Excerpt from The Breaking of a President 1974 - The Nixon Connection
Marvin Miller, Compiler (Therapy Productions, Inc.©1975)
Secret Manipulations of President's Crony Still Pose Question Mark
To those of an inquiring turn of mind, it may seem odd that these two men from such radically different milieus—the earnest young Quaker lawyer and politician from rural Southern California [Richard M. Nixon], and the self‑made Cuban‑American businessman on Florida's Gold Coast [Charles G. Rebozo]—should have become friends in the first place, and soon become so close. Just who is Bebe Rebozo and what is his background?
Charles Gregory Rebozo was born in Tampa, Florida, on November 17, 1912 — making him just three months older than Nixon. He was the youngest of nine children of a Havana cigar‑maker who had brought his family from Cuba to the United States. By the time the family moved from Tampa to Miami, little Charles had already been nicknamed "Bebe." A brother of his had trouble saying "baby" in English, and the nickname stuck. (Most people pronounce it "Be‑be"; the Nixons call him "Beeb."
Bebe worked hard to help support his parents and eight brothers and sisters. At the age of 10 he was delivering newspapers, and at 12, in the fifth grade, was working after school as a chicken plucker, a job he detested because he hated to kill anything. While still in school he displayed his money‑wise nature by making his first real estate investment. He put $25 down on a lot in Canaveral, which he lost during the Depression when he couldn't keep up the payments.
Small and slightly built, Rebozo learned as a boy, according to old friends, that the way to avoid being bullied by the bigger boys was to keep quiet, smile a lot, and be generally charming. He was a bright boy, and his dark good looks and charm won him the vote as "best‑looking boy" in his senior class of 1930 at Miami.
After graduation, while many of his wealthier classmates went on to college, Bebe got a job with Pan‑American Airways as one of their first 10 stewards. For a year he worked on the flying boats shuttling between Miami, the West Indies and Panama. It was during this time that he was secretly married at the age of 18 to a Miami girl named Clare Gunn. The marriage was annulled three years later. His young wife testified that they had never lived together, and that she had only married him because "he was very domineering, and kept insisting and insisting." Apparently this was a facet Bebe displayed only to his girl friend; to others he was charming and ingratiating.
[Ed. Note: Rebozo's high school, the only one in Miami at the time, was located at 2450 SW 1st Street. Hoke Maroon, Syrian-born son of a local fruit vendor (Tony Maroon, who operated Northern Fruit Market on NE 1st Avenue), was a classmate. Miami High was also the alma mater of George Smathers, who grew up at 443 NE 39th Street, and of Phil Graham, whose family owned land northwest of Hialeah, just east of the Okeechobee Road, in some directories referred to as Pennsuco, Florida. Smathers and Graham went to college in Gainesville, later graduating from law school there in 1938, while Bebe had an assortment of jobs in Miami.]
Click to enlarge map.
In 1931 Bebe quit his job with the airline and went to work pumping gasoline at a filling station in Miami. After a year he quit this and took a job chauffeuring tourists around the Gold Coast. Living frugally and saving his money, restless and always looking for a better chance, in 1935 he invested his savings in "Rebozo's Service Station and Auto Supplies," specializing in the sale of retreaded tires. With his modest profits, he kept investing in real estate, buying raw land around Miami at two or three dollars an acre. He was one of the few who foresaw the coming Florida land boom.
With the outbreak of World War II, Rebozo went back to Pan‑American as a navigator on contract flights for the Army's Air Transport Command, and made about 100 ferry trips across the Atlantic to Africa and India.
[Editor's Note: We found a document at Ancestry.com, which shows Bebe navigating a U.S. Army plane en route from Bermuda to LaGuardia. The pilot (captain) was Joe Ernest Fretwell, whose listing in the 1940 census shows him living in Coral Gables at the corner of Madrid Street and Milan Avenue. The house actually fronted on Milan, though designated as 1510 Madrid Street.
