BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Pierre Salinger, you open up your book by saying, "I was seized in 1991 with a sudden mad desire to run for president of the United States." Is that really true?
PIERRE SALINGER, AUTHOR, "P.S., A Memoir": It is really true. I mean, it was craziness, I think, as I look back on it now, but having had a small and short political life, having been five months in the Senate, having been at the White House with both President Kennedy and President Johnson, I was getting a look at what was going on in this country. And I thought, "Well, maybe it's time for me to run." But, of course, it was stupid, but at least I had a little fun doing it because I prepared my speeches that I was going to give as the opening speech because I had looked at the situation that was existing in this country and how the media had changed its mentality about candidates for president. So that's why I did something rather special.
LAMB: How much did you think about this opening speech?
SALINGER: I thought about it a lot. I must have spent about two months during this period that I was thinking of running and I must have spent at least six weeks, you know, doing a draft of a speech that I would give. You see, my idea was to sign up and get some money given to me to start my campaign and get three half-hours -- one on ABC, one on CBS, one on NBC -- and do my opening speech that way and talk to the public all the way across the nation, but start out by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am interested in becoming president of the United States. But before we get into that, let me just tell you some other things."
LAMB: I want to ask you, would you read this?
SALINGER: Yeah, sure.
LAMB: I don't think you can talk about this book without you reading this piece.
SALINGER: I'll be glad to. Do you mind if I put my glasses on?
LAMB: Absolutely not.
SALINGER: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have decided to become a candidate for president of the United States. I will soon be giving you important details on what I will do if elected, how I would restructure America so as to improve your daily lives and straighten out our foreign policy. However, ladies and gentlemen, as you all are well aware, we live in a new era of presidential politics. As a result, the minute I announce my candidacy, the media will leap upon my past and ferret out whatever they can about my private life.
"Well, I've decided to save them the considerable amount of time they would have to spend on this issue. Here is the truth. From the early 1950s until 1983, I had dozens -- no, scores of mistresses. While campaigning for United States senator from California in 1964 I made love practically every night with the wife of a famous American actor. While in the White House, on several occasions, President Kennedy encouraged me to take a lover, an obvious sign he also had some himself. In France, a country where the majority of men have mistresses, I happily embraced the French mentality.
"There's no need to identify these women, but there's a possibility some may emerge to verify the truth of what I'm claiming. I am now, as I said, living very happily with my fourth wife. Her name is Nicole, or at least it was. She has changed it to Poppy. Since meeting her in 1983 I have abandoned mistresses because of my great love for her. So, ladies and gentlemen, I know what I just said will shock some of you and may cause you to decide not to vote for me, but for those of you who understand that private life is private life, I want to go forward with my views on how to improve the future of America."
LAMB: Now why did you think that that might shock some in the audience?
SALINGER: Well, you know, at the time I had double thought. I was having a thought of actually not running and, also, I was thinking of writing a novel in which a young presidential candidate would start his speech that way because I had just thought it was absolutely necessary to have somebody who was running for president do this to announce before because there is no candidate for president who doesn't have something in his background that the media can find about and cause a whole scandal. I mean, none of them, nobody. And so why not just tell them all the scandals before you decide to run?
LAMB: What was the reaction from your current wife about this idea?
SALINGER: Well, she was not excited about my running for president, but I had told her when we first met, I told her all about my mistresses and I never lied to her about that subject. And we would meet women from time to time, and I'd say, "That was one of my mistresses." So I was really honest with her, but I also got so madly in love with her that I decided that was the end of it.
LAMB: Your mother's still alive.
SALINGER: My mother's still alive. She's 98 years old. She'll be 99 in 1996. She lives in Monterey, California, and hopefully in about a month I will be again with her, spending some wonderful time with her. She's doing very well. She has a lot of trouble walking and she has a lot of trouble reading with her eyes right now, but she had an incredible background as a journalist, a lot of other things in her life.
LAMB: Now you've said in the book that she was a French Catholic.
SALINGER: That's correct.
LAMB: Now how did she deal with all this -- mistresses and four wives?
SALINGER: Well, she never was aware of it, and I don't know if I've even talked to her. She can't read the book, but, you know, this book has been now taped. I taped the book, and so the people who have taped the book and are putting it on the market in about two or three weeks, they have already sent her the copy, so she may hear that because that's the way we start that particular tape.
LAMB: How many times in your life have you been asked where you were the night or the day that John F. Kennedy was shot?
SALINGER: Very often. A lot of people thought that I was with John F. Kennedy when he was shot, and they were always surprised to discover that I was on a plane flying with six members of his Cabinet and going to Tokyo. I mean, the reason the president was sending me to Tokyo was -- it was an conomic conference, but he wanted me to start working on a visit he was going to take in February of 1964, the first American president to visit Japan after the end of World War II. That's why I was on the trip. But we were only about three hours out of Honolulu, where we had spent a couple of days looking into the Vietnam issue, when suddenly we discovered that he had been shot. And we turned around. We didn't know he'd been killed, but we heard he was shot. And I was asked by Dean Rusk, who was then secretary of State, to open up the line to the White House so that we could have specific information as rapidly as possible. Well, it was about a half-hour after we turned around that we actually got the news that President Kennedy was dead.
LAMB: How many Cabinet officers were with you?
SALINGER: Six Cabinet officers: There was Rusk; there was McNamara; there was, well, I have all of them in the book, but they were coming for this economic conference, and that's why I was accompanying them.
LAMB: What happened after you got back?
SALINGER: Well, that was a long, long flight, as you know. We stopped in Honolulu. We had to put on the oil in this plane, then we flew. It was about 11 hours. We arrived here in Washington around 1:00 in the morning, went to the White House. It was about, I think, 2:30 or 3 in the morning that John Kennedy's body arrived, went into the West Wing. And then there was a Mass that I attended. And Jackie came up to me afterwards and put her arm around my shoulder and said, "Pierre, you know, you've just had a terrible day. I know, so why don't you spend the night here in the White House?" I mean, I had never spent the night in the White House in my life.
