They’ve kept the Late Show glowing for decades, but between now and Nov. 5, don’t count on catching a Ronald Reagan film on TV, because his opponents would be entitled to equal time. How then to evaluate the presidential aspirant’s second career? (He was a radio announcer first.) Herewith, a gallery, year by year, of Reagan’s 53 movie appearances. Film authority Bosley Crowther suggests that he will be remembered less for his acting (he won no Oscar nominations) than for his presidency of the Screen Actors Guild during its 1960 strike. Reagan was rewarded with lifetime SAG membership, and that could come in handy. One top agent figures that if Reagan loses, he could still, at age 69, get “Barry Sullivan-type roles” for $75,000 per. At that rate, three flicks a year would beat the take from the White House.
An insurance adjuster (Reagan) framed by his wife, joined with tootsie (Gloria Blondell) to seek vindication in Accidents Will Happen.
Reagan feels that the tearjerker Dark Victory—he was the doomed Bette Davis’ beau—could have been his breakthrough had director Edmund Goulding not browbeaten him into a “bad” performance.
Conniving promoters Pat O’Brien (right) and Reagan tried to pawn off an urban bumpkin—Dick Powell—as a rodeo star in Cowboy from Brooklyn.
Unable to shake his past, Ron (with Marie Wilson, Dick Foran) played an announcer again in the Cagney comedy Boy Meets Girl.
The best-friend image that still haunts Ronnie might date back to the musical Naughty but Nice, when he played the lawyer protector of stuffy professor-composer Dick Powell.
1937: A week after starting a seven-year, $200-a-week Warner Bros, contract, Reagan, 26, starred in Love Is on the Air as a radio announcer with William Hopper (later of TV’s Perry Mason series).
The turgid melodrama Girls on Probation died but was later re-released when ingenue Susan Hayward became a marquee name.
Lest Brass Bancroft tarnish, Warners rushed out two sequels of the series that same year: Code of the Secret Service (top) and Smashing the Money Ring.
Seemingly already typed, Ron also appeared as a radiocaster in the Busby Berkeley musical Hollywood Hotel, headlined by Dick Powell (left).
In Reagan’s first starring A movie, Brother Rat, he was a VMI cadet. During filming Ron began dating castmate Jane Wyman, his first wife.
The Dead End Kids’ horseplay on Hell’s Kitchen (with Margaret Lindsay) made filming, says Ron, like “going over Niagara Falls—upstream.”
1938: The script for Sergeant Murphy was originally written for Jimmy Cagney, who rejected it. The studio then cast Reagan and Mary Maguire in this opus of a U.S. Cavalry horse that wins Britain’s Grand National. Ronnie played the title role, right? Wrong—it was the nag.
1939: With Brother Rat stolen by Eddie Albert, Ron backslid into a bit part in the musical Going Places, featuring Powell and Anita Louise. But offscreen, Ron was hobnobbing in the commissary with biggies like Cagney and Bogart.
Reagan crusaded to clean up the slums in Angels Wash Their Faces, next in the series starring the Dead End Kids (the Sweathogs of their day). The leading lady, Ann Sheridan, lent the production some of her famed “ooomph.”
Even Bogie made B movies like Swing Your Lady, a comedy about wrestling with Penny Singleton and Ron as a reporter in a walk-on.
Between clinches with Rosella Towne, Ron created two-fisted agent Brass Bancroft in the pulpy Secret Service of the Air. On one action film, gunfire left him with a permanent hearing loss.
1940: In yet another sequel, Brother Rat and a Baby, Reagan reprised his role as “Brother Mouse” with Priscilla Lane and (right) his new wife, Jane Wyman, with whom he made five movies.
Wayne Morris (seated, left) was cast as a rube, Ron a New York con man in An Angel from Texas.
As a newshound once more, Ron cracked a baffling murder in Nine Lives Are Not Enough.
Ron’s buildup as a romantic figure continued in The Voice of the Turtle, with Eleanor Parker.
By the fourth agent Bancroft effort, Murder in the Air, Ron was, in his own words, “the Errol Flynn of the B’s.”
War was raging in Europe when Warners shot International Squadron. Reagan (with co-star James Stephenson, left) portrayed a brash Yank volunteer in the RAF.
Reagan, 36, pleaded with Warners to get out of doing That Hagen Girl, because ex-moppet Shirley Temple was only 19. He was right.
As the dying Gipper in Knute Rockne—All American, Reagan gamely did three straight takes of an 80-yard run and then threw up.
1942: King’s How (with Ann Sheridan) trebled his salary and gave him a title for his 1965 memoir, a line he uttered after amputation: “Where’s the rest of me?”
1949: Patricia Neal made her debut with him in John Loves Mary, a returning-servicemen farce adapted from a stage hit.
