told the audience to stay tuned to see the remaining acts, which he always listed. He mentioned Brody last each time. Sullivan knew how to string the audience along, and he had planned for a big second half of the show. June Allyson followed Mac Ronay and then, just after the bottom of the hour, Ali.
A very controversial musical play with a controversial star recently stirred up, as you can remember, Broadway audiences and critics. Here’s the world famous heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali—Cassius Clay—in a scene from that play, Buck White. So let’s have a fine reception for….” He motioned to the stage. The cast from the play appeared without Ali in front of an empty pulpit, which faced the studio audience. “He’s here baby,” one of the cast sang, “Big Time Buck White.” With that introduction, Ali strode down the aisle of the studio audience in a grand entrance. He was in full Buck White costume. He wore an Afro wig and a fake beard. He was dressed in a sleeveless robe tied at the waist. He had no shirt, and the robe’s V revealed his bare chest. The Afro made him look two or three inches taller, and at 6’ 3” he was already an imposing figure.
Ali’s act started with a short speech, which he gave from the pulpit. The speech segued into the song “They Came In Chains”:
We came in chains
We came in misery
Now all our suffering and pains are part of history
We came in chains
We must remember that
For that and that only explains exactly where we’re at
Backstage, Renée tried to calm Brody. He paced and burbled about the war, his peace plan, the Beatles. He didn’t want to go on. He needed space—from the crowds. He wanted to be left alone. Renée told him that this was his chance to tell America that he needed space.
On stage, Ali was finishing up his song. His voice was soft. The song ended with a long chorus of “Chains, chains, chains, look at these chains, chains, chains, chainnnnnns” while the cast, including Ali, clattered and rattled chains on the stage.
After the finish, Sullivan and Ali spoke. “First of all,” Ali said. He towered over Sullivan by nearly a foot. He spoke politely and with a slight Kentucky accent. “I would like to thank you, Mr. Sullivan, for inviting myself and the group here so that the public and the people who didn’t see the play could see what type of play I was participating in.”
“We were so thrilled by the play, Sylvia and I saw it when you opened,” Sullivan said, referring to his wife, “but I think that performance there, because of the lighting or whatever, focused on you and made for,” Sullivan turned to the audience, “a fantastic experience.” He nodded his approval, and the audience applauded.
“I would also like to announce,” Ali said. He stumbled over “announce” several times. “I would like to announce here on the show that coming on January 20 in theaters throughout the country the people will see me for the last time in the boxing ring fighting the latest computer fight that I made with the late Rocky Marciano.”
“That’s what they tell me,” Sullivan said, “that it turned out wonderfully well.” Sullivan leaned over to Ali. “Who won,” he whispered to Ali in a voice audible to the studio and television audiences. “I don’t know,” Ali laughed, so did the audience.
Sullivan immediately introduced June Allyson, and went back stage to touch base with Brody. Brody had calmed down considerably. At 8:45, Sullivan took another commercial break. It was time to announce the star attraction. “Now all over the world,” Sullivan announced after the commercial. He repeated himself, this time with more emphasis. “All over the world, newspapers are front paging the story of 21 year old Michael James Brody of Scarsdale, New York, a youngster who is giving away twenty-five million dollars.” There was an uneasy and scattered laughter from the audience: it interrupted Sullivan’s introduction. “No,” Sullivan said, “he is actually giving it away to people who need it.” Sullivan resumed the rehearsed introduction. “He tipped a cab driver one-thousand dollars after the driver accidentally smashed the young millionaire’s guitar. He passed out one hundred dollar bills to children playing on the streets of Harlem. And he is going to build a $350,000 recording studio in Harlem for young black talent. Now last night, he flew to Puerto Rico to get away from the crowds, but he flew back tonight to make his singing debut on our stage. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the wonderfully generous Michael James Brody Jr. singing to his young bride, Renée.”
Brody, carrying the borrowed 12-string guitar, and Renée walked onto the stage. He was dressed in a blue-and-white striped shirt and a leather vest with long fringe. He wore blue jeans with a wide leather belt and a large round brass belt buckle. Renée wore a tunic-length knit sweater. Sullivan shook Brody’s hand. “It sure took a lot to get here,” Brody whispered. Sullivan turned to Renée. At just over 5’7”, he was several inches taller than she. He reached his hand out, and she stepped up on tippy toes to shake it. She smiled and nodded her head when saying hello. The stage was sparse, just two stools and a microphone.
“What are you going to play for us?” Sullivan asked.
“You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” Brody said. “This is my first professional performance anywhere ever, so I might not be any good. I’ve been running around, as you probably know. We just got here. We were in Puerto Rico this morning, doing a lot of film. I have a lot of secrets to reveal in the press conference after this, but I’ll just do my song now. But I wish everyone would relax and just let me do my thing. Because by crowding me, we ain’t goin’ get anything done. So, you know, I’ll do the best I can and you do the best you can.”
