Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Reagan Family



Rainbow loves Rawhide

The Mail On Sunday 30th June 1985

A true story of first-family passion, intrigue and insults.

More powerful than the Carringtons, bitchier than the Ewings, the Reagon clan are America’s real-life soap opera. On the eve of Independence Day, Douglas Thompson unravels the tangled web of America’s first family and introduces us to the cast of White House.

Outside a small acting academy on Holly wood’s Sunset Boulevard, two secret service agents are sitting in a car doing crosswords. Inside the academy, President Reagan's balding son, Michael is taking his first acting class.

Coach Rich Walters has high hopes. For the he provided Michael with a 'co-star', former Playboy centrefold Barbi Benton.  Walters reckons Michael is a 'natural' and adds: 'He could be on HillStreet Blues,'

He forgets Michael already has a starring role in the First Family Follies, the real-life White House rival to Dynasty and Dallas. Forget the Carringtons and Ewings, meet the Reagans.

Ronald, 74, and Nancy, 65, are besotted with each other. The secret service codebook calls them Rawhide and Rainbow. At their California ranch where they plan to spend July 4, Independence Day, they have a canoe called TruLuv’.

They sell traditional values; she calls him ‘Ronnie’, he calls her ‘Mommy’. Their kids call them names. He still has the good looks he displayed in 53 films starring with everybody from Bonzo the Chimp to Angie Dickinson.

Nancy has a you can't be too rich-or-too-thin outlook on life. She has climbed from being a starlet in a swimsuit to a society superstar. Her best friend Betsy Bloomingdale's husband Alfred was involved in a sex scandal linked to the White House. She brazened it out and said what good fashion sense Betsy has.
Patti Davis Reagan, 32, and born seven months after her parents' marriage is the rebel who pro­tested too much when her father got the top job and finally got some acting work in Hollywood.

Ron Reagan Junior, 25, is the favourite son who caused anguish when he decided to be a ballet dancer but proved 'all man' when he moved in with an older woman.

Maureen Reagan. 45. is the gutsy, overweight daughter who has tried it all. Marriage, acting, :aL< shows, psychic phenomena.

Michael Reagan, 39, missed Vietnam because of an ulcer and played poker and raced speed­boats instead. He was adopted by Reagan and his first wife, Maureen's mother, Jane Wyman.

Miss Wyman stars each week as evil matriarch Angela Channing in Falcon Crest. Her former husband makes no mention of her. She doesn't vote for him.

Mr Reagan's relationship with his big-mouthed older brother Neil, 78, is also tense—Neil gets upset at having to leave the golf course to display 'family unity'.

Patti Davis protested against her father's views on nuclear weapons and planned to make a film in Moscow. She 'saw sense' and made a good American TV film appearing as the girlfriend of a male stripper. It was a bigger part than her role as a pimp's assistant in Vegas or as an Egyptian handmaiden in Fantasy Island.

But there was no pleasing her mother who found the beefcake epic 'obscene'. She also objected to her daughter's view that busting people for smoking marijuana was 'silly'. Anti­drug crusader Nancy was upset by that and Patti's tittle-tattle: 'My mother's one of those people who has everything fall in place for them. When she woke up she looked perfect. When I was little I used to think: "I bet she gets up, puts on make­up, and goes back to bed".'

She didn't want her father to run for president a second time and vocally suggested he be put out to graze on his ranch. Her father reacted: Tm just sorry that spanking is out of fashion now.'

Her love life has never pleased her parents either. She was the live-in lover of rock guitarist Bernie Leadon. More recently she went out with actor Peter Strauss but their egos clashed. She turned to a younger man and found solace with Paul Grilley, 25. His parents are 'normal' people, a carpenter and a secretary from Montana. He's an instructor at the Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills.

But a family row developed over wedding plans. Nancy wanted a White House affair. Patti didn't want a 'Charles and Diana' wedding. The Bel-Air Hotel in California was turned into an armed camp by secret service men and was the compromise wedding site. The two now live in a one-bedroom Santa Monica apartment.

Ron Reagan Junior and his wife, the former Doria Palimieri, 32, live in a Greenwich Village . He is a radio reporter and writer. But seven years ago he wanted to drop out of college and be a ballet dancer. The president sought advice from his friend Gene Kelly and agreed to underwrite his son's expenses at the Jeffrey. He also ans­wered the inevitable question: 'He's all man. We made sure of that.'

The White House image men, conscious of the president's morality and family ticket, were con­cerned about strapping, six-foot-tall Ron's heterosexuality, his 'shacking up' in Greenwich Village with Doria. Before you could whisper scandal Ron and Doria had tied the knot - but not Nancy Reagan style.

