February 20, 2019
IN HIS WORDS
How Reagan’s Role in Hollywood Politics Prepared Him For the White House
Ronald Reagan had a rather unconventional path to the White House. Instead of being reared in elite circles that were firmly entrenched in Washington, D.C., Reagan instead entered the political sphere through Hollywood.
The eventual presidency of Reagan and Hollywood politics were interconnected, with the Great Communicator’s background as a successful actor preparing him in several ways to ascend to the Oval Office. First, Reagan’s decades of experience in front of the camera allowed him to hone in on his ability to communicate a message, a skill that became integral to his success. His reputation as an outstanding communicator—especially as the country became ever-more reliant on television—served him well as he went head to head in debates with great political minds of the time and, ultimately, when he became president and was tasked with speaking to and connecting with the diverse melting pot that is America.
He also got his feet wet in political organizing in Hollywood. In 1937, as his acting career took off, Reagan joined the Screen Actors Guild, the fledgling union for Hollywood actors. Within four years, he was elected to SAG’s board, later became its vice president and, in 1947, was chosen as the organization’s president. In this role, he quickly went to work advocating on behalf of working actors, who were seeking better regulations for residuals payments. He even organized an industry-wide strike to press for this issue, the first ever in Hollywood, which also resulted in SAG members being eligible for health insurance and a pension.
Through Hollywood, Reagan was introduced to politically active circles of actors and other influencers, propelling his political career forward. The leadership, dedication, and savvy that resulted when Reagan and Hollywood politics collided were a precursor to his later presidency. Once he was elected, Reagan again quickly set to work negotiating for fairness and equality—whether for a right-sided federal budget or on international affairs like the Iran hostage situation, bringing with him the same skill set that made him so successful in Hollywood politics.
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