Dr. Brown: Then tell me, future boy, who's President of the United States in 1985? Marty: Ronald Reagan. Dr. Brown: Ronald Reagan? The actor? Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis? —Back to the Future
Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004) was the 40th President of the United States, serving from 1981 to 1989. He was the sixteenth from the Republican Party, serving between Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Reagan is well-known for moving the country to the right politically, socially, and economically, and for his efforts to end the Cold War.
Yes, he's the actor who became President. However, many of the jokes about that don't work very well, since, when his political career commenced in 1966, he was only the "former actor who's running for Governor of California". After he vacated that office, he became known as the "former two-term Republican Governor of California who's running for President." People today will more likely know Reagan as the conservative guy who was President in The Eighties. You usually either love or hate him. If you see someone in a film or TV show talking about how great Reagan was, then it's a surefire indication that the character is a Republican. Conversely, if you see someone in a film or TV show disparaging Reagan, expect the character to hold mainly left-of-center beliefs. (There do exist Democrats who think fondly of him, known as "Blue Dogs" or "Reagan Democrats", and there are also self-described conservatives who dislike him, mostly for his support for policies that they do not think are truly conservative.) British media substitute Margaret Thatcher for Reagan to precisely the same effect. Reagan's other use in popular culture is to evoke the 1980's, so expect him to be referenced in anything set in a Popular History version of that decade.
Fun fact: Reagan was very, very addicted to jelly beans. He started eating them when he quit smoking, and he seriously had jelly bean cup-holders placed on government planes. When he won in 1980, he wanted a jelly bean flag of red, white, and blue to be created to the occasion. There were no blue-colored jelly beans at the time, so the Jelly Belly company created the blueberry flavor specifically for the ceremony. It ended up becoming one of their most popular flavors. Surely this was one of his finest accomplishments.
Reagan's Movie Career:
There is a story that Ronald Reagan was playing Trivial Pursuit with his staff aboard Air Force One, and received the question "Who said 'I am the Errol Flynn of B-movies?'". Reagan correctly answered "I did." In any case, the Errol Flynn quote is accurate, and reflected Reagan's dissatisfaction over his movie career, which rarely provided the good parts that Reagan wanted.
Ronald Reagan made his film debut in a picture called Love Is on the Air in 1937. His first big break was a supporting part in the Bette Davis prestige drama Dark Victory (1939), but that part unfortunately failed to lift him out of the B-movie ghetto. In 1940, he played real-life American Football Player George "The Gipper" Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne, All American (about a Notre Dame football coach), which featured the line, "Win one for the Gipper." "The Gipper" became one of Reagan's nicknames. He was ineligible for combat duty in World War II due to extreme nearsightedness, so Reagan spent much of the war making Army training films.
Another film Reagan (in)famously played in was Bedtime for Bonzo, in which he costarred with a chimpanzee in a standard Ain't No Rule story, and eventually became his Never Live It Down film. (Actually, Reagan always displayed a sense of humor about this movie; he's famously said to have once signed a promo photo of himself and Bonzo with the inscription "I'm the one with the wristwatch.") He viewed That Hagen Girl, a 1947 melodrama co-starring Shirley Temple, as his real Old Shame. It's even rumored that Reagan tried to suppress or destroy copies of that film.
There's also a common story that he was originally slated to star in Casablanca, which derives from a claim made by the Warner Bros. publicity office while promoting his film Kings Row. Like many similar claims made by the Warner Bros. publicity office during the period, it has no basis in fact.
His most famous role was probably in the 1942 film Kings Row, which contains the famous line: "Where's the rest of me?" (his character had lost both of his legs.) Where's The Rest Of Me? was the title of his 1965 autobiography. He had a memorable Playing Against Type role as a brutal crime kingpin in his last film, The Killers (1964).
Issue #344 of Captain America had The Viper using a serum she got from Slithers (a minor X-Man villain) turning Ronald and Nancy into Brainwashed and Crazy serpent-men with the rest of Washington, DC in an earlier stage of the transformation. The Captain (as he was known at the time because of a dispute with the government) didn't manage to stop the plot before throwing down with the suddenly scaly Commander-In-Chief who was clad only in his underwear. Reagan even used old glory as a weapon during the fight. While Cap was preoccupied with the president, Viper was able to make a Villain Exit Stage Left but she was not able to get very far before she was stopped and defeated by Cobra (who is usually an enemy of The Mighty Thor). He said it was payback for Cap helping Sidewinder retake control of the Serpent Society and had nothing to do with his political affiliation.
In the 1980's Action Comics ran a Deadman storyline in which at one point Deadman and the Devil drop in at a Washington soiree, possess Reagan and Gorbachev, respectively, then switch to Mrs. Gorbachev and Mrs. Reagan, respectively. And then◊ they fight◊.
