Ask for copy (note from RN)
Nixon’s first State of the Union address was delivered in the evening on January 22, 1970, just about the time Brody and Renée began their trip from New York to Hawaii. In the speech, Nixon assured the nation that America’s first priority was “peace for America and the world.” He then addressed the situation in Vietnam. “The major immediate goal of our foreign policy is to bring an end to the war in Vietnam in a way that our generation will be remembered—not so much as the generation that suffered in war, but more for the fact that we had the courage and character to win the kind of a just peace that the next generation was able to keep.” He looked directly into the camera. “We are making progress toward that goal. The prospects for peace are far greater today than they were a year ago.” But, Nixon said, the end to the war in Vietnam was just part of a strategy for global peace. America had to secure better relationships with both the Soviet Union and Communist China. “Our concern in our relations with both these nations is to avoid a catastrophic collision and to build a solid basis for peaceful settlement of our differences.” From foreign policy, Nixon segued to domestic affairs—reform of the welfare system, reform of government, expansion of basic civil and human rights. And from there, the President touched upon economic issues—inflation and balancing the federal budget. And, as is typical of such speeches, there was high rhetoric and grand vision—the need to end pollution and hunger and suffering. Toward the end of the address, he indicated that the nation’s leaders had to “inspire young Americans with a sense of excitement, a sense of destiny, a sense of involvement, in meeting the challenges we face in this great period of our history. Only then are they going to have any sense of satisfaction in their lives.”
Nixon’s state of the union address was well received by the press and the public. With the address out of the way, Nixon decided to catch up on some reading before finalizing work on the federal budget. Carrying a stack of papers, he shuffled, with that Richard III-like hunch of his, to his private office suite in the Old Executive Office Building. The suite, known as EOB 175, was his retreat—a sanctum sanctorum. The rooms were not staffed, and Nixon escaped there nearly every day in order to get away from the frenzy of the Presidency. He did not like people, and even those close to him wondered why he had ever entered politics. Henry Kissinger called him a “loner.” As the pressures of being the Chief Executive mounted, Nixon sought refuge in EOB 175 more and more. The suite consisted of two rooms. The outer room was sparsely furnished, with a small round table, a sofa, some chairs and a large globe. Adorning the walls were dozens of framed political cartoons of himself that he had collected over the years. He scoured the newspapers and magazines to add to his collection. The inner room was long and rectangular. A desk sat in front of the window that overlooked West Executive Avenue, a small street between the White House and the Old Executive Office Building. A large milk-chocolate brown chair with an ottoman sat in one corner. A small reading light was nearby on a side table.
Nixon spent many hours in the inner office, sometimes holding meetings with staff or advisers, but more often alone, hunched in the brown chair, with his feet on the hassock. He sat for hours scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad or reading. He liked to listen to classical music on the radio. It relaxed him.
Presidents are typically given a daily summary of domestic and international stories in the news. Nixon faithfully read the daily news summaries, often writing marginalia that varied from comments about particular stories or orders to his advisors or staff to do something in response to a story. In all his notes, Nixon referred to himself in the third-person, by his initials, RN. Brody had been in the daily news briefing for January 17 and over the weekend. Nixon read the accounts. Nixon was also a faithful reader of the Evening Star (usually called the Washington Star or simply the Star), the conservative Washington daily of its day. The Star had the Brody story on page 1 of its Friday and Saturday editions. Nixon was in a good mood, and he devoured the daily news reports and the major newspapers from the last week. The cartoon that had appeared in the January 20 edition of the Los Angeles Times depicting him leaning outside a second story window of the White House and saying, “Who do you think I am…Michael J. Brody?” caught his eye. He scribbled a note to one of his aides, referring to himself, in his usual manner, in the third person. “Ask for copy (note from RN).” Nixon wanted a copy to add to his collection that adorned the walls of the waiting room in EOB 175.
Across the globe, Brody refused to do the second show in Honolulu and instead caught a flight back to New York. He had come down from his high, and his mood was better. He had played with The Dead after all. He and Renée flew Pan Am on student standby, which was the cheapest class available. The flight had a layover at LAX, where Brody met with the press. Both he and Renée were wearing buckskin pants and moccasins. She wore a leather vest with long tassels with beads, and he had on a tattered old brown coat.
