tv Reel America President Reagan Interview with Tom Brokaw - 1989 CSPAN January 12, 2019 10:00pm-10:36pm EST
eight years as president, ronald oval officed to interviews where he reflected on his terms. prior to leaving office, president reagan is interviewed by nbc news anchor tom brokaw. he talked about his childhood, religion, radio and acting career, and major events of his presidency. comes4 minute recording from the ronald reagan presidential library. a long way from a small town in illinois. the protective warmth of your mother. what is your earliest memory of your mother's influence on you? i had a brother a couple of years older than i am. she was the kindest human being
i have ever known. back, i know we lived close to poverty all of the time but we did not know that. she was always finding someone worse off that we would help and i remember that about her. at the same time, she could be in a smallere time town, 800 people, we lived across the park from the railroad station. in those days, the biggest treat was at the ice spike in. kids would get chips of ice. the iceman was chipping pieces from the ice boxes. the ice lagan pulled up and my brother and i saw it and he took the lead and we started across the park. a train pulled in between us and
the ice widen. to see uscame out crawl under the train to get to the other side. through to the ice wagon when the train pulled out. she met us in the middle of the park and we felt a firm hand. both of us. applied. [laughter] midway our backs. tom: did she teach you other things, like how to read and how to get on in life or the values of life? ronald reagan: yes. she was always talking about things like that and making sense with them. reading, i do not know that she was aware she was teaching us. when we were young, we lived in gaithersburg in a rented house, my father was traveling looking for better work. she would read to my brother when we went to bed she would
get between us and read bedtime stories. she always did it while holding the book and a running her finger under the lines she was reading. the two of us and watch and hear. i do not know whether she did it deliberately. i have no recollection of ever learning to read. night when i was five, i was on the living room floor with a newspaper and my father said, what you doing? reading the paper and he thought i was being a smart alec and he said read me something and i did. next thing i knew, he was yelling for the neighbors. he brought the neighbors in and maybe read for them. there was no kindergarten. i had never been any place but home. i was reading the paper. tom: your mother had very strong religious values.
she believed in the power of prayer. you believe in the power of prayer. can you recall incidents in your life when you have prayed and god has answered your prayer? yes, i can.n: in whate very much abraham lincoln said when he had this job area he said he cannot perform the function for 15 minutes if he did not know he could call upon one who is wiser and stronger. in that connection, i think my mother, a lesson that was hammered over again as i grew .p, i began to realize that is, when there is a great disappointment, she would say, everything happens for a reason. and for the best. she said, you may feel bad now but down the road, something
will happen good and you will appreciate that and look back and say, if that had not happened the bad thing, the good thing would not have happened. i had a classic example. i graduated from college in 1932. i was hitchhiking. i set my mind on a career in entertainment. i felt if i could be a sports announcer -- radio was new in those days. disappointed. i had advice to try to get a job in a station, never mind what and then move on from there. i couldn't. a wise woman at a major station told me i was going at it the wrong way, i should not be trying for big stations with a could not afford to hire an experienced. go to a smaller station.
when i hitchhike home and arrived and was told montgomery ward had opened in dixon and they had a sporting goods department and were looking for someone well-known in the town for athletics. i applied. i did not get the job. after i hadyears been -- he got the job. i was disappointed. my father -- i told him all the things i had been doing -- i took the family car and drove 75 miles to the tri-city. in the station in davenport, iowa, i met a program director. he cannot use me. but where was i because they hired an announcer a few days before. on the way out, talking to
myself, i said, how do you get to be a sports announcer if you cannot get a job? and i heardthe hall a man crippled with arthritis. he was yelling out, you big so out, you big so when so, wait. he caught up with me. he said what did you say about sports? i said that's what i want to be. he said, do you know anything about football? i played for eight years. he said, could you tell me about a football game and make me see it? i said i think so. he stood me in front of a microphone and he said, when the red light goes on, i will be in a room listening. you broadcast imaginary football game. i stood there waiting for the light and i knew i had to have names. i remembered the previous fall, my senior year, playing in a eureka and we ran 65 yards on the last play for the
winning touchdown. it was the last play of the game. i knew all of our players names and the opponents names. i started in the fourth quarter. a long blue shadow settling over the field and wind coming from the stadium. i ran a few plays and finally, i came to the big play. touchdown with only 20 seconds to go. he said, that's all. he came in and said be here saturday. i will give you five dollars and a car fair. you are broadcasting the iowa-minnesota game. tom: do you think if you were hired for the sport department -- ronald reagan: i would still be working at montgomery ward. tom: not president of the u.s.? ronald reagan: all the things in between would not have happened. tom: we come from similar roots.
