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Reagan: The Hollywood Years [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Marc Eliot
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

9 Sep 2008
The compelling biography of an American icon’s early years–as an aspiring actor, Hollywood star, and family man.

Ronald Reagan was one of the most powerful and popular American presidents. The key to understanding his political success and the remarkable likability and effortless charisma that made it possible lies embedded in his early years as a Hollywood movie star.

Using never-before-published interviews, documents, and other materials, acclaimed writer and biographer Marc Eliot sheds new light on Reagan’s film and television work opposite some of the most talented women of the time; his starlet-strewn bachelor days; his tumultuous first marriage to Jane Wyman and his career-making second marriage to Nancy Davis; his controversial eight years as the president of the Screen Actors Guild; his place in the “Irish Mafia” alongside Pat O’Brien, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, and Errol Flynn; and his friendships with Jimmy Stewart and William Holden, as well as with super-agent Lew Wasserman, who was instrumental in developing the persona that would prove essential to Reagan’s future as a world leader.

Set against the glamorous and often combative background of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Eliot’s biography provides a nuanced examination of the man and uncovers the startling origins of the legend.

“A fresh look . . . [at] the genesis of Reagan’s later public persona.”
New York Times

“Film critic and historian Marc Eliot has dug up even more about young sportscaster ‘Dutch’ Reagan, his journey west to Hollywood, his B-movie career . . . his relationship with super-agent Lew Wasserman, and his rocky marriage to his first wife, actresss Jane Wyman.”
USA Today
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc; Library ed edition (9 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400137780
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400137787
  • Product Dimensions: 16.9 x 16.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,535,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great 11 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Get to know about the early life that moulded one of the more effective politicians and leaders of recent history.Weather you agree with the politics or not.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Dishonest 16 Sep 2008
By sybucket - Published on
I have just completed Marc Eliot's biography of Ronald Reagan and the Hollywood years. Frankly I wish I hadn't bothered. It was a wast of time. Mr. Eliot has nothing good to say about most of the people in the book. He disparages Mr. Reagan at every opportunity, denegrating him as an actor constantly, and when he is forced to admit that Reagan did pretty good as an actor in KINGS ROW and KNUTE ROCKNE, it is with the sly suggestion that it was an accident and had nothing to do with talent.

Mr. Eliot contradicts himself from page to page. As he is denegrating Reagan's abilities, at the same time he points out that Reagan was the first Hollywood star to sign a Million doller contract.

They don't give Million doller contracts to actors that can't deliver.

I would suggest that Mr. Eliot knows nothing about acting or the actual process of making movies. He talks about YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and the last shot of that film, the one where Cagney joins the soldiers marching past the White House singing "Over There". He seems to suggest that the "scenery falls away and somehow becomes the place that the songs are singing about"....HUNH?? He further states that the "scene looks less real that it is".
I have no idea what he's talking about.

In the same section he talks about the "aging Irving Berlin" being involved in THIS IS THE ARMY. Berlin was 55 in 1943. Apparently Mr. Eliot thinks this is a crime.

He calls LAWRENCE OF ARABIA a "Hollywood picture" It wasn't. It was Produced by indipendent producer Sam Spiegel who was Austrian and Directed by David Lean who was English and the only American actors of note in the picture were Anthony Quinn and Arthur Kennedy.

He suggests that THE YEARLING, book by Marjeory Kenyon Rawlings and the subsiquent film, was suggested by Walt Disneys BAMBI! - Apparently Mr. Eliot never read Miss Rawlings autobiography, CROSS CREEK. If he had he would know that the story of the Yearling (a deer) was an incident Miss Rawlings was witness to in Florida in the early years of the 20th century. Disney and BAMBI had nothing to do with it!

In the early part of the book he establishes that Mr. Reagan has poor eyesight and needded glasses. Yet on page 208 he denegrate's Mr. Reagan for wearing glasses to a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Commission ,"He wore.....thick glasses, ...they were less an aid than a prop to make himself look more sincere..."
Lets see now...I wear glasses so I can see, and read, and not bump into things. Is there any chance Reagan wore them for the same reason? ...Hmmm, I wonder...

This book has been poorly researched with no apparent thought to fact checking. Page 230 he tells the tale of Nancy Davis going to New York to be an actor and using family connections through Spencer Tracy to get a contract at MGM. He states Tracy was in New York at the time in a play called THE RAGGED TRUTH......Less than one minute on the Internet Broadway Data Base would have reveilled the actual name of the play to be THE RUGGED PATH, directed by Garson Kanin, which Kanin talks about in his book TRACY AND HEPBURN.

