Some people believe that a divorce will tarnish their image or define who they are as a person. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and Ronald Reagan proved that when he became the first divorced person to be elected president in 1980.
Reagan met his first wife in 1938 while acting in the film Brother Rat. He fell in love with his co-star Jane Wyman, who was married to her second husband at the time. Wyman later divorced her husband and married Reagan in 1940.
Wyman and Reagan loved one another, but both were highly devoted to their careers. Reagan went to work for the Army Air Force, and he helped produce over 400 training films during his time at camp in Culver City, California. After his service was over, Reagan began working for the Screen Actors Guild and eventually became the group’s president. He loved his work with the guild and was able to continue his acting career, but the rigorous acting schedules kept him and Wyman apart. Reagan later said “Perhaps I should have let someone else save the world and saved my own home.”
Wyman’s star was on the rise in the late 40’s, and she was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Actress” category for her work in a 1947 film. Wyman reportedly leaned on co-star Lew Ayres for support during the long production hours, and she began to drift apart from Reagan. Although Reagan wanted to work through their issues, Wyman announced that she was separating from her husband in 1947.
“It was, you know, just terrible because he was very unhappy,” said actress Patricia Neal. “He was in an apartment by himself. … He was heartbroken. He really was, because he didn’t want a divorce from her. But Jane wanted it.”
The couple completed the divorce in 1948, but Reagan was determined to make sure that his divorce wouldn’t stop him from getting what he wanted in life. He continued to act in television and films, and he began to get involved in politics. He met fellow actor Nancy Davis on the set of a film, and the pair were married in 1952. The biggest difference between Wyman and Davis is that Davis gave up her acting career to support Reagan in his endeavors.
Reagan became a rising political figure in California throughout the 1950’s, and he later ran for Governor of California. He won the seat in 1966, and later signed the “no fault” divorce bill, which allows a couple to file for divorce without showing any wrongdoing by either party. Many people say the issue was close to his heart because of his first marriage to Wyman.
Many people would have been content as the Governor of California, but not Reagan. He had his eyes on bigger and better things, and he eventually won the Republican nomination in 1980 after being defeated in 1968 and 1976. After winning the Republican nomination, Reagan captured the hearts of the nation during his presidential run, and won the presidency in a landslide.
Throughout his years, Reagan proved that divorce wasn’t going to define who he was. He moved on after his divorce was final, and found the love of his life. Remember that divorce doesn’t have to be the end; it can be the beginning of a new life.