Oct. 7, 1966 Cover Story: Ronald for Real

  • He may not have had the most dazzling of Hollywood careers, but -- as any late, late television watcher can attest -- it was certainly curable. In the course of 50 movies, Ronald Wilson Reagan almost invariably played the grinning gallant, the fall guy who winds up heartbroken, dead broke or plain dead. In King's Row, he lost his legs; in Santa Fe Trail and Dark Victory, bigger starts got the girl. In Hellcats of the Navy, he would up taking a submarine on a suicidal mission; as George Gipp in Knute Roskne -- All American, he expired exhorting the team to greater glory. So indelibly was Reagan type-cast as the Great Loser that when Movie Magnate Jack Warner, his longtime employer, was first apprised of the actor's ambition to run for Governor of California, he protested: "No, Jimmy Stewart for Governor. Ronald Reagan for Best Friend."

    In this case, at least, the casting was up to actor Reagan, and in January 1966 he decided to write, direct and star in an independent production that may well wind up as Best Friend Goes to Sacramento. Crisscrossing California from Roubidoux to Rialto, from Taft to Twentynine Palms, Republican Ronald Reagan, 55, has been running 18 hours a day as if the Dead End Kids were after him (the were in at least two of this movies). And to the surprise of Republican pros and the chagrin of the Democratic hierarchy, the candidate from Warner Bros. has turned out to be the most magnetic crowd puller California has seen since John F. Kennedy first stumped the state in 1960.

    Center Stage. Wherever he goes, from supermarket to packing plant, fairground to factory, Reagan far outdraws his rival, Democratic Governor "Pat" Brown, 61, who is seeking a third four-year term. Even in Colusa County, where the Governor owns a home, Reagan last month attracted many more voters than Brown. A polished orator with an unerring sense of timing and his listeners' mood, Reagan can hold an audience entranced for 30 or 40 minutes while he plows through statistics, gags and homilies. At times - although there is only six years' difference in their ages - he does a stagy caricature of an ancient-sounding Pat Brown that is true to the last creaky quaver.

    When he is through speaking, the crowds engulf him, clutching at his arms, reaching over his shoulders to grasp his hand, clapping him on the back. "You're wonderful!" women cry. Men shout, "Good luck!" He is besieged for autographs. Reagan is not a compulsive crowd plunger, like Nelson Rockefeller, or an irrepressible hand grabber, like Lyndon Johnson. By nature, he is almost reticent. At a factory gate, he will often wait with hands limp at his sides, nodding a bit awkwardly at passers-by until someone recognizes him. Then, on center stage, Reagan's face lights up, a joke comes to his lips and he launches smoothly into a spontaneous-sounding stump speech on his plans to put California to rights.

    Though he insists that the governorship is his only goal, a victory for Reagan will inevitably catapult him onto the national scene as the G.O.P.'s Lochinvar from the West. His name is certain to crop up in connection with the party's vice presidential and even presidential nominations in 1968 and 1972. In any event, as Governor of California, in control of a pivotal delegation at the G.O.P. convention, he will be a major influence in selecting whichever candidate the party chooses.

    By no means is Reagan a shoo-in for the statehouse. Since registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in California by a 3-to-2 ratio, he must capture 90% of G.O.P. voters and attract at least 20% of the Democrats. And despite an early margin of 15% over Brown in June, he led the Governor by only 4$ last week. Brown, who greatly relished the role of underdog, in the past has risen from all-but-certain defeat to fell such G.O.P. Goliaths as former Senate Republican Leader William F. Knowland in 1958 and Richard M. Nixon in 1962. Yet Reagan, who makes no secret of his inexperience in politics, in subtle fashion succeeds in projecting himself as the underdog.

    Blaming Brown. Actually, it is a wonder that anyone wants the job. California, already the nation's most populous state (19 million), has to cope with explosive problems of growth unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Its annual gross income is great than that of any full-fledged nation save Russia, West Germany, Britain, France and the U.S. itself. Yet the urgent demands of overloaded schools, insufficient highways, restive racial minorities and ever-rising taxes forever plague the state. Indeed, any headache that afflicts any other state throbs even harder in California - and many of its quandaries have not even been invented elsewhere.