Anyway, I went upstairs with Larry O'Brien and Ken O'Donnell, and we spoke probably right up till about 6:30, 7:00 in the morning and then went to bed. And about 15 minutes later the phone rang, and it was the secretary at the White House who said, "Oh, Mr. Salinger, the president wants to speak to you." I must say, I had a little brain thing saying, "Oh, my God, I got a terrible -- I've had a terrible dream." But then I hear this voice saying, "Pierre, this is Lyndon Johnson," and he was the new president.
LAMB: Where were you the morning that Robert F. Kennedy was shot?
SALINGER: Actually, I was with Robert, and I must have been 10 to 12 feet away from him when he was shot. I mean, I had got him to come down to give his speech. We had won the California primary -- Bobby had won -- and we won the South Dakota primary. And we had had a phone call from the mayor of Chicago saying that he was now supporting Bobby Kennedy. Looked like we had the nomination all set, so we were quite happy. And Bobby came down to give this speech and I was just a little bit away from him. And then he was taken out, but instead of going out the regular door, he was taken through the kitchen. And, suddenly, I heard this gun go off.
And, of course, there's a whole story in this book which is really fascinating because I remember that at the time of the Oregon primary, which was just before the California primary, I'd had a meeting with a fellow named Jim McManus, who was working with me on the PR side of his campaign. And for some reason he said to me, "I've got to get the message to Los Angeles, under no circumstances should Bobby go through that kitchen." And I said, "Well, why?" He said, "Well, you know, there's usually grease on the floor. He's going to fall or something." He wasn't talking about him being shot. He just thought that it was a bad idea to go through the kitchen.
There was another fellow, also, at that time -- in fact, he's a journalist now working in Arizona. And, actually, he went to California and came back and then there was a paper. When I went to join Bobby in Los Angeles, I was told to get this to him but we never got it to him. That was the point. He never read that thing before he gave that speech. And, of course, McManus wrote me this letter, saying, "My God, I know how you feel because this thing was something that we should have done."
LAMB: How much is new in the book that we've never seen before?
SALINGER: Well, I think there's a lot of things that are new in this book that have not been written in this way. Now, for example, I think one of the most interesting things is the covert role I played in the Vietnam War. People are not very knowledgeable about the fact that when I joined Continental Airlines in 1965, I was actually being brought into Continental Airlines to be one of the people running Continental Air Services, which was a new air service which had been created in that Asian area to replace Air America. Now you remember Air America was a CIA operation and was being used in the Vietnam War. But the CIA was getting quite concerned about it because everybody knew it was a CIA operation, and they thought that it would be banned from certain areas.
And so they brought me in because Bob Six was a great friend of mine. He was the founder and the owner of Continental Airlines at that time, which, in those days, was a hell of an airline, a really good one. He had been asked by the CIA to create this regular company that was not linked to the CIA to do the same work, but he wanted somebody who had high secret relations with the government. And, of course, I did because of my job as the press secretary. So I started to work for Continental Air Services.
And, of course, when I joined it and when I went to our headquarters in Laos to begin, I discovered that about half the people working for us at the time were CIA people. In other words, they had been moved over, probably, from Air America into this private company that was not owned by Air America -- I mean, owned by the CIA. But that was an interesting thing that I spent about two years in.
LAMB: What else? How about the letters? Let me start with 14 hours you spent with Mr. Khrushchev ...
LAMB: ... and then you get into some letters that were exchanged between Chairman Khrushchev and President Kennedy. How did you get to spend four hours virtually alone with Mr. Khrushchev? And who was he, for someone who's never heard of him?
SALINGER: I spent 16 hours with him, and it's an absolutely amazing story, because when I went to Moscow in May of 1962, I had been sent to Moscow with the permission of President Kennedy, but really to look at the Soviet media, meet with the Soviet minister of information because we were having some problems with American journalists in Moscow. We were having problems with Soviet journalists in the United States, and that was the reason why he wanted me there.
But then I land at the airport and there's Ambassador Thompson standing at the foot of the stairs. He says, "Pierre, your whole schedule's been changed." I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "You're going to a dacha outside Moscow because tomorrow you're going to meet Nikita Khrushchev."
He's the leader of the Soviet Union. He was the chairman of the Soviet Union. Of course, I knew who Nikita Khrushchev was, and maybe today there are people who don't know. But he was the one who took over the leadership of the Soviet Union from Stalin and was a very important leader at that particular time.
Anyway, the first thought I had was, "My God, Kennedy's going to go berserk," having a press secretary go into a diplomatic thing and meet with the leader of the Soviet Union. But there was no way I could say no, and so they took me to the dacha and we had a lovely dinner that night at the dacha, with all my friends who had brought me to this thing. And the next morning, around 11:00, came a limousine and there was Nikita Khrushchev. I stayed with him from 11 to, I would say, close to 8:00 at night, including a lunch, walking through the woods, a trip on a boat on the river, the Moscow River, a private -- I mean, the lunch he had allowed his son-in-law, Alexei Adchubei, who had arranged the original meeting, who was his son-in-law and who was the editor of Izvestia, one of the most important Communist newspapers at that time.
And then when we got to the end of that first day, he said to Adchubei, "Well, what are you doing with Pierre tomorrow?" And he said, "Well, I've got this planned and this planned." He said, "Cancel them. We're going to have another meeting tomorrow." But of course, we added things to the meeting that time. We brought in the American ambassador. We brought in the foreign minister of the Soviet Union, and it was a much wider meeting. But I still was with him, and people were just stunned. I mean, President Kennedy was getting almost an hourly phone call from Konrad Adenauer, who was the chancellor of Germany at that time, saying, "Why are you letting your press secretary negotiate with the Soviets?" He was getting called from the State Department, saying, "You know, what's going on? I mean, this is our job, not the press secretary's."
