First Couple’s Debut as the Hometown Team

Share via

Nancy Reagan is back--and you don’t need an astrologer to figure out what Los Angeles social life is going to be like.

The Reagans’ “Welcome Home” party, hosted by Barron Hilton at Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hilton, produced exactly what had been predicted--a $1 million take for the Nancy Reagan Center. (Hilton himself had generously guaranteed that the goal would be met, even if insufficient $1000-a-person tickets or $25,000 President Circle tables were sold, and made sure it did by having the Hilton Hotel Corp. pick up the tab for the entire black-tie bash.)

As forecast, the wonderfully sentimental evening marked the formal re-entry of Nancy and Ronald Reagan and produced sufficient societal portends to keep everyone busy interpreting their significance until the Reagans actually take up Bel-Air residence in about two weeks.


From both Reagan’s formal statement and from the many stories related by close friends came a picture of an anxious-to-be-home First Couple. Those who spent the holidays with the First Couple at the Rancho Mirage estate of former Ambassador Walter and Lee Annenberg repeatedly told how the Reagans were glad that their time in Washington was finally drawing to a close.

But their debut as a hometown team made one thing clear: The almost-former First Lady will decide just how and with whom she is going to socialize.

When the dinner plans were announced by Hilton, he offered special President Circle tables for $25,000, allowing a special pre-dinner reception with the Reagans and seating nearby during the dinner. That plan, those involved with seating the dinner said, was changed several days before so that when everyone sat down to dinner, the First Friends flanked the First Couple.

That crowd is usually first in line when it comes to contributing, but, according to several intimates, the dinner was the third request for a Reagan-related contribution in several months, following much more hefty gift possibilities to the Reagan Library and to the Bel-Air residence. So Nancy Reagan’s well-known loyalty meant that, even though the Kitchen Cabinet bought the “bargain” $1,000-a-person tickets, seated on either side of the Reagans were: former Ambassador Bill and Betty Wilson, Giney Milner, Harriet and Armand Deutsch, Erlenne and Norman Sprague, Marion and Earle Jorgenson, Betsy Bloomingdale, Chardee and Tuck Trainer and former White House chief of protocol Lee Annenberg. Criticism of Nancy Reagan’s fashionable friends might have forced a low-profile in Washington during the first years of the Reagan presidency, but in the gala program book there was a photo of Bloomingdale chatting it up with the First Couple, along with several shots of more traditional Republican types, like Edward Carter and Margaret Martin Brock.

‘Loyalist Republicans’

The crowd was interesting--as much in those who didn’t turn up as those who did. Mrs. Reagan’s chief of staff Jack Courtemanche agreed that almost 70% of the crowd were “loyalist Republicans.” Making their way from the private reception were Frances and Armand Hammer; ARCO’s Lod and Carole Cook; Carl’s Jr. head Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret; producer Jerry Perenchio and his wife, Marge, with Ginny Mancini (Henry was out out town); philanthropists Jerry and Virginia Oppenheimer; Phyllis Diller; and, of course, Suzanne Marx, who is the volunteer in charge of raising money for the Phoenix House drug-abuse facility that bears the First Lady’s name.

Not showing up: announced star entertainer Frank Sinatra, who called in from Palm Springs with a cold. Also noticeably absent: any studio head or major agent type, especially since Reagan so values his “Hollywood history.” Showing up: Don Rickles in an expectedly vicious act, attacking the star level at the dinner--”This is an exciting night. Not one big name showed up”--and repeatedly checking to see if the President was awake, adding lines like “He’s getting out just in time.” Griffin filled in with charm and style for Sinatra, but the absence of any curtains or wall coverings in his redone ballroom brought complaints from many tables that conversation was impossible during dinner, killed off by the acoustics.


And, of course, some of the best lines were those that were off the cuff.

Mr. T. strolled by, resplendent in gold lame “Why, he’s got the most jewels of anyone,” publicist Jeffrey Lane informed Joan Collins.

Former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, whom Reagan defeated in his first win as governor in 1966, was there--”as a guest,” his wife, Bernice, pointed out. “I started him on his career,” Brown quipped. “I should be here to see him end it.”