Many people look back at Ronald and Nancy Reagan as an idealized, wholesome couple, with Nancy in particular returning to the news recently with stories of her skill and generosity as a partner. And yet the two got together thanks to anti-communism paranoia—which Ronald saved Nancy from, but which Ronald also perpetrated himself.

Though Nancy Davis (as she was known at the time) and Ronald Reagan both acted in movies, they didn't meet on set. They met because, in 1949, Nancy discovered her name on a list of "communist sympathizers in Hollywood." She didn't know why she was there and feared getting blacklisted. Her director put her in touch with the president of the Screen Actors Guild, who suggested he and she discuss the matter over dinner.

When a powerful Hollywood man turns an appeal for help into a dinner date, that's often a MeToo situation, but it was fine in this case because the man was a late-thirties Ronald Reagan, and she was thrilled to go out with him. They discovered what the problem was: The guild had two different Nancy Davises, and people were mistaking the future Mrs. Reagan for a future snack bar employee of the same name.

Ronald and Nancy wed in 1952, which could have solved the problem of the two Nancys, since she changed her name to Nancy Reagan. She still wanted to be known and Nancy Davis professionally, however, so Ronald contacted the other Nancy and told her she had to change her name, to Nancy Lee Davis. 

Nancy Lee Davis didn't like this. She'd joined the guild before Nancy Reagan, so under guild rules, his wife should be the one to change. Besides, "Nancy Davis" wasn't even Nancy Reagan's real name—she was born Anne Frances Robbins, so, what gave her the exclusive Nancy Davis rights?

But Ronald was president (of the guild, not the country ... yet), so his word was law. The senior Nancy became Nancy Lee Davis. For years afterward, when people asked what was the deal with his wife being a communist, Ronald Reagan would laugh and say, no, that's the other Nancy Davis. Which was also untrue. Nancy Lee Davis had never been a communist, just one more innocent actor caught up in the Red Scare.

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For more on Ronnie and Nancy, check out:

Nancy Reagan's Astrologer Helped End The Cold War

Secret Service Agents Gave A Fading Reagan Fake Chores

Reagan's Legacy, Based Only on His Appearance in Comic Books

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Top image: White House

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