The Great Communicator - Ronald Reagan

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“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Ronald Reagan during a microphone check, unaware that he was on air. (NPR Audio, NPR.org)

The Russians were not pleased, to say the least. In some of the darkest days of the Cold War, in 1984, no world leader was smiling. The world was on the brink nuclear annihilation. To show humor was a sign of weakness. However, in all the darkness that surrounded the world at this time, one man’s bright smile and wit shined through; Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in 1911 in Tampico, Illinois on February 6th, 1911 to John Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan. His beginnings were tough, like many at the time. John Reagan was a shoe salesman, but also a heavy alcoholic. A counter to his father, his mother, Nelle was a strong advocate in the church. She often kept the peace in the home and was a cornerstone to Ronald’s temperament.

From an early age, Ronald moved several times with his family. They traveled between several towns including a city named Monmouth and Chicago. In 1919 they returned to Tampico where they lived as Reagan progressed through school. At this time, Reagan gained the nickname ‘Dutch’ due to his ‘fat little Dutchman’ appearance and his ‘Dutch boy’ haircut. While at high school in Dixon, Reagan gained two major attributes. First, was his love for sports. He became very involved in physical activities, such as soccer and swimming. Reagan actually became good enough at swimming that he became lifeguard for a local pool, saving seventy seven lives by the time he ‘retired’ from the job. The other major attribute was public speaking. With undiagnosed nearsightedness, Reagan had problems reading from an early age. A writing teacher named B.J. Frazier brought out his talent by making Reagan read his papers in front of the class. This practice became natural to Reagan, giving him the skills he would need, later on in life.

Reagan graduated from Eureka College, majoring in Economics and Sociology. Shortly after graduation, Reagan began to work for various radio stations in the nearby area, in Davenport and Des Moines Iowa. While traveling as an announcer with the Chicago Cubs, Reagan ended up taking a screen test that led to a contract that would last seven years with Warner Brothers. Staring in “Love Is on the Air” in 1937, by the end of 1939 he had starred and appeared in almost 35 films. Known for being an ‘All American boy’, it was said that only Errol Flynn received more fan mail.

During this time, Reagan had been taking a home study course for the Army Reserve and had enlisted as a Private. He quickly made Second Lieutenant in the officer’s reserve corps, in the Army Calvary, in 1937. However, in 1942, Reagan was classified for limited duty only. His nearsightedness hindered him once again in life. Passing over this roadblock with a stride, Reagan transferred through several units until he managed to end up on the First Motion Picture Unit. By the end of World War Two, his unit had produced over 400 films, a majority of which he starred in or narrated. He only managed to make Captain in rank. Having been recommended as a Major, the promotion was dropped due to an excess of officers in the Army after the war.

In 1948, disaster hit struck Reagan hard. The market for jobs was over inflated. He had problems finding a job as an announcer and ended up doing measly jobs for local nightclubs. Then his wife, Jane Wyman, whom he had met during the war, divorced him for reasons known to only Reagan and Wyman to this day. This period is what was described as Reagan’s lowest point in his life. Always upbeat and up-tempo, the normal Ronald Reagan had disappeared, an older, tired man left in his place. Then he met Nancy Davis.

Nancy Davis was an out of work actor, blacklisted by the Hollywood Communist Hunting in 1949. While Reagan had lost his previous wife,...
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