Nikita Khrushchev Goes to Hollywood

Lunch with the Soviet leader was Tinseltown’s hottest ticket, with famous celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin

The Soviet leader makes his entrance at 20th Century Fox on September 19, 1959. He would call Can-Can exploitive and pornographic. (Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 8)

"What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there? Have gangsters taken hold of the place? Your policemen are so tough they can lift a bull by the horns. Surely they can restore order if there are any gangsters around. I say, ‘I would very much like to see Disneyland.' They say, ‘We cannot guarantee your security.' Then what must I do, commit suicide?"

Khrushchev was starting to look more angry than amused. His fist punched the air above his red face.

"That's the situation I find myself in," he said. "For me, such a situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people."

The audience was baffled. Were they really watching the 65-year-old dictator of the world's largest country throw a temper tantrum because he couldn't go to Disneyland?

Sitting in the audience, Nina Khrushchev told David Niven that she really was disappointed that she couldn't see Disneyland. Hearing that, Sinatra, who was sitting next to Mrs. Khrushchev, leaned over and whispered in Niven's ear.

"Screw the cops!" Sinatra said. "Tell the old broad that you and I will take 'em down there this afternoon."

Before long, Khrushchev's tantrum—if that's what it was—faded away. He grumbled a bit about how he'd been stuffed into a sweltering limousine at the airport instead of a nice, cool convertible. Then he apologized, sort of: "You will say, perhaps, ‘What a difficult guest he is.' But I adhere to the Russian rule: ‘Eat the bread and salt but always speak your mind.' Please forgive me if I was somewhat hot-headed. But the temperature here contributes to this. Also"—he turned to Skouras—"my Greek friend warmed me up."

Relieved at the change of mood, the audience applauded. Skouras shook Khrushchev's hand and slapped him on the back and the two old, fat, bald men grinned while the stars, who recognized a good show when they saw one, rewarded them with a standing ovation.

The lunch over, Skouras led his new friend toward the soundstage where Can-Can was being filmed, stopping to greet various celebrities along the way. When Skouras spotted Marilyn Monroe in the crowd, he hastened to introduce her to the premier, who'd seen a huge close-up of her face—a clip from Some Like It Hot—in a film about American life at an American exhibition in Moscow. Now, Khrushchev shook her hand and looked her over.

"You're a very lovely young lady," he said, smiling.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus