It's a romance that reads like a Hollywood script. More than 50 years ago, two movie stars, Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan, met and fell in love. Through the years, the power couple survived it all together, from the seduction of Hollywood and the pressures of the White House to the lonely devastation of Alzheimer's.
Biographer Anne Edwards, who previously wrote a book about Ronald Reagan's beginnings in "Early Reagan: The Rise to Power," returns to the Reagan story in her new book, "The Reagans: Portrait Of A Marriage."
Edwards writes of the couple's first meeting and the family and friends who surrounded their lives in government and entertainment. She tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "No two people have been so bonded. It was almost adhesive."
It was a relationship that Edwards points out emotionally excluded their children. "It was not really a good family situation there, but for the two of them, it's probably the love affair of the last century," she says. "It is really sad. But it seemed to be the only way that they could operate."
Edwards says that Ronald Reagan was very much afraid of losing Nancy. She adds, "How ironic that this is the way it's ended up, with her taking care of him. She's absolutely marvelous in this particular situation."
It is interesting, Edwards says, that people have come to like Mrs. Reagan in recent years. During their time at the White House, she was not well liked by the media nor the public.
Edwards says, "A great deal had to do with the fact that she was outspoken, she was there. She was really one of the first of the modern kind of women. She expressed her love for her husband in public. You never really saw that much in couples. You do now, of course, with Hillary and Bill during that period. But you don't even see it with Laura and Bush. I mean they don't have that kind of closeness. They touched. They were always touching, constantly holding hands. There was that real need. There was a great sexual love there that was going on."
Through the years, people have laughed about Nancy Reagan arranging the president's schedule according to her astrologer. But Edwards says that should not undermine how bright the former president was.
Edwards says, "I know Ronald Reagan from way back, when he was president of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild). Don't ever undestimate Mr. Reagan. He was one of the brightest men we had in the White House. That comes from a strong Democrat, which I was. But, he really is an intelligent man. He had a photographic memory, which makes today even more tragic for him. You could speak on any subject with him."
When asked where his ambition came from, Edwards says, "He's a very religious man. He always believed God was directing him. He was ambitious to carry out what he thought was God's work. He thought God really brought in Nancy and that's it."
Edwards' other works include "Vivien Leigh: A Biography," "Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor" and "Katharine Hepburn: A Biography."
Edwards is a former president of the Authors Guild. Currently, she and her husband, musical theater historian Stephen Citron, live in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Read an excerpt from "The Reagans: Portrait Of A Marriage"
Nancy arrived at the hospital at 2:50 P.M. not yet knowing that Ronnie had been shot. Deaver said she was near hysteria when the doctors informed her of what they suspected. A team of expert surgeons was now on the way for consultation. "Will they operate?" she wanted to know and was informed that X rays had first to be taken to see if they could locate the bullet. Nancy's hand was shaking as she raised it to her mouth to hold back her inclination to cry. Her high heels click clicked and echoed as she raced down the tile floors of the hospital corridors to where Ronnie still lay on the gurney.
The moment she was by his side, she straightened and tried to smile as he looked up at her through the oxygen mask, which the nurse lifted for a moment. Nancy saw the blood on his mouth and she took his hand. "Honey," he said weakly, his words coming in small gasps, "I forgot to duck." Reagan would eventually write: "As long as I live I will never forget the thought that rushed into my head as I looked up into [Nancy's] face. Later I wrote it down in my diary: 'I pray I'll never face a day when she isn't there ... of all the ways God has blessed me, giving her to me was the greatest beyond anything I can ever hope deserve'.
A few moments later they were surrounded by a team of specialists. X rays were taken, more blood plasma given. One of the doctors signaled Nancy, and she leaned over, kissed Ronnie, and stood there as he was wheeled away down the tunnel-like hallway surrounded by equipment and medical staff and by Dave Fischer, who remained on duty despite the attending doctors' strong objections. As he was wheeled past Baker, Deaver, and Meese, Reagan said in a raspy voice, "Who's minding the store?"
Nancy appeared small and vulnerable as she stood in the clinical coldness of the hospital corridor shoulders narrowed, hands clasped, in shock as Ronnie's gurney disappeared behind a pair of green doors. Deaver came up close to her side. Her hand was trembling again. "There's a little chapel upstairs," he said. "Why don't we go in there for a while?" After she was assured that she would be kept constantly informed, she took Deaver's arm for support and, with the Secret Service surrounding her, made her way to the chapel via a nearby elevator.
Luckily, there had been a major conference of the hospital's top surgeons in session at the time the president was brought in. As soon as they were alerted that the president had been shot, they rushed to Reagan's side. By 3:00 p.m. they had set their medical course. The bullet had to be removed, but first they had to be sure that the internal bleeding was not coming from any of his abdominal organs. Dr. Benjamin Aaron, chief of thoracic surgery and head of the surgical team who would operate on the president, determined that a peritoneal lavage should be performed immediately. Reagan was losing blood fast and Doctor Aaron "didn't want to get into a situation where [with the president on the table to remove the bullet from the chest cavity, where it had lodged], they'd have a major blood transfusion to deal with [caused by bleeding elsewhere]." The result was negative, and by 3:24 P.M. the president was wheeled into the operating room to be prepared for the delicate surgery to locate and remove the bullet, which they could only hope had not entered the heart chamber.
When Doctor Aaron informed Reagan that he was about to begin surgery, he replied, "I hope you're a Republican."...
The foregoing is excerpted from The Reagans: Portrait Of A Marriage. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from St. Martin's Press.