Remembering President George H.W. BushDecember 3, 2018
I knew George Bush from when he was vice president. Our first sit-down was in 1982. Then, 1989, when his presidency began, the laugh was loud when I told him sidewalk mendicants were selling his photo for $5. He loved knee-slappers. And their creators. I reported that in a 2000 talk that he zinged: “Last night I rented the movie ‘Love Story.’ I still cry at that scene where Al Gore invents the Internet.”
About Rep. Rick Lazio, then a NY contender for higher office: “Democrats have begun to demonize him. They claim he’s a member of the vast moderate-wing conspiracy.”
His biggie: “Doing another fund-raiser, Clinton expects to collect 23 million from 12,000 donors in attendance . . . 12,000 donors?! They added extra cots tonight in the Lincoln Bedroom.”
Things he told me: He couldn’t wear contact lenses. Also Bush the patriot was distantly related to Benedict Arnold the traitor. Also he carried Arabic words with him when meeting Saudi’s king. And in ’75, he inspected the CIA disguised in red wig and fake nose.
Hand-holding Barbara on the couch, he said an alarm radio’s country music woke them at 6. They slept in a double bed with a dual-control electric blanket and peach bedspread with three bolster pillows, one heart-shaped. Over the bed, a peach-colored Peter Max painting.
January ’89 he had “agita” surfacing about the inaugural. Biggest bore?
“I’ve had dozens but I can’t offend anyone. I have to think of a dead bore. Probably Buckminster Fuller.” Barbara: “But you left for an appointment when he came over.” GB: “Yeah, well that shows how boring he was. I was bored with him and I wasn’t even there.”
In ’03, he said “Honor is the word that has framed my life.” April 5, 2008, the day Charlton Heston left us: “If anyone plays me on film, I’d have wanted it to be him.” And once he chuckled retelling how Poland’s Lech Walesa entertained him in Walesa’s own backyard.
I recall a private one-on-one, sitting with him at his desk. Same night, after I returned to New York, for some reason Sandra Bullock snubbed me. I can’t recall why, but I remember she did. Funny — leaving the president of the United States of America and getting snubbed by Sandra Bullock.
A prez who cared about people
Me: “So, Mr. President, what’s it take to say you’ll balance the budget?” GB: “Whatever it took me to get the nomination.” Caring about people, he phoned musician Lionel Hampton hospitalized in Paris. In 2013, he shaved his hair to match a child battling leukemia. In ’92, he worked a treadmill. In 2010, trouble walking. In 2011, a cane. In 2012, last I saw him, a wheelchair. Screening their documentary, movie p.r. Kathie Berlin, HBO’s Sheila Nevins and I flew to the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. The documentary interviews took seven months. He never asked for questions in advance. Not liking his face touched, makeup people just smoothed his rumpled hair. Its exec producer, Jerry Weintraub, said: “This took three years to do, but at least I made 41 a happy guy.” A set-up tent then served us rolls, lobsters, clams, chicken, corn, mussels, wine, Maine root beer, chowder, dessert, popcorn and red, white and blue M&Ms. On this, his 88th birthday, the 41st President of the United States of America, said to HBO’s CEO Richard Plepler, “This is the best birthday I ever had.”
About getting Bush-wacked one Christmas: G&B gifted their family, but not each other. The First Shopper gave the Leader of the Free World, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces nothing — no ties, slippers, pipes or BVDs. Zero.
Good night, President George Herbert Walker Bush.
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