Saturday, May 7, 2016


Former US President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan
Photographed by Harry Langdon
Los Angeles, CA
Spring, 1981

Over the years I find myself addressing all photo sessions as equally important. In the spring of 1981, my agent said we had been called and asked to photograph the newly appointed President and his wife, I considered that an honor but also could not mentally get a grasp of what to expect. It would be my first time producing a session of such importance, considering it was the newly elected, President of the United States.

The first realistic glimpse of the pending session was one month before the appointed date. Three well-dressed men rang the front door of my West Hollywood studio, which was on Beverly Blvd., a busy main street and upscale section of Los Angeles, CA. The lobby entrance was designed to reflect the opulence of the enclosed interior of that photo studio. The men identified themselves as part of the President's security detail (US Secret Service) and asked if they could look around. “
There any other entrances?” they asked, I said, “only the staffs’” which was in the rear on a side street. They said “we will enter through there”, I responded “we would prefer the front.” Apparently that entrance was an insecure and vulnerable target.

I had a full staff in readiness, a dressing room with flowers and hors-d'oeuvres for everyone. Since this was the President of the United States, none of us knew what to expect. The first thing we saw were CBS and NBC trucks pulling up, while the CNN news crew was gathering on the sidewalk outside. Then we heard sirens in the distance and saw red lights flashing. There was a huge caravan of black limos and SUV’s turning onto our side street and the news cameras had lenses looking in the windows so we shut all of the blinds.

The 40th President of the United States of America

Decided by his security detail, the front entrance was out and they were arriving at my side door. They meaning, the stern looking security men in front of the Reagans, The White House publicity staff, followed by the hair and make-up detail then, Ronald and Nancy looking very gleeful. I knew them socially and now it was like having old friends over for a visit. They were in a very jovial mood and it was quite a contrast to the somber security team which kept a close eye on me, not knowing me or perhaps my intentions.

After showing them around, Nancy went to the warm, secure atmosphere of the familiar dressing room, Ronald found a Hollywood Reporter Magazine and grabbed a close by Director’s chair, which brought him into back familiar environment, so to speak. The President became totally engrossed with the latest in “Hollywood news” which made him feel at home.

A gentleman called me aside identifying himself as the President's publicist and asked me quietly, “Please tell the President how you want him to appear in front of the camera.” There are mental mechanisms that bring up answers to questions which one may not have prepared for, “of course “ I said. Gulping a little and walking to the new President I said, “Mr. President, you are now in a position that could be intimidating to the public, but you actually are a very warm, fatherly kind of guy; the kind of man we can go to with the ability solve our problems with compassion and empathy" so I said, “project that into my lens.”

Between 1967 and 1975, Ronald Reagan served two terms as Governor of California, and prior to that, an accomplished actor before he got this job. With that bit of verbal guidance he “got it”, I could see him brace himself up with that direction, and put The Hollywood Reporter away. It was just as he did in the days on the set with the director guiding him. He then asked “Where would you like me to stand?” I had marks already on the floor, it was perfect.

   Mr. and Mrs. Ronald and Nancy Reagan
Photograph by Harry Langdon
Los Angeles, CA

At that moment we heard from the dressing room, Nancy saying loudly “Harry, make sure you leave space for our signatures on the side of the photos!” That took the tension from me and everyone in the studio, we all got a chuckle out of her innocent, quaint reminder. Even the stern security guards had a laugh.

From there on the photo session proceeded as planned, with a few wardrobe changes and proper placement of the American Flag. I had lost any concern about them working well in front of the camera, as these two were very experienced professionals and it was really only a matter “gathering them up” to get close, regaining the camaraderie they had, and capturing the loving bond that was obvious. From that point on it was very easy. Afterward, Nancy asked cordially when they were leaving, “Harry, do you mind if we take the flowers?"

-- Harry Langdon
May 7, 2016
Los Angeles, CA