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The Way Patti Sees It : While Some Question Her Motives, Davis Says She Just Wants to Tell the Truth About the Reagans

April 30, 1992|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While Nancy Reagan was exhorting the country to "Just Say No" to drugs, she was regularly consuming prescription tranquilizers and sleeping pills, Reagan's controversial daughter, Patti Davis, says in her new autobiography, "The Way I See It."

"What I witnessed was a problem," said the former First Daughter in an interview. She declined, however, to call her mother an addict: "I'm not a doctor and that seems to me a medical evaluation."

In a statement Monday, former President and Mrs. Reagan declined comment on Davis's allegations: "We have always loved all of our children, including our daughter, Patti. We hope the day will come when she rejoins our family. Toward that end, we see no useful purpose for further comment." The Reagans' three other children also declined comment. Davis's first nonfiction tome, which hits stores today, paints yet another portrait of Nancy Reagan as abusive, cold and cruel and the former President as excessively detached. Patti's own life has been a strange brew of privilege, promiscuity and drug addiction. Her story embraces fame, politics and emotional scarcity. She flirted with show business, dated rock stars (Bernie Leadon of the Eagles, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and Kris Kristofferson) and ditched the Secret Service.

Overall, the book is rife with verbal tinder that is sure to spark charges that Davis is profiteering and vengeful--accusations that were leveled at her on the publication of her three novels inspired by her life.

And "The Way I See It" is not only Davis's view of the unvarnished truth about the former First Family, it has also reportedly netted her more than half a million dollars from Putnam.

Davis, 39, is clearly steeling herself for the onslaught. The epilogue of "The Way I See It" is essentially an apologia, explaining her motivation in part as an attempt to answer Kitty Kelley's explosive book, "Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography," which was published last year: "I read the book, recognized many of the stories, and came away thinking, 'This is never going to end unless someone tells the whole story. The misperceptions and the judgments will just keep piling up." Kelley's book did not call the former First Lady drug dependent.

In an interview last weekend at her airy Santa Monica home, Davis defended her book as an attempt to deepen the public's understanding of her family.

"I wasn't trying to tell my parents anything with this book because I think that's a wrong reason to do something," Davis says. "I did it really because I felt it was the right thing to do. I felt it was the time to tell the truth. I thought the misperceptions about this family were where the unkindnesses were. And it was time to just let all that drop."

Yet Davis's family portrait has many cracks, and she seems to relish the role of spoiler.

Davis on her personal life:

* She had herself sterilized at 24 (a procedure that was reversed 10 years later) because "I was terrified that if I became a mother I would become like my mother and abuse a child in the ways that she abused me."

* She was addicted to diet pills for six years, starting in high school. She became so desperate for them that she stole pills from a classmate and stole her mother's Quaaludes so she could trade them for amphetamines. She sold marijuana to pay for therapy.

* In the late '70s, she says her alienation from her father led her to a series of promiscuous relationships, including experimentation in a menage a trois.

Davis on her mother:

* Nancy Reagan screamed at maids and frequently fired them. She regularly hit Patti when she was a child and intruded on her in the bathroom.

* Davis's half-brother Michael never had his own room in the Reagan home--even when it was his primary residence--because of Nancy's attempts to keep the children from Reagan's first marriage to actress Jane Wyman at a distance. Patti wasn't even aware of Michael and his sister, Maureen, until she was 7, and 18-year-old Maureen was the one who told her of her existence.

Davis on the Reagans' politics:

* Ronald Reagan called the Watergate investigation "a witch hunt" and said Nixon "should have destroyed the damn tapes."

* The Reagans responded coldly to Jackie Kennedy's appearance on television shortly after her husband's assassination: " 'Couldn't she have changed her suit?' my father asked suddenly. 'There's blood all over it' . . . 'Well, honey, her husband was just killed,' my mother answered patiently, matter-of-factly, as if she were saying, 'The pool man is here.' "

* As the 1980 election loomed, the Reagans dreaded the possibility that Iran might release the hostages "at a time they thought would be inconvenient for their election plans. 'It would be just like Carter to get those hostages out right before the election so he could win,' I heard my mother say on the phone one day."

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