Reagan Better Than A "B"

A standard Ronald Reagan joke at his own expense was that no one ever accused him of being a good actor until he ran for President. Here's John Meroney making the unusual case that Reagan was better than a "B" actor, but that his conservative politics have interfered with a just assessment of his talent. Describing a dinner in Reagan's honor in 1950, Meroney writes:
In those days, the view of Reagan was far different from today's conventional wisdom about his work in Hollywood. That night at the pink palace on Sunset Boulevard, people were honoring a genuine movie star, labor chief, and accomplished political activist. The Friars Club hosted the evening, but the ambience was far from humorous. The account in Variety describes a "note of seriousness rarely demonstrated at a Friars get-together. This was not a roast." It was unique, "a heartfelt tribute to a real guy." When Al Jolson spoke, he said his wish was that his son would grow up "to be the kind of man Ronnie is." Despite Reagan's enduring popularity with the American people, one would be hard pressed to find that same sentiment among the arbiters in today's Hollywood.
It was Reagan's opposition to Communism as SAG president that destroyed his reputation. Contrary to the popular meme, the blacklist sort of worked in reverse --those who supported Stalin burnished their reputations; those who opposed him sometimes didn't work again.
The perception of Reagan as a failure in the movies began long before he first ran for public office. Its genesis was in the days of the so-called blacklist era '40s and '50s. Those outspoken against communism were disparaged in whispering campaigns. In a town that runs on rumor and hearsay, such innuendo is death. Screenwriters Morrie Ryskind, James McGuinness, and Martin Berkeley have had their critical and historical reputations reduced to footnotes. With few exceptions, the Hollywood anti-communists have been written out of history. John Wayne is one who continues to ride high despite decades of critical assault.

On the other hand, Communist filmmakers such as Ring Lardner Jr., Dalton Trumbo, and Paul Jarrico continue to benefit from Hollywood's own special style of
compound interest. Today their pictures are regarded as masterworks of courageous, path-breaking mavericks. Politics helped their career reputations immeasurably; it poisoned Reagan's. It isn't too farfetched to imagine how Reagan's film career would be appreciated for nuance and genius had he defended the Communists, remained a left-wing liberal, and written a weepy memoir about the "dark days" of the blacklist. Without that kind of track record to buoy his standing, Reagan is relegated to status as a "bureaucrat of McCarthyism, and a short-sided searcher after redness" in David Thompson's influential Biographical Dictionary of Film. [Note to Thompson: The Hollywood Ten were about ten years before Sen. Joe McCarthy's time. --RC2].
Be that as it may, two of Reagan's best films are being pulled out of sawdust or wherever they store old films in an important industry tribute to director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, among others). Apparently some of the celebrities present hissed when Reagan appeared on screen. But read the whole thing.