LOS ANGELES – This is the story of how I got Ronald Reagan fired from Warner Bros. – and may have sent him on the road to the White House.

Well, sort of.

Reagan was always a reliable interview in his acting years, provocative in his assessments of the film industry; combative when the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was president, was fighting the studios; always congenial.

On a January day in 1950, I encountered Reagan in a feisty mood on the set of the Warner melodrama “Storm Warning,” starring Ginger Rogers and Doris Day. It was his first movie job in a year because of a leg injury suffered in a charity baseball game.

“After spending most of the last year in bed, I’m going to concentrate on my career in 1950,” Reagan told me. “And there’ll be some changes made. … I’m going to pick my own pictures. I have come to the conclusion that I can do as good a job of picking as the studio has done. At least I could do no worse.

“With the parts I’ve had, I could telephone my lines in, and it would make no difference. … Well, I can always go back to being a sports announcer.”

When Jack Warner, the imperious studio boss, read the interview, he blew his top. He fired off a letter to Reagan demanding to know if the story was accurate. If so, he wrote, “it was very unfortunate for you to do so.”

It was during the days when most stars’ careers were tightly controlled by studio chiefs.

Reagan’s agent, Lew Wasserman, managed to smooth over the dispute, but Reagan’s contract with Warners was not renewed.

After 15 years with the studio, Reagan left without any official notice, not even a farewell from Jack Warner.

Reagan moved to the less prestigious Universal lot, where he starred with a chimpanzee in “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

He made a few more movies after that, but they were mostly low-budget Westerns and action films, and Reagan eventually abandoned his acting career to devote more time to his longtime love of politics.

If I hadn’t written that interview, would Ronald Reagan still have gotten into politics?

Most likely. But the resulting dispute with Warners and the subsequent decline in his acting career might have given him a nudge toward greater things.

Bob Thomas has covered entertainment for the Associated Press for over 60 years.


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