It is a fairly safe assumption that if not for a career change which, ironically enough, took him out of the motion picture industry, Ronald Reagan would not rank among Hollywood's best-known stars; a genial if not highly skilled actor, he made few memorable films, and even then he rarely left much of a lasting impression. Of course, in 1980 Reagan became the President of the United States, and with his political ascendancy came a flurry of new interest in his film career. His acting work -- especially the infamous Bedtime for Bonzo -- became the subject of much discussion, the majority of it highly satirical. Still, there is no denying that he enjoyed a long and prolific movie career. Moreover, he remains among the first and most famous actors to make the move into politics, a trend which grew more and more prevalent in the wake of his rise to power.
Born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, IL, Ronald Wilson Reagan began his acting career while studying economics at Eureka College. He broke into show business as a sportscaster at a Des Moines, IA, radio station, and from there assumed the position of play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs. By the mid-'30s, he relocated to Hollywood, signing with Warner Bros. in 1937 and making his screen debut later that year in Love Is on the Air. Reagan made over a dozen more films over the course of the next two years, almost all of them B-movies. In 1939, however, he won a prominent role in the Bette Davis tearjerker Dark Victory, a performance which greatly increased his visibility throughout the Hollywood community. It helped him win his most famous role, as the ill-fated Notre Dame football hero George Gipp in the 1940 film biography Knute Rockne: All American. At the film's climax he delivered the immortal line "Win one for the Gipper!," an oft-quoted catchphrase throughout his White House tenure.