The Best Years of Our Lives

Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan

by Laurence Leamer
Harper and Row, 395 pp., $14.95

I first saw Ronnie and Nancy Reagan at the Republican convention of 1964 in San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Ronnie and Nancy (they are called by these names throughout the book under review) were seated in a box to one side of the central area where the cows—the delegates, that is—were whooping it up. Barry Goldwater was about to be nominated for president. Nelson Rockefeller was being booed not only for his communism but for his indecently uncloseted heterosexuality. Who present that famous day can ever forget those women with blue-rinsed hair and leathery faces and large costume jewelry and pastel-tinted dresses with tasteful matching accessories as they screamed “Lover!” at Nelson? It was like a TV rerun of the Bacchae, with Nelson as Pentheus.

I felt sorry for Nelson. I felt sorry for David Brinkley when a number of seriously overweight Sunbelt Goldwaterites chased him through the kitchens of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I felt sorry for myself when I, too, had to ward off their righteous wrath: I was there as a television commentator for Westinghouse. I felt sorry for the entire “media” that day as fists were actually shaken at the anchorpersons high up in the eaves of the hall. I felt particularly sorry for the “media” when a former president named Eisenhower, reading a speech with his usual sense of discovery, attacked the press, and the convention hall went mad. At last Ike was giving it to those Commie-wierdo-Jew-fags who did not believe in the real America of humming electric chairs, well-packed prisons, and kitchens filled with every electrical device that a small brown person of extranational provenance might successfully operate at a fraction of the legal minimum wage.

As luck would have it, I stood leaning on the metal railing that enclosed the boxed-in open place where, side by side, Ronnie and Nancy were seated watching Ike. Suddenly, I was fascinated by them. First, there was her furious glare when someone created a diversion during Ike’s aria. She turned, lip curled with Bacchantish rage, huge unblinking eyes afire with a passion to kill the enemy so palpably at hand—or so it looked to me. For all I know she might have been trying out new contact lenses. In any case, I had barely heard of Nancy then. Even so, I said to myself: There is a lot of rage in this little lady. I turned then to Ronnie. I had seen him in the flesh for a decade or so as each of us earned his mite in the Hollyjungle. Ronnie was already notorious for his speeches for General Electric, excoriating communists who were, apparently, everywhere. I had never actually spoken to him at a party because I knew—as who did not?—that although he was the soul of amiability when not excoriating the international monolithic menace of atheistic godless communism, he was, far and away, Hollywood’s most grinding bore—Chester Chatterbox, in fact. Ronnie never stopped talking, even …

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