"Follow the Money"

On This Day in History
Wed June 17, 2015 at 1:20 AM PDT

On this day in history, June 17, 1972, five burglars were arrested inside the National Democratic Headquarters within the plush Watergate office building in Washington DC. No one at that time could foresee that what was being called a bungled “third rate burglary” would, in a little over two years later, lead to the first—and, thus far, only—resignation of a United States President. Today, we revisit the classic 1976 film, All the President's Men, and the legacy of Watergate.

In All the President's Men, the burglars whose office break-in would shock the world were portrayed by Henry Calvert (as Bernard Barker), Ron Hale (as Frank Sturgis), Nate Esformes (as Virgilio Gonzales), Dominic Chianese (as Eugenio Martinez) and Richard Herd (as James McCord).

 

Following the arrests of the five burglars, two young and inexperienced Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—who had little in common personally and were both under the age of 30—would become strange journalistic bedfellows as they would slowly and methodically untangle a political web of conspiracy and cover-ups, which led to the eventual downfall of President Richard M. Nixon in August of 1974.

Four Oscar winners and an Oscar nominee starred as the Washington Post journalists and editors in All the President’s Men: Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman (as Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (as Bob Woodward), Jason Robards (in his Oscar-winning role as Ben Bradlee), past Oscar nominee Jack Warden (as Harry Rosenfeld) and Oscar winner Martin Balsam (as Howard Simons).

 

What came to be known as the Watergate investigation by the press, followed by the Senate’s Watergate hearings, remains the most famous American political scandal of modern times, and the word itself—Watergate—has come to define political corruption and scandal, with “-gate” being tagged on to endless political stories of various importance over the subsequent 40 years, including “Billygate,” “Nannygate,” “Irangate” and “Troopergate.”

Watergate also led to a slew of phrases becoming part of the country’s lexicon: “smoking gun,” “Saturday Night Massacre,” “dirty tricks,” “hush money,” “black bag job,” “anonymous source,” “deep background,” “Deep Throat,” and the list goes on and on. Ironically, probably the most famous phrase to come out of Watergate, “follow the money,” was a creation of the film, All the President’s Men, showing once again the power of Hollywood over the historical record when it comes to the collective public memory.

Director Alan J. Pakula and Robert Redford exchange notes on the set of All the President’s Men. The Washington Post newsroom was meticulously recreated on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank by production designer George Jenkins, who received an Academy Award for his efforts.

 

The tale of the film began in 1974 when actor/director Robert Redford purchased the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s best-selling book of the same name which gave the account of their Watergate investigation. Redford saw the film as a way to tell the often convoluted story of how something like the Watergate break-in could ultimately topple an American president.

The biggest hurdle for Redford (who would star as Woodward, opposite Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein), director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter Albert Goldman was how to make a visually compelling thriller when so much of the Woodward-Bernstein storyline involved less-than-compelling visuals elements like phone calls and door-to-door interviews as the two reporters tried to find sources to help them unravel the mystery. The most compelling of the sources—and the most famous whistleblower of all time—was Woodward’s anonymous source who would become known as “Deep Throat,” so named by Post editor Howard Simons after the controversial 1972 movie of the same name and because the source was on “deep background.”

 

Who Was "Deep Throat"?
For those new to the Watergate story—or those who left it behind in the Seventies—the revelation of just who was the famous Bob Woodward source (forever immortalized as “Deep Throat”) would remain a mystery and a riddle for more than three decades. Like with the JFK assassination, countless Watergate books attempted to identify the mysterious Deep Throat figure for some 30 years. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that the former #2 man at the FBI, Mark Felt, revealed to the world that he indeed was the man known as “Deep Throat.” Woodward confirmed this fact once Vanity Fair published Felt’s admission. Whether Felt was a patriot intent on saving America from a corrupt government or a disgruntled employee who was bitter that President Nixon passed him over as the successor to J. Edgar Hoover as the Director of the FBI in 1972, only months prior to the Watergate break-in, will be left up historians. Felt died in 2009 at the age of 95. Ironically, Nixon and his chief of staff Bob Haldeman can be heard on White House tapes recorded only months after the Watergate break-in as believing that Felt was the source for Woodward’s stories in the Washington Post.

 

As with all fact-based films, All the President’s Men had its share of invented scenes and use of artistic license, but with heavy use of shadow and light, director Pakula (who received one of the film’s eight Oscar nominations) and screenwriter Goldman (who received one of the film’s four Oscar wins) effectively kept the suspense growing throughout the film... no easy feat when the audience already knows the ultimate outcome!

The actors and their real-life counterparts pictured together during one of the film's promotional events (L-R): (front row) Robert Redford, Carl Bernstein, Dustin Hoffman and Bob Woodward; (back row) Ben Bradlee, Jason Robards, Howard Simons, Martin Balsam and Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden who played Rosenfeld is not pictured).

 

All the President's Men would have a profound, if not temporary effect on American society’s feelings about the media in general, especially in the realm of what came to be known as the investigative journalist. Although in the decades since the Watergate revelations, Americans trust in the media has declined sharply, according to Gallup polls taken since that time (down from 70% of Americans who had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media in the mid-Seventies to roughly 50% today). So, in essence, All the President’s Men serves as a positive time-capsule for the Fourth Estate and remains a riveting piece of drama for movie audiences of any generation.

We end this look back with a peek at the theatrical trailer for All the President's Men...