David and Julie Eisenhower shared memories of life in the White House during the Nixon and Eisenhower years at the St. Jeanne de Lestonnac Auditorium in Tustin on Thursday.
A crowd of about 200 attended their talk, one of four in the Celebrity Series presented by the Crescendo Chapter of the Guilds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Although their families inhabited the White House at very different periods in history, both Eisenhowers remember the sometimes uncomfortable experience of growing up under the glare of the media. Julie and David met in college in the fall of 1966 and married 29 days before Richard Nixon took office.
"There is an intense spotlight that shines on all first families," said Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon. She remembered how the press portrayed her mother as someone cold and reserved.
"Someone called her 'plastic Pat' and the name stuck to her, but it was incomprehensible to anyone who knew her," Julie said.
Julie wrote a book about her mother called "Pat Nixon, The Untold Story," to offer a different perspective on the former first lady. "She was never comfortable in public life," Julie said.
Since their families have left office, the pair have led a fairly private existence.
"We're lucky today if people can spell our name," Julie joked.
Life With 'Grandpa'
David Eisenhower, grandson of Dwight David Eisenhower, knew Ike as a "reassuring grandfather figure."
"I knew him well the first 21 years of my life. I saw him often in his home in Gettysburg," he said. "If you go there, notice the fences. I painted them five times."
David's desire to be a writer became evident at an early age. When he was 10 he wrote a book about his cousin, Janet, and turned it over to the President's secretary to type--just as he had seen his grandfather do.
"Janet's Day" sold for 15 cents a copy with limited distribution in the White House. David later received a letter from then-Vice President Nixon saying he had "read the book to Mrs. Nixon and the girls and we all agree you're one of our favorite authors."
Later, David wrote about his grandfather in his book, "Eisenhower: At War," and he and Julie are working on a book about the 1968 presidential campaign.
First Ladies' Fare
The Eisenhowers flew from Philadelphia to Orange County on Thursday morning for the talk.
After speaking, they mingled with members of the audience who sampled Mamie Eisenhower's "Billion Dollar Fudge" and Pat Nixon's apricot nut bread.
"Mamie used to say that the only thing she could make was fudge and mayonnaise," Julie said.
Many in the crowd were delighted to rub elbows with the Eisenhowers.
"Their relatives were pivotal to U.S. history at a time when there was so much going on," said Fiona Petersen, chairwoman of the guilds.
Guests paid $25 each to attend. The Celebrity Series will conclude with a talk by Marianne Alireza, author of "At the Drop of a Veil," March 19. Proceeds from the series are expected to reach $10,000 and will go to the Performing Arts Center's operating expenses.
Others in the audience: Crescendo chairwoman Mary Bryant; Janice and Roger Johnson; John Taylor, director of the Nixon library; Minette Parrett; Eva Callahan, and Claire Burt.