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.