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Larry King Live
What Do Ronald Reagan's Love Letters to Nancy Say About the Former President?Aired September 9, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
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LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: just-released love letters from Ronald Reagan to Nancy -- private words between a public couple.
Joining us to share these intimate writings, three close Reagan friends: in Washington, Katharine Graham, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Washington Post Company; in New York, Mike Wallace, renowned correspondent of CBS News "60 Minutes"; and in L.A, businessman, entertainer Merv Griffin.
They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm in New York in the parking lot for this New York City, with this summit of world leaders. And it's a great pleasure to have this special program tonight with three distinguished guests looking at a new extraordinary book.
The book is "I Love You, Ronnie". There you see the cover -- the letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan.
We will start with Kay Graham before we read letters. And all our guests will be reading letters for you.
Are you surprised that Nancy released this book?
KATHARINE GRAHAM, WASHINGTON POST COMPANY: No, because I think that she had a very good reason. She said she was -- before she handed them over to the Reagan Library and they just disappeared in the stacks, she wanted to know what he was like and how wonderful he was. And I think it's a really great idea. It's a great book, in my view.
KING: Mike, were you surprised?
MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS' "60 MINUTES": I am surprised. I learned more about -- I learned more about Nancy, I think, who is a very private person...
WALLACE: ... from this book than I had known. And I had known her for -- I don't know -- half-a-century or more. And the book is a good book.
KING: You learned more about her by reading most of the letters to her?
WALLACE: Well, not just the letters to her, but...
KING: Her comments.
WALLACE: ... her remarks in between the letters. She really lets it go.
KING: Merv, were you surprised?
MERV GRIFFIN, ENTERTAINER: Not really. I'm glad she did it. We know the whole man now. Their love story, their life together has always been very private. This is a real eye-opener. She might have done it also, Larry, because in the past, many affects of first ladies' have gone on the auction block. They've been sold. Presidents' letters have been sold.
And she might have been preparing herself to keep that from happening before going, you know, to the library with the letters. And plus, she really feels strongly about the fact that people should write love letters. I worry about it, because lawyers have made that very dangerous to do. But I think...
GRIFFIN: And I think future first ladies might be, you know, sending -- printing books saying: "E-mails From My Husband."
KING: Yeah, Kay, this might be a thing of the past, the love letter, huh?
GRAHAM: I think that it proves all over again how important it is to write letters. And I hope that art isn't lost to electronic devices, because...
KING: And did you -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Kay.
GRAHAM: No, you go ahead.
KING: Did you know, Mike, that he was that romantic? Wait until the audience starts hearing some of this.
WALLACE: I had no idea. I knew that they adored each other: she him and he her. But the stuff that you read here is -- it's extraordinary.
KING: Merv, did you know that he was that much of a -- just a -- what do you -- Cupid? Like angelic -- I mean, this guy was...
GRIFFIN: Well, you know, if you were ever together with them -- and, you know, I was on vacations with them. They came and stayed at my ranch. They weren't putting on a show for me. They were never without each other. And when they went to Washington and she was sort of criticized -- or a little bit laughed at -- for her adoring looks at him, those are real. And that's the way they are in private. I watched them on long walks. I watched them on the beach in the Bahamas. There was a lot of hand-holding and talking to each other. They are two people who are very, very much in love.
KING: All right, let me give you folks a little background on this. And we'll start with Kay. Starting 1950, shortly after they met, and through the early '90s, as Alzheimer's disease began to catch him, Ronald Reagan sent scores of letters, cards, and telegrams to Nancy. She's now sharing them in this book: "I Love You, Ronnie."
The book includes Mrs. Reagan's own memories and comments, and offers extraordinarily personal insights into this very public couple. We are going to begin with Katherine Graham -- will read the first letter. This was written Sunday, March 20, 1955. The future president is in Atlanta, on the road. He's a spokesperson for General Electric -- Kay.
GRAHAM: "My darling, here it is, our day. If we were home, we would have a fire and funnies. And we would hate anybody who called or dropped in. As it is, I'm sitting here on the top of the sixth floor, beside a phony fireplace, looking out at a gray, wet sky, and listening to a radio play music not intended for one person alone.
