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Remarks at the Ford's Theatre Gala

June 24, 1988

Thank you, and thank you all. And special thanks to Jimmy Stewart, who was so gracious in introducing my roommate, Nancy. [Laughter] There's no denying it; the Stewarts and the Reagans go back a long way. In fact, when my old boss, Jack Warner, first heard that I was running for Governor of California, he thought for a moment and then said, "No, Jimmy Stewart for Governor. Reagan for best friend.'' [Laughter] But even that was an improvement over what Jack Warner's brother, Harry, said way back in the very old days. Somebody told him about that new technique that would make it possible to add soundtracks to motion pictures -- up until then, of course, there had been nothing but silent movies -- and Harry answered, "Who the . . . wants to hear actors talk?'' [Laughter]

But we're here tonight not to celebrate the movies but the theater -- Ford's Theatre. This has been quite an evening, and on behalf of everyone here tonight, I want to express my gratitude to all those who've made it possible. Thanks go to the general chairmen, Betty Wright and Carol Laxalt; to the chairman of this evening's gala, Mary Jane Wick; and to the executive producer of this evening's performance, Frankie Hewitt; to our hosts, Jane Seymour and Harry Hamlin; and, yes, to this entire cast.

It was 125 years ago this year that Ford's Theatre first opened, as we've been told. And Washington in those days was, for the most part, a village -- modest frame houses, dirt roads, chickens and livestock everywhere. The theatrical manager, John T. Ford, came here from Baltimore because he realized that Washington had a large natural audience -- the thousands of Union troops quartered here with little to do. But Ford's Theatre did much more than give the troops a way to fight off their boredom; it brought pleasure and refreshment into the heart of a city struggling with the Civil War. Think how uplifting it must have been to the people who crowded this theater in those dark days to be able to laugh, to be able to participate in an evening that lifted them out of themselves. His biographers tell us that Mr. Lincoln loved the theater and nothing could have pleased him more than the performances that he saw here.

Today the village of Washington has become a great international city, even a center of culture and the arts. But the work of this splendid little theater remains unchanged: to refresh, to uplift, and to give joy. And so, in supporting Ford's Theatre, we're both helping to preserve a piece of our own history and to provide theater of the highest standards for the audiences today. May Ford's first 125 years be followed by 125 to come.

I can't resist, seeing all these splendid people up here entertaining us, as they have tonight, giving away the only thing they have to sell. Some years back, some entertainer in show business did something that affronted the public morals; and the press took off on that individual and then on all of show business and said that show people were just childish in their ways, in their thinking, in the things that they did, and complete children in their attitude. And it remained for a columnist named Irvin S. Cobb to respond. And he said: "If this be true, and if it be true when the final curtain falls all must approach the gates bearing in their arms that which they have given in life, the people of show business will march in the procession carrying in their arms the pure pearl of tears, the gold of laughter, and the diamonds of stardust they spread on what might otherwise have been a rather dreary world. And when at last, all reach the final stage door, the keeper will say, `Open, let my children in.'''

Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:50 p.m. at Ford's Theatre.