Is this man the next president of the United States?

As a movie actor, Ronald Reagan was usually cast as the Best Friend who lost the girl. As new darling of the political Right and governor of California, he’s at last playing a star role in a drama that just might take him on location—to the White House

JON RUDDY June 1 1967

Is this man the next president of the United States?

As a movie actor, Ronald Reagan was usually cast as the Best Friend who lost the girl. As new darling of the political Right and governor of California, he’s at last playing a star role in a drama that just might take him on location—to the White House

JON RUDDY June 1 1967

Is this man the next president of the United States?


As a movie actor, Ronald Reagan was usually cast as the Best Friend who lost the girl. As new darling of the political Right and governor of California, he’s at last playing a star role in a drama that just might take him on location—to the White House

ALL THE TIME the Battle of the Posters has been going on in Red China a Battle of the Bumper Stickers has been raging in California. It is a fierce microcosmic battle of personalities and ideologies which, like everything else, grow extremely large in the Golden State. During last fall's election campaign many of the bumper stickers proclaimed, IF IT’S BROWN, FLUSH IT, a scatological dig at Democrat Pat Brown, 61, then seeking a third four-year term as governor. Brown supporters surged back

with REAGAN FOR FÜHRER - to TIO avail, as it

turned out. Best remembered by most Americans as the host of television’s long-running Death Valley Days and as the hero's best friend on The Late Show, who either gets killed or doesn’t get the girl in the end, Republican Ronald Reagan, 55, was swept into office with a plurality of nearly 1,000,000 votes. But the bumper stickers continued to bloom. Now they were almost solidly antiReagan: IMPEACH RONALD REAGAN and RONALD REAGAN IS A COMMUNIST PLOT and DON’T

BLAME ME -i VOTED DEMOCRAT and, a sarcastic comment on Reagan’s presidential aspirations, JOHN WAYNE FOR SECRETARY OF DEFENSE.

A pedestrian who happens to be watching the Battle of the Bumper Stickers from a certain vantage point — in front of Mr. Sydney, a dress shop at 6374 Hollywood Boulevard — can look down at the sidewalk and see Reagan's name again, in one of those brass stars that emblazon the show-busiest stretch of the street. Reagan’s star lies between Perry Como’s and Mickey Rooney’s and, significantly, the symbol under his name is a television camera, not a movie camera. Reagan appeared in 50 films, but hardly anybody remembers much about any of them. “He never quite made it,” says an actor in the bar of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel who never quite did either. “It was mostly a physical thing — he didn’t have Star Quality.”

Still, Star Quality is relative, and Ronnie Reagan, at six-foot-one and 185 pounds, with a production-line profile and cornflower eyes, twinkles brightly enough among the wattly jowls and foxy countenances of most career politicians. Lovely ladies reach to clutch his arm; new fans move in for autographs. Up close, Reagan’s face is finely wrinkled, like an old oil canvas of a young laird. But he cuts a boyish figure on the rostrum. He is quick to grin, quick to enjoy a laugh. Hollywood has long since beveled his small-town midwestern edges and bestowed on him its fabulous gift of apparently absolute self-confidence.

IT IS THE DAY Reagan presents his $5,047,000,000 budget to a joint session of the legislature at the State Capitol in Sacramento. A bunch

of politicians are hovering around the dais in the Assembly Chamber and 100 or so reporters and hangers-on are waiting for Reagan to come in from the Senate and make his speech. One of the politicians up on the dais has two-tone hair. “That’s Carlos Bee, the pro tern speaker," says a woman. “He had his hair dyed a while ago and now it's growing out. It looked much more distinguished grey, actually.” The woman is one of those motherly spinsters who orbit distantly around politics the way certain other women orbit distantly around show business. She is active in committee work and so on. She says that she and the Assembly speaker, Jesse Unruh, are pals, but she hasn’t met Reagan and she is a little dubious about his background in the movies. “I’ll reserve judgment. I don’t think he’s as fine a man as Jesse." Unruh is at the rostrum now, making the introduction, and suddenly here he comes, Ronald Reagan, through the back doors in the Assembly Chamber and up the aisle, smiling, nodding, nodding, nodding, in a light-brown suit with square shoulders and half an inch of handkerchief showing. Now all the hangers-on at the back of the Assembly Chamber are on their feet giving Reagan a nice warm I-sawyou-in-7/ic Hasty Heart hand, and Jesse Unruh’s pal is clapping as hard as anybody, with the kind of look that says, “I don’t remember Carlos Bee. I don’t remember Jesse Unruh. Ronnie!”

