Is it fiction, satire, reality, or some weird mix of all three? You be the judge. In any case, Paul Krassner’s highly awkward (imaginary?) dialogue with the late First Lady was published in the July, 1991 issue of High Times. To commemorate the anniversary of Mrs. Reagan’s death on March 6, 2016, we’re republishing the weirdness below.
The first time I interviewed Nancy Reagan was in 1983, for an article titled “Reefer Madness II” in the Los Angeles Times. She had just appeared on Diff’rent Strokes in her role as a one-person drug-rehabilitation traveling encounter group.
The script—with the aid of White House input and approval—called for her to go to Gary Coleman’s class and, when a student said he heard that “pot won’t hurt you,” she responded with the case of a 14-year-old boy who was “burned out” from smoking pot all the time, and when he finally ran out of it, he told his younger sister to go steal some money so he could buy more pot, and when she refused, “he brutally beat her.”
In Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan, however, there is a scene where she and her then-governor husband smoked marijuana at a dinner party. We began this interview on that note of discrepancy.
Q: Do you think that your famous “Just Say No” campaign has taken on a certain air of hypocrisy in retrospect?
A: I wouldn’t call it hypocrisy. I would say political necessity. You know, when George Bush was running against Ronnie in the 1980 primaries, he was for the ERA and for abortion. But when he became Ronnie’s running mate, he was against the ERA and against abortion. That was simply a political necessity.
It’s funny, when that book first came out—I was so upset and Ronnie kept trying to cheer me up—he told me I should complain that I originally got quoted out of context, that what I actually said was, “If anybody tries to sell you an ounce of marijuana for $500, that’s way too expensive, so just say no.”
Q: So I guess, then, that you would also call it a “political necessity” for you to have been publicly against abortion and yet when it came to your daughter Patti—
A: Well, yes, of course, that was too close to home. She was unmarried— and the guy was such a creep—there was really no choice.
Q: Except to be pro choice?
A: Exactly. But I’ll tell you, what hurt me more than almost anything else in that book was where some nameless director reveals that Patti confided in him that she once had a hysterectomy “in order to kill the gene pool.” What an incredible insult to her father! Maybe I’m the one who should’ve had an abortion—when I was pregnant with Patti.
You know, I saw on Sixty Minutes, they had a segment about the offspring of Nazi war criminals, and the son of Martin Bormann was one of them, and he said the same thing—that he wouldn’t have any children because he didn’t want to continue his father’s seed. I mean, how dare she say a thing like that!
Q: Are you referring to Patti or Kitty Kelley?
A: Both, I suppose. I call her Kitty Litter, by the way. I am still so furious. The whole world has become a tabloid. What was it that Jimmy Durante always said?
Q: “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash?”
A: No, no. “Everybody wants to get into the act.” I became a total media object. Did you catch, what’s-his-name, Terry Sweeney? Remember, he used to play me on Saturday Night Live? Well, on one of the local news shows, they put him in his wig and his red dress again, and they had him inside a bookstore, frantically gathering up a whole bunch of copies. That was cute, I must admit.
But Simon & Schuster even leaked an advance copy of the book to Doonesbury and he was quoting from it in his comic strip. I mean, how cynical can you get? And that editorial cartoon in the Times, with Ronnie holding the phone and saying, “If it’s Frank Sinatra, just say no!”
Q: Sinatra hasn’t actually denied that you had an affair with him, as the book implies so strongly—he merely said that the book was degrading to you.
A: And inaccurate.
Q: How? What does she write that’s inaccurate, specifically?
A: No, I’m not talking about the book, the cartoon is inaccurate, because Ronnie approved of my relationship with Frank. It took a lot of pressure off him. And Ronnie and Frank were friends— unlike the Kennedy brothers, who dropped Frank because of his so-called mob connections. I’ve met those connections—they’re Ronnie’s friends too. No, but the book is accurate, even though she only presents circumstantial evidence. Ah, if she only knew.
Q: If she only knew what?
A: If she only knew what we used to do. Frank would [laughing] handcuff me to the bed that Abraham Lincoln slept in, and I would say, “Oh, please, Master, I’m your slave, I’m your slave, oh, please free me”—and he would say—“Never, you WASP bitch!” At the same time he’s on the stereo—[sings] “I did it my way….” And if Kitty Litter only knew who else. She didn’t do enough research, that’s her trouble. If I have piano legs, then she’s the whole piano.
Q: Can you tell me who else you slept with?
A: Of course not. That would put me in real danger.
Q: What kind of danger?
A: Remember Martha Mitchell right after the Watergate break-in? Five men threw her on the bed and injected her with something-or-other. They treated her like a political prisoner to keep her quiet—they pulled her phone right off the wall—I don’t want anything like that to happen to me.
Q: But don’t you think it could protect you if this is published before something happens to you—maybe even help prevent it—instead of waiting until it’s too late?
A: All right. Okay, I’ll tell you who it was. Do you remember a couple of years ago, that time I accompanied Chief Gates on a drug raid in the ghetto? There was loads of publicity on that one.
Q: You made it with Daryl Gates?
A: Nothing romantic, the way it was with Frank. Chief Gates did have a sweet side—I mean it was thoughtful of him to give me that police department jacket with my name embroidered—but the sex was more like a power thing. I think maybe we both got turned on by the raid, and by the media coverage. After we got our sound bites in, I left with Chief Gates in his Cadillac. He took me home and I smoked pot for the second time in my life. The Chiefs stuff was a lot stronger than Alfred’s, though. He said it was from the evidence locker.
