WILL (1980) by G. GORDON LIDDY
In 1983 I was a senior at the University of Southern California. I was somewhat different from many of my classmates at this then-staunchly conservative private university, known for extravagant wealth, beautiful coeds and college football dominance. I had been a professional baseball player for a few years before my career came to an end courtesy of a rotator cuff injury caused by the negligence of my manager in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organizations. I returned to school a few years older than most of the other students, not unlike a soldier attending college on the G.I. Bill. I was more mature and had lived more life, traveling and experiencing things most college boys and girls had not yet seen.
I was a Republican but not a fully-formed conservative. Even though USC offered me a first-class education, I was not yet educated. This comes only over time, by drinking deeply from good books, from worshipping God, through prayer and supplication. This is where discernment comes from, as my favorite pastor, ex-Trojans football legend Charles Young told me. I was not quite there yet in 1983.
But a major step in the education of Steven Travers was taken in January of ‘83 when I saw a flyer at Bovard Auditorium informing me that Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy would be speaking at USC, promoting his recent book, Will. I was immediately excited and tried to round up a bunch of my friends, but most of them shrugged it off.
I arrived at Bovard a few minutes before Liddy was supposed to appear. Walking in I was stunned to hear the crowd chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” just like the crowds at Lake Placid when the American ice hockey team defeated the Soviets. I found the last remaining seat in the loge section and was further surprised to see that a large portion of the crowd consisted of attractive girls. The enthusiasm for Liddy, previously represented to me by the media as an enemy and disgraced man, stunned me. I realized then and there that USC was indeed a Republican school!
I had found my people.
I first heard the term, “USC Mafia” uttered by the actor portraying Donald Segretti in the 1976 film, All the President’s Men (I later befriended Segretti, who insists he never used that term, calling it, “Racist”). I had not yet come to realize how many Watergate figures had come out of USC, not surprising given Richard Nixon was a Los Angeleno whose wife Pat had graduated from there. I was about to get a whopper of a lesson, opening my eyes, feeding my curiosity the rest of my life.
On the stage appeared Liddy, dressed in a Brooks brothers suit and a bristling macho black mustache. He was short but athletic, muscular, extremely virile. His voice was distinctive and authoritative. The crowd went berserk, and Liddy soaked it all in.
He talked about how he grew up sickly and overcame his fear of lightning by sitting on the roof of his house during a lightning storm. How he made it through Fordham, then joined the Army at the tail end of the Korean War, a bitter disappointment as he desired to kill Communists. How he went to law school on the G.I. Bill, then joined J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. How he prosecuted Dr. Timothy Leary as District Attorney of Duchess County, New York. How he joined the administration of “Richard Nixon of California.”
He went into detail about Watergate, and then his years in maximum security prisons, where he flummoxed wardens and prison guards who tried to steal his mail and spy on him. Finally he said he and Dr. Leary had become friends. They had recently toured colleges together debating politics. Leary was in fact supposed to have been at the event I attended but something forced him to cancel.
The crowd interrupted with standing ovations throughout the hour-long speech. I was utterly enchanted. This was my moment. All great men have one, an influence, an experience, an emotion that distinguishes them from what they were to what they would become. For me I was no longer an ex-baseball jock. Now I was a historian and a scholar. I had my motivation.
The question-and-answer session was particularly incredible. Many girls asked Liddy questions. He was charming and obviously appealed to them. He knew it and played it to the hilt. Finally one coed stood up and said, “Mr. Liddy, USC is located in a dangerous part of Los Angeles. Many girls are afraid to go out at night. What suggestions would you offer us?”
“I can understand your concern, as I too attended college in a bad part of town: Fordham University in the Bronx. I suggest you round up some football players, swimmers; tough guys with balls. Go out and roam the streets in vigilante style . . . and TAKE BACK WHAT’S YOURS!!”
