When Actors Become Politicians

When celebrities choose to pursue public office, they are often met with disdain. This 1966 article about Ronald Reagan’s run for governor of California shows that he had his fair share of doubters.

Photo by Jack Fields

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Today, actor Cynthia Nixon declared that she was running for governor of the state of New York. Celebrities running for – and winning – public office has become practically commonplace. We’ve seen Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura, Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono, and Donald Trump all win political races.

Cynthia Nixon. (David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons)

The best known actor-turned-politician was undoubtedly Ronald Reagan. In 1966, he was making his first run for office, as governor of California. The Saturday Evening Post ran a cover story on the handsome and charismatic actor when he was facing off against George Christopher in the Republican primary.

Reagan certainly had his detractors. One former officeholder commented, “He has done nothing but demean the processes of government, without a day of experience.”  Three Republican legislators wrote an open letter, begging Reagan to drop out the primary because a win there would surely mean a loss in the general election.  Another politician was disdainful of Reagan’s ability to draw crowds, snorting, “So would Jayne Mansfield.”

The primary turned out pretty well for Reagan, as did a few other subsequent elections.

And for those who find the ex-Sex and the City star’s chances for the governorship unlikely, keep in mind Reagan’s response to a reporter who asked him how an actor could run for president: “How can a president not be an actor?”

Archive clipping
Read “Can Reagan Win California?” by James Phelan, from the June 4, 1966, issue of the Post.

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