Years before he was urging Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall (and doing more to promote Jelly Belly sales than any President before or since), President Ronald Reagan had already made a name for himself in Hollywood. But, I’m not here to talk politics. And even though I could be persuaded to talk about jellybeans, I won’t. But a U.S. President who starred in Hollywood Westerns is a topic that is too good for a Western blog writer to pass up on this Presidents’ Day!
“I was raised to believe that God has a plan for everyone and that seemingly random twists of fate are all part of His plan.” ~ Ronald Reagan
Modern movie watchers often overlook Ronald Reagan’s Westerns. I suppose those jokes about Bedtime for Bonzo and “winning one for the Gipper” wiped movies like Cattle Queen of Montana clean out of peoples’ minds. They seem to forget about his background in Western films. Yet, when Ronald Reagan first moved to California, he did so in hopes of starring in Westerns. Howzabout that?
Some people are born cowboys and some people pursue being a cowboy. Ronald Reagan grew up in Dixon, Illinois, and had never mastered the art of riding a horse before his Hollywood days. Ronald Reagan pursued the cowboy persona with the assurance that it was all a part of his grand plan.
The man with a plan did manage to sign a contract with Warner Brothers, although he never became the Western mega-star that he had envisioned. He did, however, film several Hollywood Westerns, which include:
- Santa Fe Trail, 1940
- The Bad Man, 1941
- The Last Outpost, 1951
- Law and Order, 1953
- Cattle Queen of Montana, 1954
- Tennessee’s Partner, 1955
Reagan also appeared in one episode of the television series, “Wagon Train” and eight episodes of “Death Valley Days”.
While Westerns did not make up the bulk of his acting career, they were the films that most inspired him. It is said that his failure to achieve a John Wayne status in Hollywood Westerns is what led him to try politics!
“I’ve often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” ~ Ronald Reagan (by way of Sir Winston Churchill)
Reagan’s critics and fans both acknowledge that he used his Western persona to build his public image. There were photo ops of the man in Western wear clearing brush, riding horses and generally showing a cowboy swagger.
In 1974, Ronald and Nancy Reagan purchased Rancho del Cielo, a 688-acre ranch located near Santa Barbara, California. Rancho del Cielo is located atop the Santa Ynez mountain range. By all accounts, it was the place where Ronald Reagan felt most at home. It served as a backdrop for his Presidential runs and as a retreat for President and Mrs. Reagan, during the White House years. And it was a location for President and Mrs. Reagan to host dignitaries, such as Mikhail Gorbachev, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II. If the walls of the ranch’s adobe house could talk, they would have waaaay more to say than, “Hey, look! We’re talking walls!”
Following their years in the White House, the Reagan’s moved to their home in Bel-Air, California, but they continued to use Rancho del Cielo as their personal retreat. Due to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, former President Reagan last visited the ranch in 1995. In 1998, Mrs. Reagan sold their piece of heaven to Young America’s Foundation.
“You’d be surprised how much being a good actor pays off.”
~President Ronald Reagan
When you stop and think about it, Ronald Reagan’s biography reads like it was the life story of at least three different men. . . combined! He packed a lot of living into one life—actor, president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Democratic governor of California, Republican U.S. Presidential candidate, and eight years in the White House. Somehow, the timeline of Ronald Reagan’s life seemed to suit him, though. He made you see how the jigsaw puzzle pieces fit together to capture the essence of one extraordinary man. One of my favorite Ronald Reagan quotes is, “How can a President not be an actor?” He understood that the pieces fit perfectly—the man who wanted to be a silver screen cowboy and the man who became President.
While Ronald Reagan had a fairly successful career in films, he never did achieve a level of superstardom. He shared an agent with Jimmy Stewart, but his career never took off in the way Stewart’s did. Still, there’s no denying that Ronald Reagan had the most successful Western film career of any U.S. President!
Today we remember President Reagan, and all he did for America. As a reminder, watch the last six minutes of his farewell address, from the Oval Office at the White House on January 11, 1989.
Happy Trails, y’all!