Eliot, the author of biographies of Hollywood legends Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, tackles another legend. Ronald Reagan didn’t earn his legendary status in the movies, but it’s that phase of his career—as a radio, motion-picture, and television performer—on which this volume concentrates. Eliot separates fact from fiction regarding some famous Reagan show-biz stories—his vamping during a blackout while broadcasting a baseball game via telegraph reports; his losing out on some career-making parts, such as the lead in Casablanca—but this isn’t one of those biographies that just hits the high points and ignores everything else. This is a carefully written, solidly documented biography of a working actor, a “company man” who did what the studio told him because he knew he was lucky to be in show business. Eliot gives Reagan’s professional and personal lives equal weight, supplying valuable context for his future life as a world leader. Many books have shown us what sort of man Ronald Reagan the politician was; this one shows how he got that way. An important addition to Reagan lore.
This review originally appeared in Booklist, September 2008.