Brody began the song. His voice was weak, and the first two lines he swallowed, slurring the words, but the song was short and he plowed through it. Renée sat next to him. She stared, stoned, straight ahead and listened. Brody was focused, concentrating on strumming the right chords, and looking far away, not making eye contact with the camera or the audience. The song took about a minute. When he finished, Brody looked up and smiled. The audience applauded, and Brody leaned over to Renée, grabbed her hand. They kissed. The applause increased. They walked over to Sullivan, who urged the audience. “Come on,” he waived his hand. “Come on.” The applause increased. Sullivan shook Brody’s hand and kissed Renée on the cheek. “Thank you for MAKING the show,” Sullivan whispered to Brody, relieved.
The applause stopped as Sullivan began to speak. “Thank you for everybody to whom,” he stuttered on the pronoun and repeated himself. “To whom you gave that money to. They really needed it.”
Brody smiled. “We have a lot more money than that. We have a $100 billion dollars to give out next week.” Renée stiffened, her eyes wide in disbelief.
Sullivan was startled as he tried to figure out if Brody had really said billion. Backstage, Herman looked at the producer and rolled his eyes. The audience broke into applause, and Sullivan took a step toward Brody and shook his hand. “I’ll be right with you.” He laughed, and so did Brody. “Bye,” Brody said as he exited. Sullivan, again startled, turned and said, “Bye.” He hesitated for a second, wondering what had just happened. But the show had to go on, and Sullivan introduced Minnie Pearl. “From Nashville, Tennessee….” Brody was ushered backstage, where he mingled with a large group of reporters. Immediately after the show ended, Brody held a press conference in the CBS studio to announce his plan for peace in Vietnam.
In January 1970, nearly everyone seemed to have a plan to end the War in Vietnam, which was the single most important political issue in America: it permeated society, dominating not only the media but also ordinary conversation, from the office water cooler to the family dinner table. The United States had been struggling with peace in Vietnam for decades. In the summer of 1954, soon after France’s defeat at Dien Bien Phu, France and Vietnam signed the Geneva Peace Accords, which called for national elections in 1956. Fearing the march of communism, the United States scuttled those plans, creating South Vietnam as a puppet regime to defend against the red tide. U.S. troops soon followed, first as advisors, then as soldiers. And the wounded and dead began returning to America. The anti-war demonstrations began in 1964 and grew steadily. Senator George Aiken from Vermont (the same Senator who had opposed the 1950 oleo tax repeal) advanced a rather simple idea in October 1966: declare victory and leave. But the war continued and escalated. More American lives were lost, and the Tet Offensive began in January 1968. Aiken reiterated his plan again in the early months of 1968, and, in March of that year, Walter Cronkite announced that the war was un-winnable and advanced his peace plan. The United States, Cronkite said, should “negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” President Johnson started preliminary peace talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris in May 1968, but the negotiations quickly bogged down as each side accused the other of lying, committing atrocities or refusing to stop hostile military actions as a show of good faith while talks ensued.
Richard Nixon at the time had emerged as the front runner for the Republican nomination for President. At each campaign stump, he argued that new leadership would end the war. He did not give any details about his plan, and the media soon reported that he had a secret plan, much like Adlai Stevenson had a secret plan to end the Korean War in 1952. Nixon had attacked Stevenson’s plan, demanding that he disclose the details. Stevenson refused and was defeated. Sixteen years later, Nixon decided that nondisclosure of his secret plan was the better course, and the American public agreed. Nixon was elected, secret plan and all. Soon after the inauguration, Nixon’s plan emerged, but the public was not satisfied with Vietnamization. The plan was seen as no plan, or an old plan, or a war plan—one designed not to end the struggle, but to continue the fight against the onslaught of Communism. The lack of a time table for the withdrawal of American troops was particularly troubling. And so, nine months into Nixon’s first term, Johnson’s war had become Nixon’s war. Public dissatisfaction grew with polls showing that the majority of Americans thought that sending troops to Vietnam in the first instance was a mistake. Demands for the immediate withdrawal of troops were common.
Senator Charles Goodell, a Republican from New York who had been appointed to serve the remainder of Robert Kennedy’s term, announced his own plan in the fall of 1969: he proposed a bill that would require a total withdrawal of all American troops within a year. Goodell backed his escape plan up with a proposal that Congress cut off funding and instruct the President to make the withdrawal. The Goodell Plan was quickly embraced by many politicians, whom columnist William Buckley Jr. disparaged as the “hothead bugouts.” North Dakota Senator George McGovern indicated that, if he were president, the troops would be home within a year. Senator Edward Kennedy, in a speech given in Boston during the First War Moratorium, also advocated an immediate troop withdrawal. The American public weighed in with its own three-point plan, via a Gallup poll. The United Nations would supervise an election, the U.S. would withdraw its troops regardless of the outcome of the election, and the U.S. would keep aircraft carriers off the coast just in case North Vietnam tried anything. The peace plan by Democratic Senate Leader Mike Mansfield of Ohio called for a ceasefire, followed by a joint effort to establish a coalition government in Vietnam.
