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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Special: Remembering The Legacy Of A President: Ronald Reagan

Aired June 6, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, ANCHOR, PAULA ZAHN NOW: On this Sunday June 6, these United States are truly united, united in grief, in gratitude, in pride. Remembering the legacy of a president: Ronald Reagan.
And good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us for this special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW.

Across America today, indeed around the world, people shared memories of Ronald Reagan. He was the subject of prayers in churches and discussions at dinner tables. We've heard from people who worked with him, from one-time opponents who admired and respected him, even though they didn't necessarily agree with him, and from people who never knew, but whose lives he touched.

Coming up in this hour we will share all of these memories with you. First though, some of the people who knew him best along with some of the images we will never forget.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice over): Ronald Reagan was the great communicator. From his former rival, respect.

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was always able to express his very clearly held views in a concise and sometimes inspirational way.

ZAHN: And from his former vice president...

GEORGE H. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On a personal basis it was his kindness his, his decency, his sense of humor.

ZAHN: Reagan was admired.

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had innate strength and optimism, belief in America. And as I said, he believed that freedom was a universal value.

ZAHN: He was also controversial. From the 1983 invasion of Grenada to the Iran-Contra scandal, from his strong disdain for welfare to his tin ear on AIDS.

RUDY GIULIANI, FMR. MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Whether you agree with his policies, or you disagreed with his policies you knew he was nice, good man, trying his best.

ZAHN: He was a friend to the U.S. military.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He was a man of incredible vision. And he never varied or strayed from the vision that he had of the world at peace.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan, a hero of the Cold War. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said today, "Reagan was a statesmen, who despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway.

The Iron Lady, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called Reagan one of her closest political and dearest personal friends.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (D) Arizona: We won the Cold War and we are now in an era which is a very dangerous world, but we don't wake up every morning with the threat of a nuclear exchange which could annihilate the globe.

ZAHN: The Vatican issued a statement on behalf of the Pope, recalling the contribution of President Reagan, through the historical events that changed the lives of millions of people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us now spend a few moments in silent prayer...

ZAHN: So, from coast to coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...as we remember the 40th president of the United States.

ZAHN: In Florida...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was such a leader and was full of charisma. Somebody that we all owe a lot of (sic) and going to miss him sorely.

ZAHN: In Los Angeles...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Classic, when he was shot, in pain, in the hospital and he asks if all the doctors are Republicans. I mean that kind of quick-wit, just -- I loved it. He was terrific.

ZAHN: In New York...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He flat out told Gorbachev, tear down the wall. Nobody else was brass enough to do that. And suddenly it was like, yeah, I'm an American. You know, that's my president. That's my man.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan loved America.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He always told us that for America the best was yet to come. And now a shining city awaits him. May God Bless Ronald Reagan. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And former President Reagan's burial will take place after nearly a week of public mourning. Anderson Cooper is standing by in Simi Valley, California with the latest on the events planned for this week.

Good evening, Anderson. What do we know about what the four or five days will be like?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula. As you just said, Ronald Reagan like to call America a shining city on a hill. He will be buried on a hill, just over here, at the presidential library on Friday.

What we know about what will happen over the next 72 hours or so is this: Tomorrow at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, Ronald Reagan will be brought back here to the presidential library. He is at a mortuary right now in Santa Monica, California. He will leave there tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., the motorcade will bring the body here.

At 11 o'clock there will be a private ceremony for the family for close friends and associates. At 12 o'clock the public viewing will begin. It is anticipated thousands of people will come here. They will park at a facility far away and then they will be bussed up here where they will be allowed to view the casket of President Reagan draped in an American flag, of course. They will be able to sign the condolence cards, send a message to the family.

There will also be a public viewing all day on Tuesday as well. So, it is really almost two full days of public viewing. Then Wednesday morning, around 9:30 or so there will be a departure ceremony and President Reagan will be brought to Washington where there will be the state funeral. And where there will be a ceremony at the National Cathedral as well as where the president will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

He will finally be brought back here, home to California, the state, which he so loved, to this library, which he so loved, which he founded. It opened in 1991 with private money, as President Reagan was quick to point out, not with government funds. He will be laid to rest, one final time, one final journey here on Friday. Someday, his wife Nancy will be laid to rest by his side -- Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson, we have seen some spontaneous memorials pop up all over the country today. What kind of level of support are you seeing in California? And what kind of respect for the former president?

COOPER: You see it everywhere here in California; at the hotel I'm staying at, you see it at the home in Bel Air, even though the neighborhood is blocked off, people have been leaving flowers there, have been leaving flags, have been leaving remembrances.

You are looking, right there, at the -- at the facility -- the entrance to the presidential library, which is just about half a mile or so from the point I'm standing at. All day long as you see the makeshift memorial, the phrase we've come to know so much, a uniquely American way of mourning. A uniquely American way of honoring our dead, people just want to come and pay their respects and they are doing that here at the library.

Even though the library, itself, is closed today people have still been coming by. And as you see leaving off remembrances, leaving off hats, and flowers and cards and flags -- Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson Cooper thank you so much. We look forward to your reports throughout the week.

Later, on we will see if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, when impressionist Rich Little joins me to talk about what Ronald Reagan did for comedy.

But coming up next, it may have been the world's most unusual and productive friendships, Reagan and Gorbachev, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The somber pageantry of America's good bye to Ronald Reagan will be taking place in Washington at the same time the leaders of the world's economic powers will be meeting on Sea Island, Georgia, for the G8 Summit. The island is near Savannah, where Suzanne Malveaux is keeping an eye on how the former president's passing will affect the schedule there.

Good evening, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula.

It was earlier today that President Bush issue an official proclamation that is requiring for all U.S. flags to be lowered to half staff, at all federal installations, across the globe, also making Friday a national day commemoration day for Ronald Reagan.

It was earlier today that he recognized the heroes who had fallen at Normandy, France. It was just 20 years ago that Ronald Reagan had given such an eloquent speech there. It was today that President Bush paid tribute to the man he has modeled his philosophy, and his presidency after, the late Ronald Reagan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Twenty summers ago another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now the similarities between these two men, of course, have not gone unnoticed. Both of them, of course, believe in the philosophy of lowering taxes, cutting taxes, a strong national defense. Both of them really have a strong sense of spirit and affinity for the ranch, a love for the ranch.

It was interesting today, Paula, to note that some of those who have been at odds with the president over the past couple of months, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder (ph) and Frances Jacques Chirac, both of them coming out today with words saying they admired Reagan's vision for a united Europe -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for that update.

Ronald Reagan's name, of course, will be forever linked with the end of the Cold War. The events that he helped set in motion during the 1980s would lead to the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, just a few years after he left office. It was not an easy time. Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty looked back at the remarkable relationship that was at the heart of it. The partnership between Ronald Reagan and the last man to lead the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (voice over): For Russians, Ronald Reagan defined the Cold War. The Soviet Union, he said, was an evil empire. Communism belonged to the trash heap of history. And it wasn't just words.

Mr. Reagan believe deeply that the Soviet system had to be destroyed. And his mission was to do just that. In his first term as president, Reagan built up the biggest defense stockpile in history. He proposed the missile shield to defend the United States, dubbed, Star Wars.

At the Berlin Wall, he hurled the challenge at the Soviet leader.

RONALD REAGAN, LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

DOUGHERTY: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in person eight times. The first encounter, Mr. Gorbachev recalls, was rocky.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE SOVIET UNION (through translator): We're not exactly in ecstasy with each other. We went off with our separate delegations and I said, he's a real dinosaur. And he described me as a hard-headed Communist or a Bolshevik.

DOUGHERTY: But they continued to talk. And in 1986, at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, the astounding suggestion: Scrap all nuclear weapons.

A year later, the two men signed the first treaty to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Despite Mr. Reagan's biting rhetoric, Mikhail Gorbachev gives the American high marks, both as a politician and as a human being.

GORBACHEV (through translator): A wonderful conversationalist, very skillful. Our conversations, our negotiations weren't has hard as concrete. There was always an element of charisma. And that is how he attracted people. That was his strong point, his style.

DOUGHERTY: The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed, its economy in ruins. And some claim that, as President Reagan's greatest victory. Mikhail Gorbachev, however, says the Soviet system collapsed because of its internal problems.

Ronald Reagan, he says, will go down in history as a great president. A leader who entered office as the Soviet Union's staunchest enemy, but who left office with the two countries on the road to partnership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Jill Dougherty, reporting from Moscow for us. A short time ago I talked about the events that lead to the end of the Cold War, with Henry Kissinger. He served as secretary of State under Reagan's predecessors, President's Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He joined me by telephone from Milan, Italy. I began by asking how he would rate President Reagan's legacy in terms of his foreign policy initiatives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, President Reagan was in office at a crucial turning point in the Cold War. He understood that that point had been reached, used it to the fullest, and brought the Cold War to a conclusion.

ZAHN: Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said of Ronald Reagan, that he won the Cold War without firing a shot. How much credit do you think he really does deserve for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union?

KISSINGER: Well, in fairness, one has to say that the American presidents from World War II on, from both parties, designed policies that contained the Soviet Union, prevented its victory and began its erosion. But the most rapid progress was made in the Reagan period, because he recognized that the Soviet Union was over extended and was not capable of sustaining its efforts.

ZAHN: But when Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union, an evil empire, as you know he was openly derided by some critics, even Richard Nixon thought he was, quote, "seriously wrongheaded in believing that the Soviet Union would ultimately come apart."

How much guts do you think it took for Ronald Reagan to keep those convictions at the forefront?

KISSINGER: Ronald Reagan had a number of -- on purely the intellectual level, simple convictions. But foreign policy, historic turning points, are often based on simple convictions. And Reagan had the courage to maintain his views against he opposition of most of the media, and insisted on the mainlines of his policies, which then paid off before his second term was over. ZAHN: As you look back on his other foreign policy initiatives, what stands out in your mind?

KISSINGER: He maintained a good relationship with the alliance. He played a significant role in maintaining our relationship with China. In other words, he kept our foreign policy on an even keel, in the rest of the world, while the Soviet Union came apart.

ZAHN: So, in general, how did you find him?

KISSINGER: I found him, he had terrific common sense. He had a nice -- a good sense of humor, he was extremely congenial. He never acted as if a situation was on the verge of panicking him and therefore he spread great calm in his environment.

And he had an extraordinary quality that when he entered the room he was the center of the room, without himself doing anything particular to attract attention to himself. I guess that was his star quality.

ZAHN: Dr. Kissinger, very much appreciate your joining us tonight and sharing those thoughts with us. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And one of Ronald Reagan's more remarkable talents was his ability to get along with most of his adversaries. I will as Reverend Jesse Jackson about working with his political opposite on a mission to save lives. That's coming up.

And our CNN coverage of Ronald Reagan's legacy continues with a special edition of "Larry King Live" at 9, and "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN" at 10 p.m. Eastern, and the CNN special, "Warsaw Rising" which had been scheduled for this hour, will air at 11 p.m. Eastern, tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Former President Ronald Reagan and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson rarely saw eye-to-eye, but one event in 1984 did in fact bring them together. President Reagan invited Reverend Jackson to the White House after Jackson had secured the release of a Naval pilot who was being held hostage in Syria. Reagan had discouraged Jackson from going to Syria to work out a deal since his administration was unsuccessful in its own efforts to free the hostage.

Reverend Jesse Jackson joins us now from Pittsburgh to discuss his relationship with the former president.

Welcome, Sir.

JESSE JACKSON, PRES. & CEO, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Yes.

ZAHN: So, let's talk a little bit more about what the president said to you to try to convince you not to go to Syria? JACKSON: Well, let me first offer my condolences to Mrs. Reagan and to their family. He's been sick, of course, now for about 10 years and we sincerely share tonight in the nations' grieving.

We knew each other, I might add, before he became president. We'd debate and we used to debate each other often, at YPO (ph) meetings. First time I heard him say, Jackson, "Here you go again". That is that first, "here we go again". So, we kind of knew each other, really, though we had different points of view.

But in 1984, when (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pilot was down, a group of ministers, we decided that we wanted to go to seek his release. I had known, or sought before -- I had been to, in '79 to Syria. President Reagan said, you should not go. And if you go you'll not be successful, it's for a diplomat to do.

I said, well we have the right to go. He said, you have the right to go. But if you fail it will prove that you don't know what you're doing. If you succeed bring him back to the White House. So, we went. And I might add, though he disagreed with the mission, we got there the U.S. ambassador is on the ground waiting for us at the airport. So he was kind of hoping we'd be successful, kind of hoping against hope.

We were successful. Of course, he invited us back, back to the White House to receive Luther Rodney Goodman (ph). I then said to him, why don't you call Mr. Assad and say thanks for letting him go. It could be the beginning of a dialogue. And he called Assad and they began to talk and that was a breakthrough of sorts as well.

ZAHN: What did he say to you, personally, when the reporters weren't around? Did he give you a "that a boy"?

JACKSON: He did that, because again, we had had this kind of debating back and forth relationship across the years. Really opposite, we saw history from to different points of view. But it was not hostile, it was not ugly, it was not nasty.

And even while there was a debate within the White House, should they attack me for going, my understanding is that he said to them, at least give me the benefit of the doubt and see whether it would work. And it did work and when it did work he received us graciously and in a big way at the White House.

ZAHN: Though your discussions continued after that on a whole range of issues, how much grief did you give him over the years on the issue of civil rights?

JACKSON: Well, we had two different points of view, he saw Dr. King as a Communist. I saw Dr. King as an eminent theologian and liberator. On the day that Jimmy Carter gave the human rights speech in Ebenezer in Atlanta, Mr. Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had been killed. That was very offensive to us. He went to Bitburg, we went to Dachau and Buchenwald camps. But we had different points of view on some of these subjects.

He believed in states rights and Jefferson Davis, I believe in the Union and Abraham Lincoln. But two philosophical, different points of view. He choose the bust PATCO, the union, we were basically pro-union. And so we had these different points of view and yet in our case it never got personally ugly.

ZAHN: Well, Jesse Jackson, we appreciate your sharing some of your stories with us tonight. Always good to see you, Sir.

JACKSON: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: When we come back, comedian Rich Little got calls from the White House about his Ronald Reagan impressions. I'm going to ask him about that, right after the break.

Then a little bit later on, Reagan's Hollywood experience and how it prepared him for a career in politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that he lead with great grace. Graceful leadership and graceful person. And his communications at critical moments in our country's history will never be forgotten, Normandy, the loss of the Challenger. He had a way of making people feel as if the next day it would be better.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan once said politics is just like show business you have a hell of an opening, you coast for awhile, and then have a hell of a close. Well, during his life in politics Reagan was still a man of show business, always giving off that charm and many times that wit. The former president loved to leave them laughing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONALD REAGAN, LATE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So desperate for attention I almost considered holding a news conference.

I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.

Preparing me for a press conference was like reinventing the wheel. It's not true. I was around when the wheel was invented and it was easier.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, Ronald Reagan loved a good joke, even when the laughs were on him. He was particularly fond of impressionist Rich Little. Little performed at Reagan's first inauguration and then at the White House at least a half a dozen times.

He became quite skilled at impersonating the Great Communicator. Here's Little as Reagan explaining Reaganomics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICH LITTLE, COMEDIAN: Suppose your mom bakes a big blueberry pie. Now that pie represents the wealth of this country. Now, take that pie and divide it in half. The top half is for defense spending. The bottom half is for domestic programs and the other half is for the national debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But sir, a pie has only two halves?

LITTLE: No, you don't seem to understand. So let's move on to another question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And impressionist Rich Little joins us now. He joins us from Las Vegas tonight.

Always good to see you, welcome.

LITTLE: Thank you.

ZAHN: So did the president like your impersonations of him?

LITTLE: He loved it. And you know at that first inauguration dinner, I was a little apprehensive about it. Because I wasn't sure what his reaction would be. And you know, I kept looking at him and he laughed harder as I go more into the routine.

But the only thing that kind of put me off was Paula, was that he would laugh in the wrong place. In other words, I would hit the punch line, and people would laugh. And then I'd start the next joke, and then he'd laugh.

And I realized he couldn't hear. He had bad hearing. And of course Nancy, when I would say the punch line, Nancy would whisper in his ear, and tell home the joke, and then he'd laugh.

ZAHN: But in real friendship...

LITTLE: I finally figured that out. Because it was throwing me at the beginning, you know.

ZAHN: A real friendship developed out of your impersonating him. You were invited to the White House a number of times. And I understand the President used to call you. What did the two of you talk about?

LITTLE: Well one time he called me when he was up in Rochester, New York. He was having an operation up there. Do you remember when they shaved his head? I forget what happened to him. But, I was up in Rochester doing a charity event. And of course he gets up at 6:00 in the morning. We all know that. And I was sound a sleep. And the phone rang. True story.

I picked it up. And I hear, ahh ahh Rich, this is Jimmy Stuart calling. And I went, oh this is a bad Stuart. Who is this? He said it's me. It's Ron. How are you? I heard you were in town. I said oh this is even worse. And I hung up on him.

ZAHN: You hung up on the President?

LITTLE: I hung up on him. I thought it was somebody doing bad impressions for me.

ZAHN: So at what point did you realize it was the President?

LITTLE: It was 6:00 in the morning. Now. Well one of his aids phoned me back and said that was the real President. So I had to phone him back. And I apologized. I said Mr. President; I didn't know that was you. And he said well I guess I should have done my John Wayne.

ZAHN: He probably did a pretty good one. I understand that the President sent you some telegrams over the years, and you'd like to share one of those with us tonight. Feel free to read a part of that if you would.

LITTLE: Well, the thing about Reagan is that he had a marvelous sense of humor. And he loved to tell jokes. So whenever I went to the White House or any function where I was performing, I would always go with three or four jokes in my mind. Because I knew he was going to tell me a joke. And if he told you a joke, then you told him one back. And if the person --didn't matter who it was, if he told a joke, and they didn't tell him one back, he'd walk away. Which was kind of interesting.

But one time he did impressions for me at the White House. He did Jimmy Stuart, John Wayne, and Truman Capote. Here was the President of the United States doing his impression of Truman Capote. And I thought, the people behind me probably thought, this is weird. Who is this man?

The first time I ever came to the White House for a dinner, it was for the President of Sri Lanka. And I was late. And I was running. Because you know, late for a function at the White House? And I ran down the corridor. And there was Reagan giving a speech.

It was at the time of Granada. And he was giving a very serious speech. And he kept looking at his watch because he wanted to go into this luncheon. And he saw me, and he said Rich, thank God you're here. You do a better impression than I do of myself. So you finish this interview. I'm going for a sandwich.

And he left. And left me to talk to the press about Granada. I knew you know nothing about it. And they were asking me questions like I was Ronald Reagan. And I was trying to do jokes and everything. And then I see Reagan behind me with a sandwich leaning our of the door saying, don't get us into a war.

ZAHN: Those stories are great.

LITTLE: And I have so many -- so many telegrams from him after I'd do -- after I would do something, he would always always write to me. And always they were funny. Like here's one in 1982. "Well you've done it again. I guess I should be somewhat comforted to know that Nancy and I are able to provide you with so much material." He said, "I think it will be good if I did an impression of you one day. Because who knows? You could be President."

ZAHN: Well you were. You were with the press core for about five minutes there. Rich little, we really appreciate you sharing some of the memories of the President with us tonight.

LITTLE: Thank you. Good to see you Paula.

ZAHN: you made us laugh I think for the first time today. Thank you.

LITTLE: Well thank you. I wish I could imitate you. I would never be lonely.

ZAHN: All right. I'm not going there. Bye Rich.

LITTLE: Bye.

ZAHN: Bye. Coming up. Ronald Reagan the Entertainer becomes Ronald Reagan the Politician. We'll look at the changes, and some of the challenges he faced. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D) NEW YORK: You know today I just want to remember that smile, and that grace that was so much a part of our lives for eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that smile and that grace was is large part honed during Ronald Reagan's career as an actor. Before he moved on to the global stage of the White House, he made his name on Hollywood sound stages, where he appeared in dozens of films.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: (voice-over): Ronald Reagan's Hollywood career began in 1937 when he played a radio announcer in the movie "Love is on the Air."

REAGAN: The are both down. Flat on their backs and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is to surprised to count.

ZAHN: Within a couple of years, Reagan had already appeared in 10 films. One of those, "Brother Rat" introduced him to actress Jane Wyman. They were married in 1940. That same year, in "Knute Rockne All American," Reagan played football legend George Gipp, a role that helped define his public image.

REAGAN: Someday when the team is up against it, brakes (ph) are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got. Win just one for the Gipper.

ZAHN: During World War II, Reagan served in the army air force, where he used his talents to produce and appear in hundreds of military training films.

REAGAN: It's a zero check.

ZAHN: After the war, the actor took the first steps towards a political career when he became involved in union politics. He was elected President of the Screen Actors Guild in 1946, serving an unprecedented five consecutive terms. While Reagan prospered as a union leader, his choice of movie roles began to diminish.

One part he took would later provide fodder for political opponent, "Bedtime for Bonzo."

REAGAN: Well Bonzo, I never did thank you for saving my life this morning did I?

ZAHN: It was also during this time that Reagan's marriage to Jane Wyman failed. In the 1950's Reagan's growing conservatism became apparent in his outspoken response to the red scare.

REAGAN: We can prove to the world that here in Hollywood, about 30,000 of us have been fighting against this particular infiltration for a long time.

ZAHN: It was the red scare that brought Nancy Davis to his door. The starlet thought Reagan's help to clear her name when she was mistakenly linked to a communist group. In 1952 they married. And in 1957 they costarred onscreen in "Hell Cats of the Navy."

NANCY REAGAN, FMR FIRST LADY: I was afraid you wouldn't come.

ZAHN: As Reagan's big screen fortunes faltered, he found work as a pitchman for General Electric.

REAGAN: It's our idea of the real way to live better electrically.

ZAHN: His work for GE involved extensive speech making, which helped to sharpen his political skills. Those skills eventually took Ronald Reagan to Sacramento.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I now declare you to be dually installed as Governor of the state of California.

ZAHN: And then on the White House, where the lessons learned in Hollywood paid off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining us now from Washington to talk about Ronald Reagan's career in Hollywood, and it's impact on his time in the White House, let's turn to Jack Valenti, President and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. Jack, welcome.

JACK VALENTI, PRESIDENT, MOTION PICTURE ASSN. OF AMERICA: Thank you Paula.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about how the President, and well the actor at the time was able to take his acting skills, transfer that to the political arena, and then for many many years, straddle the entertainment world with politics. How did he do it?

VALENTI: Well we've just seen it duplicated with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it can be done, and it will be done again. I think what Ronald Reagan brought to the political arena was the actor's skill in being able to do something that is absolutely indispensable to a leader. To be able to gain the affection and confidence of the people to whom you speak. The voters of this country. And have them follow you to the mountaintop.

He was able to do that. And as a result, I think he will go down as a great American President. Because if you can't inspire the people, and get them to follow you in the direction you want them to go, you're not a leader.

ZAHN: But what was his magic? Was it in the cadence of the way he spoke? Was it the simplicity of the language he used? Or was it the fact that he was so darned disarming?

VALENTI: I think all of the above. If you watch Reagan speak, he always spoke from a script, but I didn't see him speak extemporaneously but rarely. But he knew how to read a script. And he was able to transfer that actor's skill to a mastery of the television screen. Keep in mind Paula that only a tiny fragment of the American public ever sees the President or the presidential candidate in person.

Television is the medium through which he is gauged and measured. And by that standard, Reagan was magnificent. I must tell you. I as a clinical observer of speeches, I was enthralled by him. I think that only John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt who lived in the radio age have any claim to his level.

