A REAGAN PORTRAIT
He's not an easy man, although he seems easy. To everybody he seems very easy, but he is more complex than people think.
NANCY REAGAN, MAY 5, 19891
HE WAS THE ULTIMATE American success story, or so it seemed, a man for whom the American dream--defined by William Faulkner as "a sanctuary on the earth for individual man"2--became a luminous reality. He was of humble origins. His parents were poor and his nomadic boyhood darkly shadowed by his father's alcoholism and frequent unemployment. He worked his way through an obscure, church-affiliated college, where his grades were never more than mediocre. Most of his classmates sought to become ministers or teachers, and his own ambitions to be a sports announcer or an actor seemed hopeless fantasies beyond his training and abilities. When he graduated from Eureka College during the depths of the Depression, he had no prospects of a job.
But the world was one vast opportunity for Ronald Wilson Reagan. He had faith in the future of the country and in his own future, and his unfailing optimism and self-deprecating humor commended him to others. While he formed few close friendships, he was widely popular and people liked to hear him talk. He had a fantastic memory and a knack for explaining things. He succeeded at everything that he tried. At a time when one- fourth of all Americans were out of work, he convinced a radio station manager to hire him for a part-time sports announcing job for which better-qualified applicants had already been rejected. He struggled and eventually became a successful sports announcer. A few years later he casually took a screen test and was offered a movie contract, opening his path to a career that was then the consummate dream of millions of Americans. In Hollywood he became a minor star, distinguished by a cheerful manner, a