Picks and Pans Review: Nancy Reagan
by Kitty Kelley
Kelley has made a tidy career of exposing the clay feet, ankles and torsos of such icons as Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. But she hits her zenith or—depending on your point of view—nadir with Nancy Reagan.
As has already been breathlessly reported, hashed and rehashed in the press, the 500-plus page behemoth charges that the ex—First Lady is a liar of no mean talent (she dissembled about, among other things, her age and her father's background) and that she is social climbing, greedy (she expected wealthy friends to supply her with houses), a lousy mother and cheap (she routinely recycled presents, on one occasion sending as a birthday present to her grandson a teddy bear he'd left behind on a visit to the White House).
Further, Kelley claims that as a Hollywood starlet, Nancy was—how to put this—generous with her favors, often picking as bed partners men who, like MGM head of casting Benny Thau, could massage her career.
And then there's that shocker—every Kelley bio comes equipped with a spray of heretofore unreported juice that grabs headlines—about Nancy's supposed affair with Sinatra, which began while Ronald Reagan was still Governor of California and continued through the White House years.
On the plus side, Nancy was unswervingly loyal to friend Betsy Bloomingdale through the sex-murder scandal that enveloped her husband, Alfred, in 1982, and uncharacteristically relaxed and loving when making ceremonial hospital visits to deformed children. Most of the book, though, is a numbing succession of Nancy atrocity stories, recounted in banal, psychobabble-heavy prose. Nancy's early separation from her parents (after they broke up, Nancy lived with an aunt and uncle for five years), claims Kelley, "left her with gnawing insecurities...rendering her unable to give and receive love naturally, which, in turn, seared her own children."
The reader is in a quandary here. On one hand, much of Kelley's material is credible since it jibes with press accounts of Nancy's malfeasance. On the other hand, it would be tough to find too many people whose reputations could withstand the opinions and recollections gleaned from—count 'em—the 102 interviews Kelley claims she did for this opus.
And about all those sources, many of them unnamed: The tendentious Kelley neglects to suggest what her sources' motivation might have been. Under the circumstances, that is a crucial omission.
Some will be titillated by this book, some will be pleased at what they see as a long overdue comeuppance. Others will thunder with indignation. But after a point, there is only one correct response to Nancy Reagan: acute boredom. Just say no sale. (Simon and Schuster, $24.95)
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