Lots of old and some newish Reagan dirt, relatively gentle on ""Ronnie,"" plain nasty where Nancy is concerned. If Learner...

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MAKE-BELIEVE: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan

Lots of old and some newish Reagan dirt, relatively gentle on ""Ronnie,"" plain nasty where Nancy is concerned. If Learner (The Paper Revolutionaries, Ascent) has any point to make, it's also a tired one: the Reagans as illusionists. But even in this respect, most of what he does is strip away some of Nancy Reagan's little pretenses and try to show her up as a spoiled, calculating, narrow-minded snob--who has surrounded herself with same. Her early childhood, before her actress-mother married rich, proper Dr. Loyal Davis, wasn't as dismal as we've been led to think. The only breaks she got as an aspiring actress were on account of family connections. She went with Ronnie for ""close to two and a half years""--not ""about a year,"" as she claimed in her autobiography--before he popped the question. (Learner does suggest that the adoration of aging ingenue Nancy, 30, saved fading B-actor Ronnie, 40, for posterity.) Also, she was forever jealous of first-wife Jane Wyman; she shut out Ronnie and Jane's kids; she couldn't handle daughter Patti's '60s rebelliousness, her looser lifestyle or antiwar politics; she held Ron, Jr. ""up to daily scrutiny"" and hounded his schoolmasters. (Ron, Jr. is just about the only one who looks good here--fending off his mother, speaking no ill of his father.) From the Reagan years in Sacramento, Learner dredges up all the old stories--Nancy mixing the Governor's mansion, Reagan axing the ""homosexual clique,"" Joan Didion roasting Nancy in the Saturday Evening Post--and frosts them with gabble about Nancy's ""fashionable,"" ""effervescent"" Beverly Hills friends. In the White House--""Nancy's White House""--it's more of same: the $200,000 china, the fancy bashes, the Winston jewels and Galanos gowns. For drama, though, we have the assassination attempt--when Ronnie, becoming a real hero, concludes that ""God had saved him for great and noble things."" Ridicule mixed with a little mush.

Pub Date: May 25, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983