President Reagan said Tuesday that "no policy or decision in my mind has ever been influenced by astrology," but a White House spokesman suggested that Mrs. Reagan's interest in the shifting alignment of heavenly bodies had played a role in his scheduling.
Particularly after the attempt on Reagan's life in March, 1981, "astrology has been a part of her concern in terms of his activities," spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said at a news briefing dominated by a cosmic issue entirely novel for White House reporters.
Fitzwater, suddenly forced to deal with a revelation contained in a forthcoming book by former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, spent much of the day fielding questions about which astrologers the President, an Aquarius, and the First Lady, a Cancer, might have consulted--and which presidential events might have felt the impact of astrological advice.
Fitzwater, who talked it over with the Reagans, supplied few specifics.
For example, he claimed to have no knowledge "in a detailed sense" about the truth of a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Mrs. Reagan, taking an astrologer's advice, had insisted that the signing of the U.S.-Soviet treaty eliminating medium-range nuclear missiles be held at 1:30 p.m. last Dec. 8.
Similar reports about Mrs. Reagan's use of astrologers for scheduling speeches and trips followed the disclosure by Newsweek magazine Monday that Regan would detail such incidents in a book to be excerpted by Time magazine next week.
A Regan spokesman declined to discuss the matter.
Fitzwater acknowledged that Reagan has a thing about lucky numbers--his is 33--and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in the White House, but said he knew nothing of the President's own interest in astrology.
Former presidential aide Lyn Nofziger said he believed it was confined to reading horoscopes in the newspaper.
"I guarantee you, we never scheduled a speech or appearance because somebody said the stars were not right," Nofziger said. "If he's been consulting astrologers, he's been getting some bum advice. Who told him to make (the arms-for-hostages) deal with the Iranians?"
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, told a news conference in Boston: "I hope the nation's destiny beginning in January, 1989, will be based on something other than horoscopes." When asked if he checked his own horoscope, Dukakis said: "No, I don't."
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said it was all right with him if the Reagans were receiving astrological guidance. "I'm glad he consults somebody," Wright said, smiling.
Reagan's own denial of astrological influence came when he was questioned about the reports during a proclamation-signing ceremony. When pressed about whether astrology had played a part in shaping his schedule, he quipped: "You know, I'm still looking for the fellow who tells me every day what I'm going to be doing."
'65 Autobiography Cited
In his 1965 autobiography, "Where's the Rest of Me?" Reagan referred to astrologer Carroll Righter, who died Sunday, as a good friend and said that "every morning Nancy and I turn to see what he has to say about people of our respective birth signs."
Thomas S. Pierson, Righter's business manager, acknowledged the Reagans' friendship with Righter but, when asked about details, said: "I never discuss any of his clients."
Pierson did confirm a report that Reagan never told anyone the exact time he was born on Feb. 6, 1911--a crucial element for astrologers in casting a person's chart related to positions of the sun, moon and stars. "It was a pretty smart move," Pierson said, explaining that some people fear they will be controlled by others if such information becomes public.
Another Los Angeles-based astrologer, Joyce Jillson, asserted in a flurry of interviews Tuesday that she had assisted in the choice of George Bush as Reagan's running mate in 1980 and was at the White House after the assassination attempt. But Fitzwater said late in the afternoon: "The Reagans have never heard of nor met Ms. Jillson."
Years of Speculation
There has been speculation about the Reagans' interest in astrology for years. In 1967, when Reagan took office as governor of California, his habit of reading astrological columns provoked speculation that his post-midnight inauguration was timed to suit the stars. His first term officially began at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1967, and Reagan's aides announced that he would take the oath of office at 12:10 a.m.
Outgoing California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown thought the hour peculiar and attributed it to Reagan's belief in the line-up of the stars. Several Los Angeles astrologers offered the same view.
But Reagan offered a simpler explanation. He said he did not want to miss an important football game to be televised that afternoon. He was also reported to be angry at the focus on astrology, and an aide assured reporters that "we do not intend to have stargazers in this Administration." The inauguration was then rescheduled to 12:01 a.m.
During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan responded to the concern of the Federation of American Scientists, which wrote him a letter saying members were "gravely disturbed" that he reportedly made decisions based on astrological advice. "I have never made a decision based on it (astrology) nor will I ever," Reagan said through his campaign.
Likes Good Luck Charms
Michael K. Deaver, a close associate of the Reagans for two decades, wrote in a book last year that the President was "incurably superstitious. If he emptied his pants pocket you would always find about five good luck charms that people had sent him."
Robin Weir, who has been Mrs. Reagan's Washington hairdresser since she moved to Washington, said the First Lady was "a little superstitious" but nothing more.
"I've spent 1,000 hours of personal time with her and never had any inkling or sign, other than the normal superstitions," Weir said. "I don't believe it.
"I'm not calling Don Regan a liar, but it's just another example of how some people will say anything to sell a book."
Julius Bengtsson, Mrs. Reagan's longtime Los Angeles hairdresser, said that she and her husband sometimes read their horoscopes together but that she did not seem to put much stock in it.
"I've known her for so many years," Bengtsson said, "and she's too realistic to do anything like that. It would surprise me, it really would."
FO(Southland Edition)Astrologer Joyce Jillson says she helped pick George Bush as Reagan's running mate.