CBS chickened out of telecasting their miniseries, The Reagans, you would’ve
thought the screenplay had referred to a claim in the wife of Peter Lawford’s
biography of her husband that Nancy Reagan gave the best blowjobs in Hollywood.
You would’ve figured that it must have revealed the details of her alleged
affair with Frank Sinatra–he did it her way–or maybe, who knows,
her apocryphal fling with former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl Gates. You
would’ve been certain there was footage from that gay orgy in which, according
to Larry Flynt, Reagan had participated before he was president.
When I was
eight years old, I saw the movie, Knute Rockne–All American, starring
Ronald Reagan as The Gipper. Reagan immediately became my first role model–he
was handsome and dynamic, with a twinkle in his eye–and I even started
combing my hair just like his, using water to maintain a fancy pompadour.
I grew disillusioned, and when I grew up to be a stand-up comic, Reagan became
a favorite target. I didn’t have to make stuff up, just report it. During
his campaign for the presidency, he actually agreed to take a senility test
if the proper authorities concluded that he had become senile. Then, as if to
prove his senility, he promised, "If I am elected, I will end the
inheritance tax, for rich and poor alike."
as a tv writer was bracketed by the Reagan family.
I was hired as head writer for an HBO special, satirizing the election campaign.
The show was titled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House
and took place in a modern newsroom, with Steve Allen as anchor. This was the
first time in American history that three major presidential candidates–Ronald
Reagan, Jimmy Carter and John Anderson–had all publicly declared themselves
to be born-again Christians. So the election was no longer a choice between
the lesser of two evils; it had become a matter of choosing between the least
of three sinners.
end of March 1981, I delivered a keynote address at the Youth International
Party convention in New York. (These were latterday Yippies, originally launched
as Zippies during the 1972 Republican convention.) I asked the audience a rhetorical
question, "How would you like to be a Secret Service agent guarding
Ronald Reagan, knowing that his vice president, George Bush, is the former
head of the CIA?" On March 30, the new president was shot by John Hinckley
in order to make a favorable impression on actress Jodie Foster. And if that
seemed crazy, Hinckley later came out for gun control, and Reagan came out against
it took more than a decade after the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy
for there to be a band called the Dead Kennedys, it took only a few months after
the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan for there to be a group called
Jodie Foster’s Army. (Other bands were named Sharon Tate’s Baby, Jim
Jones and the Suicides and Lennonburger.)
the 60s we knew that the CIA was smuggling heroin from Southeast Asia,"
I’d say at a campus gig. "In the 80s we know that they’re smuggling
cocaine from Central America. The same planes that fly weapons for the Contras
to airports in Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica come back to Florida, Louisiana
and Arkansas with their cargos filled to the brim with cocaine, even though
the administration is carrying on its anti-drug campaign. The pilots only have
to be careful to evade the radar screen. So while Nancy Reagan is saying, ‘Just
say no,’ the CIA is saying, ‘Just fly low.’"
I was hired as a writer on The Ron Reagan Show, an ironic association
in view of the kind of material I had written and performed about his father.
But young Ron was a fellow cultural mutation, and he understood that I treated
his parents as political symbols. I had met Ron’s sister, Patti Davis,
10 years previously, when their father was still president. I told her, "I
really respected your decision to appear at that antinuke rally."
was doing that before my father was president," she said. "I
have to do it. I’m serious about that. It’s the planet." (This
was a logical extension of the time musician Graham Nash told Patti that she
had a cute ass for a president’s daughter, and she said, "I had a
cute ass before I was the president’s daughter.") Patti’s
Secret Service guards had been at that antinuke rally. "I wanted to take
a stand," she told me, "by having all female Secret Service guards,
but there’s very few of them."
I noticed a bumper sticker that said "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm,"
which I mentioned to Ron, and he adopted it as the syndicated talk show’s
unspoken credo. We decided to defuse the fact that he was the son of the former
president in a promo which included a recent clip of Ron as host of Evening
at the Improv, saying, "I am the love child of Frank Sinatra"–immediately
followed by an old black-and-white film clip of Ronald Reagan saying, "Can
you imagine what the Commies will do with this!" But Fox head Barry Diller
happened to be watching tv at home. He felt that the promo was exploitative
and yanked it off the air.
In the original
CBS script of The Reagans, when Ron told his parents he was getting married,
the reaction was, "Thank God he’s not gay." In real life, Ron
had been falsely outed by militant gays in New York. We knew this issue was
likely to enter the dialogue on an upcoming program about gay rights, so he
was prepared. In fact, my fellow New York Press columnist Michelangelo
Signorile was one of the guests, and he mentioned those rumors on the show.
was a ballet dancer," Ron responded, "and any straight ballet dancer
gets a rather thick skin about this sort of thing. But it occurred to me that
it’s insulting to my wife of 11 years, because it says she’s living
a lie, and I don’t like that."
a charming sense of irreverence. In the conference room, we were watching a
clip from the film Rapture, which was to be included on a program about
religion. "I met a guy," Mimi Rogers is telling her husband.
should meet him. You could love him too."
fell for some rich homosexual," the husband says, laughing.
the Lord Jesus Christ."
Ron added, "he’s hung like a stallion."
another writer and I were the pot-smokers on this show. We would smoke a joint
while walking around the block. The producer bought his stash from an actress
on a popular series, and one time we drove to her house to make a purchase.
Ron came along for the ride. He told us how, when he had been a toker as a youth,
his dad once found a marijuana-filled baggie in his bureau and confiscated it.
time, the four of us went for lunch at a nearby restaurant, and the hostess
shook hands with Ron, saying, "I thought it was really cool for your sister
to talk about masturbating in Vanity Fair."
that scene, like too much else to mention, didn’t make it into The Reagans
can be reached at paulkrassner.com