He denegrats John Wayne calling TRUE GRIT "cartoonish". He suggests that James Stewart, David Niven, Clark Gable and others had trouble re-starting their careers after World War II.
James Stewart did another 70 pictures including IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in 1946, immideatly after the war. He went on to do such great pictures as WINCHESTER '73, HARVEY, REAR WINDOW, SPIRIT OF ST. LOUS and ANATOMY OF A MURDER....David Niven received an Academy Award for SEAPERATE TABLES and did GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE PINK PANTHER, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and 80 more pictures before his death.

This book is very poorly edited. There is a half-page quote from actor Arthur Kennedy on page 165. I read it 5 times and still don't know what it means or why it's their. It contribuited nothing to the narrative that I could see.

He states that When Reagan and Davis got married they honeymooned at the.... "Old Mission Inn in Riverside, a small, coountryfied upscale motel". I spent a month at the Mission Inn making a picture and it is NOT a motel! Suits go for $600-800 a night and the place is huge. A mix of French Chateau/English Mannor House/Italian/Oriental archeture. The entire film company stayed there for a month with plenty of room left over for the ordinary guest.

He suggests that in 1953 Henry Fonda's career had "fallen off a ledge" In 1953 Fonda was starring on Broadway in MR. ROBERTS.

I have saved the two most outrageous statements for last. He suggests that during WWII no Hollywood star ever had to worry about being in the line of fire. If they were still alive this would come as a big suprise to Henry Fonda who found himself under fire by Japan off Saipan and was awarded the Bronze Star, Eddie Albet was shelled at Tarawa, Robert Montgomery saw action not only in the Solomons in the Pacific but was off Cherborg on D-Day and received a Bronze star with V device for Valor,Wayne Morris (I admit, not a big star) was an ace in WWII winning 3 DFC's and 2 Air Medals. And then there is Brig. General James Stewert who led B-17 bombers over Germany.....

I think the greatest flight of fancy in this book is when the author suggests that it was the "Mob" that got Frank Sinatra the part in FROM HERE TO ETERNERY. In her own words, Ava Gardner in her book AVA, says that she got with Harry Cohn's wife Joan and the two them nagged Harry into giving Frank a test. Eli Wallich had been cast but could not do it and so Frank was cast. This is confirmed in the book KING COHN. The "Mob" had nothing to do with it and the Author's further assertion that Reagan was the model for Johnny Fontain in THE GODFATHER is so absurd as to be laughabile! It's ridiculas and the author offer's not a shred of proof but wild conjecture.

This book is a mishmash of conjecture, arm chair psychology, and bad research. I belive the author has an political agenda to denegrate Reagan at every opportunity through inundo and suggestion. It is a dishonesy book and if I could get my money back I would.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccuracies Abound 30 Sep 2008
By Lynda M. Calhoun - Published on
The small inaccuracies pile up one upon another until the reader is compelled to conclude that either Mr. Eliot did not do much worthwhile research or was in such a hurry to publish that he did not care whether the reader might know the difference between fact and inaccuracy. To a film buff, the gaffs are, at first, comical, and then annoying. Several instances: at one point he actually identifies Billy Wilder as Lew Ayres in a photo caption...did he ever look at a photo of Ayres? Or Wilder? And Jimmy Stewart was not an eligible bachelor but already married to Gloria when Ronald and Nancy were married. Further, "The Yearling" is not about a little girl but a little boy, for goodness sake. Brings into question his opinions (which occur throughout the book) on people and events.

Mr. Eliot really does not like his subjects and seems to go out of his way to place them in an unfavorable and insulting light. Don't bother to purchase the book. In our troubled economic times, save your money instead.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad from the start 29 Oct 2008
By major - Published on
I will not repeat the findings of other reviewers and repeat all the erroneous statements in the book. Let me just say no matter if you love Reagan or loath him, you should not waste your time on this book. It goes out of its way to attack Reagan and it deals in half-truths and innuendo. There are better books out there, this is not worth the effort. Its obvious the author has a political agenda.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Shoddy Job 19 Oct 2008
By Jane Pensive - Published on
The author claims he "pursued my PhD in film history" at Columbia University, where a film with Ronald Reagan was never shown. First, instead of just pursuing the PhD he should have finished it, and secondly, just because Columbia never showed him a film with Ronald Reagan doesn't mean he never should have watched one on his own. After reading this poorly researched book on Reagan's Hollywood years I am convinced the author never watched any of the classic films to which he refers. If I had paid for this book instead of receiving it as a gift, I would be furious for wasting my money. There are so many inaccuracies as to make all of the author's assertions suspect.

