Vice President George Bush wanted to see it, and so did the first lady's press secretary, Sheila Tate. White House Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes has shown it in his office, and Communications Director David Gergen even took it home. The New York Times' Washington bureau had a lunchtime screening last Friday, and in the ABC foreign bureaus, they're watching it, too. Now the Betamaxes are spinning around faster than James Watt on the Beach Boys.
What is it?
The "Tapes of Wrath," the hottest new underground reel in Washington. Shown 2 1/2 weeks ago at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents dinner, the tape is a 24-minute medley of bloopers that never saw the light of the evening news, plus a few disasters that did. It also has a few brilliantly spliced segments that combine Ronald Reagan's old movies with some of his new moves.
It begins with an announcer who booms, "Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States!" Then, to the strains of "Hail to the Chief," Reagan saunters slowly into a western saloon. Around him are geezers swilling whiskey. "Mr. President," says one, "I'm poor and I'm hungry. What am I going to do?" The president, wearing a white hat, pauses briefly, cries "SHUT UP!" then knocks him flat.
In another segment, various television personalities are seen flubbing their nightly "stand-ups" on the White House lawn. CBS correspondent Bill Plante is seen screaming at the camera as a sleeting rain plasters his hair to his forehead, and his colleague, Lesley Stahl, is shown as the camera lights go out around her. "That's it," she says, throwing her microphone to the ground and stalking off in a huff. "I'm not going to do it again."
"But I did go back," she says now. "Because I was sure my mother would call and say, 'What happened?' "
The tape was produced by Sharon Young and Carole Simpson of ABC, and edited by Charles Wilson of CBS. Wilson, 31, is the unofficial keeper of outrageous outtakes at CBS, and over the years has produced several gag reels that were seen only inside the bureau. This is the first one in a number of years to be seen publicly, and the only one in recent memory to have caused such a stir.
"I'm kind of surprised," says Wilson, who thinks there might be 40 or 50 copies of the tape floating around, "but then, I'm kind of not. I've always had a pretty good sense of humor. In fact, my wife thinks I have a perverted sense of humor. But after seeing something so many times, I wasn't sure it was going to be so well received. It's nice to be recognized by your peers."
Work on it began several months before the dinner. Simpson, Young and Wilson spent weekends putting the tape together, which Wilson guesses took a total of seven or eight days.
So far, Young says only one correspondent has complained of treatment on the tape. Most people, like the vice president, were delighted to be included. Bush, in fact, wrote notes to Young and the others, calling the tape "a classic." It was even shown repeatedly on the internal White House television channel, on which aides usually call up news shows and presidential press conferences.
Perhaps one of the funniest segments on the tape is of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill. He's seen holding a roll-call vote, although his words are dubbed in. He's asking for pizza orders. "How many for anchovies?" he calls from the stately chamber. "One, two, three . . ."
At last count, it's been called up at the White House 36 times.