Ronald Reagan was known for his fascinating career — from starting out as an actor to becoming the governor of California and, eventually, the president of the United States. But Ronald’s love for his wife, Nancy, also enamored an entire nation. According to Biography, when Reagan entered the White House, his friend Charlton Heston called the love that the the two had for each other "the greatest love affair in the history of the American Presidency."
The couple endured a very eventful life together as well. Meeting each other while Ronald was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and Nancy was an aspiring actress looking to find work, the two found love from the moment they met. They would then go on to endure the challenges of being in the public eye for all of their lives, the complications that come with being president and first lady, an assassination attempt, and eventually Ronald’s Alzheimer’s in the later years of his life. Through it all, the two never lost their unbridled passion for one another.
Ronald Reagan’s First Marriage
Before Nancy Davis, Ronald Reagan had found love with another actress who he shared the screen with, Jane Wyman. Ronald and Wyman both met when they were cast for the movie "Brother Rat and a Baby" and eventually started dating. Wyman had already been divorced two times before she was with Ronald, according to Wide Open Country. During their marriage, Ronald and Wyman had three children together: Christine (who died after birth), Maureen, and their adopted son Michael.
The two had some serious marital issues from the start. Wyman even attempted suicide because Ronald didn’t want to propose to her out of fear that things were moving too fast, according to the biography "Reagan: An American Journey." As their marriage continued, Wyman believed that Ronald was absent from their relationship and also found him extremely irritating. In 1948, she filed for divorce (via "Reagan: An American Journey").
Love At First Sight
It was after Ronald Reagan’s first divorce that he found love for a young Nancy Davis. In 1951, Ronald was the president of the Screen Actors Guild at the time of peak McCarthyism. During this era, Hollywood was blacklisting actors and workers who were thought to be communist sympathizers, and an actress named Nancy Davis was on that list (via History). And no, not the future first lady Nancy Davis — this Nancy was completely unrelated to Ronald’s future wife, but the name’s purported link to communism did cause the second Nancy trouble when looking for work.
Frustrated, Davis contacted the president of the Screen Actors Guild in an effort to get the name ordeal settled and help get her gigs. That person happened to be Ronald Reagan. The two then fell in love, and Ronald claimed that Nancy saved him from his loneliness (via The Washington Post). The two were married in March 1952, and seven months later, she gave birth to their daughter Patricia "Patti" Reagan (via Biography).
They shared the big screen together
Ronald and Nancy Reagan shared the big screen once — in 1957’s "Hellcats of the Navy." The movie is based on the non-fiction book "Hellcats of the Sea" and follows World War I submarine commander Cmdr. Casey Abbott (Ronald), who leaves nurse Lt. Helen Blair (Nancy) behind for a mission in the Pacfic.
The Department of Defense endorsed the film, which didn’t receive particularly good reviews. Nevertheless, Rebecca Keegan noted in her 2016 Chicago Tribune piece that the movie "previewed decades of devotion." "Nancy spends most of the movie in a starched white nurse’s uniform, her character pining chastely after the commander," she wrote. "Their scenes together are interesting not because of any crackerjack dialogue but because they provide a preview of what would become an iconic marriage through the decades, from Hollywood to the White House to the former president’s final years as an Alzheimer’s victim."
Ronald stared in three more films after — his last being 1964’s "The Killers" — and Nancy appeared in one more, 1958’s "Crash Landing." The same year, the couple welcomed their newborn son, Ronald "Ron" Reagan.
Lovers in Politics
After Ron was born in 1958, Nancy decided to be a full-time mother and housewife (via Biography). Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was continuing his career by working on a show called "General Electric Theater" until he decided to turn to politics in the mid-1960s. In 1966, he ran for California governor and won the election; he ran again in 1970 and was reelected. In the 1976 presidential election, Ronald attempted to become the Republican nominee by challenging the incumbent President Gerald Ford but lost the nomination. In 1980, however, he secured the Republican nomination and beat then-President Jimmy Carter; in 1981, he was inaugurated into office.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan still kept their love alive even while he was busy governing an entire nation, and the two were known to leave love notes everywhere throughout the White House (via Biography). But Nancy’s world was nearly torn apart when her husband survived an assassination attempt. After this, Nancy tried her hardest to make sure that Ronald remained healthy.
Behind the Scenes of the Perfect Family
Even though Ronald and Nancy Reagan had an unbridled love for one another, the rest of the family often felt alienated and dysfunctional, according to the Los Angeles Times. For starters, Nancy and Ronald’s children had no idea that they had half-siblings from Ronald’s first marriage until Michael came to live with the Reagans. On top of that, at first, Nancy and Ronald’s children didn’t know their relation to Maureen until she introduced herself to Patti as her half-sister.
Regardless of that family drama, the children often viewed Ronald Reagan as a distant father. On one occasion, Ronald reportedly didn’t even recognize his own son, Michael, at his graduation after he gave a commencement speech. Patti also accused her mother of being abusive and believed that her parents’ relationship was all about them — they allegedly didn’t pay much attention to their own children (via "The Way I See It").
A Life of Love and Passion
After Ronald Reagan finished his presidency, he and his wife moved back to California, the couple began constructing the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum, and Nancy wrote an autobiography (via Biography). Tragically, in 1994, Ronald was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and for the remaining 10 years of his life, Nancy took care of him. He wrote in a letter to the American people (via Biography), "I wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience."
During former President Ronald Reagan’s retirement, he tried his best to mend the relationships with his children and sadly had to deal with the death of his own daughter, Maureen, after she lived with cancer for five years and died in 2001 (per ABC News). When Ronald died on June 5, 2004, he was surrounded by his children and Nancy, according to the Los Angeles Times. Nancy would go on to live for another 12 years before dying on March 6, 2016. Though Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s life together might’ve not been perfect, it was filled with love and passion until the very end.
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