EDITOR’S NOTE: Jon Wiener’s original story was "The Other Nancy Davis: Not Necessarily the First Lady." The Nation, October 3, 1987.
Nancy Reagan, who died March 6, often explained that she and the future president met cute. She had been threatened with blacklisting in the early ’50s—by mistake, she said, after having been confused with another actress who had the same name—Nancy Davis. The other Nancy Davis, Nancy and Ronald Reagan said, really was a Communist. Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, helped the first Nancy prove she wasn’t the Communist Nancy Davis, and she was able to work again. Along the way, they fell in love, and the rest is history.
In 1987, I found the other Nancy Davis working at a snack bar in Ventura, California, and interviewed her for The Nation. When I asked about the first lady, she said, “She’s been lying about me for years…. I never was a Communist. I told Reagan back in the fifties that if she didn’t stop saying I was a Communist, I’d sue her.”
Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me?, that because his wife-to-be was assumed to be the other Nancy Davis, “her name kept showing up on rosters of Communist front organizations, affixed to petitions of the same coloration, and her mail frequently included notices of meetings she had no desire to attend, and accounts of these meetings as covered by the Daily Worker.” Nancy Davis Reagan was asked by Columbia Pictures to explain why her maiden name appeared on the amicus curaie brief supporting the Hollywood Ten. Ron, who was SAG president at the time, wrote an indignant letter to B.B. Kahane, Columbia vice president in charge of security, explaining that there were two Nancys, and that the other one was the Communist.
Nancy herself demanded an apology, and got one from Kahane: “of course,” he wrote, “we could have taken it for granted that the wife of Ronald Reagan could not possibly be of questionable loyalty and could have disregarded that report.” You could call that “innocence by association.”
Kahane continued: “But as the citation was merely the signing of the Amicus Curiae brief and many persons signed this brief who we have been convinced are not now and never were Communists or sympathizers, we informed you of the citation believing that a satisfactory explanation would be forthcoming.”
That was a lot nicer than the letter Kahane had written to Rita Hayworth’s attorney Martin Gang the previous year, when Gang sought to clear her name from the blacklist. Victor Navasky tells that story in Naming Names: Hayworth, unlike Nancy Reagan, was asked to submit a sworn statement that “should set forth the fact (if, as I assume, it is a fact) that she is not now and never has been a member of the Communist Party. It should also contain a positive, forthright affirmation of her loyalty to the United States and I hope, a strong condemnation of Communistic subversive groups and ideologies.”