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Taking Off?

In response to:

Something for the Boys from the November 14, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

Christopher Hitchens [NYR, November 14, 1996] stated that Ronald Reagan “became phobic about flying in 1937.” I was stationed at Twenty Nine Palms, CA in late 1942.

Being otherwise unassigned (washed out) I was asked to receive & escort etc. visiting show person, Ronald Reagan, for the day.

This very pleasant man arrived and departed by air none the worse for wear.

Peter Hart
Chestertown, Maryland

Christopher Hitchens replies:

According to Professor Garry Wills’s invaluable study, Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home, the future fortieth President had a nasty brush with turbulence on a flight from Los Angeles to Catalina Island in 1937, and didn’t take to the air again until compelled to do so by the exigency of running for the governorship of California. We know that in 1946, when forced to break off work on a movie in order to attend a crucial Screen Actor’s Guild negotiation in Chicago, he had to ask for even more leave so as to make the trip from Hollywood by train. And we also know that, during the eight years Reagan traveled the country as a booster for General Electric, he had to spend as many as twenty weeks a year in travel time because he would not board a plane. At the age of fifty-five he had never been overseas except for one boat trip to England to film The Hasty Heart. I’m naturally reluctant to challenge Mr. Hart’s eyewitness testimony, even at this distance in time. But can he be entirely sure that the man he met was not an actor, hired by the authorities to impersonate Ronald Reagan for the occasion?

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