Briefly Noted: The Bonzo Years


The 40th president of the United States (along with his simian co-star) finally gets his due as a matinee idol in Marc Eliot's Reagan: The Hollywood Years (Harmony Books). Often used as a punch line, Reagan's screen career was much more than a Bonzo movie; indeed, he was one of the highest-paid actors in the studio system.

Eliot documents in compelling detail how Reagan's transformation from an FDR Democrat to a Goldwater Republican was tightly linked to his experiences within the film industry, always a hotbed of leftists and limousine liberals (such as James Cagney, who funded the pro-communist Abraham Lincoln Brigades in the Spanish Civil War). Reagan, writes Eliot, "holds two unique places in American history, one as a minor cultural figure, the other as a major political one." In explaining how those two characters influence each other, he not only has broken new ground but has written a compulsively readable about the ongoing intersection of popular culture and politics.