Biography of U.S. President Ronald Reagan Part 3 Early Career

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


40th President



He returned to a film industry beset by labor-management disputes between the unions and the studios. Political turmoil polarized Hollywood into leftist and rightist groups. In the heat of argument, the charge of Communist infiltration of the unions began to be heard. Reagan's own union, the Screen Actors Guild, of which he had become a board member in 1938, was battling the studio bosses for benefits. As a liberal Democrat like his father, opposing communism and adhering to the principles of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Reagan projected himself into the controversy. With his career in a holding pattern, he was collecting a star salary of $3,500 a week but being offered no quality roles. Reagan began to develop a consuming interest in film industry politics and joined organizations like the Hollywood Independent Committee for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions; the United World Federalists; and Americans for Democratic Action. He immersed himself in the activities of the Screen Actors Guild. In 1947 he was elected SAG president, a post he held until 1953; he served another term in 1959--1960.

Reagan recalled the mid-1940s as his "hemophilic [sic] liberal" days, when he bled for every cause. Discovering that several of these causes were too far left, he resigned his memberships and turned to a new political entity, the House Un-American Activities Committee, in his efforts to preserve Hollywood's freedom. In October, 1947, he testified as a "friendly" witness at the committee's hearings, and he encouraged others to reveal the identities of writers, directors, actors, and union leaders who were supposed agents of an international Communist conspiracy. Said Reagan: "The Communist play for Hollywood was remarkably simple. It was merely to take over the motion picture business, not only for its profits, as the hoodlums had tried--but also for a grand worldwide propaganda base." By 1948 Jane Wyman had filed for divorce, claiming his obsession with politics had undermined their marriage. A year later he was single again, still stalled in his career but involved in the motion picture industry's power centers. In 1949 he was elected chairman of the Motion Picture Industry Council.

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