Of America’s forty-six presidents that have served in office, few are as popular as Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). The 40th President of the United States is remembered for his time in Hollywood, his term as Governor of California and a presidential administration that had its share of controversy. The Iran-Contra scandal remains inextricably linked to Reagan and is a stark reminder of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong. The fallout in Central America from Washington’s influence and interference can still be felt to this day. Reagan is long gone from office and deceased since 2004. However, his name can still be found in conversations about politics in America, when discussing conservatism and the decline of Soviet influence across the globe. Although known to be a fierce conservative, Reagan was able to use his actor’s skills to conceal this from the public. But historians know all too well that there was dark side to the life of Reagan before and during his time in office. Journalist Dan Moldea takes another look at Reagan, paying close attention to his time in Hollywood as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), its dealings with the Music Corporation of America (MCA) and the Italian American mafia.
I should point out that the book is not intended to be a full analysis of Reagan’s role as president. And although Moldea does discuss Reagan’s time as president towards the end of the book, the focus remains on the early days of Hollywood and radio, where the mafia had infiltrated studios and strong-arm tactics by independent companies had become accepted behavior. To remove all doubt that the book has a “happy ending”, Moldea lays out the premise early on:
“These records show that Reagan, the president of SAG and an FBI informant against Hollywood communists, was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation whose focus was Reagan’s possible role in a suspected conspiracy between MCA and the actors’ union. According to Justice Department documents, government prosecutors had concluded that decisions made by SAG while under Reagan’s leadership became “the central fact of MCA’s whole rise to power.”
After establishing the premise, the author discusses the formation of multiple corporations that became titans in radio and later in the film industry. The formation of MCA is explained and that of the SAG where Reagan would find a home through his first wife Jane Wyman (1917-2007). The information provided by Moldea is just what history buffs will be looking for. And what he explains highlights just how far film and radio have come. But in the 1920s, television was still in its infant stages and for the average artist, radio was the place to be. In the 1930s, film started to gain in popularity and in 1933, the Screen Actors Guild was formed to give artists protection from what was clearly a racket. The ramifications of the organization’s creation are explained by Moldea and the information will aide readers later in the book as the U.S. Department of Justice sets its sights on film and radio. Following his discharge from the military after World War II, Reagan soon found his calling in film and his marriage to Jane Wyman opened the doors to successful careers on the silver screen and in government, in ways that may not be fully understood. As the book shows, there were many suspicious actions taken by Reagan as director of the SAG with regards to the Music Corporation of America, known to be affiliated with gangsters and other powerful figures not against breaking all rules. The most infamous to whom we are introduced is a lawyer named Sidney Korshak (1907-1996), believed to be one of the most powerful men in Hollywood during his time. Korshak is just one of many dark figures in the book that includes mobsters Alphonse “Al” Capone (1899-1947) and Johnny Roselli (1905-1976). Moldea leaves no stone un-turned as he explores the many dark connections between Reagan and a whole cast of shadowy characters.
The crux of the case for Reagan’s implied dark dealings comes in the form of an unrestricted waiver given to MCA, permitting it to retain artists and other stars without conditions normally enforced by the SAG. Whether Reagan himself decided to do so may be lost to history but the action was so unusual that it attracted the attention of the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice. Regan himself gave testimony and readers might find it be questionable to say the least. The relevant portions of his statements are included so that the words come directly from Reagan himself. It is left to readers to decide what Reagan may or may not have left out. And while there is a lot of smoke, some may feel that there is no fire or “smoking gun”. But what is clear is that what transpired between the SAG and MCA was anything but ordinary. The true story might be even more surprising and suspicious than the one Moldea has told here.
During his time in office, Reagan became the star for conservatism and his administration shifted the nation towards the right politically. One of the reasons for his conservatism is explained here and it was something I was not previously aware of. Further, the story here shows again that the administration of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was more of a threat to those with hidden agendas than people realize. While campaigning, Reagan called for getting tough on crime and fixing America’s cities. He once stood in the burning rubble of the South Bronx and told residents that he was trying to help them, but he could not do anything unless he was elected. Well, he was elected and his goals to fix America and get tough on crime did not go exactly as most voters thought. In fact, there were actions by his administration that stood in stark contrast to the good-natured poster boy image that the former actor portrayed publicly. Moldea is even more blunt his assessment:
“The Reagan administration then severely curtailed the investigative and enforcement abilities of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Justice Department’s Strike Forces Against Organized Crime—as part of its program to get the government off the backs of the people. The administration also attempted but failed to dismantle the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the Treasury Department, which had been extremely effective in the war against organized crime but had been opposed by the Reagan-allied National Rifle Association.”
Older readers may agree or disagree with the statement, but I do think Moldea is fairly accurate in his assessment. I strongly advise those who find this to be a good read to also purchase Malcolm Byrne’s Iran Contra: Regan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power, which is an excellent analysis of the hostage for arms matter and money transfer to rebels in Central America. It can be argued that no administration is without its scandals or embarrassing moments and that is true. However, the depth of the scandals is what typically sets them apart. In the case of Ronald Reagan, we are forced to confront two vastly different images of his life. The public image of the easy going, jolly natured Commander-In-Chief is still widely accepted. But to independent journalists and researchers, the private Ronald Reagan kept many dark secrets. Some undoubtedly went with him to the grave but others have been revealed as we can see here in this intriguing account by Dan Moldea.
ASIN : B01MV2ZDXN