tv Reel America President Reagan Interview with Tom Brokaw - 1989 CSPAN January 13, 2019 4:00pm-4:36pm EST
reagan agreed to several oval office interviews where he reflected on his terms. three days prior to leaving office, president reagan is interviewed by nbc news anchor tom brokaw. he talked about his childhood, where he -- religious beliefs, radio and acting career, and several major events of his presidency. this 34 minute recording comes from the ronald reagan presidential library. tom: you've come a long way from that small town in illinois, dixon and the protective warmth of your mother. what is your earliest memory of your mother's influence on and you what she taught you that really shaped your life? president reagan: well, i had brother and a couple of years older than i am. suspects she was probably the kindest human being that i've ever known.
now, looking back, i know that we lived in poverty or pretty close to it all the time but we didn't know about it then because the government didn't come around and tell us we were she was always finding someone and worse off that we would help and i remember that about her. at the same time, she could be firm, like the time in a smaller town where i was born, tampico, illinois, 00 people, and we lived across the park from the railroad station. in those days, the biggest treat at one time ice cream coming around. it was the ice wagon. and kids would get chips of ice. the iceman was chipping pieces from the ice boxes. the ice wagon 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 wagon. and my mother came out to see us crawl under the train to get to the other side. we were barely through and at the ice wagon when the train pulled out. she met us in the middle of the park and we felt a very firm hand, both of us, applied about midway on 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 but making great accepts with them. with regard to the reading, i don't know that she was aware that she was teaching us. but when we were very young, and at that point we lived in gailburg at a rented house there. 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
story. she always did it while holding the book and a running her finger turned line she was reading. we two of us would watch and could hear, of course. i do not know whether she did it deliberately. i have no recollection of ever learning to read. i was, one night when i was 5 years orlando, i was lying on the living room floor with a newspaper and my father said, what you doing? i said, 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 out on the front porch yelling for the neighbors. and he brought the neighbors in and had me read for them. because there was no kindergarten. i had never been any place but home as far as starting regularrle school but yes, i was reading the paper. tom: your mother had very strong religious values, as well.
she believed in the power of prayer, for example. you believe in the power of prayer. can you recall incidents in your life when you have prayed and god has answered your prayer, almost in a specific way? ronald reagan: yes, i think i can. i believe very much in what 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 than all others, but in that connection, i think my mother, a lesson that was hammered over and over again, and as i grew up, i really began to realize. and that is, when there was a great disappointment, something went wrong, she would say to us, look, everything happens far reason and for the best. she said you may feel bad about this right now but done the -- down the road something will happen good and you will
appreciate that, look back and say if that hadn't happened, that supposed bad thing this good thing would not have happened. i had a classic example in my growing up. i graduated from college in 1932. i was hitchhiking around. i'd set my mind on a career in the interpret world. i felt if i could be a sports announcer -- radio was pretty new in nose days 6. finally, i was disappointed. i'd had advice to just 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 in chicago told me i was going at it the wrong way. big uldn't be trying for stations where they could not fford to hire an inexperienced
person. 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 and so forth to head up that department. well, i went down and applied. i did not get the job. a fellow a couple of years orlando 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 in my disappointment down to the tri-cities. and there in a station in davenport, iowa, i met a program director. he still couldn't use me but where was i because they had just hired an announcer a few days before. i didn't tell him i didn't listen to his station. but on the way out, talking to
myself, i said, how do you get to be a sports announcer if you cannot get a job? i went down the hall and i heard a clumping. he was ripped with arthritis and he had two canes. he was yelling 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 said i played it for eight years. he said, could you tell me about a football game and make me see it? i said i think so. he took me into a studio, stood me in front of a microphone and he said, when the red light goes on, i will be in a room listening. you start broadcasting an imaginary football game. well, 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 game eureka when we went 65 yards on the last play for the winning touchdown. it was the last play of the game.
and i knew all our players' names and knew enough of the opponents' names. i started in the fourth quarter. i had a long blue shadow settling over the field and wind coming from the stadium. we zrnt a stadium. we had bleachers. and i ran a few plays and finally, i came to the big play. and i did the big play and made the touchdown with only 20 seconds to play and so forth. and i grabbed the microphone and said that's all. he came in and said be here saturday. i will give you five dollars and car fare. you are broadcasting the iowa-minnesota game. tom: do you think if montgomery wards had hired you for the sports department -- ronald reagan: i might still be working at montgomery ward. tom: and not be president to have united states? ronald reagan: all the things in between would not have happened.
