15 Things You Didn't Know About Ronald Reagan

By: James Sheldon
A tombstone with a quote from Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan was a cheerful man. VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm / Getty Images

He was a man who made good in the realm of popular culture before he tried his hand at politics. Like few before or after him, he reached the pinnacle of both “career” fields. Ronald Reagan was successful as an actor, and well respected in Hollywood during the golden age of cinema. He even served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild. As the 1950s came to a close, Ronald Reagan the actor was interested in being Ronald Reagan the policymaker. Enjoy 15 facts about Ronald Reagan you probably didn’t know.


15. Jelly Belly

Many are familiar with the Ronald Reagan jelly beans story. If not, it goes a little like this: Ronald Reagan had a pipe smoking habit, and though he felt the activity was okay for an actor, he thought it was a poor reflection on a politician. In order to kick the smoking habit, he started eating jelly beans. Contrary to popular belief, he was not a big fan of jelly beans. Regarding the old school jellies available, he preferred licorice. This got him through his gubernatorial duties in California, and when he was elected President of the United States, he discovered a new brand of jelly beans: Jelly Belly. This changed Ronald’s tune about the “beans,” and the Jelly Belly company sent tons of jelly beans to the White House over the years. There are many shots of White House meetings that include containers of jelly beans.


14. Unabashedly Romantic

In 2000, the late Nancy Reagan published a memoir entitled I Love You, Ronnie, which included the letters from President Reagan to his wife, Nancy. President Reagan was adored by many of his supporters, and his candor was one of his greatest strengths as a government official; however, nobody knew him like Nancy. Her decision to publish many of the letters he had written to her painted him in an exceptionally romantic life. He once boasted to his wife on Valentine’s Day that other people who were stuck only enjoying a specific day were of the ordinary variety. He claimed to live a “Valentine’s life.” Oh, Ron. What a softie. The two individuals who met while focused on careers as actors would go on to become the first couple of California, and then the United States.


13. He Was Exceptionally Generous

Continuing on the soft heart of President Ronald Reagan, Nancy presented the public with more insight during his waning years. While serving in executive offices, the former Governor of California and President of the United States would receive hundreds of letters from constituents. You can imagine the boatload of letters that would arrive at the White House daily. Nancy joked that Ronald was a notorious check writer, and this was because he would write personal checks to individuals who would write him about their personal financial struggles. And these weren’t necessarily checks for a week’s worth of groceries. He was known to drop $4,000 or $5,000 checks into the mail for certain people. He was also known to call upon the Air Force to aid in the transport of children who were experiencing medical emergencies.


12. The Success of Bedtime for Bonzo

Have you ever seen Bedtime for Bonzo? Sweet mercy, what a romp. What is it about a live action film that stars a primate…? They always seem to sell well at the box office, and carve out a niche in the cult classic category. Bedtime for Bonzo fits the bill. The film became even more popular 29 years after its 1951 release when Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and it holds up pretty well in the 21st century. The gem of this mid-century release was the ideology: environment has more to do with behavior than heredity. Within the film, Ronald plays Professor Peter Boyd, an anthropologist hopeful to prove his environmental influence theory carries significant weight. Reagan passed on the sequel, Bonzo Goes to College, because he didn’t find it believable, because Bonzo goes to college and joins a football team.


11. He’d Have Traded Everything to Play Baseball

Ronald Reagan was a baseball lover, and he did everything in his power to shine the spotlight on the sport as America’s pastime. He even dedicated May of 1983 as National Amateur Baseball Month. This was an effort to get kids out onto the diamond. It worked. Baseball enjoyed a spike in popularity, and the baseball card trade climbed toward the peak of its popularity. Ronald Reagan joked that he loved the game of baseball so much, he’d enjoy it if a stray ball came flying through the window of the Oval Office. We imagine that would have given him an excuse to slip outside and get involved in the game. If you’re curious as to which team he pledged his baseball allegiance: the Chicago Cubs. This means that the former president, born in 1911, was born three years after the Cubs’ last World Series victory.


10. The Gipper

One of the Ronald Reagan’s most memorable movie roles came in the 1940 football-based drama Knute Rockne, All American. In the film, former President Reagan played legendary Notre Dame football player George “The Gipper” Gipp. The real George Gipp was the university’s first Walter Camp All-American, and Notre Dame’s second consensus All-American. George contracted pneumonia and died in 1920 at the age of 25, his final year at the university. In Knute Rockne, All American, Ronald Reagan made a well-known George Gipp deathbed speech legendary. This was the speech in which George Gipp asked “Rock” to deliver a message to the boys the next time they were really struggling in a game—to “win just one for the Gipper.” Reagan adopted the nickname after his portrayal and used the phrase “Win one for the Gipper” during his 1980 campaign for the presidency.


9. He Made Friends With Everyone…Even Squirrels

This list is quickly building up Ronald Reagan to be a total saint, and to a certain extent, he was; however, we’ll get to some darker legacy momentarily. Until then, another “awwww” moment. President Reagan loved spending time on the White House lawn, and to the local Washington, D.C., squirrel population, he became known as a true benefactor. President Reagan loved feeding the squirrels, to the point where they’d come near. The squirrels became quite tame. This lasted until the end of his presidency, when George H.W. Bush won the 1988 election and moved into the White House in 1989. When Reagan departed, he knew the Bushs would be bringing their dog to the White House, so he left a farewell note to the squirrels: Beware of the dog. George H.W. Bush joked about this while eulogizing his former president.


