RONALD REAGAN remembers the image well: In high school he stood 5 foot 3, weighted 108 pounds and suffered from poor vision. He hated to wear his clumsy spectacles; his schoolmates called him "four-eyes."
"But I never saw myself as the little guy with the big glasses," Reagan said. "Good Lord, I went out for sports when I couldn't even see the ball! I tried to play baseball before I got the glasses. When they chose up sides I was the last one chosen. Then I discovered football. Here was a ball big enough to see. An there was close physical contact with other huyman beings. I just fell in low. That was my game."
He pauses. "When there's talk of war, why don't we go out and play football instead. It's the nearest thing to war, except you don't get killed."
Reagan is an emotional man. He blushes at praise, is hurt by attacks, laughs at his own jokes, trusts in God, chokes up over the Gettysburg Address and believes all men are created equal. His favorite book is a 1932 adventure story, "Northern Trails," and he loved "all the Frank Merriwell books, and Brown of Harvard, and the Rover boys."
In a lengthy interview, only one door to his past was closed, his divorce from actress Jane Wyman: "I've always refused to talk about the failure of my first marriage," he said. "There are some things you're entitled to keep to yourself."
Sitting back in his favorite high wing chair in a large but not luxurious office in Westwood, Calif., overlooking the UCLA campus, Reagan threw his arms wide.
"What you see, that's it! I'm not hiding anything. I have a private side, yes, like anyone else, and there are feelings which are difficult for me to talk about. But it's a self-consciousness rather than a desire for privacy. I'm afraid of someone getting the wrong impression if I talk about my deepest sentiments, that I'm using religion or patriotism in some way, though it's what I sincerely believe."
Ronald Wilson Reagan was raised as a Democrat in solidly Republican Illinois country. His father, John Edward Reagan, a traveling shoe salesman on the Tampico-Chicago-Galesburg-Monmouth circuit, was a volunteer worker for the Democratic Party. The father's parents came from County Cork, Ireland. Before Reagan was 10, he and his older brother -- Neil is two years older, now a retired advertising executive -- had lived in "every small town west of Chicago." The family finally settled in Dixon, Ill.
"Yes, I lived with a feeling of insecurity as a child," Reagan confesses. "My father never earned more than $55 a week. And he suffered with the Irish curse. But bless my mother, she made sure that we knew that alcoholism was a disease. Lord only knows what my father could have been!"
Jack Reagan practiced what he preached about social equality. He once refused to stay in a hotel where no Jews were allowed, slept in his car that night, despite the bad weather, and developed pneumonia. He also told his sons that every man should stand on his own two feet, and if the boys wanted to go to college, "It's all on yourselves." Reagan's mother instilled the fundamentalist Christian beliefs Reagan carries today.
Reagan saved enough money from summer lifeguarding to cover half his tuition at Eureka College, 20 miles from Peoria -- a first love in high school, Margaret Cleaver, had already enrolled at Eureka, determining his choice of schools -- and a student loan based on athletic skills covered the rest.
A three-year letterman in football and captain of the swimming team, Ronald Reagan was also elected studentbody president. After graduation in 1932, when he had found a job in those hard times, thanks to Pete MacArthur at radio station WHO, and his own inventiveness -- "You can make your own breaks if you have faith in yourself, and know what to say when the red light goes on!"-- Reagan helped his brother Neil go to college.
"I never thought of holding public office as a youth. I was always looking up to someone. I guess I saw myself as a sort of John the Baptist out paving the way. But one night up in Sacramento," Reagan recalls his role as governor of California, "Nancy and I looked at each other and said, "this makes everything we've done before, the whole glamorous Hollywood scene, look dull as dishwater! We're not just talking about it, we're actually dealing with it. This was the most fulfilling thing I'd ever done in my life"
Reagan may be the last American politican to have been directly inspired by Calvin Coolidge -- he was a teenager when Coolidge was elected -- and he thinks the terse New Englander has been vastly underrated. "He's known as the do-nothing president. The same thing was said about Ike. But under these two do-nothing men we had full employment, full prosperity, peace, and not one-tenth of a penny of inflation!"
Reagan says he follows the daily zodiacal advice for his sign in the horoscope column of Carroll Righter. Reagan, born Feb. 6, 1911, is an Aquarian.
"I believe you'll find," he said, "that 80 percent of the people in New York's Hall of Fame are Aquarians." He cites Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson, but he is three days off on George Washington, a Pisces.
Does Reagan rely on an astrological chart?
"No, but I'll tell you a curious story. I remember that Jeane Dixon, who was all for me in one part of her mind -- she was always gung-ho for me to be president -- but in that foretelling part of her mind, she said back in '68, 'I don't see you as president. I see you here at an official desk in California. And because you're at that desk some right things happen in Washington, but you're not there to do them."
He said the prediction came to mind one day when he was talking with a member of Richard Nixon's staff. "He told me that Nixon would be in debates with his Cabinet about a course of action -- they'd use the labels, a conservative course of action -- and Nixon would say, 'Damn it, they're doing it in California and it works!" And he'd get his way."
Though he cares what people think of him, Reagan says he will not equivocate: "I don't think it's politically hazardous to tell the truth. I think it's good politics. You take everything that's been done by all the emperors, all the admirals and generals, all the scientists in the world, no one has had the impact for 2,000 years that the 33-year-old young man from Galilee had who spoke the truth.,
He rolls his eyes upwards. "You know He's got his own calendar up there. Sometimes you find you may achieve something without actually winning the brass ring."
If he doesn't get the top job in Washington, will he be satisfied with a lesser achievement? "I found out in my youth, by playing on enough losing football teams, that losing isn't the end of the world. As long as you do your best, and have nothing to be ashamed of, you don't fear defeat. I've never had the hunger just to be president. But I really believe there are things I could do for the country. I would dearly love to have the chance."