NANCY AND RON’S LOVE MATCH
She was the movie starlet who won the future president’s heart as soon as they met but the former First Lady who died this week was said to have had numerous famous lovers before him
IT IS for her love of her late husband Ronald that Nancy Reagan, who has died at the age of 94, will be most keenly remembered. The former American President and his First Lady were soppy romantics who lived for one another.
He called her “Mommie” or “Nancy Pants” and while he was in hospital recuperating after the attempt on his life in 1981 she wrote in her diary, “Nothing can happen to my Ronnie. My life would be over.” He was similarly moved. Whether he was travelling to make movies in the 1950s, at the White House or on Air Force One in the 1980s, and sometimes even from across the room in the 1990s, he wrote letters to her expressing his love. In one he said touchingly: “Whatever I treasure and enjoy, this home, our ranch, the sight of the sea – all would be without meaning if I didn’t have you.”
Observers described their marriage as “intimate” and demonstrative with one press secretary noting: “They never took each other for granted, never stopped courting.” Nancy even went so far as to say in 1998, while her husband was affl icted with Alzheimer’s disease, that: “When I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it’s true. It did. I can’t imagine life without him.”
His death in June 2004 at the age of 93, after she had nursed him for a decade, was a massive loss. Some solace came from reading and even publishing his touchingly intense and affectionate love letters.
One, written on Valentine’s Day 1977, when he was 66 and she was 55, begins: “Dear St Valentine, I’m writing to you about a beautiful young lady who has been in this household for 25 years now… She has two hearts – her own and mine. I’m not complaining. I gave her mine willingly, and like it right where it is… Could you on this day whisper in her ear that someone loves her very much and more and more each day? Also tell her, this ‘ Someone’ would run down like a dollar clock without her so she must always stay where she is. If you’ll do this for me, I’ll be very happy knowing that she knows I love her with all my heart…”
OFFICIAL histories of one of America’s most popular presidents might suggest that he spent his early years waiting for Nancy. His offi cial presidential library contains no records of his romantic life other than the couple’s love letters and his autobiography devotes just two short sentences to his eight- year fi rst marriage to Oscar- winning actress Jane Wyman. But in fact both Ronald and Nancy had high- profi le love lives before they fi rst met in 1949. In their memoirs both the Reagans paid scant attention to their wild years in Hollywood – possibly with good reason. “If Nancy knew that one day she’d be First Lady she would have cleaned up her act,” her stepson Michael Reagan reportedly once said.
“She had a fi ne facade,” says one Hollywood commentator. “But in reality there had been many lovers including Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Marlon Brando and Spencer Tracy.”
Nancy is said to have wanted to marry Gable, whom she dated briefl y. She was a little- known Broadway actress in 1948 when Tracy asked her to escort Gable on a trip to New York, launching a very public affair. “He had a quality that good courtesans also have,” she once said of her relationship with him. “When he was with you he was really with you.”
As for Sinatra, her crush on him persisted throughout her marriage and she invited him to the White House on numerous occasions. Nancy is said to have been “one of those starlets who ‘ dated’ numerous stars to get ahead”. Her biographer Anne Edwards noted that, “Nancy’s phone number was passed around a lot” while actress Katharine Hepburn claimed: “She will date anybody with a name.”
Director Mervyn LeRoy remembers Nancy having two objectives: “Snaring a famous husband and having a big career.” She wrote on her MGM biographical questionnaire in 1949 that although her “childhood ambition” was “to be an actress” her “greatest ambition” was “to have a successful, happy marriage”. Her career may have been only a modest one – she appeared in 11 feature fi lms, usually typecast as a loyal housewife, responsible young mother or the steady woman – but it was her astute choice of husband that proved her greatest coup.
In marrying the modestly successful Reagan it seemed she had settled for the best she could do under the circumstances. But as First Lady, Nancy reinvented herself – just as she had done her entire life. Her original name wasn’t Nancy Davis but Anne Robbins and although she claimed to have been born in 1923, she was in fact
Daily Express Tuesday March 8 2016 born two years earlier. And, once she had found her leading man, she set about supporting his transformation into the most powerful man in the world. She was a kingmaker whose legendary intense expression when her husband was speaking publicly – known as “The Gaze” – was a visual reminder of the power behind the throne.
BEFORE Nancy, Reagan was a B- movie actor described by studio mogul Jack Warner as a “babe magnet”. He himself admitted he had a bad case of “Leading Lady- itis” and had enjoyed intimate liaisons with glamorous icons such as Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Doris Day and even a “too young Elizabeth Taylor” ( he was 21 years Taylor’s senior). He eventually married Jane Wyman, with whom he had two children, Michael and Maureen, but he was not faithful and the marriage ended.
But when he encountered Nancy through his fi rst presidency – as the head of the Screen Actors Guild – it was love at fi rst sight . They married in March 1952 in a secret ceremony at the Little Brown Church near Los Angeles, their daughter Patti was born that October and son Ron in 1958.
Having lived it up in the 1940s the couple had found the comfort and solace both craved. The papers were dazed at the conventionality of the union. One account called it “a romance of a couple who have no vices”, with accounts of Nancy knitting Ronnie argyll socks.
Known for “always holding hands”, there would be notes left all over the White House, particularly on special occasions. “I live in a permanent Christmas because God gave me you,” Reagan once wrote in a letter to his wife.
And when he was later a hostage to senility, his words carried an even deeper resonance. He may not have been able to recognise her towards the end but Nancy was always there, supporting and loving the man she had helped to propel into the brightest spotlight on the international stage and who, through illness, became completely hers once again.