To the Wicks, Running the Inauguration Is Just Another Bash for Pals Ronnie and Nancy
This may be Ron and Nancy's big week, but not much of the hoopla would be happening except for Charles and Mary Jane. Wick, that is. He is co-chairman of the 1981 Inaugural Committee, and his wife has the extremely delicate job of Invitation Coordinator. By Washington measurement, their unofficial title is even more impressive: two of the new First Family's closest friends.
Charles (with co-chairman Robert Gray, a D.C. public relations executive) has been masterminding the $8 million Inauguration, which culminates this week with fireworks, band concerts, a parade, the Frank Sinatra-run gala, nine balls in Washington and 100 around the country connected by closed-circuit television. "It's the Normandy invasion without water," quips Charles. Sighs Mary Jane: "When my daughter was married, I had six months to do the wedding." This time she had just 65 days to send out invitations to the 150,000 or so people who are invited to the various functions. Another 400,000 "honorary" invitations also went out. (The Reagan Inauguration, the most expensive in history, is paid for by ticket sales to the events and high-priced mementos. By contrast, Jimmy Carter's no-frills entry into the Presidency cost $3 million.)
Drawing up the 1981 guest list was not so difficult as it may sound for Mary Jane, 56. The Wicks spent the last two years raising over $10 million for Reagan's campaign, so they know who his friends are. For anyone overlooked, Mary Jane has a virtuous reply: "I'd like to see people who have been productive come to the functions, but I think they should be happy to do what they can." In other words, putting the right man in the Oval Office is its own reward for generosity.
The Inauguration plan has drawn some criticism for its extravagance and for being tailored so minutely to TV coverage, down to such details as allowing cameras into Reagan's lunch with congressional leaders after his oath-taking. The Wicks dismiss both complaints. "Fireworks, bunting," Charles said. "That's how people celebrate." Co-chairman Gray told one interviewer, "What better way to share it all than through television?"
Friends of the new First Family for 25 years, the Wicks are typical of Reagan intimates—self-made successes who are unapologetic about their wealth. They were virtual political neophytes when they joined the Reagan campaign. "I registered as a Republican for the first time this election," says Charles, 63. "I was always an independent." Mary Jane first ventured into politics when she volunteered to help Howard Jarvis raise money for his Proposition 13 real estate tax battle in 1978. "I was appalled when I found out what our taxes were going to be," she bristles. "I realized that if you really want better government, you simply have to get involved in trying to do it yourself."
That fervor led them to throw a $1,000-a-guest cocktail party for Reagan in 1979. It brought in $89,000. Charles and Mary Jane next formed the Reagan $10,000 Club, and eventually rounded up 350 members promising to raise that amount. In August, after Reagan's nomination, the Republican National Committee summoned the Wicks to Washington to chair Prelude to Victory Dinners, 20 fetes around the country linked by TV; they collected $5 million.
Born in Minnesota, where her father was a business executive, Mary Jane Woods studied briefly at the University of Minnesota and the University of Southern California and was working as a model when she met Charles in 1944. She was 20, lounging at the California pool of a mutual friend. He was cramming for the California bar, but not studying so hard he didn't take a second look, he recalls practically, at a girl whose "very refreshing beauty seemed a composite of a lovely exterior flushed with a beautiful interior philosophy." Mary Jane wasn't into coquetting. "When I met him I stood up and shook hands and said, 'How do you do?' He thought my straightforwardness funny and asked me for a date." They dated for four years.
Charles Z. Wick, son of a Cleveland businessman, had a music degree from the University of Michigan and was doing arrangements for the Tommy Dorsey and Fred Waring bands while attending Case Western Reserve University law school. Charles, who added the "Z" when he saw all the "Charles Wick"s in the L.A. phone directory, was investing in real estate and "leading such a marvelous life that the thought of getting married was too hard to take," he recounts. "But Mary Jane kept turning people down until I finally proposed. I have spent 33 years being retroactively grateful for those four she was so patient about."
They moved to New York, where Charles worked as an all-purpose agent for such diverse clients as Sir Winston Churchill (on his literary interests in the U.S.) and Benny Goodman. Wick returned to California in 1956 and founded several small film and TV production companies (Snow White and the Three Stooges was one of his features), then went into the nursing home business four years before the advent of Medicare made it a growth industry. Since he sold out in 1978 for $1.8 million, he has overseen his varied investment portfolio and toiled for Reagan.
Mary Jane, meanwhile, was raising five children. While car-pooling Charles Jr. (known as C.Z.) in the late '50s, she met Nancy Reagan, whose daughter Patti was in the same private elementary school. "We became involved in the mothers' club and found we had a great deal in common," Mary Jane recalls. They worked for such charities as the Colleagues, which started one of the first infant day-care centers, and collaborated on family screenings, barbecues and volleyball games. In the '60s Nancy and she commiserated, Mary Jane says, when "Patti was a teenager and my boys went through a period of having long hair. We tried to handle it delicately, but I don't think we had any truly serious problems. The average child in high school today would have tried marijuana or pot or whatever they call it."
Two young Wicks were in the audience when young Ron Reagan debuted with the Joffrey II ballet last October, and Ron stayed with C.Z. when he took his new bride to California to see the family over the Christmas holidays. C.Z., 28, is an ABC executive; Douglas Wick, 26, is an associate film producer (he worked on Starting Over); Pamela, 25, is married to a Chicago bank executive who is the son of House Minority Leader Robert Michel; Cynthia, 23, works at Glamour, and Kimberly, 20, is at the University of Colorado. Says Nancy Reynolds, Mrs. Reagan's close friend and former aide: "In addition to the warm friendship between the two couples, the governor and Nancy are crazy about the Wick children—and vice versa."
Helped by a staff of three at the estate they bought from Lana Turner in Holmby Hills, Mary Jane is proud that "I've always done charity work, and yet have always managed to be home with the children." She doesn't regret not having a career. "I'm no women's libber," she says.
The Wicks will keep an apartment at Watergate. "It's fun to have a place to visit here," says Mary Jane. How frequently will they see the First Family? "My friendship with Ronnie has never been as close as Mary Jane's with Mrs. Reagan," says Charles. "He has very few intimate friends." Still, Washington rumors suggest that Charles is a logical contender to become either head of the International Communication Agency (as the USIA is now called) or a job this week prepared him for ideally—chief of protocol. The ICA job is more likely, but protocol would have one distinct appeal: the Wicks would work again as a couple. "My wife," he says, "is one of the best executives and the nicest woman I've ever known."
On Newsstands Now
- Kim's Delivery Room Drama!
- Katie: A Year After Split
- Princess Kate: Palace's Baby Plan Revealed
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine