Through her mother, Edith Prescott Luckett, a one-time radio actress herself, Nancy Davis would meet the likes of producer ZaSu Pitts, and actors Walter Hudson and Spencer Tracy. These seemingly casual set of introductions would eventually lead Davis to land her first role, joining the road tour of Ramshackle Inn in 1945. The audience took to this tiny, wide-eyed girl from Flushing, Queens almost instantaneously. Some recalled seeing her in The Crippler (1940), a rather successful film-short that was used to raise money for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. It was her only acting role to date; however, it not only became a springboard for her subsequent career, but one day, through a future list of causes she’d champion, it would come to define her legacy.
From there, she found herself amid the bright lights of Broadway after landing a role in the 1946 musical Lute Song, starring alongside Mary Martin and Yul Brynner. Though she wasn’t the lead, a myriad of film roles followed. Her first film at MGM, Nancy Davis starred in The Doctor and the Girl with Glenn Ford, and later in East Side, West Side with Barbara Stanwyck.
Yearning to break beyond the boundaries of her typecast as the prototypical housewife, she landed a role as a child psychiatrist in the film-noir Shadow on the Wall. It was a performance the New York Times called ‘beautiful and convincing.’ She had met and married Ronald Reagan, who at the time was working as a highly successful actor and serving as President of the Screen Actors Guild. They would come to star together in Hellcats of the Navy in 1957, though at the time Nancy Davis kept her name.
When both Nancy and ‘Ronnie’ – as she affectionately called the 40th President of the United States – both retired from the glitz of Hollywood in 1962, Nancy Reagan still sought to use her talents on stage and screen as First Lady. Among other causes of note, she devised the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign. She took her message to the youth of America with cameos on popular sitcoms like ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ and sagas like ‘Dynasty’. Nancy Reagan even brought other celebrities into the fray in a music video called ‘Stop the Madness’, featuring icons like Whitney Houston, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Nancy Reagan may not have always been comfortable with career and stardom, as she detailed in her memoir titled My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan, however, her intent from the silver screen to the White House was always to give back in as many ways as she could. For her commitment, she received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002 from President George W. Bush. This small-statured woman, with a heart bigger than life, continued on in her charitable works until her death in 2016 at age 94.