"Nevertheless, I wouldn't trade the way I feel for the loneliness of those days when one place was like another, and it didn't matter how long I stayed away, with all the missing you there is still such a wonderful warmth in this loneliness. Like looking forward to a bright, warm room, no matter how dark and cold it is at the moment, you know the room is there and waiting. I love you so very much. I don't want -- I don't even mind that life made me wait so long to find you.
"The waiting only made the finding sweeter. I love you. Ronnie."
KING: My god. This is poetry.
WALLACE: It is.
KING: I mean, he had -- has a flair. We keep saying had, because we haven't heard him speak in...
WALLACE: And he's funny in some of the letters. And he's open in the letters.
KING: Oh, very open.
WALLACE: And you can see, somehow -- I see Ronald Reagan in these letters.
KING: When we come back, Mike will read his. Merv will read his. I will do a few too.
And we will be entertaining your calls as well. The book is "I Love You, Ronnie."
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1986)
NANCY REAGAN, WIFE OF PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN (singing): Oh, my dear. our love is here to stay. Together, we're going a long, long way. In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble. They're only made of clay. But our love is here, our love is here, our love is here to stay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back for this extraordinary book that's very emotional to handle. And now Mike will read. And this will be part of a letter. We will read the other part later.
This was written on Wednesday, July 15, 1953: two years before the one Kay red. The letter is -- the letterhead is the Sherry- Netherland Hotel in New York. And Nancy Reagan calls it a real favorite, admits it makes her weepy -- Mike Wallace.
WALLACE: He's in -- he's in New York alone, apparently at the Sherry-Netherland.
"Dear Nancy Pants, yesterday I went" -- forgive me. "Dear Nancy Pants, yesterday I went directly from the train to rehearsal, only stopping to check in here, then suddenly it was 2:00 p.m. and rehearsal was over. Back at the hotel, I put in a call to you and then tried for Lou Wasserman (not in town), Sonny Werblin (away on vacation), Nancy Poo Pants Reagan (away out yonder). Eight million people in this pigeon-crap-encrusted metropolis, and suddenly I realized I was alone with my thoughts and they smelled sulfurous. When dinnertime finally arrived, I walked down to Twenty-One, where I ate in lonely splendor. It was at this point, with self-pity coming up fast on the rail, that you joined me."
Joined him in his heart. She was 3,000 miles away.
KING: We will pick up more of that letter later. The one to be read by Merv was written to celebrate 19 years of marriage, some say 20, refers to the fact that in the year prior to their wedding the couple had been together so much they may well have been married. The date is March 4th, 1971 -- Merv.
GRIFFIN: From the governor's office of the state of California. "Dear Mrs. Reagan, your loving faithful devotion has been observed these 19 -- some say 20 -- years. There are no words to describe the happiness you've brought to the gov. It's no secret that he is the most married man in the world and would be totally lost and desolate without you. It seemed to me you should know this and be aware of how essential you are in this man's life. By his own admission, he is completely in love with you and happier than even a gov deserves. With love and appreciation, your in love gov."
KING: Kay, I don't think the public knows this about President Reagan, does it?
GRAHAM: No. I think both his eloquence and his passion for her, which never dies, no matter where he is or where she is -- sometimes they're in the same room -- he writes these letters, and they are really very moving.
KING: Mike, don't you agree that the public -- this book will sell well and the public will be surprised. They haven't seen him in so long or heard from him in so long.
WALLACE: Oh, this is a -- this is a view of these two people I don't -- I have never really known, never, and I knew them fairly well. And no, this is -- this is quite strange in a peculiar way, really. It's a very revealing look at the two of them.
KING: Sadly, Merv -- it has to be asked -- there's a kind of tendency to think of him in the past tense, when a public figure is no longer in front of us.
KING: He's alive but he's not here.
GRIFFIN: Right, right. And that's why she's donated so much of the revenues, the royalties of the book to the Alzheimer's Foundation and to the Ronald Reagan Library. It is an amazing book. But doesn't it really complete the whole man, the whole picture? Because that privacy of theirs never was really written about. We knew they were very much in love with each other, but I'm as amazed as anybody -- known them all these years -- to know that he was such an expressive writer and felt deeply in his heart.
GRAHAM: One of the...
KING: Go ahead, Kay.
