Not even Nancy Reagan can be all THAT perfect.
Clearly there are indications that she is not.
There's her campaign trail faux pas when she looked out over a Republican fund-raising crowd in Chicago and gushed with glee at seeing "all these beautiful white faces," quickly amended to include "black faces."
There's her totally unforgiving, unwavering, unnerving posture when someone writes something she dislikes.
There's her reported sniping at vice-presidential candidate George Bush's wife, Barbara.
There's her rigid resistance to talking about the time during which her daughter, Patti, lived with a member of the Eagles rock group.
There's the fact that she's never seen her son, Ron, perform with the Joffrey II ballet company.
There's the time she chatted with Elizabeth Taylor Warner all the way through a speech at the GOP convention given by the NAACP's executive director Benjamin Hooks.
There's her asking Johnny Carson to cut out the "Ronnie dyes his hair" monologue jokes.
There's the temper and the tantrums.
The press either loves Nancy Reagan -- or they hate her. They either see the homey image of her zipping around in her trusty Mercury sedan -- or they can't get past the concept that she's more Rodeo Drive than Rodeo.
"What's she wearing under those Galanos gowns, anyway? Jockey shorts?" blasted an established Hollywood figure at a sedate party recently. "Are you kidding?" shot back another male guest. "She's my dream woman."
And so it has always gone, ever since Nancy Reagan gave up Hollywood for politics and opened her private life to public scrutiny.
Yet privacy is the Reagans' constant quest. One journalist compares Nancy Reagan with a lioness, protecting her cubs from annoying public scrutiny.
Nancy Reagan has never been one to get "good press." In Sacramento, she is remembered by some as the state's first lady who vigorously promoted the Foster Grandparents Program, a compassionate nationwide project that brings together children with the elderly. But she is remembered by most as an aloof Los Angeles establishment hostess who seemed to dislike mingling with the lowly pols.
During Reagan's two terms as governor, the legend of his politically savvy wife grew. Insiders both fawned over and flagellated her reputation for passing on "suggestions" to the governor and his staff. Jealousies mounted. Politicians walked in fear of somehow incurring her wrath. The most obvious example of her state-house clout was when Reagan administration press secretary Lyn Nofziger fell out of favor (hers) after she accused him of a controversial leak to the press. Following a five-month snub by Mrs. Reagan, Nofziger was fired.
"Her political instincts are better than her husband's," says a staffer of the recent campaign. "So you learn to court Mrs. Reagan. That's called smart politics."
Friends say it comes from her vulnerability, her shyness, her penchant for privacy. Yet, it is increasingly obvious that Nancy Reagan is extraordinarily suspicious of the news media. After a particularly scathing article about her (from the legendarily scathing pen of Sally Quinn) in The Washington Post on May 1, rumors spread that Mrs. Reagan had gone underground. No more one-on-one interviews. ("Not true," says Nancy Reagan's press secretary Coral Schmid, although it is true that The New York Times was refused an interview for months.)
Mrs. Reagan is said to be angry at those who pick on The Gaze -- her ability to be totally transfixed, to sit totally still, to hang with rapt attention on every word that her husband says in speech after speech after speech. She's had it with all the gossip about how she bore her first child only 7 1/2 months after her wedding date. She's sick and tired of everyone harping about how powerful she is, SHE, of all people, the most unliberated of the campaign wives. ("It is a paradox, isn't it," muses an aide.) And she's just plain mad about how everyone says she and her stepfather caused Ronnie's switch in party affiliation, not to mention influencing every blessed political thought he's ever had.
"They don't fool me for a minute," observes a high-ranking socialite. "Look, he's an actor -- and so is she. She's been playing Jackie O forever. And God only knows they've been at the Bistro for the past 10 years, toasting him as the next president of the United States." Whatever Nancy Wants
Nancy Reagan usually gets what she wants through men, turning only to the women among her cloistered circle of friends, and only when necessary. Sources say it is through her urging that Reagan went for anti-abortion and anti-ERA stands. A staffer goes further. "Nancy simply does not like other women. She's absolutely threatened by them."
Attractive socialite (and alternate delegate to the GOP convention), Cheryll Clarke tells the story about boarding an elevator with actress Ruta Lee following a fund-raising luncheon in 1975. "The doors were standing open with Nancy already inside, so we just walked in," remembers Clarke. "Then all of a sudden she was saying, 'Oh no, you can't come in here.' Well, we got off, but just then Ronnie showed up and said, 'Sure, they can ride with us.' I couldn't figure out what had happened until a friend of theirs later told me that Nancy simply didn't want two good-looking women in the same elevator with her husband. Honestly, I couldn't believe it."
Some of the most intriguing insights into the character of Nancy Reagan come from a respected Los Angeles writer who interviewed her over several months in sessions at the Reagan's Pacific Palisades home. Recently, the writer agreed to talk about the woman he came to know well, but even now describes with caution. He asked not to be identified by name.
