The Long March of Newt Gingrich: Part Two

December 19, 2011

This week, FRONTLINE is putting up excerpts from our 1996 biography, The Long March of Newt Gingrich. Watch part one, part three and part four.

“I think there was a period when he probably was a very lonely youngster. I really do. He didn’t dwell on it a great deal. It just always seemed as if Newton were always forward-looking. Always. What’s happened is past. What’s ahead is exciting. That’s the way I’m going to go.”
— Eleanor Tilton, mother of Newt’s high school friend

The Gingrich family moved to Columbus, Ga., after Newt’s stepfather Bob was stationed at Fort Benning in 1960. It was in Georgia that Newt made his first close friend, Jim Tilton, and the two young Republicans bonded over their shared love of movies, politics and military history. “Both of them spent a lot of time with military history and reading books and visualizing battles,” recalled Tilton’s widow Linda. “I think they began to see politics in the same way that they saw war.”

In high school, Newt ran Jim Tilton’s successful campaign for student body president and wrote and directed the senior class play — “That Wonderful Year 1960-61” — casting himself as Richard Nixon. (View the program.) He wrote a letter to Harper‘s Magazine predicting a coming Republican majority. (Read Harper‘s reponse.) At Jim Tilton’s suggestion, he went out for high school football (though his former coach recalls having trouble finding a helmet that could fit Newt’s head).

But his most shocking extracurricular activity was the furtive romance he began with his 24-year-old geometry teacher, Jackie Battley.

The Long March of Newt Gingrich was a co-production with the Center for Investigative Reporting. Note: This section of the film was slightly edited from the original due to rights restrictions. Footage of The Magnificent Seven trailer courtesy of Producers Library.

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