Daily Archives: June 6, 2004

Bonzo Buys the Farm

It’s 7:31 AM Pacific Time in Los Angeles California, and the passing of Ronald Reagan, yesterday afternoon about 1 PM, now has the “Mainstream” media moving into high gear. There’s a lot of nothing to say about the man. And more important, there are plenty of pictures.

Born in Tampico Illinois in 1911, Ronald Reagan first made his mark as a sports announcer. In point of fact it’s a career he never really left.

“To a nation hungry for a hero, a nation battered by Vietnam, damaged by Watergate and humiliated by the taking of hostages in Iran, Ronald Reagan held out the promise of a return to greatness, the promise that America would “stand tall” again”

–claims the NYT obit. There’s no denying that he did, in PR terms. And in America PR is all that matters. Who better for the job than the voice of the Chicago Cubs? He could read the propaganda screeds provided for him with complete conviction. He didn’t have to understand a word. Aura was all that mattered. No wonder he imagined what his stint with the USAF making training films during the war was equivalent to combat. No wonder he laid a wreath on Nazi graves at the Bitburg cemetery in hommage to one of the most striking shots in Triumph of the Will with such panache.

It was all Hollywood.

Signed in 1937 by Warner Bros. Ronald Reagan was not, as Gore Vidal has pointed out on several occasions, a “B actor,” Girls on Probation aside. He appeared in many “A” features other than King’s Row, and came to be regarded as a valuable utility player who never quite made it to the very top ranks. Obviously the fact that 1951 found him starring opposite a chimp in Bedtime for Bonzo has been much remarked upon. But his co-star was the lovely Diana Lynn and the director the fabulous Freddie DeCordova.

Besides, who are we to look askance at Bonzo when we’ve got a chimp in the White House?

Clearly Reagan’s most curious, and oddly convincing, performance was as a gay lounge lizard in Dark Victory , the Bette Davis classic directed by the estimable Edmund Goulding

That film’s title was purloined by muckraker Dan E. Moldea for his Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, McA, and the Mob the best study of how with the help of Lew Wasserman, Reagan parlayed a fading acting career into blooming one as a television “host” and corporate mouthpiece, inevitably leading to Republican politics. Kitty Kelly’s marvelous study of his Hellcats of the Navy co-star Nancy neatly fills in the rest of the story.

Reagan’s last, and greatest performance in Don Siegel’s 1964 remake of The Killers, was largely done as a favor to most important business partner, Wasserman. As a mob boss who memorably smacks Angie Dickinson upside the head, he was perfectly cast. Made for television, the film was considered too violent for “prime time” broadcast, and released theatrically instead. But who better to play a cheap thug than the cheap thug whose “Freedom Fighters” (ie. “Death Squad” goons) left a mountain of corpses in Central America.

And then there’s AIDS, and the rain of Death it created–to which Reagan was completely indifferent.

It was clear from the second year of his first term as president that Ronald Reagan was out to lunch. Everyone in the media, inside the Beltway and out, knew it — and covered for him. In some ways the attempted assassination by John Hinckley, the son of a major donor to the Republican party who hoped to impress actress Jodie Foster was greeted with a sense of relief. No reason to make excuses anymore. And so he coasted along and out of the White House into retirement and the full onset of Alzheimer’s.

But before all ambulatory activity became impossible, Reagan continued to maintain a schedule that brought him nearly every day to his office at the Century Plaza hotel–home to many a Republican “fund-raiser.”

And you can always tell when the RNC is in town because the Central American hookers and their pimps line up in the parking lot just outside the building.

The Century Plaza and 20th Century Fox share garage space. One day Fox lawyer Bob Cohen found himself arriving a bit late in the morning. Pulling into his space he suddenly saw a limo rushing in, followed by other cars. There were Secret Service agents around it, meaning only one thing–Ronnie was there.

He was alone as he stepped out of the limo, and raising one hand he waved to the crowd he must have spied in his decaying mind.

And that’s how I’d like to remember him.