While Bebe was away [on Pan Am flights], an elder brother ran the service station, which profited handsomely on the sudden wartime demand for retreaded tires. On his return from the airways, Bebe found himself in very good shape financially. The postwar land boom was already starting, and he concentrated on his real estate investments. At the same time, following his natural bent for advancement, the young Cuban‑American garageman began to move into Miami social circles, where his natural Latin charm and unobtrusive manners quickly opened doors for him‑with an assist from the rumors of his modest wealth and shrewd business instinct in real estate deals.
Note the red car in previous photo. Click to enlarge.Five years later the Florida state census showed he had moved to 529 Minorca Ave. in Coral Gables (less than a mile and half from 1326 Milan, where Bebe had lived in 1940). This house was about the same distance south of the home of Bebe's brother-in-law, Harold Latham Barker. After the war Fretwell continued working as a pilot for Pan American Airlines, the airline for which Bebe had been employed before the war. His flight manifests in the late 1940's show he flew routes between Miami and Havana, Cuba, or Kingston, Jamaica. Prior to the war, records show Fretwell had been a seaman on the steam tanker Malay that traveled for Marine Transport Lines between Tampico and Providence, R.I., in the early 1930's, and lived in San Diego by 1935. Is all that simply just an incredible coincidence?]
In 1946 Bebe was quietly married for the second time—curiously enough, to the same girl he had married at 18, who was now a widow named Clare Gentry. This time they lived together for two years, then separated, and were divorced two years after that. "We just didn't make it," Rebozo said later in one of his rare interviews. "It happened when I was young." A friend commented: "He'll never let on, but the whole thing upset him very much. He isn't going to try it again."
[Editor's Note: The 1940 census indicated that Clare's occupation was shown to be a pilot for the airways, but was struck through, while a faint trace in a different handwriting remains (after erasure?) showing her husband was the pilot. Her husband, James Norman Gentry, son of Stonewall Percy Gentry of Atlanta, had been stationed in Pensacola, Florida in 1935 as a student Naval Air pilot. According to one account, James Gentry met his death on July 31, 1944, at Funafuti Atoll in the Ellice Islands. The certificate of interment in 1950 at Arlington Cemetery, however, shows he served in the military only from July 1, 1935 until November 5, 1936, and that he was in the Naval Reserve, unactivated.
Could he possibly have been a member of some other elite secret squadron? We read part of an obituary about him in the Georgia Tech alumni magazine: "Captain James Norman Gentry, B.S. in Aero. Eng., 1934, Pan-American Airways, son of Mr. and Mrs. S. Percy Gentry of Atlanta, Ga., was one of a crew of six men to lose his life in a take-off crash at a Pacific base, according to a Navy Department announcement released on August second. Surviving Capt. Gentry, besides his parents, are his wife, the former Clare Gunn, of Miami, Fla., and their two sons, Donald Gunn Gentry, 4, and Warren Randolph Gentry, 6 months, now living at Los Altos, Cal. Capt. Gentry was well known in Atlanta, where he was graduated from Georgia School of Technology in 1934. A member of Chi Phi fraternity and the (Continued on Next Page)..." Donald obtained his master's degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1969, writing a thesis in computer science.
Clare Gunn had gone to high school with "Bebe" Rebozo and had in fact been secretly married to him in Fort Lauderdale when both were 18, a marriage later annulled when she claimed it was never consummated. (Source: Des Moines Register, Sunday, October 11, 1970. See below.)]
For some time after that the bachelor Bebe acquired a reputation as a bit of a ladies' man. He dated many of Florida's most beautiful women. One woman friend described him as a "suave man‑about‑town, with a lot of Old World charm—a fun guy." Increasingly in recent years, however, Bebe has cooled off the romantic image and devoted his energies to amassing money and being the President's best friend. He has indicated to his few intimates that he is very careful about his dates because he doesn't want to provoke any idle gossip that might reflect on the Nixon family. His latest steady date is Jane Ann Lucke, an attractive Miami divorcee who lives with her mother and two sons. Mrs. Lucke said in a recent interview that Bebe comes over to their house a couple of nights a week, and she and her mother give him piano lessons, or watch TV or play cards.
