Slow Dancing With Nancy Reagan
When you are a very powerful producer and your father is the head of the United States Information Agency which means he’s got an in on top of the line Russian vodka, when your parents are so tight with the sitting President and First Lady that your refer to them as Uncle Ron and Aunt Nancy, then a very good idea would be to absolutely under no conditions invite me as your guest.
So they’ve finally set up the tent for dinner and dancing at the Wick/Fisher wedding and having drunk half of the output of Belarus, I weave my way to my table which happens to be right alongside the dance floor. I am sharing the table with Sue Mengers, at the time the most famous agent in Hollywood, Dinner passed in a blur; I was far too drunk to eat.
At some point, dancing began. We all watched bemused as Doug, the groom, slow danced with our First Lady. Sue insisted she wanted to dance with the First Lady and that led to general speculation on whether or not anyone ever cuts in on the First Lady. And then the life changing moment. Sue, pointedly looking at Michael announced, “I’ll give three hundred bucks to anyone who asks the First lady to dance.” There was general laughter but no one made a move. Sue added, “And I’ll make it five hundred if she says yes.” The wheels started spinning in my head “Hmmmm” I thought, or did whatever version of thinking my alcohol soaked brain could manage. “That seems like a really easy five hundred bucks.” And without another thought, I pushed back from the table, strode across the dance floor and firmly tapped Doug Wick on his shoulder. “May I cut in?” I said as demurely as a drunken lesbian can. Nancy stepped back from Doug thinking that I wanted to dance with him.
“Oh no, I need to dance with you.”
And miracle of miracles, Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the United States, without saying a word or asking a question put her little arms up in the air and came toward me. An orchestra played “Embraceable You” as I moved her along in a box step, the only slow dance move I knew.
It was at this moment in the song that I looked over Nancy’s shoulder and spotted three Secret Service men looking back at me. And they didn’t seem all that pleased. My heart began to pound. What if they shot me? Was it against the law for a woman to dance with the first lady? I figured I better start talking and start talking fast. “It’s a bet,” I blurted out “Asking you to dance. Do you want to split the money with me?” Okay, how totally lame is that. Like the First Lady really needs my paltry $250 bucks. Nancy just smiled and said, “That’s alright, dear. You can keep the money.”
“You can give it to Just Say No To Drugs or whatever the name of that charity you like is, “ I insisted. She politely demurred. The music played on.
The song finally ended and Nancy, my Nancy, walked back to her seat. And I returned to mine. To find my table in an uproar.
If there has ever been a need for the word “agog’ this is it. My table was agog. As was the next table. And the table next to that.
So I woke up the morning after the wedding thinking about the slow dance. No harm, no foul, I decided. Nancy didn’t seem to mind, everyone else found it wildly entertaining. I wandered down to the kitchen of my little house to see if I could dig up something to help my pounding head when the phone rang.
“Pat, it’s Doug. Lucy and I are on our way to our honeymoon but my sister just called from New York. Your dancing with Nancy is in Liz Smith’s column.”
“What?” I gasped. “What exactly does it say?”
“I don’t know. Gotta go..”
The first thing you have to realize is we’re talking 1986, the technological dark ages. No fax, no internet, no syndicated Liz Smith and no cell phones. If I was going to find out what she said I was going to have to find someone in New York, someone sitting at home by the phone, to get the paper and read it to me. I tried everyone I could think of but couldn’t get ahold of anyone. I had no idea whether she said, “ Isn’t that adorable” or “Big Dyke Accosts First Lady at Wedding?” I seriously began to question if I might have done irreparable damage to my career. So much in Hollywood is not about what you do but how you are perceived. If you are perceived as a First Lady attacking lunatic, you can be fairly sure that not a lot of people are going to be banging your door down to work with you. So as the hours passed I formed a plan. Now you’d think at this point my thoughts might have been, “Maybe I need to monitor my behavior in social situations or “Maybe I shouldn’t drink so much” or, most logically: “I better stop drinking right this second.” But no. The plan I came up with was this. Maybe I shouldn’t drink outside of my house. Because, let’s face it. What could I possibly do drunk at home that might hurt my career? So as I waited to hear exactly what it was that Liz Smith had written about me I made a pledge to myself. No more drinking outside the home.
Somehow, finally, I got ahold of someone who read me the column and it was with a huge sigh of relief that I realized the whole thing was taken as a clever joke in which Nancy and I collapsed in giggles. Inaccurate reporting, Liz. I don’t giggle. I’m not that girly. And the farthest Nancy ventured towards giggledom was a weak smile. But I had escaped the bullet. I made it through unscathed. Or so I thought. But I hadn’t yet dealt with my mother. When I picked up the phone and heard my mother’s voice say, “My sister in New York tells me you slow danced with Nancy Reagan,” I knew I was real trouble. I steeled myself for what else my mother had to say. “I simply don’t understand how you could do that” she said angrily.”
Before I could start defending myself, she continued.
“ You know how we feel about him politically!”