BRIAN LAMB, HOST: "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan." After 14 years and six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List, what's your reaction to all this?
EDMUND MORRIS, AUTHOR, "DUTCH: A MEMOIR OF RONALD REAGAN": Fourteen years passed very quickly but I'm glad they passed. It's a good feeling to get a book done and to see it as a solid object sitting on a table or a preferably on – beside a cash register and somebody's buying it.
LAMB: What about this experience surprised you?
MORRIS: Nothing much. I understood – if you're talking about the controversy the book has caused – that it was going to be controversial. I knew that the moment I began to write it in the fashion in which it's now been published. So in sense, I courted the controversy because I think the autobiography needs expansion and adaptation to the values of a new century.
So I knew this was going to happen. The only that surprised me was that it happened so soon – that there was those – those leaks – those front-page leaks in the New York Times and Washington Post weeks before publication.
LAMB: Actually, I have the front page here of the New York Times on Saturday, September 18th. I'm going to show the audience what it looked like. It's right down here on the front page. Were you surprised when this came out that day? Did you know it was coming?
MORRIS: Yes, I did, because she called me to – Doreen Carvajal, the journalist – called me to interview me shortly before it came out. So I knew it was going to come out that weekend.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how that happened?
MORRIS: No, I don't. She somehow got hold of a copy. Judging from the way the article was written, she only had time, or should I say, she had time only to read the first hundred pages or so. And I gather whatever deal she had with the person who lent it to her was that they could – she could sort of summarize, but not actually quote the book. How she got it, I don’t know.
LAMB: Did it help or hurt you?
MORRIS: Actually, at the time, I thought that the method of the book, which I'd hoped would explain itself when the book was published. I wanted it to be read and judged on its own grounds. At the time, I thought it was a bad break, but within days, I realized it was a good break, because it focused worldwide attention on the book. And all authors like their books to be noticed. And the publicity it generated was so extreme it went – it truly was a worldwide phenomenon. I had calls coming in from all over the world.
In fact, a Swedish journalist said to me – "Your book is big news in Sweden." So in that sense, it helped the book a lot. And one of the reasons I think the book took off so fast was the fact that it had had all this publicity.
LAMB: As you look back on the publicity, what publicity made the difference? Anything in particular that you can remember made the big difference?
MORRIS: No, the publicity in advance of the book was simply the fact that it had this revolutionary method and it was supplemented by the hysterical reactions of some of the suits who used to work for Reagan on the Sunday morning talk shows, who without reading the book yet, reacted to it very violently.
LAMB: Have any of those suits, as you call them, gotten back to you after they read the book to say that they were wrong in the beginning?
MORRIS: No, they haven't. No. Mike Deaver is – while circumspect at the time – he was one of those suits on the Sunday morning. And he was fair enough to say that what he'd seen in the initial excerpts that appeared in Newsweek before publication – that he said, "I want to read the book before I comment much further, but I must say, what I have seen in Newsweek, I learned quite a few things from it.
LAMB: Who's Bob Tuttle?
MORRIS: Bob Tuttle? He was personnel director in the Reagan Administration in the second term, and the son of Reagan's old and most faithful political backer – Holmes Tuttle.
LAMB: Early in the book, you say to Bob Tuttle when you're playing tennis with him – "I am not an historian."
MORRIS: I hope I didn't say – "an historian."
LAMB: You said – "a historian." Thank you. You said – "I am not a historian."
LAMB: Why did you tell him that?
MORRIS: So I'm not. I'm a writer. I am a biographer, I guess, but I am primarily a writer. And the fact that I've written two books about two men who loom large in history has given me this convenient label of historian, but I've never aspired to that label. I'm really a literary person.
LAMB: When did you become that?
MORRIS: A literary person?
LAMB: Yes, sir.
MORRIS: I guess way back in childhood, I began to write science fiction novels and stories and things when I was about 10 years old. And I lived in the realm of imagination through most of my teens, always writing, writing, writing. And I've been writing ever sense, in one form or another.
LAMB: But you first wrote in Kenya when you were there?
LAMB: What year did you leave Kenya?
MORRIS: I left (Kenya), as I still think of it – Kenya and (Kenya) are two totally different countries. Kenya was the British colony. (Kenya) was the British colony I grew up in. Kenya is now the independent black state. I lived (Kenya) at the end of its colonial period when I was 18; in other words, when I left school. I never went back until 1987.
LAMB: And you lived how long in Great Britain?
MORRIS: I lived in Britain four years, having spent my college years in Africa. And in my early 20s, I lived in Britain for four years. And I came here at the age of 28 in 1968.
LAMB: When did you take your first job with an advertising agency?
MORRIS: In (Wolf) – in Devon, South Africa at, I guess, in 1960 – 1960, when I was 20.
LAMB: Doing what?
MORRIS: Writing, writing, writing. I was writing copy in those days – advertisements for a menswear store – (Wolfson)’s Menswear Store on West Street, Devon, South Africa. And it was mainly for the Zulu market, so most of my ads were translated into the Zulu.
And I still look back on that as basic training for a writer, because every word I wrote – and there weren't many – they were sort of diagrammatic ads with a picture of a suit and a headline and a logo, but every word I wrote had to sell suits – had to move merchandise. Suits were 85 rand; now, 45 rand. And if the suits hadn't moved by the end of the week, as a result of my advertisement, I got into trouble. And really to this day, I think of writing as moving merchandise.
LAMB: So when you think about this book, is it moving the book?
