Remembering Nancy Reagan's brief Hollywood career

LOS ANGELES -- Before Nancy Reagan became a fixture in the national consciousness and on home television sets, the late first lady also shared the big screen with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner, Glenn Ford and Ray Milland in her short career as a Hollywood actress in the post-war era.

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After a few years on Broadway, Reagan, then Nancy Davis, moved to California and signed a seven-year contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, leading to roles in 11 features -- her last of which was the 1958 feature "Crash Landing," a middling Fred F. Sears drama about a pilot (Gary Merrill) reflecting on his troubled marriage (to Reagan's character) in the midst of an engine crisis over the Atlantic.

She was never the biggest star, but she had her moments in a wide variety of genres from noir to melodrama, often as loving and supportive wives and girlfriends.

THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL (1949)

Nancy Reagan's first big screen role was in director Curtis Bernhardt's drama about a wealthy doctor (Glenn Ford) who defies his family's wishes by opening a practice in a poorer neighbourhood. Reagan played the main character's sister Mariette, who is engaged to a class-lusting physician (played by Warner Anderson).

EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1950)

In this Mervyn LeRoy-directed melodrama about a married couple torn apart by the husband's infidelities, Reagan played Helen Lee, a socialite and best friend to Barbara Stanwyck's wronged wife. James Mason played Stanwyck's philandering husband, one of whose consorts was Ava Gardner. "The ladies all wear expensive garments and the gentlemen drink expensive booze. But that still doesn't elevate the effort above the level of hopeful pretense," wrote New York Times critic Bosley Crowther in his review.

SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950)

After a run of playing mostly wives and girlfriends, Reagan got a particularly meaty and serious role in this Pat Jackson-directed psychological crime thriller about a 6-year-old girl (Gigi Perreau) who loses her memory after witnessing the murder of her stepmother. Reagan played a doctor who endeavours to help cure the girl and makes some critical discoveries about the nature of the murder along the way.

The New York Times said Reagan gave a "beautiful and convincing" performance.

THE NEXT VOICE YOU HEAR ... (1950)

When God starts giving radio broadcasts in this odd little William A. Wellman film, a married couple (James Whitmore and Nancy Reagan) and their 11-year-old son living in suburban Los Angeles are forced to confront their own faith. Reagan was praised for her "delightful" performance as the kind, gentle and very pregnant wife in the film.

NIGHT INTO MORNING (1951)

Reagan plays a widow who saves Ray Milland from his depression and drunkenness after his wife and child die tragically in a fire. Milland and Reagan were both applauded for their performances, but the melancholy story was seen as a bit of a letdown.

HELLCATS OF THE NAVY (1957)

This WWII-set film about a submarine commander charting minefields off the Japanese coast marks the only time Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, already married for five years, shared the big screen. As the land-locked love interest, Nancy Reagan didn't have much to do besides fret though. It's far from a classic -- in fact it's somewhat derided -- but the film remains an interesting document of historical value just by nature of the fact that it features the future President and first lady.



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