8. Thanks for the GPS

Could you imagine life without easy access to GPS? It has changed everything. Anyone who has called a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles or New York home understands how much more efficient life is with the use of GPS. Before that, it was lugging around the epic Thomas Guide map. It took genius level intelligence to figure those things. Ultimately, we all have Ronald Reagan to thank for the civilian use of Global Position Systems. It was after the Korean Airlines Flight 007 tragedy that Reagan announced plans to offer the technology to civilians when it was more refined. At the time, GPS was reserved for military use. In 1983, the President offered the use of GPS to civilians through an Executive Order. No, we’re never crazy about the use of that power in the USofA, but all things considered, it was a good flex of the executive office.


7. Officially Retired From Acting

Unlike another former Governor of California—er, Caleefawnyah—Ronald Reagan had no desire to continue acting after he became interested and involved in politics. Maybe it started with his service as the President of the Screen Actors Guild? Once he tossed his name in the hat for the gubernatorial duties of California, and developed a campaign, he said farewell to acting. Many thought he would serve his term as governor, then slide back into the pursuit of roles in film and television, but Governor Reagan had other ideas. This was wholly intentional, as he turned down roles during his time as governor, and even as president, and after his presidency. He felt a return to his former career as an actor and entertainer would diminish his accomplishments in the office of governor and president, and he preferred to be considered a political figure for the rest of his life.


6. The Divorcee

There were many presidents who served the United States unmarried, some of them remaining bachelors for the rest of their lives, while others remarried; however, there had never been a president before Ronald Reagan, and there hasn’t been one since, who had ever been divorced…except for Ronald Reagan. Damn it all, we thought the Hillary and Bill Clinton were on the fast track to split, but when you’re worth more as a couple there’s a lot of forgiveness above the line, and below the line. Ronald Reagan was married to actress, singer and dancer Jane Wyman from 1940-1948. As is the norm for most Hollywood marriages, this one fizzled when the pair began to experience career lulls. Unlike many Hollywood types who immediately jump into another relationship, Ronald Reagan played it cool and didn’t remarry (Nancy Davis) until 1952, though their romance was tabloid fodder in ’49 and ’50.

5. Tear Down The Wall

It is rather mind-boggling to consider the throes of history, and know we’re only 75 years beyond the rise, rule and fall of Adolf Hitler. No thanks to his disillusion, the world was thrown into upheaval. One result of Hitler’s idiocy was the division of Germany—a surrendered treaty agreement offered to Russia following their undesired involvement in World War II. It didn’t take more than a decade before the division of Germany—and the Berlin Wall—seemed like a terrible idea. Regardless of how some people may feel about walls, there has never been a wall that hasn’t been conquered. The influence of the United States continued to flourish during the following decades, and when Ronald Reagan took office he began to spit some powerful rhetoric: “Tear down the wall!” George H.W. Bush continued to use these words until the wall fell in 1989. The Soviet Union fell soon thereafter.

4. He Wasn’t Always a Republican

The two majority parties in the American political system are fascinating entities. They have flip flopped so many times, it’s shocking to think about who was in office at certain times during momentous occasions in American history. A perfect example: Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. The Republican Party was once known as the true progressive party. Ronald Reagan was a Republican governor in California, and ran on the Republican ticket and won the presidency in 1980, and 1984; however, Ronald Reagan wasn’t always a Republican. Being born in 1911, Ronald was greatly influenced by The Great Depression, and the leadership offered by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt to lure and reel the United States out of its depressed state. So many young men of the era pledged allegiance to the Democratic Party due to the can-do attitude of FDR. In the early 1960s, Reagan flipped his allegiance to the GOP.

3. He Had a Dark Side

As mentioned, Ronald Reagan had a legacy that was darker than most Republican supporters would want you to recall. A few things immediately come to mind. The 1980s war on drugs, and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign seemed to be an exercise in futility, and an exercise in how to leave minorities with their pants down in public. Hindsight has offered a glimpse at some shady dealings between the highest ranking American officials and the drug trade in Central and South America. Before his presidency, Reagan was part of the Hollywood roundup known as “blacklisting,” while serving as the president of SAG. When it came to the civil right issues of the 1950s and 1960s, Ronald Reagan was often in support of keeping races divided, even if by not offering support legislation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964…? Ronald Reagan was outspoken against it.

2. A Man Between Two Browns

The state of California has an interesting gubernatorial history over the past 70 years. There have only been a handful of governors since the late 1950s. Three of the gubernatorial terms in that time span have been served by a man named Edmund G. Brown. Of course, California residents will let you know that they’re two very different men, but boasting the same name. Ronald Reagan fell between the governor duties of Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, and Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, the very same man who is presently serving in the same office that he took in the late 1970s, after Ronald Reagan turned his eyes toward government at the federal level. There are many conclusions we can draw from this: a Brown can’t beat an actor running for governor, but they can score the office after an actor has served out their terms.

1. The Electoral College Loved Him

To this day, Ronald Reagan sits alone in United States presidential election history for taking home the most electorate votes in the history of any election. His campaign for reelection in 1984 proved to be an embarrassment for the Democratic Party, which offered Walter Mondale as its candidate. The 1984 election was a decimation. A beat down. The final count: Reagan – 525; Mondale – 13. The Electoral College loved Ronald Reagan. If you’re not a United States citizen and don’t understand how the Electoral College works, don’t fret, 99 percent of Americans don’t really understand it either. That stated, here’s one of the cool things about those chosen in good faith to serve as these electors. In 1976, one elector went rogue and voted for Ronald Reagan in the ’76 presidential election, even though he wasn’t running. This is known as a faithless elector.