MORRIS: No, it's moving the merchandise, which is Ronald Reagan. That is my subject. I am selling the story of his life that I have written. That's the merchandise I'm moving and it's moving pretty fast.
LAMB: One of the things I picked up in the book – I wanted to ask you whether it had any impact on you at all – as you go through the book, you find that, especially when you get to the presidential years, they start to disinvite you into meetings. They start to knock you off of airplane rides, say to you, there's no room to Reykjavik or you got get on the back of the plane to Geneva.
LAMB: Did that bother you?
MORRIS: No, as long as I got to where I wanted to go. I got to Geneva. And I got to other places. The Reykjavik disappointment, and it certainly was that, was simply a question of logistics. Don Regan, the chief of staff, who said that I couldn't come with the delegation, was really a cooperative person. And he was very good to me in the White House, but he simply couldn't find space for me. So it was too bad.
But the actual being disinvited for meetings that you refer to began to happen quite suddenly when there was a change of administration within the White House, and Howard Baker and his men came in to take over the – he came – took over as chief of staff in the Spring of 1987. And it was during that summer I began to notice that my access was being limited for some mysterious reason, which I eventually traced back past Howard Baker to Nancy Reagan.
LAMB: Why Nancy Reagan?
MORRIS: She, apparently, was afraid I was going to scoop the President, which is to say she was afraid I was going to publish this book, the fruit of all my interviews with him and my observation of him in the White House before he published his own memoirs, and therefore, I would scoop him and damage his exclusivity.
So I heard this, and as it happened, I had an interview with the President a day or two later, so I hit him with it straight away. I said, "Mr. President, I hear that I'm having difficulty getting to meetings, because Mrs. Reagan's afraid I'm going to scoop you and so on." And I explained, "It's always been our understanding between you and me that I would take many years to write this book, and of course, I expect you to publish yours first. Your life is your life." So if that's your worry and her worry, I want to reassure you I'm not going to scoop you. So he said, "Oh, yes. Well, she has told me not to tell you too much." So I thought, ah, that's it.
And I was so angry that I went straight to her in the East Wing and confronted her. I said, "What is this? You always assured me that I would have total access to the President. And you know I'm an honest person and I do not go back on my word. I'm going to take many years to write this book." Big saucer eyes – "Oh, I have nothing to do with East Wing. I don't know what you're talking about." But access immediately improved after that.
LAMB: When you and I sat down and talked in 1996 in your home, you said on the tape that you and Nancy Reagan were buddies. Are you still buddies?
MORRIS: I don't think so. I've not seen her since I sent her the book. And we were buddies in a very superficial sense for 14 years. I say superficial because it was eggshells all the way. If you want to preserve a relationship with Nancy, and for obvious reasons, the authorized biographer of her husband has to preserve a friendly relationship, you have to tread very carefully, because she's always been throughout her life very insecure, very suspicious, and totally besotted with her husband.
And if she had any inkling or any suspicion should I say that I was going to write a book that was going to write a book that was going to make him seem less than great and less than perfect, then it would have caused obvious problems of access. So I preserved a friendship with her, which was quite genuine on the superficial level. I enjoyed being with her. We used to lunch regularly whenever I went to L.A. She gives good lunch. Nancy is fun to be with, provided you keep the conversation on the level that suits her best.
LAMB: Have you talked to her since the book came out?
MORRIS: No. I didn't expect to hear from her and I have not, although it's quite plain from what I hear through intermediaries that she's very upset by it. But I knew that myself, that she would take one look at it and be upset. I sent her a copy of the book before publication with a letter saying, "Nancy, I want to thank you for these 14 years of cooperation and an esteem of privilege and here it is – Dutch – but I don't think you're going to like it, because it's not sentimental. It's not protective. It's a biography, written with a cold, clear perspective on Ronnie. And you're a loving and protective wife, and you're sentimental and these things are going to distress you, because I reveal what he was like in private as well as public. But I just hope that as time goes by and the shock wears off, you will realize that the man who comes out of this book is greater and more complex than any of us realized at the time."
LAMB: The cover – did you have anything to do with that picture on the cover?
MORRIS: Yes, I did. It's a marvelous photograph by Pete Souza, a Washington photographer who was at the White House during most of the Reagan years.
LAMB: Where is it?
MORRIS: Where is it – the photograph? That's the colonnade leading from the Oval Office, and by extraordinary coincidence, that perfect picture was taken on his last day in office. That's him walking away from the Oval Office for the last time. I love it because he's retreating from us. As he's retreating now in the American memory, he's perfectly balanced. All the physical grace I talk about is apparent in that picture. He's waving. He's surrounded by classical motifs. He embodies all the dignity of the presidency and the marvelous dignity that he commanded himself. And he's waving goodbye. I can't think of anything more perfect or more poignant than the cover of this book.
LAMB: One of the things you pick up in the book from you is that you're kind of emotional.
MORRIS: Only on the last page of the book or the last couple of pages. But I astonished myself at how unemotional I was about him when I was with him.
LAMB: But when we saw you on 60 Minutes, you choked up a little bit when you read the Alzheimer's letter.
MORRIS: Oh, Brian, it's impossible not to choke up when you hold that letter in your hands and read it. It is the most devastating document. It's a man standing on the edge of the abyss and confronting with absolute fortitude the most unimaginable catastrophe that any of us can suffer – black lunacy. And I detest the word emotional, which has become one of the clichés of modern journalism.
