Ronald Reagan couldn't get J. Edgar Hoover to guest star on "General Electric Theater"

Ronald Reagan couldn’t get J. Edgar Hoover to guest star on “General Electric Theater”

Before he got into politics, Reagan unsuccessfully lobbied the FBI to adapt a report by Hoover on a Communist plot targeting college students for prime time

Written by
Edited by Beryl Lipton

Last week, we took our first look into Ronald Reagan’s recently released Federal Bureau of Investigation file, and how it documented the close personal friendship between Reagan and Director J. Edgar Hoover. However, a section of the file from a decade earlier reveals a much less auspicious first encounter between the Gipper and the G-man, with Hoover repeatedly turning down a starstruck Reagan’s offer to guest star on General Electric Theater.

In an August 26, 1960 memo, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, the Bureau’s number three man, outlined a conversation he had had earlier that day with “Ronald Reagan, the movie star.”

Reagan had just finished reading “Communist Target - Youth,” Hoover’s report alleging that a protest in San Francisco against the House Un-American Activities Committee that turned violent was the result of a Soviet plot to foment chaos. Reagan apparently loved it and wanted to adapt and dramatize it for an episode of the anthology series he hosted on CBS …

with Hoover himself as a possible guest host.

Unfortunately for Reagan, his clout wasn’t quite at the Walt Disney level just yet (Disney actually got Hoover to star in a Bureau-themed episode of The Mickey Mouse Club, but even then only after years of needling). Despite DeLoach’s support for the idea …

both Hoover and Associate Director Clyde Tolson decided against it, citing concerns over control of the final product.

A few days later, Hoover sent Reagan a letter, thanking him for the invitation and politely declining his offer.

And that was the end of that. Or so Hoover thought.

A week later Reagan called again, trying to get through to Hoover. After being told that Hoover was unavailable, Reagan said he’d try again tomorrow.

Figuring that Reagan was trying to get Hoover to reconsider, Hoover and Tolsen tasked DeLoach with setting Reagan straight - when the Number One G-Man politely declines, you take it.

Sure enough, Reagan called again the very next day and accepted the offer to speak to DeLoach in Hoover’s stead.

Again, Reagan laid out his vision for an “alarmist-type program to awake the American public” …

that would counter the “sob sister” viewpoint as presented by programs such as Sidney Lumet’s “Sacco-Vanzetti Story”.

DeLoach reiterated the Bureau’s position that while they had no objection to Reagan making a program of that nature, it would have to be made clear that such work was not in any way endorsed or supported by the FBI.

Reagan got the message and never bothered the Bureau again.

“Communist Target - Youth” was actually adapted by HUAC into a short documentary, “Operation Abolition: The Story of Communism in Action,”, and, true to Hoover and Tolson’s concerns, it generated much controversy over its alleged distortion of events, including pushback from the Bureau’s own San Francisco Field Office. Reagan for his part, kicked off the next season of General Electric Theater with a thinly-veiled anti-Communist allegory and a year later would tear the veil off entirely as narrator for the documentary “The Truth About Communism.”

Read the file embedded below and the rest of the request page.

Image via General Electric