Taking notes

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Blooming azaleas at Cherry Hill in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Thursday, May 13, 2021.  Bright and sunny day yesterday warmed things up some, with temps in the high 60s.

A reader inquired about yesterday’s Diary in which I made a comparison of Caitlyn Jenner with Ronald Reagan in referring to Jenner’s bid for a governorship in  California. I’d watched a vid of his interview with Hannity and was surprised by Jenner’s “certainty of purpose” in seeking the elected post. That’s partly because I’ve never thought of his public image as political.

While watching I was reminded of a moment in my life about Ronald Reagan, whom I never knew, or even met, except to see him in the movies when I was a kid, and on television and one brief “social” moment. He had a natural ease with his convictions about the product and as a leading man, he was “good” man.

Taking notes, perhaps? Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

The scene. In December 1979, then living in Los Angeles, I was invited last minute to a dinner dance given every year upstairs at the Bistro by Lorena Nidorf, the widow of Louis B. Mayer, who had a senior stature among the social life of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry moguls. She was glamorous and gracious. This particular evening was her annual pay-back party held at holiday time. Black tie. A male guest had dropped out two days before and Lorena needed to fill that seat. I was a friend of a friend of hers, and thus the last minute invite.

Louis B. Mayer and Lorena Danker shortly after their marriage in 1948.

The Bistro back in those days was the hottest restaurant in Beverly Hills and a haven for the stars and the film executives, not to mention the bankers and billionaires and their ambitious and talented wives. The restaurant’s second floor was where people entertained at private parties. 

As guests arrived for the cocktail hour, Lorena stood at the entrance to greet. When I introduced myself, she was very welcoming and thanked me for accepting her invitation. I always like Lorena after that.

After our meeting I moved on to the bar for a drink to occupy myself.  I knew no one. Many of the guests were famous movie stars and I “knew” all of them from their movies, but they had no idea who I was. So there was nothing to do but wait till we sat for dinner; then I’d have a dinner partner or two to have some kind of conversation with.

At that moment, I noticed that across the room from our hostess, a white-haired woman, tall and with stature wearing a soft, multi-colored chiffon gown, holding a kind of court, with guests lined up to say hello. Noticeably older than the crowd, I recognized her: Dorothy Chandler, the widow of the owner of the Los Angeles Times and mother of Otis Chandler, then the current Publisher of the Times. Over time I came to learn that Mrs. Chandler was a powerful member of the community and had the stature that demanded respect. I decided to move myself with my drink to a spot behind her where guests were gathering.

With my back to Mrs. Chandler, I stood on the edge of a crowd. She was not aware of my presence, not more than five feet from the lady, because she occupied by meeting and greeting. For me it was a way to possibly catch a phrase or two from the great lady and her “guests.” Shortly thereafter, Nancy and Ronald Reagan were standing there humbly/graciously greeting her.

Dorothy Chandler with Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the late ’60s. Courtesy of The Music Center Archives/Otto Rothschild Collection.

They were very familiar off-camera although “smaller” than the image on the screen. An older version of themselves, no longer a movie star. She was very thin, and almost delicate in appearance, although still her attractive self. He had some color and his cheeks were rosier, and his hair was the color it might have been at 41 but not 61. I realize that seems overly critical, and it is, except when you’re observing a movie star off-screen, the image of which on screen is very powerful, it’s like judging the art. Both Mr. and Mrs. Reagan were showing their age but also their professional stature. Not bad. 

Their presence was particularly interesting to me because in the L.A Times that same day was a very small article on an inside page, stating that the former Governor Reagan was planning on throwing his hat into the 1980 Presidential Race. (Just ten days before the New Year!)

Ronald Reagan’s Presidential campaign announcement.

In my mind, I was now eavesdropping on an exchange with a Presidential candidate. And that impressed me; thinking this was as close as I’d ever get to any Presidential candidate.

Also, it so happened that same day in the LA Times, there was an editorial deploring the fact that President Jimmy Carter would not allow the deposed Shah of Iran entrance into the country because of the Iranian Hostage of US government officials who were being held at ransom. The Times ‘ editorial criticized the President on humanitarian grounds (the Shah was suffering from Cancer which finally killed him).

At the time, my unimportant opinion of the matter was in defense of President Carter trying to achieve a safe release of the hostages. Mr. Reagan’s opinion, however seemed superficial and inadequate to these ears. I was a Carter fan. I was also amazed that Ronald Reagan seemed inadequate for the role of President. That was my snap judgment at the time. I recall writing friends here in New York reporting what I’d heard from the new Presidential candidate. I was certain he’d never be elected President, he wasn’t even Presidential. Too much makeup. 

The official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

Of course, within a year or 18 months, I learned that I was wrong. Not only did he win, but he became almost a folk favorite. He also conducted himself seamlessly even when it seemed dubious to this listener. Over the years that I lived out there, I came to know more about the man and his career and other sides of him that were never publicly apparent. 

I was never a fan, from a political point of view, but I could only admire and respect his great ability to conduct himself in the Role of a lifetime for any man (or woman). He carried out an image of empathy for others’ needs, even if he couldn’t or wouldn’t provide it. There were other sides to him, as it is with all of us, that were not so empathic, but he was a driven and ambitious American boy who grew up to make the most of it. That “certainty of purpose” was always activated.

All this came back to me watching Caitlyn Jenner talk about running for office because when I first heard about it, in my imagination, I wasn’t aware of the woman’s “certainty of purpose.” I could see she has it too. In her case it’s the results and the resolve of her athletic career. And it’s California.

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