Nonfiction: Watch One With the Gipper: An Aide Recalls Movie Nights With the Reagans

Photo

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis in “Hellcats of the Navy.” Credit Columbia Pictures

MOVIE NIGHTS WITH THE REAGANS
A Memoir
By Mark Weinberg
Illustrated. 261 pp. Simon & Schuster. $28.

During his presidency, Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, watched 363 movies at Camp David. Spread out over eight years, it’s a pardonably large total, especially for two former film actors, a couple who retained show business as a frame of reference long after they’d gone into its professional cousin, politics. All their viewing of the era’s biggest hits probably kept the Reagans more connected to the country than watching four hours a day of cable news.

Mark Weinberg, a young press aide detailed to Camp David on the weekends, would join a group of staffers in Aspen Lodge each time the president opened the door just before 8 p.m. Everyone would watch the films, and the staffers would also watch their hosts. More than 30 years later, with the former first lady’s blessing, Weinberg began writing this amiable book about the experience. “Movie Nights With the Reagans” is fluffed with a loyalist’s nostalgia, but it does offer entertaining glimpses of the first couple, and it may lure even Reagan nonenthusiasts to indulge in some nostalgia of their own.

The president was “clearly excited” to see “Top Gun,” though the sex scenes seemed to go on far too long for his and Nancy’s taste. The “over-the-top violence” of “Red Dawn” may have similarly dampened their appreciation of its Commie-repelling Colorado kids. (Both Reagans expressed disapproval of the pot-smoking scene in “9 to 5.”) Among films with a political dimension, Weinberg insists that “Ghostbusters” “helped energize the 1984 campaign,” featuring as its villain an over-regulating E.P.A. bureaucrat. The director, Ivan Reitman, had unusually conservative leanings for Hollywood, but Reagan himself seems to have had a nonideological good time watching the movie.

Photo

“Return of the Jedi.” Credit Photofest/20th Century Fox

The president liked “Return of the Jedi.” He saw no connection between the “Star Wars” franchise and his Strategic Defense Initiative, but recognized the films as a lasered update of the westerns he’d once starred in. One of those, “Cattle Queen of Montana,” is on the marquee at the Hill Valley movie theater in the portion of “Back to the Future” set in 1955. A nice touch, though Weinberg records that “it felt as if the air had gone out of” Aspen Lodge when Doc, disbelieving news from the future of Reagan’s ascent, asks Marty: “I suppose Jane Wyman is the first lady?” One pictures Nancy biting hard on a kernel of unpopped corn, but in the summer of 1985 popcorn had been banished from Aspen Lodge because of the president’s recent colon cancer surgery.

Photo

“Back to the Future.” Credit Universal Pictures

Along with all the ’80s blockbusters, the Reagans showed vintage films, including a few of the president’s own. The couple’s one co-starring venture, “Hellcats of the Navy,” allowed the young staffers to see the boss and his wife as a kind of cold-showered Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Reagan had a self-respecting view of his movie work and remained sufficiently connected to his old craft to suggest that Steven Spielberg shorten the credits of “E.T.” after it was screened at the White House in 1982.

Photo

Back at Camp David, with not much to be seen watching the backs of the Reagans’ heads, Weinberg often struggles to fill the page: His recollections of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” contain a two-page aside about Reagan’s friendship with Wayne Newton, prompted by Matthew Broderick’s lip-syncing of “Danke Schoen.” A large part of the “Chariots of Fire” chapter is taken up with a sentimental exploration of the Reagan/Thatcher partnership. The author has to sneak away from his seat to consult Reagan letters, diaries and biographies to fortify what is essentially a subjunctive enterprise. He will “have to imagine” whether Reagan was thinking about his vexed relationship with his daughter Patti when watching Henry and Jane Fonda in “On Golden Pond.” He “could not help but wonder” if the president “may have seen parts of himself” in “Back to the Future,” and can only “suspect” that Reagan “may have reflected” on travails with his alcoholic father when watching Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

Conjecture is the big problem for any book about presidential film-viewing. Mark Feeney’s ambitious, well-researched “Nixon at the Movies,” published in 2004, reveals that during his years in office Nixon watched just one movie featuring Reagan, a man of whom he had “a thoroughly mixed opinion.” The film was “Dark Victory,” shown at the president’s San Clemente home in August 1973. Feeney plausibly speculates on the contempt Nixon may have felt for the moneyed, time-wasting crowd (including Reagan’s character) surrounding Bette Davis, the picture’s star. But here too, like Weinberg, Feeney “can only wonder” what the book’s subject actually experienced while the lights were down.

Photo

“Chariots of Fire.” Credit Warner Bros. Pictures

Weinberg’s memoir doesn’t aspire to the depth of Feeney’s study, but its fealty and kindliness have their own appeal. The anecdotes (like the two pages on Reagan’s effort to return a pen he accidentally walked off with) are sweet, not piercing; the hue is as rosy as the president’s cheeks. The author once fell asleep during a screening of “Show Boat,” and afterward was “almost out the door when the president tapped me on the shoulder and said with a wink and a big smile, ‘Guess you were pretending it was a cabinet meeting.’”

“Movie Nights With the Reagans” probably would have worked better as a half-hour oral history, but here it is, not unwelcome, if only to remind us that the role of the president can be played by a charming gentleman instead of a scoundrel.

Continue reading the main story

Хостинг сайтов Joinder.Pro

HistorySource: Six First Ladies Together Backstage

Photo

Credit Barbara Kinney/William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Here are six first ladies, 20 years ago next month, at a joint fund-raising appearance at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington. The body language seems revealing. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the incumbent president’s wife, confers with the widow of L.B.J., a Big Daddy for modern Democrats. Betty Ford turns to Barbara Bush, wife of the young Texan whose career her husband, Jerry, had once promoted, and away from Rosalynn Carter, whose Jimmy had thwarted Gerald Ford’s re-election. Former actress Nancy Reagan seems to be waiting for their cue to perform.

More startling, however, are the anachronisms in this tableau. The visual lineage of this scene is 19th-century America, with the women sitting among flowers, wearing ornate couture, separated from the men. But as we now know more in historical retrospect than we could have in 1994, each of these six women, strong and publicly activist, expanded the boundaries for the modern presidential spouse, one of them so much so that she may yet run again for president herself.

The role had changed, but, as this photograph attests, the imagery remained surprisingly the same.

Continue reading the main story

Хостинг сайтов Joinder.Pro