They married in a New York courthouse; the bride wore a sweater, jeans and cowboy boots; the groom was in jeans, sweatshirt and running shoe s. Nancy was in tears when she got the fashion report. Her husband had more to worry about.
Under attack Ron went on nationwide TV to defend his economic policies as unem­ployment hit 11-3 million. On the evening news on the same TV stations Ron Junior was seen on the unemployment line claiming $125 a week after being laid off by the ballet.

Big, homely Maureen Reagan, who has plenty of spunk and chins, even had conservative activist Terry Dolan demanding on TV that the president 'muzzle' his elder daughter. But Maureen's a sucker for attention.

She no longer has her Los Angeles radio talk show on which she used to encourage the use of psychics in tracing lost dogs. Today she en­courages support for the Equal Rights Amend­ment which her father opposes. She says her first two husbands, a policeman and a marine, were "jerks'. She married Dennis Revell, 31, a lowly law clerk who has trouble with bar exams. She wore off-white and he was in midnight blue for their wedding ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Her mother, the shadowy Jane Wyman, was there. Her Uncle Neil gave he: father was recovering from an attempt on his life and couldn't attend. Nancy Reagan is said to believe ‘every cloud has a silver lining'.

Maureen's third marriage was only a few days old when it was revealed that a ‘headhunting’ company had solicited a job for Dennis as 'the president's future son-in-law' just before the wedding.  He offered weak excuses. She was furious. But her anger - and the nationwide outcry - was overtaken by her desire for politics.

She wanted a US Senate seat. Her uncle Neil signed on with her chief rival and announced: 'I don't look well on kids riding on their father's coat-tails.' Maureen's feelings were hurt. She went public with the news that her uncle was always complaining that his brother's presidency interfered with his golf.

Jane Wyman remembers the second of her three husbands telling her: ‘We'll lead an ideal life if you'll avoid doing one thing. Don't think!' She's 71 now and most discreet, saying only: 'It's bad taste to talk about ex-husbands.'

Other actresses remember Reagan's Hollywood days. Dorothy Malone says: 'I liked him better then. He was an ardent Democrat.' Patricia Neal remembers their first meeting at a New Year's Eve party: 'Jane Wyman had just announced their separation and it was sad because he did not want a divorce. He cried.' Virginia Mayo remembers after the divorce: 'He had a lot of girlfriends visiting the set. Maybe to get over Jane.'

Michael Reagan says: 'Nobody wants to be reminded of his first wife.' Certainly not him. His first, ten-month marriage was to an Atlanta dental assistant in 1971. A son was born. There was a divorce. 'She left me as soon as she knew she was pregnant. She said I wasn't fun any more and didn't want any part of me.'

The southern belle married again and her new husband adopted Michael Reagan’s son – just as Michael was adopted when he was only a few days old. Michael found out about that from Maureen when they were kids and remembers: ‘Maureen always wanted a brother – but an older brother like her friends had. She’s never forgiven me for not being an older brother.’

Michael met his second wife, Colleen, on a blind date. He told her his father was governor of California. She went to a library but found no reference to Michael. The chip on his shoulder got heavier. While trying to support his family Michael was involved in a get-rich-quick scheme. The district attorney in Los Angeles investigated but charges against him for misappropriating funds was dropped. Then he solicited aerospace contracts by dropping his father's name. Reagan dropped the heavy word on his son.

Later, Michael publicly complained that his father (and Nancy) had not seen his first grand­daughter, Ashley Marie. Comments were made about Ronald and Nancy being big supporters of America's foster grandchild programmes.
A sad-looking Nancy took the moment to announce Michael and the president were 'estranged ... we are sorry about it. We hope someday it will be solved.'

Michael than began filling the media's tape recorders and notebooks: 'We have the only two grandchildren of the president. I have noticed Nancy has not been warm to us. I think it's not an estrangement as much as a jealousy Nancy might have toward me and my family -you know, being the son of another marriage.'

But by the beginning of this year and the inauguration, Nancy, who wore $30,000 worth of gowns for the inaugural events, said with her certain smile: 'Everybody loves each other.' However, Michael was wearing a T-shirt proclaiming, 'I'm not the dancer'. He suggested Nancy's bump on the head when she fell out of bed had caused the trouble.

Ron Junior said: 'Our family is somewhat unusual, involving people with different per­sonalities.' Maureen accused Michael of waging a Mafia-style vendetta. Michael made nasty remarks about Maureen's three marriages.

And the critics outside President Reagan's family were complaining about him sleeping on the job. That provoked Nancy to announce: 'He never takes a nap.'

Exasperated, she went on: 'Maybe once and for all this will stop the stories that keep saying what is poor Ronald Reagan going to do now? Poor Ronald Reagan is going to do exactly what poor Ronald Reagan has been doing and that’s run the government.’

Yeah, but what about the family?

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