His fragile masculine self-image always drew him to the strong and the tough-and the ultimate power of the presidency.-Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, psychosomatic medicine specialist and psychotherapist consulted by Richard Nixon
The strain on Nixon had started to show long before he reached the Senate. There had been the twenty-hour workdays during the Hiss case, the skipped meals, the refusal to take time out for relaxation. It made him quick-tempered with colleagues, as well as "mean" with his family. When he had trouble sleeping, he resorted to sleeping pills. The campaign against Helen Douglas had only driven him to greater limits.
As a senator he continued to work obsessively. When his secretaries left for the day-Nixon had nine-their boss regularly went on working into the evening. He often did not get home for dinner, if at all. "Many times," said Earl Chapman, a friend in whom Pat confided, he worked "until the small hours....Maybe if he gets through early enough he'll come back home, but many times he'll curl up on the couch and get a few hours' sleep. Then he'll get a little breakfast and shave, and go right down to the Senate chambers...."
A month or two into this punishing schedule Nixon began to be plagued with persistent back and neck pain. The first doctors he consulted were no help, and he found himself perusing a book on psychosomatic illness pressed on him by the outgoing senator from California, Sheridan Downey. The book was The Will to Live, by Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, an easy-to-read best-seller written for people "in the grips of acute conflict." It emphasized "the interaction of the human psyche and bodily reactions."
Hutschnecker was described by one academic as "a sort of Pavlovian and Freudian synthesizer." He himself professed that he "treated my patients as if they are my children." Famous clients over the years reportedly included the actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Celeste Holm, and Rita Hayworth and the novelist Erich Maria Remarque. An Austrian emigré who graduated in Berlin soon after World War I, he had been working in New York City since 1936.
While he practiced internal medicine, he had early in his career been interested in the way mental and emotional disturbances affect health. By 1951, this topic had become the primary focus of his work. He dropped internal medicine completely by 1955, to specialize exclusively as a psychotherapist engaged in what he called "psychoanalytically oriented treatment of emotional problems."1
Dr. Hutschnecker had, in the words of one interviewer, "a touch of the missionary zeal of a Billy Graham, of the cheery optimism of a Norman Vincent Peale, of the psychic beliefs of a Jeane Dixon, and an accent a bit reminiscent of Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove." Nixon, as we have seen, publicly associated himself with both Graham and Peale, and, according to one close aide, credited the prophecies of Dixon, the popular astrologer.
In The Will to Live, Hutschnecker dealt with a range of human complaints: chronic fatigue, hypertension, ulcers, insomnia, the inability to love, aggression, impotence in men and frigidity in women. On reading it, Nixon took a step that was to lead to a long and trusting relationship with the doctor-as well as to future political embarrassment. He asked one of his new secretaries, Rose Mary Woods, to telephone Hutschnecker and ask if he would take on a new private patient. Woods, just starting the loyal service to Nixon that would one day give her a notorious role in the Watergate saga, told Hutschnecker her boss was "really interested in something in The Will to Live that related to himself."
So it was that, probably in the early fall of 1951, Nixon went to New York and presented himself at Dr. Hutschnecker's imposing office at 829 Park Avenue. The doctor's wife, acting as his receptionist that day, entered the inner sanctum to announce that the young senator had arrived-and looked "very tense." He was to see Hutschnecker several times that first year and in the four years that followed.
From 1952, when he became vice president, Nixon arrived for his consultations-five that year-openly, in the official limousine, and with a Secret Service escort. In 1955, though, when Hutschnecker began to specialize solely in psychotherapy, Nixon became worried about publicity. After Walter Winchell had made a snide reference to the visits in one of his columns, he began taking his physical ailments to a military doctor in Washington.
By that time he and Hutschnecker had established a close relationship and met privately whenever Nixon came to New York. "I remember going to his suite in the Waldorf," the doctor recalled, "and hearing him singing so happily in the shower. And I said to myself, 'Aha, my treatment is working.'"
The discreet meetings continued throughout the fifties. When Nixon called, said Hutschnecker, "He'd never say: 'I have a problem.' He'd say, 'Could we have breakfast?' And I'd go." "He needed me. It was what we call a transference, a trust. He came to me when he had decisions to make. Or when something was pending, and it troubled him."