You know, whenever you watch the evening news, you're promised an emotional clip from the homecoming of some body bag – tears, tears – false emotion – sentimentality. I really try to restrain that kind of thing. Throughout the book, I tried to keep my emotions in reign, but it was only writing the epilogue, as the great book – the great saga of the 14 years was coming to an end – that I did find myself shattered by what has happened to him. And, yes, I became emotional.
LAMB: Let me just go back to a couple of things that I read and clarify this. You were following him over to the old executive office building, which is on the other – right near the White House. You said I felt waves of adoration from people who were around him and, to my amazement, had to choke down a sob.
MORRIS: Well, you know, there is a majesty that doth hedge a king. And when you have a majestic president such as Reagan, who as Francois Mitterrand said, "Embodied, (de late)" - he embodied the American state – and when you see these waves of adoration, which are not only for the president, but for our system – our democratic system – it's very hard not to be moved. He was a positive force and I think a genuinely great president. And at times like that, I must confess I felt the same as they did.
LAMB: You wrote that during the colon operation, I prayed until the churches heat became unbearable. You actually went to church.
LAMB: Which church?
MORRIS: Right here on Capitol Hill – St. Peter's Catholic Church. It was actually when he was being operated on for cancer. I remember going to that same church when James Brady was shot. He was our president and he was possibly on the point of death. And at times like that, that's the kind of thing one does.
LAMB: And one last thing is that – I'm not sure where this came in the book – you said, "I had wept to see him come back from the dead." Maybe that was in that same area of the book.
MORRIS: Oh, Brian, you're making it sound very sappy.
LAMB: Those are your words.
MORRIS: Yes, but distributed through 670 pages of pretty objective prose.
LAMB: But let me get one more thing out. You blew Nancy Reagan a kiss.
LAMB: Why did you want the world to know that? And what were the circumstances?
MORRIS: Why did I want the world to know that?
LAMB: And you felt no emotion, though.
MORRIS: Well, I'm an honest writer, Brian. That's what I did and that's what happened. At the end of a long book chronicling my relationship with Reagan, chronicling the last minutes of the administration when everybody's standing around saying goodbye, there was I standing in line in the crowd as Nancy and the President left the White House and I blew her a kiss. That's what one does in these circumstances.
LAMB: Let me show some of the photos that are in this book and get you to tell us about them – what comes to mind when you see them. I think the first one is the river. Where is that?
MORRIS: The river – ah, yes – that's the Rock River in Dixon, Illinois. And that is the bank – the riverbank that Reagan spent six summers at as a young man as a lifeguard rescuing people from the current.
LAMB: The next photo is the family. Which one is Ronald Reagan?
MORRIS: He's the little one in the white smock with his head tilted slightly to one side. And that's Jack, his father, standing exactly as the President used to stand with those big broad shoulders thrown back, and his brother Neil and his mother.
LAMB: Is his brother still alive?
MORRIS: No, his brother died a few years back.
LAMB: The next photo is Eureka.
MORRIS: Eureka College, which he, to this day, or at least until he lost his wits, considers to be the most beautiful spot in the world.
LAMB: And the next picture is of a young lady that you write about.
MORRIS: Yes. That's his first girlfriend – his first fiancée, whom he courted for seven years and wanted to marry – Margaret Cleaver. She's still alive.
LAMB: Let me stop the photos for a second and ask you. Because one of the things you've got here – and I'll reach over and grab it – is your audio version of this. You did it. You recorded this. How many hours did this take?
MORRIS: Rather more hours than I care to remember. I sat in a glass box for six or seven hours a day for almost a week, I think, reading it.
LAMB: Why did you agree to read it yourself?
MORRIS: I agreed with extreme reluctance, because I thought my English accent might be rather off-putting. But the book is so complex and so strange that, as the producer said, really, the really only authentic feeling is going to come if you read it yourself. So I did, but I hope I never have to read another audio book.
LAMB: How many days did you say? A week?
MORRIS: Yes. It was spread over, actually, quite a few weeks, but in all, I spent about a week in that glass box.
LAMB: Do you know how well that's doing selling?
MORRIS: No, I don't. In fact, I should try and find out.
LAMB: Let me run an excerpt – just a couple of minutes here of you talking about Eureka College, and so the audience can see that you add some sound effects to all this. Was that your idea?
LAMB: Let's listen to this and get your reaction. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MORRIS: Two weeks after the strike ended, so did my first and only term of college education. I didn't realize it at the time as I left Eureka on the Chicago-bound Christmas special, along with dozens of other (rock-sleek sighted) students. Some cheerleader type yelled, "Alma Mater, everybody." Back over the dry fields went our wind-blown voices in harmonies more lusty than reverent.
CHOIR: … glorious to you. Stands Eureka Alma Mater. Faithful, tried and true. Live before us. Speeding onward. (Live) our voices there. Praise to thee, oh…
MORRIS: Dutch wasn't with us. He and (Mugs) probably took a bus direct to Dixon. But I'm sure if he's heard that simple song, he'd have been moved as I was. What (inaudible) say about the potency of cheap music? Fifty-four years later, when I followed Ronald Reagan to Eureka one last time, a new crop of students sang Alma Mater. By then, he was beginning to lose his lucidity. But I could see that the song went through him like a spear. Praise to thee, ….
CHOIR: Praise to thee, ….. Eureka. Praise to thee, amen. (END AUDIO CLIP)
LAMB: What year did you go back to Eureka with him?
