Michael Gargiulo dies at 95; Documented the Moscow “kitchen debate”


Michael Gargiulo, Emmy Award-winning director and television producer who immortalized the impromptu 1959 “kitchen debate” between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, in Moscow, died on November 30 at his Manhattan home. He was 95 years old.

Her son, Michael, presenter of “Today in New York” on NBC, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

The made-for-TV moment came during a brief Cold War thaw, with performances by Nixon on the eve of his campaign for the Republican nomination, and pugnacious Khrushchev going into a model’s kitchen. . at his home at an American trade fair in Sokolniki Park.

The two world leaders had been directed to the $ 14,000 “typical American house” by William Safire, who would later become a speechwriter for Nixon and an opinion columnist for the New York Times, but who was busy at the Long Island PR era. Mason. (Mr. Safire gave the house the name “Splitnik” because it was cut in two by a walkway for spectators.)

The largely good-natured tit-for-tat intensified as Nixon and Khrushchev made their way through the exhibition hall. They were heading to the studio and control room that Mr. Gargiulo (pronounced gar-JOOL-oh) and his team had assembled for RCA at the invitation of the State Department to promote America’s technological superiority in television. color.

“As they entered, we were already recording,” Gargiulo recalled in an interview with his son in 2019. “They didn’t even know we were driving. “

Through performers, the US Vice President and the Soviet leader led a debate on the merits of capitalism over communism, which Mr Gargiulo and his team filmed, apparently so they could immediately replay it to demonstrate the wonders of the color television. .

But while Nixon had been warned to be on his best behavior (so Khrushchev would accept an invitation to a later summit meeting), no official could resist a microphone and a camera.

Nixon acknowledged Soviet advances in outer space; Khrushchev, sporting a mismatched Panama hat and oversized suit, conceded nothing.

“In seven years we will be at the same level as America,” he said. “As we walk past you, we’ll give you a sign.” “

Mr Gargiulo said the two men had promised the debate would be broadcast in both Russia and the United States. But hours after the end, he said, Kremlin aides demanded that he hand over the soundtrack to them.

By that time it had already been taken out of the Soviet Union by NBC (which was part of RCA at the time) to be shared with CBS and ABC, but Mr. Gargiulo offered to share a copy with the Soviets. . As a result, the debate was seen on both sides of the Iron Curtain that evening.

“It was what we call a virtual coin toss,” Gargiulo said of the showdown.

The trip to Moscow – during which he was accompanied by his wife, who was pregnant with their son – left him with warm memories as well as praise.

“I have never felt more patriotic,” he said. “They were world leaders who were sneaking in and taking him out of the country.”

“I can’t imagine anyone thinking this was not a turning point in our two relationship,” he added.

Things turned out better for Mr Gargiulo than for the debaters, at least in the short term. Nixon lost the 1960 presidential race and Khrushchev was impeached in 1964.

He started his career directing live shows in the Catskills, then joined NBC in New York City, where he became director of local programming. He has directed the game shows “To Tell the Truth”, “The Price Is Right”, “Match Game”, “Password” and “The $ 10,000 Pyramid”. He has also directed special events for CBS, including “All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade,” a cover pastiche of parades in New York and other cities.

His last directing credit was the Tournament of Roses Parade on CBS in 2003.

He won 10 Daytime Emmys during his career, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Michael Ralph Gargiulo was born on September 23, 1926 in Brooklyn to Louis and Joséphine (Talamo) Gargiulo. He grew up above his father’s restaurant, a Coney Island landmark.

He attended St. Augustine High School in Brooklyn and completed high school while serving in the Army Air Force Caribbean Defense Command at the end of World War II. He graduated from the University of Missouri on the GI Bill.

In 1958, he married Dorothy Rosato. Along with their son, she survives him, as does their daughter, Susan, who works for Nickelodeon, and three grandchildren.


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