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Nancy Davis Reagan was born Anne Francis Robbins July 6, 1921, in New York City. She was the only child of car salesman Kenneth Robbins and actress Edith Luckett. After spending her early childhood in Elmhurst and Flushing, she decided to pursue an acting career after graduating from college, and eventually moved to Hollywood.
After signing a contract with MGM in 1949, she met Screen Actors Guild President Ronald Reagan and they married in 1952. The Queens native was first lady of California from 1967-75 and stood by her husband’s side as first lady of the United States from 1981-89.
Anne had a transient childhood. Her parents, estranged even before she was born, separated soon afterward. The future first lady was sent to Maryland to live with relatives while her mother Edith crisscrossed the country pursuing acting work. Some of her fondest childhood memories were seeing her mother when she returned to New York for an acting stint.
Then, in 1929, Edith married Loyal Davis, a well-known, politically conservative doctor who moved his new wife and adopted daughter to Chicago. Anne officially changed her name to Nancy, her nickname since birth. Finally settling down, Nancy Davis graduated high school in 1939 and in 1943 earned a dual degree in English and drama at Smith College in Massachusetts.
After returning home to Chicago, the future star began appearing in local stage productions through some introductions from her mother. Achieving a degree of success, she moved back to New York City to chase larger roles, eventually landing a role as a Chinese lady in waiting in the 1946 Broadway production “Lute Song” alongside Yul Brenner and Mary Martin. The director told her, “You look like you could be Chinese.”
In 1949, she moved to Hollywood, once again in search of greener pastures. She signed a seven-year contract with MGM, later remarking, “Joining Metro was like walking into a dream world.”
She was soon cast in roles as a steady, emotionally even-keeled woman and loyal housewife, appearing in the 1950 drama “The Next Voice You Hear” and the 1953 science-fiction film “Donovan’s Brain.”
Nancy had dated several actors, including Clark Gable and Peter Lawford, and Reagan had been through a divorce with Jane Wyman, but the two would remain steadfastly loyal and deeply in love until Ronald’s death in 2004. Nancy gave birth to daughter Patricia, also known as the actress Patti Davis, in 1952, and son Ronald in 1958. She also became stepmother to Ronald’s children, Maureen and Michael, from his first marriage.
In 1967, Ronald Reagan, the former actor, was elected to his first of two terms as governor of California. The first lady disliked the move north to Sacramento, missing the glamour, lifestyle and climate of Hollywood. After a few months, she incited controversy by moving out of the governor’s mansion into a wealthy suburb, claiming the official residence was a “firetrap.”
After a failed presidential bid in 1976, the former governor secured the Republican nomination in 1980 and defeated Jimmy Carter in a landslide election to become the 40th president of the United States. As first lady, Nancy Reagan stood by the president’s side for eight years.
The girl from Queens restored a sense of style and glamour to the White House and took up her “Just Say ‘No’” to drugs campaign, even appearing on the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” to deliver her message. The couple retired to Bel Air in Los Angeles in 1989, where Nancy wrote her memoirs, titled “My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan.”
In her 91st year, Nancy Reagan is still devoted to causes that have touched her life. The former actress and first lady remains full of life and purpose.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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