Reagan Was Many Things, but Apparently Not an FBI Informant
Edmund Morris' history, "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan," revealed a "facet" of Reagan's life that he supposedly kept hidden from voter notice during his California gubernatorial and two presidential elections.
Morris wrote that while Reagan was a member and later an official of the Screen Actors Guild, he was also an FBI informant called T-10. Morris picked up this juicy tidbit from an article that appeared in a San Jose Mercury news article. Morris asserted that during the "Red Scare" in Hollywood, Reagan regularly met with FBI agents in Los Angeles, giving them names of fellow actors who "might" be communist sympathizers.
He claimed that Reagan's brother Neal often transmitted the information directly to the FBI from a local phone booth. At this time Reagan was an enthusiastic New Dealer, a far-left liberal Democrat married to a conservative Republican, Jane Wyman.
On Oct. 23, 1947, as president of the Guild appearing before the now largely discredited House Un-American Activities Committee, Reagan testified that within the union there was "a small clique (that had consistently voted against the board of directors) ... suspected of more or less following the tactics that we now associate with the Communist Party."
During this poisonous period, betrayals caused hundreds of Hollywood's actors, writers, directors and producers to lose jobs and careers. Once an actor was tagged a "Red sympathizer," no matter how flimsy or false the evidence, such an individual could be blacklisted and barred from working in films or television. Some innocent victims of resultant blacklisting committed suicide.
I was curious about this "facet" of the former president's life and asked for a comprehensive review of FBI records, which has just been conducted for me by the agency's historian, John F. Fox.
"Reagan was clearly a source of information to the Bureau in his official capacity as head of the SAG and later as a private citizen or politician," Fox wrote, "but at no point does the Bureau appear to have considered him a confidential informant. That is a term used to describe a clandestine or paid relationship to the Bureau. The FBI and Ronald Reagan shared an interest in and concern about communists and communist infiltration in Hollywood. It is not surprising, therefore, that over many years they crossed paths and Reagan shared his experiences with the FBI."
Reagan's mother, Nelle, was a devoted member of the Disciples of Christ who'd taught him to read the Bible by age 5. For the rest of his life, he remained a religious man. Morris wrongly pictured Reagan as a Judas for betraying fellow actors. It turns out that Hollywood never gave Reagan a chance to play the part of Judas, who took 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal. Reagan only got to play the nice guys.
Congress has renamed Washington National Airport and named a $5 billion nuclear-powered aircraft carrier after President Ronald Reagan. Now, GOP Rep. Pat McHenry of North Carolina proposes that Reagan's face grace $50 bills, replacing the great Civil War hero and Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant. Some suggest the 40th president might more fittingly be on a $1 million note in recognition of the mind-boggling debts Reaganomics achieved.
Popularity polls still show Ronald Reagan (the Teflon president) with a relatively high favorability ranking, particularly among Republicans and conservatives, being credited with helping end the Cold War. Among political scientists and presidential historians, his standing is less flattering.
Reagan's favorite president after Lincoln was Calvin Coolidge, a minimalist whom historians rate near the bottom of the ladder. It was Coolidge, with sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who selected Wash-ington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Jefferson to appear on Mount Rushmore.
Presidential historians consistently place those men along with Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the top of their lists. Then often appear, in various orders of ranking, Madison, Jackson, Polk, Wilson and Truman. Lowest placements are typically accorded to Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Harding.
Harrison and Garfield served such short times they are often excluded. Nixon and Clinton, both intellectually accomplished, have historic reputations marred by personal misbehavior - and, in Nixon's case, criminal acts. Kennedy is accorded high ratings largely due to sympathy following his assassination. The always-popular Ike Eisenhower is viewed far more favorably now than he was 50 years ago.
Reagan has much good to be remembered for, but so does the other president from Illinois. My hunch is that the self-effacing Reagan would be offended by moves to enhance his image at the expense of Lincoln's favorite general, U.S. Grant.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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