Reagan, Ronald

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Reagan, Ronald (Wilson)

(1911–  ) fortieth U.S. president, movie actor; born in Tampico, Ill. A graduate of Eureka College (Ill.) (1932), he worked as a sportscaster for several radio stations in the Midwest. Discovered by a Hollywood agent, he joined Warner Brothers, making his debut in Love is On the Air (1937); he appeared in a total of 52 feature movies, his best roles being in Brother Rat (1938), Dark Victory (1939), and Kings Row (1941). He made training films for the Air Force in World War II. He served as a spokesman for the General Electric Company (1952–62), also hosting and occasionally acting on the television series, General Electric Theater; from 1962–65 he was host of the television series, Death Valley Days. Shifting from his Democratic Party affiliation, he moved into Republican politics and with the 1964 presidential election he emerged as a Goldwater Conservative. In 1966 he was elected governor of California; in his two terms (1967–75) he carried out a generally conservative agenda. In 1968 and 1976 he failed in bids for the Republican presidential nomination; successful in 1980, he easily beat Jimmy Carter in the election with promises of reducing taxes and government regulation while building up the military; four years later he defeated Walter Mondale by a landslide. In office (1981–89) Reagan fulfilled those promises with varied results, including a snowballing national deficit, a shaky financial infrastructure, and an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. In foreign affairs, he maintained an adversarial approach to the U.S.S.R. and communism everywhere. With little interest in or command of the details of government, he appealed to Americans with his genial manner and laissez-faire approach to the country's problems. Meanwhile, members of his administration, with at least his tacit approval, pursued secret and illegal arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, an enemy of the U.S.A. Reagan departed office still immensely popular, leaving the future to determine the value of his legacy.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.