Oh my God, the place went insane. Imagine if groups of white USC frat boys descended onto West Adams Boulevard and started shooting black gangbangers. I don’t even want to imagine it, but it was prescient, as the Bernhard Goetz case occurred not long after.
Later I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Will, which I had Liddy sign to me: “Steve, BEST, G. Gordon Liddy.” The fraternity kid in front of me just told Liddy, “You got balls, man.” Many of the girls flirted with Liddy like mad. He flirted right back. A real ladies man.
By pure coincidence, that very night the movie Will played on TV, starring Robert Conrad as Liddy. I read the book in less than a week. It was one of the best reads ever. Liddy starts with his youth. He grew up an only child, the son of a wealthy Manhattan attorney, in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was afraid of rats and lightning, so he killed a rat and ate it, before sitting on the roof of his house yelling at Thor, the god of thunder, to strike him dead.
He did not skirt controversy. Liddy had a maid who he was very close to. She was of German extraction and admired Adolph Hitler, who was rising to power during these years. When Liddy’s father caught them listening to Hitler’s broadcasts on the radio he demanded they stop, but they continued in secret.
Liddy developed an odd fascination with German culture. Many of have accused him of anti-Semitism, but a deep dive into his life determines that not to be true. He did, however, love the Norse/Viking mythology, Germanic music and culture. He was at this time unaware of Jewish persecution.
Any reader of Philip Roth’s novels understands that New Jersey, where Liddy lived, was a hotbed of Nazi activity prior to World War II. It is somewhat understandable that an impressionable young kid essentially being raised by a maid he adored, might be swayed in some way by the pageantry of it.
When World War II broke out he was still too young to join, but the family got rid of the maid. It was an embarrassment to have a German maid at that time. A Jewish woman was brought in, and it was during this time that the Holocaust was revealed in full. Liddy claimed this helped him develop empathy for Jews, although he continued with his lifelong fascination with all things Teutonic. It is certainly different to love German music and opera, ancient Germanic customs and traditions, without loving Hitler.
Young Liddy followed in his father’s footsteps to Fordham, but by the time he graduated and made it through OCS, the Korean War was over before he could see combat. He claimed until the end this was his greatest disappointment.
He again followed his dad’s path to the Fordham Law School on the G.I, Bill, and upon graduating turned down an offer to work for his father, instead joining J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. This was when he began to go by the moniker G. Gordon Liddy, like his idol.
In the FBI he was told by crafty veteran’s no matter his Catholic beliefs, always shoot to kill by aiming for “center mass.”
“Pray for their souls afterward,” he was advised.
He had many adventures in the FBI, but perhaps his most colorful occurred when he was assigned to the Denver office when Colorado was still the “wild West.” A most-wanted suspect was reported to be in the area, and Liddy ascertained that he liked to frequent a particular rural whore house. Liddy and his partner, dressed in standard G-man attire, approached the brothel, asking the madam if the suspect had been there or planned to be. She basically told them to “buzz off.”
Liddy’s partner was ready to write it up in an after-action report, standard FBI protocol, but Liddy was more persistent. He heard that the town near the whore house was hosting a high school wrestling tournament, and figured some of the coaches would check out the whore house after the meet. Sure enough a car pulled up and “four beefy men who could only be high school wrestling coaches exited the vehicle, approaching the house,” wrote Liddy in Will. At this point Liddy sprung into action, approaching the men and advising, “I’m a TV reporter with the local station, and we’re doing a special on whore houses in the Denver area. Would you mind telling me what it is about this particular whore house that you gentlemen prefer? Any specialties or differing techniques that separate this from other whore houses?”
The four wrestling coaches immediately jumped back in their car and sped off, whereupon the madam came running out. “What in the blazes are you doing?” she yelled at Liddy. “You’re drivin’ all my customers away.”
“And I shall continue to do so, madam,” Liddy said in his brisk East Coast tone, “until you produce for me the time in which the suspect I seek will be at this location.”