To get back to the late 1940's, Bebe's real estate investments prospered and prospered. The word went around that he had the Midas touch. Some of his boyhood friends, back from the war, several of them wealthy, invested their money with him and on his advice, and brought their friends in. Bebe soon became the central figure and guiding genius of a group of well‑heeled, enthusiastic young men who poured their money into real estate speculation. They had their own private fun spots, in particular the old Cocolobo Cay Club on Adams Key, where they frolicked and entertained customers and associates.
[Editor's note: Adams Key is south of Elliott's Key, just east of Homestead Air Force Base. According to an AP feature writer, Adams Key, which is now part of Biscayne National Park and accessible only by small boat, was home to the Cocolobo Club... The Cocolobo Club was built by Carl Graham Fisher, who purchased the land in 1917. Fisher also owned Fisher Island, located just south of Miami Beach, several miles to the north of Adams Key. Among the original members of Cocolobo were two tire magnates—Harvey Firestone and Frank Seiberling—President Harding, and two major shareholder of General Motors—C.F. Kettering and T. Coleman Du Pont. Between 1920 and 1929 Firestone, Seiberling, and other millionaires such as J.C. Penney, Harvey Stutz (another car maker), and Albert Champion (spark plugs) built mansions on the three-mile stretch of Collins Avenue known as Millionaire's Row. But Firestone, for one, had died in 1938, and his Harbel Villa estate (4400 Collins Avenue) would be developed into the Hotel Fontainebleu. It was on Collins Avenue that Nixon's "friend" Tatem Wofford (or Tatum) owned two hotels.
The 1936 Miami directory shows the Fishers living at 5812 Alton Road, across the street from La Gorce Golf Club. The dredging work he had done between the mainland and Miami Beach allowed the creation of several other islands between the south part of Miami Beach island, northwest of Fisher Island—one of which, Palm Island, became the haven of Al Capone in 1929 and later sold to Ralph Buglio, who died in 1952. After being financially devastated by the crash of the Florida land boom, Fisher sold Adams Key to Garfield Arthur Wood, the speedboat racer, who kept it as a private retreat until an investment group that included George Smathers, Thomas Havens Wakefield and Bebe Rebozo, acquired it. Wakefield's parents, Edwin and Sara, had sold real estate for many years out of the Ingraham Building in downtown Miami. In 1944 the office was in Room 1126, next door to the PanAm Airways, Latin American division; also down the hall was the Coral Gables Development, Everglades Asset Corp. and Silver Bluff Estates.
Among Bebe's cronies in this group was his old school chum, Rep. George A. Smathers, an ambitious young Florida Democrat, a colleague and friend of Nixon's in the House of Representatives, though they were of opposite parties. Rebozo himself was a Democrat at that time, during the Truman administration; he didn't switch to the GOP till some years later, after Eisenhower and Nixon were elected. George Smathers and other associates realized the value of their real estate enterprises, in the middle of the land boom, of cementing good relations with powerful local and national politicians. So Bebe Rebozo found himself cast in a new role: that of entertaining Democratic bigwigs aboard his boat and at lush private spots along the Gold Coast. Among his guests from time to time were Senators Russell Long, Lyndon Johnson and Stuart Symington. The Bebe had come a long way since the days only a few years before when he sold retreaded tires.
There is some question as to when Richard Nixon first met Charles Gregory Rebozo; and the very fact that there is such a question, leads to speculation that perhaps something is being covered up, for some reason still unknown. Nixon's official biographers, and the news feature stories of the early 70's, all agree that the two were introduced by George Smathers. Nixon and Smathers, who had entered the House together in 1947 from their separate States, were both elected Senators in 1950. Some say the meeting with Bebe took place in 1950 while they were campaigning for the November election-‑others that it was in early 1951, after they had been elected. At any rate, the story is that Nixon was worn out from overwork and nursing a cold, and his Democratic friend Smathers persuaded him to take a brief break in the sunshine of Florida. Several writers have stated that this was Nixon's first visit to Florida‑-that Smathers urged him to "take a look at our State."
