In 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois. and raised through the state of Illinois well before his life in California began in 1937, when after traveling with the cubs he took a screen test and signed a seven year contract with Warner Brother Studios.
The Gipper by PompeyDuring the late 1930s and early 1940s the young Reagan acted in many secondary roles and in the so-called B-movies, earning him some fame although not the celebrity other stars of the time enjoyed. Memorable roles from this time include the one of George 'The Gipper' Gipp in Knute Rockne, all American, which earned him the nickname "The Gipper", as well as the ones in Bedtime for Bonzo and Kings Row.
But Reagan's lucky break would not come until 1945, when he was given what others would later call the chance of a lifetime, when he was given the role of George Bailey in a movie Frank Capra and Liberty Films were producing and directing, a film called 'It's a wonderful life.'
Ronald Reagan was perfect for the role, and the role was perfect for him. The moving and inspiring film would nevertheless not be a hit right away, being actually considered a failure at the beginning, but with time the film would be regarded as a classic and as a staple of Christmas TV around the world. Not only would the film eventually become a classic, but it would also be the true beginning of Ronald Reagan's acting career, giving his first nomination for the academy awards as best Actor, which he would not win that year.
Liberty Pictures' following Christmas story would feature Reagan as well, this time as Ebenezer Scrooge in the adaptation of Dickens' novel: A Christmas Carol, which would make Reagan an even more famous and likeable actor.
It was also during this time that Reagan would meet and become friends with one of the biggest and most important figures of the Hollywood of the 1940s, Orson Welles.
Although Reagan's friendship with Orson Welles would be short-lived, it was nevertheless quite beneficial for Ron Reagan's career, as it gave him the chance to star in Welles' 1946 motion picture, the Stranger, in which the Gipper played an agent of the United Nations War Crime Commission hunting down a Nazi fugitive played by Welles himself.
The period would also see Reagan's entry into the political world. As head of the Screen Actors Guild for several occasions in the mid and late 1940s, he'd nearly come to blows with Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Committee of Un-American Activities, especially during the Hollywood Ten crisis and the Blacklisting of 1947.
A known anti-communist, Reagan came to fiercely condemn McCarthy's Witch-hunting and his accusations of a communist infiltration in Hollywood, Reagan accusing McCarthy of being a demagogue and a fear-monger, later giving a famous speech in 1947: As a citizen, I would hesitate to see any political party outlawed on the basis of its political ideology. However, if it is proven that an organization is an agent of foreign power, or in any way not a legitimate political party-and I think the government is capable of proving that-then that is another matter. [...] but at the same time I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group, that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment.
Reagan's confrontation with McCarthy and the Senator's subsequent accusations and attacks against the President of the SAG would later be considered to have been part of the chain of events that led to McCarthy's downfall in 1953.
In 1949, Ronald and his wife Jane Wyman had a fourth son, John Reagan, named after one of the Gipper's closest friends and collaborators: John Wayne.
Wayne and Reagan had met in the 1940s, and had an incredible amount of things in common: they were both staunchly anti-communist and conservative, they both enjoyed the same kind of cigarettes and the same kind of movies, and that helped Reagan's career, acting in several westerns in during the 1950s, while at the same time acting sometimes in television series as a guest, a tendency that he would continue in the 1960s.
In 1960, while campaigning for Jack Kennedy, Dutch Reagan met Frank Sinatra, who would also become a close friend over the years, especially due to their political likeness. When Sinatra began campaigning for the Republican Party, it is said that it had more to do with Reagan than with JFK, his policies or his death.
This friendship would also give Reagan the opportunity to expand his acting career, this time in the role of Sergeant Raymond Shaw in the 1962 thriller, the Manchurian Candidate, in which Sinatra starred as Major Bennett Marco. This role gave Reagan a new nomination for the academy awards, as best supporting actor.
On the political stage, Reagan would continue to support the Republican Party, campaigning for the Republican candidate for Governor in 1966, San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, who would defeat incumbent Pat Brown in November of that year. It is sometimes rumored that some Republican activists had wanted Reagan himself to run, while there are other rumors about him trying to persuade his good friend John Wayne to run for governor that year, although he would eventually decline.
Later he would play one of his most memorable roles, as the neurotic, neat-freak news -writer Felix Ungar in the old classic, the Odd Couple (1968), which would come to be one of the great comedy classics of the time and Reagan's favorite role, to the point in which a re-make was almost made in 1993, before Dutch Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer.
Television roles would also be part of Reagan's career in the 1950s and 1960s, including appearances in the Twilight Show in the 1959 episode 'Time Enough at last', in which Ronald plays a bank-teller who loves books but is nevertheless surrounded by people that prevent him from reading them, the story of a man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world', according to Rod Serling himself.
Other appearances would include the series Bewitched and Get Smart, the latter in which he played a CHAOS agent impersonating the new boss of CONTROL, remembered for Reagan's famous and old reply: "There you go again, 86"
His vocal support for the Republican Party and Richard Nixon in 1972 would cost Reagan dearly during the Watergate years, and this combined with Jane Wyman's death in a car accident in 1974 would force him into an early retirement on December of 1974.
He would nevertheless continue to act in movies in the 1970s, and politically he'd support the candidacies of Gerald Ford in 1976 and George H. Bush in 1980, although only the later would win, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter by a comfortable margin.
1978 would see Ronald Reagan in one of his last and most memorable cameos, as the mysterious Mr. Jordan in the film 'Heaven can wait', a remake of the 1943 classic of the same name.
The 1980s Reagan would spend with his friends and family, although with Jane's death in 1974 and John Wayne's own death in 1979, Reagan would find the early 1980s depressing. Of course, it was a depressing decade. The economy was barely recovering; President Bush was in the middle of an international conflict with the Eastern Bloc and an even worse partisan war with the democrats and the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which would end with a democratic majority in both Houses by 1986 and the beginning of the 1986 Impeachment Crisis over the Iran-Contra affair, that led to Bush's resignation and Bob Dole's defeat to Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen in the elections of 1988.
In 1994 Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer, a condition that prevented him from reassuming his acting career as he had intended ever since the early 1990s. He would nevertheless continue to make public appearances and to act in cameo roles, including small ones in Back to the Future in 1984 and The Godfather III in 1990.
On October 11th of 2003, Ronald Wilson Reagan died on his sleep, being buried back at his ranch in California, and his funeral attended by thousands of fans, friends and fellow actors.