The President's Astrologers
The year was 1980, the mood in the nation restless. American hostages languished in Iran; American athletes were sitting out the Olympics. In the White House, a dithering peanut farmer President looked to be wreaking havoc on the economy. At least, that’s how it appeared to one conservative society lioness out West—whose husband had spent some time in politics but was now between jobs. She felt she had a better man for the office.
Just to be certain, however, she called up a friend, a wellborn San Francisco Republican, from whom she had been taking counsel for several years. The woman, one Joan Quigley, quickly did an astrological chart on Jimmy Carter. Then she got back to Nancy Reagan with good news about her husband’s presidential bid: “I was certain Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have any trouble with him,” says Quigley, who volunteered her services to the campaign and later provided them, on a regular basis, to the Reagan White House.
Throughout this association, the Vassar-educated astrologer with country club manners was—as befits a lady—terribly discreet. By the end of the first term, her fellow astrologers had begun to notice the impeccable celestial timing of many Reagan moves, like the bombing of Libya and his announcement for a second term. “I had astrologer friends calling me saying, ‘Reagan must have had his chart done,’ “Quigley recently confided during an interview in a suite at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. “I just said, ‘Yes. He must have been consulting someone.’ ”
Last week the soignée soothsayer’s cover was blown by former White House aide Donald Regan. In his just-published book, For the Record, Regan spilled what he insisted was “the most closely guarded domestic secret of the Reagan White House.” To wit: “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.” Within hours, an avid press had zeroed in on Quigley as the mystery adviser.
If astrology was the Reagans’ little secret, however, it was not very well kept. “I have known since before Reagan was elected that they went to astrologers,” says former Washington Post style reporter Sally Quinn, “and that’s why I’m surprised at all of the surprise and shock.” In fact the Reagans’ interest in astrology goes back to the early ’50s—and amounts to far more than the scanning of newspaper horoscopes that the President once jovially confessed to a reporter. Quigley was only the most recent of several stargazers to enter the Reagans’ domestic orbit and exert the pull of the heavens on decisions great and small.
When Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis were first making their way in Hollywood, it was quite in fashion to see an astrologer. And no astrologer was more fashionable than Carroll Righter, the self-styled “gregarious Aquarius” who counted Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant and Princess Grace among his clients. Storefront gypsy he was not. A Philadelphia lawyer, Righter had moved to Hollywood in 1937 on the advice of a horoscope, and soon became a true believer. He was introduced to star society at the home of Charlie Chaplin. By the time of his self-predicted death this year on April 30 (he had told an associate, “I will not make it out of this Taurean period”), at the age of 88, Righter was one of the deans of American astrology, his columns syndicated in 166 newspapers.
A dapper, lifelong bachelor, Righter was, in a way, the society “walker” of his day, confidante of the rich and famous, who saw him less as a backdoor soothsayer than as social equal. He attended Tyrone Power’s wedding in Rome. He lunched at the Brown Derby. His “zodiac parties” in the ’50s were the highlights of every season.
“All the stars were there—Rhonda Fleming, Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable,” says former Righter pal Arlene Dahl. “Fish were swimming around in his pool for the Pisces party, and he rented a live lion for my Leo party.” No matter that Leo was once so doped he fell into the pool and had to be hauled out by guests: The parties were adored and so was Righter.
As an astrologist, Righter was a stickler for exact timing. He once informed Susan Hayward that the most auspicious time to sign a movie contract was 2:47 a.m., so she obediently arranged for a 2:45 a.m. wake-up call. Righter himself took calls at all hours, keeping the charts of most-favored clients in a file by his bed for late-night consultations. “They need me here,” he said. “Just like they need a doctor.”
It’s not clear when or how Nancy Davis—who arrived in Hollywood in the late ’40s and signed her first contract with MGM in 1949—first came under the seer’s care. By November 1950, however, she ranked high enough on Righter’s roster to merit a mention in his celebrity column for Horoscope magazine. “With her progressed moon passing through her 10th house…Nancy Davis’ movie career moves steadily forward,” wrote Righter between items on Judy Garland, Alan Ladd and Ingrid Bergman. Ronald Reagan, whom Nancy married in 1952, was also getting career advice from Righter in this period. According to his autobiography, Ron read his Righter horoscope while trying to decide whether he should launch a Vegas act. (For better or worse, he did not.)
By the ’60s, Reagan’s interest had turned to politics, and his stable of advisers had widened to include Jeane Dixon. “She was always gung ho for me to be President,” goes one story he has told on himself. But at the time, she said, “I don’t see you as President. I see you here at an official desk in California.” When Reagan did gain the Governor’s mansion, however, it was likely the time-conscious Righter, not Dixon, who prevailed upon him to schedule the inauguration for the ungodly hour of 12:10 a.m.—which caused much merriment among the astrologically hip in California.
Eight years later, after Governor Reagan had completed his second term, he was considering a run for the Presidency. During this period, reports a former associate of Carroll Righter, Nancy was a regular customer at the seer’s sprawling Hollywood Hills mansion. Making her appointments under the name Nancy Davis, she would arrive in sunglasses with a bandanna over her head, in a red Datsun driven by a liveried chauffeur. “Carroll told Nancy that this was simply not the time to try,” the associate recalls. “She was very, very angry. When she didn’t like what she was hearing, she became really whiny. She really wanted him to explain why it wasn’t a good time.”
