Sheilah Graham, Confessions of a Hollywood Columnist
“[Nancy Reagan] was bitter about Ronnie not getting good picture offers during their marriage. ‘Marlon Brando gets everything,’ she complained, implying that Ronnie’s rightist politics was the reason.”
Sheilah Graham, Confessions of a Hollywood Columnist
A White House State Dinner is one of those rare occasions in which style and substance are in perfect accord. It is a noble and civilized occasion. Attendees seem if not invincible, at least protected from the more barbaric vicissitudes of life. Yet, consider the fate of King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya of Nepal, whom President Ronald Reagan toasted at a State Dinner in their honor in December of 1983. Less than twenty years later, in 2001, they were massacred, along with most of their immediate family by their crazed, machine gun-wielding son, Crown Prince Dipendra (a.k.a. "Dippy" to his former Eton classmates).
As detailed in Love & Death in Kathmandu, A Strange Tale of Royal Murder, Crown Prince Dipendra's deadly rampage occurred during a family dinner at the royal palace a few months prior to 9/11. Having met the royal couple, Nancy Reagan must have been horrified by the news, and, given her interest in astrology, also fascinated. Astrology and mysticism had long been important in Nepal, and though the royal astrologer had to exercise caution when forecasting for a king who was considered a living deity, there were signs that Crown Prince Dipendra would never accede the throne.
According to Nepali oral history, a holy man named Goraknath lived twenty generations ago, when Nepal was a patchwork of independent kingdoms. Goraknath prophesied to King Birendra's distant ancestor, King Ram, that his family, the Shah, would, in ten generations' time, rule a unified Nepal, but only for the next eleven generations. Ten generations later, the first prophecy came to pass. The Shah family did rule a united Nepal. But, what of the second prophesy? King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya were that fateful eleventh generation. Superstition suggested that the clock was ticking, and consequently, they were wary of their son and successor, Dipendra, and, at times, distant. However, their normally cool relations became heated when they refused Dipendra's choice of royal bride. Dipendra became enraged, murdering not only his parents but also his siblings, in-laws, and other close relations.
King Birendra was the doomed eleventh generation. It is true that a mortally wounded Dipendra technically succeeded his father for several days, becoming the twelfth generation, but he never regained consciousness. For all intents and purposes, his generation, the twelfth, was done. The monarchy limped along under Gyanendra, Birendra's brother, but in 2008, Nepal abolished its monarchy altogether. As Goraknath predicted centuries earlier, the Shah dynasty lasted for eleven generations.
Moreover, when Gyandendra (Birendra's brother) was a baby, a palm reader foretold that he would twice be king. Given that he was a younger son, the family considered it unlikely that he would rule even once, let alone twice. And yet, that is what came to pass. The first time was in 1950, when as a three-year-old, he was involuntarily crowned during an unsuccessful coup attempt. The second was, of course, after the tragic murder of his older brother, Birendra.
It is correct that Americans do not always understand the ways and customs of the British, but the opposite is occasionally true. Consider the negative description of Katharine Graham in The House of Mitford, written by Diana (Mitford) Mosley's son and granddaughter, Jonathan and Catherine Guinness. They erroneously label Graham as a member of the far left, writing that her newspaper, the Washington Post, "played a vital part in preparing the American public for the abandonment of Indochina to Communism as well as exploiting the Watergate burglary to hound President Nixon out of office.”
As most Americans have long been aware, Graham was hardly a revolutionary. She was mainstream, albeit swimming nearer to the left bank than the right. It is true when she published the Pentagon Papers, she played a pivotal role in alerting the American public what the military command had long known: the Vietnam War was un-winnable. However, it speaks volumes that in deciding to publish, she went against one of her closest friends, Robert S. McNamara. He, as Secretary of Defense, was the very person directing American military involvement in Vietnam. Yet, he forgave her and, several decades hence, was a pallbearer at her funeral. The truth was that she socialized with and was held in high regard by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
A case in point was Graham's warm relationship with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Their friendship began long before the Reagans moved to Washington, D.C. It originated when he was governor of California when a friend of Graham's visited Mrs. Reagan in Sacramento and realized she and Graham would get along quite well. Who was that friend?
The answer is after the JUMP.
The are many Easter eggs hidden in Bill Blass’s posthumously published memoir Bare Blass. One of the best concerns his friend Jerry Zipkin, the New York socialite who strolled into history as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s gay best friend and Nouvelle Society’s favorite walker. Zipkin was a polarizing figure, as beloved by some as he was despised by others. Bill Blass was in the first camp. He liked Jerry Zipkin very much.
One day, Bill Blass asked a recently hired assistant to get Zipkin on the line. She leafed through Bill’s private address book, filled with the top-secret telephone numbers of the rich and the fashionable. There were two listings for Jerry Zipkin. The first was busy, so she tried the second. Zipkin answered and upon realizing an assistant for Bill Blass was on the other end, he hissed, “This is the private line for Nancy Reagan!”
Even among his friends, Jerry Zipkin was known for his imperiousness. Once, Mortimer’s committed a social faux pas by playing “God Save the Queen” during Princess Margaret’s visit to the restaurant. The Princess was miffed. The society columnist Taki, with whom she was dining, quipped, “It is not for you ma’am. It’s for Jerry Zipkin.” [via the Financial Times]
Image Credit: Ronnie & Nancy, Their Path to the White House
“Photographs afford us glimpses into other times, other people, other lives. And, if we look very closely, we might find parts of ourselves there as well.”