The madam gave up the suspect faster than “you could drop a prom queen’s skirt.” Soon Liddy had him in custody, earning him a promotion.
When Liddy met his future wife, he had the FBI run a background check on her to make sure she met all specifications of a good FBI wife. She did. She was so smart she “did calculus for fun,” Liddy wrote.
With a growing family, an FBI salary was no longer enough for Liddy, so he relented and went to work in his father’s posh Manhattan office, where the pay was good, but soon they clashed and he decided to leave. He had the political bug and began by getting elected District Attorney of Duchess County, an elite, very wealthy bedroom community of New York City. This was the mid-1960s, the era of hippies and drugs. The defining event that would propel Liddy forward came about because of this. Dr. Timothy Leary, the Harvard professor who infamously advised his students to “turn on, tune in, drop out” was now holed up at a local estate in Liddy’s district. Many, many young people, most notably nubile college girls, were moving there to engage in “acid trips” and orgiastic sex.
This of course engendered many complaints from the local gentry. Soon Liddy was on the case. He arranged a raid of the estate, where they found college drop-outs in various stages of undress downstairs. Then Dr. Leary appeared with his concubine “in a diaphanous gown.” The good doctor wore a shirt and nothing else, offering Liddy “quite a view” looking up at him from the bottom of the staircase.
Leary’s arrest made national news and propelled Liddy into the political spotlight. He decided to run for Congress in 1968 when he was approached by Hamilton Fish, the Rockefeller Republican Congressman already holding the seat Liddy wanted. Fish told Liddy he could not defeat him in a primary, but if he would drop out and campaign for former Vice-President Richard Nixon, he would arrange for Liddy to get a high-ranking job in the new administration.
This is how Liddy came to Washington, at first as as treasury agent in concert with his FBI skills. Liddy wanted to make a splash and get noticed. He wrote a memo to President Nixon that made it to his desk.
“It’s the best memo I’ve ever read,” Nixon told him.
When his children got in fights at school for having crewcuts and wearing Nixon buttons, Liddy told a female teacher, “Madam, in the late 1930s German children were taught to be warlike and fierce. French children were taught to be meek and pacifistic. Since Germany conquered and occupied France in a few weeks, I prefer the German way!”
This was around 1971, and in June of that year, on the day Nixon’s daughter was married in the White House, huge crowds protested right outside the White House windows. Daniel Ellsberg had just turned the “Pentagon papers” over to the New York Times. Nixon and Henry Kissinger were furious. Their administration was rife with “leaks.” Kissinger told the President the leaks – he was one of the worst leakers – were threatening his secret “Paris peace talks” with China and North Vietnam.
It was then and there that Nixon aide Chuck Colson suggested the best way to “plug the leaks is with plumbers.” Thus a “plumber’s unit” was formed, headed by Liddy, who as an FBI agent understood covert activity/surveillance. Liddy recruited a group of men in and outside of the White House. This included ex-CIA agent and Bay of Pigs veteran E. Howard Hunt, who in turn recruited a group of rabid anti-Communist Cubans. The Cubans were convinced the Democrats were in league with Communism and were motivated to damage them, while strengthening Nixon, who had made his bones fighting the Reds.
Liddy reported to former Attorney General John Mitchell, now in charge of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Funds from that organization were used to pay Liddy and finance his operation. Liddy insisted he head up the operation only if he were paid more than his Treasury Department salary, which he was.
There were several White House aides Liddy reported to and collected funds from, including Jeb Magruder and Nixon’s lawyer, John Dean. H.R. Haldemann and John Erlichman, top Oval Office officials, were aware of the operation from the beginning. It was not immediately known by Nixon. He was kept in the dark to present “plausible deniability,” although he had given the go to a general decision to finance “plumbers,” the details of which he remained unaware of.
