Reagan’s Fulton connections: suit and speeches

His movie “King’s Row” is said to be based on the town.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:34 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The black-and-khaki wool tweed suit is a shell of the impression left by Ronald Reagan on Callaway County.

The three-piece suit that Reagan wore during the filming of the movie “King’s Row” is on display at the Heart of Missouri Tourism Center at the Kingdom City exit on I-70.

The suit and its ivory tie decorated with brown elephants are part of a display that includes other memorabilia from the film. Two movie posters, two still pictures of scenes from the movie and an advertisement from the New York Times, dated May 26, 1940, for a book review of the novel “King’s Row” are included in the display.

“We have had several folks that come in and have seen the movie and read the novel,” said Todd Winderbower, executive director of the center.

The movie was the first of three connections Reagan had to Fulton. He spoke at what was then William Woods College in 1952 and returned at the end of the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev to dedicate a sculpture made from the Berlin Wall.

The Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce purchased the suit from Sotheby’s in New York in 1988 after hearing that Warner Brothers was having an auction of old costumes.

Dan VanOrden, who was president of the chamber at the time, remembers the suit costing between $2,000 and $2,500. “We conducted our part on the telephone,” he said.

When the tourism center was built three years ago, the chamber offered the suit for display.

“More people will see it out there than they will in our office,” said Nancy Lewis, executive director of the chamber.

The movie was filmed in 1940 and released in 1942. It earned three Oscar nominations and also starred Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings and Betty Field. Reagan’s most famous line from the movie is “Where’s the rest of me?” which is the title of the first of his two autobiographies. His character in the film, Drake McHugh, has both legs amputated and makes the remark when he awakens from the anesthesia.

The exhibit at the tourism center includes a replica of the kind of prop, which resembles a leg brace, Reagan used in the film to portray his amputation.

“A curator of the Reagan Library said that Reagan said on numerous occasions that that was his best movie,” said Dave Collins, former director of the chamber.

The film was based on the novel of the same title by Henry Bellamann, who was born in Callaway County. There’s been speculation over the years that the novel was based on Fulton.

“I think that Reagan was sure that it was about Fulton,” VanOrden said. “He knew quite a bit about it.”

Reagan was first in Fulton in 1952 to give a commencement speech titled “America the Beautiful” at William Woods College. Reagan was invited by Raymond McAlister Sr., a contemporary from Eureka College. Nancy Reagan accompanied him on the trip. She was pregnant at the time with their daughter Patti.

Reagan returned to Fulton on Nov. 9, 1990, to dedicate the Berlin Wall sculpture “Breakthrough” at the Winston Churchill Memorial and deliver a speech. Actor Robert Cummings attended the luncheon with Reagan after the dedication, and VanOrden said the two had planned to view “King’s Row” at his downtown theater after the dedication.

“Secret Service came down to tell us that Reagan wanted to see the movie,” VanOrden said. “Secret Service was in the building all night long. The Suburban pulled up, and Reagan was about to step out. Secret Service was spooked by someone in the crowd, and off they went to the Jeff City airport, leaving Cummings and me standing under the marquee.”

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