As politicians go, Reagan is a good speaker. His budget speech is pretty turgid stuff, of course, but right in the middle of it, when he is talking about fiscal integrity, he pauses to put on a pair of horn-rimmed reading glasses and says, “I was hoping I wouldn't have to do that. You know, one of the economies we won't be enforcing is the supply of ink for government printing. In fact, I propose we supply a darker ink.” Coming in the middle of a speech about the biggest budget ever proposed in any American state and the biggest tax boost in California history, well, this is comedy relief, and everybody laughs. Reagan grins. It is a good grin.

Reagan's effectiveness as a communicator is probably the key to his future in U.S. politics — communication in this sense involving not only public-speaking prowess but celebrity, sex appeal and even Carlos Bee's two-tone hair. For, as writer Gore Vidal has said, “Only those who are able to please the people on television are presidential.” It seems to be more a matter of style than sincerity, sense or even truthfulness — does anybody really believe what a politician says any more? The Credibility Gap may widen or narrow, but it is here to stay. Reagan has style. The trouble is. he has been almost uniformly awful in an ad-lib situation. /

continued on page 59

RONALD REAGAN continued from page 26

, “Jimmy Stewart for governor, Ronald Reagan for Best Friend J

For instance, at his very first news conference he interrupted some question win. "Actually. 1 don't think you could blanket-wise say that." Blanket-rise — it's hard to think of anything more likely to draw groans from the press corps, which is a bunch oi liberals anyway. Then they asked him about a state appointment, and his answer consisted of some ot the best waffling heard in California since the late Charles I.aughton played the culprit in a Perry Mason episode. "Let's see." Reagan floundered. "this hasn't — yes. I'm trying to remember — no. well. now. wait a minute, when I say no. I'm saying —

I shouldn't have prefaced with that word, because it sounds like an answer to your question. We haven't gotten around ta that yet."

Still, while Democrats sniggered that Reagan was turning the state ot California into a state of confusion. Republicans pointed out that he made a helluva lot more sense than George Romney, the Michigan governor and non-phrasemaker. and was a helluva lot better looking than Richard Nixon — Romney and Nixon being the frontrunning candidates tor the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. That's the way the Republicans-forReagan were thinking last winter.

Could Ronnie Reagan, who lost his girl in Dark Victory, who lost his legs in King's Row. who lost his life in Hellcats Of The Navy, and who lost almost every scene to a chimpanzee in Bedtime For Bonzo, really win the Republican nomination next year and go on to become the 37th president of the United States? Well, Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin. When Reagan decided to run for governor, movie producer Jack Warner protested. "No. Jimmy Stewart for governor. Ronald Reagan for Best Friend." But the Best Friend turned out to be the biggest crowd-puller to stump the state since Jack Kennedy, and in March, as governor, he hit Washington like a I.ochinvar from the west at a $500a-plate “G.O.P. Victory Gala.” His jokes were funnier than anybody else's and his speech drew the biggest applause. It was the kind of let's-getback-to-fundamentals speech that Republicans love. “ I he people voted 'against' last November 8." Reagan said. “They voted against sharing the fruit of our toil with those who can. but don't work: against the stultifying hand of government in everything; against the soup-kitchen philosophy of the '30s.”

If Reagan is a convincing speaker, he ought to be. By his own estimate he has spent 4.000 hours at the microphone. lecturing on the glories of free enterprise for General Electric. Before that, during his movie-making days, he would "make a speech at the drop of a hat." according to an oldtimer from Warner Brothers. And before that, his life seemed to be sparked and shaped by debate. Reagan was born in Tampico. Illinois, the son of an Irish shoe salesman whose interests were discussion and whisky, not necessarily in that order. At Eureka College, a tins sprig of ivy in Depression-dried Illinois, he played foot-

ball. dabbled in dramatics and participated in a student strike against the board of trustees. He became a sports announcer and once had to fake six minutes of baseball coverage after a telegraph wire from the ballpark went dead. He took his Warner screen test in 1937. Reagan's first marriage, to actress Jane Wvman. ended in divorce

in 1948 — reportedly because Miss Wyman could not stand Reagan's insistence on an analytical discussion of current events over breakfast every morning.

Reagan says he has no particular views about the advantages and disadvantages of an actor in politics. The Democrats bothered him about that

last fall and it's clearly an issue he'd like to forget. The Democrats circufatuous political dialogue. People like

Gene Kelly and Dan (Hoss) Blocker went on TV to sav that, in effect, an actor can't say. “Let's take a look at the record," unless he's memorized it from somebody else's script. Etc., etc. “The opposition sought to paint me as an actor who had no experience in government." Reagan sa\s. “The voters of California were not onlv not

convinced by this, but in reality were persuaded that what 1 proposed were sound, honest, sincere and workable programs. Since 1 have taken office, the validity of this is even more clear. The people of California were tired of politicians who made many promises but never put them into force.”