The first order of business was Ellsberg, a former Rand Corporation analyst who lived in Los Angeles. He was said to have enjoyed a “swinger’s” lifestyle, attending sex parties, sometimes with his wife, apparently even having intercourse in front of his children. Liddy wanted details of all of this and decided to break into the office of Ellsberg’s Beverly Hills psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding. The group dressed like hippies and broke into Dr. Fielding’s office, rifling through his files and leaving a mess along with some “messages” making it look like a Manson-type cult was responsible.
They did not find what they needed to discredit Ellsberg, a traitor who therefore became an instant hero to the Left, of course.
Liddy then came up with the idea of planting hookers at the 1972 Democrat National Convention in Miami Beach. The hookers would ply high-ranking Democrats with alcohol in their hotel rooms, getting them to brag about inside politics that the Republicans could later put to good use. Liddy claimed his partner, a Cuban anti-Castro partisan named Bernard Barker, preferred “swarthy Latino beauties,” but of course Liddy liked “tall Teutonic goddesses.” When they presented the plan to Mitchell, they were rebuffed. Mitchell like most of the Nixon men was an old school moralist who did not wish to hire prostitutes.
“But general,” Liddy (who called the former A.G. “general), “these are the finest girls in Baltimore.”
Not long after that, the “plumbers” were tasked with another operation: break into the Democrat National Headquarters in the brand new Watergate Hotel and office complex in Washington; bug the phones; find out DNC strategy and plans for the upcoming 1972 election campaign; and in particular dig up dirt and intelligence on U.S. Senator Edward Kenny of Massachusetts. He was at that time considered the most dangerous Nixon opponent in ‘72.
The first attempt was a bust. They learned of hair appointments and office gossip from the secretary. They were told to go back in and bug the private phone of DNC Chair Larry O’Brien. The date was June 17, 1972. Liddy and Hunt observed the operation from an office above the Watergate, communicating via walkie-talkie.
The group went in but had not completed the mission when a security guard came snooping around. The guard locked one of the doors the group had opened, so to keep it open they put duct tape between the lock and the frame. When the guard returned he saw the duct tape, realized something was up, and entered the office where the “plumbers” were, arresting them.
When Liddy came home that evening he told his wife, “I’m probably going to jail.”
The arrest and trial of the “plumbers” took place throughout the 1972 campaign, but despite the best efforts of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, did not stop Nixon from destroying the Democrat, South Dakota Senator George McGovern, carrying 49 states and 62 percent of the vote. Notably, the Post referred to the Committee to Re-Elect the President by the acronym CREEP. All Committees to Re-Elect the President, especially Democrat committees, have always been referred to as the CRP, but of course the Post could not help referring to Nixon’s as CREEP.
Kissinger managed to end the VietnamWar, the POWs returned home, and in January of 1973 Nixon and the U.S. were probably more powerful than any empire or country had ever been, whether it be Caesar’s Rome or Alexander’s Greece.
Liddy maintained his silence. The others were viewed as “soldiers,” while Liddy was the mastermind. They wanted to get him to confess and spill the whole operation. Liddy maintained his silence, offering to Dean that if need be, “just tell me and I’ll stand on any street corner,” if they felt he needed to be shot to save the President.
By this point in time Liddy was an atheist. He later claimed at the event I saw him at USC that this freed him from a “guilty conscience,” allowing him to stoically accept his fate without complaint, or using religion “as a crutch.”
Brought to the stand and asked, “Do you agree to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” he replied, “No!” He was stuck in solitary confinement in the central District of Columbia jail, a rat-infested hell hole where Abraham Lincoln’s conspirators had been held before their hanging.
Eventually the Watergate scandal broke. Dean, Magruder and others confessed to their dealings with Liddy, infuriating Liddy. Dean informed Nixon of the operation, telling him “there’s a cancer in the White House,” causing him to engage in the cover-up that really did him in. Attempts to pay off the “plumbers” and Hunt were exposed. The operation had all been taped, and “all the President’s men” went to jail. Nixon resigned and the Watergate scandal was an albatross hanging around Republican necks until Ronald Reagan.
It was, however, perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the GOP. After that they knew they had to do it better and cleaner than the Democrats, who had a friendly media willing to let them get away with anything.
Eventually, Watergate became the best thing to happen to Liddy. Without it he probably would have faded away, a former Treasury agent and lawyer. He suffered years doing the hard prison time that the Kennedys, the Johnsons, the Clintons, the Obamas, the Bidens, and other Democrats never had to, which is why he became so popular. He survived because he knew karate and could defend himself. He also offered free legal advice to inmates.
But the warden, trying to punish Liddy for never cooperating, discovered one of Liddy’s female admirers was writing him love letters. He proffered the letter and surreptitiously had it mailed to Liddy’s wife. When Liddy found out he approached the warden and said, “In the battle of wits my friend, you are badly unarmed.” He used his skills as a burglar and surveillance expert to bug the warden’s office, discovering in Shawshank Redemption style what graft the warden was involved in.
Liddy sued the warden and, when questioning him at trial told him, “You’re in my courtroom now, warden.” He won the case and returned to prison a conquering hero. Soon after President Jimmy Carter, of all people, pardoned him. It was rumored he did so to prevent Liddy from unraveling the Federal prison system.
Liddy became a cause celebre of the Right. He wrote Will, a best seller, and the Conrad movie was a hit. He toured college campuses with his old adversary, Dr. Timothy Leary, in comedic yet intellectual discourse. The good doctor possessed “an Irish wit,” claimed Liddy. He was on every TV talk show from William F. Buckley to David Letterman, acquitting himself well with humor marked by intelligence. He bantered with Don Rickles.
He had beaten the Democrats after all, and was loved for it. Then he began a successful career as an actor, appearing a number of times on Miami Vice. In one memorable scene he was an arms dealer supplying the Contras. When his veracity was questioned, he replied, “I anticipated you’re skepticism.” He had a large basket which he turned over, the contents pouring on a table.
“What the hell are these?” he was asked.
“Ears,” he replied. ”Sandinista ears.”
In the 1990s, a small group of patriotic men had forged ahead with successful careers in the little-known world of conservative talk radio. Because of these men, Liddy found a third act, broadcasting his program from “radio free D.C.” where “the G-man” claimed he was using “former East German radio equipment.”
A well known player with the ladies, he created the “Stacked and Packed” calendars, featuring beautiful, curvaceous honeys bearing rifles, bazookas and other “heavy weaponry.”
Like Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, one never quite knew if Liddy was serious. Liddy would tell of amorous adventures with women. When asked what his wife had to say about it he would reply, “She doesn’t like it. What do you think?”
Whether these stories were true or not, the couple remained married and their children were successful: A Republican politician, a lawyer, a Marine, and a Navy SEAL.
Naturally, Hollywood and the media made a cottage industry out of Watergate. Other than Conrad’s accurate depiction, Liddy was always portrayed as a “nut . . . a fruitcake,” and of course he was viewed by the Left as an admirer of Adolph Hitler. In a recent monstrosity produced by the great patriot Sean Penn, Liddy is depicted going after rats in his cell, quoted saying of Nixon, “Our king like Hitler was brought down by rats.” The quote is accurate in that it was Democrat rats who brought down Nixon, costing a million lives in Vietnam, not to mention agony in Afghanistan until Reagan and Bill Casey put an end to that.
Also, towards the end, his language on his show indicated he returned to his Christian faith. Liddy passed from this mortal coil a few years ago, the ultimate survivor. God bless him. What a character. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
He changed my life. After I saw him speak at USC, I was determined to go to law school, work for the CIA, and enter politics. Two out of three ain’t bad. I became a hardcore conservative, and eventually a writer/historian. I reached out to Liddy a few times asking if he wanted to do a sequel to Will. He never responded. He did write a political book but that was it.
Steven Travers is a former Hollywood screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under film development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsman and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.