- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Unless Donald Trump, 70, does some last-minute bridge-building with the entertainment community, the current record-holder for the most Hollywood-centric inauguration will remain Ronald Reagan’s, especially for his first term.
The then-69- year-old Republican launched his administration with ABC’s All-Star Inaugural Gala on Jan. 19, 1981. The inauguration-eve event was so glitzy that emcee Johnny Carson remarked, “This is the first administration to have a premiere.” It was produced by Frank Sinatra, who had done the job before: In 1961 he lined up talent for John F. Kennedy’s gala and personally escorted first lady Jackie to her seat. But this was two decades — and a lot of gray hair — later.
Reagan’s televised gala saw a near-septuagenarian president-elect watching equally old performers: Ethel Merman, 73, belting show tunes; Jimmy Stewart, 72, praising his friend “Ron”; and Bob Hope, 77, telling soft-hitting jokes (“He doesn’t know how to lie, exaggerate or cheat — he always had an agent for that”).
Reagan was sworn in as president the next day and a record 41.8 million TV viewers watched. His 1985 inaugural gala boasted Ray Charles performing “America the Beautiful” with a booming choir. The moment was such a showstopper that Reagan himself ended the night by slowly reciting the lyrics: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day