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Vital Signs

Kings Row Revisited

The first paragraph of the first chapter of John Lukacs’s Confessions of an Original Sinner (1990) concludes, “A conservative will profess a preference for and a trust in Ronald Reagan; a reactionary will not, and not because Reagan was a Hollywood actor but because he never stopped being one.”

The reactionary in me agrees with Lukacs.  In fact, I preferred Reagan when he was openly pursuing the actor’s trade, especially in Kings Row, which, from age 10 to 14, I tried to watch every time it was the Friday or Saturday late movie on one or another Twin Cities TV channel.  (The only other movies I treated similarly were They Died With Their Boots On, with Errol Flynn as Custer, and The Sea Wolf, with Edward G. Robinson as a cruel schooner captain who admires Milton’s Satan.)

In remembrance of the man said to have been the best U.S. president of my lifetime, I decided to watch Reagan in Kings Row on February 6, his 100th birthday, this time after finally fulfilling a resolution I made, back when the film enthralled me, to read the best-seller it dramatizes.  Kings Row (1940) was the most successful of the seven novels of music teacher, academic administrator, and serious lay student of psychology Henry Bellamann.  (An eighth, Parris Mitchell of Kings Row, was completed and brought to publication by Bellamann’s widow.)  It focuses on the...

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