Ronald Reagan: From Hollywood To The Oval Office

Born in 1911, no one could have predicted how Reagan’s life would mirror that of the movie characters he played. Before Ronald Reagan was America’s 40th President, he was the Governor of California. Before that, he was a successful actor in Hollywood.

From humble beginnings in sports broadcasting to running the country for two terms, this is the life of Ronald Reagan. You won’t believe how enlisting in the Army cost Reagan his chance to be a movie star!

Ronald Reagan Grew Up Poor In Illinois

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Born in 1911 at his parent’s apartment in Illinois, Ronald Reagan’s unconventional start to life was only a preview of things to come. The youngest son of Jack Reagan and Nelle Clyde, Ronald was not born into money. Jack worked as a salesman and storyteller.

At a young age, Reagan was given an unfortunate “Dutchman” haircut and was nicknamed “Dutch.” The name, given to him by his father, followed him until he went to college and moved away from home. Unsurprisingly, Reagan lists his mother as one of his life’s biggest influences. He once wrote, “she always expected to find the best in people.”

He Fought Racial Discrimination Before The Civil Rights Movement

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Perhaps thanks to his mother, Ronald Reagan saw the good in everyone. This trait helped him fight racial discrimination at a young age. While attending high school in Dixon, Reagan one time saw an inn refuse service to a group of African Americans. He invited them to come back home with him.

The next morning they woke up to homemade breakfast from his mother. This was around 1930, 30 years before the Civil Rights Movement began. Reagan would carry his belief in equality throughout his political career. As you’re about to see, he didn’t get involved in politics right away, he actually started his career as a radio broadcaster.

Reagan Started In Sports Broadcasting

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After finishing college in Illinois, Ronald Reagan became a sports broadcaster for WOC. The small radio station was located in Iowa and allowed Reagan to “recreate” Cubs games in the studio. Unable to watch the game, he created play-by-play based on wire transmissions received during the game.

It didn’t take long for WHO, an NBC affiliate, to pick up Reagan’s broadcasts. The network gave Reagan his first national exposure. For the next five years, Regan paid his dues in radio traveling with the Cubs. His life would change drastically in 1937 as his road to Hollywood and politics would join together.

The Army Comes Calling In 1937

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In 1937, Regan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve. He worked to complete fourteen home-study courses while working in radio to become eligible. Starting as a private, he was promoted to second lieutenant the same year.

Reagan was called into active duty in 1942. His poor eyesight limited his service abilities, and he was assigned to the “First Motion Picture” unit in 1943. While there he starred in over 400 training films. By 1945 he was up for promotion to major but was denied. Up next, how enlisting in the Army may have cost Reagan his shot at movie stardom.

Reagan Was Almost A Major Movie Star

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Before enlisting in the army, Ronald Reagan signed a seven-year contract to work in Hollywood. Warner Brothers started him in their “B-unit” and he earned his first credit for Love Is On The Air in 1937. Nineteen films followed over the next two years.

Reagan’s big break came in 1940 when he played George Gipp in Knute Rockne. The story about the about the former Notre Dame football coach was well received, and Reagan became known as “The Gipper.” One year before being called into active duty, Reagan was named the fifth most popular star in Hollywood. When he returned from active duty in 1946, Reagan found it hard to find the same success he had early in his career.

Postwar Life Saw Reagan Become Involved In The Screen Actors Guild

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Ronald Reagan was elected to the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1941. He served as an alternate member until being called into active duty. When he left the army in 1946, he became active again and was elected third vice-president.

At the start of 1947, conflict of interest bylaws in SAG forced six board members to resign. Reagan was elected president that year and held the position until 1952. It was during this period of his life the government came calling again. Suddenly, and with hesitation, Ronald Reagan became an FBI informant.

His Life As An Informant

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When the “Red Scare” hit Hollywood, the FBI turned to Ronald Reagan to give them names of industry communists. Reagan, hesitant, remarked, “Do they expect us to constitute ourselves as a little FBI of our own and determine just who is a Commie and who isn’t?”

Reagan might have been cautious, but he cooperated with the FBI. The relationship he built with J. Edgar Hoover might have saved his political career. Don’t worry, you’ll learn about that soon enough. The names of people Reagan gave to the FBI have been redacted from his file.

Unable To Find Film Roles, Reagan Turns To Television

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By the 1950s Ronald Reagan found it difficult to find film roles. Although he was a longtime critic of television, he turned to the medium to continue acting. He became the host of General Electric Theater, a weekly series of popular dramas. The role required him to travel for 16 weeks a year and give 14 speeches a day.

General Electric Theater aired from 1953 to 1962. The exposure helped increase Reagan’s recognizability in American households. His higher profile would benefit his political career. Before that happened, though, he snagged one last movie role.

Ronald Reagan Becomes The Villain

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Ronald Reagan’s last film credit is the 1964 crime film The Killers. For the first time in his long career, Reagan was cast as the villain. It was a welcome change. He had reportedly grown tired of being typecast as the “nice guy.” The movie was originally intended for television but wound up being released theatrically.

NBC deemed the film too violent for television because of a scene where Reagan slapped a moll. During its theatrical run, the film was not shown on Sundays for the same reason.

Before Running For Governor Of California, Reagan Had To Free His Son From The Mob

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When Ronald Reagan was considering a political career he had no idea his son, Michael, had connections to the mob. J. Edgar Hoover, having formed trust in Reagan after his informant days, let Reagan know about the unfortunate connection. If Michael was not separated from the mob, Reagan’s political career would have been over before it began.

To Michael’s credit, he had no idea that one of his close friends was the son of Mafia boss Joe Bananas. With the help of Hoover, Reagan arranged for a secret tip-off to warn Michael. Coming up, find out the one other thing Reagan had to change before running for office!

Reagan Became A Republican Before Running For Office

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From 1932 until 1948, Ronald Reagan voted as a Democrat. He did this in gratitude for Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” success. During the Great Depression Reagan’s father and brother were employed with work relief agencies. His change of heart came with increased taxes and fears of the spread of Communism in America.

Reagan believed the Republican party took the threat of Communism more seriously than the Democrats. Still, Reagan didn’t register as a Republican until 1962. He believed he could do more good for conservatives as a “Democrat for Nixon” during the 1960 Presidential Race.

Reagan’s Governorship Of California Was Full Of Controversy

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Ronald Reagan announced his intentions to run for Governor of California in 1965. He ran on a platform of sending “welfare bums back to work” and cleaning up “the mess in Berkeley.” He was sworn into office in 1967 and his term as governor was filled with controversy and personal regret.

One of Reagan’s most famous acts was to sign the Mulford Act, repealing a law that allowed loaded firearms to be carried publicly. The Black Panthers marched at the state capital with loaded firearms in protest. More controversially, Reagan signed the “Therapeutic Abortion Act.” The legislation was intended to reduced “back-room-abortions.” Reagan immediately regretted signing the Act and spent the rest of his political career as a vocal pro-life supporter.

It Took Three Tries For Reagan To Be Elected President

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Ronald Reagan first attempted to run for President in 1968. The attempt was two years into his term as California’s Governor. His run was never serious. Republicans at the time were trying to push support away from Nixon. The “compromise candidate” effort failed, and Nixon won the Republican Primary.

Reagan ran for President again in 1976 after his Governorship was over. Challenging Gerald Ford during the primary cycle, Reagan ran a more extreme conservative campaign than his moderate opponent. Ford won the primary by 117 votes, giving Reagan momentum heading into his third and final attempt to run for President of the United States. Amazingly, when Reagan was elected President, it was by a landslide.

Ronald Reagan Is Elected President Of The United States In 1981

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In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the Republican Primary and faced off against Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter. Reagan ran on a platform promising lower taxes, strong national defense, and less government interference in public affairs. He beat Jimmy Carter 489 electoral votes to 49.

Ronald Reagan spent the next eight years as president. His biggest contribution during these years was “Reaganomics.” Reagan planned to stimulate the economy with major tax cuts and a free-market fiscal policy. The result of his “trickle-down” economic policies was a one percent decrease in overall government revenues and a $200 billion rise in federal tax income receipts.

At 69-Years-Old, Reagan Was The Oldest President Ever Elected

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Ronald Reagan was 69-years-old when he was elected president. At the time it made him the oldest elected president. Before Reagan, William Henry Harrison wore the crown. He was 68-years-old when elected in 1841. During Reagan’s second term in office, he suffered from several health complications.

In 1985, Reagan had cancerous polyps removed from his colon. Later the same year he underwent multiple surgeries to remove skin cancer cells from his nose. Just before leaving office, Reagan had one final operation to fix his ring finger, which had become permanently bent. Next, Reagan has a reputation for cutting taxes, but that’s only half the story.

During His Presidency, Reagan Increased And Decreased Taxes At Historic Rates

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When Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981, he signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act. It was the largest tax cut in American history. In 1982 he supported the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility. The Act raised certain taxes to minimize the grown the budget deficit.

Two years later, Reagan signed the Deficit Reduction Act. The legislation forced more tax increases to close the remaining budget gap. Taken together, these three acts provided the biggest tax cuts in history while simultaneously providing some of the largest tax increases ever.

Leaving Office, Reagan Had The Highest Approval Rating Since FDR

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After serving two terms, Ronald Reagan left the Oval Office with the highest approval rating since Franklin Roosevelt. His 63 percent approval was trailed the wartime President’s rating by two points. In 2001, Bill Clinton left office with a 66 percent approval rating, the highest of all-time.

Ronald Reagan lived in California once his political career was over. He bought a house in Bel-Air and continued to make appearances in support of the Republican party. His last major public appearance was in 1994 at the funeral of former President Richard Nixon.

Reagan Named His Biography After One Of His Most Famous Movie Lines

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Ronald Reagan published his autobiography, Where’s The Rest Of Me? in 1965. The name of the book was taken from his most movie line. In Kings Row, Reagan played a double amputee. When his character wakes up from surgery and sees he has no legs, he says, “Where’s the rest of me?”

The film is hailed by critics as Reagan’s greatest performance. Reagan praised the film as well, believing it was the film that made him a star. During his time in Hollywood, Reagan was able to work with many legends. One of them was Shirley Temple, who once called the actor the best screen kiss she had.

Shirley Temple Praises Reagan’s Kissing

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At 19-years-old, Shirley Temple starred opposite Ronald Reagan in That Hagen Girl. The film was supposed to transition Temple into more adult roles. After the film was shot, Temple said Reagan was one of the best screen kissers. Her complements were the only praise the film received.

The plot saw Reagan romance Temple, who the audience was supposed to believe was his illegitimate daughter. Once the truth was revealed, Reagan’s 36-year-old character married Temples. The film flopped and is credited with ending Temple’s career.

Ronald Reagan Passed Away In 2004 After 93 Years Of Life

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Ronald Reagan was 93-years-old when he passed away in 2004. He became ill with pneumonia, which was complicated by his previously diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. President Bush declared June 11, 2004, as a National Day of Mourning. His life had been celebrated by his family at his funeral two days before.

Before his death, he was the oldest living former President. Anyone who visits Ronald Reagan’s grave will be welcomed with these words, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and that there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”