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When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan




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Saint Ronald

Peggy Noonan tells a heart-warming tale of a person she admires greatly in her new book, When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan. Readers looking for a researched biography of President Reagan will need to look elsewhere. When Character Was King is a story of a man of 20th century America, who acted with integrity, and whose good nature was genuine.

Reagan’s character was formed in hardship: an alcoholic father; communist-organized labor strikes while Reagan was in leadership posts with the Screen Actors Guild; career setbacks. Here’s an excerpt that concludes with a point of view from Noonan that permeates the book:

“Reagan went before HUAC to declare under oath that Hollywood was taking care of its problems, and didn’t need or welcome the federal government’s intrusion, or its investigations or subpoenas. ‘Ninety-nine percent of us are pretty well aware of what is going on, and I think we have done a pretty good job in our business of keeping those people’s activities curtailed. I do not believe the Communists have ever at any time been able to use the motion picture screen as a sounding board for their philosophy or ideology.’
Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and others with whom he had become close were determined to protect the innocent. And so they joined together again, forming an industry council to reach out to people who were being threatened with blacklisting and help them clear themselves. Reagan also pushed for the council to protect actors who were the focus of rumors and innuendos regarding their politics.
Near the end of the Hollywood Communist battles, Ronald Reagan received the greatest review of his life. The actor Sterling Hayden, a hero of World War II who had won a Bronze Star for fighting behind the lines in Yugoslavia, had come home to America and joined the Communist Party, in part as an act of loyalty and support to those anti-Nazi Communists he had fought alongside. But soon he renounced the party. He was later asked why the Communists had not succeeded in winning control of the movie industry. Hayden said they ran into ‘a one-man battalion of opposition’ named Ronald Reagan.
 ‘In the end, we stopped the Communists cold,’ Reagan later said. It was a brag, but few those days would have argued with his right to it.
And I would add, simply, that it was in this drama that Reagan’s character was fully revealed. In a time of malice he was not malicious; in a time of lies he did not falsify; in a time of great pressure he didn’t bend or break; in a time of disingenuousness he was clear and candid about where he stood and why. And in a time when people just gave up after a while and changed the subject, he remained on the field through all the long haul.”

Admirers of Reagan will enjoy celebrating his life by reading When Character Was King. Those who think less highly of the former President will find plenty to gag on when they read Noonan’s book.

Steve Hopkins, March 20, 2002


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