Biography of U.S. President Ronald Reagan Part 4 Early Career

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


40th President



With the insight he earlier displayed in choosing radio as the path to success, Reagan again turned to a new medium, television, and by 1950 he had appeared in several TV dramas. The next year he met Nancy Davis, an actress at MGM. Because he was her union president, she asked him to help get her name removed from mailing lists for Communist literature. They were married in 1952. Before long, Reagan had a new family to support. Since 1950 he had made only a few movies each year, hitting a new low in 1951 with Bedtime for Bonzo, in which he co-starred with a chimpanzee. Reagan was in debt, and at one point he accepted a two-week Las Vegas nightclub engagement on the same bill with the Continentals, a comedy dance team. His career had lost direction. In 1953, when he retired from the presidency of SAG, someone asked if he intended to enter politics. He answered, "I'd like to keep on making horse operas. I'm a ham--always was, always will be."

But in 1954 Reagan accepted a job which some say was the real beginning of his political career. He became the host of a weekly TV show, General Electric Theater, for $125,000 a year. The contract also provided for his services as goodwill ambassador for the General Electric Company, traveling around the U.S. and giving 250,000 minutes' worth of promotional speeches to plant employees. For eight years Reagan was a fixture on national television, and on tour he refined his public-speaking skills.

As defender of the corporate view of free enterprise as the American way, Reagan developed a speech he would repeat throughout his political career. Heartfelt in its view that conservatism equals patriotism, the speech attacked big government as a source of economic, social, and moral decay. Thus Reagan zeroed in on the average man's exasperation with bureaucracy. Eventually his antigovernment opinions inspired him to attack the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of GE's biggest customers. The company gently asked Reagan to drop the subject. He did, but by then his transformation was complete. Reagan had begun as a Democrat, but in 1952 and 1956 he had voted for Eisenhower. In 1960 he gave 200 speeches as a Democrat for Nixon. By 1962 he had officially registered as a Republican.

That same year also found Reagan out of work, since GE's show fell in the ratings and went off the air. His brother, Neil, now a senior vice-president at the McCann Erickson advertising agency and in charge of the Borax soap account, arranged to test viewer reaction to Reagan's presence in a Borax soap commercial. Results showed that women in the audience were highly responsive to Ronald Reagan. Death Valley Days, a television weekly sponsored by Borax, had found a new host.

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