Nixon did not always reveal what was on his mind. After one 1952 visit Hutschnecker was astonished to learn from the press of his patient's possible selection as Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate. It must have been the matter uppermost in Nixon's mind during the consultation, yet he had failed to mention it. Later the same year, however, when enmeshed in allegations of having taken under-the-table money-the fund scandal*-Nixon tried frantically to reach the doctor.
"I went out for a while one day, and when I came back, my wife said, 'Where were you? The senator's office was calling every ten minutes.' They had been holding the plane, and the last call had been just a few minutes before, but Mr. Nixon could not wait any longer....I learned later about the secret fund charges."
The psychotherapist also made a number of trips to see Nixon in his Washington office. During one lunch he astonished the senator by declaring that he considered both Joe McCarthy and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles mentally disturbed. "Dr. Hutschnecker..." Nixon wrote in a 1959 note to Rose Woods, "I want to have him come down...check with me as to whether I want it before we go on vacation." The following year, during the campaign against John F. Kennedy, there was another summons.
In early 1961, within weeks of the Republican handover of the White House, Nixon was back at the doctor's office. The following year he consulted Hutschnecker before his disastrous bid for the governorship of California, having ignored the doctor's advice not to run. A journalist who happened to live next door to the building that housed Hutschnecker's Park Avenue offices, Harriet Van Horne, recalled seeing Nixon's "grim visage" passing beneath the canopy. "I once asked a building employee," Horne recalled, "'Does Mr. Nixon visit friends at 829?' 'Naw,' came the reply. 'He comes to see the shrink.'"
During the presidency, however, Nixon's aides saw to it that the link to Hutschnecker was virtually severed, though he would make two visits to the White House, the first to discuss violent crime and the second after the U.S. incursion into Cambodia in 1970. The doctor had long hoped that Nixon would swiftly get the United States out of Vietnam, and a friend quoted him as saying, "Pavlovian technique had been helping him brainwash Nixon into becoming a better person." He believed he could "remake the man into a dove" on Southeast Asia. But the second trip was to misfire. As reported in context later, Nixon would end the meeting in frustration after a few minutes. There were a number of other meetings outside the White House, though, but only when Nixon felt he could avoid detection-not only by the press but, the doctor implied, by his own aides.
Later, after the resignation, the doctor would visit Nixon at San Clemente. By then he seemed, Hutschnecker thought, "like a confessant." They met for the last time in 1993, when Nixon asked the doctor to accompany him to Pat's funeral. He was seated, at Nixon's request, in the area allotted to the family. The doctor did not attend the former president's own funeral the following year because, as he put it, there was no one left for him to help.
A few cautious comments aside, Dr. Hutschnecker did not speak publicly about his patient over the years. He avoided putting Nixon's name on prescriptions, kept his name out of the appointment book, and apparently did not ask for payment. Although he is said to have been less guarded in private-snippets of his dinner party asides leaked out on occasion-the doctor was careful to shield Nixon as medical ethics required.
In 1995, however, he gave the first of three lengthy interviews for this book. Toward the end of the former president's life, Hutschnecker said, he had written authorizing him to write about their relationship, assuming Hutschnecker would survive him. It must have seemed a reasonable gamble that he would not, for the doctor was nearly ninety at the time. Yet Nixon did die first, and Hutschnecker wrote the draft of a manuscript about his experiences with his patient, though he kept it at home unpublished. He had felt constrained, he said, to "leave out a lot."
Astonishingly sprightly at ninety-seven and living testimony to his own advice on how to achieve longevity, Dr. Hutschnecker received his interviewer at his home in sylvan northern Connecticut. He answered questions in a study cluttered with the bric-a-brac of a long professional life, including a photograph of Richard Nixon-inscribed in 1977 "in appreciation of friendship"-and a Nixon gift of ivory elephants. Later, on the veranda, over tea laced with Irish whiskey, he talked on in his heavily German-accented English about the politician to whom he had had such exclusive access.
From The Arrogance of Power (c) Anthony Summers, 2000. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.