Reagan's films, life leave lasting impression

June 08, 2004|by TIM KOELBLE

Movie buffs will remember such moments as Clark Gable kissing Vivian Leigh in "Gone With the Wind" or Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan telling a criminal, "Go ahead, make my day," in "Sudden Impact."

Not many actors can put their accomplishments in both the movie and political arenas, but former President Ronald Reagan could.

As most people know, Reagan was an actor in his pre-political days and is remembered for his portrayal of George Gipp in the Notre Dame movie, "Knute Rockne: All American."

Gipp was a Notre Dame quarterback from 1917-20 under the legendary Rockne, leading the Fighting Irish to a 27-2-3 record while playing not only offense, but defense. He never played football in high school, hoping for a baseball career until Rockne talked him into playing football.

It was late in his final season, in 1920, that Gipp - The Gipper - contracted a throat infection that worsened during a game against Northwestern in late November.


Rockne visited his superstar in the hospital, and as the story is told, Gipp said to Rockne that when the "breaks are beating the boys, tell them to win one for the Gipper."

Gipp died a few weeks later, on Dec. 14, 1920.

It was eight years later that Rockne told his team, trailing at halftime in a game with Army, the story of the dying star player, leaving everyone in tears. Notre Dame rallied to beat Army.

Reagan portrayed Gipp in the 1940 movie classic, uttering the deathbed request that became one of the all-time great movie lines.

Where Reagan will stand in time with his presidential success will be left to those who gauge political history.

It was on my birthday 17 years ago, June 12, 1987, that Reagan made the often-quoted remark that would signal his greatest political achievement when the Cold War came to an end a few years later.

Reagan challenged the reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to pressure East Germany's Stalinist regime. On that day, made so vividly memorable by television, Reagan stood before the concrete walls and barbed wire of the Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate and urged, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

To me, Reagan's presidency will stand the test of time as one that potentially averted another world war. He won one not for the Gipper, but for all the world.

Tim Koelble is a staff writer for the Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5331, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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