tv Reel America President Reagan Interview with Tom Brokaw - 1989 CSPAN March 22, 2019 10:27pm-11:04pm EDT
gillibrand holds a campaign rally in front of trump international hotel in new york city. she announced her bid for the presidency the week four. live coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. eastern on c-span. in the final weeks of eight years of president ronald reagan agree to several oval office press interviews in which he reflected on his two terms. up next, on reel america, present ringing is interviewed by nbc news anchor tom brokaw. he discusses his childhood, religious beliefs, radio and acting career and several major events of his presidency. is 34 minute recording comes to us courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library. >> we have, long way since that small town in illinois, dixon, and the protective warmth of your mother, nelle. what is your earliest memory of your mother's influence on you and what she taught you to do
to really shape your life? spent will, she was of course a major part. i had brother a couple of years older than i am, four in our family two of us in mother and father. and she was probably the kindest human being i have ever known. now, looking back, i know that we, in poverty or pretty close to it all the time but we didn't know that at the time because the devil didn't come around and tell us we were poor. she was always finding someone worse off that we would help. and i remember that about her. a kindness and yet at the same time she could be firm. like the time and even smaller town where was born, tampico, illinois, 800 people, and we lived across a little park from a railroad station. and in those days, the biggest treat wasn't the ice cream wagon coming around, it was the ice wagon. kids will get chips of ice from
the iceman chipping pieces out to put in the ice boxes along the way. and the ice wagon pulled up over there and my brother and i saw it and he being the older took the lead and we started across the little park and a train pulled in between us and the ice wagon. my mother came out just in time to see is get down and crawl under the train to get to the other side. and we were barely through at the ice wagon when the train pulled out. she met us in the middle of that little park and we felt a very firm hand. both of us. applied along about midway on our backs. >> did she teach you other things as well like how to read and how to get on in life about the values of life? >> yes. she was always talking about things like that, but making great sense with them. but with regard to reading, i
don't know she was aware that she was teaching us, but when we were very young, at that point we lived in galesburg in a rented house there. my father was traveling around looking for better jobs. and she would read to my brother and me when we went to bed an should get between us on the bed and read the bedtime story. but she always did it holding the book and running her finger under the lines she was reading. and the two of us were there we could watch and at the same time here of course. now i don't know whether she was doing that deliberately, and i have no recollection of ever learning to read, but i was, one night when i was five years old, i was lying on the living room floor with the newspaper. and my father came in and he said, what are you doing, i sat reading the paper. he thought i was being a smart aleck and he said go ahead read me something and i did. and next thing i knew he was on the front porch, he got onto the neighbors and brought the neighbors in and had me read
for them because there was no kindergarten. i had never been any place but home at that time. a year away from starting regular school but yes i was reading the paper. >> your mother had very strong religious values as well. >> yes thing she believed in the power of prayer, for example. you believe in the power of prayer. >> yes. >> can you recall in your life when you have prayed and god has answered your prayer? almost in a specific way? >> yes, i think i can. and, i believe very much in what abraham lincoln said when he had this job. he said he couldn't perform the function, the duties of this job for 15 minutes if he didn't know he could call upon one who was wiser and stronger than all others. in that connection, i think my mother, a listen 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, just everything happens for a reason and for the best. she said you may feel bad about this right now, but down the road, something will happen, good. and you will in appreciating that, look back and say if this, that hadn't happened that suppose a bad thing, this good thing would not have happened. and i had a classic example in my growing. i graduated from college in 1932. i was hitchhiking around, i set my mind on a career in the entertainment world so i thought starting if i could ever get in and be a sports announcer really pretty new in those days. and finally i was disappointed, i had advice to get a job in a station never mind what you wanted to do and take your chances on moving on from there.
