Ronald Reagan and I had a lot in common. He loved to talk about Hollywood and about his movies (which only took a minute...). Best of all, he had a marvelous sense of humor!
He was unlike any celebrity I have ever known. When talking with him, you became unaware of the fact that you were talking with the President of the United States. The quickest way to become Ronald Reagan’s friend was to tell him a great joke. He would then come right back at you with a joke of his own. You could then tell him another joke, and he’d have another story to tell you. This could go on endlessly, even if there was a war on. (OK, not really, but he did keep people waiting for events if he thought it was more important to finish a good story!)
Could you ever picture Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson doing an impression of Truman Capote? Ronald Reagan did exactly that. I knew that he did impressions of Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, but I never dreamed he would go into a Capote impression in the Lincoln Room! Some foreign visitors standing near us, who didn't know him, must have thought that the President was very strange.
He was nice to everyone and always appeared interested in anything you had to say. I think he was a great President because everyone liked him, even if they were opposed to his politics.
I performed at the White House three or four times during his years there, as well as attending several other functions to which the Reagans were kind enough to invite me. One time, I was with him as he gave a mini-press conference to a small group of reporters. Since they were asking the same questions over and over, Mr. Reagan began to look bored. Suddenly, he turned to me and said, “Rich, you do me better than I do--you finish this. I’m going for a sandwich!” He then walked jauntily away.
While many people have said that Nancy Reagan was cold and domineering, I have always found her to be charming, warm, and very personable. For the Reagans’ last Christmas in the White House, I was asked to be the celebrity Santa. As I was standing there, complete with the red suit and beard, Mrs. Reagan came in. She didn’t know who her Santa was, so she came over, pulled down my beard, and said, “Oh, Rich, it’s you!” She then let go of the beard and almost took my nose off.
I will miss Ronald Reagan...to me he was a lovable grandfather.