President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

By Lou Cannon | Go to book overview
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16
AN ACTOR ABROAD

You'd be surprised how much being a good actor pays off.

RONALD REAGAN IN CHINA, APRIL 30, 19841

THOUGH HE DISLIKED TRAVELING, Ronald Reagan's talents as a performer were suited to the world stage. His writers lavished their finest scripts and his White House impresarios their most elaborate productions on Reagan appearances in London, Normandy, Korea, Moscow, and at the Berlin Wall. Reagan, often at his best when the spotlight shone most brightly, responded with sprightly performances. On rare occasions he even performed effectively without a script, drawing upon his life's experience to convey a sense of hope and purpose. Curious university students in Shanghai and Moscow were fascinated with Reagan's autobiographical account of how a small-town boy from Illinois, living in a land where anything is possible, became a movie actor and subsequently president of the United States. Even students handpicked for Marxist-Leninist reliability and armed with anti- American questions were charmed by Reagan's friendly, self-deprecating manner and his homely observations about life. "I should tell you that when you get to be my age you're going to be surprised how much you recall the feelings you had in these days here and . . . how easy it is to understand the young people because of your own having been young once," Reagan said in answering a student's question at Moscow State University in 1988. "You know an awful lot more about being young than you do about being old."*

Reagan also fascinated and often charmed world leaders, even though some of them wondered how a man of his background could become president of the world's most powerful democracy. When they came to know him, they were apt to wonder even more. "You could see it in the faces of

____________________
*
After the speech Gary Lee of The Washington Post, a Russian-speaking correspondent then assigned to Moscow, overheard two women students enthusiastically praising Reagan's remarks. "You can see why he's called the Great Communicator," said one of them.

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