MORRIS: 1993 – yes, 1993. It was the 50th Anniversary of his graduation from Eureka College.
LAMB: Beginning to lose his lucidity?
MORRIS: Yes. That was that same year where I began to notice that he had become strange – very strange. And in fact, it was that summer – this was May of 1993 – he went up to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and they confirmed, provisionally, that he had Alzheimer's. And the following summer, it was definitive.
LAMB: Some people think that your book says that the blood transfusions during the operation after the assassination attempt was when he – you thought he started to have Alzheimer's disease, but I've heard you say it otherwise.
MORRIS: Oh, no. I do not believe that the trauma of the assassination attempt caused dementia; otherwise, I would've seen dementia in the White House, which I never did. What it did do was inflict a massive physiological insult on him, which I do not think he ever fully recovered from.
LAMB: You've had a public fight in the Washington Post with the doctors. What's that all about? And what's your side of the story? I mean, they've accused – they want you to stop talking about this whole blood business. Why?
MORRIS: Well, they raised the issue of the blood themselves. I mean, Dr. Benjamin Aaron, who was the chief operating surgeon, was the one who told me about these transfusions. And it was fascinating to me to hear this stuff and to hear this language, which I very carefully copied down – that the President had lost over 50 percent of his blood supply. This was known at the time. It was announced by the hospital a few days after the assassination attempt, but it didn't receive as much notice as it should have because to lose over 50 percent of your blood supply is to be at the very edge of death. And Dr. Aaron told me, moreover, that a lot of the blood that was sloshed into him – and I use the world sloshed advisedly – they had to squeeze it in with packs – was not fully warmed yet, because it's kept in refrigerator units. Plus, it was old blood, which breaks down in storage.
So in other words, the President lost 50 percent of his own fresh hot blood and received this stale, cool blood as a result. And Dr. Aaron told me that this transfusion of this kind, combined with the trauma of the assassination, is the equivalent of – it's an insult of number 10 magnitude, which is worse than a prolonged beating.
Now in the letter – the two letters that these doctors have written to the Washington Post to object to my account – Dr. Aaron has qualified what he told me slightly by saying it wasn't a prolonged beating. It's equivalent of a burning. Well, that still sounds pretty catastrophic to me.
Doctors, of course, have to protect their reputation. And there's no question that the teams, the emergency team in George Washington University Hospital, and Dr. Aaron's team in the theatre, saved the life of the President of the United States. And we should be eternally grateful to them for that, but we should not sentimentalize the result of that trauma upon Ronald Reagan. He admitted himself that it changed him spiritually. I believe it changed him physically as well. He became older and slower.
LAMB: Are you surprised at the ferocity of some of this stuff against you?
MORRIS: Ferocity – yes. A lot of it has been ferocious and most of it concentrated in Washington. Washington is a city of political people, and political people live according to standards of loyalty. Political people identify so much with their particular ideological mentor or hero, such as Ronald Reagan was to most of the people who worked for him.
Any representation of that man – that icon – as a flesh and blood human being, who was capable of petty sillinesses, finalities, whose body was capable of destruction or partial destruction – anything that hints that this great statue they want to curve on the surface of Mount Rushmore had cracks in it threatens their whole identify with him. Therefore, I think that the reactions of the Reaganaut conservatives – which have been often vituperative to my (book) – has been because they are distressed by its objectivity and its lack of sentimentality.
LAMB: Has that hurt sales?
MORRIS: No, not at all.
LAMB: I mean, the fact that folks that love Ronald Reagan hear the suits, as you call them, saying, "This is no good. This book doesn't work."
MORRIS: I guess it must've hurt sales within the conservative community. However, I was on Mary Matalin' show, which she claims addresses 200 – 20,000 – no, 20 million. She says it addresses 20 million hard-core conservative viewers. Mary went out of her way to say time and time again, "This is a magnificent book. You mustn't believe what the other conservative articles are saying." So maybe it'll pick up.
LAMB: Four days ago, we taped an interview – four days when this interview was being taped – with George Bush, the President. And I asked him – well, we'll let you see it – I asked him about this book and get his reaction to it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Were you surprise that in the recent book on "Ronald
REAGAN: Dutch" by Edmund Morris, that your comment about that "they didn't invite us upstairs" got such attention. GEORGE BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I never made such a comment.
LAMB: You never said that? BUSH: No. Because – look in the archives – you'll find the numbers of times that Barbara and I were upstairs. You have to dig a little bit. For one, every State dinner, we were upstairs with the Head of State coming in. He didn't have to invite us to do that. We were upstairs many, many times. And I think that – I don't know where he got that. I didn't know he attributed the quote to me, but if he did, it's just totally wrong.
LAMB: Did you ever talk to him for that book? BUSH: Morris? I probably did. I don't remember it, but there we go again. But if I did, it would be right here in the library. But I'm sure I did. I'm sure I talked – Barbara, too.
LAMB: But you didn't feel that way about President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan? BUSH: No, and I never would have said that if I had, because of what I told you earlier. You know, you can't be loyal on some things, and try to gain up a notch on the other guy's back by pushing him down. And I wouldn't do it and I didn't feel that way. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MORRIS: I interviewed him for almost two hours on Christmas Eve of 1998. And before I go any further, I'll tell you something I noticed during the course of that interview was how terrible Bush's memory was. And he was frank about it. He kept saying I cannot remember things. I have an awful memory. He says, "I can never write my memoirs, because I just don't remember things."