tom: we both come from similar roots. i grew new 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 some ceremony, for example in does d by, -- normandy, dixon flash through your mind? ronald reagan: it takes reminders. i am so far removed from that way of life. there are reminders. just like this one at length they gave you that you'll think back and say, hey, this maybe had a beginning there. tom: you went from dixon to eureka college and studied economics, among other things. you reminded your advisors that from time to time. what have you remembered 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. so it was a single major. but then you were really studying at a time when life was in the law. -- raw. this was the depths of the depression. we had a professor, danny gray, he used to give us outside reading, books by economists. then we'd come in with a book report and so forth and then we'd discuss it. and i could 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 o rise indefinitely. [laughter] well, that set you a little straight. tom: did it make you suspicious economists forever
more after that? ronald reagan: at that time, we were really studying in a classic example of economics and what was going to happen. this was prior to the election of f.d.r. and all of the recessions we've had since, no one who didn't go through the depression can ever visualize hat it was like. 26% unemployment nationwide. the government going on the radio with announcements, do not leave home looking for a job. there were -- there are none. there were no government programs at that time to take care of the people who were suddenly destitute. my father from managing a show store with a kind of partnership and the ownership was gone. the show store was gone. this was happening in little towns like dixon as well as great cities. the national guard in illinois as mobilized and sent to parade in chicago simply because
there were so manyle people living in doorways and on the streets by that time in the streets off michigan boulevard, that there was real concern about royaltying and so forth and they just did -- rioting and so forth and they just did that as a show of strength. tom: there are still people in this country now who are still 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 may be some because there are a few spots in the country where due to a change in industry, the principal industries in those communities are gone. and it's a case of either move or bring a new industry into the community and so forth so there are a few trouble spots. but as you know, 19 million new jobs have been created.
and the largest percentage of those have gone to people most in need and they are better jobs than ever before. over 90% of them are full-time. not part-time jocks. so it isn't a situation comparable to that. and i think you have to recognize that some of the people on the street have chosen that. in washington, shelters, private and public, have been open for these people have space in them. people can go there but prefer to be out on the greats. whatever the reason is, remember, in new york, a young lady took a case to court to force her, under her constitutional right, to let her go and live in a box on the street. tom: you went from a job in des moines, iowa as a radio broadcaster at the height of the
depression to hollywood where you made $200 as a contract player at warner brothers. 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 realized that i was very blessed and that's why i thought that also and for those blessings that i kind of -- i ought to pay my way but doing whatever i could in return for others. tom: we're all-star struck in this society a little bit. when you arrived in hollywood, who were the big stars you are member seeing that made an impression on you? ronald reagan: oh, this was in the wonderful era of hollywood that does not exist anymore. when the seven major studios all had their list of contract players and stars. their directors were under contract, the producers and writers. it was like a family in the studio.
and at warner brother, there was jimmy cagney and pat o'brien and bette davis. wayne morris had become a had"tar there for "kid gal that he'd made. jeff carson and dick pow el. you'd eat in the commissary at lunch and they'd all be there at the same table with you. it was a wonderful time. also, you were made to realize you were under contract. they took me in and sat me down. it was as if i could not hear. because they were all talking about me in front of me and they were all trying to decide on a name for me. i had always used my kid nickname dutch reagan on the radio. they were talking and i was getting uncomfortable and i
said, look, my name is rather well known be in a large section of the country. you think we just toss it out? they said, dutch reagan? i said, my real name is ronald reagan. i'd never used the ronald. i likeds dutch better. they said, ronald, that's not bad. i got to keep my own name. ronald reagan. tom: who were the actresses you liked playing with in those days starring with in films? >> oh, my goodness, the lain sisters had just come on big then. priscilla lane. 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. tom: how about ann sheridan?