    By and large, Pat Brown has done an effective, if sometimes halting, job of meeting his constituents' needs. He has set up a bold $1.75 billion water plan that will divert Feather River waters from lush north to parched south. He has established three new state universities and six colleges. He is responsible for naming six of the seven judges on the State Supreme Court, one the U.S.'s most progressive benches. He created a state fair-employment practices commission, instituted the nation's first effective statewide smog-control program, increased welfare to needy aged people, hiked unemployment benefits and, in general, made imaginative appointments to state offices.

    Inevitably, after nearly eight years in office, Governor Brown is saddled with the responsibility for all the crises, failures and frustrations that have beset the state during this tenure. Thousands of irritated, angry and frightened Californians are ready to blame Pat Brown personally for the rising crime rate, crowded schools, Watts, smog, even the drought that chronically plagues the southern half of the state.

    "Morality Gap." On pocketbook issues, Brown has aroused even more discontent. State property taxes have increased twice as much as personal income; welfar comsts have soared 113.7% in the past eight years. As Reagan charged during an NBC Meet the Press confrontation with Brown, the Governor's administrators automatically reach for state and federal subsidies as the instant aspirin for almost any problem. Despite such immediate and debatable issues, the campaign (which Bob Hope has called "How the West Was Won, starring Ronald Reagan and Pat Brown") has largely echoed and re-echoed extravagant personal attacks.

    Reagan accused Brown of being too far left and talks about a "morality gap" in Sacramento. Brown says Reagan is a right-wing extremist and, if elected, would "disrupt radically the quality of life in California." Some rabid Brown backers have retouched photographs to show Reagan with a Hitler-like forelock and moustache; some far-out Reagan supporters display bumper stickers proclaiming: IF IT'S BROWN, FLUSH IT. Brown insists that the main issue is Reagan's glaring inexperience in government. Reagan retorts that the main issue if the persistent bumbling of Brown.

    Indeed, the Governor's familiar face and homey presence do not arouse much ardor among the voters. At the Los Angeles County fair in September, as the Governor was trying to galvanize a small audience with the glories of the state park program, hundreds of fairgoers strolled past with hardly a backward look. With a touch of sadness, Pat shouted at them "It's important that you know about this. You put your money in taxes, and this is what we do with it." Though he is trim and tanned and tips the scales at precisely the same weight-185 lb.-as Reagan, the Governor impresses many young voters as a somewhat befuddled fogy by comparison with his opponent.

    Close up, Reagan's face is a map of wrinkles; yet at a distance on a rostrum he seems young enough to be giving his all once more for the good old Notre Dame. His cheeks flush, the light blue eyes sparkle (through untinted contact lenses that correct his lifelong myopia), the lanky (6 ft. 1 in.) figure seems to tower over his audience.

    Erector Phrases. In answer to the Democratic slur that an actor can hardly open his mouth unless he memorized someone else' script, Reagan and his staff emphasize that he writes all his own speeches. Given the swollen staffs of specialists that surround most campaigners nowadays, the endeavor seems anachronistic. Yet, true enough, Reagan sits day after day on his campaign plane or bus hunched over 3-in. by 5-in. index cards, laboriously printing capital letter with a nylon-tips pen-"my speech for the next town." He has a kind of mental Erector set of phrases, figures and gags that he has used hundreds of times to fit any occasion.

    Reagan, who does his homework, is often at this best fielding questions from the audience. When he gets a tough one, he quickly cocks his head, snaps "Well!" and then lays out his answers, adding: "Now, does that answer it to your satisfaction?"

    Yet, there is no major candidate in the U.S. today who has stirred so much speculation, even calumny. Where-really-does Ronald Reagan stand? Says New York G.O.P. Governor Nelson Rockefeller: "Reagan was a Roosevelt New Dealer once, wasn't he? I don't know what he is now." Snaps former California Democratic Chairman Roger Kent: "He's a man with no views of his own." A veteran California G.O.P. campaigner-a moderate-comes closer to the truth: "He was never as far right as people said. And he isn't going as far left as people suggest." After al, reasons House Minority Leader Jerry Ford, "I don't think it's a great mark of character to put your feet in cement and then stand here."