"The only warmth she has is for Ronnie," the writer says. "She dislikes his family. Nancy is just for Nancy and Ronnie. It is a strong relationship in which they need each other. They are both very sincere when they meet and part again. I'm sure it is Nancy who is behind Ronnie's decision on ERA. She could never conceive of the kind of world where women are side by side in the trenches. A woman's place is in the home. Both of Nancy's issues [ERA, abortion] have cost Ronnie a lot of votes.
"Nancy wields influence over Ronnie. She pushes him and admires him. She wants that limelight. The reason, I think, is that she feels so strongly about her way of life and wants to impose it on others. Goodness, God, home and country are what Nancy believes in. She lives in a narrow world. She is not intellectual. She's a tough, clever girl who knows what she wants. She has street smarts, has a certain grace, and whatever the temper is, she can control it. She really loves her husband and thinks he will give us the moral leadership the country needs.
"Nancy's nickname is 'The Iron Maiden' -- that's what she's called by the Reagan office staff who claim to spend an abnormal amount of time dealing with her demands. Some of them resent her. The campaign manager thinks he can decide what's right and wrong for the candidate. Nancy says, 'He can't do that.' She's constantly calling the office and laying down the law. 'A man has to have some time for his family,' she says. 'He's going to the ranch with me.' Nancy likes the ranch because it's the only place she can have Ronnie all to herself.
"Nancy hates Betty Ford with a passion. She claims that Betty was on drugs. The claim comes from the '76 convention when Betty was not responding to those around her in the Ford box. Nancy was furious because the Reagan box was at the back of the hall. Nancy says, 'Betty parades her alcoholism like a medal of honor. Why is she overcoming the problem when she shouldn't have it in the first place?'
"Nancy will be the most prominent First Lady since Jackie. She is a tasteful lady, not a trend setter. The bigotry doesn't bother me. Eleanor Roosevelt was born and brought up a bigot -- and she forced FDR to receive blacks. She'll make one hell of a first lady."
"If she'd just come down off her high horse and show us something of the real world," sighs a woman who has spent evenings out with the Reagans. "I keep getting the impression that she wants the White House, while all he'd like to do is tend cattle in Santa Barbara. If only she could loosen up and relax and stop being so afraid. I do think there's a terrific woman there, somewhere deep inside."
In a 1971 interview printed in a Smith College publication, alumna Nancy Reagan said, "A woman, I would hope, would be a help to her husband no matter what he does. Of course, the more successful he is the more important her role becomes."
She is well aware that during the Carter presdiential term, the nation has taken note of Rosalynn Carter's spiral to probably the weightiest advisory position in government. She knows, as a result, that the country is watching her, wondering if the Oval Office powerbase will emerge as a permanent His And Her oligarchy. The Group & the Grip
So what would the reign of Nancy Reagan be like? Her royal court, like the woman herself, would be far more complex than the surface betrays, more than pillbox hats and White House decorating tours.
"She has solid social status and is one of the best hostesses I've ever known," says Hollywood writer Dorothy Manners. "She is a well-balanced, intelligent woman of taste, not extravagance," says dean of fashion Eugenia Sheppard, "and she would not be a frivolous First Lady."
The Reaganites who will follow the First Couple to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will include Western politicos, the socially significant, lofty members of the Hollywood hierarchy, wealthy Los Angeles Westsiders, and the "Kitchen Cabinet" elite. Suddenly, everyone's racing to stake a claim in Reagan country, no matter how tenuous. But not many will succeed.
Mrs. Reagan is a member of a startlingly tight-knit social group in which she and her husband function almost exclusively. They party together, dine together, vacation together, and most importantly, they have all shared charter memberships in building the foundation of Reaganesque politics. Some of the men function as actual advisers, others as sounding boards. The women are as close as sequestered sorority sisters. They are all quite rich and very successful.
For as long as any social observers can remember, no one new has broken through the group's bond in two decades. Sure, there's constant flitting around the periphery. But, so far, outsiders have been left floundering for the password.
"They don't want any new players. They want the same wine, the same food, the same faces, the same ideas," scolds a top matron who has gotten close, but never inside. "What that close-knit group is all about is insecurity. They don't want anyone encroaching, anyone breezing in with something that's not as boring as they are. All of them are reactionaries. It's like self-hypnosis, that clan."
It is the hottest clique in Los Angeles. And what infuriates the status-conscious doyennes is that they know there is no way they're getting in. They are emerald-green with envy.
The tribal Reaganites feel unfailingly proud and fiercely protective. Many of the friendships were formed first among the wives -- a twist in the typically man-centered social universe where female follows male.
