Ronald Reagan was 26 years old when he arrived in Hollywood in 1937. His Midwestern identity was shaped in a world of family ties, homespun morality, and patriotism. However, his early years were not totally idyllic. His father's alcoholism was a continual source of family shame and anxiety.
Reagan attended Eureka College, where he played football and joined the student dramatic society. After college, his first success was as a radio sports announcer in Iowa. His genial personality, his belief in his own worth, and his refreshing optimism were traits helped make this initial success and were those that formed the basis of the persona that would soon begin appearing on motion picture screens throughout the country.
Reagan was given enough substantial film roles to establish his presence and gain recognition. His marriage to actress Jane Wyman was the kind of glamorous Hollywood romance that attracted the attention of the movie-going public, but he never evolved into a solid leading man that drew box-office appeal. Most of the time he was cast as the second male lead, or "the best friend." Even his most celebrated role, the ill-fatted Gipper, was part of a larger story: the biography of Rockne, the renowned Notre Dame coach, who was played by Pat O'Brien.
However, it was Reagan's film persona of the best friend that became the secret of his political success. He did not appeal to the voters as a lofty star beyond their reach, but as an old friend--warm and trusting.
Reagan's years in the film industry also gave him many anecdotes that he used to amuse his listeners during political discussions. Even after he became president he continued to draw upon material from his Hollywood reservoir.
Reagan's relaxed style of management became his trademark, and that, too, can be traced to his film years. Under the system established by the major studios, movie stars were pampered and had almost everything do...