The routine on the plant tour could be physically and mentally taxing. As occasional traveling aide Ed Langley reported, however, “There is [a] way that Ron stays fresh on these trips. He makes them an adventure. There has to be a set pattern to the talks, but he always seems to find a way to vary the routine. Consider what happened today.” At a reception for middle-management employees, one of the wives asked Reagan what she could do about her young son. The boy was depressed. He thought he might want to be an actor, but that was about the only bright spot on an otherwise bleak horizon. Nothing she tried seemed to lift the boy out of the dumps. The company spokesman thought about it for a moment and then said he would call on Saturday morning but that the boy should not be told.
Saturday was supposed to be Reagan’s day off. He had finished a full schedule on Friday, with another reception that night. He had every right just to stay in bed, but he kept his promise to the boy’s mother. He wanted the meeting to seem spontaneous, so aides George Dalen (who had replaced Earl Dunckel) and Langley were enlisted in a scheme to poll every other house on the boy’s street. Reagan would ring a doorbell and say, “I’m Ronald Reagan and I’m conducting a survey on the General Electric Theater.”
The report continued: “At the target house, we bounded into a cramped living room and confronted an incredulous mother and her sullen, furtive, indeed loutish son. Reagan’s performance was astounding. Laughing, rumpling the brat’s hair, spieling his cleaned-up dirty jokes, Reagan said he’d show the two of them how movie fights were staged.
George Dalen and I had been through this routine lots of times before audiences of GE workers. Coats off, George and I attacked Ronnie with fake punches, but the White Knight, supposedly wiping blood from his lips, laid into us, and George and I took our falls over the furniture and skidded across the rugless floor.”
“The boy was so captivated,” Langley continued, “he wanted to try a pulled punch on Reagan, and did. Reagan went back on his heels, disbelief on his face, staggered and fell on the sofa. Bouncing up immediately, he hugged the boy and told him he’d make a great film actor. Then he sat down, and became a father and a father confessor. He had the kid and his mother crying and begging him not to go, to stay for supper, to keep in touch. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will.”
This is from Thomas W. Evans, The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism, Columbia University Press, 2006.
I’m thoroughly enjoying it.