And I not only have memory of that interview, which was a double interview with Mrs. Bush sitting in. I remember the fire crackling. This was in the Vice President's house, up on the Hill there. I remember the fire crackling and the dog lying in her lap and her knitting needles going. It was a cold, misty day and I remember the Press being pinned outside for some announcement that the President-elect was going to make, shivering in the cold, and I noticed how Mrs. Bush sent out a tray, a silver tray of strawberries dipped in chocolate and hot coffee to – for them. And I remember thinking – Nancy would never do that.
These are nice people. And both Bushes struck me as extremely nice people. You can see his niceness in that clip. He was a loyal vice president. There is the political loyalty, again, I was talking about just now. However, it was known to everybody in the White House that the Vice President and his wife were not treated as with – in as friendly a fashion as they would have liked by the Reagans. And the animosity between them – the social animosity – was really largely concentrated in the relationship of Mrs. Bush and Nancy Reagan.
It was well known in the White House that Mrs. Bush felt that they were treated like the help. Free access upstairs – not to State dinners and so – these are formal occasions – but intimate access. Dinners are couture upstairs. If there were any, they were extremely few. And the Bushes throughout their eight years were very conscious of the fact that Ronald Reagan was the one who won the election in 1980 and not George Bush, and that George Bush was going to have to wait eight years before he succeeded.
LAMB: Do you think that the former President is telling the truth when he says he didn't say that?
MORRIS: Well, I have very meticulous notes, Brian. I know what he said and I wrote down every word. There's plenty more in the book from that interview that I quote. For example, the grotesque instant of him telling me about a gift that they'd given the Reagans, which they'd never been thanked for and they couldn't understand why the Reagans were incapable of expressing gratitude. And I notice he's never denied that (inaudible.
LAMB: How many hours – I didn't see it in the book – but how many hours do you think you've spent around Ronald Reagan over the years? And what year did you start doing it?
MORRIS: I don't know. I saw him on average for an interview once a month – one-on-one for half an hour, which doesn't sound like much, but it was regular and it's almost unprecedented for an outsider to get to see the President that often and so intimately.
And, of course, all the times when I was simply hanging around following him around when he went to various events or when he traveled and we would talk in holding rooms and in the White House corridor and times like that. So we entertained him socially once and I saw a lot of him after he left the White House. So over the six or so years that I was seeing the Compos Mentis Ronald Reagan, I saw a lot of him.
LAMB: This thing seems to have all started around either Mike Deaver or Senator Mark Hatfield. From those who forget Senator Mark, I've got a picture of him. I want the audience to see what he looked like if they can't remember him. And he pops ups more than once in this book and I think you bought his home. You say in the book you bought his home.
MORRIS: That's right. We live in his – the house he used to live in on Capitol Hill.
LAMB: When did you buy that, by the way?
MORRIS: Eighty-six – the beginning of '86, when I began to write this book about Reagan – began to research it at least.
LAMB: When did you first meet Senator Hatfield?
MORRIS: I met Senator Hatfield at a dinner, which I describe in a prologue to "Dutch" on Valentine's Day of 1983. It was a dinner at which he wanted various presidential historians to meet President Reagan and just talk to him about his future and history and how he should address posterity and how he should dispose of his papers – things like that. So that was my first meeting with Hatfield and I was hugely impressed by him.
LAMB: Who was there at the dinner?
MORRIS: Well, besides myself and my wife, who is also a biographer – Sylvia Morris – there was the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Daniel Boorstin, then Librarian of Congress, and his wife; Frank Freidel, the biographer of Franklin Roosevelt; George Nash, the biographer of Hoover; and Dick Darman, the White House's resident intellectual; and a few other people like that.
LAMB: But this wasn't the house that you bought?
MORRIS: No, this was Senator Hatfield's previous house in Georgetown.
LAMB: But at the end of the meal, he asked you to write your observations of that particular evening, if I remember correctly.
MORRIS: The Senator did – yes.
LAMB: What did he want to do with that?
MORRIS: Well, I think I was the only one of his guests who actually complied with that request.
LAMB: Your mike is going to all off there. Go ahead.
MORRIS: He said, "I want you all to do me one favor now that you've met Ronald Reagan. I want you all, if you can, since you're all writers, to write an account of this evening, which I did. But I don't the others ever did. Anyway, I quote what I wrote in the book.
LAMB: But then when you had the dinner in 1987, you did the same thing. You had your guests write an account.
LAMB: What do you think of that idea? Where did that – where do you think that came from?
MORRIS: Well, I got the idea from Senator Hatfield, which I thought was a really smart idea. He had a bunch of writers in his house and they'd all met the President of the United States and he thought it was an ideal opportunity for them all to, obviously, to write their recollections of the evening.
So when I gave the Reagans dinner in my own house in 1987, it was also a group of writers, and I got them all to send me their reminisces.
LAMB: Nan Talese, Gay Talese, Marion Rodgers.
MORRIS: Phyllis Rose.
LAMB: Robert Massie.
MORRIS: And Bob Massie. Yes, you've got an excellent memory. And a few others. Gay Talese – right, you mentioned him. Antony-Haden Guest.
LAMB: And what were they there for? What was their reason to be at your dinner?
MORRIS: They were simply friends – writers. I thought it would be fun for the Reagans to meet for a change people from New York, as opposed to the usual Washington crowd. And they were all literary people, so I thought we would have a literary evening.
LAMB: And what did they tell you? What did they see in Ronald Reagan?