Previous reviewers have pointed out quite a few of the factual problems with the book, so I will just add a few observations.

The most elementary mistake for a film "scholar" to make is the graphic one where he not only misidentifies Billy Wilder as Lew Ayres in a photo from the Academy Awards party at which Wilder's classic "Lost Weekend" won Best Picture of 1946, but the also claims that Reagan looks "tense" because Wyman (standing next to Wilder and co star Ray Milland) is having an affair with the misidentified Lew Ayres. Talk about embarrassing. The author is reading something into a picture which can't be further from the truth since Ayres is nowhere to be seen at the table. This creates tremendous doubt that any of the author's analyses of the events of Reagan's star years can be valid.

We know Eliot never saw Wyman in "The Yearling," because no one could forget Claude Jarman Jr's astounding performance as Jody a young boy who becomes attached to a deer which creates further hardship in the lives of his hardscrabble family. Maybe Eliot thinks every character named Jody must be girl, so he didn't have to waste his time screening the film. We also know he never saw the "Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, a classic farce written by Sidney Sheldon. Eliot argues that Cary Grant successfully romanced Shirley Temple in "Bachelor," while the stiff, no-talent Reagan couldn't pull off this feat in "That Hagen Girl." Baloney! Teenaged Shirley Temple presented problems for older leading men, as she should have. No one wants to see the icon of American girlhood defiled by an older man. In "Bachelor," Grant is pursuing Myrna Loy, who Eliot states is Temple's mother in the film. Actually, Loy is Temple's older sister who happens to be a judge. Grant is sentenced to pretend he is dating Temple who has a high school crush on Grant. At no time does Grant successfully romance Temple in the film, nor does he try to. Although Eliot implies "That Hagen Girl" helped ruin the careers of both Temple and Reagan, both went on to make more films with Temple growing bored in her adult career, and Reagan continuing frustrated as a B movie actor. An interesting point of comparison exists betwen Temple and Reagan as both went on to successful careers in diplomacy and politics respectively. Eliot doesn't even seem to notice. As for Eliot ridiculing Reagan's good taste in not wanting to marry Temple in the end of "That Hagen Girl," no other leading man took on that chore. Shirley's films in the forties cast her opposite her husband, John Agar, and other young actors while she appeared in those same films with Henry Fonda, John Wayne and other older leading men as their daughters, or nieces, or friends of her family.

Finally, Eliot concludes without even trying to analyze how Reagan's Hollywood career contributed to his success as the statesman who singlehandedly defeated the Soviet empire without firing a shot. Given his failings as an author maybe it is just as well. The sad thing is he has other books out on Grant, and James Stewart. One can only imagine the falsehoods in those books, but I am not going to waste my time to find them.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable but rather casual with the facts 6 Mar 2010
By Edison McIntyre - Published on
First, I should note that I am not an admirer of Ronald Reagan as a politician or president. He may have been one of the most beloved American presidents of all time, but his legendary status as the icon of modern "conservatism" is based largely on myths regarding his political principles, competence, and integrity. As a film actor, however, Ronald Reagan deserves more consideration and respect than he often gets from either film historians or popular culture generally. His political detractors have often deliberately and unfairly ignored or denigrated his movie work, based on his worst films (especially when his career was in decline in the 1950s). In 1941, however, Reagan was on his way to becoming a major film star at Warner Brothers studios. Had he not had to put his career on hold for Army service in World War II, Reagan might have become a star with the popular image and sustained box-office appeal of James Stewart, Joel McCrea, or William Holden. And, one wonders, if he had achieved that kind of success in films, would Reagan ever have entered politics?

I had looked forward to reading Marc Eliot's account of Reagan's Hollywood career, and I give him credit for creating a highly readable book. But as I read, I detected enough factual errors and questionable assessments, especially in regard to the film industry, to make me wonder whether Eliot and his editors had employed a fact-checker and perhaps a little outside critiquing before publication.

