Nancy Reagan’s Actual Birthday

“I don’t remember the name of the hospital where I was born. It burned down years ago, but there’s no truth to the rumor that I set that fire to destroy any records that might reveal my age. When Ronnie was president, every year on July 6 there would be a story in one of the papers about how Nancy Reagan says she was born in 1923, but we all know she was really born two years earlier.
When, exactly, was I born? I still haven’t made up my mind. Besides, as Mother used to say, ‘A woman who will tell her age will tell anything.'”

My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan, Nancy Reagan with William Novak, Random House, 1989.


Bette Davis Divorced: “She Read Too Much” Says Husband

“Husband H. O. Nelson Testifies She Read Books Too Much
LOS ANGELES, Dec 6 (AP)- Harmon O. Nelson obtained an uncontested divorce today from his actress wife Bette Davis.
Home life with Mrs. Nelson contained little of that close communion between husband and wife, Mr. Nelson’s testimony in Superior Court disclosed. He said that he usually just sat while his wife read ‘to an unnecessary degree.’
‘She thought her work was more important than her marriage,’ Mr. Nelson testified. ‘She even insisted on reading books or manuscripts while he had guests. It was all very upsetting.’
The Nelsons were married in 1932 and separated a month ago.”
December 7, 1938.

Howard Hughes’ Memos to Robert Maheu

The investigative journalist James Phelan spent twenty years covering Howard Hughes. Two Hughes aides were the primary sources for Phelan’s book The Hidden Years. Published the same year as Elvis: What Happened?, it confirmed the rumours about Hughes’ agoraphobia, opiate addiction, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Like Presley, Hughes’ compulsions were facilitated by a team of men who arranged his hidden passages between hotels in Las Vegas, Managua, Acapulco, Vancouver, London, and Paradise Island in the Bahamas. 

Robert Maheu served as the CEO of the Nevada operations. He never met Hughes face-to-face, but they were in constant contact through letters and telephone calls. Phelan noted that Hughes’ complete identification with his functionary ran like a leitmotif through the handwritten memos. “The billionaire wrote entire scripts for Maheu-Hughes to play out for him in the exciting but fearsome world. ” Hughes often referred to Maheu as “I” and himself in the third person, like in this memo, which outlined his instructions for Maheu’s negotiation with a man named William Harrah over the purchase of a casino.

“Try something like this. Bill, I have to go to Los Angeles for a very important medical exam. I had postponed it to be free to come to Reno and meet with you. But if you are not ready, I will go on to L.A. and re-establish my plans.

Now look Bill, I don’t mind waiting another week at all and I am sure this is OK with Mr. Hughes. What has him upset is the fact that he is a man, like many you have met, who just cannot stand uncertainty. He has a number of other projects which depend upon this one. So, you see, his upsetment is not because of the delay, only the uncertainty.

Now, you said this afternoon, Bill, that you wanted to present this proposal at a figure that will be immediately acceptable to Howard. Well, I think that is fine, and it occurred to me that you know in a general way what Howard considers fair.  May I say to Howard before I go, that if he will just be patient for another week and quit fretting over this deal I am confident that when I return from L.A. in a week I will make one call and you will invite me to Reno.”

Howard Hughes: The Hidden Years, James Phelan, William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1977.

Bob Colacello on Las Vegas, Carter and Caviar

The great Bob Colacello began his career writing film reviews at the Village Voice, then moved to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, where he was made editor-in-chief after six months. Holy Terror, his memoir of working for Warhol, remains the best book written about the artist. In 1979 they interviewed Priscilla Presley and her boyfriend Michael Edwards (a model and actor who went on to write a squalid book about their relationship I will admit to having read as a child). As always, Colacello’s remarks were the funniest, most interesting part of the transcript:  

COLACELLO: I think Las Vegas is the most evil place in America.
PRESLEY: I gambled once and lost almost $2,000 on baccarat, which, unfortunately, is one of my favorite games. I just love the feeling of playing but I hate losing. I feel so stupid.
COLACELLO: Everyone in Las Vegas looks so poor. All the gamblers’ wives stand behind them, thinking about another mortgage on the house.

COLACELLO: It’s amazing how everyone is getting interested in politics these days.
PRESLEY: I think it’s because there are so many young, new politicians.
COLACELLO: I think it’s because the country’s falling apart.

PRESLEY: Can you believe the difference between Carter’s image when he first took office and now?
COLACELLO: He’s gotten thinner—among other things. Do you think he has a chance?
PRESLEY: One thing about the American people is that we have a tendency to forget things so quickly. We always seem to be rooting for the underdogs.
COLACELLO: I don’t think always.

COLACELLO: People are so fond of asking, “When was the first time you had sex?” Maybe what they should be asking is, “When did you have your first caviar?”

