Ronald Reagan, the actor as president, remembered at MPAA

November 14, 2011

The future president in a 1948 Hollywood publicity photo. (The Associated Press)

“You never say, ‘I have three points I want to make,’ ” Ken Duberstein said. This he learned from President Reagan when serving as his chief of staff. Because, what if you then can’t remember all three points? As Reagan advised, “You say, ‘I have several points.’ ”

We’re in the closing weeks of the Reagan centennial, and while you may think every tribute has already been paid, every legacy chewed over, the Motion Picture Association of America spent Monday looking back at where it all began — Reagan’s acting career. In the evening, MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd hosted top studio chiefs (Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes, Fox’s Jim Gianopulos, Universal’s Ron Meyer) and D.C. dignitaries such as Colin Powell for cocktails and a retrospective of the Gipper’s flicks. But Dodd kicked off the day with the Beltway’s official form of entertainment, a panel discussion.

The topic — how Reagan’s movie career affected his presidency — was an excellent excuse to rehash some of his epic one-liners.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It took an actor’s skill and pacing to deliver that line, Duberstein said. His previous sentence (“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. . . ”) was swamped by applause; Reagan knew to wait for silence to continue.


Andrea Mitchell speaks to panel moderator John Harris of Politico, left, and Chris Dodd. (Ralph Alswang)

Once, Mitchell said, she chased him down for a response to a 1984 campaign attack. “What about Mondale’s charges?” she asked.

“Well, tell him he should pay them,” the president quipped.

Stuff like that you can’t rehearse, Mitchell said. “It shows how in-the-moment he was.”

Then there was, “I can’t hear you, Sam!”: Reagan’s cheery excuse to inquisitor Sam Donaldson, over the roar of Marine One. That, Donaldson said, was “the best part of his acting.”

Nah, Duberstein said, simply stagecraft: “There were some days we made sure the helicopter engines did not stop, so the president would not be lying when he said he couldn’t hear you.”

Read also: Reagan Centennial coverage in The Washington Post

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