GRAHAM: One of the things I like the best in the book and I really think adds to history is her explanation of what was going on. It really is fascinating. She...
KING: She writes very well as well.
GRAHAM: She writes beautifully.
KING: I'm going to do now Valentine lover letter, with doodles. This was written February 14, 1960.
"Darling Mommie Poo. February 14th may be the day they observe and call Valentine's Day, but that is for people of only ordinary luck. I happen to have a Valentine life, which started on March 4th, 1952, and will continue as long as I have you. Therefore, realizing the importance of this to me, will you be my Valentine from now on and forever and ever? You see my choice is limited. A Valentine life or no life, because I love you very much. Poppa."
We'll be right back. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 14, 1995)
KING: Did he propose?
N. REAGAN: Of course. He called my father.
KING: Before he asked you?
N. REAGAN: Yes.
N. REAGAN: And my father said fine.
KING: And how did he ask you and where?
N. REAGAN: He asked me at home. We were at home.
My home. My apartment.
KING: And he said casually, I called your dad?
N. REAGAN: Yes, and it's all right with your family. Is it all right with you?
KING: Were you coy?
N. REAGAN: No...
... and I don't think he felt I would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 7, 1991)
KING: Did you hit it off right away?
N. REAGAN: Right away. Right away. Right away. Yes.
N. REAGAN: It was a blind date, as you know. It was a blind date, and I knew right away. Took him a little bit longer.
KING: Did you have to work on it?
N. REAGAN: I had to push him a little bit.
KING: But you knew right away?
N. REAGAN: I knew right away.
KING: What was it in retrospect?
N. REAGAN: I don't know. He was so unlike any actor I had ever known. He wasn't talking about himself all the time: my last picture, my next picture, let's talk about me, what did you think of my last picture, you know. He was interested in so many things, and he was nice-looking also. Didn't hurt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The book is "I Love You, Ronnie," the letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, published by Mrs. Reagan, and for the benefit of the library and Alzheimer's. Random House is the publisher. The book is now everywhere, and our distinguished panel is reading some of these letters.
We'll turn now to Kay Graham, and this letter was written Christmas Day, 1980. Mrs. Reagan calls it perhaps the most important turning out in all our lives. The Reagans would soon be leaving California for Washington and the White House, and the letter reads in part -- Kay.
GRAHAM: "My beloved first lady: I'm supposed to be sitting here with my fingers crossed watching you open a package. I, of course, would be hoping it was something you really wanted, something that would show how much I love you. You see, I have this problem. I miss you when you first leave the room; I worry about you when you go out the front door. Now, this isn't good for me, not since my transplant, you into my heart 29 years ago next March. Without you, there would be no sun, no moon, no stars. With you, they are all out at the same time. Merry Christmas, my love. Your husband."
KING: Merv, where did he -- we've never seen this in the spoken dialogue of Ronald Reagan.
KING: This (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and poetic sense.
GRIFFIN: But don't forget he was called "The Great Communicator," and his greatest one, I guess, was with Nancy.
Can I comment on that first date she told you about?
GRIFFIN: She didn't tell you the whole story. When they met on the blind date and shook hands to go to dinner, they both made excuses -- she said, "I have to be up early in the morning"; and he said, "Well, I'm making a picture and I have to be early, too" -- just in case it didn't work. And after dinner, they went to see one of the most romantic singers of all time, which I think inspired them, Larry: Sophie Tucker.
(LAUGHTER) (singing): One of these days...
I said, "How did you get beyond that?"
(singing): I'm going to miss you, honey.
KING: Now you know the rest of the story.
GRIFFIN: Yes, yes.
KING: All right. Our next, Mr. Wallace will grace us with a reading of -- continuing the letter from the Sherry-Netherlands Hotel, July 15th, 1953.
WALLACE: So the president -- 1953...
KING: The actor.
WALLACE: The actor is still at Twenty-One. He says: "Yes, you and I" -- she's 3,000 miles away, but she's in his heart. "Yes, you and I had roast beef, although Twenty-One is one of those places where you have to say 'well-done.' Medium to them means sponge off the blood."
"... only a half bottle of wine, we were somewhat restricted in choice, but we politely" -- he says "we politely" -- "we politely resisted the huckstering of the wine steward, who couldn't pick sweet milk from vinegar, and settled for a '47 Pichon Longueville" -- I don't know.
"It was tasty, wasn't it? And I thought the most amusing incident and the nicest was when the lady to my left leaned over, and apologizing for her boldness, introduced the distinguished gentleman with her, whose name, of course, we didn't hear. It seems he's the publisher of 'Gourmet' magazine, and they were surprised, as they put it, to see someone choosing a wine so carefully and so intelligently in Twenty-One of all places."
KING: And then he adds...
WALLACE: "I, of course told them" -- yes, thank you. "I, of course, told them I really wasn't a gentleman: I just happened to marry a lady."
KING: Now, there he is acting as if she's with him.
KING: So she was... WALLACE: I have to reread the thing because I wasn't sure whether that she had -- no, it's quite apparent he's by himself, Twenty-One, and she's in his head, in his heart, beside him.
KING: When we come back Merv Griffin reads a letter from the president to the first lady, and lots more to come, and your calls, too. Tomorrow night, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 15, 1988)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been thinking for several days about what exactly I wanted to say today, how to put Nancy's role in my life into perspective for you. But what do you say about someone who gives your life meaning? What do you say about someone who is always there with support and understanding? Someone who makes sacrifices so that your life will be easier and more successful?
Well, what you say is that you love that person and treasure her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 14, 1995)
KING: Ronald Reagan drew this drawing of Jiggs -- this is the famous cartoon of "Bringing up Father" -- and he wrote, "Dearest wife, a portrait of Jiggs, who was a married man who couldn't begin to be as happy as you've made me. IT W.W.W." Which stands for?
N. REAGAN: In the whole wide world.
KING: By Ronald Reagan. His drawing of Jiggs.
N. REAGAN: Very sweet, isn't it?
KING: He was a romantic, he is a romantic. I mean, he was...
N. REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh my, yes. He used to send my mother flowers every birthday, my birthday, thanking her for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before Merv reads the letter, we were talking on the break, Mike. Do you think some skeptics might say this is too much in love, this is like it can't be this?
WALLACE: I'm sure that there are skeptics. Listen, I used to look at them when they were in public situations like this. And come on -- I mean, the adoring look and all of that, and the way that he looked at her. I used to say, come on, it couldn't be that. Turns out it was, and the letters make it so apparent.
KING: Merv, this letter written on White House stationery in celebration of their 29th wedding anniversary. Nancy reflects, by the way, that no matter how busy he was with duties as president, Ronnie always remembered their anniversary. This is March 4th, 1981 -- Merv.
GRIFFIN: "Dear first lady, as president of the United States, it is my honor and privilege to cite you for service above and beyond the call of duty: in that you have made one man, me, the most happy man in the world for 29 years.
"Beginning in 1951, Nancy Davis, seeing the plight of a lonely man who didn't know how lonely he really was, determined to rescue him from a completely empty life. Refusing to be rebuffed by a certain amount of stupidity on his part, she ignored his somewhat slow response. With patience and tenderness, she gradually brought the light of understanding to his dark and obtuse mind, and he discovered the joy of loving someone with all his heart. Nancy Davis then went on to bring him happiness for the next 29 years as Nancy Davis Reagan, for which she has received and will continue to receive his undying devotion forever and ever. She's done this in spite of the fact that he still can't find the words to tell her how lost he would be without her. He sits in the Oval Office, from which he can see, if he scrunches down, her window, and feels warm all over just to know she's there.
"The above is the statement of a man who benefited from her act of heroism. The below is his signature, Ronald Reagan, president of the United States.
"P.S.: He -- I mean I -- love and adore you."
KING: We'll close out this portion. I'll read a letter. Nancy says: "Ronnie always made a big deal of birthdays, holidays and Mothers Day." This is a handmade mothers greeting by the president.
"M - is for the misery, for which I have none.
"O - means only that without you I would die.
"M - is for how very much when we're apart I miss you.
"M - is for the million ways I love you.
"Y - Yippie!!! I'm so happy.
"Take them all together, they spell Nancy, my wife, my love, my life.
"Happy Mothers Day, from an admirer. If you're curious, my name is at the top of the page and I'm on the next pillow over."
We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We are back on this special day: the publication of "I Love You, Ronnie," the letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan. The publisher is Random House.
And our guests are -- let's reintroduce them -- Katharine Graham, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Washington Post Company, a long-time friend of the Reagans -- all our guests are -- Mike Wallace of CBS News' "60 Minutes," and the famed Merv Griffin, businessmen and entertainer, all known them for a multitude of years.
This next letter, which Katharine Graham will read -- and we'll take some of your phones calls too -- Mrs. Reagan offers insights into how her husband became increasingly political while traveling for the General Electric theater. Now, here's an example the way Nancy writes -- Kay.
GRAHAM: Well, this is what I think is so great, and the first time she is really articulated so well. She describes here the development of his political being.
"He was making speeches for General Electric at this time. Soon, Ronnie's speeches became shorter and shorter and his Q&A sessions longer and longer. People don't ask him about toasters. And gradually, his talks became more political. He learned a lot by listening to the hundreds of people he saw and hearing what was on their minds and what was worrying them.
"He began to express his concern that excessive government regulation was draining the American economy and the free-enterprise spirit, which is what he was hearing. Interestingly, General Electric never told Ronnie what to say or asked him to tone down his political content -- the political content of his speeches, until shortly before his show went off the air, anyway, under ratings pressure from the new color show, "Bonanza," in the spring of 1952.
"When GE told him to stop talking politics and start talking product, Ronnie simply refused. 'I can't do it,' he said. 'When people ask me to speak, I can't switch lines completely and talk about a appliances.'"
KING: Nancy can write, you know?
WALLACE: Oh, yes. Yes.
KING: She has a -- they both have a flare that the public oddly doesn't know.
WALLACE: People have said....
KING: I'm getting repetitious, but it's all new to me.
WALLACE: People have said that maybe he didn't write that Alzheimer's letter -- that last one -- that somebody was so good that maybe it wasn't -- this gives the lie to that. I mean, this -- I'm sure you're going to read the Alzheimer's letters sooner or later.
KING: I don't know. I guess.
WALLACE: I hope so. But it's pure Reagan.
KING: Very unusual handwriting, right, Merv?
GRIFFIN: Yes, very.
GRIFFIN: Small, interesting. A little tough to read sometimes.
GRIFFIN: But you know, after he wrote the letter Mike is talking about, he wrote a number of us each a personal letter about what we had meant to he and Nancy in their life. It was the most touching thing. I just sat down and I really sobbed. I never -- and nobody will ever receive a letter like that in their lives. And it's funny. It's -- and I keep it very private.
It's one of the most compassionate, sweetest, nicest letters. For him to do that, knowing what he had just written to the American people.
KING: Mike continues Ronnie's fantasy date with Nancy again. Nancy is not with him, but she's with him. This is from the Sherry- Netherland Hotel.
WALLACE: "And he is, at the moment, still at 21, still eating and drinking. The people on our right we ignored completely: a slick, Latin-looking joker with a doll by Jelky (ph) out of jail -- and a Brooks Brothers character who is evidently a fond father's junior partner with plenty of loot he never could earn for himself. I was sure the Latin was peddling the broad or a TV idea, until he raised his voice a little -- and so help me -- he was promoting backing for a smart old ladies' home he wanted to establish.
"He knew the world was full of young couples burdened with aging mommas who would leave at a chance to stable them in any his nifty new homes for promos (ph). And the payoff would top "South Pacific." Then he says: 'We walked back in the twilight.' And I guess I hadn't ought to put us on paper from there on. Let's just say I didn't know my lines this morning.'"
KING: And now, I'll do one that about "Hellcats."
Nancy found this note in their hotel room when she showed up for first day of work on the 1957 film, "Hellcats of the Navy," the only movie they made together. It's on the letterhead of the U.S. Grant and it refers to their movie roles.
It reads: "Darling, us old salts say: Welcome aboard. And my goodness, are you welcome. We are working a while tonight, so come on out to the war what you have stowed your gear. Heave yo! I love you. Commander Abbett (ph)."
In his role, he stays in his role.
Merv Griffin now has a letter written sometime after the assassination attempt. Nancy says their bond was deep. And after the attempt on Ronnie's life, he would make jokes in letters such as this one to try to take the edge off her fear of his public appearances -- this after the assassination attempt, from Ronnie to Nancy -- Merv.
GRIFFIN: "The White House, Washington. Dear First Mama, I'm in Wyoming, Montana, or Nevada, depending upon what time you read this. But I'll be at Camp David at 9:15 p.m. Friday night. And I will be so glad to see you. I miss you even when I'm asleep. This is a very lonesome place when you are someplace else.
"Now, I don't want this to come as a shock to you, but, well, well, I'll just come right out with. I'm in love with you. There, I've said it, and I'm glad. You be careful. Don't talk to any strangers. And try to think kindly of me, because I love you mucher than you think. First Poppa."
KING: This -- this constant need to express this.
Any thought of, Kay, why? Or was it just a romance that never ended?
GRAHAM: I didn't understand your question.
KING: His constant need to, you know -- she must know by this time he's madly in love with her. And he's writing another letter every day, reinforcing that.
GRAHAM: Oh, yes. Well, that was just to keep throwing vibes out to her about how much he loved her. And it was this habit of writing notes all the time. I mean, it's charming.
WALLACE: I can hear -- I can hear conversations going on across America, with wives saying to husbands...
KING: Uh oh.
WALLACE: ... he could do it, why can't you? Come on. You haven't written me a letter in a-year-and-a-half.
GRIFFIN: Because I can't spell "dear".
KING: Why did people stop writing, Merv?
GRIFFIN: I don't know. Maybe, as I said at the beginning, the lawyers have put the fear of God into marriages. We read that it's 51 percent of Americans are divorced. How would you like those letters being read in court while demanding the house, the kids, the car and everything else from one spouse or another?
I don't know why people don't do that anymore. Obviously, there are many mechanical ways. KING: Yeah.
GRIFFIN: You can fax. You can e-mail. You can do all that stuff. But...
WALLACE: That doesn't do it, though, does it, Merv?
GRIFFIN: No, it doesn't. It doesn't.
KING: Kay, do you think technology has wiped out the letter?
GRAHAM: I'm worried that it has. It's, by way of writing, wiping out print, reading. And somebody is going to have to pull up their socks and make sure that writings is in school and in the education of kids. It's terribly important to write.
KING: Are you afraid it's going to be...
GRIFFIN: Larry, do you...
KING: I'm sorry.
Go ahead, Merv.
GRIFFIN: I just want to say that with this book and your show and all these letters, it could possibly bring back romance in America: romantic movies, we haven't seen any. We haven't heard any good romantic songs in a long time. Have you? It could bring back romance. What a surprise that would be.
KING: Want to sing when we go off?
GRIFFIN (singing): It's very clear -- their favorite song.
KING: Yeah, great song. Gershwin.
Back with more of our panel. It's starting to get misty here. And we will include some of your calls -- and some more letters, too.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
R. REAGAN: I think it's all too common in marriages that no matter how much partners love each other, they don't thank each other enough. And I suppose I don't think Nancy enough for all that she does for me. So, Nancy, in front of all your friends here today, let me say thank you for all you do. Thank you for your love. And thank you for just being you.
N. REAGAN: Oh, dear.
R. REAGAN: We better cuddle up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, LARRY KING LIVE)
KING: Sandusky, Ohio, for Ronald Reagan, hello.
CALLER: Hi, real quick, Ron, I just want to tell you, I love you. And I just want to know what your favorite actor or actress was that you worked with. And I wish you could run again for many more years.
R. REAGAN: Well...
KING: Not a bad call.
R. REAGAN: Thank you for your call. And appreciate it. And obviously, I have to tell you that my opportunity to act with an actress, Nancy Davis...
KING: Didn't turn out too bad.
R. REAGAN: She was a nurse, and I was a Naval officer and so forth. And we went home together, because we were married.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ronald and Nancy Reagan were only in one movie together: "Hellcats of the Navy." Here's a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HELLCATS OF THE NAVY")
N. REAGAN: Hey. I was afraid you wouldn't come.
R. REAGAN: Heard about Wes?
N. REAGAN: Yes. Dr. Landon told me. Somehow, I feel it's all my fault. Heaven, he's such a mess now. Let's get out of here. I'll sign out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Huntington, California -- we'll include some calls -- hello.
CALLER: I just want to say that I'm so overwhelmed that he was so (INAUDIBLE) Hello?
KING: Yeah, go ahead.
CALLER: OK. I just want to say I'm so overwhelmed that he was so articulate and poetic. Did any of you every realize he was this romantic? It's wonderful.
KING: Kay, you go first.
GRAHAM: I don't think you could have envisioned quite this degree of...
GRAHAM: ... expressed romance and love, no. I mean, one knew that they adored each other.
KING: I'm sure that a lot of people are expressing the same thing in the calls, Merv.
KING: Surprise. I mean, they knew that he was a great communicator, yes, and he made a good political speech. And he certainly could bring a nation together in times of despair. But no one knew of this.
WALLACE: Forgive me.
KING: Go ahead, Merv. What...
GRIFFIN: I said, it's the private part of their life that really none of us, even the friends, knew, except they were in love. But we had no idea there existed these letters. And just think...
WALLACE: You know who missed this, Merv?
WALLACE: Edmund Morris. I mean he had access to everything for so long.
GRIFFIN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
WALLACE: He wrote that big, long book, and none of it came through.
GRIFFIN: No, well, he put himself in the book as a character, so that kind of diluted the whole thing.
GRIFFIN: All these clips, Larry, have you noticed they have never done in public a screen kiss like Al and Tipper Gore: those long kisses?
KING: Now, we are getting -- we are turning more romantic here.
WALLACE: No, I think we are turning Republican here. Griffin is a... KING: Springfield, Missouri, hello.
GRIFFIN: Good boy, Mike.
CALLER: Yes, hello.
CALLER: I am really enjoying your show here. But I'm kind of curious as to, over the years, through all the letters and even now, there's never any reference to their children. They loved each other. How come no reference to the product of all that love?
KING: Any thoughts?
WALLACE: There is -- there are many references to the children. And there are some wonderful pictures of the two of them with the children.
GRIFFIN: It's about their love affair, not...
WALLACE: Yes, but -- you've seen the book, Merv. The pictures of the kids...
GRIFFIN: Oh, the pictures are fabulous.
WALLACE: That's correct, and...
GRIFFIN: But this is a book about their love.
KING: Yeah, the book is about...
WALLACE: The book is about their love, but she makes it quite apparent -- and the president -- and Ronald Reagan makes it quite apparent that -- he talks about young Ron when he was two-and-a-half years old, for pete's sake.
KING: Look at that.
WALLACE: Yeah. That was a happy family.
KING: Look at that. There they are.
WALLACE: There's a wonderful picture -- there's a wonderful picture in the book of the four of them...
KING: Four kids grown.
WALLACE: Yeah, grown -- with their parents.
GRIFFIN: My favorite is the little one of Ron Jr., when he's leaning on the desk and Ronnie is taking his oath of office. They left something out of it. And he had to take it a second time as governor. WALLACE: Right.
GRIFFIN: And little Ronnie is leaning on the desk looking at him with this -- taking the oath with him.
WALLACE: That's right.
KING: We will be back with more of our panel -- some more letters, too.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW")
R. REAGAN: I have to tell you, when Nancy was doing all that decorating. And there were some of the most wonderful antique pieces of furniture that she found deteriorating over there in a warehouse. But I used to come home, you know, and come up here. And then I'd have to started hunting. Which room is she in? Where in the world is she? I was used to opening the front door and saying: I'm home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK. We pick up now with Kay Graham. This is the last of Kay's readings.
This was written on Christmas day, 1975. His stint as governor was over. They were living in Pacific Palisades. He was giving speeches, writing a newspaper column. There was talk of a possible presidential run. Nancy said she thought they were done with political life -- Kay.
GRAHAM: This is -- this is a Christmas letter. Every year he wrote a Christmas letter.
This one says: "Dear Mommie, the star in the East was a miracle, as was the virgin birth. I have no trouble believing in those miracles, because a miracle happened to me and is still happening. That light still shines, and will as long as I have you. Please be very careful when you cross the street. Don't climb on any ladders. Wear your rubbers when it rains. I love my light and don't want to be ever in the dark again.
"I love you. Merry Christmas. Your ranch hand."
KING: Boy, did he have away.
Mike, the conclusion of the letter from the Sherry-Netherland.
WALLACE: He's back there...
KING: Back at the hotel now. WALLACE: Back at the hotel.
"Tonight I think we'll eat here at the hotel," he writes, "and you've got promise to let me study -- at least a little while.
"I suppose some people would find it unusual that you and I can so easily span 3,000 miles, but in truth it comes very naturally. Man can't live without a heart. You are my heart, by far the nicest thing about me and very necessary. There would be no life without you, nor would I want any.
"I love you. The eastern half of us."
KING: That whole letter written as if she was with him, because indeed in spirit she was.
WALLACE: She was.
KING: Merv will do the last letter, but first let's get in another call here. Port Richie, Florida -- hello.
CALLER: Yes, hi, good evening, Larry.
CALLER: I was wondering if anybody on the panel this evening know how the president and Mrs. Reagan were introduced and how they met.
KING: Merv, I think you would know, right?
GRIFFIN: Yes, the gentleman who produced "Wizard of Oz," quite a remarkable man at MGM, introduced them. He just felt they were right for each other. I think...
KING: Boy, was he right.
KING: Boy, was he right.
GRIFFIN: Boy was he right, yeah, absolutely. He was extraordinary.
KING: All right, let me get a break and we'll come back. Merv will read the last of the letters that we're reading. There are many more, of course, in the book. We'll have some closing comments as well.
Don't go away.
KING: The book is "I Love You, Ronnie," and the last letter we will read is read by Merv. Nancy worried about her husband making campaign trips by plane rather than car or train. Ronnie wrote this letter in 1966 from Milwaukee to ease her fears and encourage her not to blame herself if anything happens. It was written on a Thursday night -- Merv.
GRIFFIN: I love these salutations.
"Dear, Little Mommie, knowing you in addition to loving you, I think it's time to put something on the record. I've always known that someday my groundhog days would end. And now these political shenanigans have made these someday come around.
"No one talked me into this, so no one should have any feeling of responsibility. I have to write this because of all our talks about flying and because you'd try to take the blame personally if ever something happened. That would be wrong.
"God last a plan, and it isn't for us to understand and only to know that he has his reasons. What you must understand without any question or doubt is that I believe this and I trust him, and you must, too.
"What you must also believe is that I love you more and more each day, and it grows more bright and shining all the time.
"Good night Middle-Sized Muffin, who is all the rest of me I need. I love you -- Poppa."
KING: Kay, isn't that a great line, "who is all the rest of me I need"?
GRAHAM: Yes, I love it.
WALLACE: Where's the rest.
KING: Yes, we're taking it off of where's the rest of me.
This book will surprise many people. Mike, I think that's gone through this entire show tonight, don't you think?
WALLACE: Well, I've noticed that you have misted up on about a half dozen occasions over this past hour. It's a stirring...
KING: Yes, well, love will do that to you, Mike.
WALLACE: You're in love.
KING: Yes. So are you, right?
KING: And the feeling of it just exudes -- Merv, you must miss him terribly.
GRIFFIN: I do. I really do. I miss his -- I miss his sense of humor, his fast remarks, ad libbing, his great compassion, his joy, and one quality about him: You know, he was so famous all his life, first as a movie star, which was in his day a very big deal, much bigger than it is even today, and then he was governor and then he was president. And he worried about people coming to meet him that they were intimidated, so he went so far out of his way each time to make you feel comfortable. That's a great man.
WALLACE: One thing in the book, there are also letters when things were not going so well professionally. And it was -- some of those letters are very, very moving. He was out of a job, he wasn't sure -- he was emceeing out in Las Vegas and not feeling...
KING: I know.
WALLACE: ... very well about it.
KING: And, Kay, we only have 30 seconds left. And now she lives with Alzheimer's, probably the toughest disease of all.
GRAHAM: She describes that in the end. She says that this is so lonely. And it's lonelier because of what he meant to her. And nobody can understand who hasn't been through such a thing how bad it is, that her friends are wonderful, that she loves them and that they make a great effort, but fundamentally you're alone. And it's really very moving, the end.
KING: It sure is. Katherine Graham, Mike Wallace, Merv Griffin, thank you so much.
I'm Larry King Vladimir Putin tomorrow night. CNN "NEWSSTAND" is next.
The book is "I Love You, Ronnie" -- and boy, does he.
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