Photo by Becca923 from San Francisco, USA – Andy Warhol Museum. Pittsburgh, PA, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Vance Packard Dissects Liberace’s Fans

Vance Packard’s 1957 monster bestseller The Hidden Persuaders introduced Americans to the Freudian implications behind lipstick and cigarette advertisements. He described how promoters used Oedipus symbolism to sell the pianist Liberace, preying upon the supposed desire of older women to mother someone adorable– a role enjoyed today by the cherubic-faced SoundCloud rapper Lil Pump, who melts aging hearts as he shouts, ‘And your baby momma laying next to me!” with childlike glee. 

Selling love objects. This might seem a weird kind of merchandising but the promoters of Liberace, the TV pianist, have manipulated–with apparent premeditation–the trappings of Oedipus symbolism in selling him to women past the child-bearing age (where much of his following is concentrated). The TV columnist John Crosby alluded to this when he described the reception Liberace was receiving in England, where, according to Mr. Crosby, he was ‘visible in all his redundant dimples’ on British commercial TV. Mr. Crosby quoted the New Statesman and Nation as follows: ‘Every American mom is longing to stroke the greasy, roguish curls. The wide, trustful childlike smile persists, even when the voice is in full song.’ TV viewers who have had an opportunity to sit in Mr. Liberace’s TV presence may recall that in his TV presentations a picture of his real-life mom is frequently flashed on screen, beaming in her rocking chair or divan while her son performs.”

The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard, McKay, 1957.

Donald Rumsfeld’s Alexander Haig Memo, October 9, 1974

Donald Rumsfeld’s White House memos are his gift to the world. Freely available on his website, he also publishes them to nurse four-decade-old office grievances in his books. If you accidentally happened to steal Donald Rumsefeld’s parking spot at the Piggly Wiggly believe me, he remembers–he took note of your licence plate number and he’s waiting, like a smiling mamba coiled up in the corner, for the perfect moment to reveal your transgression.

The memos are often one long stream-of-consciousness Ginsbergian howl, like this beauty from 1974. The new President Gerald Ford had just pardoned Richard Nixon, and Nixon’s Chief of Staff Alexander Haig objected to Ford’s ex-press secretary Jerry terHorst (who had resigned because of the pardon) telling The New York Times:
“Nixon’s preoccupation with Watergate had magnified Haig’s authority in the White House and the executive branch of government. For most of the final Nixon year, as Haig himself would agree, he was the acting President of the United States.”
Haig himself didn’t agree. “This is going to get dirty,” he ranted to his successor, “And I’ll blow the place wide open if I have to and it’ll be a goddamn bloody mess and no more of these second-rate people around the President are going to challenge my integrity and devotion to my country.”

October 9, 1974
11: 00 a. m. to 12:00 Noon

I said I didn’t want to get in the subject with him but I did feel that he should know that I received a phone call on 10/4/74 from Haig on the pardon and that Haig had said that it was going to get dirty and I will blow the place wide open if I have to and it’ll be a goddamn bloody mess and no more of these second rate people around the President are going to challenge my integrity and devotion to my country and I’ve got Nixon, Garment, Buzzhardt, Ziegler and others with me and I’ve got verbatim records and I’ll do it… I stopped Haig and said, Look, I’ve taken enough and that he was very friendly to me. I said I didn’t want to get in to the subject and that I thought the President ought to be aware of it. A. Because Haig obviously called me so I would tell the President about it, B. Because I felt the President ought to be aware of Haig’s comment that he has ‘verbatim records.’ The President started to discuss it with me and I said, look, Mr. President, I don’t need to get into it– I simply wanted you to be aware of that message.”

When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency, Donald Rumsfeld, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.

François Hollande: The Goal

François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande served as the President of France from 2012 to 2017. Mocked as ‘the Penguin’ in a song by his predecessor’s wife Carla Bruni, in 2014 his ex-girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler exacted the ultimate revenge when she published Thank You for this Moment, a blistering account of their relationship and his affair with the actress Julie Gayet. “He’s not Cary Grant,” Trierweiler told the Telegraph during her book tour. Sparring no excruciating details, Trierweiler recalled her ex-boyfriend’s burning ambition to become le Président de la République. Reading Trierweiler’s book generates the same sense of secondhand embarrassment for the participants as watching the 1980s film St. Elmo’s Fire. A boogeda boogeda boogeda ha ha ha! 

“It was not a subject we had previously discussed. I knew it was his goal and that was how we would sometimes broach it, with that euphemism, ‘the goal.’ We never spelled it out, we had never spoken the words ‘presidential election.’ He veiled his ambition in modesty. We had only broken the taboo once, as he drove us past the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in my car. ‘Look, we’re driving past home’ he said as we passed the Élysée Palace. It certainly came as a surprise, and I roared with laughter. He had always known how to make me laugh. No subject was too serious to joke about, including himself– he was a genius at self-deprecation.

That November morning was altogether different: there as not a hint of sarcasm in his eyes. He was serious and he asked me for the first time what I thought: ‘After what happened in 2002 and 2007, you cannot afford to get it wrong. If Ségolène Royal’s defeat has taught us anything it is that you have only one question to ask yourself. Either you think that you are the best and you for for it, or you don’t and you let somebody else stand.’ He did not hesitate for one second before answering: ‘I am the best.'”