Nancy Reagan - Acting Career

Acting Career

Following her graduation, Davis held jobs in Chicago as a sales clerk in Marshall Field's department store and as a nurse's aide. With the help of her mother's colleagues in theatre, including Zasu Pitts, Walter Huston, and Spencer Tracy, she pursued a career as a professional actress. She first gained a part in Pitts' 1945 road tour of Ramshackle Inn, moving to New York City. She landed the role of Si-Tchun, a lady-in-waiting, in the 1946 Broadway musical about the Orient, Lute Song, starring Mary Martin and a pre-stardom Yul Brynner. The show's producer told her, "You look like you could be Chinese."

After passing a screen test, she moved to California and signed a seven-year contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) in 1949; she later remarked, "Joining Metro was like walking into a dream world." Her combination of attractive appearance – centered around her large eyes – and somewhat distant and understated manner made her hard at first for MGM to cast and publicize. Davis appeared in 11 feature films, usually typecast as a "loyal housewife", "responsible young mother", or "the steady woman". Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Caron, and Janet Leigh were among those that she competed with for roles at MGM.

Davis' film career began with minor roles in 1949's The Doctor and the Girl with Glenn Ford, and followed with East Side, West Side starring Barbara Stanwyck. She played a child psychiatrist in the film noir Shadow on the Wall (1950) with Ann Sothern and Zachary Scott; her performance was called "beautiful and convincing" by New York Times critic A. H. Weiler. She co-starred in 1950's The Next Voice You Hear..., playing a pregnant housewife who hears the voice of God from her radio. Influential reviewer Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "Nancy Davis delightful as gentle, plain, and understanding wife." In 1951, Davis appeared in her favorite screen role, Night Into Morning, a study of bereavement starring Ray Milland. Crowther said that Davis "does nicely as the fiancée who is widowed herself and knows the loneliness of grief," while another noted critic, The Washington Post's Richard L. Coe, said Davis "is splendid as the understanding widow." MGM released Davis from her contract in 1952; she sought a broader range of parts, but also married Reagan, keeping her professional name as Davis, and had her first child that year. She soon starred in the 1953 science fiction film Donovan's Brain; Crowther said that Davis, playing the role of a possessed scientist's "sadly baffled wife", "walked through it all in stark confusion" in an "utterly silly" film. In her next-to-last movie, Hellcats of the Navy (1957), she played nurse Lieutenant Helen Blair and shared the screen for the only time with her husband, playing what one critic called "a housewife who came along for the ride". Another reviewer, however, stated that Davis plays her part well, and "does well with what she has to work with".

Garry Wills believes that Davis was underrated as an actress overall because her constrained part in Hellcats was her most widely seen performance. In addition, Davis downplayed her Hollywood goals: MGM promotional material in 1949 said that her "greatest ambition" was to have a "successful happy marriage"; decades later, in 1975, she would say, "I was never really a career woman but only because I hadn't found the man I wanted to marry. I couldn't sit around and do nothing, so I became an actress." Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon nevertheless characterized her as a "reliable" and "solid" performer who held her own in performances with better-known actors. After her final film, Davis appeared for a brief time as a guest star in television dramas such as Wagon Train and The Tall Man until 1962, when she retired as an actress. During her career, Davis served on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild for nearly ten years. Decades later, Albert Brooks attempted to coax her out of acting retirement by offering her the title role opposite himself in his 1996 film Mother. She declined in order to care for her husband, and Debbie Reynolds played the part.

Read more about this topic:  Nancy Reagan

Famous quotes containing the words acting and/or career:

    It especially helps if you know that we’re all faking our adulthood—even your parents and their parents. Beneath these adult trappings—in our president, in our parents, in you and me—lurk the emotions of a child. If we know that only about ourselves, we become infantile; if we understand that about everybody, then we have nothing to be ashamed of—unless, of course, we go around acting like a child and expecting everyone else to act like grownups.
    Frank Pittman (20th century)

    They want to play at being mothers. So let them. Expressing tenderness in their own way will not prevent girls from enjoying a successful career in the future; indeed, the ability to nurture is as valuable a skill in the workplace as the ability to lead.
    Anne Roiphe (20th century)