September 18, 2000 12:00 PM

Anthony Summers

Richard Nixon a wife abuser?

No stranger to controversy, biographer Anthony Summers has written incendiary books about J. Edgar Hoover and Marilyn Monroe. Now, in The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (Viking), Summers, 57, claims that Nixon self-medicated with the mood-altering drug Dilantin and also beat his wife, Pat, during times of personal crisis–a charge that Nixon Library director John Taylor has called “inconceivable.”

How sure are you of the beatings?

I want to emphasize that they are just a tiny part of the book. We interviewed in excess of 1,000 people–and leads about the beating began to dovetail. A close friend of [deceased L.A.] journalist Bill Van Petten said Van Petten told him that after Nixon’s gubernatorial defeat in 1962, he beat Pat so badly she couldn’t go out the next day. Others, including former Nixon aide John Sears, added what they learned. San Diego banker Arnholt Smith told me of a night when Pat just wept and said, “Arnie, is it ever going to stop?” She told him she was considering divorce.

What about the Dilantin?

Jack Dreyfus, the Wall Street financier, said he had dinner with Nixon after the 1968 election and advocated Dilantin for depression. Nixon said, “Could I have some?” Dreyfus says he gave Nixon 1,000 pills then–and more later.

Why are people still fascinated by Nixon?

Because he was such a complex character. No other President has imploded in folly to the degree he has and yet resurrected himself time and time again.

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