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Nixon & The Secret Service

The little known story behind Richard Nixon's famous Chairman Mao campaign poster. The day the secret service stopped the presses.

By Steven Ferber

Collectors of memorabilia relating to President Richard Nixon are no doubt familiar with the famous poster featuring Nixon pointing a finger at Chairman Mao. But what collectors are unaware of is the rest of the story.

In 1972 Denis D. Turkish was a young man working for a printing company called Diamond International (formerly Western Lithograph) on S. Gauge Avenue in South Central Los Angeles California. He worked the graveyard shift which meant he worked all night. He was just out of high school and working his first "real" job as a feeder on a press.

In 1972 Diamond International received an order to print 16,000 posters for the re-election campaign of President Nixon. The young printer didn't see anything particularly special about the job. The print order, as best Daniel can remember, was for about 16,000 copies. The poster featured a picture of President Nixon and Chairman Mao sitting on a couch and both laughing while Nixon was clapping his hands. They printed 16,000 of them.

But that's not the photo collectors typically see when they look in their collections at this poster. Something surreal happened that night, according to Denis.

In the middle of the night Denis and the rest of the press crew were ordered to shut down the press (a 4 color Heidelberg web press) and stop production immediately. Two hours later, a new printing order and plate "appeared" with a different photo replacing the photo of Nixon and Mao laughing. New new poster included a photo of President Nixon sternly pointing a finger at Chairman Mao.

Later that day Denis was to learn that Nixon's campaign agents felt that the American public might think that Nixon was "selling out America"" through a secret deal with Red China when the saw the photo of a cheerful and laughing Nixon. All 16,000 original posters were moved to a remote location in the plant and presumably destroyed.

For the next 3 weeks, federal officials (FBI, Secret Service, etc) stood at the gate that we passed through to report to work work checking to make sure that none of the rejected posters would ever leave the plant.

Six months later after the election Denis did manage to take home a copy of the original "Laughing Nixon" poster. He had that poster with him for over 15 years, but it and was lost during a move after a divorce. Today Denis works as a social worker living in the mountains above Bakersfield, California.

How much do you think that original version of the poster would be worth today?

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