Vintage Hunk: Ronald Reagan

By: Mike McCrann

A former President as vintage hunk????

A conservative Republican as Vintage Hunk? 

Hmmm. How are we going to do this? I know - we will only talk about his 1940s film career and his marriage to Jane Wyman and, oh yes, he was a democrat then.

All of this came to an end in 1949 so we won't go any farther. You all know what happened next.

Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911. (No log cabin trust me!) His early career as a radio announcer led him to Hollywood in 1937 and a seven year contract with Warner Brothers. His early career was mostly B movies with an extended bit in Dark Victory as one of Bette Davis' drunk society friends. Ronnie got his first good role as George "The Gipper" Gipp in the Notre Dame football story Knute Rockne, All American. Things were looking up as that same year he married fellow Warner Brothers contract star Jane Wyman.

In 1942 Ronald Reagan got the role of his career as the dashing Drake McHugh, the rich playboy in the great melodrama Kings Row. This period epic tells the story of a small town and all its ghastly secrets. Ronnie played his part with a gusto rarely seen before or after in his career. When the town doctor, a sadist played by Charles Coburn in one of his rare villain roles, cuts off Drake's legs unnecessarily after a railroad accident to punish him, Reagan has the great line: "Where's the rest of me?" when he comes to after the operation. Drake has lost his money, his legs and has nothing to live for except the great love of Ann Sheridan who shows him that life is still worth living. With the help of last week's vintage hunk Robert Cummings, Reagan created a fully dimensional character whose earlier wise cracking behavior matures into a caring adult. With incest, murder and suicide tossed into this town, Kings Row was a great popular hit.

Ronald Reagan was poised for major stardom, but Uncle Sam called and Reagan was out of Hollywood until the end of the war. (The fact that the actor never left the U.S. and served in cushy jobs stateside is also something we will not dwell on either.)

When Ronnie came back to the Brothers Warner everything had changed and his career stalled. He did make a few good films like John Loves Mary which introduced Patricia Neal to the screen and The Hasty Heart again with Neal and Richard Todd who stole the film.

Jane Wyman's career had taken off and in 1948 she played a deaf mute in Johnny Belinda. She and Reagan had earlier had a daughter Maureen but their second girl born in 1947 only lived a day. In 1949 Jane Wyman not only won a Best Actress Oscar but also won a divorce from Reagan whose politics bored her. She probably would not have been so bored had she known that hubby Ronnie as President of the Screen Actor's Guild was providing the FBI with info on supposed Hollywood commies.

But we came to praise Ronald Reagan. For a decade he was very handsome and sexy and delivered a few impressive film performances. After 1949 it was all downhill for the actor's film career. When I think of Ronald Reagan I try to think of him dying in Knute Rockne or charming the town in the early sections of Kings Row. After 1949 I don't think of him at all.