Brody and Renée were tired from the long trip across the Pacific. He had a slight stubble of a beard and needed a shower. She wore sunglasses to hide her bloodshot eyes. Brody’s plans had grown. He saw disparity in the economic system, which allowed a few to accumulate wealth while the many suffered. He wanted to reform the system—to redistribute the wealth. He would meet with President Nixon and John Lennon to discuss forming an organization “to promote peace and fight poverty.”
“I want to wipe out hunger,” he proclaimed. “If anyone is hungry, we’ll find them and give them food.” He announced that he had received 200 million letters of support and $125 million of contributions, which he would use to carry on his philanthropy. His efforts at giving away his own fortune were on track, but he was getting resistance from certain New York banks. He claimed that New York banks were afraid that he would wipe them out as he withdrew large sums to dole out. He had plans to fight pollution: “Money can do it.” He also needed help. He wanted 20,000 volunteers to assist him with collecting and handing out money.
When asked how much money he had on him, he said he had “about 100 bucks.” The crowd that had gathered in the airport shouted for him to give it to them. “We’re going to meet with representatives and get the whole thing organized. We have to get to work, there’ll be no more press conferences. We’ve got to split,” he said. Several Pan Am officials escorted them away.
Back in New York, Brody and his group turned their attention to the Toronto Peace Festival, which was tentatively planned for July 1970 in Mosport Park in Ontario. John Lennon had been working on the festival, which the planners believed would be bigger than Woodstock. In September 1969, Lennon and Yoko Ono, as the Plastic Ono Band, had performed at the Varsity Stadium as part of the 1969 Peace Festival, about a month after Woodstock. As 1969 came to an end, Lennon’s anti-war efforts escalated. For many, Lennon had become the symbol and hope of the anti-war movement. He and Yoko held their two Beds In For Peace, the first in Amsterdam in March and then in Montreal in late May and early June. In Montreal, he sang and recorded his new song, “Give Peace a Chance.” In November, that song became the anti-war anthem when Americans gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C., for the Second War Moratorium. A month later, Lennon solidified himself as one of the symbolic leaders of the anti-war movement when he posted the “WAR IS OVER! (if you want it)” billboard in eleven cities around the world. As the new decade approached, Lennon announced plans for the 1970 Peace Festival—a three-day concert in July. It was seen as the follow up to Woodstock, but with a direct anti-Vietnam War message. It would show Nixon and the world that the youth of the world would not tolerate the injustices of the world.
Brody was excited. He saw the Peace Festival as his opportunity to work with Lennon. Brody declared himself the United States Ambassador to the Peace Festival. He began traveling, with his entourage, which had grown to 12, including a young woman named Brenda, age 18, who was homeless. Brody was calling her Mary Magdalene. Renée was also carrying around a small black-and-white puppy, which everyone was calling the Puppy for Peace. On January 27, the group found itself in Echo Lake, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos, to give a news conference.
Over the last two weeks, Brody’s claims had become wilder and wilder. He indicated that he would become the ruler of Brazil for a day, just to earn additional money for his peace proposal. He also claimed that be might become a planet, though nobody understood what he meant by that. At other times, he claimed he had tried to buy the Playboy Club in Jamaica but that Hugh Hefner had turned him down. How the resort fit into his grand scheme was unclear, but so were many of his plans. He discussed his I.Q., which, according to him, was either 200 or the first perfect score since “Jesus Christ.” He asked everyone to send money to Nixon so that the President could not veto any welfare bills on the grounds that the government lacked money. At Echo Lake, Brody spoke of elaborate world peace plans, which the Pocono Record would describe as “too complex for the average person to comprehend.” He would shame other millionaires into participating in his giveaway, not only in giving to charities to help the less fortune but, ultimately, into forming a consortium in order to pay off the North Vietnamese government. The plan would also gain notoriety for his own singing career, which he viewed as a way to earn vast sums of money that he would contribute toward buying the peace. The plan had other facets, and included millionaires like the Kennedys, Aristotle Onassis and J. Paul Getty as well as rock stars like the members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Together, Brody and the others would end the war, feed the hungry, end suffering and bring peace and love to the planet. But in all of the plans, at the center was Brody, the messiah, the Pied Piper of Scarsdale who would lead the children to the promised land.
