US liberals not impressed as dramatisation about Reagan's life is axed

A TELEVISION dramatisation of Ronald Reagan’s life, in which the former president calls AIDS sufferers "sinners" and his wife, Nancy, is portrayed as a control freak who sets his schedule on the basis of astrological advice, was axed yesterday after an outcry from politicians and relatives.

CBS executives said they decided to cancel The Reagans after concluding that it was unfair to Mr Reagan, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and his First Lady.

The row over the mini-series has grown increasingly bitter as details of the script leaked out in advance of the broadcast. It reflects a deeper fight between liberals and conservatives to establish the true nature of the president’s political legacy.

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To the conservatives, Mr Reagan was the inspirational Cold War warrior who restored America’s pride; to liberals, he was a simpleton who charmed his way into the White House and bumbled his way through his presidency.

For Mr Reagan’s friends and family, the CBS mini-series was a hatchet job created and controlled by liberals who were going out of their way to discredit him.

CBS denied yesterday that the political storm had been behind their decision to pull the show, but added: "Although the mini-series features impressive production values and acting performances, and although the producers have sources to verify each scene in the script, we believe it does not present a balanced portrayal of the Reagans for CBS and its audience."

But the four-part programme will still be aired on the network’s sister pay cable TV channel, Showtime.

Mr Reagan, 92, has not made a public appearance for a decade. Friends claim he is in his final days.

The former president’s son, Michael Reagan, told ABC News yesterday that he wanted CBS to "show Ronald Reagan for what he is". "What they’ve done is try and strip the heart of Reagan away.

"The great thing about my father is his big heart," he said.

Mrs Reagan said in a statement last week: "The timing of [the mini-series] is absolutely staggering to me. Obviously, it’s very hurtful."

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In one scene, Mr Reagan, referring to the growing AIDS epidemic, says: "They that live in sin shall die in sin."

In another, he breaks down when the Iran-Contra scandal unfolds and tells his wife that he will be seen as the "anti-Christ".

The programme, which was due to be broadcast on 16 and 18 November, also suggested that Mr Reagan, who was in the White House from 1981 to 1989, may have started developing Alzheimer’s in the mid-1980s.

The script suggested that Mr Reagan was dominated by his wife, Nancy, who is portrayed as a pill-popping control freak, a dim and distracted presence in the White House.

It also suggested Mr Reagan informed on communists in Hollywood during the 1950s and was inspired to promote his controversial Star Wars missile defence project by the plot of a 1940 film he starred in, entitled Murder in the Air.

The series’ screenwriter, Elizabeth Egloff, admitted there is no evidence Mr Reagan ever made the remark about AIDS, but she was adamant that her portrayal of the former president was accurate.

"We know he ducked the issue [of AIDS] over and over again, and we know [Nancy] was the one who got him to deal with that," she said.

One of the series’ producers, Neil Meron, said: "This is not a vendetta, this is not revenge. It is about telling a good story in our honest sort of way."

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Yet, after a draft version of the script was leaked last month, Republicans launched a concerted campaign against the TV channel and called for a boycott.

Apart from the controversial scenes, conservatives were also outraged by the omissions, as they saw them, particularly that the series failed to make any mention of the economic recovery over which Mr Reagan presided.

Others complained about the choice of actor to play Mr Reagan - James Brolin is married to the singer and Democratic activist, Barbra Streisand.

Nancy Reagan is played by Australian-born Judy Davis.

Streisand said on her website that criticism of the film was typical of "what the right-wing does when they are faced with a truth that is not 100 per cent positive for their side they ... scream and yell until they get their way".

According to one of Mr Reagan’s biographers, Edmund Morris, "the provenance of the movie makes me suspect it will not be fair".

However, he added: "The best thing one can say about a movie of this kind, is it does redress or counteract the sentimentalities that are being perpetrated all of the time in his name by his fanatical followers."

Mr Morris, in his biography, quotes Mr Reagan as saying of AIDS: "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."

Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican national committee, said: "Though all of this is clearly of interest for Republicans, there is also a broader issue at stake here: distorting a historic legacy.

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"I would feel this way if the mini-series was about the Kennedy or Carter administrations as well."

Mr Gillespie asked CBS to make it clear that the series includes fictionalised elements and was not a film that is supposed to be historically accurate.

Oddly, Mr Reagan’s son Michael, while attacking Hollywood as being "hijacked by the liberal left", also admitted: "I’ll admit that there are some crazy and wild things that go on in our family.

"Nancy, for example, believes that before you visit you should call and make an appointment, as if you were going to the dentist or the doctor.

"It’s crazy, but that’s what she does. That’s the way she is. Do I think it’s nuts? Sure. But it’s nothing to get all riled up about. I still see my dad. I just have to do it by appointment. So what?"

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