Sister of Nancy Reagan Astrologer Joan Quigley: "Nancy Listened Religiously to What Joan Had to Say"
She set the times of summits, debates, State of the Union addresses and even the flight schedule of Air Force One; now her surviving sister reveals to THR how the Reagans did almost nothing without consulting her first.
It was Donald Regan who let the cat out of the bag. President Reagan's former chief of staff, who quarreled regularly with Nancy Reagan, dropped the bombshell early on in his 1988 memoir, For the Record: "Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff," Regan wrote, "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." Those moves included setting the timing for summit meetings, presidential debates, Reagan's 1985 cancer surgery, State of the Union addresses and every takeoff and landing of Air Force One.
The woman who made those decisions was Joan Quigley, a Kansas City-born socialite turned astrologer whom the first lady — who died on Sunday at 94 — kept on a $3,000 per month retainer and consulted via telephone, sometimes as often as two or three times a day. Quigley died in 2014 at age 87, while living in the same San Francisco apartment she'd shared her entire life with her sister, Ruth Quigley. The Hollywood Reporter tracked Ruth down for a conversation about her late sister — a woman who occupies one of the more peculiar pages in the annals of American history.
What was your sister's greatest achievement while working for Nancy Reagan?
She was definitely responsible for changing President Reagan's mind about the "evil empire," [a term he coined to refer to the Soviet Union in 1983]. People said, "He changed his tune overnight. Who did that?" Well, it was Joan. She spent three and a half hours on the phone with Nancy. She asked Nancy to get her [former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail] Gorbachev's birth information. When she compared Gorbachev's chart with Ronnie's, she said there was such chemistry between them, they could work together. She wrestled Nancy to the mat on that one, and of course Nancy convinced Ronnie.
How did Nancy and Joan meet?
Joan used to be on the Merv Griffin Show, and Merv and Nancy shared a birthday, which was July 6. Nancy said, "Merv, I need a new astrologer, do you know of a good one?" He said, "The best I know is Joan Quigley. She's always right." So Nancy hired her. This was back when Ronnie was governor of California.
All of the consultations occurred over the phone?
Yes, completely over the phone.
What did the conversations sound like? Was Mrs. Reagan ever agitated or nervous?
They were generally very calm. Nancy listened religiously to what Joan had to say. Joan was the one who changed Nancy's image. You might remember there was a recession when Reagan first took over after the Carter years. And so Nancy bought China for the White House — which is hardly extravagant; after all, the White House is where the nation entertains for state dinners. I think Nancy thought she'd be another Jackie Kennedy because she was a lady with style and liked to dress well. But it was an era that wasn't very accepting of that, and she was criticized in the press. Joan helped her turn her image around.
She told Nancy to do some volunteer work, to stay out of the fashion magazines. And Nancy followed that.
Did Joan ever tell Nancy she couldn't give a reading?
We lost our mother on Sept. 18, 1986, and Nancy called her on the 19th and Joan said, "I can't talk, Nancy. I've just lost my mother and I'm very upset." And Nancy said, "Oh, but Joan, this is very important. You have to do this." And so Joan planned the Reykjavik Summit and told the president to stay there as long as he could. I think President Reagan thought the talks were a failure, but they laid the basis for the [1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the two super powers, effectively ending the Cold War]. Whenever they asked what the breakthrough was, Gorbachev would say it was Reykjavik.
Is it true Joan dictated when Air Force One would take off?
Yes! I said to her one day, "Joan, do you realize you're programming Air Force One?" And she looked at me and said, "I guess I am!" She had fairly important clients, many of whom had their own airplanes, and she looked on this as just being part of what she did.
How did she determine such things?
Joan used an ephemeris. It's the same information that NASA uses to launch rockets into space. An ephemeris shows the position of the planets at any given time on any given day. That's what astrology is. And as the planets move, your natal chart, the time of your birth, shows the general outline of your life. It shows your development and the events that will happen in the future. It all takes a lot of work, and Joan was doing this before there were really astrological computers.
Tell me about when the media found out about Nancy and your sister's arrangement.
When the news broke, Joan was in Paris. The papers were calling me at the apartment. They asked if I believed in astrology and I said, "Of course — my sister is a noted astrologer!" They said, "Do you know the Reagans use an astrologer? The story is in this morning's Chronicle." I said, "Well I haven't gotten there yet. I'm still reading The Wall Street Journal." I didn't know what else to say. I called Joan to let her know the news was breaking. I said, "Joan, you better think about what you want to do." So she flew home and the first thing she did was get her hair done.
What were her final days like?
I lost Joan in 2014. She really had some pretty ill health at the end. She had a lot of pneumonias and she was anemic. It caught up with her.
Did either of you ever marry?
No. We were pretty popular when we were younger. I live in the same apartment that my parents had in Nob Hill.