    Off the Letterhead. Not in California certainly. Pat Brown ran for the state assembly as a Republican in 1928, vowed on becoming Governor that he would follow the illustrious example of Earl Warren and Hiram Johnson, Republicans both. Actor George Murphy, once a New Deal Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1964. And Ronnie Reagan was once an outspoken Roosevelt-Truman Democrat and A.D.A. activist. As president of the Hollywood Screen Actors Guild, he could not believe that he was being gulled by Communist officials, as he admits today, and himself earned a reputation as a fellow traveler. During California's savage 1950 Senate election fight between liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas and Republican Richard Nixon, Reagan worked hard to elect Mrs. Douglas. Yet her top strategists voted to keep Ronnie's name off the campaign letterhead because of his far-left connections.

    Over the next decade of so, disenchantment set in. In 1952 and 1956 Reagan voted for Dwight Eisenhower, and in 1960 he campaigned for Nixon for President. And by 1962 Reagan had leaped a pole apart from his original Democratic allegiance: he campaigned for California Congressman John Rousselot, who ran-and lost-as an avowed member of the John Birch Society. The same year, Reagan was state campaign chairman for Birch Backer Loyd Wright in his Republican primary contest against moderate G.O.P. Senator Thomas Kuchel. In 1964 Reagan, as co-chairman of California Citizens for Goldwater, went on TV with a sensational fund-raising speech in which he criticized the TVA, called the graduated income tax an example of "immorality," and accused liberals of advocating "appeasement" of Russia. When Goldwater lost, Reagan blamed the debacle on party "traitors."

    Now, well removed from the passions of 1964, Reagan has a considerably different perspective: "Perhaps we needed the bloodbath. Perhaps we needed the bitterness on both sides. I think it made us all realize that we have too much in common to be separated by intolerant differences."

    "Hemophilic Liberal." Reagan is quite willing to discourse about the sharp-angled turns in his political life. Indeed, he has written about it at length in what, to his critics, seems a singularly well-titled autobiography, "Where's the Rest of Me?"-the line he shouted in King's Row when he awoke to find both legs but off at the hips. Unhappily recalling his days as a "hemophilic liberal," he writes: "I have come to realize that a great many so-called liberals aren't liberals-they will defend to the death your right to agree with them."

    In conversation with a TIME correspondent last week, Reagan attempted to trace the events that caused the abrupt shift in his political creed: "You have to start with the small-town beginnings. You're a part of everything that goes on. In high school, I was on the football team and I was in class plays and I was president of the student body, and the same thing happened in college. In a small town, you can't stand on the sidelines and let somebody else do what needs doing; you can't coast along on someone else's opinions. That, rally, is how I became an activist. I felt I had to take a stand on all the controversial issues of the day; there was a sense of urgency about getting involved."

    The drive for personal involvement may well have sprung from the fact that Reagan's family seldom grazed any place very long. He was born in Tampico, Ill., one of many Midwest towns that attracted Ronald's Irish father, John Reagan, a Willy Loman type who may not have been the world's best shoe sales man but held all records at the bar. Reagan's mother, Nelle, of Scots-English blood, was a churchly woman who taught Ronnie and his brother Neil, now 58, to read before they entered first grade.

    "Stupefying Bureaucracy." By hoarding his summer earnings as a lifeguard, Reagan managed to enter tiny (enrollment then: 250) Eureka College in Illinois-another small, activist-breeding environment. He made the football team (as a 175-lb. Guard), led a student strike against the board of trustees when they tried to change the curriculum, graduated in 1932 with a degree in economics and sociology, and-"because I was a child of the Depression, a Democrat by upbringing and very emotionally involved"-he cast his first vote for Franklin Roosevelt. "Remember his platform?" asks Reagan. "It was all for states' rights, and it also promised to reduce the size of the Federal Government and cut the budget by 25%. Well I'm still in favor of that."

    During the early '30s, Reagan got a job as a sports announcer for a couple of Iowa radio stations. He had a crackling delivery-so intense that he could keep his listeners enthralled with his account of a distant baseball game that Reagan would fallow from the studio with the help of cryptic messages from a ballpark telegrapher and a fertile imagination.