but i couldn't and a very wise woman in a major station in chicago told may i was going out at the wrong way. i should be trying for big stations where they couldn't afford to hire inexperienced, go to the smaller stations. i hitchhiked home and arrived and told a montgomery ward store had opened in dixon and they had a sporting goods department. they were looking for someone that was well-known in the town for his high school athletics there and so forth and to head of the department. i went down and applied. and i didn't get the job. a fella a couple years after me in high school, quite a basketball sensation got the job. i was pretty disappointed. my father, loaned me the car. i told him all the things i had been doing, the family car and i drove 70 miles in my disappointment down to the tri- cities, rock island, moline and davenport, iowa. and there in the station, and
davenport, iowa, i met a program director and he still couldn't use me. and where it was 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 really, i said how do you ever get to be a sports announcer if you can't get a job in a radio station? and i went on down the hall and pretty soon i heard a clumping. he was very badly crippled with arthritis and two canes yelling at you big so-and-so, weight. and he caught up with me. the elevator wasn't there yet, and he said what was that you said about sports? i said that is what i would like to be he said do you know anything about the bull i said i played it for eight years i said could you tell me about a football game if i was homeless and on the radio and make me see it? i said i think so. he took me in the studio and put me in front of a microphone and he says when the red light goes on i will be in the other room listening. you start broadcasting the imaginary football game.
while i stood there waiting for the light and i knew i had to have names and i remembered the year before, the previous fall my senior year, playing in a game in eureka when we went 65 yards on the last play for the winning touchdown and it was the last play of the game. and i knew all our players names i knew enough of the opponents names i figured i could. so i started in the 4th quarter and i had the long blue shadow settling over the field and the real wind coming through the end of the stadium. didn't have a stadium, we had bleachers and then i ran a few plays and finally i came up to the big play and i had this, did the big play and made the touchdown with only 20 seconds to play in 20 seconds to go 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 $5 and carfare. you are broadcasting the island minnesota game for us. >> do you think of montgomery
wards had heard you for the sports department, -- >> i might still be there working at montgomery wards. >> and a prison of the united states? >> will all the things in between that resulted in this wouldn't have happened. >> you and i come from similar roots. i grew up in small towns in the midwest as well, and life has changed for both of us, obviously. on many of the grand occasions that i have been privileged to be a part of, i've often thought back to my roots to particular brands or incidents in my life and i wonder what they were like. does that happen to you when you read a state dinner or at the kremlin when you are presiding at some ceremony for example in normandy? does dixon flashed your mind on those days? >> those are things i think it takes reminders and so far removed from that way of life but they are reminders every once in a while the just like this like the one you will think back and say this had a
beginning there. >> you went from eureka college and you studied economics among other things to be reminded your advisors of that from time to time. what have you remembered from your eureka economics courses that helped you in dealing with the national economy? >> well i majored in economics and sociology. they were combined so it was a single major. but then you are really studying at the time when life was in the wrong. this is the depths of the depression. a wonderful professor daddy great. he used to get us outside reading, books by economist to read and write a book report and some. and i remember his sense of humor there we were in the depths of the depression, but by a noted economist, justice 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 stock should not continue to rise indefinitely. well that set you a little straight. >> make you suspicious of comments were more? >> the things they say at that time, you were really studying in a classic example of economics and what was going to happen. this was prior to the election of fdr and all of the recessions we had since, no one who didn't go through the depression can ever visualize what it was like. 26% unemployment nationwide. the government going on radio with announcements don't leave home looking like a job there are none. there were no government programs at the time to take care of the people that suddenly were just destitute. my father, for managing a shoe store with a kind of work
partnership, and the ownership was out. the stu scheurwater is gone. this was happening little towns like dixon and the great cities. the national guard in illinois was mobilized and sent to parade in chicago, simply because there were so many people living in doorways and on the streets by the time in the streets just off michigan boulevard. there was real concern about riding and so forth. and they just did that as a show of strength. >> there are still people in this country now who are homeless and still struggling economically and someone. and for some of them, it's a kind of continuation of the depression. is there a parallel between what is going on for some families in this country now, and what happened then? >> well there may be some, because there are a few spots in the country where due to a change in industry and so forth,
the principal industries in those communities are gone. and it is a case of either move or bring a new industry into the community and so forth. so there are a few trouble spots. basically, as you know, 19 million new jobs have been created. and, the largest percentage of those has gone to the people most in need. and they are better jobs than ever before. and over 90% of them are full- time, part-time jobs. 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. because right here in washington, shoulders, both private and public, that have been open for those people, have space in them. and people that can go there and won't, prefer to be out there on the grades and so for them and whatever the reason is just remember, but recently in your, a young lady took the
