Mike Church Interviews Craig Shirley
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Let’s go to the Dude Maker Hotline and say hello to old friend Craig Shirley, the author of Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Let’s go to the Dude Maker Hotline and say hello to old friend Craig Shirley, the author of Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan. Craig, forgive me, but I know you wrote at least one other book prior to Last Act on the president.
Craig Shirley: Two other books. A little trivia, I heard the Mike Curb generation or whatever it was. Mike Curb was, for a time, lieutenant governor of California and a big Reagan supporter. In fact, he gave a speech of Reagan in Detroit in 1980. I think now he’s a record producer down in Nashville. He used to be very close to the Beach Boys and other California surfer-type bands. A little trivia there.
Mike: I knew that because I went to his Wikipedia page. He is the founder of Curb Records. His big breakthrough act was Hank Williams, Jr.
Shirley: I didn’t know that.
Mike: Folks, for those of you that don’t know – now, Craig, I hope I didn’t get this wrong. I was talking about you earlier today, that we had reached out and I was really hoping to get you on to talk about Mrs. Reagan and her passing, God rest her soul. I asked the audience to pray for her eternal soul. She was quite a sweet lady.
Mike: I want to make sure that I got this right, that I didn’t instruct anyone incorrectly. You actually knew the Reagans. The former president kind of allowed you to hang out with him, if I can use vulgar – hang out may not be the right word – so that you could write those books, correct?
Shirley: I didn’t – I was a munchkin in the 1980s. I worked for the White House Conference on Small Business and the Republican National Committee and things like that. Mrs. Reagan, over the years, told the library to open up files that would have been sealed and make them available to me for the research of my books. By the way, you asked earlier what other books I’ve written. Reagan’s Revolution was about the 1976 campaign. Rendezvous with Destiny is about the 1980 campaign.
Then Last Act is about his passing. I’m now working on the fourth Reagan book called Becoming Reagan, which is about that time between 1976 and 1980 when he went through a complete ideological makeover. It’s really quite startling. The Reagan of 1964 and even of 1976 is often angry. By 1980 he’s mellowed and he’s for things. Instead of being anti-abortion, he’s pro-life. Instead of being anti-government, he’s pro-freedom. He’s learned how to better communicate to bring in more people into his coalition.
Mike: That is amazing. I’ve never thought of it like that. You just mentioned 1960s Reagan being different from the 1970s Reagan, and ’76 being different from ’80. He gets his start, though, famously – you know what? I actually have that record. I don’t know where I got it from but I have it.
Shirley: Rendezvous with Destiny.
Mike: Yeah, the speech.
Shirley: Yes, I have it, too.
Mike: You can find this on eBay, I would imagine.
Shirley: Actually, last I checked it was pretty expensive. I think it was $300 a record or something like that.
Mike: I think somebody donated it to me or gave it to us. What I was going to say about that, Craig, about the former president – by the way, Craig’s last book is called Last Act. It’s a really great book. As a matter of fact, I’ve got it dog-eared here because I’m on the third chapter. I read it infrequently, but when I do I always enjoy it. I named a daughter Reagan. As a matter of fact, she’s the one that called me yesterday morning and said, “Daddy, did you know that Nancy Reagan died?” I went, “No, I did not know.” She goes, “Yeah, she just died and I’m sad.” I went, “Well, think of who you were named after, child, and don’t be sad.”
That speech, he said things in that speech that were quite, I think still today, remarkable. One of them was that Social Security was a welfare program and the government had lied about that, that the current government was lying about it and they admitted it. Some guy named Byers, I think, was the accountant that said it was a welfare program. He came out slinging saying things that today’s conservatives won’t even touch.
Shirley: Right. Things change. Nothing ever stays the same. The issues that were around in the 1960s and ‘70s, some of them are timeless; others change with the moment. I don’t know what the answer is. You’ve just got to take them as they come. Great leaders tend to define issues rather than being defined by issues.