In Watchmen (an Alternate History where Richard Nixon is still president), editors at a right-wing newspaper mock the idea of a "cowboy actor" like Robert Redford running for president; the film dispenses with subtlety and has them mocking the idea of Reagan himself running, despite the fact that he would be eight years older on taking office and probably beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's, not to mention losing some of the original irony. The film dialogue rewords it as just "a cowboy running for President", turning it into a dig at someone a little more recent.
The very first issue of Jon Sable, Freelance featured a clever, forceful Reagan blackmailing Sable into helping with presidential security against an assassin who happened to be an old enemy of Sable's.
Reagan: Do you know me? Sable: I know who you look like. Got any ID? Reagan: (holding up American Express card) Will this do?
A Strontium Dog story in 1987 involved Johnny and Durham Red rescuing Reagan from alien freedom fighters from the future who were threatening to kill him in order to create a Time Storm if all humans did not leave their planet. It's clear that Alan Grant was not fond of Reagan.
Ed The Happy Clown featured the Ronald Reagan of an alternate universe getting his head stuck to the titular character's penis. Surprisingly, Chester Brown stated that this wasn't intended to be a Take That, as being both apolitical and Canadian, he had little idea of the specifics of Reagan's politics besides knowing that he was vaguely right wing and that the American right wing was opposed to pornography and obscenity, both of which Brown had been accused of creating. Instead, he mostly picked Reagan so people would recognize the name (the drawn Reagan doesn't look much like the real man either): Brown had originally been planning it being a left-wing Canadian politician he disliked, but eventually decided that the guy was too obscure even for Canadians to appreciate.
The page's quote is from Back to the Future, with Doc Brown laughing when Marty mentioned it to him in 1955. In the second, the '80s Cafe is shown, a bit of a Theme Park Version of the decade. Reagan was shown on a Max Headroom-like display offering Marty a drink, vying with an animated Ayatollah Khomeni for his attention. This may be a Shout-Out to Doonesbury's "Ron Headrest", a similar Headroom parody. The filmmakers wanted Reagan to play the mayor of 1885 Hill Valley in the third film. Reagan wanted to play the mayor, but it was his aides who turned down the offer.
He's mentioned several times in Born in East L.A.. When the immigration officer asks Rudy who's the president, he answers John Wayne by mistake, which is "proof" enough that he's an illegal despite his protests and his ability to clearly speak English.
Rudy:I'M AN AMERICAN CITIZEN, YOU IDIOTS! THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RONALD "DICKHEAD" REAGAN!
An indirect shout out in the 1967 (early in Reagan's political career) spy comedy In Like Flint has the president replaced by a double. Flint, hearing the whole evil plan, incredulously mutters "An actor as President?"
Rumor has it that George Lucas named "Nute Gunray" of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace after Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan, which would make it a Take That. Alternatively, "Nute" may have come from Knute Rockne: All American, the film which gave Reagan his nickname "The Gipper." Supposedly, Lucas was upset about the SDI's nickname, even though it was Reagan's critics who dubbed it "Star Wars," not the President.
The killer in The Tripper is a psychotic, hippie-hating Reagan-fanatic who dresses and acts like him.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish featured "Know-Nothing Bozo the Non-Wonder Dog", so named "due to a remarkable similarity to the American President". The dog's owner and his friends would play a game with the dog where they would shout "Commies!" repeatedly and watch as the dog went berserk.
In Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, one of the characters, Susannah is transported from the America of 1964 into a fantasy world. When she meets Eddie, who came from 1987, she doesn't believe that Reagan is the president by then, and thinks he's just kidding.
In Frederik Pohl's The Coming of the Quantum Cats, an alternate Ronald Reagan exists in two of the universes. In one, he's a former actor viewed as a subversive by the government. In the other, he's the First Gentleman — Nancy Reagan is president.
Inasmuch as The Kite Runner is based around the events in Afghanistan from the 1970s up to the present day, Ronald Reagan's election is mentioned. Amir's father Baba is a huge supporter, going out and buying a poster of Reagan the day after the "Evil Empire" speech.
James Brolin played Reagan in the controversial 2003 miniseries The Reagans.
Reagan was one of the four X -Presidents on Saturday Night Live's "TV Funhouse," and the comic books based on it, a group of superheroes who fought crime.
Reagan: Just say "no" to pissing me off!
Sadly, due to constant cast turnovers brought about by behind-the-scenes problems, Reagan was largely unscathed by Saturday Night Live's political humor during his tenure. It was only until the very end of his tenure as President, that SNL found its definitive Reagan in the form of Phil Hartman. Sadly, by this point, they were only able to get one notable skit out of Hartman's Reagan, which famously portrayed Reagan as a shrewd, harsh tactician who simply put up a facade of being a doddering Cloudcuckoolander to get away with the Iran-Contra Scandal. This sketch is usually the only one that you'll see on "best of Presidential spoofs" clip shows. See it here.
