'The Reagans,' From One of Them

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Finally, CBS is doing the right thing about "The Reagans." Under pressure the network has decided not to air the two-part biopic, steering it instead to the cable outlet Showtime (like CBS, owned by Viacom). But just because a far smaller audience will now see the film (Showtime draws maybe a million viewers on a top night) doesn't make this story any more accurate. According to the screenplay for "The Reagans," my father is a homophobic Bible-thumper who loudly insisted that his son wasn't gay when Ron took up ballet, and who in a particularly scathing scene told my mother that AIDS patients deserved their fate. "They who live in sin shall die in sin," the writers and producers had him say.

CBS execs say the line about AIDS victims has now been deleted. I asked Bert Fields, one of America's best known entertainment attorneys, who is not my lawyer but is a friend, to call CBS head Les Moonves and point out how painful the line was. My mother, through her attorney Ira Revitch, also wrote to Mr. Moonves asking for its removal. Not only did my father never say such a thing, he never would have. If you have any doubts, read the recently published book of his letters. They reveal a man whose compassion for other people is deep and earnest, and whose spiritual life is based on faith in a loving God, not a vengeful one.

I was about eight or nine years old when I learned that some people are gay — although the word 'gay' wasn't used in those years. I don't remember what defining word was used, if any; what I do remember is the clear, smooth, non-judgmental way in which I was told. The scene took place in the den of my family's Pacific Palisades home. My father and I were watching an old Rock Hudson and Doris Day movie. At the moment when Hudson and Doris Day kissed, I said to my father, "That looks weird." Curious, he asked me to identify exactly what was weird about a man and woman kissing, since I'd certainly seen such a thing before. All I knew was that something about this particular man and woman was, to me, strange. My father gently explained that Mr. Hudson didn't really have a lot of experience kissing women; in fact, he would much prefer to be kissing a man. This was said in the same tone that would be used if he had been telling me about people with different colored eyes, and I accepted without question that this whole kissing thing wasn't reserved just for men and women.

You should know this story because it's something the producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron won't tell you. They have exhibited astounding carelessness and cruelty in their depiction of my father and my entire family. They never consulted any family member, nor did they speak to anyone who has known us throughout the years. In the New York Times on October 21st, one of the writers admitted that the line about AIDS victims was completely fabricated. In that same article, Jim Rutenberg reported that the producers claimed no major event was depicted without two confirming sources.

When you are part of a public family, a different standard applies. Every part of your life is regarded as accessible. I accept things that other people see as strange, like magazines and news organizations compiling obituary pieces for my father in 1994 after he wrote his now-famous letter to the country saying he had Alzheimer's. Requests for an interview or article, to be held back until the time of his passing, didn't sting me or even seem inappropriate. Death is a delicate matter, but it will come, and my father is part of history. It's a far different thing to learn that people who have never met you wrote a script meant to eviscerate your family and it has now been filmed and scheduled for broadcast.

Reading the script actually made me feel better in some ways. It is, quite simply, idiotic. Everyone is a caricature, manufactured and inauthentic. My father is depicted as some demented evangelist, going on about Armageddon every chance he gets. My mother is cast as a female Attila the Hun, and I and my siblings are unrecognizable to me. There are absurdities, like depictions of Mike Deaver and political aides camping out at our house during my father's early political career — in every scene, there they are, hanging around the house day and night. I suppose this is meant to explain why, when my sister Maureen visits, my mother tells her to sleep on the floor. Funny, but I have no recollection of any of this. Nor do I remember conducting an impromptu yoga class at my wedding reception. (I promise you, no one at my wedding was chanting Om or Shanti.)

But the idiocy of the script can't dilute the cruelty behind it. To deliberately and calculatingly depict public people as shallow, intolerant, cold and inept, with no truths or facts to back up the portrayals, is nothing short of malevolent. Many of the people depicted in the script are dead — Lew Wasserman, my sister Maureen, my grandparents, Don Regan. They can say nothing about their portrayals. And my father, obviously, cannot correct the lies told about him.

Consider the scene in a girls' boarding school I supposedly was attending when my father was elected governor of California (I was never at an all-girls' boarding school.) They have a classmate saying to me, "Hitler's just been elected governor." No one writes a line like that with any other agenda except to wound. Later in the script, Don Regan refers to my mother as "Madame Fuhrer." I'm quite sure he never did, but the feelings of those behind this project is made clear. Anger and vitriol always leak through if you're a writer with those demons inside you.

I know a bit about that. In my early career as a writer, I was an angry one. In 1992 when I wrote an autobiography, we were still a family in turmoil and while I did write about healing and letting go of the past, I still had a firm grip on those grudges. Throughout the years, there have occasionally been offers to purchase the rights to my autobiography and I have always declined. Foolishly, I believed I had control over my own material. Apparently I don't. There is a scene in "The Reagans" in which my character steals tranquilizers from my mother's medicine cabinet. I wrote about having done that and trading those pills for amphetamines — an addiction that ravaged me from the age of fifteen well into my twenties. Many women in the Sixties were prescribed tranquilizers, and my mother never noticed hers missing, so she couldn't have been using them too often. You won't get this context in the CBS movie; they just wanted you to know there were drugs on the premises.

My father would probably say, "This too shall pass." And it will. We will continue to come to his bedside, knowing that death waits in the doorway and will one day reach for him. We will continue to cherish the fact that we walked away from our old battlegrounds and discovered how much better peace feels. We will look at each other through the clear glass of the present, not the mud-spatter of the past. What a pity the producers missed out on that part of the story.

Patti Davis is currently working on a novel