Presidential History Eliot on Reagan in Hollywood


At FreedomFest this July, Reason's Matt Welch spoke with Marc Eliot, author of Reagan: The Hollywood Years. The book chronicles Ronald Reagan's journey from sportscaster to actor to union president to politician.

Unlike critics who make sport of Reagan's Hollywood output (Bedtime for Bonzo, anyone?), Eliot documents how backlot politics helped transform the once-proud "New Deal Democrat" into the embodiment of Goldwater conservatism. His tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild was punctuated by episodes such as the time when he received death threats by one of Al Capone's henchmen over a union dispute and his starring role in the negotiations that led to actors receiving residuals. And while Reagan's film career ultimately petered out, he was for a time among the highest-paid contract actors of his day.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Zach Weissmueller. Edited by Anthony L. Fisher. About 9.15 minutes.

Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 limited-government enthusiasts and libertarians a year. spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks.

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  1. I may have missed it, but has there been anything new on Mr. Epstein and the DC Taxicab Commission fiasco?

  2. It isn’t just Reagan’s union leader pedigree that seems so odd in the context of today’s labor movement…

    Go look at George Meany’s tenure as head of the AFL-CIO. There was a time when American labor leaders saw trade barriers as a way for foreign governments to stick it to American workers–and that’s couldn’t be more different from the way they see it today…

    It’s disgraceful what union leaders have done to the American labor movement since the days of Reagan and Meany.

    Blue collar union labor turned out for Reagan in 1980–and they turned out even bigger for him in 1984.

    I think Reagan understood America’s union membership better than their own labor leaders did.

    1. There was a time when, despite their common emphasis on labor theory, the labor movement maintained an independence from the Democratic party.

      Actually, you know what?…Compare that with the anti-war left and the Democratic party, today.

      1. I took over the labor movement.

        The Wisconsin protests gave me an excellent venue to remind people that I exist!

  3. Ah, open shirt, chain, tinted specs, and the Big Hair…
    Expecting a call from the 70s any minute now.

  4. I challenge any nitwit who has ever actually seen Bedtime for Bonzo to say it was a bad movie. It is actually quite clever and well made. The plot involves a scientist (Reagan) who is convinced that nature is all important and the nature versus nurture debate. To prove it, he sets out to raise a chimp and teach it human morals. The whole thing is a fairly effective send up of “all ills come from society” liberals.

    It is not the greatest movie. But it is hardly Plan 9 From Outer Space either. It deserves better than to be a cheap punchline.

    1. Sorry that is “nurture is all important”.

      1. Bedtime for Bonzo is cited as much for the irresistible (to morons) alliteration as anything else. Of course, having a chimp in the cast helps when it comes to political name-calling.

        1. The studio printed up publicity stills of Reagan and his chimp co-star. Reagan used to autograph them, “I’m the one with the watch.”

        2. Carson was making just as much fun of the movie’s director, Fred de Cordova (who went on to direct The Tonight Show), as he was of Reagan.

          Reagan isn’t terrible, and I think his always-optimistic personality works well in the role. (Indeed, that personality works especially well in all those B-movies he made at Warner Bros. back in the late 1930s.) But it’s not easy to work with animals, so it really takes somebody of the caliber of Cary Grant in Monkey Business to pull off working with chimps.

    2. My Netflix account gives it 4 stars, so it can’t be that bad. Sadly, it’s available on DVD only and I only have streaming.

      I can’t believe no one from Reason had the idea to include the movie poster in this post.

      Reagan with a chimp? Imagine the alt-text possibilities.…..65&bih=524

    3. it IS a decent movie. it’s certainly better than a heck of a lot of crap that comes out of hollywood now (or then)…

      i guess in the pantheon of man acting with ape movies, it’s also pretty good. it’s certainly better than any which way but loose imo (and i am a big eastwood fan).

      of course, i’d rather see eastwood with an ape than with sondra locke. bleccccccch

  5. Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 limited-government enthusiasts and libertarians a year.

    By my count, that would be more than all of them. So someone was gate crashing.

  6. 5.) Frank and beans ? Rep. Barney Frank is known to emit unpleasant noises and foul smells. And then he farts. TheDC’s Jeff Poor reports: “Live television has its drawbacks. A big one is that you never know when an accident might happen. Exhibit A: Monday night’s ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on MSNBC. While talking to Maddow’s audience about jobs and unemployment, Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, might have accidentally let one rip, so to speak.” Watch the video and judge for yourself. Right after Frank says, “We’ve gotta get some jobs,” he follows through by creating one for his dry cleaner.…..n-live-tv/

    1. No two ways about it. He didn’t even try to finesse it. Even with the mute on you can tell he’s farting. He leans left to lift his right cheek to vent, and let’s it rip.

      1. You know what? Props to that guy.

        1) For just not giving a shit, he let one out on nation television and didn’t lose a beat. I’m not a fan of the guy, but props.

        2) That fart is far more eloquent than anything that ever came out of Maddows mouth. Hell, they should make a sound byte for the beginning of her show to let us now the kind of quality programming she will give us.
        “It’s the Rachel Maddow [FART] Show”

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  8. Consider if Carter had bet Reagan in 80 or if Mondale had been elected in 84? What if Clinton had lost to Dole in 96?

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