BY FRED BARNES —
When I interviewed President Reagan in the Oval Office in 1987, I took with me a photograph of him with two dozen women at the Presidio of Monterey in California 50 years earlier. My mother, the presidio commander’s daughter, was one of the women. I wanted Reagan to autograph the photograph, and he graciously obliged, but not before telling me in extraordinary detail how he happened to be at the presidio, a cavalry post, and everything about the movie he was making there.
He was starring in a B movie called Sergeant Murphy, the third film in his long career as an actor. Sergeant Murphy was a horse, and Reagan played a young cavalry private. This was surely one of the least memorable of Reagan’s 53 films. B movies were the second film in a double feature, and this one, lasting a mere 57 minutes, was half the length of movies today. Yet Reagan remembered everything: the characters, the tangled plot, the temperament of the horse, the scene at the presidio. Reagan was said to have had a photographic memory. It’s true.
Another noteworthy thing occurred during the interview, which lasted less than 40 minutes. At the time, the Iran-contra scandal that had engulfed the Reagan presidency was fading. To quell the furor, Reagan had addressed the nation, acknowledging that arms for hostages had been at the heart of the scandal, contrary to what he had said earlier. But it was with great reluctance and at the strong urging of his advisers that he had made this admission. In the interview, with White House press aides Marlin Fitzwater and Tommy Griscom standing nearby, Reagan reversed himself and said it wasn’t arms for hostages at all. And he insisted he’d never believed it was.