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Lured by Bogus Meeting : Reagan Surprised by Staff at Spirit of ’76 Birthday

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United Press International

President Reagan walked unsuspectingly into a birthday party thrown by his staff today and threw away a speech on private sector initiatives, joking, “Oh, to hell with it.”

Reagan, 76, did not seem stunned so much as speechless as he took the stage in the Old Executive Office auditorium, which was festooned with red, white and blue crepe paper, balloons of every shape and color and 18 members of the Marine Band serenading him with the song, “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

Behind him was a banner reading, “Happy Birthday Mr. President. Here’s to the Spirit of ’76.”

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Cake With Seven Candles

His wife, Nancy, wheeled out a large flat chocolate cake with white icing, decorated with seven large candles. The President huffed and puffed and left one candle aflame. The First Lady blew out the last one.

Mrs. Reagan also whispered to him as he looked out over the crowd of about 150, “This is your staff.”

Taken aback, and without a microphone for his “speech,” Reagan said he had actually been briefed for his appearance before a bogus meeting on private sector initiatives. Then he pulled out a sheet of paper and read in an exaggerated voice, “Meeting on private sector initiatives.”

Reagan told the story of his old Hollywood boss, Jack Warner, whose “favorite trick at any public appearance he had was to start with a speech and then say, ‘Oh, to hell with it.’ ” At that point, the President threw his speech into the air.

Although Mrs. Reagan gave him a hand-held microphone, the President--with a plate of cake in one hand and a gift in the other--rejected it.

He said, “Of all the 38th anniversaries of my 39th birthday, this is one of the nicest.”

It was actually the 37th such anniversary.

Cartoon Presented

His staff gave him an original drawing by Cincinnati Enquirer cartoonist Jim Borgman showing him being doused with a bucket of Gatorade while saying “Really, fellas, a simple chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ would have been sufficient.”

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At the end, the Marine Band played another verse of “Seventy-Six Trombones.” Mrs. Reagan told the President what it was playing, and he walked out into the corridor of the building clutching a cluster of about 50 huge balloons.

Reporters were tipped to the event about an hour ahead of time so they could be on hand to cover it, but were pledged to secrecy.

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