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Henry Kissinger in the Swinging Seventies

WWD took a look back in its archives at some of the most notable of its many interviews with the famed diplomat.

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Nancy and Henry Kissinger in 2010.

Photo By Jimi Celeste

Although he’ll tell you the only thing he dislikes about his present notoriety is that everyone is constantly staring to see which star he is with, there are those who suggest Henry not only loves to be seen, but even had photographers notified when he was going to appear at a certain restaurant once.

Just a couple of nights ago, Henry was in the news when a TV report had him “secretly married” to Jill St. John. Henry and Jill each denied it.

“There has never been a romance,” Jill told WWD. “It has been a great friendship and still is. It has not been and will never be a great romance.”

“Of course, I’m not married,” snapped Henry. “Do you believe everything you hear on TV?”

Henry says, “I like women who are intense, intelligent and warm. And any woman who survives with me has to be very independent. It would be suicide for a woman to try and find identity through a man absolutely absorbed in his work.”

Yet he will not delineate those qualities which attracted so many women to him. “Maybe it’s my deep voice,” he says with a mischievous grin. “You’re a woman. Am I attractive to you?”

Henry is certainly attractive to some people, if it not for his Tarzan physique, then certainly for his gifted mind, quick wit and adaptability. Joyce Haber, the society columnist he often visits on the West Coast, says: “In his brilliance Henry has a way of adjusting to any level. He can adapt to anybody. He is worldly, humorous, sophisticated and a cavalier with women.” Barbara Howar says, “I have great respect for him as a human being.” Gloria Steinem says, “Henry’s the only interesting person in the whole Nixon Administration and he’s not afraid of hostile reporters. I enjoy talking with him. He’s the only person on the Nixon team who can talk.”

And although Gloria adds, “If this were the Kennedy Administration nobody would pay attention to him … if it weren’t for a vacuum of news, Henry would be forgotten.” Margot Hahn, wife of D.C. Council chairman Gilbert Hahn, disagrees. Margot calls Henry, “witty, funny and one of the smartest men I ever met. He’d endure in any administration. He can be light and gay, and talk about anything at all. He reads everything including all the silly stuff in the gossip columns about him or about me, which he thinks is a gas, and he loves to be teased. I absolutely adore to be with him. He’s a delightful man.”

Henry brushes off the phrase, but concurs that he reads a great deal. He has been concentrating on Chinese philosophy and history these days and has not yet had a crack at “The Sensuous Man.” He does, however, get a chance to “look at the pictures” in Playboy. (Hugh Hefner sent Henry a free subscription after a party at Barbara Howar’s at which he showed up carrying an envelope of classified information — the President’s Nov. 3, 1969, “silent majority” speech — and told everybody it was his copy of Playboy.)

As Margot Hahn says, Henry will indeed talk about almost anything, even an affair. He’ll tell you the best way to begin one is “with an intense conversation” and that the best way to end one is “abruptly … but always remain friends.” He’ll tell you he gets his clothes at Brooks Bros. in New York but also has some custom made. He’ll tell you he realizes he is overweight, but that his 165-pound figure has rounded out to a somewhat paunchy 178, partly because he enjoys good food at good restaurants, but mostly because he devoured every morsel of Chou Enlai’s cuisine on his recent trip to China.

“And I absolutely adore Chinese food, particularly Peking duck,” says Henry, who proudly owns up to having downed a 26-course “duck” dinner at Chou’s. He is now “trying to reduce” to repent for his overindulgence and attempts to eat one egg, half a slice of toast and black coffee at the White House mess for breakfast, a hamburger at his desk for lunch and a steak for dinner at the Sans Souci or Jockey Club.

He’ll also tell you he exercises an hour at a clip four or five times a week at the White House health spa in the Executive Office Building, and that he used to be a “night” person and did all his work between afternoon and midnight, but now he is both a “day” and “night” person.

But there are many areas Henry will not touch on, and if he does not wish to answer, he’ll wriggle out of a question with a deadpan face and wry remark. For example: How do you relax? “I crochet.” What do you and Jill St. John like to do together? “I’m teaching her chess.” Why don’t you give interviews? “Look what mystery did for Greta Garbo.” Why did the President send you instead of Secretary of State William Rogers to China? “He knows I like wonton soup.” What abut God? “That would take six volumes.” Will you write a book? “No, I know too much.”

It is as though he wishes to be known and yet to remain unknown, as though one half of Henry cautions him constantly against saying too much. Henry jokes about his two sides, blaming it on his sign of the Zodiac, Gemini: “I’m a schizophrenic.” But columnist Joe Kraft links it to Henry’s innate “suspicion” of others. “He’s afraid he’s going to say something and it’s going to get him in trouble. He’s afraid. He’s really not a relaxed man at all.”

When Henry wants to end a conversation, he can sometimes use his children as an excuse, and when he does, a totally new side of Henry Kissinger emerges. He’ll introduce you to Elizabeth, 12, wearing a black T-shirt and slacks. She has Henry’s curly hair, only darker, and her eyes are brown. Then he’ll introduce you to 10-year-old David, who looks like a German choir boy with shoulder-length, curly white-blonde hair and Henry’s piercing blue eyes.

“This is my Beatle,” Henry will say, tousling David’s curls, proudly examining the sketch of a long-haired rock star David has just completed with considerable skill.

“He’s an excellent painter too,” says Henry. “Except he ruins all my relationships with movie stars. I once introduced him to Lana Turner and he said, ‘Who’s that?’”

Then Henry heads for Disneyland with the two kids in tow, and suddenly “the playboy of the western wing” becomes a much more familiar entity.

 

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