See young Ronald Reagan – the charismatic actor & a new dad – in the 1940s & 1950s

See Ronald Reagan - the actor - in the 1940s & 1950s

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Below, have a peek into the life of young Ronald Reagan during the 1940s and 1950s — back when acting paid the bills, and his wife was Jane Wyman. The article he penned also includes some insight into the man who would be president, as written in his own words.

Love among the Reagans: Life with a young Ronald Reagan in 1942

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

By Ida Zeitlin – Photoplay/Movie Mirror (January 1942)

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)

Young Ronald Reagan loved 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.

Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman 1940

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.

Newlyweds young Ronald Reagan & Jane Wyman: 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.

Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman and Maureen Reagan

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
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
Young Ronald Reagan for Chesterfield cigarettes – Christmas 1951

How to make yourself important

… and strangely enough, love has a lot to do with it, in a way you’d least suspect

By Ronald Reagan (as told to Gladys Hall) – Photoplay August 1942

A fine and fancy storyteller holds his punch for the story’s end, I’m sure. But as I’m a plain guy with a set of homespun features and no frills, I may as well write accordingly.

So, then, the whole deal on how to make yourself important is, as I see it, to (a) love what you are doing with all your heart and soul and (b) believe what you are doing is important, even if you are only grubbing for worms in the back yard.

Ronald Reagan 1942

I am enormously in earnest about this. In fact, I believe I may say, with some pride, that I think I have something here. I hold that all of this business about making yourself important by means of externals is no good. Clothes, being seen in the Right Places, show, swank — No! They may make you seem important; but that is not what I am talking about.

Nor do I believe that you have to be a stand-out from your fellow men in order to make your mark in the world. Average will do it. Certainly if I am to serve as my own guinea pig for this little homily, it will have to do it. For I’m no Flynn or Boyer, and well I know it.

The studio publicity department had to sweat ink out of its veins to turn out a biography on me. Mr. Norm is my alias, or shouldn’t I admit it?

I like to swim, hike and sleep (eight hours a night). I’m fairly good at every sport except tennis, which I just don’t like. My favorite menu is steaks smothered with onions and strawberry shortcake. I play bridge adequately, collect guns, always carry a penny as a good-luck charm and knock wood when I make a boast or express a wish. I have a so-so convertible coupe which I drive myself.

I’m interested in politics and governmental problems. My favorite books are “Turnabout,” by Thome Smith, “Babbitt,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and the works of Peail Buck, H. G. Wells. Damon Runyon and Erich Remarque.

I’m a fan of Bing Crosby. My favorite actress is my wife. I like things colored green, and my favorite flower is the Eastern lilac. I love my wife, baby and home. I’ve just built a new one — home, I mean. Nothing about me to make me stand out on the midway.

Young actor Ronald Reagan

Young Ronald Reagan: How to make a mark in an indifferent world

Lots of kids write and ask my advice about how to make their mark in an indifferent world. Seventy-five percent of them beef that they’re not much to look at, haven’t any dough, can’t cut a dash. I could refer them to Lincoln, out of the backwoods, as plain as a calabash pipe. But they know all that.

I want to say, first, however, that I question my right or ability to advise anyone how to get along because, before I take any credit for any success that has come my way, I certainly must acknowledge the help of friends all along the way — people who were never too busy to give a young fellow a hand. Maybe that’s my lead. I’m just trying to pass along some of the things I’ve learned from these same people.

So, what I’d like to tell ’em is this: Look, you must love what you are doing. You must think what you are doing is important because, if it’s important to you, you can bet your last ducat that other people will think so, too. It may take time, but they’ll get around to it.

And one thing more, one really important thing: If, when you get a job, you don’t believe you can get to the top in it, it’s the wrong job.

NOW, of course, I don’t mean that just believing you can get to the top will always get you there. But I do say that you’ll never get there unless you believe that you can.

I’m not writing anything I don’t believe myself, you know. Nor anything that doesn’t come right out of my own experience. For me, the one job in the world I want to do is acting. Offer me ten times the money for something else, and I wouldn’t do it.

And right from the start, down there in “B” pictures where I began, through four years of “bit” parts (the “Poor Man’s Errol Flynn,” they called me), I was sure that I was in the right business for me. I knew I’d get to the top, if I kept on working and learning. That’s not brash self-confidence, either. Put me in any other job and I’d eat humble pies by the dozen. I’d lack self-confidence because I’d be in the wrong job.

Of course, doing what I wanted to do didn’t put me always in a favorable light. For example, in college, I majored in sociology and economics. Not because I liked the subjects, but because they gave me the most time for the things I really liked, namely, college dramatics, football and a dive into campus politics. But even there maybe I learned something, because in the subjects I got poor marks.

Whereas, in dramatics, I copped off the lead in most of the plays. In football, I won three varsity sweaters. And in politics, I managed to corral a job that netted me about $250.

Young Ronald Reagan: Success is where the heart is

Point being that success, for me, is where the heart is. And my heart was in dramatics, football and politics. After college, I got a job as a sports announcer, and eventually, I worked up to broadcasting many of the biggest sports events.

Ronald Reagan - Family man - 1942

The job wasn’t very important at first, but before long, I woke up to find myself broadcasting sports events for which the sponsors paid my station hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. This meant that folks were listening to me, lots of folks.

And they listened to me, I know, not because I had any experience in broadcasting or any diction, but because I was so keen about those sports events myself that I felt it urgently important that other people know about them, too, and nearly got high blood pressure telling ’em about them.

But all of this doesn’t mean, of course, that you can just sit back like a pink cupid with wings, indulge in some wishful thinking and, presto, you’re important! It’s never enough to love anything, is it, not even a girl? When you propose to a girl, you’ve got to be pretty convincing, use your heart as a mouthpiece. You’ve got to work for the thing you love, you always do.

Which brings me to when I first came to Warner Brothers, to the movies. I was certainly a nobody in, and to, Hollywood. I certainly hadn’t learned to act by being a sports announcer. I wasn’t any collar ad to look at.

Ronald Reagan for Van Heusen Century shirts (1953)
Ronald Reagan for Van Heusen Century shirts (1953)

“All I had in this world was confidence that, with the proper material, I could entertain people. And the only basis I had for this confidence was that I wanted to entertain people more than I wanted anything else. Well, they threw me to the “B’s.” I made twenty to twenty-five “B’s” before I got the part of Gipp in “Knute Rockne: All American.”

ALSO SEE: When Knute Rockne’s plane crashed, the football legend died with 7 others (1931)

Thanks to some good advice from a guy named Pat O’Brien, I played those “B’s” as if they were “A’s.” You see, the boss only goes by results. If I do a part carelessly because I doubt its importance, no one is going to write a subtitle explaining that Ronald Reagan didn’t feel the part was important, therefore he didn’t give it very much.

All my boss knows is what he sees on the film and someday he may look at that particular picture to judge my qualifications for a real film job. It wasn’t until the part of the Gipp came up that I felt, ‘Here is a job I can do.’

It was the first time, during all those four years, that I ever asked for a part. Because you’ve got to be sure, awful sure, that you can do something better than the guys lined up ahead of you before you ask for anything. Quite a few times, before “Knute Rockne,” parts came up in pictures that I thought I’d like to play.

Ronald Reagan as Knute Rockne

In “Dark Victory,” with Bette Davis, for example, they handed me a bit part. I stewed around for a bit, wishing I’d got the part Bogart played in that picture. Then I realized I couldn’t top Bogey in that. It was his dish, not mine. In “Kings Row,” Parris was not for me, but Drake, I think, was. In “Desperate Journey,” Flynn’s spot is his, not mine.

But I knew that I could deliver the Gipp. I knew it because, when I was a kid, George Gipp was my hero, Rockne was my candidate for A Man. There was that love of what I was doing figuring in again.

In addition, I knew I could play football and they wouldn’t have to use a double for me. That part opened a door for me. A few people on the lot knew me by name. The fans started to write in. (Folks, you fixed me!)

Well, then, believe it or not, love walked in again and gave me another boost. Love of a girl this time, love of the girl I married.

One of my handicaps in this business had been that of looking too youthful, because of which I lost a lot of parts, I know. Well, folks don’t think of a guy as completely a juvenile when he has a wife and child!

Officer Ronald Reagan - 1942

I’ve just been told, here at the studio, of two very important parts that were to be mine. They are in pretty big pictures, so I guess I can say my rules work.

ALSO SEE: The truth about Hollywood draft deferments during WW2 (1942)

But I won’t be doing those pictures. Uncle Sam has called me, a Reserve officer in the Cavalry, and I’m off to the war, still true to my two precepts: (a) to love what you are doing with all your heart and soul and (b) to believe what you are doing is important. I love the Cavalry, or I would not have been with it for so long.

And along with a few million other guys, I feel pretty strongly about my country. As for believing what you are doing is important — well, if fighting to preserve the United States and her Allies isn’t important, you name it.

And who knows — maybe when I get back again, “when the world is free,” there will be other good parts waiting for me and for my buddies.

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