Nancy Davis in The Next Voice You Hear
By now you've probably heard about the death of Nancy Reagan, née Davis, who died yesterday at the age of 94. Of course, the reason her obituaries were so prominent were not because of her acting, but because of what she did after her acting career. She married fellow actor Ronald Reagan, and then in the 1960s helped his political career, all the way to the White House, where she spend two terms as First Lady to his President. It's partly because of that, and partly because she wasn't a star as an actress, that pictures of her work aren't quite as common as many of the other actors of the day.
Davis, I think, wasn't a bad actress, but I also think she never would have become a star even if Ronald hadn't gone into politics. Nancy is one of those many people who provided valuable supporting roles in all of those second-billing movies the studios were putting out. She's more of the female lead in The Next Voice You Hear, pictured above, but that's a smaller movie; I don't think she ever got such a big role in any of the prestige movies. She had a similar-sized role in Talk About a Stranger.
The Nancy Davis roles I've seen tend to have her as a bit stern, but ultimately sympathetic, as with the teacher she played in It's a Big Country, where she has to convince Fredric March that his son needs glasses. It may be that sternness that kept her from becoming a bigger star; it always gives me a vibe of not a true big-time leading lady. That having been said, having watched the movies that both she and her husband made, I've long felt that if they hadn't gone into politics, they could have had a long career playing neighborly grandparent types on episodic TV, things like the Wilsons in yet another version of Dennis the Menace.
Killer Fish (1978)
9 minutes ago