    Eventually he wangled trips to California to cover the Chicago Cubs' spring-training camp. On one such junket, in 1937, at the urging of a Hollywood starlet he had known in the Midwest, he took a screen test before heading home with the Cubs. The first day back, he got a wire: WARNER'S OFFER CONTRACT SEVEN YEARS, ONE YEAR'S OPTION, STARTING AT $200 A WEEK

    It was good money in those days-and he had to work for it; he once made eight movies in eleven months. During the war, Army Captain Regan spent most of his time in Hollywood narrating service films but took one commercial role in Irving Berlin's This is the Army. Even then, there were little cracks appearing in his liberalism, for-as he says today-he saw that in a big-government operation like the Army "there was an appalling amount of waste and a stupefying amount of bureaucracy."

    Leading the Way. Reagan's greatest jolt came shortly after the war when he was elected to the first of his six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild and discovered-"belatedly, because I just didn't wasn't to believe it"-that the union had been thoroughly infiltrated by Communists. George Murphy played an important role in Reagan's like at that stage. He had preceded Reagan as guild president and had spotted what Reagan later called "strange creatures crawling from under the make-believe rocks in our make-believe town." Murphy tried to warn him about the Communist encroachment but could not penetrate what Reagan now regards as his "early white-eyed liberal daze." Reagan became furious at Murphy, labeled him "an arch-reactionary." But Murphy persisted and, after Reagan recognized what was happening, the pair patched up their differences. Now Murphy, having led the way from show biz to public office, is an eager backer of Reagan's cause.

    Reagan recalled with pride his years as a labor-union president. As a result of that experience, he has taken a strong pro-labor position on right-to-work laws. Even so, present-day labor leaders, who cannot believe that he stands as a liberal, have been almost unanimously hostile to his candidacy.

    Breakfast Reading. In the late '40s, Reagan was plagued with problems beyond his political and professional environment. His wife of eight years, Actress Jane Wyman, whom he had met while filming Brother Rat, decided to divorce him in 1948. Neither she not Ronnie has ever discussed their breakup in public, but a close mutual friend recalls that Reagan has long been in the habit of delivering animated readings from the newspaper over breakfast and then insisting on an analytical discussion of current events. Jane, the story goes, finally revolted against eggs-and-cerebration and fled with their two children, Maureen, now 24, and Michael, 21.

    In 1952, Reagan married Actress Nancy Davis, now 42, the daughter of Chicago Neurosurgeon Loyal Davis. Reagan first met her when she complained to the Screen Actors Guild that she was receiving unwanted Communist literature in the mail. They have two children, Patricia, 13, and Ronald Prescott, 8. The Reagans have a 305-acre ranch at Lake Malibu, where they raise Thoroughbreds, and a house in Pacific Palisades, with a pool, a view of Los Angeles, and a monumental assemblage of electric gadgets and appliances-a reward for Reagan's duties on "the mashed-potato circuit" as a lecturer for General Electric.

    That relationship began in 1954 when he signed on for his first regular TV appearance as host and master of ceremonies for the weekly General Electric Theater. He stayed on for eight years. His duties involved frequent trips to G.E. plants around the country, making an interminable series of addresses (Reagan figures he spent 4,000 hours at G.E.-plant microphones) that went far toward honing his present-day skill with an audience.

    In 1962 Reagan and General Electric Theater went off the air, and Ronnie signed up with Borax as the permanent host on television's Death Valley Days. He also decided to switch his own sponsorship and register as a Republican. "It did not happen easily," he says. "Changing registration is almost like changing religion."

    Never Such an Alarm. Once he became a full-fledged convert to the G.O.P., Reagan was eagerly embraced by the party's conservative wing. They suggested that he launch a primary campaign to knock off Republican Moderate Tom Kuchel in 1962. Reagan said no but then backed Right-Winger Wright. He also turned down a suggestion that he take on Pat Brown for Governor that year. "I said that I would do everything short of running, that I would be a Paul Revere for other people." Never did Reagan sound the alarm so loudly as he did in 1964 for Barry Goldwater, for whom he retains considerable admiration.

    When approached to run for Governor in 1966, says Reagan, "I told them that if I was going to be a divisive influence, I wouldn't run, but that I would test the water." Thus, in the spring of 1965, a group called Friends of Ronald Reagan retained a political management firm, Spencer & Roberts, that had previously specialized in handling California campaigns for such moderate Republicans as Tom Kuchel and Nelson Rockefeller. After dozen of trips around California, Reagan decided that the G.O.P. could hardly be in worse shape than it already was.