But anyway, there is a funny story, because when we got to the end of the two days and the close to 16 hours -- first of all, let me just tell you that there were two or three things, of course, there's a lot of things in this book about what Khrushchev was talking to me about, but one of the interesting things was how he -- I discovered that Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader who was trying to reform the Soviet Union. He was trying to cut back the power of the Communist Party little by little, not all at one time, but he knew that in the long run the Communist Party would have to be disintegrated. Of course, that's why he was thrown out of power in 1964, because the Communist Party was very strong at that particular period and knew that he was trying to do that.
The other thing, of course, was that we talked a lot about Berlin; we talked about the problems in Southeast Asia, and, of course, the letters -- these secret letters that were going back and forth between Kennedy and Khrushchev had started in September of 1961. This is before I had gone there -- when I was given the first package by a man named Georgy Bolchakov. Now he had joined Adchubei and Alaramoff, who was the press secretary of Khrushchev.
They had come to the United States in July of '61, and we had done a televised debate on NBC. And then I had brought them to Washington and spent two or three days, and during that debate, of course, I had told them that I wanted to have some way of talking with them about the future of our relations. And they had brought a guy who was a translator for them, whose name was Georgy Bolchakov. Bolchakov ran a Soviet culture magazine in Washington, and if you remember back in the Eisenhower administration, we made a deal that there could be an American culture magazine in Moscow and a Soviet culture magazine in Washington.
Well, Bolchakov is the guy who started this whole back-channel letters that were going on. It was in September that he gave me the first letter, which I think was 32 pages, from Khrushchev to Kennedy. And in the entire period that Kennedy lived, there were 42 letters that were back and forth. Only five of those letters have ever been released, and those letters were the ones about the Cuban missile crisis, which got released on the 30th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis in 1992.
I just want to tell you something that's happened since this book came out, because some people have been looking into where could we find those, and they're saying that the State Department is probably going to release all those letters in 1996. And that will be very important, because it would be absolutely fabulous for the American public to understand how these two leaders were writing to each other and -- and negotiating with each other in an important way to bring an end to the tough US-Soviet relations that existed in the Cold War, how to bring to an end the nuclear problems. Even though we had gone through some crises during that period, like the Cuban missile crisis, these letters were very important. Anyway, I have some parts of that first letter in the book.
LAMB: Has that ever been released before? Has that ...
SALINGER: That has not been released before.
LAMB: How did you get it?
SALINGER: I got it from some friends who have access to those letters, and I told them that I was just going to publish a little bit of it. They are not against it because they -- this happened actually, we had a conference. I don't know if you remember or whether C-SPAN covered it. It was at Brown University in Rhode Island. We had a three-day conference on the 100th anniversary of Khrushchev's birth, and all of his family was there and a lot of the top Soviet leaders that had worked with him, and I was one of the people in that conference. And I met a fellow who was very linked in knowing about these papers and managed to get a few of them from him.
LAMB: And, again, there's some -- you say some 44 letters or something like that.
SALINGER: Forty-two, yeah.
LAMB: Forty-two letters. Who wrote those letters for President Kennedy? Do you know?
SALINGER: Well, I think that probably he would get Dean Rusk -- I didn't really get into who was doing the writing, but I think he'd have Dean Rusk give him a draft or maybe McGeorge Bundy, who was his national security adviser, but he's the kind of a guy, when he gets a draft, he often changes things in that draft in his own mentality, as he did in his opening speech when he was inaugurated. I mean, Ted Sorenson had done a basic speech for the inauguration, but Kennedy actually made an enormous amount of changes in that fantastic speech when he was inaugurated in 1961.
LAMB: Has everything been written about John F. Kennedy that there is to write?
SALINGER: Well, I mean, everything's been written that I can write. I mean, a lot of people ask me, "Why don't you tell more about his mistresses?" But actually, the way I worked in the White House in those days, it was during working hours that I was with him. When he would go into private thing, I'd disappear -- I mean, or he'd disappear. So even though I was getting some rumors, I never had any specific information as to who he was having mistresses with. Now since then, of course, I've read a lot of books, heard a lot of theories about it.
And as I said in this little speech that I gave in the beginning, it is true that he would try to grab me from time to time and say, "Oh, that woman is so pretty. Take her with you and spend the weekend with her," which obviously came into my mind, `Well, my God, if he thinks that's a great idea, I'm sure he's having the same kind of idea himself." I don't know whether it's in there or not, but the only time that I got a journalist who came into my office when I was the press secretary and brought up this subject -- it's really fascinating because he said to me, "Pierre, I got hot information." I said, "What's that?" He said, "I hear that President Kennedy's having mistresses." I gave him a 1960s answer, not a 1990s answer. I said, "Listen ..."
LAMB: It's in here.
SALINGER: "He's the president of the United States. He has to work 16, 17, 18 hours a day. He's got to handle foreign policy. He's got to handle domestic policy. If he's got time for mistresses after that, what the hell difference does it make?" The guy laughed and walked out.
Oh, I forgot to tell you the conclusion of my visit with Khrushchev. He suddenly says to me "Gotz vodeen, Salinger" -- and, of course, you know that word "gotz vodeen," when you're not a Communist. "I have just discovered something about you. You're a nut about cigars, and I just got a fantastic present from my friend Fidel Castro. And I don't smoke cigars, so I'm going to give it to you."
And they bring this huge box and it had the flag of Cuba encrusted in the top. I had opened it up, and it said, "De Los Obreros Cubanos, de Cigarros para Nikita Khrushchev." And there were 150 glorious cigars in there. And my first thought was, "My God, I can't take those back to the United States. That's illegal. We've got this embargo against Cuba." Well, then came thought two: "My God, no problem. I've got a very special passport. I'm on a foreign mission for the president of the United States. Nobody's going to stop me at Customs."
So I went back. And besides which, Kennedy, as you know, liked Cuban cigars. So I flew back and there I was, going to the White House. Of course, Kennedy wanted to get all the news about all those hours that I'd spent with Khrushchev. I said, "Mr. President, before we get into that story, let me tell you something. I made a killing in Moscow." He said, "What?" I said, "I got 150 Cuban cigars." He said, "Did you smuggle those into this country?" "Well, no. I just brought them in." He says, "Do you realize what a scandal it would be if the media discovered that you had brought those cigars in?" I said, "How could the media find out? There are only three people who know about it -- Khrushchev, you and me."
