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|Also Known As:||Ronald Wilson Reagan, Lt. Ronald Reagan||Died:||June 5, 2004|
|Born:||February 6, 1911||Cause of Death:||pneumonia|
|Birth Place:||Tampico, Illinois, USA||Profession:||actor, politician|
Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY
An affable Midwesterner, Ronald Reagan parlayed his athletic good looks and undeniable charisma into a middling career in the movies, but it was the smaller screen that he would eventually master on his way to two terms as governor of California and ultimately as the 40th President of the United States. In that role of a lifetime, the 'Great Communicator' displayed constant optimism and a jaunty self-confidence, both of which endeared him to millions, despite revelations of wrongdoing by aides or occasional failures in foreign policy. Reagan acquired almost mythic status leading the charge John Wayne-style to vanquish the Evil Empire, but detractors would say, "At what cost?" An opponent of Big Government on one hand, he reduced government expenditures through massive domestic budget cuts while feeling no compunction about the huge federal deficits that piled up due to unprecedented peacetime military spending. True, he brought the Soviet Union to its knees, but there is also a legacy of social Darwinism evident in the ever-widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots." 'Dutch' Reagan began his career as a sportscaster in Iowa, broadcasting the games of the Chicago Cubs, before a screen test...
An affable Midwesterner, Ronald Reagan parlayed his athletic good looks and undeniable charisma into a middling career in the movies, but it was the smaller screen that he would eventually master on his way to two terms as governor of California and ultimately as the 40th President of the United States. In that role of a lifetime, the 'Great Communicator' displayed constant optimism and a jaunty self-confidence, both of which endeared him to millions, despite revelations of wrongdoing by aides or occasional failures in foreign policy. Reagan acquired almost mythic status leading the charge John Wayne-style to vanquish the Evil Empire, but detractors would say, "At what cost?" An opponent of Big Government on one hand, he reduced government expenditures through massive domestic budget cuts while feeling no compunction about the huge federal deficits that piled up due to unprecedented peacetime military spending. True, he brought the Soviet Union to its knees, but there is also a legacy of social Darwinism evident in the ever-widening gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots."
'Dutch' Reagan began his career as a sportscaster in Iowa, broadcasting the games of the Chicago Cubs, before a screen test earned him a contract at Warner Bros. (at whose insistence he dropped the nickname). Debuting as a radio announcer in "Love Is on the Air" (1937), he went on to appear in more than 50 films over the next two decades, proving a popular romantic lead in B pictures and a reliable support and/or a hero's stolid pal in the studio's A-list features. He was certainly memorable as George Gipp, Notre Dame's dying football star, in "Knute Rockne--All American" (1940), and most TV prints have restored his "win just one for the Gipper" speech, cut because Pat O'Brien's second-hand delivery of the line seemed enough exhortation to victory. He turned in what is almost universally considered his finest performance in "King's Row" (1942), playing a character who has just had both legs amputated. Waking up from the anesthesia, he laments, "Where's the rest of me?" (Reagan used the line as the title of his 1965 autobiography). He was also terrific as a compassionate but forceful American soldier in "The Hasty Heart" (1947), a stand-out in the midst of some box office bombs for him, but that film really belonged to Oscar nominee Richard Todd as the tragic Scotsman.
After serving as a captain in the US Air Force during WWII, Reagan became immersed in Hollywood politics and commenced his transformation from liberal New Deal Democrat to conservative Republican. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, he became embroiled in disputes about Communism in the film industry, and his conviction that Communist infiltration was undermining the nation's institutions inspired the radical shift in his philosophy. Despite SAG's affiliation with the American Federation of Labor, he negotiated contracts that greatly favored producers, but his flair for leadership helped him get elected to six one-year terms as the union's president. His first marriage to Jane Wyman ended in part because of his increased political involvement (and what she perceived as his dullness), clearing the way for a later marriage to actress Nancy Davis, his biggest asset when he set his sights on higher office. Though his big-screen star had faded (his most notable film of the 50s, the schlocky "Bedtime for Bonzo" 1951, cast him opposite a chimp), he revived his popularity on TV as host of CBS' "General Electric Theater" (1954-62) and traveled the nation as the company's spokesman, preaching the fiery gospel of the Far Right.
Reagan recognized that TV was the perfect podium. During his eight-year run as goodwill ambassador for GE, the audience for any one episode rivaled the total number of people who had seen all of his movies. Having supported Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 race for President against John F. Kennedy, he then officially registered as a Republican in 1962, stumping for Nixon's unsuccessful stab at the California governorship. His wife's parents were intimates of Barry Goldwater, so it came as no surprise that he backed the Arizona senator's bid for President in 1964. His conservative rhetoric honed to a razor's edge, he went before the camera a week before the election and gave his stirring "A Time of Choosing" speech, a ringing defense of free enterprise and an attack on Communism cast in apocalyptic terms. Nearly $1 million flooded Republican coffers, and Reagan emerged as the GOP's new star, despite Goldwater's resounding defeat. Washington columnist David S. Broder declared it "the most successful national political debut since William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic convention with his 'Cross of Gold' speech." Encouraged by friends to run for governor of California, the undeclared candidate and his wife took to the road and built grassroots support.
