The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library has a photograph of the former actor-turned-president sitting on a boat at Lake Mead in 1954. Ronald Reagan was an exceptional person and incredible actor and made history as a president. While Reagan was visiting Boulder City’s backyard, Lake Mead, with his wife, Nancy, he already had a full life behind him and probably could not imagine the career change he would have as the leader of our country starting in 1981.
Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in Illinois. His parents were average and his education was, too. In college, he went out for broadcasting and loved to tell stories, which is how Reagan ended up in California. In 1932, while working as an announcer for the Chicago Cubs baseball team, the actor took a screen test while calling an away game for the Cubs. He was immediately hired. In fact, Reagan received a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. Studios.
Before Reagan’s acting career took off, he paid his dues. There were several bit parts and extra roles that he had to take as a contracted actor, but his hard work and persistence eventually paid off. According to IMDb.com, Reagan has made over 50 films and had many more television appearances.
His last movie, made in 1964, was deemed so violent and disturbing that instead of being released as a made-for-TV movie, it was forced to be shown only in the theaters. In “The Killers” Reagan played his first ever role as a villain, portraying Jack Browning opposite actress Angie Dickinson. “The Killers” is based on an Ernest Hemingway story and the version Reagan starred in was a remake. The original came out in 1946 and starred Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.
Reagan went on to serve on the board of directors, before becoming president for the Screen Actors Guild between 1947 and 1959. It was during this time that he led the SAG through the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and the Hollywood blacklist era. A Democrat at the time, it was Reagan’s first wife, actress Jane Wyman, who was serving as an FBI informant about which actors were Communist and which ones were not. This side job of Wyman’s, along with Reagan’s aspirations to get into politics, is what started to cause a rift within their marriage. Wyman ended up filing for a divorce from Reagan in 1949, leaving him as the only president, until Donald Trump, who had been divorced.
A year before being photographed at Lake Mead, Reagan married actress Nancy Davis, who ironically commissioned the actor’s help at SAG after her name was confused with another Nancy Davis — one who was being accused of being a Communist.
A lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, Reagan officially switched his political party to Republican in 1962. Five years later the actor became the governor of California. His political career was expansive and plagued with praise and controversy.
Regardless of what one might think of Reagan’s political career and his impact on our country, he was a man who reinvented his life and his career a few times over. He wasn’t afraid to try something new, he didn’t back down in the face of criticism, and he stood strong in his beliefs and never shied away from openly discussing his personal values or religious beliefs. He made his own magic without compromising who he was, which is a hard thing to do in today’s culture.
My Throwback Thursday movie recommendation today is the 1964 version of “The Killers.” I also recommend author Bill Adler’s 1996 book, “The Uncommon Wisdom of Ronald Reagan: A Portrait in His Own Words,” which is an in-depth look at his life from childhood through his two terms as president of the United States.
Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.