The next time I saw him, he said he had “a problem maybe I could help him with.” And he started going into detail about an incident that had happened back in 1967, when Ronnie and I were living in Sacramento.
Ronnie was governor at the time, and a couple of his aides had been involved in a scandal. He finally fired them both, and we thought that nobody would find out, but later on Drew Pearson wrote in his column that “a homosexual ring had been operating out of Governor Reagan’s office” for six months with his full knowledge. That’s when I first learned the meaning of “political necessity.” Ronnie and I had gay friends—we could make fun of them right to their faces—but for the public we had to adopt a militantly antigay stance.
I asked Chief Gates why he was bringing that old scandal up now, and he said, “Have you ever read those stories in the newspaper about a raid on a house of prostitution—there’s usually a mention of how vice squad officers seized the hookers’ address books and videotapes—and then it’s all forgotten about, by everybody except the police?” He didn’t actually use the word “blackmail,” but that’s what I inferred from his demeanor. And, you know, after that recent videotaped beating of Rodney King, when the city council didn’t call for Chief Gates’ resignation, I wondered what does he have on them?
Anyway, the Chief continued to refresh my memory, as he put it, about how, in the wake of that homosexual public-relations nightmare, I turned to Alfred Bloomingdale as a sort of daily adviser. He was my best friend Betsy’s husband. I consulted him every single day—much, much more often than I was ever in contact with any astrologer or psychic, believe me. Alfred was one of those extremely wealthy men in Ronnie’s so-called Kitchen Cabinet.
He had a very kinky thing going with his mistress, Vicki Morgan. Whips and playing horsey and all that. And he was paying her $18,000 a month. When he died, Betsy cut off that money, and Vicki sued for it to continue. The mistress was suing the widow. Then the kinkiness became public knowledge and, as George Bush would say, the doodoo hit the fan.
Q: So then, who could be blackmailed? Bloomingdale was dead.
A: Yes, but Ronnie had been to a couple of Alfred’s orgies. A few months after he died, Vicki Morgan was murdered by her roommate, who was a homosexual. He beat her to death with a baseball bat. Chief Gates told me that this guy was part of the Gay Mafia, and that it was a contract killing, [sobbing] And that my Ronnie was the one who had hired him, to prevent her from blabbing about his participation in the orgy. And now the chief wanted to blackmail me, or else he would leak those tapes to the press.
Q: How did he express that?
A: He didn’t use that word— but he implied blackmail when I asked for the tapes, and he said, “Don’t worry, little lady, they’re perfectly safe, nobody will get their hands on ’em, I can guarantee you that.” Again, he didn’t use the word “money,” but he did speak of a “financial problem” I could help him with. I told him I wasn’t in a position to give him anything.
The chief looked at me like he had ice in his blood, and he said, “What about those funds you took back from Phoenix House?” My heart jumped. “Remember,” he continued, “that $3.8 million from King Fahd and the others that swayed your husband the President to reconsider selling surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia? Sort of like a dress rehearsal for the Iran-Contra conduit, wouldn’t you think?”
He was literally walking around me in circles, like a vulture or a movie detective or something. “Remember, that $3.8 million you transferred from Phoenix House to the Nancy Reagan Drug Abuse Foundation? So now you have your own private and personal bank right here in LA, and you aren’t accountable to anyone, right?” And then he shouted: “Well you are accountable to me!” Then, in almost a whisper, he said, “I understand you’ve already accumulated nearly $5 million, and distributed less than 10%.” I was so frightened.
Q: What did you do?
A: [sarcastically] Well, I didn’t just say no. What did I do? I’ve only been giving him $10,000 every month, that’s all.
Q: That’s your choice, though. You could’ve just said, “Fuck you, Daryl!” So he leaks those tapes—so what?Ronald Reagan’s image would go down the toilet, that’s all. Worse things could happen.
A: But that’s my point. Worse things really might happen. I don’t think I’m being paranoid. Last week, I told Ronnie I wanted to stop making those payments to Chief Gates, and you should’ve seen the way he lost his temper. I’m beginning to fear for my life. You know, they can make it look like an accident or a suicide or even like an ordinary burglary. John Mitchell loved Martha but—
Q: Wait, who do you mean by “they”— Daryl Gates or your husband?
A: Either one. It doesn’t make any difference. They both work for the same people, ultimately. All the Alfred Bloomingdales of the world. I’m expendable. I mean, Kitty Litter thinks I was the co-President just because I had enough power to get a few people fired, but it wasn’t me who told Ronnie what people to appoint as federal judges. Can you understand this? More than half the federal judges in this country were appointed by my husband, and he never even had the slightest….
She stopped in mid sentence when there was a knock on the door. It was her Secret Service guard. Time to go. The thought suddenly occurred to me that this room could have been bugged and that I might not get out of there alive.
But I walked away easily, carrying my tape recorder. Apparently nobody else there had been aware of our conversation. Not until now.
I can only hope and pray that Nancy Reagan is safe in some other country by the time you read this. Saudi Arabia perhaps, or Jordan—any one of those Middle Eastern cultures where men will truly appreciate her infamous steady gaze of adoration—unless, as Calvin Trillin wrote in The Nation, that gaze sets back progress and prompts a lead editorial in their official newspaper describing it as “The best argument we in the Muslim world have seen for the reinstitution of the veil.”
Progress is, after all, a subjective kind of thing.