Reagan’s Pitch for a Reality Radio Series Based on His Yearling Row Ranch
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“Do you know what it is like to be awakened at 2 AM of a dark foggy night by a telephone call from the Sheriff’s office? ‘Your cattle have gone through the fence and are blissfully headed for Ventura blvd.’” RONALD REAGAN.
Autograph Manuscript, c. 1953, unsigned, in pencil, on Reagan’s “Yearling Row” stationery. 13 pp.
Reagan and new wife Nancy Davis pitch the idea of a radio series “based on the personal incidents as well as the ranch happenings of a Hollywood couple, an Actor and Actress who go into ranching. Not only is the usual Husband and Wife situation enhanced by a motion picture background but it is played in a setting boasting its own glamour and adventure, a thoroughbred horse farm. Remember too that we ride them as well as raise them...Yearling Row is the home of fine hunters and jumpers, one has been featured in several pictures of mine.” Reagan’s wit is evident throughout the narrative, as he details his misfortunes as a ranch owner.
The ranch reflected Reagan’s passion for the outdoor life, but he and Nancy looked upon the horse-breeding business as supplemental income against the vagaries of acting jobs. “Retirement,” Reagan complains, “has gone the way of the buffalo nickle thanks to the U.S. dept of Internal Revenue whose legal take can amount to as much as 91% of an actors salary.” His response? “So! Back to the farm or as us Westerners put it, ‘Back Out Yonder to the ranch’ (rancho if you like the latin flavor)”
He also praises his wife Nancy, as “she must certainly stem from pioneer stock. I know of no other way to explain her courage in being willing to trade the familiarity of curb stones for the unexplored mystery of ploughed ground.” Although her “unexplainable conviction that my ideas made sense” had something to do with it, Reagan still hopes that “this latter quality...will survive the familiarity of the forthcoming years of marital experience.”
Reagan also details the costs of their 350-acre ranch, difficulties with contractors, and adopts a playfully pastoral tone for much of the letter as he recounts these misadventures in ranching. Although the ranch had two wells, the realtor “had a map with some circles on it and the name and phone number of a geologist who had some information about where new wells would produce something resembling the Johnstown flood.” After learning that the two wells together produced about two gallons per minute and that a shower bath required five gallons per minute, and horses needed “a certain number of gallons per day,” Reagan concluded, “start adding and this becomes very thirsty arithmetic.” Fortunately, “the geologist knew exactly where to dig the wells—after we paid him.” Unfortunately, “the wells were also several hundred feet from electricity, so we got into the power line business.” After more mishaps, Reagan was pleased to report, “All is peaceful now on the water front. We don’t have any irrigated pasture—we just have four pumps busily thrusting twelve gallons of water up to our 5000 gal. tank at a cost in electricity only slightly higher than it would cost to have Gunga Din doing the job on foot.”
When it became clear that their oat crop was not going to make a profit, they purchased “fifty head of steers to grow fat on the stunted oats. Naturally, we were going to turn a tidy buck on this. We bought at 40 cents a lb. and turned them into the field to chew their way into a dividend.” Then, “Uncle Sam slapped a ceiling of 25¢ on beef.” After explaining the financial travails of raising cattle, Reagan goes on to the personal, “Do you know what it is like to be awakened at 2 AM of a dark foggy night by a telephone call from the Sheriff’s office? ‘Your cattle have gone through the fence and are blissfully headed for Ventura blvd.’”
There are darker incidents as well. When a “grand old mare” gets fatally entangled in barbed wire, Reagan dispatches the animal himself: “Nancy was reluctant and doubted our right to decide over life and death. My own view was that in domesticating animals we have to accept some of Gods responsibility in these things.... I couldn’t ask someone else to do my job so I loaded the rifle. This was a bad day to receive a phone call that I had been rejected for a role in an outdoor picture because the producer didn’t think I was the ranch type—besides he’d found just the fellow he needed in a New York play.”
Reagan also waxed poetic about his ranch. “When later the stars come out in greater numbers than they do over all the cities of the world and when we turn on the radio and hear that one of our foals (a leggy little stranger we helped into the world on a cold winter night) is now a winner at Santa Anita we feel kind of snug. But not for long, because out in the stable on a bed of straw another foal will be born tonight and tomorrow there are yearlings to be trained because this is Yearling Row.”
Reagan’s biographer, Edmund Morris, made the controversial decision to tell Reagan’s story through the eyes of a fictional author in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. That character reviewed Reagan’s proposal for a radio series based on his life at Yearling Row Ranch and declared, “I had to inform McCann-Erickson that I didn’t think Dutch was the radio type, either…. Mr. Reagan seems to think that his film-star status is enough to guarantee widespread interest,” but he did not “see many listeners, aside from the 874 licensed plumbers in L.A. County, holding their breath over pipeline problems.”
Reagan’s Yearling Row Ranch (ironically named for the two films he made with his first wife Jane Wyman—The Yearling and King’s Row) was located in Agoura, California, near Malibu Lake: “an easy 45 min. to Beverly Hills—50 if the Cops are out.” Reagan purchased the original 236-acre ranch in 1951 for $85,000, added smaller parcels to it, and sold it to 1966 for $1,900,000, to pay debts from his successful run for California governor; the sale also made Reagan an instant millionaire. The ranch is now part of Malibu Creek State Park.
 Edmund Morris, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (New York: Modern Library, 1999), 293-95.