Art Buchwald, the humorist whose newspaper column was widely syndicated, also thought that a coalition government would work. During the day, South Vietnam would control the country—with South Vietnam and American flags displayed side by side in district town halls and posters of President Thieu and Richard Nixon hung in each village square. When night fell, the flags and posters would come down, replaced by the flags of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong and posters of Ho Chi Minh, General Giap and Mao Zedong. Of course, Buchwald added, there would have to be rules so that the day government could not pass laws preventing the night government from functioning (and vice versa). The “beauty of the plan” was than neither side had to give up anything: each could claim they controlled the country. Another humorist thought that Nixon should pledge “to bring our boys home by 12:00 noon on July 4, 1999.” With the deadline set, albeit 30-years in the future, campus unrest would stop overnight. “What’s the use of demanding that we withdraw from Vietnam…when we’re already going to withdraw from Vietnam?” And the 1999 deadline would be well-received by the boys in the foxholes, who could fight knowing that their grandchildren would never be drawn into the conflict.
By the time of Brody’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the public was hungry for peace and willing to listen to anybody who could get the American troops home, even a long-haired hippie millionaire who wanted to be a rock star. Brody sat on the stage where a few minutes earlier he had performed. Renée sat beside him. Many of the show’s guests stayed to hear Brody. CBS radio and a few of the local television stations carried the news conference live. Other stations covered it during the nightly news. Ed Sullivan stood off stage and watched, amused. Ali joked with a news reporter that he was waiting to ask Brody for a handout. After all, Ali said, “I am unemployed.” Ali tried to catch Renée’s eye. When he finally did, he pointed at Brody and mouthed the words, “I want to talk to him.” Like others, Ali wanted a helping hand from Brody.
Brody tried to maneuver the press conference to the war and his peace plan, but the reporters drilled him with questions about his money and the last few days, the crowds and his flight to Puerto Rico. The crowds were trying to kill him, he told the press. But he promised to rise from the dead, after three days, if he were killed. And he mentioned that he had cures for all diseases, including cancer. When asked what it was, he said he would reveal it at a news conference the next day at JFK. He mentioned a $100 million record contract that he had signed, and his plans to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono to discuss peace and love. He was asked repeatedly about the size of his fortune.
“I am worth a hundred billion dollars. Does that stagger you? Wait a minute.” He paused. “That was yesterday. Maybe I’m worth a trillion today.” It was hard to tell whether he was serious or joking. His mood then changed quickly when he was asked about the hordes seeking money. “They are very greedy and selfish. While people are dying in Vietnam, they are wondering if I’ll pay off their $50,000 homes.” He was angry. He denied that his checks had bounced. He had written only a few, seven or eight or ten at the most, but there were many forgeries. Hundreds of forgeries, perhaps thousands, were being presented to the bank. Greed was the problem. None of it mattered, however, not the money nor the crowds nor the greed. The only thing that mattered to him was Renée. “If anyone took her away,” he said, “I would ask for a gun to blow my brains out.”
More questions came about his fortune and his giveaway plan. “Money hasn’t made me satisfied. I wasn’t satisfied until I met Renée. Now I have everything I want—love, fresh air, food. So why shouldn’t I give my money away?” And he promised to give it away if only the people would give him some space so that he could do his thing. He had been paid $3,500 for appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, and Renée had been paid $275. They would give the money away. He was also about to sign a $100 million record contract but would not reveal any details. He added that it didn’t matter how much he had. “I’m a financial wizard anyway. I can control the Big Board. I can make as much money as I want.”
He turned to the war, and his plan for peace. Brody’s plan was well rooted in good old American capitalism. “I will give the North Vietnam government 10 billion dollars to retreat from the South,” he told the press. He was serious, almost solemn, when he spoke. “If they do this, I will give them $20 billion more in aid and go over there and personally help them build their country.” Brody then called on President Nixon to meet him at JFK airport to discuss peace, poverty and the end to the Vietnam War. He wanted to fly to the Paris Peace Conference with Nixon. “We’ll call up Brezhnev,” he said, referring to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “and ask him to come, too, and we’ll solve the world’s problems.” If Nixon didn’t appear, Brody would travel to Washington, D.C. He’d land a helicopter on the White House lawn. Brody would hold another news conference the next day with more details about his plan to end the war.
Outside the theater, dozens waited for Brody, seeking his help. Sherrill Holly, from Port Jervis, New York, had traveled to Manhattan to stand in line outside the theater. She was hoping to speak to Brody. She wanted $450,000 for a charity that help “retarded” children. She had written out a check in that amount. All Brody had to do was sign it. “My husband says he’s not sure whether the men in the white coats will go for Brody or me first.” A 26-year-old woman from East Orange, New Jersey, had been waiting for over four hours. “I’m cold but I need the money. I need it bad, so I’m going to stay till I see him.” She eventually did see him but only for a few seconds. Police escorted Brody from the theater and through the crowd, which surged past the barricades toward Brody. “You’re killing me,” Brody said to the crowd before the police were able to get him and his entourage into waiting cars.