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The Movie That Saved Ronald Reagan’s Life

by  |  June 24th, 2011  |  Blog  |  3 Comments

A striking portrait of the 40th President Ronald Reagan by j. Lawrence Lind

I will now demonstrate the power of cinema, and believe it or not, how 2 movies would decide the fate of 1 man, 1 country and possibly even… the world.

This year 2011 marks the 30th Anniversary of the attempted assassination of former actor and 40th President of the United States of AmericaRonald Reagan. And as we all know, it was the film Taxi Driver (1976) directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Paul Schrader and starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, that had influenced 1 side of the events that unfolded on March 30th, 1981.

But, in case you don’t know what role Taxi Driver played on this now infamous occasion here it is in a nutshell.


In the movie, Robert De Niro plays Ex-Vietnam Vet Travis Bickle, who now drives a cab in New York city. He is an avarage guy, an anonymous nobody, who of course has his own hopes and dreams. Someone who wants to aspire to greatness of some kind. Through out our hero’s journey, he crosses paths with Jodie Foster’s character Iris. Iris is a 12 year old prostitute who works for her pimp, Harvey Keitel.

The original 1 Sheet movie poster used to promote Taxi Driver.

It is Travis who wants to be the hero and save Iris from a life on the streets. So he goes right to the top and decides to assassinate a Senator, whom he blames for the filth and decay of his city. Personally, I think he did this to test himself as to weather or not he had the balls to do it, a practice run if you will. Once Travis establishes that he can do it if he wants too, there’s no reason to do it, so he aborts his assassination attempt. You may have your own interpretation of the scene too, that’s mine.

Now, in real life you have a 21 yr old John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. who had watched Taxi Driver some 15 times while it played in the theater in 1976. It was in watching this movie that Hinckley “developed feelings” for Jodie Foster, and set out to do in real life, what Travis Bickle (De Niro) could not achieve in the film. In an effort to win Jodie Foster’s real life affection, Hinckley would attempt to assassinate a President of the United States of America.

John Hinckley Jr's yearbook photo.

It was originally Jimmy Carter, who was President at the time, that Hinckley targeted. After several failed attempts, Ronald Reagan finally got sworn into office, and as President of the United States of America, and on March 30th 1981, after a labor convention, President Ronald Reagan and John Hinckley Jr would share a destiny. But, there was a third man…

Jerry Parr was one of the secret service agents assigned to protect President Ronald Reagan that day. It was, as many recalled, Jerry who took control of the situation during the confusion and gave the decisive order to take President Ronald Reagan to George Washington Hospital. A decision that would be credited for saving Ronald Reagan’s life.

But, who is Jerry Parr and why was he standing next to Reagan when he was shot? To understand this, lets rewind several decades…

Jerry Parr pushes Reagan into the limo before giving the order to go to the George Washington Hospital.

In 1939 Jerry Parr who was 9 years old went with his father to see a movie. The movie was ‘Code of the Secret Service’. In the movie, the main character Lt. Brass Bancroft, was a Secret Service Agent. Brass was a sort of James Bond-esque character that worked directly with The President and went on impossible missions during a series of these films.

It was these Brass Bancroft movies that inspired Jerry Parr, who when in high school, not knowing what to do with his life, attended a career day. At that career day, there was a recruiter for The Secret Service, that asked Parr, “So do you think you could protect your President?” Which of course Jerry recalled a favorite childhood movie, and said “yes” hurtling him on a direct path to March 30th, 1981.

That date, would bring 3 men and their 3 destiny’s together. 1 man would see Taxi Driver and would be motivated to kill The President. Another man, an actor who would one day become The President. And still another man would see a movie called ‘Code of the Secret Service’ and be inspired to be the 1 man that could save The President.

Are you ready for the twist? This is the best part, I swear. The actor who starred in the B-movie, Code of the Secret Service in 1939, was none other than Ronal Reagan himself. That’s right, Reagan’s work as an actor playing Secret Service Agent: Brass Bancroft, inspired the man standing next to him when he got shot, to be… well the man standing next to him, and the only man who took charge and made the call that saved Reagan’s life. Reagan was saved by his own movie. A movie he made 42 years earlier.

A 1939 lobby card for 'Code of the Secret Service' starring Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan played Secret Service Agent: Brass Bancroft in a series of 4 films from 1939-1940.


So there you have it, 2 movies that decided the fate of 1 President’s life. A life that, if lost, could have resulted in drastic measures taken on a global level. That’s the power of… cinema!

Notes Of Interest

The Reagan assassination attempt took place at the height of the Cold War. There was some confusion as to who made the attempt and why. The United States raised their level of alertness, but did not raise the National Defcon (Defense Condition) status. It was wondered if this was part of a Soviet Plot. The possibility of going to War was put on the table at one point during the confusion.

During the confusion it wasn’t known who was in charge and running the United States of America, and was debated extensively for many hours. A group of men convened in the think tank known as The Situation Room, with a copy of the Constitution, a Sony tape recorder and the Nuclear Codes needed to arm weapons of mass destruction, while Reagan lay unconscious in the hospital. It was Secretary of State: Alexander Haig who erroneously stated…

Constitutionally gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As for now, I’m in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.

Alexander Haig was wrong. Haig was not, nor should’ve been, “in charge”.

In the movie SE7EN, Morgan Freeman tells Brad Pitt that John Hinckley Jr had a copy of ‘The Catcher in The Rye” on him. Hinckley did in fact have his copy of Catcher in the Rye in his hotel room where it was found during a search, along with a letter detailing his “mission” addressed to Jodie Foster, who was only 12 years old when filming Taxi Driver.

Jodie Foster, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese on the set of Taxi Driver.

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have teamed as director and actor on over 8 films. Taxi Driver earned 4 Oscar Nominations for Best Actor (De Niro), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Foster), Best Original Score (Bernard Hermann) and Best Picture.


Matthew Dowling, a native Philadelphian, now residing in Los Angeles, is an actor, writer and film maker. Matt's training with 2nd City, and numerous appearances in TV shows, movies, theater, infomercials, and most importantly... B movies, has prepared him for making B Movie recommendations.


  1. Jake Moore @RiverCityOtter

    June 24th, 2011at 11:53 AM(#)

    Fantastic stuff here Matthew! Thank you for taking the time to piece & interweave The films & the history.Nice tie up of how Ronald Reagan helped to inspire someone to save his life.Bravo!

  2. Keith Link Keith Link

    June 24th, 2011at 12:05 PM(#)

    Fascinating read, man. Great post as always.

  3. Matthew Dowling

    June 24th, 2011at 12:38 PM(#)

    Thanx for the feedback Jake & Keith! Yeah, It’s a fascinating story. The parallels of the 2 movies, and the balance between good and evil would make a great movie plot lol! Seriously, if you think about what could have happened…? Wow!

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