ronald reagan: an sheridan, oh, yes. i did pictures with ann 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 didn't make the story. [laughter] i can't play it. i don't know that i want to recommend anyone else. tom: do you like current film stars? do you have some favorites among the current crop of stars? ronald reagan: the lack of ontinued publicity that we had , when 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 just don't linger. tom i know: you recently talked in your farewell address to the
nation about films that had strong moral values and american patriotism. what were some of the films that did that? ronald reagan: there were movies made, i cannot member titles, but about west point. or annapolis. movies of that kind that the plot took place in the story with regard to cadets that were there in those schools and then there were, of course, the service pictures and then when the wars came, war pictures that ere built and base is on patriotism and so forth and were pretty factual in their ortrayal of those times. yes, i thought there was a great thought in hollywood to make pictures that tied into the things that people understood
and knew. tom: you also said in that farewellle speech that you directed american parents and children to sit down about be what american -- 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 coming generations? ronald reagan: oh, i think there are any number. you could start with our people abroad or go into space on the shuttles and 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 knew that you were to stand and sing the national anthem and you learn told recite the pledge of allegiance and you also --
history was required. therefore, you knew the beginnings of this country and you knew the names of the great atriots and who george washington was, but all the others. and i don't think that's true today. so often -- i won't name the university. don't want to embarets -- em arse anyone but not too long ago, third-year students in one of our large universities couldn't tell anyone which side of world war ii hitler was on. now, 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? and thus what our citizens' responsibilities are. isn't ate little shameful that in this country which had to
fight for the independence of we the people, is now smaller and smaller, a growing number of people who bother to -- to vote? how does anyone have the nerve to complain about any level of government if they did not go to the polls? will rogers once said that people elected to public office are no better and no worse than the people who send them there. but they're all better than those who don't vote at all. tom: mr. president, you've had such an extraordinaire life starting in that small town in dixon, illinois, when you were coming of age. working-class family there. you've risen to great heights to be president of the united states, and you're leaving with the good will of the american people behind you. being a member of
e haves, and in your younger days when you were a member of the have-nots? ronald reagan: i recognize that for whatever reason, i have been blessed. never a day goes by that i do not say thanks for that blessing given i ask that i be the wisdom to do something to show my thanks for that blessing. tom: i'm going to just pause here for a minute because there are a couple of things we have not been able to get to. >> you have five more minutes. tom: yeah, if we can agree on that. we'll be ok. [indiscernible]
tom: mr. president, you had a very strong relationship with omeone named margaret cleaver. ronald reagan: yes. tom: you were all but engaged to her. ronald reagan: i was engaged. i hung my fraternity pin on her. tom: you talked about your future together. ronald reagan: yes. he was the daughter of the minister of our church and i knew that she was going to eureka college and i had already made the decision to go there when i was much younger. my biggest hero happened to be the son of the minister of the scommurge he was a big high school football star and as a kid, i thought he was great and he went o eureka and played football there. he later, i think, was a
chaplain at yale university. we went together in high school and eureka college. before we got out of college, i don't know whether it exists today, engagement, you buy rings and put your fraternity pin on her. tom: how did you think your life together would take shape? what were your hopes then? ronald reagan: i knew from my own background and so forth, i knew they had to achieve a certain level of income before i could contemplate marriage. but i think that's the thing that our romance didn't survive. she became a schoolteacher and i was in iowa as a sports announcer. and a long separation. there wasn't the chance or possibility of visiting each other frequently and then one day, i received a notice that e was engaged and marrying someone else.
tom: she broke it off. you didn't break it off? ronald reagan: no. and a former high school teacher of mine, that kind of teacher that every student had that you remember through your life. he wrote me a letter. he had always seen what had happened and he wrote me a letter telling me how i was to react and to not do foolish things like going off the deep end or anything. i remembered him but again, it must have been one of those things, a disappointment that you look back on and say if it had not happened, what i have now splinet happened. tom: there's a celebrated story about one of your college football teammates. william burkhardt, a black member of the team. he couldn't get into the hotel
o you took him to your home. people say, ronald reagan seemed to be more sensitive about these things then that he has as a president of the united states. and maybe it was because he umped up against him back in eureka. ronald reagan: that whole thing has been the hardest burden of all. the idea that i am not sensitive and somehow i am discriminating. it is not true. the household i was raised in -- my mother and father -- the thing my brother and i grew up knowing was that there was no greater sin than prejudice or discrimination and this was back in the days when there was discrimination generally. in eureka college, what happened was we had to stay overnight in ur hometown. on a bus, load of players on the way to a saturday game. i took the coach in and introduced him to the manager of the hotel. he said he would take everybody
but those two. well, our coach, mack, he said well, we'll sleep on the bus. and he turned to -- because the man had said also that no other hotel would either. there weren't many hotels in that little town. and we started out and i said, we cannot do that. i said they'll know what the reason is and be embarrassed. he said, what can we do? when he had told me that i couldn't 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 the two fellows in a cab and we'll go home. even then, he, feeling as upset as he did, he said, are you sure you want to do that? and i said yes. i knew my home. no chance to call or anything. i ring the doorbell and nelly came to the door.
we decided to call my parents by their names when we got to a certain age. she came to the door and i said, there was not enough room in the hotel, can we stay here? of course. and in 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 ositions than all previous governors of california put together. tom: i asked you about your family because it was such an important part of your early childhood. you did not have a lot of none that family. your father, as you have written, drank too much. he was not able to hold a job. yet you always managed to 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, you have a very good marriage but within your own family, there are strains. michael has written a book that's been critical of the way the family is conducted. patty and mrs. reagan are not talking. is that an affliction of modern life in this country? ronald reagan: it might be. patty came up at that age when tall rioting was going on on the campuses. i we believe the near one and hey burned me in effigy. the rest of the family is united. mike was adopted. this was a book about this. the first part of the book is his attitude, which he's now confessing. to but the last part of the book, it's almost as if it was
by a different human being. nancy was the one who toads him how to find husband real mother when he wanted. to she was dead but he found he has a brother. so the last part of it, and we're asso the last part, we ars close as could possibly be, and i would recommend that book to anyone with adopted children. he was writing of the resentment that was within him about the situation, and it is a fascinating book. >> you are about to retire. nixon's studies. gerald ford plays golf. jimmy carter pursued his interest in the jimmy carter library. >> i am going back out on the
mashed potato circuit to try to arouse the public. the line-item veto, the balanced budget amendment that most of the states have that the federal have, thomasesn't jefferson called attention to that. that, forthings example, the 22nd amendment was passed by my own party here as revenge for roosevelt, setting a two-term limit for the president. this is the only office elected by all the people. i think that's an infringement on the people. i think i am going to mobilize the people to demand a repeal to that amendment. infringement on their rights. they should be able to vote for whoever they want to vote for.
so, we will see a lot of ronald reagan speaking around the country. >> yes, if you look. >> mr. president, you look back on this extraordinary life you have had. what is the one thing that really sticks out in your mind ?hat made it possible >> the teaching i had, the faith i had an prayer. incidentally, we are leaving out a lot of hometowns. you mentioned my father's drinking. togethery stayed because my father took the two you willde and said see things sometimes, but you must not turn against him, he has a sickness, a sickness we must try to help him with. it wasn't a case of just a lush coming home.
i have seen him go to or three years without a drink. but he was in the classic sense an alcoholic. and that's the thing with an alcoholic. they are no different from anybody else until they take that first drink. and then he would be flat on his back and you would call the doctor. did that make you conscious cravings?n is an illness. and medicine cannot explain it yet. somebody may look for a psychopathic or psychological reason. others may look for some physical. there has been one about a shortage of sugar. hisow that in all of soberness, my father
was the biggest dessert eater i ever saw. >> was that the key to the family strength you had? never a hint in our family that you could be -- that there could be a dissolution of the family. my father was a catholic and my mother was a protestant, but if we were to get any religion, it would have come from her. for a while, he gave up going to church for lunch. and hometowns started with thenco, then chicago, illinois, then dixon, there were about eight or nine.
>> thank you, mr. president. >> up next on railamerica, 30 years ago, the day before he left office, ronald reagan met with wire service reporters in reflect in ane to interview on his two terms. one of the reporters is the late united press international white house correspondent alan thomas, who covered 10 -- helen thomas, who covered 10 presidential administration's during her career. this recording comes to us courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library. >> mr. president, how are you? >> mr. president.