John Casey from Chuck is a big Reagan fan. He keeps a framed picture of Reagan (which actually belongs to actor Adam Baldwin) in his apartment.
Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock reveres Reagan as the patron saint of capitalism.
Reagan does not appear in The Americans, but is frequently discussed by the titular Soviet sleeper agents, whose commanders believe he is a madman who will end up destroying the world (and discovering the plans for the Star Wars project don't allay these fears either). In the episode covering the time where he's shot, the Soviets misinterpret the events to cause them to think that a coup within the American government is imminent.
In the pilot episode, a Soviet defector is kidnapped on US soil by a pair of undercover KGB agents. In response, President Reagan issues a top secret Executive Order authorizing the FBI to be more aggressive in stopping KGB operations within the United States.
The Ramones released a song in 1985 called, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg", criticizing Reagan for making an official visit to a German cemetery where a number of Nazi SS officers were buried. Of particular note because the band included lifelong Republican Johnny Ramone.
Every punk band around in the '80s has at least one song about him. As did many Heavy Metal bands and Hip-Hop artists that veered into politics as subject matter for song lyrics. Notable examples include:
"Battalions of Fear" by German metal band Blind Guardian is about his policies. As you can probably guess by the title, it's not positive.
Michael Jackson appeared with Ron and Nancy in a Rose Garden photo op. Reagan honored Michael for allowing the Just Say No campaign to use the song "Beat It" in an ad. According to the Jackson biography, The Magic and the MadnessThe First Lady found Michael somewhat peculiar but attractive. To say that this was controversial would be... an overstatement.
The music video for The Minutemen's "This Ain't No Picnic" included clips of Ronald Reagan from a war film. The clips were edited to make it look like Ronald Reagan was shooting at and bombing The Minutemen from a fighter plane.
"Secret Service Freedom Fighting USA" by The World Inferno Friendship Society is often introduced during live shows as being titled "I shot President Ronald Reagan, AND I'M GONNA DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!" The song itself is supposedly based on an incident from the lead singer's teenage years, when (unaware that Reagan was making an appearance a few towns over) he shouted that during a prank call and was subsequently arrested.
Genesis' video of 'Land of Confusion' uses Spitting Image and their puppets, including that of Reagan as a would-be superhero.
Owl City uses part of Ronald Reagan's famous speech about the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle as an intro to the song "Galaxies", which is a tribute to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the tragedy.
Huey Freeman is convinced that Ronald Reagan is really The Antichrist. This is based on actual conspiracy theories by some black militants, citing, among their reasons, the fact that his first, middle, and last names All had six letters.
In a 1981 series of Bloom County strips, Santa's elves go on strike; Reagan (who is never depicted but heard as a voice on a TV seen from the side) fires them all and replaces with scabs, breaking the union. Any resemblance to the 1981 air traffic controllers' strike is purely intentional.
In the musical Assassins, John Hinckley Jr. shoots Reagan as an act of love for Jodie Foster. Reagan survives. Like the other assassination attempts, it's presented as a carnival game, with a buzzer sounding every time Hinckley fails to kill the president, and the Proprietor mocking him with Reagan's various quips.
Hinckley: He died so our love could live!
'Reagan': Sorry, Nancy, I forgot to duck.
'Reagan': I sure hope that's surgeon's a Republican.
'Reagan': Where'd that kid learn to shoot, the Russian army?
'Reagan': There you go again.
The 1984 off-Broadway musical Rap Master Ronnie, co-written by Elizabeth Swados and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, satirizes key Reagan administration events and individuals. A movie version was released in 1988.
The heroes of the Engrish-laden classic Battle Rangers also set out to save president Ronnie from a boomerang-tossing despot.
"Senile Reagan in a Bikini" was the original cohost of the game show segment in Bushgame, a politically-charged spinoff of the Emogame series. Out of... respect(?) after Reagan's death, the character became the more lucid "John Snow".
Edge The Devilhunter features Reagan ressurected as a demon called The Gipper. The Gipper resembles a set of male genitalia on legs, with Reagan's head appearing in place of the tip of the penis.
Ansem Retort also used the REAGAN SMASH joke mentioned below...except this time Reagan turned into The Incredible Hulk and really did tear down the Berlin Wall. And as it turns out, the reason Ronald Reagan can turn into The Incredible Hulk is because Axel brought a gamma bomb from the future and set it off at the set of Kings Row.
REAGAN RUN FOR PUBLIC OFFICE!
