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Ronald Reagan Biography (1911-2004.)

For a republication President Ronald Reagan has an interesting pedigree being related distantly to both John Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II. His attraction to Margaret   was instant when they met in the mid seventies and their relationship has been described as 'ideological soulmates but intellectually miles apart'. This was a slight on Ronald whose benign affable exterior concealed a decent brain and quick wit. He was born in Illinois of Irish ancestry and his first job was as a lifeguard during which he saved 77 people from drowning, Reagan would later joke that none of them ever thanked him. He graduated from Eureka College in 1932 majoring in economics and sociology. Reagan had a fine sense of storytelling and acting and whilst working as a radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs baseball games he relied only on ticker tape reports using his imagination and storytelling gifts to flesh out the game. Once in 1934, during the ninth inning of a Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game, the wire went dead. Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both teams gained an ability to foul off pitches) until communication was restored.


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Reagan had a Hollywood career in the 1937 movie Love is On the Air and acted in 19 other films in two years. In 1940 he played the role of George ‘The Gipper’ Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, from which he gained the nickname 'the Gipper' though his favourite film was Kings Row (1942). Other notable films include Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, and Bedtime for Bonzo. From 1935 he was commissioned as a reserve cavalry officer in the U.S. Army and after the attack on Pearl Harbour he was activated and assigned, partially due to his poor eyesight, to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Force. Reagan married actress Jane Wyman in 1940 whom he had a daughter with, Maureen in 1941, and adopted a son, Michael, in 1946. They divorced in 1948 and he remarried the actress Nancy Davis in 1952 with whom he had a daughter, Patti, and a son, Ron. Reagan was a loving devoted husband according to all accounts h is quoted as saying 'I want you to know that Nancy Reagan is my everything'. He moved into television as a host and frequent performer for General Electric Theatre.

 ‘There you go again'

Ronald Reagan began his political life as a Democrat but gradually shifted to became a staunch social and fiscal conservative and began his career in politics as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) from 1947 until 1952, and then again from 1959 to 1960. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Communist influence in Hollywood and kept a watch on actors he considered disloyal and informed on them to the FBI under the code name 'Agent T-10'. In 1966, he was elected Governor of California, and was re-elected in 1970, defeating Jesse Unruh. Among his more notable campaign phrases were to send 'the welfare bums back to work' and 'to clean up the mess at Berkeley.' He fired the University of California and forced the institution to charge tuition for the first time by cutting its budget. During the resultant People's Park protests, he sent 2,200 National Guard troops into Berkeley promising that his policies would not be influenced by the student agitators even 'if it takes a bloodbath'. Reagan also dismantled the public psychiatric hospital system replacing it with what in the UK came to known as 'Care in the Community' but he was at his best politically using sharp quips to undermine his opponents such as in the 1980 election saying, 'are you better off than you were four years ago?'

His victory in that election which came with an 11-seat change in the Senate from Democratic to Republican hands, giving the Republicans a majority in the Senate for the first time in decades was later put down to the concept of 'Reagan Democrats'. At nearly 70 Reagan became the oldest president to enter office and in 1984 he was re-elected in a landslide winning 49 of 50 states and receiving nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. Ronald Reagan portrayed himself as being conservative, anti-communist and expanding the military to those ends, favouring tax cuts and smaller government and being supportive of business interests and tough on crime.

He had good personal reasons as he was the first US President to have an assassination attempt on him whilst in office an incident he jokingly referred to by saying to Nancy 'Honey, I forgot to duck (the bullet).'


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His administration fought high inflation with large tax cuts combined with reductions in social welfare spending a theory that became known as 'Reaganomics.' Reagan forcefully confronted the Soviet Union, marking a departure from the détente observed by his predecessors Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.


His support for anti-communist groups included armed insurgencies against what Reagan considered to be communist governments meant funding for the mujahideen in Afghanistan ('an inspiration to those who love freedom'), the Contras in Nicaragua and Jonas Savimbi's rebel forces in Angola. At the same time paramilitary groups resisting Israeli occupations and left-wing guerrillas fighting US-backed right-wing military dictatorships in Honduras and El Salvador were seen as terrorists. This definition was extended to the African National Congress's armed wing Spear of the Nation and other anti-apartheid militants. A communist coup on Grenada in 1983 led to an invasion which earned him a severe telling off from Margaret though he was helpful to Britain (albeit behind the scenes over the Falklands) and more controversially Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war.

Reagan was known as 'The Great Communicator' using his skills as an actor, live television and radio host, and politician, bringing a folksy charm to the presidency as well as his strong sense of personal optimism. He earned the nickname 'the Teflon (i.e. non stick) president' as no scandal or error seemed to be blamed on him. In 1994 Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and this progressively destroyed his mental capacity, forcing him to live in quiet isolation. Reagan died at his home on June 2004 at the age of 93 of pneumonia.

 Pictures by Daniel Morgernstern