Remarks at the Ford's Theatre Fundraising Gala

June 21, 1987

I didn't know I was going to be called upon, so I prepared. [Laughter] It is a pleasure for me to be here tonight, especially now that everybody knows I'm with the hottest date around. [Laughter] You know, that poll about all those young fellows who'd like to go out with Nancy didn't surprise me one bit.

You know, I'd never met Nancy before I called for her on the night of our first date; it was a kind of blind date. In fact, in case things just didn't click, I had told her on the phone that I had a really early call in the morning on the set, and so it would have to be a short evening. And she told me the same thing about herself. [Laughter] My half of the story was a bit hard to believe because, due to a broken leg I'd had recently, I arrived on crutches. [Laughter] Well, as the evening wore on, we forgot all about those early morning calls; we stayed out till the wee hours of the morning. As a matter of fact, we were in a Hollywood nightclub at 2 a.m. in the morning, listening to Sophie Tucker. [Laughter] And she's been the leading lady of my heart ever -- Nancy, not Sophie. [Laughter]

But the entertainment industry is still something special for us both, even more so just because it brought us together. But it's also special to our country. Some people suggest that we Americans are a little brash about how proud we are of our freedom. And, yes, sometimes we are. Yet, look all over our land, and you'll see people enjoying that freedom, entertaining others, enriching their communities, and making life a little more fun. Hollywood and Broadway have produced some magnificent films, stage plays, and musicals -- entertainment applauded by audiences the world over. Those films help us with our balance of payments, I can tell you that. I myself have performed in films that have played in foreign markets, although I understand in Japan that ``Cattle Queen of Montana'' lost something in the translation. [Laughter]

But entertainment covers a broad range of artistic endeavors, big and small. Let it never be overlooked that our freedom also manifests itself in the off-Broadway productions, the community theaters, church plays and choirs, the street entertainers, the circuses, and all those comedy acts and musical groups that can be found in towns and hamlets all across America. In many countries, entertainers are not so free. They often must have their performances approved by government officials. Not long ago, we had dinner with Yakov Smirnoff, a comedian from the Soviet Union -- now a proud United States citizen practicing his trade here in this new country. Yakov remembers how he was required to get official approval for all the material that he would use in the year ahead. Annually, he would traipse to a bureaucratic enclave in the Ministry of Culture called -- and this is a rough translation -- the Department of Humor. [Laughter] That's no joke -- the Department of Humor. Yakov says the only advantage that Soviet comedians have is that they're always playing to a captive audience. [Laughter]

Well, in our country people are free to speak and free to tell a joke, even if it tweaks the nose of a government official. And you thought that scar on my nose was from too much sun. [Laughter] Our good humor is one of our greatest national assets, and entertainment has been a lively part of the American scene from our earliest days. And for all those American entertainers of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Ford's Theatre represents their important contribution to our way of life. This theater continues a great American tradition and broadens appreciation for the theater arts. So, Nancy and I extend to you our deepest appreciation for your help in maintaining this historic site.

Thanks to all those who performed for us tonight. When I saw David Copperfield hanging there in midair over that sword, I know that he now understands what it feels like to be a candidate for public office these days. [Laughter] Seriously though, this has been a wonderful evening for a worthy cause. A special word of appreciation to Joy Baker, Betty Wright, Millie O'Neill, Carol Laxalt, for their commitment to Ford's Theatre; and also to Mary Jane Wick and Frankie Hewitt for all the hard work they put into making this the memorable show that it has been.

So, a thank you to all of you. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 9:25 p.m. at Ford's Theatre.