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Newt “Hollywood” Gingrich

I’m not a trained historian, at least in the sense of one current presidential candidate. I do not hold a PhD or even a Masters in the subject. But I do consider myself something of an amateur historian and do possess some historical training and experience, as a former schoolteacher and museum employee. I read quite a bit on a number of historical topics. One particular interest of mine is the Cold War era. I particularly enjoy viewing this through the contemporary media and pop culture of the period.

In the 1980s there were a number of films that considered the after-effects or on-set of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers. Some were primarily focused on the aftermath: Threads and The Day After are two infamous films that look at the toll on society and individuals that would ensue after such an exchange. These films also looked at the conditions that might lead to such an exchange. They tended to have a largely anti-nuclear, left-leaning message.

One film focused more on the lead-up and did so in a fascinating way. The 1984 Canadian produced Countdown to Looking Glass, which originally aired on HBO on October 14th of that year, considers the scenario of an economic collapse leading to Soviet puppet states springing up in the Middle East, particularly Oman. The U.S. sends troops to Saudi Arabia and Oman responds with a blockcade in the Strait of Hormuz. Soviets deploy submarines in the region as shots are exchanged on a variety of fronts. Things come to a head when the Omanis and the US exchange fire, resulting in the loss of an Omani gunboat. A Soviet sub is tracked under the Nimitz, and eventually nukes are exchanged. We’re left with the President and his closest advisors boarding the Looking Glass, an airborne command center and the very real possibility of an all-out strategic nuclear exchange.

What makes the film so compelling is that the events are portrayed through a mock newscast. The producers purposely added dramatic scenes and used compressed time (i.e. several days of events presented over the 1 hour 26 minutes of the film), but the newscast aspect lends a great deal of authenticity and really captures the paranoia and anxiety of the era. They also used real pundits and politicians, such as Eric Sevareid and Senator Eugene McCarthy. It does a fairly good job of staying somewhat neutral while still capturing the immensity of the potential situation.

Also appearing in the film is a young, telegenic Congressman from the state of Georgia. At the time he was a right-wing back-bench bomb thrower who was quickly making a name for himself. A committed Cold Warrior, he makes numerous references to past history and hails Winston Churchill.

You might know him. It’s former Speaker and current GOP Presidential candidate Newton Leroy Gingrich.

It’s been a while since I viewed the film, but I believe Newt appears twice from what I remember He appears at around 6:20 in this clip from the first third:

And at about 6:42 in this clip from the last third:

Newt isn’t exactly a Hollywood star like, say, former Senator Fred Thompson. But he has appeared in a variety of films, mostly documentaries. But in 1995 he did have a cameo appearance in an episode of Murphy Brown. Check out the former Speaker’s full Hollywood credits here.

As an aside, I strongly suggest you check out Countdown to Looking Glass. It may not have the power it once did, but it still pulls up a whole lot of emotions.

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