Virtual Tour: Hollywood

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Click and drag your cursor for a virtual tour of the Reagan Museum's exhibit on his years in Hollywood. (From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library.)


Reagan speaks about General Electric
Taft Schreiber, who headed television activities for MCA, knew I was adamant against doing a TV series. But in 1954, he came to me with a proposal: The General Electric Company was in the market for a new television program, and he wanted to propose a weekly dramatic anthology in which I would only act several times a season but serve as the host every week.

I agreed to do it and thus was born the General Electric Theater, which for eight years at nine o'clock on Sunday nights produced what I think were some of the finest programs to emerge from the period that show business historians now refer to nostalgically as the "Golden Age of Television." Each Sunday, the GE Theater offered a different story with a different cast, and virtually every Oscar winner in Hollywood showed up in one of our plays.

At first, all I did was walk the assembly lines at GE plants, or if it didn't interrupt production, I'd speak to them in small groups from a platform set up of the floor of the factories; I'd tell them a little about Hollywood and our show, throw it open to questions, then move on to another plant.

About a year or two after the tours began, the GE representative who always accompanied me told me I was scheduled to speak to a groups of company employees who had been working on a local charity fund-raising project. I think everybody expected me to get up and tell a few Hollywood stories as usual and then sit down. But instead, I decided to give a speech about the pride of giving and the importance of doing things without waiting for the government to do it for you. I pointed out that when individuals or private groups were involved in helping the needy, none of the contributions were spent on overhead or administrative costs, unlike government relief programs where $2 was often spent on overhead for every $1 that went to needy people.

Those GE tours became almost a postgraduate course in political science for me. I was seeing how government really operated and affected people in America, not how it was taught in school.

From Ronald Reagan's autobiography An American Life, New York : Simon and Schuster, c1990.

Reagan speaks about Hollywood
Saturday afternoons in Dixon meant matinees at the movie house on Main Street. Sitting there watching the flickering heroics of silverscreen cowboys like Tom Micks and William S. Hart as they rode into the sunset, I developed a love of movies that would take me all the way to Hollywood.

On April 20, 1937, I signed a contract with Warner Brothers. In my film debut, I played a small town radio announcer. How's that for type casting. But over the years I did play in my share of westerns and comedies and dramas and mysteries, even a couple of musicals.

But there are two pictures which stand out in my mind above all the rest. In Knute Rockne, All American, I played football great George Gip. Now the gipper only occupied one reel of the picture, but from an actor's point of view it was a near perfect part. A great entrance, action in the middle, and a deathbed scene in the grand tradition of Hollywood. "Rock, someday when the team's up against it, (breaks are beating the boys), ask them to go in with all they've got. Win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, but I'll know about it and I'll be happy."

But the performance I'm most proud of and the one that meant the most to my career was in a picture called "King's Row". In this one I played a character who has both his legs amputated by a doctor. The scene in which I had to wake up and find my legs gone provided me with the toughest and the most rewarding assignment of my acting career, and the title for my first book of memoirs.

Well, I guess I found the rest of me. My better half, you might say, when I married Nancy, and the rest of my life work in the realm of public service. But my days in the picture business have left me with some wonderful memories, and I still like nothing better than curling up with my best girl and a good old movie on a Saturday night.

The Films of Ronald Reagan
1. Love is on the Air
2. Hollywood Hotel
3. Swing Your Lady
4. Sergeant Murphy
5. Accidents Will Happen
6. Cowboy From Brooklyn
7. Boy Meets Girl
8. Girls on Probation
9. Brother Rat
10. Going Places
11. Secret Service of the Air
12. Dark Victory
13. Code of the Secret Service
14. Naughty but Nice
15. Hell's Kitchen
16. Angels Wash There Faces
17. Smashing the Money Ring
18. Brother Rat and a Baby
19. An Angel From Texas
20. Murder in the Air
21. Knute Rockne-All American
22. Tugboat Annie Sails Again
23. Santa Fe Trail
24. The Bad Man
25. Million Dollar Baby
26. Nine Lives are Not Enough
27. International Squadron
28. Kings Row
29. Juke Girl
30. Desperate Journey
31. This is the Army
32. Stallion Road
33. That Hagen Girl
34. The Voice of the Turtle
35. John Loves Mary
36. Night Unto Night
37. The Girl From Jones Beach
38. It's a Great Feeling
39. The Hasty Heart
40. Louise
41. Storm Warning
42. Bedtime for Bonzo
43. The Last Outpost
44. Hong Kong
45. She's Working Her Way Through College
46. The Winning Team
47. Tropic Zone
48. Law and Order
49. Prisoner of War
50. Cattle Queen of Montana
51. Tennessee's Partner
52. Hellcats of the Navy
53. The Killers

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