Mike: Let’s talk for a moment about Nancy Reagan. Obviously you knew Mrs. Reagan.
Shirley: Yes. I saw her last June, my wife and I did.
Mike: The first thing that I thought of was the horrible slander that was hurled her way by the likes of Kitty Kelley when she was the First Lady. How did she deal with all that?
Shirley: It got to her. It bothered her. It bothered her more than it bothered the president. He let things slide off his back. The only time he really got upset when people unfairly attacked Nancy. He didn’t mind if they attacked him. He didn’t care. He didn’t like it when they unfairly attacked her. In fact, he wrote letters to people about the Kitty Kelley book, denouncing it and saying it’s untrue and it was slanderous and all sorts of things. That’s how he dealt with it. She took things more to heart. She took them more personally.
When they arrived here in Washington in 1981, they were walking past, through enemy lines. They were walking the buzzsaw of the liberal national media, especially the Washington Post and the style section, the noxious style section of the Washington Post. They made Reagan’s life miserable for eight years. Even the week of his passing they wrote some god-awful things about whether or not he had proposed to another woman before Nancy, that he was a lousy actor, that he was a lousy football player. They were always, always on Reagan’s case.
Mike: I like to say, when I talk to my daughter about the former president, I said: Read the books about Ronald Reagan because he’s probably going to be the last American president that was an actual American. He lived the life. I love the part of the story where he’s young and grows up in the butcher shop, the apartment above the butcher shop. The butcher feels sorry for him, for his mother. They get the leftover gizzards and livers and stuff. He goes off to school and becomes a broadcaster, the field that I worked in. By all accounts, he was a really good broadcaster.
Shirley: Yes, he was. He took it seriously. He took his voice lessons seriously that he got from some old producers at WHO radio in Des Moines. He had that type of voice that just was very, very soothing and calming to people his entire life.
Mike: Just give us a little background on what you know about when he actually did meet Mrs. Reagan and when they got married, what their early life was like. She was with him before politics, right?
Shirley: Oh yes, very much so. In fact, he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild. They met in the late ‘40s. She was an aspiring actress, was making the movie The Next Voice You Hear. Of course, it was during communism in Hollywood was pretty prevalent. There were communist provocateurs trying to subvert the various actors guilds and things like that. Her name showed up on a list of suspected communist provocateurs. She was very, very distraught about this. She called Mervyn LeRoy, who was a famous director and a good friend of hers, and asked for his help. He said: Look, I know Ron Reagan. He’s the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Let me have him call you. He had Reagan call her and they set up a dinner that night as a matter of fact. Fifty some odd years later they were still dating. They never stopped dating after that first date.
Mike: Author Craig Shirley is on the Dude Maker Hotline with us. Thanks for coming on on such short notice. I was remarking to the audience earlier today, Craig. I’ve been watching television. I’ve got Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN on. I said: I can’t believe I haven’t seen Craig Shirley. They have all these other clowns on here talking about the former president. Why not have the guy that knows the most about them?
Shirley: I was on Morning Joe this morning. I was on Fox Business this morning. I was on quite a number of shows this morning. I’ll be on more shows this afternoon.
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Shirley: You know what? I don’t mind. There’s enough of Reagan to go around for all of us.
Mike: I was just looking forward to seeing you on TV, buddy, that’s all.
Shirley: Thank you.
Mike: I was hoping you’d sell a few books.
Shirley: Look at it this way: I’m on with you instead.
Mike: One moment in Nancy Reagan’s life that I wanted to ask you about, and maybe you know about this. I have a lot of Reagan’s speeches personally. I collect them whenever I find them. I restore the audio as best I can. I make it as modern and beautiful as I can. One of my favorite ones is the 1989 farewell speech, goodbye speech. His love for her is just –
Mike: – boundless. You can hear it in that speech where he talks about how: Nancy and I have so loved being here in the White House and will be so sad to leave it. Where was she at the time? Was she in the next room listening? Does she help him with the speech? What can you tell us about that?
End Mike Church Show Transcript