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MS. TUMULTY: I think it was how crucial she was, both to his political rise and to the success of his presidency and really the impact that she had not just as his closest advisor, not just as, in Ronald Reagan’s case, the only person in the world to whom he was truly close, but really, she had an impact on a lot of policies that really made her a complex and historic figure. MR. DUFFY: One of the things that you come at the reader in a lot of different ways from a lot of different points in their life and their long marriage is that he was a difficult man even at times for her to get close to. Did you sense that from your research? MS. TUMULTY: I did. He was–Ronald Reagan himself once wrote, “I’ve never had trouble making friends, but there’s always been a part of me that I’ve held back.” I think there’s a lot of reasons for that going back to his own difficult childhood, as the son of an alcoholic who took their family from one very uncertain situation into another, but there were very few people in his life that got past that barrier, and interestingly enough, they were all strong women, starting with his mother. MR. DUFFY: You know, the minute you dive into this book, the reader finds him- or herself back in 1930s Washington and 1940s Chicago. Anne Frances Robbins–that was her name at birth–had a tough childhood. Until, then, she didn’t have a tough childhood. It was both difficult and then almost gilded. Talk a little bit about that transition in her life early on. MS. TUMULTY: Sure. So, she was born to an ambitious actress and an unsuccessful car salesman whose marriage was effectively over by the time this very inconveniently-timed baby arrived, and her mother, as soon as this baby was out of diapers, essentially abandoned her, not on the street. She left her with relatives, but for the next six years of Anne Frances Robbins’ life, she just yearned for this absent mother. And as their son Ron told me, it really left a shadow on her spirit that left her anxious and weary and always convinced that there was a trap door around the next corner, and, you know, that was actually confirmed for her, in some ways, two months into her husband’s presidency when she almost loses him to an assassin’s bullet. bigfoot hawaiian shirt

He comes much closer to death than the country knew, than the White House wanted the country to know at the time, but it seems to confirm all of her fears of abandonment and again that just life is just one–you know, one trap door after another. MR. DUFFY: There’s a wonderful scene in the book that you recount where Nancy, now around 15 or 16, arranges to have herself adopted by her stepfather. It was more her idea than his. Well, that’s not quite right. Explain the story. MS. TUMULTY: Sure. So, what happens is Edith Luckett Davis, after leaving Nancy with relatives for six years, she meets, on a ship to Europe, a doctor, Loyal Davis. He is a neurosurgeon. Mind you, neurosurgery in the 1920s, I mean, he was a real medical pioneer. But the two of them get married. Nancy joins them in Chicago, and again, you’re right. Her childhood at least on the outside looks gilded. The Great Depression is going on. They’re successful and really sort of insulated from that. But even as she meets and adores the man who would become the second most important man in her life, Loyal Davis was a sort of stern, obdurate, forbidding figure, and she is for the next–it’s interesting. I had trouble pinning down the precise date of the adoption, but for the next six to eight years, she is an outsider in her own house because he doesn’t adopt her, because he doesn’t give her his name. She really is just trying to find this identity as she begins in the book. She always wanted to belong to someone and have bigfoot hawaiian shirt someone to belong to me. And so, at the age of 14 or thereabouts, she seeks out a neighbor who is a lawyer, and she says, “How do you go about getting adopted?” And she arranges to meet her biological father in New York, presents him with papers, relinquishing his rights to her, and then goes back and sends Loyal Davis a telegram that just says, “Hi, Dad.” And he later writes that he adored this child. He wanted to adopt her, but it was his sense of proprietary that as long as she had a biological father who was alive, a biological grandmother, that he wasn’t going to make the move. It was a really sort of difficult situation, but I think it speaks to the kind of determination we would see in her in so many other situations for the rest of her life. MR. DUFFY: This wasn’t just any household either. One of the things you write in the book–and I just want to read it for a minute–it says, “Boldfaced names were a regular sight in the Davis apartments. It was not uncommon to come home and find Mary Martin in the living room, Spencer Tracy reading the newspaper, or Lillian Gish curled up on the sofa.” This was Edith’s–many of these were Edith’s friends from her days on the stage, and I think it created in Nancy an interest and some connections in the world of drama and the theater. MS. TUMULTY: It’s really interesting too because, yes, Edith Luckett Davis was modestly successful as an actress, where she was unparalleled was as a networker, and yes, she maintained all of these friends from the theater. One secret, Spencer Tracy then perhaps, you know, the most beloved, bankable star in America has a secret, which is that he’s a violent alcoholic, and when he needs to go somewhere to dry out, it is often Loyal Davis, Nancy’s father, that he turns to, who finds him a private floor on a Chicago hospital where he’s far away from the prying gossip columnists. This would become very important when it comes time to arrange Nancy’s screen test at MGM. But it was interesting because even as her interest in acting is awakening, she’s being discouraged from doing it by–Katharine Hepburn sends her a letter saying, “You know, most people don’t make it in this business,” or Walter Huston, the Academy Award-winning actor from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,”

