Up shit creek without a Pichon Longueville ’47
The recent release of Ronald Reagan’s White House Diaries has produced the usual snickers from the usual suspects — the self-appointed, self-anointed cognoscenti who pollute the airwaves with their endless contempt for everything that makes America great. Apparently, the fact that Ronnie’s most private musings have the intellectual consistency of Gerber’s strained prunes is somehow considered a mark against him!
The fact is, Ronald Reagan was a man of passion, a man of deep passion. Any man who could call Nancy Reagan “mommy poopie pants” to her face and make her like it was a man of legend and a man of passion.1 And if you want proof, all you have to do is read the letters Ronnie wrote to Nancy describing Ronnie’s shoot from Hell, Cattle Queen of Montana.
Cattle Queen of Montana was produced by Benedict Bogeaus, who was definitely not Ronald Reagan’s favorite person. Ben totally ignored all of Ronnie’s script suggestions, the one thing that could have saved the picture. But with Ben around, everything was bound to be “buggered up,” as Ronnie so eloquently put it.
Ronnie got no help at all, to put it mildly, from co-star Barbara Stanwyck (“Lady S.”),2 who “continues to go on her merry way in the exclusive company of two hairdressers and a maid.” Excuse me, but didn’t Ronnie deserve a hairdresser or two himself? And a maid!
Even worse, Ben neglected to bring real horses from Hollywood to Montana for the shoot. Instead, the company had to rent mounts from the “natives.” As Ronnie observed, “Everything has a price and we constitute fair game with a long open season.” Now, Ronald Reagan believed in capitalism and the free market, but not when it worked against him! Not when he has to pay top dollar for “scrawny goats” to a bunch of yahoos who wouldn’t recognize a Pichon Longueville ’473 if it bit them on the ass.
The capper came when a pair of locals, hired as extras, showed up with their minimum-wage keesters astride “registered thoroughbreds.”4 Registered thoroughbreds, goddamn it! Registered thoroughbreds! While Ronnie was stuck on a “lame Palomino” the size of a yearling! How is a man who is, excuse me, a star,supposed to deliver a performance under those circumstances?
Reagan’s diaries and letters depict a man who instinctively hid/expressed all his emotions through the tritest banalities, repeated over and over again.5 To my mind, the most revealing story about Ronnie concerns a little-known character named Joe Canzeri. Joe was major domo to Nelson Rockefeller back in the day, which was major major domo. When Rocky kicked the bucket, courtesy of an overenthusiastic secretary,6 Joe, very like Leporello on the sudden departure of Don Giovanni, sought a new master and found one in Ronnie. They got along well, although Ronnie never quite got a handle on Joe’s name. In Ronnie Speak, “Joe Canzeri” came out “Tony Canzoni.” Because Italians all have funny names! And they’re all named Tony!
What about the flick itself? If you’re a western film buff, Cattle Queen of Montana Sounds like a must-see, according to one online review, thanks to the presence of “Myron Healy, Jack Elam, Morris Ankrum, Chubby Johnson and the venerable Chickasaw Indian Rod Redwing, who taught so many Hollywood cowboy stars how to execute a fast draw with a six-gun.” Sadly, most viewers found Ronnie’s performance unimpressive, but considering the shit he had to put up with on the set, that’s not too surprising.
Bright Lights editor Gary Morris interviews Cattle Queen director Allan Dwan here. Dwan escaped the wrath of Ronnie, so he must have been a straight shooter, but surely he could have done something about finding a decent mount (and a decent hairdresser) for our 40th president.
- Liked it, hell, she loved it! She begged for it! [↩]
- For more on Lady S., go here, to a site maintained by a guy who, I’m guessing, is also into Barbra Streisand. [↩]
- One of the Reagans’ favorite wines. They shared a bottle at 21 in the “pigeon crap encrusted town” of New York, New York. Ronnie’s antipathy to the Big Apple was mostly due to the fact that he associated it with TV (TV and commies). Reagan did a lot of early, live TV (because he couldn’t get jobs in movies) and he hated it. The “studios” were often in basements, and you had to memorize your lines! They couldn’t even afford cue cards! I’m sorry but this is not an art form as I understand the term! [↩]
- Ronnie’s underlining, as reproduced by Nancy in I Love You, Ronnie. Apart from Ronnie’s (very) few outbursts of real emotion, the entertainment value of this little book lies entirely in Nancy’s amusingly evasive commentary, which strives to conceal the fact that both their careers were falling apart in the early fifties. [↩]
- Efforts of online hipsters to make Ronnie sound like a bad dad don’t impress me. He didn’t beat his kids with a studded belt, did he? So for Hollywood he was average or better. [↩]
- Rocky appears to have died while humping Megan Marshak, to whom he left a townhouse on W. 54th Street and $50,000 in cash back in 1979. Although it is impossible to libel the dead, it is very possible to piss off the Rockefeller family, and, as a result, no newspaper in the country dared to suggest that Megan was banging Nelson at the time of his death, despite exceedingly “suspicious” circumstances. Instead, there were endless articles about her Gucci handbag, the implication being that a young secretary could not possibly afford such an item unless she was screwing her boss. For more on Megan, go here. [↩]