Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon Play a Hand of Draw Poker

From 1956 to 1958, Chrysler produced in limited numbers a luxury sports car called the Dual-Ghia. The name came from Dual Motors in Michigan which bought chassis from Dodge then shipped them to the automobile design firm Carrozzeria Ghia in Italy where the cars were put together. Although the original plan was to create about 150 per year, only 117 Dual-Ghias were ever made.

The Dual-Ghia sported a hefty $7,600 price tag, making it more expensive than the highest-priced Cadillacs, and several celebrities owned them including Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Glenn Ford, and Desi Arnaz (who wrecked his). Then-Vice President Richard Nixon apparently had one. So, too, did Ronald Reagan.

At that time Reagan was about a decade away from becoming governor of California, but by then his acting career was already starting to slow down. He’d star with his wife Nancy in the WWII film Hellcats of the Navy in 1957, one of his very last films. His last role would be to play a gangster in The Killers (1964), then he would be elected governor a couple of years later.

Among all the stories of poker-playing presidents floating about, you don’t find too many involving Reagan. He played golf like all the presidents did. He also rode horses, enjoyed swimming and target shooting, and played football in college. He’s likely to have played cards from time to time -- as did practically all men of his generation, especially politicians -- but you don’t usually see him in the roll call of poker-playing presidents.

There is one story about Reagan playing poker, though, suggesting that he apparently lost his Dual-Ghia in a high-stakes poker game to none other than Lyndon B. Johnson. (No shinola.) Details of the game are scarce (and perhaps apocryphal), and you only really see the story come up in references to the Dual-Ghia and not to either Reagan or Johnson. Funny to think of it actually happening, though.

Hunting around for something more about the LBJ game led me to Rich Little’s comedy LP The First Family Rides Again which appeared in 1981, the first year of Reagan’s two-term presidency. The title of Little’s album refers back to Vaughn Meader’s best-selling album full of inspired skits showcasing his John F. Kennedy impersonation, The First Family (1962). Meader had a follow-up come out in the spring of 1963, The First Family Volume Two, which was also popular and sold well. In fact, Meader has a cameo on Little’s record.

Some of us remember Little very well as another prolific impersonator whose fame peaked back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s a cut on The First Family Rides Again called “The Big Game” which has Little doing all the voices for a poker game between Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Reagan.

I’ll admit to grinning a few times while listening, such as when Nixon is the first suspect when the pot is short, Carter tries to fold before the hand is dealt, and Ford thinks the game is “Go Fish.”

Click here to listen to “The Big Game.” (Picture above an inset from Andy Thomas’s 2007 painting “Grand Ol' Gang” which you can read more about here.)

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4 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

Great story, would love to hear more details of how Reagan lost the car to LBJ. Pretty hard to believe, because if it is true, you'd think it'd be wildly known.

That pic you ran.....I read the older post. Those two paintings are awesome. They have prints of them on display at The Bike in L.A.

First time I noticed them, I only saw one of the paintings and was disappointed that I only saw one party represented. Next time I was there I saw the other one. I thought maybe they rotated them. It took another visit for me to realize they had them both, fairly close to each other.

Classic poker paintings.

7/31/2014 9:46 PM  
Blogger Rakewell said...

FWIW, I did a search of all four (so far) volumes of Robert Caro's massive biography of Lyndon Johnson, and the word "Ghia" does not appear.

8/01/2014 5:20 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Ha, I also did a similar search of Caro's titles, looking both for the car and for poker stories. Not too many of the latter, actually, the highlight being a couple of instances of LBJ participating in Truman's games.

The Dual-Ghia story definitely sounds sketchy.

8/01/2014 5:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have been looking for "the Big Game" since I first heard it in 1981. What a great cut! I laughed and chuckled way back then, and still did again when I heard it again. Thanks for putting it on here with the drawings.!

10/09/2016 3:00 AM  

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