The life of Nancy Reagan
Former first lady Nancy Reagan, who has died of heart failure at the age of 94, considered promoting the political, physical and mental well-being of Ronald Reagan to be her most important role. With their 1952 marriage, they launched one of history’s most extraordinary partnerships — she became his closest adviser, wielding her influence to defend his interests and advance his goals.
At Girls Latin School, Nancy discovers a passion for acting. Her first memorable lead is in a senior class production of a George S. Kaufman play, “First Lady,” a comedy about an ambitious woman who schemes to get her husband elected president. One of Nancy’s lines was, “They ought to elect the first lady and then let her husband be president.”
Nancy Davis lands her first credited role at MGM — a minor part in “The Doctor and the Girl” (referred to in a Los Angeles Times article by its earlier title, “Bodies and Souls,” the Maxence van der Meersch bestselling novel on which the film is based).
Nancy Davis has dinner with the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan, on the suggestion of film director Mervyn LeRoy. She had been shocked to find her name mistakenly listed on Hollywood’s blacklist and wants Reagan’s assurance that her career won’t be affected. The two start dating soon after — and once they marry, Nancy would “remember that dear Mervyn every night in my prayers,” she told The Times in a 1966 interview.
Nancy Davis lands her first major role, in “The Next Voice You Hear” opposite James Whitmore, elevating her from comparative obscurity to rising-star status. Times critic John L. Scott called the movie “ingenious and practically unprecedented, in its way, in movie history” and praised Whitmore and Davis’ “great naturalness.”
Nancy Davis is cast in “The Plymouth Adventure” with Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr (though Davis and Kerr’s roles are later re-cast). Times writer Edwin Schallert says of Davis at the time: “Davis has been scoring because of ‘The Next Voice You Hear’ and will probably enjoy stellar success from here on.”
Spotlighted in the “Names in the News” section of the Los Angeles Times — the first time she’s mentioned in the paper as Nancy Reagan — for finding “an old, old use for the futuristic colored-lighting arrangement in her dining room,” wrote Don Vann. Put people you like in pink light, Nancy suggested, but shine the amber spot on people you don’t — because it “ages them 20 years at the flick of a switch,” she said.
Ronald Reagan and Nancy pose with their month-old son, Ron Reagan, and their daughter Patti, 5 1/2, shown in June 1958 file photo.
At the Statler Hilton in downtown Los Angeles, Ronald Reagan announces his candidacy for governor of California.
Nancy moves the family out of the 90-year-old Victorian mansion provided by the state — because she felt it was a “fire trap” — and into a spacious suburban home. The move attracted some controversy.
Asked if she wants her husband to run for president, Nancy replies: “Our plans don’t go any further than Sacramento.”
Nancy Reagan is named The Times’ Woman of the Year.
The California first lady spearheads an effort to build a new governor’s mansion, which would cost about $1 million. “I want that for California more than most anything,” she said. The mansion would be completed in 1975, as Ronald Reagan was leaving office. Jerry Brown refused to live in it, and the mansion— much maligned by critics — remained unoccupied until the state sold it in 1983.
Ronald Reagan, after serving two terms as California governor, officially announces his candidacy for president. Before a cheering crowd in New York he declares, “I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself.”
In a stunning landslide over incumbent Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan is elected the nation’s 40th president.
Ronald Reagan takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. Standing at the new president’s side, dressed in red, is the new first lady, Nancy Reagan.
First Lady Nancy Reagan performs at the White House press corps’ annual Gridiron Dinner. Dressed as a bag lady, she sings a song set to the tune of “Secondhand Rose” that pokes fun at her presumed haughtiness. Her self-deprecating spoof won rave reviews in the next day’s newspapers.
The first lady gathers the wives of 18 heads of state to “compare and trade ideas” in an unusual, two-day conference on drug abuse. She says illicit drugs “rip right through the moral fiber of our countries.”
Donald Regan, the president’s former chief of staff, reveals in his memoirs that Nancy relied on an astrologer to set the dates for her husband’s public appearances.
In her book, “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan,” the former first lady settles a few scores. The memoir is presented as a series of replies to other people’s books and articles — though highly readable, it is still a pastiche of comments on the controversies that dogged her over the years, from astrology to the Iran-Contra Affair.
In rare remarks aimed at influencing national public policy, former first lady Nancy Reagan tells a star-studded crowd that stem cell research must be pursued “to save families from the pain” of debilitating illnesses, such as the Alzheimer’s disease that her husband suffers from. “I am determined to do whatever I can,” she said after receiving a standing ovation at a gala fundraiser, sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In the past, she had discreetly made her views known.
Former President Ronald Reagan dies at his home in Bel-Air. He was 93.
Nancy Reagan spent 16 years as the political wife in the public eye and nearly that many behind the gates of their Bel-Air home, caring for the former president and protecting his image — a sick man’s wife out the public gaze.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan attends the funeral service at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert for former first lady Betty Ford.
Nancy Reagan dies
Nancy Reagan, whose devotion to her husband made her a formidable behind-the-scenes player in his administrations and one of the most influential presidential wives in modern times, dies of congestive heart failure. She was 94.
Sources: Times research, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Foundation
Credits: Jason Kehe, Maloy Moore