None of us would like to be judged by our worst moments. But we might change our minds on that if the worst thing we ever achieved in our career ultimately saved our lives one day. That’s exactly what happened to Ronald Reagan, years after he transitioned away from Hollywood and took office as the 40th President of the United States.
Before the presidency was even a glint in his eye, Ronald Reagan burst onto the Hollywood scene in the mid-1930s. After a string of B-movie roles, he played tragic college football player George Gipp in the 1940 movie Knute Rockne, All American, which critics dubbed one of his best movies. This drove him to stardom as he became one of the best actors in Hollywood at the time.
After the war, there were fewer new movies from Reagan as he shifted focus to politics. But little did he know that he had already made the movie that would save his life more than four decades later – the roundly disliked 1939 crime movie Code of the Secret Service.
“I was like Errol Flynn in a low-budget sort of way,” said Reagan of his early career in a 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show in which he singled out Code of the Secret Service as his worst film. He added: “Some friends of mine have tried to trick me into a projection room a couple of times to see it.”
The movie itself isn’t much to write home about, but it proved to be absolutely pivotal for Reagan. In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Reagan, believing it would attract the attention of actor Jodie Foster.
Secret Service agent Jerry Parr got the president into his limousine and directed the vehicle to a nearby hospital. At that point, nobody knew Reagan had been shot, but it was Parr’s quick thinking that got him the medical attention he needed to save his life when he arrived at the hospital with a punctured lung.
Parr, though, wouldn’t have been there that day had he not seen Code of the Secret Service as a nine-year-old. After the assassination attempt, he wrote of the screening (via Washington Post) that “my nine-year-old imagination took off” when he saw Reagan as Secret Service lieutenant Brass Bancroft. Reagan’s work inspired his future career choice.
So there you have it. It’s proof that even the worst movies can have an effect on somebody. And if you have any desire to become president in the future, it might be worth making a few movies about heroic people with life-saving skills. Just in case. Dwayne Johnson is probably covered already, fortunately.
For other presidents who have crossed over with Hollywood, find out how Barack Obama terrified the director of the new Julia Roberts movie and learn why Donald Trump crashed the Wolf of Wall Street set. Elsewhere, look at some of the biggest movies on the way this year with our Killers of the Flower Moon review and guide to The Marvels.