From Publishers Weekly
For 30 years, Ronald Reagan was dedicated to a film and television career. Yet Eliot (who has written bios of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, among others) claims previous studies of the former president gloss over this influential era. To be able to fully comprehend Reagan the man, one must also understand Reagan the actor. With that charge, Eliot chronicles Reagan's film career, from his numerous B pictures, such as Girls on Probation
, to the image-enhancing Knute Rockne All American
, which contained Reagan's future political rallying cry: Win one for the Gipper. Interspersed with tales of Hollywood casting maneuvers, Eliot takes a no-holds-barred approach to Reagan's personal life, whether his numerous affairs, his rocky marriage to Jane Wyman or Nancy Davis's single-minded determination to marry him. Eliot also examines his time heading SAG, the actors' union, which proved prescient. By 1962, Reagan was out of work, reduced to giving his Price of Freedom speech to interested groups. His delivery at a Goldwater fund-raiser was so inspiring that it jump-started his second career, clearing the way for the Central Casting version of what an American president should look like. Extensively researched, this biography is an accessible and eye-opening read. (Oct.)
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Eliot, the author of biographies of Hollywood legends Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, tackles another legend. Ronald Reagan didn’t earn his legendary status in the movies, but it’s that phase of his career—as a radio, motion-picture, and television performer—on which this volume concentrates. Eliot separates fact from fiction regarding some famous Reagan show-biz stories—his vamping during a blackout while broadcasting a baseball game via telegraph reports; his losing out on some career-making parts, such as the lead in Casablanca—but this isn’t one of those biographies that just hits the high points and ignores everything else. This is a carefully written, solidly documented biography of a working actor, a “company man” who did what the studio told him because he knew he was lucky to be in show business. Eliot gives Reagan’s professional and personal lives equal weight, supplying valuable context for his future life as a world leader. Many books have shown us what sort of man Ronald Reagan the politician was; this one shows how he got that way. An important addition to Reagan lore. --David Pitt