i grew up in a small town, as well. life has changed for both of us. on many of the grand occasions i have been privileged to go back to my roots with friends or incidents in my life, does that happen to you? when you are at a state dinner or at the kremlin or presiding at a ceremony, does dixon flash the your mind? ronald reagan: it takes reminders. i am so far removed from that way of life. there are reminders. one.like this you will think back and say, hey, this may be had a beginning their. tom: you went from dixon to eureka college and studied economics. what do you remember from your eureka economics courses that
helped you in dealing with the national economy? ronald reagan: i majored in economics and sociology. they were combined. do you wear really studying at a time when life was in the raw, the depths of the depression. gray, a professor, danny he used to give us outside reading, books by economists. would become them with a book report and discuss it. i remember him. he had a sense of humor. we were in the depths of the depression, a book by a noted economist and when we finished reporting as the class was concluding, he would say, it is interesting to note the author of this book five weeks before the crash said he saw no reason why stocks should not continue to rise indefinitely. [laughter] that set you straight. tom: did it make you suspicious for economist for evermore? [laughter] ronald reagan: at that time, we
were really studying in a economics ande of what was going to happen. this was prior to the election of fdr and all of the recessions , no one whosince did not go through the depression cannot visualize what it is like. 26% unemployment. the government going on the radio with announcements, do not look for jobs, there are none. there were no government programs at that time to take care of the people who were suddenly destitute. my father was managing issue store -- managing a shoe store. the shoe store was gone. this was happening in little towns like dixon as well as great cities.
the national guard in illinois was mobilized and sent to chicago because there were some any people living in doorways on the streets of michigan boulevard that there was concern about writing. -- about writing. -- about rioting. tom: there are still people homeless, struggling economically. for some of them, it is a continuation of the depression. is they a parallel between what is going on now and what happened then? ronald reagan: there are a few spots in the country where due the change in industry, principal industries in communities are gone. there are a few trouble spots. 19 million new jobs have been created.
a large percentage of those have gone to people most in need and they are better jobs than ever before. 90% of them are full-time. it is not a situation comparable to that. you have to recognize some of the people on the street have chosen that. shelters, private and public, have been open for this people. they have space in them. people can go there but prefer to be out on the greats. reason is,e remember, in new york, a young lady took a case to court to them under constitutional law to let her go and live in a boxed on the street -- box on the street. in desu went from a job
moines, iowa as a radio broadcaster at the height of the depression to hollywood where you made $200 a week at warner bros.. did you begin to think, maybe there is a lucky star hovering around me? ronald reagan: whether i called it luck or answer to prayers, i and thati was blessed i would pay myt way by doing whatever i could in return for others. when you arrived in hollywood, who were the big stars you are member seeing that made an impression on you? this was the: wonderful era of hollywood that does not exist anymore. all the seven major studios had a list of contract players and stars. directors were under contract.
it was like a family in the studio. , there was jimmy pat toomey and pat o'brien and bette davis. wayne morris had become a neustar. -- become a new star. go acarson -- we could long -- i am trying to think of them all. we would eat in the commissary at lunch. they would be at the same table with you. it was a wonderful time. realizeu were made to you were under contract. they took me in and sat me down. it was as if i could not hear. they were talking about me in front of me trying to decide on a name for me. i always used my nickname dutch reagan. and i wastalking
getting uncomfortable and i look, my name is rather well-known and a large section of the country. they said, dutch reagan? name is ronald reagan. i had never used ronald. i liked dutch better. they said, ronald, that's not bad. i got to keep my own name. tom: who were the actresses you like playing with, starring within films? ronald reagan: in sisters had just come on. i was in a picture with bette davis and it was wonderful. great actress. jane bryant, good lord, i am forgetting some of the names. and sheridan.