At some point in the early ’70s, talk show host Merv Griffin introduced Nancy to Joan Quigley, who was a frequent guest on his show. The daughter of prominent hotelier John Quigley, she’d been raised in the penthouse apartment of the family’s Drake-Wilshire Hotel. Joan and her sister, Ruth, were famous San Francisco beauties, driven to parties in the family Rolls and regularly mentioned in the society columns. Neither ever married, and to this day they share a luxury address on Nob Hill. After studying art history at Vassar, Joan developed an interest in astrology and was soon writing on the subject for Seventeen magazine.
She wrote her first book under the nom de plume Angel Star because, she says, “my father disapproved of it terribly. He thought it was bunk.” But he changed his mind, Joan recalls, when she read the chart of one of her father’s friends and guessed the date of his first marriage (along with his penchant for philandering). “When I did my second book, under my real name,” she says, “Daddy gave me a piece of jewelry and was really very sweet.” He need hardly have worried about her falling in with a low-life crowd. Quigley is very snobbish about her clientele. “People who are very successful or very famous always have easier charts to read than the average Joe Blow,” she says. “They’ve lived up to everything in their charts. I just take people of great depth whose lives are interesting.”
From the first, Reagan fit the bill. “When I first saw his chart, I said, ‘Wow!’ I knew he was going to do fantastic things,” says Quigley. Nevertheless, his electoral prospects for 1976 looked dim, and though “I did a little bit on his 76 campaign,” she says. “I knew it wouldn’t work out.” In 1980, however, the charts improved. “I felt that Reagan had a very good chance of winning, so I did donate my expertise to the campaign…. If he had been a Democrat, I probably wouldn’t have offered to help.”
Quigley’s help during the campaign, however, didn’t prevent Reagan from catching some heat for stargazing. In July 1980 he told a reporter about the Jeane Dixon episode and added that he read his daily horoscope. Immediately, a delegation from the Federation of American Scientists—including five Nobel laureates—wrote the President to say they were “gravely disturbed” by the item. “In our opinion, no person whose decisions are based, even in part, on such evident fantasies can be trusted to make the many serious—and even life-and-death—decisions required of American Presidents,” they wrote. To which Reagan cordially responded, “Let me assure you that while Nancy and I enjoy glancing at the daily astrology charts in our morning paper, we do not plan our daily activities or our lives around them.”
But it seems that all that changed in March 1981, after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate the President. “I could have predicted it—it was very obvious,” says Quigley, adding ruefully, “I was doing other things.” But Nancy, who according to friends and family was deeply traumatized by the shooting, soon got back in touch. “She called,” Quigley remembers, “and said she was very concerned for the President’s safety and [asked] could I get together with her on a professional basis. Which we did.”
Since then, the First Lady has been a regular, paying client, though Quigley will not say how often they consult. She stresses that she has met the President only once, in the receiving line of a 1985 State dinner for the President of Algeria. “I know his horoscope upside down,” she has said. “But I don’t know him.” (Ronald Reagan’s precise birth moment, which is essential for accurate charting, is a carefully guarded secret, known only to a few.)
In fact, Donald Regan claims that by 1985 Quigley’s reading of the President’s charts had a hammerlock on the business of the White House. Taking cues from her “Friend,” Nancy changed the time and date of scheduled events, canceled trips and severely restricted activities outside the White House. Regan was forced to keep a color-coded calendar on his desk to track the President’s “good”, “bad” and “iffy” days, and on at least one occasion Nancy gave Regan a list in which large chunks of time were marked “stay home,” or “be careful” or “no public exposure.” For the 1985 Geneva summit, Regan claims, it was left to the San Francisco seer to choose the most auspicious moment for our lame-duck Aquarian and the Russians’ newly elevated Pisces to meet.
Quigley vehemently denies ever playing such a key policy role. “The summits were arranged by the State Department and Reagan and Shultz. I had absolutely nothing to do with it,” she says. “I think people are overemphasizing my role.”
Still, she’s always considered secrecy the best policy in her dealings with Nancy and other clients. “I said to Nancy, ‘I hope this doesn’t get out,’ ” Quigley says. “I wanted secrecy more than Nancy.” Now that it is out, Quigley claims she has sworn off presidential clients. “After the end of this year…I will never do anything connected with any U.S. President…again,” she declared. Yet Quigley admits that she and Nancy have spoken since their relationship became public knowledge last week.
For her part, the First Lady says she has never stopped her perfectly harmless pastime of seeking guidance in the stars and has no plans to. So perhaps she directed her husband’s attention to his horoscope in old friend Carroll Righter’s Los Angeles Times column the day news of Reagan’s secret scheduling adviser broke over the heads of his stunned minions in the executive branch. The horoscope for Aquarius that day read: “Several good friends may have the feeling you’ve been ignoring them.”
—By Joyce Wadler, with Angela Blessing in Los Angeles, Dirk Mathison in San Francisco, and Margie Bonnett Sellinger in Washington