Well, then he said, "No, I don't trust you on cigars -- I don't trust you at all. I want you to go to the head of US Customs and turn over the cigars. And because I know that, as you walk out of this office, you're likely to take 30 or 40 of those 150 cigars and put them in your pocket, I want him to count every cigar and I want him to write a note saying that he had the 150 cigars." I was not very happy about that, but I did it. And he took all those -- counted them, wrote the note saying "150 cigars," gave me the box, which was quite nice. And I started walking, I suddenly turned around and I said, "Excuse me, sir, but what are you going to do with those cigars?" He said, "I'm going to destroy them." I said, "I know, one by one." I don't know whether he did or not.
LAMB: Go quickly over the main jobs you've had in your life.
SALINGER: Well, the main jobs I've had over my life have been quite different. I started out my life as a concert pianist. I was born in 1925. I started to play the piano a little bit when I was three, four years old. Then we had the terrible breakdown of Wall Street with the crash of 1929. My father lost his job. And he found a new job in Ontario, so they moved us to Toronto. And there, we found a fabulous teacher, piano teacher, so I became his student. And at six, in Toronto, I played my first concert and I played concerts until I was 12 years old. And then, of course, my family came to me and said, "You know, Pierre, you're getting isolated from the world. You don't have any real friends. You're not getting into really life. You're practicing six, seven, eight hours a day. You've got to stop for a year." Well, that was the end of my piano career, although I still play the piano from time to time for friends.
And then, of course, journalism. And, of course, that particular part of my life represents 34 years of my life, starting with the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1941, a stop, of course, during the three years that I served in World War II as the commander of a naval ship, then back to the Chronicle. Then I moved to Collier's magazine, as you remember, and did an investigation of the Teamsters Union. Collier's went out of business, and I was immediately summoned to work by Bobby Kennedy because there's this Senate Labor Acts Committee had been created and was going to go into the Teamsters. And I had met Bobby one time, and he knew that I knew more about the information that I had been getting as a journalist and investigator on the Teamsters Union. He wanted me to go to work for him.
Then I had my government career. I worked for Bobby for two and a half years. In September of 1959 I became press secretary to Senator John Kennedy. I became the director of his media operation for his campaign in 1960. And the day he won he named me press secretary. When he was assassinated I really wanted to leave the White House, but Lyndon Johnson absolutely wanted me to stay as his press secretary, so I did. In March of 1964, though, I still wasn't very happy about what was going on. You know, the Kennedy death had really had a big effect on my life, and I decided to run for senator in California. So I went into his office one day and said, "Mr. President, goodbye. I'm leaving." He said, "Where are you going?" "I'm going to California." "What are you going to do there?" I said, "I'm going to run for senator." There is a funny story, because he went into his pocket and he pulled out a couple of hundred-dollar bills and gave them to me. He said, "Here's your basic need to start your work."
LAMB: You did say, though, that it was the $450 entrance fee ...
SALINGER: Four hundred ...
LAMB: ...but he only gave you $250.
SALINGER: Exactly. Exactly. And so then I won the primary. Actually, I defeated a man who never lost an election before or after, Alan Cranston. He was my opponent in the primary -- the Democratic primary. And then I was on a world trip because, as you know, you had time to between June and September. And, actually, I was in the headquarters of the new president of South Vietnam when one of the officers walked in and said, "Oh, there's a big call from the White House." And so the president got up to answer, and he said, "No, no, it's not for you. It's for Pierre Salinger." And they were telling me that Senator Clare Engel had just died and that Governor Pat ...
SALINGER: ... Pat Brown had appointed me United States senator, so ...
LAMB: A hundred and forty-eight days.
SALINGER: A hundred and forty-eight days.
LAMB: What happened in the fall?
SALINGER: Well, I was in the Senate, and then I lost...
LAMB: You lost that.
SALINGER: ... lost the general election to George Murphy. Now there are some people today that say that I'm the man responsible for Ronald Reagan's high political life, because there are friends of Reagan who told me that he morning he woke up, that day after the election, he turned to somebody and said, "My God, if George Murphy can win a job like that, why can't I?" And so he started thinking about his future.
Well, then, of course, it's very interesting, because when I left the White House I made a personal ethical decision that no other press secretary's ever done. I said, "There's no way that I can be a journalist again for 10 years, because if I go straight back to journalism, people will always look at me in a political mind-set, having been in the government, having worked for a president, having been totally linked to a political party." And so I decided I would do other things. That's why I started to work for Continental Airlines. I later left Continental Airlines and was involved in a company that was doing investment in the United States and, finally, went back to journalism in 1973 when I joined the French magazine L'Express, which is kind of a Time and Newsweek -- you know, a newsmagazine.
And then, of course, for the first time almost in 14 years since I'd left the White House, I joined US press when I was hired in January of 1978 by ABC News, something that I did for 15 years. Now, of course, my last crises is -- I'm now very much into the public relations business. I have become the vice chairman of the biggest public relations firm in the world, Burson-Marsteller, a very global company with offices in almost 50 countries in the world. And I have been traveling for the last two years all over the world to meet with our clients, whether they be corporations or countries. But it really has been fascinating work for me, and so this has been the kind of life that I've had from zero to 70.
LAMB: Back to the early days -- Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin...
SALINGER: Yes. Well, Isaac Stern...
LAMB: ...you knew them when you were a kid?
SALINGER: Yeah. Isaac Stern actually played a concert with me. He was playing one of his first -- you know, these concerts that we played in San Francisco, for example, where seven or eight young people, each one would play for 10 or 15 minutes, you know, they wouldn't play the whole concert. And Isaac played in one concert with me at that time. He was learning how to play the violin. I met Menuhin because he had come over from Australia at that particular time. But as I say in the book, you know, at one point my mother ran this operation that Franklin Roosevelt had organized to try to save musicians and artists. And what the result of that was that almost every night in our house, we had wonderful pianists from all over the nation, because they knew that she was the one who was in charge of trying to help them financially, and concerts going on, and that's where I became an absolute music nut.
