How well I remember that first meeting with Ronald Reagan, or “Nederlander,” as we liked to call him. (Few will recall that “Nederlander” was Reagan’s original nickname, before it was shortened to “Benelux,” and eventually, the far-better- known “Dutch.”) He was coming off the football field at my alma mater, Dixon High, and he brushed by me. I turned to the guy next to me and said, “Who was that?” “That was Ronald Reagan,” he said. “Say, you look awfully young to be here.” “Yes,” I said. “Well, at the moment, I’m an undescended egg in my grandmother’s womb. And you are…?” “A sperm cell.” “Oh.”
The next time I saw Reagan, it was 1942. I was a pretty young contract actress at Paramount named Jane Wyman. He was a ruggedly handsome star at the studio, and I’ll never forget the day he walked into the studio canteen. Our eyes met. “Excuse me,” he said. “Is that navy bean soup over there?” “Why yes,” I said. “Yes, it is.” “Super!” he exclaimed, a bit too loudly. Then there was a long, uncomfortable pause; both of us wanted to say something more, but neither of us knew quite what to say. Finally, he broke the silence. “Hey,” he said. “Nice ass.”
The years flew by, and before I knew it, it was 1951. I was the chimp wrangler on “Bedtime for Bonzo”, and oftentimes, after the day’s filming was completed, Reagan and I would go out for drinks, then wrangle chimps. One night, as we polished off a pitcher of margaritas, Reagan told me of his dreams — his plans to become president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, then Governor of California, and then, maybe, one day, Prime Minister of Canada. “Don’t you have to be Canadian to do that?” I asked gently. “Oh,” he said. “I don’t think so.” I decided to let the matter drop.
By 1974, Reagan had become governor of California, and I had become Scooby-Doo, a clever, if cowardly, Great Dane. Together, Reagan and I solved crimes.
Soon, it was 1981, and I was George Bush. It wasn’t an easy job, being vice- president to Reagan; for one thing, he had an odd habit of, every time he saw me, announcing, “There he is! The vice-president! The president of vice! So, George, partaken in any vices lately?” After about the thirtieth time he did this, I snapped: “Jesus, Ron, get some new material already, would you?” He smacked me, hard; there was a handprint on my face for the rest of the day. I never sassed the President again.
A few years went by, and by then, I had become a would-be official biographer. I was ushered into Reagan’s office, and we commmenced to chatting. By the end of the hour, we had become fast friends. “You know,” he said. “I feel like I’ve known you all my life.” “Well,” I replied. “That can be arranged.”