Love among the Reagans: Life with Ronald Reagan in 1942

Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman 1940

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With two lively females on his hands, Ronnie calls his home “The Ronald Reagan Home For Delinquent Girls”

By Ida Zeitlin

The Ronald Reagans were chewing the fat with a couple of friends. Discussing some item, the other wife said to her husband, “Oh yes, that’s the night you weren’t talking to me.”

Jane turned on Ronnie. “Now see? Now there!” she wailed. “Why don’t you ever not talk to me the way he sometimes not talks to her?”

Love among the Reagans Life with Ronald Reagan in 1942

There you have the skeleton in the Reagan closet. Nearing their second anniversary, they have yet to stage their first battle. This worries Jane. “First, it’s unnormal,” she argues. “Second, there’s nothing I like better than a good fight. Third, if you don’t fight, you can’t make up — ”

Reagan sees his wife’s point. There ought to be problems. There ought to be a reasonable degree of stress and strain in adjusting oneself to the marital pattern. The books say so. He’d be glad to dig up a problem to oblige the books, but thus far it’s eluded him.

He and Jane get along as amicably since their marriage as they did before it — “The only difference being that now, when I beat her, it’s legal.”

Of course, this kind of talk is a lot of malarkey. Like everyone else, they’ve had to adjust themselves to marriage. It soon becomes clear, however, why these two slipped into double harness without wrenching.

That they’re crazy about each other goes without saying. So are plenty of newlyweds who weep and growl their bewildered way through the first year. The Reagans also have intelligence and the kind of humor that’s another word for perspective.

A former unsuccessful marriage has intensified Jane’s sense of values. Most young wives take their happiness for granted. She holds hers like a treasure in both hands.

Vintage Ronald Reagan from the 1940s (2)

As for Ronnie, what might irritate other husbands amuses him. “I’m the greatest comic around my own house,” marvels Jane. For instance…

“We don’t belong to the golf club anymore,” she’ll inform him.

“Why not?”

“I got into a beef with the guy who runs it and resigned.”

Instead of barking, he chuckles. They both know he’ll go back and rejoin next week. Jane’s counting on it. This feminine quirk tickles Ronnie, in whom the comedy sense outstrips the didactic.

Or she’ll phone and say: “You’re going to be mad at me. I smashed a fender.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yup, but the fender’s smashed.”

“How did it happen?”

“Well, you know that street down so-and-so where the stop sign is? Well, I didn’t stop.”

Now there’s nothing funny to Reagan in careless driving. Nor to Jane either. He knows she’s apologizing and he thinks the method of apology’s cute. So he skips the lecture and grins at the cuteness.

A couple of times, he admits, he’s gone “like this,” “like this” being illustrated as a not too formidable glower. “Then I get an eyeful of that kisser and she blinks and looks all of eight, so I find myself talking to her like a father. Between you and me,” he added, regarding the kisser across the table, “I have a sweet nature.” 

Love among the Reagans Life with Ronald Reagan in 1942 bicycle

Between Jane and whom it may concern, he has. “Everybody likes him,” says the candid Wyman. “Few people like me.” He’s equable, she’s hot-tempered; he’s instinctively friendly, she’s had experiences which tend to make her mistrustful.

Their one serious difference arose over an attempt on Jane’s part to influence him in the handling of his career. She’d been in the business longer, she wanted him to profit by her blunders. Ronnie indicated that he preferred to make his own. Jane recognized the impasse and has kept her hands off since.

On the basis of his upward zoom from “Million Dollar Baby” through “International Squadron” to “Kings Row,” she concludes that off was a good place to keep them.

How Judy Garland's career began (1942)

Indeed, it’s Jane, the stormy half of the pair, who’s done most of the surface adjusting. “At no cost to myself, be it understood,” she says. “I’m only a thousand times happier than I’ve ever been. I used to be the kind of person who sat around swank night clubs with a big fuzz on my head and a long cigarette holder sticking out of my face.

“Athletics held no charm for me. First I was too lazy, and then what for? Till along came Reagan, and all I heard was football and track and swimming and golf. The only way I could get to see him was out on a golf course. So where do you think I went? Out on a golf course.”

Vintage Ronald Reagan from the 1940s (1)

Golf, swimming, horses

Now they play together every Sunday, with Ronnie gloating over his wife’s perfect swing. She started her swimming lessons on their honeymoon and he thinks they’ll get round to horses next. He’s broaching the idea subtly from the angle of how well she’d look in riding clothes.

Ronnie’s notion of a good time is not going to nightclubs. He never said to his bride, “Let’s cut them out.” They just oozed out, along with the fuzz on her head and the cigarette holder. Evenings are now given to movies, gin rummy and books. After knitting Ronnie all the socks he could wear, Jane suddenly discovered the existence of reading matter and devours it with the greed of one who’s been unconsciously hungry all her life.

>> Also see: Ronald Reagan: How to make yourself important (1942)

Before marriage, Jane’s spending was governed more closely by her whims than her bank account. Ronnie, on the other hand, is a guy with a system, self-installed, since to him a business manager is a tacit admission that you’re too dumb to save your own dough. The Reagan incomes are pooled. It’s not his money or her money, but their money, At the end of the week, so much goes into the joint savings, so much into the joint checking account. A check is drawn to cover their spending money for the week.

If Jane makes a wistful crack about some divine fur coat she could get along beautifully without, Ronnie says okay, honey, and hauls out the bank books. It winds up with Mrs. Reagan’s wanting to know what he’s talking about, it’s perfectly obvious they can’t afford a fur coat, while the mister winks approvingly at himself.

Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman and Maureen Reagan

Building their home

They’re planning their home on the same sensible structure of don’t-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew. The site is on a hill, commanding a view from City Hall to the sea, and, like any average couple, they’re waiting for FHA to come through with a loan.

Their ideas of what they want and don’t want are well-defined. Not a mansion, predicated on possible future earning power, but a seven-room house whose carrying charges they can afford now. A paneled living room to be lived in. A knotty pine kitchen with a huge oak table in the center, because everybody likes to hang around the kitchen, especially Jane.

To Jane, the house, whose foundations are yet to be laid, is a vivid actuality. To Ronnie, it’s a set of blueprints. Standing on the sagebrush-covered lot, Jane’s eyes will focus on a given point. “What kind of drapes shall we have at those windows?”

“What windows?”

“Over there. The living-room windows — ”

“Are you feeling alright?”

“Oh Ronnie, that’s where the living room windows will be!”

“Look, honey, would you mind letting me see the windows once before we start covering ’em?”

This story revives in Jane the memory of old wounds. “I can understand his not being interested in drapes. Anyway, at this point. What I can’t swallow is his attitude toward my clothes. On our honeymoon, I said, ‘We’ve been married two days and I’d kind of like to know what you like and what you don’t. Will you come with me to pick out a swimsuit?’ He said, ‘I’m busy, I have to play golf.'”

Celebrity yearbook photos - Young Ronald Reagan
Celebrity yearbook photos – Young Ronald Reagan

“Once in awhile I’d drag him into a hat shop — why, I don’t know. He’d sit behind a newspaper and say mmmm. If I bought the hat myself and tried to get a reaction, he’d go whew! He seems to think it’s a man’s privilege to go whew! and that a woman’s supposed to know she looks all right. I broke him of that, though. Now he says, ‘My, it’s pretty.'”

“A woman,” said Ronnie, “should be satisfied with the gleam in a man’s eye. The gleam in a man’s eye should be more flattering than a lot of meaningless language. While we’re on the subject of shopping, let me put in my oar. When I want to buy a pair of shoes nowadays, I have to fold my tents like the Arabs and silently sneak away.”

“That’s not so!”

“My turn. Mrs. Reagan. It used to be that I wanted a pair of brown shoes. I went out and bought a pair of brown shoes and that was that. But my wife believes in shopping. The only thing she likes better than a women’s clothing store is a men’s clothing store. So she goes along. I try on not one but thirty pairs of brown shoes.

“By the time I get through trying on brown shoes, my socks are worn out. Then she sees a robe, then she sees a sweater, then she sees socks and ties and dungarees. I’ve got a robe and a sweater and ties and socks and dungarees.

Humphrey Bogart: Things I don't like about myself (1942)

“Sometimes I think I’m getting away with murder. When it comes to fundamentals like suits and babies, I find out who’s boss. I think Jane started talking about a baby a day after we were married. I wanted one, too, but I used all my male logic to persuade her that every young couple ought to wait a year. She agreed I was right as usual and she was wrong. So we had a baby.”

THIS event provided Ronnie with some of his choicest glimpses into the mysteries of feminine psychology. They were driving downtown one day before Maureen Elizabeth’s arrival, talking of nothing in particular, when the peace was shattered by a wild sob from Jane.

“Good lord, honey, what’s wrong? What did I say — ?”

“No — nothing — ”

Ronald Reagan for Chesterfield cigarettes - Christmas 1951
Ronald Reagan for Chesterfield cigarettes – Christmas 1951

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