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In 1949, Ronald Reagan needed something good to happen in his life. He was sad over his recent divorce from Jane Wyman, and his acting career was in the doldrums. After a promising early period at Warner Brothers with such films as Knute Rockne All American (1940), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and Kings Row (1942), the postwar years had seen him in one disappointment after another. He got a lift, however, from The Girl from Jones Beach (1949), earning critical praise for his comic performance as a commercial artist who specializes in female pulchritude (based on the renowned pin-up illustrators Vargas and Petty). Reviewers called Reagan's performance "excellent" and said it was played "with witty aplomb." The good notices gave him renewed confidence and coincided his burgeoning (and increasingly right-wing) political career, which began while serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild during the time of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) witch hunts.
Much of the praise resulted from his impersonation of a Czech immigrant, in a ploy similar to the one that would be used a decade later by Rock Hudson to seduce an unsuspecting Doris Day in their hit comedies together. Bob Randolph, Reagan's artist character, has been asked to reveal his model to the world. Because he has stitched his most famous creation together from the sketched body parts of a dozen or so models, he must find a specimen that matches them all. He discovers her on the New York beach of the title in the person of Virginia Mayo, a teacher who refuses to take part in his cheesecake scheme when approached by his representative. To get closer to her, Reagan pretends to be a foreigner and enrolls in one of her classes.
The female lead was originally to have gone to Lauren Bacall but she took a suspension rather than play the part. Bacall had once before turned down a part opposite Reagan in Stallion Road (1947) and later again refused to work with him in Storm Warning (1951). It's quite possible that she turned down all these roles as unsuitable parts for her and refused the latter film so that she could accompany husband Humphrey Bogart abroad while he filmed The African Queen (1951). But Bacall and Reagan were known to be politically at odds; she was an anti-HUAC activist while he was a friendly witness before the committee. And in later years, the outspoken actress had several negative things to say about Reagan as President. In any case, the part here of the model, Ruth Wilson, went to Virginia Mayo, a curvy blonde who had been described by the Sultan of Morocco as "tangible proof of the existence of God."
Mayo had nothing but good things to say about her co-star, crediting him with a big boost in her confidence right before shooting her first scene in a skintight white bathing suit. "Ronnie, who has the manners of a grand duke under ordinary circumstances, whistled at me. That wolf call did more for my ego and my self-confidence than a hundred words could have done....He also put me wise to a good many things. Whenever any of the dozens of department heads or studio officials came on the set, he managed to be near me and to point out important people, giving me the correct names and titles, before I was officially introduced."
It was not all fun and games, however. While filming one scene, co-star Eddie Bracken accidentally knocked Reagan over and broke his tailbone, forcing the star to leave the production for three weeks to recuperate.
The premise of The Girl from Jones Beach is very similar to one made shortly after, The Petty Girl (1950), in which Robert Cummings plays a fictionalized version of the real-life calendar artist George Petty, attempting to lure prim professor Joan Caulfield into posing for him.
Director: Peter Godfrey
Producer: Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond, story by Allen Boretz
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editing: Rudi Fehr
Art Direction: Stanley Fleischer
Original Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Ronald Reagan (Bob Randolph/Robert Venerik), Virginia Mayo (Ruth Wilson), Eddie Bracken (Chuck Donovan), Dona Drake (Connie Martin), Henry Travers (Judge Bullfinch).
BW-78m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon