He was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. He attended Eureka College and studied economics and sociology. He also played football and acted in school plays. After graduation, he became a radio sports announcer, and in 1937 he became a Hollywood actor when he signed a contract with Warner Brothers. He would go on to star in 53 movies from 1937 to 1957.
Some of the movies he starred in were: Love is on the Air (1937), Dark Victory (1939), Murder in the Air (1940), Knute Rockne, All American (1940), Million Dollar Baby (1941), Bedtime for Bozo (1941), Kings Row (1942), Desperate Journey (1942), Storm Warning (1951), Hellcats of the Navy (1957), and The Killers (1964).
During WWII he took a break from acting too join the Army Air Force. He was assigned to the film production unit. Here he acted and narrated military training films such as Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter (1941) and Beyond the Line of Duty (1942), the latter of which earned an academy award for short film.
With the exception of his time working for the U.S. Military, all his movies were made with Warner Brothers. When his movie roles started to dwindle, he turned to TV, where he hosted General Electric Theater (1953-1962) for eight years on CBS. He retired from acting in 1965.
The Screen Actors Guild is a labor union for actors. He joined this in 1937, became a member of the union's board in 1941, and became president in 1947. He would work to get rid of the influence of Communism on Hollywood. He would step down from this role in 1954.
He was a staunch liberal or Hollywood Democrat. He supported FDR, and actually would later claim that FDR was a great hero to him. He would later become a Kennedy Democrat. In 1962, he switched to the republican party, and would later quip: "I did not leave the democratic party, the democratic party left me."
What he meant by this was that he was basically opposed to the democratic party's shift to progressive politics. John F. Kennedy was the last Conservative Democrat. When he was assassinated, the Progressive Lyndon Baines Johnson became President, and Democrats became the stalwarts for the Progressive Movement.
During the 1964 Presidential Campaign (on October 27), Reagan made a speech on behalf of the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, titled, "A Time Of Choosing. He stressed the importance of a smaller government. He said:
"The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."This speech would set him up nicely for a career in politics, and as a leader of the conservative movement.
California republicans loved his political views and his charisma, and they nominated him to become their nominee for the 1966 campaign. He was elected by a margin of over a million votes over two-term democrat Governor Pat Brown. He would be re-elected in 1970. The party wanted him to run again in 1974, although he chose not to become a three-term Governor.
As governor, he inherited a $200 million deficit. He proposed a 10% across the board tax cut, and this was met with protests by students who claimed that he should "tax the rich." He would end up raising taxes and freezing all hiring of new workers.
In 1967, only six months into his first term, he signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which was a liberal pro-abortion bill that would make abortion legal in the State of California. The annual abortion rate in California would soar from 518 legal abortions in 1967 to 500,000 in the remaining years of his 8-year term as Governor of California. This would end up being Reagans, "Darkest hour," according to National Review.
Reagan later would claim that abortion was an issue he hadn't given much thought to, so when he was presented with the bill, he didn't think twice about signing it. However, in his defense, abortion at that time wasn't the issue that it is today. In the end, however, Reagan would more than makeup for this, and would ultimately become what many refer as the father of the pro-life movement, according to National Review.
Another thing he was noted for during his campaign for governor was to "clean up the mess at Berkely." He was referring to anti-war and anti-establishment protests at Berkely. During the spring of 1969, he sent the National Guard to Berkeley, where they stayed for 17 days. This established Reagan a peace restoring hero to conservatives, although the left saw him as a trigger-happy cowboy.
In 1970 he won re-election. In 1971, he worked with a democratically controlled California Congress to get a welfare reform program passed. This was generally regarded as a success and established his ability to work with Congress to get his agenda passed. In 1973, he announced a budget surplus, and gave taxpayers a rebate, showing that his policies were successful at balancing the budget.
In 1975, Reagan decided to run for President of the United States against incumbent Republican Gerald R. Ford. Reagan put up a very good fight and came close to winning. However, in the end, after the establishment fought hard for the establishment candidate, Ford became the republican nominee by a delegate count of 1,187 to Reagan's 1,070. Ford, however, would go on to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Carter inherited a recession that was highlighted by high inflation and high unemployment. Carter decided it was more important to fight inflation than unemployment, so he hired Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Volcker decided to put the economy into an intentional recession by decreasing the money supply and raising interest rates to 15%.
This, coupled with Carter's refusal to cut taxes and regulations, resulted in the worse economic recession since the Great Depression. This, coupled with Carter's incompetent foreign policy that resulted in the Iran Hostage Crisis, set the state up nicely for a Ronald Reagan shot at the White House during the 1980 Presidential election cycle.