Marjorie Rambeau was no Marie Dressier, and Tugboat Annie Sails Again capsized. Features were shot in three weeks, like TV movies, and this was Ron’s seventh sequel in a year.
Juke Girl, lurid name notwithstanding, was the actor’s first “message film.” It was about the plight of migrant crop pickers.
A year after Wyman sued for divorce and a month after her Oscar for Johnny Belinda, Reagan played an epileptic, Viveca Lindfors a haunted widow in Night Unto Night.
In Santa Fe Trail (with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland), he was liberal West Pointer George Custer—who only later launched a preemptive strike against the Sioux nation.
Desperate Journey, with Errol Flynn and Nancy Coleman, about Allied airmen down in Nazi Germany, was Ron’s last before joining the Army Air Force.
Pneumatic Virginia Mayo was the “10” whom artist Ronnie sought (with pals Eddie Bracken and Dona Drake, right) in The Girl from Jones Beach. Filming this, one of his last romantic leads, Reagan tripped and cracked his coccyx.
1941: In The Bad Man, anyway, Ron obviously opposed capital punishment. One reviewer judged him “ineffectual” as Lionel Barrymore’s nephew, who was saved from a necktie party by Wallace Beery.
1943: 1st Lt. Reagan played a corporal (with Joan Leslie) in the musical This Is the Army. Future Sen. George Murphy was his dad.
For a comedy, It’s a Great Feeling, with Jack Carson (seated) and Dennis Morgan, Warners trotted out its stable—including Ron—to portray themselves in cameos.
Priscilla Lane played a shopgirl turned Million Dollar Baby who was caught between pianist Reagan and lawyer Jeffrey Lynn. Guess who ended up with the girl? Correct—the charmer at left.
1947: Discharged in ’45, Reagan returned to a new seven-year $1 million deal, beginning with Stallion Road, which cast him as a veterinarian who gets anthrax for the love of Alexis Smith. It might have done better had Zachary Scott (center) not subbed for last-minute dropout Bogart.
1950: In his first trip abroad, Reagan (and Richard Todd) re-created the Burmese field hospital setting of The Hasty Heart in Britain.
Feeling trapped at Warners, Reagan got out of his exclusive deal. His first outside film was Louisa; as Ruth Hussey looked on, he scolded Edmund Gwenn, who vied with Charles Coburn for the hand of Spring Byington.
1953: He dismisses Tropic Zone, with Estelita (left) and Rhonda Fleming, as a “sand-and-banana epic.”
1957 saw his final feature, Hellcats of the Navy (with Arthur Franz), and his last appearance as an Oscar presenter. Ron feels studio resentment of his TV stardom ended his movie career prematurely.
1951: Reagan, as a Ku Klux Klan-busting prosecutor, and Ginger Rogers attended to KKK victim Doris Day in Storm Warning.
After the unmemorable Law and Order—he and Alex Nicol chased Ron’s rotten brother—Reagan didn’t make a movie for 14 months.
1964: Though shot for the tube, Hemingway’s The Killers was judged too gory and was dumped into movie houses. In a rare role as a heel, Reagan took a vicious whack at Angie Dickinson, who played his mistress.
In Bedtime for Bonzo, a current campus movie club favorite, he and Diana Lynn raised a chimp. Universal evolved a spin-off but Ron, perhaps weary of the sequel treadmill, bowed out of further monkeyshines.
1954: “Extreme liberals,” Reagan charges, helped sandbag his comeback Prisoner of War, about North Korean brainwashing and torture.
1955: Barbara Stanwyck also suffered this hair-raiser, Cattle Queen of Montana. Luckily, by the time it premiered so had his long-run TV series, GE Theater.
Early in the ’50s, as Reagan’s second family expanded and his screen roles diminished, he moonlighted in ads and even tried a nightclub act.
Long eager to star in a horse opera, Ron saddled up as a Confederate captain in The Last Outpost.
In Tennessee’s Partner, Reagan unloaded on John Payne when he figured Payne, the beau of bordello madame Rhonda Fleming, was also making time with Ron’s fiancée (Coleen Gray).
TV’s Death Valley Days (below) occupied Reagan until his 1966 gubernatorial campaign. In addition to hawking for sponsor Boraxo, Ron got to flex his acting muscles, here with Leo Gordon.
GE Theater keyed his career change. He gave conservative speeches for GE and acted, as with Tommy Nolan and Nancy in a 1958 show titled—honest to God—A Turkey for the President.
1952: Now a staunch Cold Warrior, Reagan defended orphaned Danny Chang from “the Chinese Reds” in Hong Kong.
Professor Reagan passed the (Virginia) Mayo, a stripper-queen student, in She’s Working Her Way through College.
In a bioflick, The Winning Team, he was Grover Cleveland Alexander, a pitcher who drank (Doris Day was Mrs. A). At the time Ron was wooing starlet Nancy Davis, his current wife.