Biography of U.S. President Ronald Reagan Part 2 Early Career

About the United States President Ronald Reagan, biography and history of his early career as a Hollywood actor.


40th President



Career: Armed with his degree and an ambition to act in the movies, Reagan set out to find his first job in the heart of the Great Depression. Without the necessary Hollywood contacts, he decided to aim for a more wide-open entertainment medium-radio. WOC (World of Chiropractic, on the top floor of a chiropractor's office building) in Davenport, Ia., hired him as a sports announcer for $5 a game plus bus fare. He showed style in describing the play-by-play action of the University of Iowa football games, and soon he was promoted to a $100-a-month salary--far more than his father had ever earned selling shoes. When an opening at sister station WHO in Des Moines materialized, Reagan jumped at it, and for four years "Dutch" Reagan was on the air throughout the Midwest. Eventually NBC absorbed WHO, and Reagan's audience and reputation grew to national proportions.

During this time Reagan had not abandoned his Hollywood goal. In 1937 he landed an assignment covering the Chicago Cubs' spring training session on Catalina Island, off the southern California coast. He contacted an agent, Bill Meiklejohn, who, using the line "I have another Robert Taylor sitting in my office," arranged a screen test for Reagan at Warner Bros. Studio. He was hired at $200 a week and started making as many as eight films a year. In his first, Love Is on the Air, Reagan played the part of a radio announcer. In the second, Submarine D-1, he was cut from the final print. Always the sunny, all-American good guy, he was a safe commercial bet for low-budget films, including Girls on Probation, Naughty but Nice, and Smashing the Money Ring. Looking back at that time, Reagan called himself "the Errol Flynn of the B's."

In 1940 Reagan reached a turning point in his career and personal life. He married actress Jane Wyman in January and won the role of Notre Dame halfback George Gipp ("the Gipper") in Knute Rockne--All-American. At last Reagan's acting earned recognition, and the studio took notice. In 1941 he got another good role in a serious and disturbing work, King's Row, which is still considered the finest of Reagan's 53 films. (The director, Sam Wood, got an Oscar nomination.) It seemed as if Reagan's career was finally taking off. But by the time the picture was released in 1942, the U.S. was at war and Reagan had been called up for active duty. Bad eyesight disqualified him for combat, so he was assigned to the Army Air Corps' First Motion Picture Unit. He narrated training films produced at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, Calif., for the duration of the war. He also took time out to appear in a few wartime productions, notably Irving Berlin's musical comedy This Is the Army in 1943. However, by the time Captain Reagan was discharged in December, 1945, Hollywood--and movie audiences--had changed.

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