The Seldom-Seen Side of Nancy Reagan

For Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy has for decades been the "respite at the end of the day," according to a new book by a former Reagan aide and longtime friend of the couple.

The former first lady had a look of total adoration for her husband that was familiar to observers throughout the world.

That look never faltered, according to the author of the new book, Michael Deaver — and he believes it offers a clue to the motivation behind almost everything Nancy Reagan has ever done in her life.

"I can tell you it's real," Deaver says of the adoring look the former first lady would give her husband. "I didn't believe it at first either," the author told Primetime, noting that Nancy Reagan was once an actress.

But he added, "She didn't pay a lot of attention to her own image. She was, you know, just driven with blinders on, protecting him."

Family First

In the new book, Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan, Deaver reveals a version of the former first lady that he believes escaped most Americans.

For example, he doesn't think the former president entered politics at the urging of his wife.

"The myth always is: it was her conservative family and her political drive that drove him to run for political office. It's just nonsense. I mean, he lived, ate and breathed politics and public issues, and did from the time they first met," Deaver said.

"It wasn't Nancy who was pushing this. Nancy was the brakes, if anything. Nancy was the one that was saying, 'Wait a minute … you'd better be sure about this.'"

In fact, Nancy Reagan wrote in her college yearbook that her goal was to have a successful, happy marriage. "I think it was her number one goal," Deaver said. "She wanted the picket fence and the whole schmear."

Nancy herself was born to an actress mother who led a gypsy life, and a father who left before she was born. Her mother remarried, to a surgeon name Loyal Davis. As a teenager, Nancy sought out her biological father to tell him she wanted Davis to adopt her.

Deaver said he once asked her how her father took the news. "All right, I think, but my grandmother was I think hurt," he says she replied.

Eyes to the Stars

Deaver also talked about Nancy Reagan's famed use of an astrologer. He said he was surprised that it had become a comfort to her, but he said he didn't argue with it.

Nancy would call him and tell him what were bad days for her and he would accommodate her by scheduling around them, but Deaver says he never believed in astrology himself.

"I would sometimes get bad dates in advance, when the stars were wrong, and so I'd sort of schedule around those," he said. "It wasn't very hard."

Deaver, who was Reagan's deputy chief of staff from 1981 to 1985, blamed himself for the news of Nancy's using an astrologer getting out.

He told Donald Regan, who became chief of staff in 1985, just by way of briefing him. "I figured I should tell Don," Deaver told Primetime. "I hadn't told anybody in all those years that I was working."

"On my last day in the White House, Don was taking over. I said, 'There's one more thing I should let you know. This may come up. But she uses an astrologer occasionally.'"

Deaver never thought it would be leaked to the world. But Regan later revealed the astrology consultations to the world in his 1988 memoir, For the Record.

Off and On Again

Deaver was also around on Ronald Reagan's 84th birthday in 1995, when the world first caught a glimpse of Nancy's worst fears. The former president's memory had been slipping, and he became confused as he stepped up to the podium.

"It was horrifying to watch if you were sitting in the audience, because he was clearly not himself as he started off and was saying, you know, a word every two seconds or so," Deaver said.

"It was like he totally didn't know where he was. And then it was like, you know, the switch went on and" — Deaver snapped his fingers — "there he was again."

A Rose for His Love

It has been 10 years since Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and Deaver says Nancy has devoted herself single-mindedly to his care.

"She just won't give up," he said. "He's there and there must be a part of him, I think she thinks, that knows and hears her."

And sometimes there have been those moments that hope is rewarded. Deaver recounted a time just a few years ago, when Reagan was out for a walk with one of his Secret Service agents.

Reagan stopped in front of a house surrounded by a picket fence and started to reach over to open the gate. Thinking Reagan was confused, the agent gently pulled Reagan's hand from the gate, Deaver said, and told him: "Mr. President, this is not our yard. We should go home."

But it turned out Reagan knew that wasn't his house, Deaver said. "And he said, 'Oh, I'm … I'm just trying to pick a rose for my love.' "