Nancy Reagan disappeared into Raisa Gorbachev's parlor in Geneva in November 1985, and for half an hour neither the White House nor the Secret Service was able to penetrate an Iron Curtain of Soviet officialdom to communicate with her.

"I remember pounding on the door yelling 'Let me in there! What are you doing? I'm supposed to be in there,' " says James S. Rosebush, Nancy Reagan's then-chief of staff who, along with one of the first lady's two Secret Service agents, had been shut out of the Soviet mission by Raisa Gorbachev's door-slamming security detail. They quickly discovered the agent's radio did not work.

"We lost all communication with our person who was inside," he says. "It was a bizarre feeling, not being able to go in some place you knew you were supposed to get in, and not knowing what was going on there."

Now a public affairs and management consultant, the 38-year-old Rosebush, who worked for Mrs. Reagan from 1982 through 1985, has written a coffeetable book about America's first ladies titled "First Lady, Public Wife," published by Madison Books. Unlike Michael K. Deaver's "Behind the Scenes," Rosebush's book is not a behind-the-scenes tell-all, though he says he had several opportunities to write a book like that but declined.

"Deaver talks about how she told him she had held her father's hand {for an hour after he was dead}. But I was there in the room when her father died. To me that is her story to tell," says Rosebush, whom then-deputy White House chief of staff Deaver hired to head Mrs. Reagan's East Wing staff. "I was a fly on the wall too many times. I knew too much," Rosebush says.

Being in the same room, in fact, was part of Rosebush's job while Mrs. Reagan was on official business, which was why he found the incident in Geneva so infuriating. During two advance trips to Geneva, Rosebush says, he and the Secret Service had negotiated with the Soviets on every detail of the Nancy-Raisa visit, from the door they would enter to the size of each woman's entourage and the roles their staffs would play, from what subjects they would talk about to the length of the meeting.

The day of the get-together things happened so quickly that while Rosebush was getting out on his side of Mrs. Reagan's car she got out on her side and was whisked into the mission by the Soviets after a brief pause for pictures with Raisa Gorbachev. By the time Rosebush reached the front door, he says, somebody had slammed it shut. What confronted him was "a vault."

"Every now and then someone would open the door and I'd explain that 'my name is Jim Rosebush. I am Mrs. Reagan's chief of staff. I'm supposed to be in this meeting.' They'd say, 'I don't know anything about it,' and shut the door," Rosebush recalls.

Coatless and literally cooling his heels on the doorstep, Rosebush, with the agent, decided the only thing to do was to wait it out in Mrs. Reagan's White House car. There, chagrin changed to alarm as they remembered an Irving Wallace book about a first lady who had been snatched by the Soviets so they could substitute a look-alike KGB agent.

"We were sitting out in the car saying, 'They're doing away with Nancy Reagan, putting another woman in her place,' " Rosebush remembers, "and finally I said, 'Well, I'm going to pound on the door again. She was supposed to be out in 20 minutes.' "

This time Rosebush's knocks were answered by a Soviet official who scolded, "Mr. Rosebush! Where have you been? You were supposed to be in this meeting."

By then Rosebush was beginning to get the picture -- "the way the Soviets deal with you is to send new people and that way none of them can be blamed."

Through it all, the incommunicado Nancy Reagan thought something was strange, but since she hadn't been in on the negotiations she didn't want to seem ungracious by asking, Rosebush says she later told him.

It wasn't the first time Rosebush tangled with foreign officials over access to Mrs. Reagan, he says. In September 1985 in Mexico City a Mexican security officer slammed him up against the wall in a hospital where Mrs. Reagan was visiting earthquake victims. Defying Mexican authorities, Rosebush summoned American reporters who had been excluded from a media pool.

"This security guy grabbed me and threw me against the wall," Rosebush said. "I looked at the Secret Service and they said, 'Hey, we're not here to protect you,' and I thought, 'Oh, boy, I can see myself sweating it out in some Mexican prison.' "

Not all of traveling with Mrs. Reagan was Keystone Kops stuff. Rosebush also played her chief cook and bottle washer. In addition to advising her on colors to wear ("That was the first question I would ask, I used to do that in my sleep"), he held her handbag, kept track of her suitcases ("I always counted them when they left her room and when they arrived at her plane") and often fixed her breakfast.

"She didn't like to order expensive meals from room service and she didn't eat much -- a half grapefruit, piece of toast with honey and a cup of Brim. We got it down to a science," he says. "Without exception she had a complimentary fruit basket, I'd take along the Brim in my suitcase and we'd order a slice of whole-wheat toast through room service."

Rosebush said he "never minded" doing those things.

"I thought that anything, however big or little, was just a part of being in her service."

The First Lady's Influence Rosebush says he never underestimated Nancy Reagan's opinions. "I say in my book that the American people want the first lady to be independent and yet they want her to be a strong partner. They want her to have her own mind but not to speak it too often."

