Reagan’s Dad

 

Like to hear from Peter and other Richocheters on this. As a Notre Dame man, I might be thought to favor Ronald Reagan as George Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American.” Yet I’ve always preferred “The Winning Team,” where Reagan played pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander — with Doris Day playing wife Aimee. Last night I saw it again for the first time in many, many years, and found another reason to like it.

As the promo for last night’s screening noted, how could you get more American than a Reagan flick that features Doris Day and is about baseball? Though it takes more than a few liberties with Alexander’s life — the guy who came on after said Reagan was disappointed that Warner Brothers would not go for a more realistic film — Reagan gives a good performance. You see, Alexander had epilepsy, may have suffered lingering effects from the shellshock he experienced in World War II, and caused even more problems for himself when he took to the bottle. Reagan gives a very sympathetic performance of a troubled man.

Now, I come from a long line of what we call practicing alcoholics and nonpracticing alcoholics (we immensely prefer the latter). My dad, who as a child felt the brunt of this, and had every reason to hate boozers, neverthelesss once said to me that in his experience he’d never met an alcoholic who wasn’t a very kind and decent man sober. That seems to me how Reagan played Alexander.

And last night I wondered: Was part of the reason for Reagan’s very sympathetic performance of this troubled man that he was playing his dad?

There are 16 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Contributor
    @judithlevy

    I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do know that I can’t wait to see this movie. Doris Day and baseball, all at the same time?! It went into my Amazon shopping cart ten seconds after I read your post.

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    @MatthewGilley

    I’m going to have to check this out. I’m a die-hard Cardinals fan, and I can’t get enough of the stories of Alexander’s heroics in St. Louis’s 1926 World Series victory over the Yankees (most of which he probably performed under the influence). If I can suggest one slight edit – he would have suffered his shellshock in World War I.

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    @BillMcGurn

    Judith, I’m not a huge Doris Day fan, but she was perfect in this. Matthew, interesting that Grover Cleveland Alexander is more associated with Cards than either Phillies or Cubs. The film fudges the 26 World Series, by having Alexander win the game by striking out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Alexander did in fact strike out Lazzeri with the bases loaded, but that was the 7th inning. Game was won when Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal 2nd. And you’re right about WWI — my fault, not film’s.

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    @AdamFreedman

    Bill, very interesting question. I think that Reagan’s dad might have contributed to his performance in the movie, but then again… it’s so hard to know anybody’s inner life, especially a man like Reagan. Maybe Peter would have more insight? I actually think that Reagan was a much underrated actor. The moment he walked onto the national stage he was belittled as “that bedtime for Bonzo guy,” which I’m sure you’ll agree is unfair. It was only a few years ago that I saw King’s Row, and realized how talented Reagan was.

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    @MelanieGraham

    Hmmm. You lost me at “I’m a Notre Dame man.” Roll Tide.

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    @BillMcGurn

    Melanie, Does it help to say I’m a *disaffected* ND guy?

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    @MelanieGraham

    We are now friends again. xoxo

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    @RobLong

    My favorite Reagan movie is The Killers — it was his last one, I think, and it’s the one where he really plays the heavy. Here he is, President Ronald Reagan, slapping the bejeebus out of Angie Dickinson:

    I don’t know about his acting, Bill, but I think there’ something to the dad stuff. The two most politically successful presidents of recent time are Reagan and (arguably) Clinton, both of whom had often absent, often drunk fathers.

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    @MatthewGilley
    Bill McGurn: Matthew, interesting that Grover Cleveland Alexander is more associated with Cards than either Phillies or Cubs. The film fudges the 26 World Series, by having Alexander win the game by striking out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Alexander did in fact strike out Lazzeri with the bases loaded, but that was the 7th inning. Game was won when Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal 2nd. · Jul 28 at 8:06am

    They probably fudged it knowing that no one in their right mind would enjoy the sight of Babe Ruth hauling himself at top speed toward second base.

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    @JimChase

    I also fully enjoyed “The Winning Team,” although it was a bit surreal for me as at the time I had only perceived Reagan as president before ever seeing his movies. It is the antithesis of say, seeing the current governor of California as anything but an actor.

    Melanie Graham: Hmmm. You lost me at “I’m a Notre Dame man.” Roll Tide. · Jul 28 at 9:04am

    Ms. Graham, ordinarily I would not engage this in the context of the topic of conversation, and I also have no love for ND, however, I am both honor and duty bound to respond. “War Eagle.”

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    @PeterRobinson

    You’re onto something, Bill. Having grown up as the son of an alcoholic was basic–just basic–to Reagan’s entire outlook and temperament. The charm, the acute sensitivity to other people–within moments of entering a room, Reagan would have identified the one person who felt ill at ease, then begun a conversation with him or told him a joke–all this came from studying his father for signs or warnings of shifts in his mood. His fundamental unwillingness to judge anyone harshly–this came from his mother, who taught Reagan and his brother to see their father not as a bad man, but as a man suffering from a terrible illness. And the self-discipline–as an actor, Reagan got to the studio on time, his lines flawlessly memorized, and, as a politician, he always knew his briefs, always rehearsed his speeches–all that came from a determination to subject himself to the self-control his father so obviously lacked.

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    @MelanieGraham

    Jim Chase… War Eagle. Hahahahaha!!!

    Yes, I laughed!

    Aaron………. swoon.

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    @PeterRobinson

    Oh, Urusula, I’ve spent years and years pondering Ronald Reagan. I went to work in his White House when I was just 25–young enough to take the great man’s impression, so to speak–and I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out how he pulled it all off. The serenity, the determination, the ease, the self-assurance–and the traits that made him so remarkable at a distance made him even more impressive, I found, up close. On the impact of Reagan’s alcoholic father, I credit Lou Cannon with informing my thinking. The son of an alcoholic himself, Lou is insightful on this in his bio of Reagan, and Lou and I have discussed Reagan’s relationship with his father at some length over the years. (If you have an appetite for this, you could always take a look at my White House memoir, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. You can pick up a used copy on Amazon for cheap.)

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    @AaronMiller
    Peter Robinson: (If you have an appetite for this, you could always take a look at my White House memoir, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. You can pick up a used copy on Amazon for cheap.) · Jul 29 at 9:19pm

    Done.

    Melanie Graham: Hmmm. You lost me at “I’m a Notre Dame man.” Roll Tide. · Jul 28 at 9:04am

    Congratulations (or condolences)! You’re my new favorite contributor. Rammer jammer.

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    @UrsulaHennessey
    Peter Robinson: The charm, the acute sensitivity to other people–within moments of entering a room, Reagan would have identified the one person who felt ill at ease, then begun a conversation with him or told him a joke–all this came from studying his father for signs or warnings of shifts in his mood. · Jul 29 at 10:51am

    This is a fascinating analysis, Peter. Did you just dash this off, or is this his own opinion of his character traits? I guess I never realized — but it now seems so perfectly obvious — that charm and attentiveness as an adult can, indeed, grow out of a childhood of fear and honing the survival tactic of noticing the little things … hmm. Really interesting.

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    @BillMcGurn

    Peter, Ursula,

    I have an extra copy of Peter’s book, and I will get it in her hands.

    • #16
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