i did pictures with and sheridan. she was a great gal. tom: you watch films now. it is possible they will make a story of ronald reagan. who would you like to play the part of you? ronald reagan: i would rather they did not make it. [laughter] i cannot play it. i would not recommend anyone else. tom: do you like current stars? do have favorites? ronald reagan: the lack of continued publicity that we had one fan magazines existed and the studio publicity department were assigned to a group of performers to see their names were constantly out. i find a difficulty in remembering the names. i will see a face and say, i saw them in another picture. but the names do not linger.
to: in your phil roe adjusts the nation, you talked about films with strong moral values and celebrated america patriotism. what are some films that did that? there were movies ,ade, i cannot member titles but about west point. kind. of that what took place in the story with regard to cadets. there were service pictures. pictures that were patd on patriotism and were -- and were factual and that the trail of the times. sexual in the betrayal of the times. factual in portrayal of the
times. directedalso said you american children to sit with her parents and talk about what american -- what america stands for. it you could leave that discussion at a dinner table, who would be the people you would put forward as the patriots, the model americans who would serve to inspire generations? ronald reagan: there are any number. you can start with people who go space and to go into come back as heroes of our time. it is more general than that. as a kid, you knew when the flag went by, you were to stand up and put your hand on your heart. you were to sing the national anthem.
you learned to recite the pledge of allegiance. also -- history was required. therefore, you knew the beginnings of this country and you knew the names of the great patriots and who george washington was and the others. i do not think that is true today. i will not name the university. not too long ago, a third-year student in a large university could not tell anyone which side in world war ii hiller was on. is there anything wrong with thinking the history, not with regard to whether it will help you make a living, but that everyone should know the background of history of their country? how it came to be?
that is what our citizens responsibilities are. is and it's shameful that in this country, which had to fight for the independence of we the people, is now smaller and smaller in the number of people who know about it. nervees anyone have the to complain about any level of government if they did not go to the polls? thatrogers once said people elected to public office are no better nor worse than the people who send them there. they are all better than those who do not vote at all. tom: i am surprised you had such an extraordinary life starting from a small town in dixon, illinois coming-of-age in a working-class family. you have risen to these great heights to be president of the u.s. you leave office with the goodwill of the american people behind you. what is the difference between
being in this kind of position and the earlier days of your life? recognize thati for whatever reason, i have been blessed. never a day goes by that i do not say thanks for that blessing also i ask that id given the wisdom to do -- i be given the wisdom to do something to show my thanks for that lessing. -- that blessing. tom: there are a couple of things we have not been able to get to. if we can agree on that.
you had a strong relationship with margaret cleaver. ronald reagan: yes. tom: you were all but engaged to her. ronald reagan: i was engaged. tom: you talked about your future together. ronald reagan: yes. she was the daughter of the and i know my church she was going to eureka college and i had already made the decision to go there when i was younger. my biggest hero happened to be the son of the minister of the church he was a high school football star and as a kid, i thought he was great and he went to eureka. later, i think, was a chaplain at yell university.
-- yell university. we went together in high school and eureka college. before we got out of college, i don't know whether it exists engagement, you buy rings and put your fraternity pin on her. tom: how did you think your life together would take shape? what your hopes? ronald reagan: i knew from my background that i had to achieve a level of income before contemplating marriage. that ourhe thing romance did not survive. she became a schoolteacher and i was in iowa as a sports announcer. a long separation. there was not possibility of visiting each other frequently. , i received a notice that she was engaged and
marrying someone else. tom: she broke it off. you didn't break it off? ronald reagan: no. a former high school teacher of mine, the one you always remember, he wrote me a letter. he saw what had happened. he wrote me a letter telling me how i was to react and to not do full list things like going off the deep end or anything. it must have been one of those things, a disappointment that it look back on and say if had not happened, what i have now would not have happened. tom: there is a story about one of your college football teammates, william burkart, a black member of the team. he cannot get into a hotel so you to come to your home -- you
took them to your home. people say, ronald reagan seemed to be more sensitive about these things then that he has as a president of the u.s. ronald reagan: that whole thing has been the hardest burden of all. sensitivehat i am not and somehow i am discriminating. it is not true. the household i was raised in -- my mother and father -- the things my brother and i grew up knowing wasn't there was no greater sin than prejudice or discrimination. this was in the days when there was discrimination generally. college, what happened was we had to stay overnight in our hometown. i took the coach in and
introduced him to the manager of the hotel. he said he would take everybody but the two. are coach said, we will sleep on the bus. the man said no other hotel would either. i said, weout and cannot do that. they will no what the reason is and be embarrassed. he said, what can we do? cannot stay at home even though i had a home there. i said, let's say there is not enough room for everybody and you put me and them in a cab and we will go home. even then, he, feeling as upset as he did, he said, are you sure? i said yes. doorbell and nelly
came to the door. my brother and i called her parents by their first name. she came to the door and i said, there was not enough room in the hotel, can we stay here? of course. we came. that was not unusual for the way i was raised. i still feel the same way. as governor of california, i appointed more blacks to executive and policymaking positions than all previous governors of get -- governors of california put together. >> i ask about your family because it is an important part of your early childhood. you did not have a lot of money. your father, as you have written, drink too much. he was not able to hold a job. you always stay together as a family even though there are differences between you and your brother about how you conduct
yourselves. your financial future is secure, to have a good marriage. within your own family, there are strains. patsy and mrs. reagan are not talking. is that an affliction of modern life? ronald reagan: it might be. patty came up at that age when the writing was going on in the campuses and i went near one and burned in effigy. of the rest of the family is united. the book by mike, an unusual book. mike was adopted. this was a book about this. is first part of the book his attitude which he is now confessing to.