MORRIS: I quote their various reactions in the book. I remember they generally were – all noticed his aloofness, his lack of curiosity in anything we could have told him. For example, Anthony-Haden Guest was just back from Beirut, where he'd been involved in writing a book about drug smuggling and corruption in Lebanon, which you would think would somewhat interest the President of the United States, but when Anthony told Reagan that's what he'd been doing, Reagan just looked at him as usual, benign, lack of curiosity, and went back to telling his own stories.
LAMB: What did you have to go through to be selected as the authorized biographer of Ronald Reagan, and is that what they called you? Is that what they thought you were?
MORRIS: For awhile, I had the dread term "Official Biographer," which I managed to shuck as fast as possible because official implies a tombstone biography which is supervised by the subject. But I was certainly authorized in the sense that Reagan gave me authority to write the book and gave me his blessing and what's more, never once, neither he nor Nancy, ever tried to control what I wrote or ask what I was writing. They gave me complete freedom.
LAMB: What was the exact date where you were walking around with this title – Official Biographer? I mean, when did all the – when were all the meetings over with and you were – you had your Random House contract and you're off and running?
MORRIS: I remember making the first pitch to become his biographer in May 1985 after the Bitburg crisis, which forms the moral centerpiece of the book. After that crisis, it was so overwhelmingly dramatic and poignant and historically significant that I just couldn't resist writing the book. Anyway, I wrote to them then. And I think I would've become the authorized biographer almost immediately because they reacted with complete willingness, except that's the summer he got cancer. And the cancer scare and the operation and the recuperation sort of delayed things, so it was not until November of 1985, shortly before the Geneva Summit, that I officially came onboard.
LAMB: Did anybody ever ask you what your personal politics are?
MORRIS: No, I was never asked that.
LAMB: Can you tell us?
MORRIS: Yes, I'm not a very political person, but I've always been conservative by nature, like most immigrants. And I always tend to vote for conservative candidates, but I repeat, I'm not very political and I'm not all that interested in everyday politics. I'm much more fascinated by character and narrative.
LAMB: Can you explain a statement you made in this book – "I was a whore of Madison Avenue, myself." Why did you write that?
MORRIS: I was an advertising copywriter. And all copywriters are, in a sense, whores because the words they write are writing for merchandising purpose – for commercial purpose – and are not necessarily sincere or hard, strong words.
LAMB: How long did you write – copy from Madison Avenue?
MORRIS: On Madison Avenue, I worked as a copywriter from '68 through 1971, so there years.
LAMB: Then what in '71? What did you do?
MORRIS: I became a freelance writer, still writing advertising stuff to begin with but it gradually turned into newspaper articles and reviews and magazine pieces and travel articles – anything I could do to pay the rent. So I gradually, within a year or two, became a self-supporting freelance writer.
LAMB: Can you remember the first time you were introduced to Theodore Roosevelt?
MORRIS: Yes, there was a preliminary apprehension of him when I was a small boy in (Kenya). At the age of 10, I looked in the civic history of Nairobi that was published to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the city. And it has this historic photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt coming to Nairobi, Kenya in 1909 on his great safari for the Smithsonian. And I remember identifying as a small boy with that picture – the smile, the snarl, the spectacles. There was something about him that attracted me. And a quarter of a century later, I ended up writing his biography.
LAMB: When is the second edition of the three-parter on Theodore Roosevelt coming out?
MORRIS: It's going to have to come out on September 14th of 2001, because that will be the centennial of his emergency inauguration as McKinley's successor.
LAMB: You referred earlier to Bitburg and I saw some videotape that we had on this network of your speech at the Reagan Library. By the way, was there any time when the Reagan Library didn't want you to come there after this book was published?
MORRIS: Oh, I don't think they wanted me there that day. The Foundation, as distinct from the Reagan Library, which is the National Archives, but there is a Foundation there that runs the museum and whose purpose is hagiographical – to preserve the sainted memory of the great man. They wanted me to speak at the Reagan Library at the beginning of my Californian tour and they wanted me to be there first before any other institution for obvious reasons. But when the book came out and turned out to be so objective about Reagan and less than hagiographical – although I still submit he comes out of this book greater than they can conceive he was – the welcome became extremely stiff and formal and they couldn't wait to get me away.
LAMB: How was the crowd that day?
MORRIS: Very large and very positive.
LAMB: Now you talked about some video that you had or you – no, video that the library had that you looked at of Eli Wiesel in the Oval Office. Do you want to explain what that was?
MORRIS: Yes, that was the meeting – private meeting in 1985, shortly before Reagan went to Bitburg at the height of the Bitburg crisis, which we all view, as I should just remind you briefly, was to do with the fact that Reagan was going to go to Germany to the Bitburg military cemetery and participate in a ceremony of remembrance for the end of World War II. And it was discovered after he'd made the commitment that the graves there contained the bones – some of them did – contained the bones of SS soldiers. So Jews all around the world rose up in an outcry that the President of the United States was going to bless with his official presence the bones of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Anyway, Reagan was confronted by Eli Wiesel shortly before he left for Germany. In this private meeting in the Oval Office, which is what I describe in the book and I believe you have a clip of that, he was telling Reagan that when he went out in front of the cameras for the official ceremony of the medal that Reagan was going to give him, that he was going to have to tell the cameras and the American people exactly what Jews felt about the decision the President had made.