case to court to force them, under her constitutional right, to let her go back and live in a cardboard box out on the street. >> mr. president let me ask you about your hollywood career. you went from a good job in des moines, iowa as a radio broadcaster in the height of the depression, to hollywood where you were making what, $200 a week i think is a contract clear warner bros.? >> yes. >> did you begin to think about the time, g, b there is a lucky start hovering over ronald reagan, luck is part of your life. >> weather i called it luck or an answer to prayer i realized that i was very blessed. and that's why i thought that also, and for those blessings, that i kind of, not to pay my way by doing whatever i could and return for others. >> we are all starstruck in the society little bit. when he arrived in hollywood, who were the big stars the remember seeing it really made
an impression on you? >> this was in the wonderful year of hollywood that exists no more. the era when the seven major studios all had their list of contract players and stars. their directors were under contract, the producers and riders, it was like a family in the studio. and it warner bros. there was jimmy cagney and pat o'brien and bette davis, and wayne morris a new start there for kid galahad that he made. and dick powell, jack carson. and you can go along with, trying to think of them all at the same time, but you would eat there in the commissary luncheon they were all around you and be at their same table with you. it was a wonderful time. but also, you were made to realize that you were under contract now. they took me in and sat me down and it was this if i couldn't
here, because they were all talking about me in front of me. and they were trying to decide on a name for me. i'd always use my kidney name, dutch, as a sports announcer, dutch reagan. and they were talking and talking and finally i was getting a little uncomfortable. finally i said to them, because that was a pretty big radio station by then, i said look, you know, my name is rather well known in a large section of the country. do you think we just toss it off and they said dutch reagan? and i said well, my real name is ronald ragan. i'd never use the ronald, i liked dutch better. and they said ronald. ronald reagan. hey, that's not bad. i got to keep my own name, ronald reagan. >> who are the actors as you like playing with in those days, starting with thin films the remember? stucco my goodness, the lane sisters had just come on big in pictures, priscilla lane. i was in a picture with bette
davis, wonderful experience, such a great actress. and it was jane bryan and and oh, good lord, i'm forgetting some of the names. >> ann gerard. >> and sheridan. and she was a great gal just wonderful. >> you watch films, i know now, you know who the contemporary films now. >> yes. >> very possible they are going to make the story ronald reagan. now if you could cast the story ronald reagan who would you like to play the part of you? >> i'd rather they didn't make the story. i can't play it. don't know i want to recommend anyone else back do you like current film stars? you have some favorites among the current stars? >> i will tell you, lack of continued publicity as we had when the fan magazines existed in everything, and he studio had a publicity to part meant and men that were assigned to a group of performers there, to
see that their names were constantly before the public, that doesn't exist anymore. i find a great difficult and remembered he the names. i was a face on the screen is a oh, yeah i remember saw them in another picture, but the names just don't linger. stuckey recently talked in your farewell address to the nation about films that have strong moral values and celebrating american patriotism. what are some of those films the remember the did that? >> oh my. if you remember constantly there were movies that were made , can't remember titles, but movies that were made say about west point or annapolis. and always at that kind, the plot took place in the story with regard to cadets who were there in the schools and then there were, of course, the service pictures. and when the war came, more pictures that were built and based on patriotism and so
forth. and were pretty factual in their portrayal of those times. yes, i think there was a great thought in hollywood to make pictures that tried -- tied into the things that people understood. >> mr. president, you also said in the farewell speech that you directed american children to sit down with their parents and talk about what america stands for. and what there is to celebrate in this country. if you could leave that kind of discussion at a dinner table, who would be the people in your lifetime that you would put forward as the patriots. the kind of model americans who would serve to inspire coming generations? >> i think there are any number. you could start with our people who go abroad, go out into space in the shuttle. back to the heroes of our time. i think also, more general than
that. i remember, as a little kid, you know that when the flag went by you were to stand up and put your handle on your heart. you knew that you were to stand and sing the national anthem. and you learned to recite the pledge of allegiance. and you also, history was required, and therefore you knew the beginnings of this country and you knew the names of the great patriots and who george washington was. but -- all the others. i don't think that is true today. so often, i won't name the university, don't want to embarrass anyone, but not too long ago, third-year students, juniors and one of our large universities couldn't tell anyone which side in world war ii hitler was on. is there anything wrong with thinking
the history, not with regard to whether it will help you make a living or anything of that kind, but that everyone should know the background and history of their country. how it came to be and thus what our citizens responsibilities are. isn't it a little shameful, that in this country which had to fight for the independence of we the people, is now smaller and smaller and growing the number of people who bother to vote. how does anyone have the nerve to complain about any level of government if they didn't 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 are all better than those who don't vote at all. >> mr. president you had such an extorting life, starting as i say from that small town in dixon, illinois, when you were coming of age.