    He announced his candidacy and immediately ran into a nasty, costly primary scrap with moderate Republican George Christopher, former major of San Francisco. Tom Kuchel, who usually avoids involvement in state party squabbles, loudly backed Christopher in the primary, saying, "I know where he stands-which is more than I can say about Ronald Reagan." Nevertheless, Reagan won with 64% of the votes-and pulled 50,000 more than Governor Brown did in a much closer Democratic race against maverick Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty.

    Where's Barry? California's G.O.P. today is more unified than it has been in decades. Although Christopher and Kuchel refused to help Reagan, Christopher's own top campaign advisers joined the nominee's crew right after the primary. Dozens of left-over Rockefeller-for-President crusaders came aboard and, of course, so did plenty of Goldwater fans.

    Such big-name Republicans as Dick Nixon, House Minority Leader Gerald Ford and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen have all offered to come in and campaign for Reagan, but the candidate has demurred on grounds that a state campaign should concentrate on state issues and state figures. Of course, any invitations to outsiders would almost have to include on to Barry Goldwater. Reagan quite pointedly avoids mentioning Barry's name in public or even during private interviews, and he considers a campaign visit by Goldwater a certain way to reopen old wounds within the party.

    Self-Directed, Self-Motivated. Even so, Reagan is persistently labeled a secret standard-bearer for Goldwater. One reason is that he has stubbornly refused to repudiate the John Birch Society, arguing-as Goldwater did in '64-that "if anyone chooses to support me, they're buying my views; I'm not buying theirs." Most Republicans are undisturbed, if not particularly pleased, by Reagan's attitude. Says former State G.O.P. Chairman Casper Weinberger, a moderate: "I see no eventuality that Reagan will be influenced by the Birchers. He is willing to surround himself with people of many views." State G.O.P. Chairman Gaylord B. Parkinson, also a middle-roader, says of the candidate, "He's a self-directed, self-motivated man. Nobody can force him to do things. He believes as strongly as I do in party responsibility."

    Pat Brown's campaign staff has had a field day unearthing and publishing almost every far-out statement that Reagan has ever uttered-and there have been quite a few. A red-bordered pamphlet titled Ronald Reagan: Extremist Collaborator has been widely distributed and lays out-with sources footnoted-various Reagan quotes along with the names of "Fright-Wing" cash contributors and such advisers as Schick Razor President Patrick J. Frawley and Henry Salvatori, co-chairman of Reagan's finance committee and executive committee, who has been closely affiliated with such way-right causes as Project Alert and the Anti-Communist Voters League.

    Governor Brown himself has left nothing to the imagination in smearing Reagan with the stain of extremism. At a Los Angeles fund-raising banquet last week, the Governor shouted: "If Ronald Reagan ever becomes Governor of California, the extremist movement in America would have a new lease on life. Reagan is Barry Goldwater's stand-in. He's appealing to people's feats and anxieties."

    Johnny One-Note. From the same podium, Hubert Humphrey asked: "Who is the opposition candidate? Who was it who called federal aid (to education) 'a tool of tyranny'? Who was it who said, 'It is a strange paradox, with our complete tradition of individual freedom, parents being forced to educate children'? Who was it who called California's elderly citizens and children and the maimed and the handicapped receiving welfare payments 'a faceless mass waiting for handouts'?"

    Reagan does not deny having expressed similar views in the past. Says he ruefully: "Maybe I have been a Johnny One-Note on the conservative philosophical trend. But people have tried to plant a right-wing label on me when really I have been saying over and over that there is no quarrel about the goals between people of good will." In fact, on many of his key views, Reagan jibes better with the liberal wind of the G.O.P. than with Goldwaterites.

    Questioned last week about 17 major issues-ranging from social security to the minimum wage-on which Goldwater based his most extreme views, Reagan expressed limited agreement with Barry on only three. Reagan opposes some-not all-civil rights legislation, notably open-housing laws, which in his view infringe on a citizen's right to dispose of his property as he sees fit. Second he is critical of Medicare-the compulsory aspect of the Administration program, not the principle. In fact, Reagan says he favors a system that would give financial aid to all Americans-not only the elderly-who need medical care. Third, like Goldwater, he opposes farm subsidies, but reasons-unlike Barry-that they could be dismantled only very gradually.

