Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
- Randolph Scott, Virgina City, 1940. Errol Flynn’s very B-Western was a good one to miss.
- Cary Grant, Arsenic and Old Lace, 1941. How could crucial, global decisions be left to a President who refused one of the most memorable comedy roles? Grant actually hated it, feeling he played it way over the top. (Director Frank Capra joined the US Army Signal Corps during the production and the movie was not released until 1944).
- Gary Cooper, Sergeant York, 1941. Warners announced Coop as the war hero of 1918 - without a finished script, much less a director - with Henry Fond and James Stewart as reserves. And then decided to test Reagan - on November 15, 1940. After Fleming, Hathaway, Koster, Taurog, Vidor and Wyler passed, Howard Hawks proved quite satisfied with Coop.
- Richard Travis, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941. The big tussle was over the titular Sheridan Whiteside (John Barrymore, Robert Benchley, Charles Coburn, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, Fredric March). Reagan, however, was the only other guy seen for Burt Jefferson.
- Bruce Bennett, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, 1947. Because of his Warners contract, Reagan had first crack at Curtin - and passed. To the relief of writer-director John Huston. “I didn’t want him. God, he’s a bore. And a bad actor. Besides, he has a low order of intelligence. With a certain cunning. Not animal cunnning - human cunning. Animal cunning is too fine an expression for him. He’s inflated, he’s egotistical, one of those people who thinks he’s right. And he’s not right. About anything.”
- Robert Young, And Baby Makes Three, 1948. The pitch: a woman about to wed her lover finds she is pregnant by her ex-husband… Yeah, well, that probably explains why Reagan refused to be loaned by Warner to Columbia Unless it was because Henry Levin was directing…
- Joel McCrea, Colorado Territory, 1949. Like everyone at Warners, Reagan was testing for director Raoul Walsh’s second version of High Sierra. McCrea only realised it was a Western when Walsh issued his usual horse-opera order: “Don’t get your hair cut!”
- Gary Merrill, All About Eve, 1949.
- Errol Flynn, Rocky Mountain, 1949.
Bored with his roles - “I could telephone my lines in” - Reagan was promised a Western... if he found one! He did - by The Searchers author Alan Le May - but he had quit Warners by the time Ghost Mountain became Rocky Mountain. “I’m going to pick my own pictures. I could do as good a job as the studio has done.” And if not? “Well, I can always go back to being a sports announcer.” Or something else.
- Burt Lancaster, From Here To Eternity, 1952.
- William Daniels, The Graduate,1967. Earning the first $1m salary for a director, Broadway’s Mike Nichols came to town and saw, tested, auditioned almost everyone of the required age groups for the titualr Ben, his girl and of course, Mrs. Robinson.No such competition for Dustin Hoffman’s dad. Ronnie was too busyrunning for Governor of California... with his eyes on the White House,
- Lee Tracy, The Best Man, 1963. Ripley time! Believe It Or Not… Reagan was turned down by studio suits saying that the future, 1981-1989 40th US president… did not have “that presidential look”! (This was Tracy’s 37th and final cinema movie).
- Hugh Gillin, Back To The Future, 1990. The ex-President “reluctantly” passed on Mayor Hubert. He loved the first of the trilogy - cited in his 1986 State of the Union address: “As they said in the film Back to the Future: Where we're going, we don’t need roads." Ronnie often asked the White House projectionist to wind it back to Doc Brown’s disbelief that an actor could become president... Reagan also noted that the Hill Valley cinema was screening his Western, Cattle Queen of Montana, 1954.
- Lloyd Bridges, Joe versus The Volcano, 1990. For his helming debut, Moonstruckscenarist John Patrick Shanley considered wooing The Great Communicator back to his old job. A serious idea “met with such consternation by certain parties.” Nancy Reagan, also being wooed back to cinema, said her job was “to protect Ronnie from himself. He has a big Irish heart and trusts everybody.” Or to put it another way… According to his agent Meyer Mishkin, Lee Marvin only ever badmouthed one actor - Reagan, his co-star in The Killers, 1963. “He’s a jerk.”