President Reagan and Me

January 26, 2011

As we mark the 30th Anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration and approach the 100th anniversary of his birth, I ‘m reading many articles on who President Reagan was, not only as President, but as a man.

I will leave the political analysis to others but I can certainly speak to who he was as a man, because he was my friend.

The following is a brief excerpt from Chapter 6 of Bringing Back the Old Hollywood which is all about my relationship with the former President:

“On many Saturday mornings in 1961 and 1962, I would get a ride out to the Reagan ranch and ride my horse  Shadow alongside Reagan on his own horse for at least a couple of hours.

All my parents’ friends were addressed as Mr. and Mrs. in those days, but Ronnie, as he was known to his friends, was the first to ask that I call him Ron or Ronnie, not by the more formal Mr. Reagan label. That was so typical of him.

Oddly enough, I had no trouble whatsoever calling Ray Stark by his first name but Mr. Reagan remained Mr. Reagan until he became Governor and later Mr. President.

All the stories about Reagan as a man were, for me, absolutely true. He was simply a terrific guy to hang out with. As we rode together, we talked about a whole variety of things, including his own kids and politics. He had been a Democrat for most of his life but his ideas were changing.

I learned more about current events and government on those Saturday morning rides than I ever did in school.

I soon discovered cars and girls so in 1962, my days at the ranch came to an end, and Shadow stayed in Colorado.

The Gipper Runs for Governor

When I graduated high school in 1964, I attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I desperately wanted to get home to California but couldn’t find a way to justify it to my parents until Christmas vacation of my sophomore year.

During that vacation in late 1965, my parents had the Reagans over for dinner. Reagan said that he was going to run for Governor in 1966, and asked if I wanted to work on his campaign.

Reagan was enthusiastic about me working with him and that gave me the perfect way to escape going back to Penn. My parents were not about to argue about me working for their friend as he pursued the governorship and it was Reagan himself who suggested that I transfer to UCLA so I could still attend college and work for him part-time.

Like Reagan himself, my parents had been lifelong Democrats. I too had been drawn into politics by John Kennedy in 1960 and, like most young people at the time, considered myself a Democrat.

I wasn’t all that concerned, however, about Reagan’s political philosophy at that time because I was mostly focused on Reagan the man. He was someone I deeply admired and respected on a personal level and I was very flattered and excited that he wanted my help, however minor that help might be.

As a result, I dropped out of Penn that Christmas and stayed home to attend UCLA and do whatever I could do to help Reagan become the next governor of California.

Throughout 1966, I took as much time off from UCLA as I possibly could so that I could travel the state with Reagan. I had no official capacity but I was allowed to attend a lot of campaign events and, from time, I woke Reagan up in the morning and was also the last to see him at night.

On election night, I was with the Reagans at election headquarters and was on stage with them when Reagan gave his victory speech. In fact, one photograph from that night that was circulated worldwide featured three people: the Reagans and a very young, excited me.

Most of my liberal friends in those days had a difficult time with my steadfast admiration for Governor and then President Reagan.

To them, I would always say something that I still carry with me in my heart today.

A great guy is a great guy, no matter what you may think of his politics.

And Ronald Reagan was a great guy.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Terry Herbert January 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm

What a wonderful privilege you were given, Stephen, to know Ronald Reagon on such a personal basis. He landed mostly “nice guy” movie roles, yet he was even nicer than his characters.

Among his legacies was proving that Conservatism works. The news media of his day was often stacked against him. There was no Fox News, yet he circumvented the media by going directly to the American People. There was no better communicator than he.

I’m among the Americans who still uphold his political philosophies and values. Many of us prefer to be known as Reagan Conservatives first, and as Repulicans or Democrats, second.

He used his winsome ways to get many of his initiatives past a Democratic Congress, and he even became fast friends with his chief political opponent, Tip O’Neal. I wish I could have listened to the two them get together to crack their Irish jokes after working hours.

I, for one, would be convinced Ronald Reagan has been given his due respect, once they carve his image on Mount Rushmore. If so, he would be the best looking of them all. He wasn’t too skinny, nor too heavy, and he never had to wear a wig.

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