With the current frenzy of politicians vying to be nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties’ bids for the presidency, I’m sharing a post about a job I had in 1979 when I accidentally fell into the midst of Ronald Reagan’s inner circle, who later became his first cabinet. This was on the eve of his announcement that he was running for the Republican nomination, and I had been asked if I’d like to work for a gentleman who wanted to write a book…

How I Landed in the Midst of Reagan’s Inner Circle

by Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

I had just left a job in Los Angeles where I assisted Michael Ovitz, at that time the most powerful agent in Hollywood in his position as head of Creative Artists Agency. That job was fascinating and demanding, but I’d reached a point where I knew I didn’t want to climb the Hollywood high-powered career ladder–in fact, I wanted to write books, so I quit.

Soon after, I got a call from a woman who ran a job placement agency.  “How’d you like to work for Ronald Reagan’s chief fundraiser? He wants help putting together a book.”

I Want My Children to See How a President Was Made

I took the position, and that’s how I met Charles Z. Wick. It was 1979, and I drove to a large, lovely home in Beverly Hills to meet Mr. Wick. Later I learned this was the house the movie star Lana Turner once lived in with her gangster-boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, who was later killed there by Turner’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane (deemed a justifiable homicide).

Lana Turner publicity still (image is in public domain)

Wick explained he was a good friend of Reagan’s, who would soon be announcing his intention to seek the Republican nomination for President. Wick explained he’d been taping Reagan’s inner circle during their discussions, and he wanted me to transcribe these tapes and create a book of their comments and insights on making Reagan President. He wanted each chapter to be a person’s name, and within that chapter quotes from others about that person’s ideas, possible role, etc. in Reagan’s upcoming presidency.

Wick told me numerous times that his goal with this book was a legacy to his children–he wanted to show them how a President was made.

I Transcribed Dozens of Conversations

I arrived each day and transcribed what was on the tapes. This was 1979, remember, and I don’t believe anyone had computers in their homes at that time. So this was old-fashioned listening to tapes of conversations, pinpointing who was speaking and typing what I heard via a typewriter.

I listened to dozens of conversations. Typed pages and pages of transcripts. I was in my early 20s and clueless that Wick recording these conversations without asking permission was eavesdropping. Later, when Wick became Director of the United States Information Agency (U.S.I.A), issues cropped up regarding his secretly taping telephone calls (such as with then-Senator Charles H. Percy and former President Jimmy Carter), but Wick was never charged. He apologized, calling his actions “a dumb thing.”

Chapter Titles: William Casey, Michael Deaver, Caspar Weinberger…

After typing all the conversations, I created the chapter titles by key names in Reagan’s inner circle: William Casey, Michael Deaver, Caspar Weinberger, Ed Meese…I had no idea who these people were at the time. In the near future, I knew those names well as they became members of Reagan’s cabinet.

Reagan cabinet

Reagan’s 1981 cabinet (image is in the public domain)

Do I remember what they were saying about and to each other? No. But I do recall those chapters were pages long. And I carefully glued the cut-out strings of dialogue pertaining to each person on each page.

So the chapters looked something like this:

 William Casey

Caspar Weinberger [date of conversation]: “Text of comment about Casey”

Michael Deaver [date of conversation]: “Text of comment about Casey”

and so forth…

William Casey, of course, became head of the CIA under Reagan.

When I finished the book, it was like a fat scrapbook. I have no idea what happened to it, but yes, I hope someone is holding onto it because it truly shows the genesis of the making of a President.

Didn’t You Know History Was Being Made?

Sometimes friends will ask me, “How could you not make copies? Or write down some of those quotes?  History was being made!”

Well, first of all I didn’t know history was being made. Second, all I really knew about Charles Z. Wick was that he had been a band leader and produced films like Snow White and the Three Stooges, so I wasn’t taking any of this seriously. I don’t discuss politics because people’s emotions can burn hot on political issues, so I’ll simply say that I grew up in a Democrat household where my father, a professor of political science and American history, had also been president of a Democratic organization in southern California. As a kid, I went to a whistle stop tour where John F. Kennedy was campaigning for President, handed out badges for Pierre Salinger when he ran for senator, and as a teenager I hung out at Eugene McCarthy’s campaign headquarters after school, making phone calls to voters.

So while I was creating this book that was to show how Reagan was being made President, I’d sometimes call my dad and say, “Can you believe they actually think they can make him President?”

I’ve eaten those words many times since then.

According to Wick’s NYT obituary, when aides questioned Reagan on whether Wick was qualified to head the U.S.I.A, Reagan answered, “He can have anything he wants.”