The Past Three Decades: Years of Crisis - Years of Triumph
|Digital History ID 3366|
When he was elected president in 1980, Ronald Reagan was already well known to the American people as a movie actor and television announcer. He had risen to celebrity status from extremely modest beginnings. Born in 1911, Reagan, the son of a shoe salesman, grew up in a succession of small Illinois towns. After a stint as a sportscaster at a radio station in Des Moines, IA, Reagan landed a Hollywood screen test in 1937. He went on to make 50 films, most of them B movies. Reagan is often remembered for his performance in Knute Rockne, All American (1940). He played George Gipp, the Notre Dame halfback, whose dying words were, "Win one for the gipper." After World War II he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and in 1954 he turned to television, hosting "GE Theater" and "Death Valley Days."
In politics Reagan started out as a liberal staunchly supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. As head of the Screen Actors Guild, however, he became concerned about Communist infiltration of the labor movement in Hollywood. Reagan was catapulted into the national political spotlight in 1964 when he gave an emotional speech in support of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater: denouncing big government, foreign aid, welfare, urban renewal, and high taxes. Two years later, he successfully ran for governor of California, promising to cut state spending and crack down on student protesters.
In the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan drew strong support from white southerners, suburban Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians, and particularly, the New Right. The New Right was a confederation of disparate political and religious groups bound together by their concern over what they believed were the erosion of values in America.