Sunday, June 06, 2004
My first encounter with Ronald Reagan was May 23, 1983.
I know this for an absolute fact thanks to a period when dim-witted but cash-flush executives doled out engraved silver and pewter cups and plates to mark specific client events.
This plate, in particular, damns with the faint praise of my alleged “best effort”.
I’ve always kept it on a prominent fixture in the bathroom.
As my story begins I’m recovering in a private hospital in Washington’s Virginia suburbs following months of exploratory testing and a final delicate experimental surgery on my back.
An associate producer and a producer on my programming staff and several technicians were of great assistance during this period and I‘m grateful for their kindness to this day.
The executives and the news department were another story.
My direct superior and Executive Producer, busy juggling a two hour workday and a recently inflamed sexual relationship with her superior the station’s married Baptist minister Program Director, managed her first telephone call in the last week of my three month hospital stay.
A project, babe, maybe a little rushed but perfectly suited to those special talents, she gushed.
The project was to be the prototype for the Best of Class valedictorian spots still being made today with a rearranged, and no doubt digitally enhanced, tune first funded, then, by General Motors.
I was to make a series of 30-second commercials involving groups of ethnically diverse top Washington DC area high school graduates.
The spots, a mammoth effort involving multiple crews, were to be shot in one day at various locations spread about the Navel Observatory and Vice Presidential grounds on Massachusetts Avenue, NW.
The White House, with the 1984 election year looming, found this cornucopia of youthful ethnically balanced pre-selected student excellence hard to resist and offered the idea of a scene with the President and a small group of students for use in the commercial series.
This ultimately successful Dever-finessed pre-Fowler effort to massage the Equal Time provisions was met with predictable executive glee as student stars were refigured into Gipper co stars.
Complicated planning suddenly exploded as a presidential event was created and jammed into the projected day’s concluding luncheon and each commercial’s triumphant ending.
As this event was post Hinckley, security was super tight for that time.
Everyone, staff and students, went through background checks and ultimately a metal detector.
We were told that the President’s feet could not touch the ground at the outdoor luncheon and so raised platforms had to be constructed from where the President would alight from his limousine to the podium where he would speak.
It was also mandatory that blue curtains be erected to line the presidential path from car to podium guaranteeing a flattering backdrop for the presidential head.
The selection of the students who would shake hands with the President became a top-secret eyes-only activity.
The Observatory’s most senior political residents were, excepting an edict to keep the kiddies off the clay court, surprisingly invisible during this event.
The day and the commercials, while nearly returning my humble person to a hospital bed, ended with the success my talented programming staff and I usually guaranteed regardless of obstacle.
The day’s weather could not have been more beautiful nor the students more charming.
The President arrived with a crash of sirens and an explosion of media and chase cars.
A logistical error had positioned the national press behind my group of Presidential hand shakers.
Irate diva photographers, not knowing the plan, kept yelling for the students and myself to get out of the way.
My poor still bandaged back throbbed.
I was exhausted and unsure what to do.
The President caught my eye, looked at squawking press, returned his gaze, nodded and winked.
I smiled, nodded and told the anxious kids to stay put until it was time to shake Reagan’s hand.
Just as quickly the day ended with press and President vanishing like a coach at midnight as I headed to edit booths with reams of videotape.