Patti Davis, The President & Mrs. Reagan, An American Love Story
Image Credit: The President & Mrs. Reagan, An American Love Story
In her memoirs, a former first lady commented upon how well both she and her husband’s personalities fit into the personality traits of those born under their signs of the Zodiac.
As to the former president’s, show wrote:
I’ve always known that I am a classic Cancer, but it wasn’t until … a friend sent me an article describing the Aquarian personality, that I realized how close that description fit [my husband]. ‘He has no affectation or snobbery,’ the article said, ‘and he hates all forms of hypocrisy.’ And ‘Aquarians are capable of love, but their version is somewhat impersonal. Much of their energy is likely to go into public life.’ If Aquarians have a fault, it’s that they are ‘too tranquil, too gentle and kindly in disposition.’ They are ‘incapable of petty tyranny.’ Their attitude toward the world is ‘kindly and humane.’ The article even mentioned that Aquarian men are often slow to get married!
Her own sign matched as well:
I was born on July 6, which makes me a Cancer. It is often said that people born under the sign of Cancer are above all homemakers and nesters, which is exactly how I would define myself. Cancers also tend to be intuitive, vulnerable, sensitive, and fearful of ridicule—all of which, like it or not, I am. The Cancer symbol is the crab shell: Cancers often present a hard exterior to the world, which hides their vulnerability. When they’re hurt, Cancers respond by withdrawing into themselves. That’s me, all right.
Who is this presidential couple?
HINT: Given the flack she had taken for her interest in astrology, it is remarkable that she chose to broach the subject in her memoirs at all.
The answer is after the JUMP.
“Is it possible to get to the top of the greasy pole without intrigue, or guile? It almost seems as if in this case the answer may be yes.”
Lady Diana Mosley on Ronald Reagan, via The Pursuit of Laughter
Ronald Reagan joked of the Republican Party, “Sometimes our right hand doesn't know what our far right hand is doing.” However, that is not entirely true. Someone in his camp—someone quite close to him, in fact—made it her business to know such things. That person was his wife Nancy. If indeed the President did ascend a greasy pole unsullied, it is obvious on whose shoulders he stood to get there.
Her husband’s legacy was always Nancy Reagan’s top priority. It surpassed any concern she had for her own approval rating. As Thomas Mallon’s fascinating (and worthwhile) novel Finale proposes, Nancy Reagan worked tirelessly behind the scenes against the hardliners in her husband’s administration. She wanted peace to be his legacy. In Finale, and perhaps in real life, it is Nancy Reagan who tipped the scales in favor of a pact with the Soviet Union.
Consider her maneuver at the 1987 state dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. Mrs. Regan paid careful attention to the political implications of the seating chart. According to then-White House Social Secretary Gahl Hodges Burt, Mrs. Reagan purposefully sat United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick to Reagan’s right. The reactionary Kirkpatrick was a staunch foe of detente. To the Soviets, her presence at President Reagan’s side was “a visible sign of the country’s unity” in favor of the treaty. [via Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan]
Though not apparent at the time, the treaty and state dinner ushered in an era of relative tranquility in a turbulent world. Even though its significance is best appreciated in retrospect, the state dinner was nevertheless a hot ticket in Washington. It was one of those evenings in which luminaries actively campaigned for invitations and made excuses to leave town if not included. The event was easily the most talked-about event since the 1985 dinner for the Prince and Princess of Wales (and of greater significance to history).
Image Credit: Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan
Even though Americans and Brits speak a variation of the same language, it is common for the United States and the United Kingdom to publish separate editions of the same title. When a book travels across the Atlantic, the editors typically do more than simply remove or add a "U" to words like "candor" and "flavor." Nearly always, there is a different concept for the dust jacket. One reason is because the jacket is a means of advertising, and American and British audiences have divergent interests and sensibilities.
In the case of autobiography, it is also a question of public image. Consider the case of My Turn, The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan. In the American edition, the former first lady appears sans jewelry, wearing an all-American red-checkered blouse, as if she were en route to a church picnic or Walmart. In the English edition, she was able to dress more elegantly, as if she were preparing to meet Lily Safra for luncheon at the Savoy.
One imagines the English version was more to her liking. It is easy, however, to see the logic behind the dressed-down look for the American edition. She spent the previous eight years battling accusations that she was overly obsessed with clothes (see: Nancy Reagan, A First Lady's Style).
The English. We like posh Nancy!
Photo credit: Double Exposure, Take Three.
“I don’t know who decided that the presidential primaries should begin in New Hampshire in the winter, but he certainly was not from California.”
“I never understood why anybody would want to be an artist when they could be a window dresser."
Wit and irony take a holiday during the Holidays, even in New York. However, beyond the Rockettes ... beyond the inflatable cartoon characters of the Macy's Parade ... beyond the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree ... lurk the droll, often sarcastic, Barney's Christmas windows. Many from the 1980s and 1990s, the work of Barney's Creative Director Simon Doonan, are depicted in his excellent illustrated memoir, Confessions of a Window Dresser.