working class family there. you've risen to these great heights of being president of the united states. you leave office with the goodwill of the american people behind you. what's the difference between being in this kind of a position, a member of the haves i suppose the best way to describe it in american mike, in the early days of your life when you are a member of the half nots? >> again, as i say recognize that for whatever reason i have been blessed. and never a day goes by that i don't say a thanks for that blessing. and, also i ask i be given the wisdom to do something to show my thanks for that blessing. >> i'm just going to pause.
there are couple of things we haven't been able to get to that i would like to get back to in the anecdotal stuff. if we can agree on that. we will be all right. will be a mr. president you had a strong relationship with someone named margaret cleaver. >> yes. >> you are all but engaged to her. >> was engaged. i hung my fraternity pin on her. >> you talked about her future with her, probably. >> well, yes, she was the daughter of the minister of our church. >> and , i know she was going to eureka college and it was not really -- but i made then the decision to go there. i already made that when i was younger. my biggest hero happened to be the son of the then minister of the church and he was a great
high school football star and as a kid i saw him and thought he was great and he went to eureka and played football there. for a time i think he was the captain at yale university. but, yes. we went together in high school. at eureka college before we got out of college my -- that was -- i don't know if it exists today but yes, engagement, you put your pin on her. >> how did you think your life together would take shape? what were your hopes then when you were going with her? >> i knew from my own background and so forth that i knew i had to achieve a certain level of income. that is our romance did not survive. she became a schoolteacher and
i was a sports announcer. a long separation, there was not chance or possibility of visiting each other frequently and then one day, i received a notice that she was engaged and marrying someone else. >> she broke it off, you didn't break it off? >> no. and, a former teacher in high school of mine, a teacher that every student has that you remember through your life he wrote me a letter. he had also seen what had happened and he wrote me a letter telling me how i was going to react and not do anything foolish things like going off of the deep end or anything. i remember that, again. it must have been one of those things that the disappointment that now you look back on and say if that had happened what i have now would not have
happened. a celebrated year about one of your college friends a black member of a team. he could not get in the hotel where the whole team was supposed to stay and you took him to his home with another black teammate. people who look at that story say he seemed to be more sensitive about those things then than as the president of the united states and maybe it is because he bumped up against them in a firsthand way back in eureka. >> the whole thing has been the hardest burden of all i that born here is the idea that i am not a sensitive and somehow i am discriminating and so forth. and it is not true. that household i was raised in, my mother and father. my brother and i grew up knowing there is no greater sin
than prejudice is sin. we had to stay overnight in our hometown on the way the bus on the way to a saturday game. and, i took the coach in, introduced him to the manager of the hotel and he said that he would take everybody but those two. well, our coach, mac, he said, well, we will sleep in the bus. and he turned because the man said no other hotel would, either, there were not many hotels in that little town. we started out and i told mac i said we can't do that. i said they will know what the reason is. and be embarrassed. he told me i could not stay at home even though i had a home there. why don't we just say there is not enough room for everybody and you put me and the two fellas in a cab and we will go
home? even then, he, feeling as upset as he did. he said are you sure you want to do that? i said yes. i knew my home. no chance to call or anything. home and rang the doorbell and my brother and i decided to call my parents by their first name after a certain age. i said mother there is not enough room in the hotel for all of us. can you put up here? >> she said of course you can put up here n we came. that -- that was not unusual for the way i was raised or brought up at all. and i still feel the same way as governor of california. i appointed more blacks to executive and policy-making positions than all the previous governors of california put together. >> i asked you about your family because it was an important part of your early childhood. you did not have a lot of money