LAMB: This was shot by the navy crews that were around the President the entire time that he was president, which I think was the first president to ever have that. But when we asked for the clip, we didn't get what we asked for, and I'm not sure – we had a very short time constraint – but we did get the meeting but there – it's – Mr. Wiesel is not talking himself. You'll see him in this clip. There is a woman sitting next to the President in the formal chairs there talking about this whole incident, and she obviously represents a Jewish organization, so let's…
LAMB: You weren't in the room at the time?
MORRIS: Oh, no, no, no. This is all on videotape.
LAMB: OK. Let's let this run and then you can explain what's going on. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it should be pointed out also (inaudible) Heads of State of Germany since the War, of Italy, and of Japan have all come here and (inaudible) and laid wreaths and things of that (inaudible) and maybe it took more for them since they were the defeated, but it was an indication that they, too, feel the same way about those that perpetrated that era as we do, and they did it to make it evident that this – we are all – we're different now.
PEGGY GOLDBERG: Well, for you to give us this time is such a treasure for me, but I do have a problem with the SSs, with that super Nazi force of brutality is unparalleled in the history of mankind and we can't liken any other soldiers to them. And I think it is that, that it is so problematic.
GOLDBERG: I wish you would find another site.
REAGAN: I know, but I have said to our people – I've said look – 30 out of 3,000 – let's try to get ourselves as far away in that cemetery from them as is possible. I'm quite sure there will be members of the Press who will do anything they can to seek those out and take pictures of those tombstones, but even the Kohl, when that was decided was not aware. As a matter of fact, he made a personal visit and, as you know, the tombstones there are flush with the ground – they're underground. And it had snowed. And he, in good faith, had said – no, there aren't – there are not SS in the cemetery.
Well, I think it's safe to say that the President's remarks during his entire trip to Germany will draw a distinction between the German soldier and the SS and he will in no way condemn – I mean, approve or say any kind of approving word regarding SS Nazis or the Third Reich – in no way, will condemn, ) and will constantly say we do not want a repetition of that again, and we will be working during this Reagan administration to ensure that it doesn't. (END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Fourteen years ago. What do you see there?
MORRIS: It's too bad the Reagan Library didn't let you see the actual confrontation with Wiesel. I hope they aren't being protective. It's public property and you should be able to see it, which is very dramatic. But nevertheless, you could see his distress in that tape, running his hands through his hair and this weary expression.
You would also have seen right at the beginning, an amusing example of George Bush's lack of memory, because he was in that meeting, too. And when he came in late, you can hear George Bush's aid saying to him – it's Eli Wiesel, U.S. Holocaust Commission. And Bush jumps forward and says, "Eli, long time, no see."
LAMB: What did you see in Ronald Reagan there? I mean, this is – I don't believe this has ever been seen before. But the public has access to this material.
MORRIS: Yes, the public should. It does. It belongs to the National Archives and it's freely available. Sorry, what is the question? What?
LAMB: What did you see in the way that Ronald Reagan was handling that meeting compared to the things that you saw over the years?
MORRIS: The absolute sense of personal rightness. Complete lack of interest in what Eli Wiesel is saying and what Peggy – I think it was Peggy Goldberg – that woman who was speaking to him. He was simply proof against their anguish, smiling avuncular, convinced that what he was doing was the right thing. And, by the way, I believe in retrospect that what he did was the right thing.
But the real drama came a little later when the public ceremony took place. He was about to give Wiesel a medal and Wiesel lectured him in front of the American people, saying, "Mr. President, you must not go to Bitburg. That is not your place." And the anger in Reagan's face, at that point, is quite palpable.
LAMB: In the book, you sing a lot of a speech that he gave that started all this in politics when Holmes Tuttle was in the room – a speech that California Agricultural Association…
MORRIS: Oh, yes, yes, yes. In 1958.
LAMB: In 1958. How important was that in his political career?
MORRIS: That particular speech was not necessarily important in his political career. It was very important to me, because I happened to have a live recording of it. It was one of thousands of speeches Reagan gave in the 50s and it was so impressive in its extraordinary force and speed and certainty. Reagan used to be a very fast man, that you can't listen to it and not be aware of the fact that this is a future very likely President of the United States.
That speech was not the same – not quite the same as the famous one he delivered for Goldwater six years later. The speech which made Reagan overnight politically famous and the next Governor of California was the speech he gave for Goldwater in October of 1964.
LAMB: But we started this by talking about Bob Tuttle, the son of Holmes Tuttle, the automobile man out there in California. Henry Salvatori is another man that you say was in the room when he gave his speech. Did they actually go up to him afterwards and say – what did they say to him? Can we support you? Can we finance you?
MORRIS: Yes. What they heard in 1964 was essentially the same speech that I describe in 1958. But anyway, what they heard that impressed them so much – his force, his quickness, and his physical attractiveness – that they realized this was a man that they could very easily make Governor of California with their money.
So they went to him and said if he cared to run for the Governorship in 1965 and 1966 that they would personally guarantee all of his expenses. And Holmes Tuttle, in person, is a wealthy auto dealer, a magnificent old man. He said, "Ronnie, if you do go into politics, I guarantee for the rest of your career that you'll never want for money." And, indeed, that was the case. He financed his two runs for the governorship of California and his three runs for the presidency of the United States.
LAMB: And you say that – what's the story about the Lincoln bedroom – later years later?
