Nikita Khrushchev Doesn’t Go to Disneyland

KhrushchevsinatraI highly recommend “Nikita Khrushchev Goes to Hollywood” from the Smithsonian Magazine.  Khrushchev, always the showman, charmed, bantered with American capitalists, and even took in the filming of Can-Can during his tour of America in 1959.  When the Soviet premier went to Hollywood, hundreds of stars appealed for tickets to attend a luncheon with him.  He met such Hollywood legends as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, and Charleston Heston.

The event apparently had several memorable moments.  When Heston leaned over to Soviet novelist Mikhail Sholokhtov and said “I have read excerpts from your works.” The novelist replied, “Thank you. When we get some of your films, I shall not fail to watch some excerpts from them.”  When businessman Spyros Skouras used his immigrant rags-to-riches story to educate Khrushchev about capitalism, the communist retorted:

He turned to Skouras—”my dear brother Greek”—and said he was impressed by his capitalist rags-to-riches story. But then he topped it with a communist rags-to-riches story. “I started working as soon as I learned how to walk,” he said. “I herded cows for the capitalists. That was before I was 15. After that, I worked in a factory for a German. Then I worked in a French-owned mine.” He paused and smiled. “Today, I am the premier of the great Soviet state.”

The banter between the two continued with no discernible winner.

However, the one thing Nikita and his wife Nina didn’t get to do was visit Disneyland.  At one point during the luncheon, Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker told Henry Cabot Lodge, US Ambassador to the UN and Khrushchev’s personal tour guide, “I want you, as a representative of the president, to know that I will not be responsible for Chairman Khrushchev’s safety if we go to Disneyland.”  “Very well, Chief,” Ledge replied. “If you will not be responsible for his safety, we do not go, and we will do something else.”

Word steadily got back to the Khrushchevs.  Both were terribly disappointed.  So much so that Khrushchev devoted part of his 45 minute speech to the subject:

“Just now, I was told that I could not go to Disneyland,” he announced. “I asked, ‘Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there?’ ”

The audience laughed.

“Just listen,” he said. “Just listen to what I was told: ‘We—which means the American authorities—cannot guarantee your security there.’ ”

He raised his hands in a vaudevillian shrug. That got another laugh.

“What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there? Have gangsters taken hold of the place? Your policemen are so tough they can lift a bull by the horns. Surely they can restore order if there are any gangsters around. I say, ‘I would very much like to see Disneyland.’ They say, ‘We cannot guarantee your security.’ Then what must I do, commit suicide?”

Khrushchev was starting to look more angry than amused. His fist punched the air above his red face.

“That’s the situation I find myself in,” he said. “For me, such a situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people.”

The audience was baffled. Were they really watching the 65-year-old dictator of the world’s largest country throw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t go to Disneyland?

Sitting in the audience, Nina Khrushchev told David Niven that she really was disappointed that she couldn’t see Disneyland. Hearing that, Sinatra, who was sitting next to Mrs. Khrushchev, leaned over and whispered in Niven’s ear.

“Screw the cops!” Sinatra said. “Tell the old broad that you and I will take ’em down there this afternoon.”

Khrushchev never did get to go to Disneyland. Instead, according to William Taubman, his hosts killed time by, in the words of the premier, “driving aimlessly around the Los Angeles suburbs for two hours” in a closed armored Cadillac.  Even Lodge agreed that “the interminable afternoon dragged on.”