October 04, 2017
IN HIS WORDS
Ronald Reagan is one of the most known figures in American history. His speeches have come to embody Republican ideals and his vision for the country is an aim that people today still strive to meet. Though his imprint stretched well beyond the boundaries of the nation’s capital and has continued long past his passing, how much do Americans really know about Ronald Reagan? Even those who hold a secure email address in Reagan’s name may be surprised to learn just who the former president was before he took the Oval Office.The Early Years
Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911, to working-class Democratic parents, Jack and Nelle. Jack supported his family as a salesman, yet struggled with alcoholism. Reagan’s mother was his primary caregiver, balancing raising him and his older brother with community service and volunteer work.
Reagan followed his parents’ involvement in community activities, joining his high school’s football and basketball teams, theater group and helming the student body, while also being an active swimmer and lifeguard. He went on to study at Eureka College, with his hard-working nature shining as he paid his own way by washing dishes and working as a swimming coach.
Reagan’s charismatic personality and distinctive voice earned him a job as a radio sportscaster after college. That position flourished into a successful career covering football and baseball, which paved the way back into acting, which Reagan found a love of in his youth. During a trip to Chicago, Reagan met with a Hollywood casting director from Warner Brothers, who offered him an immediate contract.
From the late 1930s to the 1950s, Reagan appeared in more than 50 films. The diversity of his film career demonstrated his range as an actor; he was cast in comedies, dramas, action flicks and everything in between. He even used his acting chops during his time in the military in World War II, narrating training films. Hollywood also introduced him to actress Jane Wyman, whom he married in 1940; the two went on to have two children together before ultimately divorcing eight years after their wedding.
Reagan later married another actress, Nancy Davis, in 1952 and had two children. After his second marriage, Reagan transitioned his film career into corporate work, as he narrated and acted for General Electric.
During his acting days, Reagan was also politically active. He helmed the Screen Actors Guild for many years, helping lead and shape policy for the national actors’ association. Once a champion of Democratic officials, Reagan was swayed against the party by John F. Kennedy and began supporting Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon. He stumped for Nixon on his first presidential run, delivering more than 200 speeches on his behalf. Reagan officially changed his party affiliation in 1962. He threw his own hat
He threw his own hat in the political ring with a successful bid as governor of California, a role he held for two terms, until 1975. As governor, Reagan solidified himself as a formidable politician, one with the drive to see results and the passion to generate support — a combination that had him next set his sights on the White House.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
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