After 20 years of snug togetherness, the women, in particular, appear extraordinarily alike -- all sharing the same shopping habits (the counture department at I. Magnin's), the same harido (short, pert bouffants), the same lunching place (the Bistro Garden), the same dining haunt (Chasen's), the same florist (David Jones), the same designer (Adolfo), the same party affiliation (Republican) and the same friend (Nancy). And through it all, the glue that has held the entire group together is named Reagan. Taste, No Frills
From all accounts, the Nancy Reagan assemblage falls into several friendly tiers, the uppermost populated with such names as Betsy Bloomingdale, the best-dressed wife of Diner's Club founder Alfred Bloomingdale; Betty Wilson, the heiress-wife of ranch developer William Wilson; Marion Jorgensen, wife of steel magnate Earle Jorgensen; Bonita Granville Wrather, the former actress and wife of entertainment mogul, Jack Wrather; Jean French Smith, wife of Reagan's personal attorney William French Smith; Jane Bryan Dart, the former actress and wife of Dart Industries chief Justin Dart; and Virginia Tuttle, wife of auto dealership kingpin Holmes Tuttle.
These are the women with whom Nancy is in touch almost daily -- even when on the campaign trial. They are the most familiar faces on the Reagan's small dinner party circuit.
When Nancy Reagan celebrated her birthday this summer at Chasen's, the small circle was enlarged to include such second-tier Hollywood chums as the Frank Sinatras, the Jimmy Stewarts, Irene Dunne, producer Hal Wallis and wife Martha, the Joseph Cottens, Mervyn and Kitty LeRoy, Mrs. Jack Benny, Janet and Freddie de Cordova, Mrs. Jules Stein and producer Ray Stark and his wife Fran.
If You Knew Nancy Like They Know Nancy . . .
Betsy Bloomingdale: "We chatter on the phone almost every day, talking about everything from shoes to politics. She's the most loyal friend, she's like a member of the family. The Reagans have never changed. They've always remained the same. I don't think they're that much out of step. They are back in style."
Bonita Wrather: "The fact that Ronnie will be the next president of the United States is a little awesome. It's very hard for Nancy. She's a strong woman, but she's vulnerable. She'll talk about anything, from recipes to issues. But she lives politics. I think we need people to look up to in the White House, we need a little style, elegance and quality. Nancy has that flair."
Betty Wilson: "Her loyalty is unbounded. She has a marvelous sense of humor. She's sincere, honest and when she's your friend, well, that's the best."
Los Angeles social publicist Lee Minnelli likens Nancy Reagan to a European woman, saying, "She has an innate knack for chic." Minnelli notes that the Reagans were always a more "society than Hollywood couple. Nancy is an iron hand in a velvet glove. All her life she's been building up to the White House. It simply is what she is meant to do." Painting the Town Reagan
Then what will happen when Nancy Reagan finally inherits the throne? What changes would be wrought in the capital city?
Roll out the carriages. Polish the trumpets.
And get ready for a new flourish of Washington parties. No more Willie Nelson hoedowns on the South Lawn. No more Rosalynn Carter-Joan Mondale handcrafted table centerpieces from Appalachia. No more punch and cookie afternoons or sit-on-a-blanket picnic lunches.
With the regin of Nancy will come the restoration of the Sans Souci, that elegant French restaurant of Washington elite that has fallen on harder times thanks to the ribs and barbecue of the Carter regime.
Watch for liquor to once again replace orange juice at stylish private meals in the White House.
And watch for a notably toned-down, cleaned-up brand of humor to replace all those Billy Beer jokes.
(According to friends, Nancy Reagan likes to tell a joke nearly as much as her husband. Her versions, however, tend to be her own. An example of a Nancyfied joke that has been making the rounds of Reagan acquaintances goes like this:
(Someone says to Nancy: "What's the definition of a nymphomaniac?" answer: "A woman who gets s----ed an hour after she gets her hair done."
(Nancy chuckles, demurs and passes the joke on later, saying, "What do you call a woman who makes love right after she's had her hair done?" Answer: "A hyprochondriac.")
Embassy Row will be In again, with the presidential motorcade seen speeding up Massachusetts Avenue, flags flying, for early evenings "at the French or British." But those limos will whirr back to the White house by 10 p.m., the hour when the Reagans like to retire.
The Reagans will no doubt frequent the presidential box in the Opera House of the KENNEDY center. Appropriately festooned in bright royal red and gold, it offers the proper trappings for nobility.
In again will be jodhpurs and hunting pinks on weekends, white tie and Galanos for night and California wines and champagne.
Make no mistake, it will be elegant and classy, a change in administrations from down-home Southern to worldly Western as dramatic as the restoration of the Hapsburgs. There would be absolutely nothing tacky about Nancy Reagan's White house.
When Nancy Reagan is in the White House, she will hold court over America in the same effective way she has ruled here entire life.
Down-home will move uptown. Informality will give way to formal. There will be Frank Sinatra where once there had been Bobby Byrd's country fiddle. There will be no barbecues for gospel singers and stock car racers, no lemonade and cookies in the East Room.
There will, instead, be the Establishment GOP all the way. And Nancy Reagan will be the queen of it all.