Smathers told Nixon to call Bebe Rebozo on his arrival in Miami, promising that Bebe would "show him a good time." Nixon wasn't necessarily in search of a good time; he had brought a lot of work along with him. He duly phoned Rebozo, then worked all day in his Key Biscayne Hotel room, while Bebe discreetly hovered in the background, not wanting to bother the new GOP Senator from California. The next day Bebe invited Nixon to take a cruise on his houseboat, and the weary Nixon accepted. The Senator spent most of his time aboard the boat working on papers he had brought with him. "I doubt if I exchanged half a dozen words with the guy," Rebozo later recalled. However, on his return to Washington, Nixon wrote Bebe a warm letter of thanks, promising to visit Florida soon again, and their friendship was begun.
That is the officially approved account of how the oddly‑assorted pair first met‑approved by Nixon and Rebozo, with a discrepancy only regarding the date in various accounts. However, investigative reporter Jeff Gerth wrote recently in Penthouse magazine that he was informed in the summer of 1972 by an ex‑FBI agent, John Madala ["In 1943, Madala became the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Miami FBI Office and left the Bureau in 1946 to begin a new career as Security Director at various Florida racetracks, and tracks in Illinois....At the time of his death he was Security Chief at the Calder Race track and resided in Coral Gables, Fla.," as quoted from Historical GMen], that Nixon, as a Congressman, made a number of pleasure excursions to Florida in the late '40s. According to Gerth, quoting Madala, Nixon went fishing first with Tatum [sic] "Chubby" Wofford, a Florida hotel owner and real estate speculator, and later with Bebe Rebozo—at least a couple of years before 1950. Madala said the arrangements for some of Nixon's visits had been made by Richard Danner, an automobile dealer who was city manager of Miami from 1946 until 1948, when he was dismissed in a dispute over gangland control of the police force. Danner and Gerth's informant, Madala, had worked together in the Miami FBI office in the 1940's. Danner later joined the Howard Hughes organization and became head of the Sands Casino in Las Vegas.
Jeff Gerth went on to state that Richard Danner later in 1972, in an interview in his plush Las Vegas office, confirmed Madala's story of Nixon's visits to Florida in the 1940's. He recalled one particular visit in 1948. According to his story, George Smathers, who had introduced Danner to Nixon in Washington in 1947, called from Washington to tell Danner, in Miami, that Dick, who was involved in prosecuting the Alger Hiss case, was on the verge of a breakdown and needed a rest. Danner agreed to take care of Nixon in Miami; Smathers put him aboard the train, and Danner met him in Miami. According to Danner's account, after the ailing Senator [Nixon] had spent a week in the sun at Vero Beach, Danner took him to an osteopath in Miami. From the doctor's office Danner called Bebe Rebozo, who came over in his boat, and the three men went sailing together.
Danner confirmed Madala's information that Nixon's first Florida yachting companion, before he became chummy with Rebozo, was Chubby Wofford. But Wofford had some pressing personal problems at that time, and shortly moved to Georgia; it was then that Rebozo took over as Nixon's sea‑going host. Jeff Gerth noted that Wofford's Miami hotel was named in the celebrated Senate hearings of the Kefauver Committee on Organized Crime in 1950‑51. It was testified that the Wofford Hotel was headquarters for crime syndicate figures from New York, who owned an interest in the hotel. The Kefauver Committee probed deeply into the operations of organized crime in Florida, with known gangsters working hand‑in‑glove with public officials. Abe Allenberg, the syndicate's Miami representative, was a friend and former employer of Richard Danner.
Danner is currently a principal figure in the investigation of the mysterious $100,000 donation to Nixon by Howard Hughes; it was Danner who delivered the money to Bebe Rebozo in two installments of $50,000 each, either in 1969 and 1970, or in mid‑70; there is a question about the dates.
Jeff Gerth in his Penthouse article revealed further that Danner in 1952 accompanied Nixon on a hasty visit to a casino in Cuba, operated by the syndicate; and he stated that Danner got his lucrative job as head of the Sands in Las Vegas due to his closeness to Nixon.
Winding up our scrutiny of Nixon's visits to Florida in the 1940's, we may note that it has been reported that Nixon visited the Sunshine State as early as 1942, on government business, when he was a young lawyer working for the wartime Office of Emergency Management in Washington. There is no indication whether he met Bebe Rebozo at that time; probably not, since the young tire dealer was with the Air Transport Command during most of the war.