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In the Words of Ronald ReaganThe Wit, Wisdom, and Eternal Optimism of America's 40th President
By Michael Reagan Jim Denney
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Michael Reagan with Jim Denney
All right reserved.
Without question, Dad's acting career prepared him well for politics-but not in the way you might think. The acting profession didn't just teach him how to carry himself on a stage or play to the camera. It prepared him for the presidency in much more subtle ways. Good actors learn early that their craft is not just a game of let's pretend.
I've been in actors' workshops, and I've even done a bit of acting on television-just enough to develop a deep respect for the stage and screen accomplishments of my parents, and enough to know that my place is on radio! A lot of people think acting is about faking it; that it's a bag of tricks used to present an illusion to the camera. People think that acting is nothing more than being able to emote on cue. Wrong, all wrong. Acting-a genuine dramatic or comedic performance-is about finding the truth within, about summoning and revealing thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and convictions with utter genuineness.
Both of my parents saw acting as a process of revealing truth, not creating illusions. My mother, Jane Wyman, would stay in character for days during filming, because that was how she preserved the truth and integrity of her character. Dad rarely had to stay in character, because the roles he played were usually variations on the real Ronald Reagan. He always believed the camera was merciless in detecting insincerity and evasion.
The acting profession also prepared my father for the bad reviews and harsh criticism that are part and parcel of public life. He never complained about the relentless attacks against him and Nancy throughout his years in office. By the time he got to the White House, Ronald Reagan had a very thick skin regarding the many unfair and downright stupid things that were written and said in the press.
Dad was a good actor. In fact, if he had gotten the kind of roles he truly wanted, I think he might have been a great actor. If you doubt me, take another look at his supporting role as George "the Gipper" Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American (1940). Or check out his performance as Drake McHugh in King's Row (1942), in which he gave a brilliant one-take performance capped by the unforgettable line, "Where's the rest of me?!"
For the most part, Dad was typecast as the romantic lead in lightweight pictures. They were not bad pictures. In fact, they were quite entertaining and successful-mostly comedies such as John Loves Mary, The Hasty Heart, and of course, Bedtime for Bonzo. He resigned himself to the fact that he had become (as he put it) "the Errol Flynn of the B movies"-an assessment that prompted Errol Flynn himself to say, "I thought I was the Errol Flynn of B movies!" Perhaps if Dad had gotten the roles he really wanted, he never would have gone into politics.
There's an interesting story about the filming of King's Row. Dad's co-star in the picture was Bob Cummings. Dad and Bob-two very likable, genuinely nice guys-really hit it off and became good friends. Several times on the set of the movie, Bob made a comment that now seems prophetic: "Someday I'm going to vote for this fella for president."
Here are some of Dad's thoughts-both funny and serious-about the profession he enjoyed so much during the first half of his life.
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Someone told my old boss Jack Warner that I'd announced for governor. And Jack thought about it for just a second, and then he said, "No, Jimmy Stewart for governor, Ronald Reagan for best friend."
Campaign rally for Vice President George Bush San Diego, California, November 7, 1988
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Some of my critics over the years have said that I became president because I was an actor who knew how to give a good speech. I suppose that's not too far wrong. Because an actor knows two important things-to be honest in what he's doing and to be in touch with the audience. That's not bad advice for a politician either. My actor's instinct simply told me to speak the truth as I saw it and felt it.
Conversation with speechwriter Landon Parvin, 1988
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During his early, lean years as an actor, Dad once received a telegram from his agent, Bill Meilkjohn, which read: Warner Bros Offer Contract Seven Years, One Year Options, Starting At $200 A Week. What Shall I Do? Dad's immediate reply:
Sign Before They Change Their Minds.
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I saw Knute Rockne, All-American on the late show the other night, and it was so hacked up, my 80-yard run was a 5-yard loss.
Said on various occasions
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In the business that I used to be in, you learn not to stay on stage too long. You learn there's a time you have to exit.
Evansville, Indiana September 24, 1978
Excerpted from In the Words of Ronald Reagan by Michael Reagan Jim Denney Copyright © 2007 by Michael Reagan with Jim Denney. Excerpted by permission.
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