Sunday, March 13, 2016
Strictly Grade B
Yup, she's dead. I've been wracking my brains trying to remember something I'd read about the woman that resonated, that really explained the truth about her particular kind of pinchbeck allure. I'm ashamed to admit that it took until this afternoon to remember that it was, predictably enough, from the writings of the marvelous Mr. Leo Lerman.
Not long after the odious couple took over the White House, Lerman, along with Grace Mirabella and no less than Horst, traveled down from New York to photograph the new First Lady for Vogue (That's one of the resulting shots, above). He was not, one might say, impressed.
"Mrs. Reagan - everything save her shoes is wrong. The Galanos [dress], really cruel, exposing her sixty-year-old flabbiness (The White House rang to tell us that she has "an upper-arm problem" and she does - also sags under the chins, no figure, no bosom). Mrs. Reagan widens her eyes into hypnotic hugeness the way she was taught in Hollywood...She has a useless, vacant laugh - mirthless.
Everything is according to script. She gave the expected smiles and words of pleasure. She said to Horst, 'I'm such a great fan of yours,' and somehow implied that she was entirely and trustingly in his hands. She seems an empty vessel - but not one easily filled. She is a poor actress in a four-year* starring role. She needs help - scheduled surprise, planned spontaneity. The basic image is moviemaking, and the movie from the start is strictly Grade B."
As for me, I wrote a little about her once, on her birthday. I don't think, even as her unpleasant legacy roils what's left of this, the sorriest political season perhaps since she and Saint Ronnie took over Washington, that I can much improve on what I said two years ago:
"I'm afraid I can't be distanced or dispassionate about the onetime Nancy Davis, B-movie non-sensation, political wife, voracious consumer, dupe of astrologers, First Lady who presided over a tawdry era of greed and sheer tackiness unrivaled in a century. Wielding a kind of tinpot ersatz glamour... she and her Ronnie set our country off on countless wrong directions - imperial adventures in Central America, fiscal imprudence, the steady, slow dismantling of the always precarious social safety nets...
And of course, the plague. Nancy Reagan, with her coteries of hairdressers and decorators and couturiers, her intimate friendships with the likes of Merv Griffin and Jerry Zipkin... never said a word about AIDS. For years. Years of wasted time, unraised funds, and hundreds, thousands of deaths. Supposedly she eventually pushed her recalcitrant husband and his reactionary regime (at a time when, as Surgeon General C. Everett Koop later reported, the president's advisers thought that patients "were only getting what they justly deserve"), but that's Simply. Not. Enough.
So no. No kind words for the old lady sitting in her California mansion. When it comes to her and her evil dupe of a husband, I just say no."
* Four years? If only!