Ronald Reagan and James Dean 1954 Video

The Atlantic‘s John Meroney is circulating this rare video of Ronald Reagan and James Dean, who would both go on to become legends, before either was known*:

Today, it’s an astonishing, even eerie, scene: the icon of modern American conservatism, whose rise to political prominence was galvanized by the cultural rebellion of the 1960s, fighting off an attack-at-gunpoint by the quintessential modern American rebel. But when “The Dark, Dark Hours” episode of General Electric Theater aired live from Hollywood on December 12, 1954, Ronald Reagan and James Dean were just two actors yet to find the roles that would define them.

No one has seen this episode in the decades since; the kinescope has been locked away, until now. My friend Wayne Federman, a writer for NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, unearthed the broadcast, condensing it from its original 23 minutes (without commercials) into the six-minute version you see below. (Federman is planning a retrospective of Reagan’s television career for next year’s Reagan centennial.)

I’ve long thought that every bit of television and movie footage in existence would become digitized and available for all to see.  It’s happening too slowly for my tastes, but it’s happening.   It’s a shame, though, how much of the old stuff has been lost.   Film was expensive and people figured no one would be interested in seeing a lot of this stuff again after it had been aired once.


*A commenter notes that Reagan had starred in several major motion pictures by 1954. Indeed, by Reagan’s own admission, his best film was made before WWII.  Presumably, then, Meroney is just trying to convey that Reagan wasn’t yet known for the thing that he’s now known for: politics.  Dean, would of course, go on to greater fame as the producer of delicious breakfast meats.**

**Yes, I’m kidding.  Jimmy Dean isn’t even named James; Jimmy is his real name.  And the country legend is still alive, whereas the actor James Dean was tragically killed in an automobile accident just as he was becoming famous.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    James Dean also played across from Abraham Lincoln in another TV movie (Westinghouse Studio One). I watched a bit when I was last in James Dean’s hometown. YMMV, but I thought it quite weird.

  2. Triumph says:

    The Atlantic’s John Meroney is circulating this rare video of Ronald Reagan and James Dean, who would both go on to become legends, before either was known:

    By 1954, Reagan was a mainstay on TV and an international film star, having performed in dozens of movies( e.g. Hell’s Kitchen [1939], Knute Rockne All American [1940] For God and COuntry [1943], Bedtime For Bonzo, etc….).

    He was extremely well-known.

  3. James Joyner says:

    He was extremely well-known.

    A fair point! Maybe Meroney’s point is that Reagan wasn’t yet known for the thing that would eventually be known for: Politics. But, indeed, his film career was already on a downward slope by this point.

  4. Debbie Reynolds says:

    Wrong Jimmy Dean. James Dean the this film was a Hollywood star from the film “Giant” among others. Jimmy Dean from the “delicious breakfast meats” is a Country Music Star and Actor in his own right.

    I wasn’t but six months old when this episode aired but I do know the difference in the two Dean men.

  5. lalaladybug says:

    I am not sure whether the writer was kidding or not when he said that James Dean went on to provide delicious breakfast meats. That was Jimmy Dean – a delightful singer who has found his major fame with meat.

    James Dean is one of the most admired and loved actors of the era. His major films were: “East of Eden”, “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant” which was completed a few days before his death in a tragic automobile crash in California on September 30, 1955. There are thousands of fans of Dean’s around today. Dean was compared with Brando.

  6. Michael says:

    And the wife is Constance Ford who played Ada Hobson for nearly 25 years on the NBC’s 35-year-old soap opera Another World.

  7. Franklin says:

    Who puts a kid back in her crib when there’s a madman with a gun in the other room? And then when the madman actually goes in the kid’s room, the mother only takes her out of the crib, but not out of the room (or better, out of the house).

    /Plus, that kid was too old for a crib.