Marie Dyches, a veteran Hollywood flack, recalls that, 25 years ago, “People on the lot at Warner Brothers were predicting that Reagan would be governor of California -— Democratic governor." For he was a strong Democrat in those days. For a while, when he was president of the Hollywood Screen Actors' Guild, he even got a reputation as a fellow-traveler. In the early 1950s he started to swing the other way, and in 1962 he campaigned for a Congressman who was an avowed member of the John Birch Society. In 1964 he went on TV for Barry Goldwater, attacked the graduated income tax, and said that liberals were seeking appeasement with Russia. He later blamed Goldwater's defeat on party traitors.

Flip-flop: Left to Right

Insiders see two factors behind Reagan’s political flip-flop from Left to Right: his long association with General Electric as a TV host and a sort of goodwill ambassador for big business; and his second marriage, to actress Nancy Davis, whose father, Chicago neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, is a well-known conservative. But Reagan maintains that his basic views haven’t changed at all. "The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was the master of his destiny,” he wrote. “That is now the conservative position. The liberal used to believe in freedom under law. He now takes the position that power is everything. He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom. I have come to realize that a great many so-called liberals aren’t liberal — they will defend to the death your right to agree with them.”

Still, there is a lot of confusion about where exactly Reagan stands. According to the bumper stickers he lacks only a smudge of mustache and a falling lock of hair. According to the lunatic fringe of the far, far Right he has sold out to the scurrilous moderates. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who has been coyly avoiding the presidential race, said that Reagan was once a Roosevelt New Dealer, and added, "I don't know what he is now.” The consensus in California is that, wherever Reagan stands, the people around him are conservatives, the same conservatives who were around Goldwater in 1964. and that Reagan is going to he their darling in 1968.

Apart from presenting a record budget — he said it was necessary because state resources had been “looted and drained ” — Reagan seems to have been consistently conservative since he took office as governor. First he chopped 10 percent from state services' budgets, including $30 million from a medicare-for-the-needv program.


Then he proposed that the students of the University of California pay tuition after a century of free education: they hanged him in effigy for that on his seventh day in office, a record for California governors. He helped fire liberal university president Clark Kerr — they hanged him in effigy again. He shut down 13 welfare centres. He appointed a management man as State Labor Commissioner and a lawyer who opposes welfare as welfare chief. Reagan's critics carped mightily over all these measures, but the governor could take comfort in polls that showed his popularity only a fraction lower in February than it was in November.

Does that mean that the majority of 19 million Californians are sick of Big Government? Or does it mean that they like Ronnie, irrationally, as Americans liked Ike? In the early spring, with Republican hopes for next year rising as President Johnson's prestige declines, nobody knows for sure. But the actor-as-politician is a favorite topic over 200-to-one martinis. "The actor-as-politician — an unbeatable combination." says a cynic, or maybe he is a Reagan Republican. "A very bad situation.” says a top Democrat in Sacramento. "Actors are too emotional to be in politics." Richard Rodela, political reporter for the Sacramento Bee, describes Reagan as a "real egomaniac." He says. "Reagan never got to the top in the movies. Now he's a household word.”

There are indications that Reagan's ego is a many-splendored thing, and that, if he didn't get to the top in

the movies, it wasn't from lack of effort. For instance, in his book. Where's The Rest Of Me?, he tells how he stole a scene from the egocentric Errol Flynn in Santa he Trail:

"We worked all one night at the Warner ranch. At three o'clock in the morning we were shooting a scene around a campfire where, as cavalry officers, we were listening with amusement to the prophecies of an old Indian woman. Errol moved over to the director, had a whispered consultation, and a moment later my position in the group was changed, putting me behind a couple of other actors who had lesser roles but more height. This also removed me from the immediate vicinity of Flynn. During the rehearsal I realized that 1 wouldn't even be visible to the camera above the shoulders of the men in front of me . . . so as the rehearsal went on 1 kept quietly scraping a pile of loose earth together with my feet. 1 didn't make use of it in the rehearsal but when the cameras rolled. I quietly stepped up on my newly created gopher mound. When the time came for my own line in the scene it dropped like the gentle rain from heaven on the heads of the men in front."

Out on Hollywood Boulevard the cars are rolling past Ronnie Reagan's star in the sidewalk in front of Mr. Sydney, and some of them have bumper stickers that say, DON'T BLAME


Reagan's star seems to have risen from the sidew'alk. It is hovering up there over the whole vast state, and it is still rising. ★