The filmography of Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004), the 40th President of the United States, includes many motion pictures and television episodes. Reagan's acting career began in 1937 when he contracted with Warner Bros. from his absence during World War II, Reagan would make most of his movies with Warner Bros. With the studio, he starred in such films as Dark Victory, Knute Rockne, All American, and Kings Row – which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943.
During World War II, Reagan served in the Army Air Force, assigned to the film production unit. He acted and narrated military training films such as Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter and Beyond the Line of Duty, the latter of which later won the Academy Award for Best Short film. He returned to acting after the war. In 1952, he married fellow actress Nancy Davis.
When his film roles began to dwindle in the mid-1950s, Reagan turned to television, where he hosted and acted in a number of programs, most notably as host of the General Electric Theater for eight years on CBS. Reagan retired from acting in 1965, and he became active in Republican politics, being elected as Governor of California in 1966, and later as President of the United States in 1980.
Reagan, born in Tampico, Illinois, moved to California and took a screen test in 1937 that led to a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. He spent the first few years of his Hollywood career in the "B film" unit, where, Reagan joked, the producers "didn't want them good, they wanted them Thursday". While sometimes overshadowed by other actors, Reagan's screen performances did receive many good reviews.
Before Reagan's acting career took off, he was a sportscaster for a radio station in Davenport, Iowa for WOC.  Many people attributed his success in radio to his wide imagination and a powerful voice. After two years with WOC, Reagan transferred to a NBC radio outlet, in Des Moines, Iowa. He created a name for himself in the sports casting world with recreations of Chicago Cubs games and sports cast of Big Ten football games.  While in California covering The Cubs spring training, Reagan met a movie producer, for Warner Brothers, he was offered a screen test to replace a previous actor. Warner Brothers took a chance on Ronald Reagan, landing him his first movie role.
His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love Is on the Air, and by the end of 1939 he had already appeared in 19 films. In 1938 he starred alongside Jane Wyman in Brother Rat. They married in 1940, having a child, Maureen, and adopting a son, Michael. The marriage ended in divorce in 1949.
|None of you ever knew George Gipp. It was long before your time. But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame... And the last thing he said to me – "Rock", he said – "sometime, when the team is up against it – and the breaks are beating the boys – tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper... I don't know where I'll be then, Rock", he said – "but I'll know about it – and I'll be happy."
|– Pat O'Brien as Knute Rockne
Before Santa Fe Trail in 1940, he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American; from it, he acquired the lifelong nickname "the Gipper". In 1941 exhibitors voted him the fifth most popular star from the younger generation in Hollywood. Reagan's favorite acting role was as a double amputee in 1942's Kings Row, in which he recites the line, "Where's the rest of me?", later used as the title of his 1965 autobiography. Many film critics considered Kings Row to be his best movie, though the film was condemned by The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. Although Reagan considered Kings Row the film that "made me a star", he was unable to capitalize on his success because he was ordered to active duty two months after its release, and never regained the "stardom" which he had previously enjoyed.
After the outbreak of war, Reagan, an officer in the Army Reserve, was ordered to active duty in April 1942. Upon the approval of the Army Air Force (AAF), he was transferred to the AAF and was assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit (officially, the 18th AAF Base Unit) in Culver City, California. In January 1943, he was sent to the Provisional Task Force Show Unit of This Is The Army at Burbank, California. He returned to the First Motion Picture Unit after completing this duty and was promoted to Captain. By the end of the war, his units had produced some 400 training films for the AAF including Beyond the Line of Duty, The Rear Gunner, and This is the Army.
Following military service Reagan resumed his film work. In 1947 Reagan was elected to the position of president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). He was subsequently chosen by the membership to serve seven additional one-year terms, from 1947 to 1952 and in 1959. Reagan led SAG through eventful years that were marked by labor-management disputes, the Taft–Hartley Act, House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings and the Hollywood blacklist era. Reagan continued to become more involved in politics by promoting SAG's values and being the President of SAG.
He met fellow star Nancy Davis in 1950 and they married two years later; the marriage resulted in two children: Patti and Ron. Reagan continued his acting career, making films such as The Voice of the Turtle, Bedtime for Bonzo, The Winning Team and Cattle Queen of Montana. Though an early critic of television, Reagan landed fewer film roles in the late 1950s and decided to join the medium. He was hired as the host of General Electric Theater, a series of weekly dramas that became very popular. His contract required him to tour General Electric (GE) plants 16 weeks out of the year, often demanding of him 14 speeches per day. Eventually, the ratings for Reagan's show fell off and GE dropped Reagan in 1962. Reagan, a liberal Democrat, soon began to embrace the conservative views of General Electric's officials, in particular those of Lemuel Boulware. The GE executive championed the core tenets of modern American conservatism: free markets, anticommunism, lower taxes, and limited government. After General Electric Theatre, Reagan became a politician. Reagan's entertainment career both aided and hurt his political career. Critics suggested that actors such as Reagan had no place in politics because of a lack of knowledge. However Reagan's image of a strong, true American, which stemmed from his roles in films, drew support for his campaigns. The idea of Reagan being an actor who so easily stepped into politics also helped him gain support from voters who were tired of traditional politics. In 1980 he was elected President of the United States.
Throughout his film career, his mother often answered much of his fan mail. Ronald Reagan was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when the walk was dedicated on February 9, 1960.
Trailer from Love is on the Air
starring Reagan, 1937
Screenshot from Dark Victory
Reagan and Jane Wyman in Brother Rat
Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn in Santa Fe Trail
Reagan in Kings Row
. Trailer from the 1942 film.
Ronald Reagan and Joan Leslie in This is the Army
, 1943 (clip)
Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis in 1957 in Hellcats of the Navy
Ronald Reagan introduces the GE Theatre
episode, "The Honest Man", 1957 (clip)
Publicity photograph for the premiere episode of anthology series The Dick Powell Show
, "Who Killed Julie Greer?" Standing, from left: Ronald Reagan, Nick Adams
, Lloyd Bridges
, Mickey Rooney
, Edgar Bergen
, Jack Carson
, Ralph Bellamy
, Kay Thompson
, Dean Jones
. Seated, from left, Carolyn Jones
and Dick Powell
(for releases not mentioned in the "General" sources)
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- ^ "Target Tokyo." Victory in the Pacific. PBS. Accessed October 9, 2008.