they’re vacationing, and they put on a little play. And Walter Huston says to Nancy’s mother, “She’s got a little talent, but I would really discourage this.” MR. DUFFY: And yet Nancy is undeterred, goes out West to Hollywood, and gets that screen test with Tracy’s help and begins to make her way as an actress. You could read a lot of cursory Reagan and Nancy and Ron–Ronald Reagan, but obviously, they never–I think they just moved out West and made it. She had tremendous help, and then she begins, almost from the moment she arrives, to try to catch the eye of the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan. MS. TUMULTY: That’s right. That’s right. And mind you, she is an attractive woman, but, I mean, she’s out there on the MGM lot at the same time people like Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner are there. So, she’s not exactly setting box offices on fire, but she does notice that the newly single president of the Screen Actors Guild is somebody she would like to meet. And interestingly enough, this is not a moment where anyone could have predicted what lay ahead for Ronald Reagan. He is at a low point in his life. His first marriage to Jane Wyman, she’s walked out on him. She essentially got bored with him. His career is really scraping bottom, coming to an end. When he shows up for their supposedly blind date on her doorstep outside her apartment, he is literally a broken man. He is standing there on two canes because, in a charity baseball game, he has broken his thigh bone in six places. And his heart, he would later write, was in a deep freeze. He would later say, “If Nancy Davis hadn’t come along when she did, I would have lost my soul.” MR. DUFFY: Now, we have a picture of her in one of her films, “The Next Voice You Hear,” in which she costars with James Whitmore, but who is looking very young there. Now, this was at the moment, about the moment she’s meeting–her romance with Reagan is heating up, but there are lots of men in the picture. And Reagan is not as easy a catch as some of his–well, it’s never as easy as it looks, but this was a romance that took a while to take hold. MS. TUMULTY: That’s right. And at one point, Reagan’s mother, Nelle Reagan, meets Nancy, liked her much better than she ever liked Jane Wyman, and says to her, “I can see you’re in love with him, but he’s not in love with you. You are just going to have to wait. You will know when he loves you.” But that photo that you have there is interesting because in this movie, “The Next Voice You Hear,” Nancy Davis is shown as a visibly pregnant woman. That was actually considered quite risqué at the time, and every single outfit, every single camera angle in that movie of her had to go through the motion picture sensors just to make sure that people wouldn’t get too scandalized by seeing a pregnant woman on the screen. MR. DUFFY: Or a woman playing a pregnant woman. She was not pregnant at the time. MS. TUMULTY: Right. Exactly. Ronald Reagan sees her in that movie. They go to the big Los Angeles opening. He’s her date, and he turns to her and he says, “You know, I think you should unpack your bags. You’re going to be in Hollywood for a while,” but he says, “You know, I’d lose that wardrobe. I’d take it to the laundry and lose the ticket.” MR. DUFFY: That’s a great quote, “lose the ticket.” Over the next five or six years, obviously, they get married. It’s an interesting wedding. They don’t invite a whole lot of family. They begin to have kids. By the end of the ’50s, early part of the ’60s, neither of them is making movies. Reagan has begun his circuit for General Electric, meeting people around the country, giving speeches, and as he begins to seriously consider running for office for the first time–I’m moving ahead to the 1960s, this for governor of California–his political consultants, led by Stu Spencer, realize that they have in the candidate’s wife, something of a sleeper. Talk to us a little bit about her political instincts as they begin that part of their life. MS. TUMULTY: Well, this is certainly a path that she could never have envisioned their lives would take them, but as she would say, you know,

“If Ronnie had a shoe store, I’d be out there selling shoes.” But she really doesn’t understand politics very well. All she knows is that she needs to keep an eye on everyone around him. At first, Stu Spencer and some of the other political advisors–first of all, back in those days, a politician’s spouse was almost always a woman, and the male handlers around him thought her job was to just look good and show up and say whatever she was told to say. But Nancy is constantly giving them advice. The advice is not always welcome. She has a very difficult eight years in Sacramento as she’s kind of learning the new world in which they find themselves. But you really do begin to see her get a lot shrewder, a lot more sophisticated about how to use her power, how to make her will known, how to do it, quite frankly, without leaving fingerprints. MR. DUFFY: You write in the years in Sacramento, she begins to take on an almost semi-official role as a kind of staff enforcer. As a lot of political spouses we have seen, they tend to be a little shrewder and more skeptical about the people around their partner than sometimes the principal, him- or herself. MS. TUMULTY: And, in fact, it was not welcome. She makes a great ally during those years, Michael Deaver, who would later be deputy chief of what–staff in the White House, but when they assign Michael Deaver to deal with her, just to keep her out of the hair of Ed Meese, the chief of staff, this is dubbed–his portfolio is dubbed “The Mommy Watch.”





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