ronald reagan and eyeglasses -- 1/16/15

Today's selection -- from Landslide by Jonathan Darman. Ronald Reagan was nearsighted, but in the days before contact lenses shied away from wearing glasses:

"Reagan never looked too closely at his audiences. Since childhood, he'd been frightfully nearsighted. His parents paid for thick eyeglasses, which he wore dutifully, but without them, his visible world was mostly blotches of color and drifting shapes. He had adapted without much questioning, the way that children can, forgoing baseball for football, a sport in which you didn't have to see well enough to hit a tiny ball, only well enough to hit another player.

"He'd started his show business career on radio, where his audience was invisible. At the audition for his first job at the Davenport, Iowa, station WOC, the Scottish-born program director had explained how things worked. 'That's the mike in front of ye,' he said. 'Ye won't be able to see me but I'll be listenin'. Good luck.'

Ronald Reagan in eyeglasses testifying before Congress

"In Hollywood, too, seeing had never been that important. Arriving in Southern California in the late 1930s, he'd looked up Joy Hodges, an acquaintance from back home who was working as an actress in the film colony. 'I have visions of becoming an actor,' he confessed to her. 'What I really want is a screen test.' Hodges looked at the man in front of her -- dressed like the Midwest, unsophisticated in the ways of the world, but tall, broad-shouldered, and undeniably handsome. 'I think I might be able to fix something,' she said. ' Just don't ever put those glasses on again.'

"So he'd learned to get by without seeing things too closely. In time, it became the habit of his life. Eventually, he'd gotten contact lenses. Though they could correct his vision, their effect was strangely limited. His children, rushing into a room at day's end to greet their father, would find him looking puzzled, as if they were strangers. ... It was as if, after all the years of seeing ill-defined blotches, the part of his brain that processed the particulars of a person's face had corroded irreparably due to lack of use. Or maybe never been there at all. Once, at his son Michael's high school graduation, where he was the commencement speaker, he'd greeted a line of graduates. 'My name is Ronald Reagan,' he said to a grinning in cap and gown. 'What's yours?' The graduate removed his cap. 'Remember me? I'm your son Mike.'

"When he spoke to large audiences, he didn't focus on the faces before him. Years later, after he'd become a national politician, his aides persuaded him to use a teleprompter. He'd always preferred cards, filled with his shorthand block writing. But he was not afraid to improve his performance, and he accepted the new technology. Just before going on stage, he would remove the contact lens from his right eye. From the corrected left eye, he read the words from the moving monitor. With his right eye, the one without the lens he looked at the crowd. He wanted to look at his audience, but he did not want too much detail. Seeing their faces was not important.

"What mattered was knowing, feeling, just exactly what they wanted most. This was Reagan's great gift."


author:

Jonathan Darman

title:

Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America

publisher:

Random House

date:

Copyright 2014 by Jonathan Darman

pages:

124-125

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