For most of Reagan's
presidency, his schedule
was co-ordinated by
astrologer Joan Quigley.
Bad Times for Bonzo
Star power is put to use at the White House
The tale of the Reagan astrologer is one of the weirdest scandals ever to rock any White House. On the one hand, it's a silly and amusing comedy of errors; on the other, it's a profoundly disturbing secret abuse of the nation's executive office. It is perhaps the only instance of paranormal forces having an undeniably real impact on the course of U.S. history.
Towards the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, sordid unpleasantries were finally starting to stick to the Teflon President. In May 1988, the crushing liabilities of Iran-Contra, the bloated national debt and Reagan's faltering mental acuity were joined by a new revelation: that for the previous seven years of his administration, the president's every important action had been orchestrated by Nancy Reagan's astrologer, Joan Quigley.
This disclosure stunned the nation, with good reason. It's disturbing enough that a president could be the puppet of an anonymous, unelected individual, hidden away from the American public. Compounding the travesty, the source of this clandestine influence was nothing more substantial than the vicissitudes of Ronnie's horoscope. What a sad and barbaric state of affairs, to have our nation guided for the better part of a decade by the empty divinations of the Zodiac.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the mass media are guilty of blowing this story out of proportion and leaving misconceptions about the Reagan astrologer in the popular consciousness. People have been led to believe that Quigley had a personal say in Oval Office decision making, that she maintained direct contact with the president, and was responsible for developing and implementing policy according to the heavens. As best we can tell, this was never the case.
Quigley's actual role in White House operations, though very real and influential, was by no means the all-encompassing stranglehold on the Executive Branch it has been made out to be. Still, the exact scope of her influence remains elusive, known only to two people: Quigley and Nancy Reagan.
For seven years, these women pulled off the dizzyingly impossible task of keeping a secret in the single most monitored and media-scrutinized place on earth. White House aide Michael Deaver knew about the astrologer and carried out her instructions, as did chief of staff Donald Regan later on. And Reagan himself knew about Quigley's influence, although not from the beginning. Other than those few people, no one had any idea what what going on. When Don Regan spilled the beans in his vengeful 1988 memoirs, For the Record, he was so in the dark he didn't even know Quigley's name. If not for Regan's bitter expulsion from the Reagan administration, the entire secret of Nancy's stargazing "Friend" might still be intact today.
Following Regan's expose, Quigley and Mrs. Reagan have each spoken and written at length about their covert transactions. Their stories contradict each other on several key points. Sorting out the truth here is a bit like charting the interplay of celestial forces in the distant sky, an imprecise and dubious "science" at best. Before examining the respective claims of the former First Lady and the former First Astrologer, let's round up the handful of facts that have been established about this horoscope horror.
Quigley was a longtime consultant to Nancy Reagan, the two having been introduced by TV's Merv Griffin sometime in the '70s. Quigley contributed astrological advice during Ron's 1976 bid for the Republican nomination, although she was not heavily involved with the Reagans until the 1980 campaign. Once they made it to the White House, Nancy's association with Quigley increased dramatically -- as did Quigley's control over Mr. Reagan's day-to-day routine. During the campaign Quigley volunteered her services, but after the inauguration she began charging a sizable fee, somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 per month.
What exactly did Quigley do for this kind of money? In short, she devised laboriously detailed charts indicating which dates and times were good for the president and which were bad, according to his horoscope. Certain times were deemed ideal for action and supposedly ensured success; others were unsuitable and invited disaster. Unlike the daily generalities offered by newspaper horoscopes, Quigley's readings were calibrated down to the exact hour and minute.
In the course of their regular telephone sessions, Nancy would list her husband's upcoming itinerary, and the San Francisco-based astrologer would calculate the proper timing each significant event required to achieve optimum harmony with planetary influences. Nancy then passed along these scheduling requirements to the White House staff, with the absolute demand that they be carried out. For the most part, the instructions were followed. Don Regan summed up his strange duty in this passage from his memoirs:
"Although I had never met this seer -- Mrs. Reagan passed along her prognostications to me after conferring with her on the telephone -- she had become such a factor in my work, and in the highest affairs of the nation, that at one point I kept a color-coded calendar on my desk (numerals highlighted in green ink for "good" days, red for "bad" days, yellow for "iffy" days) as an aid to remembering when it was propitious to move the president of the United States from one place to another, or schedule him to speak in public, or commence negotiations with a foreign power."
Thus, Quigley had full control over the appointment book of the most powerful man in the free world. Or, as Quigley would prefer to put it, the astrological forces of the cosmos did.
That, apparently, was the extent of Quigley's sway in the Reagan White House. Contrary to popular belief, she was not using star charts to conjure up foreign policy or outline the federal budget. All decisions on policies, strategies and agendas were made by Reagan and his staff prior to Quigley's input. The only thing she contributed was the timing of these actions: when to make announcements, when to arrange summits, when to schedule the departures and arrivals of Air Force One.
So does that mean the whole Quigley affair was not really that big a deal? Not exactly. Even by simply scheduling events, she made countless impacts on the Reagan presidency. In giving arbitrary astrological requirements priority over meaningful considerations, the White House could have seriously imperiled the president many times over. His personal safety, which Quigley professed to be ensuring, could have been compromised whenever security preparations were altered to accommodate her schedule. And then there's the question of timing the president's actions for maximum political effectiveness. As Don Regan put it, that particular executive power went out the window:
"[T]he president's schedule is the single most potent tool in the White House, because it determines what the most powerful man in the world is going to do and when he is going to do it. By humoring Mrs. Reagan we gave her this tool -- or more accurate, gave it to an unknown woman in San Francisco who believed the Zodiac controls events and human behavior and that she could read the secrets of the future in the movements of the planets."
Next: The First Lady's Fantasies and Fears