"We had him for three days," writes Chicoan Ken Holden of Ronald Reagan, "in a tiny beach cottage near Malibu. This was in early 1966. Just three of us in a small beach cottage. An unlikely candidate for governor of California, he'd already goofed up a few public appearances. He couldn't seem to get his footing, he looked unprepared, he mangled details." Even his friends were ready to give up. But behavioral psychologist Ken Holden, and his business associate and friend Stan Plog, saw that he just needed a little training.
Holden tells the story of what happened in "The Making of the Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan's Transformation From Actor To Governor" ($26.95 in hardcover from Lyons Press; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format).
"Only three people on earth knew the full story of what happened in Malibu over those seventy-two hours, how we helped transform a B-move actor into a political giant. ... Ronald Reagan died in 2004, and Stan Plog is just gone, in 2010, so only I'm left standing. I know the full story. I'm the only one left to bear witness."
As conservatives, Holden and Plog found liberal academia little to their liking. So they started a consulting firm and eventually found themselves connected to the Reagan for Governor campaign. Part of what makes the book a delightful read is Holden's keen observations of California politics. "By late '65," he writes, "California Republicans were waging a nasty civil war. As in all such wars, it pitted the old against the new, the moderate Establishment Republicans versus the fiery conservative Young Turks." Who would win?
Set against the backdrop of the Free Speech Movement (Reagan called it the "filthy speech movement") and the Watts riots, the story of Ronald Reagan's ascension is simply fascinating, especially the central chapters detailing how Holden and Plog helped the candidate focus on California issues and articulate clear and concise positions. For Holden, Reagan was the real deal--well read, thoughtful, charming and charismatic. But he needed honing.
Holden and Plog insisted that the campaign stop for three days, and that they and Reagan meet privately, without a word to the press. "None of this was negotiable. Take it or leave it." They took it.