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Obituary - Nancy Reagan  

2016-03-12 15:39:12|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Keeping control

Nancy Reagan, America’s First Lady through the 1980s, died on March 6th, aged 94

IF ANYONE attacked her Ronnie, when he was governor of California in the 1970s, Nancy Reagan knew just what to do. She would run a big tub, pour in lots of bath salts, and as she soaked she would shout defiance at the wall. Didn’t happen. Didn’t happen. What are you doing to my husband? What’s wrong with that? By the time the tub was cool she was all sweetness, and the world was in kilter again. 

Keeping life’s untidiness at bay was a full-time job. It started with herself. Only Julius could style her hair, and he had to be flown in from Los Angeles. As a teenager her nose was too big, so she had it done, of course. (She wanted to be a movie star; that never came to much, but she networked with Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable and met Ronnie, so it was worth it.) With daily exercise she could stay a size four, and look stunning in the Bill Blass gowns and red Adolfo suits that came in armfuls to the White House. But her ankles were so thick that she cried for days when the Washington Star noticed.


Unhappy families

On every side lay disorder, even in the White House. Ashtrays that needed emptying (she would do it herself, if no one else would). Pictures hanging askew, which must be straightened. Coffee cups on desks. Aides coming in sweaty, wearing trainers and with mussed hair: just inappropriate. Appearances mattered, which was why she had refused to live in the governor’s house in Sacramento, that old firetrap, and instead moved to a 12-room Tudor mansion in a better part of town. Good taste, and a horror of mismatched plates, was the reason she spent $209,508 on new china for the White House, which everyone attacked her for. Otherwise she was frugality itself, recycling unwanted presents and getting her rich friends to donate their furniture. Because everything had to be just so, she continually fussed, phoned and deployed her two steeliest weapons, the silence and the stare. Before state dinners, she checked that the salad leaves were perfectly arranged and the sauce exactly seasoned. When the Queen of England visited, she drafted the guest list five times over. If anything went wrong, she was furious. Naturally.

Her own history needed tidying, too. Two years were lost from her age somewhere. Her potty-mouthed mother was kept at arm’s length. Her father, a car-dealer, out of the picture since her parents’ divorce, was replaced as “real” by Loyal Davis, her stepfather, a respectable neurosurgeon who did not agree to adopt her for six years. As for her own children, they were frankly a nightmare: Patti a damn hippie and Ron, eventually, a ballet dancer. She ransacked his bedroom for drugs and worried herself sick that he was probably gay, but had to accept in the end that families couldn’t be wrapped up prettily in white paper. The hardest thing was that Ronnie had brought two children of his own, with Jane Wyman, to the marriage. Her shadow came too. They couldn’t be fitted in at all.

As for Ronnie himself, her wonder and her hero, the man without whom she couldn’t live—he was her chief project. Dear, sweet, easy-going Ronnie had no straight-line ambition to be governor or president. She had it for him. (She wasn’t political one scrap, beyond being, obviously, Republican, but could nudge him to do smart things like reach out to the Soviets.) Ronnie loved and trusted everyone; so it was just as well she didn’t. If anyone was harming him, they had to go, and she would keep at it and at it.

She couldn’t win every battle, of course. Don Regan, pushy awful man, was turfed out as White House chief of staff, but Ronnie refused to put all protesters in jail, as she requested, or sack Cap Weinberger from the Pentagon, because he was his friend. (And sure enough, she wouldn’t drop her own best friends, like the Bloomingdales or Frank Sinatra, just because they got in a mess.) In front of the cameras she made certain Ronnie looked good, and tore up official snaps that showed him sleepy or old. If he got lost for words, she supplied them. Her unwavering, loving gaze when he spoke was, in fact, a firewall.

One thing she could not order was the future and his fate. She could try her damnedest, though. She insisted that on election day in 1970, when Ronnie was running again for governor of California, he should play golf and eat chicken curry for dinner, just as he had on the day when he was first elected. It worked. In the White House she brought in astrologers to fix, according to Ronnie’s star chart, the times of press conferences and foreign trips. That worked, too. It even helped when she felt she needed to change her own image as a clothes-horse and an icicle to something softer. Following her seers’ advice, she started a “Just Say No” campaign against drug use and began to appear more often with sick children. When Ronnie got Alzheimer’s, she rather bravely—for a Republican—started pushing for stem-cell research.

People still misunderstood her. They kept sniping at her tight little laugh, her jewellery and her influence over her husband. Perhaps, since Ronnie was so popular, they needed her as a lightning rod. Perhaps these press types—especially the women reporters—wished they too could be that slim and that much in control. Well, they would just have to work at it as hard as she had. Even in the bath.

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