Unlike Eisenhower’s private Sunday swearing-in ceremony in 1957, which banned television cameras and limited the recording of the event to two still black-and-white pictures, the first of Reagan‘s two second-term oath-taking on that day of the week was carried live in television.
In fact, unlike any other previous presidential inaugurations, regardless of the day of the week it took place, all of the public events. as well as some which were closed to the general public, were shared live with the nation on television involving the inauguration of a President who was himself a former feature film and television actor.
As it turns out, most of the people who had come from around the nation to eye-witness the 1985 Inauguration in Washington would be forced to watch it on the T.V. set as well. To some people, Washington might seem to control every aspect of their lives. The last holdout, however, is the weather and Reagan’s Sunday Inauguration not only featured dinners, a glitzy gala, two swearing-in ceremonies on two separate days but also sub-zero temperatures which made it dangerous for anyone to be outside for too long.
Among the contingencies who did cross the country from California to attend the second Reagan inaugural events and were sure to get into them all, regardless of the weather, were their family members.
Right at that time, however, internal issues among them necessitating private resolutions were splayed by the national media in public. It was a reminder that regardless of the reality that the nuclear family members of a person who happens to be President are first and foremost human beings, to the world at large they are a symbolic national family, the First Family.
Those who gathered at the White House were a true example of what had only recently been dubbed “the blended American family,” with various members cobbled together into one as a result of divorce and remarriage. Besides being joined by their two birth children Patti and Ron, and the President’s brother Neil and his wife, there was also, by his first wife Jane Wyman, whom he divorced, Reagan’s birth daughter Maureen and her third husband, and adopted son Michael and his wife and two young children, and lthe First Lady’s stepbrother Richard and his family.
In the case of the Reagans, their daughter actress Patti Davis made clear that, despite loving her father, she held firm to political convictions which were the antithesis of his, and that she had not voted for him. Their son Ron Reagan, a freelance television feature news commentator and magazine writer, was less of a partisan but shortly after the 1985 Inauguration would make a series of public service commercials on the prevention of AIDS contraction at a time when the President had yet to acknowledge its growing public epidemic.
Nancy Reagan had, in recent months, acknowledged to reporters an “estrangement” with the President’s son Michael and he had publicly criticized his father for not having yet even met his grandchildren.
Family talks took place and the President’s grandchildren made their first visit to the White House for the Inauguration.
When aides built a snowman outside the West Wing so it looked like the family had all made it together for a phalanx of press photographers who snapped the scene, however, Michael Reagan expressed unease at the display.
Since the official Inauguration Day of January 20 fell on a Sunday, the quadrennial event was organized as a full weekend of activities.
Beginning on Friday night, when most Inauguration guests arrived in town there were various special parties and events honoring different demographics, including women, senior citizens, African-Americans, Latinos, and those hosted by the state societies.
At most of them a Cabinet member or one of the Old Hollywood actors who were friends of the Reagans and in town for the event made special guest appearances.
On the Saturday night before the first, private swearing-in ceremony, the Inaugural Gala was held, organized and hosted by Frank Sinatra.
Twice before Sinatra had pulled off this sort of gargantuan performance, broken into segments so that the entire show could be spliced with commercial time.
The first time had been for his friend John F. Kennedy, in 1961 but after a breach in their relationship during Kennedy’s presidency, Sinatra had stayed out of active politics for the next two presidential elections.
In 1972 he came out as a strong supporter of Nixon’s re-election campaign and performed at the White House for the first time just after that.
Although he never claimed to have stopped being a Democrat and started becoming a Republican, he had a long friendship with the Reagans, extending to the 1960s so he was a natural choice to produce Reagan’s first Inaugural Gala in 1981 and then repeat it.
The performers who came to Washington to do the 1985 Gala Inaugural included some of Old Hollywood’s most famous names like Elizabeth Taylor, current television sitcom and dramatic series stars like Mr. T, Emmanuel Lewis from Webster, Robert Wager and Jill St. John, as well as country-music singers such as Crystal Gale and Mac Davis, and disco music singer and dancer Donna Summers, all of them becoming encapsulated as a Pop Culture timepiece of the 80s when the show in its entirety is viewed today.
The insults thrown at the President and Mrs. Reagan (“Ron and Nancy” as he knew them by) from comedian Don Rickles are not just a slice of classic 80s comedy but give proof that they both were able to laugh thoroughly at the caricatures of themselves.
At one point, after insulting the President, Rickles assures the First Lady that he’s just joking around – and then simulates having a spear thrust into him from her direction. Here is a clip of his act and the Reagans reacting to it:
Like the Eisenhowers who had used their regular Sunday church attendance as an unofficial Inaugural worship service, the Reagans attended church on Sunday, January 20.
Arriving in a fresh flurry of snow and dropping temperatures at the National Cathedral, the Reagans were joined by the Bushes in a front pew. Although presided over by Bill Graham, “minister to the Presidents,” it was an inter-faith service.
The guests were limited by the relatively tight seating availability to government officials as well as personal friends and family members of the Reagans and Vice President George Bush and his wife Barbara Bush.
After the service, the contingency returned to the White House where Reagan became the second President to take his Sunday oath of office there.
It was, however, the fifth time a President began an Administration from his home (Hayes in 1877, FDR in 1945, Truman in 1945 and Eisenhower in 1957), center of the executive branch, rather than the legislative one at the Capitol Building.
Here is a news coverage compilation:
The next morning, it was impressed by medical advisers upon the Reagans that the weather condition outside would expose anyone standing in it for more than ten minutes to frostbite Windless, it was 4 degrees Fahrenheit. With the wind chill factor, however it was 30 degrees below zero. It meant not only that the swearing-in ceremony was being moved from the West Portico of the Capitol inside the building, to be held in the Rotunda.
That meant that some 25,000 people who had tickets for seats to watch the event, and another 100,o00 who had standing room tickets would have to remain in their hotel rooms and watch it on television – just as they could have done without having traveled from around the nation to Washington for the event.
Here are clips of the national news coverage of their departure from the White House to the Capitol:
The weather also forced the complete cancellation of the Inaugural Parade.
Just like those who had fought tooth and nail for tickets to watch the ceremony, this meant that tens of thousands who had purchased tickets for seats in parade reviewing stands along Pennsylvania Avenue would get nothing for their money and effort.
A very few of the most determined still came out to sit in the empty stands, but no amount of willpower could change the mind of officials.
If that spared thousands of teenagers who come to march with their high school band for the President from the bitter cold, it left them all bitterly disappointed. Reports that some insistent band musicians had even attempted to play instruments only to have their lips frozen on the metal did not deter them – they had come to perform for Reagan and were determined to somehow do so.
To make up for this, Abe Pollin who owned the large Capitol Center Arena in nearby Maryland hastily arranged with the White House and Inauguration officials to have all those contingencies who had come from out of town to perform in the parade to put on a modified version of it indoors there. The President and Vice President George Bush and their wives altered their public schedules and came out to the Cap Center for the show.
That night, there were a record number of Inaugural Balls, all of them attended by the Reagans and Bushes.
At each, the Reagans put on a good show, seemingly enjoying it all as they danced for a few minutes at each event.
Despite the continuing bitter cold, heated limousines and heavy fur coats delivered most Ball-goers.
For those who had come to town for the swearing-in ceremony and parade but could not afford the price of Ball tickets and for those residents of Washington who hadn’t voted to re-elect the President, there was still a massive fireworks display later that night.
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