Rosebush says that Mrs. Reagan's influence on the president is considerable but that she does not control him. "She worries all the time," he says. "She wants to control things, to make them good, happy and turn out right, but she is not really in the driver's seat."

According to Rosebush, Mrs. Reagan is neither a right-wing conservative nor a middle-of-the-road moderate.

"She's not interested in political ideology as much as she is in pragmatic politics," Rosebush says. "Nancy Reagan herself is a channel for not only passing opinions on to the president, but she's lobbied by people, too. The people she talks to on the phone are people who are telling her, 'Hey, listen, you gotta tell the president this or that.' "

Where she and Mike Deaver worked "hand in glove" together -- often by telephone -- was in directing the president's attention to a particular situation, Rosebush says.

"Mike had the president during the day, and if there was a point that Mike felt the president should be aware of -- I mean, world events don't stop at 5 o'clock -- he would call her and say, 'I think when you're chatting tonight you might want to bring this up.' "

The next morning, it might work the other way, with Mrs. Reagan calling Deaver and saying, "Ronnie is really upset about ..." and Deaver would incorporate that into the briefings or meetings that were going on.

"It was more in the president's best interests," says Rosebush, who thinks that while it may sound as if Mrs. Reagan was ordering some particular action, "it was more subtle than that -- like, 'This is his mood today.' "

Deaver's role, as Rosebush portrays it, was to funnel the specifics to the president by way of Mrs. Reagan while her role was to report back on the president's reactions and other emotional and attitudinal influences he might have been under.

"I'm absolutely sure that the president was aware that they talked," Rosebush said. "I'm not sure he knew whether it was in his interest or about him. He didn't think it was anything but natural because after all, Nancy Reagan and Deaver had talked for years. He probably felt comfortable with it."

Rosebush, whom Deaver plucked out of the Private Sector Initiative at the White House, says his business today is along the lines of the work he did before he went into government -- finding private solutions to public problems by advising companies on corporate contribution strategies.

Rosebush says that unlike Deaver he is not a lobbyist, "because my services are tied to marketing. What I'm doing is helping {companies} negotiate, expand their markets, sell products."

But he has turned his White House years to his advantage by using the contacts he made. He calls being able to go back to people he worked with advancing 12 presidential trips abroad "a big plus." With the exception of the Soviets, perhaps, he says he can "absolutely" knock on doors and get in.

Grooming Her Image Much of what Rosebush did in his four years at the White House was help personalize Nancy Reagan's image. Some of that began to pay off as her campaign against drug abuse caught on. With Sheila Tate, Mrs. Reagan's press secretary at the time, and other senior East Wing staffers, Rosebush developed ways to show off the first lady when she traveled abroad.

"People held an opinion of her that didn't fully represent what she was like," Rosebush says. "We tried to create a situation which was not predictable so you could get to know Nancy Reagan in a way you did not expect."

One of the most successful of such efforts was during a May 1985 state visit to Madrid, where Mrs. Reagan danced her way onto evening television news shows and front pages around the world by doing the flamenco.

"It showed that she was game, that she had a sense of humor and that she didn't take herself too seriously," says Rosebush.

Rosebush's ideas were not always popular. In Madrid, he had wanted to take her to the bullfights "but no one would let me" -- including Mrs. Reagan. He said he was trying to think of activities identified with Spain but soon realized that animal rights groups at home "would have gone up the walls."

While advancing a state visit to Ireland in June 1984, Rosebush checked out the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, where Mrs. Reagan was to accept a posthumous award to her stepfather, Chicago neurosurgeon Loyal Davis.

"They wanted to take her on a tour. I said, 'Where are you going to take her? By a bunch of classrooms? Don't you have anything here that's interesting?' " says Rosebush, who was always mindful of "the doctor's daughter."

In his book, Rosebush describes how the dean of the college took him on a tour "that included a research laboratory filled with cadavers and pickled brains, livers, and other body parts donated for research. At last, I thought, I would test the First Lady's ability to walk graciously through a depressing site."

Such a macabre tour was not to be, however. "Somehow," Rosebush continues in the book, "the college officials did not want the First Lady's visit to Dublin to be marked with a front-page newspaper picture of her examining corpses, so my plan was foiled."

Rosebush says that there were other times when he would have sent the first lady into more "aggressive" situations. An example was the time he urged her to accept the invitation of then-representative Michael Barnes, a Maryland Democrat and a critic of the administration, to testify at a congressional hearing on drugs. But she just said no.

"She was a lot smarter than I was, because you're just asking for trouble to be cast as a government spokesman," Rosebush says. "She could be dragged through the mud and blasted for meddling in government programs.

"Her issue was drugs," he continues, "but to go up there she would have had to defend the administration position on all kinds of things, like the spending on treatment. I think one of the smartest things she ever did was to insist upon keeping her drug program private."