LAMB: Teddy White was at Collier's when you were there?
SALINGER: Yes. Teddy I met at Collier's and, actually, our big job had been -- together was to cover the 1956 Democratic convention in Chicago. We had been assigned to do it together. We went to Chicago. And, as you remember, John Kennedy was running for the vice presidential nomination with Adlai Stevenson. And actually, in the first round, he actually got more votes than anyone else. But then they -- somebody started lifting their hands and they took the votes away from John Kennedy and gave them to Estes Kefauver, and so he got the nomination. But then what was interesting was that Kennedy gave a speech afterwards, which so stunned me. I had never heard a political speech that was so well done, that really excited people, that I walked out of that convention saying, "This is the guy who's going to be the next president of the United States," and it turned out that I was right. And that's probably why I got in the mind-set of the Kennedys.
LAMB: Teddy White in 1960, as you know, wrote "The Making of A President," the first of these series. Did the Nixon people know that you, as press secretary to John F. Kennedy, were so close to Teddy White? I know he came to you and said, "Can we get inside -- can I get inside your campaign?"
SALINGER: Yes, he was the one that came to me. He said, "This is the idea for a book. This is a book I'm not going to make much money for, but I think it's a great idea to do a political book like this. Do you think I could have inside access to John Kennedy as we run?" And I said, "I think so, but I've got to go talk to him." I talked to Kennedy. He said, "Absolutely. I'm all in favor of it."' Now I don't know whether Nixon knew of my particular relations with Teddy White, but they were very, very close. And whatever Teddy -- I mean, you've seen some things that Teddy White wrote about me -- are really warm and very important.
LAMB: Did you think you were going to get more favorable treatment because you knew him back then in 1960?
SALINGER: Well, you know, when I joined John Kennedy in September of '59, we had this almost 30-second meeting. I mean, he said, "I'm going to run for president next year. I want you to work for me." I said, "OK, Mr. President, I'm going to work for you." We shook hands. We didn't talk about salary, didn't talk about what my job would be -- nothing. And it was only some weeks later that I discovered that he wanted me to be the media director, and also that he wanted me the press secretary, but he never told me during the entire campaign what would be my job when he was elected. And, actually, it was the first day. I was the first person announced for a job, press secretary.
LAMB: How old are you now?
SALINGER: Seventy years old.
LAMB: How old would John Kennedy be today?
SALINGER: We talked about that the other night. I think he would be 78, 79.
LAMB: So back then, when he ran and he was 43...
SALINGER: That's correct.
LAMB: ...you would have been 30...
SALINGER: I was 35 in the White House. When I joined the White House, I was 35.
LAMB: Were you old enough?
SALINGER: Sure. Well, I mean, we've had younger people. I mean, Dee Dee Myers was not 35.
LAMB: Did you feel at the time you were old enough?
SALINGER: Sure. Because having gone through that campaign had moved me into a -- you know, day by day, month by month -- into a different mentality about how you dealt with the press. Because when we started the campaign -- and actually, before he announced he was president, we started making trips in September, October, November of 1959, to different states where he would speak at universities and so on. And we would have maybe five journalists in the beginning, then six or seven and, of course, by the time we got to the convention we had maybe 100. After he was nominated, it started to get up to 200. And, of course, the night -- the day he was elected, we had 500 or 400. And I asked for it -- but, I mean, the more and more and more journalists and the more I understood their mentality, the more I felt very strongly about the way I was able to do the job. And, of course, that's why -- which I talk about in here -- how I opened the White House very strongly to allow the media to have total access to the White House; how I got Kennedy to do live television press conferences.
LAMB: First live ever?
SALINGER: First live ever, yes.
LAMB: What did Dwight Eisenhower do when it came to press conferences?
SALINGER: Dwight Eisenhower, in the last couple years of his presidency, allowed TV to tape his press conference, but not live. And they sometimes would hold off for a day or two before they would say, "Go ahead, put it on the air," because they had the right -- they had made a deal with the media, that if there was anything that he had said in there that they didn't like what he said, they'd take it out of the tape and then they'd let them do it.
Of course, when we did it, it was live. And, of course, I was totally criticized on both sides -- not by Kennedy, he agreed with me totally, but, I mean, Ted Sorenson and some of the others saying, "It's really crazy to have this live press conference because suppose he makes a mistake? It'll get around the world." I said, "Well, we're getting to a point right now where it wouldn't make any difference whether it was live or not. It does get around the world." But when I announced it to the press, that he was going to have live press conferences, I was absolutely attacked by the writing press, saying, "You are destroying the writing press. This is the end of the writing press." Of course, I didn't believe it at the time. It's getting more and more true. Television is having a very dominant impact on what politics is about these days.
LAMB: You wrote in the book, "I have never lacked for self-confidence, to be blunt about it, and at 34 I had an enviable record of achievement." You know that you've gotten some criticism for this book from some reviewers, Diana McLellan for one. What was your reaction to her review?
SALINGER: Well, I thought her review was excellent. The only thing that concerned me was that she made a few significant mistakes. I mean, she had not read the book right. I mean, for example, when she talks about Burson-Marsteller and -- who were my clients, I think she mentions Mexico, Indochina and the German government. Well, Mexico is only one of my clients. The other two are clients of Burson-Marsteller, but I'm not working for them.