told him the one who how to find his real mother when and she was dead, but he found he has a brother. wethe last part of it -- and are as close as could possibly and i would recommend that book to anyone with adopted children. he was writing about the resentment that was within him because of his situation. and it is a fascinating book. tom: you are about to go out into retirement. richard nixon studies international affairs, president and sits on a commission plays a lot of golf, jimmy carter sits on the board of his library, focuses on the middle
east and problems in the inner cities. president reagan: i want to go bow down on the mashed potato tell the public things they should demand. the line item veto for the president, the balanced that most states had but the federal government doesn't have, thomas jefferson called attention to that. and there are things, for example the 22nd amendment that was passed by our own party is revenge for roosevelt, that says to terms that says -- that says two terms is a limit for the president. that is an infringement on the rights of the democratic people. now that i am out of office so they can't accuse me of doing it for myself, i'm going to see if the people can't demand the repeal of that amendment. the rightnvasion of to vote for whoever they want to vote for, and for how long.
tom: will we see a lot of ronald reagan, speaking around the country? president reagan: yes. thisas you look back on extraordinary life you have had, covering most of the 20th century in america, from dixon, illinois, to the heights of power, president of the united states, what is the one thing that sticks out in your mind, that made the difference, made it possible? president reagan: maybe the teaching that i had and the faith that i had in prayer. incidentally, we are leaving out a lot of hometowns. and when you mention my father's drinking, he was an alcoholic, yes, our family stayed together because my mother took the two of us aside, my brother and myself, and said we would see things sometimes in our father, but you must not turn against him. he has a sickness, and a
sickness we must try to help him with. i have seen him go two or three years without a drink, but he was in the classic sense an alcoholic. and once that first drop went down, that is the thing with an alcoholic, they are no different than anyone else until they take that first drink, and then it would be a bender all the way to where he would be flat on his back, and you would call the doctor. tom: did that make you conscious of your own drinking habits? yes, int reagan: yes, think so. i have never felt anything of that kind, because it is an illness. .edicine can't explain it yet for ae who looked psychological reason, others look for physical. there has been one about a shortage of sugar. i know that in all the soberness, my father was the
biggest dessert eater i ever saw. and he would good-naturedly say, what is that out the window, and i would look at the window and he would take a spoonful of our dessert. tom: was that the key come of the family strength that you had? president reagan: yes, there was never a hint in our family that could -- that there could be a dissolution of our family. and we were even split religiously, my father was a catholic and my mother witas a protestant, and if we were going to get any religion it was from her, because toward the end of his life he gave up lent, but then he was back in the church. and hometowns started with tampico, chicago, galesburg,
monmouth, illinois, back to tampico and then to dixon. i was eight or nine years old when i went to dixon. tom: thank you, mr. president. 30 yearsel america," leftthe day before he office, president ronald reagan met with wire service reporters in the oval office to reflect on his terms. the wire service provided photographs, news reports and video to thousands of magazines, tv and radio stations and newspapers worldwide. one of the report is is late international white house correspondent helen thomas, who covered 10 presidential administrations during her career. this recording comes to us courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library. [indiscernible]