Reagan was twice the underdog in the 1966 election, first in the Republican primary, then against the Democratic incumbent Pat Brown (whose refusal to take his opponent seriously until it was too late doomed him to finish second by almost a million votes). Always quick with a quip, Reagan once remarked that a student demonstrator "had a haircut like Tarzan, walked like Jane, and smelled like Cheetah", but his hard line approach to handling student unrest in the late 60s cost him votes, contributing to a much closer race in 1970. Many observers have noted that Reagan's record as Governor was not as good as he claimed but not as bad as his critics maintained. In general, his eight-year record reflected a willingness to compromise in order to achieve his goals, such as his work with Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Bob Moretti to pass the nation's first Welfare Reform Act in 1971. Though Reagan had initially reduced university funding, once the student protest movement had subsided, the higher education system began to receive large funding increases. He left office high in the popularity polls, no longer seen as an amateur politician from Hollywood, though few considered him a major statesman.
After his unsuccessful bid for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, Reagan established a political action committee that raised and distributed money to Republican candidates at all levels during the 1978 mid-term election, creating a national network of loyal partisans for his 1980 campaign. He easily defeated his only competition in the primary, George Bush, then attacked incumbent President Jimmy Carter's "failed" economic policies that had resulted in 12 percent inflation and eight million people unemployed, winning the November election overwhelmingly. (The fiasco of the hostages in Iran provided the final nail in the Carter coffin.) Early in his first year in office, he survived an assassin's bullet and achieved a certain inviolability for the rest of his Presidency. Though it seemed that Reagan brought unemployment and inflation under control, he may have just been in the right place at the right time, his economic program benefiting more from a change in Federal Reserve Board policy than from the vaunted supply-side ("voodoo") economics at its center.
His mastery of the TV medium made Reagan one of our most beloved Presidents. When those little red lights on the cameras lit up, he glowed like a man welcoming his best friend, and somehow he made you feel like you were his best friend, elevating the Mr. Nice Guy role learned at his mother's knee and refined in the Hollywood crucible into high art. Reagan never shied away from his Hollywood history and often made it work to his advantage: his friendships with celebrated liberals-turned-conservative stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and James Stewart bolstered his populist appeal; his speeches frequently cribbed lines from popular movies, such as Clint Eastwood's famous "Go ahead, make my day" dialogue; and he often invoked his own sometimes-less-than-stellar film career with an appealing and self-depricating air. His example would continue to influence after his presidency: presidential successor Bill Clinton most cannily used his celebrity connections to define his political image, while another generation of movie-star-turned-Republican-politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, drew inspiration from Reagan's example and managed to follow in his footsteps as Governor of California.
In Showtime's controversial cable film, "The Reagans" (2003), a nice guy did finish first and got the girl too, for no examination of the man can ignore his leading lady. Without Nancy, it is safe to say he would have never been President. Together they stepped from the cinema screen, her social contacts helping to start and keep him on the road to the White House. Once there, she wielded tremendous power as the self-effacing half of a very successful team. It was a perfectly scripted celluloid love story, except for the sad twist that had her standing by him at the end as he succumbed to Alzheimer's disease, a condition which plagued the former president in the final decade of his life before his death at age 93 in 2004. Their romance remains the best part of the Reagan legacy because, unlike in the movies, their actions effected the entire world. It will be up to history to record just how positive an effect they had.
Filmographyclose complete filmography
CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
In January 2001, Reagan fell and broke his hip.
Inducted to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Honorary chairman of the United States Horse Cavalry Association
On Mr. Reagan's 87th birthday in 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a law which allowed the Washington National Airport to be renamed the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
"There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States . . .
"They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right. Winston Churchill said that '. . . When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits--not animals . . . There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which whether we like it or not, spells duty.'
"You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done." --From the conclusion to Regan's 1964 speech "A Time for Choosing"
"In many ways she allowed him to be such a nice guy. Because she made some of the really tough--personally tough--decisions. She took the heat for it, and he would sit there and still be the nice guy. I think they had a unique marriage. Ronald Reagan is a loner. I don't mean that in a derogatory way. He's a man who's comfortable being alone. But the one person who has always been in his world is her. And that was enough. The truth is he didn't need anybody but her." --White House political affairs director (1981-1983) Ed Rollins quoted in Vanity Fair August 1998
"I protect Ronnie from himself. You know, he has a big Irish heart. He trusts everybody, and he doesn't see when he's being blindsided, or when people are acting out of motives that are less than noble. And he never acts upon it once he does. I do." --Nancy Reagan to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, from Vanity Fair, August 1998
"These were extraordinary times we ruled in, because we dealt with--and achieved--some of the most momentous events in modern history: the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany within NATO, free trade in this hemisphere, and the end of the Cold War. Led by Ronald Reagan, people like Francois Mitterand, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, and I contributed in a modest way to remaking our international society. So if the polls went up or polls went down, who cared? If the press said--as they did--that Thatcher and Mulroney were Reagan's poodles, who cared? You know, when you've got a quarterback who can run, who can throw, and who can take a hit--and he's out there in the rain every Sunday--well, that idea got through to the allies. And when it did, everything jelled." --Mulroney quoted in Vanity Fair, August 1998
"In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that day may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."---Reagan in a letter to the American people announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease www.reaganranch.com 1994
Companions close complete companion listing
Bibliography close complete biography
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