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Let me tell you how I went on Henry Kissinger’s honeymoon.
It was March 1974 when I got the invitation.
Actually, it was more of an order or assignment, if you’re gonna be picky about details. My boss, the national news editor of a noted national newspaper, called me when I was in the kitchen of my rural Illinois home.
He said the world-famous diplomat and modern advocate of realpolitik had just gotten secretly married and he wanted me to go along on the honeymoon. My boss did, not Kissinger.
The newlyweds were already en route to Acapulco in a private jet. So, I needed to hurry.
Anyone who’s ever spent time near Chicago in March needs no urging to accept an invitation – all right, an order – to fly south to Acapulco, Mexico on someone else’s credit card.
When I exited the plane there in my ridiculous winter coat, it was 88 sunny degrees.
I had taken four quarters of Spanish in university, then quit for a more useful subject. Those were the days when the southern border was largely controlled, and a rookie senator named Joe Biden had yet to start screwing things up. I thought, let’s be real, how could knowing Spanish ever be useful in the middle of the United States of America?
I took a cab to the hotel. Al hotel, amigo. Rapido por favor. Dropped off my trusty Olivetti portable typewriter that would accompany me to many strange and wonderful places over the years.
Then, another cab to the gate of the borrowed villa where Kissinger and the former Nancy Maginnes were holed up. They’d met as policy wonks for Nelson Rockefeller, who loaned them his jet.
Stakeouts for news celebrities are unfortunately a common event in media life. Something is going on inside somewhere and reporters are sentenced to wait endlessly outside in case something, anything, happens.
Not necessarily because it’s important, mind you. But because it’s scheduled and your ass is grass if you leave and then something even minor happens.
I’ve always hated stakeouts because I should be doing enterprise stuff where other reporters aren’t, finding new things to write about that readers haven’t seen on TV 17 times since breakfast.
I’ve been on stakeouts in many places — New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, Japan, Chicago, Korea, among others. At least in Seoul, a TV crew had a radio so we could listen to the World Series on Armed Forces Radio.
Stakeouts can be endless. Often pointless. Sometimes kindly news subjects take pity on media standing in the broiling sun, a downpour, or chilled darkness rubbing their hands in the heat of TV lights.
Sometimes, they will come out to utter a news morsel so everyone can go home and the news subject can have their life back. During Watergate, John Dean did that for us outside his LA home.
As you’ve probably heard 17 times since breakfast, Henry Kissinger was a brilliant and controversial diplomat who saw the world in potentially neat strategic packages and accomplished many important things. Richard Nixon’s breakthrough with Communist China comes to mind.
Kissinger was a stumpy, sometimes plumpy, German immigrant with a distinguished accent. He was also a busy bachelor who didn’t mind the extra attention that came alongside dates with famous women. Jill St. John, the first American James Bond girl, leaps to mind. Lauren Bacall too.
Kissinger also dated Zsa Zsa Gabor, another European immigrant with accented English.
According to her accounts, they had a delightful dinner and evening together. In her driveway, Kissinger was moving in for a kiss when his telephone beeper went off. It was President Nixon screwing up something else.
The couple agreed on a second date. But that afternoon, Kissinger phoned Zsa Zsa to cancel. He said the U.S. was invading Cambodia in the morning, but she couldn’t tell anyone.
At the Acapulco stakeout, we could have used a cell phone if only for entertainment. But they were not yet commonly available.
Nelson Rockefeller did have one. It was the size of a briefcase with a dial inside. He loaned it to a news colleague of mine during the riotous 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago, a harbinger of a most useful tool.
So, the NBC guy and I just stood around by the Acapulco estate gate as if we were starving peasants hoping the rich folk would throw a quote from their passing limo, like French nobility tossing a coin from their carriage before the Bastille reckoning.
That was a very long workday. Not even one protester to break up the boredom.
Once, I was sent to cover a Vietnam War protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It poured rain. There were more reporters present than protesters. I wondered then, and again in Mexico, what exactly the point of that story was.
Finally, after many hours of sweating and swapping stories, the NBC guy and I reached a treaty agreement. We would leave together, eliminating the possibility of an embarrassing scoop by one of us who stayed behind and got something. Kissinger would have called it détente.
The hotel was amazing. Built into the cliff by an ocean cove with dining rooms layered like decks overlooking the water. Across the cove, insane men perhaps using some cartel product, were timing the waves far below to dive into them for our entertainment.
In my room, I sat down in front of the Olivetti to write a compelling news story detailing a nonevent where absolutely nothing happened. Do you hear me? Nothing! Nada!
Henry Kissinger had been shaping world history and the lives of millions for President Richard Nixon. As national security adviser and then Secretary of State, Kissinger would fly all around the globe doing historic diplomatic deals while conferring with world leaders, often in secret.
And then go back and forth between disputatious capitals forging agreements so his president could announce peace. Or another round of Kissinger talks that might, who knows, prevent a war.
And what did I have to write about? A sweaty afternoon waiting on a sandy Mexican side road when Pedro’s shaved-ice cart stopped by.
It was my first foreign assignment, so it had to be good. And it had to be true. In those days, there was no such thing as a narrative that had to be followed. Truth mattered. After a couple of hours, I was done and phoned it into New York:
ACAPULCO, March 31—Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived here today to confer privately with his new wife, the former Nancy Maginnes.
Perhaps needless to say, those words did not appear beneath my name in that serious newspaper. Instead, an editor, whose identity fortunately remains unknown to me, rewrote the opening into a pedestrian Mexican tourism story involving Kissinger.
Now, since I’ve finally calmed down after 49 years, I realize that was all somehow arranged just so that I could have fun writing yet another morning Memory post for RedState after the 20th Century’s most impressive diplomat died at age 100.
One other revelation after all this time: I never met Henry Kissinger. He had his chance.
This is the 12th in an occasional series of personal Memory posts. The others are below. I hope they trigger your own memories to share in the Comments.
When Grandma Arrived for That Holiday Visit
Practicing Journalism the Old-Fashioned Way
When Hal Holbrook Took a Day to Tutor a Teen on Art
The Night I Met Saturn That Changed My Life
High School Was Hard for Me, Until That One Evening
When Dad Died, He left a Haunting Message That Reemerged Just Now
My Father’s Sly Trick About Smoking That Saved My Life
Encounters with Fame 2.0
His Name Was Edgar. Not Ed. Not Eddie. But Edgar.
My Encounters With Famous People and Someone Else
The July 4th I Saw More Fireworks Than Anyone Ever