David Frost was mocked as a lightweight outsider by mainstream media when in 1977 he purchased an interview with Richard Nixon, especially excoriated by Mike Wallace the week before it was to air. But he ultimately checkmated the disgraced former President in a contest that was even higher stakes than Fischer-Spassky.
From a colorful Hollywood Reporter essay about the colorful Frost by former girlfriend Caroline Cushing Graham, who was with him during the momentous interviews and was played by Rebecca Hall in the Ron Howard adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play:
In 1975 David and I traveled to Florida for a series of The Guinness Book of World Record shows he hosted. One was about the fattest man, the sword swallower, and another about a post office built for small people. The human bomb blew himself up for the camera, he had added an extra stick of dynamite to impress David. We were impressed and horrified by the effort – that was a typical Frost program.
In February 1977 David asked me to come to Beverly Hills, where he was preparing for the historic interviews with Richard Nixon. At the time there was anxiety and money needed, and ads to be sold to pay for the cable TV channel airing the interviews. In the Beverly Hilton, a group of famous journalists were researching questions with David, along with our good friend and advisor Clay Felker, founder of New York and New West magazines.
David worked himself to the bone in Beverly Hills, with a painful root canal emergency done a few days before the Laguna Beach interviews. I accompanied David with the team down south to Laguna, he did not drive, contrary to the Frost/Nixon movie. As David prepared to interview Richard Nixon, I made the sandwiches for their lunch. When the last days’ interview was over, there were 28 hours of interviews, Nixon invited us for drinks at the Western White House. Diane Sawyer accompanied us to a private room for cocktails. Nixon asked me if I liked good wine, as he was proud of his cellar. Driving away that evening I felt sorry for Nixon, he was so lonely and we were going to a party at Ma Maison, where Sammy Kahn was performing.
Nixon had said to David, as we posed for a photograph with him: “Marry that girl, she lives in Monte Carlo.” David laughed at Nixon’s remark and it became a standing joke between us – he used it in his book I Gave Them a Sword. As we returned to Beverly Hills David was anxious to meet with his team and get their reaction to the interviews before we went out to dinner.”•
From a later Frost special for the Guinness Book of World Records: