Last night I read Born Standing Up, actor Steve Martin’s account of the seventeen years he spent making his way up the ladder of standup comedy. It’s a rather worthwhile book. In well-written prose, replete with many funny passages, Martin describes the process by which he rose from playing open-mike nights at obscure folk clubs around Los Angeles to filling stadiums across the country.
As many TNN readers know, Martin acquired his earliest showbiz experience in Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm near Garden Grove, the town in which he spent his teenage years, toward the end of Richard Nixon’s Vice Presidency. And RN figured in Martin’s struggling years as a standup; he mentions than when he played college campuses as an unknown in the early 1970s, he had only to mention the President’s name to be guaranteed a laugh. (In fact, the predictability of this response was one thing that led him to remove all political material from his act. Coincidentally or not, his career took off soon after.)
But I didn’t know that one of President Nixon’s decisions, toward the end of his Administration, led to one of the most celebrated episodes of Steve Martin’s comic career. It’s especially timely now, as the exhibition of the relics of Egypt’s King Tutankhamun finishes its run at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum and gets ready to go to Discovery Channel’s Times Square showplace in New York.
It was in 1974 that President Nixon decided that the United States should respond to the successful display of Egyptian art in the Soviet Union with a truly memorable exhibit to tour the United States. After bringing up the idea during his visit to Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat a few weeks before his resignation, he urged Secretary of State Kissinger to work on bringing such an exhibit to these shores. Dr. Kissinger got in touch with the late Thomas Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the process was begun which, a couple of years later, resulted in the spectacularly successful first visit of King Tut and his relics to the United States – a visit which inspired Steve Martin to write that immortal tune which was introduced to the world on Saturday Night Live.
More than thirty years after he last came for a visit, the boy king is generating some more memories to last a lifetime for countless Americans, continuing a process that started with President Nixon’s proposal for a tour to generate income to help Egyptian museums on that summer day so long ago.