ZAHN: And you just mentioned radio. Which he had a lot of experience in. And it was just interesting now to listen to some of that speech that he gave when he was the president of the union. His skills were very well honed at that stage of his career weren't they?

VALENTI: That's very true. Keep in mind though; he brought this actor's craft. I don't think that Reagan was ever a class A actor like a Clark Gable or a Jimmy Stuart, but he was a very competent second level actor, and he had a long career. And when that career began to fade, his agent Lou Wasserman, who later became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood got him this assignment with the General Electric theatre.

Which allowed him then to leap from the movie screen, to the television screen, and there really really bevel and polish all of his skills.

ZAHN: Just a final reflection from you tonight on what you think Ronald Reagan means to this country.

VALENTI: Well I think his great legacy will be his hand held the hammer that cracked the Soviet Union, and ended the Cold War. Or whatever else historians we ascribe to him, I don't think there is no larger legacy than that. Because it had a lasting impression on this country, and even today. So we have to salute him for that. Very definitely.

ZAHN: Jack Valenti, thank you for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

Ronald Reagan's legacy to the Republican Party. We're going to look at how the former president revitalized the conservative movement in America when we come back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCLAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think he also restored a sense of optimism and belief in America that was badly shaken because of the Vietnam War. America was very badly divided and not sure of itself in the 1980s when he came to the presidency. And he restored our confidence and our faith in the greatness and the future of this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDI GUILIANI, FMR. MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Ronald Reagan believed in his core values. Anti communism, and favor of the private sector whether they were popular, or unpopular. And as a result of that, he was able to change the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The Democratic and Republican Parties have both been around for more than a century. But American politics is what it is today because of Ronald Reagan. Frank Sesno covered the Reagan White House for CNN. And he joins me now with a look of how the 40th President changed the political landscape and gave us modern day conservatism. How are you tonight?

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I'm great Paula. I'll tell you this is fascinating stuff having been at the White House for that long and to reflect back on it. How did he change the landscape? Utterly. There were 18 Republican governors before Reagan was president. Today there are 28. That speaks to a great deal of it.

He won his reelection with a 49 state sweep. There's a number for you. All the while, assembling a political jungle (ph) knot (ph), and arranging overlapping political interests.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO (voice-over): By the time 1984 rolled around, and Ronald Reagan sought reelection, he had remade the political landscape, forging a conservative coalition that redefined American politics. He portrayed liberals as the tax and spend crowd. REAGAN: They are tax and tax, spend, and spend philosophy.

SESNO: Who left to their own devices would grow government, and stifle individual initiative. How did he do it? With a consistent message that wove together a variety of themes. Lower taxes.

REAGAN: Government is not the solution to our problems.

SESNO: Smaller government. Patriotism. Military strength, anti-communism.

REAGAN: We are a nation under God. And I believe God intended

SESNO: Ronald Reagan attracted religious and social conservatives. And significant numbers of traditional Democrats such as union members and Catholics. Reagan's philosophy reflected his experience as a youth, of poor Midwestern stock. An alcoholic father, a religious mother. Reagan the lifeguard. In the midst of the Great Depression, Reagan the radio announcer. Reagan the actor.

A self-made man. First a liberal, then a conservative as taxes and the communist menace attracted his attention. Reagan's 1964 speech for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater endeared him to conservatives and served as a preamble to his future.

REAGAN: You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down. Man's own age old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order. Or down to the trash heap of fatalitarianism.

SESNO: Reagan invoked freedom, God, and opportunity to broaden his following. To the delight of fiscal conservatives, he railed against government spending.

REAGAN: For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

SESNO: As he would consistently criticize the communist Soviet Union, and predict it's demise.

REAGAN: The west won't contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won't bother to dismiss or denounce it. It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history who's last pages are even now being written.

SESNO: Reagan connected with religious conservatives by calling for a return to traditional morality. He supported the anti-abortion movement, and condemned the Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion. He spoke of the culture of dependence that welfare created. And of welfare queens who scammed the system. And from his beloved ranch, he delivered on the campaign promise that cut across his coalition. He slashed taxes.

