GOOD MORNING, and goodbye Mr. President. I had spoken to Ronald Reagan from Burbank to Sacramento to Washington. He joked about everyone from Jack L. Warner to Nikita Khrushchev, from the stage at Warner Bros. to the Truman porch at the White House, where he loved to regale guests with showbiz stories. He’d talk about the times Jack Warner would bar me from the studio lot after I printed uncomplimentary stories about J.L. (which Ronnie, Jack Carson or other contractees leaked to me). Although he had just left Hollywood, Reagan never really left showbiz. That was ever obvious in any public appearance, large or small. His command of the stage was unequaled. The “Ronald Reagan monitor” — plastic, camouflaged scripts on each side of a podium — have become de rigueur for any event, whether at the Beverly Hilton or Congress. But he could perform even if there was a power failure and no prompter on the scene. Never was his love for showbiz more evident, perhaps, than at the annual Kennedy Center honors, where he (and Nancy) hosted the top talent of the biz each year during his presidency. His final Kennedy Center appearance, which we attended, was the most revealing of the affection on both sides of that great hall’s stage. The creme de la creme of both Washington and the arts was on hand. The honorees were: Alvin Ailey, George Burns, Myrna Loy, Alexander Schneider and Roger L. Stevens on Dec. 6, 1988. “It will be nice to have you back in Hollywood,” I noted to the Reagans as we made our way up the long receiving line of black-tie’d dignitaries and showbiz folk. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” I told Nancy. “Oh no,” she laughed, “it will be good to be home.” And she loves the Bel-Air house she has been checking during each Coast visit. I wrote, “The emotion of the final days in D.C. for the Reagans was evident to all of us who left the Reagans’ White House reception for the Kennedy Center Honors show where the ‘Auld Lang Syne’ finale was a suitably schmaltzy windup. The President held Nancy tightly and kissed her tenderly on the cheek — which must have been moist with emotion by this time. The stage was filled with all the performers of the Nick Vanoff-George Stevens Jr. show plus President-elect George Bush, who recited, ‘So here’s a hand my trusty friend, give me a hand of thine. We’ll take up a cup of kindness yet for Auld Lang Syne.’ As the entire house joined in singing the final refrain, Reagan ad libbed from the presidential box; ‘This beats getting an Oscar.’ At the White House, he said he was proud of having been a part of the golden years of Hollywood. Sen. Ted Kennedy reminded Reagan he was a Democrat when the Kennedy Center for the Arts was established. ‘I wish you still were,’ he added.”
“YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE a lump in your throat,” I wrote after the 1987 Kennedy Center Honors where Ronnie and Nancy Reagan led the audience in singing “God Bless America.” And, displaying his well-known humor that night, he admitted, when introducing Bette Davis, one of that year’s honorees, and one of his Warner Bros. stablemates, “If I’d gotten as many good roles as you — and done them as well — I might never have left Hollywood.” He also noted she had recently received a good review from the New York Times on “The Whales of August.” Noted Reagan, “Since getting this job, I’ve learned how hard it is to get a good notice from the New York Times.” An example of Reagan’s unscripted humor was told to me by one of those close to the Reagans during their eight years at the White House — Bill Narva, rear admiral, Medical Corps., an attending White House physician. He recalled having had to perform a procedure on Reagan’s nose. Reagan “warned” Narva, “If I end up looking like Bob Hope I’ll never forgive you.” Seriously, Narva reminds, it was Reagan who made the proclamation of May being skin cancer detection month. Ironically, Reagan’s daughter Maureen died of a melanoma three years ago. Narva, who had served five presidents, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Reagan, said, “There was no one I admired more than Reagan.” Perhaps best describing Reagan’s personality to me was his longtime friend Charles Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency overseeing 218 posts in 159 countries. Wick, one of the pallbearers, said: “Ronald Reagan was exactly the way you saw him.” And I always saw him with a smile.
THE WEDNESDAY PREMIERE of “The Hunting Of the President,” at the Angelika theater in New York is postponed exactly one week. Harry Thomason told me of his decision to delay his Bill Clinton film’s bow: “It seemed not the right thing to do.” Distributor Regent agreed … The AFI’s 32nd Life Achievement Award Tribute to Meryl Streep at the Kodak, Thursday is definitely on. Jean Firstenberg and the show’s exec producer Bob Gazzale have no plans for a seg on Ronald Reagan — but I would bet on something. There will be a seg, however, on the AFI’s first chairman, Gregory Peck, who died a year ago. In the tribute to Streep, the musical act will be — Meryl, herself, with clips of her singing in five of her films! Director-coproducer Louis J. Horvitz will also include never-before-seen clips of Streep in “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Adventures of Lemony Snicket” with Jim Carrey … Vincent Sherman, who directed Ronald Reagan, Patricia Neal and Richard Todd in “The Hasty Heart” in 1949, will be 98 — and going strong — on July 10. He will be toasted that night at the L.A. County Museum with a special showing of his “Mr. Skeffington” (1950 ) starring Bette Davis” … “Staffers,” airing tonight on Discovery, showing the Demo candidates and their staffs through the primary, has gotten complete cooperation from the Kerry campaign. But, Daniel Poulson, producing with partner Susan Rose, says , “I was unable to enlist the cooperation of the Bush/Cheney campaign.” … A.C. Lyles wings from the Reagan funeral at the Reagan Library Friday to Houston, Saturday, for the 80th birthday bar-b-q party of George Bush, pere. Sunday, Lyles trains to Bryan, Texas, and the Bush Library where the former pres takes his annual sky-dive. Stay tuned.