Ronald Reagan is a member of the cast of Shortpacked!, after the owner of the eponymous toy store heard one of his employees remark "Bring back anything from the '80s, and it's money in the bank" (just how he was "brought back" is never really addressed although Imported Alien Phlebotinum capable of resurrecting the dead does exist in the strip's universe). "Ronnie" is played as a kindly old man, slightly absentminded, with an occasional tendency to burst into a Patriotic Fervor and total inability to retain information about AIDS. He is also portrayed as remarkably accepting of homosexuality, despite his politics, a stance he explains by reminding people that he got his start in Hollywood and personally knew Rock Hudson.
Reagan is the candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 1976 in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72; he narrowly loses the election to Democratic candidate George Wallace. Reagan then runs for the Republican nomination again in 1980 but loses the primary election to Donald Rumsfeld.
He's mentioned in Nineteen Eighty Three Doomsday as having survived Doomsday and managed to escape the crumbling US for Hawaii. But en route to Australia, his plane vanishes in the South Pacific, leaving George Bush Sr. as the head of the American exile community.
SCP-1981, an anomalous VHS tape of Reagan's 1983 "Evil Empire" speech. Something happened to the tape so that every time it's played back its contents are different, with the contents always consisting of Reagan giving nonsensical (and creepy) anecdotes and parables while he's being mutilated by an invisible force.
SCP-095 is a pulp science fiction magazine titled The Atomic Adventures of Ronnie Ray-Gun, where the main character strongly resembles Reagan.
Members of the Springfield Republican Party mention that they have a mission to rename everything after Reagan. (For example, all schools named in Millard Fillmore's honor will be transferred to Reagan's.)
Homer's "Rappin' Ronnie Reagan" tape. This is actually a Shout-Out to Rich Little's "Rappin' Ronnie", a fictious appeal to minority voters with Ron rapping and Nancy on Bass. Watch it here
When seeing Homer's Barbershop Quartet, The Be Sharps, sing at the Statue of Liberty's Centennial Anniversary, Reagan turns to wife Nancy and remarks, "Damn ceremonies. This is time I could be working, Mommy."
Similar to the above Simpson example, the penultimate episode of Mission Hill has Kevin mentioning that the location of the supermarket Super Pig in his home suburb has changed its name to Ronald Reagan Parkway rather than FDR Parkway.
In The Boondocks, Reagan is depicted as being incredibly anti-Civil Rights by other characters to the point that the revolutionary extremist Huey states that "Ronald Reagan is the devil." Black-hating black man Ruckus however idolizes him for this ideal, who in his dreams stated that he spent his life attempting to make life miserable for black people.
Reagan is depicted in episode "Peter's Got Woods" saying his "Tear down this wall" line and then beating on a brickwall with his bare fists yelling: "REAGAN SMASH! REAGAN SMASH!". It turns out it was the wall of a McDonald's and the workers inside comment that it was nothing to be concerned about, and that he tends to wear himself out quickly. He is then seen curling up like a child, muttering: "Reagan sleepy …"
The episode "Family Gay" implied he and Gorbachev were gay lovers.
In an Animaniacs episode, "De-Zanitized," Reagan appears in Scratchansniff's flashback, taking place when he was an actor, and tells the doctor about his dream where he becomes president. Scratchansniff deems him incurable. May be a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment. The episode came out in 1993, a year before he revealed his Alzheimer's.
He is often referred to on King of the Hill, being one of Hank's two leading presidential heroes (the other being LBJ, who for obvious reasons serves as the only Democrat whom Hank holds in such high esteem).
Hank: Now go do a report on a real president. Bobby: But which president should I … [Hank glares] … Ronald Reagan.
"I miss voting for that man."
"Hey, now, if Ron Reagan dyed his hair — and I'm not saying he did — it was only to show his strength to the Communists."
One episode of Tiny Toon Adventures featured Buster and Babs going to Washington to request aid against a Moral Guardian lady sucked up Acme Acres' residents' "tooniness". The bunnies go to the Lincoln Memorial for guidance, and seem to hear Abraham Lincoln's voice coming from the statue, urging them not to give up. They walk off, inspired, not knowing that it's just Ronnie in his pajamas, talking to his teddy bear.
In the "Rap-unzel" episode of the ALFTales cartoon, Reagan (in Melmaccian form) is the doddering, clueless royal father of Prince Gordon, and is finally convinced by him to set up a Federal Communications Commission to foil the Evil Witch's broadcasting monopoly.
American Dad!'s Stan Smith worships Reagan more than he does Jesus (and he already does a lot of that). At one point, he asks Nancy Reagan what her husband would have done in a difficult situation. Nancy performs a mocking seance and sends him on his way.