November 18, 1996 12:00 PM

by Monica Crowley

After he resigned in disgrace in 1974, Richard Nixon spent his remaining 20 years shoring up his reputation for posterity. Books like In the Arena, Real Peace and No More Vietnams were intended to remind us that here was a politician of global vision. What was lacking was a chatty memoir, one for people who would rather read Loni Anderson than Arnold Toynbee. Though it was not written by the late president, Nixon off the Record fills that gap.

Crowley, now 28 and studying for a doctorate, was Nixon’s foreign-policy assistant from 1990 until his death in ’94. During that time she kept a record of her daily conversations with the ex-President. Not surprisingly, she wound up with reams of Nixon’s musings on power, post-Communist Russia and Hillary Clinton’s diabolical liberalism. But this book is also sprinkled with piquant, off-the-cuff comments about some of the century’s celebrities:

—Jack Kennedy: “He spit on waiters and ignored or screamed at the help.”

—Oliver Stone: “Why would you give [him] $7 of your money?”

—Dan Rather: “My God! Does the guy have to be so smug?”

—Arsenio Hall: “What is that show, anyway?”

Americans knew many Nixons, from the young Commie-baiter to the elder statesman, but this is a new RN—the sometimes inane one, made even more vivid by Crowley’s dippy interludes. There was the time, for instance, the President handed her a cantaloupe. “I’m going to the Bahamas tomorrow,” he said, “and I don’t want it to go bad. Here, enjoy it!” And then one afternoon, Nixon answered the phone. “Wrong number,” he said, setting down the receiver. “Some guy looking for Ed from Taco Bell.” (Random House, $23)

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