*Pg. 44 - "With each of the eight major studios producing on average seventy-five features and a hundred shorts each week ... ". That's 600 feature films a week, or 31,200 a year - a preposterous figure. Another, seemingly more accurate figure for Hollywood's annual production quantity is cited later in the book. .

*Pg. 66 - Hollywood gossip queen Louella Parsons "was being syndicated nationally in all six hundred Hearst newspapers ...". Her column may well have been distributed to that many newspapers via the Hearst syndicate, but William Randolph Hearst himself owned only 30 papers or so.

*Pg. 68 - There's a single paragraph about Reagan making "Sergeant Murphy" in 1938, but no mention that the film is about a contemporary Army cavalryman, reflecting Reagan's own service (at that time) in the horse cavalry as an Army reservist.

*Pg. 68 - Referring to Reagan's 1938 "B" movie,"Accidents Will Happen," "costarring fading A actress Gloria Blondell," Eliot is confusing Gloria -- in just her second film -- with her older sister Joan Blondell, a major Warner Brothers star in the early `30s.

*Pg. 115 - Referring to Reagan's breakthrough role as George Gipp, "the Gipper," in "Knute Rockne, All American," Eliot states that, in this film, "football served as an obvious and powerful metaphor for war" and that, at the time the film was released in the fall of 1940, "America's entry into [World War II was] all but inevitable, ...." Really? At the time "Rockne" was made, the United States was beginning to aid Britain in its war against Nazi Germany, but America's direct involvement was still being hotly debated and was hardly "inevitable," except in hindsight. Eliot also overlooks that the film, rather than celebrating football as combat, includes a scene in which Rockne proclaims football and other competitive sports played in the United States as a substitute for the militarism taught in other societies.

*Pg. 148 - "Movies that dealt with the harsh realities of [the Depression] years ... came only as those years ... were fading with America's inevitable entry into World War II. Forties 'noir' is, in reality, Hollywood's decade-late stylistic depiction of the country's mood during the Depression." Eliot ignores films like "Gabriel Over the White House," "Wild Boys of the Road," "Gold Diggers of 1933," "Stand Up and Cheer," "Our Daily Bread," "My Man Godfrey," "Dead End," and scores of other films made before 1939 that addressed or at least referred to the issues raised by the Great Depression that started in late 1929. Hollywood hardly ignored the Depression before the early 1940s, and the "noirish" films of the '40s were far more a reflection of post-war fears and uncertainties than they were reflections of the nation's mood a decade earlier.

*Pg. 344 - Referring to Will Hays, the former U.S. postmaster general who in 1922 became the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), Eliot states that "In 1934, Hays was replaced by Joseph Breen, ..." Hays actually served as president of the MPPDA until 1945; Breen became, in 1934, the first director of that group's Production Code Administration (PCA), responsible for enforcement of the production code. Although the PCA was often referred to as the "Hays Office," Breen did not replace Hays as MPPDA president but instead worked for twenty years as the industry's chief censor. (Eric Johnston took over from Hays as president of the renamed Motion Picture Association of America, the MPAA, in 1946.) This is pretty basic U.S. motion picture history; I'm surprised that Eliot was not more specific about the relationship between Hays and Breen.

The book contains a great deal about Reagan's role in Hollywood's labor-union issues in the 1930s and 1940s (mainly during his six years as president of the Screen Actors Guild), but much of the information about this important aspect of U.S. film history is attributed to Eliot's own book, "Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince," so to check on his sources you have to have that book available. There's also an unnecessary amount of padding - information about certain Reagan co-workers and other Hollywood personalities, as well as about the film industry itself, that often is simply a list of names and films, or other extraneous info. Eliot also goes into some glib psychological evaluation of Reagan, especially the man's relationship with his alcoholic father.

"The Hollywood Years" follows Reagan as far as 1964, the year he made his last feature film (some of his "Death Valley Days" TV episodes premiered as late as October 1965) and the year that he started to become a serious political player in the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater. A nationally televised speech by Reagan on Goldwater's behalf convinced several California Republicans that Reagan could successfully run for governor. As I said, this is a highly readable book, but the discrepancies I could detect make me wonder how many other errors there are in the book that I don't have the detailed knowledge to find. For someone who has written so many books about Hollywood history and American popular culture, Eliot seems remarkably cavalier about getting his facts right. Supplement this book with Stephen Vaughn's "Ronald Reagan in Hollywood" (1991) and Thomas W. Evans's "The Education of Ronald Reagan" (2006).
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