June 15, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the June 28, 2004, issue of National Review.
Ronald Reagan was my president before he was yours. This was long before the governorship and the presidency; his film career was already over but he was still president of the Screen Actors Guild. We were then facing the first strike in our history, and the studios were determined not to give us the health and welfare plans we were aiming for, nor the residual payments for films and re-runs.
"I'll be with you through this strike, I promise you," he said. "We'll win this one; I promise you that, too. But then I'll resign, and you should know that, of course." To my surprise, he appointed me to the board, and put me on the negotiating committee as well. I decided it was something I should do. Of course I was a green hand at negotiating then, but I had a good teacher.
Strike negotiations are no fun. Arguing for hours on end, waiting for the other side to give a little, keeping a relaxed and confident front in the midst of endless disputes, sitting over cups of cold coffee with your shoes off while the other guys are caucusing definitely a miserable way to spend the night. Playing on that field for the first time, I was stunned by Reagan's negotiating skills. Hearing out a fierce assault from the studio people, he'd smile and say, "Yes, that's a very good point indeed. But let me just say this . . . ," and undercut them completely.
After a particularly arduous session, I walked into my own house at about 4 a.m. My wife Lydia wakened enough to ask me, "How did it go, Charlie?"
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