    Indeed, Reagan's most deeply held conviction does to the very heart of modern moderate Republicanism. He believes-echoing Dick Nixon-that the role of Government in the nation's like should be to invigorate and assist in individual effort, not, as he fears, to supplant it.

    Philosophical issues aside, Reagan has combined a mastery of specifics and statistics with a drumfire attack on the Brown administration's record on sensitive issues. He points out that California's welfare recipients have increased 21/2 times as fast as the population in the past five years. "The state constitution says that you have to be a resident for five years in order to run for Governor," he observes. "But you have to be here only 24 hours to get on welfare."

    On state agricultural problems, he reminds California farmers that they produce 25% of the U.S.'s table food, offer 33% of the state's jobs, represent 70% of the state's cash transactions. Yet, he remarks, "Farmers are being forced to conduct a social-welfare experiment for the Federal Government." The hottest issue among California farmers is the U.S. Labor Department's cancellation of a longtime arrangement whereby Mexican braceros entered the country without visas to pick crops. When they did not appear last year, California's farmers were badly hurt by the scarcity of labor. The Governor, Reagan charges, "didn't even use his prestige to appeal to the Federal Government. He raised his voice in agreement: so summer ripened into fall and crops ripened-and rotted."

    California Postcard. Zeroing in on urban problems, Reagan points out that in California murder is up 14.4% in one year, robbery 9%, rape 5.3%, narcotics arrests for juveniles 34.9%, and that for every dollar spent on education $1.11 is spent on crime. He asks: "How do we explain the ugly fact that there's twice as much crime in proportion to our population as there is in the rest of the nation?" Reagan constantly repeats that California is the world's largest producer of pornography: "The biggest joke in Paris, France, is that instead of selling French postcards, they're selling California postcards." Reagan has come out foursquare for a radical anti-obscenity proposal on the November ballot called the CLEAN amendment. In favoring it, the candidate is in direct opposition not only to Pat Brown but also to his own running mate, Robert Finch, the astute progressive Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, who was Nixon's presidential-campaign manager.

    The ugliest issue is, of course, race relations. Reagan himself is firmly on record against discrimination, and State G.O.P. Chairman Parkinson confidently predicts: "When he's elected, you'll see Negroes and Mexican-Americans on Reagan's staff; Brown has just talked." Nevertheless, Reagan will almost certainly benefit more than Brown from white backlash votes, which could be a powerful factor this year-particularly after San Francisco's race violence last week.

    Pat Brown has had some trouble finding his footing on the issue of open housing-first embracing it, then backing off. His indecision cost him the dedication of some liberals, and Brown is so fearful of the issue that a couple of weeks ago he made the famous suggestions that all discussion of open housing be banned from the campaign.

    Next to his attempt to picture Reagan as a wild-eyed extremist, Brown's strongest debating point has been that in governmental affairs Reagan is a wide-eyed innocent. Day after day, commercials drone over radio and TV. Actor-Dancer Gene Kelly says smoothly, "I've played many roles before the camera. I've been a soldier, a gambler, and even a major-league baseball player. I know I could play the role of Governor but that I could never really sit in his chair and make decisions affecting the education of millions of children." And Bonanza's Hoss, alias Dan Blocker, tells the folks: "I earn my living in front of a camera-pretending to be somebody I'm not. But one of my colleagues is having trouble separating fantasy from reality . . ."

    "It's true I've never held public office," Reagan retorts. "But if we're going to base the election of that, consider that Brown's been in office eight years and he hasn't done much about our problems!" And he punches hard at the fact that "citizen-politicians" can construct the "Creative Society" that Reagan uses as his campaign theme. "Don't forget," he says, "There weren't any professional politicians when they country started."

    The question of Reagan's lack of experience is, of course, a vital one. If he is elected, he will at least go to Sacramento without obligations to the bosses and backers who hagride most professional politicians. He will have to show that a citizen-Governor can govern. That is not an impossible challenge. As Nixon said last week of Reagan and Michigan's G.O.P. Governor George Romney: "They are new. And the project the mystique of the future rather than the past."