In all the remembrance however, it should not be forgotten that the Reagan revolution was no cakewalk. It was hard fought, and often highly polarizing. More than a million protested his nuclear arms build up against the Soviets. Deficits mushroomed. The biggest ever. Shantytowns, food banks, and Hoovervilles (ph) sprouted in the early 80's as unemployment hit 10 percent.

Reagan's positions on welfare, school lunch, legal programs for the poor prompted charges he was shredding the social safety net. But he stayed the course, and the economy boomed. The Soviets negotiated. And America felt better about itself.

EDWIN MEESE, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What he did was he took what had been an intellectual and a political movement, and turned it into a governing movement, and proved that conservative principles work when they are applied. Both in California when he was governor, as well as when he was president.

SESNO: And later, a Democrat. Bill Clinton signed welfare reform that looked a lot like what Reagan talked about. And Bill Clinton declared the era of big government over. In one of his final public comments, Reagan savored the political irony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: And you know, maybe what this was all about Paula, is that Reagan used those skills as an actor to reach beyond the front row. He talked about that. Even deeper into the theatre of American politics. And the coalition that he brought together also brought the revolution that bore his name.

ZAHN: You traveled all over the country with the President. What struck you about this coalition, as clumsy as it was sometimes in form?

SESNO: The coalition was remarkable because it cut across regions. It cut across most ethnicities, not all. And it cut across age groups. And one of the most remarkable things, the press core. The Washington press core, that's a pretty jaded group.

And you know, we'd go in as this little envelope, this little bubble, for example to universities. And they'd be jammed with all these young people cheering this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And a lot of these reporters would scratch their heads and say what is this? What are they connecting on?

ZAHN: What was it?

SESNO: The future. There was a star value to him. He talked about America in terms that many of those kids could understand. And there was something interesting happening on the campuses during those years Paula. The campuses were becoming more conservative. The young people were becoming more conservative. And they connected with somebody that some rather jaded folks said was grandpa. He wasn't.

ZAHN: How did the President take those acting skills and transfer them to any dealings he had with the press? Because I know that a lot of you found him incredibly disarming.

SESNO: Well.

ZAHN: He was, wasn't he?

SESNO: Well yes, there you go again. Yes, he was disarming. And if he didn't want to answer a question, it was well, time to go. Or he couldn't hear over the roar of the helicopter, or he managed to get out a one-liner as part of the Q&A. He could be agonizing for the media, because he operated on a different level. And he didn't need the media as much as the media needed him. And when he wanted to, he looked into that camera, and he looked right out to the public, and he looked right out to people in the living room, and he spoke right to them, and he knew exactly what he was doing.

ZAHN: But he also spoke right to you too. He was pretty playful.

SESNO: He was very playful. He was very playful. And of course that also led to some gaps which he didn't care about, because that was part of the process. I remember one time when he came back to the plane and he said -- we were coming back from Latin America, and he said well, you wouldn't know they were all individual countries down there.

ZAHN: I remember that one. Frank Sesno thank you. We look forward to having you back here tomorrow night.

When we come back, remembering Ronald Reagan at his most poignant and powerful.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Finally tonight, there is a reason why Ronald Reagan was called the great communicator. As we have seen his careers in radio, television, and the movies put him at ease with an audience. But it was the earth shaking, and sometime heartbreaking events of his presidency that produced his most powerful moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism, and prey upon their neighbors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: The march of freedom and democracy which will lead Marxism, Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom, and muzzle the self-expression of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may be always free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: The crew of the space shuttle "Challenger" honored us for the matter in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them. This morning as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye. And slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: I take full responsibility for my own actions, and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: And whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears. To your confidence, rather then your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps, and opportunities arm, steadying your way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: My friends we did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. And so good-bye, God bless you and God bless the Unites States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that is it for us this evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Please join us all this week for coverage of the historic ceremonies honoring the life and the legacy of Former President Ronald Reagan.

A special edition of LARRY KING LIVE is next. Followed by NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN at 10:00pm Eastern. The CNN special Warsaw Rising will air at 11:00. Again, thanks for joining us tonight. Have a good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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