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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

The Power of the Pen: What did Reagan do?

The former president’s time in Hollywood.


Former President Ronald Reagan is pictured.

While the writers strike of this year has recently come to an end, the actors are still on the picket lines fighting for better pay and protections from big studios. The constant fight in the entertainment industry for actors’ fair treatment has gone on for decades — all the way back to the Reagan presidency. 

Former president, Ronald “The Great Communicator” Reagan, is the one of only two movie stars to ever take the Oval Office. Reagan moved to Hollywood in 1937 and became a member of the Screen Actors Guild (precedent to SAG-AFTRA) shortly thereafter. Reagan had been scouted by a Warner Brothers agent, with his move to Hollywood marking the beginning of a 28-year-film career. Known for his suave charm, Reagan quickly moved up in the SAG hierarchy.

Reagan acted as SAG president between 1947–52 and 1959–60. During his first presidential term, Reagan was able to secure residuals for television actors as with the fall of movie attendance, film actors were looking for a piece of the revenue pie. As president in 1959, Reagan organized the 1960 SAG strike in an effort to help secure residuals for film actors.

The 1960 strike, the second American actors strike in history, began in March of that year and went on for five weeks. Although the 1960 strike pales in comparison to the 2023 one, the win was significant for its time. Not only did the end of negotiations secure residuals for film actors, but Reagan was also able to promise pension and welfare plans for actors — the first in the organization’s history.

Shortly after the strike came to a close, Reagan resigned from the SAG presidency and his final acting role was in 1965. 

The next year, he began the first of his two terms as Governor of California. Here, we can start to see the shift in Reagan from actor to political player. This all culminated when he became president in 1980. 

As U.S. president in 1981, Reagan made waves by firing more than 11,000 air traffic controllers on strike for better retirement benefits, an increase in pay and better safety protocols. Reagan not only had the workers fired, he also decertified the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization union, calling the strike illegal.

Reagan’s response to the PATCO strike undermined union power — the same power SAG-AFTRA is now trying to cement.


While this move may have seemed out of left-field from Reagan, a closer look reveals he began showing anti-union policies far earlier.

In 1969, Reagan sent the National Guard to break up a student activist protest at the University of California, Berkeley. Even before joining the political world, while acting as SAG president in 1947, Reagan, an extreme anti-Communist, decided to help the U.S. government blacklist several actors, directors and writers who were thought to be part of the Communist Party. These entertainment workers were barred from working in the industry until the 1960s.


So, how is it possible that a man, once the leader of a union, one who fought for the betterment of workers, could become what he once opposed? We will discuss more in the next column.