She talks about my grandfather as a lawyer. He never was a lawyer. He was a man who created a very controversial labor union in France, which was against communism and against socialism. So why would she call him a lawyer? And then she makes people think that I've become a great friend of Saddam Hussein. I've never met him. I mean, I know a lot of people in Iraq, but I have never met Saddam Hussein in my entire life. And then, of course, the final thing is on the Pan Am 103 case -- after all, she should be aware of what I say in there, that we had a five-year investigation and we had a whole team that did an investigation. We know exactly what happened in the Pan Am 103 case. It's not just something that is in my mind. It's something that's based on papers that I've got and documents that I've got. And when I did my first documentary for ABC on "PrimeTime Live," one year after Pan Am 103 was shot down, that is still the basic truth of who did it.
LAMB: Have you gotten much criticism in your life?
SALINGER: Yes. On this subject, there are people in the CIA who are not very happy, particularly those who are manipulating the world with information about what went on in that particular case.
LAMB: Diana McLellan writes -- this is the opening: "Pierre Salinger" -- this is a review in The Washington Post. You live here in town now?
SALINGER: I do.
LAMB: So you read this in your hometown newspaper. "Pierre Salinger is what used to be called a man's man, a cigar-chomping" -- do you still smoke cigars?
SALINGER: Yes, I do.
LAMB: "... poker-playing, wine-bibing partisan; four times wed, multi-mistress boasting sort of a guy with an ego as big as the Ritz." Now what's it feel like, having somebody say you have an ego as big as the Ritz?
SALINGER: Well, there's another subject in there which I was -- I am not going to make any complaint to The Washington Post, but I'm going to have a little letter to her, just to explain some things where she made mistakes. Now she says -- the major point she makes about my ego is that I claim I am the most well-known American in France. It's not me. It's the French government that says this. It's the French press that says this. It's the American press that has been covering me in France that says this. And obviously, if they're saying this, I can say, "Well, if they're saying that I'm the best-known American, why can't I say it?" It's not something that I got in my own mind. It's just something that happened in that country which is absolutely mind -- and why did it happen? That's an interesting question, because when I left here, and I do talk about this in the book, as you know, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, it was just too much for me. I mean, having gone through John and Bobby Kennedy being killed -- just too much, and I decided to move to Europe. I decided to move to France because of my French background. I had a French wife at that time, still do now.
But I had a lot of friends who knew French culture and explained to me, "You're never going to be able to penetrate French culture. I mean, they don't like foreigners very much. You might meet a few, but no." I penetrated French culture in the first six weeks -- first month I was there. Why? Not because of me, but because of my link to the Kennedys. And those people in France all loved John Kennedy. You remember how they reacted to his visit in 1961 and Jackie; they liked Bobby, and the death of the two of them had stunned them. And here was a guy who had been very high with those two guys, and so they just grabbed me.
I got to know every president of France. I got to know the top people in journalism. I got to know the top actors. I got to know the people with the best restaurants all over France, so -- and I was on TV virtually every day, because they always wanted me to do commentaries on United States-French relations and so on. In fact, that's why I was decorated by the French government, because they said that I had done more to help the French understand how the Americans saw France and how I had helped the Americans understand how the French saw America than anyone had done for a long time. And that's why they made me officer of the French Legion of Honor.
LAMB: Have you had a good life?
SALINGER: Very good life. I love Paris and although I had decided to come back to this country after 25 years in Europe. You know, the time comes to come back to your own country, be based in Washington, but that doesn't mean that I don't get to Paris from time to time. As a matter of fact, during the period that's going on now, I'll be going to Paris fairly often because my book is coming out in French as well as it is in English, and I've got to do a little promotion over there.
LAMB: I got to read this last paragraph of this thing because I just want to know what it feels like to have this said about you. "Much of this book gives you the stifling sensation that you've been trapped for hours at the press club bar by a self-important old coot about his glory days."
SALINGER: I've never been -- not true. I don't know where that story comes from. I never heard that. I mean, it is true there's some mention in there, I think, that when I was working for the Chronicle and I was working in the four to midnight segment, that I would go to a bar after I got out and have a couple of drinks. But she criticizes me for criticizing my first wife, Renee, who became a drunk, saying, "Well, I was a drunk, anyway, so why could I" -- but I wasn't really a drunk. I drank, but I wasn't a drunk like her. And I wasn't a person like her, who disappeared and abandoned the children. Now that was something that I didn't do at all. I mean, even though I had to work very hard, in the first part of my Chronicle work when I came back from World War II, I had to spend them -- all the mornings at the University of San Francisco and all the afternoons and the evenings -- so it's true that I wasn't there that often.
LAMB: Which wife did you have your three children by?
SALINGER: With the first one, Renee.
SALINGER: I mean, that's Mark and Suzanne and Steven. Of course...
SALINGER: ...Mark is the one...
LAMB: ...committed suicide.
SALINGER: Mark is the one who committed suicide, yes. He jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
LAMB: What year?
SALINGER: In 1973, I think.
LAMB: Did that surprise you?
SALINGER: Oh, it stunned me, although he was so -- I mean, I knew he was having a kind of a strange mentality. The day that Kennedy was shot he went crazy. I thought that he was going to -- he disappeared. I thought he was going to commit suicide that night. He was so taken by that assassination. But then he tried to get himself back into shape, but I was seeing him often and so on, and I just had a feeling that his life was not going as well as I hoped it would.
LAMB: How long were you married to the first woman?
SALINGER: I was married from 1947 to -- about 10 years.
SALINGER: Second year was '57 to '65. That would be about eight years.
LAMB: You had two Nicoles and one Nancy and one Renee?
SALINGER: One Renee, then the next one was a Nancy, then Nicole and then another Nicole, but you notice that Nicole's changed her name. Nicole...
SALINGER: Because we don't want two Nicoles, so we've got a Poppy now.
LAMB: Are all of your wives -- your former wives living?
SALINGER: No, Renee is dead. She died about three, four years ago. Nancy's still alive, living in this region, and from time to time sees my daughter, who's also living in this region. My oldest son lives in California, and my youngest son, who is the son of my third wife, Nicole, lives in Paris. So I have three children now.
LAMB: Why did you want to write all this?