The newsmen no longer wanted to hear about Brody’s peace plans or his singing career. They wanted information about his fortune. Just as his fortune had escalated from story to story when Brody was on the way up, his inheritance was shrinking on the way down—to $3,000,000, then $2,000,000, then $1,000,000 or less. There were some reports that his fortune was much less, perhaps as low as $450,000. Perhaps lower. It was time to flee. Stephen Kennedy’s masquerade on the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 gave Brody an idea. He had tried to charter a 747 for the trip to JFK from Montego Bay but was told it was not in service. Now it was, but money was short. The charter would be too much, and Brody’s managers were trying to control the spending. Plus, chartering a jet was old news. More important to Brody was to get to London. There was word on the street that a benefit concert would be held there to raise money for those starving in Biafra. Brody could get in on that gig, and he could unite with The Beatles, all in the name of love and world peace.
Brody and his bride and their two “bodyguards,” Michael Aronin, who as out on bail, and Brian Wilders, boarded the Pan Am 747 expecting a direct flight to Heathrow. Brody carried a Pan Am blue-and-white flight bag stuffed with U.S. $20 bills. He had found that his preference for carrying and giving out $100 bills was getting a little expensive. He settled on twenties, which he liked to fan in front of the camera for effect. The one benefit to carrying smaller denomination bills was that there was more of them, and Brody liked shoving his hands into the bag and coming out with two fists full of bills. The jet was only partially full, with no more than 140 passengers, less than one-third its capacity. As the 747 approached Heathrow, the crew learned that London was fogged in. The flight was diverted to Frankfurt, Germany. When word reached Frankfurt that the plane would land there, Frankfurt’s Lord Mayor, Dr. Willi Brundert, and other local officials hastily arranged a welcome ceremony. At the airport, a small crowd, many of whom were members of the airport’s ground crew, gathered to watch the jet land. The press dutifully covered the arrival of the modern marvel, which the papers noted was longer than the length of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. When the press learned that Brody was on board, the emphasis of the story changed. Brody’s celebrity and exploits were well known on the continent. The next day, Stars and Stripes would run a long story entitled; “2 Great Phenomena Land at Frankfurt: Big Jet, Big Spender.” The bulk of the article pertained to Brody, with the 747 as mere backdrop.
“I am going to conquer the world with love,” Brody told the press during the layover in Germany. He talked excitedly. “I can bring peace to the world if President Nixon would just say, ‘I believe in Michael J. Brody.’” He claimed he had given away $10 or $20 million. When questioned about the value of his fortune, he said, “I made $135 million last week alone. I received hundreds and thousands of money grams, including one for an anonymous donation of $5 million. I’m putting them all in a non-profit corporation called Prince of Peace.” Brody then explained his plans for a benefit concert in London, to help the “quarter-million starving in London and the quarter-million starving in Biafra.” He planned to play the Royal Albert Hall, as soon as details could be worked out. Brody had not spoken to anyone at the Hall and had no idea about whether it could be booked. He hoped John Lennon would come and play with him, but he had not contacted the Beatle. The concert would raise millions, but he wouldn’t charge admission. He would rely on the generosity of the concertgoers. He promised to send millions to the starving in Biafra. When he was told that there was no food to buy with the money, Brody paused, then promised to send Cadillacs instead.
The reporters pressed him about the New York Times article that claimed his philanthropy was drug induced. He blamed the reporter, Nancy Moran. He claimed that she was the one on drugs, during the entire trip. But he admitted he did drugs. “Sure I’ve smoked marijuana. Everybody else does, and I’ll stop when they stop.” He also indicated that he had hired F. Lee Bailey, and he was planning a $100 million libel suit, and when he won, he’d use that money for his philanthropic endeavors. He discounted the stories of his checks not being honored by the Scarsdale National Bank. He’d written only a handful of checks but there were many forgeries, and that had caused the run on the bank. “People are so greedy. They flooded the bank.”
He reached his hand into his flight bag and brought out a fistful of U.S. twenties. “From now on, I am giving away cash.”