WHERE WERE YOU? : The Date of Aug. 8, 1985, Tests President Reagan and Others Playing the Game of Memory Lane

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Times Staff Writer

Let’s play a game. Think back to Thursday, Aug. 8, 1985. What were you doing? What were you doing? Here are some of the day’s events to refresh your memory:

--The air quality in Los Angeles is downright decent.

--The Dodgers are trying to win their longest game of the season without their hottest hitter one day after the baseball strike was settled.

--The stock market posts its first clear-cut gain in a week.

--Silent film star Louise Brooks dies of a heart attack at age 78.

--A fierce blaze chars more than 700 acres in the Sierra Nevada.

--Retired Navy officer Arthur J. Walker is convicted in 10 minutes by a U.S. district judge on seven counts of spying for the Soviets.

--”The Tonight Show” is a repeat.

It’s also the day that President Reagan did or did not approve in advance the initial Israeli shipment of U.S.-made arms to Iran.


Now, 18 months later, Reagan says he can’t recollect his actions. “Everybody who can remember what they were doing on Aug. 8, 1985, raise your hand,” he told reporters Tuesday. Then he looked about and said, “I think it’s possible to forget. Nobody’s raised any hands.”

The President may not remember exactly, but many of his fellow Californians say they can.

Some needed to glance at their diaries or calendars or even computers to be sure. Spago superchef Wolfgang Puck can’t understand why Reagan’s diary isn’t as complete as his own. “After all,” he said, “it’s not like cooking food.” A few could account for their movements every 15 minutes. One or two could provide some possible scenarios. Norman Lear, for instance, said, “I was either flying to New York on a Pan Am flight or returning from New York on an American flight or fixing the leg on my favorite end table.”

Seuss Was Writing

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) says he probably was thinking about President Reagan but he knows he was finishing up his book, “You’re Only Old Once,” which was published last March.

Bill Bushnell of the Los Angeles Theatre Center says his assistant “forgot to shred my books for that day,” so he can provide an hour-by-hour account, which included having dinner with British agent Michael Imison.

Sen. Alan Cranston’s recall is even more accurate. He has a schedule for Aug. 8, 1985, that shows that at 4:45 p.m. he was showering and changing at UCLA after a run.

Paul Weeks of the Rand Corp. knows that he was mailing out a report entitled, “A Conceptual Framework for Analyzing Terrorist Groups,” by three of the think tank’s associates.


Los Angeles Philharmonic Executive Director Ernest Fleischmann remembers exactly: He was on sabbatical in Tuscany and waiting for his daughter’s boyfriend. “It wasn’t that hard,” he said about recollecting, “because I was thinking of this before.”

Restaurateur Jimmy Murphy of Jimmy’s in Beverly Hills can remember whom he was feeding: former Sen. John Tunney, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon and actor Sidney Poitier. “That’s a long way back to go. It looked like it was a very busy lunch,” Murphy said. “Thank God I keep these books.”

Model agency owner Nina Blanchard knows she taped two TV shows, one in her home and one at CNN’s studios. “Without my appointment book,” she said, “I never would have remembered that.”

Always on Thursdays

Dick Clark, known as the busiest man in television, can pinpoint that he was taping “The $25,000 Pyramid,” as he always does on Thursdays.

“Cagney & Lacey” executive producer Barney Rosenzweig recalls that it was a banner day; he was crowing over 10 Emmy nominations and fighting with actress Sharon Gless. And the crew and cast of “Murder She Wrote” know they were electrocuting a character in a bathtub.

And, naturally, Frank Zappa just made something up: “I was head of the National Security Council arranging to have arms shipped to Pakistan and Angola and diverting funds through a Swiss bank account in order to shamelessly spend it on the campaigns of my favorite Republicans. But, really, what I was doing on that day doesn’t matter. What matters is what he was doing.”

And there were those people who didn’t have a clue as to their whereabouts. Science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury believes “no one can remember. I think the President’s right there.” And if Reagan remembered, Bradbury maintained, “he’d be superhuman.”


Others have trouble with more recent dates. “I don’t even remember what I was doing on Aug. 8, 1986,” quipped Douglas S. Cramer, executive vice president of Aaron Spelling Productions.

Admittedly, some dates are easier to reconstruct than others. Everyone knows where he or she was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Or President Reagan was shot. Or the shuttle Challenger blew up. By all accounts, Aug. 8, 1985, seemed to be just another ordinary day.

Ulric Neisser, Woodruff professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta and a memory specialist, said the President’s failure to recall what he was doing is not unusual because “nobody’s memory is organized by dates. You would start by remembering where you were that summer and go from there.”

Neisser’s comments are particularly relevant because in 1981 he issued a study comparing Nixon White House counsel John Dean’s congressional testimony with secret Oval Office tape recordings during the Watergate scandal. He maintains that Reagan’s failure to remember is consistent with a management style that “doesn’t have consistent plans and strategies. Reagan’s conception of the presidency does not include being on top of things, so he doesn’t remember what he’s done and what he’s doing.”

OK, Neisser, what were you doing on Aug. 8, 1985? “Damned if I know.”

Staff writers Jeannine Stein and Garry Abrams also contributed to this story.