Ronald Reagan as actor

Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan.  In the articles commemorating the day, it is evident that even liberal scholars have come to appreciate the man and his presidency.

The Washington Post published a feature on “Five Myths about Ronald Reagan” by his biographer Edmund Morris.  I got a kick out of this one:

1. He was a bad actor.

Well, yes and no. Most of the movies he made as a Warner Bros. contract player are unwatchable by persons of sound mind. When he was president, it was easy to laugh at them. The spectacle of the leader of the free world, a.k.a. Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft, deploying an enormous ray gun against an airborne armada was especially hilarious in 1983, the year he announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, that vaporizer of foreign nuclear missiles. “All right, Hayden – focus that inertia projector on ‘em and let ‘em have it!”

Even when Reagan believed he was acting well, as in “Kings Row,” he betrayed infallible signs of thespian mediocrity: an unwillingness to listen to other performers and an inability to communicate thoughts. Now that he is dead, however, one feels an odd tenderness for the effort he put into every role – particularly in early movies, when he struggled to control a tendency of his lips to writhe around his too-rapid speech.

Ironically, he was transformed into a superb actor when he took on the roles of governor of California, presidential candidate and president of the United States. Then, as never in his movies, he became authoritative, authentic, irresistible to eye and ear. His two greatest performances, in my opinion, were at the Republican National Convention in 1976, when he effortlessly stole Gerald Ford’s thunder as nominee and made the delegates regret their choice, and at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1985, when he delivered the supreme speech of his presidency.

I asked him once if he had any nostalgia for the years he was nuzzling up to Ann Sheridan and Doris Day on camera. He gestured around the Oval Office. “Why should I? I have the biggest stage in the world, right here!”

via Five myths about Ronald Reagan.

Post your Reagan tributes, critiques, and nuanced evaluations here.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Richard

    I like Morris’ last line: “Lucky for him he wasn’t hampered by Jimmy Carter’s intelligence!” And now Reagan is being held up as a hero by some on the left who derided him as a dunce during his presidency.

  • Richard

    I like Morris’ last line: “Lucky for him he wasn’t hampered by Jimmy Carter’s intelligence!” And now Reagan is being held up as a hero by some on the left who derided him as a dunce during his presidency.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I see something more sinister in the Left’s sudden interest in Ronald Reagan. They are currently trying to paint him as “the Great Conciliator,” who brought America together,or some such, rather than the effective denouncer of dangerous liberal policies that he was.

    Historical revisionism about Ronald Reagan is but the latest cynical ploy to get America to quit bickering over (the Left’s) policies.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I see something more sinister in the Left’s sudden interest in Ronald Reagan. They are currently trying to paint him as “the Great Conciliator,” who brought America together,or some such, rather than the effective denouncer of dangerous liberal policies that he was.

    Historical revisionism about Ronald Reagan is but the latest cynical ploy to get America to quit bickering over (the Left’s) policies.

  • Carl Vehse

    After winning the 1976 GOP nomination and giving his acceptance speech, Gerald Ford invited Ronald Reagan (who had run a very close second) to appear with him at podium and to say a few words to the convention (and the TV audience). Reagan’s short impromptu speech left delegates realizing they had nominated the wrong man. That was corrected in 1980.

  • Carl Vehse

    After winning the 1976 GOP nomination and giving his acceptance speech, Gerald Ford invited Ronald Reagan (who had run a very close second) to appear with him at podium and to say a few words to the convention (and the TV audience). Reagan’s short impromptu speech left delegates realizing they had nominated the wrong man. That was corrected in 1980.

  • kerner

    If anybody wants to see a great film starring Ronald Reagan, I recommend “The Hasty Heart”, co-starring Patricia Neal.

  • kerner

    If anybody wants to see a great film starring Ronald Reagan, I recommend “The Hasty Heart”, co-starring Patricia Neal.

  • DonS

    The left has a habit of lifting up “great Republicans” of the past in an effort to denigrate the Republicans of the present, as Mike says above @ 2. Reagan was vilified by the left during his presidency, just as George W. Bush was during his. Now, I’m not saying that doesn’t also happen in the other direction (I’ve seen similar comparisons between Clinton and Obama written by those on the right), but we are talking about Reagan right now.

    What is more telling to me than faint praise from a liberal Post writer is that Reagan’s presidency is currently regarded by the public as the 6th best in history. With a bullet, I believe. His optimism and clarity of thought was an incredible contrast with Carter’s “malaise” and consistent message that America was past its peak. Obama has tried to emulate elements of Reagan’s style to revive his presidency. Unfortunately, it only works if you have a positive message to convey.

  • DonS

    The left has a habit of lifting up “great Republicans” of the past in an effort to denigrate the Republicans of the present, as Mike says above @ 2. Reagan was vilified by the left during his presidency, just as George W. Bush was during his. Now, I’m not saying that doesn’t also happen in the other direction (I’ve seen similar comparisons between Clinton and Obama written by those on the right), but we are talking about Reagan right now.

    What is more telling to me than faint praise from a liberal Post writer is that Reagan’s presidency is currently regarded by the public as the 6th best in history. With a bullet, I believe. His optimism and clarity of thought was an incredible contrast with Carter’s “malaise” and consistent message that America was past its peak. Obama has tried to emulate elements of Reagan’s style to revive his presidency. Unfortunately, it only works if you have a positive message to convey.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I loved his performance in King’s Row. When someone is that engaging, he is not mediocre. If that is mediocrity, I’d like to see more of that variety.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I loved his performance in King’s Row. When someone is that engaging, he is not mediocre. If that is mediocrity, I’d like to see more of that variety.

  • Pingback: Ronald Wilson Reagan « YOU DECIDE

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  • Tom Hering

    “[Reagan's] optimism and clarity of thought was an incredible contrast with Carter’s ‘malaise’ and consistent message that America was past its peak.” DonS @ 5.

    No doubt about it. Denial is an easier sell than realism.

  • Tom Hering

    “[Reagan's] optimism and clarity of thought was an incredible contrast with Carter’s ‘malaise’ and consistent message that America was past its peak.” DonS @ 5.

    No doubt about it. Denial is an easier sell than realism.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    aids came on the scene in 1984. reagan never once mentioned it.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    aids came on the scene in 1984. reagan never once mentioned it.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    http://old.nationalreview.com/murdock/murdock200312030913.asp

    It appears he mentioned it in a press conference in 1985. The reference to the State of the Union address in 1986 is inaccurate, however. From what I read elsewhere, he mentioned it that month in another venue.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    http://old.nationalreview.com/murdock/murdock200312030913.asp

    It appears he mentioned it in a press conference in 1985. The reference to the State of the Union address in 1986 is inaccurate, however. From what I read elsewhere, he mentioned it that month in another venue.

  • NavyMom

    I still cringe whenever I hear or read any comments by Edmund Morris, the “official” Reagan biographer. I loathed his unreadable bio about Reagan (“Dutch”), especially when compared to the brilliant 3-part bio he wrote about Theodore Roosevelt. His treatment of Reagan in “Dutch” was snarky; whereas his reverence for TR was obvious. I’m still waiting for a great bio of Reagan that will do him justice.

  • NavyMom

    I still cringe whenever I hear or read any comments by Edmund Morris, the “official” Reagan biographer. I loathed his unreadable bio about Reagan (“Dutch”), especially when compared to the brilliant 3-part bio he wrote about Theodore Roosevelt. His treatment of Reagan in “Dutch” was snarky; whereas his reverence for TR was obvious. I’m still waiting for a great bio of Reagan that will do him justice.


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