President Reagan, Joe Pyne, and Me

February 6, 2011

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan.

Last week, I wrote here about my relationship with President Reagan. Toady, more reminiscences from Chapter 6 of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

“Being President is all about character.” (The American President, 1995)

My mother had become friends with Nancy (Davis) Reagan in the 1940s. Nancy married Ronald Reagan in 1952 so the Reagans were family friends from the time I was a very young boy.

Mom, Nancy, Fran Stark, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Lee Annenberg (wife of TV Guide founder Walter Annenberg) had all actually become best friends in the 1940s and remained so throughout their lives.

Reagan had been a moderately successful actor then but I started to really become conscious of who he was as the host of television’s GE (General Electric) Theater throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s.

Of all my parents’ friends, Ray Stark and Ronald Reagan were my favorites.

Reagan was a warm, humble, down to earth guy who always seemed to be smiling and happy. He seemed completely at ease talking with me and, unlike some of the other adults who were always looking around for other friends when they said their perfunctory hellos, I felt that he was genuinely present during those moments.

The Governor and Joe Pyne

After his election as Governor of California in 1966, the Governor and I talked about me working in his administration.

He felt that I should continue in college and work part-time at something else and I agreed.

With my relationship with the Governor as a calling card, I quickly found a part-time job working for Joe Pyne, who was one the first of the political shock jocks.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Joe blazed the path that personalities like Howard Stern would follow decades later.

Joe was an acerbic guy whose trademark line was telling callers to “go gargle with razor blades.”

When I met him in late 1966, he had both a national and local morning radio show on KLAC in Los Angeles and a weekly television interview show on local station KTTV that was nationally syndicated.

I helped organize callers on the radio and, for television, coordinated the people in the “beef box”, where audience members could ask Joe a question.

Joe was a very conservative guy who had lost a leg while serving as a marine in World War Two. He was also very fair-minded in many ways and, even though he was often called a bigot, racism in fact enraged him.

One night, he interviewed than-Governor Lester Maddox of Georgia, whose racist comments so angered Joe that he ended the interview with Maddox by saying “Governor, I’ve just been informed that there is a freedom bus leaving outside our studio for Georgia right after the show. I suggest you be under it.”

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