Dick Tuck

Dick Tuck was a legendary political hoaxer who made a career out of making life miserable for Richard Nixon.

In 1950 both Nixon and Tuck were near the start of their careers. Nixon was running for a California senate seat against democratic opponent Helen Gagahan Douglas, and Tuck was working for Douglas's campaign.

Nixon was running an extremely dirty campaign, making every effort to portray his opponent as a communist-sympathizer. This red-bashing had already worked successfully for him in a 1946 congressional race against the democrat Jerry Voorhis, and had propelled him to national fame as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Tuck decided that he would undermine Nixon by getting himself hired as a campaign worker in Nixon's campaign, where he would secretly operate as a mole for Douglas.

As a campaign worker for Nixon, Tuck was responsible for organizing campaign rallies. He organized one such rally at UC Santa Barbara, and he booked the largest auditorium possible. However, he purposefully booked it on a day that few students would be able to attend, and then he barely publicized it at all. Therefore, when Nixon showed up to speak there were only 40 students waiting to hear him in a 4000 seat auditorium. Tuck got up on the stage to introduce Nixon and proceeded to deliver a long, rambling monologue in which he made frequent references to Nixon's cut-throat, red-bashing campaign tactics against Jerry Voorhis. Finally he announced that Nixon would now speak about the International Monetary Fund. Nixon, of course, had not planned to speak about the IMF. Therefore, when he got up to the podium he was momentarily speechless.

As Nixon's political star began to rise, Tuck continued to torment him. In 1956 Nixon was running for reelection as Eisenhower's Vice President. The Republican Convention was being held in San Francisco that year, and Tuck learned that the route taken by garbage trucks going to the dump led them right past the convention center. Therefore, Tuck paid to have all the garbage trucks bear signs that read "Dump Nixon".

In 1960 Tuck worked for Kennedy during the Nixon/Kennedy race. On the day following Nixon's first televised debate with Kennedy, Tuck hired an elderly woman to approach Nixon as he got off a plane, kiss him on the cheek, and say "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll win next time." Nixon was reportedly momentarily at a loss for words.

Tuck also waged an ongoing effort to undermine Nixon's campaign effort. For instance, Tuck would pose as a fire marshall to provide low estimates of the turnout at Nixon's rallies for the media. He would also inform bandleaders at Republican rallies that Nixon's favorite song was "Mack the Knife," so that as Nixon took the stage he would be heralded by lyrics describing a rapacious conman.

In one legendary incident Tuck dressed up as a train conductor and signalled a train to leave the station while Nixon was delivering a speech from its rear platform. Reportedly, the train pulled out of the station with Nixon still speaking. (There is some doubt about whether this incident actually occurred).

In 1962 Nixon was touring the Chinatown section of Los Angeles as a gubernatorial candidate. Tuck arranged for Chinese-speaking residents of the area to greet him with signs that said 'Welcome Nixon' in English at the top, but at the bottom said "What about the Hughes Loan?" in Chinese characters. The Hughes loan referred to a highly suspect loan that the billionaire Howard Hughes had given to Nixon's brother Donald. Nixon, of course, didn't know what the signs said, so he waved happily at the sign-bearers while they all laughed back at him.

In 1964 Tuck himself ran for one of California's state Senate seats. His campaign slogan was "The job needs Tuck, and Tuck needs the job." Nixon came to town and endorsed Tuck's rival, so Tuck challenged Nixon to a debate and promised not to shave if Nixon accepted (a reference to the appearance that Nixon had a five o'clock shadow during his televised debate with Kennedy).

By 1968, when Nixon was running for President, Tuck had managed to make Nixon's campaign managers so paranoid that they began to undermine themselves. When a huge shipment of buttons printed in Greek, Chinese, and Italian arrived at Nixon's campaign headquarters to be distributed at various ethnic rallies in New York City, Nixon's campaign manager, remembering the 1962 incident with the Chinese signs, ordered that all the buttons be destroyed, just in case Tuck had tampered with them (he hadn't).

However, Tuck was up to his usual tricks during this campaign, such as when he hired several pregnant women to show up at Nixon rallies carrying signs that read "Nixon's the One."

By 1972 Nixon had decided that he needed someone like Dick Tuck working on his side. Therefore he hired Donald Segretti to conduct a dirty tricks campaign for him against his democratic opponents. In Nixon's words, he wanted his campaign to develop a "Dick Tuck capability." However, Nixon's effort to mimic Tuck's pranks lacked all humor and went badly wrong. Segretti's dirty tricks included forging letters to newspapers imputing sexual misconduct to Hubert Humphrey and forging letters on the stationery of Sen. Edmund S. Muskie that included language denigrating blacks.

Apparently Nixon realized that Segretti's efforts were not comparable to the standard set by Tuck. In a White House conversation taped on March 13, 1973 Nixon commented that it "Shows what a master Dick Tuck is ... Segretti's hasn't been a bit similar."

  • Stephen J. Whitfield. "Nixon as a Comic Figure," American Quarterly, Vol. 37, No.1, Spring 1985, 114-132.
  • Ron Kurtus, "Did Dick Tuck Cause Watergate?" revised August 28, 2000.

Congressman Nixon as a member of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities in the late 1940s.

Vice President Nixon with President Eisenhower in the 1950s.

Dick Tuck with his wife Joyce Daly at their wedding in 1989.