True Romance: Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan
Married March 4, 1952
‘God must think a lot of me to have given me you,’ Ronald Reagan often told Nancy Davis when they were courting. It was a line he borrowed from his role as pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in the 1952 movie The Winning Team. Hearing those words forty years later still brings tears to Nancy’s eyes. And when it came to proposing, she says, her romantic suitor never needed words. She always knew they would be a winning team someday.
It all began in Hollywood, during the fall of 1949. Nancy, nee Anne Frances Robbins, daughter of a stage actress and stepdaughter of a prominent Chicago neurosurgeon, was a fledgling actress under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She had been receiving mail from left-wing organizations that was obviously meant for another Nancy Davis. She was especially concerned when her name appeared on a list of Communist sympathizers in a Hollywood trade paper, and turned to Mervyn LeRoy, who was directing a movie in which she had a small part.
He volunteered to check with Ronald, who was president of the Screen Actors Guild. ‘I said, `Oh yes, by all means do that,’ ‘ remembers Nancy. She found him extremely attractive on screen. Divorced from Jane Wyman for more than a year, the popular leading man was a highly eligible bachelor.
Ronald reported back to the director that there were four or five Nancy Davises working in Hollywood, only one of whom was an actress. He promised that if she ever had any problems, the guild would handle them on her behalf.
‘I didn’t think that should be the end of it,’ admits Nancy, who was frankly interested in meeting Ronald. When Mervyn told her, ‘Come to think of it, I think you two would like to know each other,’ she agreed wholeheartedly, and Mervyn put in another call, this time suggesting a blind date. When Nancy hadn’t heard from t Ronald after two days, she stood next to Mervyn while he telephoned again.
Ronald finally made the call, but to protect himself from a potentially unpleasan evening, he asked her out for an early dinner, saying he had a pre-dawn call on the; set the next day.
‘I said, `That’s perfectly all right, because I have an early morning call, too,’ which’ I didn’t at all,’ recalls Nancy.
Their dinner date at La Rue, an elegant French restaurant on the Sunset Strip, was, much more pleasant than Ronald had expected. He asked Nancy if she wanted to catch Sophie Tucker’s show at Ciro’s.
She accepted, but only if they could see the first show – ‘because a girl’s gotta have some pride,’ she explains today.
When the early show extended into the late show, both admitted they didn’t have morning appointments after all. For the next six months, they saw each other regularly while continuing to date others. Ronald was slow to make a commitment, having been through one marriage already.
‘He was very gun-shy,’ says Nancy. ‘He’d been burned once and didn’t want to get burned again, and I didn’t want to get burned at all.’ But Nancy knew right away that ‘Ronnie’ was the one for her. ‘He was unlike any actor I’d ever known. It wasn’t about my next picture or my last picture. He had interests beyond the movies.’
In his spare time, Ronald went horseback riding at his small ranch in the San Fernando Valley, his private retreat. The first time he invited Nancy along, she knew she had ‘made progress.’ When he finally invited her to meet his children, she thought, ‘Oh my, that’s really a step forward.’ However she also realized that if she was going to get anywhere with him, she’d better get over her fear of horses and agreed to let him give her riding lessons. To spend more time with Ronald, Nancy also got involved with the guild, and she was eventually appointed to the board.
Since neither particularly enjoyed the nightclub scene, they often dined at the home of their closest friends, Ardis and William Holden, or alone at Chasen’s, their favorite hangout, huddled in the third booth to the left in the front room.
By Christmas 1951 they both knew the relationship was solidified. Ronald asked Nancy not to go home to Chicago, but to spend the holiday with him and his children. Marriage talk commenced, but after a long dry spell in his career, Ronald had been cast to star in three movies back to back – The Winning Team, Hong Kong and She’s Working Her Way Through College. In February 1952, over dinner at Chasen’s, they set the date and made plans. Ronald called Nancy’s stepfather to ask for her hand.
At the next Screen Actors Guild meeting, Ronald wrote a note to Bill Holden asking him to be his best man. ‘About time,’ Bill wrote back.
The couple planned a secret, late-afternoon wedding ceremony at the Little Brown Church in the San Fernando Valley on March 4, 1952. Nancy wore a gray suit with white collar and cuffs and a small, veiled hat. Best man Holden and Ardis, Nancy’s matron of honor, were. the only guests. Because Ronald couldn’t afford to buy Nancy two rings, they picked out a diamond wedding band from Ruser’s on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
After the ceremony, the Reagans went to dinner at the Holdens’ North Hollywood home, joined by the Holdens’ two sons. After cutting the cake, the bride and groom drove to the Mission Inn in Riverside, southeast of Los Angeles. The next day they continued their drive to Phoenix to be with Nancy’s parents. ‘I think we’re probably the only people who spent their honeymoon with their family,’ says Nancy.
Soon after, she asked to be released from her seven-year studio contract so she could devote herself to her husband and family, which included a daughter, Patti, and son, Ron.