in your family. your father as you written in your own book drank too much. he was not able to hold a job in a lot of different places yet you always stayed together as a family. even though there are big differences between you and your brother about how you see life and conduct yourself. here you are, president of the united states, financial secure, a good marriage, in your own family, there are strains, michael written a book critical of the way the family was conducted. patty and mrs. reagan not talking is that modern life, is that how we changed? >> might be. we have not given up. but patty came up at that age when all of the rioting was going on in the campuses. i went near one of them they would burn me in ethogy and the book, if you read it, it is a very unusual book, mike was
adopted and this was a book about this. and so the first part of the book is his attitude which he is now confessing to but the last part of the book it is almost as if it is by a different human being, nancy was the one who told him how to find his real mother when he wanted to. and she was dead but he found he has a brother. and so the last part of it, we are as close as possibly can be. and he is -- i would recommend that book to anyone with adopted children. he was writing of the resentment that was within him about his situation. and it is a fascinating book. >> mr. president, you are about to go off in retirement. richard nixon talks about it, gerald ford works on a
commission for the and plays a lot of golf and jimmy carter pursuits interest in the carter library in terms of the middle east and the problems of the inner cities. >> going back out on the mashed potato. >> i am trying to get the public to demand changes, line item for a veto. the balance budget amendment, that most of the states have but the federal government does not have. thomas jefferson called attention to that. and, there are things that, well, for example, the 22nd amendment passed by our own party as revenge for roosevelt. it says two terms is the limit for a president. this is the only office that is elected by all of the people. i think that is an infringement on the democratic rights of the people. now that i am out of office so they can not accuse me of wanting to do it for myself i
am going to see if i can not mobilize the demand. it is against their democratic rights to vote for whoever they want to vote for and for how long. >> we will see a lot of ronald reagan speaking around the country. >> yeah. >> and if you look ... [ laughter ] >> mr. president, as you look back on this extra ordinary life that you had, covering most of the 20th century, going from dixon, illinois to the heights of power, the president of the united states. what is the one thing that really sticks out in your mind about -- made the difference for you, made it possible? >> i think the teaching i had and the faith that i had in prayer. and incidentally we are leave will out a lot of hometowns. when you mentioned my father's drinking, let me point out he was an alcoholic, our family stayed together because my mother took the two of us
aside, my brother and myself, and said you will see things and sometimes your father, but you must not turn against him. he has a sickness. and a sickness that we must try to help him with. it was not the case of just, you know, a lush coming home. i have seen him go two or three years without a drink. but he was, in the classic sense, an alcoholic. once that first drop went down that is the thing with an alcoholic, no different until they take that drink. then it would be a bender all of the way and flat on his back and you called the doctor. >> did it make you conscious of your own drinking habits? >> yes. yes, i think so. i never felt anything of that kind because it is an illness. and, i can remember very much the -- you know, medicine can not explain it yet, some want
to look for a psychopathic or psychological reason, others look for physical. there is one about shortage of sugar. i know in all of the periods of soberness my father was the biggest dessert eater i ever saw. he was not above -- any good naturally, what is that out of the window and if i looked out the window he would take a spoonful of our dessert. [ laughter ] >> was that the key? the family strength that you had when you look back over the last 50 years of your life? >> yes. never a hint in our family that there could ever be a dissolution of the family. as a matter of fact, we were even split religiously, my father was a catholic and my mother was a prodosten. he gave up going to church for lent. towards the end of his life he
went back, he was in the church. it was -- and, hometowns, started with tampco and back and then to dixon. and there was about 8 or 9 that i went -- years old that i went to dixon. >> thank you. >> thank you mr. president. on sunday, senator gil labrant has a contphrepbs front of the trump hotel. live coverage begins on cspan. the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
>> and the people who knock these buildings down will hate all of us soon. >> the newest book "the president's" noted historians rank america's best and worst chief executives provides insight into the lives of the 44 american president. through stories gathered by interviews with noted presidential historians. explore the life events that shaped our leaders, challenges they faced and the legacies they have left behind. published by public affairs, cspan "the president" will be on shelves april 23rd. you can preorder your copy as a hard cover or ebook today. at cspan.org slash the presidents or wherever books are sold. up next on real america. a look back at our america