This weekend Nancy Reagan passed away at the age of 94.
Most people know that before she married she had a short film career. She always maintained she was only became an actress because she had to do something until the right man came along.
Nancy Davis, the actress, met the “right” man, Ronald Reagan, in 1951. It took her awhile to get a proposal, however. They didn’t wed until March of 1953. Their daughter Patti was born seven months later.
But today we want to talk about Nancy Davis — not Nancy Reagan, one of the most popular and controversial first ladies of the U.S..
Nancy Davis only made 10 movies in her brief career, but she was a fine actress. She came by it naturally. Her mother, Edith Luckett, was a successful stage actress who had been in silent films.
After Nancy graduated from college with the help of her mother’s friends she got jobs in stock, then a shot at Broadway and eventually a seven year contract at MGM. But she deserved it. She was good. Not traditionally beautiful, but at 27, a handsome woman and a solid performer.
At first the studio tried her in supporting roles in A films. Catch her in East Side, West Side, which stars Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin and Ava Gardner.
MGM then starred her as the lead in several B films, the most famous, The Next Voice You Hear, in which she played a pregnant housewife who hears the voice of God from her radio.
In 1951 Davis co-starred with Ray Milland in Night Into Morning. One critic noted that Davis “does nicely as the fiancée who is widowed herself and knows the loneliness of grief.”
Joe’s favorite is a little known film, Shadow in the Sky, starring Ralph Meeker. After Davis left MGM she starred in her most famous film, the 1953 science fiction cult classic, Donovan’s Brain.
She and Ronnie finally worked together on the big screen in Hellcats of the Navy in 1957. Skip that one.
Supposedly, Albert Brooks attempted to coax her out of retirement, and offered her the title role in his 1996 film Mother. But this was probably just a publicity ploy on his part. No one expected she would ever return to the screen, especially when she was devoting herself to caring for her husband. (President Reagan died on June 4, 2004 after years suffering from Alzheimers. He was 93.)
Nancy Reagan will be remembered as a gracious hostess and an elegant first lady. But if one wants to ferret out her old films, she can also be remembered as Nancy Davis, a fine actress and a star from Hollywood’s Golden Age.