Lets Call It a Davis!

How the Reagans kept their love surreal

With Valentine's Day upon us, clean-limbed young Republicans must have many questions racing through their brains. Some are easy to answer:

Will she enjoy the Christine Todd Whitman pun I thought up if I get her a Whitman's Sampler instead of Godiva?

No, she will not—unless you're secretly dating someone beneath you.

But the important questions are subtler and more complex: How do I know this is a love that will last forever? The young swain who still thinks those "Sore Loserman" signs are pretty funny would like to ask Dad, but Dad's too busy doing his Valentine's shopping for the trophy wife. And on a less-exalted level: How sweaty should our love get? After all, aren't Republicans supposed to Just Say No, endorse abstinence and abhor sex education because it might stir up carnal thoughts in otherwise chaste teenagers? Is there no model for a perfect, loving Republican relationship that can be purchased for less than $25 (not counting those accursed taxes)?

Fortunately, there is. The past fall saw the publication of I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan—almost 200 pages of mash notes and love letters chronicling the romance of the most starry-eyed political couple since the Macbeths. The next time you hear a GOP spokesman denounce the soulless materialism/culture of self-promotion of liberalism or Lefties, take a moment to consider what kind of person sells her love letters to a publisher. It would take a heart of stone not to cringe and laugh inappropriately as one pages through this book. This sort of letter may be beautiful to sender and recipient and maybe even their children (though, consider their children), but when they are vended to the public, the reader is under no obligation to find the inanity of the baby talk between Nancy Poo Pants/Little Mommie and Your in Luv Guv/1st Poppa charming.

Occasionally, among the riches of embarrassments, one finds an interesting letter. Consider what Ronnie wrote to "Nancy Pants" from New York in 1953, while on an acting job. "Eight million people in this pigeon crap encrusted metropolis and suddenly I realized I was alone with my thoughts and they smelled sulphurous." Such introspection is unexpected from Ronald Reagan. Is this the man who couldn't smell anything rank in the mephitic swamp of his presidency? He goes on to describe a lonely trek to 21 for dinner. At dinner, he begins to imagine Nancy is with him. He wraps himself so tightly in this fantasy that it blocks out lonely reality. Now this is the Reagan we remember. Reluctant to let go of a good fantasy, Reagan continues a bit longer than the reader might find comfortable. "We walked back in the twilight, and I guess I hadn't ought to put us on paper from there on. Let's just say I didn't know my lines this morning." Let that be a warning to aspiring actors: always learn your lines before settling down to a long night of masturbation.

The book offers no real insights into what formed the basis of Ronnie and Nancy's long love affair. But this is exactly the sort of thing the befuddled, young, Republican lover needs to know. Is there no way to learn what little things let Ronnie know Nancy was the one? Fortunately, there is.

It got nowhere near the press coverage that I Love You, Ronnie did, but Patricia Seaton Lawford's memoir of her late husband Peter contains a revealing passage on Mrs. Reagan as single gal Nancy Davis—and on her do's and don'ts of dating. Published in 1988, The Peter Lawford Story: Life With the Kennedys, Monroe and the Rat Pack chronicles the life of the low-magnitude movie star, Kennedy in-law and sometime Rat Packer. Among his many acquaintances was young Nancy Davis. Just how well they were acquainted Patricia didn't know until after Reagan was elected president. The Widow Lawford recalls, "Peter was watching the news right after Reagan was elected. He went over to the set, laughing and calling Mrs. Reagan a vulgar name. I was shocked and wanted to know what was bothering him. He laughed again and said that when she was single, Nancy Davis was known for giving the best head in Hollywood. Then Peter told of driving to the Phoenix area with Nancy and Bob Walker [whom Lawford claims was her lover at the time]. Nancy would visit her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Loyal Davis, while Peter and Walker picked up girls at Arizona State University in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb. He claimed that she entertained them orally on those trips, apparently playing with whichever man was not driving at the moment. I have no idea if Peter was telling the truth, though I have to assume he was because Peter was not one to gossip."

As proud Californians, people should stop calling it a Lewinsky and start calling it a Davis. Monica, after all, abandoned Southern California for New York, while Nancy is still here. If nothing else, it would do wonders for the sales of UC Davis T-shirts.

Whether Ronnie knew of Nancy's outstanding reputation when he began dating her, we may never know. But we do know that when Ronald Reagan, proponent of chastity and old-fashioned family values, married his second wife, Nancy, she was about three months pregnant.

I Love You, Ronnie by Nancy Reagan; Random House. 188 pages, hardcover, $24.95; The Peter Lawford Story by Patricia Seaton Lawford and Ted Schwartz. Out of print.

 
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