SALINGER: Well, I just wanted to -- you know, you get to a mindset, when you get to a certain age, and if you've done something that you think will interest other people, why not write your memoirs? But if you're going to do that, I think you have to talk about your personal life as well as your careers and so on, and that's what I'm trying to do. Now, of course, since this book has been finished I have come up with about 18 new ideas of things that are not in that book, and I'm beginning to think maybe I should write another one because I've got a lot of interesting stories to tell.
LAMB: What's a story that you didn't put in the book that you wish you had?
SALINGER: Well, this is the story that -- actually, this was in 1982. I was on vacation in Corsica with "Nicole 1." We went for three weeks, and it was the Saturday night of the second week. I went to bed, and all of a sudden my brain went crazy. It was almost as if somebody was sending me a message through the brain. But anyway, what I was getting in my brain was, "There's going to be the worst terrorist attack in Paris on Monday. You can't stay here on your vacation. Get to Paris right away, because there's going to be a horrible terrorist attack." That's very strange.
I woke up the next morning. I said to my wife, "I'm going." She said "Why?" I explained it to her. She said, "`Oh, well, that's just a dream." I said, "No, no, I have a feeling this is more than a dream. I think this is information." I flew. I arrived in Paris on the evening of Sunday, went home, spent the evening. I went to my office, ABC, at 10:00. At 11:00, one of the biggest terrorist acts that ever took place in Paris, when these people attacked this Jewish restaurant and killed almost 20 people there. Isn't that amazing, that that would come into your brain and that it would actually happen when you were told? So that's something I'm sorry I didn't get into that book.
LAMB: Is there another one?
SALINGER: Oh, well, I don't want to tell them all.
LAMB: Go back to the opening, and I want to ask you some more about this, about -- you know, you basically say in your opening that you had lots of mistresses. Why has that become such a story in this country, mistresses and women, and other women and all that?
SALINGER: Well, that's a media problem. The media's mentality has dramatically changed. Now let me just explain to you what I see as the thing that really started this particular look at presidential candidates. If you will remember, before 1976 the presidential selection system was totally dominated by the parties, the Republican and the Democratic Party. First of all, you only had 16 primaries. You had 34 states where you had state conventions, where they would elect people to the national convention and discuss the political thing. And the parties were obviously looking at the potential candidates and trying to push for whoever they thought would be a very good candidate and so on, and probably looking into their private life or back -- or at least the background, to see if there was nothing that would come out, if they became candidate, that would be a scandal.
Well, in 1972, all that was totally changed. I mean, we went for the 50 primaries. That was the day that the parties lost total control over the selection system. They have no control today over the selection system. And, of course, because they have no control over the selection system, the media woke up and said, "Well, my God, they have no control. It's now our job." And so they started going into people like Hart and others, and they've been doing it now non-stop.
Now there is one thing that is going on -- at least this is my view. You might not -- you might agree with me on this. But from '72 to '92, we had it in a very heavy way, and, of course, in the beginning of the '92 campaign there was heavy, heavy stuff about Clinton and his mistresses. But I got the impression in '92 that the public was beginning to walk away a little bit from that, that they're less and less interested in that, and more and more interested in what these politicians would do for the nation. Do you think that's true?
LAMB: I usually don't give opinions on this. I mean, I don't know. That's why I really ask you to -- you know, I thought it was interesting that you brought up this subject in the way you did in the beginning.
SALINGER: Well, I brought it up politically. I brought it up politically because I thought it was important, even if I didn't run for president myself, to advise people who were running for president to tell the public now what they've got in their background that could come out when they're running and ruin their campaign.
LAMB: Let me just take it a step further with mistresses, though. Is there nothing wrong with having a mistress?
SALINGER: Well, there are, you know, there are wives who get very upset when you have mistresses, but if you have wives who are having boyfriends, there's no problem in you having mistresses. Now as I say in there, these three wives -- the first three -- all had boyfriends at one time or another. So it kind of liberated my life, to have my mistresses.
LAMB: We'll go back to your upbringing. You had a Jewish father and a Catholic mother.
SALINGER: I grew up as a Catholic because my mother dominated, and at that time in life, my father was not really participating much in Jewish religion.
LAMB: Did you abandon the Catholic religion at any point?
SALINGER: Didn't abandon it totally, although I don't go to church very often. I mean, I'm still a Catholic, but not linked to it in the way that most Catholics are today. That's another interesting story because, as you know, I took my final study at a Jesuit university, the University of San Francisco, which is a wonderful, wonderful university. There were some young Jesuits who were about to become priests, and I had a lot of meetings with them. And they were telling me about some things going on in the Catholic church at that particular time they thought were desperate mistakes and that there had to be a change in the Catholic church. And that kind of stopped me from going to church as often as I had before that, where I actually participated in every Mass. Now I still go to church from time to time, but not on a regular basis.
LAMB: The reason I keep going to this -- I can hear folks out there in the audience saying, "John Kennedy thought it was wrong to bring those cigars into the country, but he didn't think it was wrong to have mistresses."
LAMB: Help us. What is right and wrong?
SALINGER: He was worried about the cigars because he knew that if the media discovered that I had brought those cigars in, there would have been a big story in the front of the press that the White House had done something illegal and brought in something that they had forbidden people to do. So that's why he got into that mentality.
But as far as mistresses are concerned, I mean, I never had any discussion with him about mistresses. And as I said, when he was trying to convince me to have love affairs with ladies, it was, in my mind, that he probably was having some himself. But I didn't have any specific information on who he was having love affairs with.
LAMB: Is the press or the public interested in love affairs and lovers and mistresses and ...
SALINGER: Oh, yeah, the public is...
LAMB: The public?
SALINGER: ... the public is very interested in them. That's why the press is going very strongly in that direction.
LAMB: Should they be?
SALINGER: Should they be? Well, you know, everything is changing in the media these days, and we're seeing the magazine change subjects pretty much -- almost closer to entertainment than it is to news. And with everything that we've seen in the past, with these trials going on that are now being televised live, it's absolutely changing things. I mean, trials are becoming a part of the entertainment division. I mean, you're going to see another one very soon which is going to have exactly the same coverage as the O.J. Simpson trial, and that is going to be the trial of the guy in the Oklahoma bombing. It'll be just as covered -- just as widely covered as the O.J. Simpson trial, because they are now looking at this as a way of getting the public.
