Sources and victims square off over Kelley's naughty Nancy Reagan bio
April 29, 1991 -- From the moment that Kitty Kelley's Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biographyhit the bookstores, it has been under attack. Could the figure Kelley portrays really be the former First Lady -- petty, greedy, compassionless, a social climber and manipulator? Or is it caustic Kitty's own methods and standards that aren't so pretty -- the barrage of unattributed assertions, the jabs from some unreliable sources, the absence of context and evaluation?
"You can see that something is right about this book," Kelley maintained last week. "It is disturbing too many powerful people not to be taken seriously." As for the denials that filled the air, Kelley said, "I'm accustomed to this. I am fully prepared for people to step forward and say, 'I didn't talk to her.' "
The Reagans, whose Bel Air house was swamped with calls and flowers from well-wishers, continued on their appointed rounds. Ronald threw out the first ball at Dodgers' stadium. Nancy attended a baby shower at a Beverly Hills restaurant. Both turned up at a dinner party at industrialist Allen Poulson's house, where, according to one friend, they seemed "quite relaxed and normal."
Meanwhile, the debate raging around them is a morass of contradictory charges and countercharges, few capable of being resolved. The following pages offer voices from both sides -- Kelley and her sources, and Reagan loyalists and defenders. Readers may, as they must ultimately, judge for themselves.
EX-STARLETS & ALLEGATIONS
Kelley's book contains startling claims about Ronald Reagan's past; we visited three of her sources
JACQUELINE PARK: "HE WAS A SWINGER IN THOSE DAYS"
KELLEY CLAIMS: After the breakup of his marriage to Wyman and before he met Nancy, Reagan had an affair with starlet Jacqueline Park, later the mistress of Warner Bros. studio boss Jack Warner. Park told Kelley that when the two began dating, Reagan "couldn't perform sexually. I think he was still suffering withdrawal pains from [former wife] Jane Wyman." Throughout their liaison, Park said, "He never took me out in public, never gave me a present and never ever paid for a cab for me." According to Park, she became pregnant; Reagan denied that the child was his and ended the affair.
JACQUELINE PARK SAYS: Kelley quoted her fairly
accurately. "When I told him I was pregnant, he said he didn't want to
have anything to do with me anymore. He just ran out on me. He was a swinger
in those days. He went out with this girl and that girl. But the moment
he married Nancy and became a Republican, he was reformed, and there's
nothing more boring than a reformed swinger."
SELENE WALTERS: "THE BATTLE OF THE COUCH"
KELLEY CLAIMS: Reagan met starlet Selene Walters in a Hollywood nightclub in the early 1950s. "Although I was on a date," she quotes Walters as saying, "Ronnie kept whispering in my ear, 'I'd like to call you. How can I get in touch with you?' " Hoping that Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, could boost her career, Walters gave him her address and was surprised when he came calling at 3 A.M. "He pushed his way inside and said he just had to see me. He forced me on the couch . . . and said, 'Let's just get to know each other.' It was the most pitched battle I've ever had, and suddenly in a matter of seconds I lost. . . . They call it date rape today. . . ."
SELENE WALTERS SAYS: Kelley's account of
his late-night visit is essentially accurate, although he never forced
his way into her apartment. "I opened the door. Then it was the battle
of the couch. I was fighting him. I didn't want him to make love to me.
He's a very big man, and he just had his way. Date rape? No, God, no,
that's [Kelley's] phrase. I didn't have a chance to have a date with him."
Walters says she bears Reagan no ill will, and has even voted for him:
"I don't think he meant to harm me."
DORIS LILLY: "HE WAS VERY GENTLE, VERY SQUARE"
KELLEY CLAIMS: Writer and columnist Doris Lilly (How to Marry a Millionaire) told the author that she and Reagan "had a delightful little romance" for about a year in 1948. Lilly is quoted as saying, "Intimately, he was nothing memorable, but he was an appealing-looking guy who was very, very sweet. I hate to say that he was weak -- maybe a nicer word would be passive. . . . He loved to go out and be seen at all the nightclubs in those days, and he loved to drink, so we used to go out and get smashed."
DORIS LILLY SAYS: "I never used the words 'get smashed.' I don't talk that way. Those were the days when everybody drank. He was never drunk. He never did anything in the extreme. He was a very gentle, very square, very hayseed type of a man." Lilly (with Reagan, left, at the Stork Club in Manhattan in 1949) adds, "And I never said we had an intimate relationship. I don't talk about sex. That's not my generation."
LUNCH WITH SINATRA: WAS LOVE ON THE MENU?
KELLEY CLAIMS: Nancy and Sinatra began having an affair when her husband was Governor of California and "continued for years." As First Lady, Kelley writes, Nancy entertained Sinatra at the White House, which he entered "in the back way," for three- or four-hour "private 'luncheons' " in the family quarters. When Nancy was with him, Kelley quotes a staffer as saying, "She was not to be disturbed. For anything. And that included a call from the President himself."
SHEILA TATE, NANCY'S FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, SAYS: "The instance I know [was] a very innocent lunch, without any quotations around it. There was a meeting with the whole senior staff and Sinatra and Nancy. Then they did have lunch, but by 1:30 or 2:00 he was in the Oval Office.'' Tate says that all guests were always escorted to the residence elevator. "[Kelley] loosely calls that being brought 'in the back.' And it was not unusual for calls to be held during a meeting or when a guest was visiting. It was out of common courtesy."
JOE CANZERI, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ASSISTANT: "I'm not saying that they might not have been alone together. But if [Kelley says] they were jumping up and down on top of one another, that would be a lie. There are too many people upstairs at the White House. There's the Secret Service right outside the door."
AN EVENING OF REEFER MADNESS WITH JACK BENNY
KELLEY CLAIMS: While Reagan was Governor, he and Nancy attended a dinner party at the home of society pals Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale at which marijuana was smoked. After Betsy's peach ice-cream dessert, Kelley's source reports, Alfred brought out a joint and passed it among the guests, who included the Jack Bennys and the George Burnses. The source, Bloomingdale aide Sheldon Davis, claims he heard Alfred talk about the incident at the office later: "Within five minutes they all started giggling but claimed they didn't feel a thing and said they couldn't see what the big deal was."
BETSY BLOOMINGDALE SAYS: "That never took place. Have you got a mental picture of me serving marijuana to George Burns and Jack Benny and the Reagans? George Burns puffing away at the table and without his cigar? I looked at that and said, 'It's ridiculous.' That's my answer to that and the rest of the book."
OF PATTI, ABORTION AND TEDDY BEARS
KELLEY CLAIMS: Nancy's daughter, Patti Davis, "had abortions," according to the daughter of one of Nancy's close friends. Kelley writes that Nancy "once rushed [Patti] off" for "surgery on a botched-up job." As for stepson Michael, Kelley alleges that Nancy made a birthday present to his son Cameron of a teddy bear that had been recycled from the White House gift closet -- the same toy Cameron had lost there a few months earlier.
PATTI DAVIS SAYS: "I've never been pregnant, and I've never had an abortion. If I had had one, I would have written an article on it for MS. magazine, because I'm pro-choice." But I don't blame Kitty Kelley for that because she must have gotten the story from one of my mother's friends. They have nothing else to do but sit around at the Bistro [a Beverly Hills restaurant and tell stories."
MICHAEL REAGAN SAYS: "The stories about me come right out of my book [On the Outside Looking In,1988]." The teddy bear tale, he says, is essentially true, although his parents "had no idea that Cameron had already seen that bear, or where it came from. And it came with a card and inside the card was a check. The check isn't mentioned in Kelley's book. [As told] it implies cheap.