MORRIS: Yes, that's a poignant story that Holmes Tuttle told me at the end of the Reagan administration in December of 1988. He said, "When Ronnie was elected President, I said to him, "Ronnie, there's only one thing that I'm ever going to ask of you in exchange for what support we've given you over the years. I would like for myself and my wife to be able to spend one night in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House." And he said, "Reagan twinkled and said, "Sure, Holmes. We'll see to it."
But he said it didn’t happen, so he repeated this hint two or three times until he began to realize it was not going to happen – an invitation was not extended. And in December '88, he said to me, "You know, they only just finally asked us if we would like to stay the night in the Lincoln bedroom. And I said, "No, thanks. It's too late."
LAMB: As we get down there – at the end of this hour, fill in the gaps for us. When we chatted in '96 and the day that I interviewed Bob (Lemisher), editor in '97 September, the book was supposedly near completion. And then we had a two year middle there. What happened in those two years? What slowed this whole process down? Why did you need the time?
MORRIS: I couldn't finish it. My – the year when I was supposed to deliver – 1998 – the book was substantially complete, but I couldn't quite finish it. It was too long, too cumbersome. It needed reshaping. And I was so unhappy with it that I felt I couldn't possibly rush it out that fall. And Random House with extraordinary generosity waited a full year and put it out in September 1999, instead of September 1998, by which time it was much trimmer and all the problems had been taken care of and I had completed it to my satisfaction.
LAMB: When did you develop the device – you know, the device of the fictional characters. What year?
MORRIS: The narrative device – I developed it early in September – the fall of 1992.
LAMB: So you had planned this all along?
MORRIS: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And do you remember the day that you did it and why?
MORRIS: It's a story I have told a few times before, and so I hope I don't sound repetitious. But I had spent a couple of years trying to write about Reagan in orthodox fashion.
LAMB: Meaning physically wrote?
MORRIS: Oh, yes. Started writing a conventional biography of Ronald Reagan and he just simply eluded conventional description. Reagan could only be comprehended in action in performance. So I came upon this device more or less at a moment of inspiration when I visited his old college – Eureka, Illinois – walking under those same elm trees you showed a photograph of before. I stepped on an acorn, thinking of the young freshman Ronald Reagan stepping on acorns in the fall of 1928, and wishing as biographies do, that I could've been there to observe him physically with the same kind of clarity and closeness that I had in the White House.
And that's when I had this (inaudible) that in the biographical sense, I was there. I knew what it was like. I had studied that period intensely. I had read all the documents and interviewed people. So I decided to give a physical, fleshly presence to this biographical presence – this mind – this biographical mind. And I created a narrator, who throughout the book observes Ronald Reagan in action. But of his scrutiny, Reagan remains unaware. It's the only fictional device in the book. And what the narrator observes is pure documented biography.
LAMB: At the end of the book, I'm confused about the third-to-the-last paragraph – you talk – you say, "Paul – Paul Ray – your writer friend, bless his (episeen) loyalty." I'm not sure that's the way you pronounce it. "Never shared this story with anyone. You'll tell Dutch, of course, he had said in 1985, when the news of my appointment was made public. "Of course" – I said, but then Paul died and I never got around to it. By the way, did you have a friend named Paul? So that's all invented (inaudible). Perhaps Dutch, a most inscrutable man, perhaps in either case, that he was now beyond caring. Who was I but one of 77. I heard his husky voice chuckle – you're just another notch on the log."
You go to the footnotes and that's from a Ronald Reagan interview, January 27, 1991. But he's suggesting that you were just another notch on the log. You were the 77th person that he rescued.
MORRIS: No, the line – "You're just another notch on the log" is a line which is repeated several times in the book. It's something that Reagan used to say to people when he rescued them, when they thanked him, or tried to thank him. He would say, "You're just another notch on the log" and by that, he meant, he had this log on which he used to literally carve a slash every time he rescued somebody. And he would say to them, "You're just another notch on the log."
LAMB: Is that the real log right there?
MORRIS: That's it right there. It's one of the pictures in the book.
LAMB: Where is it?
MORRIS: It's not – it doesn't exist anymore. It was washed away in about 1938. And I found that in one of his personal scrapbooks.
LAMB: The reason I ask you, though, about this is that I knew what you were alluding to here, but the footnote – people seem to get upset about this – that you were the 77th person he rescued and the whole fictional part of that. Are you surprised at how upset they got about it?
MORRIS: I'm not surprised because there are a lot of techniques in this book which are original and strange, and this is one of the penalties of being original that you always get a violent reaction. The narrator, in a sense, is symbolic of the American people. I believe that Reagan rescued this country at a time of very poisonous self-doubt. And in rescuing the narrator of the book, the narrator really represents the American people – in rescuing the narrator of the book, he's rescuing the country and bringing the book to a symbolic conclusion.
LAMB: Would you do anything different again?
MORRIS: About the book?
MORRIS: No, not one word. Except that I would cut out a bit of a few lines, which I think could have been less garish. There are some lines there that – I think this is true of all writers of all books that they would've liked to have spent more time on.
LAMB: You're first printing was 300,000. Has there been more than one printing?
MORRIS: Oh, there's been, I think, five printings. It's now 425,000.
LAMB: And it's selling at a pace that you expected or what? Do you know?
MORRIS: Well, every writer likes to fantasize that his book will become a massive best seller and mine became the number two best seller within three days of publication, so I'm very happy about that. But I think one of the reasons it sold so many is simply it's about a hugely important person and, to that extent, I should be grateful to Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: The name of the book is "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan." And our guest has been Edmund Morris.
MORRIS: Thank you, Brian.
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