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Good Heavens!

An astrologer dictating the President's schedule? So says former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan in an explosive book.

By Barrett Seaman cover

(TIME, May 16, 1988) -- In his memoir, For the Record, former White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan wastes no time before dropping his biggest bombshell. "Because actions that would otherwise bewilder the reader cannot be understood in its absence," writes Regan in a foreword, "I have revealed in this book what was probably the most closely guarded domestic secret of the Reagan White House."

The secret: First Lady Nancy Reagan's reliance on a San Francisco astrologer to determine the timing of the President's every public move. This was more than a charming eccentricity shared with the 50 million or so other Americans who, casually or in dead earnest, look to the alignment of the stars for guidance. As White House chief of staff for two years, before he was forced to resign in February 1987, Regan was in a position to see how the First Lady's faith in the astrologer's pronouncements wreaked havoc with her husband's schedule. At times, he writes, the most powerful man on earth was a virtual prisoner in the White House.

Donald Regan never knew the name of the "Friend," as Nancy Reagan referred to her astrologer. But TIME learned last week that she is Nob Hill Socialite Joan Quigley, sixtyish, a Vassar graduate who has written three books on astrology (see story on page 41).

As the sensational tip of Regan's revelatory iceberg broke into the headlines last week, it evoked titillation among Washington insiders and an angry response from Ronald Reagan. "I would have preferred it if he decided to attack me," he said on Friday. "From what I hear, he's chosen to attack my wife, and I don't look kindly on that at all."

Nor is he likely to look kindly on his former aide's portrayal of the Reagan White House. Regan shows the President as immensely likable but disturbingly passive and vulnerable to manipulation. And he paints a surprisingly dark, meanspirited First Lady, whose meddling became the "random factor in the Reagan presidency." Regan, who served the Administration for six years, the first four as Secretary of the Treasury, details how Nancy, and not her husband, stage-managed his ouster. His profile of her in For the Record, which Harcourt Brace Jovanovich is publishing this month and TIME is excerpting in the following pages, constitutes Exhibit 1 in the defense of Donald T. Regan.

Nancy Reagan has long been known for her shrewdness and her readiness to step in when she believes others are "taking advantage of Ronnie." For the most part, she has used humor and self-deprecation to parry charges that she was interfering unduly in affairs of state. "This morning I had planned to clear up U.S.-Soviet differences on intermediate-range nuclear missiles," she told a publishers' luncheon in New York City last year. "But I decided to clean out Ronnie's sock drawer instead."

The First Lady dabbled in astrology as far back as 1967. In 1981 Quigley made Nancy a believer by showing how the astrologer's charts could have foretold that the period on or around March 30, 1981, would be extremely dangerous for the President. On that day a bullet from John Hinckley Jr.'s handgun gravely wounded the President. From then on, Nancy, obsessed with her husband's safety, was convinced of her Friend's power to protect him. And from then on, no presidential public appearance was slated without the Friend's say-so. To this day, Nancy's Friend continues to influence the President's schedule. For the Reagan-Gorbachev Washington summit, she cast the charts of both men and determined that 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, 1987, was the most propitious moment for them to sign the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. At Nancy's behest, the entire summit was built around that hour. For the upcoming Moscow summit, Gorbachev's chart (he is a Pisces) has been recast alongside Reagan's (Aquarius).

Nancy's proscriptions have not always been obeyed. On April 7, 1986, Reagan went to the Baltimore Orioles' opening-day game at Memorial Stadium despite dire warnings from the Friend that he should not travel that day. Until Reagan's safe return, the White House communications network was ablaze with Nancy's efforts to abort the trip.

Both Reagans have always been superstitious, observing such harmless rituals as knocking on wood and walking around, never under, ladders. The President puts a certain coin and a gold lucky charm in his pocket each morning, and routinely tosses salt over his left shoulder not just when he spills some but before all his meals. Ronald Reagan freely admits his superstition, but in a manner that allays concern. In his 1965 autobiography, Where's the Rest of Me?, he breezily describes his and Nancy's attention to syndicated horoscopes. And Nancy Reagan is far from the first First Lady to seek guidance from extrascientific sources. Mary Todd Lincoln attended seances trying to contact her dead son Willie, and Edith Wilson and Florence Harding consulted the same clairvoyant.

In Reagan's mind, an actor's superstitions coexist unabashedly alongside a deep, if unstructured, Christian faith. He is untroubled by the contradictions between the paranormal phenomena that intrigue him and strict church doctrine, which rejects such deviations as the tools of the devil. Nancy, on the other hand, "doesn't have a deep faith in God," according to a former East Wing official. "She was a perfect candidate for this." Those privy to Nancy's consultations say she never adjusted her own travel schedule, only Ronnie's, to the stars: since the assassination attempt, her husband's well-being has been her first concern. When it comes to his security, says a confidante, "she worries in her dreams; she wakes up worrying."

Ronald Reagan insisted last week that at no time did astrology determine policy. Strictly speaking, that appears to be so. But Regan and others make a compelling case that in 1986 and 1987 astrological influence dramatically reduced the presidency's effectiveness, at least partly, by keeping Ronald Reagan under wraps for much of the time. Nancy's intrusions in the scheduling process, Regan said in an interview with TIME last week, "began to interfere with the normal conduct of the presidency."

In a sense, For the Record was preordained the day Don Regan stormed out of the White House. As he rode through the February darkness along the Potomac to his Mount Vernon estate, he brooded about what had happened and determined to write a book. He had his meticulous notes put in a word processor and then brought in Novelist Charles McCarry, who helped Alexander Haig write his memoir, Caveat, to restructure the material.

Regan now works out of a spacious office looking up the Potomac toward the White House from Alexandria, tending to the substantial investment portfolio he assembled during his 35-year career with Merrill Lynch, the last ten as chairman of the board. Still full of what he calls his "Irish jollity," the feisty ex-Marine is unapologetic about his disclosures. "What do you mean 'kiss and tell'? To my knowledge I've never been kissed by anybody in the Reagan Administration."

To criticism that he wrote too soon, Regan argues that many others -- including Haig and David Stockman -- didn't wait until the President had left office before writing memoirs. Besides, he asks, "Do you think the Reagans should have waited [before firing him]? Why is it that I have to live with this burden of calumny and slander and omissions?" Regan ends his book by emphasizing that "my admiration for Reagan as President remains very great." But the contempt Regan holds for those "frivolous gossips and sycophants" who helped force him out under a cloud is equally great. If revenge is a dish best savored cold, then Don Regan, 14 months after "the bitterest event of my life," should be in for quite a feast.

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