Let me give you a story. I don't know if you remember this. I think it was about two years ago, when the Bobbitt trial was going on and it was live on CNN. And one day they had to stop because there was a press conference. It was just in the early part of Clinton's administration. He had gone to the Ukraine, and there was a press conference between him and Kravchuk, who at that time was the head of the Ukrainian government -- president at that time -- about their nuclear agreements. It lasted 45 minutes. Do you realize that during that 45 minutes they got 1,000 calls to CNN, saying, "You stupid people, why are you going away from this trial? We don't give a damn about what's going on over there. We don't want to hear about it." Well, the fact is the public right now is in a mentality of not wanting to know what's going on abroad. And so you're seeing, in some of the media, a deterioration of coverage of what's going on abroad, and that's very disturbing.
LAMB: Grace Kelly.
SALINGER: Oh, that was wonderful, of course. I had met Grace Kelly when she'd come to the White House with her husband, and we had become great friends. And ABC had asked me to do this very special interview with her, and so I went down to Monaco to do it. And it was something that was going to be shown in a documentary, maybe four or five months later that, but then she died 10 days later. And, of course, they grabbed all that stuff and put it on the air right away. But I was so sad because Grace was just a wonderful, wonderful woman, and her, I mean, obviously the husband is still alive and is still a great friend of mine, which makes it very nice when I go to Monte Carlo to see him.
LAMB: Aristotle Onassis.
SALINGER: Well, I had a great connection with him and, of course, the first major connection was when I joined L'Express in 1973. It was only two or three days after I joined L'Express that I got a call from Jackie, saying, "Pierre, I need your help." I said, "Well, what's the problem?" She said, "Well, you know that Ari's son just got killed in a helicopter crash and he's in a very bad mood. We're going to take a cruise across the Atlantic in a ship, and I'd like you to join us, because I think if you could spend time with him and talk to him, you might get him out of this bad mood." And I did it.
So I spent two weeks with him, and got to know him and become very friendly with him. And then, of course, as I write in that book, a really interesting thing happened at the end of the cruise, when Jackie said, "Well, what are you going to do on your vacation?" And I said, "Well, what do you got in mind?" And she said, "Well, why don't you come to our Greek island?" So I thought that was great. But she said, "When you come, do me a favor. I want you to spend about an hour a day with the kids, with John Jr. and with Caroline. I want you to brief them on what their father did as president, because even though they're now getting to an age of 12, 13, 14 years old, they don't have a lot of knowledge about what their father did, as far as his job at the White House." And so I did that with those kids and it was just great for me.
LAMB: Why did you tell us that Lyndon Johnson had an affair with your secretary?
SALINGER: She did -- he did.
LAMB: How did you know that?
SALINGER: I did -- because she was my mistress before she fell in love with Lyndon Johnson. I forgot to say that.
LAMB: In the book you didn't say any ...
SALINGER: I have never named anyone else, but the same person happened to be a mistress of mine as well.
LAMB: You also told a story that's been told before, about Lyndon Johnson's habits of calling people into the bathroom with him. Did that ...
SALINGER: Well, that's true.
LAMB: Did that ever happen to you?
SALINGER: Yes, it did. Yeah. He would often be sitting there on the toilet and suddenly call somebody over, "I got to talk to you," because you'd have to spend maybe 10 minutes in there, and he didn't want to lose his time.
LAMB: Stories that I've read somewhere -- that he even called his female secretary in. Is that a true story? Colonel Juanita Roberts?
LAMB: You've never heard that story?
LAMB: Why would he do things like that and what impact did it have on the staff?
SALINGER: I'm not sure how much the staff knew about it. I mean, perhaps some people in my office knew about it because this lady would disappear for two or three hours after she was assigned just to bring him a pie -- piece of paper or something or, you know -- and then not come back immediately. Then that's when people started thinking, "Well, my God, what's he doing with her?"
LAMB: When were you the happiest in these 70 years?
SALINGER: Well, I guess happiest was my Kennedy years, because I had great admiration for John Kennedy, so those years were absolutely fabulous years. But I've had other great years in my life. I mean, when I went into journalism again, in television, I would say at the beginning that I was very frustrated with the difference between writing journalism and television journalism. But I got what I thought was probably the most incredible piece of work that was ever done by a television cameram -- a television journalist, and that was the story of the Iran hostage crisis, where two days after the hostages were released, I came up with a three-hour documentary explaining how the government had back-channel talked and had brought these people to freedom, which was pretty good.
LAMB: Anybody mad at you for this book?
SALINGER: Not yet. I'm sure we'll have a few before the pre-books. There's different groups that put out a statement on your book. I forget the names. I've got them. One of them has put out a statement which was all positive, except saying -- "The one part of the book you're not going to like is his attack against George Bush on the Gulf War." But that is something -- I wrote a book about the Gulf War, and, of course, I'm not bringing that book -- but I found new information which I thought was important to tell the public, that they understood that we reacted totally wrong to the arrival on the border of all these Iraqi troops without ever warning them. And I explained that when he did that in 1994, Clinton sent troops and everything else, everything stopped. If Bush had done it, we would have had no Gulf War.
LAMB: I want to make sure, before we close this -- I mentioned Juanita Roberts' name in conjunction, because I think you misunderstood me -- with her being called in to Lyndon Johnson's bathroom, not having an affair with him, because if the public heard that, I want to make sure that her name isn't connected with the affair part of this.
SALINGER: No, it's not.
LAMB: It is not. I wasn't meaning to connect it...
LAMB: ... and we thank you very much for joining us. Here is ...
SALINGER: Well, thank you for inviting me.
LAMB: Here is the book, "A Memoir" by Pierre Salinger. Thank you for joining us.
SALINGER: Thank you for inviting me.
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